The Health Benefits of Mullein

If you live in Colorado, chances are that you have seen a mullein plant. They are everywhere! As kids, we used to pluck the long stalks and use them as pretend swords. What I didnt know, was that this plant is a real herbal weapon!! We called the big soft leaves,”indian toilet paper” because…well… it came in handy when there wasnt a bathroom around. TMI? Sorry.

The girls and I were on a walk the other day (looking for rose hips…which I still need more of) and I looked over at the hill side and noticed lots of familiar mullein plants standing tall amidst the folliage and autumn leaves. So, I decided to take the opportunity to harvest some. Plus, I knew the girls would love the soft cozy feel of the leaves. See how nice they are? Just like slipping into flannel sheets at night.

Until recently I didn’t know much about mullein (in fact I didnt even know its formal name for years) other than the fact that my mom used to put warmed drops of mullein oil into our ears when we had earaches. After reading up on the health benefits of mullien, I can honestly say I am pretty impressed with this herbin’ weed. Here are some of the things I have learned about “indian toilet paper” ;) .

  • Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is known by many names and is commonly thought of as a weed and a nuisance by gardeners because it grows just about anywhere and is very hearty (it is even insulated by the hairs on its leaves so it can live beneath the snow during winter).
  • It can grow up to 7 feet tall and, when in bloom, has small yellow flowers at its top.
  • The leaves and flowers can be used medicinally in oils, tinctures, and even topically for burns. The roots are also useful for bladder issues such as incontinence.
  •  Verbascum (Mullein’s latin name) is an expectorant, meaning it is used to expel mucus from the lungs and throat.
  •  It is also a demulcent, which means that it has soothing elements and reduces inflammation.
  • Mullein aids in the promotion of cell growth and repair and assists in pain relief. It is often used to treat earaches and migraines.
  • It contains antiseptic agents and is used for chest ailments including bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, pleurisy and even whooping cough!!All of this from a weed? Yessiree!

The more I learned about the mullein plant, the more I wanted to use this awesome resource. So, I looked up some ideas on what to make and how to use it. I decided to try my hand at some garlic infused mullein oil. I found this recipe and whipped it up in no time. It was seriously so easy. You can also buy mullein oil in almost any health food store or herbal store. I posted the recipe below in case you would like to try it for yourself. Cold season is coming quickly, oft accompanied by the dreaded earache/ear infections.

Mullein and Garlic Ear Oil

Pick 1/4 to 1/2 cup of mullein flowers (I used some of the leaves as well)
Finely chop 3-6 cloves of garlic
Cover both with olive oil in a jar
Place cheesecloth or a similar type of fabric over the top to allow moisture to escape
Allow to infuse for 3-4 days
Once infused strain through the cheesecloth and pour into dropper bottles
Store in the refrigerator for longer life
Usage:
Warm the oil in hot water or leave at room temperature during periods of ear pain
Add 2-3 drops several times a day to ear canal
*Do not use if you have a perforated ear drum or if your ear is already oozing fluid*
God’s garden is so full of useful things, isnt it? I am truly enjoying the adventure of learning about the resources around me and using them in the interest of my family’s health. :)

 

Homemade Whole Wheat Bread

Did you know that, of our 5 senses, smell is the most closely related to memory?
One of the smells that brings back the best memories for me is the glorious fragrance of homemade whole wheat bread. Mmmmm…

My mom used to make bread every week (6 loaves at a time!!) and the smell of her homemade bread would welcome us home after many snowy play days. There was nothing quite walking in the door, pulling off our snow gear, and sitting down to a fresh slice of warm bread slathered in butter. This woman can make some bread!

My amazing mother!

Growing up, I made bread a number of times with my mom. I always told myself that when I had a family I would make our bread every week “just like mom”. Well, for the first couple years of marriage I didnt make bread weekly like I thought I would. Whatever my excuse, I just didnt do it. Well, at the beginning of this year I decided that it was time to suck it up and just DO it!  I wanted to make all of our meals from scratch and I wanted them to be healthy, inexpensive, and fresh. Sure, there is work that goes into it. And planning. And budgeting. But let me tell you something. It is so worth it.

So, here is the recipe that I use every week now. I started out using a my mom’s recipe and then I tried a recipe on allrecipes.com or epicurious.com (I can’t actually remember now). I gradually tweaked things and changed a few ingredients or methods to fit my preferences to fix the issues I had.

