Category: Earthy

Feb 01

Imbolc, Ready or Not!

Confession: sharing this post makes me feel like I’ve left the house for the day, smiling and cheerful, but only half-dressed.  The cheeriness arises from the fact that…holy winter, we’ve somehow reached Imbolc! The other part of what I’m feeling–the part that puts the pink in my cheeks–comes from some recent changes I’ve made to the website, which have left it only almost-ready to face the world. (That reminds me: many apologies for the duplicate posts that were sent out yesterday! Shouldn’t happen again…although, with me at the helm, you can never say never.)

My missing clothes?
Image via pixabay/wilhei

Regardless, the website will get there and Imbolc has already arrived!

Yes, you heard that correctly: Imbolc. The Gaelic calendar’s first day of spring. Right, that Imbolc. Also right: spring and first and day. What’s that you say? Snow still on the ground? Below freezing temperatures? Oh, well, there is that. I didn’t exactly say spring had sprung for all of us, but if you really want to press me on it…spring has arrived in some parts–including the west coast of Ireland, the land from which Imbolc’s spring first sprung.

We, my friends, are currently round about the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring (vernal) equinox, which means even if spring hasn’t shown its pretty face near you yet, it is on its way. At this very moment,  spring is skipping, strolling, hiking, and–yes–even strutting to a nature near you.

Image via pixabay/Larisa-K

Imbolc is a time of: rebirth, renewal, fertility, freshness, warmth, light. Good things, every last one.

Soon, the trees will be all a-chatter (with birds, of course–you understand). The bushes will be all a-bud, and the plants all a-sprout. Can’t you almost catch the scent of that fresh, green air? The chill of the damp, misty morning? The promise of the warm, mid-day sun?

Photo via Unsplash/Tanja Heffner

Yes? (You said yes, didn’t you?) Oh, good. Well, then. Go grab your herbal tea, your coffee, last year’s dandelion wine and join me in a toast: Here’s to a very Happy Imbolc!

(Cheers and Sláinte and not another word about it being too early. It’s springtime somewhere!)

 

 

Dec 21

Why This Winter Wimp Celebrates the Solstice

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the winter solstice! You know what that means, right??? The downward, darkward slide we’ve been experiencing is about to begin ratcheting uphill again, minute by minute, towards the light.

Image via pixabay/PublicDomainPictures

Granted, the cold, dreary, loooong march of winter is just getting underway, but the darkness is gathering its skirts and trotting on out. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t have anything against darkness, in general. In fact, I love the night. …Except, to me, the winter’s bleak nighttime hours simply can’t compare to those of spring, filled with the restless chirps of peepers… or the drowsy rise and fall of cicada song on warm summer nights. Personally? I see it as a quality over quantity thing.

I’m pretty sure the ancient Celts agreed, too. At the winter solstice, they marked the rebirth of the sun by celebrating Yule (originally called Alban Arthuan or “Light of Arthur”— as in the king). It was a big deal, Yule; it predates Christianity and is one of the oldest winter celebrations of them all.

Image via pixabay/tarotize

For the Celts, Yule was all about light and life.

Ceremonial fires were lit to celebrate the sun’s turning point. A Yule log was burnt to bring good luck and drive back the darkness of midwinter. It was kindled from the remains of the previous year’s log and allowed to glow and smolder for twelve whole days, owing to the Celtic belief that the sun stood still for a dozen days at solstice-time.

Evergreens, plants which lived while others died back, were used to decorate the interiors and exteriors of homes. Holly and ivy were believed to keep dark energy at bay, while giving nature spirits a safe haven to retreat to inside the home. Mistletoe was carefully harvested from oak trees by Druid priests and used to ward off dark spirits and promote fertility. Some believe the ancient Celts decorated trees with stars and suns and moons to honor their gods, and offered gifts to show gratitude for their blessings.

Image via Unsplash/tookapic

Just as these and other ancient practices have persisted into modern tradition, so should the power of the solstice. Yes, we have many more days of cold ahead and, no, I’m still no fan of winter—save for the beauty of the snow, the fun of sledding, and the roaring-fire-wrapped-up-in-coziness factor. Regardless, the winter solstice, for me, is wholly and thoroughly and utterly deserving of celebration.

Why?

Simple: it reminds me of the value of hope.

Every year, without fail, the winter solstice teaches this single, all-important lesson: even at the end of the longest night, light returns.

Image via Unsplash/Aaron Burden

Happy Solstice to you and yours! I sincerely hope you make the best of the light.

Oct 13

Thirteen Reasons Why I Believe in Witches

We all know witches are real…. Wait, we do, don’t we? I’m not talking about the warty, green-faced, Halloween kind (although I’d love, love to give that broomstick-riding thing a try)…I’m talking real, live witches who practice Wicca and other, related forms of neo-paganism. I’m not an expert in or a practitioner of any of these disciplines–can’t seem to make religion stick to me–but I find them interesting, inspiring, and worthy of respect.

Image via pixabay/RondellMelling

To be clear, then, when I say I believe in witches, I mean I believe in many of their beliefs. I think their point of view is a healthy one–nurturing and full of promise. In case you’d care to know why, I’ll be more than happy to count the ways…

One: they love nature and seek to live in harmony with it. Considering that we’re one species among the masses, I have to think living in harmony with nature is the way to go. Personally, when I’ve been disconnected from the natural world for too long, I feel it. I become ungrounded. Lost.

