Essential Oils- My Story

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I have been using essential oils for quite a while, but I didn’t really get into learning in depth about them until recently. As some of you may know, I studied horticulture, I garden (clearly) and know most plants in my area. And if I don’t, my super knowledgeable husband does.

I use herbs on a daily basis for cooking, healing, consuming, it only makes sense to incorporate essential oils into my daily life.

Now, here’s the thing, I truly believe everyone wants to be healthier, live healthier and doesn’t want to use toxins or chemicals. So I’m going to share some information that will help you see that essential oils aren’t just for crunchy, homesteading mommas. Oils are for everyone!

First, let me tell you what exactly IS an essential oil. Essential oils are highly concentrated plant compounds that are usually distilled but sometimes other methods can be used. These oils contain the essence of the particular plant, which give them their fragrance. Pure essential oils can be made from many different parts of a plant such as the flowers, roots, leaves and even resin. It takes many, many plants to make a single bottle of pure essential oil (more on this later). Not all essential oils are pure and the sad truth is, some companies label their oils as ‘100% pure essential oil’ but, regulations only require essential oils have at least 10% pure oil to be considered “pure”. Make sure that you are only buying pure essential oils from a well known, reputable company. Which is why I use Young Living. Check out their website to learn about their Seed to Seal promise.

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Essential oils can be used in many ways. They can be used in a diffuser or just inhaled for immediate results since when you breathe in, the oil gets into your blood stream. Many oils are most commonly used in spas because when you breathe in certain essential oils, you will immediately feel calm, relaxed and at peace.

Essential oils can also be used topically for a multitude of reasons. I always carry Young Livings Stress Away when I am out-because anyone that has taken kids shopping MUST have stress away for when your 5 year old has a meltdown because he wants 3 bananas instead of 5 or his T-shirt suddenly is itchy…you get my point. I usually use a carrier oil when applying essential oils to my skin. Here are some that I use often: coconut oil, sunflower oil, sweet almond oil, etc.. However, you can use some essential oils neat (or straight out of the bottle).

There are some select essential oils that are used for ingestion. Check oil the ‘vitality’ line of essential oils. I use this one Thieves Vitality in tea and this one Lemon Vitality in my water everyday. My husband suffers from digestive problems so he uses Digize and it has made a huge difference for his overall well being. You can also put the essential oils into capsules to easy consumption. Check out the Young Living website for more in depth info on that.

On to cost effectiveness. Now, some more rare oils aren’t cheap, but for the most part, they actually save you tons of money. Think about how many products you could replace by using only organic, plant based products. Think of all of the chemicals you use on a daily basis. What is that doing to your health? What is it doing to the health of your children? Not that long ago, I was using chemical cleaners to clean my floors, bathrooms and even my kitchen with. The same place my kids eat. I was using chemicals to wash their dishes, to clean the floor they put their little bare feet on. We all know that the skin is the largest organ on the human body and it absorbs what is in our environment. Scary stuff. So, would I prefer to spend slightly more for a much better product that won’t harm myself, my kids or my pets? You bet. However, since starting using oils and replacing the toxic chemicals in my home, I have found that they are actually cheaper in the long run. Most of the cleaners (even shampoos and soaps) from YL can be diluted. Especially the thieves cleaner…. where else can you get organic, plant based, toxin free cleaner for just about $1 a bottle!? It’s unheard of. So, there are ways to really save money.  With the essential oils, you literally only use a drop or a few drops (depending on what you are doing) and there are so many drops per bottle!

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I am a firm believer that if you start on a more healthier path, you will make healthier choices in the long run. Instead on grabbing that soda at lunch, bring Ningxia from your monthly wellness box (eek! Ask me about the monthly wellness boxes-You customize your box every month and you can adjust how much and when) instead for an healthy alternative. When you start making smaller changes, the easier it will be to switch to a healthy lifestyle. Healthy living is priceless in my opinion. I want to set a good example for my kids. And I want to make sure that I am healthy to stay alive to see my grandchildren and their children.

I really recommend getting a few books to learn more about specific essential oils and their uses. This is one I recommend and this one.

There is so much to learn and it can really be overwhelming. I would love to help you! I would be happy to meet with you and discuss how oils can help you have a healthy home and life. We can chat via phone, text or email. If you are nearby, I’d love to grab a cup of tea and talk or come to one of my parties! I have at least one a month! I can help you find the perfect oils and products to start out with.

Make Your Own Herbal Tea Blends

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Making tea is really one of my all time fun thing to do.  I love combining different herbs to create one of a kind teas.  The best part about making your own, is that you can grow these herbals yourself!

Some of my must have plants for making your own tea is:

  • Chamomile
  • Mint
  • Calendula
  • Lavender
  • Rose
  • Lemon Balm

These are all super easy to grow and so fun to harvest!

