Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How I love surprises!

You know one of the things I love MOST when going away, even for the smallest vacation, is coming back and finding SURPRISES.
That is something really rather endearing about our very modest garden.  We can leave for even a very small time, come back and VOILA. We have new things popping up.
This past weekend we escaped to one of our favorite State run campgrounds for a bit of R&R, came back and found this!

Ostrich Ferns Barely peeking through the soil.

These are Ostrich Ferns which I planted in this area that has barely EVER produced ANYTHING. There are many areas of our yard that have massive handicaps.  This one has massive shade and very poor soil.  We have slowly added things (including manure and compost) here to see what WILL grow in this area. Most plants have died, failed to thrive or just simply didn't grow at all.
Well lo and behold we have found Ostrich Ferns will grow here. 
Now the really great bit about Ostrich Ferns.  I've wrote it before and now I'll write about it again. I love planting things that look nice but are also functional (aka EDIBLE). 
Ostrich Ferns during the spring months can be harvested as a wonderful treat. Fiddleheads!
Many years ago while visiting one of my favorite cities, Ottawa, we found these at the Byward Market and really had no clue what these were.  They looked odd and unfortunately we walked away without them, instead spending our money on something else. Later we found them again, and decided to try them after all.
These taste almost like fresh asparagus to me.  Somewhat nutty and almost grass like, Spring incarnate.  Saute them with a bit of butter and maybe some shallots and you have a wonderful side dish that you really can only get one time of the year, that is if you are buying locally.  To me, that makes these even more special.

Next, to check on the seedlings.  Most of them are doing well and are in the later stages of hardening off.  Within the next two weeks or so, most of these guys will be going into their new homes at which point I will being listing what extras we might have for sale.  Keep an eye on my Facebook page for that!

But once again, SURPRISE!  It looks like my son, Nick, has the lucky touch.  I have planted a total of three Moringa Oleifera seeds with NO LUCK. So, about a week and a half ago, I dragged my son away from the Wii and requested that HE plant two seeds.  He stuffed them (literally) into the soil, watered it quickly and announced "THERE!  DONE!" and raced back to Super Mario bros.
Sunday night we discovered this!
Moringa Oleifera Seedling.

The Moringa Oleifera, also called Tree of Life, Miracle Tree and Drumstick tree, is completely edible. From its leaves to its roots, its bark to its stems.  Everything is edible.  Not only that, it boasts some pretty dramatic health benefits to boot!
This is a fast growing tree that tolerates poor soil and is native to the southern foothills of the Himilayas in northwestern India. 
Now, here is a positive for all of those container gardeners out there (to which I still belong) The Moringa tree will be somewhat content to grow in a pot as long as it is 12 to 18 inches wide at the very least and at least 2 feet deep.  Instead of reaching its normal height of 20 feet tall, they can be trained to grow up to 2 feet approximately and then just become bushy.  One does have to "train" it though, by pinching off growth once it has more than two branches.  I have read that its important to remain vigilent to this as this little tree has impressive ability to grow fast. 
Another bit to keep in mind, the Moringa does not like wet roots as they will rot easily so it's important to let it dry off some before watering it again.  Lining the container with rocks or pebbles on the bottom can also assist with this.

Why grow a Moringa tree?  Here is a list of just a few of the health benefits.   
• 46 Antioxidants
• 36 Anti-Inflammatories
• 18 Amino Acids, 9 Essential Amino Acids
• Nourishes The Immune System
• Promotes Healthy Circulation
• Supports Normal Glucose Levels
• Natural Anti-Aging Benefits
• Provides Anti-Inflammatory Support
• Promotes Healthy Digestion
• Promotes Heightened Mental Clarity
• Boosts Energy Without Caffeine
• Encourages Balanced Metabolism
• Promotes Softer Skin
• Provides Relief From Acne
• Supports Normal Hormone Levels

Examples of some few nutritional value of Moringa-
  • 2 times -the Protein of Yogurt
  • 3 times – the Potassium of Bananas
  • 4 times – the Calcium of Milk
  • 4 times – the Vitamin A of Carrots
  • 7 times -the Vitamin C of Oranges
The most common way of harvesting from the Moringa tree is simply grab a few leaves here and there to be eaten fresh, or, if you are like me and you have a dehydrator you can dehydrate them and then use them in tea.  This will make the nutrients more concentrated therfore making one heck of a healthful cup of tea.  Once the tree starts to produce pods they can be steamed and eaten like peas and once the pods become hardier they can be boiled and then the pulp can be scooped out and added to soups or stews. 
The flowers can also be added to salads, sandwiches or even as a wonderful topping to plain yogurt. 
As I grow this new addition to our garden I will be writing much, much more on it!
By Sunday afternoon, after coming back from our camping trip we were so enthused and energized by all of these wonderful surprises that we dug down deep and found some extra energy to well, dig down deep.  In the raised bed where our Sunchokes were planted last summer.  And lookie what we found.
We know that we probably left a few in the ground there which, actually is okay by us.  It just means more plants will come up this summer.  Sunchokes (also called Jerusalem Artichokes) are somewhat invasive so one does have to exercise a bit of caution.  If you do not want them taking over an area you have to make sure to get all the tubers that might be left behind.  In our case, we won't be here at this house next summer and we're pretty certain whoever inherits this house will have no clue what the heck is coming up. That actually applies to most of the plants we have planted in our yard, in the dirt.  I do have to suppress a giggle when I think of the next occupants trying to figure out "what the heck are these fern like things/these dang sunflower like things/these dang plants with thorns/these vine like plants that...wait...grow grapes?"
That's always the downside to the military way of life.  We move to an area, plant some roots, then leave.  And leave behind our plants for someone else to either love or hate.

