How To Make Delicious Herb-Infused Water

herbwater21In celebration of National Water Quality Month, created to help remind us of the importance of protecting our water supplies, I wanted to share some recipes for herb-infused waters that are as healthful as they are delicious.

For these recipes, I chose herbs that are growing in my garden, along with a complementary flavor – citrus gives the blends a nice zing, and vanilla beans add a light sweetness to the water. There are unlimited flavor combinations, and it is fun to experiment with a variety of herbs, spices and fruit. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Lavender and Vanilla
• 1/4 cup fresh lavender, buds crushed slightly to release the flavor
• 1/2 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise

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Mint and Lime
• The rind of 1 lime
• 1/2 cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped

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Shiso and Lemon
• 1/2 cup fresh shiso, coarsely chopped
• The rind of 1 lemon

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1. Place ingredients in a quart-sized canning jar and fill with cold, filtered water.
2. Allow the filled jar to sit, refrigerated, for 8-12 hours to allow the flavors to infuse.
3. Strain out the ingredients and return the water to the jar. Keep the jar in the fridge to keep it chilled. It will last 2-3 days.
4. When serving, add some fresh sprigs of herbs or slices of fruit to your glass for a beautiful presentation.

You can adjust the amounts of the ingredients for more intense or milder flavors. Have fun experimenting!

How to Make All-Natural Insect Repellant

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Summer is in full-swing and the bugs are out in full force! Some of my readers have requested a recipe for an all-natural insect repellant, so I developed formula made with essential oils that works well and smells good, too!

Different essential oils repel different insects, so I used a blend of different oils to cover a wide spectrum of pests. For my recipe, I used cedar, citronella, clove, lavender, peppermint and rosemary with castor oil (which repels mosquitoes) in a witch hazel base.

Ingredients:

  • 3 ounces distilled water
  • 3 ounces witch hazel
  • 3.5 teaspoons of essential oils
  • 1 teaspoon glycerine (optional)

Combine well and pour into clean spray bottles.

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Shake well before each use as the water and oils will separate. Spray onto your skin or clothing, avoiding your eye area, covering as much area as possible. Wash with soap and warm water to remove once you are back indoors. Store in a cool, dark place.

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You can vary the recipe by using different essential oils, as long you keep the ratio of no more than 1 part essential oils to 10-20 parts carrier. Here are some of the best essential oils for repelling insects, along with the insects they repel:

  • cedar oil (fleas)
  • cinnamon oil (mosquitoes)
  • citronella oil (mosquitoes and biting flies)
  • clove oil (mosquitoes)
  • eucalyptus oil (mosquitoes, ticks, and lice)
  • geranium oil (ticks and lice)
  • lavender oil (ticks)
  • lemongrass oil (ticks)
  • orange oil (fleas)
  • peppermint oil (fleas)
  • rosemary oil (mosquitoes)

You can use any combination of the above listed essential oils. And instead of witch hazel and water, you can use olive oil, vodka or straight witch hazel without water.

NOTE: If you are pregnant or nursing, do not apply an insect repellent, natural or otherwise, without consulting your physician

IMG_6725This little nymph recently hitched a ride home on my leg from a hike in the woods. If only I had some of my homemade bug repellant with me, he wouldn’t have had a chance!

NOTE: If you are looking for all-natural pesticide recipes, this post on housekeeping.org has a comprehensive collection, including our neem-based recipe.

How to Make Violet Cordial

It’s that wonderful time of the year when violets make their brief appearance, and my yard is filled with the beautiful little deep-purple flowers. A few years ago, I posted a tutorial on how to make violet syrup, and I thought it would be fun to revive that recipe with a twist. I made the same basic syrup, but added some vodka to the mixture to make a lovely violet cordial that can be sipped by itself or added to other beverages to make a light floral cocktail. The variety of violets I have in my yard are only slightly fragrant, so the cordial has a mild floral flavor. Different varieties will yield different tastes.

violetsyrup02I began by gathering 2 cups of violets, making sure to choose only those blooms that were open and free of bites and blemishes. When you are harvesting edible wild flowers, make sure that you are picking them from locations that are free from pesticide or other chemical applications.

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I placed the violets into a colander and rinsed them thoroughly.

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Then placed them in a Mason jar and covered them with 2 cups of boiling water. The water almost immediately began to turn a gorgeous sapphire blue! I let the violet infusion cool, then placed it in the refrigerator and let it steep for 24 hours.

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After 24 hours, I strained out the violet blossoms, squeezing them to get out all the gorgeous purple hue. I placed some in a bowl so that I could show you what a brilliant color it made.violetsyrup07

I placed the strained liquid into a heavy-bottomed saucepan.

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Then added 2 cups of organic cane sugar and let this mixture come to a boil.

violetsyrup11I then turned down the heat to medium and let it cook at a low boil for about 10 minutes, stirring often.

violetsyrup10I removed the syrup from the heat, then added the strained juice of half a lemon. The acid from the lemon made the syrup go from deep violet to a beautiful magenta color.violetsyrup09

I then mixed the syrup, 50/50, with organic vodka and bottled it in sterilized capped glass jars, which I bought at the Container Store.

violetsyrup12After letting it sit for 2 weeks, it was ready to decant. It is very sweet by itself, but makes a lovely addition to champagne or sparkling water. Enjoy!

