Nettle Seed & Dandelion Blossom Energy Bars: Wild Superfood Goodness

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Nettle Seed & Dandelion Blossom Energy Bars: dried apricots, almonds, cashews, sesame seeds, candied ginger & a wee touch of cardamom.

My sister-in-law Gloria is an avid rower who races frequently with her Dragon Boat Team. Last year as a special request, she asked for a wildcrafted energy bar. I knew I wanted to make something with nettle seeds (tell you why shortly) but I could never find enough seeds on hand without decimating entire nettle patches. But recently someone offered to let me raid their gigantic nettle field (no joke) and I did so most happily!  So here Gloria is your bar – and it should keep you & and your team going right across that finish line!

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Now everyone knows Stinging Nettle is a nutritional powerhouse, packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids, even protein – but few realise the seeds also pack quite the nutritional & medicinal punch.  Herbalists Susun Weed and Kiva Rose believe they are adaptogenic which means they help our bodies deal with stress and support the adrenals.

In her book Healing Wise, Weed praises their ability to nourish the thyroid and endocrine glands and Rose writes “Nettle seed is fairy dust for your adrenals, and brings back sparkle, clarity and spring to the step”. Love that! She adds they “are especially effective for those suffering from severe burnout, resulting in profound fatigue, brain fog, chronic pain and alternating feelings of depression and intense anxiety.”

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Nettle seeds can be eaten fresh or dried but be warned – the fresh seeds can be “overstimulating” for some and shouldn’t be consumed before bed. Kiva recommends “In sensitive individuals, this may only be a small pinch and can range up to a tablespoon. Others may need to take a teaspoon per day for a week or so to notice significant effects, although results are usually noticed within a few days. I recommend starting with a small dose and working up as needed.” So keep that in mind before adding the seeds to the bars. She continues “Unlike simple stimulants, one does not “crash” on Nettle seeds when their effect wears off (usually 4-7 hours after ingestion), and appropriate rest and relaxation is actually often enhanced by their use.”

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Generally, it is recommended to harvest the seeds when they plump and hang straight down from the stem (see above) and just before they begin to darken and brown. Use gloves – remember they are called stinging nettles for good reason!  I cut the whole stems then hang them for a few days to give the bugs a chance to escape. Once dry, I strip off the strands of seeds and then rub them through these flat baskets which work perfectly! You can also use a sieve of course. 

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Dandelion flowers are my sister in law’s favourite weed which is why they made it into this bar. But they are also mildly sweet, a good source of vitamins A, B, and C, beta-carotene, iron, zinc, potassium and a superb source of lecithin – which is believed to support brain function and the liver.  But please only choose only dandelions you are certain haven’t been sprayed with chemicals. Try your own backyard or friends as roadside or park dandelions are not recommended! Also if you can’t find dandelions try calendula petals, they’re beautiful, add colour and taken internally are wonderful for helping soothe the digestive track. As is the ginger – which gives this bar a little tasty zing and heat! 

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Also please try to use organic un-sulphured apricots if you can get your hands on them. They’re not as vibrant orange and pretty, but better for you!  I used mine all up for my first batch of bars but when I went back to the store for more they were all out. All in all these bars are super easy to make, they just take a few whizzes in the food processor. You can add more or fewer nuts or apricots depending on how you like firmness and texture. But if they come out a bit too crumbly they make a super good energy ball too! And hopefully, my sister in law & her team will love them! Enjoy.

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Nettle Seed & Dandelion Blossom Energy Bars

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • ½ cup cashews
  • ½ cup almonds
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons honey (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 4 -6 tablespoons nettle seeds (how much is up to you!)
  • 4 – 6 tablespoons of dandelion blossoms (or calendula)
  • 4 – 5 cubes of candied ginger
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Line and 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
  • Pulse nuts until crumbly, put aside in a separate bowl.
  • Pulse apricots until finely chopped. Add all other ingredients to the apricot mixture and process until well combined.
  • Add the nuts to the mixture and pulse until well mixed. 
  • Once the whole thing starts to stick together and ball up in the food processor you are done.
  • Firmly press mixture into the baking pan using something flat to press it down.
  • Place pan in the freezer for 30 min (or so) then remove and cut into bars.
  • Garnish w/ a few extra nettle & sesame seeds.
  • Place in an airtight container and store in the fridge for a month or so.

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Calming, Cleansing And Rejuvenating Herbal Treats For Yoga (or just anytime!)

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Behold the Lemon Balm & Wild Rose Tea and Chocolate Rose & Dandelion Root Energy Bites I’ll be serving for Restorative Herbal Yoga For Spring – the very first session of The Yoga Apothecary. Because I’m so grateful that this very first class is full (and that so many others of you have wanted to attend) I’ve decided to share the recipes for the treats that we’ll be sampling in class, so you can also enjoy their healing and revitalizing gifts at home.

In these classes we’ll be marrying the benefits of cleansing, calming and rejuvenative herbs, with restorative yoga postures and breath. Our focus is on releasing the stagnant tension and toxins that get “stuck” in our bodies over winter – allowing the fresh life giving energy of spring to flow IN. And to help us to do that, we’ll be calling in plant allies like Lemon Balm, Wild Rose and Dandelion Root!  So before our practice we’ll sip a fragrant and uplifting lemon balm and wild rose petal tea – spiked with a grounding dandelion root tincture.

