Practical Self Reliance: How to Make an Herbal Tincture

Ashley Adamant at Practical Self Reliance has another well written and highly useful article with How to Make an Herbal Tincture. As usual, more pictures and instruction through link.

Herbal tinctures are extracts made from medicinal plants, mushrooms, or lichen.  Whether made with alcohol or glycerite, homemade tinctures are a shelf-stable way to preserve the medicinal benefits of herbs for year-round use.  They’re an easy way to always have natural medicine on hand at a moment’s notice.

Homemade Yarrow Tincture (Alcohol extract of yarrow)

Homemade Yarrow Tincture (Alcohol extract of yarrow)

Making your own herbal tinctures is a deeply satisfying feeling, and once made, it’s incredibly comforting to know that you have shelf-stable herbal medicine ready whenever it’s needed.

Essentially, you’re distilling all of the therapeutic properties of any given plant material into a super-concentrated, super-powerful elixir that can be taken for any number of health concerns. Depending on the tincture in question, the benefits range from preventative to immune-boosting to sleep-inducing — all in a dropperful of herbal extract!

What you might not realize about tinctures is how easy they are to make. All you need to get started is your desired plant material, a solvent, and a solid 6 to 8 weeks for the extraction process to complete itself.

What is a Tincture?

A tincture is a concentrated herbal extract prepared with alcohol, a solvent that extracts the active medicinal compounds from alcohol-soluble plant matter. Tinctures are a means to ingest super-condensed herbal extracts for their medicinal properties.

The use of tinctures isn’t a new activity, people from all over the world have been making tinctures for thousands of years.

Today, the tincture market is rich with options. You could purchase a tincture for every ailment you can think of, but the prices are often high — especially when you’re buying multiple tinctures at once.  Usually, tinctures are around $12 to 15 an ounce, but the same medicine can be made for pennies on the dollar.

When you make your own tinctures at home you can choose the best quality ingredients to make a potent tincture, all at a fraction of the price of a store-bought version.

Homemade tinctures are made with minimal equipment, using the leaves, flowers, roots, bark, and flowers of fresh or dried herbs and mushrooms as plant material.

Tincture vs. Herbal Extract

You might notice the term “herbal extract” is sometimes used interchangeably with the word “tincture” when you’re reading up on the topic, but there is a difference between the two classifications.

A tincture is prepared using alcohol as a solvent to extract the desired compounds from plant material. Glycerite tinctures use vegetable glycerin as a solvent, and are generally considered part of the tincture family.

An herbal extract is an umbrella term that refers to plant material extracts made with various types of solvents including, but not limited to, alcohol, oil, honey, and vinegar.

How are Tinctures Used?

Depending on the particular extract you’re using, tinctures are taken orally or applied externally. Tinctures are dosed by the dropperful, and are often dropped directly under the tongue, where they’re absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly.

Different types of tinctures have different recommended dosages and means of ingestion. Bitter tinctures, which are taken to stimulate the appetite and relieve signs of digestive distress, are typically ingested 15 minutes before eating.

Some tinctures, like those made from lemon balm and motherwort, tend to be fast-acting, and are of the soothing variety.

Tinctures mades from adaptogenic and immune-boosting herbs and mushrooms, such as ginseng root or reishi mushrooms, must be taken continuously over a period of several weeks before their therapeutic benefits are apparent.

Not all tinctures are meant to be taken orally. Tinctures prepared with black walnut and yarrow are, among others, applied directly to the skin or mixed in with a carrier oil or basic lotion.

Topically-applied tinctures are used to treat everything from parasitic infection to eczema, and certain types can even be mixed in with misting sprays or face cream to add powerful herbal benefits (and at a fraction of the cost of commercially-made, herb extract-enriched beauty products).

Types of Tinctures

By definition, alcohol-based tinctures are the only “true” tincture, although some resources are laxer about this than others.  Glycerine based or Alcohol-free “tinctures” aren’t technically tinctures, but they’re often referred to by this name since they’re pretty much equivalent in terms of how they’re used.  (Technically, they’re glycerites.)

Some plant materials, such as dried mushrooms, contain high amounts of both alcohol-soluble and water-soluble compounds. When this is the case, the double extraction method is the way to go. It’s an additional step, but an easy one, and you’ll find that the result is definitely worth the (very minimal) extra time it takes.

If you prefer an alcohol-free extract, you can also make a potent glycerite tincture using vegetable glycerin — the method is almost exactly the same as a tincture with alcohol, which I’ll walk you through below.

Are Tinctures Shelf Stable?

Because tinctures are prepared with ethyl alcohol they have a naturally long shelf life. Alcohol drastically slows down natural decomposition and the growth of bacteria, so if properly stored a tincture can last for a couple of years (even longer if the alcohol is 100-proof or higher).

Never use isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), it’s toxic to ingest and therefore not suitable for making tinctures — although it can be used to make herbal liniments for external use.

All of my tinctures are made using vodka. I like to use Smirnoff because it’s relatively inexpensive, but not so cheap that it’s completely unpalatable.

Some people prefer to make their tinctures with brandy or rum — pretty much any high-test alcohol can be used. Make sure you choose alcohol that’s at least 80-proof (40 percent) for making tinctures or, if you can find it, 100-proof (50 percent) or higher to ensure safe preservation.

Once the tincture is ready to be decanted, I carefully transfer the extract to a dark amber glass bottle with a dropper and store it in a darkened location away from any light or heat sources — no need for refrigeration.

If stored with care, tinctures will maintain their potency for 2 to 3 years (with some higher alcohol preparations lasting up to 5 years).  The Herbal Academy has an excellent guide to the shelf life of herbal preparations, which has much more specific and detailed estimates, depending on how the tincture is prepared.

How to Make a Tincture

The first step when preparing a homemade tincture is to select your plant material.

One question I see regularly is in regards to using fresh or dried herbs, and if one is better than the other. The answer I would give is: there are advantages to choosing either medium!

Depending on where you live, fresh herbs can be found growing wild or in your garden, which makes them readily available. Fresh herbs have a high water content, which means they’re susceptible to spoilage if they aren’t used immediately after being picked. If you’re fortunate enough to have a surplus of fresh herbs, I would recommend drying them for later projects using this guide to preserving herbs.

If you’re making a tincture from dried herbs, you can use herbs you’ve dried yourself or you can buy the best-quality dried herbs. Dried herbs have a maximum shelf life of 2 years, if you aren’t drying the herbs yourself it’s important to find a source with rapid product turnover.

The main mechanism behind tincture-making is the same: put plant material in a jar, cover with alcohol, and let steep for several weeks. However, a little bit of finesse with herb to alcohol ratios will result in the most potent of tinctures.

For a tincture made with fresh leaves and flowers, finely chop or grind clean plant material (the goal is to expose as much surface area as possible). Fill a jar about 3/4 of the way with chopped leaves and flowers — don’t pack the jar too tightly.

Cover the contents of the jar completely with alcohol and seal with a lid.

How to Make Chickweed Tincture

Making chickweed tincture with fresh chickweed

If you’re preparing a tincture using dried leaves and flowers, you’ll want to fill a jar about 1/2 of the way full with dried plant material.  Dried herbs are more concentrated, and they absorb liquid and expand during the extraction process.  If you fill the jar completely full, your yield will be pitifully small (but intensely concentrated).

Cover the contents of the jar completely with alcohol and seal with a lid.

To make a tincture with either fresh or dried bark, berries, and/or roots, finely chop or grind the plant material to expose optimal surface area or to release the juice of berries.  Roots and bark are especially hard to extract, so increasing surface area is important.

Fill the jar 1/3 to 1/2 full with chopped bark, berries, and roots.  These materials tend to be even more concentrated and expand further than dried flowers or leaves.

Cover the contents of the jar completely with alcohol and seal with a lid.

I always use a standard canning jar, but I use a plastic mason jar lid when making tinctures. There are certain tinctures that will, over time, eat through plastic.

Most tinctures need to sit for a period of 6 to 8 weeks before they can be used, during this time the alcohol extracts beneficial alcohol-soluble compounds found in the plant material.

Store developing tinctures in a cool, dry place away from light. Give them a good shake every couple of days, keeping an eye on alcohol levels. If at any point it appears the alcohol level is getting lower, add more to the jar to completely cover the plant material to prevent unwanted mold growth.

When you’re ready to bottle your tincture, it will need to be strained first. The easiest way to do this is to line a funnel with a cheesecloth, placing the tip of the funnel directly into a dark amber glass bottle.

I often skip the cheesecloth and just use a fine mesh strainer, which is usually fine enough for most tinctures.  If you’re making a tincture with particularly fine material, like pine pollen tincture, definitely go with cheesecloth.

How to Make A Tincture without Alcohol

If you’re abstaining from alcohol for any reason you can still make a tincture using a different menstruum. A menstruum is a term that refers to the solvent chosen for making extracts.

Food Grade Vegetable Glycerine has been used as a solvent to make tinctures called glycerites for close to 200 years. It has a syrupy texture and sweet flavor, making it an excellent choice for tinctures that will be ingested by children.

Most recipes for glycerite tinctures are made with 75 percent vegetable glycerin and 25 percent water, resulting in an herbal extract with a shelf life of 14 to 24 months.

You can also use vinegar as a menstruum when preparing an herbal extract — I like to use apple cider vinegar as a solvent because it has the best taste, but almost any kind of vinegar will work. As long as the tincture is made with no less than 5 percent vinegar, it’s generally shelf-stable for a minimum of 6 months (usually longer).

Like alcohol-based solutions, tinctures made with glycerine or vinegar are made by soaking herbs or mushrooms in the menstruum for several weeks to extract therapeutic and medicinal properties.

Common Herbal Tinctures

Tinctures can be made from most types of medicinal plants or mushrooms, but the specific benefits of each herbal extract will depend on the specific herbs used.  Here are a few of the most common types of homemade herbal tinctures, along with their benefits:

Black Walnut Tincture

If you have black walnuts to harvest, a homemade black walnut tincture is a great way to use those otherwise inedible walnut husks that would normally be discarded. Black walnut tinctures are applied topically and are prized for their anti-fungal and anti-parasitic properties thanks to a natural abundance of tannins.

Tinctures made from black walnut husks are a rare source of land-based iodine, making them a good tincture to have on hand for disinfecting wounds and irritated skin.

My post about the benefits of black walnut tincture provides all the instructions you need to make your own potent tincture…

This article continues with additional specific herbal tinctures.

Practical Self Reliance: How to Freeze Vegetables (A to Z Guide)

Ashley Adamant of Practical Self Reliance has another detailed article on How to Freeze Vegetables (A to Z Guide). Many vegetables are covered individually and, as usual, more photos through the link to the original article.

Freezing vegetables effectively preserves them at the peak of freshness, provided it’s done properly.  If vegetables are not properly prepared before freezing, then you might as well skip it altogether.

I know what you’re thinking.  Who needs instructions on freezing vegetables?

You just bag them up and stuff them in the freezer, end of story.

Well, not quite.

Years ago I remember thinking it’d be really convenient to have a freezer full of frozen butternut squash, already peeled and cubed for easy weeknight dinners.  I bought a case of squash, peeled it, cubed it, and packed it into gallon-sized freezer bags for my chest freezer.

