Pickled cucumber or cucumber pickle? Either way, this recipe for canning Sweet Pickled Cucumber Slices makes the tastiest & crispy pickles!
There is a small child sitting on my lap.
She smells like a cucumber pickle.
Let’s talk about why that is, shall we?
Well. I’m sure you know why that is. I mean it’s pretty obvious. She’s had her whole fist in the pickle jar all the live long day.
She is one of my many children who have been walking around the past few days since I made my first batch of sweet pickled cucumber slices this season and telling me just how much they LOVE my pickles.
So it’s either make my children unhappy and stop making the pickles or put up with the pickle stink. I love my kids and they’ve smelled worse before. So we’ll go with happy pickle munchin’ munchkins.
Honestly, I can’t blame them. I’ve never been big on pickles myself, but these are mighty fine ifIdosaysomyself.
I want to feel guilty deep down inside about these not being the super healthy fermented, even lacto-fermented pickles that make for superhuman guts & immune systems, really I do. But what good would it do if I did?
No one would eat them unless a threat or a promise were involved. Food should bring pleasure, not punishment or bribery. And since these pickles lack the sodium benzoate, yellow 5, and polysorbate 80 of name brand pickles, I’ll be content with that, reminding myself just why we don’t stick to only one food fad.
But what about the crunch you ask. Are they crunchy?
Are they ever! Even after nearly a year, they retain their crunch. Beyond that, I can not attest to. For no matter how many I’ve made, they’ve never lasted that long.
I do have a few tricks up my sleeve that make them crunchy. First is removing the blossom end of the cucumber and discarding it. They have an anti-crunchy enzyme in them that makes the pickle break down into an undesirable state of crunchlessness.
Next is thicker slices. Obviously, if your slices are too thin, then your pickles will mush up more quickly.
The third trick is the salting and the icing. That draws out some of the liquid.
I’ve heard about tossing a grape leaf in your pickles too. Now that we have a grapevine, I tried that in a few jars, but doubt it will make a difference since I used the other tricks.
‘Tis the season when gardens are burgeoning with zucchini! Harvesters are finding themselves wondering what zucchini recipes to use with their prolific crop and are often sharing their abundance with anyone willing to take them.
In addition to giving them away, I have in the past processed them for freezing. A year later, I reluctantly threw every single bag away. I hadn’t been too excited about finding uses for frozen zucchini at the time (outside of adding it to pasta or a bread or muffin recipe) and eventually forgot all about them.
I’m excited about my zucchini crop this year too because last year my zucchini plants produced pumpkins which just doesn’t taste the same (or produce as abundantly!) I’m determined to make as much use of the harvest as I can and have been scouring the internet for zucchini recipes.
With over 100 zucchini recipes to choose from, now there is no excuse to get in a rut! I’m sure you’ll find many new favorite recipes in the collection of zucchini recipes I’ve compiled!
One of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is to make homemade freezer jelly. It is so very simple, requires no processing, and you can store freezer jelly for an entire year. (In the freezer, of course.)
The possibilities are endless. You are limited simply by the type of juice you find. Freezer Jelly is a perfect confidence builder for the beginning “canner” who is working on building their homestead skills set.
The first time I made freezer jelly, I was looking for ways to add pomegranate to our diet as it is extremely high in antioxidants. I found a recipe for a beautiful Crimson Pomegranate Jelly that has a nice balance of sweet and tart flavor.
For children that are die-hard grape jelly fans, as I was when I was a child, freezer jelly made with grape juice is a fantastic cost effective way to prepare their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches… without resorting to high fructose corn syrup laden jars from the store.
There is a downside to freezer jelly. (Which is actually great because that could be incentive to learn to waterbath can!) First, it doesn’t last forever in the freezer. The shelf life of canned jelly is much longer.
Making Freezer Jelly with Pomona’s Pectin
In my opinion, the other problem with freezer jelly is the amount of sugar required to preserve it. I’m a convert and HUGE fan of Pomona’s Pectin which allows you to use a lot less sugar in your jellies and jams. Though the yields are lower, the flavor of the fruit really can shine through!