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Left: Dandelion Root Tincture  Right:  Steeping Tea

Lemon balm is a delicious lemony herb in the mint family that helps soothe anxiety and calm the nervous system, this will help us relax and release tension in our bodies as we practice. The loving energy of rose and her heavenly volatile oils also help us to enter a deeply relaxed state. Her anti-depressant qualities and ability to uplift the heart and spirits are also well known. These benefits in yoga therapy, and especially in restorative yoga, are important physiologically to healing – because without first feeling safe and relaxed, we cannot fully restore.

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Stress and chronic tension can often get held in the body, from our jaw, neck, shoulders, bellies, hips and most especially our psoas muscle (which connects our legs to our torso). This can keep our flight/fight/freeze sympathetic nervous system activated, and turn down the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Sadly this can bring a host of negative effects from hampering digestion, dampening our immune system, compromising cellular repair and exhausting our adrenals etc. So we’ll be calling on the power of our lemon balm and wild rose petal tea to help us release tension, deeply relax  and switch our healing parasympathetic nervous system back on. (more detail on this here)

In yoga, the First or Root chakra is related to issues of survival, security and feelings of being safe and stable. Located at the base of the spine, it governs our feet, legs, hips and psoas muscle, and is the source of our life-giving connection to the earth. And if we take a lesson from mother nature, she teaches us there is no standing strong without first rooting down. Feelings of being ungrounded, anxious or depressed, of never feeling truly safe in the world, can signal a first chakra imbalance.

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And so the perfect 1st chakra remedy is dandelion!  Because if you’ve ever tried digging up dandelion’s roots you know the true meaning of being deeply, firmly and stubbornly rooted in the earth. And there’s no doubt about why dandelion is a premiere root chakra plant, she’s truly a sunny survivor and prolific thriver!

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Her roots have been used for thousands of years to cleanse and revitalize organ systems of the lower body, from bladder, to kidneys, to liver. Dandelion also improves digestive system function and encourages the release of toxins from our blood. (This is especially helpful when chronic constriction in our lower bodies, impedes the fresh of nutrients, lymph and waste.)

Filled with vitamins A, C, D and B complex, minerals such as zinc, silicon,  iron, calcium and potassium, dandelion root contains more betacarotene than carrots!  And because it’s so packed with healing nutrients (which helps restore the optimal function of our cells and organs) we’ll end our class with a Chocolate Rose & Dandelion Root Energy Bites- to help nourish and fortify of course!

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Yes they’re pretty yummy! And don’t worry, you won’t even notice the dandelion. Gluten free and packed with almonds, sunflower seeds, chopped fresh dandelion root, cocoa powder, organic chocolate chips and all ever so slightly perfumed with rose water, they’re ready to root, cleanse and restore you anytime – not just after yoga!

Finding dandelion root is pretty easy, while digging her roots out may take some effort. Cut in deep around the centre of the plant with a sharp tool or trowel, then pull up the whole clump. Pull out roots. You’ll need to wash these thoroughly and then chop for use in the recipe. And if you can’t find any (how can that be?!) dried dandelion root can be bought at the store and whirred up in a coffee grinder to make a fine powder. You’ll just add this powder to your recipe.

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You can find fresh lemon balm peeking up in most gardens right now -and their tender first leaves are just filled with the revitalizing energy of spring! I’ve used dried wild rose petals from my own, but they can be purchased at most herbal stores, as can the dandelion root tincture. But if you can’t find all of ingredients, don’t worry, just use what you have, lemon balm or rose on their own will still do the trick.

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So if you’re looking to enjoy these herbal spring treats with yoga, remember before you practice to take some quiet mindful time with your tea. Close your eyes, and inhale the tea’s fragrance, then take a sip and taste. Note any feelings or emotions that rise. Now see if you can bring these sensations together to form a sense memory you can reimagine and call on in practice.

Restorative yoga should be slow, movements should be gentle. Any sudden or quick moves can cause the body to tighten – which is what we don’t want!  You might want to begin lying on the floor, taking time to settle down and feel all parts of the body supported by the earth. Using belly breath (place both hands over the navel area and slowly breathe in feeling the belly rise up and then on exhale feeling the belly fall under your fingers) begin to relax into the floor, allowing yourself to deeply sink into the earth’s supportive energy…

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Using postures like knee to chest (apanasana) and happy baby (ananda balasana) use the exhale of the breath to soften your hips, gently releasing the tops of the thighs and psoas muscle. (see illustrations below) Don’t wrench your knees up close to your chest all at once, take your time, calling in the fragrance memory of the rose and lemon balm, as you breathe.  Allow their calming energy to move through you. Remember also to soften your mouth, neck, shoulders, chest and belly.

And if you’d like to release deeper, try Garland Pose (malasana). You might want to sit on a block  or high firm pillow if your heels come up off the floor, you want your feet on the ground for this posture. Concentrate on feeling the rooting through the toes, heels feet, legs, and breathe, allowing the pelvic floor to open, bringing in fresh blood flow to the lower body. Call on Dandelion root’s cleansing and nourishing powers to help revitalize your root chakra area.

