Friday, November 26, 2010

NE Women's Herbal Conference Part II: Kitchen Cosmetics, Herbal Skin Care, and an Herbal Shampoo!

Although this is much delayed continuation about my experience at the New England Women's Herbal Conference, I want to discuss one of the workshops that I attended.

There were many workshops at the New England Women's Herbal Conference that I enjoyed, but one that stood out to me in particular was Kitchen Cosmetics and Herbal Skin Care with Dina Falconi, author of Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair: Natural and Healthy Personal Care for Every Body, and founder of Falcon Formulations. At this workshop, we learned how to make body creams, salves, lip balms, facial scrubs, facial mists, deodorant, and more, all using natural ingredients! For example, salves and balms can be made just with oil (such as olive oil) and beeswax, and a basic cream is made with liquid oils, solid oils, beeswax, and water. Recipes for herbal body products are all covered in her book, as well.

I really enjoyed this workshop, and making your own personal care products is actually not hard at all! In addition, just like my food, I like knowing the ingredients that are going into my personal care products, because I will be using on my body. One major point that Falconi emphasized throughout the workshop was that many people today may over-wash. For instance, our bodies sweat for a reason, and we do need to be exposed to germs in order to develop resistance against them.

After attending this workshop, I was inspired to make some of my own herbal body care products. And, for my last weekend of my Herbal Apprenticeship at The Boston School of Herbal Studies in October, we were required to make an herbal product for everyone in the class, which was the perfect opportunity! I ended up making a variation of the basic shampoo recipe from Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair for everyone in my herbal class, and it turned out great. My hair has never been better, and there is no way that I will be purchasing commercial shampoo again. I have provided the Falconi's Basic Shampoo Formula below for your convenience, but as for her other recipes, you're just going to have to buy her book, which I highly recommend!

My first herbal shampoo batch

Basic Shampoo Formula(1)

  • 6-8 oz. herbal infusion of choice (for ex., 1 tsp. nettle leaf, 1 tsp comfrey root [cut], & 1 tsp basil infused in 8 oz water)
  • 3 oz. liquid castile soap
  • 1/4 tsp carrier oil of choice (ex. olive oil, almond oil, etc.)
  • Up to 60-70 drops essential oils of choice (ex. tea tree, lavender, rosemary)
  • Make herbal infusion with herbs and water, let steep for 4 hours and strain.
  • Pour strained infusion, liquid castile soap, carrier oil, and essential oils into a jar or squeeze bottle, cap and shake. It is ready for use. Always shake these shampoos before use. Makes about 9-11 oz. of shampoo.
  • If you don't use up the shampoo within a few weeks, refrigerate to prolong shelf life.
  • The amount [and types] of essential oil you will use will depend on the ones you choose and the effect you are trying to obtain. You can omit the carrier oil if your hair is very oily, or add more if your hair is very dry. Additional ingredients, such as aloe, tinctures, etc., may be added to this basic shampoo recipe to adapt it for various hair and scalp needs.
As a heads up, 9-11 oz. will last you a lot longer than a few weeks. And because homemade care products have shorter shelf lives than commercial products, you may consider cutting this recipe in half when you first try it, or plan to share it with others! In addition, tea tree essential oil is great to use in herbal products because it is one of the strongest essential oils in terms of its antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, so it is a wonderful natural preservative. Finally, different essential oils, carrier oils, and herbs all have different properties, so it is great that this shampoo can be so customizable to address individuals' different hair types.

Speaking of essential oils, now that I have completed my Herbal Apprenticeship with The Boston School of Herbal Studies, I am very much enjoying the Aromatherapy certification course that I am currently taking, which is another course with The Boston School of Herbal Studies. The class meets one Saturday a month from November-February, and I am learning so much more from these hands-on courses through The Boston School of Herbal Studies than I could ever learn from a book or online! If you do want a book to get you started on aromatherapy, however, one recommendation is The Directory of Essential Oils by Wanda Sellar.

I hope that some of you will consider making your own kitchen cosmetics and herbal personal care products, and please ask me if you have any questions!

  1. Falconi, Dina. Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair: Natural and Healthy Personal Care for Every Body. Woodstock, New York: Ceres Press, 1998, p. 52.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

23rd New England Women's Herbal Conference - Part I: Overview

I had a wonderful time this past weekend at the 23rd New England Women's Herbal Conference.

This was my first time at the New England Women's Herbal Conference, but I wasn't alone. Attendees ranged from newcomers to old-timers, and women who had no previous experience in herbalism to herbalists who have been teaching and practicing herbalism for years. Over 500 women attended the conference.