The recipe I share below is a great place to start, but if you’d like to try making it with Pomona’s Pectin, check out this video:
I don’t know about you, but one of the reasons I started raising backyard chickens was so my healthy, happy hens who would give our family nutritious eggs. Ok. I was really hoping to save money on eggs too! But I quickly learned that feed isn’t cheap and if I wanted to do better, I was going to need to come up with some free chicken feed ideas to save money on the chicken feed bill!
After you learn what chickens can eat and what they actually will eat (because remember, animals don’t like to stick to our generalizations,) it’s time to start getting creative! It’s fun to come up with chicken feed ideas that your hens love and yet are easy enough for you to manage. I always make sure to keep homesteading records to make sure my efforts are worth the while. More than once, I thought I was saving money to justify the extra work to save, but in the end, when I looked at the records, I was only fooling myself.
Here are my best free chicken feed ideas! They work great with either laying hens or the broiler chickens you’re raising for meat. You can do side-jobs to earn money homesteading and help pay the feed bill or try some of these ideas on your hens at chore time. Check them out and see which would work for you to help you save!
36 Free Chicken Feed Ideas to Save Money on the Chicken Feed Bill
Grow Your Own Chicken Feed
Grow cover crops and rotate them through using a chicken tractor
Try growing alfalfa, clover, buckwheat, oats, wheat, barley, or sorghum.
Grow Winter Squash
Some varieties of winter squash, such as Sweet Meat, hold very well in storage. Cut them in half and let the chickens eat the flesh and seeds.
Building grazing boxes allow you to simulate a free-range or rotationally grazing system even if your hens are confined in a run. Our aerial predator load here is high so this year we’ve had to shut up our free-ranging hens. Grazing boxes are definitely going to be part of our new coop system.
Saving your kitchen scraps at each meal is a great way to cut your chicken feed costs. Every little bit adds up and there isn’t much they won’t eat.
There is often a lot of waste that comes out of a garden. From the tops of roots to cleaning up plants done bearing, and more, the chickens can turn those scraps into eggs. Dandelion, plantain, lambs quarter, purslane, and chickweed are all great choices, but try feeding others and watch for what your gals like to eat.
Feed chickens crushed eggshells back to them so they get extra calcium without having buy oyster shells.
Grocery Store Scraps
You’d be surprised at how much produce grocery stores throw away! Ask them to save you some of the “waste” and feed those vegetables back to your hens.
Chickens are omnivores. That means they love to eat meat and all that protein is a great way to turn scraps from butchering into eggs. Though we work hard to reduce as much waste as possible, there is still always a 5-gallon bucket of scraps that get split between the chickens and dogs.
Farmers Markets Waste
Sadly, produce farmers sometimes have extra produce that didn’t sell. Sometimes it can be saved for the next market, but many herbs and greens won’t be good enough to offer for sale again. We would always share some with our neighbors but the rest went to the chickens. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
Feeding Chickens Weeds
You definitely want to pull the weeds in your garden. (I’ve got 11 reasons why.) But that doesn’t mean they’re waste! You can use them to reduce your chicken feed bill.
Feed your chickens soured milk or whey leftover from cheesemaking. Even better, soak your ration with it. They LOVE it! (If we have extra milk from our dairy cow, sometimes we’ll just give them fresh milk too!)
Contain your chickens in your compost pile and let them pick through the scraps and bugs for food while keeping the pile nice and aerated.
Japanese Beetle Bags
Set out Japanese Beetle bags in the summer. They attract the beetles with their scent and trap them inside. Dump them out for the chickens and watch them feast! Just make sure to check the bag every day because if they die the chickens aren’t interested in them anymore.
Feed Management Ideas
Mix Your Own Feed
Mixing your own feed allows you to source cheaper materials and buy in bulk to save.
Free-choice feeding your hens actually causes them to lay fewer eggs. They don’t really practice portion control and will eat it if you serve it.
Cull Hens Learn whether or not your hens are still laying and cull the ones that are no longer productive. After 3 years, your hens are only occasionally laying, but they’re eating just as much as ever. It’s not easy on the heart, but culling hens will definitely save you money on your chicken feed bill.
Soak the Chicken Feed
Soaking feed decreases waste but this is especially true with mash. That powdery stuff flies all over and a lot is lost. The soaking feed means that more is sitting in the trough for the hens to eat.
