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Florida Herbal Conference- Year Two

So glad I volunteered for a work study position! Last year I didn’t know many people and felt disconnected. This year I had a great time, got to know many of the teachers and the other work trade volunteers, attended some great workshops, and made many more connections.

Some of the awesomeness, in no particular order:

1. Seeing Jeannie Dunn from Red Moon Herbs again. Her workshop on growing herbs for the wholesale market last summer at the Wild Herb Weekend was incredibly important to me- she made me feel like this wasn’t just a dream, that this was an attainable goal. It was more than inspiration, it was hard data. It was names and numbers and facts. It really took the whole project out of the fantasy dream realm and gave it shape and reality. Walking up to her on Saturday and telling her that the dream I had at the last conference is now happening, that I have in fact started that farm, was awesome indeed. I think she was happy that someone took her advice!

2. Hearing Juliet Blankespoor’s keynote speech. Her speech brought me to tears. She started her first herb business in a shack in Citra, FL in 1990. One of her first books, one of the books that inspired her the most, was Hygeia: A Woman’s Herbal. Want to know where I was in 1990? In Gainesville, 30 miles away, reading Hygeia: A Woman’s Herbal and considering becoming an herbalist.  The last third of her speech was about creating regional networks for medicinal herbs: herbalists, growers, and wildcrafters. My time is now.

3. This. Steven Foster signed my copy of Herbal Emissaries!

4. Meeting Andy Firk from Bamboo Grove. I have been at events with him a couple times but never actually taken one of his workshops. At the conference I moderated his Edible Gingers class. There ain’t no geek like a plant geek! I liked him immediately. We were able to speak briefly about trading gingers, I bought one of his black cardamom plants, and gave him the contact info for a ginger taxonomist he did not know. I look forward to going down to his farm in April for a plant weekend.

5. Networking. Networking is not easy for me, I have a terrible time walking up and talking to strangers. Having a spiel that I practiced, business cards, and a sign-up sheet in my hands helped, but what helped most is that everyone I spoke to was welcoming and kind and interested in the farm.

I missed Earthskills to go to the herb conference, and I think I made the right choice. Such wonderful people!

Spring Seed Starting- Chinese & Ayurvedic herbs

Been taking a break from blogging during the long dark winter. Spring is definitely springing around here and plants are sprouting right and left.

So far I have started:

Dan Shen Salvia miltiorriza
Dang Shen Codonopsis
She Chuan Zhi Cnidium monnieri
Ashwagandha Withania Somnifera
Huang Lian Coptis chinensis
Nirgundi Vitex negundo
Xuan Shen Scrophularia ningpoensis
Ku Shen Sophora flavescens
Huai Niu Xi Achyranthes bidentata

Also planted five astragalus plants that have overwintered wonderfully, repotted a Xuan Shen that also survived, and I am gently coaxing the turmeric to come up.


The Ku Shen has already sprouted!

Low-Histamine Diet- The Plan

So after reading for the past two days and all morning trying to get a better feel for the science, I’ve found some interesting things:

Many of the foods I posted yesterday are not on other lists, or are contested for either histamine levels or histamine-releasing actions. So I compiled the ones that are on *all* the lists, which is much less intimidating:
Seafood and shellfish, unless it’s caught, gutted and cooked immediately
Preserved and smoked meats
Leftover cooked meats
Vinegar and all foods preserved with vinegar
Yeast and all foods containing yeast including bread, beer, wine, and cider
Red tomatoes, especially cooked
All fermented dairy
All dried fruit (but it’s unclear whether it’s the fruit itself or the yeast present on the fruit)
Citrus, but especially orange juice

The jury is out on lacto-fermentation. Some say yes, some say no but only when the fermentation is anaerobic. I can’t figure out why olives are on the lists since they’re not pickled with vinegar but brined in a salt-water solution.

Since I have noticed reactions to all of these (strangely, except the fish and leftover meats) then these are all now out of my diet for the next 30 days. My personal other reactive foods: coffee, non-dairy creamer and kool-whip, and large amounts of raw garlic. Black tea is on all of the lists because it’s fermented, but while I’m willing to give up wine and cheese I’m not willing to give up tea. Or Chocolate, despite it being on most of the lists. I eat it infrequently enough. I know I am allergic to mold, I had a scratch test 10+ years ago and that was one of the only items that tested positive, so I should be more vigilant about mold in my food, too. I’m often the “scrape the mold off and eat it anyway” type, and I’m probably not doing myself any favors.

International Chronic Urticaria Society
Another food histamines list, with notes on debated foods
The Low Histamine Cook, who is also grain and sugar-free
Anaerobic fermentation- some of the science I’ve been looking for
Histamine and Tyramine

I’m annoyed that certain foods are listed like “curry powder” but curry powder is a mixture of spices. Cayenne is listed, too… are all chiles high in histamines? I’ve never noticed a reaction specifically to chiles so I’ll probably not worry about that one.

I’m really interested to find out if this will reduce my sinus and weird skin issues.

