This Spring, from the front porch of the Cottage I watched as Farmer Chet tore out his longstanding field of alfalfa and planted corn.
It is said that wheat - or bread made from it - is the staff of life. Perhaps, it's really corn...corn that is the staff of life in its myriad forms.
Corn feeds chickens, fattens livestock in the last days of life, has sanctified and blessed the Native people of South and North America...corn was gifted, endowed, shared by these Original Peoples to the new settlers of this New/Old world.
Corn is used as fillers in pet food, and human food, as sweeteners for sodas and condiments, desserts, and "fast" foods. It's quick energy. It makes alcohol - to drink and power machinery.
Corn is maligned as too much, too often in our food supply. What was sacred and celebrated is now industrialized, particularized, politicized, segmented...slandered, slammed...
It is blamed for obesity, diabetes...and probably more. It is sold as seed for growing sweet and super sweet varieties. Or "feed" varieties. It is genetically modified and mono-cropped. It is grass. It is food. It is life. Corn!
Sacred and blasphemed. Slurred, smeared, and sullied. We love it. We hate it. We need it. We revile it. We crave it and scorn it. Corn!
My small corn patch. This year I've planted an heirloom, open-pollinated variety called, True Gold.
I always grow a small patch of corn. Sometimes I grow the Golden Bantam variety. Sometimes I grow True Gold. I've also grown a "colored" variety called, Painted Mountain.
I love corn in all its sweet, starchy, white, yellow, multicolored beauty and abundance. Corn is abundance. Abundance for all. Over-abundance for some.
From the Cottage, Farmer Chet's corn is just visible, greening in its precisely "tractored" furrows.
A week later Farmer Chet's corn is visibly taller, beautiful to watch as it dances and shimmers in the wind.
And...so is mine...although much humbler in quantity!
In its prime of growth, corn shimmers, radiant in the Sun. It whispers in the wind with the sound of running, sparkling, tumbling waters.
In the Fall, as its energy dries and returns to the Earth - the fertile soil from which it sprung, now depleted and dry - corn's supple nature gives way to a sound of dry, rattling bones heralding harvest and home. Storage and silos.
Some of my corn harvest of last Fall. I await eagerly the "fruits" of this Season's corn harvest!
I'm craving firm, ripe, red tomatoes...and corn! Picked fresh, dropped into boiling water - three to five minutes. Slathered with butter, a sprinkle of sea salt and ground pepper. A simple, sublime feast. A feast for the soul.
Barbecued in husk. Painted with chipotle butter, cumin or cilantro butter. Herb butter. Oiled, boiled, broiled, and pickled. Husked, de-silked. Frozen for winter. The excess tossed to chickens.
After cutting the corn from the cobs to freeze, the Chicken Girls relish what's left behind - a few kernels and moist white "milk".
I'm ready for fresh corn! The corn is not yet ready for me. It's infant, immature, short on stature - several months out from enjoyment. Corn-induced rapture. I yearn for it, dream about it. Want it. So I wait....
Gathering herbs. The time is now and I'm spending dry mornings before wind and heat arise gathering the herbs I will dry for tea, potpourris, fragrance, and cooking; to tincture in alcohol (vodka or brandy) for medicinal use; or infuse (as strong teas, or into oil for pain relief, healing scrapes, bites, and bruises, and for skin-nurturing moisturizers.
Lavender is used in potpourris, tea, and as a flavoring for desserts. It soothes digestive woes, too. So now is the time to gather it while it's in bloom. I snip the stems and pile them onto an old cookie sheet. Once inside the house I tie the lavender into bundles to hang from the ceiling of my bedroom. From my headboard. I love the scent of lavender as I'm falling asleep. This is the only herb dried in my bedroom - all others occupy the kitchen.
Bundles of lavender hang from my headboard and the ceiling in my bedroom scenting and soothing my dreams.
Later, after the lavender has dried I'll strip the lavender buds from the stems and store them in a jar for a variety of uses. It makes a nice potpourri all by itself in a pretty dish.
Medicinal yarrow is identified by sprays of tiny white flowers on delicate ferny foliage.
