Spring is Here : Looking Forward to Flowers and Herbs!

It is the first day of Spring and I am looking forward to the appearance of flowers and herbs. The snowdrops are up, and the robins have returned. The hyacinths are beginning to poke through the thawing soil.

Before long the violets will be blooming. I plan to gather these delicate flowers from an area of the yard that has not been sprayed with any chemicals to make candied violets. See a recipe here.

Every year I add another herb to my gardens. Herbs are a source of vitamins and minerals that support health. Rosemary, thyme and sage all grow easily. Here is a recipe for potatoes with rosemary and thyme.

I have planted some stinging nettle seeds in a container. I hope to plant them in a corner of the yard that has little traffic. The leaves of this plant sting—similar to stinging ants. The young leaves must be harvested carefully (gloves). When the leaves are boiled they lose their sting. The benefit of this herb is the rich mineral content. Nettle tea is sold in health food stores. I first noticed a recipe for nettle soup in a Swedish cook book. Here is an on-line recipe for nettle soup.

In a time period when many worry about infectious disease, it is a good idea to think about ways to improve the nutritional support of our immune system. Herbs are a source of vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. At one time I thought the purpose of herbs was flavor, but now I know they enrich our food.

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Traditions and Heritage

My mother picked strawberries and wild blueberries with her mother, and so did I. My Finnish heritage has given me a an appreciation for berries, wild and cultivated. 

Berries are abundant in Finland (37 types of edible wild berries) and an important addition to the diet. Enjoyment of berries is a family tradition.

According to a website about Finland: Nordic growing conditions are harsh yet productive. The berries and mushrooms that grow in Finnish forests are part of the traditional Finnish diet, and gathering them is a pastime for many families that has been passed down through generations. The fruits of the northern forests are coveted by gourmet chefs, and are increasingly exported.

When my children were little, thimbleberry jam had become popular in Upper Michigan. The wild thimbleberries grow along ditches and creek beds, sometimes not far from the rugged glory of Lake Superior.

When we visited Grandpa and Grandma in Upper Michigan, we joined them on excursions to find and pick the berries. We cleaned the berries as a family project. Grandma made jam and I learned how to make it too.

Bowl of Thimbleberries

Thimbleberry jam is lovely treat during winter. It brings back memories of the summer, hiking in Upper Michigan.

I have gradually added to the berries growing in my back yard, discovering which ones flourish. Blueberries and thimbleberries don’t do well. I have strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, elderberries and currants. The grandchildren delight in picking them, especially the raspberries and currants.

Raspberries
Currants
Elderberries

I pick and freeze the elderberries and in the fall I make elderberry juice.

Gooseberry
Gooseberries

Gooseberries are a nice addition to apple pie, adding a rich flavor.

This post is part of Write28Days. For a full list of posts click here.

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Simple Measures for Family Health: Herbs and Nutrients

Moms make many health decisions for their children. When someone in the family gets a cold there is a wide array of over the counter treatments to choose from. The pills and elixirs treat the symptoms but don’t help the immune system overcome the virus.

Over the years I have discovered foods, herbs and vitamins that support the immune system. These include: elderberries, ginger, garlic, bone broth, vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc.

I have elderberry bushes in my back yard and I make elderberry juice to have on hand in the winter months. (If you don’t have access to fresh elderberries you can purchase dried elderberries from the Bulk Herb Store.) When colds are going around my husband and I have 2 tablespoons of elderberry juice with raw honey daily. (NOTE: Honey should not be given to a child under one year old.)

Most people are deficient in vitamin D, which helps in fighting infection. It is good to have a vitamin D supplement. 

Vitamin C  and zinc also help in fighting infection. 

If I cook an organic chicken or turkey I save all the bones and make a broth (adding vegetables and herbs while it simmers for 24 hours). The broth is a rich source of minerals that our bodies need. The broth can be canned or frozen.

When I develop a cold, ginger, lemon and garlic are helpful. Ginger tea helps to clear the sinuses. To make ginger tea: grate 2 teaspoons of fresh ginger and simmer in 1 cup of water for 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice. Add raw honey to sweeten.