When I pulled the first bag out of the freezer I was sorely disappointed.  The squash was rubbery, once fully defrosted had the consistency of a wet sponge.  I literally wrung out a few cubes before I braved cooking them, just to play with their strange sponge-like texture.

It was a disaster, and the butternut squash was completely disgusting.

Freezing changes the texture of some raw foods and had I know that butternut must be blanched before freezing it would have saved a lot of squash that ended up in the compost pile.

Blanching preserves more than just texture, it also preserves quality in some vegetables.  Freezing only slows down degeneration, and enzymatic processes are still happening (though slowly) within bags of frozen vegetables.  They can actually still spoil in the freezer, if not properly prepared.

Every type of vegetable is a bit different, and some can be quickly thrown into bags with no prep at all.  Fear not, I’ll walk you through how to freeze vegetables for peak quality.

Blanching Methods

For those vegetables that need blanching before freezing, there are two main methods: boiling or steaming.

Boiling is simple, but much less gentle than steaming.  The agitation in the water can break apart tender vegetables, and it’s best reserved for firm-fleshed types.  Being submerged in water also causes the veggies to lose more flavor, so it’s often not the best option.

Steaming, on the other hand, is gentle and helps the vegetables retain flavor.  You’ll need a steamer basket of some sort to keep the vegetables suspended over an inch or two of boiling water, but the results are usually better.

Whichever method you choose, steam or boil, and then quickly transfer the veggies to an ice water bath.  This stops the cooking immediately and helps ensure the vegetables don’t get overcooked or soggy.

Freezer Storage Containers

The storage container you choose is nearly as important as the way you prepare vegetables before freezing.  Standard Ziplock freezer bags are one of the most common choices, but they’re not the only option.

  • Ziplock Freezer Bags ~ One of the simplest and most economical options, freezer bags are made of a thicker plastic than regular storage bags.  That helps prevent both leaks and freezer burn, but it’s still important to remove as much air as possible from the bags for the best quality frozen vegetables.  Vacuum sealed bags are a better option for longer storage.
  • Food Saver Vacuum Sealer Bags ~ A better option than Ziploc bags, vacuum sealer bags remove air from around the food and dramatically reduce the risk of freezer burn when veggies are stored for more than a month or two.  It’s a bit of an investment upfront buying a vacuum sealer, but we’ve had ours for over a decade.  It’s literally sealed thousands of pounds of food, and it’s been well worth it.
  • Freezer Safe Gladware ~ Many types of Tupperware are not designed for freezer temperatures and will become brittle in the freezer.  Even once they warm up, they won’t recover and can shatter easily.  If you do use storage containers, choose varieties made from freezer-safe plastic, such as Gladware Freezer Safe Containers.
  • Freezer Safe Mason Jars ~ Some glass mason jars are freezer safe, and they even have a freezing “fill line” embossed on the side.  Be sure to leave around 1 1/2 inches of headspace below the top rim, as the food may expand when frozen.  Only use straight-sided “wide mouth” mason jars, as jars with “shoulders” are not freezer safe and can crack as the food expands.  Jars are best for pureed vegetables (such as frozen pumpkin puree) since it’ll fully fill the jar without air space.

Pumpkin puree ready for the freezer!  Note the straight-sided wide mouth mason jars, which are freezer safe.

How to Freeze Vegetables

Once blanched, most vegetables are then either placed directly into bags, or flash-frozen on baking trays to keep them from freezing together.  This depends on the type of produce.

Asparagus

Home-canned asparagus tends to get mushy, and while pickled asparagus is delicious, it no longer has that fresh green flavor.  Freezing asparagus is the best way to store this short season vegetable.

Blanch asparagus for 2-3 minutes, preferably by steaming since fresh asparagus can be tender and delicate.  Remove the stems to an ice water bath, or place in a colander and rinse with cool water for a few minutes to stop the cooking.

Pat the spears dry and arrange on baking trays.  Freeze the spears on trays for 2-4 hours, until firm.  Transfer the spears to storage bags, press out the air, and seal tightly before storing them in the freezer.

Frozen asparagus will generally lasts 8-12 months if properly blanched and stored in a tightly sealed bag.

Artichokes

Artichokes can be frozen, but only after cooking. If you freeze artichokes raw, they turn brown when unthawed, and their flavor changes. Blanching isn’t enough because it won’t heat the center and cook thoroughly. 

You can find several methods for cooking and freezing artichokes. Here’s one option.

Trim the tops from the artichokes and rub cut surfaces with lemon. Then, cook it in water flavored with lemon juice for preservation purposes. Let it cook for 20-25 minutes. Then, let it drain upside down and place upside down on a baking sheet, and flash freeze on trays before storing in freezer bags.

Make sure you thaw correctly, in the refrigerator rather than on the countertop.  When ready to eat them, wrap each artichoke in aluminum foil and steam until hot…(continues)

Practical Self Reliance: How to Make Cheddar Cheese

Ashley Adamant at Practical Self Reliance has a nice, detailed article on How to Make Cheddar Cheese. As usual with her articles, there are a lot of useful photos of the process through the link to her site.

Homemade Cheddar cheese is a labor of love, and the results are well worth the effort.  It can be made as either a waxed cheddar, similar to many of the nice options available at the cheese counter these days, or as clothbound cheddar. 

Traditional clothbound cheddar is unbelievably flavorful, and it’s dramatically different than what passes for fine cheddar on the supermarket shelves these days.

Whether clothbound or waxed, the process for making cheddar cheese at home is the same right up until the last steps and I’ll walk you through all of the options.

(If you’re new to cheesemaking, I’d highly recommend you read this beginner’s guide to cheesemaking before getting started.)

When I started making my own cheese, the first thing my kids asked for (of course) was homemade cheddar.

I love cheddar just as much as anyone, but my preferences are for an intensely sharp, crumbly wheel of traditional clothbound cheddar.  My kids love the mild smooth textured high moisture cheddar, that’s perfect for grilled cheese.

Why not make a bit of both?

In the process of writing this tutorial, I made quite a few wheels of cheddar.  Some using raw jersey milk from a farm down the road, and others using pasteurized grocery store milk.

Some wheels were waxed or vacuum sealed before aging, and only aged a few months for a mild high moisture cheddar.  Still, others were clothbound so they’d develop a natural rind, dry crumbly texture and aged for over a year for an incredibly sharp delicacy.

I’ll walk you through all the options after showing you how to make a traditional cheddar cheese.

Types of Cheddar

These days, most cheddar is either waxed or vacuum-sealed to mature.  That seals the cheese off from the outside environment and doesn’t allow it to naturally “breathe” throughout the aging process.

In an industrial setting, that’s ideal, because it’s a lot easier to age the cheese consistently.  Moisture within the cheese is maintained, regardless of the outside environment.

This is a great option if your aging space is less than ideal, and you can’t maintain proper humidity.  It’s also a good option if you have children in the family, as the waxed cheddar generally maintains a higher moisture content (thus it’s softer and less crumbly).

If you’d like a real treat, I’d suggest making clothbound cheddar, as it’s hard to find these days and it’s a truly artisanal product.  Since the cloth binding allows the cheese to breathe and develop a natural rind, it’s a complex live food full of unique and intense flavors.   (Nothing like the bland yellow dyed commodity sold on grocery store shelves.)

A few producers still make clothbound cheddar in the traditional way, wrapped in bandages, and aged in a controlled environment.  In fact, one of the best is right here in Vermont, and they sell their clothbound cheddar for $30 per pound.

It’s spectacular and totally worth every penny in my book, and it’s the reason I’m taking all this time to perfect my own homemade clothbound cheddar.

I’m going to walk you through a recipe for a 4-pound wheel of homemade cheddar, whether waxed or clothbound is your choice. 

Yes, it does take all day to make (mostly hands-off time), plus a week of drying, and then many months to age before it’s ready.  Given that the effort is the same, I’d strongly suggest trying your hand at clothbound if at all possible, if you have a way to control humidity in the aging space.

But there’s nothing like slicing into a $120 wheel of cheese you made yourself…

This recipe for traditional cheddar is adapted from Home Cheesemaking by Rikki Carrol.

It was one of the first home cheesemaking books written in the US, and it was the original spark that kindled a movement of home cheesemakers that’s burning strong 40 years later.

The book has a number of homemade cheddar recipes, from farmhouse cheddars to stirred curred cheddars and flavor-infused sage cheddar.   Ricki notes that “Making cheddar the traditional way takes longer, but is well worth the effort.”

If you’re going to go through the effort of making cheddar cheese at home, you might as well do it right and make really good cheddar

(If you’re looking for a simpler recipe, try making this 18th-century farmhouse cheddar or Colby cheese instead.)

Ingredients & Equipment for Traditional Cheddar

The ingredients for making cheddar are pretty straightforward.  You’ll need just one cheese culture, along with a bit of rennet to form the curds, plus fresh milk of course.

I’m using raw milk from a dairy just around the corner, but pasteurized milk works as well (just not ultrapasteurized).  If you’re using pasteurized milk, add calcium chloride to help the curds form (since it’s damaged during the pasteurization process).

For equipment, you’ll need:

How to Make Cheddar Cheese

Start by heating 4 gallons of milk to 86 degrees F.  (Note: You can cut this recipe in half for a 2-gallon recipe.)

Sprinkle the packet of mesophilic starter culture over the top of the warmed milk, and allow it to rehydrate for 2 minutes undisturbed.  (This helps prevent clumping.)

If using farm-fresh raw milk, you can use half the culture because the raw milk already has natural cultures present.

(There are in fact traditional methods of making this cheddar without any added culture, though it’s tricky.  If you’re interested in that process, I’d suggest reading The Art of Natural Cheesemaking by David Asher.)

Mesophilic Starter for Cheddar

If using a direct set mesophilic starter packet (pictured above), you’ll need 2 packets for four gallons of pasteurized milk or 1 packet for raw milk.  Alternatively, use 1/4 teaspoon (1/2 teaspoon for pasteurized milk) bulk powdered mesophilic culture.

Stir the starter culture into the milk using an up and down motion for 1 minute.

Cover the milk and allow it to ripen undisturbed at 86 degrees F for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, check to make sure that the milk is still at 86 degrees, and if it’s cooled more than a degree or so re-warm it gently.

Dilute the rennet in 1/4 cup of unchlorinated water and add it to the cultured milk.  Add the diluted rennet, and stir it in using an up and down motion.  After 1 minute, use the spoon to still the milk (stop the motion).

Be aware that rennet comes in varying strengths, so check the bottle to be sure of the measurement.  My rennet, which I believe is single strength, says one teaspoon will set 4 gallons of milk in 45 minutes.

Cover the pot and allow it to sit completely undisturbed for 45 minutes.

Don’t try to heat the milk, take the temperature, or otherwise fuss over the milk during this time.  Ideally, it should stay at 86 during this period, but fussing over the milk will cause more harm than good.

The pot needs to be still for the curds to form properly, so really try to leave it alone during this time.

