Herbal Nervine Salve

*UPDATED: PICS HAVE BEEN ADDED, TO SHOW SALVE-MAKING PROCESS…

One of things we do in the Herbal Apothecary Course is make herbal salves. They are really very simple and easy to make and are extremely effective.

After shoveling snow this past week, I knew that my elbows were going to bother me. I have a tendency for an issue similar to carpal tunnel where the nerve channels in my elbows – the cubital tunnels – get inflamed and compress the nerves. When I came in from shoveling, my elbows didn’t hurt, and I felt good from the exercise, so I didn’t think of rubbing the nervine salve I make on my elbows…

But that night, my fingers started getting the tingling sensation, and my elbows and arms started really hurting. I was not worried though, and I didn’t take a painkiller medication. Instead I grabbed my container of what I call “Nervine Salve” and rubbed it into both my elbows. Within 5 minutes, the pain was gone and the tingling stopped. And it was moisturizing too!

The herbs I use in the Nervine Salve are effective for dealing with all the symptoms of nerve compression as well as healing the nerves and nerve tunnels themselves. And the oil-based salve gets absorbed quickly, bringing the herbal medicine right to where it needs to be.

I can’t recommend this salve enough for any nerve issue. Herbs that are considered “nervines” heal and tone the nervous system. Infused into a salve, they can fix all sorts of nervous system issues like carpal tunnel, pinched nerves, sciatica, etc. They are also used for treating anxiety, depression, and stress related issues of all sorts.

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How to Make Your Own Nervine Salve

I start by infusing dried herbs into extra virgin olive oil. I use a double boiler for this.

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Herbs should be covered by the oil and able to move freely when stirred.

You want to keep the oil warm, but you don’t want to over heat or fry your herbs.

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The temperature should be kept so you can touch the oil without burning yourself. So keep the heat on very low. Put the dried herbs into the top of the double boiler and pour enough oil to cover the herbs with about 1.5 inches of oil.

The herbs I use in my Nervine Salve are:
~Nervine herbs:
2 parts St. John’s Wort upper leaves and flowers. St. John’s Wort is one of the most effective nervine herbs. I also add 1 part Chamomile blossoms, 1 part Hops, and 1/4 part Alkanet root.
~General Healing herbs:
1 part Comfrey leaves, 1 part Goldenseal root, 1 part Solomon’s Seal root, 1 part Chickweed whole plant.
~Painkilling herb for quick relief:
1 part Meadowsweet flowers
~Anti-Inflammatory herbs to help reduce
the inflammation causing the compression:

1 part Licorice root.

Most of these herbs can be easily grown in this area. The few that can’t, can be easily found online or at local herb shops or health food stores. I love and recommend Mountain Rose Herbs for organic herbs.

Step by Step:

I let those herbs infuse into the oil for about 4 hours. Except for occasionally stirring them, they don’t need much attention.

After that time, you’ll see that the oil has changed color, which indicates that the oil-soluble herbal chemicals are now in the oil. I strain the herbs out (give them to your chickens or compost pile) into a glass pyrex-style large measuring cup.

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I usually strain through a wide mesh strainer and then through a fine mesh.

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I then add about 1/4-1/3 cup of beeswax to each 2 cups of oil.

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I place the measuring cup into a preheated oven at 325 degrees F until the beeswax is fully melted.

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At this point, your salve is basically complete – but I do like to add some essential oils to make it smell nice and make use of the benefits they may impart. Lavender Essential Oil is calming and also can act as a painkiller. I have made it a tradition to add a couple drops of Rose Geranium Essential Oil to my Nervine Salve as it is known to relax muscles, which I feel can get stressed when one is dealing with nerve pain. Pour it into little containers and let cool completely before covering.

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Once you get your ingredients together and your supplies, it is amazingly easy to create your own herbal salves and I encourage you to try it. Once you go through the steps, you’ll feel more confident about it. And once you try it out, you’ll be simply thrilled at the effectiveness.

