“Mixed Spice” Blends

While I am still enjoying my holiday downtime, I thought I would take a few moments share  one of the most popular items I stashed in my gift baskets.  This year I tried something different by printing up some little recipe cards and mixing up batches of the spices that I use and attaching little packets to the recipe and they seemed to be a hit.   Honestly using spice blends like this in baking is simply a continuation of the practice of cooking with the powders you find in medieval cookbooks. These powders add spices  to dishes that warm the circulation and improve digestive function.

One blIMG_8262end I haven’t mentioned before is “mixed spices”  although my báirín breac does call for mixed spice.  For those of you who live on the North American side of the pond but like to dabble in traditional British and Irish cookery, you probably came across recipes that  come across recipes that call for “mixed spice” if you attempted an  Irish Christmas Cake or an English Christmas pudding, this year. In the UK you can just buy mixed spice at the store. But here in the US we often substitute pumpkin pie spice which is quite different.

The ingredients most commonly used in “mixed spice” are cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove, allspice and mace.   You see all sorts of recipes online ,  but I am suspicious of many of them.  I particularly avoid those  those which omit the coriander and  caraway and substitute cardamom.  I will share both versions but I think my first variation is likely the more authentic formula.  I tweak my personal recipe a bit to include more period spices in the mix but the modern cook should have most of the following ingredients on hand.

Variation I
1 Tbs ground allspice
1 Tbs ground cinnamon
1 Tbs ground nutmeg
2 tsp ground mace
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground caraway seed

Variation II  

This is probably a more modern version and to my way of thinking is not as fun, nor would it have the broad effect of the first blend.

2 teaspoons allspice
2 inch piece of cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons cloves
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Caring for Poinsettas

I could have used this information a few years ago.

I could have used this information a few years ago.


AMES, Iowa – The poinsettia is one of the most popular potted flowers in the United States. These colorful plants can be found in nearly every household or business during the December holiday season. However, taking care of this festive flower can sometimes be tricky.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists give tips on how to care for poinsettias for a perfect holiday display. To have additional questions answered, contact ISU Hortline at 515-294-3108 or at hortline@iastate.edu.

Why is my poinsettia dropping some of its leaves? 

The leaf drop is likely due to some type of environmental stress. Improper watering is the most common reason for leaf drop on the poinsettia. Over-watering will cause the lower leaves to turn yellow and drop. Plants that are allowed to get too dry will wilt and also drop leaves. 

The water needs of a poinsettia can be determined with your finger. Check the potting soil daily.  When the soil becomes dry to the touch, water the plant until water begins to flow out of the bottom of the pot.

The pots of most poinsettias are set inside decorative pot covers. When watering these plants, carefully remove the poinsettia from the pot covering, water the plant in the sink, then drop the poinsettia back into its pot cover. 

Also, make sure the poinsettia is not located near a heat source or cold draft. Warm, dry air blowing across the plant from a furnace register or rapid temperature fluctuations, such as near a door, can also cause leaf drop. 

My poinsettia suddenly wilted and died. Why? 

The sudden death of the poinsettia was likely due to a root rot. Pythium and Rhizoctonia root rots typically occur when plants are watered too frequently and the potting soil is kept saturated. Allow the surface of the potting soil to dry to the touch before watering poinsettias. Also, don’t allow the poinsettia pots to sit in water. Discard excess water which drains into pot coverings or saucers. 

Small, white insects flutter about my poinsettia when I water the plant. What are they and how do I control them? 

The small, white insects are likely whiteflies. Whiteflies are common insect pests of poinsettia, hibiscus, chrysanthemum and a number of other indoor plants. They are most often noticed when watering or handling a plant. When disturbed, whiteflies flutter about the plant for a short time before returning to the plant. 

Whitefly adults are small, white, moth-like insects. Female adults lay eggs on the undersides of the plant’s foliage. After five to seven days, the eggs hatch into small, pale green, immature insects called nymphs. The nymphs crawl a short distance before settling down to feed for two to three weeks.  After feeding for two to three weeks, the nymphs progress to a nonfeeding stage and then finally to the adult stage. 

The nymph and adult stages of whiteflies feed by inserting their short, needle-like beaks into foliage and sucking out plant sap. Heavy whitefly infestations may cause stunting or yellowing of leaves, leaf drop, and a decline in plant health. 