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I hold monthly Sip & Sniff parties once a month on my farm!  Visit me on Facebook to find dates and times.  I would love to meet you! You even go home with a sample of one of my own tea blends!

 

What’s the Buzz?

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We started our beekeeping journey over 3 years ago and it has been quite difficult.  The first year, we went to seminars, read every book and blog, researched types of bees, treatments, and treatment free beekeeping.  There is a lot of information to process, so my advice is to take it slow.  Talk to local beekeepers and research the different types of hives (yes, there are many types).

Here is a quick look into our journey:

Year one-

We went to an awesome workshop local to us that had many types of hives to look at and they had beekeepers tell us the pros and cons to each.  We fell in love with the top bar hives and decided that is the one for us.  We were not planning on getting bees for another year, but were so excited after that- we purchased our first hive 2 weeks later.  We purchased all of the ‘bee gear’ and went to work on getting everything ready- as temps were warming up and we knew we would have to get bees soon.

After lots of research on types of bees, we chose to get bees that have been in our area instead of getting bees from down south.  It gets really cold on the homestead and the winter winds on top of a mountain are no joke. We wanted hardy bees. We wanted tough bees that would survive the cold weather. That was our hope anyway.

We purchased our bees from a beekeeper in a nearby town that has raised bees for a decade or so.  We were so excited that our bees would hopefully be super strong and would survive our harsh winters.

Our first months with the bees were great! They were drawing comb, making honey, lots of brood (baby bees) and I spotted the queen easily every time I opened the hive.  A little bit about how scary it is for first time beekeepers to open a bee hive… SCARY! After doing it a few times it wasn’t as bad as I expected and I did not get stung- not once that year in fact!  We used a smoker- but I had more success with calming the bees by using sugar water in a spray bottle.

I figured we would have a great survival rate that winter. But then, we had a drought that summer. A severe drought. It was so bad that year that our pond dried up, the trees turned brown and most plants just died.  I worried about my bees as they pretty much stopped producing honey.  They only had a fraction of honey that I had expected for them to have… and barely enough for them to be able to survive the winter with. But, I had thought that as long as they had something, they might make it. I even put an insulation board in the roof portion of the hive to keep them warm at the end of November.

NOPE. Mid December comes around, after an extreme cold snap, all of the bees are dead.

Year two:

It was so upsetting and such a loss that we decided to take a year off after that.  Researched more and figure out what we could have done better in the mean time.  I realized that I did not feed them enough, I did not check them enough (from what I have read, you need to open them up at least once a week- with kids, a full farm, gardening and homeschooling- it seemed like too much at the time). We didn’t provide them with enough fresh, cool water. I have a big water source for them now. I am also planting a lot of wild flowers this spring which will help them gather pollen.  I found with all of the farms around us, its hard for them to forage when its all corn and soy surrounding our little homestead. We had a big problem with robbing.  That’s when other bees from other hives or wasps invade the hive and steal the honey. [Insert angry face]

Here is what we are doing differently this year:

We decided to move the hive closer to the barn where it would be sheltered from the winter winds and be in a full sun location with easier access to a constant flowing stream and many meadows. We purchased a second hive, but this time we went with a langstroth hive.  We ordered our bees which should be here the end of April (unless it keeps snowing!) and are anxiously awaiting our second attempt.

Stay tuned for updates on our adventures in beekeeping.

 

Interested in beekeeping?  Need some bee gear? Check out Hudson Valley Bee Supply

 

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Violets Are Blue…

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If you are new to foraging, here is the perfect plant to start out with!  Violets!  They are found in almost everyone’s backyard (in the northeast anyway), easy to identify and you can use them SO many ways!

Many consider this little plant as a weed. But, this adorable little plant is quite medicinal! You should definitely want to keep it in your yards. It comes back every year too!

The common violet or Viola soroia, is native to the eastern part of North America.  They have a vibrant purple flower.  There are some varieties that are cultivars of the native violet.  Those are the ones with white flowers and blue streaks. Still edible- but not the true native variety.

The leaves and flowers are both edible. The leaves are heart shaped and smooth. If you look directly under the flower, the stem will make a little hook underneath. That’s an easy way to identify these Vitamin A and Vitamin C packed little cuties. Don’t eat the roots as they can cause nausea and vomiting.

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Here is a few ways I like to use wild violets:

  • In salads
  • On sandwiches
  • A garnish for any dish
  • Flowers frozen into ice cubes (always pretty during a party)
  • Jelly (it makes the most beautiful, delicately flavored, lavender colored jelly)
  • Candied
  • Steam the leaves or sauté in garlic and butter
  • Soups- add a handful of leaves into a thick soup
  • Tea(my favorite) add some fresh lemon juice before you serve it and it turns bright purple!