Before today I never measured or documented how I make bread, but I decided to take pictures of every step this time.

This bread is easy, tasty, moist, and it rises like a charm. It is also whole wheat, non-GMO, and organic. 3 things that important to us as a family.

(Most of) the ingredients

Ingredients:
3 C Water
1 Tsp honey or sugar
1 Tbs Active Dry Yeast
2 Tbs Olive Oil
4 Tbs Honey
1 Tsp Salt
5-6 Cups Whole Wheat Flour (keep 1/2 cup out for kneading)
A couple dabs of butter
2 loaf pans

 

Directions:

1. In a medium-large bowl, add 3 lukewarm cups of water. This means that its just above your body temperature without being too hot and killing the yeast.
2. Add a teaspoon of honey or sugar and stir into the water (a bit of sugar helps the yeast to proof).

3. Sprinkle a heaping tablespoon of active dry yeast into the water. I use dry active Redstar yeast. Stir the mixture until the yeast is mostly disolved and looks like this.

4. Let the yeast mixture sit for about 5 minutes. This gives the yeast time to proof and activate- it will look more fluffy and bubbly.

5. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 4 tablespoons of raw honey, 1 teaspoon of salt and mix well.

6. Gradually add 5 to 5 1/2 Cups of Whole Wheat Flour. I use a fork to mix the flour in.  Add enough flour that it starts coming away from the sides a bit but is still doughy. Like this.

7. Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm-ish spot for about 45 min (until its doubled in size) I accidentally bumped the bowl before taking this picture, so this was already starting to deflate – you get the idea though, right?

8. Sprinkle about 1/2 Cup of flour onto the dough and mix it in so its not super sticky.

9. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured counter top and begin kneading

10. Knead the bread- sprinkling on flour as you go to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.

 11. Here is a step that I made up to help keep the dough moist and still prevent it from sticking to the counter: I add a dab of butter to my hands or on top of the dough and continue kneading. I alternate kneading with flour and butter a few times until I’m satisfied with the texture and feel of the dough. I usually knead for about 8 minutes and until the dough is no longer sticking to my hands and the counter, but is still moist and soft.

Butter on dough

12. Add a couple of drops of oil to your (cleaned) bowl, and set the dough in the bowl. Then turn the dough over so that the top is oiled and doesnt dry out while it rises.

13. Cover the bowl again and let it rise for about an hour or until its doubled.  Like this.

14. Take the dough out and separate into 2 even parts. Preheat the oven to 350f now so that its ready.

 

15. Flatten out both sections of the dough with a rolling pin or something similar – I used an empty container since I dont have a rolling pin. Then roll the dough up (as if you were rolling a sleeping bag or a tortilla). The reason I flatten and then roll the dough is to prevent any air bubbles from causing holes in the loaves.

16. Place the rolled dough into the pans and let the dough rest for a few minutes (5-10) before putting into the oven.

17. Place in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. The top of the bread should be hard and if you press on the crease (where the top and side meet) it wont give way. Then, 5 minutes before you take the bread out, brush on a tad of olive oil or butter to help it darken up a bit without getting too hard. Its really just to make it look pretty :)

18. When its ready, take the bread out of the oven, place on the counter, and let cool for a minute or two. I then use a rubber spatula to make sure all 4 sides are loosened from the pan before tipping it out.

19. Tip the bread out of the pan and lay it on its side or on a cooling rack for a bit.

20. DIG IN AND ENJOY!!

Top with butter, jam, peanut butter, honey, vegemite….whatever your heart desires. And watch out because this stuff disappears FAST!

Mark, enjoying some fresh bread.

Let me know if you try this recipe and how it turns out! Or if you have another recipe you love- I’d love to try it!

 

Quinoa: Packing a Protein Punch

Its a meal, its a snack, its quinoa!

Quinoa still on the stalks – beautiful isnt it?

When I was pregnant with my second daughter, my midwife talked a lot about eating a healthy diet and emphasized protein as an important part of every meal.

Diets that are high in protein have been proven to help a pregnant mothers avoid pre-eclampsia, lessens the chance of preterm birth, and it helps keep one’s energy levels up, so I was all for it!

