The Craft of Herbal Fermentation: A Course Review

Foraging for plants in your neighborhood. Fermentation and bubbling jars. Homemade concoctions and kitchen experiments. Community. Joy! Can the combination get any better?

I received a free copy of the Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. 

If you’ve been reading for the past few months, you may know that I was gradually working my way through the Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course from Herbal Academy. Today, I wanted to follow up on my previous posts and sum up my experience with the course.


If you’re looking for the conclusion before you read the review, this is it: it’s FABULOUS. The course was super fun, educational, engaging, inspiring, chock full of information, and bursting with possibilities.

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy

What You’ll Learn Through the Course

I’ve been fermenting various things for over a year now, so I’ll be honest- I was wondering how much I would learn by taking the course. As it turns out, I discovered there’s lots I don’t know about fermentation- particularly in relation to herbal ferments.

Here’s what you’ll learn to make through the Herbal Fermentation Course:

  • Herbal beer
  • Herbal wine
  • Herbal mead
  • Herbal kombucha
  • Herbal water kefir
  • Herbal lacto-fermented vegetables

These items are covered in four main units. Each unit includes both written & video lessons that cover every possible question you could have about how to make a particular fermented food or beverage. These lessons will cover topics such as:

  • History and/or cultural significance of the food or beverage
  • List of necessary (and unnecessary) supplies
  • Basic instructions for preparation
  • Video and/or pictorial instructions for visual learners
  • Printable reference charts
  • Specific recipes & guidelines for experimentation
  • Storage needs and/or bottling instructions
  • Safety guidelines
  • FAQs & answers

Attention to Detail 

I love the Herbal Fermentation Course’s approach to detail. All lessons include precise information such as a plant’s scientific name, the full name of bacteria strains, or the special title for a particular style of mead. The terms are specific so that you can pursue accurate foraging and fermenting endeavors. The detailed information is also a great starting point for further and deeper research.

What if all that detail seems overwhelmming? Don’t worry. Some of us- myself included- have no idea what the Latin name for such and such a plant is and feel hopelessly unable to remember it. Be assured that the information in the course is presented in such a non-intimidating way that you can easily learn all that you need to know without prior botanical or bacterial knowledge.

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy

Qualified & Inspiring Teachers

The teachers in each course unit are experienced, qualified, and spirited. From ethnobiology to acupuncture, all are well-studied teachers with multiple backgrounds, credentials, and learning experiences behind their names.

Each teacher brings his or her own unique personality and fervor to the course material. Listening to each instructor feels like getting to know a friend just as much as it feels like learning. The Herbal Academy says this about its team of instructors:

“We offer high quality, affordable herbal studies programs to empower our students, and celebrate the community- centered spirit of herbalism by collaborating with a wide diversity of herbalists to create an herbal school that presents many herbal traditions and points of view. ” (Read more here.)

Gorgeous & Practical Course Materials 

The course itself is very visually appealing to anyone who loves plants or fermentation. The videography is tasteful and the photos are beautiful. While you must complete the course within a certain amount of time, the materials are downloadable and printable so you can keep them forever. Additionally, you can choose to upgrade your course purchase to include laminated recipes and charts delivered to your home.

Conclusion

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation course is beautiful, informative, inspiring, and enabling. it took me from “that sounds intimidating” to “I can do this!” In fact, I have now successfully made several kinds of herbal ferments that I have never tried making before.

I highly recommend the course to anyone interested in herbs, foraging, fermenting, probiotic health, or just becoming more engaged with the natural world around them. The Herbal Fermentation course show us just how rich with possibilities each edible plant can be, and helps us to infuse not only our plants, but also our lives with the goodness of creation’s bounty.

Click here to learn more about the Craft of Herbal Fermentation.

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy

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Character Lessons from the Homestead

When we bought our house, I had dreamy visions of gardening, egg-collecting, and happily tending to our chores as a family. It will be perfect, I said. We will homeschool and homestead and my children will learn how to live a nature-filled life that carries the perfect balance of freedom and self-discipline. 

As you may imagine, it isn’t always as dreamy as I had originally hoped.

Reality: My sink runneth over and so does the poop. I change diapers and clean coops.  The rabbits escape and we have to choose whether we should chase the bunnies or the babies. Decisions, decisions.


I was lamenting the truths of our less-than-ideal scenario to my sister-in-law, and wished aloud, “I just hope the kids get something out of all this.”

“Isn’t that how all parenting is?” she replied.

The revelation struck me. I really want to see character development in my kids, especially in relation to all of our homestead efforts. But I must remember that most character development doesn’t happen overnight, or even over months or years. It’s the nitty gritty, day-to-day stuff that forms a person.

How important it is that I don’t give up too quickly.