Violets are considered antiseptic, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory. Some studies have shown that this super flower can aid the lymphatic glands in detoxing. Violets have also been used to effectively treat acne, eczema and psoriasis.

So this spring, pick some cute little violets and try some of my suggested uses!

Fiddle Heads- Its Not Just a Fun Word!

fern-leaf-roll-nature-66319.jpegOne thing that really excites me about spring time is foraging for fiddle heads. They are fun to find, easy to identify and when the temperature gets to be just warm enough that I don’t need to bundle the kids head to toe in coats and hats, its fun for the whole family!

You might have seen these funny little swirly things at your local farmers market or at a health food store but just didn’t know how to cook them or why you should cook them. So, I am going to share a little bit about one of my favorite spring time treats!

Fiddle heads are the young tender little fronds of the Ostrich Fern.  When left intact, they uncurl and become the leaves (or fronds).  They  grow in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia.  The best (and really only) time to pick these fun little guys are in early spring.

Picking fiddle heads does not require any special tool or technique.  Use a sharp knife or just snap the frond with your finger.  I prefer to use a knife to make a clean cut, like this one.  Make sure that you know exactly what you are harvesting- some fiddle heads are not edible!  If you are not 100% on what you are foraging for, don’t eat it!  They should vibrant green in color and the frond should be a tight coil. The frond will have a brown papery skin on the outside- this will be removed later on.

*Very important: do not cut every single frond on a single plant.  Leave at least  2 or 3 frond so that the plant can live.  Harvest ethically and be sustainable. After you taste these fiddle heads, you are going to want to visit that spot year after year, so make sure you take care to not damage the plants.

Once I have a nice basket full of fiddle heads, I give them a quick wash and put them into a bowl of cold, salted water and leave them soak for about an hour.  I have found that this helps remove the papery skin on the fiddle head and will add flavor when cooking.  Fiddle heads must be cooked! This is very important.  They contain a small amount of toxins that are only removed when cooked.  Besides, they don’t taste very good raw…trust me.

When you are ready to cook them, remove as much of the brown skin as you can.  Toss them into a pot of boiling or almost boiling water and blanch them for about 5 minutes.  Remove and drain.  Now you can add them to stir fry, quiche, or my favorite- sauteed with garlic and butter.  YUM!

They are also SUPER good for you!  They are high in vitamin A and vitamin C, high in fiber and rich in potassium, iron, antioxidants and even omega-3’s!

I can guarantee that you will love these little mouthfuls of spring.

Happy foraging!

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Macerated Oils with Herbs and Flowers

 

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There are certain oils that are just out of reach financially for many. Rose oil or jasmine oil for instance.  But, you don’t have to miss out completely! I am going to show you how to have some of the same properties of an essential oil without breaking the bank.

I also want to mention that the reason specific oils are so expensive is because you need A LOT of flowers to create essential oils.  For instance, Young Living’s Rose Oil is so valuable because it takes about 60,000 rose flowers or 22 pounds of rose petals to create ONE 5ml bottle.  That’s a lot of roses! And imagine, they need to be harvested at the precise time of their peak to give you the perfect, pure essential oil.  Its an awful lot of work and care that goes into that bottle.  No wonder it is so valuable. It is an oil that I haven’t had the pleasure of smelling yet, but, it is definitely on my wish list!

Another is Jasmine oil.  Jasmine oil is very special. Jasmine flowers must be picked at night, just before sunrise and they must have just opened.  Talk about precision! It takes 10 pounds of jasmine flowers to create ONE 5ml bottle of Jasmine oil.  However, Young Livings Jasmine Oil is extracted by a method called an absolute extraction.  Jasmine flowers only produce a tiny amount of oil using other methods, so an absolute extraction is the best process for this particular delicate flower.  The oils from Young Living are by far the best, but this is an alternative.

Now, on to maceration! A macerated oil uses the flowers or leaves from a plant and a carrier oil.  Once infused, the carrier oil contains some of the fragrance and properties from that plant.  A carrier oil for this process can be olive oil, sunflower oil, sweet almond oil or jojoba oil.

There are two different processes for maceration. One is hot and one is cold.  I prefer the cold infusion method because heat could destroy some of the beneficial properties that I am looking to preserve within the maceration.  And, I am not in a hurry.  So I am going to tell you about the cold maceration method!

First, obtain your plant material.  Today I am working with Jasmine.  My wonderful husband was kind enough to pick me some jasmine flowers from his greenhouse.  The flowers (or leaves if you are working with something else like lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) must be dried before you begin.  I am using my dehydrator on the lowest heat setting to slowly remove the water from the flowers.  This is an important part of the process because if there is any water remaining, it could make the oil go rancid and/or encourage all sorts of microbial growth- something that we do not want on our bodies!