Free-Range Your Chickens
If you can… even for a few hours a day. We’re not sure how free-ranging is going to fit into our new homestead, but on our other 2 homesteads, we let the gals free-range for most or all of the day. In some years, we didn’t feed them the entire time the weather was warm enough for the grass to grow and bugs to be out. That meant 5 or more months of a chicken feed bill of $0!!!! And we got just as many eggs as ever! Probably more because I have definitely noticed that when our hens are cooped up they lay fewer eggs.
Use a Garden Moat
These are so cool and I’m going to use one on the new homestead. While chickens are valuable in the garden for tilling the ground and reducing the pest load, if they aren’t contained they can wreak havoc on the crops you still want to have grown. I’ve tried talking to them about where they need to go. They don’t listen.
Ferment their Chicken Feed
Fermenting the chicken feed is just like soaking it, but letting it sit for a couple days to being to ferment. Fermenting the feed makes more of the nutrients available for your chicken’s bodies.
There are lots of great ideas to use no-waste feeders to feed your chickens. And less waste means less money spent on feed.
Hens cooped up often get bored. There are lots of great boredom busters you can give your flock that are food! Every little bit adds up! Try making some like Coconut Oil Suet Cakes.
Get Damaged Bags from the Feed Store
If the feed store has bags they can’t sell you may be able to score a deal.
Keep Homestead Records
One of the many reasons to keep homesteading records is so you can track your expenses and yields so you can see how much you are actually saving when you implement a new system on your homestead. I use the homestead management app, SmartSteader, to make it super easy (and math-free) to keep track. Comparing these numbers with your experiments lets you see where the real savings are at to help you make decisions about what is worth your time and what isn’t.
What are some of the best chicken feed ideas you’ve used to save money?
Learn how to make the perfect no-sew DIY French Bistro Apron. Out of a flour sack towel! It’s a frugal, functional, and super cute absorbent cafe apron!
I have a bad habit of not wearing aprons. And you know what happens? I end up using my clothes as a towel when I’m working in the kitchen. Not exactly the best way to keep your clothes in great condition, now is it?
But to be honest I don’t find those pretty cotton prints at the fabric store to be very absorbent. And I put so much work into making the aprons, it kills me to soil them. My Gathering Apron is lined and it just feels too heavy to me for everyday use. They sure are a lot nicer than the plain t-shirt I’m trying to protect from kitchen mess…
My solution has been to carry a flour sack towel around tucked into my back pocket or thrown over my shoulder. But there’s only so many times you can drop that thing on the farmstead floor kitchen and still feel ok about using it in food production.
My solution: A quick and easy no-sew flour sack towel bistro apron!
Now I can just wear my towel! My clothes stay cleaner. I don’t have to worry about dropping it on the floor…. I love the way it looks!
And I didn’t have to break the bank buying it. (It costs about $3 per apron.) OR take all day making it. (I was done in about half an hour and that’s with taking photos.) Saving money and time makes me happy!
But the biggest perk for me (yes more than how inexpensive it was to make) is I didn’t even have to sew a single stitch!
My sewing machine is in storage and won’t be coming out in the next 1-3 years. So that’s a long time to wait to make an apron. But being a no-sew apron is great if you haven’t learned that homesteading skill yet!
$3.20 per apron (Plus any decorating you want to do with it.)
(If you want to embellish your apron with the French Ticking Stripes, see the tutorial below first… Or check out my other ideas for making your aprons pretty!)
Wash, dry, and press the flour sack towels.
Neatly fold one in half and press a crease along the fold.
Cut along the crease. (Photo 1)
Fold up a ¼” hem and press it flat. (Photo 2)
Cut your Twill Ribbon to length. (Measurement of your waist + about 40″ )
Tear off 2 sections of Stitch Witchery that are the length of the entire top of the apron.
Find the center of the ribbon and match it with the center of your apron.
Arrange 1 layer of Stitch Witchery, the Twill Ribbon, and then another layer of Stitch Witchery ” from the top of the apron. (Photos 3, 4, 5)
Fold the top over, lining the folded ¼” top with the bottom of the Twill Ribbon sandwich. (Photo 7)
Pin the layers at the ends and middle.
Wet a clean rag and lay it on top of the hem you’re creating.
Press and hold a hot iron on the wet fabric for 10 seconds. (Photo 8)
Repeat over the remaining length of the hem. (You may need to re-wet your rag if it drys out.)