In the Herbal Apothecary Course, we make many salves together as well as tincture and teas and more. I won’t just be dictating recipes; the format of the workshop is working together to develop the ways of thinking to build herbal remedies…

We will also talk about herbs that no household should be without, how to substitute herbs, and basically everything you need to know to create an effective and useful household herbal apothecary. You’ll be building your own herb-based household health plan, as well as your own herbal medicine cabinet, beauty spa, and emotional well-being resource.

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Check out our webpage on our Building a Sustainable Herbal Apothecary Course for more info on our course. We offer a full line of herbalism courses and workshops: Midsummer Farm Herbalism. 

 

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Cucumber Spaghetti

Before the cucumbers slow down in production  – make some Cucumber Spaghetti!
This summer, we have been eating almost all of our cucumbers as “cucumber-spaghetti.” This is so easy and fast and simple – all you need is a julienne vegetable peeler – I use the OXO Good Grips one.

Start by cleaning your cucumbers:

Then simply peel or julienne them – watch your fingers.

I keep going until the seeds make the strips uneven and break:

Pile all the cucumber strips into a bowl with room to toss:

Then add salt and pepper, a dash of vinegar (I used Golden Balsamic), and a dash of extra virgin olive oil. I usually put in a pinch of cayenne flakes, but that’s optional. Toss and mix thoroughly. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes. The salt will encourage the cucumber to release its juices, filling every forkful with cucumbery goodness.

Before serving, toss and mix again. And serve!

BASIL

Basil is a wonderful herb and is really at its prime right now in the garden !

Nothing beats fresh basil – it just tastes like summer! We just can’t help ourselves but sprinkle some fresh leaves on almost anything we are eating! It’s even good on vanilla ice-cream!

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Spicy Globe Bush Style Basil – Great flavor and tons of style!

A great summer use of basil is pesto – no need to cook or heat – it is raw seasonal eating at its best!

I make pesto in my food processor – I start by adding 1-6 cloves of garlic, 2 cups of coarsely chopped basil leaves, 1/2 cup of pignoli nuts, 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, and a pretty decent amount of fresh ground black pepper. I give it a couple pulses, then add a dash of extra virgin olive oil. I keep pulsing and dashing the oil just until the mixture starts to move in the food processor freely and smoothly, then I let it spin for about a minute. I usually end up using about 1/3 cup of oil.

This Classic Pesto is fabulous over pasta on its own or spread onto a fresh slice of artisanal bread. I also like to scoop it up on stalks of celery or romaine leaves.

You can also make it with walnuts or brazil nuts instead of pignoli. And you can add all sorts of other herbs too – try it with basil-parsly-cilantro in equal parts…

Basil also goes great with bitter herbs, balancing the bitter flavor with the basil-sweetness. Try doing a basil dandelion mix! And sometimes just a sprig or two of an herb can add a whole other dimension – I made a pesto with a touch of mint and squeeze of lemon and it was sublime! And you just can’t beat cilantro-cashew pesto!

Pestos make balanced meals – super healthy and energizing for hot languid summer days!

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Siam Queen Thai Basil just starting to flower. The flavor of Thai Basil is just as good when the plant flowers, and the flowers are flavorful and lovely.

You can also add super-nutritional herbs like Stinging Nettle or Chickweed to your pesto! These herbs mellow the basil flavor a bit but add a more complex background to the pesto.

 

I also make a Basil Vinegar – it is really lovely on arugula salad. I simply take a new glass bottle of white wine vinegar, open it and pour about 1.5 inches out (use it on a salad). Now that you have the extra space in the bottle, add fresh basil leaves. You can chop them a bit for a stronger flavor faster. But there’s something really cool about having whole basil leaves in the vinegar bottle.