Image via pixabay/MariaMargareta

Two: they view the Earth as our mother. Not a bad point of view to take, considering what naughty Earth’s children we’ve been for the past…oh, two centuries or more. I feel connected to my fellow human beings and my fellow creatures…this Earth is our provider and our home. None of us would be here without it, and none of us will be here if we destroy it.

Three: they follow the Three-fold Law. Also known as the Rule of Three or Law of Return, it states that “Everything you do comes back to you, times three.” So, that mean little thing you’ve been thinking of doing? Might want to rethink it. On the other hand, that person you’ve been helping, out of the kindness in your own heart? Good on you (and unto you).

Four: they believe in the strength and value of womankind. We’ve come a long way, ladies, but we still have a ways to go. Whaddaya say we continue to boost each other up? (That tearing-each-other-down stuff is just so…yesterday. Bleh.)

Image via pixabay/HNewberry

Five: their practices and beliefs are strongly connected to the moon. As a woman, my body and its cycles are pulled by the waxing and waning of the moon. Pretty cool, am I right? I think so. Even after I’m no longer fertile, I plan to maintain that connection. In modern paganism, the moon is representative of the goddess, so all women–young or old–should feel strengthened by her energy.

Image via pixabay/CITYEDV

Six: they live according to the Wiccan Rede. “Do what you will, so long as it harms none.” (It can be expressed in varying wording, but the central concept remains the same.) This statement, although it might seem permissive at first, casts a pretty wide moral net. Yes, you have freedom of choice, but your decisions must take into account the others who might be affected by your actions, both now and in the future.

Seven: they believe the divine can be seen in every part of nature. Every creature, no matter how tiny, has value; every itty bitty morsel of the natural world, down to the tiniest pebble, is part of a greater whole. All of nature matters and is deserving of respect.

Image via pixabay/usesense

Eight: worship can be solitary or practiced with a group. As an introvert (INFP/J), this is music to my ears. Speaking of music, it and meditation are often incorporated into worship. Yet another cause for celebration.

Image via pixabay/RJA1988

Nine: intuition and healing are valued and practiced. What can be bad about becoming better attuned to yourself and to others? Taking that knowledge a step further–using it to help heal–is one seriously positive endeavor.

Ten: neo-pagan religions are decentralized. There is no designated leader, no governing body, no written set of rules that all must follow (though most, if not all, adhere to the Wiccan Rede and Three-fold Law). Neo-paganism is not a one-size-fits-all religion; it can be tailored to meet a group’s or an individual’s needs.

Eleven: they believe in the value and equality of both men and women. Not only are the masculine and feminine honored, they are valued in terms of how they interact and support one another.

Image via pixabay/Hans

Twelve: they believe sex, when practiced consentually and responsibly, is a healthy, powerful part of our human experience. Whew. Such a refreshing stance for a religion to take, no? Hooray for this one.

Thirteen: the divine lives within everyone. We are able to bring that benevolent, creative power forth, and we’re able to use it to influence our own lives and each others’ lives–all for the better.

So, yes, I do believe in witches and I believe in giving them their due. They are all about living in harmony, without doing harm.

Personally, I think humanity and Mother Nature could use a little more witch love.

Image via pixabay/MikesPhotos

Happy Friday the 13th, all!

Sep 22

Mabon: Darkness and Light

I wasn’t planning to write a blog post today, but then I discovered it was the autumnal equinox. So, here I am, wishing you a Happy Mabon!

This, my friends, is an important day: it’s one of two times during the year when light and darkness are in balance.

Image via pixabay/Alois_Wonaschuetz

Mabon marks the second harvest (following Lughnasadh–which I totally missed mentioning and will have to catch next year), to be followed by the third and final harvest, Samhain. Now is when much of the fields’ bounty has been collected and stored, preparing to feed us over the coming winter. Mabon is a time of plenty, a time to reflect upon all that we have created and received; it is a time to share our abundance with others.

Image via pixabay/realworkhard

For me, though, there’s more to Mabon. It’s always about this time of year that something awakens inside me that has slept–tangled up in cool, cotton sheets, drowsing lazily–through the long, hot days of summer. There’s an energy in the air; I feel it whenever the wind passes over my skin. It calls to something deep within my spirit, something that stubbornly refuses to give up its innate wildness. Honestly, at times, it’s all I can do to hold myself back from running off into the forest and becoming newly feral. (*It should go without saying that I’d be dragging my kids right along with me into the great wide open. I’ve often referred to them as “children raised by wolves”–we’ve always had dogs–so the way I see it, they’re already halfway to wild.)

With the pendulum poised as it is, ready to begin its swing towards cooler days and longer nights, it’s likely a time that tugs at many of us. Change is afoot. In pagan traditions, the goddess is entering her crone aspect (having already moved from maiden to mother); the god himself is preparing to die, only to be reborn again through the goddess, come spring. Even while some part of me wants to resist this–the leaving behind of warmth and growth, the approaching time of hibernation–the coming darkness thrills me.

You feel it, don’t you? Mabon is like that moment of anticipation, at the top of a great big slide. Everything stops…and waits. Soon, we will slip downward together, into the longer nights, the time when mysteries call to us on the wind. They’re whispering already; I can just about hear them. Shh, listen with me.

Image via pixabay/damesophie

So, then. How do we celebrate such a time, when life hangs in the balance between light and dark? Go ahead and slice yourself a piece of apple pie or enjoy that pumpkin coffee. Bring in any last vegetables from the garden, freeze some fresh herbs to add brightness to your winter meals. We should be cherishing any time spent outdoors; nature is beginning its retreat and has become precious. May I also recommend taking a few minutes to meditate on your own, personal abundance? A run in the forest might be really nice, too; I could always meet you out there, if you’d like.

