Saturday, November 28, 2009

simple sustainable thanksgiving

This was the first year that manthing and I have been on our own for turkey day. I gotta say it was the most laid back and relaxing thanksgiving I have ever had. We are not big holiday celebrators anyway so we have always stayed home and had either the kids or friends over for the day. The last couple years we have been getting back to basics with our menu and eating more of what the pilgrims and first settlers would have typically eaten rather than much of the fanfare we associate with it.

With it just being us this year I decided to take it one step further and only use what we have grown here on the land or foraged for. The only exception I allowed my self was for the wee bit of flour I used for thickener and pie crust, a couple tbsp of liquid smoke , salt and pepper. Ohh, i almost fibbed. I did purchase a can of cranberries a while back and I just had to have some. I also decided that everything was going to be cooked on or in the wood stove.

Since we didn't have a turkey to fix this was really much easier than it sounds with the exception of the pinto bean pie. I decided to save time on turkey day and I would cook it the night before on top of the stove. I have done this before , it works I swear. The problem this time was that the stove had not had a fire since the evening before and we had just started the evening fire when I had the bright time saving idea . I got it all set and put her on to cook. Bedtime came and went, manthing went to bed, I gave in at 1 am and since the stove wasn't all that hot to begin with (a small brief fire to keep the chill off is common in the fall months). I decided to check it when I had to get up in the night. 4:13 am it was done, WOOT. I do believe I have the longest pie cooking record EVA! I must add that it was very tasty though.

our menu of the day was

"hickory smoked" bunny
mashed potatoes n gravy
twice baked sweet potato squash
pinto bean pie

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

pinto bean pie

The lowly pinto bean is such a useful food. Very good for you yet it can be made into so many wonderful things ,some that wind up quite unhealthy even. The first time I had this pie I was certain it was going to be plum awful. There was no way that anyone could make a pinto bean into a dessert that was going to be worth my eating. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed the pie. Not overly sweet, had a very nice texture and just had an over all really nice flavor to it. Some call the pinto pies a mock pecan pie. To be honest, I have only ever had pecan pie one time so I cant really compare it.

There are several variations of recipes out there from simple to ya may as well make a pecan pie. My preferred simple recipe is

  • 1 heaping cup mashed pinto beans (Note: 1 1/2 cups cooked beans equals about 1 cup, mashed)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg or cinnamon or a lil of both or even punkin pie spice
  • 1 9-inch unbaked pie shell
chuck it all in a food processor or blender and process til smooth

Pour into a 9-inch unbaked pie shell. (easy and not a bad tasting pie shell recipe ) Bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake for an additional 25 minutes or until a knife inserted into the pie comes out clean.
or if your brave
cover with loose foil or a domed lid and cook on wood stove top rotating on occasion to encourage even cooking. Cook time will vary depending on how hot stove is. If i am going to make this in the wood stove on coals I use a cast iron skillet rather than pie pan.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

building the brick stove top/ oven

A couple years ago when we got our propane delivery and subsequent bill we decided that it was going to be our last delivery and that all of our cooking was going to be done over wood from that point on. Most of our summer cooking was already done over wood at this point in time but we still used the four eyed propane monster in the kitchen for the bulk of our cooking needs. Wondering just how we were going to go about this we looked around at what we had laying around and came up with our wood cook top and brick oven project.

We had an old wood cook stove that was in bad shape and we had some bricks laying around and this is what the manthing built for us. In the warmer months of the year this is what we cook and do all of our canning on. Overall i love it! Its much better than an open flame and cheaper than the propane. It smells lovely outside when we cook and I often wonder how far I would have to go from the house to smell things cooking. Canning is much cooler than if we did it in the house and it's nice having one huge burn area under a canner rather than a small burner on a normal stove.

The stove is under what most would consider a car port. During the cold months we run a couple few tarps to stop the winds from whipping through so much. It does stay dry under there except for when we have our torrential down pours with big winds. Since we have built the oven I have learned to cook on the wood stove in the shack for most of our needs in the winter months and just use the outdoor one for big bake days.

Please keep in mind that almost all materials were salvage and we worked with what we had to work with. Our total investment was 3 bags of mortar mix and 4, 4 foot pieces of 3/8 inch rebar, a grand total of 19 bucks.

The photo blog of the oven build

What we have learned since building
When cooking day in and day out over wood, IT REQUIRES A LOT OF WOOD!!!! We spend between two and three hours every week collecting dead fall for the stove part. Another hour or two is spent on the oven portions needs. The oven part takes about a 1/2wheel barrow full of wood when it is fired upfor the day.

The oven stays hot and warm for a very long while. Use it while its hot to make it worth the effort. I cook all our baked products each month on one firing of the oven. (breads, cakes, cookies, baked squashes and main meals etc). When it is cooling down nicely i use it to dry herbs n such, it does a nice job...

The oven works best keeping a small fire under the stove top portion and we do generally actually have a fire and coals under the oven bit as well. Utilize the stove top while you are heating the oven. I generally make a large pot of beans, cook my rice for the week(then as we go through the week turn it into various meals) and make a pot of pasta. I also make a large pot of taters and if i am going to need any tomato sauces i cook them down as well.