I also usually use the Thai basil – like Siam Queen that gets the fluffy looking dark purple flowers for the vinegar – the whole sprig goes into the bottle flower and all! Lemon Basil is also really fun for vinegar and so is purple basil!
Freezing Basil
The best way to store basil is to freeze it. It freezes very well. You can freeze the pesto as well – I freeze pesto in serving size containers – some small to be added as a fresh spike of flavor to a tomato sauce and some larger containers for a whole meal of pesto in the middle of the winter.

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To freeze your fresh basil:

  1. Pick it early in the morning, just as the dew dries off.
  2. Don’t wash it or get it wet… just pop it right into zip lock bags and put the bags into the freezer. You can pack the bags pretty tightly but don’t bruise the leaves smushing them together.
  3. After a day or so, you can open the bag and crush and crumble the frozen leaves down to make room for more fresh leaves. I keep doing this about 4 or 5 times to get a really dense bag of basil.

 

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Perfectly Frozen Basil Leaves – can be simply thrown into any recipe or tomato sauce all winter long for fresh basil flavor!

 

Drying Basil
I dry a little batch of basil each year. About 1 cup worth. I don’t use dried basil often in cooking, but I always run into a couple cool recipes that call for it …. The flavor is different – sweeter – when dried so I think you really cannot substitute dried basil for fresh in most cases.

I dry it by simply spreading out some of the tips – just about to flower – over a paper towel on a tray or open basket. I usually lay a piece of cheese cloth over so pet hair and dust doesn’t get on them. The basil should be dry within a week. Always feel it and make sure it is completely and totally dry before putting away in jars otherwise it can mold.

This year I want to make a basil salve – so I am going to dry some extra!

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Most people don’t think of basil as a medicinal herb
But it originally was used as a salve ingredient long before it was mixed with pignoli nuts and made into pesto!

Any plant with a strong flavor and scent is rich in phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants. And this is true of basil. Basil is a great example of letting “food by thy medicine” – adding diversity to the diet. It is also great for soothing upset stomachs and calming the nervous system – alleviating depression and fatigue – actually I think it can have these effects when you just take a big whiff of fresh cut basil ….

Basil is a great headache tea especially for headaches caused by tension. Combined with Lemon Balm, Chamomile and a bit of Sage, it can be a fabulous tea for before bed – helping with insomnia and calming recurring and circular stressful thoughts.

Fresh basil juice has antibacterial properties! Mashing or Chewing some up and applying to a cut or insect sting can be very helpful, preventing infection and easing the itch and pain.

According to James A.Duke in one of my favorite herb reference books, The Green Pharmacy, basil has 6 phyto (or plant) compounds that help lower blood pressure. Not as many as celery and purslane, but a nice extra effect for adding basil to a recipe!

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Basil is a mild medicine – its cousin, Holy Basil or Tulsi, is much more powerful healing medicinal – but basil is also one of the safest herbs to use with no known side effects.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to use herbs in your life – consider taking one of our herbal courses – our next Herbal Apothecary Course starts next Sunday July 24th  – you still have time register! Click here for more info!

 

Visit our website for lots of tips for using your herbs and living a healthy herbal lifestyle.

Take a look at our 10 Great Ways to Use Your Herbs Page.

 

Alternatives to Spinach

Spinach is a staple crop that everyone likes to eat regularly. However it is a tricky crop to grow in this area and can be frustrating for gardeners. Spinach’s trickiness is mainly because of fluctuations in temperature that we experience during the cool weather time periods of spring and autumn. Spinach needs cool – consistently cool – temperatures to grow out fully. If temperatures get too hot, even for a single day, spinach has a tendency to bolt to seed, which means it will be stringy and weak and bad-flavored.

If you want to grow spinach, definitely start by choosing seed varieties that are specifically labeled as “slow to bolt” or “heat resistant.” Keep them regularly watered. And if you can, choose a spot in your garden that is as temperature regulated as possible. I usually have pretty good luck growing it on the western edge of my garden, where the trees create a dappled shade from about 3:30 pm on.

But there are many great alternatives to spinach that are MUCH easier to grow! They are also fun and useful to grow for diversity in nutrients and diversity in recipes even if you usually do well growing regular spinach!

