Thursday, December 26, 2013

I published a story

It's called Life Begins The Day You Start A Garden. It’s just under 60 pages, so you’ll be done with it in one sitting. If you feel the inkling, pick up a copy at Amazon: Link to my book at Amazon

It is also available from Amazon UK, Italy, Spain, France and Germany, though only in English.

I wrote this story back in 2006, copyrighted it in 2007, designed the cover, and then left the files in an old computer to collect e-dust.

Earlier this year, however, my younger sister, La Ronda Johnson, wrote and self published her first novel, Anticipation of the Penitent: Link to book my sister's book at Amazon

I guess there’s nothing like a little healthy sibling rivalry to get an otherwise stagnant ass to spring into action, because I finally dusted off the digital file, fine tuned the grammar, finalized the cover and began the self-publishing process.

I got the idea for the story through a series of unplanned events, starting with the epiphany to garden that struck me back in 2000. Or, now that I think about it, maybe it started around 1991 when I began studying Chinese. Whatever the case, I’d come across on a number of occasions while searching and researching various topics related to herbalism and gardening, the expression “Life begins the day you start a garden.” It was always followed up with the claim, “A Chinese proverb.” Having studied Chinese characters over the years, I became very interested in finding the original proverb in Chinese. My intention was to have the Hanzi (Chinese characters) engraved on a placard that I could hang in my garden. After spending considerable time searching for it on the internet and looking in online dictionaries and character references as well as inquiring with some Chinese acquaintances with no success, I pretty much gave up on my plan.

I told a friend of mine about the unsuccessful search, to which he replied ever so nonchalantly, “Why don’t you make it up yourself?” Being a semi-aficionado on Hanzi, I was thoroughly intrigued with the challenge, and immediately started strategizing my approach. The Chinese version that I came up with is:


It’s pronounced “wren jong hua, ming choo ya” in Mandarin Chinese. Direct translating it yields something along the lines of “human gardens, life sprouts.”

For all I know, the original proverb is out there somewhere, and if anyone knows it or comes across it, please let me know. I’d be very interested in finally seeing it and comparing the two.

The best part of coming up with this proverb is the fact that traditionally, proverbs originated in fables. Someone would write a story intended to teach lessons on morality, principles and how to live life more righteously. The proverbs were short expressions used to convey main philosophies within the story. In my case, it really was a matter of putting the cart before the horse, since I came up with the proverb in Chinese first, then began working on a fable to go along with it.

The story begins with a middle-aged man who has lived his life quite cautiously – never taking risks in work or relationships. The result is that while he personally has suffered no major losses, he has also foregone any truly satisfying life experiences. The story is about how all that changes for the man as he is forced to reassess the validity of his beliefs and wants.

Anyway, I’m in the process of making a YouTube video to serve as a commercial of sorts for the book – nothing too extravagant, given my limited funds and talents in regards to marketing & advertising. I’m also working on other stories, with the hopes that this might become a regular thing for me.

The book trailer: 

Monday, December 2, 2013


Yuzu on twig

It’s yuzu season. Yuzu is a citrus that originated in Asia, China, specifically, it is said. It is often incorporated into Japanese, Korean and Chinese dishes, but is now used around the world, though still largely unknown in the West. It is believed to be a cross between two different citrus species, but there is no definitive proof to date. Whether it’s a pure species or a naturally hybridized combo of sorts, the aroma is unlike any other citrus you’ll come across. Late fall and winter is the best time for yuzu. In fact, it’s quite common to see yuzu infused yuburo (hot baths) at homes and hot springs during the winter in Japan. Well, I could go on, but with Wiki just a click away, I’ve provided a convenient link instead.

About 7 years ago, I purchased one yuzu tree and planted it in the front yard. With the exception of two consecutive years, 2011 and 2012, when it mysteriously just stopped fruiting, it has done quite well. This year is a bumper crop. Yesterday I picked about 60 of them, which is about ½ of what was on the small tree, and used most of it to make a yuzu marmalade. It consists of yuzu fruit, a bit of the zest, organic sugar, yuzu juice, cinnamon and a few secret ingredients. I made 8 jars last night, and will likely give only half away, this time. Last time I gave away so many that my own stock ran out within a couple of months and I was left with nothing until this new batch. Never again!!

A couple of weeks ago, I used about 8 yuzu to make yuzu-cha, which is also mentioned on the Wiki link. I colelcted the zest from about 35 of the fruit I picked yesterday to make “yuzucello,” a variation of the Italian alcoholic beverage called “limoncello.” It should be ready just in time for Christmas – which I will be having at my house this year. Yes, I say that with not a little trepidation. But that’s when the sweet yuzu infused shochu (Japanese vodka) that I made comes in handy.

