In the summer of 2021 I planted a hops plant. It grew maybe half a foot. Over the summer of 2022 it took off, requiring a trellis to support its lushness. I harvested so many of those “flowers” when they were still a vibrant green. Once dried they even stayed that color. Just harvested or even quickly dried hops smells amazing and has citrus/pine notes. It is nothing like what you would buy in a store or on-line. Fresh picked “cones” makes a lovely cup of tea with the addition of a bit of milk. I quickly became addicted to this afternoon beverage. I find myself still craving it long after the fresh hops is gone. If hops is not quite to your taste you can adapt a chai recipe to make it more palatable.

At first I put the dried “flowers” in several bath formulas for sleep and relaxation (dream pillows, baths, steams). Hops is pretty bitter, so unless you like beer–you won’t be picking much other than to make a batch tincture, which could last you for years. I did some research, looking for creative ways to use up the fresh hops so that it would not go to waste. I came across a recipe for hops salt. It is pretty tasty. Salt is a natural, long term preservative. It is an easy and palatable way to take small amounts of medicinal herbs on a regular basis. Experimenting with salts can expand how you use culinary herbs like fresh basil, nasturtium leaves, fennel, dill, rosemary or thyme. A small sprinkle goes a long way on grains, roasted vegetables, or proteins. Salt brings out and strengthens any floral notes or volatile oils. Your dinner guests will wonder what is creating that very subtle flavor of “citrus” or “pine”. Herbal salts and are very easy to make.

Hops Salt Recipe

Place 1 cup of white sea salt into a food processor. Add a handful or 1 cup of loosely packed fresh herbs. Blend until your product is of a uniform color and texture. This breaks down any pigments. You will have a brightly colored salt for a few days before it fades to an olive green.

In spring the perennial rootstock of hops will send up several spiny, woody, angular stems/shoots that can be up to 20 ft. long. These “vines” like to climb, twist and attach. Hops is known for its “aggressive” and smothering growth. Leaves are darker green, rough, cordate, serrate, opposite, palmate, with 3-5 lobes. These grow on long stems from off of the vines. Flowers are quite small, without petals, and grow in clusters on separate plants. Male flowers are small panicles/racemes appearing early in the summer. Female flowers, are catkins. These grow in size to form numerous, larger, vibrant green, highly aromatic “flowers”/strobiles with overlapping layers of bracts/scales (technically a cone shape fruit). Hops can be found growing in hedges, in the woods and sometimes along a stream as it prefers damp soil. It does well cultivated in the garden.

Hops has been used to treat insomnia, stress, muscle tension, anxiety, restlessness, hyperactivity, headaches, pain, fever, low milk supply, mastitis, menstrual problems due to low estrogen, hot flashes, menopausal symptoms, poor appetite, diarrhea, gas, IBS, Chrone’s disease, inflammation, digestive tract infection, ulcers, and rheumatism . As a bitter, it supports the liver, spleen and digestive system. Hops is a good diuretic for several conditions like cystitis, edema/water retention and kidney stones. Its antispasmodic properties make it useful for coughs and gastrointestinal spasm. Externally it has been used to treat dandruff, eczema, acne, boils, rough skin, rashes, growths, sprains, abscesses, bruises and wounds. A poultice can be helpful for headache and earache. The vines have been used to make cord, cloth and paper just like hemp which is in the same botanical family. Hops could also be used as a source of pectin.

Latin name: Humulus lupulus

Botanical Family: Cannabidacae

Parts Used: female cones/strobiles “flowers”

Energetics: cold, dry, bitter, pungent

Element: air

Spiritual Uses: To support our efforts when we need to achieve a goal. Helps us to develop patience, cooperation and perseverance. Some things take a long time to manifest. Be open and receptive as often the unexpected/unwanted can be the most beneficial to us in the moment. Reminds us that giving and receiving must come from the heart. Encourages us to share ourselves with the community. But with the caution that any gift should be truly needed and requested by the receiver. This prevents energy depletion and resentment. Calming when one fears loss. Sometimes we need to loose everything in order to gain what we most want.

Contraindications: Do not use during pregnancy. Because of its sedative effect hops may not be appropriate for those with a history of depression or the use of prescription sedatives. Can cause contact dermatitis or eye irritation in sensitive individuals. Dried hops that are several months old will have a stimulating effect. This herb has a history of suppressing menstruation in women and sex drive in men. Many not support those struggling with infertility. Prolonged high doses may stress the kidneys.

TULSI, Lemon and Ginger Syrup

A year ago I took a workshop on using medicinal herbs for trauma, grief and support for the dying. Tulsi (holy basil) was a popular recommendation in many of the suggested formulas. I have never been that drawn to experiment with tulsi since it is not commonly grown in the US. You can now find it easily in many well known commercial blends, but the tea has always seemed rather bland to me. Probably because of how it is dried and stored. It just seemed to be yet another plant from a far off country to become the next health trend (because it can be harvested in large amounts cheaply but unsustainably).