Garlic helps fight viruses and bacteria. I make garlic toast. I cut up 1 or 2 cloves of garlic into fine pieces. I butter the toast and top with the garlic. If this doesn’t appeal the garlic can be added to a spoon of raw honey or applesauce. (This works with children.)

At the same time there are foods that we should limit or avoid when we are ill. Foods with refined flour and sugar reduce vitamin availability; the vitamins are used up metabolizing the refined flour and sugar. Avoid sugar rich sodas, cookies and candies.

When a cold produces a lot of congestion it is wise to avoid dairy products. Dairy products increase the amount of mucous and phlegm. 

Finally, our bodies need rest when we are ill. We live is a busy world. I know that when I was working I sometimes went back to work too soon. We are in a hurry to get better and keep up with our responsibilities. Our bodies need rest to recover. 

The quick fix is appealing, but taking time to give the immune system support is good for improving health and well being.

Thoughts of Spring on a Cold Day

It’s cold outside. Our thermometer reads -5 degrees. We have almost a foot of snow on the ground and when I went outside to take a picture my fingers became stiff in minutes.

It is winter but spring will come. I have begun receiving seed catalogues. My thoughts turn to the garden. My favorite plants are the herbs.

Some will come back on their own. The perennials are mint, sage, chives, lemon balm and lavender. In the spring I will plant basil, calendula, dill, and thyme. I will buy a rosemary plant. 

It is so pleasant, so convenient to have fresh herbs on hand in the summer. 

I am linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing on the prompt: CONVENIENT. Visit Kate Motaung’s site to join the fun.

Colorful Foliage and Flowers in Northern Michigan

A week ago my husband and I were in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We had six days mostly off the grid, reading and doing small projects. The day that we arrived it was raining. It rained a couple more days. One night we had thunder, lightening and a heavy down pour.

The benefit was all the bright green foliage, the wild flowers and the apple trees heavy with apples. When I took time to see the flowers, to pick apples and watch the birds flitting from tree to tree, I was refreshed.

wildflower

 

Sweet pea

 

wildflower

For I know the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does in heaven and on earth,
In the seas and all deeps.
He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
who makes lightnings for the rain and
brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

Psalm 135: 5-7

The prompt for Five Minute Friday is: RAIN   Visit this community of writers by clicking here.

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Garden Notes: The Plants, Animals and Pests in My Yard

From spring to fall the garden is a place of wonder, amusement and challenge. Here are thirteen examples.

The tulips are one of the first blooms in my yard.

The Garden

The scent of the lily of the valley is pleasing. I love how the little bells peek out from the green fronds. This is the flower for the month of May—the month that my first baby was born.Lily of the Valley

The elderberry bushes had abundant flowers this year so I picked the flower heads (umbels) and made elderflower syrup. You can find the recipe here.Garden

When the elderberries are ripe—they are also abundant—I  will  make   elderberry juice. You can find the recipe here.Elderberries

This year I picked 6 quarts of cherries from the cherry tree, but this tree requires a lot of tending. You can read about it here.

Labor of Love

The grandchildren enjoy picking the raspberries, mulberries and currants.

Raspberry

It was a delight to see a hummingbird flit among the branches of the cherry tree. I placed a hummingbird feeder close to the tree. The little bird has been back.

The pickling cucumbers are growing well. I have been making lacto-fermented pickles. You can find a recipe here.

lacto-fermented cucumbers

This year I am growing tomato plants in containers. I was so pleased to see the developing tomatoes. And then I noticed a half eaten tomato. The next day I realized that there was a huge tomato worm on the plant. (Where do they come from?) He had devoured the leaves from two stems and was devouring another tomato. I had to call my husband to pick him off. (Didn’t even think about taking a picture this voracious green worm!)

I have become quite good at finding the Japanese beetles on my plants and can readily pick them off. If you find them in your yard, pick them off and drop them in a container of soapy water.

Japanese Beetle

The calendula flowers in glowing colors are blooming. I pick the blooms and dry them for tea. The flowers are also good for making a salve. Read more here.