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Top image from ktrnaaa

But remember – you can enjoy Lemon Balm & Wild Rose Tea anytime you feel stressed or overwhelmed. And following your tea up with one (or two) Chocolate Rose & Dandelion Root Energy Bites will help ground you after.  And remember, just taking some quiet time for self care, even if it is gifting your senses with aromatic tea and a tasty, nourishing treat, is pretty rejuvenating! So relax, release and restore, and invite in the revitalizing energy of spring!

Lemon Balm & Wild Rose Tea w/ Dandelion Tincture

(makes enough for two cups)

  • Couple of handfuls of fresh lemon balm leaves.
  • One handful dried rose petals
  • Add two cups of boiling water and let steep (covered!) for about 10 -15 minutes.
  • Strain and serve.
  • Add 2 droppers full of Dandelion tincture to each cup (about 10 ml total)
  • Enjoy!

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Chocolate Rose & Dandelion Root Energy Bites

Makes about 1 dozen

  • 2 heaping tablespoons of chopped fresh dandelion root
  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup organic chocolate chips
  • 4 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons coconut butter or oil
  • 1 tablespoons rose water

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Mix all ingredients well into a wet dough (it will be very sticky)
  • Form into little balls best you can and place in mini-cupcake tins
  • Bake for 20 – 25 minutes
  • Cool and serve!

Lavender Tea Milk Punch: A Libation to Toast the Returning Light

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It’s that magical time of the year—halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox—when we start to consider the returning light and warmer, softer days. The seeds in the earth are stirring and in some parts of the world (like ours) snowdrops are up and daffodils are already starting to peep through the soil. For my ancient ancestors, February was a time of great anticipation for the coming growing season. To ensure bountiful crops, productive livestock and healthy mothers and babes, they practiced fertility and purification rites—many of them featuring milk. Why, the Gaelic festival of Imbolc/Imbolg (Feb 1-4) has milk right in its name.

In light of the academic controversy that ultimately surrounds the term for this festival, the distinguished linguist Eric Hamp has conclusively proven that the second syllable for Imbolg can be traced to the Old Irish words for “milk” and “milking” which, in turn, was derived from the Proto-Indo-European root-word *Hmelǵ– signifying “purification”…Rekindling the Rites of Imbolg, W. MacMorrighan

Milk played an important role in these rites. It symbolized new life and so was considered sacred and pure. I imagine it was also dear. It seems unlikely to me that ancient peoples actually drank much milk. It would have been difficult to store and milk production was tied to the seasons. I reckon they made butter, cheese, yogurt, etc and possibly saved the milk drinking for ceremonies or for offerings to goddesses—particularly fertility goddesses.  Brighid, the mother/sun goddess associated with Imbolc, has a close association with milk. Legend has it that she was nourished exclusively on milk from an Otherworldly red heifer. Even post-sainthood, St. Brigid was considered a protector of herds and a producer of milky miracles. Pre-Christian and Christian worshippers of Brighid/St Brigid relied on the goddess/saint to bless and protect the milk supplies of their herds and the new mothers in their communities. Of course there’s a whole lot more to Brighid/Brigid than an affinity for dairy—like fire, poetry, herbs, healing…for starters.

In Scotland, dairymaids made libations of milk to the Gruagach, a female spectre of the class of brownies and a protector of herds. It was a practice that may have originated with ancient mother goddess worship and continued as recently as 1770, with an account of dairymaids on the Island of Trodda leaving daily offerings for milk on hollow stone. (source)

And so with a nod to milk-loving faeriefolk, fertility goddesses the world over and for my own ancestors who would have so revered dairy this time of year, I’m once again making this rich “milk punch” for my own midwinter feast. Danielle and I served this last year at our Midwinter Festival of Lights workshop and I’m so looking forward to lifting a cup or two (or three) again this weekend.

The recipe is pretty simple—it’s really just a heavenly mix of whole milk, cream, honey, tea and herbs & vanilla. Heat-loving herbs for a celebration to welcome the sun, makes sense to me. And so I went with lavender for it’s calming, healing and purification properties. You could experiment with other herbs and flavours. I’ve made this with rose and cardamom for a winter solstice party and it was delicious. Rosemary, another Brighid/Imbolc herb, might be interesting…Oh, and bourbon, brandy or any other favourite spirits make this ceremonial libation all the more magical! I serve this in a milk glass (of course) punch bowl with an ice ring (water & flowers frozen overnight in a bundt pan) and a sprinkling of lavender buds. You could also serve this with boozy whipped cream as you would with egg nog. For those avoiding dairy, I imagine you could do something quite spectacular with almond milk or coconut milk and coconut cream…

Recipe: Lavender Cream Libation

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Lavender Cream Libation by candlelight…and cake.

Ingredients 
1/2 cup + 1 1/2 cups whole milk (the most delicious you can find, grass-fed, organic, fresh,etc)
2 cups of good heavy cream (again, the good stuff, sans artificial thickeners)
4 teaspoons honey (more or less to taste – I use lavender-infused herbal honey)
1/2 a vanilla bean, split & scraped
2 cups of strong brewed lavender tea (use store-bought tea bags or make a tisane with fresh or dried lavender. I used a commercial chamomile & lavender tea. black lavender tea is also lovely. brew extra for blending to taste)
brandy (optional)
lavender buds for garnish (optional)

Instructions
Brew a pot of lavender herbal tea. You can make your own with dried/fresh lavender or buy herbal tea bags from the shop. I use multiple teabags and allow it to steep overnight or at least for a few hours to really get that nice herbal flavour. Remember you’re going to blend this with a whole lot of milk and cream, so your tea needs to be able to hold her own.