The oven takes about 3 hours to heat up to cooking temperatures (350-375). Things cook faster in this than a conventional oven. If i cook a cake at 350 it will be done in 15 minutes . If i put it in at 300-325 it takes about normal time. Glass pans work best for all things. Metal pans tend to get things burnt on the bottom. The side that is closest to the stove top is hotter than the opposite side and the back is hotter than the front. To fix this simply rotate dishes half way through...

Since the stove top is somewhat open to elements, keeping it seasoned can be difficult. Things cook just as fast or faster on the stove top as a conventional stove. It takes a bit longer to heat up since it is cast iron, but it also retains the heat for longer after you stop feeding the fire...

building the meat smoker

In our endeavors for being able to go off grid if the need be at some point in the future, we needed to come up with a way to preserve meats without the use of electricity. Since folks have been smoking meats for thousands of years we figured that for us it would be the best way to go. Salt curing is an option as is jerking and canning but we like to have a variety of options, so we came up with this.

what we did
We had an old fridge sitting around and an old fireplace insert and we turned them into a smoker. We have it set up so that we can cool smoke or warm smoke whichever we choose.

All we did is take all the guts out of an old fridge (old chest freezers can also be used) and embed it into the side of the hill.

Open up the bottom so that smoke can enter into the fridge section. we then ran a pipe under ground a bit at an angle and made a fire box about 5 foot in front of the fridge.The firebox is the old fire place insert with doors on the front that we buried in the ground up to the level of the doors. Our fire box is the firebox of the insert itself. The box does not have to be an insert, one can simply build a box of whatever they choose or simply use a hole in the ground that can be covered when the smoker is in use.

This allows for the cool smoke to enter the fridge chamber and slow smoke meats. For a warmer smoke we can simply place a small heat source in the bottom area of the fridge( many use a hot plate in the bottom of the fridge)...

The biggest issue we had in building this was getting the slope on the smoke tube at an angle to where it would draw from the fire box into the fridge. We had it where we thought it would work, lit a fire and smoked ourselves out. We then had to uncover the tube and pull the box out and adjust it so that the smoke would go the direction we needed it to go.

A couple years ago Someone wrote in to countryside mag. warning people about using the metal racks from old refrigerators. They said the racks were coated with some substance that when they were heated (as in a smoker, I assume) released something toxic and deadly. To avoid this issue we took the racks out after having read it before we built it. We placed a different rack (from an oven ) in it and have a couple hooks for larger pieces to hang pieces.

It took one afternoon or so to make and works well...
Cost to us =$0
Photos of the building of the smoker

Here are a couple sites that give basic plans for a smoker. Keep in mind nothing in any of these is written in stone. If there is something you dont have on hand to build one , find something else that can work for you. Plans are simply ideas. It is up to us to make them our own unique creation that works for us in our own unique circumstances.

a super frugal version...

a pdf on meat curing

cooking on the wood stove

Since we are heading into the winter months where we will have a fire in the shack the majority of days, I shift the majority of my cooking inside and to the top of the wood stove. The inside stove is not a cook stove type model it is simply a run of the mill older style wood stove.Once the chill of winter sets in good,I would say about 85% of our cooking is done on the wood stove, 10% outside on the cook top and oven and 5% crock pot. We figure why burn wood outside and in the cold when we have a perfectly good cooking source in the warmth of the house. I have found over the last few years that one can dang near cook anything either on it or in it. most things cook in about the same amount of time as what they would cooked on anything else so long as the stove is hot. If it is just heating up as you cook then things will take longer. Its fun cooking on the wood stove, it just takes some practice to get accustomed to. I can say, that it sure is nice to not have to depend on that four eyed monster in the kitchen.

The simplest things to cook on the stove top are beans, soups and stews.Nothing easier than throwing a pot of something on all day and letting it slowly simmer. Chili is pretty easy as is rice, oatmeal and cream of wheat.Tortillas and other flat breads are quite simple as I simply use the top of the stove to cook them.

For breads, cakes and such I place another pan over the top of them. You will most likely have very brown bottoms on things , but if its all you have then you make do. Another method to take a large dutch oven with one of those round meat racks in the bottom. Sit your bread pan down in the dutch oven (on the rack) and put the lid on. It will stop that thick bottom that I mentioned because it leaves a gap for the heat to circulate around the pan and not directly react on it. I have found cast iron pans to be the best for baked goods. It keeps the bottoms from getting quite so brown. Heat the pans up well before you throw your mix of cornbread or cake etc in the pan..

For frying foods or cooking steaks, burgers etc, a cookie sheet works well. If you have only heavy pans to use, sit them on top of the stove to heat up good before you cook in them. A small spray of Pam or light brushing of oil on the pan helps keeps things from sticking and makes clean up easier.

Deep frying is not possible that I have found. The oil just wont get hot enough to do french fries and fried snickers (yes we on occasion subject ourselves to this type of GMO, HFCS, fat laden goodness), but the good news is, even that can be solved. You simply use a shallow thin bottomed pan and a smaller amount of oil and turn as needed.