Since I’m not a huge fan of meat, she suggested that I try adding quinoa into my diet. Quinoa is a grain-like crop that is grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is gluten free and contains 8 grams of protein in a 1 cup serving. It is light, fluffy, easy to make, can be eaten alone or added into foods. The kids love it, its healthy, and BONUS – its not very expensive!

As soon as I tried quinoa, I was a convert.

Even after I gave birth, I remained a huge fan of quinoa. One of my favorite quinoa dishes is this awesome mediterranean quinoa salad. I love to bring a big bowl of it to picnics or whip up a batch for a weekend get-together.

If you want some other ideas for how to use quinoa, check out my pinterest board. I have pinned a number of fun recipes. Like the curried quinoa pictured below.

Curried Quinoa – Yum!

Another quinoa-based meal that I recently discovered, and has become a staple in our home, is the “mini quinoa egg quiche”. That’s probably not the real name, but since I kinda just make it up as I go that’s what I call it. My friend Beth introduced me to the concept, and I love it!! I dont have a picture for you because we gobbled them up too quickly. But if you make some and send me a picture, I’ll put it in here!!

Ingredients:

Heat oven to 350

In a large bowl, combine:

  • 1 Cup cooked quinoa (you can also soak quinoa overnight so it sprouts)
  • 1/3 C milk (optional)
  • 6-7 Eggs
  • 1/2 Cup chopped spinach
  • 1/4 Cup salsa
  • 1/2 Cup grated cheese
  • 1/3 C corn
  • 1/3 C black beans
  • A sprinkle of salt and pepper
Mix all of the ingredients together and then scoop into a muffin tin.
Bake in the oven for about 15-18 min or until you can press the top and it springs back. Nice and spongy-like.
Let them cool a bit so your don’t scald your tongue. Then top with some salsa and enjoy!
The nice thing about this recipe is that you can play around with it and add other ingredients while still using the quinoa/egg as a base. You could easily add bacon or sausage for a breakfast version. Feta and tomato for a greek version. Peppers, onions, and chicken or beef for a dinner version. Anything goes. You can also make a double batch and freeze some to warm up at a later date. Easy peasy. 
If you’ve never tried quinoa, now is the time! If you are already a quinoa fan, these recipes are sure to give you some more fun ways to add it to your meals.
Happy Eating! 

 

Making and Canning Elderberry Syrup

More Elderberries!!

Just a short time ago, I wrote a blog post about making elderberry tincture. Near the end of the post, I suggested that elderberry syrup is much more palatable and is a great way to boost the immune system – especially for kiddos. A couple of weeks after our tincture extravaganza we were on yet another walk. Once again, we happened upon a boat load of ripe elderberries. Hooray!

Ripe elderberries, still on the umbrels

These bushes were actually the same ones we had harvested from previously, but since we were harvesting later, the berries were even more ripe! As soon as I saw the masses of berries I began to picture little jars of elderberry syrup sitting on my kitchen counter. With cute little labels on them. Awwww.

Here is how I went about making and canning elderberry syrup. 

1.) Harvest and Separate Berries
Our second batch of berries was much easier to de-stem than the previous batch because they were more ripe. It only took an hour or two this time, instead of 5 hours. Whew! If you want some info on how to properly take the berries off the umbrels, you can find out here on my previous elderberry post.  Here is what the berries look like after they are separated and de-stemmed.

2.) Boil
Once the berries were separated, I poured them into a large stock pot (I actually used 2 pots because I had so many berries). I then covered the berries with water. Not a lot of water, just about an inch above the berry line. The goal is to add water without diluting the berry juice too much. As you can see in the picture above- there were still some bits and pieces of stems left in the pot, but any leftover stems or flowers will rise to the top once you add the water, so you can spoon them out. I then reached in and squished the berries up by hand. You dont have to do that- I just felt like it.  :) Anyway, I then turned the stove on and brought the water/berries to a boil. After removing my hand of course.

3.) Simmer
Once the berry mixture is boiling, let it simmer gently for 25 minutes or so. This will help to soften the skin of the berries and extract the glorious purple juice within.

This is how the berries looked after I squished them up a bit, just before being boiled.

4.) Strain
After the berries have simmered, strain the elderberry juice into a large container. We are not going to use the berries in our syrup, so the goal here is to get as much juice out of the berries as possible and leave behind the skins and seeds etc. Here is the contraption I came up with. Costa Rican coffee maker + organic cotton bag = great straining device!

