It's finished! And it's FREE! An introduction to practical herbal first aid and home health care, focusing on simple recipes and skills you can adapt to different scenarios. This is one of the many resources I have planned for the educational project I'm launching in May, Common Branch Community Herb School.
You can even read it here before you download it:
Whiplash weather is typical here this time of year. Today's weather is in the single digits, but yesterday was warm and sunny. So I took advantage of the amazing Valentine's Day sunshine and went for an I-Spy-With-My-Little-Eye plant ramble by the river. There were a few brave dandelions and some henbit in bloom, but the trees were my favorite part of the walk. The light was perfect for highlighting the differences in their bark textures, and it's a great time of year to compare branch shapes and overall growth habits because they are still bare-limbed for winter. I've compiled lists of ethnobotanical uses for each tree from the University of Michigan-Dearborn Native American Ethnobotany Database to give you some idea of the different ways the trees have been used historically. However, as an herbalist, the database often leaves me with more questions than when I started. For instance, some of the uses are very vague or ambiguous, while others seem very specific. I suppose I need to look up the sources they site and see if I can dig up the rest of the story. Still, it's clear from some of the patterns of use whether the tree is predominantly used as an astringent (like persimmon) or an aromatic (like tulip tree). The Eclectics also have a fair bit to say about some of these trees, so if you are intrigued you may want to poke around on the databases Henriette Kress has made available on her website.
River Birch (Betlua nigra)
Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)
The tree above is very interesting. I don't recognize what type it is, but it made me wonder what happened. A lightning strike, perhaps?
Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
Like what you see here on the blog? I'm pleased to announce I'm now partnering with Herbal Academy of New England as part of their writing team and Marketing Assistant! You will see new articles I've written on their blog starting next week, and very soon for their members-only Herbarium as well. I'm proud to be an affiliate for their online courses, and can't say enough about how great they are- I wish these had been available when I first started learning herbalism with a correspondence school (by mail!) years ago!
Investigating all thepossibilities for herbal sweets and treats was an entertaining way to spend an afternoon, but despite all of the truffle-icious temptations my original plan of learning to make hard candy won out. Please enjoy the resulting creation: Hawthorn and Helichrysum Sea Glass!
Hawthorn is a heart-friendly herb, and helichrysum has an aphrodisiac reputation, but whether there is any actual benefit to these is debatable. There's a lot of sugar in them! Still, it makes a nice theme and the flavors play well together. Despite that these contain hawthorn berries, don't expect a tart "berry" flavor. The taste is really unique- helichyrsum bitters come out even over the honey and sugar, somewhat like horehound candy if you have ever tried that. I love the way these turned out, and was pleasantly surprised that almost everyone else who has tried them went back for seconds. (So it's not just me! )
It's not complicated to make- in fact, I already have plans for other experiments of the same sort. And it doesn't require any special tools- not even a candy thermometer.
Here's what you will need:
Things will go pretty quickly once the tea has been made, so make sure everything is set up and ready to go before you get started by creating your molds. To make a confectioner sugar mold, add a 1/2" to 1" layer of powdered sugar in a pan or baking dish and use your fingers to hollow out little cups for the "pebbles." I wasn't expecting the mixture of honey and sugar to be so foamy when it got hot, so I ended up splitting my mix into two batches. If you are short on pans, it would be best to make the sheet glass style. I did one batch on just the the nonstick pan, and then converted it to sugar molds along with a second glass baking dish I had. You should also be able to space the pebbles more closely together than I did. I wasn't sure how well behaved the hot mixture would be, but it was quite happy to hang out in the molds and not go crazy:
Once your pans and molds are ready to go, you can make the tea. Bring 1 & 1/2 cups water to boil in a small pot with a lid, and add the hawthorn berries. Simmer on low for 10 minutes to make a strong decoction, then remove from the heat. Add the helichrysum and Easy Day Tea, and allow to steep with the lid on for another five to ten minutes.
Combine the tea, sugar, and honey in a large saucepan over low to medium heat and stir continuously while it heats up. Be careful, because hot sugar mixture makes for some really painful burns! My mixture more than doubled in size, and I ended up dividing it into two batches so that it didn't boil over. It only takes about 15 minutes to get the mix to the right temp and consistency- the brew will become very foamy and thick, and a drop into the glass of water hardens and falls quickly to the bottom of the glass. This would be 300F if you have a candy thermometer.
As soon as the candy is ready, pull it off the heat and quickly pour it into the pans. I used a spoon to ladle the mix into the confectioner sugar molds. At first I was afraid the candy would cool down to fast to do it this way, but it worked just fine.
To clean the saucepan when you are finished, fill it with water and bring it to a simmer. The candy coating will dissolve in the hot water and clean up will be a snap.
Let the candies cool and harden for about twenty minutes before you move them.
For the sheet glass candy: use a thin, metal spatula to remove it from the pan. Obviously, if it breaks it's no big deal. Continue breaking to the desired size and then toss in a bowl with a pinch or two of confectioners sugar to coat. The coating makes them less likely to stick together and makes them look more like sea glass.
For the pebble shaped candy, remove from the molds and shake in a cup or bowl to dust off the excess sugar. The sugar can be stored in an airtight container and reused for making the next batch of candy. Store the candy in a separate container. I left some out in a candy dish for a couple days and it's still fine, but I'm not sure how they would do around high humidity.
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About the Author
Agatha Noveille is an herbalist and author residing in northwest Georgia. She is interested in herbal emergency preparedness, community wellness topics, and native and naturalized plants.
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