Ready now is white yarrow. Yellow yarrow - several varieties - brighten the Cottage's gardens and indoor bouquets. But white yarrow is gathered, hung and dried, used for its medicine. Its healing powers.
Yarrow grows wild in many mountain areas. I've seen it in California's Sierras and in the mountains and meadows of Utah. I'm sure it grows in most places in the USA, Europe, and parts of Asia.
This wild, white kind knits itself among the other plants in the garden. Spreading. Slowly overtaking. It looks delicate but is determined to make space for itself by gradually nudging, surrounding, supplanting.
Medicinally, it aids in suppressing runny noses, tearing, and sneezing of hay fever, colds, and flu. For this, I combine it with Brigham tea, peppermint blossoms, and elder flowers with a squeeze of lemon and honey.
Brewed and infused, yarrow is a soothing, purifying wash for cuts, scrapes, insect bites, and wounds. It tones veins - strengthening existing varicose veins and helping prevent future ones. It lowers high blood pressure. Yarrow ointment staunches blood from shaving, scrapes, and cuts. Bloody noses, too.
Right now. Lavender and yarrow are ready in the gardens. And, so I'm gathering...
Spearmint (left) and Peppermint (right) are harvested from the Cottage's gardens.
It was once the tradition to gather herbs at or around Midsummer. That is also the practice at the Cottage...because that's when most are ready for harvest. I've already gathered nettles, comfry, and motherwort. Now, it's time to gather mint when its at its freshest, greenest, and most aromatic. Later in Summer prolonged heat and wind will take a toll and it will begin to brown around the edges.
In the Orchard garden are a couple of small patches of spearmint, kept from spreading (as most mints will aggressively do) by confinement within a couple of large pots with their bottoms removed. These pots have been sunk into the soil.
In the Kitchen Garden is a four-foot by four-foot cinderblock bed of peppermint. Both mints make tasty teas brewed fresh-picked from the garden.
I dry both of these mints for tea-making in Winter when the plants are dormant in the gardens and snow lies upon the ground.
I'll gather herbs mid-morning before the weather warms and evaporates away the volatile oils and after any morning dew has evaporated.
After gathering, the mints are brought into the house, given a quick rinse in cool water and drained on a clean towel and patted dry with another.
I'll separate the herbs into bundles and tie them with string so I can hang them from the ceiling to dry for storage in jars or zip-style baggies.
A canning jar with a hole poked in the top makes a nice string dispenser. The string in the jar is almost gone and a new ball awaits to replace it. The new ball is a bit to big in diameter to fit, so it will be used until it is a little smaller before inserting it into the jar.
The mint bundles will be hung from the grids of the suspended kitchen ceiling to dry for about a week. The hooks used to hang the bundles are paper clips that have been straightened retaining a hook at either end (see photo above).
Peppermint is hung from the metal grids of my suspended ceiling. The ceiling, installed by a former owner of the Cottage, makes for a giant herb drying rack. The spearmint hangs to dry from a different part of the ceiling.
To make a cup of tea from fresh mint, place about a tablespoon-size amount of herb (leaves and stem) into a cup. Pour on boiling water. Cover, and let steep five to 20 minutes. Add honey, sugar or agave syrup (or your choice of sweetener, if desired) to taste. Sit back. Relax. Enjoy.
Spearmint and peppermint teas are refreshing served iced and make a nice after-meal tea to aid digestion.
After the peppermint blooms I'll harvest again, taking just the flowering tops and first set of leaves. These I dry on waxed paper-covered trays and store as an ingredient for a tea I make for those times when I catch a cold. The other ingredients in the tea are ephedra (Brigham tea), elderflower, echinacea, and white yarrow. All of these herbs grow in my gardens and are blended to make a soothing, sinus-drying tea. To the hot tea add lemon juice and honey, or agave syrup may be added to sweeten to taste.
Mint tea, iced or hot, from fresh or dried herbs, is a pleasure to sip and enjoy!
The "aerial parts" of motherwort are gathered for medicinal purposes. I use it fresh or dried in homemade tinctures to control my heart arrhythmia. It is a tonic to the heart, strengthening its function.