I hope all of this helps to teach the kids…

Patience. You have to wait for the fish to bite. A garden takes time to grow, and harvesting must be done when the food is good and ready. Building or repairing an outbuilding can go on for months. The work of a mini-farm takes time, both in daily work and in long seasonal projects.

Discipline. The animals have to eat every day, whether or not we feel like feeding them. When she’s in milk, the goat needs milking twice a day. The eggs must be collected and harvests preserved. There is no room for not doing the chores.

Compassion. We treat our animals with kindness- even the ones destined for the stew pot. Each animal is to be respected and raised humanely. Sick animals are to be nursed to health; babies are to be well-cared for.

Curiosity. What is this plant? Why does the rabbit pull out her fur? Where does that bird live? Why does the egg we eat hold a yolk, but an egg kept warm for several weeks hold a chicken? There are endless questions to explore in the natural world, and answers that none of us know yet. How wonderful to be curious and not know everything!

Running free across the yard.

Freedom. Running across the yard, climbing a tree, exploring on your own… these are the things we all wanted as a child. Even as adults, we still crave the freedom to let go and enjoy the little things that matter most. I really want my kids to hang on to just a little bit of that feeling as they grow up.

Wisdom. From matters of the birds and the bees to understanding death, the kids are exposed to all the tough stuff at a young age. They’ve watched chickens mate and helped to bury dead hens. They’ve helped to care for baby kits, and observed the butchering of grown rabbits. All of this has created an open door to talking about the hard topics that all of us must grapple with at some point.

The kids observed Dada processing a rabbit. It's the beginning to talking about "the circle of life."

I truly hope that an introduction to the hard stuff now will help them to approach it with temperance and thoughtfulness later in life.

Of course, I’m still a relatively young mother. Perhaps I really am being dreamy and I actually have no idea what I’m talking about. But I do pray that these guys will grow up to be well-rounded, independent, kind people– and that maybe some of these lessons will help just a little bit on the way.

Come to think of it, I think am learning a lot of these lessons too. How about you?

 

Roasted Asparagus & Almonds

Asparagus grows more like a shrub than a quick garden plant. If you plant it from seed, it takes about three years before you can harvest it. But once it’s coming- oh my!- those fresh stalks are so delicious and tender. I hardly get them inside because I’m usually eating them straight from the ground.

If you happen to have some fresh asparagus in your yard, count yourself blessed and go pick some for this recipe. If you don’t, take advantage of seasonal sales to bring some home from the store this spring!


One of the reasons I enjoy asparagus is that it’s pretty versatile. It can easily be eaten in eggs, on a sandwich, or as a dinner side. It can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion. And when it’s really only fresh for a few weeks in spring, it makes it all the more special to use it frequently at this time of year.

Roasted asparagus is super simple to make, and it’s one of our very favorite ways to use this seasonal treasure. My son discovered it this year, and now goes back for seconds and thirds of it. No joke.

He also likes to get into my attempted food photography:

And he likes to do his own food photography. 😉

And add things to my beat-up old baking pan…

Ahem. Anyway.

My apologies… this will be a cook by the look, not by the book recipe. But it’s so easy that you’ll soon adjust it to your tastes.

Note: We love it with the almonds on top- it’s so simple and earthy tasting, and pairs perfectly with the asparagus. However, if you don’t eat nuts, it can easily be made without! Likewise, you can play with different seasonings if you have a flavor profile that you’ve been waiting to try.

You will need:

  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • Chopped almonds (I generally use about 1/2 cup)
  • Lotsa butter (about 4+ Tbsp)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

  1. Set oven to broil.
  2. Break off the woody ends of the asparagus. (I actually don’t always do this when the asparagus is fresh from the garden because I don’t mind chewing through the thick stuff. Do as you will.) Lay asparagus stalks out in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Sprinkle chopped almonds over top of the asparagus.
  4. Slice butter and place over top of the asparagus.
  5. Sprinkle with salt & pepper.
  6. Roast under the broiler until tender, about 4 minutes each side. You will need to take it out and turn the asparagus spears once, making sure to distribute the butter evenly.
  7. Eat it!

This one-pan, simple side is easy, crowd pleasing, and SO yummy. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Did you try it? Like it? Let us know in the comment section & share it with your friends! 


Fermentation: Building Culture & Community

Lacto-fermentation is a hot trend right now. However, though it may seem like a new thing for young, health-conscious weirdos, the practice has  been around for thousands of years. In fact, for about as long as there have been people, there has been fermentation. As it turns out, it’s also been a huge part of culture and community for all that time.

How fermentation has played into culture and community for thousands of years.

This post contains affiliate links. 


Preservation & Food Safety

Fermentation is a fantastic way to preserve food without refrigeration. How does it work? While methods vary from food to food, generally the process  is the same. Fermentation occurs when the naturally occurring bacteria on food is combined with some sort of culture: whey, wild yeasts, or, in modern days, a purchased strain of starter culture. Keep the fermenting food away from oxygen and leave it at room temperature. The good bacteria will grow, and the food will transform into a tangy, bubbly treasure that can safely be stored in a cool environment for months.