For some things I just wrap them in foil and place on top of the stove and turn periodically. I do taters, squash and other assorted veggies quite often using this method . Speaking of foil,you can wrap whole potatoes in foil and toss them in one side of the fire box on top of coals you brush over to one side.You can do this with other veggies as well or you can simply throw your dutch oven on in there for a while.Experiment with it and see how much you can do. It is a great use of a cooling down, non raging wood stove. I generally use this method when we need to . to let the fire die down to take ashes out.

herbal vinegars for good health

I was going to spend the time making this post but instead I found this in my stash of book marked sites. It does a much better job of explaining than I could ever do . Here is a snip from an article on the subject..

herbs to use in vinegars
  • Apple mint leaves, stalks
  • Bee balm (Monarda didyma) flowers, leaves, stalks
  • Bergamot (Monarda sp.) flowers, leaves, stalks
  • Burdock (Arctium lappa) roots
  • · Catnip (Nepeta cataria) leaves, stalks
  • · Chicory (Cichorium intybus) leaves, roots
  • · Chives and especially chive blossoms
  • · Dandelion (Traxacum off.) flower buds, leaves, roots
  • · Dill (Anethum graveolens) herb, seeds
  • · Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) herb, seeds
  • · Garlic (Allium sativum)
  • · Garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis)
  • · Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) flowers
  • · Ginger (Zingiber off.) and Wild ginger (Asarum canadensis) roots
  • · Lavender (Lavendula sp.) flowers, leaves
  • · Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) new growth leaves and roots
  • · Orange mint leaves, stalks
  • · Orange peel, organic only
  • · Peppermint (Mentha piperata and etc.) leaves, stalks
  • · Perilla (Shiso) leaves, stalks
  • · Rosemary (Rosmarinus off.) leaves, stalks
  • · Spearmint (Mentha spicata) leaves, stalks
  • · Thyme (Thymus sp.) leaves, stalks
  • · White pine (Pinus strobus) needles
  • · Yarrow (Achilllea millifolium) flowers and leaves
  • Burdock root
  • Yellow Dock root
  • dandelion (flowers, buds, leaves, and roots)
  • Comfrey
  • Garlic Mustard
  • Chickweed
  • Red Clover
  • Lambsquarter
  • Nettles
  • Red Raspberry Leaves
how to make your own herbal vinegars

A very good article written by one of my favorite net folks, Susun Weed. She also has a very good you tube series that you may want to check out

a few recipes using your herbal vinegars

Monday, November 23, 2009

Culinary Herbs as medicinals

and since we are still on the subject of herbs...

Think of your spice rack as your medicine chest. most culinary herbs actually began as medicinal herbs. Through thousands of years of dietary changes we have lost the art of eating our medicines

Now, during these times of chemicals, preservatives, GMO's, homogenization irradiation and ever growing health care costs it is time to get back to basics and back to using some of our most common herbs in treating some of our ailments..

If you are pregnant or have a serious medical condition, always consult a professional before ingesting significant quantities of herbs

Basil (leaf, flower) is cooling and belongs to the mint family. It aids digestion, supports the stomach and is a slight sedative. (tea 4-6oz., tincture 10-15 drops)

Bay (leaf) is astringent, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. It supports the nervous system and stomach, helps dispel gas. It stimulates menstrual flow. (tea 2-4 oz., tincture 10 drops)

Black pepper (seed) is stimulating, increases flow of gastric enzymes, and helps prevent constipation. (tea 2oz.)

Cayenne as you know is very heating. Cayenne strengthens the heart, capillaries, arteries and nerves. Good for cold feet and hands. It also stimulates stomach secretions and opens the bronchi. Mix cayenne with garlic, lemon, ginger and honey to make a tea to help get over a cold or flu. You can vary this tea with or without the ginger or garlic, and just use a pinch of cayenne. If you have a slip of the knife while cooking, packing enough cayenne to cover well the exposed flesh will help stop the bleeding and is anti-microbial. (pinch in your tea, 2-5 drops tincture)

Cinnamon (bark) is an astringent, dispels gas, anti-bacterial, anti-microbial. It can also help relieve diarrhea. (tea 2 oz., tincture 5-10 drops)

Cloves are anesthetic and work well for toothaches (a drop of the oil or tincture on the offending tooth) and as a sore throat gargle. (tea 2oz., 10 drops tincture in water for gargle, do not swallow)

(seed) is a wonderful warming plant to help ease flatulence, indigestion, colic and gastro-intestinal spasms. Fennel will also ease throat tension and coughs as well as bring up phlegm from the lungs. (tea 4-6oz., tincture 10-15 drops)

Garden sage (leaf) is cooling, disinfectant and astringent. It cools a fever, cleanses the blood, eases headache and nervous tension. It also stimulates digestion and is an emmenagogue. Garden sage also works well as a mouthwash for sore throat, mouth ulcers and bleeding gums. Garden sage is the variety of sage that you will commonly find in the grocery store. (tea 4-6oz., tincture 10-15 drops)

Garlic is excellent when you are sick. It stimulates your immune response, is anti-microbial and promotes sweating. It is useful when traveling to discourage parasites. Garlic also decreases cholesterol, LDLs, and blood pressure. Eat with parsley if having garlic breath bothers you, or a loved one. To enjoy the medicinal effects of garlic it important not to get it too hot. The best way to cook with it is to sprinkle it raw onto your food, or add it in at the end of cooking once the heat is turned off.