Once the petals (or leaves) are dried, put them into a clean glass jar to break apart the plant material.  You don’t need a powder, but break them up just enough so that the oils can be infused easily.  Cover the plant material with your carrier oil.  I am using sunflower oil. Its a perfect neutral oil for a maceration. Make sure to fill enough oil into the jar to cover the plant material about an inch over. Put a lid on the jar and set it in a window.  Give the jar a little shake every day. The sun will slowly infuse the oil with the jasmine and after about 2-4 weeks I will strain the oil through a cheesecloth.  Squeeze out all of the oil! Store the maceration in a glass bottle or a jar.  I like to add a couple of drops of vitamin E oil to the finished maceration just to prolong shelf life.  This macerated oil will last around 6 to 8 months in a cool, dark location.

You can use this oil as you would any other carrier oil- add a few drops of your favorite Young Living essential oil for a perfect blend!

Is there a maceration I should try? Let me know on Facebook!

My Kids Call Me ‘Mama Chaga’

It’s true. My kids sometimes call me Mama Chaga. One reason is because I can spot Chaga from a mile away and the other is because they love my Hot Chaga Chocolate. (Recipe is further down for all of the chocoholics)

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What is Chaga?

Chaga (Inonotus obliguus) is a super medicinal mushroom that grows primarily on paper birch (Betula papyrifera) and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis).  It can be found in the northern hemisphere.

What does chaga look like?

It is very dark brown or black. It almost looks like a charred loaf of crusty artisan bread. When broken, the inside reveals a sponge-like appearance that is a rich, deep orange color. This mushroom does not have gills, but instead, pores. It can grow in all sorts of shapes and sizes on the outside of birch trees. I also want to mention that it only grows on living trees.  The photo of chaga above is one I took early in the winter.

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Chaga has been known in many parts of the world for its immune boosting qualities for thousands of years. In traditional Chinese medicine, chaga was used to balance qi.

Studies also show that chaga has cancer fighting properties! Check out this study done by Showa University in Japan.

So, why am I so excited about chaga?

Well, not only does this magical mushroom have immune boosting qualities and cancer fighting super powers (betulinic acid) but it’s also anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antiviral. It’s packed with melanin too. And, for those that want to fight the aging clock, grab a cup of chaga tea because melanin nourishes, hydrates and heals skin. It makes your hair shiny and soft and it’s good for your eyesight! Keeping a younger, youthful appearance. Bonus!

Chaga contains many nutrients as well. Here is a quick list of some of the vitamins in this super mushroom: vitamin B2, vitamin D3, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, potassium, and phosphorus to name a few.

Here are a few tips on harvesting chaga:

First, forage ethically!

The bigger the mushroom, the older it is. The older the mushroom, more beneficial properties inside. We pick the big ones and leave the little ones to grow.

Never over pick! Take what you need, leave the rest.

Chaga is best harvested when dormant. So, October through early February for my zone (zone 4-5). You never want to harvest chaga when the sap is flowing as that can cause further stress to the tree leaving a large wound and it could kill the tree. On another note, try to harvest when temps are just above freezing. It will just make it easier on you and the tree…chaga is pretty hard.

Use an ax or a handsaw to cut the chaga carefully off the tree.

When you have your chaga fresh off the tree, it needs to be dehydrated. We use this one and absolutely love it.

Break the chaga into smaller, manageable chunks and dehydrate on a low setting (106-115 degrees) for about 2 days, maybe longer depending on the humidity and size of the chaga pieces. Once completely dried, you can either use a mortar and pestle to grind the chaga or a food processor to turn it into a fine powder. Store in an airtight container.  (I prefer glass jars for my dehydrated goods.)

Don’t live in an area where chaga grows or are unable to forage? Check out this link for some awesome chaga.

Love chocolate? Here is my recipe for Hot Chocolate Chaga. It’s super rich and indulgent. Perfect on a cold and snowy day.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups water

2 tbsp chaga powder

1- 14oz. can of sweetened condensed milk

1- 13.5oz. can of coconut milk

2 tbsp cocoa powder

Pinch of sea salt

Marshmallows

Directions:

In a medium size saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add powdered chaga, cover and lower to a simmer for 3 to 5 minutes then remove from heat. Steep chaga tea for 20 minutes. While the chaga is steeping, mix sweetened condensed milk, coconut milk, cocoa powder and salt in a large saucepan. Heat on low, stirring constantly to break apart coconut milk solids and to incorporate the cocoa powder and prevent sticking.

After the chaga steeped for 20 minutes, strain the tea through cheesecloth.

*DO NOT discard the chaga! It can be used and used again several times to make more tea!*

Add the chaga tea to the milk mixture. Stir and heat until steaming. Pour into your favorite mug, add a few marshmallows and enjoy!