This was the last year that the New England's Women's Herbal Conference was held at Sargent Center in Hancock, New Hampshire. The food at the conference was catered by Blue Heron Restaurant & Catering, which focuses on sourcing local, organic, and sustainable foods whenever possible.

The conference began on Friday with an opening circle, music, and greetings.

Rosemary Gladstar giving an opening speech

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were filled with workshops, and morning activities began as early as 7 am. Most workshops were 1.5 hours, although there were longer 3-4 hour intensive workshops as well, allowing participants to work more closely with individual teachers and to explore particular topics in more depth.

Workshop time

Numerous vendors were at the conference, selling herbal products, natural care products, books, jewelry, and handmade crafts and clothing. In addition, on Saturday, there was a Great Barter & Trade Faire, where participants could bring their own homemade items to barter, trade, and sell. I ended up purchasing a sari (fair trade and made from recycled silk) from EcoQuette and Rose Petal Elixir from Avena Botanicals. (I missed the roses this season, but I plan to make my own rose elixir next year!)

Outside vendors

Vendors under the tent

Friday and Saturday night, there were music and stories; and on Saturday, a fire circle with dancing.

The weather over the weekend was perfect for tenting, although it did begin to lightly rain Saturday night and into Sunday. However, my friend and I had the great opportunity to stay at our friend's beautiful home and practice, at Back to Life, Chiropractic and Alternative Services, run by Stephanie Clark in Hancock, NH.

The house and practice

Herb garden


Although the weekend was tiring, the conference was definitely well worth going to. Stay tuned for a recap of some of the workshops that I attended!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Welcome to!

Hello readers,

As I mentioned before, I am really enjoying the Herbal Apprenticeship that I am taking with The Boston School of Herbal Studies. I like it so much in fact, that I am hoping to learn and write more about herbs. Thus, I am transitioning to Herbal Medicine Box at! Don't worry, all of the old links still work. And of course, I am still interested in food, foodie events, gardening, farms, and the like, so expect to continue reading posts on these subjects. The plan, however, is to focus more on herbalism!

I hope you will enjoy the journey with me, and keep on reading!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Taberna de Haro

It's been a busy summer with two part-time jobs and numerous classes and activities, but I am very glad to have gotten a job as a waitress at Taberna de Haro, a Spanish wine and tapas restaurant, in May. Although I have had no previous experience with the Spanish language or cuisine (I am now taking a beginner's Spanish class at the Boston Center of Adult Education), and a 200+ wine list is never easy for anyone to master, there are many things that I enjoy about working at the restaurant.

The outdoor patio seating is a definite plus during the warmer months.

In addition to working with a fabulous staff, as a foodie, I love all the locally sourced items on our menu. All of our beef comes from River Rock Farm, based in Brimfield, MA, and is grass-fed and raised without antibiotics or artificial growth hormones. The organic eggs are from Country Hen based in Hubbardston, MA, and our bread is from Iggy's, based in Cambridge. Occasional special menu items include local produce from Siena Farms and the owner, Deborah Hansen's, garden. Several other items on our menu are locally sourced as well.

Some of my favorite tapas include the Arroz negro (black paella with ali oli), Espinacas a la catalana (sauteed spinach w/ garlic, pine nuts, & golden raisins), Gambas al ajillo (shrimp with garlic and olive oil), Almejas con jamon (big local clams with ham, white wine, & EVOO), and of course any of our beef dishes (hey, you gotta love it if it's grass-fed!).

I love all things fermentation, so learning about Spanish wines is a blast, although it is still a somewhat overwhelming task. One of our wines, Les Sorts Jove from the Priorat country, is made by carbonic maceration, in which fermentation takes place within whole grapes in a carbon dioxide rich environment, as opposed to the normal winemaking process, in which grapes are crushed and fermented with yeast. Pretty cool! Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Taberna de Haro is located at 999 Beacon St., Brookline, MA 02446. Check out their tapas menu and wine list. You can make a reservation online or by phone at (617) 277-8272, and say hello if you stop by!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Community Garden Plot at the Fenway Victory Gardens!

I had lost all hope of getting a community garden plot this year, until I recently received an e-mail that several plots at the Fenway Victory Gardens were available!!! Even though I have just a few summer activities, including taking biochemistry at Tufts, resuming volunteer work with CitySprouts, interning with Bountiful Brookline, and starting a second part-time job at Taberna de Haro (all their beef is from River Rock Farm!), of course I had to say yes. This weekend, I finally had a chance to view the available plots, and I even got to choose my own!:

Plot L-19. There were weeds everywhere, but that was nothing a few hours of weeding couldn't cure:

I am using the weeds as ground cover for the moment. They help to keep the moisture in the soil and help to prevent new weeds from growing.