is heating and increases circulation especially to the pelvic region. It is useful for nausea, motion sickness and to stimulate the appetite. Ginger makes a lovely footbath to warm you on a cold night. (tea 4-6oz., tincture 10-15 drops)

Nutmeg (seed) aids digestion, flatulence, diarrhea and nausea. It is a mild sedative in small doses and narcotic in large doses. It works well steeped in warm milk or brandy. (tea 2-3oz., tincture 5 drops)

Oregano (leaf) helps indigestion, coughs and headaches. It is an emagogue and is a good poultice for painful swelling. (tea 4-6oz., tincture 10-15 drops)

(leaf) is both cooling and stimulating. It helps cramps from gas, bloating, motion sickness and nausea. Peppermint can also soothe a headache by drinking the tea or putting a cool cloth soaked in tea across your forehead. (tea 4-6oz., tincture 10-15 drops)

Rosemary (leaf, flower) is warming, both a circulatory and liver tonic. It is a digestive aid and stimulates the liver as well as gastric juices. It is an emmenagogue and will soothe a headache. Rosemary is very antiseptic and makes a good wound soak. (tea 4-6oz., tincture 10-15 drops)

(leaf) stimulates the appetite, relieves flatulence and colic. It is also anti-fungal and anesthetic. (tea 4oz., tincture 10 drops)

Thyme (leaf) supports the stomach. It is also antiseptic (good as a wash for skin infections) and antispasmodic. It works well for congested lungs and shortness of breath. (tea 4-6oz., tincture 10-15 drops)

Turmeric (root) is warming, analgesic and astringent. It promotes bile, relieves a congested liver and gallstones and aids digestion. Turmeric also reduces tumors and uterine fibroids and is an emmenagogue. (tea 4-6oz., tincture 10-15 drops)

Many flowers are also edible and are beautiful additions to salads or desserts. These include borage, calendula, chive, lilac,violet and nasturtium.

Before you walk to you medicine cabinet, consider your spice rack.

How to make infusions, teas, decoctions,syrups, tinctures,oils ,salves and creams

As a continuation of the last post on herbs...


An infusion is made by adding boiling water over herbs and allowing the mixture to steep for several minutes before straining and drinking. Do not bring the infusion to a boil with the herbs in the container. Rather, pour the hot water over the herbs into a separate container for infusing. Use about ½ to 1 cup of fresh herbs for 2 ½ cups of water. Chamomile, mint, ginger, lemon balm, rose hips, and sage are easy to grow herbs that make refreshing and healthful teas.

Herbal Teas

Making herbal teas may be the easiest of all herbal remedies. Also known as a tisane, or infusion, Herbal teas can be made by simply adding fresh or dried herbs to a pot, or cup of boiling water. To begin, place 1 teaspoon of dried herbs, or 2-3 teaspoons of fresh herbs, per I cup of water into a teapot or teacup. Add boiling water, cover, and steep for 10 minutes. You must then strain your tea by pouring it through a strainer of some sort. There are multiple ways of doing this, and your own experimentation will prove most valuable.

Herbal Decoctions

Similar to an infusion, or tea, a decoction is necessary when you are making remedies from tough plant materials, such as roots, bark, seeds or stems. To begin, place thinly chopped plant material into a saucepan and add cold water. Use 1-2 teaspoons of fresh or dried herbs to one cup of water. Bring the decoction to a boil, simmer for 15 minutes, and strain after the liquid has been reduced by one half.

Dip cloth in the infusion or decoction, wring it out, and apply locally

Herbal Syrup

Herbal syrups are a good way to soothe sore throats and common respiratory ailments. Herbal syrups can be made by combining sugar, honey, or glycerin with tinctures, teas, infusions, and medicinal liquors. Syrups can be preserved by adding glycerin or refrigerating. 1. To begin, make a tea, decoction, or tincture, or infusion. 2. Combine selected herbal solution, and combine with honey in a saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil. A typical syrup would have a ratio of approximately 1 cup of solution, to cup of honey or other sweetener. 3. Pour mixture into clean, dark bottles, let cool and cap with a cork stopper, or similar, non sealing lid. This will keep syrup from exploding if syrup begins to ferment. Keep refrigerated

Herbal Tincture
Herbal tinctures allow one to make a large herbal remedy and store for a longer period of time, making them available at a short notice to be used with teas, salves, creams, etc. to make an instant herbal remedy. Tinctures are made by steeping fresh or dried herbs in alcohol or vinegar. The liquid extracts the volatile oils and active constituents from the herbs, and preserves them for up to 2 years. Vodka is the best alcohol to use due to its tastelessness. 1. To begin, place cut up pieces of dried or fresh herbs in a large glass jar. 2. Cover herbs with enough alcohol or vinegar to fully immerse the herbs. Let steep at room temperature in a dark spot, shaking the jar daily. 3. After 2-4 weeks, strain the mixture through a fine cloth, paper coffee filter, or cheesecloth. 4. Pour the tincture into clean, dark bottles and store out of the sun until needed.