That’s it! Now you have yourself a lovely little bistro apron! The Stitch Witchery should have formed a bond and you have a nice pressed hem! Without sewing a single stitch!
Flour Sack Bistro Apron Embellishment Ideas
Stenciling– You could use some fabric paint to stencil on a farm theme (I like this one), an encouraging word (this one would help you keep your focus on the hard days), or maybe even a little something sarcastic (this one sure made me laugh!)
Patterned Paint Roller- These are so neat! They’re a cross between a stencil and a paint roller. I even used one to paint my curtains when I couldn’t find a fabric color that matched my room!
Tie Dye– A great project to get started learning natural dying techniques using plants as the color source.
Since firing up a new batch of sourdough starter, I’ve been trying to add sourdough quick bread into our breakfast menu. Sourdough muffinsobviously bake up faster than bread so my batter is going into muffin tins and baking for 20 minutes rather than a loaf and baking for an hour.
One of the challenges and frustrations I encountered was the wide variety of methods and ingredients and inconsistent results.
I wanted to simplify and come up with a basic recipe that I could slightly modify depending on what type of muffin was being requested or craved. In our home, most often that means Chocolate Chocolate Chip Zucchini Sourdough Muffins, Blueberry Sourdough Muffins (or Blackberry Muffins), Banana Nut Sourdough Muffins, or Apple Cinnamon Sourdough Muffins, but you could make the necessary changes to create your own sourdough muffins!
The result was a basic overnight preferment and a simple muffin recipe with a few additions/changes being made for each recipe.
Unlike many muffin recipes, this basic recipe results in a nice tall, rounded muffin instead of one that is flat or worse sunken.
•I use the Kitchen Aid mixer to stir in the thick preferment. I’ve decided though that for mornings when I want to be quiet in the kitchen and not wake anyone up, an inexpensive tool like this one might come in awfully handy.
•I’ve learned that due to the nature of sourdough, greasing the muffin tins first is better than using cupcake papers because the papers stick horribly to the muffin.
•We also like Pumpkin Nut Sourdough Muffins a whole lot and really like the recipe I’ve been using the last few years. So much so, I’ve decided not to fuss with it.
•Applesauce is highly recommended as a butter substitute in the Apple Cinnamon Muffins.
There is a countless list of plants you can grow in your herb garden (and just as many reasons why you should be growing herbs!) But narrowing the list down and figuring out what to put in the herb garden doesn’t have to be confusing and frustrating!
When I first started planning what herbs I wanted to plant in my garden years ago, I admit I totally went overboard. I bought all the things!
And ended up regretting it, big time!
It turned out to be such a waste of my time and money. (Unless you count the lessons I learned. Then it’s never a waste.) But these herbs were persnickety and managing all their specific needs made starting them from seed a real challenge.
As I read through The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion by Amy Fewell I was impressed with her strategy for planning the beginner’s herb garden! It was just plain good common sense!
The easiest way to begin your herb garden is to choose five herbs that best suit your homestead needs. My initial list looked something like this:
common cold and flue
Yes, “pretty things was definitely on my list. I wanted some herbs just for their aromatic benefits, like lavender, and to be pretty too…. As our homesteading journey went on, so did my needs. –The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion
Isn’t that a great approach?
Beginner’s Herb Garden: What to Plant
Expanding on that herb garden planning idea from The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion, here are 5 things to consider as you decide what herbs to plant in your garden. Begin by prioritizing your list. Amy suggests choosing your top 5 herbs to master this year.
Does your family come down with the same type of illness each winter? Does someone suffer from chronic headaches? Grow feverfew. Eczema? Maybe try growing calendula. Insomnia? Plant some chamomile for homemade Sleepytime Herbal Tea Mix. Think about your family’s specific health needs and choose to grow herbs that will support their well-being.
Consider Your Garden Site
Every garden site has specific needs and some garden sites may be limiting. Thankfully there are several culinary and medicinal herbs that grow well in part shade or shade gardens.
But many herbs also have symbiotic relationships with the vegetables in your garden. It will be worth your while to learn what to plant together in the herb garden. Amy recommends planting chives to enhance the flavor of your vegetables. Or mint to repel cabbage moths. (You can bet I’ll be giving that tip a try! I’ve all but given up on cabbage!) According to The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion, basil will deter pests. And garlic will keep the bunnies away.