Later this week I will be making a recipe borrowed from Food & Wine.  Since we have kale out front that is going nuts, and now we have freshly harvested sunchokes, I think it's time to use some of it all up.  Serve that with a loaf of fresh baked bread straight from the oven and we've got a wonderful dinner. 

Sunchoke-Kale Hash with Farro

  • ACTIVE: 40 MIN
  • SERVINGS: 10
Comfort food is rarely healthy, or vegetarian. This soul-satisfying winter hash is both. The recipe from F&W Best New Chefs 2009 Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, of Animal and Son of a Gun in Los Angeles, combines crispy sunchokes, silky oyster mushrooms, tender kale and chewy farro. It’s wonderful served with grilled steak or on its own as a meatless main course.

  1. 3/4 cup farro
  2. 2 1/2 pounds large sunchokes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  3. Salt
  4. 1 pound Tuscan kale, tough stems discarded
  5. 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil blended with 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  6. 1 small red onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  7. 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  8. 1/2 pound oyster mushrooms, halved if large
  9. Freshly ground pepper
  1.  In a medium saucepan, cover the farro with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, cover and cook over low heat until the farro is tender, about 25 minutes. Drain the farro.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, cover the sunchokes with water and add a pinch of salt. Boil until the sunchokes are tender, 10 minutes; drain. Slice the sunchokes 1/4 inch thick.
  3. Fill the large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the Tuscan kale and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain the kale and let cool slightly. Squeeze out any excess liquid from the kale leaves and then coarsely chop them.
  4. In a small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the blended oil. Add the red onion and a pinch of salt and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 12 minutes.
  5. In a nonstick skillet, melt the butter in 2 tablespoons of the blended oil. Add the sunchokes in an even layer and cook over high heat until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Turn the sunchokes, reduce the heat to moderately high and continue cooking until starting to brown, about 2 minutes. Push the sunchokes to the side of the skillet.
  6. Add 1 more tablespoon of the oil and the oyster mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat until browned, 3 minutes. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil along with the farro, kale and onion and cook, stirring, until hot. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Make Ahead The recipe can be prepared through Step 4 one day ahead; refrigerate the components separately.

Homemade Medicinal Salves

SALVE/sav/Noun:  An ointment used to promote healing of the skin or as protection.

How many out here use Neosporin for your cuts and burns?
How many out here would like to make your own salves with your own homegrown herbs for little to nothing?

I do grow a lot of my own herbs. That's how I learned how to grow many of the fruits and vegetables that we grow now after all. Herbs are great for the novice gardener as most of them really do not want or need much attention. Think of weeds. For instance. Dandelion. Broadleaf Plantain. Chickweed. These are all plants that tend to propogate themselves freely in many yards, much to many homeowners dislike and yet every one of these is edible and actually useful to us. Herbs benefit from an almost lack of care usually so my garden usually has an odd assortment of both medicinal and culinary herbs.

There are really three basic ingredients to any salve.
  1. Oil. 1 CUP. I really like Olive Oil the best as it tends to be the cheapest overall. I can buy it in bulk at big box stores to save some $$$. There are other oils that are good as well but the price tends to go up. I have no interest in making super expensive salve when lower cost salve works just as well.
  2. Beeswax. 1 Ounce. I bought mine bulk at Michaels Craft Store long ago and I just shave a bit off each time I need it. From what I understand you can get the nicer, more pricey beeswax but I use just a simple block of it for my salves. End result still spreads very nicely. If you do want a smoother, softer salve you can add a bit of store bought Vitamin E oil and add that to the finished product. My finished salves end up harder but then soften once applied. 
  3. Herb/Herbs. Here is the fun part, where you get to play around a bit. There are so many different things medicinal herbs can treat. From sore muscles, sprains, bruises, minor cuts, burns, joint pain. I could go on for a while.