You can imagine how helpful a process fermentation would have been in the days without refrigeration, freezers, or dehydrators. Food could be thrown in a vessel with some salt, covered, and safely fermented for long-term storage. Vegetables became pickles, milk became cheese- you get the idea.

You can also imagine how this would have improved food safety. How did people drink without access to clean water? You guessed it: beer and wine. The fermentation process eliminates any bad bacteria and creates a nutritional drink that can be safely consumed.

Traditional Foods

Every culture has foods that are traditionally prepared through fermentation. Some of them are easily recognizable; others I’ve never heard of. Here are some examples:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Yogurt
  • Sourdough bread
  • Cheese
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi
  • Togwa
  • Pickles
  • Soy Sauce
  • Miso
  • Wine
  • Beer
  • Tempeh
  • Natto
  • Salami
  • Whey
  • Fermented condiments, chutneys, etc.

The list goes on and on… Some of these foods have geographically specific origins; others have been made across so many regions that it’s hard to tell where they started. Regardless, it’s safe to say that fermented foods are wide-spread and common across cultures and times.

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy

Celebrations & Traditions

Food has always been a part of almost any celebration. It seems that the craft and time taken in preparing fermented foods only adds to the sacred nature of a special occasion.

I was absolutely fascinated by a lecture on “cultural topsoil” by Marc Williams, ethnobiologist and teacher of the herbal mead brewing portion of the Herbal Fermentation Course. Marc writes:

“Brewing herbal mead can be much more than simply making an alcoholic beverage. Indeed, for me, brewing herbal mead is a ritualistic journey of celebrating community—honoring the people, places, and plants that have provided guidance, knowledge, friendship, or support throughout my life. In fact, brewing herbal mead is one method, among many in the realm of fermentation and food production, that can even be used to honor the changing of the seasons, times of year, or memorable milestones in your life and the lives of those in your community.”

How true that so many foods- fermented and otherwise- can play into our cultural traditions and celebrations.

Think about it. It’s a holiday in your house, and you’ve pulled out your great-grandmother’s special recipe that has been passed down through the generations. You may only make it once a year, but that makes it all the more special.

I know a lady who makes friendship fruit cakes every Christmas- she begins the process in November, ferments her cake batter for 30 days, then bakes them and shares both the cakes and the starters with friends.

The joy of fermented foods in particular is that they take so much time and care to create. Cabbage fermented from your own garden feels much more connected, grounded, and personal than a can of dead sauerkraut from the grocery store. An herbal ale or mead made at home from foraged plants speaks of craft, thoughtfulness, and nourishment- not drunkenness and foolishness. The fermented cake recipe from my friend tastes strongly of tradition, love, and generosity. After all, I know she’s been culturing, baking, and sharing from the same starter for years on end.

Community

Not only can fermented foods be a big part of special occasions, they can also be a beautiful part of community building. I’ve seen it over and over again: someone hears about what’s bubbling in my kitchen. She’s interested, so she wants to try a little bit. I share my creations and pretty soon she’s giving it a whirl too. I may not know her all that well, but we now have a common bond: a three year old sourdough starter (or kefir grains or kombucha scoby) that’s in both of our kitchens, actively functioning and feeding both of our families.

It’s not long til that food-sharing inspires more connections. We get together again to share another kitchen experiment. Maybe we pass it on to another person, and maybe that person shares it with someone else. It’s funny how a fermented food can become a conversation starter, an inspiration, and a friendship builder.

Culture Your Culture

Give it a try. Venture into fermented foods and see how culturing food can play into your cultural traditions. Pull out a fermented food or beverage at a special occasion and watch to see the interest it sparks. Build new connections with people who you may not know too well. Share a scoby, a bottle of kombucha, or a loaf of sourdough. Watch to see how the foods can become part of your traditions and the connections made can foster generosity, friendships, and cultural richness.

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy

I highly recommend the Herbal Academy’s Herbal Fermentation Course. As a moderately seasoned fermenter, I have already learned so much! Click here for more information. 

I also love my Fermentools kit for easy, worry-free fermentation in mason jars. Check them out here. 

Build into your culture and community with fermentation!


Fried Dandelion Heads

My husband and I rarely see weeds as mere yard infestations. Usually he’s the one asking, “Can we eat it? Make something from it? Use it for some medicinal purpose?” It’s no different when dandelions begin popping up everywhere in the spring.
Fried Dandelions Feature
(By the way, the violets in this picture are edible too.)

Dandelions are one of the most common intruders creeping into yards everywhere. While many people spend time, work, and money trying to keep their lawns free of the brightly colored visitor, others spend just as much time and work (though rarely money) to find uses for the golden weed.