Here’s a run down with my thoughts and experiences with “alternative spinaches”…

Swiss Chard

My all time favorite spinach alternative is good old-fashioned Swiss Chard – nothing seems to slow it down (except a soil mineral deficiency which is easily controllable and fixable). Flavor is good in all sorts of weather and temperatures. Just as healthy as spinach, nutrient wise, maybe healthier. I think Swiss Chard has a sharpness in flavor that really compliments Italian recipes.

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Classic Fordhook Swiss Chard

It is a gorgeous plant to grow too. Really brightens and lushes up the garden. So I grow lots of Swiss Chard – big, white-stemmed, classic Fordhook, as well as the gorgeous Rainbow or Bright Lights, and a Japanese Chard called Umaina that I buy from Kitazawa Seeds.

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Red Chard from Rainbow or Bright Lights Mix

Kitazawa also sells a Swiss Chard labeled as “Fantasia” which is all oranges and yellows…

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“Fantasia” Chard

Good King Henry

Good King Henry is my second favorite alternative to spinach. It is also a great “permaculture” plant, being a perennial vegetable. It does taste very much like spinach, especially when harvested in cool weather. It is also a hardy perennial – so plant a patch, and you’ll have spinach-like greens every year without having to replant.

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Good King Henry

Good King Henry doesn’t grow nearly as fast as Swiss Chard though. Because Swiss Chard is an annual (or actually a biennial) it is super-charged and grows like crazy. But as an annual, Swiss Chard also feeds heavily on the soil and needs to replanted every year. Good King Henry gets planted once. You still have to weed it, but once you have it established, you’re all set. Just plant a bunch of plants so you get the volume of greens that you want. I got my original seeds from Bountiful Gardens.

Others

There are quite a few other popular spinach alternatives that you may have heard of that are prolific growing and thrive in heat. I like these plants and find they are useful in cooking for diversity… they may not be exact substitutes for spinach, but they are easy to grow and quite delicious in their own right! They do all seem to provide a lot of gut-health promoting inulin and FOS and many are medicinal herbs or closely related to major medicine-herbs.

Malabar Spinach

Malabar Spinach is a very attractive vine – grown best on a trellis. It is gorgeous and comes in red and red-stemmed varieties as well as pure dark green. Very healthy – texture can be a bit slimy for raw use but fine when cooked (actually makes a thick and shiny sauciness). I got my seeds from Johnny’s.

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Malabar Spinach in July

It gets berries as the season progresses and cools down…. I grow it along the same trellis as the cucumbers.

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Malabar Spinach in September

 

New Zealand Spinach

New Zealand Spinach spreads and loves heat. Again, it doesn’t taste like spinach, but is closer in texture and flavor than Malabar. Soak your seeds for 2 days before planting as they can tough to germinate. I usually plant the whole packet and get about 50% to germinate. I’ve had good luck with seeds from Baker Creek and from Seed Savers Exchange.

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Molokhia

Molokhia is also known as Egyptian Spinach or Jew’s Mallow. This was recommended to me by a CSA customer who was originally from Egypt – her 3 old daughter was so excited to see it in their basket! It is good – but different from spinach – but with the 3-year-old’s high recommendation, I kept giving it a chance, and I do really enjoy it now. I actually enjoy the little pods it makes at the end of the season the best. They are the size of french filet beans, look like mini okras, but have the flavor and texture of those mini corns you find in Chinese Food… I use seeds from Kitazawa.

Chinese Mallow or Vegetable Mallow

Unlike the medicinal herb, Marshmallow, the Chinese or Vegetable Mallow is not fuzzy and has tender and mild flavored leaves. It is high in mucilage like its cousin, marshmallow, and is also high in various forms of food for your intestinal micr0-herd. This is a green that heals and feeds the lower digestive tract.

