“Each new year is a surprise to us. We find that we had virtually forgotten the note of each bird, and when we hear it again, it is remembered like a dream, reminding us of a previous state of existence…The voice of nature is always encouraging.”
– Henry David Thoreau
We are halfway to spring! And none too soon, the kids are tired of cold, damp weather, lack of sunshine and warm sunny days to spend long periods of time outside. I have to admit, I am too. Winter is not my favorite season though I do like the down time to get caught up on things, I’d much prefer to be sitting barefoot out in my garden.
The cycle of the year is always shifting and at this time of year, the most evident shift is in the amount of light we get each day. We still eat dinner in the dark, though now, there is a bit of orange on the western horizon as we do so, reminding us that warmth and sunlight are returning.
During the winter especially, we love to celebrate anything we can to take our minds off of winter! This time of the year, we celebrate the halfway mark to spring with a few herbal activities. Today’s newsletter is all about those activities.
Start your herb seeds.
Last week’s newsletter talked about planning out your herb garden. If your seeds have arrived, go ahead and start them in an indoor planting bed. Kids love to plant seeds and an indoor planting bed can be made easily with a cardboard egg carton, some organic soil and a ziplock bag large enough for the carton to fit inside. Tear the top off the cartons (use them as trays for the bottom), fill each egg hole with moist organic soil, add the seeds and place them in the ziplock bag. You might want to write on the outside of the egg carton what seed is in each egg hole with a sharpie marker. The ziplock bag makes a nice mini greenhouse and helps to keep the soil moist longer. Set it in front of a sunny window and watch for the seeds to sprout.
Kids may enjoy keeping a journal about the daily activity, making notes on how long the seeds take to germinate, grow true leaves and get big enough to be planted into larger containers. The can also sketch the growth stages, this is great for them to do if they are choosing to work with 1 special herb for the year.
Make herbal candles.
We always burn a candle at dinner time, even if it’s light outside. It’s a nice representation of meal time and if I forget to light it, the kids always let me know. It signals our time together as a family without any outside electronic distractions and as long as the candle is burning, no one is allowed to use their phones, iPads or computer.
Beeswax candles are wonderful. The natural smell of the wax is soothing and they are long lasting. Try your hand at making your own beeswax candles. You can either dip them by using melted wax and wicking or if you prefer a simpler version, order some beeswax sheets and hand roll them.
Once they have been made, decorate the outside of your candles with herbs. To do so, choose the herbs you’d like to use. If you have access to all the herbs that you’ll be learning about for the year, use different leaves or flowers for each candle to burn for each month or try doing a collage with a few herbs. Brush a bit of melted wax onto the back of the leaf or flower and stick it on the candle then dip the entire candle into the melted wax to completely coat the herbs.
For seeds, once the candles have been dipped, they can be stuck directly into the candle. Try doing a border of Coriander or Black Peppercorns, or alternate them on the same candle.
Update your nature table.
If you have a nature table, this is a great time to clean it off and get it ready for spring. We like to color coordinate our silk play cloths that we use for the table cloth with the season. This time of year, pale colors are nice or even pure white to represent the (hopefully) last of the snow. Our nature table is a collection of found treasures on our walks such as features, leaves, rocks, pods, seeds and so forth. Soon we’ll be finding remnants of egg shells as baby birds start hatching. Occasionally, an old nest that was blown out of a tree is added as well.
But for now, we add things that represent halfway between winter and spring. Animals who come out of hibernation, our friend the groundhog, seeds and so forth. Forced bulbs can add a touch of color, bright red tulips or deep purple hyacinths are lovely. A plate of herb seeds or a drawing of our herbal ally can be added as we anticipate their return in our garden. Even a bouquet of dried herbs and herbal flowers can be inspiring. Some of you are lucky enough to have Chickweed and other early risers showing up. If so, add a bouquet of it to your nature table.
Have a “Think Spring” mealtime celebration.
Dinner time is a special time for us. Everyone is home and gathered together, an occurrence that is more rare as the kids are getting older and involved with activities, work and so on. So when we can all gather together at dinner to celebrate, we love to do so!
Make some delicious herbal foods. If you’ve got that Chickweed or other early spring greens, add it to your salad along with some sprouts, many herb seeds are delicious sprouted. Red Clover, Alfalfa, Fenugreek, Fennel, Parsley, Milk Thistle, Burdock (one of my favorites!), Violets, Dandelion. You may be lucky enough to find some of your weeds sprouting in your garden already, just be sure to positively ID them before eating them. I often make sure to have lots of Burdock seeds in an area that I can harvest as they sprout. They are a delicious spring treat. Violets are also very prolific with their sprouts. If you would prefer to sprout your own, buy your seeds from the health food store. Use some herbal vinegars ind infused oils for your salad dressing.
Make some savory herbal muffins. Cornbread is a nice base and the yellow is a nice sunshiny touch.
Make some delicious Raspberry Lemonade or an herbal soda (see recipe below).
Herbal soda recipe
2 oz. herbal syrup of choice (Elderberry, Peppermint, Ginger, Basil, Lemon Balm, etc)
8 oz. seltzer water
This is the basic combination to make 1 cup of soda. Increase it to the amount you need for everyone.
Be sure to finish off your meal with a tasty herbal dessert! The Chipotle Flourless Cake is a great choice, perhaps topped with your favorite herbal ice cream. My current favorite is the Bay Laurel ice cream that was in last month’s issue.
Bay Laurel ice cream
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup Demerara sugar
6 Bay leaves
6 egg yolks
Pinch sea salt
Combine the cream, milk, sugar and Bay leaves in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Let the mixture infuse for up to 8 hours in the refrigerator. You may choose to chill overnight in the refrigerator.
Warm the mixture back up to just below a boil.
Beat the egg yolks in a medium bowl with the sea salt until smooth. Gradually pour about one-third of the hot milk mixture into the eggs to temper them. Then stir the egg mixture into the cream mixture over medium-low heat, stirring the entire time.
Cook until the custard mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Do not let the mixture boil or you will get scrambled eggs.
Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Refrigerate, covered, 4 – 8 hours.
Freeze the mixture in an ice-cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Serve with Bay Laurel syrup.
Start your spring cleaning!
This is my sneaky way of getting kids to help out with cleaning. We select old herbal vinegars that we’ve made over the past year that we have an excess of and use them diluted in water to make a natural cleaner that we use to start cleaning our windows (on nice springlike days), the kitchen and the bathroom. This is especially fun to do on a cold snowy day, using our cleaning tools and herbs to banish winter from our house and welcome the return of spring. We get into the nooks and crannies, cleaning out the wood stove dust and purging out old clothes that no longer fit us.
This is also a great time to go through any dried herbs you might have stashed away. If the herbs have lost their potency, compost them. We do a simple check: does the herb still look freshly dried or has it turned brown and dead looking? Does it still smell fragrant? Do they still taste as they should? While organizing your dried herb stash, you can make a list of what you’ve used for the past year and what you need to collect in the upcoming year. My kids love to crush and smell a bit of the dried herbs, especially the aromatic ones such as Peppermint. It can be an enjoyable and relaxing afternoon.
Don’t limit the spring cleaning to your house. If the weather permits, head outside and start clearing away the plant debris. This is a great time to review what was in the garden last year and challenge the kids to identify the plant skeletons. It’s also a great time to observe the trees before they begin to leaf out.
How do you like to get ready for spring? Do your kids enjoy participating in clearing out the garden and doing the spring cleaning? How do you bring herbs and spring together in your house?