Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sumac Tea

From late summer to early fall is an ideal time to make a cold infusion of sumac berries for a refreshing lemonade-flavored tea.   Simply gather ripe red berry clusters from any sumac tree (poison sumac has white berries and overall looks very different, so it's difficult to make a mistake and accidentally gather these).  To ensure you aren't wasting your time, touch your tongue to a berry cluster.  If nice and sour, they are ripe.  They are best (prime sourness) when glistening with a whitish sap.  Try to harvest before a heavy rain.

Next, simply place berry clusters in a jar and cover with cold water.  Wait for anywhere between 1 hour and a day.  Strain and sweeten to your liking with your favorite sweetener.  We used a simple sugar syrup.  Cool in the fridge, and enjoy after chopping firewood or any tough, hot outdoor chore, or whenever you'd reach for a refreshing glass of lemonade. 

Friday, September 2, 2016


Passionflower is a locally available native vine that we're harvested for years to make a sleep aide.  Now (early September) is a great time to harvest it, while you can grab some of its ripe fruits to make may-pop jelly as well.  We use all above-ground parts of the plant except for the stem.  After de-stemming, I usually dry some leaves to use in a medicinal tea, as warm teas are soothing all by themselves.  I also make a tincture.  Tinctures are made by chopping up the fresh (or dry) herb and mixing with alcohol.  I try to use 100 proof, or 50% alcohol.  The medicinal components are dissolved in the alcohol, which is a solvent for both water-soluble and fat-soluble compounds.  The alcohol also acts as a preservative, allowing one to store the tincture for years.  After allowing the herb to soak in the alcohol for 6-8 weeks in a dark place, strain, and store.  A dropper-full is all that is needed for a good night sleep without any woozy hangover in the morning.  We find it is an effective remedy for a worrying, wandering mind that won't shut off.

Do herbal medicines really work?  I doubted the effectiveness for years, until my son, then a baby, got a chest cold.  We bought some over-the-counter pediatric cough medicine, which had a really adverse effect on him.  The reaction was so dramatic and negative, I sought out alternative treatments, and found an herbal cough medicine at a health food store that worked much better and without the awful side effect.  We've been dappling in herbal medicines ever since.  Of course, there are many ailments which cannot be treated effectively with herbs.  But I wonder if there is some synergistic relationship between the effective constituents and other things in the plant, thereby making medicines from plants a more holistic treatment, much like the idea of eating whole foods rather an relying on vitamin supplements.   Food for thought...