Category: Living Sustainably

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. 馃檪

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聽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.聽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.聽

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聽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)聽+ 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聽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聽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.

Apr 25

Parenting with More…of Less

Generation after generation, parents have set out to give their kids more than they had. So why do I feel the constant desire to give my kids less?

On the surface, it might sound like a simple case of bad parenting, and I definitely have had (and will have) my share of parenting fails. I think I’ll be able to chalk this one up to a win, though, and I’m sure others feel similarly.

By Charles Ellis Johnson – Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections, Public Domain,
httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=54968740

To clarify how this lessthing works, think: less busy-ness, less unnecessary technology, less consumerism, less time indoors, less stress…. (I could add “fewer possessions, fewer distractions,” etc., but then I’d have to mess with my “less” theme, so….)

In having less,聽kids also get more: more free time, more outdoor activities, more bonding with family and friends, more healthful living, more imagination and creativity, more appreciation for life’s basic pleasures, more peace….

Childhood, for me, had some definite highlights. Generally, the simple things were what I treasured most and still remember best: exploring woods and fields and farms with friends, climbing trees, riding bikes, writing, drawing, painting, spending quality time with family and pets.

By State Library of Queensland, Australia [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

I can’t help feeling we were onto something in those long-ago days of my youth, you know, back in the 1900s. I like to think of it as hands-on living.

This, then, is what I want for my kids: I want more…of less. I want them to be plugged into their lives, rather than plugged into electronics and disconnected from real living.

How do I hope to achieve this? (On a wing and a prayer?) The general idea is to stick with a聽back to basics theme.聽In terms of specifics, well, I’m still working on those. For now, I’m focusing on the following hopes and goals, some of which are already in the works:

(To simplify,I’ve grouped the details into broad categories.)

Image via Unsplash/Redd Angelo

The Minimal the Better(<–click for more on minimalism)

Minimalism can involve decluttering life on multiple levels–from physical items to activities/habits that use up time and energy.

*Clear out unnecessary belongings–donate!

*Buy less (e.g. instead of owning massive amounts of clothing, focus on fewer, more versatile items; for people who have young children, point out to them that one or two stuffed animals are easier to love and tote around than a dozen)

*Encourage (aka聽demand) less screen time–this was so much easier when my kids were little!

*Choose activities more carefully–weed out unnecessary distractions and use free time better (e.g. instead of an expensive indoor activity, go for a walk together at a state/national park. Add a dog, a camera, and/or a picnic lunch and it qualifies as a bona fide event, without too much fuss)

By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Self-sufficient? Naturally

Self-sufficiency can happen as an individual or on a larger scale.

*Individual self-sufficiency–encourage kids to do more for themselves. It may take longer in the beginning, but it will help them gain confidence and skills along the way and, eventually, might free up some time for the adults. (I did say “might.”)

(*Sidenote: I remember standing inside a store years ago, waiting for one of my sons to tie his shoe. I used it as a momentary reprieve–a chance to catch my breath before he was up and active again–but a woman beside me apparently found the whole experience exasperating. “I don’t know how you can do that,” she said to me, as he tried and tried again. “I’d just have to jump in and do it for him.” I smiled at her, still happy with my choice. If I took over for him this time and the next (and the next) how would he ever learn? By the way, I’ve definitely聽lacked patience as a parent–and as a human, in general–but sometimes I think I got it right.)

*Self-sufficiency on a bigger scale–in desiring to live more independently as a family, it will be important to work in harmony with the natural world. We hope to:

*Grow more of our own food–veggies, herbs, fruits, berries (*Another aside: we’ve already planted two fruit trees in honor of lost loved ones–a Grandma Hon Tree and a Grandy Tree. I think they’d approve, especially when their trees are in bloom.)

*Make more food from scratch–the closer you stay to nature, the better =聽great rule of thumb, when it comes to food

*Use natural remedies and preventative treatments to help improve our health–including herbs and common lawn weeds (<click to see that post)

*Make our own soaps and other personal products from natural ingredients (such as I’ve demonstrated on my little YouTube channel–* here*)

*Continue with our chicken keeping (love those girls!)

By Kheel Center – Flickr Adults and three young children make artificial flowers around a table at
home.,聽CC BY 2.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=20256953

Put ’em to work

*Show kids the value of hard work–not only general yard work, housework, pet care, but also projects–currently, the boys are helping my husband put up a fenced area behind the house for the dogs (YouTube video on that soon to come)

*Add to our DIY lifestyle–this helps ease the strain on our budget, while showing the kids we’re capable of a lot, if we are willing to learn. For example, I started cutting everyone’s hair years ago (bit of a rough start, but I think I’ve got the hang of it. They might beg to differ.) Also, my “To be painted” list has quite a few rooms on it, so I’d like to start teaching the kids how to help me

*Have them brainstorm with us on future projects or current problems–this shows the kids they’re really part of the team, plus they聽have some great things to contribute

*Encourage creative pursuits (paints, paper, pens, cardboard, wood, hammer, nails, etc.–simple tools can spark all kinds of endeavors)