Once your tea is how you want it and cooled to room temperature, slowly heat a 1/2 cup of milk over low heat with the honey and vanilla. Stir to dissolve the honey and break up the vanilla bean seeds. Allow the sweetened milk to cool and chill.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1 1/2 cups of milk and cream in a large bowl. Add 2 cups of tea and remaining sweetened milk. Mix and tinker to taste! Add brandy if you like. Sprinkle with lavender buds or grate some nutmeg on top. Serve very cold or on ice. And if you have a bit to spare, go pour a bit in your garden to bless your own fields or leave a draught or two for the faeries. Happy almost-spring!

 

 

Summer Heat: Nasturtium & Sumac Hot Sauce

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Every summer I fall in love with the flavour, aroma and healing properties of a particular plant. Last year I swooned for the anise scented lacy blossoms of wild fennel and put them in everything from crackers, cookies and cakes, infused honey, ice-cream and vodka.

But this year I’ve fallen hard for the spirited peppery bite of Nasturtium, adding her bright orange, red and yellow petals to salads, pestos, omelettes, and savoury muffins. But this recipe for Nasturtium Hot sauce is my hands down favourite. It’s easier than pie to make, eye-wateringly delicious and beautiful to behold.

Now I’m a hot sauce aficionado (Louisiana, Tabasco and Smoked Chipotle are only a few of the staples in my kitchen). And this Nasturtium Hot Sauce does not disappoint. So far I’ve enjoyed it’s unique flavour and spicy zest in salsa, dips, devilled eggs, cocktails and even a wildcrafted kimchi. And packed with nutrients and medicinal properties – it’s oh so good for you too!

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You can find nasturtium (Tropaeoleum Majus) anywhere. Its vibrant blooms and lush tangled foliage are a summer favourite, planted in gardens and pots – but they can often be found growing wild along the Pacific coast, especially in sunny dry ground.

High in Vitamin C (which explains why they were once used as a cure for scurvy) nasturtiums contain many important vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, carotenoids, iron, sulphur, manganese and amino acids. And they contain a walloping amount of lutein, wonderful for keeping the eyes healthy. Their mustard-like oil is antibacterial, and it’s antibiotic properties are believed to be helpful in treating colds and flu. (see more here)

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Introduced from South America into Europe in the 1600s, it’s sharp radish like-flavour soon became a culinary favourite. Recipes for nasturtium include chopping their arugula-like leaves into egg salad and sandwich spreads, stuffing the blossoms with cheesy fillings, making young buds into capers, and roasting and grinding the mature seeds like black pepper.

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From the 1797 edition of  “The Accomplished Housekeeper and Universal Cook”

I adapted this hot sauce recipe from one found in an 1886 book called “The Country House: A Collection of Useful Information and Recipes.” It called for a pint of nasturtium flowers, a quart of vinegar, 4 teaspoonfuls of Cayenne pepper, 4 cloves of garlic, and 8 shallots. “Put the flowers, garlic, shallots, and pepper, into a pickle jar, and pour the vinegar boiling hot upon them, and cover it up for a week or ten days; after which, strain off through a cloth, as you would ketchup. It will improve by being kept a little.”

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Too this I improvised by adding a minced jalapeno pepper, a few “crow garlic” bulbs for wild terroir, and the red, tart, slightly fruity, seeds of Staghorn Sumac.  (The Staghorn Sumac tree is found in many neighbourhoods and in early august the ruby hued cones are ready for harvest. They stand upright on branches and are covered with velvety fuzz like the horn of a stag. To harvest the seeds you simply pull them from the cone, but you want to catch them before they brown and dry out, and you want to pick them before a rain which washes away their flavour).

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Staghorn Sumac Cone & Seeds

If you can’t find any nearby, don’t worry, toss in a few lemon rinds instead. But aside from Sumac’s tangy flavour (often used in a wildcrafted lemonade) it’s seeds bring their own medicinal powers. High in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties  they promote tissue healing, lower blood pressure, and are helpful in treating many rheumatic and cardiovascular conditions.

And of course you can’t have “hot sauce” without peppers – which bring their many healing benefits as well. For example chilli peppers contain carotenoids flavonoids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and are high in capsaicin (a compound responsible for “heat” with analgesic properties). Today they are often used in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, weight loss and cancer.

So by soaking our nasturtium, sumac seeds and peppers in vinegar (which helps extract their many nutrients and healing components), this Nasturtium Hot Sauce is sure to bring a medicinal punch to your meals. But if you just plain love hot sauce as I do – then you won’t want to miss this unique botanical variation on a beloved culinary classic.

