All posts by Irena

Holy Basil Tincture is Easy to Make and Easy to Take

Making tinctures is easy.  The basic idea is to put so much of an herb into vodka that it will become a medicine.  (A smaller quantity of the herb could be used, in many cases, to produce a flavored vodka.)  Read on to see how we make Holy basil tincture on our farm.

We start with cheap vodka of 80 or 100 proof.

We use quart jars and half-gallon jars.  To make tinctures on a home scale, you might want to use half-pint jars or baby food jars.

Many recipes call for dried herbs, but that’s largely because dried herbs are easier to purchase in stores.  I prefer to tincture fresh herbs.

To tincture fresh leaves or fresh mixed aerial parts (leaves together with flowers, stems, buds, etc) it is generally best to stuff as much plant material into the jar as possible.  Roots and dried plant material tend to have higher concentrations of the active compounds, but with fresh leaves, you’ll usually want as much of the herb as you can get into your container.

In this case, we filled our holy basil tincture jar halfway with vodka and then went to the herb garden and stuffed as much freshly cut holy basil into the jar as possible.  It was quite a few handfuls of holy basil.  This brought the liquid up to near the top of the jar.

I used a spoon to press the topmost holy basil leaves and stems under the alcohol.  Then I tasted the tincture.  It already tasted like holy basil.

If you’re working with powerful medicinal herbs, it can be important to avoid making your tincture too strong.  So I would generally recommend that beginning tincture makers start with very safe herbs.  Many of these safe herbs are common in kitchens as well a medicine cabinets.  Echinacealemon balm, valerian, thyme*****, lavender and plantain, are some examples of very safe herbs.  However, be aware that when you make a tincture, a much larger amount of active compounds is extracted and absorbed than when you make a tea or eat a fresh herb.

Holy basil is often used culinarily and as a tea; its has a broad range of benefits including ******** however it does have some contraindications, most prominently for people taking blood thinners, and women trying to conceive.

Taking tinctures is also easy.  To take a tincture, put 1-2 dropperfuls in a large spoon or small glass of water and drink.  If you have doubts about sure how much is the best amount, you can start with less and then you can work your way up.  Consult your doctor or herbalist before adding a tincture to your **********

****General safety of herbal meds*****

*****Dosage; certainty that you have the right thing; why to trust yourself more than a corporation*****

For more information on how to make tinctures, consult The Mountain Rose Herbs guidelines or the Wise Woman Herbal guidelines.

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, so is better to use services as Test Country to do drug tests online.  This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

20 enormous collections of varieties

Heirloom seed varieties are at greater risk of extinction now than ever before. While a few heirlooms have gained celebrity, thousands of others are disappearing along with the elderly seed-savers who have grown and maintained them through the years.  Grassroots Seed Network and Seed Savers Exchange are two organizations working to keep rare heirloom varieties alive.

Donald Todd Half-Runner Bean

Donald Todd began saving a variety of delicious, tender, half-runner snap beans over 50 years ago.  In the decades since then, commercially available varieties of half-runner beans have become tough.  Luckily, Donald’s son Steve still farms, and still saves seed of the bean his dad gave him.  Without Steve, this bean variety would be forgotten.

Shows okra

Texana McFarland was 98 years old when she sent a sample of the okra she’d gotten from the Shows family years before.  Many elderly gardeners like her don’t know of anyone who wants to maintain their varieties like we want to maintain Shows okra.

MacArthur Walter and his wife’s family have been growing and saving the same variety of purple-veined collards for over 100 years.  Their collard variety, now named Nancy Malone Wheat Purple Collards, is one of over 80 types of heirloom collard collected by geographers Edward H. Davis & John T. Morgan in the first decade of this century.  Among the dozens of collard seed-savers they met, the average age was 70.

Will Bonsall, founder and board member of Grassroots Seed Network. Photo credit: Broken Banjo


Most seed-savers are old.  Many, perhaps most, of them, don’t expect anyone to maintain their varieties when they can’t anymore.  Every month, several old seed-savers die or stop gardening.  If current trends continue, I estimate that in the next 20 years the U.S. will lose 20 enormous collections of varieties, on the scale of Will Bonsall’s collection, which included over 700 varieties of potatoes and now includes about 150.  We will also lose countless varieties that are not in collections, but are maintained by individuals like the Walters. Many varieties have been stewarded by individual families or communities for many decades, even centuries. Many such varieties have never made it into a seed catalog, nor been described by researchers like Davis and Morgan.

