Aug 21

Summer Tea

Many of our plants are edible. Not edible like a tomato, but edible in that you can make tea from them. Spearmint, Clover, Oswego Tea (red Bee Balm) and Lemon Balm are four that readily lend themselves to the tea making process. A final one we don’t have in our yard (yet) but hope to one day. It’s Sumac. Specifically, Staghorn Sumac.

In the case of the Clover we pick the purple/pink flowers (AKA Red Clover… not to be confused with Crimson clover). For the other three we pick leaves. The Sumac involves picking the berry clusters which look like fuzzy flowers.

 
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Start by boiling water. You don’t need that much fresh material to make a half gallon (or more) of tea. Even a small handful will be more than enough to make at least a quart.

Either put the plant material in a bowl and pour boiling water over it…

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… or after boiling is reached, remove from heat and add the plant material to the pot.

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Allowing to steep for 15-30 minutes will usually be sufficient for a good tea however you can go much longer, including overnight, for a longer infusion period. Up to a point, the longer you steep/infuse the darker and stronger the tea will become.

Once done, pour through a strainer and put the jar of tea in the refrigerator (for cold tea) or you can drink it warm once it has cooled to a drinkable temperature.

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Here are our results:

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So far we’ve made Clover/Spearmint, Spearmint, Oswego Tea, Lemon Balm, Lemon Balm/Spearmint and Sumac.

All were very refreshing with decent flavors. The only disappointment was the Sumac and it was either due to not adding enough or not allowing it to steep long enough.

For those who are gasping as the fact we’re eating Sumac as you’ve always been told it’s poisonous, there is no need to work. “Poison Sumac” is indeed poisonous, however it has white berries that hang down and is found in bogs and areas with similar conditions. Staghorn Sumac and Smooth Sumac have red berry clusters that point upwards and are quite safe to eat. Sumac flavor is described almost as pink lemonade.

Red Clover is highly nutritious, however it also has blood thinner properties so it should be avoided if you’re on blood thinner medication.

Lemon Balm has calming and stress relieving properties.

Bee Balm (Oswego tea) has a whole host of traditional uses. I’ll just point you to good resource to read more about it. https://theherbalacademy.com/benefits-of-bee-balm-monarda-fistulosa-and-m-didyma/

Spearmint is good for various stomach ailments including aiding in digestion.

Sumac is high in vitamin C, among other properties, however I discovered when researching it, that you should only make Sumac tea using a long soak in cold water. Some sources report the hot water destroys the vitamin C in it, while others just state that either is fine but the hot water preparation usually comes out more bitter.

Jun 06

Mexican Pot Pie

The other day we had an idea for a Mexican Pot Pie. I really can’t say if there is such a thing or if anyone else had made one as this is “make it up as you go” recipe. While in this case I did use all store bought ingredients, I am looking forward to making it with garden fresh ingredients later this summer. This recipe is based on “can size” quantities and makes three pies. Obviously with fresh you can adjust up or down depending on how much you have.

 

Mexican Pot Pie

  • 6 – Eight Inch Tortillas
  • Corn
  • Black Olives (sliced)
  • Nopales (Prickly Pear Cactus) (sliced)
  • Red Pepper (diced)
  • Green Chiles
  • Prepared Mix of Rice and Beans or separately cooked  black beans mixed with cooked rice
  • Tomatillo Salsa (a jar works fine, homemade is even better)
  • Can of refried beans
  • Cheese blend (Cheddar, Colby, Pepper Jack, etc.) (shredded)
  • optional for serving, Avocado and Sour Cream

 

Preparation

If using a prepared mix of rice and beans, follow the directions on the package. While it’s cooking saute the red pepper, corn, olives, nopales and chiles. Finally heat the refried beans.

With everything warmed through you can assemble the pot pies. Remember, we’re making three at a time here.

 

Begin by lightly spraying each pie tin and adding a tortilla to the bottom. Drop on 1/3 of the refried beans.

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Spread the refried bean mix around to cover the tortilla.