Cool Glass Straws and Hot Simple Syrup!

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A couple of weeks ago, I struck up an Instagram friendship with the good folks over at fellow Green America certified sustainable business Glass Dharma, makers of the original glass straw. In talking to them, I mentioned that I would love a straw, so they sent me one!

It was beautiful and sturdy, and when I tested it out, I was struck by the fact that it doesn’t affect the taste of beverages the way plastic and paper straws do. It was also just fun to use! So the beautiful glass straw inspired me to try some new drink recipes.

I had recently bought a bottle of habanero lime syrup, and thought it would make an excellent sipping beverage. However, the habanero flavor was muted and tasted more like black pepper. So, I decided to try making my own.

In researching habanero simple syrup recipes, I came across Tipple Sheet’s habanero syrup recipe, which I adapted to make my own habanero lime drink.

Simple syrup ingredients:

  • 2 habanero peppers
  • 1 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 cup water

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I found these gorgeous habanero peppers at my local hispanic market.

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Trim off the stem , and slice the peppers in half. I wanted to have the flavor and some of the heat, but not have it overwhelmingly hot, so I removed the seeds and the white membrane. If you want maximum heat, leave the seeds and membrane intact!

Many instructions I read recommended the use of rubber gloves in handling habaneros. I chose instead to just be careful not to touch the cut edges of the peppers. If you do this, please be careful. And don’t touch your eyes or your family members until you have thoroughly washed your hands after handling these hot peppers!

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In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 1 cup of water and 1 cup of organic cane sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. When the mixture turns clear, add the habanero peppers.

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Allow the mixture to come to full boil, then turn the heat down and allow it to simmer for 10 minutes

Remove from heat and allow the syrup to cool. Strain into a clean glass jar. The syrup will keep for about 2 weeks if kept refrigerated.

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To make the Habanero Lime Drink, add 1 teaspoon of the habanero simple syrup to 8oz of still water or sparkling water. Add the juice of one half lime and some sugar to taste. This makes a refreshing, yet spicy, drink. Enjoy!

How to Make a Solar-Powered Battery Charger

The storms that blew through the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic on June 29 left us, along with millions of other people and all of the businesses in my town, without power for several days. I was incredibly grateful for a handcrank/solar-powered radio that I’ve had for years. It keep me abreast of the news, and provided some musical entertainment. It also inspired me to figure out how to make some solar appliances for future power outages. I heard stories on the radio of  people buying up batteries, and it occurred to me that I would prefer not to have to rely on them.

So, I headed to a library a couple of towns away (the closest one that was open) and did some research. I decided to start with a solar-powered battery charger since it was an easy first project. It required knowledge of how to use a soldering iron, but I had learned this as a child, having put together many Radio Shack kits with my father. The charger would be a low-cost-of-entry project, and if it turned out okay, I would go on to bigger and better things!

In addition to a 25-watt soldering iron ($8.99) and some solder ($5.49), which I can use for numerous future projects, I found that all I needed was the following items:

1) A solar panel. You need to have a total of 9V to have enough energy to charge your batteries. I purchased a 1W 9V ($16.99), but some articles I read used anywhere from 2V to 4.5V and connected them. You can even salvage some from inexpensive solar garden lights for less than that.

2) A rechargeable battery holder. I chose an enclosed one that can hold four AA’s ($2.29), but they come in a variety of configurations for different types of batteries.

3) A few things I read said that I needed to have a “blocking diode” to make sure that once the batteries are charged, and the light source is taken away (i.e., the sun goes down), that the power doesn’t flow back from the batteries into the solar cell and damage it. However, at one of the Radio Shacks I visited (I ended up going to a total of 3), the guy helping me said it wasn’t necessary, and since I didn’t know the exact number/name of the diode that I needed, I decided to forgo it and do some more reading.

Apparently, there is some debate over the necessity of blocking diodes for such a small project. However, I came across an article by someone who had actually measured the amount of energy flowing in and out, and he concluded it was necessary even for a project of this size. So, after some more reading, I decided to purchase a 2-pack of 1N4001 micro 1A diodes ($1.29).

Once I had gathered all of my materials, the actual putting together of the battery charger was very simple.

1) I soldered the negative (black) wire from the solar panel to the negative (black) wire from the battery holder.

2) Then I soldered one end of the diode to the positive (red) wire from the solar panel, and the other end of the diode to the positive (red) wire of the battery holder. I then trimmed the excess wire.

NOTE: It is important that you attach the diode in the proper direction to make sure that the energy is flowing TO the batteries and is blocked from returning to the solar panel, so it is important to read the diagram on the diode packaging to see which way it should be facing. Diodes have colored (or in my case grayed) bands indicating which end is which.

