Herbal harvest

Herbal harvest

How I have waited for this time of the year! I just love aromatic herbs, and now is when many of them are at their best. It’s oh so fragrant, oh so beautiful!
With their lovely fragrances, each so specific to the plant in question, it would be a suitable task for a poet trying to describe their taste. Most aromatic herbs are also part of a medical tradition, as well as surrounded by diverse folkloric stories and beliefs. These are just some of the herbs in our garden…

BasilI think basil is a culinary icon. I just love it, and it’s the aromatic that I wait most impatient for each summer.
Basil exists in lots of varieties today, but the only one that should be used in a true pesto is the kind named Genovese. Historically there are many thrilling traditions associated with basil. In India it has been considered a holy plant, part of religious ceremonies, and people thought that the creator of the earth lived inside the plant. Another quite fun story is that the ancient grec apparently thought that one had to scream and shout in order to make the basil seeds germinate. I haven’t tried that technique, but I have everything between the traditional basil Genovese, to purple basil, thai basil and my very favorite – the holy basil growing in the garden. I find the holy basil spicier than classic one, yet sweeter in the same time. It goes with everything from a tomato salad to some fresh strawberries with a little sugar. A must-try if you haven’t discovered it yet. There are many others, but I tend to like the varieties I mentioned above the best. Basil lasts for harvest a long time once it has started to produce. I tend to use most fresh, dried its use is completely different. If anyone has the experience of freezing basil to conserve I would love to hear about it.

Some other herbs have already given their major harvest and will be conserved by drying. That’s the case of my oregano and marjoram. It was with both joy and sadness that I cut the lovely flowering bushes that they have formed. Thank you nature for this fragrant and beautiful gift!
Yet others, like the lemon balm (first picture above) and my two varieties of mint will even have time to re-grow three times during the summer season.

On the middle picture above there is also an herb called Perilla that I have become found of in infusions. Perilla is the parsley of the Japanese, and the green variety is even included in sushi from time to time. Yes, it exists in two shapes, green or red, the green one being the most aromatic. I haven’t found any seeds of the green Perilla even though I am keen on growing it to try. Apparently its taste is something between cumin, coriander, mint and lemon all at once! The red Perilla on the other hand is quite discrete but has nonetheless a pleasant flavor, and is antispasmodic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and contains lots of vitamins. The foliage of the plant also makes it a beautiful eye-catcher in the garden.

The third picture is Chrivil (Cerfeuil en francais). I think it is my Swedish origin that makes me so keen on these licorice-like flavors. I am a big fan of its really, really thin leaves with refreshing taste. Try it to fish or in a light yogurt sauce to accompanie  the barbecue. Chrivil is an annual that is also an excellent companion planted near the salads. It’s scent makes slugs less eager to feast on the salads, and since it is a bit sensible to heat, they share the same preferences for exposure.

P1040039I am also happy to see that my Rosemary is beginning to thrive and grow stronger. Rosemary means ” the dew of the sea” in latin, and naturally grows at the beaches of the Mediterranean sea. Not a climate much like ours at almost 1000 meters altitude in the middle of the mountains, with other words. Last year, I had the chance to have a piece of an already accustomed Rosemary plant though, and it seems to be a successful cutting. I have made two other cuttings on my plant this summer and hope to enlarge the population.
Rosemary is full with health properties and is very pleasant in infusions. Included on its list of benefits is that it stimulates the memory and helps relief stress and anxiety.

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And here are the young sages sown this year. They are coming along fine but will not really give much before next year. In the middle of the rows I planted marjoram this spring but it seems to have been less successful – I can hardly find any that are still there actually.

Anyway, my conclusion of the day is that we should all enjoy the fragrant gifts of mother nature this time of year, and keep marveling at the rich and surprising tastes she serves us with!

 

A glimpse from the garden

Spring and beginning of the summer are periods of full activity both in nature and for us gardeners. Since Neorigins is quite a young project, we have been even more busy than usual by the fact of installing new cultures and opening up fresh soil. Other important activities for the moment being picking and drying wild medicinal plants, and adding some enjoyable side projects like making a hen house, we have passed an anything but boring spring! It’s been intense, but what a pleasure it is to see life coming around in all different shapes!

A picture explains more than a thousand words it is said, so here comes a glimpse from what’s been going on lately around Neorigins. 

It started like this at spring. The raised garden beds we have made for our vegetable cultures were in great shape and all ready for welcoming a new season. The outer circle is the oldest, and has already one summer season behind. It contains a core of big wood with branches and leaves put in layers on top, finishing with the growing soil and a protective mulch as the outer coating. Being that they are created quite recently, the winters rest made them well by allowing the beds to set, and all the micro organisms living in there to start working the material more seriously. This can really be seen at the surface on the thickness of the top straw layer that had reduced to only 1-2 cm. Another effect is that the winters snow, melting water and rain has started to be absorbed like a sponge on the inside of the beds, by the wood that is slowly starting to composte. All together making out a perfect supply of slowly released nutriments and a humidity for the plants of this summer!

