Vanilla-Rose Sugar


My roses are blooming like crazy right now and while many petals are destined for rose elixirs and rose vinegar, I like to put up a little vanilla-rose sugar every year to pull out when friends come over for tea. I know other people who like to sprinkle the sugar on grapefruit. You can use the sugar for baking, too. It makes wonderful shortbread.  If you are the type who thinks ahead, make  up a couple of pounds, so that you can include a small decorative jar in gift baskets.

This recipe is a variation of the very old practice of making conserve of roses.  There were as many different methods as their were receipt books but I like the following for its simplicity.


Let your roses be gather’d before they are quite blown, pound them in a stone mortar, and add them to twice their weight in double-refined sugar, and put them into a glass close stopt up, but do not fill it full. Let them stand three months before you use them, remembering to stir them once a day. ~ The Receipt Book of John Nott 1723

It’s really a simple task. First you want to harvest some organically grown rose petals. I like to enjoy my blooms. The center of the R.rugosa variety are bright yellow when they first open and then they turn brown. As soon as they turn, I harvest the petals. If I were working with a less potent variety, I would harvest them sooner.

After you’ve picked a good couple of cups of petals,  assemble your other ingredients; organic sugar and organic vanilla beans.  These vanilla beans are some that have already been used for making vanilla, but they are perfectly potent enough for this use.

Now perhaps you’ve tried rose sugar before and not had much luck, but there is a trick to it. Like the recipe above advises, you need to bruise the petals before using them.  Just pound them up in a mortar and pestle or whatever you have on hand. You can grind them but I find if you just get them to the point where they are darker colored, they work fine and they are harder to sift out when ground.


Now you want to put a layer of sugar about an inch deep in the bottom of a jar. I like to use Fido jars because they are airtight. Cover this sugar with an inch of rose petals and a few vanilla beans like this:


I measured this once and it turns out that an inch of sugar weighs about twice as much as an inch of flowers. Keep layering like until you’ve made as much as you want but be sure to end with a sugar layer and be sure that all of your rose petals are covered in sugar. I also don’t fill the jar because Mr. Nott advises against it and who am I to argue with the experts?

I noticed that one to the left poking up after I took the picture and poked it down a little.

I noticed that one to the left poking up after I took the picture and poked it down a little.

Put this in a dark place for a minimum of 3-4 weeks-shaking it often. (It really is better if you let it sit for the whole three months.)  At that point , if you like, you can sift the rose petals and vanilla beans out. Store in a pretty jar and bring it out for special treat when serving tea.


Green Goodness Dressing


One of our favorite ways to “take” chickweed.

So I’ve been harping on the subject of eating your herbs for a very long time now.

Five years ago, I wrote an article for the Essential Herbal  that talked about spring cleaning your body with spring edibles. It covered the benefits of eating as many of the herbs that poke their head out early in the spring.

It seems like most of us start out well,  early in the season, but is important to remember to keep that going throughout the growing season.  I like to like to keep a list of recipes that incorporate certain herbs in my household journal, so I am reminded of them when doing my menu planning.  If you don’t  garden, you can keep track of the produce as it appears at the Farmer’s Market.

I know...there is more than six tablespoons of chopped herbs here.  I probably used six or seven cloves of garlic, too.

I know…there is more than six tablespoons of chopped herbs here. I probably used six or seven cloves of garlic, too.

Incorporating a variety of fresh herbs into your cooking adds nutrients and beneficial phytochemicals to your diet.  ( I wonder how many times I will type that before I die?)   I recommend medieval cookbooks as a source of recipes that are truly brilliant in the way they incorporate herbs and spices.  But there is a lot of interest in this type of cooking modernly.  Tonight we made a recipe for apricot mostarda that we found in the Food and Wine magazine.

One of my favorite ways to sneak herbs into the kids is to make the following recipe.  We use it on salads and for dipping vegetables.  I am lucky to have a yard where the chickweed grows freely most of the spring and I am still enjoying this dressing made with chickweed, but later I will use dill, fennel, chervil, lovage or one of my other culinary herbals.   It is especially good with lemongrass, too.

Green Goodness Salad Dressing & Dip

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup tahini
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1-4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
4 medium cloves garlic
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
3 tbsp minced chickweed
3 tbsp minced chives

To make:
Place all the ingredients but the sesame seeds in a blender and blend until smooth.  Add sesame seeds.

Stacking Functions and Herb Bed Design


As many of us are working in our herb gardens this time of the year, I thought I would don my gardening smock and talk about my particular gardening philosophy-ecological landscape design.

Coming from a homesteading background, I am a strong believer in a big annual vegetable garden, canning, freezing and preserving. Here in the Midwest, where nothing grows in the winter, it is especially important to put food by.

In studying plant ecology and ecological design at Goddard, I came to the idea that using this method when planting our gardens is ideal. It is far less labor intensive than conventional gardening and does not utilize harmful chemicals.

Gardens based on ecological design heal the planet. They create pockets of wellness in the ecosystem and promote mutually beneficial relationships with other creatures-healing the rift between humans and nature. This is an integral part of creating wellness.

In ecological design, gardeners create supportive communities of plants, insects and animals, based on ecological function, called guilds.

The classic example of an annual vegetable guild is that of the three sisters in which beans are planted around the base of corn plants to fix nitrogen in the soil. Squash is planted as ground cover to help retain moisture in the soil and prevent erosion.