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Make sure the rice and beans are ready.

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Mix all the remaining cooked vegetables together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Spread 1/3 of the mixed vegetables over the refried beans. Top with 1/6 of the total salsa. Note, if using jarred you’ll probably need two jars. Use one jar (in thirds) for this step and the other jar in a few steps.

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Spread 1/3 of the rice and beans over the salsa layer.

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Top with another tortilla and apply another 1/6 of the tomatillo salsa.

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Spread the salsa to cover the entire layer. Be sure to go all the way to the edges to avoid having the tortilla dry out.

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Spread about one cup of mixed cheese over the top, again trying to cover the layer evenly and all the way to the edges.

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Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Remember, all the ingredients were already cooked and warm. You’re just mostly heating the tortillas and melting the cheese here.

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The cheese should be evenly melted. Cut into wedges and serve. These are ideal with a dollop of sour cream and avocado slices or guacamole.

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Feb 01

Bean Soup

One component of Suburban Farmacy is growing your own medicine, the other is growing your own food. On our little suburban homestead we experiment with a variety of edible plants. Many are wild ones that come up on their own and we don’t cut them down, others are intentionally planted and cared for. A very easy vegetable to grow is the bean.

When planting beans there are two primary varieties. The pole bean and the bush bean. Bush beans are basically what they sound like. They grow in a bush like shape. Pole beans, on the other hand are climbers and like a trellis or some type of support structure to climb. I’ve developed a fairly easy method of trellising them that can be put up and taken down with little effort. I usually prefer the pole bean varieties.

 

Start with a few standard pieces of re-bar, about 2 feet long and 1/2″ diameter. Most home improvement stores will sell them in this size. Next get a piece of 1/2″ conduit. Using a pipe bender, bend the two ends down so they’re about four feet apart. The pipe should be in the shape of a U. Now you can push (or hammer) the re-bar into the ground about a foot deep and then slip the conduit over the re-bar. Repeat with more sections every few feet apart and you have your basic structure. Next I wrap string (twine, sissel, etc.) around the re-bar threading it back and forth. Finally I’ll cut some 2-3′ lengths and tie that to the string and re-bar every so often. This creates a structure that the beans readily climb and don’t require you to reach in more than 2 feet to get at the beans. Below is a photo of a bed prepared this way. Note I had some left over angle pieces that I stuck in the middle but they did not improve the yield and I don’t do this anymore.

 

Quick Conduit Trellis for Beans

Quick Conduit Trellis for Beans

 

As to which varieties, I’ve added different ones each year to some of the ones that I find to be reliable. All are open pollinated and many are heirloom varieties. Cherokee Trail of Tears (a black bean) and Good Mother Stallard (a purplish and white bean) are the two best producers. Red Hidatsa, Hutterite, Cow Peas, Scarlet Runner, Kentucky Runner, Jacob’s Cattle, Ojo De Tigre, and Pintos have all also been grown with varying degrees of success.

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I prefer dried beans (for soup) so I let them fully ripen and dry on the vine before picking them. At this point I remove the beans from the pods and allow to fully dry before storing in jars.

 

Today I’m making a vegetarian bean and sausage soup.

 

Ingredients:

1 cup of mixed dry beans

A few cups of water

Vegetable stock paste (or substitute liquid stock for some or all of the water

Onion (1/4 cup to 1 cup depending on taste)

Celery (1 cup)

Carrot (1 carrot)

Pepper (Green, Red or a mix) (1 or 2 peppers)

Garlic (1-2 cloves)

Thyme (2 teaspoons)

Salt & Pepper (to taste)

1/2 lb of Veggie Andouille sausage (one source)

Olive Oil

Tomato Sauce (8 oz)

 

Soak beans overnight or cover with water, boil one hour, then leave, off heat, in the covered pot for more hour.

Drain beans.

Chop Vegetables and sauté in Oilve Oil in a pot.

Add all remaining ingredients to the bot and bring to a boil.