I decided to take the risk and order some dried tulsi from an on-line source. They had several sub species/varieties to choose from. I can only speak for the one I ordered. It has an amazing taste that is really hard to describe as there are so many “notes”(sweet, fruity, floral, spicy) that I can detect. Surprising given that the dried product I received had so little color and scent to it. I swoon to imagine what it would have been like as a living plant.

This tulsi syrup tastes a bit like Coke or Pepsi which originally had ingredients/essential oils such as neroli, cinnamon, orange, nutmeg, lavender, vanilla, and coriander. So far I have used it added to carbonated water, regular ice water, and to milk for a boba tea type drink. It has a rich caramel color just like other soft drinks but without all the bad stuff.

Tulsi Syrup

To a large stockpot add….

1 cup of coconut palm sugar

2 cups of water

1 medium lemon sliced into quarters

1/3 cup of dried tulsi leaves

1 inch of a large fresh ginger root coarsely chopped.

Bring to a boil, reduce to low heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Lastly-strain, fully cool, pour into bottles, cap and refrigerate. Will store for several months.

I don’t have a photograph for living tulsi at the moment. I did successfully grow several small plants from seed. I did harvest and use them. But they were mixed in with my Italian and cinnamon basil so I could not get a good, clear, distinct image.

I have dozens of books on herbal medicine. Many of which are well known and popular. I also have a few books on Ayurveda. I was very disappointed that there was so little about tulsi in my home resources.

A far as a physical description, all varieties of basil will be frost tender annuals. Leaves will be oval shaped and opposite. These will not be downy. “Basil” leaves tend to be smooth and flat, same color top and bottom. Tulsi leaves will be much smaller than cultivated Italian basil, they may be slightly serrated. Tiny flowers will grow in whorled clusters or along a spike at the ends of stems past the large mature leaves. Light pink/purple or white petals are fused, the flower funnel shaped, with a large bottom lip. Hence why it is popular with bumble and native bees. Like other members of the “mint family” , tulsi will be high is volatile oils with a distinctive scent. It will have have square stems. Coloration of leaves and stems will vary just like other “mints” with lots of cultivated varieties. You may see hints of red or purple.

I have decided not to describe the medicinal qualities of tulsi as it it were Italian basil. You can read about that in other posts were I have featured that specific plant. Rather I will only list what is unique or special to tulsi based on internet research.

Tulsi reduces the inflammation associated with viral and bacterial infections. It is thought to purify the blood and remove serious toxins. This plant has a history of being used to treat heat conditions related to the eyes, skin, heart, liver or lungs. As herbal medicine it has been used for kidney stones, migraines, fevers, dental disease, gout, arthritis, stress, anxiety, fatigue, gas, bloating, parasites, poor appetite, ulcers, cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, bronchitis, flu, allergies, asthma, swelling and pain. It may support weight loss by boosting metabolism. It may have anti-aging properties like reducing memory loss and boosting vitality.

As a poultice it has been used to remove venom from bites or stings. As an external wash it may help when there is acne, eczema, scars, hair loss, dandruff, rashes, fungal infections, and aging skin It can be burned as a disinfectant to purify or remove negative energy.

Latin name: Ocinum tenuiflorum/sanctum

Parts used: leaves and flowering tops

Energetics: pungent, bitter, warm, dry. In Ayurveda or vitalistic traditions, Tulsi is used to cool heat conditions.

Element: Fire

Spiritual/Emotional uses: Mastery and accomplishment through self control hard work and confidence. An expanded state of awareness that is positive, protective and supports achieving goals or manifesting dreams. Inspiration. To release any inner tension that constricts the spirit. Helps to increase self-esteem or courage. Can be used in a mild tea, external wash or bath to ease transitions or remove sorrow.

Contraindications: individuals experiencing diabetes, infertility, or who are pregnant. Large quantities may cause diarrhea and nausea.

Sage Cocktail Bitters

Bitters seem to be all the rage in any herb store or at local farmer’s markets. I have made a cacao based digestive bitter and a fruity thyroid support bitter. This was my first attempt at a “cocktail” bitter. We really don’t drink in my family. I will have to find some creative ways to use it up or give it to a friend who likes to experiment as a bartender for parties. I was inspired to make this due to an overabundance of sage and mugwort in the garden. Here we are in December. Both plants still have lots of lush, green growth that could be put to good use.

Sage Bitters

My ingredients of choice were fresh mugwort, dried orange peel, fresh sage, dried apricots, a vanilla bean, pecans, and dried gogi berries.

The base of any cocktail bitter recipe is….

