Category Archives: Uncategorized

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I started making my own vanilla extract a few years ago, and I am hooked. I even did a taste comparison between my vanilla and a store bought one. As you can probably guess, mine won. My recipe is a tiny bit more complex than some, but it is worth the extra effort. If you start your vanilla in the next month or two, you can give it as gifts during the holiday season.

Vanilla

Homemade Vanilla Extract

2-4 vanilla beans

3 ounces of vodka

1 ounce of bourbon or dark rum

1 Tablespoon glycerin

Cut vanilla beans into about ½ inch pieces. Combine all ingredients in a jar. Let sit in a dark place for 2-4 weeks. Strain and enjoy in your favorite recipes.

I get my vanilla beans from Frontier, which is a cooperative distributor of bulk herbs, spices, and more. I spent the last few days visiting their operations in Iowa and was very impressed by their emphasis on quality and their dedication to improving the lives of the farmers who supply their products.

For instance, vanilla is one of their biggest sellers, especially their Bourbon vanilla beans grown in Madagascar. In general, Frontier makes efforts to ensure fair treatment of farmers and workers, sustainable production, and adherence to food quality and safety standards. Additionally, they really care about the communities where their farmers live. Whenever they visit, they take soccer balls for the local children’s groups. This is hugely popular, but even more important they help provide schools, meals for school children, and more. In a recent initiative, they dug wells in 38 villages in Madagascar that supply their vanilla beans. This provided clean drinking water to over 25,000 people.

Additionally, the farmers use this clean water to wash the vanilla beans. This helps ensure that the vanilla beans and other spices are safe for us to consume. On top of this, Frontier has multiple layers of quality control at their facility to guarantee that all herbs and spices are correctly identified, have the best flavor or medicinal constituent profile, are free of contaminates, and safe for our consumption.

It feels good to support businesses like Frontier who care so much about the herbs that I get and the people who grow them. So enjoy some delicious vanilla and some of the good that is done in the world by companies that care.

Playing in the Dirt

I didn’t write my usual blog last week because I took a week off to do some planting, but so far this is all I have to show for it: mud from the knees down.

Mud from knees down

My husband and I own a small organic farm called Downstream Farm Organic Produce. I was focusing on planting our red okra, which we sell at Ozark Natural Foods later in the summer. As well as growing food for ONF and local restaurants, my husband and I produce about 50% of our food. We do this to have the freshest, highest quality foods, and I find digging in the soil to be a therapeutic activity.

We keep our gardening as simple as possible so we can have time to grow the volume that we do. We amend the soil with our compost and organic nutrient from Nitron Industries. We mulch heavily and water with soaker hoses on a rotation. We weed and remove bugs mostly by hand. Mostly, our success is because we focus varieties that grow well with few pests in this region.

As well as the red okra, I find that a wide variety of peppers grow with ease here along with tomatoes, especially the Arkansas Traveler. But we round out the selection with onions, garlic, cucumbers, carrots, greens, sweet potatoes, tomatillos, dry beans, basil, and many other herbs. High Mowing Seeds have had an excellent germination rate for us in general.

IMAG0648

My favorite gardening tool is actually this masonry trowel. I use it for mixing in nutrients when I set in plant starts, and it is great for weeding.

Even if you aren’t going to plant rows and rows of okra like me, plant a few herb or flowers. Do what you can to play in the dirt and enjoy its calming benefits.

Anxiety Calming Kava Kava

I first learned about Kava Kava during my undergraduate education. My anthropology instructor had lived on a Pacific island and participated in the kava rituals of the community. She told us about how kava was used to calm tensions and unify the people of the island. They always held kava rituals when strangers came to the island to make sure things stayed peaceful. After this, I tried kava for my test-taking anxiety. I found that it calmed me without making me tired.  I eventually got over my anxiety around tests, but now continue to recommend kava to patients with anxiety.

I don’t always start with herbal interventions like kava for anxiety. First, I want to explore possible contributing factors that can be corrected before I jump to mood-modifying herbs. I work on nutrient deficiencies, weak organs systems, or poor stress coping mechanisms. If I still need an herbal intervention like kava, it works better after I have addressed these underlying issues.

Kava is beneficial for more than just anxiety. It is toning to the nervous system and may help insomnia especially if it is related to anxiety. It also has mild antidepressant activities. It relaxes muscles and may help reduce skeletal muscle spasms. It can help ease pain particularly pelvic pain. There are warnings that come with kava about possible liver damage, but many of the reported cases of liver damage could not be clearly traced to kava. This doesn’t mean that kava will not cause liver damage, but it is probably no more likely to than other herbs and medications.