Enjoy Cordella Magazine’s lovely interview with Madelyn, telling the Mickelberry Gardens story, accompanied by beautiful photographs taken by Anna Caitlin Harris.
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Enjoy Cordella Magazine’s lovely interview with Madelyn, telling the Mickelberry Gardens story, accompanied by beautiful photographs taken by Anna Caitlin Harris.
Last Saturday, we had the wonderful opportunity to drive out to Sandy, Oregon and take a tour of one of the medicinal herb farms operated by Oregon’s Wild Harvest. This company is one of our main suppliers for bulk medicinal herbs, many of which they grow themselves on their biodynamic farm, which is USDA certified organic and also certified biodynamic by the Demeter Association.
It was a beautiful, sunny day and after some delicious iced herbal tea in the shade, owner Randy took us on a tour of the operation. We met many plants and he talked to us about his experience running the business over the past 25 years, working with the land, and his knowledge of the plants. It was incredibly informative and fascinating. We also got to learn more about biodynamic agriculture, and hope to incorporate many of these techniques into our own garden.
We look forward to our continued partnership with Oregon’s Wild Harvest, and feel even more appreciative of the wonderful herbs we use in our products after seeing this operation up close. Many thanks to Randy and Ruta for organizing the tour!
We have been hosting lots of visitors out to our kitchen and apiary this summer! July has been a perfect time to introduce people to the bees, since the nectar is flowing and the bees are fat, happy, and busy.
Some of our biggest retailers, New Seasons and Whole Foods Markets, have both sent groups of staff out for team-building experiences. The groups checked out our kitchen operation and took a tour of our facility, did a honey tasting with our collection of different types of honey, and got questions answered about honeybees and beekeeping. From the kitchen, we carpooled out to our apiary in Troutdale, Oregon and the teams got the opportunity to don a beesuit, and get a look at a honeybee hive up close. Everyone had a great time!
Here’s some photos of the fabulous New Seasons Wellness staff:
And here’s some great shots of the fun and enthusiastic Whole Foods Tanasbourne Whole Body Team:
We look forward to a few more tours coming up this summer!
I am working on rendering beeswax today, and so am inspired to write about why our beeswax is special.
How do the bees make beeswax?
Beeswax is a central element of the beehive. It is the structure and home of the bee colony. The queen lays her eggs in cells made of beeswax, and the larvae are raised to adulthood inside a cell. The bees also store all of their honey and pollen within the wax cells. All of the female worker bees have specialized glands on their abdomens that secrete very thin sheets of wax, which is used as building material. Rudolf Steiner makes the argument that this beeswax secretion is natural and good for the bees.
Wax in our hives
We use foundationless frames in our hives, so that the bees build all of the wax themselves. Using plastic or wax foundation is common in the beekeeping industry, and gives the bees a bit of a “head start” when it comes to drawing out frames. But we prefer to follow Steiner’s advice and let them build everything from scratch. This gives the bees power to determine the shape they want to build, and the size they want to make each cell. Wax foundation is generally an amalgamation of wax from industrial beekeeping, and can be contaminated with disease.
photo credit: http://forum.beemaster.com/index.php?topic=21875.0
Why is our wax special?
We raise our bees without the use of hive treatments such as antibiotics or miticides, whose use is common practice in United States apiculture. We also keep our bees on organic farmland. Chemicals and pesticides tend to accumulate in wax, so using the cleanest methods we can helps keep our beeswax pure. We also source beeswax from other local beekeepers we trust, who keep their bees on pristine lands and without the use of toxic hive inputs. We never purchase wax from distributors, instead opting to process it all in house, by hand, ourselves. That way, we can be assured of the quality.
We get our wax right after the honey harvest. We use what is cut from the honeycombs when harvesting the honey. It goes through a process of melting, water baths, and filtration to remove honey and impurities. When it’s finished, we pour it into molds. At this point it has an indefinite shelf life, and is ready for use in our skin care products.
Beeswax and herbal medicine
Beeswax has been trusted for centuries for use in herbal formulations for the skin. When combined with oil, it achieves a wonderful consistency that is firm at room temperature, and absorbs seamlessly into the skin. Beeswax is a magical substance, and works in harmony with herbs and high quality oils to provide it’s soothing, protective elements to the skin.