Trying the Histamine Diet

So, I may be developing a reaction to histamines in food. I’ve been reading more and more about histamine allergies and my symptoms match the descriptions exactly. The list of high-histamine foods makes up most of my current diet, alas. That may be why I’m noticing symptoms getting worse- my interest in lacto-fermentation and increasing skill means I’ve been eating more fermented foods. And I drink my share of wine, too.

Histamine-Rich Foods (including fermented foods):
Alcoholic beverages, especially beer and wine.
Cheeses, especially aged or fermented cheese, such as parmesan, blue and Roquefort.
Cider and home-made root beer.
Dried fruits such as apricots, dates, prunes, figs and raisins (you may be able to eat these fruits – without reaction – if the fruit is thoroughly washed).
Fermented foods, such as pickled or smoked meats, sauerkraut, etc.
Processed meats – sausage, hot dogs, salami, etc.
Smoked fish – herring, sardines, etc.
Sour cream, sour milk, buttermilk, yogurt – especially if not fresh.
Soured breads, such as pumpernickel, coffee cakes and other foods made with large amounts of yeast.
Spinach, tomatoes
Vinegar or vinegar-containing foods, such as mayonnaise, salad dressing, ketchup, chili sauce, pickles, pickled beets, relishes, olives.

Histamine-Releasing Foods:

So basically I can eat fresh meat, vegetables (but not any of my favorites), fresh fruit (except for my favorites), fresh dairy, whole cooked grains but not bread or any of the other fermented grain foods I love. Seriously, how will I survive without pepper sauce? I am going to gradually step down as I figure out what I still can eat. The foods that I know affect me the most- red wine, beer, vinegar, yogurt, salami, and fresh pineapple- these immediately make my cheeks flush hotly, itchy sinuses and sneezing, red eyes, and abdominal bloating. I had some homemade sangria a couple weeks ago made with red wine and freshly-squeezed orange juice and my nose ran for two days straight. These foods go off the menu today. I think the constant histamine reaction is triggering the new allergic reactions to other foods that have started recently like mangoes, coconut, and dates, complete with blistered palate and tongue, itchy throat, and upset stomach. I’m also going to keep a health log starting today to track symptoms. Supposedly if I can wean myself off these foods, let the symptoms calm down, and then slowly reintroduce them the reaction will calm down. Like all other inflammatory conditions you have to get the inflammation down first.

Axial Tilt is the Reason for the Season

climbing aster

Happy Solstice everyone!

Signs and Portents

So when my husband and I were scoping around the property, we spotted this plant. It’s growing around the edges and all over one of the neighbor’s yards. My husband noticed that bees and other pollinators were practically swarming around the flowers, so I snapped a photo to look it up later.


This, my friends, is Tōng Cǎo – 通草 , Tetrapanax Papyriferus, traditionally used to promote lactation. That’s right. There are Chinese medicinal plants already there. Not only is this a Chinese medicine, it’s also widely used to make paper. The translated name is “rice paper plant”. Did I look it up? Nope. I subscribed to a Chinese herb study group and was scrolling back through herbs, and this was the November 12th herb of the day.

Those kinds of things keep occurring. It’s kind of wonderful.

Welcome to the Jungle

We finally had our first big cleanup day at the incipient Springstead Herb Farm.


This is the entrance- my property is on the right, with all the giant trees. And vines. And trash.

jungle2This is one of the trash piles we made after an hour of raking and digging cans and bottles out of the ground.


A good percentage of the south end of the farm looks like this. People have been dumping trash here for decades. It’s possible that the original owner of the property dumped trash here before there was garbage service. We joked about being archaeologists learning about long ago cultures by digging through their middens.


Yeah. 80% of the trash pile is Budweiser cans with pull tabs.


I have the best family ever. What’s not pictured here is that about five minutes after this photo we discovered a large yellowjacket nest. My younger son and I both were stung, he much worse than I. Thankfully they left us alone after we moved out of their clearing and we were able to keep working. I am taking this as a clear sign to slow down and proceed carefully.


 We did find some amazing things, like this beautiful little box turtle hiding in the trash. There’s a couple feral orange trees that I swear are twice as healthy as the ones in my yard. There is a high ridge along one side that faces east- a possibly perfect microclimate for several of the herbs I want to grow.


This (rather unflattering) photo is a decent representation of the entire property. I got a little teary at the end- the property is so beautiful and overwhelming. I am cramming about forest agriculture, forest farming, wild-simulated herb farming, and alley cropping. Now that paths have been mown and enough has been cleared that we can get to all areas of the property, the next step is to go out there and just document everything- make a list of species found, take soil samples from different areas, start on a ground map.  This starts tomorrow!

Tropical Crops- Disappointment & Lessons

I harvested the rest of my tropical crops on Friday: Cassava, pigeon peas, and jicama.


cassava 2014

This is the third year I’ve grown cassava. The first year was a complete bust. Last year was much better, I actually had enough cassava to make pasteles for a family Solstice feast. This year absolutely sucked. This is just under three pounds of trimmed cassava roots. I should’ve included something for scale- these roots are small. See how few long, straight roots there are? I think I’m crowding the polyculture. Cassava has large shallow roots. The cassava is planted next to ginger, elephant ears and pigeon peas- all of which have shallow roots. Siembra Farm grows fabulous, huge cassava every year. The next time I can get to the farmers’ market I’ll be grilling them about growing cassava as well as buying a bunch of theirs to shred and freeze along with mine.