Infused Oils
Herbal oils are made by extracting the herbal constituents and volatile oils from the herbs for a later use. Any vegetable oil will do, yet olive, almond, canola, and sesame oils are the best. Herbal oils can be added to recipes, used for cooking, or massaged into sore body parts. Herbal oils can be infused by two methods; cold infusion and hot infusion. Cold Infused Oil 1. To begin, tightly fill a large sealable jar with selected herb flowers or leaves. 2. Cover herbs with selected oil and screw on lid. 3. Place jar on a sunny windowsill for approximately one month, shaking daily. 4. Strain the mixture into a container, and transfer into a dark bottle. 5. Place in a cool, dark place. Hot Infused Oil 1. To begin, place a ratio of 2 cups oil to 1 cup of dried herbs/ 2 cups fresh herbs, in a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water. 2. Slowly heat on low for approximately 3 hours, and strain into a bowl. 3. Transfer liquid into dark bottles, cap, and place in a cool, dark place.

Salves & Ointments
Salves and oils are made by combining heated oil with a particular herb until the oil absorbs the plants healing properties. Adding beeswax will thicken the mixture to the desired consistency. 1. To begin, pour 3-4 fl. Oz. Of desired infused oil into a glass bowl. 2. Place solution over a pot of boiling water. 3. Add a ?" square piece of beeswax to the solution, stirring constantly until the wax has completely melted. 4. Pour warm liquid into small dark ointment jars and store in a cool, dark place.


Creams are an emulsion of oil and a water soluble liquid, allowing the final product to be readily absorbed by the skin. The easiest way to make creams is to buy an emulsifying cream from the drugstore, and heat the desired herb plant material in it. 1. To begin, melt approximately 2 tablespoons of emulsifying cream in a bowl placed over a pot of boiling water. 2. Add one large tablespoon of dried herbs to the mixture, and stir slowly until the cream takes on the color of the herbs. 3. Remove from heat, strain, and squeeze the remaining liquid from the clump. 4. Let cream cool in a glass bowl, and spoon into small, dark bottles. 5. Store jars in a cool, dark place for up to one year.

Poultices are used to apply moist heat to draw or soothe. Fresh leaves of the particular herb called for is bruised and steeped in boiling water (only enough to moisten) for a short time. The leaves are then spread between two pieces of cloth and applied as hot as possible, then, covered with a dry cloth to retain heat. A second poultice is prepared while the first one is still being used. It is to replace the first poultice the moment it begins to noticeably lose heat. The powdered herb of a plant may be substituted for the fresh leaves. Use enough of the powdered herb to make a paste. The paste is then spread between two pieces of cloth, applied and renewed, several times.

herbal teas

Growing your own or foraging for herbal teas is a gratifying experience. Enjoying the bounty of your own garden infused in a delicious cup of tea is cool, fun, and easy. In the summer, herbal teas are nice to drink both hot and cold. Herbal teas can be made with one plant or a blend of plants, depending on taste, or desired effect. Many teas are not only a nice warm treat but have medicinal qualities to them meaning they can help cure what ails you. The following is a brief list of some of the herbs we grow here and use in various teas. Once again let me remind you an herbal tea is not the same as drinking black or green tea, there is a distinct difference and again there is no caffeine. Always be sure you know how to identify any plants you use for tea purposes.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) flowers - bright yellow and orange flowers are constant bloomers and an exciting and useful addition to any garden. Calendula (also known as pot marigold) repels some insects in the garden so is useful to plant around other plants. Excellent for skin health and digestive support, Calendula is has a slightly bitter and saffron-like taste.

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) leaves and flowering aerial parts - known for its use as a headache remedy, feverfew has little daisy-like flowers, and is a pretty addition to an herb garden.

Holy Basil/ basil (Ocimum sanctum) leaves - not the garden type basil, Holy Basil is considered an adaptogen, which is a plant that helps balance the stress response. Holy Basil may lift the spirits while increasing clarity of thought. A nice tea to drink in a blend with other herbs or on its own. Sweet basil is also a very soothing tea with some wonderful health benefits for treating fever and eye conditions as well as when mixed with witch hazel it can be used as a compress to treat head aches.

(Equisetum arvenses) aerial parts - a fun plant to grow because it kind of looks like horse tails (without the hair), growing through the earth in gentle spikes. Horsetail is a nice herb to support connective tissue as it is a rich source of vegetal silica and is used to improve skin health, nail strength, and urinary tract tail is one of the best herbs one could ever use in a shampoo.

Hyssop (Anise Hyssop) aerial parts while in flower - a lovely purple spike of a flower, hyssop attracts butterflies, hummingbirds and honeybees for its pollen. Hyssop makes a nice tea useful for supporting digestion, soothing lower respiratory tract irritation, and helping with fever management.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) aerial parts - beautiful and fragrant, Lavender is highly aromatic and a useful support for the nervous system, especially where there is melancholy. Lavender is also used for pain relief and skin health.

Lemon Balm
(Melissa officinalis) leaves - prolific growing plant in full sun - you may want to put Lemon Balm in a container or contain it somehow. The leaves are a vibrant green, and when pressed, smell divinely like lemon. Rich in essential oils, lemon balm makes a delightful tea, and is nice for uplifting one's mood. Lemon Balm also has anti-viral properties due to the aromatic oils and is used to strengthen the immune system.

Lemon Verbena
(Alysia triphylla) leaves - very high in volatile oils, Lemon Verbena smells deliciously of lemon and is a delightful annual to grow in the garden and will reward you with teas through the summer. Lemon Verbena is used as a calming digestive and sleep herb, and would be great sipping while swinging in the hammock.