We use our wonderful beeswax in our lip balm, salves, and soap. It smells amazing, and is so fun to work with. It’s a labor of love! And we love the bees for helping us make it available to more and more people.
It’s that time of year when everyone seems to be getting sick. Here’s a list of my favorite go-to remedies for staying well during cold and flu season.
1. Fire Cider
You can make this yourself, or get some from your favorite local herbalist’s most recent batch. Fire Cider is made by steeping various pungent and spicy ingredients in raw apple cider vinegar, and then straining after several weeks. Cayenne peppers, ginger, garlic, onions, horseradish, and cress are all excellent fire cider ingredients. You can take a dose of fire cider on it’s own daily, mix it with a little honey, or add it to your salad dressings and soups. It is healthy and delicious.
Going to see your acupuncturist regularly is a great way to prevent stagnation in your system, cycling out toxins and helping you sidestep the crud you feel may be lurking about.
Elderberries are antiviral, blood purifying, and immune-stimulating, so are especially useful in keeping your body’s protective shield activated. Our favorite way to consume elderberries is a spoonful of Mickelberry Gardens Elderberry Honey Tonic, of course!
A daily dropperful of reishi tincture during cold and flu season helps to support and nourish your body’s deep immunity. We get our reishi tincture from The Mushroomery in Lebanon, Oregon.
5. Whole Foods
Eating lots of nourishing whole foods and avoiding refined white flour and white sugar will help keep you healthy.
6. Rest and Renew
Make sure you allow yourself adequate sleep and time for relaxation. Your body does all sorts of repairing while you are sleeping. Likewise, making space for activities you find rejuvenating such as yoga, meditation, taking a walk in the woods or any other enjoyable exercise. Hot baths, self care, and spending time with people who don’t stress you out are all great strategies to keep yourself healthy and relaxed.
We use organic, raw apple cider vinegar in the majority of our Honey Tonic formulas. Our apple cider vinegar is made domestically in Northern California, from Oregon, Washington, and Northern California-grown apples. I love using apple cider vinegar as a solvent in herbal tincture making, for a lot of different reasons. It allows you to create an alcohol-free tincture, and has many virtuous health benefits in itself.
Why is Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) a good solvent?
Acetic acid is the chief ingredient in vinegar that makes it both a preservative and a solvent, which is produced through the fermentation and subsequent oxidation of ethanol. Winemaker August Sebastiani observed that “God is trying to make vinegar”, probably because all wine can become vinegar without careful storage. Vinegar is created from a fermentation process of undistilled alcohol, which will occur in the presence of oxygen. Once an undistilled alcohol becomes vinegar, it is in a stable state and does not change much and can last for years. Vinegar is acidic, so it slows the growth of harmful bacteria. Vinegar’s acidic nature works to dissolve minerals, which is not as effectively achieved using solvents such as water or alcohol.
Herbal vinegars are a bit more delicate than an alcohol-based tincture, but vinegar can extract many beneficial properties from plants. Vitamins, minerals, essential oils, alkaloids, sugars, tannins, glycosides, and bitter compounds can all be extracted, although they may not be as strongly concentrated as they would be in alcohol. Vinegar is wonderful for making tonic formulas, ideal for building up and supporting the body over time.
How is apple cider vinegar made?
The roots of the word vinegar come from the french Vin (wine) and Aigre (sour). Vinegars are made from the fermentation of an undistilled alcohol, such as wine in wine vinegars, or hard cider, in the case of apple cider vinegar.
The process of making vinegar begins with fermentation of the juice of various fruits, berries, honey, molasses, or even cereal grains in malt vinegars. In the case of apple cider vinegar, the starting material is juice from apples. Fermentation depends on yeast, which transforms sugars in the starting material into alcohol and carbonic gas. The gas then evaporates, leaving only the alcohol and the flavors (or esters).
In the final phase oxidation occurs – oxygen in the air combines with the alcohol. This is why vinegar forms only when a bottle of wine is uncorked and exposed to air. This fermentation process involves a combination of alcohol, oxygen, and microscopic organisms called acetobacters and aerobic yeasts. These microscopic organisms form a gelatinous mass known as mother of vinegar. The mother of vinegar is edible and nutritious, and nothing to be afraid of.
