Frankincense and Myrrh

Copyright©Jim Long 2013
Ever wonder why frankincense and myrrh are associated with Christmas? Just what, exactly is it, and why was it so valuable?
Frankincense, resin from the Bowsellia tree.
Frankincense and myrrh have been used for eons, for incense. Records show it was traded in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, where it has grown, for the past 5,000 years. You'll find it still used in Catholic and Episcopal churches around the world. Both resins have a sweet, warm, balsamic fragrance when burned on charcoal or fireplace embers.

Frankincense, as well as myrrh, are the aromatic resins, or solidified sap from trees. It was burned as offerings in the early Hebrew temples and because of the distance it had to travel on the trade routes, was considered almost worth its weight in gold.

But burning frankincense and myrrh as incense (slightly akin to burning stacks of $100 bills today) wasn't the primary use. Both frankincense and myrrh have proven antiseptic and inflammatory properties. They were once considered remedies for everything from leprosy to toothaches, and very helpful in caring for newborn infants because of the antiseptic properties. The ancient Egyptians used great amounts of both resins for use in insect repellents, facial treatments, salves for wounds and sores. They also used myrrh in their embalming practices.
Myrrh "tears', hardened gum resin from the Commiphora tree.
Today, both frankincense and myrrh continue to be used for their healing properties. Both are used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines. You'll find myrrh in many toothpastes because it has proven helpful to dental and gum health. There is current research into its use in cancer treatments, Crohn's disease and many other conditions. It is used in salves for healing cuts, burns and injuries and you can easily make your own. We have frankincense and myrrh in the bulk on our Bulk Herbs page.

Frankincense and Myrrh Incense Kit

We also offer a wonderful Frankincense and Myrrh Kit which includes a packet of each gum resin, special easy-light charcoal tablets, a ceramic tile and complete instructions, all boxed in a keepsake wooden treasure chest. Click here to see and order. We ship the day following receipt of your order.
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Make a Cooking Wreath

Copyright©Jim Long 2013
Herbs and pruners are all you need to make a wreath.

I wrote about this craft thing I used to do with groups of visitors, back in the 1990s for The Herb Companion magazine. Seems like a lot of herb groups around the country liked the idea and made lots to sell, so I'm reprinting it again here. It's pretty simple, a wreath woven together out of cooking herbs. I used to sell them in little cellophane bags with a couple of recipes attached. To use the wreath, you simply started a pot of soup or stew boiling and about 15 minutes before the end of the cooking, you simply drop the entire wreath into the pot for seasoning. The flavor is delicious!
Step 1
Step 1, pick a long sprig of rosemary. New, this year's growth is best simply because heavier wood is more likely to break than to bend. You can use any of the following to work into your wreath, all with good flavor: Rosemary, Thyme (any variety), Sage, Garlic chives, Chives (leaves and/or flowers), Oregano, Basil, Lavender (flower spikes), Hyssop, Parsley and Lemongrass (even if it's already brown it still have flavor).
Step 2, bending the sprigs to weave.
To begin your wreath, choose a nice, long sprig of hyssop or rosemary and bend it into a circle, twisting the ends around each other. Hold in place with your thumb and forefinger while you wrap another sprig of a different herb in the other direction (or tie the ends together temporarily with plain white string).

You want to weave each sprig in the opposite direction of the first so they hold each other in place. Don’t get discouraged, it gets easier as you work. (You may want to make several on your first try to get the hang of it).

Step 2, Weave each of the herbs into your wreath, using only the stems and leaves, no string. Tuck ends under and over an earlier sprig and keep adding more. You want to end up with a wreath that is about four inches across, or smaller. Use lemongrass or garlic chives as the last herb, wrapping  it around like a ribbon and tucking each end under another sprig to hold it in place.
Step 3, finishing.
Step 3, When your wreath is finished, trim off any extra ends that are sticking out and put the wreathes in a dark place, like a pantry, on paper and let them dry until crisp.
Attach a string and a recipe if you wish and your cooking wreath is ready to give to a friend.

To use the wreath, remove the string and drop into an already boiling pot of soup or stew. It’s best to add the wreath during the last fifteen or twenty minutes of cooking (this is true of adding any herbs, fresh or dried; add them too soon and the cooking removes the flavors, so add herbs in the last minutes of cooking for the best flavor).
2 finished wreathes; attach a recipe to give as a gift.

Recipes to choose from for attaching to the wreath:

Autumn Herb Wreath Chicken Soup

2 1/2 quarts water
2 chicken breasts
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 cup diced onion
2 carrots, peeled, sliced
The entire cooking wreath
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Dash salt and pepper, to taste
*Optional: 1/4 cup brown rice, rinsed

Bring water to a boil and add the chicken and vegetables. Cook until the chicken is tender, about 20 minutes, remove chicken and dice, then add back to the soup. Add the optional rice and reduce heat to a simmer, cooking 10-15 minutes. When you add the rice/pasta, also remove the ribbon from the cooking wreath and add the wreath to the pot of simmering soup. Simmer until rice is done, remove wreath and serve.

Vegetarian Herb Wreath Soup

A vegetarian friend would receive this recipe card attach to their cooking wreath:
2 1/2 quarts water or vegetable broth
Bring water to a boil and add an assortment of your favorite diced vegetables: celery, potato, carrots, a turnip, some cabbage, onion, garlic, 1 slice ginger, etc. about 3 cups total.
*Optional 1/4 cup brown rice, rinsed

Simmer vegetables and rice until tender, about 15-18 minutes. Add the cooking wreath (with the ribbon removed) after 10 minutes of cooking, and continue cooking until rice is tender. Remove the wreath and serve.

Three little cooking wreathes, before ribbons and recipes.


New Garden Aps for Smartphones

Winter in our garden at Long Creek Herb Farm is generally mild. Our first actual freeze came on Nov. 15, finishing off the last of the hot pepper plants and knocking the leaves off the hardy bananas.
Hardy banana, November.

So much of the garden is put to bed for the winter. Plants, like the bananas, will come back up next spring. And the seed catalogs have started arriving. Have you seen the amazing new Baker Creek Seed Whole Seed Catalog? It's reminiscent of the Whole Earth Catalog of the 1970s. It's 356 pages, filled with not only a more extensive seed assortment than their regular seed catalog, but also information about canning, preserving and lots more. (And an entire page dedicated to Long Creek Herbs and my books! What an honor). Click on the link above if you want a copy of their new catalog.

Baker Creek Catalog, order early before they run out.

Our page in the Whole Seed Catalog
There are some amazing and handy new smartphone aps for gardeners, too. Check out these, below. They're all free aps and easy to download and are good help for the garden.


Leafsnap, an app created by researchers from Columbia University, University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Insitiution, allows users to take a picture of a leaf then use the app to help identify the species. FREE

Plant Diagnostic Sample Submission

This app allows users to submit digital photos to a university diagnostic lab for identification of plant diseases or pests. FREE 

A smart phone app specifically for rose lovers, Our Rose Garden features information about roses, how to plant and prune them as well as how to overwinter your favorites. Created by the University of Illinois Extension, this app also includes a gallery to track favorite roses and includes several videos about rose care.

Garden Time Planner

This planning tool helps gardeners know when to sow, transplant and expect to harvest vegetables and herbs specific to their region. A recent addition is that the app now includes annual flowers in the database of plant listings. FREE