Julia is a mother and a maker who creates and writes from her home in Chicago. She is also the author of Simply Living Well - a book full of recipes, remedies and tips that pay homage to the old ways in which our grandparents solved all manner of problems from feeding their families, tending to their health, cleaning their homes, and caring for their minds, bodies, and spirits
HERBAL SIMPLE SYRUP
One of my favorite ways to enjoy and preserve seasonal herbs is by using them to make a simple syrup. If you’ve ever made or ordered a cocktail, you’re probably familiar with simple syrup. If not, it’s essentially liquefied sugar made from two “simple” ingredients: water and sugar. I like to take it a step further by infusing it with herbs, my favorites being mint and thyme, although basil, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and rosemary make lovely syrups too! If you don’t fancy yourself a cocktail, you can also use simple syrup to create alcohol-free beverages. Just add a splash to water, tea, soda, or juice. You can also use it to sweeten fruit salads, yogurt, waffles, pancakes or to dress ice cream, cake, and other baked goods. This recipe is made the traditional way, prepared with one part water to one part sugar, but you can double the amount of sugar if you prefer a thicker, sweeter syrup. For a healthier version of simple syrup, I use organic honey.
1 ½ cups water
1 ½ cups of organic honey
10 herb sprigs or a handful of herb leaves
Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and simmer over medium heat and stir constantly. When the sugar has dissolved, remove the saucepan from the heat and add the herbs. Cover with a lid and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the herbs from the syrup. Pour the syrup through a fine-mesh strainer into glass bottles or jars. Seal bottles or jars with an airtight lid and store in the refrigerator for 10-14 days. To preserve your herbs, you can freeze them in pint or quart-sized canning jars. Just be sure to leave one inch of headspace to allow for expansion during the freezing process. In the freezer, this syrup will keep for up to one year.
HERBAL LEMONADE AND POPSICLES
The easiest, most practical way to use the simple syrup from the previous recipe is to make herbal lemonade. Mid-summer, when everything is finally starting to blossom and bloom, I pace the garden daily, plucking herbs for lemonade. If it’s a really hot summer day, and especially if you have children, you’ll be happy to know that you can easily freeze the lemonade to make refreshing herbal popsicles. My daughter and I make popsicles all summer long - what I like best about this particular recipe is that you can change it up by using whatever herbs you have in the garden. We prefer mint and lemon balm, but lavender, basil, rosemary, thyme, and lemon verbena all work wonderfully too!
2 cups fresh lemon juice
2 cups herbal tea
2 cups herbal simple syrup
Steep two cups of herbal tea for 15 minutes. To make tea from dried herbs, pour 2 cups of boiling water over 2-4 teaspoons of dried herbs. To make tea from fresh herbs, pour 2 cups of boiling water over 1/2 cup of fresh herbs. Once the tea is ready, combine it with the lemon juice and simple syrup in a half-gallon pitcher. Stir well, serve over ice, and garnish with a sprig of fresh herbs and a slice of lemon. To make popsicles, simply pour the herbal lemonade into popsicle molds, add a leaf or two of herbs or edible flowers for flare, then freeze and enjoy.
RECYCLED WILDFLOWER PLANTABLE PAPER
Last Fall, when our dog Ruby passed away, our veterinarian gave us a small, heart-shaped wildflower seed card to plant in her memory. This Spring, we tried making our own seed paper and ended up planting it along with the original card and several packets of wildflower seeds. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy they were to make. Not only did we not have to buy anything new to create them, but we were also able to fish out the paper from the recycling bin and use it again. Once we were done, we ended up cutting our paper into cute little shapes that could be planted in our garden by each member of the family.. Now, every time a flower blooms our back we’ll think of Ruby and the joy she brought to our family.
3 cups shredded paper, non-glossy and dye-free
3 cups warm water
2 packs native, wildflower seeds
baking tray or screen
pencil and scissors
- 1. Rip the paper into small pieces and toss them into the bowl.
- 2. Cover the paper with water and allow it to soak for several hours, or until the paper is mushy.
- 3. Add the paper and water to the blender and pulse and mix it until it has the consistency of oatmeal. Add more warm water, if needed.
- 4. Transfer the mixture back to the bowl, add the seeds, and mix well with a spoon.
- 5. Pour the pulp into a strainer over the sink and press gently with the back of a wooden spoon to remove any excess water. Be careful not to remove all the water as doing so will make it hard to spread the pulp in the next step.
- 6. Transfer the pulp to a baking tray or screen and spread and press the pulp flat with the palms of your hands until it’s about 1/4” to 1/8” thick. Once it’s flat, cover the pulp with an absorbent cloth towel and press down to absorb as much water as possible. This will help speed up the drying process.
- 7. Allow the pulp to dry for one to two days. To speed up the process, set it in a warm sunny spot in the yard. If it’s still damp after 24-48 hours, flip it to the other side and allow it to dry for several more hours.
- 8. Once the paper is dry, transfer it to a flat, dry surface, draw shapes on it, and cut them out.
- 9. Plant the seed cards on a warm, spring day after the last frost. Cover them with rich compost, water well, and wait for them to sprout. Enjoy your flowers!
NEWSPAPER SEEDLING POTS
Newspaper seedling pots are a welcome surprise for the low-waste gardener. They’re easy and affordable to make using newspapers right out of the recycling bin and, unlike plastic seed trays and pots, they’re completely biodegradable. They’re also simple and straightforward to make and don’t require glue, tape, or scissors. Best of all, because they’re biodegradable, the pots can be planted directly in the ground to protect seedlings from transplant shock. Makes 3 pots.
1 sheet of newspaper
6-ounce can or spice jar
Seeds of your choice
- 1. Fold the newspaper in half so you have a two-sheet stack. Cut it into thirds lengthwise to create 3 strips, each having 2 layers.
- 2. Place the can on its side on the newspaper, leaving 1 to 2 inches of newspaper hanging past the bottom of the can.
- 3. Tightly roll the newspaper around the can until you reach the end of the newspaper.
- 4. While holding the end of the newspaper with one hand, use your other hand to fold the edge of the newspaper down over the can, working your way around it until all the edges are crimped down. Flip the can right side up and press the can against a table to tighten the folds on the bottom of the pot.
- 5. Slide the can out of the newspaper pot. Don’t worry if the pot feels flimsy; it will become surprisingly sturdy once filled with soil and water. Repeat with the other newspaper strips.
- 6. Fill newspaper pots with soil, plant your seeds, and store in a waterproof tray until ready to transplant to the garden. Water seeds daily.
- 7. When your seedlings are ready to be transplanted, plant the entire seedling pot in the soil.
Photo Credit: Julia Watkins