Whatever you do, remember: the darkness that’s about to rise up? Don’t be afraid; it’s only the other side of the light.

 

Sources and recommended reading:

https://www.thoughtco.com/all-about-mabon-the-autumn-equinox-2562286

https://wicca.com/celtic/akasha/mabon.htm

Sep 20

Our Butterfly Journey

I don’t have any butterfly tattoos…yet, but I admit it: I adore the fluttery critters. They’re beautiful, sure, but it’s more about their changing from something slightly awkward and a little, um, less than elegant, to something majestic and noteworthy and free. (As for me, pretty sure I’m stuck in my chrysalis phase.)

I find butterflies enchanting on any given day, but lately, I’ve been a little obsessed. (You may have noticed if you follow me on Instagram). Though I’ve never “raised” butterflies before, I have cared for them in the past: one a black swallowtail, which had been hit by a car and had a damaged wing; the other a monarch, whose wing never straightened after it emerged from its chrysalis. The monarch was with us for over a month; it seemed comfortable with being held and regularly drank honey-water from my fingertips. (Butterflies drink with a proboscis, but they can also find food by “tasting” with their feet.)

This summer, though, I specifically invited monarchs into our yard. How? Simple: I bought some milkweed plants (here’s the post, with photos), and a Mama Monarch dropped out of the sky and laid her eggs right in front of me. Pretty accommodating, don’t you think?

*Milkweed, in its many varieties, is the only host plant for monarch caterpillars. There’s been some controvery about growing tropical milkweed for monarchs, but it seems to me the good outweighs the risks, especially if you prune your tropical milkweed at various times. (A link at the bottom of this post will take you to an article that addresses the issue in detail.)

By Bfpage – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35048874

Within a short time, I’d discovered my first tiny caterpillar, already in its second instar phase:

This little caterpillar and its caterpillar siblings ate and grew and ate and grew…

   

(Third and fourth instars)

…until they reached their fifth instar phase. I brought the last two inside, so the kids and I could watch what would happen next (and also because, outdoors, their numbers kept dropping and we were concerned that they were being lost to predators).

       

Left to right: fifth instar with a fresh milkweed leaf in the background, caterpillar forming J-hook, new chrysalis

*Here’s a video of a caterpillar forming its chrysalis–if you’re faint of heart or weak of stomach, you might want to skip this one: 🙂

The caterpillars made their chrysalises (also: chrysalides) within a couple days of one another, so we sat back and waited for them to emerge.

      

Changes taking place in the chrysalis; notice the gold specks in the sunlight?
(Even looking like an alien life form, the butterfly manages to be beautiful)

   

It takes at least three hours for the butterfly’s wings to straighten and dry

   

Female on left (thicker veining on wings);
male on right (two spots on lower wings, thinner veining)

Do we think our monarchs are extra-special? Yup! We’re partial, we admit it, but ours are also fourth generation monarchs, the last of the summer. While earlier generations (born in the spring and early summer) live for about two to six weeks, our monarchs should live for up to a whopping eight months. In that time, they’ll make the long journey to Mexico, where they’ll hibernate in oyamel fir trees.

*Logging in Mexico has reduced the forests where the monarchs overwinter; as a result, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed the monarch migration as a “threatened phenomena.” (Source: National Geographic)

Image via pixabay/skeeze

Hibernating monarchs

In the early spring, the monarchs will reach sexual maturity and mate, migrating up to northern Mexico or the Southern US. Here, they’ll mate and lay their eggs. Those offspring, when they reach adulthood, will migrate farther northward and lay their eggs. So, I’m expecting my butterfly grandkids to be born sometime around here early next summer. I hope they’ll remember to visit.

Here’s a brief video on our butterfly experience:

There’s been some controversy about growing tropical milkweed for monarchs, so here’s a good article that should address questions on that front:

https://monarchbutterflygarden.net/is-tropical-milkweed-killing-monarch-butterflies/

For more on monarch migration and decreasing numbers of overwintering monarchs, I’d recommend:

https://www.learner.org/jnorth/search/Monarch.html

https://monarchbutterflygarden.net/8-things-know-monarch-migration/

Sep 15

Two Butterflies went out at Noon, Emily Dickinson

In honor of the butterflies we’ve been “raising” (post on them to come), I thought I’d share Two Butterflies went out at Noon, by Emily Dickinson.

Dickinson was born (1830) and died (1886) in Amherst, Massachusetts. She lived in relative isolation throughout her life, although her family provided her with intellectual and emotional companionship. The rare visitors to her family’s home also had a significant impact on her, as can be evinced throughout much of her work. Though she was not publicly recognized for her writing during her lifetime (her first volume of poems being published posthumously), she is considered to have helped create a unique, distinctly “American” poetic voice.

I love Emily Dickinson’s poems, not only for their natural themes, but also for their seeming simplicity which often belies deeper meaning.

Two Butterflies went out at Noon

Emily Dickinson1830 – 1886

Two Butterflies went out at Noon—
And waltzed above a Farm—  
Then stepped straight through the Firmament  
And rested on a Beam—  
   
And then—together bore away 
Upon a shining Sea—  
Though never yet, in any Port—  
Their coming mentioned—be—  
   
If spoken by the distant Bird— 
If met in Ether Sea
By Frigate, or by Merchantman— 
No notice—was—to me—

Thank you for reading! Hope you’ll join me in wishing our two butterflies well as they enter the Firmament!