This is how it looks at the moment:

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Since we have added some new cultures of medicinal plants we have also been in the business of opening up new soil. This is how it has evolved:

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To protect the naked soil and the freshly spread cow manure, the earth is quickly covered with straw.

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Working the earth by hand is a gentle way of a preparing for new cultures. We use a broad-fork which means that worms and other shapes of life in the soil is less disturbed, and that the earth’s structure is kept in balance. It’s a sweaty exercise though!

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Almost all planted! With a thick layer of straw the young plants barely emerge above the surface.

Young plants of French Marigold, Pansy and Borage are living side by side, and are peering at the world for the first time!


We have longed for some more company around since a while now, and since we have a perfect piece of land in nice half-shade at the very top of our terrain we decided to make reality of the hen-house-plans. When we started working at this spot there was only a huge pile of plant covered rocks – a rest of the ancient ruin that is fallen since a long time now, and it will keep being a nice biotope for lots of animals and wildlife with it’s many rocks, wild herbs and humid area.

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Hen house in construction

Other than gardening and building we keep picking and drying what the season offers. At the moment, Elderflowers are at their best in our surroundings, and may other of the medicinal plants that we work with are coming around too. Keep a look out for what will soon be available at the website!

Saturday’s festival

This passed Saturday, the festival close to the village of Berbezit combined great summery weather with interesting (and funny) inventions, a plant exchange, botanical walks and workshops, as well as a musical evening with a slightly sweaty atmosphere. With Neorigins we were present at the market, and also helped to prepare for the wild kitchen workshop.

Since the idea of the festival is to produce all electricity needed “by hand”, or should I say “by legs”, one of the funny inventions that seemed to make a great success with the visitors, was the bicycle-ice-cream-maker. Pedaling on a warm day = hot, making icecream in the same time = cool. All adding up in an ideal combination!

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The ice-cream-maker in bicycle shape underneath the umbrella.

The late afternoon continued on the same theme, with a great wild food based meal where the visitors could choose from nettle-soup, various “wildly” garnished pizzas made in the wood stove, and chapatis with lots of fresh wild vegetable spreads.

The evening then offered a great act of improvisation theater and several bands playing music. And to keep the lights and the sound running everybody had to – yes you guessed right, contribute to produce the energy needed by pedaling on one of the numerous bikes around, or running in the giant hamster wheel that was also installed at the site. I guess the evening was getting better and better the later it became, given the occasional flickering in the lights and some cuts in the music in the beginning, but finishing with several full power concerts in the end!

It was an overall nice event and it is inspiring to see people getting together with such energy to share their great ideas. Let’s spread the vibe!

Natural toothpaste recipe

Did you know that the capacity of absorption of the oral mucosa is two times superior of that of the skin?

DentifriceYes, it’s true, and that is one of the reasons we should be careful about not only what we eat, but also about what we put in our mouths to then spit out. Many modern toothpastes contains doubtable ingredients like fluorine, whiteners of different origins, consistency agents and so on… A large number of these are not healthy to be exposed to in the long run, and the fact of using strong bacterial killing products like mouth flush often actually harms the important balance of oral bacteria more than anything.

Luckily – there’s numerous ways of making your own toothpaste with all natural, and often quite inexpensive, ingredients. That way you are not only sure about what it contains, but you also no longer contribute to spreading substances like triclosan into nature, and you don’t make waste since there is no need for throwing the empty package of the toothpaste tube.

Here comes one natural green clay-based toothpaste recipe that I like.

  • ½ teaspoon of green clay powder
  • 4 tablespoons of potato starch
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of plant powder (thyme for example)
  • A little water
  • 3-4 drops of peppermint oil

Mix all the dry ingredients in a small glass jar. Add water in small quantity (teaspoon by teaspoon) and blend until you reach the consistency you like. Finish with a few drops of peppermint oil. This mix doesn’t make a big quantity at a time, adapt it for the number of persons in your household. It can be kept for about two weeks, and if it tends to dry out on the end you can just ad some more water and repeat the blending.

To apply the toothpaste to my brush I use a little spoon to not put bacteria into the mix.

N.B. Remember to vary your paste with different base products. Even if it’s all natural, substances like clay, lemon and baking soda can alter the tooth enamel if used exclusively in the long run. Try excluding or including ingredients from time to time, or use coconut oil combined with plant powder like thyme or fennel to vary.


And then a thought on keeping a happy smile… Today, an increasing number of research is conducted on the human gut microbiota, that is, the complex community of microorganizms that live in the digestive tract. We begin to understand the important role that micro organisms play in our body, and that the bacteria present in our internal “eco-system” actually has an impact far beyond what we have imagined so far. Our behaviour and our mental health, as well as the function of the immune system, are all currently being intimately connected with the gut flora.

But the gut flora is only one part of the whole picture, and another part of the body containing about 600-700 species of bacteria on itself, is the mouth. We are not only constituted by genes, but also of small living organisms within our own organism. Their role being to contribute to the metabolism of diverse nutriments and vitamins, we couldn’t live without them. So if you choose to make your own toothpaste or not, think about what you put into your mouth to take care of those precious fellows to keep your happy smile!

