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Herbalist's Journal > DECEMBER 2010




  "I am younger each year at the first snow. When I see it, suddenly, in the air, all little and white and moving; then I am in love again and very young and I believe everything"

                                              ~ Anne Sexton


 Though darker and colder, December is full of light.....lights of candles that we burn during numerous holidays meant to encourage the spirits of the warmer months to not forget us and to acknowledge the warmth and love present in even the coldest times. Eat, drink and be merry!!!!!!! 


December 1 ~ With the best intentions, each year, I make out a schedule for holiday baking, scouring through books, magazines and my grandmas old recipe box (one of my prize possessions), making my way too long shopping list of ingredients.......then, suddenly, I get distracted and change the entire plan.  So it goes again this year......I will be making candy...... and cookies, of course----but I think I'll do an assortment of different herb flavored truffles. First job will be to make several herbal syrups--once made, I can store them in the fridge and use for candy/cookies/cakes/coffee/ice cream.

December 2 ~ This is my grandmother's birthday--she is long gone, but it is to her that I owe all my cooking/baking skills, gardening and an understanding of plants... and the ability to see miracles in everyday things. I was lucky to not only know her (she lived until I was 34), but to live with her and grandpa and was brought up steeped in all the old ways.

December 4 ~ Making dog treats today. My grandson mixes up the dough, helps with rolling it out and uses the dog bone cookie cutters himself. There are a lot of good/tasty dog bone recipes on the web, but I always modify them to add a few herbs that help with overall health--such as dried nettles, calendula petals, garlic powder. After trying out the recipe on our dog--who ate his biscuit in 1 second and gave an extended tail wag, we bagged up the rest for friends and his teachers with dogs. Eventually, I will get to holiday baking for people !!!   * One important hint----I used garlic in this recipe and got it all over my wooden table where I roll out regular cookies and on my wooden rolling pin. I DO NOT want any  of that flavor to infect my other baking--so I rubbed both down with lemon juice and let dry.

December 5 ~ One important lesson about  greenhouse growing is NOT to plant seeds the same way indoors, as out. In the garden, I plant lettuce/greens pretty thick--but there is lots of sun, air circulation and warmth to allow for that--not so inside--so I am now in the process of thinning the second sowing as I have found that since it takes plants almost twice as long to mature in a greenhouse in winter, thickly sown seed produce small plants that take too long to regrow after cutting. SPACE and AIR. Lesson learned!! But, the herbs are very tenacious and the plants I brought in are doing well enough to provide us with a big handful of leaves every day  for salads and seasoning.

December 6 ~  While decorating the house with greens today, I remembered that this year I will not have dried Yarrow or Tansy to mix in with arrangements or stick in the boughs of the tree. The construction workers trampled my stands of these two plants even though I was constantly trying to protect them. They are OLD, well established plants and started to regrow shortly after construction was over--but not quick enough to supply me with their bright yellow blooms. Both these plants dry easily and maintain their full color and look gorgeous against greens. I will have to make do with some rose hips and make some dried orange and lemon slices to replace the color.

December 7 ~ Now that it is cold, it is more difficult and more expensive to buy or remember to eat veggies--to deal with the expense--remember to eat WINTER veggies--roasted squash, fresh beet slaw, beet greens in soup, etc......Or, you can follow Garfield's wise advice--"Vegetables are a must in the diet: I suggest carrot cake, zuchinni bread and pumpkin pie".  Isn't it fortunate that we are in the midst of making these very things for holiday baking?!?!?

December 8 ~ In the midst of holiday preparation, I always have someone over for a winter tea--very informal, but with a nice black tea and some spices added. This tea is for a really good friends--ones who understand that this is where I serve the mishapen cookies that are not presentable as gifts--the ones baked too close to the side of the pan or that spread too much--or whatever can befall any particular cookie type.....this is where they are featured, appreciated and eaten with gusto!! For some reason, it strikes me that tea warms you up better than coffee or hot chocolate.

December 9 ~ We have had a TON of snow, but I already made some of my herb syrups for baking--so I made some "snow ice cream" like we did when I was little--a big bowl of packed snow, drizzle some cold cream or whole milk and stir and add either maple syrup, brown sugar, herb syrups and vanilla to taste--must serve immediately--it is yummy and fascinating for kids.

December 10 ~ started truffles today and remembered another way to make them with herbs if you did not think ahead to make herb syrups (because once made, they need to be refrigerated several hours or overnight--so you have to plan ahead). When heating the cream  for truffles, steep your herb of choice for 10-20 mins and then strain (then reheat milk--as it must be hot enough to melt chocolate). I did this today because I got a spur of the moment idea that I wanted to make cardamom and garam masala truffles!!

December 11 ~ helped out at our local Historical Society Holiday program--making a natural craft with kids. We made a 5 pointed star from twigs and added a raffia bow and a sprig of cedar. I use suckers off my Lilac bush because they are always perfectly straight, just the right width (approx. 1/4 inch) and don't have a lot of rough spots or loose bark.  Using a cool glue gun (hot works better--but not around kids!), we glue the sticks together, then make a small bow from thin raffia and glue to the top point, then add the cedar sprig on top of that. In years past, when I was better prepared, I then placed a tiny pinecone on top of the cedar or a star anise pod. After drying, they can be hung on the tree or in windows. These take about 2 mins. Each to make and are rustically elegant.

December 12 ~ The tree is getting put up today. The smell of pine is fresh---and the real scent emits a germ killing "shield" into the air. If you have pine growing near your home, cut small twigs and set them in a simmering potpourri to keep germs at bay all winter. Same goes for cedar, juniper, rosemary.