Sep 05

I Heart Argan Oil

Dear RSO (Rosehip Seed Oil),

You haven’t seen my face for about a year, so it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that there’s someone else. You see, Argan Oil and I were introduced at about the same time you and I started having troubles. I thought it was a rebound thing, at first, or maybe infatuation, but it’s real. Everyone has an oil that’s right for their face, and as much as I love you, Argan is the one for me.

Image via pixabay/oceanverde

Argan Oil has staying power, not that you don’t. Still, women in the Mediterranean have been pampering their skin with it for centuries. It’s full of Vitamin E, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids, plus it’s great for my hair. That makes it multi-faceted, a truly deep kind of oil. It’s generous, too–it helps with anything from eczema and rosacea to fine lines and wrinkles. You can’t find support like that just anywhere. Not to mention how light an oil it is, or how easily it absorbs into my skin. It’s like wearing nothing at all…very freeing, you understand.

I know some people pay a fortune just to have Argan Oil in their life, but I still get mine from *Mountain Rose Herbs. They’re every bit as trustworthy as when I first discovered you among their online shelves, Rosehip. I believe in my heart of hearts that others will find you there, too, and appreciate you for all that you are.

Before you ask, of course I still need a third, for the moisturization to be complete. Water has been fine–I’m sure you haven’t forgotten that I always begin my moisturizing with clean, damp skin–but I think Argan and I have found something that takes what we have and makes it even better. White Rose Hydrosol…maybe you’ve heard of it? I understand, the rose thing probably hurts a bit, but you know the scent of roses has always been one of my favorites. It always will be.

Dear Rosehip Seed Oil, please try to remember: it’s not you, it’s my face. Honestly, I’d love to stay friends and keep you in some of my other skin products, but I’ll understand if you’d prefer that we go our separate ways. No matter what, we’ll always have body butter!

Love you, my special friend.

HAO

 

See what I mean? Even goats love Argan.

Images via pixabay/jackmac34 and remilozach

*Mountain Rose Herbs is not a sponsor; I’m just a fan. Natural products are not regulated, so it’s difficult to know if you’re getting what you pay for. I trust MRH and have always been pleased with whatever I’ve ordered from them. Just an FYI, in case you’re shopping around.

Aug 28

Herb’s Garden

How do you say it: herbs (pronounced like a man’s name) or (h)erbs (silent h)?

I usually say “(h)erbs,” (silent h) because I’m from the US. Still, when my family and I visited a lovely, family-owned plant farm near Lancaster, PA, Groff’s, the conversation in the car went something like this:

Husband: What are you getting at this place, again?

Me (wearing an overly giant smile): Herbs.

Husband: did you just say herbs?’

Me: Hm. I did. …Maybe they sell ‘Herbs’…as in the guy. A garden of Herbs.

Husband: Who says ‘herbs’…the British?

Me: Yes. And Martha Stewart.

Well, I’m neither British nor Martha Stewart, so I guess I’m not supposed to say herbs. In honor of my mistake, I’m unofficially dubbing our garden: Herb’s Garden. Now, my kids are sure to have as much trouble remembering which way to say it as I apparently do. You’re welcome, kids. 🙂

Anyway, I left with a nice little haul of (h)erbs and companion plants, and thought I’d share some helpful info I’ve dug up on each. (Bad pun intended. Very sorry.)

*By the way, although the edible herbs I’ve mentioned below offer various health benefits, they can also have some pretty significant side effects, especially if taken in large amounts (particularly for pregnant/lactating women). I plan to eat them as part of my meals, in amounts typically consumed.

Basil

Image via pixabay/tookapic

Have any tomatoes? Mozzarella? Well, then. You need basil. In addition to tasting delicious, basil contains Vitamins K, A, and C, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, among other nutrients. It also contains DNA-protecting flavonoids and acts as an anti-inflammatory. It is antibacterial as well, and has been found to be effective in treating drug-resistant bacteria strains. Basil also acts as an adaptogen, to help the body fight the effects of stress.

·

Cilantro (+coriander seeds)

Image via pixabay/Hans

Since it is high in antioxidants, cilantro not only benefits our health, but also prolongs freshness when added to other foods. It is also antifungal, promotes skin health and may help combat the effects of UV B radiation from sunlight. In addition, it is antimicrobial, and is believed to help detoxify the body. Coriander (the seed produced by cilantro) has anti-inflammatory properties, but studies have found that imported coriander is often contaminated by salmonella; I suggest growing your own.

·

Comfrey

Image via pixabay/ustalij_pony

Due to the pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) it contains, comfrey is toxic to the liver and is not recommended for internal use. (*Note: the levels of PAs change, depending upon the time of year, age of the plant, and throughout the different parts of the plant–e.g. newer leaves have more PAs than older ones and the roots contain the highest amounts by a large margin.) However, comfrey serves many other purposes in the garden. It is a great healer and has been acknowledged as such for thousands of years (dating back to ancient Rome). This is due to the allantoin it contains, which is known to aid in cell formation. Though it shouldn’t be applied to open wounds, comfrey’s crushed leaves, poultices, or creams can be applied externally to injuries, to promote healing. *Note: the toxins present in comfrey can be absorbed through the skin, so care must be taken not to overuse. It is not to be taken while using acetaminophen or similar products, because of the heightened risk of liver damage.

