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This is Hal Sears.  Hal and I used to work together at the Community Mercantile which is a cooperative grocery store in Lawrence, Kansas specializing in natural foods, organic produce, and a vast selection of bulk herbs.  

Hal was the herb buyer for the store and for a few years, I was the ‘herb stocker girl’.  This means that once or twice a week, during my shift at the store, I would go through all the glass herb jars, pour them out, add new herbs into the bottom of the jars and then put the old herb stock back in to fill the jar to the top.  The store easily carried fifty different herbs and herb blends as well as whole leaf teas, powdered broth, and some bulk baking agents like baking soda and baking powder.  I enjoyed the job, especially re-stocking the peppermint and the cinnamon, but I quickly learned that powdered Valerian is the most vile smell on the face of the earth, and that I must pour the chili powder and the cayenne slowly or my eyes would sting for hours.  





Hal is extremely knowledgeable about herbs and their various medicinal uses.  At one point he created and sold his own herbal tinctures under a brand called ‘Thunder Wind Apothecary’.



Here is a bottle of Hal’s Echinacea Purpurea.  

Echinacea is an herb that can help fight off upper respiratory infections and is purported to boost the overall immune system.  The Plains Indians used it for snake bites as well as a myriad of other illnesses.  They passed their knowledge of this herb onto a travelling salesman named Joseph Meyer who began to market a concoction of the herb from a covered wagon.  To sell his echinacea tincture, he would goad a live rattlesnake into biting him, take a swig of his medicine and he would never get sick… or die… or anything.  He called his miracle drug, ‘snake oil’ and became the first in a long line of snake oil salesmen.  

Now who wants some echinacea tincture?

Let’s make some with Hal! 



First, Hal digs up a purple cone flower in his yard.  The scientific name for purple cone flower is either echinacea purpurea or echinacea augustofolian.  Either variety is suitable for an herbal tincture, but the augustofolian variety can numb your lips and mouth.





Hal keep the entire plant in tact.  He is going to use every part of the cone flower, including the heart, the lungs, the eyeballs, the bladder and the bowels.  





There will be dirt.  




Hal removes as much of the dirt as he can, but it is insidious.  Just when you think the plant is clean, you will find more dirt.









After a thorough cleaning, Hal hangs his echinacea up to dry for a while.  He wants it to wilt a bit.  









While the cone flower was wilting, Hal and I sat on his back porch and chewed the fat.  We rifled through all of the people that we both worked with at the ‘Merc’ and where they are now.  We talked about the changes over time in the co-op from it’s humble beginnings in a tiny store on Massachusetts street to the full service grocery store that it is now.  We also covered Buddhism, Catholicism, wild-crafting herbs, his adorable two year old granddaughter named Mercury, comfrey, ducks, my four boys, living in a small town, community life, peace, peach farming, baptism, the french horn, aloe vera, theocracy and the Latin mass.  

I love talking to Hal.  





I brought Hal a few varieties of cone flowers that we sell at the Garden Center.  

The orange one is called ‘Tiki Torch’ and the yellow one is called ‘Harvest Moon’.








This is what the echinacea looked like when Hal took it off the clothes line.









He brought it inside to his kitchen and chopped it into four inch pieces.



















Hal stuffed two glass jars with pieces of the plant.  He placed the roots in the bottom, then added the stems and leaves…




The flowers went on the top.









He filled the jars with vodka.





One jar was finished, but to the other Hal added a few other herbs.






He added some goldenseal.








Some licorice for sweetness…





And some cayenne to clear out the sinuses.





He topped it all off with just a tad more vodka.





Hal then demonstrated how he would filter the tincture after it had set in the jars for one month.  

He simply folded a paper towel inside of  a kitchen colander and set this on top of bowl.

He would pour the contents of the tincture through the colander and then bottle the resulting amber colored liquid.






Hal labeled the jars for me.





He showed me a few books that had shaped his own herbal knowledge.




And then he made me lunch!

Who got the best deal out of this little excursion?







Thanks Hal!




Several commenters have been asking about dosage recommendations for this tincture.   I hesitate to put medical advice on my blog because I don’t actually know anything.  I will say that the only way I have ever used echinacea myself is to simply  steep the dried root  in a nice hot cup of water whenever I feel the first bit of a scratchy cold coming on in the back of my throat.  You can purchase dried echinacea in most stores that have a good herb section or any health food store.  Now that I have Hal’s tincture, I will try it out and I will probably follow the dosage advice in this article (scan down towards the end of the article for the dosage info.)


Happy Herbing!


My spinach has been growing gangbusters.

Fearing that the warmer weather might cause my spinach crop to bolt…

…like my arugula did.

I decided I better go ahead and harvest most of it and see if I could figure out how to ‘put it up’.

I collected enough spinach to fill a tall kitchen trash bag.

I set the bag into the sink and filled it with water, letting the spinach soak for a while to loosen the dried on dirt.

The boys helped me to remove the stems and any unwanted bits and pieces.

I set up an assembly line on the island.

Here we have cleaned spinach, boiling water, and a large container filled with ice and water.

I placed the clean spinach in the boiling water for one minute, which is called ‘blanching’ because that makes you sound smart and gives you an edge on confusing the heck out of people.

I found several recipes for freezing spinach, and they all had different recomendations for how long to ‘blanch’ your spinach. Some said two minutes, some said thirty seconds, some spoke of enzymes and some spoke of nutrient leaching. I finally gave up on finding a cook time that was predominant, and went with an average… one minute. My spinach will probaby have both bad enzymes and nutrient leaching. I just hope it tastes alright.

After one minute I removed the spinach from the boiling water…

…and placed it in an ice bath.

The ice bath stops the spinach from cooking, which also stops the enzymes from ‘enzyming’ and also stops the nutrients from leaching.

I left my spinach in the ice bath until I had processed all the spinach.

I labeled my freezer bags.

I then drained the spinach and loaded up the bags.

Two small freezer bags.

That is all that came from a trash bag full of spinach.

That stuff cooks down… way down!

I can’t wait to try this out in a batch of spanakopita!

After a few weeks of discussion, I finally got the Country Doctor to build a fence for my garden.






He wanted to pound a few metal stakes in the ground, stretch out some chicken wire, and call it done.






I really needed something a little prettier.  


I did…


My garden is right outside the windows by my kitchen table!  

Can it really be helped if I need a nice view to go with my morning Eggo waffles? 




The Country Doctor finally gave in and built a wooden fence for me.

But not without first commenting…

“The nice thing about the fence that you want, is that it not only requires half a day to build and brutal post hole digging, but I also have to go out and buy a bunch of new supplies instead of using what I already have on hand!”

“I am glad that things are working out so well for you dear.” I replied.





Here are the three brutal fence posts that took an hour to dig, which had to be purchased instead of using the metal stakes that we already had, which could have been pounded into the ground in less than ten minutes.



I never promised that life with me would be easy!









He did however make use of a few boards that we already had up in the barn rafters.








We attached rabbit fencing to the boards as the Kentucky Wonders and the Asparagus beans prefer to climb a metal grid instead of wood boards. 

Which yes, this means that the Country Doctor’s metal stake and chicken wire fence would have made far more sense.

But this garden is not just about making sense.








It’s about trying to create something magical!


What’s the point of creating anything without a little magic involved?

Maybe this fence doesn’t look so magical to you?

Well, it’s a damn site more magical than metal stakes and chicken wire!




A magical country urn!










Thanks dear!  

Of all of my husbands, you are my favorite.


And also the only husband.


So far…