Solar Powered Herbalism

Picture3It is hot out there, which leads me to thinking about positive ways to use all this thermal energy.

There are many ways to utilize the sun’s energy when making herbal preparations. Solar infusions are  wonderful and all you really need for those is a half-gallon or gallon sized canning jar.  For those of an esoteric bent, the  idea of harvesting the sun’s  energy in making our preparations is appealing.

Solar ovens can also be used for making herbal preparations.  Decoctions and infused oils both work well in solar ovens, although I have found it useful to not clamp the lid down tightly when decocting.  One fun thing about this is you can go really old school and decoct in clay pots.

I have a screen made of chicken wire for dehydrating  roots, berries,  fruits and vegetables . I am not keen on dehydrating more delicate parts of the plants  in the solar oven.

An empty oven warms quite quickly and food begins cooking right away. Oven temperature seems to hover right between 200 and 250 when baking  which makes cooking in the sun  time intensive .   A solar oven is  best though of as a slow cooker, which is why it works well for infusing oils.

The biggest challenge I have found in using the solar oven is in planning.  Preparing  with the solar oven involves checking the forecast and  thinking ahead.

Eating  your herbs is the best way to get tonic herbs  into people.  Since granola recipes really lend themselves well to  additions and preparation in a solar oven, I thought I would include this recipe.

Gluten free Granola

5 cups old fashioned oatmeal
1/2 cup finely ground unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup ground seeds including lightly roasted milk thistle seeds
1/4 cup astragalus powder
1 cup almond meal or any other ground nut
1 cup honey or maple syrup
1 cup olive oil, coconut oil, melted butter or any combination thereof
1 tbsp. vanilla
1/4  cup ground cinnamon .
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup dried cherries

First of all make sure that your oats are certified gluten free.  Bob’s Red Mill I believe is a company sells these.

Next grind the coconut and the seeds.  I use pumpkin seeds and milk thistle seeds.   Mix this with the astragalus powder and the almond meal .
Stir in your sweetener, oil,  vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.    Don’t skimp on the warming spices as they help to improve digestion of foods like nuts and grains. |

Finally stir in the oats and almonds bake in your oven until golden brown.   If  using a conventional oven bake at 250 degrees for about an hour.    I like to add the cherries after it has baked.

A Summer Tart



This is another one of those great recipes we found in a medieval cookbook, published in 1393.  I actually chose the herbs for my kitchen garden based on what I needed to make this.  It is amazing! The original instructions are a bit hard to follow so I thought I should explain them. It really isn’t as hard as this makes it sound.


TO MAKE A TART (TOURTE), take four handfuls of beets, two handfuls of parsley, a handful of chervil, a sprig of fennel and two handfuls of spinach, and pick them over and wash them in cold water, then cut them up very small; then bray with two sorts of cheese, to wit a hard and a medium, and then add eggs thereto, yolks and whites, and bray them in with the cheese; then put the herbs into the mortar and bray all together and also put therein some fine powder. Or instead of this have ready brayed in the mortar two heads of ginger and onto this bray your cheese, eggs and herbs and then cast old cheese scraped or grated onto the herbs and take it to the oven and then have your tart made and eat it hot.~

The Goodman of Paris

1/2 pound of greens – we really like chard in this recipe.
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 c fresh chervil
2 Tbsp leaves chopped fresh fennel leaves
5 eggs
6 oz of Parmesan cheese (or hard white cheddar)
6 oz of Swiss cheese (mozzarella )
1/2 t ginger or galangal
1/2 t salt
9″ pie crust

This is super easy to put together.  Place your pie crust in a 9-inch pie pan. Chop your greens up well.  Mince the fresh herbs finely and mix them in a bowl with the cheeses.   Then blend the eggs up and pour them over this mixture.    Stir it altogether really well and pour it into the pie crust.

Bake at 350 degrees until set in the middle.  Check it after 30 minutes.

The Goodman of Paris Eds. G. G. Coulton and Eileen Power. Trans. Eileen Power. London: George Routledge & Sons, 1928 p. 278.

My Medicine is Connection


You will have to forgive me in advance for this long rambling attempt to assess my progress as I am halfway through my year of practicing self-understanding and self-compassion.  Traci made me think today, so now I must let the thoughts out.

First I thought of how other people have told me that they view me. I think a lot of people view me as not being very social  when that is far from the truth.  I LOVE entertaining and having people over to my house. Truly, I am one of those people you could drop in on any time and I’d have tea on in a flash, but I don’t get out much.

There are many reasons for this.

My husband and I are amazing cooks and it is very rare that we eat someplace that makes better food than we do.  When we do we generally go home and try to duplicate whatever it is that we loved and manage to do it nicely.  We like to play at making homemade cocktail ingredients, too.   I just ordered some quassia chips for a new bitters recipe, we are going to try.   This is one of the ways we connect.

There is a  trade-off for all the loveliness of the work-at-home, school-at-home lifestyle we’ve chosen.   Our abundance does not come in the form of green paper. It comes in the form of produce that needs to be picked and processed.  It comes in the form of colorful bars of soap drying on racks.  It comes in the form of beautiful flowers that need to be hung and dried.  In other words, we have a nice lifestyle, but we work for it. I love this lifestyle because it connects me deeply to my home and hearth,  but it does keep me busy.

I am one of those people who feels all the feelings.  Large crowds overwhelm me as much as small intimate gatherings please me. Generally,  the more people are gathered in one spot, the more I pull into myself, if I am composed.   If not, I am one of those people who gets nervous and talks enough that my own voice drowns out some of the input-kind of like a dog howling when the sirens go off.

So, the  first truth I have come to is that I am not a hermit.  I simply crave meaningful, intimate connections.  I don’t have much time for superficial acquaintance.