Reduce to simmer and cook until all is tender. At least an hour, longer is better and fills the house with good smells. Add more water if necessary,

When the soup is done you can puree or blend a few ladles of it and then return the puree to the pot if you’d like a thicker soup.

 

Serve with a good crusty bread and assorted toppings including cilantro, sour cream and/or chopped scallions. Optionally it can be served over rice or a scoop of riced added to the top of the soup bowl.

Aug 20

Fight the Flu with Elderberry

Elderberry, a common bush, produces berries that can be utilized in tinctures and extracts which, when taken during early stages of the flu, can dramatically help fight it off.

A study presented at the 15th Annual Conference on Antiviral Research and referenced on WebMD confirms that taking Sambucol, an elderberry extract, lessens flu symptoms from almost a week to just a few days.

The last few years I made both an extract (as a syrup) and a tincture. Our family took both at the first signs of any type of illness (sore throat, general aches, sniffles, etc.) and while it is only anecdotal evidence, we never broke out with a full case of the flu when all those around us were and most years did not even get sick. Even during the particularly nasty year for the flu with many people not only getting it but also being confined to bed for days with the symptoms we were fine.

The tincture was used by adding 3-5 drops to a cup of tea. The syrup was taken in anywhere from teaspoon to tablespoon size portions 2-4 times a day for a few days when feeling like were we “coming down with something”.

 

The elderberry is a medium to large sized shrub that produceElderberryBushs white edible flowers in the early summer. Flowers can be used in teas, jellies or even battered, fried and eaten.

Once the flowers are spent and gone the berries start to form.  Initially they will be green and not really rounded yet. At this point there are not ripe and should not be used.

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Unripe berries

Patience pays off and soon the berries will plump up and start to ripen. From green they will transition into pinkish and into a deep red color. They’re still not ready but they are getting closer.

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Starting to ripen, not ready yet

Continue waiting until late summer, mid August to mid September in our area, and the berries will go to a deep purplish black coloration. Gently shaking the branch will have them falling off into your hand or down to the ground.

They are finally ripe and ready to be harvested. A large bowl underneath each cluster is usually sufficient to catch them. Use the shaking technique or just gently run the clusters through your fingers and they’ll drop right off and into the bowl. Your hand will turn a deep pink or light purple color but this easily washes off.

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Ripe and ready to pick

Berries can be used immediately, just be sure to pick out and stem pieces. You can dry them for longer term storage or just toss them in a container or bag and put them in the freezer.

 

Making a tincture is pretty easy. Put some berries in a jar, add enough high proof alcohol (like Vodka) to cover them. Cover and let sit for at least 4 weeks and as long as 3-4 months. Every week or so give the jar a few shakes. At the end of the time strain out the berries and bottle your tincture.

 

Making syrup is not much more difficult. The recipe I used includes:

  • Berries
  • Water
  • Fresh Ginger
  • Cinnamon
  • Star Anise Pods
  • Raw Honey
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Elder Berries

Ginger

Fresh Ginger

Cinnamon

Cinnamon

StarAnise

Star Anise Pod

The base recipe can be scaled up or down depending on the quantity you want to end up with. This recipe produces about two and a half cups of syrup. Cutting it half gives you a bit over a cup and of course doubling gives you a little over a quart.

Elderberry Syrup

  • 2/3 cup berries
  • 3 & 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, large slices.
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 5-6 star anise pods
  • 1 cup raw honey

Add everything except for the honey to a pot and bring to a boil. For the ginger I use a piece about the size of my thumb and cut it into 6-8 slices. The anise pods are added whole.

Once boiling, reduce and summer for 45 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain out the solids and retain the liquid.

Cool the liquid to a lukewarm temperature and then stir in the honey. Adding the honey to the hot liquid will destroy many of the beneficial enzymes and reduce the effectiveness of it.

Once mixed and cooled to room temperature you can pour it into a bottle and keep it in the the refrigerator for use as needed.

Elderberry Syrup

Elderberry Syrup

 

Besides medicinal uses, it’s also good on pancakes or over ice cream.