The plot clearly needs a lot more work, but I am very lucky that there are already some raised beds installed. There are also some perennial plants left from the previous owner, including sage, chives, oregano, and some gorgeous blackberry bushes in the back. I plan to grow plenty of vegetables, including carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, and kale, and I also hope to put in some medicinal plants. Sending a soil sample to UMass Amherst's Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Lab is another task on my to-do list.

Because this is my first garden, I know I will have many successes and failures alike. But they will make my garden next year that much better! 

Stay tuned for updates about my garden plot, and please stop by L-19 and say hello. :) 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Medicinal Herbs: Black-Eyed Susan

I am very glad to be taking an Herbal Apprenticeship with The Boston School of Herbal Studies this year.

Each month, we study an herb, and for May I studied the Black-eyed Susan. While Black-eyed Susans are typically used for landscape beautification, this flower has numerous medicinal applications as well! Although there is limited information on Black-eyed Susan's medicinal properties, here are some interesting facts that I found:

Black-Eyed Susan
Rudbeckia hirta L.

Photo source

Parts used:

  • Root (1-5)
  • Root tea for worms, colds (1-4)
  • External wash for sores, snakebites, swelling (1-4)
  • Root juice for earaches (1-4)
  • Antimicrobial
  • Diuretic (4-6)
  • In the coneflower family (Rudbeckia)
  • Like Echinacea, has been found to have immuno-stimulant activity (1)
  • Recent studies report that coneflower (Rudbeckia) root extracts can be more effective at stimulating the immune system than extracts of Echinacea (which is not in the coneflower family, although it is also known as purple coneflower) (4)
  • The seeds of most Black-Eyed Susans are poisonous, so avoid using the seed for any herbal uses (3)
  • The roots but not the seedheads can be used much like Echinacea (5)
  • Black-eyed Susan tea should be strained to remove the irritating hairs (4)
  • Caution: contact sensitivity to the plant has been reported (1)
  1. Foster, S. and Duke, J. The Peterson Field Guide Series – A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000, p. 142.
  2. Nuffer, B. Black-eyed Susan – Rudbeckia hirta. NY: New York Conservationist, 2007.
  3. Black-Eyed Susan – Rudbeckia. Gardens Ablaze, 7 May 2010.
  4. Q&A - Toxic Perennial Plants. Richters. 8 May 2010.
  5. Black Eyed Susan. Outdoor Edibles. 8 May 2010.
  6. Herbs. Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. 8 May 2010.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Master Urban Gardener

I was very fortunate to be able to participate in the Boston Natural Areas Network's Master Urban Gardener (MUG) Program this winter!

MUG is an intensive "horticultural leadership training course for community garden volunteers."

In the class, we covered numerous topics related to community gardening, including garden operations, community garden design, plant growth, soil and soil health, pests, plant maintenance, the vegetable garden, and nutrition.

Because I have WWOOFed (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and interned with CitySprouts in the past, MUG was the perfect program for me to fill in some gaps in my gardening knowledge.

Although the classes were intense, every Saturday from 10 am - 3:30 pm with a half hour break for lunch, the classes were designed well and included a combination of lectures and interactive sessions, in which we did small group problem-solving activities with our fellow classmates. Many of the activities included scenarios that you would encounter in the community garden, such as determining which pests were attacking the cabbages (was it the flea beetles or the aphids??), and what the appropriate recommendation would be to deal with such pests.

In one class, we learned about seed starting, and we planted our own seeds to begin indoors.

Different topics were covered in the AM and PM sessions, and it was a lot of information to take in. Luckily, we were given a pretty thorough manual (which we also received a CD version of) that we used in class, that covered all the topics that we discussed in class, and that we can refer to for future reference. In addition, the 40 hours of community service required to validate the Master Urban Gardener Certificate is a great way to apply the concepts that we learned and to get more involved in community gardens and gardening related activities.

Yes, you will need to bring this manual to every class.

This program is free and open to the public! It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to take this class, and I enjoyed MUG not only for the concepts that I learned, but it was also great to meet fellow urban gardeners in the area.

Master Urban Gardener Class of 2010
*Photo courtesy of BNAN*

Thanks to Jo Ann who runs the program, the guest lecturers, and the other volunteers who help to make the class possible.

