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. :)

 

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??

Picking Wild Apples: Fun with Foraging

Orchards in the Wild

Oodles of Apples!!! 75 pounds to be exact.

If you had asked me last year, or even last month, whether there were a lot of fruit trees in the area, I would have laughed and said, “No, not much grows around here”.  I would have been wrong. At the beginning of the summer, Mark and I were talking about foraging and using the resources around us. We decided that our mission, should we choose to accept it, was to explore the land a bit, look for edibles (herbs, fruit, veggies) and then do something with them. You know, living off the land type stuff! We are going all pioneer-ish on you. Well, all I have to say about that is: seek and you shall find!!! In the last month alone, we have stumbled upon more than 15 wild apple trees, countless crab apple trees, a few pear and plum trees, and at least 10 elderberry bushes – all while exploring and having fun! So, we have gotten busy picking wild apples and eating, canning, and baking with them too. We still have about 50 pounds of apples sitting in the kitchen ready for peeling too. Oy. Now, let me be honest. I have never been the canning type. More specifically, I have never even tried to be the canning type. I’m all for homesteading, preserving, storing, and being resourceful (I even have a cute little apron!), but I have just never gotten into canning. Until this week. See, here’s the thing. When you pick 75 pounds of wild apples, like we did, you have a choice. You can either pick them and let them sit in the bags and look pretty or you can make use of them. If you decide to use them, like we did, its time to get out the knife sharpener and start peeling, cutting, stewing, cooking, boiling, etc.  After a few hours of work, you end up with a lot of apple-y goodness! Here are some of the tasty treats you can make with your foraged fruits!

  • Apple Sauce *Peel and cut the apples into halves or quarters (depending on the size) put them in the crockpot overnight with a couple inches of water, in the morning when the apples are super mushy you can add some honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg to taste. I didn’t put mine in a blender or anything because I like it chunky, but if you prefer your apple sauce smooth and without chunks you can just throw it in the food processor and blend until it meets your demands :) Easy peasy!

Apples in the crockpot for apple sauce. You can see the big boxes of canning jars in the background :)

  • Stewed Apples *Peel, cut, and boil apples in a couple inches of water. Add a cup or two of sugar (if you’re using a huge pot like we did!) and a couple teaspoons of cinnamon. Boil gently until soft. We boiled for 25 minutes or so because wild apples tend to be a bit green and firm with less water content. Once the apples have softened, let them cool and then eat with custard, in a pie, or with baked oatmeal! Yum! If you want to can/preserve the stewed apples you can follow these directions. Or download this PDF, from the University of Tennessee which details all the ins and outs of canning and preserving.

    All stewed and canned up. We used waterbath canning method and it worked great.

  • Apple Crisp/Pie You can use fresh apples (peeled or peel-less) or you can use stewed apples. Mix the apples with a bit of sugar and cinnamon and a tablespoon of flour. Pour it into the whole wheat crust and then top the apples with some oats and butter mixed together. If you use stewed apples you will have to use more flour in the apple mixture to prevent too much liquid runoff.

    Whole wheat pastry bottom, apple filling, oat topping.

     

  • Spiced Apple Cake *Here is a super yummy recipe for apple cake. I subbed the all-purpose flour with whole wheat and the sugar was raw, but I left everything else the same.*
  • Zucchini Apple Bread *I used this recipe but I substituted the canola oil with 1/2 C. olive oil, and 1/2 C. coconut oil. I also used organic whole wheat flour instead of all purpose, and 3/4 C. raw honey instead of sugar. The end result was 2 moist and delicious loaves of bread. We gobbled them both down in a day!*
  • Raw Apple Juice *We just threw a few in the juicer with some carrots. A tiny bit tart, but tasty!*
  • Apple Butter (coming soon after I peel more apples…)
  • Dried Apples (nutritious snacks without much of a mess)

Here is what I suggest you do. Take a walk down your street- or better yet- go exploring in the woods. I bet you will be surprised at how many edibles you find. And if you dont find any apples or elderberries….dandelions are also edible. Yummy, right? Ha. Foraging is a great way to get out, have some fun as a family, and enjoy the amazing things God has created for us!

Foraging for Herbs in the City

We took our girls on a walk tonight. They have both been feeling poorly so I figured that spending some time in the wooded area near our apartment complex would be a nice way to get some fresh air, enjoy the outdoors, and teach them about foraging for herbs and edible plants.

My favorite part about taking walks now, is that both my girls have begun to inspect the plants that we pass as we walk along the pathway, and often ask “what is this, mom?” or “can we eat this one?”. Eva does it with genuine curiosity and a growing understanding of the herbin world, and Norah just copies her sissy :)

We each had a girl on our shoulders as we walked down the steeper part of the path. It felt like a real adventure. I grabbed a cattail for each of the girls to hold and we were talking about what cattails were for, how they grew, and how soft they were. We harvested some Amaranth for later use and I was looking for other edibles when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something familier. Here, take a look. Do you know what it is??

I’m not sure if it was from my days of gallavanting through the wilderness as a child, or maybe I read about it in one of my many “edible plants” books, but this plant rang a bell.  I stooped down to rub the leaves together and immediately the strong minty aroma wafted up towards me. Oh, so minty fresh.

Mentha Arvensis, is commonly known as wild mint or field mint is hard to miss. Not only does it have lovely purple flowers, but even from a few feet away, the minty smell draws your attention. One of the most popular uses for mint is to make a nice soothing tea. Which is what I plan do with with my findings. Iced or hot, its a healthy refreshing beverage.

Wild mint is also valued for its antiseptic qualities and for helping to relieve digestion issues. Here is a list of some of its other uses:

  • Holds anaesthetic, antispasmodic properties and has agents that counteract inflammation. 
  • Promotes or assists the flow of menstrual fluid
  • Promotes secretion of milk (thats for you breastfeeding mamas!)
  • Helps relieve fever and thirst
  • Can relieve pain from toothaches or arthritis
  • Dried leaves can be eaten for chest pains and heart ailments
  • Its a natural insect and rodent repellent. 
We were out in the “garden” for maybe 40 minutes. It wasnt long.  In those 40 minutes we found at least 4 edible plants, saw 3 bees, listened to numerous crickets, and watched 2 birds chasing each other through the air. And we spent time as a family, enjoying creation!
Foraging can happen in the middle of the urban sprawl, and its fun! Give it a go, why don’t ya?