 

The star anise, a major component of Tamiflu, complements the benefits of the elderberry. Ginger helps to benefit with upper respiratory issues, cinnamon contributes to fighting the common cold and flu and honey is good with cough symptoms and the common cold.

Apr 08

Plantain

Plantain has some pretty amazing features. Sadly most homes consider this a weed and spray to get rid of them. As a food source the young leaves are edible raw older leaves can be cooked. The taste is similar to chard. The seeds are also edible when ground into flour although considering the size of the seeds it might be a challenge to collect enough.

On Green Med Info it lists Plantain as being rich in magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K.

As a medicinal it’s good against stings, bites and most minor skin issues. Again, as listed on Green Med Info, Plantain is good for:

Treat sunburns, stings, insect bites, snakebites, poison ivy breakouts, rashes, burns, blisters, and cuts. When heated, the leaves are used topically on swollen joints, sore muscles, sprains, and sore feet. In addition, there are uses for treating sore throats, coughs, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and mouth sores.

Studies have shown that plantain has anti-inflammatory effects, and it is also rich in tannin (which helps draw tissues together to stop bleeding) and allantoin (a compound that promotes healing of injured skin cells). Further studies have indicated that plantain may also reduce blood pressure, and that the seeds of the plant may reduce blood cholesterol levels. Plantain seeds were also widely used as a natural laxative, given their high source of fibre. Teas made from the plant, were used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, intestinal worms, and bleeding mucous membranes. The roots were also recommended for relieving toothaches and headaches as well as healing poor gums.

What does Plantain look like?

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A patch of Plantain.

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Detail on a leaf.

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Seed stalks.

Where does it grow?

Almost anywhere! This is a very common plant that will grow almost anywhere. Side walk cracks, lawns, empty lots, parks, fields and literally almost anywhere else you look.  Be sure not to confuse this with the banana shaped fruit also called plantain.

 

How have we used it?

First the leaf alone is a quick remedy to mosquito bites. When in the yard, if I get bit and it starts to itch I grab a leaf, smash it up until it’s juicy, and smear it around on the bite. Within a few seconds the itch goes away and stays away.

Second, a salve made from Plantain leaves works well for dry hands and lips. Use it as a lip balm. Rub it into dry cracked fingers. It promotes healing and what would be days of painful fingers we can now cure and heal almost literally overnight.

A batch, poured into an old jar we had, looks like this:

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Actually one batch filled two jars like this. I then transfer small quantities to little containers that are easy to keep with you for use throughout the day.

The recipe I use is:

1/2 Cup infused Olive Oil (see below)
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 oz Bees Wax, grated
3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil

To make the infused oil, start with at least a half cup of dried and crumbled plantain leaves. Drying the leaves is fairly easy. Pick and leave in a bowl on the counter, turning every day or so for a few weeks. They should be dry and crumbly after a few weeks. Pour olive oil over the leaves and bottle. Allow the bottle to sit for at least a few more weeks giving it a quick shake every day or so. Strain out the leaves and you’re left with Plantain infused Olive Oil.

To make the salve, mix the Olive Oil, Bees Wax and Coconut Oil in a double boiler over low heat. When all is melted together, stir in the Plantain infused Olive Oil.

Optionally you can add essential oils at this stage. The original recipe called for 8 drops of Lavender and 8 drops of Peppermint essential oils. I did not use these in my version.

Pour the mixture into jar(s) and allow to cool.

We used this salve all winter and just the other day found a new use for it. While getting some pots out of the shed in preparation for starting some early spring plants, my wife was stung by a bee that had overwintered in there. I immediately looked for the plantain on the ground but nothing was growing yet. As a backup I grabbed the salve and she applied some to the sting. Within a few moments the pain subsided.

This led us to a valuable lesson. While we might rely on a plant during certain seasons, knowing how to convert it to a different format for use in other seasons is a valuable skill.

Aug 06

Welcome !

Welcome to Suburban Farmacy.