Calendula Flower
Art Shades Calendula

As I watched from my kitchen window I noticed a squirrel that was busy trying to untangle a burlap strip that I had wound around the base of the plum tree and a steel rod. The plum tree was growing at an angle, and I was trying to help it grow upright. The squirrel ducked in and out of the burlap, gnawing at it. When I went outside he scampered away. He had it shredded the burlap in places, hoping to carry it off.

The zinnias are beginning to bloom. At first they have a single layer of petals. And then additional layers appear and the color becomes richer. It is a nice metaphor for the way we grow as Christians. As we follow the Lord obediently, spending time in the Word, our life becomes fuller and richer.

Garden

Today’s prompt for Five Minute Friday is:  THIRTEEN                                Visit Kate Motaung’s blog to see the various ways writers were inspired by this word. Thanks for visiting!

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If you plant a cherry tree, you might want to know . . .

If you plant a cherry tree the birds will come. The robins love my cherry tree. One year a group of cedar waxwings came and perched on a branch passing cherries to each other. And little birds that I haven’t identified come.

I don’t mind sharing some of the cherries—but not all. So I have started the practice of placing fake owls in the tree, moving them around every couple days. It helps.

The Cherry Tree

If you place a pretty owl covered in real feathers in the tree, it might be attacked. I was dismayed to see feathers torn off and a big bite taken out of the styrofoam core of the owl. A squirrel?Owl

If you pick the good cherries quickly you may have enough for a pie, and then extra to put in the freezer.

Cherries

If the springtime is very wet it may affect the cherries. The cherries may develop brown rot and then you must strip all the moldy cherries from the tree.

If the black aphids come and begin to munch on the new leaves of the tree, spray the tree with soapy water.

If the Japanese beetles come you might have to work hard to save the tree. Japanese Beetle

In the last couple years they have eaten half the leaves on my tree. I started picking them off and dropping them in soapy water, but it wasn’t enough. I placed a lure with pheromes that bagged 100s of these pests. Finally I resorted to treating the ground to get rid of the grubs that emerge from the soil in July as beetles.

My daughter is amused by the effort I put in to harvesting cherries from the tree that I planted many years ago.

If you like cherries as much as I do the effort may be worth it.

The prompt for the community of writers at Five Minute Friday is: IF  I hope you will visit the link-up and see how others were inspired by this little word.

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Rosemary and Tansy in the Herb Garden

Spring seems to be on hold as cold temperatures persist in Illinois. But I am beginning to think about my herb garden.

I recently read that Tansy is a deterrent for Japanese beetles. I have seeds to plant, hoping that it will help get rid of the throng of beetles I have seen the past couple years. I have also read that tansy is invasive–so I will have to plan carefully where I plant it.

Herb Garden
Tansy

My rosemary plant seems to have survived the winter in a sunny window, but it is looking somewhat listless. It needs more sunshine! I am hoping it will revive.

When we were in New Mexico in March the rosemary bushes were in full bloom. New Mexico has the perfect climate for this herb.

Rosemary Bush
Rosemary Bush

I have become particularly fond of rosemary and enjoy the legends about it. A story in Spain claims that the Virgin Mary was fleeing from soldiers on her way to Egypt. She spread her cloak on a rosemary bush and hid behind it. When she lifted her cloak the flowers had turned blue.

Rosemary flower
Rosemary flower

Fresh rosemary has many uses.   I  like to make  Rosemary & Thyme    potatoes. When ever I am adding fresh herbs to a recipe I mince them into little pieces. Here is my recipe:

Potatoes with Rosemary and Thyme

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, minced

2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced

¼ teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

3 Tablespoons olive oil

5 medium size potatoes

Combine the thyme, rosemary, salt, lemon juice and olive oil.

Peel potatoes and steam them until fork tender. Place the potatoes in a large bowl and cut each potato into several pieces. Pour the herb & oil mixture over the potatoes and cover.  Allow the potatoes to marinade like this for 2 hours or even overnight.

Spread the potatoes on a jelly roll pan or a rimmed baking sheet. Bake uncovered at 425° for 30 minutes.

I came across this site with 39 ways to use rosemary.

Do you have a favorite recipe with rosemary? Have you had any experience with tansy?