After 45 minutes, check to make sure the curds have formed into a solid mass and give a clean break.  (This shouldn’t be an issue unless it’s really quite cold in the room and the pot has cooled substantially.)

If they haven’t formed, give them another 5-15 minutes before proceeding.

Cut the curds into 1/4 inch cubes and then allow them to sit for 5 minutes.  (This allows the curds to heal a bit before you move along, which will improve the structure of the finished cheese.)

Slowly heat the curds to 100 degrees, increasing the temperature by no more than 2 degrees every 5 minutes.

This will take quite a while, be patient!

The curds likely cooled a few degrees as the curds were setting and are somewhere between 82 and 86 degrees.  Assuming they’re 84 degrees, they need to heat by 16 degrees total…at no more than 2 degrees every 5 minutes you’d need at least 40 minutes of gentle heating.

Placing the pot in a sink full of hot water generally accomplishes this, but you’ll need a big sink (possibly a bathtub…) to accommodate a pot holding 4 gallons of milk.  I gently warm the pot on my simmer burner, turning it on very low for a few minutes, then off for a few minutes.

Gently stir the curds during this heating period to prevent them from matting.

Once the curds and whey reach 100 degrees, hold that temperature for 30 minutes and continue gently stirring.

After 30 minutes, stop stirring and allow them to settle for 20 minutes.

Once settled, pour the curds through a cheesecloth-lined colander, reserving the whey.

Pour the whey back into the original cheese pot and set the colander holding the curds at the top of the pot over the warm whey.  A specialpasta making potthat has a colander fit into it helps with this process because it allows the curds to be suspended over the whey (or warm water) for the cheddaring process.

Place the colander over the whey and allow it to drain and settle for 15 minutes.  The curds will quickly mat together forming a single mass.

Matted cheddar curds after draining but before slicing

Matted cheddar curds after draining but before slicing

Remove the curds from the colander and cut them into 1-inch strips, and then place them back into the cheesecloth-lined colander supported over the warm whey, stacking the curds so the weight of the top curds presses on the curds beneath.

Keep the whey warm, at 100 degrees F (38 C) for the next 2 hours.  During this time, flip the curds every 15 minutes to ensure they’re evenly pressed by their own weight.

This process of slowly pressing warm curds, flipping them often, is known as cheddaring and is what gives this cheese its name and distinction.

In smaller batches (from 2 to 6 gallons of milk), sometimes cheesemakers will fill a gallon ziplock bag with warm water and set it on top of the curds.  This additional weight helps with the cheddaring process, as traditionally cheddar is made in very large batches (at least 6 to 10 gallons).

If you don’t have a way to suspend the pot over the warm whey, you can simply place the drained curds in the cheesemaking pot and then put the pot in a sink full of 100-degree water for the cheddaring process.

(It’s not essential that it’s suspended over whey, warm water will work just fine.  If you prefer, strain off all the whey and use that immediately for making whey cheese, and simply suspend the curds in a colander over warm water.)

Periodically pour off the whey from the pot during the process, and flip the curds every 15 minutes as with the colander method.

Slabs of Cheddar cheese curds stacked inside a cheesecloth lined collander, suspended over warm water at the start of the cheddaring process. A ziploc bag of warm water will be placed on top for weight, and then the curds will be flipped every 15 minutes for the next 2 hours.

Slabs of Cheddar cheese curds stacked inside a cheesecloth-lined colander, suspended over warm water at the start of the cheddaring process. A Ziploc bag of warm water will be placed on top for weight, and then the curds will be flipped every 15 minutes for the next 2 hours.

Once the cheddaring process is complete, the curds should be quite tough and have a texture like cooked chicken breast meat.

Break the curd slices apart with your fingers into 1/2 inch pieces, still keeping them over the 100-degree water bath.

Stir the curds with your fingers every 10 minutes for 30 minutes to keep them from matting.  Just stirring, don’t try to squeeze whey from the curds, just gentle stirring.

After 30 minutes, add the salt (2 Tbsp cheese salt for 4 gallons milk, or 1 Tbsp. for a 2 gallon batch) and gently distribute it through the curds with your hands.

Line a cheese mold with cheesecloth.  This should be either a pair of 2-pound molds or a single larger mold capable of handling 4 pounds of cheese.

Press at 20 pounds of pressure for 30 minutes.  This initial press just gets the loose curds to start to hold together enough to be handled.

Remove the cheese from the mold, undress it, flip it over, and re-dress it with cheesecloth.

Then press it for 12 hours at 40 pounds of pressure.  (Usually done overnight.)

Pressing curds for traditional clothbound cheddar

In the morning, remove the cheese from the press, undress it, flip it and redress it.  Then press the cheese at 50 pounds pressure for 24 hours.

Remove the cheese from the press and remove the cheesecloth.  Allow the cheese to air dry for 2-5 days at room temperature, flipping daily, until it’s dry to the touch.

Dressing Homemade Cheddar for Aging

At this point, it’s time to decide how to “dress” the homemade cheddar cheese for aging.  There are three common methods used these days, clothbound, waxed, or vacuum packed.

I’m opting for a traditional clothbound cheddar, where strips of cheesecloth are slathered with lard to form a barrier around the outside of the cheese.  We render our own lard, so I have plenty on hand, but you can also use coconut oil or butter.

The cheesecloth helps the lard stick and forms a barrier that helps retain moisture, but still allows the cheese to “breathe” so that it can develop a natural rind and complex flavors.

Read more on bandaging cheddar for aging here.

Making a waxed cheddar is also an option, and the cheese is dipped in melted wax to create a barrier around the outside.  Since it’s fully surrounding the cheese in a waterproof layer, moisture isn’t lost during aging and it’s easier to age if you’re not able to maintain consistent humidity in the aging space.

The wax also prevents a natural rind from developing, which means you don’t lose the outer layer of the cheese.  (Thus a higher yield by weight due to the higher moisture content.)

The cheese won’t develop the complex flavors of a clothbound cheddar, but really intense crumbly aged clothbound cheddar isn’t everyone’s cup of tea anyway.  If you like high quality aged waxed cheddar, then this is a good option.

The process for waxing cheese is outlined here.  Personally, I’d suggest the dipping method, as it’s much cleaner.  Brushing the wax is slow and incredibly messy.

The last option is vacuum packing, which is what happens to much of the industrial cheddar produced in the US.

This assumes you have a home vacuum sealer, but they’re not too expensive and handy for packing meat and frozen veggies anyway.

Simply place the cheese in a vacuum sealer bag, suck all the air out, and seal it up.  It’ll age in there similar to waxing, as either way it’s creating a waterproof layer excluding air around the outside.

Aging Homemade Cheddar

Regardless of how you’ve dressed the cheddar, it must be aged for at least a few months (preferably longer) to develop flavor.

The cheese cultures don’t have nearly enough time to work during the cheesemaking process, which is mostly about preparing the curd and developing the right texture within the cheese.

The flavor happens during the aging period, and it’ll get more pronounced the longer you age the cheese.

Ideally, cheddar is aged at 50 to 55 degrees F (or 10-13 degrees C) and 85% relative humidity for at least 3 months.  Ideally, it’s aged 6 months to a year, or up to 2 years if you’re patient.

Humidity isn’t important if you’ve waxed or vacuum-sealed the cheddar, that’s more of a concern with clothbound cheddar.

Normal refrigerators are much colder than 50-55 degrees F, and are too cold for the cultures and enzymes to work.  You can get a bypass that overrides the refrigerator’s temperature control unit, and many people set up a mini-fridge with a bypass as an aging cave.

I’m using a wine refrigerator, which allows you to set the temp to anywhere between 45 and 60.  That’s the perfect range for cheesemaking, and it has really nice built-in wooden shelves that work well too. 

Timetable for Making Cheddar Cheese

I know, that was a lot.  I’m going to briefly recap the process in bullet form, which will likely be easier to follow as you’re actually making the cheese.  Since timing is important, I’ve set the bullet points to times starting (as I did) at noon.  This is a time-intensive process, so you might want to start a bit earlier in the day…

That said, most of the time is waiting, so it’s easy enough for me to incorporate this into a rainy day afternoon of indoor play with my two preschoolers (so long as I set a loud timer for each step…).

On day one, the activity takes about 6 1/2 to 7 hours, on and off.  Then pressing and drying takes about a week.  Finally, the cheese is aged for months.

  • 12:00 ~ Heat the milk to 86 degrees F.
  • 12:12 to 12:15 ~ Sprinkle culture over the top, allow it to dissolve 2 minutes, then stir in for 1 minute.
  • 12:15 to 1:00 ~ Ripen the cheese for 45 minutes.
  • 1:00 ~ Dilute rennet in 1/4 cup of water and add it to the cheese, stirring 1 minute.
  • 1:00 to 1:45 ~ Allow the cheese to sit undisturbed for 45 minutes until curds form.
  • 1:45 to 1:50 ~ Cut curds into 1/4 inch cubes and allow them to set for 5 minutes.
  • 1:50 to 2:30 ~ Heat the curds to 100 degrees, raising the temperature no more than 2 degrees every 5 minutes.
  • 2:30 to 3:00 ~ Hold the curds at 100 degrees for 30 minutes, stirring gently.
  • 3:00 to 3:20 ~ Stop stirring and allow the curds to settle for 20 minutes.
  • 3:20 to 3:35 ~ Strain the curds through a cheesecloth-lined colander (reserving whey), and allow them to set 15 minutes.
  • 3:35 to 3:40 ~ Place the whey back in the original cheese pot and heat it to 100 degrees.  Cut the curds into 3-inch slices, stack them and place them back in the colander suspended over the warm whey.
  • 3:40 to 5:40 ~ Hold the curds at 100 degrees for 2 hours by keeping them suspended over the warm whey.  Flip the curds every 15 minutes so they can press under their own weight.
  • 5:40 to 6:10 ~ Mill the curds with your fingers into 1/2 inch pieces (keeping them suspended over the warm whey).  Stir the curds with your fingers every 10 minutes for 30 minutes.
  • 6:10 During the last stir of the curds, add salt and stir it in, ensuring it’s equally distributed.
  • 6:10 to 6:25 ~ Line a cheese press with cheesecloth and press the cheese for 15 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.
  • 6:25 to 6:30 ~ Remove the cheese from the press, undress it, flip it, redress it and then put it back in the press.
  • 6:30 to Next Morning ~ Press the cheese for 12 hours at 40 pounds pressure (or a bit longer if you’re sleeping in).
  • Day Two in the AM ~  Remove the cheese from the press, undress it, flip it, redress it and then put it back in the press.
  • Day Two AM to Day Three AM ~ Press the cheese at 50 pounds pressure for 24 hours.
  • Day Three to The rest of the week ~ Remove the cheese from the press and cheesecloth.  Allow it to dry at room temperature for 2-5 days, flipping daily, until it’s dry to the touch on all sides.

At this point, a full week later, the cheese is ready for dressing (cloth binding or waxing) and aging for at least 3 months (but preferably 6 to 12).