1 part fresh herbs. Some amount of your choice of Bitter/Digestives-vervain, mugwort, angelica, lovage, or dandelion are possibilities. Other ones-sage, or rosemary

2 parts Everclear brand grain alcohol

Now this this is the artistic part where the herbalist gets to experiment with flavors and proportions. It is a very personal creation. Any good bitter contains some amount of the following…..

Dried fruit-cherries, apples, apricots, goji berries, golden raisins, figs

Frangrant spices-cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla bean, orange peel

Nuts-almonds, walnuts, peacans

As you chose think about which ingredients might pair well together. What level of sweetness, astringency or bitter appeals to your tastes. Consider favorite foods, smells, or memories.

Place all your ingredients in the appropriate size canning jar and seal with a lid.

Allow your bitter to sit 4-6 weeks. Then strain and bottle. Use as appropriate with personal discretion.

Sage is a shrubby perennial that is native to Europe. It grows well and overwinters even in my climate. In any garden that I have had it establishes itself as a “mother plant”. The stems are square, woody, long, finely haired and often leggy. With time and age my plants become less attractive but more productive in leaves. This herb can be sensitive. If you offend it, neglect it, damage it when harvesting-you may not see it the following year. The downy, oval shaped, crenated, opposite arranged leaves have a “sage” green color. The flowers are purple (sometimes white) tube shaped, two lipped, and grow widely spaced on terminal racemes. High in aromatic essential oils and botanical features clearly place it in the mint family.

Salvia is thought to be good for stress, depression, vertigo, hot flashes, digestive issues, gas, diarrhea, headaches, flu, congestion, menstrual problems, arthritis pain, blood clots, fever, and staph infections. She is a wonderful gargle for laryngitis, gum disease, bad breath, and sore throats. If you need to clear phlegm in any organ this plant is a good choice. As a bath Sage has been used externally to address eczema, insect bites, wounds, acne, rashes, and poison ivy/oak, dandruff, and vaginal discharge. There is a long history of using this plant as a symbol of wisdom, clarity, longevity, purification and protection. I like hanging bundles of the fresh herb in my house, washing the floors with the tea, or burning dried leaves to clean out energy from a space.

Parts used: Leaves

Energetics:bitter, dry, pungent, warming


Spiritual/Emotional Uses-to remove negative energy, disturbances and bad luck. Helpful when one is struggling with the natural process of aging.

Contraindications:Large does in pregnancy. Do not use while nursing as it may dry up your milk supply. Do not use in therapeutic doses long term

Slow Cooked Oats with Goji Berries

This is the perfect meal for cold winter mornings. Packed with nourishing grains, fat/protein, and sweet dried fruits. If you have to go out for a morning hike, ski, or snowshoe this will set you up for several hours of vigorous exercise. I love that you can quickly throw all the ingredients into the crockpot after dinner, push a button, and wake up to a great breakfast. If you cook for a big group of people, be sure to keep this recipe in mind. It can also be adapted for camping. The ingredients are easy to store and transport.

Last summer I noticed a strange stalk growing from the neighbors yard under my fence. Since he is a doctor of oriental medicine I suspected it might be something interesting. Sure enough I discovered it was Goji. It managed to over winter in our climate, send out many more stalks and produce some lovely berries this year. I have been purchasing the dried berries recently. I like to use them in my rejuvenation pastes. I also eat them by the small hand full when I crave something sweet after dinner. I love the slightly astringent/bitter taste at the end. I find the fresh berries pleasing as well. I look forward to larger harvests through the years and experimenting with this plant. If you have been resistant to using goji, this hot cereal might be the incentive to use this “heal all. In Chinese medicine goji is a popular ingredient in medicinal soups, stews, and porridges.

Slow Cooked Oats with Nuts and Dried Fruit

To a standard crockpot/slow cooker add…

One 8 oz. can of coconut milk with fat

1 cup of water

2 cups of milk of your choice

1/2 cup of goji berries

1/2 cup your choice of dried fruit, diced if needed (raisins, prunes, figs, cranberries, golden berries etc.)

1/2 cup of chopped nuts of your choice (hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, almonds)

1 ripe banana

1.5 cups of oat groats/steal cut

Cook on low, overnight, in a crock pot.

Sweeetner as desired. Top with yogurt or cashew cream.

This evergreen/perennial is considered native to Asia but is commonly cultivated in Europe. It is in the nightshade family (ground cherry, tomato, chiles/peppers) The “bush” typically grows from the ground in 6ft long stalk/stems which may have short occasional short branches. These fall over like tomatoes and benefit from being on a trellis. Stems may have spines and have a whitish film, Leaves are medium green, alternate, narrow, spade shaped, with smooth margins. Orange/red berries are drop shaped. Pale purple (greenish) flowers are tube shaped with 5 partially joined petals. Prefers full sun and poor , well drained soil. There is a native variety that grows in the American Southwest (L. pallidum).

