Mint

Mint is an easy to grow herb that smells and tastes great. I commonly pull a leaf to chew when I’m outside. It’s a favorite here to use to steep as tea, even just for the flavor. There are several benefits to consuming and using mint, other than its pleasant taste.

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Nausea

We often hear of how ginger is used for any stomach issues, but mint does a pretty decent job in dealing with nausea and other digestive discomforts. I steep it with ginger when my stomach is mildly bothering me. It’s not an instant fix, but it does help.

Headaches

Another way mint aids us is with headaches. For me, just smelling some essential oil or a fresh cup of tea brings a great deal of comfort when I have a headache.

Congestion

Believe it or not, this herb’s cooling effects help with congestion. I like to drink it on its own as a tea, but if I’m severely ill, I will mix it with mullein (fantastic herb used to help clear out actual congestion).

If you have chronic issues with minor headaches or stomach problems, you can make a tincture out of mint to take on a consistent basis. Teas are great and I love tea, but tinctures can be a bit stronger if that’s what we need. There are other herbs to use for these problems, but in more severe cases. Mint is also great to use in conjunction with other stronger herbs to help with taste.

Cooling and Pain Relief

But, if I’m being honest, the coolest thing I love about mint are the different body butters, salves, and balms I can make with it. I have a muscle pain salve I make with cayenne. Cayenne does most of the hard work for this task, but the mint provides a nice cooling effect to counter the heat when applied to the skin. Cracked feet? A body butter with shea butter and mint help heal and soothe.

Tea

The most common method of using mint is as a tea. I made some with fresh leaves this week for my son’s congestion.

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First, you harvest this amazing creature.

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If you’re using fresh leaves you do need to chop it. There are many methods to this. This time around, I chose to put some in a small cup and simply cut it.

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I like using tea balls for steeping. They’re easy to use and store. I pack two of these full of fresh chopped mint.

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I boil water in an electric kettle. Once it is done and the bubbles from boiling disappear, I add the water to my favorite tea kettle with the tea balls. The kettle holds 1 liter of water. To get health benefits from the herb, you cannot just steep it for five minutes. You need to do a good 30-45 minutes.

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After that, enjoy!

Want to learn about other herbs we grow and use? Visit this page to learn more! We will be adding more posts about each herb, but if you see a herb you’re curious about and there’s no post, do not hesitate to get a hold of us!

Medicinal Herbs

Happy Monday, everyone! I want to start this post off saying my intent is in no way to discredit modern medicine. I understand and fully acknowledge its place and importance in society. Advances in medicine have been, in large, beneficial and I am not going to claim otherwise.

We do see however, a sort of abuse in the use of medicine. One of the most baffling for me is the overuse of antibiotics. If you have a viral illness, the antibiotic doesn’t really work anyway. Longterm overuse of the antibiotic can result in the development of resistant bacteria.

I always highly encourage others to do their own independent research, and I recommend this article to start with.

What makes the general public so quick to seek out those prescriptions are the discomforts experienced during colds and other viral illnesses. We especially don’t deal well as parents if our children become ill. We want fast solutions to our problems. The sad fact of the matter is, the best option is often to let the illness run its course.

So with this in mind, the goal we should have is not to grab that antibiotic, but to find ways to alleviate the symptoms as much as possible. There are several herbs that can help with symptoms and be of further benefit to your health in other areas.

I use colds as an example frequently, but truly there are herbs for other ailments like different types of pain, chronic issues like allergies, focusing, fatigue, sleep aids, digestion issues, etc.

We began a medicinal herb garden. Here is a small list of some of the herbs we have so far:

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This picture shows our spearmint, peppermint, and lemon balm. We have them growing in our hydroponics.

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Lavender, also growing in our hydroponics.

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Vicks plant. Bet you can’t guess what this smells like…

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Comfrey. This plant is amazing.

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Sage.

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Rue.

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Feverfew.

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Rosemary.

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Mugwort.

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Mullein.

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Yarrow.

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Calendula.

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Eucalyptus.

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Wormwood

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Passionflower.

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Valerian.

