HERBS: The Autumn Equinox is a mark of the end of summer and the return of the dark of the year. It is an opportunity to slow down, take a deep breath, honor the work of the year, and carry summer heat through to winter fires. Some herbs are cold hardy and can be harvested in the fall before a hard freeze. Always make a positive identification of any new medicinal herb, using at least 3 references, before foraging an herb for the first time. Many medicinal herbs reach their peak potency in the fall months.
Herbs to harvest in fall include: Gingko, Black Mustard, Rosemary, Pineapple Sage, Thyme, and Yarrow.
Gingko (Gingko biloba): monitor the ginkgo tree’s leaves in late-summer to early fall. Once the trees begin to change color and wilt, the fruit is ready for harvest. Ripe ginkgo fruit also emits a noxious, foul odor. Slip on a pair of rubber gloves and grasp the ginkgo’s fruit. Gently twist as you pull it from the tree. Ripe ginkgo will also fall from the tree. Watch under your feet and pick up any ripe ginkgo on the ground that hasn't been partially consumed by animals. Submerge the ginkgo fruit in a bucket of cool water. Still wearing gloves, gently pull apart the ripe fruit and pull out the nuts. Toss out the water and fruit. Rinse the nuts under a cool tap until any lingering foul odor is eliminated. Boil the nuts for at least five to 10 minutes before consuming. Pour the water through a strainer and allow the ginkgo nuts to cool slightly. Using your fingers or a pair of pliers, pull open the nuts and pull out the kernels inside. The kernels are edible. Bake the ginkgo nuts for five to 10 minutes at 350 degrees, or pan fry the nuts in olive oil. Continue frying until the seeds naturally open and the kernels pop out. Warning: Never consume raw ginkgo kernels. Raw kernels contain a toxic substance that’s eliminated once heated.
Ginkgo is an antioxidant-rich herb used to enhance brain health and treat a variety of conditions, including protecting against aging-related issues such as dementia by improving blood flow to the brain, age-related macular degeneration, Alzheimer's disease, Anxiety, Asthma, Bronchitis, Depression, Fatigue, Glaucoma, High blood pressure, Insulin resistance, Peripheral artery disease, and Tinnitus.
Chap Chye: Asian Mixed Vegetable Stew: Chap Chye is an Asian vegetable stew that uses cabbage or Chinese cabbage, dried lily flowers, Gingko nuts, mushrooms and glass noodles. Ingredients: 1.75 ounces garlic, 3.5 ounces glass noodles, 2.75 ounces dried lily flowers, .75 ounces wood fungus and shitake mushrooms, 17.75 ounces cabbage, 2 cubes of fermented bean curds, 8.75 ounces gingko nuts, 2 tablespoons sugar, salt to taste, 3 tablespoons oil, and 1 cup water.
Directions: Without peeling off its skin, wash and pat dry garlic. Soak glass noodles in a bowl for at least 20 minutes. Prepare dried lily flower by first cut off the hard bits at one end, knot and wash. Soak fungi and mushrooms and halved shitake mushrooms. Wash and cut cabbage into chunks. Halve gingko nuts and take out the green bits in the middle. Heat up oil in a wok. Sauté the garlic whole until aromatic. Add lightly mashed fermented bean curd, cabbage, fungus, gingko, and mushrooms, then stir for about 5 minutes. Add water and sugar, and bring to boil then lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Add glass noodles and salt. Let the vegetables cook for another 2 minutes or until the glass noodles absorb all the sauce. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes. Serve with steamed rice. NOTES: Add water by half a cup at a time if the vegetable looks too dry. Add sugar and salt to cater for the additional water added.
Black Mustard (Brassica nigra): is easily identified by its small and plentiful yellow flowers, growing in clusters atop a long stem. Each of the flowers has four small yellow petals that are in a cluster. If the plant is without the yellow flowers, a cluster of green buds in a floret, similar to broccoli will be present. Black mustard has long stems, with rounded or jagged leaves at the end, often with many shorter leaves along the lengths of the stem. The leaves can be as small as a quarter or bigger than the palm of your hand. Many mustard plants are covered with hairs that can be thick or rough, sparse and downy, or nonexistent. The plant also usually has a faint and turnip like smell. The seeds ripen in August and September. Harvest sprigs with mostly seed heads hanging, bunch, and hung over a bucket to dry and shed the tiny seeds. The seeds will dry in 10 days. The young leaves can be cooked as a green vegetable, and the yellow flowers can be added to salads.