·

Dill

Image via pixabay/ruslanababenko

In addition to tasting delicious in pickling recipes and egg salad (which is how my grandmother used to make it–yum!), dill contains Vitamins A and C, as well as antioxidants. It is also a good source of calcium, manganese, and iron. Dill was once believed to harbor protective forces, which would help ward off witchcraft. Handy, no? Today, it is sometimes used to treat problems with digestion, menstruation, sleep, urinary tract disorders, and to help boost the immune system. Not for use by diabetics, pregnant/nursing women, or by those with allergies to plants in the carrot family.

I can attest to the fact that dill is highly prized by swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. This cute little guy and his buddies ate all of ours.

The parsley in the background survived the onslaught; the dill, sadly, did not.

·

Echinacea

Image via RGBStock/Babykrul

All nine known species of echinacea are native to North America and were used by Native Americans medicinally. All parts of the plant are used, and can be taken internally (as teas, tinctures, in capsules, etc.), as well as applied externally. Echinacea boosts the immune system, in order to help ward off the common cold and flu, and also to help fight infections. Its widespread popularity declined with the introduction of antibiotics, but appears to be growing once more, particularly in Germany, where it is approved for medical treatment by the government.

Longterm use has not be evaluated, and some individuals may experience an allergic reaction to echinacea. (It may also increase allergic reactions to other stimulants). Contraindicated for use by individuals with auto-immune issues and not recommended for use in pregnant or breastfeeding women.

·

Fennel

Image via RGBStock/AYLA87

Fennel has a delicious, licorice-ish scent and flavor, which I love. I particularly love the coloring of the bronze fennel, so I picked some up to add to my garden. Its leaves are gorgeous and feathery (they look like actual feathers as they start to emerge). Fennel’s a perennial herb, which can be used in foods and teas. It’s not only attractive to the birds and the bees, but is also a host plant for the Anise Swallowtail and the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies. Cheers to more butterflies!

·

Holy Basil (Tulsi)

Image via pixabay/shajis001

This plant has been grown in India for over three thousand years and is revered as a symbol for the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. It is valuable medicinally because of its antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and pain-killing properties. It acts as an adaptogen, improving the body’s response to stress. It can be taken as a tea (safe for daily use), pill, tincture, etc. It is used to help regulate diabetes and also to promote wound healing. It is believed to help lower cholesterol, ease joint pain, and protect the stomach, as well. It should not be used by pregnant or lactating women.

·

Lavender

Image via Unsplash/Ray Hennessy

Sure, its fragrance is absolutely delicious, but it tastes good, too. Dried lavender buds can add flavor to your desserts, from ice cream to baked goods to yummy summertime drinks. (I found some great recipes from Country Living.) I love adding lavender to my soaps, and I often wear lavender essential oil on a clay diffuser necklace. Its scent is calming and soothing, perfect for combatting stress or promoting sleep. It can be brewed in a tea and cooled, then sprayed over burns, bug bites, or troubled skin, to bring relief and aid in healing. Lavender plants in your garden can also help keep mosquitoes and other pests away from the area. Bees and butterflies, on the other hand, tend to love it. I’m with them!

·

Lemon Balm

Image via pixabay/cocoparisienne

Lemon Balm is an herb in the mint family, with a bright, lemony scent. It can add flavor to foods or teas and has been used since the Middle Ages to help relieve anxiety. Likewise, it works well in promoting sleep (often paired with valerian) and regulating stress. Lemon balm is also used to help treat stomach upsets, including cholic, and has shown promise in relieving some of the symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease. In cream form, it is used to treat cold sores. Lemon balm seems safe to use medicinally in limited amounts and durations, even by infants, under the guidance of a physician. However, long term studies have not been done and, as with any herb, it is probably best avoided by pregnant women. It may increase the effects of sedatives, as well.

·

Lemongrass

Image via pixabay/sarangib

Lemongrass smells like a fresh, sunny summer day, don’t you think? Go ahead and smell some; I’ll wait. Lemongrass is full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds. What’s not to like, right? Hang on, because there’s more. It’s also antifungal, antimicrobial, and can help regulate cholesterol levels, as well as detoxify the body. It is good for digestion and for regulating blood pressure, plus it also helps boost your body’s metabolism. Its vitamins benefit hair and skin, and its nutrients can help treat joint pain and fever, as well as colds and flu. Due to its ability to stimulate the uterus, it is not safe for pregnant women; also, because it can lower blood sugar, it should be avoided by people with diabetes.

·

Milkweed

Image via pixabay/ballonimals

First and foremost: monarchs! Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed, so without it…no caterpillars. No caterpillars means no adult butterflies. You get it. You know how this nature thing works. Second: they’re beautiful plants, and there are over a hundred species native to North America. Mine, however, are perennials, which seem to be more readily available (since native milkweed was often considered a “pest” and chased off the land. Shame on us humans, once again.)

Besides being essential for the monarchs, milkweed can be beneficial for us. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the strong fibers of milkweed were used to make rope and fabric, and the fluffy floss of the seed pods was used to stuff bedding or to act as tinder for fires. It was even used to stuff lifejackets during WWII!

As useful as milkweed is, the plant is mildly toxic, so only experienced foragers should ever consider consuming it. The juices of milkweed can also be a skin irritant, so wearing gloves while handling is recommended.

I hadn’t even planted my milkweed in the ground, when the first monarch appeared. She immediately started landing on the leaves and curling her abdomen around to lay her eggs on the undersides. Which means…we now have a monarch nursery!