To make vinegar you need some type of ethyl alcohol that is less than 18% alcohol; vinegar bacteria; a temperature of 59 deg. F to 86 deg. F; and a non-reactive container (glass, wood, ceramic, plastic, or enamel-coated metal – never aluminum). The time it takes wine to turn into vinegar depends on temperature, air circulation, and alcohol content.
Why does vinegar make a good menstruum for herbal tinctures?
Vinegar extracts are gentler than alcohol extracts. Vinegar extracts are suitable for children. Vinegar also has health benefits that alcohol lacks – it retains all the nutritional goodness of the apples from which it was made, and it is rich with potassium and enzymes produced during fermentation.
Raw apple cider vinegar is excellent for tonic tinctures – those taken every day to maintain overall health and build up the system. Vinegar draws out many plant constituents, especially alkaloids, vitamins, and minerals. Since it is acidic, it is not a good extractor of plant acids. Vinegar also extracts flavors and phytochemicals.
Vinegar based tinctures have a shorter shelf life than alcohol tinctures, 1-2 years is generally recommended instead of 5 years. However some vinegar tinctures stored properly (in a cool dark place with proper acidity) may last up to 5 years.
Here is a list of my favorite plants to use in making apple-cider vinegar based tinctures:
Nettles: For it’s high vitamin and mineral content.
Sage: For its incredible flavor and aroma, antiseptic and antimicrobial properties
Echinacea tops: for extracting Echinacea’s gentle tonic, immune-boosting properties
Lemon balm: for it’s incredible flavor and aroma, and it’s gentle nervine properties
Skullcap: for it’s gentle relaxing, nervine properties
Chamomile: for it’s relaxing properties
You can also make delicious culinary vinegars with a wide range of herbs. These work great as a base for salad dressings, in stir fries, dips, soups, or sauces. Some of my favorite culinary vinegars to make are with chive flowers, tarragon, garlic, onions, and horseradish.
So, how do bees make honey? I’m glad you asked. It’s really quite fascinating.
Honey is made of the sweet nectar from flowers. Nectar is a sugar-rich liquid made by flowering plants, which is produced in glands called nectaries. Nectar is designed to attract pollinating animals such as honeybees. It is a beautiful example of mutualism, in which two different species cooperate for mutual benefit – an abundant phenomenon in nature. The flower’s nectar encourages animals such as bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and bats to visit them, and flowers are often designed to attract specific types of pollinators. As these animals visit different flowers of the same species, they spread pollen from flower to flower, ensuring that pollination will occur and the plant will be able to reproduce. In Michael Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire, he calls bees the “flying penises” of plants. If this is the case, nectar is the perfume and invitation from the flower. Flowers are the sexual organs of plants, which is perhaps why they are so typically associated with courting and romance.
When a particularly delicious or abundant source of nectar is located by a foraging honeybee, she communicates this to her sisters in a dance. The dance is complete with directions to the nectar source, using the sun for navigation. The bee with the most provocative dance will gain the most followers – Matt likes to compare the dance to a break-dancing competition, and the bee with the best “pop lock and drop” gets the sister bees to get on board and follow the dancer to the nectar source. Scientists call this behavior “The Waggle Dance.”
The foraging honeybee collects nectar by flying from blossom to blossom and sipping nectar into her honey stomach, using her long proboscis. She drinks nectar until her stomach is filled to the brim, and then travels back to the hive with her heavy load.
Upon arriving back at her hive, the foraging bee is greeted by “house” bees, whose work is restricted to inside the hive. The nectar is exchanged from the foraging bee to the house bee via proboscis, in a “nectar kiss”. House bees will first taste and analyze her nectar, and eventually the entire contents of the honey stomach will be exchanged to house bees, and often exchanged from house bee to house bee. The foraging bee, now with an empty stomach, will take flight again to locate more nectar.