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Nasturtium & Sumac Hot Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of Nasturtium blooms (preferably harvested in the morning before wilted)
  • 1 teaspoon young Nasturtium buds (these are hotter than the flowers)
  • 3 cloves of chopped garlic (or crow garlic if you can get your hands on it)
  • 1 minced jalapeno pepper
  • 2 cup of apple cider or white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of Sumac Seeds (or a few slices of lemon rind)
  • 1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of sea salt

Directions

  • Pack dry ingredients into a 1 pint sterilized mason jar.
  • Heat your vinegar in a saucepan and fill your jar.
  • When cool, shake and refill with more vinegar if necessary. (Make sure the vinegar covers the plant material)
  • Cap and store in cool, dark place.
  • Give it a good daily shake for one week.
  • After one week, strain through through muslin or coffee filter into a sterilized bottle. Or whir it all up in a food processor for a thicker texture- which I did.
  • Store in refrigerator for up to six months.

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Sweet Magic: Summer Solstice Honey Cookies

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Then followed that beautiful season… Summer…
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if newly created in all the freshness of childhood. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Looking for a festive way to celebrate the upcoming summer solstice? Well, these aromatic sunny cookies may be just the ticket.  Made with sacred herbs and flowers of the sun, they’re filled with the gathering magic of midsummer traditions. And served up at a summer solstice picnic, they will delight young and old. After, all doesn’t everyone love a pretty cookie?

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And what better way to capture the magic of the longest day of the year? This is the day (June 20th) the sun’s powers are at their peak, from now on the sun will recede from the sky a little earlier each evening. For our Northern European ancestors, summer solstice was the turning point between the waxing and waning cycle of the great year. And they marked the occasion, as they so liked to do, by throwing a party. Feasts, bonfires, and dancing, all in celebration of the glorious midsummer sun. And they still do today!

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Across old Europe, summer solstice had many different names. In Britain it was known as Midsummer, in Latvia, it was Kupala Day or Herb Evening, and in Scandinavia, it was celebrated as Litha.  For women, this was a “Gathering Day”, an important day of ritual first harvest. Wearing ceremonial clothing adorned with symbols of the sun, they would weave flowers into garlands and crowns. Then they would go into the fields and forests to gather plants and herbs.

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Click image for source and more info

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On this day plants were believed to be vigorous with the heightened life force of the sun – so it was common knowledge that a curing or magical herb plucked on Midsummer doubled its powers! Folklore tells if you picked nine flowers or the leaf of plantain and put it under the pillow – you would dream your future spouse.

St. John’s Wort, with its solar yellow flowers, is the herb most associated with Midsummer. According to old herbals, it blooms on this day, and along with its many healing abilities, it brought protection from fire, disease, disaster and the evil eye.

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St. John’s Wort

While it was renamed by the Church after St. John ( it’s bright red red sap mimics the blood of St. John) it’s association with female powers and witchery is strong. It’s flowers were left at the feet of statues of Greek and Roman goddesses, such as Hecate, the goddess of ghosts and sorcery, and Circe, who distilled its leaves and flowers for potent charms. And my favorite herbalist, wise woman Susun Weed, steadfastly refers to this herb as St. Joan’s Wort.

Other herbs bearing the magical power of the sun include rosemary, vervain, hyssop, fern, mullein, basil, lavender, thyme, fennel, and wormwood. These herbs were associated with powers of invigoration, healing, purification and protection, and the flowers (rose, daisy, marigold, cornflower, calendula and more) represented beauty and love.

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Petals were scattered in water or dried in love charms. In Bohemia, girls wore chaplets of mugwort while dancing around the Midsummer bonfire. And on Midsummer’s Eve Italians washed their faces in bowls of water containing flowers, rose petals and herbs.

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And of course, this herbaceous solstice bounty was also consumed! Fresh herbs and traditional midsummer feasting are a long-standing culinary tradition. They were used in dishes made from the first harvest of the season; vegetables (peas and mint, new potatoes and dill), fresh cheeses (like the Latvian Caraway cheese) and alcoholic libations (the Scandinavians made Aquavit with dill, fennel, and coriander). And in Provence five sacred aromatic herbs-rosemary, thyme, marjoram, hyssop and sage, are gathered to make an “infusion aux herbes de Saint Jean.” 

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Herbed New Potato Salad & Latvian Cheese

In Nordic countries, midsummer feast included “sun breads”, cakes or buns made with honey (also a golden sun food) believed to bring fertility, prosperity, and abundance to the community.  One Scandinavian folk tradition recommends including midsummer dew in the dough to cure diseases! Roman’s had their own summer solstice celebration Vestalia, during which priestesses Vestales made sacred cakes with water from her holy spring.

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So inspired by these many summer solstice food traditions,  I decided to a do a little baking ritual of my own – midsummer sun cookies! Infused with herby aromatic flavours and flowers of the sun (like rosemary, thyme, lavender, and sage) then coloured golden with a few drops of orangey St.John’s tincture and adorned with symbols of the sun – they would be food magic indeed.

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And I think they turned out beautifully.  So if you’re looking for a way to mark the turn of the seasons and connect with mother nature, celebrate Gathering Day. Summer solstice festivities traditionally occurred somewhere between June 20th to early July according to differing calendars. So you have plenty of time!

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Girls celebrating summer solstice in Rakov in Russia. Note the solar emblems on her neck and sleeves.

Wear something sunny, and take the children (or not) for a flowery, herby harvest.  But however you decide to enjoy nature’s midsummer bounty, remember that above all, “On Midsummer we eat and dance with abandon, leaving all worries behind. The sun never sets and there are flowers everywhere.” Seems a good a reason as any to celebrate with cookies! 

