<10,000-hour Rule ﹕Extolling vs. Exploiting Nature> 13.5.16

Some say it takes 10,000 hours of learning and practice to master a subject. I’d say it applies to the mastery of herbs, fragrance and organic beauty too. Yet, the Internet has been swamped by DIY “fast-track” courses or products that are not only misleading about purity and quality, but also misusing herbs to offer their own “magic mix”.

The world of herbs is indeed as vast and varied as the universe. There’s no simple cure or quick fixes such as lavender for soothing, rose for whitening, tea tree for acnes, calendula for eczema, eucalyptus for antiviral. Truly holistic healing for the body, mind and spirit would call for an intricate concoction of up to 30 different herbs, with the specific plant species indicated.

On the other hand, the practice of massive monoculture to meet the demand for popular fixes has led to massive exploitation and violation of nature. For instance, the depletion of heirloom lavender in south of France, degradation of rose essential oil and over-popular use of eucalyptus oil(E. globulus)which can trigger coughing in children. In face of the worldwide call for bio-diversity, Hong Kong is finally set for its own BSAP for promoting local bio-diversity. There is indeed strong environmental and cultural ground to use more local herbs for sustainability. There is a Chinese saying that "Local herbs heal people living in the same vicinity better."

 
<After typhoon no. 10> 24.7.12

Midnight last night I went through 5 hours of panic: Awaken by the howling of the storm, I worried that the French windows will shatter. A space was left to alleviate some wind pressure, ending up with frequent mopping and wiping off the water blown in.

Almost all papaya and banana trees in the village were damaged. Lemons, mangos, wang pe and Chinese pears in my garden all fell to the ground. Luckily it was also about time to collect.

Living in the countryside makes one in direct confrontation and respect with the forces of nature, as well as opportunities to build on one's courage e.g. some neighbors could not catch the last village ferry and needed to fight with the storm for half an hour in order to get home. There is a Chinese saying that 'Tough grass are recognized by strong wind'. It is cleansing, transformative and a path to personal development.

 
<Fried sand clams> 15.7.12

Mrs. Chow, my neighbor foraged about of a bucket of sand clams. She washed them in fresh water in a basin and opened them. The clam meat would be put inside pockets of a hanging muslin curtain for drying.

I would love to try eagerly. Clams are more yummy if consumed little, and safety more assured if one knows their origin. Otherwise it is highly likely that there will be heavy metal contaminations. Mrs. Chow gave some unopened ones for me to sample. They were extremely 'sweet' and flavor-enhancing by frying together with homegrown chopped lemongrass, basil, and stewing using rice wine. A couple of drops of Vietnamese fish sauce were sprinkled to bring out their freshness more. The shells were not big, but filled with flesh inside. In general, clams are abundant to catch during low tides, where mud and sand are. One can use a small plough or some people will dive into the water for them. Care must be exercised because there are several deaths occurred in H.K. recently because of this.

In another beach that is about 30 minutes on foot from where I live, a native woman caught some stone turbans from the rocky beaches. There were a group of stay-in guests. Following them by using safety pins to take the flesh out, I tried a few. It was the savor of the sea – there is no need to dip chili sauce at all.

 
<Today's harvest> 5.7.12

Yellow tints appear around the top of some mango fruit. My two Filipino neighbors love the tart taste at this initial state of ripeness. Even though there is only about thirty, as compared with over hundred of mangos last year, I gave my neighbors a few. For myself, I wait for a few days and cut the half ripe ones to thin slices. Homegrown lemongrass pieces, finely chopped lemon leaves, 2-3 drops of litsea cubeba essential oil, raw cane sugar and boiled raw rice vinegar are added. These are left to harmonize and can be consumed after 2 weeks.

The first passion fruit (yellow variety) is harvested. Indian borage (large-leaf patchouli) Colens amboinicus Lour, Plectranthus amboinicus (Lour) Spreng and peppermint are really nice for minor sore throat and 'wind in the head'!

 
<Preserved lemons> 5.7.12

The Chinese lemons have just begun to ripe. After rinsing and wiping dry, cut the top off and slit down a cross till the ends are still attached. Remove any exposed seeds. Put a generous amount of coarse sea salt inside the lemon, arrange nicely in a sterilized glass jar and pour in boiling water to the top. As for the other half's harvest of lemon, freshly grind cumin seeds, fennel seeds, cinnamon, coriander seeds together with a few cloves are placed inside the lemon with salt. Boiling water is added to the brim. If you like, about cup of fresh lemon juice can be squeezed over the lemon before pouring in the boiling water. Cover the lid after cooling. These can be savored at least one month later.