I highly recommend the Master Urban Gardener program if you are involved in community gardening. However, if you have a backyard, MUGatHOME may be perfect for you. MUG and MUGatHOME both cover various gardening topics. But while MUG focuses on community garden leadership and organization, MUGatHome focuses on landscape training and residential gardening techniques. Other programs that the Boston Natural Areas Network runs include SLUG for those involved in urban school-based vegetable gardening, and a Seed, Sow & Grow program.

If you are looking for a community garden plot, look at BNAN's community garden plot listing. Although unfortunately I don't believe I will be receiving a plot at the Fenway Victory Gardens this year, I look forward to applying the concepts that I learned with CitySprouts and BNAN's Learning Garden at City Natives this upcoming growing season.

BNAN is a non-profit organization, and they also host various events every year and offer many volunteer opportunities. To learn more about the Boston Natural Areas Network, visit their website.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Love Me Some No-Knead Bread

I love homemade bread, and I love making it. Ever since Slow Food BU did a Sourdough and No-Knead Bread Workshop with the Urban Homesteaders' League, I've been all about no-knead bread!

At the bread workshop, Lisa Gross of the Urban Homesteaders' League demonstrated her no-knead bread recipe.

The finished loaf

However, at home, I first tried Jim Lahey's no-knead bread introduced by Mark Bittman in the New York Times article The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do the Work. This dough is so sticky and hard to handle, that it's basically impossible to knead. Making the bread simply requires mixing the ingredients (flour, yeast, salt, and water), letting the dough sit for 12-18 hours, shaping the dough and letting it rise for another 2 hours, and then popping the dough in the oven.

As if this method couldn't get any easier, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois later developed another no-knead bread method, Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. This recipe requires more yeast than the other method, resulting in a faster rising time. The ingredients (flour, yeast, salt, and water) are mixed to form a dough, let to sit for 2-5 hours, refrigerated at this point for storage or shaped and let to rise for another 40 minutes, and then put into the oven. One great thing about this bread is that the dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, and every day, the flavor of the bread develops as more fermentation occurs. Whenever you want freshly baked bread, you can take a portion of the dough out of the refrigerator, shape it and let it rise for 90 minutes (instead of the 40 minutes required for room temperature dough), and then put it into the oven. Read this article for a recipe and more information on this no-knead bread method, read the New York Times Article Soon the Bread Will Be Making Itself, or check out the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

These no-knead bread recipes don't require kneading because of the wetness of the dough- the high moisture content allows the gluten molecules to align faster and more easily than in drier bread doughs.

Making no-knead bread is extremely easy and results in delicious bread with great visual appeal, good structure, and a crunchy crust; and the variations and possibilities are endless!

I really enjoy making (and eating) homemade bread. Although I also enjoy kneading bread (or perhaps I enjoy this step because who knows if I'm doing it correctly), when I find myself very busy, the no-knead method is a happy medium. I also love what Satish Kumar said at last year's Future of Food Conference at BU: "If you don't have time to bake bread, you don't have time to live." (Read Satish Kumar's posts Reconnect with Tradition: Baking Bread as a Spiritual Act and Real Bread). So what are you waiting for? Go bake some bread!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Worm Update!

Welcome to my Worm Update, a follow-up to Vermicomposting, Part I!

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts to take care of my new little friends, they kept on trying to escape.

For days, I tried adjusting numerous factors including:
  • The amount of food
  • The amount of bedding
  • The humidity
I even made an emergency run one night to get more newspaper to add to my bedding.

But no matter what I did, my adjustments somehow did not click, and my worms were everywhere.

Sadly, I wasn't able to figure out what I was doing wrong; and eventually, many of my worms reached the end of their days on my floor, while the remaining worms in the worm bin dried up from dehydration because I had decreased the moisture too much. (As I mentioned in my vermicomposting post, the bedding needs to start off moist because worms breathe through their skin).

At the time, I was really upset about my failed attempt at vermicomposting, especially because of my past gardening and farming experiences, and I have done outdoor composting in the past without a problem!

But I have accepted the fact that vermicomposting is not for me, at least for the time being. I would love to have a second try at vermicomposting. But, I have also come to the realization that, at the moment, my small apartment does not have the capacity to keep such a large vermicomposting bin.

So, I have donated my worm bin to the greenhouse of BU's wonderful Organic Gardening Collective (O.G.C.).

Luckily, Lisa Gross from The Urban Homesteaders' League also gave me some extra worms, and I was happy to drop them off at the greenhouse as well.

What a serious looking composter.