The house bee will now begin the process of drying the nectar. She mixes in a drop of her saliva, and begins blowing tiny nectar bubbles with her mandibles and her proboscis. This exposes the drop to the dry, warm air in the colony, and some of the moisture dehydrates. After holding the drop for a few minutes, she will add another nectar drop and continue this process. Eventually the dehydrated nectar is deposited into cells, and moved from cell to cell to facilitate drying. When enough nectar has been collected to fill multiple cells, the bees band together and fan their wings to create the final evaporation and complete the process of nectar becoming honey. Honey may be placed in empty cells, cells with eggs, or even with larvae. Cells near to the brood nest or nursery will be filled first, where the honey is also combined with pollen to feed the young. When these cells are filled, honey is kept in the surplus honey storage area, and when the drying process is complete a wax cap is applied to the cell, similar to putting a lid on a jar.
Chemically, the process of honey creation is a conversion of pure sucrose, a sugar, into other sugars, fructose and glucose. Sucrose cannot be used in its whole form by honey bees. So in order to convert this sucrose into a more usable form, honey bees transform it. This is accomplished by enzymes in the bees’ saliva, which contains invertase and glucose oxidase. Glucose is less sweet than sucrose, and fructose is sweeter. Fructose is the most stable, so honeys that have a high fructose content will not crystallize. When a honey does crystallize, it’s the glucose that you see forming crystals, and the remaining liquid is fructose.
Although the basic building blocks of honey are sugar molecules, honey also contains the essences of the plants from which the bees gathered nectar, as well as minerals from the soils where those flowers grew. Honey is a complex and unique blend of aromas, enzymes, vitamins, proteins, minerals, salts, acids, lipids, pigments and flavor compounds. It also contains fragments of all of the different pollens the bees have gathered. Honey’s hydrogen peroxide content is often attributed to it’s strong antimicrobial properties.
Honey is the food of all the adult bees, and it is also mixed with pollen and propolis to create “bee bread”, a fermented product that the bees feed to their larvae. Honeybees depend on honey, and a strong colony will store as much honey as they have the space for. A judicious beekeeper can take advantage of this hoarding instinct of the hive, and enjoy and share the excess of the bee’s painstaking labor.
Sources consulted for this blog:
Sacred and Healing Herbal Beers by Stephen Harrod Buhner.
The Backyard Beekeeper’s Honey Handbook by Kim Flottum.
What are Honey Tonics?
Honey Tonics are sweet, tart, and healthful treats. They can be enjoyed by the spoonful as often as desired.
Honey Tonics are made with raw honey and raw apple cider vinegar. These two ingredients have wonderful health benefits. The combination of honey and vinegar creates a healthful oxymel. Our Honey Tonics are a delicious way to consume a trifecta of beneficial things: honey, apple cider vinegar, and blends of herbs.
Raw apple cider vinegar comes from organic apples, and contains the beneficial enzymes produced during the fermentation process. It is useful for promoting good digestion, pH balance, and aiding the body in removing toxins.
Honey contains a delicate and complex array of vitamins, minerals, proteins and essences that come from the kaleidoscope of plants and soil conditions from where the honeybee gathered nectar and pollen, as well as enzymes from the honeybee’s own body. These qualities make raw honey a profound local medicine. Raw honey is gently relaxing, antimicrobial, and soothing to the stomach and throat. Honey is ready to use and most nutritious with minimal processing and treatment.
We utilize the ancient quality of herbal vinegars in our tonic formulas, extracting minerals and other beneficial qualities from certified organic herbs into vinegar. The herbs we have selected to use in our tonics are gentle, and have been chosen for their accessibility. They are plants that I have a personal experience with, through growing, observing, and building a relationship over time.
We make an alcohol extract of American Ginseng in our Ginseng Honey Tonic, and use a few alcohol extracts in our Throat and Lung Honey Tonic to deliver an extra punch. We also use alcohol extracts for incorporating propolis into our preparations.
What is a Tonic, anyway?
A tonic is something meant to aid in staying well and healthy, and to help achieve balance in mind and body. Health exists in the context of a person’s lifestyle, and should be built around a foundation of a diet rich in nutritious, unprocessed foods and clean water. Other elements of balanced health include rest; regular, enjoyable and appropriate exercise; some type of work that makes you feel useful and productive; time for leisure and doing things you enjoy; and healthy relationships. Achieving good health and fulfilling your full potential is possible when there is balance in more of these areas.