(Leonurus cardiaca) aerial parts - with small whorls of lavender flowers from mid-to-late summer, Motherwort is a pleasant addition to the tea garden and tolerates both sun and shade. Motherwort can be harvested from spring through fall, and is used to support digestive and heart health. Motherwort is a calming herb.

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) aerial parts - Mugwort or Cronewort has spikes of whitish green flowers with deep purple steps and green leaves with silvery undersides. Mugwort is used often for menopause symptoms and digestive support.

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnate) aerial parts - an incredibly beautiful, unusual vine, passionflower will reward you with her spectacular beauty and medicinal value. Passionflower is a useful nervine herb, with mild sedative effects, making it a useful tea to relax after a long day or before bedtime.

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) flowering aerial parts - the little blue flowers of Skullcap resemble little skulls wearing hats, thus the name of the herb. Skullcap prefers a well-drained moist soil and is quite a useful nervine herb used to soothe frayed nerves, irritability and anxiety.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) aerial parts - with lacy textured leaves and little white flowers, yarrow is an important medicinal plant, useful for respiratory conditions, gut health & muscle aches.

Rose hips make an excellent citrusy, tangy tea when brewed. Rose hips form at the base of rose flowers on rose plants, growing especially large and tasty on Rosa rugosa varieties. Allow roses to die naturally on the stem by not deadheading. As the hips form, they start out green, turn yellow and eventually ripen to a bright red usually after the year's first frost which is when you should harvest them . Rose hips are an excellent source of Vitamin C, pound for pound better than oranges. Rose hip tea is said to be a cure for bladder infections, headaches and dizziness and also provide a good amount of Vitamins A, D and E along with antioxidants.

Mint provides an excellent stand-alone flavor as well as a good kick for other teas. All kinds of mint from the Mentha genus, such as Orange bergamot, spearmint and peppermint, are exceptional herbs for tea brewing. Most people find mint hard not to grow, so this is a great "grow-your-own-tea" choice. Because it can be very invasive, it is probably best to grow mints in a container.

Sage teas are one of my favorites. Hot or cold,an herb of many talents
Known as a diaphoretic herb, hot sage tea will increase the flow of bodily
fluids (e.g. perspiration and delayed periods) and decrease the flow when
taken cold. Colds, flu, and bronchial afflictions benefit from hot sage's
ability to expectorate and increase sweating and elimination of toxins.
Cold sage tea arrests diarrhea. Cold sage tea is used to help stop night sweats during the menopausal years and can be used to assist in the weaning process when it is time to stem the
flow of milk in a nursing mother. In both stages, women want those bodily
fluids to stop flowing! Sage is to be avoided during pregnancy as it can
stimulate uterine contractions. Do not use cold sage tea while nursing so as
not to affect the flow of milk.

another favorite of mine is Mullein It is known for its ability to soothe coughs and relieve chest congestion. It works well in bronchitis-usually presenting harsh painful cough and the inability to expectorate the mucus. When mullein tea is used, most people find it extremely soothing, though not particularly tasty. It works as an expectorant, helping to liquefy the mucus, making it easier to cough it out. It also reduces the inflammation in the airway---reducing the irritation and the pain. People using the mullein tea usually recover faster than those who don't.

There are many varieties of thyme, but all contain the same natural medicinal properties in their volatile oil which contains thymol, an antimicrobial that helps with infections of the stomach, lung and throat. When the volatile oil passes to the kidneys, it works to disinfect urine and bladder conditions. he expectorant properties of thyme have made the herb popular as a natural herbal medicine for the treatment of congested lungs, whooping cough and bronchitis. It has also been used to reduce muscle spasms, especially those that narrow the tiny airways in the lungs, to help ease breathing, and other muscle tension. Colic, indigestion and flatulence have been treated by thyme and the herbal remedy is used as an external aid in disinfecting and healing wounds. Thyme combats parasites, such as hookworms and tapeworms, within the digestive tract. It is also useful to treat yeast infections. Also is noted for the treatment of hangovers and menstrual pain.

Chamomile Used as a tea, chamomile is known to relax smooth muscle tissue. In this way, it is useful in such things as calming a nervous stomach and relieving menstrual cramps. The tea is often used to promote relaxation and alleviate stress.

The list can go on and on. One can add strawberry leaves, dandelions, violets, raspberry, clovers staghorn sumac, birch bark, pine needles,st johns wort, japanese knotweed,, cinnamon and sassafras as well as many others to make a customized blend of herbal teas not just for enjoyment but for medicinal remedies as well.

alternative coffee(like) brews

I enjoy experimenting with things and one of my latest phases of experiments has been in finding a suitable and economical replacement for coffee if the need arises. I enjoy the caffeine that coffee has however my enjoyment from anything more than one than that first cuppa day is from the hot drink aspect of things rather than a caffeine kick. I really enjoy a hot beverage in the afternoon hours during the winter and i truly don't need the added caffeine at 4 pm.

Why dont i grow coffee you ask? I simply do not have the patience to sit n watch it grow for a couple years and then have it produce one lousy bean nor do we have the space to grow such plants. Besides, caffeine isnt something all together good for us and it is a rather expensive habit to have. I figure why not find something that could either serve as a good drink on its own or use it to supplement coffee supplies should we no longer to be able to afford to buy it.