Do not confuse with other members of the solanaceae family that have red berries like Solanum dulcamara or americarum which are poisonous.

Lycium is used in both Eastern and Western medicine. You may not find this plant discussed in some of your Western herb books because it is not cultivated much in the US. Goji berries are a great adaptogenic herb for when the body is ill or under stress. As a nutritive herb, the provide support/strength for the liver, kidneys, endocrine system and the “blood”. Lycium helps remove toxins and is considered a Yin tonic. This herb has been used to treat weak muscles/back/ligaments/veins, night sweats, fevers, colds, pneumonia, dizziness, bleeding, inflammation of the bronchial tubes, asthma, hair loss, low blood sugar, infertility, symptoms of hormone imbalance or menopause, tinnitus, vertigo, aging, diabetes, anemia, high blood pressure, varicose veins, poor circulation, fatigue, dry skin/tissues, poor immune system, tumors, impotence and to reverse weight loss associated with cancer or AIDS. They may improve eye health (macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma) and sight as they are high in carotenoids, lutein, and flavonoids. When used regularly in the diet, berries can help support the growth of healthy bowel flora and decrease cholesterol levels.

Latin Name: Lycium barbarum/chinensis (most commonly cultivated)

Botanical family: Nightshade/Solanaceae

Parts used: fully ripe or dried berries. The bark and root only by experienced doctors of Oriental Medicine. The immature leaves sometimes in soup.

Energetics: sweet, warm, bitter or neutral, cooling and sour

Element: water

Emotional/spiritual uses:grounding, nourishing, calming, strengthening

Contraindications: acute fever, diarrhea, bloating, “damp” constitution

The Fall Garden Tea (Mint)

In fall (early October) I like to go around the garden before the first frost hits and gather some of my favorite plants. It is a cherished ritual that I use to close out the herbal year. A way of saying goodbye to and thanking “my friends” until I see them again come April. I gather I small amount of those that call out to me. Then I make 2 quarts of tea which I refrigerate and enjoy for the rest of the week. This time I chose Hops, Calendula, Plantain, Marshmallow, Echinacea, Rose hips, Red Raspberry, and Mint. Any “nutritive” herb will work. Today I decided to talk about mint because I have been drinking the tea a lot lately. It has strong volatile oils that that open, clear, and get things moving. This herb is also a great choice if you have a condition that requires a cooling action. Here is is early and I can still find small fresh amounts of it growing in the garden. At the moment Mint likes to hideout close to the ground under the apple leaves. Of course you can make this special tea any time of year when you feel the need connect on a deeper level to medicinal plants.

Mentha is in the mint/Lamiaceae family and includes both peppermint (Mentha piperita) and spearmint( Mentha spicata). Peppermint is a hybrid perennial plant that is most often found cultivated in gardens. This herb is highly aromatic( menthol). It has erect, square, branching, purple stems. It’s opposite leaves are opposite, oval/lance shaped and often serrated. The sepals and petals are united to form tiny purple flower that have 5 two lipped lobes (2 up, 3 down). These are arranged at the ends of axillary and terminal spikes. Spearmint lacks the purple hues in it’s foliage and is a more vibrant green. The leaves are often greater in number, larger and more serrated and “wrinkled”. They are sessile and have a very short petiole where they join the stem. This plant is usually taller than peppermint. The flowers are more numerous/dense on a larger , interrupted spike. Mints can be invasive and spread quickly through their rhizomes. They will tolerate any kind of soil and thrive in both sun and shade. Grow mints near your vegetables to keep them free of insects and other pests. These plants are a favorite of native bees.

Mints are known for their ability to clean damp/phlegm, increase circulation to the tissues and relax blood vessels. Their volatile oils warm the body, open the pores, and encourage sweating. Historically they been used to treat cramps, spasms, colds, coughs, flu, fever, sinus infections, sore throat, headaches, high blood pressure, menstrual problems, painful urination, nausea/vomiting, heartburn, stomach ache/colic, gas, digestive issues, liver stagnation, ulcers, parasites, bad breath, gum disease, nervous disorders and fainting. Externally mint has been used to treat pain, inflammation, rheumatism, bruises, rashes, hives, bug bites, and skin issues. A steam inhalation may help with asthma, bronchitis, chest congestion and laryngitis. Mints improve the flavor of other teas, are used in many culinary traditions, and can be burned as incense. Spearmint tends to have a sweeter, less spicy/hot/medicinal flavor than peppermint.

Parts used:aerial above ground parts

Energetics: sweet, pungent, cool, warm, dry

Element: fire and water depending on variety

Emotional and Spiritual Uses:Prosperity. protection. Brings movement, openness, and warmth to life. Allows the mind to think quickly and clearly so that we can envision and future and manifest our dreams.

Contraindications: Avoid large doses in pregnancy and nursing. Long term therapeutic use can stress the heart.