Pour the berry juice through a sieve or cheese cloth to catch all the juice

Another good way to strain the juice out,  it is to lay a clean cotton cloth over a colander and pour it through. This will allow all the juice to be used but none of the other debris will make it through. After all the juice has been poured out, I would recommend you put all of the berries into a cheese cloth or a mesh bag, and squeeze the life out of them. Milk those babies for all their worth!!

The berries, after being squeezed to death. (and Norah’s hand)

5.) Add Ingredients
I then added approximately 48 ounces of honey to the juice. I had about 2.5  gallons of elderberry syrup and I basically did it to taste. I have a tendency to ignore recipes and just do my thing. But I tried to stick to a method this time. Tried. I also added 4 cinnamon sticks to the mix because cinnamon is just amazing and is also a great cold killer.

6.) Re-boil the syrup
Once I got every ounce of juice out of the berries, I poured the elderberry syrup back into the large pot to boil again for a short time. As you can see, I am by no means an expert pourer. Sadly, I spilled a couple of ounces during the transfer. Sad day.

No use crying over spilled milk- but ederberry syrup? That’s a different story *sob*

So, after I dried my tears and cleaned up the mess, I then re-boiled the syrup.

Look at that beautiful purple syrup!! Mmmmm

6.) Prepare Jars
While the syrup was heating up again, I prepared my canning jars. The jars need to be sterilized so that all bacteria is dead. For long term storage, this is a vital step. Its actually important even if you plan to use your syrup within the week. Just better all around. You dont want a bunch of nasty bugs getting into that liquid gold. I also sanitized the lids by pouring boiling water over them.

7.) Distribute
Once the jars are clean and the syrup has boiled for a few minutes, I let it cool for a bit and then poured it into the jars and put the lids on.

If you dont wish to can/preserve your syrup, you can stop reading here. The following steps detail how to can the jars for long term storage. If you plan to use the syrup within a month or so, you can keep it in the fridge and take it daily or as needed. Skip to the bottom for some suggestions on use and dosage.

8.) Canning
We choose to preserve our syrup.  #1 We cant see ourselves using 2.5 gallons of elderberry syrup within 3 month’s time (3 months is about as long as you can keep elderberry syrup on the shelf/in the fridge). #2. We want to be able to give it away to friends without a “use by date” printed on the label. We dont have a pressure canner. In fact, all I have is a huge stock pot and some jars. Guess what? It works! Simple, affordable, and fun!

Here is how to use a water bath canning method for your syrup:

  • Fill a stock pot halfway with water
  • Once the water is heated add the filled jars
  • The jars need to be separated with a wire rack like this. Or with random objects you find in your kitchen. Like we did.
  • Add more water until the water level is about an inch above the top of the jars
  • Bring the water to a boil
  • Allow the jars to boil for 20-35 (the amount of time depends on the size of the jars and your current altitude.) Here is a chart that details the various boiling times.
  •  Remove the jars from the water. Most people like to use these handy dandy jar grabbers if they dont have a rack, but since I dont have either, we just tipped some water out and grabbed the jars with a pot holder. Only a few minor burns were sustained :) Kidding. We are fine.
  • Let the jars cool and check the seals before storing
  • Store in a cool dry place and use as needed.Here is the fruit (literally) of our labor! *sigh* Looks good, eh?

    Tada!!! 21 jars of canned elderberry syrup! Ain’t she a beaut?

If you dont have elderberries, or dont feel like buying any and making your own syrup- you can also buy elderberry syrup online. It’s pricey, but boy does it work!! Kicks those germs right out. Not to mention the other benefits that I mentioned in my tincture post.

Here are some great ways to use your elderberry syrup:

*For adults: Take 1 tablespoon per day, or 3 per day if you feel a cold/flu coming on.
*For kiddos: Take 2 teaspoons per day, or 2 tablespoons if you feel a cold/flu coming on.
*In homemade yogurt as a sweetener and an extra immune boost
*In carbonated water- the girls love it! Just add a couple of tablespoons to a glass of seltzer water. It makes a wonderful and healthy “soda” as a treat for the kiddos
*Pour over pancakes, baked oatmeal, or in tea instead of honey
* Drizzle over ice cream
*Use as a sweetener in baked goods

What would YOU do with elderberry syrup??