Dandelions have been used for human consumption in many different ways. Dandelion leaf salad, dandelion root tea, and dandelion wine are just a few examples to get you started. Today, I will share a recipe with you that my good friend Alexis taught me how to make: fried dandelion heads.


They taste very much like fried chicken cutlets- only the “meat” inside is free from your yard!

dandelion2Ready to get started? You will need:

  • About 2-3 C Dandelion heads
  • White Vinegar (just a splash)
  • Olive Oil as needed (try starting with about ¼ C)
  • 1 Egg
  • About 1 C Plain Bread Crumbs
  • 1 Tbsp each Garlic, Italian Seasoning, & Parsely (or to taste)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Unfortunately, the above amounts are just estimates. Depending on how many dandelion heads you have, you may need to alter this recipe accordingly. The nice part about breading & frying is that you can always add more oil to the pan or more bread crumbs & seasonings to the mix if you run out.

1) Collect and Wash Dandelion Heads! This is a great time to get your kids helping you. J loves it when I send him on flower-picking assignments.

dandelion3

* Make sure that you haven’t been spraying your yard with anything toxic if you’re out foraging for weeds!

Pick just under the bloom, where the head easily snaps off. Rinse them off well through a colander if you’re not into eating bugs.

2) Coat your dandelions. First, mix your dandelions with a splash of white vinegar. Next, set up your assembly line for coating. Beat egg into one container. Combine dry ingredients in another. It should look something like this:

dandelion4Heat oil on stovetop over medium heat until it’s shimmering. Dip your dandelion heads first into the egg, then into the bread crumb mixture, making sure that they get completely coated at each step.

3) Fry ‘em up! Carefully place the dandelion heads into the hot oil using tongs or some other such tool. (Or jump back as you drop them so you don’t get splattered.)

Turn them partway through frying to get both sides nice and golden brown. This step won’t take more than a couple of minutes if your oil is good and hot, so watch them carefully to avoid burning them.

dandelion5
4) Drain and enjoy! Remove the dandelion heads with tongs and place them on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the oil. Once they’ve sat a couple minutes, you can eat them up immediately!

dandelion6
You’ll most likely keep popping them til they’re gone. If by some chance you don’t finish them, it’s always fun to pack leftovers for lunch and relish in telling your co-workers you’re eating fried weeds. And besides, they’re yummy, I promise! Hope you give them a shot. 🙂

Make these delicious flower poppers with weeds and just a few ingredients you already have in your pantry.

How to Identify & Forage for Stinging Nettle

 

Spring Gives, We Forage

I have to be honest, I haven’t been thinking about the land since the fall. I have been so involved in other projects that I STILL have not given more than a fleeting thought to planning our garden.


But, no matter how negligent I may be, spring calls me now. It has wooed me back to the land, and I know now that the problem was truly me–not it.

I have foraging on the mind once again, though I feel a bit rusty after a winter in the damp, dark tool shed of my own isolation. Seeing green popping up and out all over has reminded me that I need to be present among these growing things, that I need to learn what they are, what they have to offer, and how our family can best use them.

Find out how to forage for stinging nettle!

Spring gives, we forage.

But, before we do, we recall three simple foraging rules: correct identification, minimal harvesting, and safe, legal picking.

Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) has done much to draw me out of my wintry malaise. When I first noticed it peeking out from beneath our slumping retaining wall, I suddenly felt the urge to tour our yard and greet all the new plants bursting up. We love this plant in our household–stings and all.

Identifying Stinging Nettle 

Stinging nettle is fairly distinctive. Like any plant it looks different at different times of the year. At certain points it may be easier to identify than others, but stinging nettle has three distinguishing attributes all year long that make it pretty easy to ID. There are a few other varieties of nettle that it can be confused with, but if you pay attention to the following features, you can be pretty confident of a correct identification.

First, the leaves. They are mostly oval or slightly heart-shaped and heavily toothed or serrated at the margins. They come to a point and are covered with fine barb-like hairs. The leaves are heavily veined and the undersides tend to have a purple hue between the veins.

IMG_20170420_162428025 IMG_20170420_162439533

Compare this leaf to some of the older leaves in this image from the USDA, which are more distinctly heart shaped:

Large Photo of Urtica dioica

Next, the stem.  The stem of a stinging nettle, just like the leaves, is covered in small, barb-like, stinging thorns or hairs. And the leaves attach to the stem opposite one another.

IMG_20170420_165308718IMG_20170420_165256717

Finally, the sting. If you touch a plant that looks like nettle and gives you a noticeable sting, it is probably stinging nettle. The sting is not excruciating, but it is real, and the pain from it does hang on for some time–from a few minutes to hours. The small hollow hairs contain the chemicals that cause the sting, so to avoid the sting, avoid breaking them–handle with care. A UK chemistry teacher writing at the blog Compound Interest has done a great job explaining some of the chemistry behind nettle’s sting. Check it out for more info. (Note also that the sting is removed during cooking.)