Source of base recipe: Je fabrique mes produits ménagers, Laetitia Royant

Gardening is politics

Gardening can represent a lot of things. It’s a way of eating well, a way to practice presence in the moment, a hobby, a medicine, an experimental approach on life and it also represents an act of politics. Maybe you followed me in the beginning but not quite at the end… Let’s dig in to the subject!

In almost whatever country we live in today, we are touched by huge commercial interests dealing with our every day food. We are what we eat, and what we eat comes from the soil. To begin with, numerous studies have shown that the common supermarket food only contains about 20 % of the nutrition in the food that the generation of our grandparents consumed when they were young. It’s not only due to the fact that the food is processed once it has been harvested that contributes to this, but also that intense culture has removed the natural minerals from the soil, that the living organisms of the soil are strongly affected or eradicated by chemicals, and that vegetables are picked before being ripe to be stored for long periods prior to being consumed. As a result of this, more and more diseases with various symptoms that can be connected to poor nutrition are appearing today.

seedsA very complex law that treats the farmers right to grow specific plant varieties a
nd to produce seeds is today applied in the European Union. It has the practical consequence that our genetic banc of seeds, and many locally adapted varieties that actually makes out a cultural legacy, are on the verge of disappearing. Instead big seed companies are extending their market and developing more and more genetically modified seeds, or only offering the option of buying seeds that are pre-treated with pesticides for a “safer” germination.

Luckily, people are reacting against this outrageous deterioration of quality, something we can see on the almost explosive development of the organic market. It’s an important act by consumers that shows that we understand the importance of a balanced agriculture, for the sake of the earth and our health.

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Own vegetables – an independant choise

Furthermore, every gardener has a huge possibility to do an important political act by continuing to grow his or her own vegetables. By growing our own food we take the power back over what we eat. We do not rely on international laws concerning our dinner. We do not contribute to enrich the seed lobbies. We do not put money into a machinery that doesn’t suit us. We don’t get sick by the hidden bioaccumulation of toxic chemicals in the food, and we don’t need to buy isolated food supplements. Instead of being dependant,
we become self-contained.

And every single gardener also contributes to another important phenomena and political subject – lowering the greenhouse effect. Yes, on a planetary scale, every piece of land, every garden soil takes part in the carbon cycle. It is one of the fundamental parts of planetary health and YOU have the power to make a difference by simply building up a healthy soil with an increasing humus level. This is how it works…

There exists a certain amount of carbon molecules on the planet. Our issue today is that more and more of them are found in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. The rest is either stored in the soil as humus, or in living creatures like plants, animals (on land and in the oceans) and humans. On the scale of the earth, we have over the past decades lost two thirds of our humus, due to extensive agriculture. That carbon is now in the atmosphere and contributes to the climate change we are seeing. In the same time, some scientists claim that an increase of only 1 % organic matter in our soils could seriously slow down or even stop global warming.

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Mulching – a way to create humus

This means that every method that increases the forming of humus contributes to resolve this worldwide problem. By applying mulching (covering the uncultivated soil of the garden with, for example, straw), by regularly making and adding compost to our soil, and by practicing all methods that encourages the development of natural earth organisms we contribute to this cycle. By these simple acts we are actively a part of positive climate change.

So growing can be a lot of things besides the actual vegetables; growing health, growing knowledge about our own food, growing influence and growing political power among other things. Let’s all take action.

Stocking up

This time of year nature is abundant with fresh, nutritive dense greens in many shapes and forms. All around, flowers are blooming, and whilst the garden is still warming up, many plants in the wild are at the perfect time of harvest. We enjoy eating meadow salads again, coloured by spring flowers and young chlorophyll-filled leaves, as well as remineralizing Nettle soups or Hogsweeds gratins for the cooked meals. It’s not hard to find ideas when nature inspires with such a burst of vibrant energy!

And coming out from winter we haven’t forgotten how appreciated these wild greens are at other times of the year, when we cannot find them just around the corner. That’s why we are taking the time to stock up on certain of our favourite greens for some spring-revisiting later on. Hogsweed (Berce en français), Nettels (Ortie en français) and Hedge woundwort (Épiaire de Bois en français) are easy to conserve by freezing. Even if they are not as nutritive after beeing frozen as in fresh condition, it’s still a good compromise that provides a much healthier vegetable base than, for instance, imported greenhouse tomatoes in december.


Before freezing, I find it practical to « blanchir » my greens. I simply wash, and let my leaves take a 1-2 minutes plunge in boiling water, before quickly cooling them of in ice cold water and squeezing them from excess fluid. Then of they go to the freezer, packed in flat blocks, handy to defrost whenever we feel like making a wild meal without going harvesting first.

So, in-between those so longed-for spring salads in the sun, take a cloudy afternoon to prepare for colder days. You will appreciate it later on, I promise.

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Another interesting technique for keeping different kind of vegetables, and even making them richer, is lacto fermentation. I’m currently experimenting on some new recipes and I will share more in another blog post coming soon…