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"Because I love you, and I'll do anything..." sang Stevie B. in an obscure 90's song. Anybody remember that gem? So...

Easy as ABC Apple Cider Vinegar

"Because I love you, and I'll do anything..." sang Stevie B. in an obscure 90's song. Anybody remember that gem? Sorry, I'm on an old song roll this Monday morning. More of you probably remember the song, "ABC" by the Jackson 5 that the title of this blog post is a twist on. As you can probably tell, I'm getting a little silly today. I'm trying to create more ritual in my life, partly to help me do things that might not be my favorite, like sitting behind a computer. So, I'm thinking of fun ways to make it more enjoyable, like listening to old music with a good of cup tea, after a nice walk in the woods.

Anyway, the because I love you reference is referring to my want to do what you folks are requesting, because that's why I do all this in the first place: to get much-needed knowledge out into the world. That's what community is all about, right? We support each other. In that vein, I'm committing to writing blogs more frequently and about things that you want to know. So let me know your thoughts on this one and what you want to learn about in the future, in the comments section. I can't promise to know it all, but I'll do my best to get some fun blog posts out on the ones I do know about.

In a great workshop I offered in Johnson City, TN (love ya, JC!) yesterday, my students wanted to know more about making their own apple cider vinegar. It's so simple and virtually free to make, I think this is something everyone should know how to do. Not only can you use the vinegar for all sorts of simple everyday things (I like to add a teaspoon to the oats I soak for breakfast every morning or soaking rice or beans, etc to help break down the phytic acid in those foods that can supposedly prevent us from absorbing minerals), you can also infuse herbs, wild or cultivated, into vinegar for an alcohol-free tincture or mineral-rich salad dressing.

Though making your own apple cider vinegar is a simple thing to do, there's a few little tricks that will make your end product more successful.

1. Get a bunch of apples, organic or low spray (if possible), and save the cores (and peels or pulp, if you're peeling them, making cider, etc). You can eat them or make them into something, like applesauce. This is an awesome super efficient way to use your apples because you get double duty from them: food and vinegar.

Everyone needs a good basket!
See how some of them look less than great for eating?
That makes them perfect for sauce and vinegar. 

2. Leave the apple scraps out until they brown. Depending on the type and age of the apple, this could take one to a few hours.

Let it get good and brown.
Did you ever try making those shrunken heads out of apple cores?

3. Put all your scraps in a wide-mouth jar that will be big enough for all of them, plus plenty of water. Usually, I will fill the jar halfway with apple scraps and the other half with water. If you fill the jar with more apples than water, then you'll end up with very little vinegar in the end. Make sure to leave at least an inch of space at the top of the jar. If you're eating your apples one to a few at a time, just add the cores you have, when you have them, and make sure they're always covered with water, until half the jar is filled with cores and half with water.

4. *These are the most important things to remember! Add a few tablespoons of raw, unpasteurized vinegar to the mixture to get it started fermenting. Weigh down the scraps by putting a small plate, jar, fermentation weight, or plastic bag full of water on top. This ensures that the apples will always be under the surface of the water, preventing mold.

5. Cover with a cloth napkin or cheesecloth folded over several times (to prevent holes big enough for fruit flies to get in), and secure with a rubber band over the top.

6. Wait 2 to 4 weeks. It's normal and good to see a little floating culture starting to develop, but it shouldn't look fuzzy or smell bad.

7. Strain into bottles. It's a great idea to save old apple cider vinegar bottles for this purpose. Label with contents and date. Store and use in a bajillion different ways.


A little note: homemade vinegar will taste a little different, have less of a bite, and be lighter in color than store-bought vinegar because it will be less acidic. Be aware, this may not preserve some things as well, though I haven't had a problem yet.

Try this at home and let me know how it turns out and what you do with the finished product. Happy fermenting!

Doesn't this scene look delightful, like somewhere you'd like to go play? If you said no, you're probably experiencing hay...

The Quintessential Allergy Blog

Doesn't this scene look delightful, like somewhere you'd like to go play? If you said no, you're probably experiencing hay fever like a lot of other folks. Allergies happen when something foreign enters the body, and the body sees it as a threat and overreacts. So what do we do about it? Well,  every herbalist seems to have their own strategy. I'll give you mine from the benefit of my years of experience as my own guinea pig. 