Herbal remedies, and tonics in particular, fit inside this framework of a healthy lifestyle. A tonic can be useful when you’re sick, but use over time also aids your body to be in its optimum condition over the long term.
People interested in improving their health are wise to seek out gentle herbs and remedies to support well-being. The most benefit will be reaped, however, when this also accompanies improvements in diet and bringing attention to aspects in one’s lifestyle that may not be balanced. Improving your diet can be a process of slowly introducing more nutritious foods rather than cutting things out, and keeping in mind that enjoying your food is also really important! Lifestyle changes are the same way, easier to achieve when approached through manageable steps over time.
It is my utmost goal for Mickelberry Gardens Honey Tonics to support your good health! Check all of them out here: http://www.mickelberrygardens.com/products-page/honey-tonics/
Poppyswap is an online resource for hand-crafted herbal products.
Read the blog post below, and it is also posted here.
Honey, beeswax and propolis are the honeybee’s gifts and are precious medicines that work in symphony with plant-based remedies. Bee products can enhance the effectiveness, flavor, consistency and longevity of many herbal preparations.
Herbalists can benefit greatly from tending a backyard beehive in their garden. Every herbalist should consider backyard beekeeping!
Here are the products from the beehive that belong in every herbalist’s toolkit:
+ Raw honey. It is made from the nectar of millions of flowers. Raw honey benefits include astounding healing properties for many conditions, from internal GI conditions to topical burns and wounds.
+ Beeswax. This is the bee’s structural masterpiece, and it lends an incomparable quality to preparations for the skin.
+ Propolis. It is the bee’s own herbal remedy, assembled from plant resins. It is uniquely designed to keep fungal and bacterial outbreaks at bay.
Here are the other benefits that come with keeping bees:
+ Pollination. A beehive placed in the herbalist’s garden will improve the pollination for many plants.
+ Enjoyment. The bee’s dance of interconnection with the plants and the sun are ripe sources for inspiration and information. Herbalists can enhance their craft by looking deeply into the relationship between bees, flowers, and themselves.
+ Wellness. With a beehive, the luxury of tasting a bit of raw local honey on your tongue every day is possible and may create a feeling of deeper connection to your surroundings—while also soothing your digestive and respiratory tracts.
For my husband and I, building a sustainable livelihood in partnership with our honeybees stemmed from keeping bees in our backyard and making medicines from our harvest. We learned to keep bees organically on our urban permaculture farm, influenced by biodynamic beekeeping techniques and the mentorship of an experienced beekeeper. My interest in plants, gardening and self-care inspired me to develop folk herbal remedies, so we began to carefully collect raw honey, beeswax and propolis and incorporate them into hand-crafted, raw, honey-based herbal syrups, beeswax salves, raw honey skin treatments, and propolis tinctures. We now offer honeybee-infused plant-based remedies at our community farmer’s markets, retail shops, naturopathic clinics, and online.
At Mickelberry Gardens, building a more balanced partnership between humans, honeybees, and ecosystems is a core company value. Because we keep untreated beehives exclusively on organic farmland, our hive products are very pure. Mickelberry Gardens now collaborates with small organic Oregon growers to provide honeybee crop pollination, and improve bee habitat. Additionally, we teach classes about natural beekeeping methods, gardening for pollinators, the health benefits of honeybee products, and making and using folk remedies. We are also developing pollinator curriculum for school garden programs.
Finding a beekeeper that is willing to teach you how they tend the bees is a valuable initiation into beekeeping. Deepening your relationship with the bees is an awesome learning process. Ask yourself these questions and see if you are interested in keeping a hive of bees!
Do you want to know what nectars the honeybees drink in your region or what crops they pollinate? Do you love raw honey and appreciate the beauty of the honeycomb and its mysterious development? Is there a beekeeper near your home that will let you visit the hives and share his or her skills?
Well, what are you waiting for? Make friends with the bees and their keepers. And be sure to visit us online to discover our wonderful honeybee herbal creations!
Check out Madelyn’s Poppy Swap online shop, Mickelberry Gardens, and get 15 PERCENT OFF your first order! Use coupon code “BEES” to take advantage of this discount.