Here is a list of the most common medicinal herbs and their uses.
  • Calendula: Useful for a wide variety of skin irritations and conditions. These include wounds, insect bites, rashes, scrapes, abrasions, cuts, inflammations.
  • Chamomile: Hemorrhoids, minor abrasions, cuts, scrapes, and wounds.
  • Chickweed: Soothing, helps with skin conditions including psoriasis, eczema, minor burns, rashes, and other skin irritations.
  • Comfrey: Relieves pain, swelling, promotes the growth of muscle, cartilage, and bone. Assists with healing a wide variety of conditions including sprains, eczema, dermatitis, viral skin infections, broken bones, arthritis, wounds, and bruises.
  • Echinacea: Antibacterial, beneficial for sores, wounds, insect bites and stings
  • Eucalyptus: Used for rubbing on sore muscles, as an inhalant, and chest rub for colds. Decongestant, antibiotic, antiseptic and antiviral. Used as a topical antiseptic on sores and fungal infections such as ring worm.
  • GingerRoot: Warming, use for arthritis and sore muscles.
  • Lavender: Soothing, calming, relieves hemorrhoids, pain, has healing properties beneficial for wounds and numerous skin conditions.
  • Plantain Leaf: Antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antitoxic properties. Helps speed the recovery process, prevents infection, relieves and soothes insect bites and stings, pain, poison ivy, itching, rashes, sores, bruises, blisters, and damaged skin.
  • Thyme: A strong antiseptic used for cuts, scrapes, and sore muscles
  • Wintergreen: Warming, great for sore muscles or joints. Active ingredient in Wintergreen is methyl salicylate which is related to aspirin. Never use internally due to possiblity of overdose.
  • Yarrow Flowers: Apply to bruises, sprains, wounds, cuts, rashes, eczema, scrapes, and areas with swelling and bleeding.
    I actually did not grow enough lavender last year and I have had little success with Comfrey so those were purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs. Broadleaf Plantain in bowl picked fresh around my neighborhood.
Mountain Rose Herbs. A herbs, health and harmony c
First and foremost, let me say, this list above is relatively short. This is a quick list just to get started. These are some of the most common herbs that can be used in salves. I know I have personally seen plants like plantain, yarrow, chickweed, and chamomile grow wild. The others I included because I have personally grown them and they do tend to be extremely easy to grow, even in small pots. If you like you can purchase fresh herbs and even tins for keeping your salves at Mountain Rose Herbs. I have provided the link above.  Many times I will purchase from them when I don't have just quite enough of one thing or another.

Now onto salve making. First, you have to make your infused oil. There are basically two ways to make the herbal infused oil. The expediated way or the longer way.

Fast way?
I simply take my crockpot. Fill it with one cup of your oil of choice. Take your herb/herbs of choice and dump into oil.
I always make sure my herbs are more or less covered by the oil regardless of the way I am infusing my oil so I cannot actually say "a cup of this, a half a cup of that" because I tend to just eyeball most of my salves. I promise, if you put an extra teaspoon or remove a tablespoon it will not change the end product by much. This is not an exact science. I simply stir it to ensure all leaves, roots or what not are covered by the oil. I turn on my crockpot onto the very lowest setting for about 15 minutes and then I just switch it to warm. The trick here is to make sure you do not "FRY" your herbs. You don't need or want crunchy burnt leaves. Keep your temperature down to around 100 to 140 degrees. When I am setting up to make salves for the day and I am using this method I set up my crockpot early in the morning, turn it to warm before I leave the house and then come back 8+ hours later and strain the finished (herb infused oil) product into a clean bowl/mason jar. This way has one extra benefit. Your house (depending on the herb) will smell lovely afterwards. If I have time I move to the next step immediately. If not I store in a mason jar for later.

Longer way?
Fill a mason jar with your choice of herbs. Fill with one cup of your choice of oil. Once again the herbs should be completely covered. You do not want the herbs exposed to air. For best result make sure you have about an inch or two of oil above the herbs. Place, with a lid screwed on, in a warm location, out of the way. It will need to sit for the next two to six weeks. Make sure to shake it every so often. Like the other way, this is not an exact science. If your herbs absorb some of your oil and your herbs are becoming exposed to air, just add a bit of olive oil to the top, put the lid back on, shake and then just put it back in your warm location. I tend to use my laundry room actually as its the warmest area in our entire house. When your time has run out, just simply strain the finished product into a clean bowl/mason jar.

Now you want to melt your beeswax.
I do not have a double boiler so instead what I tend to do for ease of clean up is simply fill a pot with water and then place a glass bowl in pot so it is floating. Add the one ounce of wax. Heat water to a simmer and let wax fully melt. Add herb infused oil to melted wax. Once they are fully incorporated pour carefully (CAREFULLY HERE. IT WILL BE HOT!) into your jars or tins of choice.

Let cool and store covered in a cool, dry location.
These will last, if stored correctly, for several years. Salves really do not go bad by the way. They just lose their potency and smell. 
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