As we continue to lose varieties, we lose flavors, crop genetic diversity, and a link to our history. Often, the genes for resilience to various disease and climactic pressures are found in ancient and heirloom varieties.

The annual Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center seed swap is attended by several avid seed-savers.

Even as seed libraries and seed swaps proliferate, many young people interested in seed-saving don’t live near elderly seed-savers, and wouldn’t know where to look for the rare heirloom varieties that need new stewards.  Grassroots Seed Network has just launched a crowdfunding campaign on CrowdRise to fund our work providing that vital link. As President of Grassroots Seed Network, I’m encouraging you to share this campaign widely, to donate if you are able, and, if you’re a seed-saver, to list seeds on our site.

Seed banks conserve millions of varieties in hundreds of countries.  Many thousands of varieties are backed up in the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway.  Yet when a variety disappears from all but a few seed banks or three, you can’t just decide to grow it in your home garden.  Seeds in seed banks are generally unavailable except to researchers and sometimes seed companies.

The primary work of Grassroots Seed Network is to facilitate the trading of seeds between seed-savers and create seed stewardships. With over 100 unique listings on our site and many more to come, we aim to offer a level of diversity beyond that found in most seed catalogs — just as most seed catalogs offer a level of crop diversity far beyond that found in our supermarkets!

At Southern Exposure and in Grassroots Seed Network, we make rare and heirloom varieties available to ordinary home gardeners.  We want the choice of what varieties thrive and survive to be in the hands of all kinds of family farmers and gardeners, not only those of the Big Seed businesses.

With Grassroots Seed Network, we aim to facilitate the preservation of heirloom varieties in other ways as well.  One way we will use the funds from this campaign is to award small grants to people who are stewarding large collections, listing their varieties, and teaching seed-saving methods. We also connect aging seed stewards with enthusiastic young seed curators, botanists and farmers.

We are a democratic, lister-governed organization, and we value member feedback. Become a Member by listing seeds you’ve harvested. Seed listers vote to elect our Board and approve group Bylaws. Though founded on a model of Membership & Dues, the GSN board has decided to highly prioritize expanding our Membership. Thus we are Free, and at this time not charging membership dues, so do Join Us!

Why Open Pollination

This post is based on a short speech that Sapphyre Miria of Commonwealth Seeds and I gave at the Charlottesville Gaia Gathering in May of last year.

Cowpeas (a.k.a. southern peas or field peas) dry on a string in a home pantry, at a scale appropriate to home seed-saving or food preservation.

Preserving seed for the next season has been a fundamental rule of survival throughout human history. And yet in our time, dependence on commodified seed is a huge insecurity to our local food systems. Almost all seed prior to the 1930’s was organic, regionally adapted and open-pollinated (non-hybrid). American seed companies first arose in the latter half of the 19th century, but in 1940, most farmers and gardeners still knew how to save seeds of most or all of the vegetables, herbs, flowers, and other plants that they grew.  When they traded and shared these seeds with their neighbors, they passed the knowledge along, too.

A variety stewarded in this way has a genetic makeup suited to the local traditions and the local growing conditions. This adaptation of seed stocks allowed for a diverse, secure food supply in each region.

This began to change with the advent of hybrid corn varieties in the 1930’s. With outcrossing crops like corn, onions, and broccoli, hybrid vigor is a significant factor, and that’s why we carry two hybrid sweet corns, a hybrid broccoli, and a hybrid onion, in addition to about 800 open-pollinated varieties.  However, around 1940, farmers started trading in their ability to save next season’s seed, adapted to their growing conditions, for seeds purchased from a seed company and promises of better yields. In the years since, using hybrids (which don’t come true to type if you plant seed you’ve saved) has become standard practice even for plant types that don’t benefit from hybrid vigor — and most don’t.

