In Basket: January 2010

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Dear Herb Companion, 

We really appreciated the article “Grow, Cook, Heal with Elder” in the November 2009 issue. When my wife and I were first married and living in West Virginia, we would travel the roads in the fall, gathering elderberries for jelly. Last year (40 years later), we finally got around to planting our own bushes in New Jersey. The nursery where we ordered them had a “starter kit” with bushes of two different varieties (Sambucus canadensis ‘York’ and S. canadensis ‘Nova’), which they said was necessary for proper pollination. Page 40 of your article indicated that the best results would be obtained if the two plants were the same. Can you clarify this apparent contradiction?
—Wayne Miller, Stanhope, New Jersey

Two different varieties of elderberry are best; however, they are not required for cross-pollination. We merely recommended two plants for best harvest in terms of quantity. —Eds.

Thanks to my mother-in-law, I now know that there are different types of cinnamon, not just “stick” and “powder.” How different are cinnamons, in terms of flavor and health benefits?
—Carl Huber, Penfield, New York

There are several species of cinnamon sold simply as “cinnamon” in the United States. Cinnamomum verum is known as Ceylon or true cinnamon. There are other related species that are sometimes distinguished from true cinnamon by common name: C. aromaticum, known as Chinese cinnamon or cassia; C. burmannii, known as cassia vera or Indonesian cinnamon; C. loureiroi, known as Saigon cassia or Vietnamese cinnamon; and C. bejolghota, C. tamala and C. sintok, all known as wild cinnamon or Indian cassia. The flavor of true cinnamon is considered more delicate than that of other species. Be sure to look for species information when reading about possible health benefits since they will differ.  —Art Tucker, Ph.D.

I have a question concerning your article “Color Your Hair Naturally” in your November 2009 issue. Can I add a preservative, like vodka, to the hair rinses and keep them in my shower instead of in the refrigerator?
—Donna Stein, Pawling, New York

Adding a natural preservative, such as vodka, can extend your rinse’s shelf life, but it may also become more drying to your hair. I suggest using vitamin C (an ascorbic acid), which also is a natural preservative and antioxidant, instead. —Janice Cox 

Talk Back: Holiday Traditions: In the November 2009 issue, we asked how readers incorporate herbs into their holiday traditions.—Eds. 

We always make cinnamon applesauce ornaments, hearth strings and pomander balls. I enjoy decorating all flat surfaces with evergreens then adding dried lavender, roses, apple and orange slices, and cinnamon sticks.
—Donna Stein, Pawling, New York

CORRECTION: On Page 43 of the November 2009 issue, we featured a recipe for Elderflower Syrup. The recipe called for 1 packet (50 grams) of citric acid. Instead, the recipe should have called for 1 packet (5 grams) of citric acid. We regret the error. —Eds.