First, make some changes. This can be the toughest part, but also make the longest lasting difference. 
#1 Cut out (or decrease as much as you can) dairy and sugar. 
These can create more mucus and knock down the immune system. 
#2 Drink more water or tea. 
Drinking more liquids can help wash the pollen away and thin the mucus.
#3 More sleep and stress-reducing techniques. 
This seems pretty obvious, but is sometimes the hardest one to accomplish. More rest and less stress = more normal body functioning.
#4 Add some color to your diet.
Eating brightly colored fruit and veggies will beef up your immune system with anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories to help stop the swelling of the mucus membranes and the histamine production. Dark leafy greens offer all these, plus the bitter taste can help your liver process more efficiently. You can also supplement with extra Vitamin C. The unsweetened powdered vitamin C is great. Since it's water soluble in our bodies, it's tough to get too much. Start with 1,000mg/day. You can keep adding more, until you find what works, or you start to have loose stools. 

Some other supplements you can add, include probiotics and enzymes. These will help get your digestion in shape, so it doesn't attack things that aren't a threat. I don't usually recommend products (and definitely am not getting paid for it), but I like PB8 for a probiotic. It doesn't need to be refrigerated, so can be easier to travel with and remember to take. Just remember, they're usually best taken between meals. There's a supplement from Solaray that I like called QBC Plex. It contains quercetin, a bioflavonoid and anti-histamine, and bromelain, an enzyme from pineapple, plus Vitamin C. 

Give your sinuses a rinse. You can wash the pollen away by using a neti pot with some salt water. If you want an easier option, try a saline spray or an herbal steam with thyme, bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), or bee balm (Monarda didyma). Create an herbal steam by boiling a cup or so of water in a large pot. Then turn off the heat, add the herbs, and steep covered for about 5 minutes. Then put your head over the pot (on a table at a comfortable height) and cover both with a towel. Breathe the vapors for as long as you can. You can also add a few drops of essential oils, like eucalyptus or mint. You can also reuse this, adding a few more drops essential oil, throughout the day.

Eat local honey and bee pollen. Some people believe this is like giving your body a natural vaccine. You're taking in small amounts of the local pollen to stimulate your body's defenses slowly and gently, and create immunity. If you choose pollen, start very slowly, like a few grains a day, and work your way up to as much as a teaspoon. You want to make sure the pollen or honey is super local, so you're being exposed to the same pollen causing your allergies. This works best if you start at least a month before the allergy season. 

Try some natural antihistamines. One that I've had great luck with is a mixture of honey, fenugreek seeds, and black pepper. Soak a few tablespoons of the seeds in a little water overnight. Then take about a half teaspoon of honey, and mix it with 1/4 teaspoon of seeds, and a dash of pepper. Put the extra seeds in the fridge for later, and eat this combo as needed. 

Get spicy. My friend, Melissa, swears by fire cider for allergy symptoms. Fire cider  is a combination of herbs infused in apple cider vinegar. Check out for some great info and recipes. You can add any herbs you want, but onions and garlic are high in sulphur, a histamine blocker. The peppers are high in anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories, as are turmeric and ginger (if you choose to add them). Take a shot of cider as needed.

Some of my favorite herbs for allergies:

Nettles (Urtica dioica, pictured above)
These reduce histamine production. They're a great one to grow, but watch out for the stinging hairs! This is not the wood nettle (Laportea canadensis) that seems to grow more commonly in many parts of the eastern US. However, some people believe, because they're related, their effects are similar. Some say it works better if freeze dried, but I usually take it as a tincture, although the tea has seemed to help, too. 

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
This low-growing ground cover in the mint family is an awesome decongestant and great for sinus pressure. Tea or tincture works great, but the taste can be strong, so you can mix it with other mints, etc.

Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis)
This herb is helpful for eye and sinus inflammation. I like it for the symptoms of itchy, watery eyes that accompany allergies (and for pink eye).

Spanish Needles or Beggar's Tick (Bidens spp.)
There are several similar related species of this unassuming little plant, sometimes with more white or yellow petals. I like to add it to allergy tincture formulas for its antihistamine action.