Practical Self Reliance: How to Make Witch Hazel Extract

I have fond memories of witch hazel as an anti-inflammatory from my youth. Not so good memories of why I needed so much, but good memories of it providing relief from bruises and welts. I hadn’t run across the commercial astringent bottles for several years until I finally just happened across it in a drug store and had to buy a bottle on the spot. It makes me feel better just having it on the shelf. It is hard to find live plants for sale, but I was able to purchase some seeds and will hopefully be able to start some witch hazel at home. Here is Ashley Adamant from Practical Self Reliance on How to Make Witch Hazel Extract. Click through the link to Practical Self Reliance for the entire article which includes more pictures.

Witch Hazel Extract is known for its antimicrobial and astringent properties, and it’s been used for centuries as a natural disinfectant and wound cleanser.  Learn how to make your own witch hazel extract in a few easy steps.

Homemade witch hazel extract

Homemade witch hazel extract

 

Witch hazel extract can be found at just about any health food store or natural foods coop, and it’s pretty common in everyday grocery stores and drug stores too.

The problem is, the pre-packaged witch hazel extract available in stores has very little actual witch hazel inside.  It’s almost all alcohol, which is also a disinfectant, but if you wanted a bottle of isopropyl alcohol you could easily buy it for 1/10th the price.

High-quality witch hazel extract is usually advertised as “low alcohol witch hazel,” which is much more expensive, but only has around 12-16% alcohol to preserve the fresh plant extract.  (It’s also much more expensive.)

Why buy it, when you can just make it?

Learning to make witch hazel extract means you always have the knowledge to craft your own natural herbal anti-microbial cleanser, whether you’re deep in the backwoods or simply crafting in your kitchen.

What is Witch Hazel?

American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a really unique shrub native that can be found all across the eastern half of North America (range map).  It’s a perennial bush that grows no more than a few meters tall, and has many stems originating from the roots.

Wild witch hazel can be found near streams, ditches, and wet lowlands, but it’s also commonly cultivated as an ornamental.  The unique blooms look like streamers bursting out of the central blossom, and showy varieties have been bred to almost look like pompoms.

My native witch hazel is much more subdued, but the blossoms are still unique and beautiful.

witch hazel blossoms in late November

witch hazel blossoms in late November

Witch hazel blooms in the late fall, long after everything else has gone dormant.  Here in Vermont, blossoms appear around thanksgiving and persist until mid-December.  Our first frost is usually sometime in September, and we often have snow on the ground by October…so that’s rather late indeed.

A related species, Ozark Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) grows further south and actually blooms mid-winter.

If you can positively identify witch hazel in the wild, the best time to harvest is actually during bloom or right after, as that’s when the medicinal constituents are the most concentrated in the plant tissues.

(I’ve also read other sources that say it’s best to harvest during spring when it’s just breaking bud and sap is running, so clearly there’s some disagreement on this based on the source you check.  Regardless of the “best” time, it can be harvested year-round.) 

All the aerial parts of the plant are used, including the leaves, bark, and small twigs.  I’m harvesting small twigs and flowers right as they’ve past prime, which is usually when I notice witch hazel in the landscape.

harvesting witch hazel

harvesting witch hazel

You can also just purchase dried witch hazel bark, which is easy enough to have on hand year-round.  Starwest Botanicals sells dried witch hazel leaf, and other online sources sell dried witch hazel bark, so you can take your pick.

When using leaves, witch hazel extract is made as a gentle infusion (like making tea).  For bark and twigs, they’re simmered for 20-30 minutes to make the extract.

Benefits of Witch Hazel Extract

These days, witch hazel extract is almost always used externally because what’s sold is a weak steam distillation of the twigs preserved with isopropyl alcohol.  It’s not meant for consumption, it’s meant for use as a topical disinfectant and anti-inflammatory.

Most often you’ll see it recommended as an acne treatment, cleaning wounds, or as a cooling anti-inflammatory pad for treating hemorrhoids.

Historically, a water extract of witch hazel was made fresh and used both internally and externally.  According to Chestnut School of Herbs,

Native Americans have long used the twigs and bark of witch hazel as a medicinal herb, both internally and topically, for a wide variety of ailments. The tea is taken to remedy sore throats, diarrhea, intestinal bleeding, colds, coughs, bruising, and to prevent postpartum hemorrhaging.

The tannins in witch hazel help lessen the inflammation of mucous membranes in sinus congestion from allergies, sinus infections, and head colds.  These same astringent tannins are also helpful for conditions related to the mouth: bleeding gums, gingivitis, and other infections.”

The Herbal Academy also has a list of benefits and uses of witch hazel, covering the various external uses of witch hazel extract for treating burns, dandruff, hemorrhoids, and many other things.

How to Make Witch Hazel Extract

Making witch hazel extract is pretty simple.  Start with about a tablespoon of witch hazel bark in a cup of water.

Commercial witch hazel bark is finely chopped so it’ll pack neatly into a tablespoon.  I just have a rough 1/4 cup of twigs which amounts to roughly the same amount.

Bring the water and bark to a simmer and gently cook for about 20-30 minutes.  The volume will reduce by about half, and you’ll have roughly 1/2 cup of witch hazel extract after you filter the plant material.

While it’s simmering, your house will smell a bit like a hospital.  The scent isn’t unpleasant, but it just smells strongly antiseptic, like an operating room after sterilization.

Simmering witch hazel twigs to make a decoction (fresh water extract)

(If using leaves, use the same ratio, 1 tablespoon chopped leaves to a cup of water, but make an infusion by steeping the leaves for around 20 minutes.)

This fresh witch hazel extract is now ready for use.  Since it’s not preserved with alcohol, it’ll spoil quickly.  Removing as much plant material as possible will help it keep longer, but in the best of cases, it’s still should be kept in the refrigerator and used within a week.

Shelf Stable Witch Hazel Extract

If you’d like to make a shelf-stable witch hazel extract, you’ll need to add alcohol.  A high proof vodka, whisky, or rum works well.  (Isopropyl alcohol will also work, but then it’s not for internal use.)

To be shelf-stable, the mixture will need at least 20% alcohol.  Some sources suggest higher, around 30% alcohol.  I’ve had homemade tinctures spoil at 20% alcohol, so now I opt for at least 25%.

The herbal academy suggests 25% for a 1-2 year shelf life, and recommends higher alcohol concentrations for longer shelf life.

If you’ve started with 1 cup of water and simmered it down to 1/2 cup extract, you’ll need to add 1/2 cup of 100 proof alcohol (50% ABV) to reach a final concentration of 25% alcohol…(continues)

Practical Self Reliance: 60+ Unique Fruits & Nuts for Cold Climates (Zones 3-5)

Ashley Adamant at Practical Self Reliance writes about 60+ Unique Fruits & Nuts for Cold Climates (Zones 3-5) More photos through the link at the original article. Where we live is a bit warmer than this around zone 6, but we have aronia, elderberry, chestnut, goji berry, blue/black/rasp-berry, currants, rhubarb, and silverberries at home. And, of course, several of these are grown commercially in the area. We’ve tried some cold hardy figs, but I think it’s just a little too cold for them. We’ve also got a couple of kiwi vines which do well as vines, but so far no fruit. We still hold out hope for them, though.

Cold climate gardening can seem limiting, and you just can’t grow many common supermarket fruits.  That just means you have to get creative because there are literally dozens of delicious cold hard fruits you’ve probably never tried.

Harvesting Honeyberries

 

One of the things I really love about permaculture is how the design manuals really think outside the box when it comes to perennial plant varieties.

Alongside apples, pears, and raspberries, you’ll find mention of Cornelian cherries, lingonberries, beach plums, and spicebush —all manner of food forest crops to keep things interesting in the kitchen year-round.

Our permaculture homestead is in a cold zone 4, with temps that occasionally dip as low as -27 F in the winter.  While we won’t be harvesting mangoes anytime soon, there are still plenty of options for temperature climate permaculture food forest plantings.

The plants listed below are well suited to grow in zone 3, 4, and 5, providing good yields with minimal effort for a well-planned diverse permaculture homestead.

Aronia Berries (Aronia melanocarpa)

Currently gaining popularity as a new age super food, Aronia berries are actually a wild edible native to much of the US.  They come in two main varieties, black Aronia and red (though there’s also a “purple” Aronia, thought to be a hybrid of the two).

They’re easy to grow and resistant to disease, preferring wet soils and tolerating partial shade.  Once established, bushes are highly productive and can grow 6 to 8 feet tall.

Hardy in zones 3 to 9.

Wild Berries of Black Chokeberry (Aronia)

Apples & Crabapples (Malus sp.)

The vast majority of apple varieties are hardy to zone 4, if not zone 3, and there are hundreds of varieties to choose from.

Don’t just go with the grocery store types you know, branch out and try some really unique varieties by reading through a few well-stocked nursery catalogs.  Make sure you plant a mix of summer apples, along with late fruiting good keepers for a solid supply of year-round fruit.

Don’t forget to add in a few crabapples, both for pollination and amazing fruit.  Dolgo crab, in particular, is a good choice, as it’s a profuse bloomer with delicious fruit.

Hardy zone 3 to 9, depending on the variety.

Apricot (Prunus armeniaca)

Many apricot trees are hardy to zone 3, but they’re still not common here in Central Vermont.  I asked a nurseryman why, and he told me they don’t do well here because of our wet summers.  Apricots are susceptible to fungal diseases, and they do better with less humidity and heavy rains.  Nonetheless, we’re trying a few out.

The past few years have been hit or miss for rains, and we had one summer with an epic drought and no rain for more than 6 weeks straight.  You never know what the weather will throw at you here in New England, and we might just get lucky.

Growing up in California’s high desert, we were often buried in apricots (literally), and we’d make ourselves sick gorging on them.  If you have dry summers, they’re a good option, even in cold climates.

Some varieties hardy zone 3 to 9.

Apricot, Manchurian Bush (Prunus mandshurica)

Native to colder regions in Asia, the Manchurian bush apricot is very hardy.  The trees naturally stay small, growing about 12 feet high and 12-18 feet across at the widest point.

Though the trees are hardy to zone 3, late frosts can damage the buds and prevent fruiting in the coldest regions. Plant in a micro-climate that melts out late or protects the trees during late frosts.

We planted three near our pond, which moderates temperatures and helps create a more stable micro-climate.  Everything I’ve read says they’ll bear fruit in 2-3 years.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Hardy zone 3 to 9.

Autumn Olives (Elaeagnus umbellata)

Another wild edible, autumn olives, are actually considered invasive in some parts of the country.  They’re profuse, easy to grow, and birds easily spread the small soft fruit.  I’ve seen two varieties, red and gold.

I’m particularly excited about these, but it’s hard to find a source of plants.  From what I’ve read, autumn olives grow readily from hardwood cuttings, so if you’d like to mail me a bundle of sticks in late winter or early spring, I’d really appreciate it.

I recently found some from a new wholesale nursery we’re trying out, and they have seedlings available for $4 each or $20+ for named varieties.

Hardy in zones 3-9.

Beach Plum (Prunus maritima) 

Once common in coastal regions from the mid-Atlantic states to Canada, Beach Plums have been wiped out by coastal development and population explosions. It is rare in many states.