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Cucumbers for a Healthy Gut

When I visited my grandmother as a child she had viili, homemade sour milk, in her kitchen. My mother had been raised with the clabbered milk as a part of her diet.  The slippery consistency of this sour milk did not appeal to me. Now I recognize the health benefit of naturally fermented foods.

Traditional foods with beneficial bacteria are good for digestion and a healthy gut. Antibiotics eliminate both good and bad bacteria, stripping the gut of bacteria that assist in digestion. Our digestion system needs help to recover from some of the medications that are in commonly prescribed.  Dr. Mercola’s site has an informative article about traditional lacto-fermented foods.

So, I have a goal to include lacto-fermented foods in our diet. I grew pickling cucumbers in my garden and they have flourished!  The pickling  cucumbers are a little lighter in color than the salad cucumbers.

Pickling Cucumber

The farmers market nearby has  plenty of  cucumbers  also—but it  is   important to make sure you are getting pickling cucumbers.   ( Salad    cucumbers will get mushy when fermented.)

I found a detailed recipe for making lacto-fermented pickles and made my first jar. You can find the recipe here.

The recipe calls for whey. I strained an organic plain yogurt by putting cheesecloth in a strainer and adding the 6 ounces of yogurt. I let it stand until the whey had drained. (At first I had it on a counter in the kitchen and then placed it in the refrigerator. It took about 4 hours to get ¼ cup whey. Different brands of yogurt may have less whey. I purchased two containers just in case I needed to drain more.) The remaining yogurt can be used in other recipes. I added mine to a quiche I was making.

I let the pickles sit on my kitchen counter for three days and now they are in the refrigerator. Notice that lacto-fermented cucumbers will have a cloudy appearance.

lacto-fermented cucumbers

We will try them in a couple weeks. I expect them to have a nice, crunchy flavor. According to the recipe I followed, I will know if they are good or not!

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Abundant Berries: a Recipe for Black Raspberry & Blueberry Pie

The berries in my backyard are abundant . . . and so are the Japanese beetles. The upper leaves of my cherry tree were eaten, just the skeleton of leaf veins left. We have the Japanese beetle bagger up and I am still picking them off foliage. So pretty but so destructive!

Japanese Beetle

I have even been up on a ladder, shaking the branches of the tree. The beetles fall like rain. It no longer bothers me when they fall on my clothes (or down my shirt). I pick them off and put them in my bowl of soapy water. My husband watches with amusement. He is content to manage the beetle bagger. (Last year we saw the amazing results of the beetle bagger.

As I walked through the yard today I realized that I have been obsessed with getting rid of the beetles. The garden needs my nurture—watering, fertilizing. I can’t just focus on the pests.

Life is the same way. It is easy to get so distracted by the bad things happening that we can forget to nurture the good.

The joy in my yard comes from the beautiful berries. The red currant bushes are laden with strings of bright red currants. The black raspberries are ripening and I am making pies with them. The combination of black raspberries and blueberries makes a nice pie. Here is my recipe:

Prepare the pastry.

Add ¼ tsp. salt to 1 + ½ cup flour. Cut in ½ cup of butter using a pastry blender. The mixture should resemble coarse crumbs. Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to ½ cup of cold water.   Gradually drizzle  the  water over the flour mixture, mixing it in with a fork.  Add just enough water for the dough to hold together. Do not over mix the dough. I like to place the dough in the refrigerator, letting it rest, while I put the filling together.

For the filling:
2 cups black raspberries
2 + ½ cups blueberries
½ cup sugar
¼ cup tapioca granules or tapioca flour

Combine the berries, sugar and tapioca.

Then take out the dough and divide it in half. Roll out one piece to line a 9” pie plate. Roll out the other piece to make a pie cover. I like to fold the dough for the top crust in half twice, and then make some decorative slits—it is like the way you make cuts on folded paper for paper snowflakes.

Place the filling in the prepared pie dish. Lay the top cover on the pie and seal the edges. Brush with water and sprinkle a little sugar on top. Bake at 350° for about 1 hour. The pastry should be golden and the filling bubbling.

Black Raspberry-Blueberry Pie

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