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
This lovely flower often grows abundantly and is high in minerals. It also helps to clear mucus.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
The wooly leaves of mullein are a great demulcent, or a soother for the mucus membranes. They also have some expectorant action in the body. Some people like to strain this through fine mesh because of the little hairs, other people don't seem to be bothered by them. 

Burdock (Arctium spp.)
This plant's root, favored in Asian cooking and bitters recipes, is a fantastic liver toner. Tincture it or you can lightly dry roast it for a nice roasted tea.

Now on to just a teeny bit of woo woo. I really do believe that every ailment has emotional, spiritual, and psychological aspects. When I'm experiencing allergy symptoms, I like to ask myself, "Is there something in my life right now (a situation, person, etc), that I'm reacting to?" It can be helpful to delve into that one and see what comes up, then try to work through your feelings about it.

I've also had some success with visualization. Whatever works for you is what's best, but some examples include imagining a semi-porous membrane surrounding you that only lets in beneficial things (not pollen or harmful people or situations), or imagining a huge vacuum cleaner sucking up all the pollen around you. 

One of the most successful things for me, though, has been looking at where I can let go of stress and practice better self care. The immune response backs off as I feel safer to let my guard down; my body no longer needs to protect me. What has worked best for you? I'd love to read your comments! 

Now go frolic outside!

Bee Balm Monarda didyma It's definitely the dog days of summer! I've been traveling, teaching, and enjoying experiencing t...

July Plant Walk

Bee Balm
Monarda didyma

It's definitely the dog days of summer! I've been traveling, teaching, and enjoying experiencing the similar and different flora (and fauna). This time of year, even in my line of work, I feel like I can't get outside enough. There's so much to do, so much to see, and so very much to harvest! I hope you're getting some time to wander and wildcraft (forage). 

The plants are in various phases of life at the moment. For many of them, it's rest time. It's so hot, that, just like we might feel like doing, they're taking a rest. They'll come back when it cools off a little, or they might have spent their energy already and be done for the year. Some are hanging in there, though. And with the rain that some of us have had, the mushrooms are having a field day (sorry, I love puns)! (More on mushrooms later.)

So, let's take a (virtual) plant walk. Hopefully, you'll have some of these growing near you. 
The gorgeous firework of red (above) is bee balm (Monarda didyma), in the mint family. It's closely related to what some folks call bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), with a purple flower. Some people call both species bergamot or bee balm, which gets confusing. That when it gets helpful to know the botanical names (you know I had to put in a little plug for Latin). This one is sometimes called "wild oregano". That's what I like to do with it, substitute for oregano. I'll add it into my wild zatar recipe. I also like to chop the fresh leaves and add them to salt, then let the flavors infuse the salt. That tastes fantastic as a seasoning on melons!

Prunella vulgaris

Next, we have another mint family plant, self-heal or heal-all (Prunella vulgaris), also in the mint family. It doesn't have a minty taste at all. The leaves make a nice mild green for salads. I'll harvest all the aerial, or aboveground, parts, and add them to an all-purpose salve, because it's so soothing to the skin. "Heal-all" does not seem an inappropriate name for this one. It's a great many purpose anti-viral and great for coughs, colds, and flus in teas and tincture. 

Wild Mint

Continuing on the mint train, there's many wild mints that fall into several different genera (the plural of "genus"). There's Pycnanthemum, the mountain mints; Blephilia, the wood mints; and Mentha, various wild mints. The tastes can vary widely. If you're sure you have a mint, you could go ahead and try it. This is the best time of the year for mint! I love putting a sprig in my water bottle, for an instant refresh every time I take a sip. Cold mint tea can be an awesome treat for a break, when company comes over, to freeze into popsicles. 

Remember how to tell if something is a mint?
  • square stem
  • opposite leaves (directly opposite on the stem, not alternating)
  • usually smells aromatic, but not necessarily minty

Solidago sp.

I've been surprised to see the goldenrod starting to bloom already! This sunny one is usually a sign of fall for me. I like making tea and tincture from the flowers and leaves and adding it to my allergy formula as an antihistamine. I've also had good results giving the tincture to people dealing with UTI's. 

Some St. John's Wort might still be blooming where you are. It's awfully beautiful! There are many many species of this plant, in the Hypericum genus. Hypericum perforatum, a European species, is the one usually considered medicinal. Where I am, there's a fair amount of Hypericum punctatum, a native species that I use. Some people say that a St. John's Wort species is medicinal if it has black dots (glands) on the leaves, and the buds exude a red liquid when the buds are rolled and gently squeezed. 