Of course there are other things to pay attention to if you want to be absolutely sure of your identification of stinging nettle, but out of the many plants you can forage, stinging nettle is pretty distinctive because of the thorny, hairy, toothed stinging leaves. For help distinguishing it from the other nettle lookalikes, I heartily recommend this article at Identifythatplant.com.

Harvesting

Stinging nettle lives up to its name, so if you want to avoid the sting, either:

  • Wear decently thick gloves, or
  • Carefully fold and grab the leaves while pulling toward the leaf tip. The goal here is to avoid breaking the hollow barbs off in your skin–that’s when you get stung. Here is a video demonstrating this technique:

With both of these techniques, you can–and perhaps should–use scissors or some other suitable cutting tool, though you may gently pinch the leaves off as well.

Following the simple foraging rules, remember to be sure that it is free to harvest. Are there critters living in it? Is it on your grouchy neighbor’s property? And be sure to harvest no more than 1/3 of the plant. Leave some for it to thrive and propagate.

The young smaller leaves, which emerge from the very apex of the stems, are usually the most tender and palatable. Choose those over the older ones, unless you don’t mind a more robust experience. Don’t harvest the stems. It’s not that they will poison you, they are just not very palatable. The stems are apparently useful for making rope because the fibers are so strong. If you’re interested in doing that, have at it.

The best time to harvest it for eating is now–in the early spring when they first start to emerge, and especially before they flower. Some believe that after nettles have flowered, consuming them in great amounts can lead to kidney stones. Which is ironic because they are also used as a prevention against kidney stones… But, to be safe, if you mean to eat it or drink a tea made from it, harvest nettle before it flowers.

In case you are wondering, it looks like this when it flowers:

Image result for flowering stinging nettle

Preserving

Since nettles are best in the spring, you’ll want to preserve some to enjoy year round. Nettles can be preserved by:

  • Dehydration: We simply dry nettle in our food dehydrator, but any other method for drying herbs will work.
  • Freezing: Blanch and freeze whole nettle leaves in freezer bags. Alternatively, you can freeze nettle pesto in an ice cube tray, or nettle soup in glass containers.

Uses and Recipes 

You may be wondering about the sting. Why would you want to consume something that leaves you tingling? Surely that must be unpleasant. Be assured that cooking removes the chemical compound that causes the sting, and nettle leaves are perfectly safe to consume once prepared.

Nettle is highly nutritious and can be enjoyed as a fresh or dried tea, a pesto star, in a vinegar, or even as medicine. Give it a try! Here are some recipes & resources to get you started:

Have you harvested stinging nettle? How do you like to use it? Leave us a comment and let us know!

How to identify and safely harvest this super food!

 

 

Herbal Teas to Grow or Forage Yourself

Most of us are familiar with vegetable gardens and herb gardens- but what about your own tea garden?

Delicious herbal teas that you can grow or forage!

(Catnip tea brewing in our Tea Posy pot.)

I love a good black tea in the afternoon, but herbal teas are my friends for various health benefits. I have paid premium prices for a small bit of tea ($9 for 15 tea bags?!?)- and would continue to buy said tea if it was something we couldn’t easily access at home- but there are so many home-grown and wild options to try first!


You can either plant a specific area as a tea garden, or you can simply look around your yard to forage for flowers, plants, herbs, and weeds that can easily be turned into teas.

As always, make sure you double and triple check the identification of any wild plant you find before consuming it, and consider consulting with a local foraging expert. It’s also not a bad idea to try a new plant in small amounts to see how you tolerate it before overdoing it.

Here’s my list to get you started- though it will likely continue growing. 😉 (This post contains some affiliate links.)