The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion is a beautiful resource to supplement your herbal library! It was a delight just to flip through the pages and admire the photography. (But then again, I’m like a kid and I like books with pictures.)
It has an extensive Materia Medica tailored for the homesteader and is LOADED with lots of recipes for you to try. Several recipes are “basic” so you can get creative and customize them to your needs. There are recipes for salves, syrups, cleaners, tinctures, delicious sounding meals enhanced with herbs, Spice Mixes, body lotions and other beauty products, soap, ways to use herbs for the coop and livestock. (I love her idea of using Hot Cocoa as a carrier for medicinal herbs to soothe sore throats and coughs with the Respiratory Marshmallow Hot Cocoa!)
The information in Amy’s book is easy to read and thoughtfully presented. There is something in it for everyone! When readers are through, beginners will have a thorough understanding and the confidence to get started without feeling overwhelmed. And more experienced herb-lovers will have their knowledge challenged. The beauty of the pages and variety of recipes are truly inspirational!
After years of less than stellar results from pre-made mixes, I’m now using an easy recipe to make my own DIY organic potting soil mix using a few simple ingredients I’m able to easily find at my gardening supply store.
Nothing frustrates me more than a poor quality potting soil mix. There’s a lot riding on whether you’ve got a good soil from the beginning for your tender seedlings… In fact, the success of your whole garden depends on it. Weak, under-nourished seedlings won’t bear nearly as early or produce as much as a strong plant that was healthy from the beginning.
I hate ripping into a bag and finding it practically dust, it’s so fine and dry. There’s soil that you’ll struggle to keep wet until the day you can get the plant into the ground. Others seem like they’ll do well only to find that they seem to run out of nutrients to give to the seedling before they’re large enough to transplant meaning you’ll have the extra investment of additional fertilizer (I use cold-pressed fish fertilizer). The worst was one year when I couldn’t find anything other than Miracle Gro Potting mix. I ended up with furry soil with the most peculiar orange fungus-y mass growing on top of the soil. Suffice it to say, I never used the mix again. Not surprisingly, I haven’t had that problem recur in all my years of seed starting.
The recipe for this potting soil mix is so simple. It’s a “Parts” recipe so it doesn’t matter how big the bucket you’re measuring out scoops with.
But the measurements of the amendments are based off a 4-gallon bucket so adjust the amendments accordingly. (So if you use a 1-gallon bucket, you’ll only need a ⅛ cup of the agricultural lime. You should easily be able to find all of the ingredients at your garden center or on Amazon. Depending on how much you make, you can mix it in a 5-gallon bucket or trash can. Pop on the lid and roll it across the ground to help mix it!
When you’re ready to use your potting soil, transfer the dry potting soil to another container. Add enough water that it’s fairly wet and you can ball it up into a clump. But not so much that you can squeeze water out.
If you’re using pots instead of a soil-blocker (which are my fave), I like to fill the cups all the way, press them down so they’re packed about ¾ of the way full, and then fill them up all the way again without packing the second time. Doing this helps to provide loose soil for the young seedling near the top. And it avoids the problem of settling that happens later on when the soil sinks to half the cup level.
I store any dry, unused soil in the bucket or trash can. Mixing extra ahead of time saves time when your seed starting calculator tells you it’s time to start seeds again!
UPDATE: I’ve received many comments questioning the sustainability of using peat moss in this mix. This winter while reading The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman I came across an excellent assessment of the peat controversy.
“I do not share the anti-peat moss sentiment I occasionally hear expressed. The anti-peat moss movement began in Europe where, because of population density, limited peat deposits, and centuries-long use of the resource, they are at the point where finding substitutes for peat makes sense. But the same is no the case in North America. Of the peat lands in North America, only 0.02 percent (2/100 of 1 percent) are being used for peat harvesting. On this continent peat is forming some five to ten times faster than the rate at which we are using it. And even if we don’t include bogs located so far north that their use would never be economic, peat is still a resource that is forming much faster than we are using it. To my mind that is the definition of a renewable resource.