Whiteflies on poinsettias and other indoor plants are extremely difficult to control. Prevention is the best management strategy. When purchasing plants, carefully check for whiteflies and other insects. Avoid purchasing insect-infested plants.  Insecticides are not a good control option as they are not very effective. It’s often best to tolerate the presence of a small infestation of whiteflies on a poinsettia and then promptly discard the plant after the holidays.


Instant Gratification: Dried Tea Powders

The title of this article may be misleading, because there is really nothing quick about the procedure I am about to describe. It is however, a valuable way to quickly incorporate more herbs and foods into your diet, once you get through the process,  which I will explain below.

I first came across a recipe for dried tea extracts on Christopher Hobbs website and as I am always looking for  new projects, I decided to give it a whirl.   The first time I did this I did it with nettles looking for a tolerable way to choke them down.  I’ve messed with the recipe a bit after a lot of trial-and-error experimentation and having a chance to pick Thomas Easley’s brain about the process at TWHC.

6 cups of water: 3 cups of chopped fresh herbs


8 cups water: 2 cups ground dried herb

Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer it until the liquid has been reduced by 1/3 . This takes a long time-maybe give yourself a facial or start another project because you are going to need 2-4 hours depending on the day.  Strain the liquid and allow it to cool. Press the marc (I used my tincture press), then weigh it after pressing. Return 1/2 to 1/3 of the solids to the liquid. I blend the mixture with my immersion blender at this point. I  also add 1/4 cup of astragalus powder at this point.

dried tea extractBring this liquid to a boil and simmer some more. When the mixture has reduced by again 1/3 and become sort of a slurry, I dissolve one tablespoon of arrowroot powder in some cold water and blend it in. This step is optional, but helps to keep the slurry from running off the dehydrator’s fruit leather tray or sticking to it.

Dry this at 100ºF to 120ºF until the mixture becomes brittle and then break it in to pieces and grind them into a fine powder.  I used a coffee grinder and then sifted the powder.  If you don’t grind them, you can suck on these like hard candy. I am storing that in the back of my mind for future experimentation.

It is true that a single herb dried extract of nettles might be easier to choke down in this form (yes, I am a bad herbalist who doesn’t like nettle infusions) but why would I do this when I could just make have a nice nettle chai, or maybe a creamy nettle soup that I would actually enjoy? Keep in mind,  I think herbal preparations should actually taste good. Especially if you are trying to get them into children, or people whose taste buds have grown accustomed to the standard American diet.

Next,  I tried a hawthorn chai blend, but I found that the final product didn’t retain enough flavor even though I used a goodly amount of corrigent spices.   I decided that I don’t think I would recommend this method of herbal preparation for  aromatic herbs.  The length of cooking time seems to have evaporated away most volatile constituents.This probably explains why I’ve seen it recommended to add some peppermint extract or some other corrigent, right before putting the mixture on the dehydrator tray.  I think hawthorn is a good candidate though.  Just wait to add the flavor until later.

Raspberry Hibiscus Dried Tea ExtractSo the next time,  I moved away from aromatics and started with with a raspberry leaf/hibiscus blend that I enjoy to see how that handled reducing.  I also used the trick of adding some of my orange flavored honey and some cinnamon extract right before I dumped it on the dehydrator tray. That seemed to work a bit better.   The result is a pleasant little instant tea that I could happily have two cups of a day.   I mix one teaspoon of the powder with a cup of hot water. According to Dr. Hobbs, each teaspoon is the equivalent 6- 8 teaspoons of the herb.

Those who know me know that I am rarely content with following  directions and I started thinking of uses for the powder other than as a dosing strategy.

I started thinking about cooking and suddenly the light came on. I could use these powders to flavor food. I made  powdered kale “tea” to sneak into sauces,  dips, or smoothies and a mixed vegetable powder that I will use to  thicken stews.  Really the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

From a practical homesteading point of view, this makes good sense.  These powders take up less room and may even have a little bit longer shelf life than conventional dehydrated vegetables-lasting up to a year.     So experiment with the method and see what you come up with.  I haven’t even gotten to fruit yet, but a dried apple powder is next on my list.