I am a bit disappointed to not vermicompost myself, I know that I can always vermicompost at the O.G.C., compost at my friends' outdoor composting bins, and compost at the Whole Foods on Prospect St. in Cambridge. In addition, next year I will be living in a house, and we plan to have an outdoor composting bin there. For those of you who have a backyard, outdoor composting bins are subsidized by many towns, such as in Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline!

Even though I will no longer be vermicomposting in my apartment, vermicomposting may still be for you! Often you can remedy the second time around what you did wrong the first time. And the third time is always a charm! Tip: the holes that you drill in your worm bin should be smaller than your worms so that they can't escape. (This should have been the case for me, but clearly something went wrong).

Ask Ryan, who taught The Urban Homesteaders' League's workshop on Vermicomposting, your indoor composting questions at compostboy[at] Or if you purchase the book Worms Eat My Garbage, 100+ pages of vermicomposting knowledge will be yours.

More reasons to vermicompost - did you know that:
In 2008, Americans generated 250 million tons of trash. (source: EPA's 2008 MSW Facts and Figures). Of this,
  • ~12.7 % is made of food scraps
  • 800 thousands of tons of food scraps were recovered (or composted) in municipal solid waste
  • 30,990 thousands of tons of food scraps were discarded in the municipal waste stream, and this number has been on the rise since 1960. (Source: EPA's MSW Data Tables 2008).
  • Aka, ~97.5% of disposed food waste was sent to landfills in 2008
So if you haven't started yet, let's reduce our waste and compost!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Will Lexington have a community farm?

Last month, the Town of Lexington became the owner of the 8-acre Busa Farm property in Lexington, MA. But what will become of it? Because the farmland was purchased using Community Preservation Act funds, the land must either be used for recreation, open space, historic preservation, or affordable housing (1).

Members of the Lexington Community Farm Coalition (LCFC) would like to see the land used for a community farm.

What is a community farm?

The LCFC hosted a discussion panel “A Year in the Life of a Community Farm” in December to address this very question.

Community farms
are run for and by the community. Around Massachusetts, such farms are frequently run by nonprofit organizations. What will happen to Busa Farm is particularly important, because it is one of the last, few working farms left in Lexington.

Panelists included representatives from community farms in neighboring towns (from left to right): Matt Celona and Christy Foote-Smith of Drumlin Farms (Lincoln, MA), Michael Iceland from The Food Project (Dorchester, Lynn, and Lincoln, MA), Jen James from Codman Community Farms (Lincoln, MA), Verena Wieloch from Gaining Ground in Concord, and Greg Maslowe of Newton Community Farms.

There are many benefits of a community farm, including:
  • Educating people of all ages about farming and where their food comes from, such as through farming apprenticeships
  • Local and fresh food for the community and to be donated to local food pantries
  • Increasing individuals' physical activity
  • Bringing together the community
For a recap of the panel, read Leah Bloom's excellent article "Residents study community farm options" in the Lexington Minuteman. In addition, read about the LCFC in the Boston Globe, and what the Boston Localvores said on this issue.

Lexington is my hometown, and I am currently studying nutrition at BU. But I never really thought about where my food came from and how it was grown until I was introduced to the group Slow Food BU my freshman year. Ever since then, farming and local and sustainable food have become very important in my life. I WWOOFed in Canada two summers ago, have been secretary of Slow Food BU since last year, enjoyed my first CSA share from Stillman's and interned at CitySprouts this past growing season, and will be taking the Master Urban Gardener Program with the Boston Natural Areas Network this winter.

I wish I had known about and taken advantage of community farms such as Drumlin Farms and The Food Project when I was younger, but it is never too late to learn about and become active in these issues. Sustainable and local food is not only important for the environment, but is more nutritious, and tastes better. Above all, it is extremely important to educate youth about how food grows and where it comes from, which is what a community farm can help to do. Luckily, there have already been some developments in Lexington over the past few years to help increase awareness about where our food comes from:
What can you do?
  • You can help support the LCFC's effort to use the Busa land as a community farm by simply signing this petition.
  • The LCFC is helping to sponsor a screening of The First Millimeter: Healing the Earth, followed by a discussion with Jim Laurie at the Cary Public Library on Tuesday, January 12 at 7 pm. More info about the screening here.
  • On Sunday, January 24th, the Lexington Selectmen will be deciding what to do with the Busa land. Come to ask the selectmen your questions and find out what they have to say about farming and what the land should be used for! Time: 7:30-9 pm. Location, TBD.
Keep updated on the Lexington Community Farm Coalition by visiting their site, joining their Google Group, following them on Facebook, or following them on Twitter @lexfarm. Or better yet, get involved!