If you live in Victoria and are interested in a local summer solstice celebration combining magical harvesting, yoga and summer solstice cookies – click here!

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Summer Solstice Herby Honey Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 & 3/4 cups of flour
  • ¾ C. softened butter
  • ¼ C. honey
  • ¼ brown or cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon minced thyme
  • 1 teaspoon lavender buds
  • 1 teaspoon minced rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon minced sage
  • a few crushed cardamom seeds
  • pinch of salt

NOTE: I used more like a tablespoon of each herb in my cookies, but this might be too herbaceous for some, so adjust accordingly. And I also added 3/4 cup oatmeal to another batch of cookies and cut back on the flour. Feel free to experiment or use whatever cookie recipe you like…after all it’s not the cookie that matters as much as the spirit!

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Summer Herbs: thyme, lavender, calendula, hyssop and sage blossom

Icing:

  • 3 teaspoons milk
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • wee bit of grated lemon rind. ( I also added lavender buds to the second batch of icing)
  • Colouring. I used a combination of golden beet juice, St. John’s Tincture and a pinch of turmeric powder, but of course, you could use a store-bought natural food dye. Recipe for a carrot-based colored icing here.
  • Combine your milk and icing sugar. Slowing add in your colouring and mix until you find the desired colour/consistency

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Directions:

  • Preheat Oven to 300
  • Beat flour, sugar and soft butter together until creamy.
  • Slowly drizzle in honey while beating until mixture pulls together.
  • Add minced herbs and petals, mix well through the dough.
  • Divide into four balls and chill for an hour or so.
  • Roll out and cut into round shapes. Add flour as needed.
  • Bake at 300 for 10-15 minutes.
  • Let cool.
  • Decorate using the flowers and herbs of the sun: petals of calendula, daisy, St. John’s Wort, rose, or sprigs of rosemary, thyme and sage.

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A Super Easy Old-Fashioned Creamy Dessert: Honey Lilac Posset (Or Rose, Elderflower, Peony, Lavender…)

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“Be cheerful knight: thou shalt eat a posset to-night at my house”  William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Dating back to the middle ages, the posset is making a comeback. Perfect for when you want to whip up a special dessert with minimal effort, it’s made with three ingredients, honey, cream and lemon juice. These are boiled together and chilled overnight. That’s it. And if that isn’t wonderful enough, try infusing your posset with spring flowers like lilac, wild rose or elderflower. Simply divine.

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If you follow Gather’s fb page you’ll likely have noticed we’ve become smitten with possets. This began when I discovered this amazing recipe for Lemon Lavender Posset. Because lavender wasn’t yet ready, I decided to use what was in full bloom at the time -the glorious fragrant blossoms of lilac. The results were delicious.

This inspired Jennifer to create Elderflower Posset (she tossed in a few of our native red elderflowers as well) and now we’re both enamoured with rose. Lately I’ve been eyeing the peony which is reputed to make a delightful jelly.

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Elderflower Honey Posset

Today’s posset is very different from the one often referred to by Shakespeare, a drink made from curdled milk, sugar, alcohol and sack, (a fortified wine or sweet ale similar to sherry).  I like this 1596 recipe from The Good Housewife’s Jewel Take a pint of thick cream, and season it with sugar and ginger, and rose water. So stir it as you would then have it make it lukewarm in a dish on a chafing dish and coals. And after put it into a silver piece or a bowl, and so serve it to the board.”

Bthe 18th century, possets are made from milk, but thickened with egg yolks (like custard) or bread (like a trifle). But the modern posset recipes now making the rounds, are more like basic puddings (no, not the Jello). And they’re often served slathered on scones or with shortbread biscuits.

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Wild Rose Posset

Puddings today are not thought to be good for the health, but possets certainly were. Used as a general “restorative” to fortify the body, or as a curative to banish colds and illness, possets were a delicious way to make the medicine go down. A 19th century recipe mentions a black pepper flavoured posset that will ‘promote perspiration’ in order to sweat out a fever.  Flowers of course, bring their own healing properties, elderflower and rose for example are both known for their anti-inflammatory constituents.

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Elderflower

Possets were often served at weddings and used in toasts at all levels of society.  Which means you just might find them served at upcoming Gather nuptials.  Like, lets say a Rose Posset made with rose brandy and a yarrow infused honey (good for ensuring love, fidelity and marital bliss).

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Posset Pot

Sometimes a wedding ring was thrown in the posset pot and the person who found it was next to head to the altar.  You would use a spoon to eat the top layers and then drink the wine through the spout in the cup. With an alcoholic base at bottom and creamy layer on top, it actually sounds quite delicious. Needless to say I’ll be experimenting with a boozy wedding-inspired posset shortly.

So if you’re in a part of the country where lilac still blooms, you’ll be enchanted by this Lilac Honey Posset. But is you’ve got roses, well that’s heavenly too. I’m moving on to lavender, whose buds are plumping and readying for harvest. But whatever floral you choose, I’m willing to bet you’ll soon find yourself (like us!) enthralled with the old-fashioned charm of the posset.

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Lilac Honey Posset (or Rose, Elderflower etc.)

