The beginning of Pharmacies-medicinal plants

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

This past fall I took a trip to New Orleans and while there took a tour of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum where a pharmacist, Louis J. Dufilho, Jr. was the first to pass the national licensing examination in 1804, therefore making his pharmacy the first licensed United States apothecary shop. What does this have to do with plants-everything because as I toured the museum what became clear to me was the pharmacies of old were nothing like our current pharmacies where chemical drugs are sold to help heal aliments. The cures of yesteryear were plant-based and although some of them I’m sure didn’t work, I’m just as sure many did. So I saw the original ‘drugs’ that came from medicinal herbs and plants, not chemicals, and I saw things in a whole new way. Now I’ve known of some herbs that help with various aliments but never really connected the dots until I took a tour of that pharmacy. Gives me a whole new perspective on pharmacies and their beginnings. Sometimes going forward means looking backwards to see where we came from.

And speaking of pharmacies, soda fountains became popular in pharmacies where sweet syrups could be mixed with carbonated water and herbal concoctions to hide the bitter taste. Coca-Cola, one of the most famous fountain drinks, was invented by an Atlanta pharmacist, John Pemberton in the late 19th century. It was intended to be used as a medicine. Coca-Cola’s name came from its two ‘medicinal’ plant ingredients—coca leaves and kola nuts, hence the name. Coca-Cola originally had some cocaine in it from the coca leaves although no one knows how much as it’s recipe was and still is a secret. Coca-Cola was completely cocaine free by 1929 being replaced with caffeine. For more of this interesting story go here: http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/cocaine.asp

 

 

 

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Homemade Fresh Pesto

add basil leaves

Pesto is a such an easy thing to make and is so delicious that I don’t know why more people don’t make it. This summer I made fresh pesto with my mini food processor which I then froze for later use. I put some on pasta the other night and all the flavors of that fresh basil burst in my mouth just like when I first made it.

To make fresh pesto you can either grow your own plants or buy plants to use. I cut off all the leaves except the biggest to use in pesto. I keep the bigger leaves to add when making a pasta sauce to cook down. I do not use the flowers if there are any, as I think they give the pesto a slightly bitter taste.

fresh basil leaves soaking

Soak leaves for 15 minutes

I use Italian or Genovese basil to make my pesto and after I cut the leaves off, I soak the basil in bowl of water to freshen it up for about 15 minutes.

Blend salt. pine nuts, and olive oil

Blend salt. pine nuts, and olive oil

Put olive oil, sea salt, pine nuts, and garlic cloves into a blender or food processor and blend well.

Add drained basil leaves

Add drained basil leaves

Drain your basil leaves and add them and blend till smooth and creamy. If the mixture is really thick add more oil a little at a time till smooth. It should not look like thick chopped spinach but be a little thinner and smooth consistency!

Add parmesan cheese

Add parmesan cheese

Then add the grated cheese and blend again. Notice how it is finely grated and light and fluffy.

Finished pesto ready to freeze for later use.

Finished pesto ready to freeze for later use.

I like to put the finished pesto in freezer bags, taking as much of the air out of the bag as possible. Then lay the bags flat in the freezer. Be sure to not add too much to each bag as you want it thin enough to break off chunks of it later to use with your pasta. Above is the finished pesto ready to freeze. Here is the recipe:

FRESH BASIL PESTO
INGREDIENTS
1/2 extra-virgin olive oil (give or take a little) use a good grade
1/4-1/2 tsp coarse sea salt ( I use less as the cheese is salty)
1/4 pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
3-4 cups fresh Italian basil
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Put olive oil, sea salt, pine nuts, and garlic cloves into a blender or food processor and blend. Drain your basil leaves and add them and blend till smooth and creamy. If the mixture is really thick add more oil a little at a time till smooth. It should not look like chopped spinach but be of thinner consistency! Then add the grated cheese and blend again. If you are not going to use it right away, put it in a bowl and add a small amount of oil on top of it to help keep the pesto from oxidizing.  This won’t hurt the flavor but will turn the pesto into a shade of Army green instead of its bright beautiful green color. I like to put it in freezer bags, taking as much of the air out of the bag as possible and lay it flat in the freezer. Be sure to not add too much to each bag as you want it thin enough to break off chunks of it later to use with your pasta. Never microwave the frozen pesto to soften it. I like to put it in a bowl on top of the stove (next to the pot of boiling pasta) where it will start to soften up. Then after I drain the pasta, I pour it over the pesto. The hot pasta will melt the pesto, then toss it to coat all the pasta evenly.  Add a little grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on top and enjoy.

Is it a weed? White Horehound

?????????

There is a plant that grows everywhere around here and I’ve always wondered what it was. Grows like a weed so to speak. I knew it was in the mint family as the stems were square but was definitely not a mint. I just ID it from a book, Weeds of the West.

The plant growing in my gardens is white horehound which is a herb. There are two types of horehound—black horehound and white horehound. Black horehound can be toxic while white horehound can be beneficial. They are easy to tell apart because black horehound has little purple flowers while white horehound has little white flowers.

Since ancient Egypt, white horehound has been used as an expectorant. Native American and Australian Aboriginal medicines have traditionally used white horehound to treat respiratory conditions. Some people make homemade cough drops out of them and some use the dried leaves to make a tea. They actually sell the seeds in Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds but around my place it definitely grows like a weed on its own without my help. I use to pull it out because it is not a particularly attractive plant and frankly grew where I didn’t want it to grow.

But since I became a beekeeper, I noticed the bees are wild about it with its small white flowers, so now I leave it for them. The US Food and Drug Administration banned its use in US made cough drop saying it has no proven benefit. However it is widely used in Europe and you can buy it in European cough drops, just not US made ones.

