Missouri Herbs

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Friday, October 5, 2012


Virginia to the Left and Harold to the right.  Two of my favorite Junipers that create the herb circle where we live.  Photo by Jamie

 Like many people I love the smell of crushed Juniper needles.  The variety we have here is Juniperus virginiana.  They are a tall, dense, fine looking pyramid shaped tree and I discovered recently that the oldest tree of this kind was from our state of Missouri at 795 years old!  Not only do they make great wind breaks, but we use them in a variety of ways.

When the needles are crushed, it releases one of my favorite smells. I make a breast massage oil from the fragrant needles by chopping and filling a quart mason jar with them, then covering with olive oil, letting it sit for 6 weeks, and then straining.  Make sure to place the jar on a rag because it can weep out.   Just rubbing the oil on your hands, cupping near your nose and smelling deeply can transport your mind to the dark, green woods. To me, it smells like liquid Christmas.  But more importantly, the infused oil is “superb for regular breast self-massage, especially for those troubled with painful or lumpy breasts.  Evergreens contain compounds clinically proven to kill cancer cells.  The most powerful in this respect are arbor vitae (Thuja occidentalis) and cedar (Juniperous virginiana).  But all evergreens contain antiseptic, antifungal, antiviral and anti-tumor oils.  Using infused herbal oils is an easy way to keep your breasts healthy, prevent and reverse cysts, dissolve troublesome lumps and repair abnormal cells.  Breast skin is thin and absorbent, and breast tissue contains a great deal of fat, which readily absorbs infused herbal oils.” – Susun Weed 

Powder blue 2 year Juniper berries.  Photo by Jamie

Sometimes we also make a tea from the needles using a recipe I read on Kiva Rose’s “The Medicine Woman’s Roots” Blog.  “Use about a large handful of chopped plant per 2-3 cups water, and simmer for at least fifteen minutes…”  Sometimes when I make this recipe, I like to heat the water outside over damp Juniper wood to make a smoky Juniper tea.   You can also snip the branch end off of a Juniper and throw in the fire.  The needles will pop and sizzle! The smoky flavor really does transfer into the water, it’s amazing.

Sometimes I snip about a foot off of the branch tip and let it dry.  Then light it and move my arms around to make a smudge or incense in the room.  It’s a wonderful smell, but if you are going to waive the smoke around the room, do it with a plate under as you are walking or you’ll have little embers falling on the floor.   I love the residual smell in my hair (when I had some). 

Mature and dry Juniper berries.  Photo by Jamie

The berries from the Juniper take 2 to 3 years to ripen from a pale powdery blue to a dark blue-purple.  They are used for making gin, but we like to use them as a replacement for bay leaves in cooking.  For any recipe that calls for bay leaves and cooks a while, these berries are perfect.  The best part, you don’t have to fish them out like you do bay leaves.  Since I only use about 5 berries per recipe, whoever gets a bite with a Juniper berry in it is the lucky one and usually proclaims “I got one!”   The berries soften up after a long cooking time and release a wonderful woodsy taste.  They are perfect for spaghetti sauce, gumbo and beans.

Photo by Jamie

A perfect pot of beans

3 Cups Dried pinto or black beans
Chili Powder
Garlic Powder
Cumin Powder
Cayenne powder
5 dried Juniper berries
Corriander Seeds (optional)
Epazote leaves (optional)
4 cups of broth  (have an additional cup of water handy)
½ chopped onion, I prefer Red
Olive Oil
Liquid smoke

Rinse and soak 3 cups of dried pinto or black beans overnight.  The next day strain and rinse the beans.  I like to use a cast-iron dutch oven to cook them.  We made a “hay box cooker” that the pot fits in which will allow it to cook long after it’s been removed from a source of heat.   I never measure making beans, so forgive my instructions. 
*   Add about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in the pan and sauté onion. 
*   When the onion is almost translucent, sprinkle about ½ a tsp of cumin. 
*   Add beans, broth, 2 -3 dashes of liquid smoke, 5 juniper berries and 5 or more coriander seeds.
*   Throw in a big pinch, about a tablespoon, of epazote and slightly crumble as its being added.
*   Thickly cover the surface of the beans and liquid twice over with chili powder, about 2-3 tablespoons. 
*   Cover the surface once over with garlic powder, about a tablespoon.  
*   Add a good amount of oregano, about 1-2 Tablespoons.
*   Finish with a few sprinkles of cayenne powder and pepper. 
*   Add a generous amount of salt, about a teaspoon and add more later if you like. 
*   Cover and bring beans to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for about 4 hours.  Check occasionally that no more than ½ a bean in thickness is sticking up above the liquid.  If so, add water. 
*   If cooking in a crock pot, cover the lid with a towel, bring up to boil on high, then cut back to low  for about 4-5 hours.  Check the liquid level occasionally. 
*   If using a hay box cooker (also called Wooden Wife from Wyoming), bring the beans to boil and cook on medium with a slow rolling boil for about 20 minutes.  Put in the hay box cooker for the day.  I usually take them out of the hay box before bed and bring back up to boil.  Then return it to the hay box overnight.  The next morning I remove.
*   This will make about 2 quarts of beans.   Use a slotted spoon to fill the mason jars with, I don’t allow more than about 1.25” of liquid in the jar because I usually make re-fried beans and that’s the perfect amount of liquid.  Any remaining liquid save separately and use to rehydrate TVP/ TSP or make chili with. 