Online Herbalism Courses for all levels

  1. Mint– Prolific, easy to grow, hard to take out of the ground. Make sure it’s where you want it. 😉 Here’s some inspiration for various mint tea recipes, and here’s some info on the health benefits of peppermint.
  2. Lemon Balm– This iced tea recipe is good for anxiety, wounds, and sleep disorders. You could also try this recipe for lemon balm-green tea and learn about why lemon balm is just a great plant to cultivate in your yard. Plus, it tastes and smells good. (It’s also a member of the mint family.)
  3. Chamomile – This flower makes a relaxing tea that is also renowned for many health benefits.
  4. Plantain– Known as a medicinal plant used for many purposes (treating insect bites and stings being one of them), it can also be made into a tea for when you’re feeling ill.
  5. Stinging Nettle– I first tried dried nettle tea from a local bulk tea and spice boutique. I had a light bulb moment when my husband suggested drying the stuff in our yard (or boiling fresh leaves) instead of continuing to buy it!
  6. Dandelion Root– I actually haven’t tried making this one at home yet, but I’ve got some dried dandelion roots sitting under my spice cabinet, waiting to be tasted. I’ll have to give these instructions a whirl.
  7. Red Raspberry Leaf– This tea is famous for uterine health. I’ve been enjoying a daily cup of homemade “Mama-to-be-tea” from a local boutique that features raspberry leaf.
  8. Carrot Greens– This is one that you’ll have to do your own research on. Some say that carrot greens are toxic, others say that they’re a market vegetable in many countries. This article pulls in favor of consuming carrot tops, and references several other discussions on the topic. I won’t tell you that you should consume carrot greens. I’ll just say that we’ve made iced tea out of fresh carrot greens several times and haven’t died (or gotten sick) yet.
  9. Echinacea– I didn’t realize for a long time that those gorgeous summer purple cone flowers are actually echinacea! Known for immunity benefits, echinacea is easy to harvest and prepare for tea.
  10. Basil– Apparently, this tasty herb works well for sore throats, headaches, and upset stomachs! I didn’t know that before reading this!
  11. Wintergreen– Here’s the secret to enjoying foraged wintergreen tea that’s full of flavor.
  12. Catnip– We drank catnip tea all winter long to help get over colds faster. Between that, homemade stock, elderberry syrup, and raw honey, none of us stayed sick more than a couple of days. Here’s how to identify catnip.
  13. Red Clover– This medicinal plant grows wild all over the place! Just look down!
  14. Drink your fruitsThis post covers instructions for blackberry, raspberry, strawberry leaf, elderflower, and orange peel teas. How exciting is that?
  15. Winter teasThis blogger details how to make teas out of four forage-able wild winter plants. How cool! (No pun intended.) Who says you have to grow and dry tea in the summer months?

Stinging Nettle- perfect to harvest for herbal tea!

A patch of stinging nettle- perfect for brewing a cup of tea!

You can also check out Herbal Academy’s post on homemade tea recipes for cold and flu season. Gather and dry your ingredients now, then mix and use them all winter!

(If you live in a warm area, you can grow regular “black tea” as well. Our northeastern area isn’t well suited to this warm weather plant, so that’s one tea I’ll keep buying.)

To enjoy your teas fresh, simply pour boiling water over the herbs. (It helps to have a tea ball of some sort to contain them.) You’ll learn over time to adjust the amount and steeping time to your liking. If you prefer to dry them first, you can hang them up, use a dehydrator (I have and love this one), or look up instructions for drying individual herbs in your oven. Then store and use as you would dried tea throughout the year.

What’s your favorite herbal tea?

Learn how to grow or forage for these delicious herbal teas!

A Review of Heaven’s Harvest’s Heirloom Seeds

This year is supposed to be our year of no new projects. We want to just improve on what we already have going, so we don’t get caught up in “overwhelm” (can that be a noun?) and frustration.

The garden is one project that we’ve wanted to simplify this year. We’re going to let our main plot lie fallow, and plant in our newer, smaller beds instead. But somehow, we got to April and we still hadn’t picked out or started seeds! (Have I mentioned that I’m a procrastinator?)

When I had the opportunity to review Heaven’s Harvest’s heirloom seed bucket, I breathed a sigh of relief. I wrote the company in an email (and this is a direct quote), “Honestly, it would make my life a lot simpler to be handed a kit of seeds instead of having to go through and hand pick every one.”


Take a look inside the heaven's harvest heirloom seed Kit.

So, receive a seed kit I did, and I am so happy for the opportunity to share what’s inside this bucket with you!

I received a free bucket of seeds from Heaven’s Harvest in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. 

About Heaven’s Harvest

Heaven’s Harvest is a small, family owned company that offers various emergency preparedness supplies, including water filtration systems, greenhouses, and of course, seeds! I spoke with Meredith from Heaven’s Harvest before accepting a seed bucket, and she was very courteous, helpful, and prompt in her responses. It makes me very happy to deal with small, dedicated companies like this one.

What is a seed kit? 

Generally speaking, it is simply a collection of seed varieties that are fit for growing in most common garden zones. Heaven’s Harvest specifically offers emergency preparedness seed kits- that is, kits that focus on providing enough protein and nutrition to feed your family in case of a situation where grocery stores would not be available.

There are several sizes of seed buckets available. Today, let’s take a closer look at the “homestead” vegetable seed bucket– the largest seed kit available from Heaven’s Harvest.

What's inside a homestead seed kit from Heaven's Harvest.

What comes in the homestead seed bucket? 

Approximately 130,000 individual seeds in 38 different varieties arrive in a hardcore polycarbonate bucket. Each seed type is packaged in a UV radiation-resistant, resealable mylar foil bag that’s meant for long term storage. In fact, if stored properly, Heaven’s Harvest says these seeds should last up to 10 years!