Makes about 6 portions.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups cream (heavy or regular whipping cream both work)
  • ½ cup honey
  • ⅓ cup lemon juice
  • 1-2 cups fresh blossoms (be sure to remove all stems, especially from Elderflower…and if you’re using lavender, you’ll need just half a cup!)
  • wee pinch of salt & cardamom (if you’re so inclined)

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Bring cream and honey to boil over medium-high heat. Stir continually until honey is fully combined.
  • Keep at a low boil/simmer for 3 full minutes, and keep stirring!  Then add lemon juice and stir some more.
  • Remove from heat and then mix in your blossoms thoroughly. Allow to infuse for one hour at minimum.

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  • Strain off flowers and pour into small jars or ramekins.
  • Cover tightly and chill overnight.

Some say you can stick in the freezer for 30-40 minutes (if you’re in rush to sample your just desserts) but we’ve both found they won’t decently set unless left for 24 hrs.

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Wild Rose Cupcakes & Buttercream Frosting: A Divine Confection

A rose may be a rose be a rose, but this cupcake is much more than just a cupcake! ~ Danielle

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“Mystery glows in the rose bed, the secret is hidden in the rose.” 12th Century Persian Poem

Don’t underestimate the power of this demure, pretty, little cupcake. Behind its girly facade lies a scent and flavor so compelling, so transporting, that it has been from time immemorial associated with magic, mysticism, esoteric secrets, sacred sexuality, the unfolding of higher consciousness, and most especially – divine feminine power.

The story of the wild rose (from which all our domesticated roses descend) could fill books – and has. Reputed to be millions of years old, the five petal rose (Rosa canina) blooms in late spring in woodlands and fields across Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America.

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Here in the Pacific Northwest, our native species are known as the Nootka and Wood’s Rose and were harvested by our First Nations for both food and medicine. Not much is known because, as…

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Piquant and Pretty: Daisy Capers

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“Oh, dear little daisy, come whisper me softly, And tell me a secret I’m longing to know…Oh, say does he love me, and whisper it low.”—Burton Egbert Stevenson,“He Loves Me, Loves Me Not”

The traditional British recipe for Daisy Capers uses the tall Ox-Eye Daisy that blooms in grassy fields each summer — but the common Lawn Daisy (blooming right now) is just as delicious and such easy pickings! Springing up in snowy white patches everywhere, they have a slightly sweet “carroty” flavour —  not to mention a nice crisp bite.

The daisy’s latin name “Bellis Perennis” means “beautiful flower” and these capers are oh so pretty, their rims edged in pink, with their yellow centres peeking out. Salty and piquant, I’ve tossed them into pasta, a ChickenPiccata and egg salad sandwiches, and yes – just eaten them right out of the jar.

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Easy to…

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Springtime in a Bottle: Plum Blossom Cordial

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Sweet and fair, she craves not Spring for herself alone,
To be the harbinger of Spring she is content.
When the mountain flowers are in full bloom
She will smile mingling in their midst.

Mao Zedong

As a prairie ex-pat, the early spring blossoms of the Pacific Northwest never fail to amaze me. Flowers in February? Madness! The first trees to burst into blossom are the plum trees—wild, cultivated and ornamental alike. The plum blossom is one of the most important emblems of the Chinese New Year. Because it blooms at winter’s end, often among frost and snow, it symbolizes perseverance, endurance and rebirth. Plum Blossom is the only flower in the “Three Friends in the Cold”(岁寒三友:Sui Han San You) along with Bamboo and Pine Tree. These three plants are highly praised in Chinese literature and arts as three friends who gracefully survive and thrive in the winter.(source)

More delicate than the showy pink puffs of the soon-to-burst cherry trees, the flowering plum is almost ethereal with her pale, fragrant finery. And how about that fragrance? If you haven’t stood under blooming plum tree at dusk…well, you should make it a point to do so! Of course, any time of day will do. Plum blossoms warmed by the midday sun are a sensory sensation. But for me, the plum tree reigns over the in between time—between night and day, between winter and spring. That’s when you’ll find me under her boughs, inhaling greedily, dreaming of ways to preserve her springtime magic.

And I’m happy to report that not only can you capture that heady scent in a bottle—you can drink it, too! Yup. A plum blossom cordial is simple to make and can be used in all kinds of recipes to impart that gossamery flavour of spring. And yes, you can taste gossamer. You’ll see.

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pink ornamental plum blossoms | ornamental plum tree | white wild plum blossoms

First, collect your plum blossoms. They’re fairly easy to identify. The shape/profile of the tree is roundish and the bark is dark. Plum blossoms can be pink (with purple leaves) or white (with green leaves) and have smooth oval petals. The buds are round with only one blossom coming out of each bud sticking straight out from the branches on a short thin stem. The blossoms are plentiful, but take only what you need. Bees rely on the gorgeous nectar as one of the first foods of the season.

Snip the blossoms into a measuring cup, taking care to avoid adding leaves which contain trace amounts of the toxin which produces cyanide. A nibble won’t kill you, but excess consumption could be harmful. Two cups of loosely packed blossoms will get you about a cup of syrup.

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Here, I used white wild plum blossoms

 

Plum Blossom Cordial

2 cups of plum blossoms loosely packed (ornamental, wild or cultivated)

1 cup organic cane sugar

1 cup water

In a small heavy saucepan, combine sugar and water. Stir sugar and water over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 3 minutes.

Remove the syrup from the stovetop and allow it to cool a bit. I let it cool to hot but not boiling. Say, cuppa tea hot.