Six babies in this pic and I found a dozen overall!

Cute, chubby baby monarch!

·

Mint

Image via pixabay/strecosa

What’s better than mint, I ask you? Chocolate mint, of course. While I love peppermint (and have some growing in a container, currently, because mint loves to spread), I thought my kids might be more apt to enjoy the chocolate variety. Truth be told, it smells more chocolate-y than it tastes, but I’m not complaining. I love mint and I love chocolate, so there can be no loss if the two are involved.

Mint is of course used to flavor foods, from savory dishes to ice cream. As a tea, it is said to help reduce stress. Mint compresses can help cure headaches and the herb can also be added to personal care products, such as a vinegar-based hair rinse or witch-hazel face toner, to increase their benefits. Dried mint also works well as a pest repellant. Use with care, though, because in large amounts, mint can affect the endocrine system, and like many herbs, over-use by pregnant or lactating women is warned against.

·

Parsley

Image via pixabay/AllNikArt

In addition to adorning plates and combatting breath issues, parsley is also high in vitamins A, C, and K, folate, calcium, magnesium, and iron. It helps promote healthy bones and good vision, while boosting immunity. It is also believed to help prevent diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and even some types of cancer. It is not safe for pregnant women to consume large amounts, as it can promote uterine contractions.

·

Rue

Image via pixabay/Justugly

This plant has been used throughout history as an herb, although it is said to have some toxicity and should never be consumed in large amounts (it’s probably best for pregnant/nursing women to avoid it completely). So, like many others, I’ll consider rue an ornamental herb and just hope it brings all the butterflies and bees to the yard.

Rue works well as a companion plant, because its scent often keeps animals and pests like Japanese beetles out of the garden. (In fact, the dried leaves can be kept as a bug repellant.) It’s important to wear gloves when handling rue, because it can cause rashes and phototoxicity (which may create blisters in response to sunlight).

·

Sage

Image via pixabay/marionkollmeier

Got ghosts? No problem. Do a sage rubbing and drive off any unsavory spirits. My tongue may be in my cheek right now, but many people value sage for this use. I’ve never had the need, but if I did? Point me to the nearest smudge stick.

In addition to being a ghost-fighter and a culinary herb, sage is also used medicinally. The leaves are said to help relieve digestive problems, menstrual issues, and possibly even combat the chemical imbalances that cause Alzheimer’s. It can be applied directly to the skin to help treat mouth and nasal irritation. Sage tea can be used to dry up breast milk during weaning. It can also darken graying hair (with repeated use), and be used topically to help combat oily skin or acne.

Because sage contains thujone, a chemical known to cause seizures and/or damage to the liver and nervous system, large doses or prolonged use are to be avoided. Not safe for use in pregnant women, those with diabetes, hormone-sensitive conditions, or blood pressure issues.

·

Thyme

Image via pixabay/Hans

I bought the creeping variety of thyme, hoping it will act as a ground cover in my garden. Anything that helps control weeds is a friend of mine! Also, though I don’t have any issues with deer, it acts as a deer repellant and may deter them from consuming nearby plants. Like other types of thyme, it is edible. Either the leaves alone can be harvested or sprigs can be snipped off and dried, and the leaves removed later. It smells and tastes fairly similar to mint and can be used to flavor foods or in teas. Last, but not least, it is loved by bees!

By the way, I was alerted to a fantastic post, featuring 11 Astonishing Benefits of Thyme Oil (<–click to follow the link), and wanted to share it with you. From chasing away mosquitos and acne, to boosting oral health and the immune system, and a whole lot more, Thyme is a rock star!

·

That’s it for now, as far as our garden grows, but how about you? Do you have an (h)erb garden or a Herb’s garden? What herbs do you like best? I’d love to hear recommendations!

 

**For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

 

Sources and recommended reading:

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266425.php

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/277627.php

http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/comfrey-leaves-zmaz74zhol

http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/comfrey

http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/285/

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/echinacea/ataglance.htm

http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/Echinacea

http://homeguides.sfgate.com/grow-bronze-fennel-25058.html

http://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/basil-benefits

http://www.naturallivingideas.com/reasons-to-grow-lavender-in-your-garden/

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-437-lemon%20balm.aspx?activeingredientid=437

http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/lemon-balm

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-719-lemongrass.aspx?activeingredientid=719&activeingredientname=lemongrass

http://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/7-wonderful-benefits-of-lemongrass-tea-the-healing-brew-1459468

http://blog.nwf.org/2015/02/twelve-native-milkweeds-for-monarchs/

https://www.almanac.com/plant/mint

http://healthyliving.azcentral.com/health-benefits-plain-italian-parsley-16735.html

http://homeguides.sfgate.com/rue-plants-used-for-49380.html

http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/312/

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-504-sage.aspx?activeingredientid=504&

https://www.healthbeckon.com/sage-herb-benefits/

http://www.healthline.com/health/health-benefits-of-thyme

Jul 17

Saving the Green: Earth-wise, Budget-friendly Choices

Green is one of my favorite colors. I like it in terms of growing, planty things, and I like it in terms of cash. Nope, I’m not materialistic, but I am a realist (as much as reality requires, anyway).