All seeds from Heaven’s Harvest are non-GMO, non-hybrid, open pollinated heirloom seeds. Why is this important? The short answer is that these seeds can be saved year after year to reproduce the same varieties as the parent plants. Conversely, many seeds on the market today cannot be saved, or will not reproduce true to type.

It’s worth noting that for the long-term, sustainable garden, seed-saving is a valuable, money saving skill that’s worth acquiring. For a clear discussion of different seed types, I encourage you to read this short article by my friend Susan.

Things I love about my seed kit:

  • It came with its own storage container.
  • The seed packs are resealable. (No more spilling seeds!)
  • I can save the heirloom seeds year after year.
  • Most varieties included should work well in a variety of garden zones. (Scroll down on this page for a full listing of seeds in the kit. Make sure the plants will grow well where you live!)

The only thing I wish were different is that there are no planting instructions on the back of the packages. If you are unsure of how to plant these seeds, you will need to refer to an internet search or another gardening resource.

Bean seeds from Heaven's Harvest heirloom seed kit

Are these seed kits a good value?

The homestead seed kit includes 130,000 seeds and costs $249.99. That may seem like a lot to you, but the truth is in years prior we have spent about $150/year on far fewer seeds. (And most of them were not heirloom!)

I found seed kits for less online, but they did not include nearly so many seeds. (Or they didn’t even include seed count!) Similar kits rang in at $0.0026- $0.0033/seed. (A small price, I know!). However, Heaven’s Harvest’s kit costs $0.0019/seed. That is significantly less, especially considering that Heaven’s Harvest is sure to include vegetables with high protein and high caloric intake.

If you don’t want that many seeds, the good news is that Heaven’s Harvest offers smaller kits: The neighborhood kit, with 24 varieties for $149.99, and the condo kit, with 12 varieties for $74.99. Seed packets can also be purchased individually as desired.

These seed kits are marketed as a survival tool. How will they help me in an emergency?

Some people buy an emergency preparedness seed kit and put it on the shelf to save for when the stuff hits the fan. If this is your primary intention when purchasing seeds, you will be sorely disappointed if you ever find yourself in a true food shortage situation. Seeds take knowledge, time, practice, and effort to grow into viable food for you and your loved ones. If you ran out of food before your garden was growing, you would likely starve before harvest time.

However, Meredith and John from Heaven’s Harvest encourage you to start using, saving, and sharing your seeds in your bucket today. They recognize that gardening is a skill that takes time to cultivate. They have designed their seed kits to promote longevity and sustainability:

  • Heirloom seeds can be saved year after year. Start your garden & begin seed saving this year, and you will have free seeds for years to come afterwards.
  • A large seed count means you have some insurance against crop failure. (Heaven’s Harvest tries to err in your favor with approximate counts.)
  • Extra seeds can be kept in resealable bags to be used for future gardens, shared with friends, or saved in case of a crop failure.
  • Seed varieties include greens, squash, asparagus, tomatoes, peppers, melons, root vegetables, beans, cabbage family veggies, so there is significant variety to ensure 1) that you’ll have enough caloric and nutritive intake, and 2) that you’ll find plants that are successful in your garden zone.

A seed kit will only work for survival if you have practiced with it. Take advantage of the fact that Heaven’s Harvest’s seed kits are designed for long-term development of gardening skills, and don’t wait for an emergency to plant your garden!

Is a seed kit the right fit for you?

This seed kit might not be the best fit for you if:

  • You live in an exceptionally hot or cold garden zone.
  • You like to individually pick seeds.
  • You prefer hybrid seeds to heirloom varieties.
  • You prefer to purchase smaller amounts of seed at one time.

Heaven’s Harvest seed kits might be a good choice for you if:

  • You live in a common temperate garden zone.
  • You don’t want to spend time slaving over seed selection.
  • You want to save seeds for following years.
  • You want long term seed storage for your seeds.
  • You are interested in emergency preparation
  • You value heirloom, non-GMO seeds.
  • You like to buy in bulk for the best value.

For this procrastinator, a seed kit from Heaven’s Harvest was a wonderful solution this year. I look forward to planting from my seed kit and practicing saving seeds from these varieties. I will be sure to come back and update how the seeds did!

Check out all of Heaven’s Harvest’s seeds and emergency preparedness supplies here.

Look inside an heirloom seed kit to see if it's right for you!

 

The Perfect Hard Boiled Egg

I used to work in a few different cafes, and each sous chef hard boiled his eggs a little differently- often with adverse results. The most amusing occasion was a boss who microwaved an under-boiled egg as an attempt to speed its readiness. Said egg ended up exploding when the boss peeled it prematurely. Thankfully, no one was hurt in the process.

Hard-boiled eggs that end up liquidy, un-intentionally green, or explosive are all undesirable outcomes. I’m happy to say that my mom tipped me off to an egg-boiling method that lends the perfect hard boiled egg- every time.