Pour the cuppa-tea-hot syrup over the blossoms and cover with a cloth. Now, if you’re using the pink blossoms wit purple leaves you can let the blossom steep for an hour and taste. I find that the pink blossoms get a little bitter if they infuse for too long. While the last batch I made with wild plum blossoms (white with green leaves) I left overnight with no bitterness. Play with it a bit. When you like the flavour, it’s ready to strain.

Pour the blossoms and syrup through a cheesecloth lined colander into a measuring cup. Now, if you don’t care about clarity, you’re good to go. I like to add vodka to my cordial and like it to be as clear as possible. So, I heat my plum blossom syrup gently until warm and then strain through a coffee filter-lined funnel into the bottle I plan to store it in.

The syrup will keep in the fridge for at least 2 weeks. Add it to sparkling water or vodka for a positively ethereal beverage or use the syrup to flavour everything from marshmallows to meringues. Oh, the gossamery goodness of it all!

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*To make a plum blossom liqueur, stuff blossoms into a mason jar and fill with vodka to cover. Seal and store in a dark place for a couple of days. Strain and combine equal amounts plain (or even plum blossom) sugar syrup and infused vodka. Pour into a bottle and share it with your very favourite visitors.

Sweethearts: Wild Violet Sugar Valentines

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If you live in the Pacific Northwest, violets are likely popping up their lovely blue, pink or even white little heads somewhere near you – right now.  And if you’ve left your Valentine treat to the last possible minute (as I have) well, violet sugar is the perfect solution!

No fussing, no cooking, no baking, no crystallizing or distilling, violet sugar can be sprinkled on practically anything (or even sinfully spooned direct into the mouth) allowing you and your sweetheart to indulge in one of the most beloved culinary flavours and romantic scents of the past 2000 years – tonight!

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And what could say “Be my Valentine” better than the violet? In ancient Greece its aroma was said to “torment young men beyond endurance” and it was used by courtesans to scent their breath and erogenous zones. Affiliated with Venus, Aphrodite and love from time immemorial, the violet (according to the American Violet Society) was the original official flower of Valentine’s Day – not the rose.

St. Valentine’s is said to have crushed the violet blossoms growing outside his cell into an ink that he wrote the first valentines, good-bye notes delivered to his loved ones by a dove. By the 18th century, the violet was the undisputed star of Valentine love missives and postcards from Europe to the Americas.

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Violets, of course have a long use in love spells, and in the magical  language of flowers, violets represent lust as well as faithfulness, protection, peace and healing.  Violet flavoured chocolates and creams (apparently a favourite of Sarah Bernhardt) were a favoured treat and they remain a top seller for Valentine Day today in England. In France, violets are used in liqueurs, creams and to garnish meat dishes, especially veal, and the Victorians loved to serve violet wafers with lemon balm sauce as appetizers for 19th-century banquets.

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Once given a special place in every turn of the century garden, whether ornamental or kitchen, the violet was cultivated in special frames to protect them from “inclement weather” and were subject of detailed growing instructions in 18th and 19th century gardening manuals. Today they have proven themselves in no need of cosseting as they have escaped domestication and grow profusely anywhere there is a damp patch of grass. Which is where I found mine, in the early morning mist, a few steps from my door.

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Growing wild in the Northwest, Viola sororia and Viola odorata only grow a few inches high and are found in shady forests or wet areas each spring.  They can also migrate into urban areas and are so plentiful they are often targeted as invasive weeds.

I chose a simple shortbread to showcase my violet sugar, because it’s pretty fast and simple to make and only requires three ingredients. Which means these sweethearts – from harvest to serving plate, took me less than two hours. But that said, you’ll need a food processor otherwise be prepared to be mincing and mortaring for another hour at least!

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Here is another pretty recipe

It took me 10 minutes to harvest just under half a cup of blossoms. And while it was almost painful to whiz these beautiful blossoms up in the food processor with 1/2 cup of sugar, the deed was done in less than 30 seconds. The cookies all told took me an hour and because they were tiny, they cooled very quickly allowing the application of an icing sugar glaze to lay the base for the sugar.

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I like the violet sugar as fresh as possible because of the flavour. Once it dried it becomes more subtle. Once dipped they are ready for eating, and one bite is all that is necessary to understand why the violet is one of the most popular edible flowers in the world.

Wild Violet Sweethearts

Ingredients:

Violet Sugar:  Ingredients

  • 1cup violet blossoms
  • 1cup granulated sugar

Remove stems. Wash blossoms, pat dry, place in food processor with sugar and whir until flowers and sugar are well blended. Sugar will be moist and crumbly.( Once dry it will be paler in colour and can be whirred again for a violet sugar powder.)

Shortbread: 

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1cup cane sugar
  • 2 1cups flour
  • 1cup icing sugar (for dipping glaze)
  1. Cream butter and sugar.
  2. Add flour, mix well. Knead until holds together.
  3. Roll out and cut into desired shapes with small (1 -2 inch) cookie cutter. Place on parchment paper.

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  1. Bake at 350°F until pale golden – about 7 minutes
  2. While cooling, mix icing sugar with water to form a thick glaze for dipping.
  3. Once cool, dip or brush cookies in glaze then roll in violet sugar. Serve!

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