3) This part is not necessary, but since you have to leave your charger in the sunlight for several hours, it is nice to have some sort of weather protection. So I taped the solar panel to the inside of the lid of a takeout container. You can use anything with a clear top.

4) Once it was assembled, I just inserted four AA NiMh rechargeable batteries and let it sit for a total of 15 hours in the sunlight (I read that it takes anywhere from 10 to 15 hours for the batteries to fully charge).

Once the charging period was over, I transferred the batteries into this little flashlight. It worked like a charm! It was very satisfying to know that I had harnessed the sun’s power for this simple task, and it gave me the confidence to move onto bigger things.

My next project will be a solar USB charger so that I won’t have to worry about running out of juice in my phone during the next extended power outage!

[UPDATE: I came across some new instructions for a solar-powered battery charger in which the author recommended the use of a 1N914 Diode. I don't know enough about the differences between the 1N914 and 1N4001 to say which is more appropriate. If there are any experts out there who can shed some light on this, I would greatly appreciate it!].

How to Make Almond Milk

My daughter has been a vegetarian since age 5. More recently, she has become a vegan. Luckily, she is a wonderful cook, so never lacks for delicious, healthy, balanced meals. And almonds are one of her main sources of protein and omega-3, and she has found almond milk to be her preferred dairy substitute. Finding that she wasn’t satisfied with store-bought almond milk, she learned how to make her own, then passed that knowledge on to me. It is surprisingly easy to make, and far more delicious than any pre-made almond milk you can buy. The following recipe makes about 1 quart of almond milk.

You start by soaking 1 cup of raw organic almonds in filtered water for at least 4 hours (I soak them overnight) to soften them. I buy them in bulk from Whole Foods or other natural foods stores.

You then drain the almonds and place them in a blender with 4 cups of water (you can adjust the water to make a thicker or thinner milk).

Blend the almonds and water on high speed for until very well blend. I used the Liquefy setting.

Pour the blended almond milk mixture through a very fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth and allow to drain. You can press on the mixture with a spoon to help the liquid come through the strainer. You may need to do several batches depending on the size of your strainer. You can either compost the pulp or save it for use in a recipe (see below).

Ta dah!

Your almond milk needs to be stored in the refrigerator, and should stay fresh for about 4-7 day (although I have found that it doesn’t usually last that long in my house!)

I was wondering what to do with the leftover almond pulp, so I did a Google search. And thanks to the wonders of the Interwebs, I found filled with great almond pulp recipes a site devoted solely to almond pulp recipes! I plan to make yummy-sounding savory almond pulp crackers using fresh herbs from my garden.

How to Make Lavender Wands

On a tour of Cherry Hill Farm, a historic Victorian homestead in Falls Church, the docent showed us, among other things, a lavender wand. She explained that Victorian ladies kept them close at hand to mask unpleasant odors (which were apparently fairly abundant in the Victorian days) by daintily waving the wands under their noses. She let us smell the wand mentioning that it was already a year old. The scent was still strong and pleasant. She said by rolling the bulbous part of the wand between your fingers, you can revive the scent for quite a while.

I recalled that one of my herbal books had instructions for making these wands, and since my lavender plant has just started to bloom, I figured I should give this antique craft a try.

The instructions in my book were very hard to follow, especially since they did not have accompanying images, but I managed to figure it out through trial and error. I have laid out the steps, with photographs, to help make this an easy and pleasant experience if you decide to give this craft a try.

1) Cut several lavender stems, making sure they aren’t damp, choosing those with buds that are not fully opened yet. You will want to leave quite a bit of stem to allow yourself to complete the following steps.

2) To make a single wand, select a bunch of stems that have similarly-sized bud clusters. You will need an odd number of stems in order to be able to do the weaving. I like to use anywhere between 9 and 13 stems.

 3) Carefully strip or trim the leaves and stray buds from the stems.

4) Tie your selected stems tightly with a 1/4″ ribbon, right below the lowest buds, but don’t cut the ribbon from the spool at this point. Also, be sure to leave enough ribbon on the loose end to be able to tie a bow once the weaving is complete (I just leave a piece that is about the same length as the stems).

NOTE: If you can, it is best to let the stems sit for 24 hours at this point to allow them to get soft. This will prevent them from breaking when you follow the next step.

5) Bend the stems back over the ribbon and buds, so that it looks something like a closed umbrella without any fabric (and with a bunch of lavender buds underneath it).

6) Now start the weaving process by working the ribbon under and over the stems, gently pulling on the ribbon to make sure the weave is tight.

NOTE: It can be tricky getting the first two rows of weaving started – I often get mixed up regarding which ones go on top and which ones go under. You just need a bit of patience since, once you get to the third row, it gets very easy. I found that the process of making my first wand was really awkward, but after that, it was much easier!

7) Continue weaving until all of the flower buds are covered.

8) Wrap the ribbon around the stems a couple of times and tie into a know.

9) Trim the ribbon, then then the stems, to your desired length.

These wands smell wonderful and make lovely decorations or drawer sachets. Enjoy!