December 13 ~ Stomach bugs are starting up--the fastest relief is to sip teaspoons of apple cider vinegar.......strong stuff, but it kills all the germs.

Celebrate the darkest part of the year---try making sure there is NO outside light in your bedrooms at night for the next week or so (until Solstice on the 21st)---no nightlights, computer lights, clock lights, hall lights that may seep in under door cracks, draw the curtains to keep out streetlights. See if your sleep/mood improves. Herbs and diet are helpers to health, but exposure to light/dark is as important for the regulation of hormones (and any type of daily/monthly cycles), moods, digestion, alertness.

December 14 ~ Making shortbreads today. I use my grandma's  cookie cutters and add Rosemary to the dough. Rosemary is the herb of remembrance and I put it in cookies at Halloween to remember our ancestors--but at this time of year, this herb is appropriate for obvious reasons, but also to remember family and traditions. I put a small tabletop (artificial) tree on my kitchen counter and display all of grandma's cookie cutters and use them as needed.

December 16 ~  A news report out today says the government is spending millions to study herbal medicine and finally, I think they are going to study them in a productive way--taking into account traditional uses as being more effective and the fact that often in studies--it is not that herbs do not work--rather the company making a particular supplement has not been honest in its amount of herb listed, has adulterated the herb or in many cases of foreign brands--added heavy metals/drugs to the supplement. To read the whole article:
Click here for more information.

December 18 ~ Making those herbal bath salts--that I have been putting off in favor of baking--I always think I have an extra week and then I actually look at the calendar and realize...........the holiday is HERE!!

December 19 ~ Make plans to see the LUNAR eclipse tomorrow night. One year, I sat outside for over an hour watching a lunar eclipse--in  2 below zero weather--but it was worth it. It was still---and to watch the change from bright light reflected off the snow, to dark, was inspiring.

December 20 ~ Time to make my solstice man of ginger. As usual, I burned last years in the Midsummer's bonfire. He will take his place on the dinner table until June. At the same time, my grandson will make his gingerbread people to decorate and the house will smell great and be germ free!!

December 21--First Day of winter, full moon, snowy--it doesn't get any better than this!!!--Except for all this holiday preparation stress!. My cookies are made, truffles rolled--but I've got cooking and wrapping to do and cleaning for visitors......so I'm going to take some extra time these last few days and make a big pot of tea to sip on all day--nice lemon balm for nerves, nettles for energy, wood betony to keep my brain working.

December 23 ~ Wrapping presents is exasperating---but often, presentation is everything--especially this time of year. I always tuck a branch of rosemary, lavender, cedar, pine or whatever herb I have on hand into the bow. Sometimes, I remember to put some in holiday cards too. I still have some butchers paper that I  decorated a few years ago with imprints of sliced oranges/lemons/ ferns/apples that makes an impressive gift wrap. So, while it kills my back and tries my limited patience, wrapping is yet another venue to work with  plants and share them. Think I'll take some St. John's wort for my back!

Have a wonderful holiday and WASSAIL!!


December 28 ~ Overeat? Don't forget to add LOTS of herbs/spices to your meals and drinks--it allows for a few weeks of eating chaos without doing too much damage!!

The lavender  and the rose water truffles were my favorites this year. Already thinking of next year's baking--maybe different herb flavored Biscotti?

December 29 ~ started thinking of New Year's Resolutions. I have no idea how i made out on last year's resolutions--can't even remember what they were! As seed catalogs continue to pour in (and since I have a greenhouse, I have to start spring prep even earlier), I am ENDING my yearly experimentation with "new" or "cool" plants. My total concentration will be on Native plants and those that were always grown here in the Northeast. I spent a lot of money on heirloom varieties last year that SAID they were cold hearty--but simply did NOTHING in my climate. So, I will have to be more vigilant about reading "between the lines" of the catalog descriptions. I am still sticking to heirlooms and basic hybrids--just can't experiment with all the neat varieties. so, part of the resolution is to really embrace this climate for what it offers and not what it can't--and to really make the most of it.

Another resolution is to buy no more herb books until I read all the ones I have. The last two years, I really went ona book buying spree and  have stacks of wonderful  ones. For me, I am suffering from the paralyzing effects of too much ongoing/incoming information. Being constantly inundated withnew ideas can make me forget what I already know and make me have so many ideas, I don't know where to start. So...I am going to take my own advice to students----just dig into and really LEARN the info you already have available and KNOW it before accumulating more. There is so much herbal info out there--it will still be there when I have sorted out, decluttered and calmed my brain.

And....to really get out of any herbal ruts--of relying on the same plants all the time, drinking a few of the same teas every day.....I have an overflowing cupboard of great teas and remedies---I'm going to experiment more.

My last resolution is to write more personal notes instead of e-mailing all the time. I love e-mail and it certainly allows us all to keep in touch more than if we relied on finding time to write/call.......but there are always times when a handwritten card is called for or just  a real comforting thing...or just fun. Having said that....I happen to have huge baskets filled with great/beautiful cards and post cards that are just sitting there--and have been for years!! I hear that in January, the postal service is going to make ALL stamps Forever stamps, so we will never be caught with out of date ones--trying to cobble 1 and 2 cent stamps. Besides--who doesn't love getting a small note in the mail? January is also "Letter Writing Month". My grandson is in kindergarten and I notice that the Thank You notes are constant from teachers and friends--maybe this old fashioned social nicety is making a strong come back. It is a good excuse to get out all those rubber stamps to decorate the envelopes too.



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