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Chinese or Vegetable Mallow

Herba Stella or Staghorn Plantain

Herba Stella is a little known herb or green. It is directly related to Plantain, the great medicinal healing and drawing herb, but has a thin leaf shape and less stringy ribs. This makes is tender and biteable and great added to salads. It is mild in flavor – pleasant and a tiny bit salty. Very nice. I started to add it to smoothies and then to stir fries and now I chop a bunch of it up whenever I am throwing some chopped greens into a recipe, which is also every time!

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Herba Stella or Staghorn Plantain

Herba Stella is attractive and fast growing. I have never had it turn into a weed – it doesn’t spread like regular plantain and stays in a tight clump that keeps growing.

Quite frost hardy too!

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Herba Stella with early frost

Chickweed

This is a weed – but I particularly like the flavor and growing habit of a strain of Chickweed that Horizon Herbs or Strictly Medicinals sells.

Chickweed is wonderfully mild and sweet flavored. It is also prolific and easy to grow. The roots are shallow so it weeds easily if it does get out of control. I use it as a under-cover or living mulch under other vegetable plants. The shallow rots don’t compete with the other plants and the light and airy growth habit simply grows around the other plants.

Chickweed is a major medicinal herb – I use it in teas, tinctures, and salves. But Iuse it the most as a super food. It is full of nutrients. It is called Chickweed because when you feed it to baby chicks, they grow up into vital and strong chickens.

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Chickweed

Even though I’m tempted to talk about some other great greens, I think this group best fills the designation of “spinach alternatives.” They are all mild and sweet flavored and yet hardier and more robust nutritionally than simple lettuce.
Considering all the medicinal value and intestinal tract healing and nourishing of the alternative spinaches, I feel like we’re doing ourselves a bit of a disservice to be so spinach-loyal!
We sell many of these spinach alternatives as plants at our Annual Plant and Seedling Sales!

Scheduling Your Seed Starting

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Following is a list of my general dates for getting particular groups of seeds started. Sometimes I end up late. Sometimes I get antsy and plant things earlier. You do have to experiment, and when you are planting your seeds you never know what the weather conditions will be like in 6 to 8 weeks… so sometimes you are going to be perfectly timed and sometimes you’ll be a little off.

So let’s first review Last Frost Date. I have found that it is a best practice to look up your official Last Frost Date in your area and then add two weeks to it. The official Last Frost Date is calculated more as an average, and although that may make some sort of sense to someone, frosts do occur after that average number very regularly. And a hard frost is deadly. It is often a complete redo for warm weather crops, like tomatoes. So add the 2 extra weeks to your Last Frost date. So if the Last Frost Date in your area is May 15th wait until May 29th to plant frost sensitive stuff.

The health of your plants as you get close to planting time also has to do with your general care of them. I always do a double transplant of plants that grow big and need a long season to produce like tomatoes. I start my tomato seeds in 1” cells, then transplant into a 3.25-4” pot, then transplant again into the garden. Transplanting gives plants little growth bursts (without using synthetic hormones), as the plants will release natural growth hormones as they are transplanted. The larger pot also gives them more room for their roots so you have a bigger window of opportunity to plant them out into the garden or raised beds.

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General Dates to Try For:

January 20th
Sow: All onions (chives, scallions, leeks, bulbing, etc.), parsley (flat and curly), lovage, celery, celeriac, slow herbs like eucalyptus, digitalis, mountain mint, bee balm, echinaceas, salad burnet, etc., slow flowers like lisianthus and ammi, cold weather flowers like snapdragons, pansies and violas, artichokes, cardoons…

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February 1st
Sow: Brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kales, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, etc.), Swiss chard, sorrel…

February 15th
Sow: Fast growing plants that like cool weather, like lettuce, spinach, calendula, bak choi, other Asian greens, escarole, endive, chicories, fennel, and most other perennial herbs should be planted by now like balloon flower, feverfew, chamomile, figwort, summer savory, astragalus, etc.