Once I came to accept this,  I decided that the loving and compassionate thing to do would be to stop pushing myself into situations I find uncomfortable.

I prefer to hang out at home or go out in small groups.  Music and dancing can occasionally entice me out , but for the most part I prefer to hangout out at home with small groups of friends, or spend time outside. There is nothing wrong with that despite the concern of more extroverted friends.

I don’t need constant physical proximity to maintain a friendship, which is a good thing because my friends are scattered far-and-wide.  My heart walks with my friends wherever they are.

I am connected to my people in a deep and meaningful way. After all,  I have made more than a couple 40 hour round-trip road trips to the Southwest to meet with my tribe at Traditions, braving dust devils and giant tumbleweed to go where my heart pulls.  That is not a journey one sets out on lightly.

I stopped feeling guilty about spending time on social media because that is one of the ways I maintain those connections between visits.    I don’t think I am unique.

I realized as I was writing this that I was thinking a lot about connection. Connection should be considered a basic need, like water, air and healthy food. Connections feed the heart. Conversely, the lack of connection drains life energy.

I’ve seen illnesses resolve simply because a very lonely person establishes new connections.   I’ve seen the loss of connection, or even the fear of that loss, send people spiraling off into self-destructive behavior.

There are many types of connection.  You can feel connected to your place and revel in the beauty of it.  You can feel the warm connection of lying with a friend in the sun-content to just be.  You can experience the close intimate connection of lying curled up next to your partner with your head on their chest and your hands intertwined.

The most important connection though, is your connection to yourself. One thing I realized early in the year that in ignoring  my intuition, and my needs, I lost some some respect for myself.

In really working at the practice of  maitrī  this year,  I have begun re-connecting with my self in a way that has been healing.  I have taken my feelings out and played with them, named them and accepted them, without judgment.   Naming an emotion, helps your lower brain connect it to your higher thinking processes.  Another connection that is very important.

In doing this, I have learned to let go of the guilt involved in setting boundaries which honor  my needs.  I have also made decisions, based simply on my feelings, which may appear impractical or foolhardy to some, but  I know what I am doing is right and feels good.  

As an aside, what other people think of you really starts mattering less as you get to deeply know, and trust, yourself.

Over the last several months,  I have let go of some unhealthy connections and not felt self-indulgent for doing so.  I have also honored some feelings I have as justified.

I think learning to give them voice and then let them go,  so they don’t fester,  will be a large part of my work for the second half of the year. I have learned that is okay not to be busy.  Before I was trying  try to do all the things in a vain attempt to stay busy enough to ignore  what was going wrong in my life, but that also kept me from making the deep connections I need.

Once I realized that, I gave myself permission to slow down enjoy things. The family picked  picked one  meaningful volunteer project for the year. The rest of our time is spent on one another.

The most ironic discovery of the year so far, is that I might actually like it here.  The connection I was trying to force between self and place, grows as I become more connected  with myself, again.

I think it was good for me to take this time at the six-month mark to assess my progress and refine my focus.  But at this point in my path to self-healing, it is clear that my medicine is connection.

Cold Brewed Iced Coffee

Cold Brew and Vanilla Simple Syrup

Cold Brew and Vanilla Simple Syrup

I will have to apologize in advance to those of you who have given up coffee, as a vice.  Coffee has been rather unfortunately vilified, for various reasons, however it seems to be making a comeback in a similar way to saturated fat.  Turns out it really isn’t all bad.

Coffee has an antioxidant known as chlorogenic acid (CGA).  There are many of these types of acids but this specific ester,   formed between caffeic acid and L-quinic acid,  is being  studied for its health-promoting properties.

One of the amazing things CGA does is to help slow down how fast your body releases glucose into your bloodstream after you eat. It seems that  those fifties housewives who offered up an after dinner coffee, had the right idea.

CGA is a constituent found in many anti-inflammatory foods. I will grant you that there are more healthful sources. Strawberries, blueberries and pineapple are all good sources.

I maintain a good deal of what makes coffee bad for you has to do with what you put in it.  That is not to say that I don’t treat myself to a latte every now-and-then.   But for the most part, I drink it hot and black and I rather love it.

This time of year, even a cold vata like me knows enough to avoid hot drinks, so sometimes we like a creamy iced coffee.  I always make my own because the commercial stuff has scary words on the label is just far too sweet.

I used to just make a really hot, strong batch of coffee and pour it over a little sugar to dissolve it, but then I had a cold brewed coffee at a friends house and was converted.  There are some people who say that cold-brewed coffee has health benefits, but this has yet to be studied properly.  It definitely tastes better.

There  are all sorts of tutorials out there on how to cold brew coffee, but I’ve found it easiest to just make it in my french press and pour it through a coffee filter.

To make a cold brew concentrate, I coarsely grind 1 cup of coffee and add 4 cups of cold water to that.  You should let this brew, in the fridge, for at least 12 hours.  I highly recommend 24.

After this has steeped and cooled, strain it into a pitcher and add  your “milk” of choice. You know best what works for your body. You could use almond milk, coconut milk or any other dairy substitute you enjoy.  Do take a moment to read the ingredient label though.  If you can’t say it, you probably don’t want to drink it.

My husband and I have our gene pool to thank for lactase persistence,  so we use half-and-half. Nice stuff that we get from the Kalona SuperNatural  folks,  whose farm is about 2o miles from my home.

How creamy you make it is a matter of taste. I use almost 2 cups so I am diluting the coffee concentrate at a 2:1 ratio.

Cold Brewed Iced Coffee


Next,  I sweeten this to taste with vanilla simple syrup or barley malt syrup.   Actually I let my husband decide when it is sweet enough because I would never put enough in. Sometimes,  I just skip the sweetener altogether and sprinkle some nutmeg on top.