Excellent in Moroccan tagines, stews, salads and with chicken or fish. Cut into strips, leaving the heavily salted flesh if you like. The left over brine can be used as an ingredient in salad dressings.

Note: Homegrown lemons are the best, mass-produced lemons in the market are coated with paraffin, the organic ones with beeswax. Both not suitable for preserving. Get some non -waxed ones from local organic farmers if you are not growing your own. Now in season!

 
<Summer thirst quenching drinks> 5.7.12

I don't quite consume bottled fruit juice, but rather home make some simple cooling and calming drinks. They are more environmental-friendly, their taste more exquisite and diversified. These are seasonal tonics and not as 'wet' nor sweet as fruit juices. It will be fresher and the quality higher if we purchase individual items, instead of the ready packed soup ingredients.

Some of combinations can be:

1. Dried hawthorn  black plums  licorice  rock sugar
2. (Chinese) pear  water chestnut  amblica (pressed)
3. (Chinese) lemon  barley  raw cane sugar
4. Dried lotus leaf  mung beans /
small red azuki beans Imperata cylindrica
raw barley
5. Cornsilk  sugar cane  water chestnut
6. Dried wild honeysuckle (Lonicera confusa))/ frigapani: just infuse.

In summer at the fresh medicinal herb stalls in the food market, there will be Murdannia bracteata, Plantago asiatica, Perilla frutescens, Dicliptera chinensis, Rorippa indica, Hedyotis diffusa, etc. We can pick any one, and brew with pitted red dates, honey dates or Middle East dates for taste. Start from cold water, then high heat, and turn to low heat after boiling for 20-30 minutes. The body feels very soothing after drinking.

 
<Incense trees> 2.7.12

The 'tree-hunters' are active in the island, whose target is of course resins and bark of the Incense tree. Beautiful trees are chopped ruthlessly. When the bark is infected by bacteria, aromatic resins might be secreted. Or they just take the wood for further processing. I heard that those people (usually I.I.) will come back around 2 weeks to collect. Such are the not-so-glamorous beginning of the incense trade.

In July, numerous green cute looking gourd-like fruits, each bearing around 2 black seeds, fell to the ground. The 2 'valves' will open by itself when ripe. There is a brownish red funicle attached to each black seed. A thin 'thread', like of the lotus root, is connected to the funicle

My neighbor and I collected many seeds during July. We will try different germination methods. If successful, hopefully we can replenish some of the diminished numbers many years to come.

 
<Artisan 'living' soap experiment> 10.6.12

Several months ago, through a green friend, I was introduced to Ken, the soapmaker. My over 20 years' of passion in Chinese and Western herbs, submerging in everything green, planting, working, resting, eating, personal caring, as well as pursuits in aesthetics…, manifest themselves in the 'living' bar and liquid soaps. These blissful wonders will be for your enjoyment shortly.

For experimenting, Ken comes many times all the way from the New Territories. He is meticulous and focus in the process, providing technical assistance. Early in the morning, I would collect most of the herbs from my garden, the fields and amongst the woodland. The criteria are organic or wild, and only at their prime. Synergistic essential oil blends and some of the herbs that are more potent in their dried form were prepared beforehand. Herbal Bliss' persistence in sourcing and using predominately organic, cold-pressed and unrefined vegetable oils, all contribute to these rich, fresh and grounding bar and liquid soaps.

 
<Grapes> 1.6.12

Two years ago I bought two seedlings of grapes, one planted on ground, the other in pot. The one in pot bears a small bundle of green sour grapes at last. Hong Kong's hot and humid weather is simply not right for grapes.

Better to wait till next spring and make vine leaves preserved in brine. This is the basic ingredient for middle east dolma, with eggplant, tomato, onion, cucumber or mutton as stuffings.

 
<Wild honeycomb> 1.6.12

This morning a group of about 4-5 out-sourced workers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department came to the village. They sprayed poison to a tree, aiming at a beehive. I persuaded them to cease, saying that bees help pollination, are important element in the food chain and contribute to biodiversity. A young policeman on duty nearby raised issue on the industrialization of food. Salute!