The more daring creation is what I like to boldly call Yuzu Liontail. It is both medicine and a sippable cordial-like drink of leisure. I put 4 whole, unpeeled yuzu, which I had punctured with a chopstick, into a tall, wide-mouth container. Next, I added the following:

750ml                 Takara Jun Shochu (35% alc./vol.)
125g                   Rock sugar
10 sprigs            Lion's-Tail (Leonurus leonotus), flowering tops, fresh
10 sprigs            Mint, leaves, soft stem, fresh, whole
5 sprigs              Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) flowering tops, dried
3 sprigs              Mexican tarragon, fresh leaves, whole
21 leaves           Gotu kola (Centella hydrocotyl), fresh, whole leaves
12 leaves           Kefir lime leaves, fresh, chopped
2 cloves             Garlic, crushed, not diced.
2 tsp                  Turmeric, powdered

I let this infuse on a windowsill in the sun for about 1.75 weeks. I strained that out last night so I could use the tall, slender container for the yuzucello. I also drank a full shot of the Lion’s-tail elixir and I must say, the flavor is good and profoundly complex.  It starts out with an herbal and citrus sweetness, giving way to spicy citrus, before ending with a pleasantly bitter herbal tail. The progression of flavors is so pronounced and expressive that it literally teases the emotions. Lion’s-tail itself originates in the southern parts of Africa. There, it has traditionally been used as an anti-asthmatic and to quell coughs, as well as to get a decent pot-like buzz – though that is debatable. In a drink like this, the controversy persists, since you never know if it’s just the shochu or the lions’-tail or a combo of all of the ingredients that is making you feel so good!

. . . Ok, so, what’s left to do with the remaining 60 or so yuzu still on the tree? Give some to coworkers and a couple of friends, I suppose. Or make more of the above to give away. Oh, but wait a minute! EEEERRRRTTT!!! I still haven’t dried any of the zest so I could powder it and use straight to aromatize seafood or desserts, or blend into a 5-spice seasoning, like the popular, and delectable, Shichimi powder in Japan. The zest of 60 yuzu might get me 3 small bottles of powder! B-but wait! I forgot about the seeds, which some scientific tests have shown strengthen collagen in the skin, taking years off of not-so-gracefully-aging faces the world ‘round. I could get about 500 grams of powder from the seeds of 60 yuzu to add to scrubs and skin creams!!

Oh well, sorry friends and colleagues. Maybe next year . . . 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A new old herbal hutch

Wow, can't believe it's been 9 months since I posted here. For shame! But as always, it's not that I haven't been doing lots of herbal things. I have. Always am. All the time. Just haven't been taking the extra steps of pausing to pull out the camera, edit photos, write it all out and upload. I think part of the problem is I have this notion that each entry has to be some grand or semi-grand divulgence and exhibition, when it really doesn't have to be. 

So with the aim of keeping it simple, I'll just briefly talk about a recent project. I just brought home an antique wooden hutch from a sake brewery. The height just fit in my basement, where I cleaned and polished it up and started loading tinctures, dried herbs and oils on its shelves. It's starting to look quite professional in an old school sort of way.

I took the opportunity to press out some tinctures that had been macerating for far longer than they needed to, but which only makes them better tinctures. In all, the first tinctures to be placed in the new hutch were seven in number. They are:

* Ephedra, from fresh plant that I harvested on top of a desert mountain in Palm Springs, California.
* Wild morning glory, which has been growing in my yard since before I moved in.
* Usnea, which is probably a combination of Oak moss and beard lichen. I harvested them from tree branches in Strawberry Canyon in the hills of Berkeley, California.
* Valerian root from the garden.
* Echinacea root from the garden.
* Elderflower from Lake Chabot in Castro Valley, Califronia.
* Mexican Tarragon from the garden.

In addition to these freshly squeezed tinctures, I moved other bottled products from the smaller cramped cabinet to the new old hutch. Included so far are:

* Hawthorn berry tincture
* Milk thistle tincture
* Evening primrose tincture
* Horehound tincture
* Gotu kola tincture
* Cotton thistle tincture
* Henbane tincture
* Mullein flower tincture
* Dried evening primrose flowers
* Bermuda grass tincture
* Stinging nettle tinture
* Comfrey root tincture
* Bacopa monieri tincture
* Wild lettuce tincture
* Yarrow tincture
* Hyssop tincture

I think that about covers it. There are more products to be moved to the hutch from various places around the house, but I will spare you that list.

The next task is to to devise a way to prevent everything from crashing to the cement basement floor and breaking in the event of an earthquake. I'm considering some straps or screens fastened with velcro at each end….? Any ideas from others who dance with earthquakes? 

That should do it for this one. I promise (Oh, no. The P word! Hopefully the tech dept will edit that out!). I'll be back with news of my first self-published book (easy, quick read),  a fascinating herbal oil, and my recent pride & joy: herbal wines!!