I dabble in homemade salves, tinctures, infused oils, and essential oils. I would like to do homemade goat’s milk soap in the future. There will be future posts on each individual herb in this garden, but don’t let that stop you from reaching out if you have a question about any of them. We will add posts as we add to our medicinal garden as well.

Anyone else here work with herbs?

The Hydroponic Garden

So, we have covered some baking, essential oils, kefir, and solar portions of our farm; we have not discussed our hydroponic garden. We do grow some produce traditionally in the dirt, but one of our biggest features on the farm is actually the hydroponic deck we have installed.

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For those of you new to hydroponics, the plants and produce are grown dirt free. The plants are grown in baskets filled with clay pebbles (the photo above is of zucchini, by the way). The roots are exposed to running water underneath the baskets. Many of our planting sites are inside a raised deck we installed. These plant sites often contain various tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and peppers. We have done broccoli, cauliflower, and different melons in the past.

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Other sites, like our green beans, are in smaller baskets. Instead of being in the actual deck, they are in vinyl fence posts.

Growing our produce hydroponically is how we got into being aware of where our food came from, around 8 years ago. My husband and I were in our first place, a duplex, and our son was only a few months old. We grew a few plants in a very small space hydroponically. We had various drip systems that started off looking very unorganized. Our set up has evolved quite nicely as we increased our space. We learned quite a bit from trial and error.

We have a reservoir that holds around 400 gallons of water, nutrients, and pump. Nutrients are checked often and adjustments are made as needed. Our reservoir is actually underground. We learned in the past that hot water can kill plants. At one place we lived, before moving out to the country, we had such a hot summer that our plants began to fail. We actually had to buy a water cooler for the reservoir. So, our reservoir is now underground to help regulate water temperature. It works and saves a lot of space.

The water that goes through the system is recycled and reused.

But now to the fun part… what we’re actually growing in our system.

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These are some of our tomatoes. The netting you see is for cucumbers. It is very gorgeous once the plants start climbing it.

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The left is spearmint and the right is lemon balm (with peppermint being squished in between). We use these very frequently in our still to make hydrosols and essential oils because they grow back quickly and smell amazing.

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This is our lavender. It’s the first we’ve grown successfully, I would like to add. It’s flourishing and smells amazing. We have a favorite buttermilk and lavender bread we use the leaves for (flowers too, if available). It also makes a calming tea.

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More tomatoes. Because tomatoes are great. We use tomatoes frequently raw, in cooking, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and salsa. We produced over 300 pounds of tomatoes a few years. That’s a lot of canning. The process is not my most favorite thing in the world, but I love food and the taste is worth the effort. We also try not to waste as much as possible. Canning helps in this task.

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We have been growing tomatoes for years and seeing the first fruit is just as exciting as the first time. We have this tradition/ritual, where we harvest the first ripened tomatoes of the season and feast upon tomato salads and sandwiches for dinner. I like to use mine on homemade dark rye bread.

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It’s no secret that my family and I adore salad. My seven and five-year old children love it. We all particularly like homemade Italian and ginger dressings. We have a large variety here. Our favorites are romaine, chard, spinach, kale, and arugula. We eat salad on a nearly nightly basis. I bring some into work and often use our own chicken eggs as my protein source (I have nothing against eating meat; I had a difficult time eating meat during my second pregnancy and I never fully recovered).

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Cucumbers are another favorite. Last year we did 52 quarts of pickles on top of the cucumbers we ate and shared with our animals.

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At the end of the season, when we clean our hydroponics up, we often drop seeds into the ground and we get nice little surprises like these under the deck (tomato and lettuce). One year, we fed tomatillos to our chickens. Well, we use their waste as fertilizer. We had a random tomatillo plant growing in our yard. Up front I even have some random lettuce growing from birds dropping seeds.

Does anyone else grow their produce hydroponically? We would love to hear your opinions and experiences!

 

Buttermilk Bread with Lavender (for the bread machine)

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I would describe this bread as lovely and surprisingly scrumptious. Making it was a very aromatic and pleasant experience, and my little girl played a large roll (Ha! Get it?) in making it in her very own bread machine instead of my machine. Yes, my daughter asked for her own bread machine for Christmas. Yes, she got one.