March 1st
Sow: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, tomatillos, okra, tobacco, and annual flowers such as celosia, bells of Ireland, alyssum, asters, stock, sweet william, etc.

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March 15th
Inside, Sow: Basils, marigolds, morning glories, sweet peas…
Outside, in garden, you can sow pea seeds in ground, favas, arugula, mustards, radishes…

April 1st
Sow things inside that need warm weather for planting out but grow fast or big – like borage, sunflowers, Malabar spinach, nasturtium,
Outside, directly into the ground, you can sow more radishes, as well as carrots, beets, turnips, broccoli raab, Asian greens, lettuces, endives, escaroles (note that we also sowed some of these in the house to transplant out now – so you’ll have some big ones and some coming up later for an extended harvest.)Sow any cold weather grains now as well such as wheat.

April 15th
Sow some cucumbers, melons, and squash in 3.25 or 4” pots indoors.
Keep sowing spinach, lettuce, beets, carrots, turnips, radishes, Asian greens, as well as dill, arugula, cilantro outside in the garden.

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May 1st
Sow another round of cucumber, melons, and squash in pots in the house.

May 15th
Sow yet another round of cucumber, melons, and squash in pots in the house (This will give you a back up if Squash Vine Borers or some other disaster hits one group…).
May 20th

Beans, Soybeans, corn, oats, buckwheat all like to be planted in warm soil and may rot if planted in cold damp soil. If your soil is nice and warm, plant these all now, directly into your garden.

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May 3oth
At this point, you should be wildly transplanting plants into the garden and you’ll probably take a break from seeding.

June 30th
I start seeding again – things that grow fast and that bolt in hot weather, like arugula, spinach, lettuce, dill, cilantro. As summer heat sets in, I usually harvest these as small greens or ‘baby’ greens, and replant every two weeks or so for a constant supply.

Fourth of July Weekend – I start planting seeds inside my house again under lights for Second Spring. These would be all cool weather crops like Brassicas and greens that will be harvested in the Fall, early Winter, and next Spring.

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I obviously cannot list everything – feel free to email me for advise on particular varieties and types of plants!  barbara@midsummerfarm.com

Visit our Seed Starting Tips Page

Info on Sourcing your Seeds

And we offer two different versions of our Seed Starting Workshop!

Want to really learn Organic Gardening? We’ve got all sorts of options here at Midsummer Farm!

Seasonal, Vegetable-Rich, Hearty Minestrone Soup

Minestrone Soup Recipe

Start with:

2 leeks, chopped
2 onions, chopped
3-4 slices of pancetta, bacon, or prosciutto (optional), chopped

Begin by sautéing the above ingredients in about 1/4 cup of Extra Virgin Oil in a Dutch Oven.

Add a dash of salt, pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Sauté, stirring until onions and leeks are nicely softened and translucent.

Then add the following to the pot:
3 carrots, chopped
3 ribs of celery, chopped
2 medium sized baking potatoes, chopped
1 medium zucchini (can be skipped if not in season)
1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes
about 8 cups of water

Cook, on low heat with lid ajar, for 1-1.5 hours until vegetables are tender.

Then add beans  – you can use any kind of bean, but I usually add one can of red kidney and one can of cannellini. Cook another 10 minutes or so. Taste for salt and pepper and add more if needed.

Once done, I like to serve this with soup poured over barley. Barley is a great grain and very healthy – great for balancing blood sugar. I make a big batch and keep it in the fridge and each time I reheat the soup, I just put a couple spoonfuls of barley into my bowl and pour the soup over it.

Another delicious and super-healthy addition to this soup is a Rosemary-Garlic Pesto. I chop fresh rosemary (about 1 tbsp) and fresh garlic (about 6 cloves), then I mix it with a dash of olive oil and drizzle this on top of my bowl of minestrone. So delicious. The Rosemary brings out a meaty flavor in the soup, and both the rosemary and garlic are great for keeping the immune system ready and able during the winter cold and flu season.

More favorite recipes from Midsummer Farm