In spring, Beach Plum trees are covered in white-petaled flowers that turn pink once pollinated. By late summer and early fall, blue-purple plums cover the plant. Wildlife loves these plums, but at one time, so did humans living near these trees.

While tart, Beach Plums are rich in antioxidants and can be turned into delicious jams. Some use these fruits in cordials and wines.

Hardy in zones 3-8. 

Beech Trees (Fagus grandifolia)

Though not often thought of as a food source these days, beechnuts were a historically significant source of calories.  The nuts are very high in protein and part of Native Americans and early settlers’ diet.

They’re abundant in our woods already and quite productive, though it’s hard to beat the squirrels to them.

Beech trees grow in zones 3 to 8.

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

Often overlooked because the nuts have a slightly more bitter taste than English walnuts, black walnuts can be delicious if appropriately handled. It’s important to get them out of the green outer husk quickly because that husk contributes to the bitter flavor.

The green husk is made into a black walnut tincture (and powder) for use against intestinal parasites and an iodine supplement.

Black walnut trees are also one of the dozens of species that can be tapped for syrup, and they make a unique dark-colored sweet syrup.

Black Walnuts are hardy from zones 4 to 9; some say even to zone 3.

Black Walnuts in Hulls

Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus)

Blackberries aren’t as popular as blueberries or raspberries, but they’re an easy berry bush to add to your backyard. I grew up with fresh blackberries from my grandmother’s backyard. She would give me a bowl of blackberries with milk and a sprinkle of sugar – such a good snack.

Once planted, blackberries are easy to grow and do exceedingly well in these USDA zones; they’re native to the area. You don’t need to plant more than one bush because they’re self-fertile, but a few bushes will give you a large yield.

Hardy to zones 4-9.

Blueberries (Cyanococcus)

Everyone has heard of blueberries, and they’re some of the easiest berry bushes to grow. Blueberries take time to grow; it can take up to 10 years for a blueberry bush to reach a mature size, but that means they have a long lifespan.

After planting, expect it to take 2-3 years before you receive any sizable harvest, but they’re worth the wait. While waiting, blueberry bushes are attractive, with leaves turning several shades in the fall.

After establishing, blueberry bushes need simple care, including watering, fertilization, and yearly pruning. Aside from that, you don’t need to worry too much; they handle themselves well.

Their hardiness depends on the variety selected. You can find varieties hardy from zone 3-9. 

Buffalo Berries (Shepherdia argentea)

Sometimes called rabbit berries, Buffalo berries are a hardy shrub that reaches between six and 20 feet tall. They’re commonly found along streams throughout the Great Plains in North America.

Fruit appears on the shrubs between August and September in abundance. Buffalo berries are scarlet-red or golden-yellow and have a tart flavor that tastes great when used in relishes or jelly. Besides fruit production, adding buffalo berries to your property gives you a winter hardy and drought tolerant plant that can also fix your soil’s nitrogen issues.

Buffalo berries prefer to grow in zones 3-9, but with adequate protection, they might grow in zone 2 as well. 

Butternut Trees (Juglans cinerea)

When I first heard of butternuts, I immediately thought of the butternut squashes I grow in my garden, but these are a type of tree that belongs to the walnut family. Butternut trees are native to the eastern United States and Canada, growing wild in some regions.

Sometimes referred to as white walnuts, butternut trees produce their harvest in late October, developing buttery-flavor nuts. These nuts are popular for baking, fresh eating, and confections due to their unique butter flavor.

Growing butternut trees require well-draining soil and full sunlight, but they adapt well to most conditions. They reach up to 60 feet wide, so space everything else around your trees appropriately.

Hardy in zones 3-7.

My two year old son holding a few wild foraged butternuts (husked, cured and dried)

My two year old son holding a few wild foraged butternuts (husked, cured and dried)

Canadian Buffalo Berry (Shepherdia canadensis)

Cousin to the above-listed buffalo berries, Canadian buffalo berries grow in colder climates. These shrubs are typically found in Newfoundland, Alaska, Oregon, and parts of the Rocky Mountains.

These fruits are edible, but some say that the flavor isn’t as desirable as the original buffalo berries. The yellow flowers that cover the shrub eventually produce red berries.

This variety produces dry sites and handles the occasional drought, but they don’t like excessive heat. Production dramatically declines when the temperatures rise too high.

Canadian buffalo berries grow in zones 2-6. 

Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus)

These are rarely a common plant you’ll find in your landscape, but Carolina Allspice is a fragrant plant with maroon to brown flowers. The foliage is also fragrant when crushed. These bushes grow well in most soils and climates.

After the flowers, Carolina Allspice shrubs grow fruit that looks like a brown seed pod.

You can let these dry out or use the oven at a low temperature if you don’t want to wait. Once dried, smash and dry them and use them just like cinnamon.

Hardy from zone 4-10. 

Carpathian English Walnut (Juglans regia var. carpathian)

Carpathian walnuts belong to the English walnut family, but these trees handle cold temperatures and weather better. They grow further north than other cultivars and produce a steadier harvest in areas with variable winter.

When growing Carpathian walnut trees, give them plenty of space to grow. They grow up to 60 feet tall and 60 feet wide. Expect fast growth; the trees can grow more than two feet per year, especially in ideal conditions, growing best in full sunlight with at least six hours of sunlight.

The nuts are thin-shelled and easy to open, maturing 1-4 weeks before the hull opens. Expect yields of nuts starting in the middle of fall. The nuts are oval and measure up to two inches in diameter. It takes between 4-8 years for the tree to produce any nuts.

Carpathian English walnuts grow in zones 4-7. 

Cherry Trees (Prunus avium)

Homegrown cherry trees give you delicious fruit without too much work. Cherries are broken down into two categories: sweet cherries and sour cherries.

Sweet cherries are what you see in the supermarket for fresh eating. It takes between 4-7 years to bear fruit.

Sour cherries are used for cooking, in particular, pies and preserves. Some people call these tart cherries because their flavor isn’t as sweet. These trees take 3-5 years to bear fruit, depending on the variety.

Sweet cherries are hardy in zones 5-7, and sour cherries are hardy in zones 4-6. 

Cherry Plums (Prunus cerasifera) 

Cherry plums are a particular group of Asian plum trees, and some are a hybrid between plums and cherries. Prunus cerasifera is a native tree typically grown as a small, ornamental tree that produces fruit if there is another pollinator nearby…(continues)

Practical Self Reliance: Yarrow Salve

Ashley Adamant of Practical Self Reliance tells us how to make Yarrow Salve. A few years ago I tried to start some medicinal herbs indoors. I didn’t do a very good job. A few weeks later, most of the neglected herbs were dead and the rest were sad, scraggly things on the verge of death. Tucking these struggling starts into a few out of the way places in the garden, I resigned myself to their imminent death. A couple of years later, there was a mysterious, inexplicable abundance of yarrow growing throughout the periphery of the garden. It took some time to realize that they must have grown from that tattered start. They’ve turned into a nice, soft ground cover which the kids wish covered the whole yard. Oh, and it still has medicinal value, too.

Yarrow salve offers many medicinal and healing benefits, and it couldn’t be easier to make at home. Yarrow can be found growing in the wild all throughout the United States and is an important addition to any home remedy collection.

Yarrow Salve

 

With its soft white flowers and equally soft green leaves, the yarrow plant is a beautiful addition to any garden (which, thanks to its mosquito-repelling properties, is why you’ll often find it planted in backyards and surrounding areas).
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is also easily found growing in the wild, where it can be foraged and then used to make this salve.  If foraging is new to you, read my post about foraging and using yarrow for tips on locating and identifying this plentiful flowering plant.
This salve uses the leaves of the yarrow plant, if you find yourself with an excess of leftover yarrow flowers you can turn them into a soothing hot & moist tea for cold and flu.

Benefits of Yarrow Salve

The healing and medicinal benefits of yarrow have been known for thousands of years. Over 2,500 years ago Asian yarrow was first used by Chinese doctors to relieve inflammation, bleeding, and animal bites. Yarrow also makes an appearance in Greek mythology; the warrior Achilles is said to have used the herb for its blood-clotting effects on the battlefield!
While the flowers of the yarrow plant are typically used to relieve internal issues such as fever, stomach upset, and menstrual cramping, yarrow leaves are more likely to be used as a topical remedy. Specifically, yarrow leaves have powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-itching, anti-bacterial, wound healing, and blood coagulating properties when applied to the skin.
Scientists have actually been able to replicate these findings in a lab setting. A randomized controlled study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology examining the use of yarrow as a topical inflammatory found that, after seven days of continuous reapplication, “The application of tested oil extracts on artificially irritated skin in vivo demonstrated the ability to re-establish their optimal pH and hydration of skin to the values measured prior to the irritation.”
According to Herb Rally, yarrow’s “antiseptic and anodyne properties coupled with its ability to coagulate blood and stop bleeding make it the perfect ally in this case. These properties also make it useful in cases of hemorrhoids, post-partum care, bruises, and mouth sores, as well as internal bleeding.”
Yarrow leaves are one of the best herbs to bring on a camping or hiking trip (or, if you’re comfortable ID-ing yarrow, you can forage it directly from the site). You can make a basic poultice by chewing the leaves and placing them directly onto a burn, mosquito bite, or minor cut for near-instant relief.
Yarrow leaves

Supplies & Equipment for Making Yarrow Salve

One of the best parts about making homemade herbal salves is the fact that no special equipment is required.

All you need is a simple double broiler, such as this store-bought double boiler, or you can make your own DIY-version using a heatproof bowl and a small pot (which is what I usually do).

The herbs are infused into a neutral oil; I like to use olive oil but you can also try grapeseed, coconut or jojoba oil — each of these options have well-known soothing properties when applied to the skin.

Beeswax thickens the salve and helps it set, you can weigh out pieces from a large block of beeswax or pour and measure out beeswax pellets (which I find is a lot easier).

A small kitchen scale is an indispensable, inexpensive kitchen tool for measuring the beeswax (unless you happen to find beeswax in convenient 1 oz bars, like these).

Finally, you’ll need to have containers on hand for the finished salve.  I typically like to use 2-ounce salve tins which screw shut and make great gifts.  If you prefer the look of glass, you can also use any small jar with a tight-fitting lid, such as quarter pint mason jars.

How to Make Yarrow Salve

Making your own yarrow salve is easier than you might think, the active prep time is only 30 minutes and the rest of the time is hands-off. If you’ve ever made any other healing salves you’ll know the main requirements are patience and consistency (and in fact, because we’re going to use the warm rapid infusion method to make this yarrow salve, the actual patience required for this recipe isn’t all that much).

When it comes to infusing oil with herbs, there are two main methods: rapid infusion and slow infusion.

Fresh herbs, like the yarrow used in this recipe, should always be infused using the warm rapid infusion method. When fresh herbs are stored in oil for several weeks they’ll eventually spoil, releasing water into the oil and causing it to go rancid (which, you’ll know if you’ve ever accidentally smelled or ingested rancid oil, is an unpleasant experience).

The slow infusion method, on the other hand, can be used when dried herbs are added to the oil instead of fresh. This process involves storing the jars in a cool, dry location out of direct sunlight for 3 to 6 weeks.