It's been over one month now, originally constructed by one honeybee, the beehive outside my bathroom window is still tiny. However about 5 to 6 companions join in, working hard to build nurseries. I don't want to disturb them, let alone taking the wild honey, if any. It is more pleasurable to be a nature observer while comfortably taking a bath.

Postscript:

  1. 12.6.12 A hole was beaten by the bees in the muslin. Eight of them came to my bathroom. I reminded myself to stay calm so as not to be chelated by them.
  2. 15.6.12 One died, seven returned to the hive. Nothing happened.
 
<Home spa> 29.5.12

The Fragipani tree, which is 'unclaimed' in our village is blossoming, many flowers are sprinkled by the wind onto the ground. Fragipani is one of the dried ingredients of Guangdong's '5 flower tea', the others being sophora, honeysuckle, chrysanthesum, tree cotton flower.

Fragipani dispels the heat, eliminates 'dampness', soothes the lungs, reduces coughing and is anti-inflammatory.

I remember many years ago soaking in a tub of fresh flowers in a small family spa in Ubud, Bali. The feeling of receiving a balinese massage afterwards was divine. The fresh flowers were collected from the backyard. More down-to-earth and warm-hearted compared with treatments from luxurious spas, let alone the so called "natural" products. (I just don't want to support big enterprises).

 
Can someone tell me (info@herbalbliss.com.hk) what is the foamy matter besides the water? 21.5.12
 
<A most natural household brush> 20.5.12

Both my friend Ling and my neighbour, Mrs. Chow said they worked this common vine into a small household brush years ago. Found in slopes and around fences, I tore the leaves of Lygodium japonicum (Thunb) SW. out and pondered if it could be turned into an environmental packaging material for our artisan bar soaps, to be launched later…

Collected in summer and autumn, the whole plant has cooling and purifying properties. It is a diuretic, specific for edema, urinary tract infection, hepatitis, enteritis, cold and fever etc.

 
<Collecting herbs to make shampoo> 11.5.12

Honeysuckle, comfrey, thuja, indian borage, bay leaf, champaca, vitex negundo, peppermint, hibiscus, rose… all are homegrown, except vitex, where it grows profusely in the wild.

Together with soapberries and camellia seed residue, a most local, seasonal and chemical free shampoo is done!

My head seems to be 'lighter', more 'enlivened' and the hair softener with a nice sheen after use.

 
<Collecting spring flowers for perfume making> 2.5.12

The Taiwan Acacia (Acacia Confusa Merr.) is bearing clusters of golden yellow featherhead-like flowers. A native plant of southern China, it is a nice wind breaker and protector of topsoil. The young branches are good for blood circulation, bruises, sprains and skin wounds, it also tonify muscles.

The honeysuckle in my garden is also blossoming. Grasping the short opportunities, I infused them with biodynamic grape alcohol for a few days. After straining, I added absolutes, organic essential oil etc., which was left to 'mature' for a few weeks. Voila, two most local, elegantly sweet perfumes are crafted.

 
<Apple of the Earth – Roman Chamomile Chamaemelum nobile> 16.4.12

Chamomile hydrosol and cosmetics made of extract of chamomile are common, but last winter is the first time I ever sow the seeds of both Roman and German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita). Only the Roman chamomile blossomed this late spring. It quickly becomes one of my most flavourable herbs. Its unique enchanting apple and honey aroma makes a herbal tea blend more articulate, elegant and multi-layered.

Sedative and nightmares-preventing, it soothes indigestion due to stress. It is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti ulcer and relieves pain. Eye compresses made of the infusion can even out dark circles due to fatigue. It adds a golden highlight to hair. The essential oil has regenerative properties.

Note: Usages of both chamomiles are largely interchangeable. The leaves of Roman chamomile are featherly, that of German chamomile are small and splitted.

 
<Collecting seaweeds as fertilizers> 2.4.12

These days washing ashore our beach are seaweeds: fresh green, deep red and dark brown. According to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, seaweeds contain rich potassium, other trace minerals, amino acids and vitamins.

Drying and powdering them produces nice fertilizers. Stir well in water before use. Spray on leaves and put some on soil surface. It is a convenient, seasonal and free fine ingredients for us, the islanders. Applying seaweed fertilizer can improve the general lack of potassium in local farmlands.

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