Wooden wife. To use, cover with hay stuffed pillow case and lid.  Photo by Jamie
For bean dip, add about 2 tablespoons of oil to a pan and throw in a quart of the cooked beans.       Smash with a potato smasher to make re-fried beans, add a little more salt, a handful of shredded cheese, a squirt of Sriracha chili sauce and a generous amount of your favorite salsa till it’s the consistency you like.  

To read more about the hay box cooker, see my unfortunately long post  and do a Ctrl+F page search for the phrase “fireless cooker”.

Black Bean Burgers

1 Cup cooked black beans (see recipe above)
1 Cup cooked long grain rice
¼ Cup minced veggies like red/ green bell pepper, onion or jalapeno
Small amount chopped cilantro
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp garam masala
A generous amount of Garlic and Chili powder
8 wheat crackers crushed
Course flour
Olive Oil

*    Sauté onions and other veggies in olive oil.
·        *    In a large bowl, combine beans and rice.  Smash with the back of a fork and a potato smasher, I usually alternate between the two.  Though it will seem very dry for a while, keep smashing and eventually the rice and beans will start sticking together making a firm dough.
*   Mix in the rest of the ingredients except the flour and give it a few more good smashes. 
·         *   Form dough into patty shapes and lightly coat with flour. Keeping the hands floured makes this a little easier.
·         *   Chill ½ an hour.
·         *   Fry 6-8 min each side.  

Vegetarian Gumbo

       Liquid smoke (optional)
1/4 C Canola Oil
1/4 C white whole wheat flour
1 - 2 medium onions (I used red) chopped
3 celery stalks chopped
1-2 medium green bell peppers chopped
3 cloves minced garlic
1/4 C dry sherry (or whatever you loaned me)
2 C chicken broth (I used vegetarian broth)
1/2 Tbl Worcestershire sauce
5 dried juniper berries (or two Bay Leaves)
      1 Giant yellow squash or zucchini squash or 3-4 regular sized ones
        (On the following herbs, I just estimated and I'm sure I used more than it called for)
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp smoked paprika
Cooked rice
File Powder (dried, powdered Sassafrass leaves- optional)
Sausage spices for veggie used: salt, pepper, chili powder, sage, coriander, cumin, ginger powder.  Use more chili powder than the other spices.

*   Heat oven to 350 (outdoor wood oven works great here because of long cooking time)
*   Combine oil & flour in large dutch oven cast iron pot.  Bake 1 hour 25 min or till very dark. 
*   Meanwhile, prep & cook veggies.  I used a very large squash.  Shred squash put in bowl, cover with 2 tsp of salt and mix.  Let sit 10 minutes, put in strainer and push with spoon.  Then put in a cloth (I use old pillow case cloth cut up) and hand squeeze.  A tremendous amount of water will come out. 
*   Put oil in a skillet and fry squash in sausage spices.  After it cooks down a good bit, add onions, peppers, celery, garlic and cook down 7 more min.  Add Sherry cook another minute. 
*   Since I had the woodstove going, I got another large soup pot going to pre-warm the liquids and Juniper berries while waiting on the dutch oven roux.  But if cooking on traditional cook stove, add these next ingredients after pulling dutch oven out of oven and putting veggies in.  After veggies fry up a little more in the hot oil/ flour mix, then put in broth, liquid smoke, Worcestershire sauce and juniper berries. 
*   Warm rice.
*   Simmer gumbo uncovered 30 minutes.  If too thick add water.  Remove bay leaves if used. Each time re-heating will probably need to add water.  Sprinkle generous amount of file powder on individual bowl and serve over rice.   

1 comment:

Marqueta (Mar-keet-a) said...

Dear Jamie,

You name your junipers, too! We had two in the house we lived in two houses ago that the girls named Fred and Rose. Fred was the best climbing one, so they perched in him often. :)

I forgot that the juniper berries are good for beans; thanks for the reminder! Tis the time of year for lots of beans, so we'll have to go harvesting. I saw a beautiful juniper with ripe berries when I was looking for persimmons the other day, so I'll have to go back and grab a bunch.