Begin the salve-making process by filling a pint mason jar with yarrow leaves — they should be fairly densely packed.

Since yarrow grows wild all around my land, and the surrounding areas, I actually just bring a mason jar out foraging and pack the leaves right into the jar.  It’s a convenient way to measure.

Chopping yarrow leaves for salve

Next, you’ll want to finely chop the yarrow leaves into small pieces using a pair of garden shears or sharp kitchen scissors.

I’ll bring the jar filled with yarrow back to my porch and get to chopping.

Making Yarrow Infused Oil

Pour enough olive oil (or other neutral oil of your choice) into the mason jar to cover the chopped leaves.

In this case, I’m just using olive oil from my kitchen, since it’s a nice neutral choice and great for gifts.  Almond oil has natural skin-soothing properties, but be sure it’s not used by anyone with nut allergies.

I’ve also used jojoba oil, which mimics your skin’s natural lubricants and is especially nourishing.

Infusing oils with fresh herbs takes a bit of care, and usually involves a double boiler so the herbs infuse before they spoil. It’s a quicker process, infusing over 1-2 days instead of 3-6 weeks.

Leaving the jar open, place the jar into a double boiler that’s been filled with about an inch of water on the bottom. If you don’t have a double boiler, you can use also use a saucepan or slow cooker, in which case you’ll need to place the jar on a trivet (I use a canning lid or an old cotton dish towel).

Very slowly, warm the water up to 110 to 120 degrees. Resist the urge to crank the heat during this step, the goal is to gently infuse the oil with yarrow, not to cook the herbs. Overheating the oil will result in the yarrow losing some of the healing properties and medicinal potency.

Allow the yarrow to infuse into the oil for between 24 and 48 hours, keeping the temperature between 110 and 120 degrees. This can be achieved by periodically bringing the water back up to temperature and then turning it off again. Before I go to bed I heat the water up, turn it off, and then place a towel over the pot to keep its contents warm.

Once the oil is infused to your liking, it can be made into the finished salve. Carefully strain out the yarrow leaves from the oil and pour into a heatproof bowl (we’re going to make another double boiler). Place the bowl over simmering water in a small pot, adding the beeswax and stirring until the mixture is completely incorporated and smooth.

(If you don’t have a kitchen scale to weigh the beeswax, 1 ounce of solid beeswax is roughly equivalent to 1 heaping tablespoon of beeswax pistils).

Pour the liquid yarrow salve into small tins or jars and let it set for at least 30 minutes.

As a general rule, herbal salves should be used within 1 year of being made.

Apply yarrow salve to bee stings, minor cuts, rashes (including diaper rash), and burns. It’s something I always like to keep on hand, and these small tins are perfect to bring on camping and hiking trips as well as for stashing in a purse or backpack…

Click here to view at Practical Self Reliance with additional photos and info.

 

Practical Self Reliance: Storing Fresh Eggs in Limewater (Keeps 12+ Months)

Ashley Adamant at Practical Self Reliance has a good article on preserving fresh eggs – Storing Fresh Eggs in Limewater (Keeps 12+ Months)

The practice of storing eggs in lime water goes back centuries, and it’s still one of the best ways to preserve eggs without refrigeration.

Anyone whose kept chickens knows that egg production doesn’t always line up with demand.

In the spring months, you’ll be buried in fresh eggs, right when you’re excited to be outdoors planting the garden and couldn’t care less about baking.  Production stays strong all summer when it’s too hot to run the oven and you’re too worn out in the evenings to bother anyway.

Then in the fall, right as cozy weather starts, production starts to slip.  By winter, when the days are short and you’re ready for some comfort food baking, they may have stopped laying altogether.

These days, industrial chicken operations turn on banks of lights to keep the ladies cranking out eggs year-round (and just replace the chickens at 2 years old as they wear out from laying nonstop).  That’s a relatively new thing though, and the option of a steady year-round egg supply has only really existed for the past few decades.

Historically, how did people preserve eggs to ensure a steady winter supply?

The answer is, they had literally dozens of methods to preserve eggs.  They stored them in wood ash, wheat bran, and straw, or coated them with butter or lard, or kneaded them into homemade pasta that was hung to dry.

Most of the methods rely on a few simple principles:

  1. Start with clean, fresh eggs.
  2. Don’t wash the eggs at all.  That removes their natural “bloom” that prevents bacteria from entering through pores in the shell.
  3. Keep the eggs cool, but not too cold.  An egg is a living thing, and it’ll stay fresh best unwashed and at around 50 degrees (root cellar cool).
  4. If possible, seal the pores off further to prevent contamination within the egg.  Oil, ash, and lime are the most popular choices.

Simply storing fresh, unwashed eggs in a cool environment (around 50 degrees) will buy you a lot of time.  We’ve taken our fresh eggs and stored them in the basement dependably for up to 4 months, and occasionally as long as 6 months, no treatment required (so long as they’re not washed).

If you’d like to dependably store eggs for longer than 4 months, like if you’re trying to store an overabundance of spring eggs for the next winter’s baking, you’ll need a bit of help to get them to keep that long.

While many different methods work, most have drawbacks.  Storing in ash, for example, makes the eggs taste a bit musty and smokey.  Storing in salt draws water out of the egg, and makes them taste a bit salty.

Storing eggs in sodium silicate, known as “Waterglassing” was really popular for a time.  Incredibly dependable, the eggs didn’t spoil for years…but they changed.

Sodium silicate is used for sealing tile these days, and it softened the shells and penetrated the eggs…changing their flavor, and even their structure.  Waterglassed eggs whites won’t whip, and there’s never really been any testing on the impacts of eating a boatload of sodium silicate for breakfast.

So what does work?  Storing eggs in a food-safe lime solution made with pickling lime (calcium hydroxide).

The calcium solution seals the eggshells and effectively preserves the eggs for a year or more.

Though it’s called “pickling lime” it doesn’t make pickled eggs.  The process keeps the eggs in their same state, and once you pull them out of the solution they can be used just like a fresh egg.  They fry up beautifully, and the white still whip to stiff peaks.

It’s called “pickling lime” because it’s used to firm up veggies before pickling, namely dill pickles, and old fashioned watermelon rind pickles.  It works the same way to firm up the eggshells and seal them at the same time.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s someone cooking with eggs after a full year in lime water:

How to Preserve Eggs in Lime Water

Preserving eggs in lime water starts with making a lime/water solution.  The ratio is one ounce of lime powder (by weight) to one quart of water.

(That’s about 28 grams per quart of water or about 2 heaping tablespoons.)

Lime for Preserving Eggs

I’ll measure out the solution in a quart mason jar, and one quart of the solution is just about right for filling a half-gallon mason jar once the eggs have been added.

Give the jar a shake, and you’ll have a milky white liquid.  Much of the lime will settle out to the bottom over time (that’s normal), but what you’re doing here is making a saturated lime solution.

Some sources say that as little as 1 part lime to 700 parts water creates a saturated solution, but other sources say that the lime may not be completely pure and you need to use a bit more to be sure.  Still, others recommend as much as 1 part lime to 2 parts water.

At a rate of one ounce to a quart, there’s a lot that settles out of solution, and it’s a good middle ground that ensures that the solution is saturated (without wasting a boatload of lime in the process).

lime water solution

Carefully select eggs that are super fresh and clean, without cracks or issues, pulled from clean nesting boxes that day.

Fill a clean jar with the eggs, and then pour the lime-water solution over the eggs.  Be sure that the eggs are completely submerged and then cap up the jar.

Pouring lime solution over fresh eggs

Cap up the jar, and store in a cool place, like a basement, pantry, or cool closet on the north side of the house.

A half-gallon mason jar will hold roughly 14 to 18 eggs, depending on size.  You can also use something like these one-gallon glass jars, which will hold about 3 dozen eggs.

Historically, they would have been stored in wooden barrels or ceramic crocks (like this one that I use to make sauerkraut a gallon at a time).  Alternately, a food-safe plastic bucket will work if you want to store them in bulk.

We keep our jars of eggs in the basement, right next to my home-canned goods and root cellared apples.

Once you’re ready to use the eggs, simply remove them from the solution and give them a rinse before cracking.  Rinsing ensures that the lime solution doesn’t get into the egg as it’s cracked, which will impact the flavor.

Then, just cook with the eggs as you otherwise would…(continues)

See also:

Practical Self Reliance: 30+ Ways to Preserve Eggs

and this video from Homesteading Family

Practical Self Reliance: 50+ Green Tomato Recipes

Green Tomato Cake

Ashley Adamant at Practical Self Reliance has compiled a list of 50+ Green Tomato Recipes with links. A few years ago we had few of our tomatoes ripen. I don’t remember if we planted late or had an early frost, but we were left with plants full of green tomatoes. We ended up canning many different green tomato products like the mentioned green tomato mincemeat, green tomato salsa, green tomato chutney, and more. We also met green tomato spice cake for the first time, which was a delicious surprise. We use a nearly identical recipe to the Paula Deen recipe below, but with a cream cheese frosting (like for carrot cake) instead of the brown butter icing. So don’t despair if you find yourself with a surfeit of green tomatoes.

Green tomato recipes are an old fashioned tradition meant to ensure every last bit of the harvest is put to good use.  Don’t let those underripe tomatoes go to waste, there are so many creative ways to use green tomatoes (besides the ever-popular fried green tomatoes).

Green Tomato Recipes<img class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-14082″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/practicalselfreliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Green-Tomato-Recipes-12.jpg?resize=600%2C400&ssl=1″ alt=”Green Tomato Recipes” width=”600″ height=”400″ data-recalc-dims=”1″>

 

Every year my tomato plants set fruit well into the fall months…only to be killed by early frosts in our short 100 day Vermont growing season.  We’ll top the plants with spare bedsheets to protect them from light frosts, but when temps well below freezing those tomato plants are done for.

With a killing frost on the way, it’s time to strip the plants bare before nightfall.  That often means buckets, baskets, and totes filled to the brim with green tomatoes.

With patience and good airflow, many of those underripe beauties will still ripen on the counter over the next few weeks.  Many though, will spoil in buckets long before they ripen.

This isn’t exactly a new problem, and resourceful gardeners have been cooking up green tomato recipes for generations.

Green Tomato Canning Recipes

Since green tomato harvests usually come by the bucketful in the fall, it’s no surprise that there are literally dozens of ways to preserve green tomatoes.  You can’t fry them all, but it’s easy enough to preserve green tomatoes with enough creative green tomato canning recipes.

Green tomatoes are actually more acidic than fully ripe tomatoes, and their texture holds up better to prolonged cooking.  Add in a flavor that works equally well in savory and sweet recipes, and you’ve got the perfect vegetable for everything from pickles to pie filling.  (Yes, really…home canned green tomato pie filling…)

There are so many green tomato canning recipes, I’ve separated them into savory and sweet.

Pickled Green Tomatoes<img class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-14093″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/practicalselfreliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Pickled-Green-Tomatoes-2.jpg?resize=600%2C400&ssl=1″ alt=”Pickled Green Tomatoes” width=”600″ height=”400″ data-recalc-dims=”1″>

Savory Green Tomato Canning Recipes

Green tomatoes maintain their crunch better than cucumbers for pickling, but they also make excellent salsa, ketchup, and chutney.