Here at the Cottage, motherwort, Leonurus cardiaca - meaning "lion hearted", is ready for harvest. When this herb blooms that is the signal to harvest the upper portions - flowering stems with its tender leaves.
In the Back Garden is a small plot called the "Healing Garden" containing a nice stand of motherwort and a colony of horehound. Both are bitter-tasting herbs so the Chicken Girls leave them alone.
The pretty, pale-pink flowering bracts of motherwort are prickly, becoming burr-like upon drying. The stems and leaves are smooth and soft.
I cut the upper parts of the stems and handle these with bare hands avoiding the prickly flowers. These aerial parts are piled onto an old cookie sheet and taken into the house. The motherwort is placed into the sink, given a cool water rinse to remove dust and any bugs, shaken lightly, then placed on a large towel to sop up more moisture.
Laying the motherwort on a towel and patting them dry with another towel removes most of the excess moisture for tincture-making or drying.
I lightly pat the herbs dry with a cotton towel, then snip them into short, manageable lengths so I can insert them into a quart-size Mason jar.
I gently press the herb into the jar so I can fill it full or herb. Then I pour on 80 or 90 proof vodka (or brandy) to fill the jar. Use the cheap stuff (liquor, that is) as you won't be drinking it, only using the herb-laced tincture by the dropper full.
Using a butter knife I release any bubbles among the compacted herbs and pour on a bit more vodka or brandy to completely cover the herbs.
Two quarts of new motherwort tincture and a vial of tincture made last year.
After capping the jars they go into the pantry where they will macerate (soak) for six weeks. After six weeks I drain off the tincture, pressing the herb gently to release remaining tincture and discard the used herb onto the compost pile.
To use the completed tincture, I transfer some of it into a two- or four-ounce dropper bottle or vial. A dropper full two to three times a day in juice, water, wine, or tea is the usual dosage I take.
I store my tinctures in the pantry or a cupboard away from light and they do last for years! I do try to make only what I can use in a year, making fresh tinctures each Spring. Over time a tincture will begin to gradually lose its medicinal value if kept for too long.
To make a tincture from dried mugwort use one part dried herb to four parts vodka or brandy instead of the one to one ratio of a tincture made from fresh herbs.
I always dry some motherwort in case I need to make more tincture during the Winter when the plants are dormant in the garden. Too, I'll have dried herb available if someone requests a tincture.
I've been considering selling some of the herbs (dried) grown in my gardens on my etsy site - gailsgarden - for those wanting organic, hand-harvested plant material for use in tinctures, sachets, dream pillows, teas, potpourris, and crafts.
Too heavy to hang from the suspended kitchen ceiling, motherwort is hung on sturdy curtain rods to dry.
Regular use of motherwort entirely eliminates my heart arrhythmia and palpitations. I also feel that it soothes and calms the heart in a "tonic" manner. Motherwort is a recommended herb for women going through menopause as it promotes a peaceful feeling.
For women interested in going through their Change, naturally, I recommend, New Menopausal Years by Susun S. Weed. This book has herbal, dietary, and exercise recommendations for a happy, natural Change.
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Abundance is...an herb garden for beauty, healing, and cooking!
Waverly's La Petite Ferme Ruby on sale at 60% off at Joann's Fabrics on-line or in-store! Plus many other Waverly patterns!
I've been looking for fabric to recover my dining room chairs for a couple of years. When a great sale comes along that coincides with my desire, it's time to act...perchance to spend!
My goal is to re-cycle or re-purpose what I already have...or, get a great "on-sale" deal!
With this Waverly sale, it was time to re-do the dining room chairs. At last.
I loved the La Petite Ferme by Waverly. Why???...check out the chickens!
I love the chicken theme! And, the pattern adds a touch of elegance to my dining room chairs.
This was an easy project! I simply unscrewed the four screws that held the seats to the chairs. I positioned the fabirc so so the central medallion (chicken, chicks, and rooster) were in the center of the seat. I cut around the seat leaving about two-inches excess to fold underneath the seat and stapled the fabric in place beginning with the seat corners. I re-attached the seats. And, voila...a whole new look!