Our goal is to share our discoveries on the road to finding and growing food and medicinal plants on our suburban homestead.

Why, you might ask, would we want to grow medicine instead of getting it from the pharmacy? Don’t we believe in medicine? What’s wrong with us?

I think the best way to answer that line of questioning is to share a few stories. First, when modern medicines make sense we absolutely believe in them. But we also feel medicine is highly over prescribed. It’s a panacea.  A quick fix.

Years ago I had indigestion. It was getting pretty bad and would probably qualify as acid reflux “disease”. I hate that nearly everything is now a disease or a syndrome. Did you know, if you can define something a disease, syndrome or condition then you get funding. Drug companies can offer something for it. Insurance companies can get in the mix. Basically a “disease” means more money for all the big corporations and less money for you when paying for all the drugs to “treat” it.

Now, I went to my doctor and he asked a few questions, did a couple of tests and prescribed me medication to combat this disease. It was pretty much prescription strength Prilosec. In fact I could have just bought Prilosec OTC and taken 2 pills at a time to have the same dosage.  At no time did he mention any downside to taking this medication and, like I’m guessing most people, I didn’t read the microscopic fine print that came with the prescription.

After taking this for almost two years I decided to see if I could wean myself off of it. So, I cut my portion size down when eating. I eliminated many of the fried foods I enjoyed. Next thing you know I dropped a few pounds (I’m not overweight to begin with but could have stood to lose a few) and found I didn’t need to take the pills any longer.

So, instead of some common sense advice he could have suggested first, he went right for the drugs. After being off the pills for awhile I found the following: “Long-term treatment with Protonix may make it harder for your body to absorb vitamin B-12, resulting in a deficiency of this vitamin. In long-term rodent studies, pantoprazole was carcinogenic and caused rare types of gastrointestinal tumors.”  (taken from: http://www.rxlist.com/protonix-side-effects-drug-center.htm) Pantoprazole is what I had been prescribed.

Yeah. Carcinogenic. Deficiency of B12. (low B-12 results in dementia type symptoms). Thanks doc.

This same doc also told me I was going to have to go on cholesterol meds soon. Instead, at that time, I changed mostly just one thing in my diet. I only eat meat (beef, pork, chicken, etc.) when it is raised without growth hormones and antibiotic free AND when it eats a historically natural diet. Using beef as an example, cows are ruminants.  They eat grass. Not grains. Not corn. Not any of the other stuff that factory feed lots give them.

I purchased only direct from farmers who I knew how they were raising their animals. When eating out, if the restaurant didn’t feature this type of meat, I would simply select a vegetarian dish instead. Next  check up and my cholesterol numbers had dropped substantially. I could go into the good/bad cholesterol values in grain fed vs. grass fed beef but if you’re really interested in more on this topic many other sites do a great job of covering this material. You can start with http://www.eatwild.com/basics.html

Now some might ask why I don’t just go see a different doctor. You see, the funny thing is that my doctor does heavily promote these very values I believe in yet when it comes to the medical “industry” he isn’t given the time to spend with the patients due to the sheer numbers he has to see according to the HMO rules. He also, like most doctors, has been indoctrinated into “write a prescription”. In talking with others I heard most doctors just go right for the drugs too. I’d be trading one “pusher” for another.

I’ve been reading and finding out that many of our drugs are derived from fairly common plants. Many other traditional treatments also come from plants you can grow in your yard or find on a simply walk in a prairie or in the woods. After trying a few and finding they actually work I’ve been moving towards growing our food and medicine as much as possible on our own land. Knowing how and where our food comes from and treating minor medical issues on our own gives you a very good sense of self sufficiency. I have no delusion that a serious injury or illness requires professional attention, but I believe that a proactive approach helps lessen the chance of contracting something serious.

The postings on this site will reflect our experiences in food, eating and medicating all derived (at least partially) from our own yard. We encourage anyone interested in a cleaner and healthier lifestyle to do your own research and discover what our ancestors already knew but most of us have yet to learn. Nature provides.