The Perfect Hard Boiled Egg


Now, as a caveat, you must know that I don’t eat hard-boiled eggs. I only do this for an occasional seventh grade science project (for my hubby’s students) or Easter egg dying. But every time, on all the different stoves I’ve tried, it comes out right!

Ready?

1) Put your eggs in a pot and cover with cold water.

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2) Turn on the burner and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes only.

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3) Turn off the heat. Let the eggs sit in the hot water for 22 minutes.

4) Run cool water over the eggs.

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5) Let cool completely before peeling.

That’s it!

The kids were slightly suspicious of their eggs…

April 2015 022 April 2015 028But I thought they looked just right! 🙂

Thanks to my mom for sharing another great life secret. If you’re a hard-boiled egg eater, let me know how these taste to you!

How to finally get the perfect hard boiled egg, every time.

Six Natural Immunity Boosters

Every fall, I am reminded of sickness season when I take the kids for their checkups. It seems that I have to ward off flu shots left and right! However, even the onset of spring and summer doesn’t mean we’re exempt from catching a bug. No matter the season, there’s always a need to arm ourselves against common ailments.

Simple, effective ways to boost your immunity!

 


Our family’s personal preference is to boost our immunity naturally as possible. Over the years, we’ve developed an arsenal of preventative measures to fight common colds and bugs. While we still occasionally fall ill, we’ve found that following a precautionary regimen can help ward off sicknesses before they come- and curtail them if we do happen to catch them!

Here’s how we work to prevent (& fight) sicknesses in our house:

1) Adequate sleep. There’s nothing like a good night of shut eye. It turns out that lack of sleep actually can suppress the immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses. Also, losing sleep can make your body less effective at fighting sickness, so you’re left feeling worse for longer. (Source.)

One of the best habits we’ve formed since the start of the new year has been getting up at the same time every morning. Not only does the early wake up time help us to start our mornings off right, the regular sleep schedule has really helped both of us to feel better in terms of energy and overall wellness.

2) Overall good nutrition. There’s a lot of articles out there on what to eat and what not to eat to boost your immunity, but most say that the immune system is so complicated that it’s difficult to tell how much your food affects it. Here’s my theory: nourishing foods help your body function at its best. If your body is functioning well, you’ll be more likely to be able to fight illnesses. (I am not a doctor. This is merely my hypothesis. 😉 )

3) Avoiding excess sugar. Too  much sugar can seriously hinder your immune system. According to Dr. Sears, “Eating or drinking 100 grams (8 tbsp.) of sugar, the equivalent of about two cans of soda, can reduce the ability of white blood cells to kill germs by forty percent.” (Source.)

Have you ever noticed that kids tend to get sick just after Halloween and Easter? It’s not that the candy itself makes them sick. However, all that sugar consumption significantly reduces their body’s ability to fight germs. We are all more likely to fall ill when we binge on sweets.

This has been really challenging for me over the years. As much as I love real food and all that jazz, I also really love chocolate! However, another major change that we’ve been working on over the past month or so is largely eliminating white sugars from our household. This is definitely one of those imperfect journeys.

4) Elderberry syrup. This is one of my favorite anti-sickness tools, and our kids love it too! Elderberries are rich in antioxidants and contain anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting flavonoids. We tend to take a spoonful most days throughout the winter, and then up our intake to several times daily at the first sign of sickness.

Studies haven’t confirmed whether or not elderberry syrup is effective as a preventative measure. However, it has been shown to significantly shorten the course of the flu- as much as by 50%! (Source.)

For the past two years, we’ve made variations of this recipe from Wellness Mama. If you don’t have the time to make it yourself, you can easily purchase syrup online.

5) Chicken soup (& other chicken broth concoctions). It’s actually a real thing- chicken soup can help you feel better. Carsonine, a compound found in chicken broth, helps your body fight sickness. The steam from the soup can help clear congestion & improve your cilia’s function. (Those are the little protective nose hairs that keep out the bad guys. Source.) Add to that the goodness of garlic, onion, and all those veggies, and you’ve got a complete, delicious immunity booster. Here’s how I make my chicken stock.

6) Fermented Foods. How do fermented foods help to keep you from getting sick? In short, fermented foods help to promote good bacteria and probiotics in your gut- and having a healthy gut means having a healthy immune system! Here’s an interesting article on how a healthy gut flora influences your overall heath and immunity.

Read more on fermentation here.

Now, if we do actually get sick, we kick these preventative measures into high gear. Then we go to town with garlic, ecinacea supplements, catnip tea, ginger root & lemon tea, apple cider vinegar, and some various essential oil usage. But that, my friends, is for another post.

Simple, natural immunity boosters that you simply must try!

How do you boost your immunity and avoid sickness? Share below in the comments!