All of these recipes are perfect for water bath canning, but they also make great refrigerator or freezer preserves as well (no canner required).

Canning green tomato slices means you can make fried green tomatoes mid winter! (Image Courtesy of A Farm Girl in the Making)<img aria-describedby=”caption-attachment-14094″ class=”size-full wp-image-14094″ src=”https://i2.wp.com/practicalselfreliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Canning-Green-Tomato-Slices.jpg?resize=1536%2C1152&ssl=1″ alt=”Canning green tomato slices means you can make fried green tomatoes mid winter! (Image Courtesy of A Farm Girl in the Making)” width=”1536″ height=”1152″ data-recalc-dims=”1″>

Canning green tomato slices means you can make fried green tomatoes mid-winter! (Image Courtesy of A Farm Girl in the Making)

Green Tomato Chutney from Lovely Greens<img aria-describedby=”caption-attachment-14080″ class=”size-full wp-image-14080″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/practicalselfreliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Green-Tomato-Chutney-from-Lovely-Greens.jpg?resize=750%2C440&ssl=1″ alt=”Green Tomato Chutney from Lovely Greens” width=”750″ height=”440″ data-recalc-dims=”1″>

Green Tomato Chutney (Image Courtesy of Lovely Greens)

Sweet Green Tomato Canning Recipes

I know, it sounds strange, but green tomatoes are actually amazing in sweet preserves.  I was really skeptical, but I absolutely loved old fashioned green tomato jam.

Don’t knock it until you try it…(continues)

 

Here’s the Green Tomato Cake recipe that my family uses:

Green Tomato Cake

4 cups chopped green tomato

1 T salt

————-

1/2 cup soft butter

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 cups flour

1 t cinnamon

1/2 t ginger

1/4 t ground clove

1 t baking soda

1/4 t salt

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup walnuts

Mix the chopped tomato in a bowl with the 1 T salt and let  stand for 10 minutes. Rinse and drain the tomatoes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour a 9×13 cake pan.

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add eggs and beat until creamy. Stir together flour, cinnamon, ginger, clove, baking soda, and 1/4 t salt. Add raisins and nuts, mix and then added the creamed mixture. Mix all together then add tomatoes and mix well. Pour mixture into greased baking pan.

Bake 40-45 minutes.  Frost with cream cheese icing.

Practical Self Reliance: Pedal Powered Washing Machine for Off-Grid Laundry

My family has bad luck with appliances. Our clothes washers seem to be a constant source of trouble and expensive repairs or replacements. Recently, when our microwave/oven combo caught fire because our young son managed to get a bowl with a spoon into the microwave for several minutes, it caused me to think again of our clothes washer woes. In the past when the clothes washer has been on the fritz, we have been able to take our clothes to a laundromat in town. During the current pandemic, I’m not even sure if the laundromat is allowed to be open. Luckily, Ashley Adamant at Practical Self Reliance has written this account of her experiences with the Yirego Drumi manual washing machine – Pedal Powered Washing Machine for Off-Grid Laundry. It isn’t cheap, with an Amazon price of $350, but it is an option to consider as a backup or as an alternative to power hungry washing appliances.

Off-grid laundry solutions can be tricky, as washing clothes by hand the old fashioned way is backbreaking work.  A simple foot pedal-powered washing machine makes quick work of dirty clothes and its downright fun to use!

Using a pedal powered washing machine

You never really appreciate how luxurious a modern washing machine truly is…until you try doing the laundry by hand.  It is incredibly uncomfortable, back-breaking labor in the best of cases.  There’s a good reason modern washing machines were quickly adopted as soon as they become available.

We have a normal full-sized washing machine in our off-grid setup, it broke the week my daughter was born.

Here I was at home with a cloth diapered newborn, and I spent just about every waking minute either nursing or washing clothes in the sink.

The part had to be shipped from outside the country (more common than you’d think) and it took a full month to get our washer functioning again.  During that time, I had plenty of time to research off-grid laundry options (or just backup options for when the washer breaks).

There are a few options, including a bucket setup with a plunger like agitator that works pretty well.  Believe it or not though, ringing the clothes out is a bigger problem than washing them.  Modern detergents are really efficient, and they do a lot of the work, but wringing clothes out with just your hands is tricky.

ure, once or twice is fine, but try doing it for a week or more and see how you hold up.  It’s really hard on your finger joints.

Getting the water out of the clothes is tricky though, and old fashioned ringers are darned expensive.  A well made clothes wringer is just under $200.  Add in even the most inexpensive washing options, like this washboard or this bucket washer and you’d have been better off just investing in something that will do it all with minimal effort.

I ended up going with a Yirego Pedal-Powered Washer and it’s been a lifesaver.

We still often find ourselves using this tiny off-grid washing machine.  Why?

Washers break, power goes out, or I just need to wash a small load of super nasty laundry (diapers, shop rags, paint drop clothes, etc).

Honestly, with two young kids in the house, this little magic machine comes out on hot sunny days for fun.  They love watching the suds tirl in the drum, and I’m more than happy to let them “playhouse” by doing the laundry for real.

A load only takes about 8-10 minutes start to finish, including a spin-dry that dramatically cuts down line drying time…

Continue reading at Practical Self Reliance by clicking here.

 

Practical Self Reliance: 50+ Ways to Use Yarrow

An earlier post on elderflower mentioned its use in combination with yarrow and mint to fight fevers. Yarrow grows prolifically in our garden, filling in the edges and between rows. In damp conditions, it makes for a pretty soft ground cover — enough so that the kids want a yarrow yard. In this post from Practical Self Reliance, Ashley Adamant discusses many more uses for yarrow – 50+ Ways to Use Yarrow.

Yarrow is a common wild herb that’s useful in both the kitchen and medicine cabinet.  This list of yarrow uses covers everything from biscuits and beer to salves, soaps, and tinctures.

Yarrow uses

Yarrow’s always seemed magical to me, and I remember lounging in my room as a teenager, reading through 16th-century herbals and dreaming of the day I’d spot it in real life.  (Yes really, that’s actually how I spent my free time as a teenager.  I know, I’m such a nerd.)

The problem is, while yarrow grows ALMOST everywhere, I happened to grow up in one of the very few places outside of yarrow’s range…the Mojave Desert.  Now on my homestead in Vermont, it grows in every untended nook and cranny.  We’ll see our first yarrow blooms in early summer, and it’ll keep right on producing through fall, meaning I have a virtually unlimited supply of yarrow (even leaving plenty for the bees).

Yarrow Identification

Though yarrow is incredibly common, so are its look-alikes.  Once you’ve actually spotted yarrow, you’ll agree that the look-alikes aren’t really all that close.  There are lots of low growing herbs with white flower clusters, but yarrow really stands out in a crowd.

Start with the flowers.  They’re white, but not really.  If you were looking at paint samples, they’d have the name “Victorian white” or some other fancy title, because in reality, they’re a muted off white color.

Yarrow leaves are also distinctive, and there’s a reason its species name is “millefolium” or thousands of leaves.  The leaves are feathery, as opposed to the more distinct leaves of Queen Anne’s Lace and other white flowering herbs.

Identifying Yarrow by the feathery leaves and distinct white flower clusters

Make sure you’re 100% certain on your identification, as there are white-flowering plants within its range that are deadly toxic (namely, Water Hemlock).  To my eye, they don’t look anything alike, but as an optimistic teenager desperate to find yarrow in some stray ditch…I may well have made that mistake.

Read this guide to Yarrow Identification for more information.

Benefits of Yarrow

So why is yarrow so magical?  Many reasons!

A wide geographic distribution means yarrow made it into the traditional pharmacopeias in Asia, Europe and the new world.  Yarrow is used in everything from food and drink, to salves and tinctures, to ritual divination and ceremony.

This quick list will give you some ideas, but is by no means comprehensive:

  • Stops Bleeding
  • Skin Toner & Astringent
  • Bitter Tonic
  • Treats Cold and Flu
  • Lowers Blood Pressure
  • Improves Circulation
  • Induces Sweating
  • Reduces Fever

Be aware that while it’s generally considered safe, individual reactions are always possible.  It’s also contraindicated for pregnant women, as it can induce menstrual flow and possibly increase the risk of miscarriage.

Recipes for Cooking with Yarrow

While yarrow is perhaps best known for its uses as a medicinal, both internally and externally, it’s also a tasty culinary herb.  It’s not the only one of course, and many culinary herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, and more) are potent medicinals, taken in the right dosage at the right time.

These yarrow recipes incorporate a small amount of yarrow, just enough to flavor the dish without reaching a “medicinal” dosage.

Recipes for Yarrow Beverages

Believe it or not, hops are actually a relatively recent brewing ingredient.  Before hops became common in beer, herbal beers, or gruits, were all the rage.  Yarrow was one of the most common brewing ingredients, and it was known to create an extremely intoxicating brew.

While hops are a sedative, that dulls the senses and slows the sex drive, yarrow based brews do just the opposite.  There’s a reason yarrow beers (and meads) were popular historically because they lifted you up and sent you home ready to put a few buns in the oven (if you catch my drift).

Our own homemade yarrow beer

Our own homemade yarrow beer

If you’re interested in learning to brew with herbs, specifically yarrow, I’d highly recommend the book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, which takes you through literally thousands of years of herbal brewing tradition (with recipes for each herb discussed).

The Wildcrafting Brewer likewise includes recipes for yarrow brews and approaches the subject more from a foraging perspective (rather than a historical one).

While the traditions have but been forgotten, a few brewers keep the traditions alive.  Here are a few yarrow beverage recipes to wet your whistle, both alcoholic and non.

Harvesting Flowering Tops for Yarrow Tincture

Harvesting Flowering Tops

Yarrow Uses for First Aid

My most common use of yarrow is as a first-aid treatment for bleeding.  Yarrow tincture in a spray bottle is a powerful astringent, and I’ve watched it pucker closed wounds in seconds.

I always keep a small spray bottle on hand just in case, and it’s worked wonders on all manner of small (but persistent) topical injuries.  It’s also made into styptic powder and DIY quick clot, for similar purposes.

Homemade Yarrow Tincture (Alcohol extract of yarrow)

Over the longer term, something like a yarrow salve is wonderful for treating injuries and promoting healing.  It’s also commonly employed as an itch remedy topically.

Making a yarrow salve is no different than making any herbal healing salve, and it comes together quickly with just a few ingredients.

Yarrow has been used for millenia to stop bleeding and treat minor wounds. A healing salve helps preserve the herb, and ensures that it's on hand when needed.

Yarrow has been used for millennia to stop bleeding and treat minor wounds. A healing salve helps preserve the herb, and ensures that it’s on hand when needed.