We made this one afternoon while my husband was out processing chickens. We had friends over to help. One of my friends was with my daughter and me inside the house prepping for a day full of food. The recipe we based ours off of was actually from a bread machine cookbook my friend purchased at a garage sale with my daughter in mind.

We tweaked it a bit so we could use what we already had on hand from our farm. I’ll mention both what the recipe calls for and what we used instead.

When making this in a bread machine always add the ingredients as listed by the owner manual’s instructions. I’m not sure how different the machines are from one another considering both my machine and my daughter’s calls for liquids before all solids. Always do what is recommended by the owner manual though. It skips a lot of future troubleshooting you’ll end up doing if your bread comes out incorrectly.

I’m going to go in the order my daughter’s machine calls for and what seems to work best. If your bread machine has a different order in which ingredients are added, just skip to the ingredient list. Or read on and enjoy!

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For our machines, I do liquids first, followed by ingredients that are that in-between consistency–like eggs or mashed fruit–then solids. I generally like to add my flour last, just before the yeast. I have a few recipes out there where this rule doesn’t work. I have no idea why. In those cases, I still add the liquids first then I add the flour before other seasoning.

So, we added our 1/2 cup of water and I am kicking myself for doing it! It turned out great, but I had leftover whey from making an easy quick cheddar cheese that I think would have been a wonderful substitute. Maybe next time.

The buttermilk. I don’t have buttermilk. I wasn’t going to the store for buttermilk. Nope. I HATE the grocery store. I cannot eliminate it from my life entirely, but most of our meats, produce, and dairy products either come from our farm or elsewhere locally. Every once in a while I do want some potato chips. They’re awful. I know. But that’s basically what we use the grocery store for–junk. And occasionally cleaning supplies. Anyways, I didn’t have buttermilk, but we do have a consistent run of milk kefir. If you don’t know what this magnificent beast is, click here. It’s worth the read, even if only for education of the probiotic world in the dairy realm. I substituted milk kefir in for the buttermilk. I do this quite often with fantastic results. So, we added 7/8 cup (14 tablespoons) of milk kefir (thicker than water) to the bread machine.

The next ingredient is 1/4 cup of olive oil. I do have olive oil. We used coconut oil instead. Poured that into the bread machine.

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Next, we added finely chopped lavender leaves and buds. 3 tablespoons of the leaves and 1 1/4 teaspoons of the buds. The leaves came fresh from our garden and are just as aromatic as the flowers. Our lavender is not in bloom, but I had some leftover dried buds we used as a replacement. We used our Ninja to chop it all up.

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The recipe called for the zest of one lemon. Our lemon tree has a plethora of blooms–but no actual fruit. Our blood orange tree however, is quite plentiful. We used the zest of one of our oranges instead.

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The recipe calles for 2 teaspoons of salt. We used pink Himalayan.

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Then we added 4 cups of bread flour, poked a hole in the flour, and added 2 3/4 teaspoons of bread machine yeast. We picked the basic bread cycle machine on the bread machine and let it roll.

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The result was a gorgeous, fragrant, mouth-watering, EASY loaf of bread.

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And cute pictures!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup water (can substitute whey)
  • 1/8 cup buttermilk (can substitute milk kefir)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (can substitute coconut oil)
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh lavender leaves
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh lavender flowers (used dried buds)
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon (used an orange)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 3/4 teaspoons bread machine yeast

Instructions

  • Add ingredients in the order indicated in bread machine manual.
  • Use basic bread setting with dark crust.

Kefir Yogurt

Kefir. What is it?

Milk kefir, whether it is being consumed as a drink or made into yogurt or cheeses, is a sour tasting fermented milk. It is an acquired taste if you’ve not been raised on it, but its benefits are either worth the adjustment in palate or effort put into making a product that is truly satisfying (if said adjustment cannot be made).