Ground black mustard seeds are mixed with honey and used to treat coughs and other respiratory problems. The ground seeds are also used as a poultice applied to the chest or back for bronchial infections. Black mustard can also reduce headache pain when taken as a tea or capsule. The sinuses can be cleared by inhaling mustard vapor over a bowl filled with hot water combined with a small amount of ground seeds.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): requires only sunlight, water, good drainage, and ample air circulation to thrive. A sandy, well-draining soil and 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight daily will have the plants off and running in no time. Grown in a sheltered area with a southern exposure, plants can survive short periods of temperatures in the low teens. Snip off sprigs of rosemary all summer and into the fall and winter as needed. Where winter temperatures are severe and bringing plants inside is not an option, rosemary can be easily dried and stored. Simply bundle sprigs and hang them inverted in a warm, airy place. A covered porch works fine. Once dried, store the sprigs or stripped off leaves in sealable plastic bags or jars. They will keep until next season's crop is ready to harvest.
Rosemary has a ton of health benefits, including helping to boost memory and mood, and decreasing inflammation. Rosemary is a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which help boost the immune system and improve blood circulation. It is rich in antioxidants, which play an important role in neutralizing harmful particles called free radicals. The aroma from rosemary can improve concentration, performance, speed, and accuracy. Rosemary contains an ingredient called carnosic acid, which is protective against brain damage, improves recovery, and can slow brain aging.
Roasted Garlic Rosemary Hummus: Ingredients: 1 Garlic Bulb, 1 Can Chickpeas, 3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 1/4 Cup Water, 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice, 1 Stem Rosemary, de-stemmed, and 1/2 Teaspoon Salt.
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the top part of the garlic bulb off so that the garlic cloves are exposed. Loosely wrap the garlic bulb in foil and roast for 40 minutes. Remove the skins of the chickpeas and discard. Once the garlic has been roasted and cooled remove the garlic cloves from the garlic bulb. Place the deskinned chickpeas, garlic, 3 tablespoons EVOO, 1/4 cup water, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, rosemary, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small food processor. Blend until smooth adding more EVOO as needed for an extra creamy texture. Serve with veggies, crackers, or pita. NOTES: If a strong garlic flavor is desired, use a large garlic bulb. For a lighter garlic flavor chose a small garlic bulb. If the hummus is too dry and won’t blend add more water, a tablespoon at a time.
Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans): plant in spring once all chances of frost have passed. Space plants 24 to 36 inches apart. Grow them in a spot that gets abundant sunshine and has sandy well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 8.0. Improve the native soil by mixing in several inches of aged compost or rich organic matter. Water regularly for the first few weeks after planting, then only water during a dry spell. Good drainage is essential during the growing season.
Harvest leaves and flowers once they are large enough to use, or leave them to attract pollinators. Pineapple sage has the sweet taste of pineapple combined with the earthy flavor of sage. It has Adaptogenic, antioxidant, anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, carminative, antimicrobial, diuretic, stimulant, and expectorant properties. It is also a good source of vitamin A and Vitamin K. Pineapple Sage relieves anxiety, lowers blood pressure, eases mental fatigue, stress, and depression.
Thyme: (Thymus vulgaris): harvest just before the plant flowers by cutting off the top five to six inches of growth. Leave at least 5 inches of growth and the tough, woody parts to ensure the plant will continue to thrive. It’s best to harvest thyme in the morning after the dew has dried. Clean leaves should not be washed, because it removes some of the essential oils. Fresh thyme should be stored refrigerated and wrapped lightly in plastic, and it should last one to two weeks. To dry thyme, hang the sprigs in a dark, well-ventilated, warm area. Once dried, store them in an airtight container. Crush just before using. Under good conditions herbs, will retain maximum flavor for two years.
The three most common varieties of culinary thyme are English Thyme, Lemon Thyme, and German Thyme. Caraway Thyme is harder to find, but offers a nice fragrance of caraway and thyme. Thyme’s essential oil contains large amounts of thymol, a strong antibacterial, antiseptic, and antioxidant. The oil is used in mouthwash, toothpaste, soap, perfume, ointment, and cosmetics. It elevates mood, relieves pain, calms stress, relieves joint aches and pains, and clears mouth inflammation and throat infections. Thyme is an effective herbal tea ingredient that calms stomach issues and sore throat. Use its leaves to prepare tea, and if there are flowers, add them too.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): grows from 1-5 feet tall, and has many rough, hairy stems sprouting from a rhizomatous root. Bipinnate leaves branch off the stem in a spiral pattern with larger leaves at the base of the plant and smaller leaves at the top. The leaves are finely segmented giving them a feathery look, and the creamy white, daisy-like flowers grow in flattened, terminal, loose heads, or cymes.
Yarrow can be harvested as soon as the flowers have bloomed. It’s recommended to harvest mid-morning, after the dew has dried and before the sun’s heat evaporates lighter volatile oils. If using the whole plant, grab at the base of the stem and gently pull upward to pull the plant out of the soil, roots and all. If only harvesting the tops of the plant, using sharp scissors or shears, cut 6 inches above the base. Yarrow can be used in fresh or dried form in teas, tinctures, oils, salves, and syrups. Use yarrow to increase circulation, open the pores, and induce sweating to gently lower body temperature. It is also an excellent first-aid herb to slow internal and external bleeding, to relax cramping of the digestive and reproductive organs, and as an antiseptic wash for wounds.