A fourth member , less widely known, element of this guild was utilized for attracting pollinators and improving the yield of the beans and corn is Cleome serrulata or Rocky Mountain Bee plant.  An alternate common name of this plant “Navaho spinach” relays the fact that the plant was a source of food. It was also used as a medicinal and as a dye.

When an element serves multiple purposes in a system it is said to have stacking functions. Picking plants with stacking functions is especially important to gardeners working in very small spaces.

This  method of planting can be applied to perennial herb beds if we are aware of the ecological function plants serve. Different teachers use different terms but some basic functions include:

1. Nitrogen fixersherbal stacking functions
These plants have of nodules full of Rhizobia in their roots systems which convert atmospheric nitrogen into nitrogenous compound in the soil.

2. Dynamic Accumulators
These plants usually have large tap roots which will break up compacted soil and carry nutrients buried deep in the earth to their leaves. When cut back and left as mulch they reintroduce these nutrients to the top soil.

3. Beneficial Insect Attractors
These plants draw insects and birds to your garden. Ideally placing these plants near berry plants or bean plants will encourage yield through increased pollination. Insects and birds also serve the purpose of controlling pest problems in your garden.

Other categories include ground cover, host plants for butterflies, and plants for providing wildlife habitat.

Once we know the needs a plant meets in an ecosystem, we can begin to use this idea when planning our gardens.

Pick plants with multiple functions for your beds.  A low growing plant from any of these categories will act as ground cover.

When designing your perennial beds keep this information in mind, even if it is something as simple as planting peas and oats together.

For example, the picture below is my Berry Guild.  It is the newest guild I have  planted.  It is taking the place of my poke forest which I relocated inside the fence because of neighborhood children.
The plants include two  red currant bushes, thorn-less blackberries, strawberries, clover and anise hyssop.  In addition to being medicinals, the clover is a nitrogen fixer. Both the clover and the hyssop, are fairly low to the ground, and will attract pollinators to the fruit bearers. The strawberries will provide ground cover and hopefully lots of berries.

There is also  some volunteer lemon balm and feverfew that I am leaving in place.The idea here is to get the whole area covered. I am tired of wood mulch. You can’t see it in the picture, but there is also a bird house on the fence.


There is certainly much more to ecological design than I have explained here as plants serve many more functions. If you look on Faoi’s page here on the blog, I have last year’s plant inventory posted for downloading with a list of its functions. Not all of my plants are in ideal guilds, yet. It is definitely a work in progess.

I usually recommend Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden as a good starting point for people who want to learn more.

A more thorough primer is Edible Forest Gardens written by Dave Jacke and  Eric Toensmeier.

A useful database that explains ecological functions of many plants is the  “Natural Capital Plant Database”  put together by Daniel Halsey and Paula Westmoreland.

Beltaine Customs

This is one of the articles from my Beltaine newsletter. Feel free to take a look at the rest of it. Lá Beltaine sona daoibh!

Lá Beltaine or May Day widely celebrated in agricultural cultures. This holiday signified the shift in energy that occurs as spring turns to summer. Flowers were beginning to bloom and outdoor work increased.

When Ireland was populated mostly by pastoral cultures, this was the time they would move their livestock to their summer grazing pastures called buailes (booleys). It was also a time when the fishermen would leave on their long fishing trips. So the eminent departure seemed to call for a sending-off party.

These celebrations always centered around a community bonfire, which stems back to much more ancient traditions, but they had a practical nature. Traditionally, these festivals were the venue for paying rents, hiring summer workers and making contracts for summer grazing land.

Flowers were strewn on the threshold of homes and garlands of flowers were hung –they were even tied to cows tails according to scholar, Estyn Evans.

Young people would carry branches of flowers and walk from home-to-home singing songs which welcomed summer in return for small treats or gifts. This is a sweet little song frequently heard in Waldorf classrooms that speaks to this custom.

Here’s a branch of snowy May,Beltaine
A branch the fairies gave us.
Who would like to dance today
With a branch the fairies gave us?
Dance away, dance away,
Holding high the branch of May.



Many of the rituals surrounding Beltaine involved saining the cattle by various methods. This word which finds its origin in the Old Irish word  sén– referred to “protective charms” of various natures. One of these rituals involved driving the herds over the embers of the dying fires . Frazer reports that men would also leap over the fires and intimates that this was a re-enactment of an older customs involving human sacrifice.

As Beltaine was the beginning of the dairying season, Frazer also reported that the traditional foods at these festivals were caudle –a custard of butter, eggs and milk and “a cake of oatmeal, which is toasted at the embers against a stone.” In other areas of the country a flat bread called farl was served with caudle.

This is not a Celtic custom rather it is a German custom that I learned long ago and incorporated into my May Day celebrations. I believe the first time I had it was at a Waldorf playdate and it was the non-alcoholic version I describe below. In the years before I had sweet woodruff growing, I would use violets and that makes a tasty beverage as well.  So feel free to substitute.

 Mai  BowleIMG_6115
1 bunch sweet woodruff
1 bottle white wine
4 Tbsp. honey
4 Tbsp. Apple Brandy
1 bottle chilled champagne
1 cup sliced strawberries
Violets and woodruff for garnish.

In the evening before you want to serve the Mai Bowle, April 30th, pour wine over sweet woodruff and allow this to steep over night in your punch bowl.
Just before serving you will want to remove the sweet woodruff and mix in the honey, brandy and champagne.  Float the sliced strawberries, woodruff blossoms, and violet blossoms on this mixture.

IMG_6119Non-Alcoholic Alternative

Warm  apple juice and the honey and pour this mixture over the sweet woodruff in the evening. When serving use  sparkling water instead of champagne.