I recently had pneumonia and a dry hacking cough that would give me fits. The only cough drop that would help stop the coughing that I tried is called ‘Ricola’ Cough Drops’, which is a Swiss made cough drop. Guess what is in those cough drops? Horehound! Only I didn’t know about white horehound, or Ricola cough drops or what that weed was growing in my gardens.  I found all this out while I was recovering and on the computer a lot-how serendipitous!

Herb garden

I use to have a great herb garden but then built the studio here at the house on top of where it was located and had to tear it out. What a mistake. I thought it would be easy to recreate that herb garden-but it hasn’t been. I’ve struggled with my ‘new’ herb garden space for the last three years. First, the drip system clogged up (I wasn’t paying attention) and the plants weren’t getting any water and died. Now for the last 2 years the bunnies, who aren’t suppose to like herbs, have leveled them to the ground because there is so little to eat out there. Last year I tried 3 different types of basil in a large pot on the deck because of the bunnies eating them and they did great. The bunnies won’t come up on the deck. This gave me the idea of growing them in containers.

herbs in pots

So this year I decided to take the little 2 inch starts that we get at the nurseries and give them a head start inside in April. They are now transplanted up in gallon size pots and are outside on the deck. Once I get a fence around the herb garden, I will plant them there. I think starting them inside and letting them get bigger (and keeping the bunnies away) will be the trick to getting a good herb garden again. Shown here are chives, oregano, English thyme, tarragon, lemon thyme and sage which are all perennial herbs I use in the kitchen. I already have kitchen sage, lemon balm, rosemary (arp variety), and lemon verbena tucked into the perennial garden among the other plants and they have all are done well for several years. I also have a winter savory and a garlic chive that did survive the bunnies and drought in the herb garden-must not taste too good to the bunnies.

Herbs De Provence

I love my herb garden even though it is sleeping now covered under a blanket of straw. This past season, I had to start over because many of the herbs died from that bitter cold winter we had last year. I didn’t realize how much I use them in the kitchen. I babied the new plants all summer. In the fall I picked a few of the herbs for drying and friends gave me lots as well.  I made bundles using a rubber band at the base of the stems and hung them upside down to dry.  After they dried, I put them in plastic bags and squished them by hand so the dried leaves fell off in the bag leaving me holding most of the stems. I took out the remaining stems, poured them into 1/2 pint jars, labeled them and put them in the pantry. I also have smaller jars of herbs that I keep close by in the kitchen on a shelf ready to use for cooking. There is nothing nicer than the aroma of the fresh air-dried herbs unless it is using them in your kitchen when you cook.

I may have to buy this  just to get the beautiful little ceramic crock!

My dried herbs wouldn’t be complete without my favorite blend of herbs, Herbs de Provence, which is a mixture of some common herbs created in the 1970s found in the southeast tip of France, where it borders Italy and includes all the French Rivera. These herbs should be used during cooking, not put on afterwards. It is a mixture of thyme, marjoram, savory, rosemary, tarragon, basil and lavender flowers. It can be used on vegetable stews, grilled meats, fish and oven roasted meats and vegetables. Crushing this mixture on a whole chicken and then roasting it with some fresh root vegetables is simply divine in the middle of winter. The smells that come out of the oven are fantastic and the taste is even better. There is no set formula for making Herbs de Provence but a mixture of the herbs above is basic. Many people put in oregano instead of marjoram and fennel instead of tarragon. You can add others as well. Here is a recipe below for making Herbs de Provence:

Herbs De Provence

2 TLB thyme

2 TLB marjoram

2 TLB savory

2 TLB rosemary

2 TLB basil

1 TLB tarragon

Mix it all together and store it in a jar.  If you don’t grow your own herbs, you can still make this combination from your jars of herbs or you can buy it. I just find homegrown herbs fresher and more flavorful. Magnifique!

Growing Borage

I wanted to try Borage and couldn’t find it in starters in the nurseries around town. Perhaps one of you did? So I grew it from seed this year and read that it is a good companion plant Strawberries do better with borage growing in with it. I have three plants and put them in the strawberry patch and both the strawberries and borage are doing great. They are a bee attractor which is a bonus.  It has gray-green fuzzy leaves with beautiful blue flowers that many people use in salads to make more beautiful. They have a slight cucumber taste. Can’t wait to put it in a salad. You must take off the sepals behind the flower and only use the flower itself.

NOTE: Pregnant women or nursing moms should not eat borage as it may increase lactation.

Elodie’s basil pesto

basil-cleaned and ready to be made into pesto

Three basil plants needed trimming to keep them bushy. Here is the recipe and some pictures for making basil pesto.

Elodie’s Basil Pesto

About 6-8 cups packed of fresh, clean basil
good quality olive oil
garlic crushed
Parmesan cheese
shelled pinon nuts-1/2 cup

Clean, wash and cut off stems from basil. Crush garlic and add to blender.

add oil to basil

Put about 1/3 of the basil into a blender and start to pour olive oil into the blender (maybe 1/2 cup or a little more). Start to blend on low and add more basil and/or oil as needed to make the mixture  thick (like thick spaghetti sauce) but still pourable.

add Parmesan cheese to basil

Add Parmesan cheese to taste and a little salt if needed but taste it before adding salt as the cheese has lots of salt in it. You can add pinion nuts if you have them but we didn’t here. Put in plastic freezable ziploc baggies and flatten the baggie as pictured. The mixture should be no more than 1/2 inch thick when bag is flattened. Put in freezer and break off chunks as needed. Don’t heat the pesto or the basil will turn dark (it’s ok to eat but not as pretty).

final pesto

Just break off a chunk from your baggy of pesto and put it on your drained but still hot pasta and it will ‘melt’ into the pasta as you mix it up. This amount made about 2 cups of pesto.