Obviously, it behooves us to make sure that every natural resource is managed sustainable and that unique areas are protected. My investigations into the peat moss industry don’t give me cause to worry…
Someday we may need to find a substitute for peat moss, but I do not believe that day is here. In fact, I do not believe it ever needs to arrive. But if we do need a substitute, some of the present contenders, like coir fiber imported, at great expense and energy, from faraway South Pacific islands, which need that organic matter to maintain their own soil fertility, make very little sense. If I am going to react against using peat to improve agricultural soils, I want to do it with all the facts at had, both as to whether the problem actually exists and as to whether the supposed solution is logical and environmentally appropriate.”
How to Make Your Own DIY Potting Soil Mix
3 parts peat moss
2 parts perlite or vermiculite
2 parts compost
1 part garden soil
1 cup blood meal (Buy here) or bonemeal (Buy here)
½ cup agricultural lime (in a 4-gallon bucket parts recipe) (Buy here)
Thoroughly mix all ingredients together.
Add enough water, mixing well until you can squeeze the soil into the clump with your hand. Try to find a balance between too dry and dripping wet.
After trying every variation of homemade chocolate pudding out there, I finally discovered the secret to rich chocolate flavor and silky smooth texture!
It wasn’t long after you all tried my Creamy Homemade Vanilla Pudding recipe that you started asking if I had a recipe for chocolate pudding that was just as delicious. And until now, sadly, I had to say no. When I wanted a chocolate pudding I made something called Bittersweet Chocolate Creams from The French Slow Cooker. They are amazing! But, not really chocolate pudding.
So when our Jersey cow freshened last month my first mission before diving into cheesemaking was to perfect a chocolate pudding.
But that was actually a lot harder than I expected! With “hard” being relative because let’s face it, the fact I didn’t hit upon a good recipe meant I had to keep trying. Which meant I had to keep making and sampling chocolate pudding.
Which is really not that hard at all. Even with a “bad” recipe.
I found the recipes for a classic pudding to be weak in flavor and almost watery in texture. The cocoa powder left an unpleasant grit on the roof of my mouth. I just wasn’t satisfied and knew there had to be a better way.
Unlike with vanilla pudding, adding butter to the chocolate pudding made an incredible difference in the smoothness and flavor. We all liked it so much better! After that, it wasn’t about whether to add butter, but how much?
I also knew right away that my pudding recipe was going to be a “double chocolate” pudding. I needed the chocolate flavor but it couldn’t come with cocoa powder because of the grittiness. In the end, I like the ratio of 1 Tablespoon of cocoa powder per 1 cup of milk. Anything more and I noticed the chalky grit.
I think this recipe has the perfect balance of sweetness but I did use 60% bittersweet chocolate chips so if you use anything lighter than that you may need to back off the sugar a touch.
After my experiments with different thickeners in vanilla pudding, I didn’t even bother to test the others in chocolate pudding and assumed that the best texture would come from cornstarch. You could use flour in a pinch, but it might not make the finest pudding possible.
Cooking with essential oils is a smoking hot topic! Whether you choose to use essential oils in your kitchen is a personal decision. These reasons for not cooking with essential oils are simply the why to the how I season food in my farmstead kitchen.
This topic has been on my mind the last few weeks. I knew I wasn’t comfortable with seasoning our food with essential oils. But I felt like I wanted a clear reason why so if I stumble across information going forward, my resolution stayed firm.
As with all food and health advice, my standard for discernment is to follow the money trail from the source. So before we go any further I just want you to know, I’ve got no stake in the game.
I want to clarify that I’m not talking about ingesting essential oils for medical purposes. Though I do have an opinion on the topic, and deep trust issues (remember that whole money trail thing?), the efficacy and safety of the practice is a can of worms I’m not ever going to open. Ultimately, we’re all responsible for our own choices and decisions. We are all doing the best we can and need to respect that in each other.
Also, I’d like to point out that cooking with essential oils is NOT the same as using an extract like vanilla. Tincture-like extraction is a completely different process from the methods used to isolate the volatile oils in plants. (And see Reason #2 for why volatile oils aren’t the healthiest choice for our foods.)
Beyond all of the current talking points on each side, I think there are 6 very good reasons for not cooking with essential oils on the homestead you may not have heard before.
Cooking with Essential Oils: 6 Reasons to Never Do It
Essential Oils are Expensive
Not sure if you noticed that or not, but depending on where you buy them from, essential oils are expensive! Fresh herbs and spices, not so much. Especially when we’re growing them in our own backyard. Over time, they end paying for themselves many times over both in expense and pleasure.