Since nature and I are already on pretty good terms and because I’m trying to form a nice, healthy friendship with money, I’ve been looking into ways people can help save the green (both kinds). Here’s what I’ve found, so far:

Image via pixabay/terimakasih0

General Household:

Reusable/washable “paper” towels – leftover fabric (flannel, fleece) can be cut into squares and used to wipe counters, tables, etc., as an alternative to paper towels. Some people go the extra mile, add a terry cloth backing and store them in a pretty basket, but I’m easy (lazy): I keep mine in a drawer and, once used, throw them in the wash.

Hand towels – if you’re not already using hand towels in your kitchen, trust me, they work just as well there as they do in the powder room. I usually hang two: one for drying hands and the other for drying dishes. Again, they’re easy to toss into the wash and they further reduce the need for paper towels.

Stainless steel straws – have you seen the video of the poor sea turtle with the plastic drinking straw lodged in its nostril? No joke, I ordered my stainless straws the day I saw it. Here’s the video, if you want to see. You may never be the same again. *Warning: contains strong language and graphic images. 

Stainless/glass water bottles – bottling your drinks at home is cheaper than buying bottled water, etc. No plastic is even better than recycled plastic.

Reusable bags – we use these whenever we can; however, when we do get plastic bags from the store, we reuse them at home (and recycle the torn ones). That said, our goal is to reduce (and hopefully eliminate) our use of plastic bags in the future.

No-throw lunch items – when packing lunches, we use washable containers (plastic or glass), stainless steel bottles (rather than juice boxes, etc.), and forks/spoons from home–no need for the use-and-toss stuff. Beeswax-coated fabric is a great alternative to plastic wrap, too (from what I’ve heard–I still need to try it), and a cloth napkin can be brought home and washed. Also, we use insulated lunch bags, which usually last a couple of years (and we save brown paper bags for school field trips).

Image via pixabay/falco

Food:

Back to nature – in terms of food, closer to nature is generally better for our health and the environment. This is especially true with locally grown food–there are more nutrients in fresher foods; plus, when food travels a shorter distance to get to you, that equals less pollution. You can trying growing your favorite herbs, vegetables, fruits, berries right in your own back yard (or in containers on a patio or balcony). Good soil, clean water, and sunlight are pretty much all it takes.

Foods as medicine – healthy foods, even right down to common yard weeds, have traditionally served both as preventative healthcare and as medicinal treatment. I say, Eat your weeds! (Too far? Sorry if you’re not with me on that one yet.)

Image via pixabay/terimakasih0

Personal care:

Safety razors with replaceable blades – these are on my wish list, because I haven’t made my way through my plastic razors yet…

Simple oils as moisturizers – I just apply a simple oil to damp skin and it keeps my largest organ happy and healthy. For my body, I’ve been using grapeseed oil, which is light, absorbs easily, and contains a lot of skin-loving Vitamin E. It’s also inexpensive and easy to find, plus it’s not loaded with chemicals or preservatives. Likewise, for our faces, my husband uses rosehip seed oil and I use argan oil, which I adore… (More on that in this post.)

DIY self-care products (from the same basic ingredients) – I make soaps, body butters, balms (including lip balms), homemade deodorant, and much more, using a fairly small group of ingredients (things like coconut and olive oil, beeswax and essential oils)…I’ll share the list once I compile one (a task which I’m now adding to my to-do list…) *By the way, as I mentioned in another post, milk of magnesia also makes for a great, safe deodorant…one without chemicals or additives.

DIY makeup – although I still buy foundation and mascara, I make the rest of my makeup myself. As I’ve shown in my YouTube video, I use colloidal oatmeal tinted with cocoa for face powder, activated charcoal for eyeliner, and arrowroot powder, mica, and cocoa powder for eye shadow. Yes, that’s right. Food on my face.

Cloth diapers – I absolutely love my babies (as big as they are now), but I changed my millionth diaper long ago and grandkids are still a long way off, so you’re on your own with this one…

Feminine products – menstrual cups and washable cloth sanitary pads are becoming increasingly popular; they’re two options for women which not only benefit the environment, but also protect us from the harmful chemicals that can be found in many mainstream products. These items can also help save money (after initial purchasing costs).

Image via pixabay/terimakasih0

Cleaning:

*Vinegar may not be safe to use on some surfaces, including granite and marble, so please do your research and use with caution.

White vinegar = use in dishwasher as a drying agent, and in clothes washer in place of fabric softener

Vinegar (diluted) = windows, tile floors, etc.

Vinegar (diluted) + baking soda = scrub tubs and sinks, helps clean out drains (*Also: hydrogen peroxide + baking soda = stain-removing scrub, safe for some surfaces)

Vinegar (diluted) + essential oils (peppermint, tea tree, lavender, and lemon are some of my cleaning favorites–they kill germs while freshening the house) = cleaning spray for counters, cabinets, etc.

Vinegar (diluted) + essential oils + liquid castile soap = great when you need a little soapy-ish boost (although castile soap doesn’t really lather, so don’t expect bubbles)

Image via pixabay/Alexas_Fotos

Pets:

Pet towels – we’ve designated old bath towels for use on the pets, for bath time or muddy feet. They also double as great picker-uppers if the pups get sloppy with their water bowls or if one of the humans spills a drink.

Dawn dish soap – this works well if you have a flea problem–wash, rinse, repeat (and then probably repeat again in a day or two)

Security system + smoke detector + fire alarm + crumb cleaner-upper + stress reducer + cheerer-upper + seat saver + foot warmer + all-around snuggly cuddler = pets (*Note: cats reserve the right to leave all–or most–crumb cleaning-upping to the dogs)

Images via pixabay/teadrinker

Last, but never least: Reduce, reuse, recycle always and in all the ways you can. (At least that’s something to strive for.) Those three Rs will reduce landfill fill, while saving money. Win, win. No question.