More yarrow uses for first aid:

Yarrow Herbal Remedies

Beyond yarrows use as a topical first aid remedy, it’s also commonly used in preventative remedies and internal medicine…

 

Continue reading at Practical Self Reliance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See also this video from Cat Ellis, the Herbal Prepper:

Practical Self Reliance: Potato Yeast Starter for Baking Bread

A few people I know have not been able to find yeast in the store recently. There is no knead to despair if you want to bake bread, but have no yeast. There are other options. Here is Ashley Adamant of Practical Self Reliance, writing Potato Yeast Starter for Baking Bread

No yeast at home?  Try culturing your own wild yeast on potatoes!  All you need is one medium-sized potato, a bit of water and smidge of patience.

Homemade Yeast starter from potatoes, and easy potato bread recipe

Believe it or not, commercial yeast has only been available in well-stocked grocery stores for the past 100 years or so.  Leavened bread, however, has been baked for millennia.

It’s convenient to be sure, but yeast packets are not the only way to leaven bread.

In times past, bakers cultured their own wild yeast for raising bread.  Sourdough is one version, and it’s a community of yeast and lactic acid bacteria (like in yogurt) that give the bread a characteristic sour taste.

But what if you don’t like sourdough (or don’t have the patience to maintain one)?

There are literally dozens of ways to culture a wild yeast starter, using everything from raisins to beer to wild apples.

This simple method cultures wild yeast on boiled potatoes and was originally used by vodka distillers making high-quality potato vodka.  The idea is to just culture yeast, without encouraging the lactic acid bacteria that are part of sourdough.

DIY Potato Yeast Starter for Bread

Potatoes are high in starch, which is ideal for culturing yeast.  They also contain plenty of micro-nutrients, making them a better yeast starter than sugar alone.

There are a number of different potato yeast starter recipes circulating on the internet at the moment, ever since yeast disappeared from store shelves this spring.

Guess what…they all work.

Some add sugar, others add a bit of flour and some are just a mashed potato and the starchy water used to boil it.

Mash it all together, and then leave it open on the counter for 2-3 days.  Yeast floating by in the air will settle on your starchy yeast trap, and quickly go to work reproducing.

The simplest method, and the one originally used for vodka production, was just a single potato.

Peel the potato and place it in a pot of water.  Bring the water to a boil, and then simmer for 35-45 minutes, until the potato is completely soft.  Test it with a fork to ensure that it’s cooked and soft all the way to the center.

Pour the cooking water into a container, and allow it to cool.  Meanwhile, thoroughly mash the potato.

Place the mashed potato into a one-quart mason jar, and then pour the starchy potato cooking water in to fill the jar.  If you’re a bit short on cooking water, just add clean, chlorine-free drinking water.

Set the jar on the counter (open or covered with a towel), and wait.

In about 24 – 36 hours, you should see the first tiny bubble on the surface.  (Look closely at the potato layer below, and you’ll see tiny bubbles forming there too.)

Cap up the jar, give it a vigorous shake to distribute the yeast and then open it up and leave the jar on the counter again.

In another 24 to 36 hours the jar should really be bubbling.  At this point, you can bake your first loaf of bread…

Click here to continue reading at Practical Self Reliance

Practical Self Reliance: 20+ Immune Boosting Herbs

Ashley Adamant at Practical Self Reliance has compiled a list of twenty immune-boosting herbs and mushroom to help stave off illness.

Natural immune-boosting herbs work to support a healthy immune system, ideally preventing illness or speeding recovery.  Staying healthy starts well before flu season, and all of these herbs for the immune system can play a helpful role.

Immune Boosting Herbs

Immune-boosting herbs are a big part of my families’ wellness routine, and we need all the help we can get with a doorknob licking toddler and extra snuggly preschooler in the house.

Even before children, natural immune boosters were a regular part of our lives.  I worked in a hospital, and my husband flew cross country regularly for work.  While handwashing and other preventative measures are obviously the first step, sometimes you need a bit of extra help when you’re surrounded by sick people on a day to day basis.

Just recently, I found myself making a batch of our favorite herbal immune booster…elderberry syrup.  I’d harvested fresh elderberries in our garden that we’d grown from cuttings, and I started looking around for other herbs for the immune system to add into the mix.  A short walk around the garden and nearby woods and I’d picked more than 20 different immune-boosting herbs, flowers, roots, mushrooms, and lichen.

Add in a stop at the spice cabinet for immune-boosting spices like ginger, black pepper and garlic and I had quite the spread to choose from…

(Note: I am not a clinical herbalist or healthcare provider.  This is based on my own experience and research, but I encourage you to verify it with other sources.  Please consult a healthcare provider before beginning any health regimen, herbal or otherwise.) 

Herbs for the Immune System

Herbs for the immune system generally fall into three categories:

  • Immune Stimulants ~ Generally used for a short period of time, immune stimulants are best used on a short term basis.  The best time is right as you’re starting to get sick, or anytime you’ve been exposed to an illness.  Those times when someone coughs right on you, or you’re about to go on a long flight where there may be extra pathogens in the recirculated air.  Examples include Echinacea and usnea lichen.
  • Herbal Immunomodulators (or Immune Tonics) ~ Often used over a long period of time, immunomodulators are tonics for the immune system.  They’re not meant to be overtly healing during acute illness, but rather to help balance your system and promote a healthy immune response.  Examples include tulsi (holy basil) and reishi mushrooms.
  • Anti-Microbial Herbs ~ While they may not directly impact the immune system, they’re helpful in treating illness and maintaining health.  While prescription antibiotics have their place, minor illnesses (or injuries) can be treated with anti-microbial herbs instead.  Some are specifically antifungal (for topical issues) while others are more generally antimicrobial.  These disserve an article in their own right, and I’ll cover them briefly at the end.

While these three classes of herbs are somewhat different from each other, the terminology often gets mixed, even in peer-reviewed scientific journals.  Some, in fact, fall in multiple categories.  The main thing to keep in mind is that not all herbs are for long term use and not all herbs for the immune system will have a direct impact if you’re already sick…(continued)

Click here to read the entire article at Practical Self Reliance.

Practical Self Reliance: Homemade Hand Sanitizer Gel

Ashley Adamant at Practical Self Reliance tells us how to make our own hand sanitizer gel.

Homemade hand sanitizer is surprisingly easy to make, and it’s a great way to fight germs when you can’t get to a sink to wash your hands.

Homemade hand sanitizer gel

Hand sanitizer is one of the first things to disappear during an outbreak, second only to face masks.  Just days after the first community transmission of COVID-19, shelves emptied as people suddenly rushed out to buy hand sanitizer.

I’ll admit it, I was one of those people that bought a bottle once the virus reached the US.

Hand sanitizer isn’t generally a part of our lives, and under normal circumstances, I’d rather just wash my hands regularly and rely on my strong immune system.

This flu season though, as I watch people sneeze their way down the aisles of the supermarket, I find myself wishing I had a little bottle in my pocket.

I found a bottle easy enough, but just days later the store shelves were empty and most people weren’t as lucky.

In truth, substitutes for commercial hand sanitizers are actually really easy to make.  The active ingredient is just rubbing alcohol, and so long as your homemade hand sanitizer is at least 60% alcohol, it’s effective when used properly according to the CDC.

Simply putting rubbing alcohol in a small spritz bottle will do the trick, so long as you thoroughly wet your hands, rubbing to get between your fingers and such.

That said, if you’re looking for a more elegant solution, I’ve found a few options for homemade purell substitutes.

What’s In Purell?

So for starters, what’s actually in purell anyway?

The ingredients list is pretty long, but once you decode it, it’s actually just three basic things:

  • Water ~ Still not sure why this is the first ingredient when it’s more than 60% alcohol?
  • Isopropyl Alcohol ~ The active ingredient that’s doing all the hard work.
  • Caprylyl Glycol ~ Skin conditioner
  • Glycerin ~ Antimicrobial properties, and natural skin conditioner
  • Isopropyl Myristate ~ Emmoliant that promotes skin absorption (for skin conditioners)
  • Tocopheryl Acetate ~ Vitamin e for skincare
  • Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer ~ “is a synthetic ingredient used as a thickening agent, texture enhancer, film-forming agent, and emulsifier in cosmetics and personal care products.” (Source)
  • Aminomethyl Propanol ~ Buffer to adjust pH
  • Fragrance ~ With all that rubbing alcohol, this really helps sell it…

So in a nutshell, gel hand sanitizers are denatured alcohol, skin conditioners and some kind of gelling agent.  That’s it.

The skin conditioners are handy if you’re using it multiple times a day, and can help prevent dry hands. In truth they’re optional, and using a separate lotion works just as well to prevent dry skin.

Gelling agents are there to help the sanitizer sit neatly in your hand and prevents dripping, which in turn results in more people using it.  If it drips on your lap or makes a mess, you’re less likely to use it.  That said, they’re not actually sanitizing your hands…so also optional.

So the only thing sanitizing your hands is alcohol (and maybe the glycerine if you want to get technical).  The simplest option for an effective homemade hand sanitizer is simply rubbing alcohol (at least 60%) in a squirt or spray bottle.

That said, if you’d like to actually try to re-create a gel hand sanitizer with skin conditioners and a gel texture, read on….

How to Make Hand Sanitizer Gel

There’s a recipe circulating on the internet for a really simple homemade gel hand sanitizer that simply uses 2 parts 90+% rubbing alcohol and 1 part aloe vera gel.

My first thought was that with 2 parts alcohol it’d never be a “gel,” but I put it to the test…

Homemade hand sanitizer gel ingredients

The alcohol is doing the sanitizing work, and the aloe vera gel adds both skin conditioners and a gel-like texture, at least in theory.

Aloe vera gel, however, is actually mostly alcohol.  Or at least most of the bright green “after sun gel” bottles commonly available.  Their ingredients list stats exactly the same way as purell…water, denatured alcohol, glycerine, followed by a long list of stabilizers and gelling agents, with just a teeny tiny bit of aloe juice.

I doubt aloe gel is anywhere near the required 60% alcohol, but it is full of chemical gelling agents that work in the presence of alcohol (plus a few skin conditioners for good measure).

(It’s actually hard to make a gel from alcohol.  Things like agar, gelatin, and arrowroot won’t work in a high alcohol solution.  I tried, for science, to come up with a more natural version, but polymers are what works…)

One part aloe gel and two parts alcohol went into a bottle…

Making homemade hand sanitizer gel

Two parts alcohol (91%) with 1 part aloe gel in a bottle, not yet mixed.

It took a lot of shaking to get them to combine, and initially, the mixture was pretty thin.  I was unconvinced.

About a half an hour later when I picked up the bottle, it had actually thickened considerably.  Give it a shake and it’d actually hold air bubbles within the gel in the bottle.

Look closely, you can see them in there, held in a totally passable homemade hand sanitizer gel.

Hand sanitizer with aloe gel forms a loose gel that actually holds bubbles and is a good bit thicker than alcohol alone.

There is one more crucial part missing…fragrance.  While it is technically optional, this stuff smells horrible.  Or, more accurately, it smells like very strong rubbing alcohol, which is a little nasty.

I asked my husband to put it on his hands just so I could take a picture for the article and he straight up refused.  Too stinky.

If you’re going to convince anyone to use this, consider adding a few drops of some kind of fragrance.  Something like lavender or tea tree essential oil, which also have anti-microbial properties…

Continue reading about how to make a homemade sanitizer spray as well at Practical Self Reliance.