Now keep in mind fake coffee has no caffeine but at the same time remember there are very few native American plants that do contain caffeine.Also remember that any alternative coffee is not going to be the same as the real thing.

my experiments thus far and my thoughts on each

Okra was my first experimental brew that i made. We had had many many days of rain and some of my okra got out of control and much of it snapped off due to heavy rains. It was not to the point of being able to dry them for seed purposes but eating them was not in the best interest of our teeth. I remembered reading somewhere that okra seed had been used as a substitute for coffee and my experiments thus began.

It was better than i expected and was definitely drinkable. It takes a fair bit of seed to make any considerable amount of grounds.(5 gallon bucket of pods made about 3 pots of coffee). It would be really good to mix half and half with coffee grounds to stretch the coffee. You need more of the okra seed to make a cup of coffee, plain and at coffee measurements it was pretty weak.
It was very easy to make and i actually enjoyed drinking something resembling coffee at 5 pm and knowing i could sleep later on..I will be making this again when okra gets out of hand or at the end of a season and i am letting the okra go to seed .

Next up was rice coffee. I had read that in countries where they grow rice it is often used as a substitute because real coffee was not affordable to them.

This brew was very good. Very nice taste and somehow almost coffee like.It so far has been the easiest to prepare which is a bonus if ya really need a fix and quick. It however it is not economical in any way shape or form. 1/2 cup of rice for a pot of coffee is probably more costly than actual coffee. Perhaps if you live in the Philippines and grow rice it would be cost effective but here it sure isn't.

Acorns were a staple food to the Native Americans way back when and they are a staple for us at the homestead. We have been using them in many of our foods for the last couple of years now. One thing i had never tried with them was making a coffee until today.

I will probably never choose to make this one again. It was very mild in flavor almost lacking but with the overall taste of tannin water. Just not something i would choose to drink if i had anything else on hand . Acorns are also a whole lot of work to make edible to begin with so unless you use them on a regular basis and have them on hand, not feasible for a quick fix.

I am not sure what I will try next in my experiment on the coffee. I know I enjoy chicory but that is rarely found around here without planting it yourself and why bother testing something you know you like. I do believe I have read you can grind and parch corn and it supposed to be "just like coffee.". If anyone has heard of strange brews but is scared to try them on their own let me know and I will give them a go and report back with my thoughts.

a few photos of my brews

building the earth (cob) oven

An earth oven is one of the most simple and long-used cooking structures. At its simplest, an earth oven is simply a pit in the ground used to trap heat and bake, smoke, or steam food. Earth ovens have been used in many places and cultures in the past and remain a common tool for cooking large quantities of food where no equipment is available. An earth or cob oven is a wood fired oven made from a mixture of mud or clay, sand and straw(cob). It is built to retain the heat from a fire built inside of it. Your oven can be used to bake bread, cook pizzas, slow cook stews, roasts, or make anything you would cook in a conventional oven. We often used the small chimney on top of ours to make coffee or heat dish water since we had the oven fired up anyway, may as well use it for as much as possible. Earth ovens are very earth friendly to build. They are typically built with natural resources native to the area and when no longer used simply return to mother earth and leave no trace.

our experience
One of the first back to the basics projects we did around the homestead was an old style very basic earth oven. We didn't use an exact plan for our oven but just looked around the web, got an idea and built it. We used materials we had on hand and of course our own clay, we did purchase a bale of straw but looking back on it we could have just used native grasses in place of the straw.

We made the project into a two day build only because we had company coming with children to help stomp the mud.The adults still wound up stomping while the kiddies had mud wars. We made the base and basic shape on day one then made the mud and built the oven the following day. All total it was about 6 -8 hours of work and then a few more hours over time after it had dried, cured and been fired for the first time.

We no longer use the earth oven here on the land as we moved the kitchen where it was located to another location. Yes, we move our out door kitchens around so as not to leave too big an imprint on any one area. When we moved this particular kitchen, the oven was left out to the elements so we left it do nature to clean it up, it is now a tiny bump of clay.

There are many types of earth oven plans out there and available on the web. They range from the very basic to very ornate.I recommend anyone with any tiny piece of land to build one for them self. Not only are they fun to build and use on a regular basis but they could very well be a needed tool in an emergency no power, no fuel situation. Who doesnt love a home baked meal no matter whats happening in the world around you?

The photos of how we built the oven

An in depth article and plans for an earth oven

Sunday, November 22, 2009

indoor and GH fall/winter garden 2009

For the last few years I have been bringing a few plants indoors to grow through the winter months, something that was more an experiment than anything else. Experimenting while gardening is some what a hobby of mine. I enjoy pushing limits and pushing grow conditions and seeing what i can force to grow. After a horrific season of gardening , a whole lot of thinking on food production and aging or ill health and a newly empty nest i decided it was time to get a bit more serious on the indoor gardening through the fall and winter months.

For the last several years i have been gardening through the winter months outside more than anything. Not too difficult in the climate we are in but it does take a lot of time and energy and the older or maybe its wiser i get i realize i don't like cold wet, winter craptacular weather like i used too. I would much prefer to spend time in side where i am warm and dry or atleast under cover and out of the weather. Now, if i can produce enough food to provide a majority of our winter diet inside it will be splentabulous.

