Monday, July 6, 2015

The Medicinal You-pick is Ready for Harvesting!

By Stephanie Kane
This year we started a new section of medicinal herbs and flowers to share with you as a you-pick option. In the first bed at the top of the hill (near where the peas were) we have the following plants, all of which are now ready for harvesting: lemon balm, catnip, German chamomile, calendula and tulsi basil (the yarrow is the only plant not quite ready for harvesting yet). We only have a small amount of these herbs, so we ask that you harvest judiciously so everyone gets to try them (they will be available for many weeks to come). Lemon balm, chamomile and tulsi basil (also known as holy basil) can be dried to make tea. These three herbs have calming effects on the body. The catnip can of course be used to drive your felines crazy, but did you know that catnip has been tested to be 10 times more effective at repelling insects than DEET? The trick is maintaining its effectiveness. Check out the recipe below for your own homemade bug repellent salve, using oils that extend the efficacy of the catnip.
Bug Repellent Salve:
Assorted small jars or tins
1 large bunch catnip
1 cup coconut oil or soybean oil
2 tbsp beeswax
Additional essential oils - Citronella, Clove, Lemongrass, Lemon Eucalyptus, Cedarwood, Rosemary, Tea Tree, Lemon Eucalyptus, Cedar, Lavender, Peppermint, Basil, Rose Geranium, Cinnamon Oil, Thyme, Lemon, Orange, Pine
Infuse the Oil:
In a small pot, combine catnip and oil. Cover, and warm the oil over low heat. Do not let the oil boil, and allow to steep for 20 minutes.
Strain over cheesecloth into a mason jar. You can make large batches of infused oil to make additional salves.
Make the salve:
To make the oil into a salve, melt 2 tbsp beeswax into 2/3 cup of oil (a 1:5 ratio will give you a nice soft salve that is easy to spread). Remove from heat, and add a few drops of any of the essential oils listed. The ones with the most bug repellent properties are citronella and lemon eucalyptus.
Spoon into jars and let set on the counter overnight, then take them with you everywhere you go this summer!
You can take an extra step to dry the catnip first in a dehydrator or by hanging it inside a paper bag in a dark corner of your house or cupboard. Using fresh herbs in oil infusions introduces water, and decreases their shelf life. If you're too excited to make your balm like I was but plan on using it frequently, you can get away with using fresh herbs. Put some away to dry and make larger batches with the dried herbs.
Both Soybean and coconut oil have their own bug repellent properties, and work to extend the efficacy of the bug repellent properties in the catnip, with soybean oil being the best. I've had a hard time finding it, especially since you should be purchasing non-GMO oil (and something like 95% of the country's soy is GMO).
If you're purchasing Lemon Eucalyptus essential oil for this recipe, make sure it is Eucalyptus citriodora, not a blend of lemon and eucalyptus.

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