In some places, the plants are not very prolific, so make sure there's a big patch of them before harvesting. I mostly tincture the aerial parts as a mood lifter. It's not recommended if you're already on anti-depressants, though. I also like it in a nerve pain tincture internally and a topical oil infusion. It's really fun to watch the oil turn red as the herb is infusing.

Don't let the heat keep you inside! Early morning, or after the heat has lifted a little, are good times to get out and see the  plants and get in the harvest while you can. No regrets, and happy summer!

The beautiful dandelion fritter Many many wild things can be frittered! Up until this year, my favorite probably would have been blac...

Wild Fritters Recipes

The beautiful dandelion fritter

Many many wild things can be frittered! Up until this year, my favorite probably would have been black locust blossoms. However, with so many new choices as of this year, I might have to pick a favorite for every occasion. On a couple of my last Wild Apprentice Days, my lovely apprentices and I created some fantastic fried goodness. Don't worry, though, these weren't deep fried, and contain lots of healthy ingredients. We experimented with dandelion fritters and mixed wild greens fritters. 

The main difference between the two fritters is that the dandelion fritters have flour and cornmeal, and the wild greens fritters don't. We used gluten free rice flour, but you can use your fave flour. If you use something different or spice it up to your liking some other way, make sure you let me know what you did and how it worked. We chose rice flour and blue cornmeal for fun, and well, because it was what I had, and this is supposed to be easy. 

Let's start with the dandelion fritters. The first step is to pick the dandelions. Pick them while they're young and fresh looking, preferably in the morning after the dew has dried and before the hot sun has left them looking wilted. It'll be easier to process later if you just pick the flower heads and leave the stem. 

A fabulous apprentice hard at work

Now the recipe:



⅓ c flour of choice (we used rice flour)
⅓ c cornmeal (we used blue)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp (or to taste) bee balm salt or salt and savory herbs
1 egg
⅔ c milk of choice (we used coconut)
1 ½ c dandelion flowers
Butter or olive oil


Mix dry ingredients together (except dandelions).
In separate bowl, beat egg, and mix in milk.
Mix dry and wet ingredients. Dip and coat flowers in batter.
Melt butter or warm oil in pan on medium heat. You can do a light layer to saute, or more to deep fry. (We sauteed in a mix of butter and oil.)
Cook until they start to brown. Flip and brown other side until crisp.
Drain on a plate lined with a paper towel. Enjoy while warm.

Next, the mixed greens fritters. First, harvest the wild greens of your choice. Almost anything (edible) will work. This is a great recipe to make including one or two types of greens that have a strong or unique taste to them, like dead nettles and sochan, because you can mix them with others that can act as seasoning, to create a delicious finished product.

A smorgasbord of wild goodies: mixed greens (violet on top, sochan on bottom), herb honey, and last year's salt and wild spice-preserved trifoliate oranges 


Makes 5 medium fritters. Recipe may be divided in half. Other wild greens may be added or substituted. Garlic salt or salt and garlic powder can be substituted for the ramp salt.

2 c        Purple Dead Nettle leaf, flower, and stem (Lamium purpureum)
4           Wild Onion tops and bulbs (Allium vineale)
¼ c       Bee Balm leaf (Monarda didyma)
¼ c       Sochan leaf (cutleaf coneflower) (Rudbeckia laciniata)
½ c       Violet leaf (Viola species)
7           Eggs
1 tsp     Ramp Salt
3 TBsp butter

Chop plant ingredients fine. If plants are wet, braise lightly.
Beat eggs. Mix into plant material so everything is coated with eggs. Sprinkle salt over everything.
Heat butter in pan over medium heat. Form into patties and put in pan.
Heat for a few minutes until patties hold together and are lightly browned on bottom.
Flip. Cook for a few more minutes until lightly browned on bottom.

Garnish with a few sprigs of dead nettle and violet flowers.
Possible condiments: fire cider/hot sauce, sour cream, salsa

Wild mixed greens fritter with last year's rehydrated hen of the woods mushrooms

I hope you'll try these and create recipes of your own. If you do, please let me know how it turns out, in the comments.