Arnica Montana: duct tape for childhood

I have had a number of people ask me what some of my “go-to” herbal/homeopathic remedies are. And, while I’m no herbal guru, there are a few things in my medicine cabinet that are definitely worth sharing and that have worked for me and my family. I’ll start with arnica montana.

Move over Icy Hot, there’s a new sheriff in town!!

Arnica Montana

I have decided that arnica montana or “ahn gock” as Norah likes to call it, is basically the duct tape of childhood. There have been many occasions where one of my girls will fall and bump their head and I’ll think “oof, that’s gonna leave a mark”. So, like a good herbin mama, I slather on some arnica cream and chances are that there wont be anything to show for that owie by the next day.

 Arnica is a small yellow flower with woody stalks that has been used for medicinal purposes since the 1500′s. The benefits of arnica montana are many. Arnica can be used both internally and externally, in adults or children. Many people find that, when taking arnica internally they have better focus, less anxiety, and gain relief from headaches and abdominal pain. When used topically (or internally), arnica acts as a natural anti-inflammatory, natural anti-biotic, has pain relieving qualities. It also helps prevent bruising by helping to disperse trapped blood and fluid from the site of injury. Arnica should not be used on cuts or open wounds, but is hugely beneficial when used on strains, sprains, bumps, or bruises.

If you have kids, you need this stuff. Not even kidding.

Arnica is also great for sore and strained muscles. I have used it often after a game of soccer or hockey, or when I returned home from a long hike. One study performed in Norway actually showed that marathon runners who applied arnica to their skin before the event felt less pain and muscle stiffness afterwards. When used topically in gel form at 50% concentration, arnica montana was found to have the same effect when compared to a 5% ibuprofen gel for treating the symptoms of hand osteoarthritis.

Some mothers choose to take arnica tablets after giving birth to aid in healing and to lessen swelling and bruising. It is very safe and effective and has no dangerous side effects unless taken in very high quantities. I took arnica after giving birth to Norah and could definitely tell a difference.

our oft used arnica gel

Many commercial anti-inflammatory creams now contain arnica as an active ingredient because…well… because herbs work!!

You can purchase arnica in tablet form or gel/cream form at your local health store or online. It is an inexpensive herbal remedy that you will use at least a couple times per week. I’d say go for it.

Making Almond Milk

Shortly after my youngest daughter was born, we realized that she could not tolerate dairy. Since I was breastfeeding, I choose remove dairy from my diet so as not to upset her little tummy. It was a challenge at first, but I gradually came to enjoy my non diary options and found lots of tasty alternatives to cows milk.

Chocolate almond milk was one of those alternatives. See, I love chocolate almond milk. A lot. I could easily chug a half gallon in a day. My girls love it too, so I often freeze it in little popsicle molds to make healthy fudgesicles. 

Yesterday I went shopping and nearly bought some but, I refrained because, well, its pricey. And wouldn’t you know, as soon as I got home I immediately wished I had a big glass of chocolate almond milk. Cold and refreshing, coupled with a cookie or two maybe? Why oh why didnt I buy it?! Saver’s remorse hit hard.

Thankfully, I have people in my life (Hi, Sara!) who are resourceful and like to say, “hey why don’t you just make your own almond milk?” instead of listening to my whining.

So, I hopped online and found a recipe for chocolate almond milk. Much to my pleasure, I found that making almond milk is actually pretty easy! And it tastes really good, too. Bonus!

Ingredients:

1.5-2 C Raw Almonds (soaked overnight)
4-5 C Water
4 Tbs Organic cocoa powder
4 Tbs raw honey

Directions:

  • Pour raw almonds into a jar and fill with water and soak overnight
  • Pour out the dingy water and rinse the almonds off
  • Put the softened almonds into a blender.
  • Add 4-5 cups of water
  • 4 tablespoons of organic cocoa powder
  • 4-5 tablespoons of organic honey or stevia (or whatever sweetener you might like)
  •  Blend, blend, blend
  • Strain the liquid into another container

And wala, chocolate almond milk!

You can keep this milk in the fridge for about a week. But I doubt it will last through the day at our house ::gulp gulp gulp::

**you can also dehydrate the leftover almond meal in the oven on low for 2-3 hours and use it for baking!**

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??

Healthy Treats for Kids

My girls think these are pretty fantastic

I’m always looking for healthy summer treats for my girls. I am one of those health conscious moms. You know, the kind who doesn’t let her kids have the lollipop that is so kindly offered to them by the teller at the bank or the old lady at the coffee shop. I try not to go overboard, but since becoming a mom and knowing that I was given the responsibility of caring for the health and growth of my girls I feel its vital to start them off on the right foot.

That being said- here is one of my go to recipes when it comes to healthy treats for kids.  Its easy. Its healthy. Its a winner.

In a blender pour in:

  • 6-8oz Coconut Yogurt (any flavor works)
  • 1 Cup fresh fruit- we love berries.
  • 1/4 Cup Coconut Milk

Blend until smooth and creamy
Pour into popsicle molds
Freeze
Eat

These treats are so easy and delicious. They are full of vitamins, healthy fats, and probiotics.

My girls think they are pretty good and so do I.