You'd think that winter time would be the "busy" time for my oven...lots of breads, casseroles, cookies, muffins, soups, and such keeping the kitchen toasty and warm. Nope. This is the busy time of year. I did a quick check on my propane tanks--yes, I did say "tanks" as in plural...the propane company had to come out on three emergency refills before being convinced that my consumption habits don't conform with customary trends--and they are each half full. I take this as a measuring stick of all of the work that has gone into laying food by.
In addition to the usual cooking and baking, the seasonal prepping and canning, I'm also dehydrating herbs in preparation for the coming winter. Cough and cold medicines are largely off the menu for the Hobbits. We have a wonderful compounding pharmacist who understands our needs and works with us. The palm-based vegetable glycerin from Azure Standard makes a terrific suspension/sweetener for necessary medicines for little ones. In using glycerin to make medicine for our specific needs, he became so impressed with the efficacy and quality of its properties that he's taken to using it for all of his compounded prescriptions, not just ours.
As wonderful as it is to have things like acetaminophen, ibuprophen, and dextromethorphan compounded for us for times when one needs "big guns," it is infinitely more satisfying...and less expensive!...to have "first responder" remedies laid by. A few years ago, an herbalist friend introduced me to elecampagne as a remedy for the bronchitis that had visited me the first couple of winters after relocating to New England. As a native of Louisiana, I'm used to damp. However, I wasn't used to damp and cold and my lungs showed it. Elecampagne did amazing things and I've never had a problem since. Before moving on, she shared plants with a few of us, the off-shoots of which keep me supplied with roots. Potato vodkas like Luksoswana or Teton Glacier provide a wonderful extractive media for herbals for the corn sensitive. Luckily potatoes haven't been a problem for us, but I have also meditated on the possibility of tequila, since it is made from fermented agave nectar from agave cacti. In the fall, after the second hard frost, I go and collect elecampagne roots, run them through the food processor for a second or two, and submerge in vodka for a couple of weeks. I've found that the suction from a Food Saver vacuum sealer can improve this process even further. Then I strain off the roots and bottle up the tincture for the winter's use.
Elderberry has become a winter time favorite for us. It's even possible to buy the concentrate that has nothing added. Since I also doctor colds with garlic extract, the Hobbits view elderberry concentrate as an excellent chaser to the shot of garlic juice. Use your imagination to envision the delicate shudders. I know, I know....but, it works at killing colds. Spoonful of sugar and all that.
This year, I'm branching out and drying mullein leaves. The possibilities for applications look quite promising. One site even suggested that mullein poultices are good for bad backs. This should come as good news to Tool Guy's ears...and back. Mullein is reported to be good for coughs, digestive upsets, respiratory difficulties of all shapes and sizes. I'll have to report back about what I did with my winter vacation on this one. Previously I've only tangentially noticed the poles of yellow flowers punctuating the sunny spaces in the woods and fields around, but now that I'm looking for them, they seem everywhere. While I was out foraging, I also topped off some of the seed pods and brought them back to scatter clouds of the tiny seeds into my own sunny patch on the back forty, hoping that the ground will be receptive and the deer unobservant. Maybe next year, there will be fuzzy baby mullein peeking out through the growth.
All of the growing, canning, foraging, and dehydrating come down to really one thing: independence. Whatever knowledge and ability and effort I cobble together means that I'm not dependent on someone else for it. Some else to feed me. Someone else to doctor me. Since the advent of the "everything free" years, there have been precious few professionals to guide us on our journey. Our family doctor and I walked away from each other...each baffled and frustrated with the other and I never went back. There's no getting Chinese food from a McDonald's menu and you can't teach a pig to sing...it wastes your time and annoys the pig. Yep, that was one irascible swine.
So now, if there's a scrape or scratch that needs more than a kiss, there's plantain salve from my yard. Great for bee stings, too. There's neem oil spray with a hint of patchoulli to keep the ticks and chiggers off. My knowledge base creeps forward and my remedy cabinet reflects it. Another inch of independence. This winter I'm foraging the library for more books on herbs and next spring, I'll be swinging my poke sack over my shoulder and taking to the river and woods, foraging in search of another inch of independence.