Personally, I can drink it straight. My family has a more difficult time with this so I began experimenting and came up with something that has a Greek yogurt consistency and it. is. DELICIOUS. I’m not going to lie. It’s better than when I was making just regular homemade yogurt.

The benefits are amazing. Store bought yogurt is not as nutritional as claimed. If you’re buying flavored yogurt, expect a high sugar content. The easy solution, it would seem, is to purchase plain. That brings me to the probiotic argument.

Don’t get me wrong. Probiotics are great. Magnificent–when they’re actually present. See, it’s quite difficult to buy yogurt with a true guarantee that probiotics and live cultures are actually in the yogurt. At some point in the yogurt making process, this claim is true. However, to legally be sold, dairy products must go through pasteurization. This process uses heat to eliminate “bad” bacteria; problem is, this also eliminates the “good” bacteria and may actually kill off the live cultures and probiotics. But don’t worry. It’s yummy.

Making your own types of yogurt can make you feel pretty accomplished, but being able to flavor and use it the way YOU want to, is the best part. Once you see how easy this is, you won’t want to go back.

This entire post is about making yogurt with milk kefir (which has more probiotics than yogurt, probiotics that actually STAY in the gut, and nutritional yeasts). So, the process is different and–I apologize ahead of time because I took pictures–looks quite gross. But also cool!

It all starts with milk (the less pasteurization, the better) and kefir grains.

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Kefir grains are gelatinous in nature. AND THEY’RE ALIVE! These grains ferment the milk by feeding off the lactose. Kefir grains love different kinds of sugar, so the dairy strains eat lactose (sugar). This fermentation process CAN (everyone is different, so not always) make digestion of this yogurt easier for those who suffer from lactose intolerance. My husband is lactose intolerant and he can eat this stuff. Want to know another disgustingly cool fact? They multiply. It’s like they’re having babies.

The process of making the milk kefir and the yogurt is time-consuming, but really easy. The ratio I use is 1 tablespoon of grains to 1 cup of milk (I use raw milk from our goats).

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The first thing you do is add the grains and cover it with the milk (you may adjust this to your personal tastes; more grains can make the taste stronger). In this photo I used around 8 cups of milk and around 8 tablespoons of grains. I put cheesecloth over the top (it needs to breathe) and used the lid ring of a mason jar lid to secure the cheesecloth. Let it sit anywhere from 12 hours to 48 hours. 12 hours can make a nice milk you can use for some recipes that call for buttermilk (I use it for buttermilk breads). 24 hours makes it a little thicker and stronger. I do 48 hour batches to make the yogurt. Do note that kefir ferments at a much faster rate in a warm environment.

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The weather here has been really crazy right now so once I see the curds and grain separate from the whey, like the picture above, I begin working with it even if we have not hit that 48 hour mark.

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After it sits for 48 hours, or if you see the separation of curds and whey occur it’s time to remove the grain. The spoon and strainer I use are made of plastic. Metal can be harmful to the grains. I measure the amount of grains and I need and add it to a new jar and cover with milk again to start the process over. Any leftover grain can be covered with milk to sit in the fridge, or frozen with milk in large amounts to go dormant for later use. Or you can share with a friend!

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The milk kefir should now have no grains left in it. You can either leave as is, do a second fermentation with flavoring, or make a yogurt. Since the topic is yogurt, I’ll show you how I get that consistency. I pour the milk kefir into a greek yogurt strainer I purchased. There is a process where you can use paper coffee filters or muslin in jars or bowls, but I was having difficulty with space so I caved and made this purchase. It’s AMAZING. It sits in the fridge while the whey separates again, but the curds left behind are creamy and the consistency of Greek yogurt.

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I let the yogurt sit in the fridge during the entire duration it takes for the new batch of milk to ferment with the kefir grains.

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The result is that thick creamy consistency and amazing flavor. I use it as a substitute for sour cream quite a bit. I also use it as a plain yogurt substitute in smoothies. If I really just want to eat it as a yogurt I flavor it with honey (you can use sugar), and fruit. Using jams and jellies can work, too. It also makes a great dill and horseradish sauce. Yum! 🙂