My mission this fall and winter is to be able to grow the majority of our fresh food intake without having to spend any more money on groceries than we normally do until next summers harvest begins. As i mentioned before, the gardens were horrific this year. We lost most of our crops that we would normally preserve to disease, drowning and lack of a real summer. So although we ate fresh all summer and are continuing to do so, the food stores we normally have put back for the winter are not there. No worries, we won't starve to death if this garden experiment is a failure.

My other goal is to give my crops minimal pampering. The plants up in the loft will only be given supplemental lighting to extend the day light hours. This way if power is ever gone for an extended period of time my plants will not up and die because i can find a way to power the one light that is used for them. We will not have a big fancy set up that needs an entire generator to keep it running. I will also use the greenhouse for this growing season . The greenhouse has no heat source, it isn't inflated with the layer of air between the plastic, nor is there supplemental lighting.

The loft garden
The loft garden is a perfectly set up room for winter gardening. It is passive solar and the sliding glass doors allow direct sunlight to be on the plants for 5-6 hours a day. I use one cfl flood light bulb in my tinfoil hat for two to provide extra light to the plants that need longer daylight hours. I have about 20 containers currently planted. All the containers are just things we had laying around that would hold soil and that i could make drainage holes in the bottom of. I have planted a few veggies to have them die off or get eaten by critters(i told you this was a shack). When a planting dies i replace it with something different to see how it will do. At this point in time i have lettuces, collards, mustard, onion, garlic, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, beans, cucumber,okra, rosemary and peas. Last night we harvested our first part of a meal from the loft,a fine selection of mixed greens .

the greenhouse
In the gh i have about 32 square foot planted. I am using a table bed, a raised bed and a water tub for my plantings. In these i have turnips, carrots, green onions, radishes, , leaf cabbage peas and some other leafy green vegetables that i cant for the life of me remember. I will know once they grow a bit more. I will be adding a few other small crops as time goes on and when i can find a suitable container and spare soil.

I will do periodic updates threads on how both gardens do and how much food wise they produce through the winter months. For those wondering, no i didnt give up winter out door gardening. We still have several beds with crops in them that we are eating from as well. My focus however this winter is more the indoor gardens.

Here is the photo link of both the gh and loft gardens

Building the colloidal silver generator

We have been seeing the ionic or colloidal silver generators for several years now and have researched them quite extensively in that time. Last week after having thought about it long enough we finally got the materials we needed in order to make our own. One of the deciding factors was the health care situation, not just in our personal lives but the nation as a whole.

Since we have been “retired” we have had no health insurance so keeping healthy has been a priority of ours. We figured what could this hurt and if it’s a genuinely good thing then how many benefits could we get from it. Our investment in the materials to make the generator came to about 30 dollars. The batteries and the water will be our only additional costs in the future as the amount of silver we bought should do us til we die. We figure that is a very economic way to taking another step of hopefully ensuring our health if it indeed works as it has been touted to. If it doesn’t seem to work then we have 23 dollars of silver laying around and wasted a total of 7 dollars.
The recipe and version we built

Our version of the generator

History of the use of silver
Knowledge of silver's health giving properties goes back over 2000 years. Silver derived preparations were commonplace up to the 1940s until antibiotics broke onto the scene. Silver was all but forgotten. However, with the advent of Multi-drug-resistant (MDR) germs, scientists and researchers are now looking at alternatives including silver and importantly, Colloidal Silver which is also effective against Viral, Fungal and Yeast Infections.

The ancient Romans and Greeks found that liquids would stay fresher longer if put in silver containers. Our own American pioneers found that a silver dollar put in a jug of milk would delay spoilage. They also found that if they would keep their silverware "hidden" in their water barrel that the water would not go bad.
Silver is a very powerful natural antibiotic. It has been used for thousands of years in its less effective solid form but in more recent decades it has been used in its colloidal form ... with no side effects. It is a catalyst, disabling the particular enzyme that all one-celled bacteria, fungus and virus, use for their oxygen metabolism which means they suffocate. Viruses are destroyed because the electric charge of the silver particles cause their internal protoplast to collapse, and are rendered unable to reproduce. Using the proper solution there are no side effects and using a true colloidal silver does no harm to the essential bacteria found in our intestinal tract.
Applications include diluted oral, topical, as a nasal, ear, or as a spray for other sensitive tissues. It kills all diseases causing bacteria, fungus, and viruses within six minutes of contact, but leaves unharmed the "friendly" bacteria. Many people take colloidal silver internally every day to boost their immune system. It does not sting, burn, or hurt even the most sensitive areas.
It can be used on warts, open sores, or a rinse for acne, eczema, and other skin irritations. It can be used vaginally, anally, or even atomized and inhaled. The number of disease organisms presently identified that colloidal silver is fatal to is now over 650. Listed below are some of the viruses that colloidal silver kills in less than sixty seconds.

Argyria and turning blue
Colloidal silver made with an ionic generator such as ones that are sold on the internet or home made generators will not cause argyria when taken at proper dosage levels. Ionic silver products contain a low percentage of their silver content in the form of particle , they all have a fairly low particle surface area relative to the total silver content

sources for reference

An article on dosage and precautions
CS for long term storage