Using Whole Herbs and Spices is Healthier
Whether you should even ingest essential oils is up in the air. However, whether essential oils lose their health benefits during the cooking process is not. Essential oils no longer add any nutritional value to your food when you cook them. They’re just there for quick (expensive) flavor. If you want your food to be your medicine, whole herbs are a healthier choice.
For the sake of argument though, let’s suppose you’re extremely careful in the cooking process and the essential oils didn’t lose their nutritional value in cooking.
Are they still the healthiest choice?
I would suggest no.
Volatile oils are simply one component of any plant. The fact is that when we use fresh herbs, flowers, citrus, etc. in our cooking there are volatile (essential) oils as one of the constituents in the plant. But there are other constituents too. All of those parts in a plant often work together to create a full, well-rounded nutritional and health profile.
I think willow bark is my favorite example. One of the key constituents in willow bark is salicin which is what aspirin is also made from. But willow bark taken as a pain reliever doesn’t come with the side effects that aspirin does. Because there are other properties in the plant acting together to be gentler on our systems, there is built-in protection. (Not to mention that willow bark is also an antiseptic, antioxidant, and has anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. But not so with only the acetylsalicylic acid in aspirin.)
Using whole herbs, flowers, and spices, whenever possible, is highly recommended by knowledgeable herbalists.
Essential Oils are Less Sustainable Than Herbs
A homesteading and “local food” lifestyle goes hand-in-hand with being sustainable.
If we want to be earth-stewards and make conscientious choices about what we purchase and consume, cooking with essential oils makes very, very little sense. When you look at the amount of fossil fuel it took to produce one little bottle of essential oils and compare that to the abundance of package-free organic herbs you could walk out your back door and harvest, it’s easy to see which choice is more sustainable.
Not to mention when you learn to cook or perfect your recipes based off of drops of essential oils, you become dependent on the oil supply (pun not intended, but in proofreading there it is-lol!) to keep trucking them to your door.
And if homesteaders are anything, we’re independent!
Cooking with Essential Oils is Antithetical to the Slow Lifestyle I’m Trying to Cultivate
We live in an age of fast and easy consumerism. Convenience foods, convenience packaging, heck, we don’t even want to chop our vegetables ourselves and the trend at farmer’s markets is for the farmer to cut the veggies for their customers. (Like they don’t have anything else to do.) Using essential oils in the kitchen as a convenience food (or ingredient) goes against the grain of one of the many reasons why I love the homesteading lifestyle so much.
I embrace the slow food movement. So after spending an hour in the kitchen preparing our meal and I’m ready to add in that last pop of bright color from the herbs, it’s invigorating, refreshing, and a joy to walk outdoors and snip a bundle of herbs to bring back indoors to finish off the meal. You couldn’t PAY me to give up that luxury!
Essential oils aren’t my back-up plan for poor menu planning (which I am notorious for). Neither do I stock microwave dinners “just in case.” Instead, I have a few meals I rotate through on my menu-planning-fail nights. Even if it’s just Buttermilk Pancakes. (Which I really don’t mind if we have our own maple syrup. Talk about a slow food flavoring!)
My Herbs Give Back, Essential Oils Don’t
When I use essential oils in my cooking, they may flavor the food that feeds my family, but they will never go on to also feed my land.
Growing my own herbs allows me to create compost, helps retain soil over the winter, feeds the bees I want to bring to my garden, and create micro-climates where they are planted which nourish the soil food web.
You can’t get that from a glass bottle!
I Can Stockpile My Herbs
When you grow your own herbs there is usually more than enough to use fresh and have enough to dehydrate for use over the winter. (I put up a QUART of powdered sage this year!) With essential oils, there is no way for abundance to happen and bless us with the increase. The gratitude those full jars of homegrown preserved herbs cultivates an attitude of thankfulness that can never be bought in a bottle.
Choosing not to cook with essential oils is simply my preference and practice. As with all things, I would encourage you to do thorough research. Make the best decision for yourself and your family. (Which is easier said than done in the noise of information online, I know.) Once you’ve made that choice, then go forward confident in your decision! Neither judging others nor feeling judged by others… again, we’re all just doing the best we can!