Over the latter half of the twentieth century, farmers and gardeners continued to lose their seed-saving knowledge and their stewarded varieties.  Industrial food systems replaced local food systems just as industrial seed systems replaced local seed systems. Throughout this process, seed has moved away from being the held in common by humankind, and joined the long list of resources appropriated by the private sector.

The results have been devastating. Most farming in the United States today relies on proprietary seed stocks, whether simply hybrid (F1), or plant variety protected (PVP – a limited patent), or genetically modified (GMO), the most extreme form of seed privatization.

The seed industry is now dominated by a handful of transnational biotechnology/chemical firms with 60% of the world’s commercial seed owned by 5 companies. What’s worse is that these corporations have no interest in supporting sustainable organic agriculture or organic crop breeding.  In fact, their profits rest on breeding crops that rely on agricultural chemicals, which they also sell. They have much to gain by commandeering the seed supply through market consolidation, discontinuing more seed varieties with each corporate merger, and leaving fewer varieties available to organic farmers.

Chemical companies have been buying out seed companies for decades.


Hybrids and other newer varieties are generally bred for shippability, appearance, and the ability to perform well in high-input, chemical-intensive monocultures.  Even universities sometimes patent varieties and sell exclusive rights to monopolize those varieties.

This privatization has led to increased reliance on hybrid seed stocks, and also to a loss in the amount of open pollinated varieties available, and also a loss of their quality, suitability and traceability. Most commercial dry seed production takes place where the climate suits the seed production, like the Pacific Northwest and Israel. That’s great in some ways, but how will those varieties grow in an opposite climate like the southeastern United States? Colorado is a good place to produce squash seed without much of the disease pressure experienced in more humid climates. But over the long run those seed stocks are not likely to hold up as well to Downy Mildew and Bacterial Wilt.

Mainstream, conventional agriculture produces increased rates of various diseases in people, too.  In this country we have epidemics of obesity and diabetes, despite increased advice on what, and how much, to eat. Once in a while, conventional breeders select for higher nutrient content, but it seems that every decade there are significant changes in which nutrients we’re told to pay attention to.  Likewise, disease resistance and regional adaptation are sometimes, but rarely, prioritized by modern vegetable breeders.

The political landscape surrounding seed is dire and reveals the vulnerability in our local food systems. Yet, there exist many seeds of potential to turn the tide of corporate control over our food supply, and to return food sovereignty to the hands of the people.  Communities that prioritize local spending, farmer co-operatives, food hubs, farmers’ markets and CSAs are also becoming the breeding grounds for a new local, organic, open-pollinated seed movement.  In Central Virginia, Common Wealth Seed Growers and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange are working together to create a robust seed system that meets regional needs. We’re creating access to well stewarded, source-transparent, regionally adapted, GMO-free, organic, open-pollinated seed varieties. Common Wealth grows, saves, cleans and packs all of the seed they sell, and also maintains several in-progress breeding projects.  This year Southern Exposure is partnering with Common Wealth and adding three of their best-performing varieties to our collection.

Cucumbers from a trial conducted by Common Wealth Seed Growers

At Southern Exposure, we are working with over 60 small farmers who grow seeds.  For 2018, we’ve increased our source transparency: all the seeds grown on the small farms in our seed grower network now have an “S” symbol.  This replaces the “e” symbol that had a similar meaning, but that we only used for seed that’s not also certified organic.

We offer some varieties recently bred for organic production, but we focus on heirloom varieties, which have stood the test of time. They have been passed down from generation to generation.  The heirlooms we carry (marked with the hourglass symbol in our catalog and on our website) have also stood the test of our trial gardens.  Some of the heirlooms we offer might disappear if we didn’t offer them. Heirlooms are often less uniform than newer varieties, in part because the uniformity that industrial farmers seek can be a disadvantage to home gardeners. For example, when you’re growing for your own kitchen, you don’t want all your broccoli to mature in the same week.

Alabama Blue collards, a variety with lots of genetic variation

Together, Common Wealth and Southern Exposure grow and test new and old varieties in our trials and collaborate to expand the number of trials we can do during a growing season. We are building local and regional networks of skilled organic seed producers, and teaching seed-saving techniques to farmers and gardeners. We practice ongoing selection under organic conditions.  This work is an essential piece of the larger mission of creating an agricultural system that produces foods that nourish us deeply.