This is what I call a “living list.” It will evolve as my knowledge and experience do. All in all, though, I think the best rule of thumb for saving the green (if that’s your goal) is to make the transition how and when you’re able. Rather than seizing everything you own and dumping it all into a landfill somewhere, make good use of the items you have and recycle or reuse them as you’re able. When the things around you need to be replaced, that’s the time to go for the green–doing some research can help you find the eco-friendly items which will best suit your needs.

It might take some time to adjust to a greener life, but I’ve found it addictive in the best way. I can’t help hoping it’s contagious.

Jun 05

Homemade Happenings…with Aroma Foundry Essential Oils

I recently received an invitation to sample some essential oils from Aroma Foundry, so of course I immediately broke into my mad scientist laugh and began plotting world domination planning what I would do with them. *Here* (<- click) is an accurate portrayal of my reaction. No lie. 😉 (Anyone who loves essential oils will completely understand.)

CC BY-SA 3.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=638306

I cackled and paced my way into some semblance of self-control, and then I whittled down my intentions to a few favorites (which, by the way, I’ve listed below.) Before sharing them, though, I wanted to mention some of the things that are particularly exciting about Aroma Foundry’s Essential Oils. They are:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*100% pure–undiluted, with no synthetic additives

*Sourced in individual locations–in the US or wherever the native habitats are (each source location is shared on the website and individual bottles)

*Hand-bottled in the US (Sunny Cali)

*Guaranteed to be of consistent quality

*Produced in small, artisanally crafted batches

*Reasonably and competitively priced

*Good looking! From the bottles, to the labels, to the individual boxes

*They’d make great gifts (*wink wink, nudge nudge*)

Now, get ready…’cause we’re cookin’ with oils! 

Bergamot

Image via pixabay/JPSSantos
*Warning: cold-pressed Bergamot is phototoxic, which means it can produce a bad burn if left on your skin and exposed to the ultraviolet portion of sunlight. For safety’s sake, I’ve opted to use it in a soap recipe.

Citrusy and Simple Bergamot Soap: (formulated using the lye calculator from soapcalc.net)

8.36 ounces distilled water

3.24 ounces lye (NaOH)

10 ounces coconut oil

8 ounces grapeseed oil

4 ounces olive oil

0.5 ounce Aroma Foundry Bergamot Essential Oil

optional–approx. 1 tsp clay (e.g. rose, kaolin, bentonite, etc.)

optional–mica (as desired, for color)

Directions: add the lye to the water (NOT the water to the lye)–*Important: lye/water solution will heat up quickly and give off fumes, plus it can burn skin (so, do this step in a well-ventilated area, wearing protective eyewear, gloves, etc., and allow the solution to cool quite a bit before using–I find it easiest to work at somewhere between room temperature and 100 degrees F). (Note: lye reacts to aluminum, so don’t use any while soaping.)  Melt the oils together over a double boiler, add clay (if using; clay can also be added later, with the essential oils). Once the lye/water solution has cooled, mix into the oils, using an immersion (stick) blender. Add essential oil. Color with mica (if using). Pour into a soap-safe mold and allow at least 24 hours for soap to set and 4-6 weeks before use.

Eucalyptus

Image via Unsplash/Annie Spratt
Mentholy-Mix Balm: (*adapted from humblebee & me’s “Cool & Clear Eucalyptus Balm”)

.4 ounces beeswax

1.28 ounces olive oil (*mine was infused with broad leaf plantains–I have a how-to video on infusing oils, here)

15 drops Aroma Foundry’s Eucalyptus Essential Oil

5 drops Aroma Foundry’s Lavender Essential Oil

5 drops Aroma Foundry’s Peppermint Essential Oil

5 drops Aroma Foundry’s Rosemary Essential Oil

Directions: melt beeswax into olive oil over a double boiler. Add essential oils, stir. Pour into a container. (*I’ll use one of my Infinity Jars, so it will keep as long as possible.) Allow to cool before using.

Lavender

Image via Unsplash/Callum Cockburn
Lavender Lotion Bars (*adapted from The Nerdy Farm Wife’s Calendula Lotion Bars)

3 ounces beeswax

3 ounces shea butter (or other butter of your choice)

3 ounces sunflower oil (an infused oil is even better–I used a wild violet infused oil. Watch my YouTube video on infusing oils, here).

10-20 drops Aroma Foundry’s Lavender Essential Oil

Directions: melt beeswax, butter, and oil together over a double boiler. Mix in essential oil and pour into small molds. Allow to cool before use. Refrigerating will extend the life of your bars.

Ylang Ylang

Image via pixabay/mayapujiati

Ylang Ylang Body Butter (*adapted from Wellness Mama’s Natural Whipped Body Butter)

6 ounces shea butter

6 ounces cocoa butter

6 ounces coconut oil

6 ounces sweet almond oil (or other skin-friendly, light oil)

10-20 drops Aroma Foundry’s Ylang Ylang Essential Oil

Directions: melt oils and butters over a double boiler. After heating, stir in essential oil. Chill until oils begin to harden, then whip until light and fluffy. Store in containers and refrigerate to prolong the life of the body butter. *Remember when applying: a little goes a long way; best when used on damp skin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope you have fun with these recipes if you get a chance to try them! Can’t wait to get to work! Mwuhahahahaha…