Pigeon Peas/Gandules


Last year I planted one decent-sized seedling tree from Edible Plant Project in a native flowerbed. It grew huge and we got a decent amount (about a pound) of dry, mature pigeon peas before the first freeze. This year I planted two  seedling trees from EPP in the back yard, thinking I’d get about double the harvest. Despite this being a year of more-normal rain (48.4 inches so far this year) the trees never reached the same size and didn’t start producing peas until very late in the year. Then we had a snap freeze and a week later it was 80. I missed the harvesting window entirely. By the time I harvested the pods off the trees the tree was long dead and the pods were covered in mold. After shelling that entire tray of pods we ended up with about a cup of dry pigeon peas. Most weren’t formed and at least half the mature peas were moldy and ruined. I almost cried.



Did you know jicama is a legume? I didn’t. It may be the only legume with an edible root. The plant part is a lovely large vine with large leaves and lovely purple pea-blossom flowers that drive the bumblebees mad with desire. The vines perished in the freeze (along with their unripe seed pods, darnit) so I dug up the roots. The first root (bottom if the basket) was very large but at some point it had split in the ground. The other three were very small, about the size of small turnips or apples. Again, after all the lovely heat and rain, I expected a good return. They are small but interestingly- they have ZERO insect damage. None.

What I’ll do different next year

Plant earlier. Try the pigeon peas in the forest garden, more sun and more pollinators. Plant the cassava in the same place- it’s literally the only place in the yard to grow something that big that isn’t already full of roots- but I’ll amend the soil heavily with compost and spread the plants out more. I’ll move some of the gingers and add something with a deep taproot instead. The jicama is the tough one. Knowing that I’ll only get one root per plant, and knowing now how bloody huge the vines get, will make it a challenge to grow in a greater quantity. Jicama may remain a treat.

These are “crops” that are passively grown. They receive zero irrigation or fertilizer after they’re planted. They never needed any pest intervention. There is a beetle that bores holes in pigeon peas after they’ve started ripening but they rarely ruin more than one pea in the pod so I don’t mind. That’s the only pest I’ve noticed. Not too shabby if I could increase the number of plants.

What was your greatest garden failure this year?


I absolutely loathe the winter darkness. I don’t usually get off work until 6pm or later, which means it’s barely daylight when I go to work and full dark by the time I leave. In the winter, no gardening happens four days out of seven. I have to wait until the weekend to harvest, weed, plant, or most especially take pictures. If I make something delicious and want to share the recipe I have to take crappy fluorescent-toned photos in my dull kitchen. The gloominess of winter photos just adds to my general irritation level with winter dark in general.

So this winter I’m going to try something different. This weekend I’m going to move the dehydrator, baskets of winter squash, lingering mail, and cookbooks off my kitchen table and I’m going to set up a photo area with lights. I even have a light box! I’ve found some good tips on various food photography blogs and I’m going to give it a try. Wish me luck!

Simple Caribbean Stew Base


We just experienced an early cold snap with two nights of freezing temps in a row. Many local gardeners spent hours constructing tents around their gardens with electric lights or sprinklers to keep their tender plants from freezing. Me? I just let it all freeze. I was ready to let the peppers and basil go, along with most of the other tropical food plants. I harvested all of the ripe peppers before the freeze, quite a good haul of peppers. I only grew a few kinds of peppers this year, mostly aji cachucha, a small Dominican mild pepper with thin walls and really nice flavor. They’re not as sweet as the thick-walled big red or yellow peppers, but a little sweeter than a cubanelle. More importantly, the plants survived an brutal onslaught of stem borers this year to produce quite heavily.

aji cachucha

Aren’t they pretty? I’m harvesting my subtropical crops like pigeon peas and cassava right now and we’ll be eating a lot of Caribbean foods this winter, so I wanted to make sofrito with these peppers. Unfortunately the peppers started going soft before I could gather all the ingredients for sofrito. I decided to make a quick recaito and freeze it, but then when I finally could go shopping everyone was out of recao/culantro, and you can’t make recaito without recao. Any self-respecting Puerto Rican would probably stomp on my toe for sharing a recipe for recaito with no recao. So this is not recaito (despite the label) but I think calling it “Caribbean soup base” is pretty safe.


Caribbean Soup Base

1 lb aji cachucha (or any combination of thin walled non-spicy peppers)

4 large cloves of garlic

1 bunch cilantro

Cut each pepper in half and carefully remove the seeds and stem. The seeds quickly become bitter when you cook them. Roughly chop the cilantro and garlic. Combine everything in a food processor and process only until the mixture comes together. Do not puree! Leave it chunky. Separate into small containers or 4 oz jars and freeze.

This base can be used to make ajilimojili sauce (just add some olive oil, lime juice, a Scotch Bonnet for some heat, and salt & pepper) or to cook anything from chicken & rice casserole to an omelet. Please note- the traditional preparation of this would include onions. My husband can’t eat onions, so I just leave them out.

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