*Help them help others–from raising money for a child-driven charity, Our Children Making Change, to assisting the runners at Philadelphia’s annual Broad Street Run, to fostering puppies from the rescue where I volunteer (Greenmore Farm Animal Rescue), the kids have experienced how good it feels to offer someone a helping hand

Public Domain, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=268522

Become aModel

In addition to working with our kids on the activities I’ve mentioned above, parents can think about our own behavior as modeling. Some examples:

*If we want our kids to value long-term achievements over short-term pleasures, we can let them see how we work toward goals and, when met with challenges, how we adapt and persevere

*If we want our kids to be aware of society’s focus on consumerism, materialism, and other “surface” living, we can talk with them about things like need vs. want and how consumer-driven lifestyles can be damaging to us and the environment

*If we’d like kids to understand the value of learning, we can put down our smart phones or tablets and pick up a book, build/repair something, or start another kind of project

(*hint: our kids won’t be the only ones who benefit when we choose well)

 

Turns out I’ve listed a lot for a post on “less.” Granted, I may have overcomplicated things, but a list like this should only serve as a reference, anyhow. I find that when we set our sights on choosing a “back to basics” life, things begin to fall into place naturally.

I know I’m not the only one who feels less really can be more, so I’d love to hear how others聽are giving their聽kids (or themselves)聽more from less. Do you agree that a simpler life can help nurture healthier bodies, as well as happier hearts and minds?

Apr 18

A Wealth of Weeds

Have you heard the one about the weird lady who walks around her yard, staring at the ground? Hey, wait a minute. That’s me. As if I didn’t already have my share of quirk, this is my new favorite hobby–except I’m not staring at the ground, I’m staring at lawn weeds. Much more normal, you see.

Why the sudden interest in weeds? Well, first off, it’s not sudden. Happily, a few years ago, a friend mentioned a name to me: Rosemary Gladstar. (Thanks, DMC!) Unhappily, I forgot this all-important name until a few months ago, when I came across a video of Gladstar discussing Elderberry. (I’ve since become addicted to her herbalism teachings and would like to grow up to be her one day.)

If I could pick one of Rosemary Gladstar’s most meaningful lessons regarding common weeds, it would be this. When the colonists left their homelands to come to North America, they only carried their most valuable possessions with them. As Gladstar says, “A聽prize that always went was seeds…. So, the plants that we are out there digging frantically to get out of our gardens were carefully brought over because of their edible and medicinal properties and because they had a tenacity–they would grow. So, some of our most valuable plants are our weedy species.” (Abridged quote taken from Gladstar’s video on History of Herbalism in America.)

If for no other reason, this marks weeds as something to be celebrated. Still not convinced? Here are a wealth of other reasons:聽(I’ll alphabetize the following list of common lawn weeds, because I’m also that kind of weird.)

*Note: Some weeds are poisonous, so you should never consume or use any weed medicinally if you aren’t completely sure of its identification. Also, I’m not an herbalist or medical professional of any kind. I’m offering this information purely to help develop an appreciation for weeds. If you’d like to learn more, I’d suggest checking with an herbalist and, also, discussing any new herbal/weedy habits with your doctor.

Broad leaf plantain (Plantago major)

By H. Zell – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=10887031

Hazards: none known

Medicinal uses: draws toxins from body, liver stimulant, blood purifier. As a poultice, can be used to treat wounds and infections, rashes, bug bites/stings, burns. Can also be used to draw out splinters/slivers. Can help check bleeding, internally or externally. Root is said to be a remedy for rattlesnake bites(!), used in equal portions with White horehound.

Edible uses: seed, root, leaf. Can be eaten raw (in salads, smoothies, etc.), cooked (soups, stews, etc.) or made into a tea. Seed can also be harvested and ground into a meal.

(Edible) health benefits: mucilage, fatty acids, protein, starch, B Vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, allantoin, bitters

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Hazards: leaves contain saponins. These are toxic, but are poorly absorbed by the body and usually don’t cause harm. They are also broken down by cooking. Still, not advisable not to eat large quantities. *Not to be consumed by pregnant or breastfeeding women; also not to be used medicinally by pregnant women.

Medicinal uses: (whole plant) as a poultice, can treat any kind of itching skin condition, cuts or wounds, or eye inflammation. Can be added to a bath (fresh or dried) to help reduce joint and other inflammation and to encourage tissue repair. Taken internally, can aid in chest complaints, circulation, kidney or liver issues, and digestion. Believed to help with water retention and to stimulate metabolism; used in weight control.

Edible uses:聽leaves and young shoots–can be added raw to salads, sandwiches, and/or drinks; also cooked into soups. If cooking, stems and flowers can also be added. Fresh leaves can be steeped in water to聽relieve coughs, hoarseness, etc. Similar in flavor to spinach. *I also have it on good authority–from my girls–that chickens love it (as the name suggests)!

(Edible) health benefits: chlorophyll, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, phosphorus, and potassium, Vitamins C, A, and B Vitamins.

Creeping Charlie/Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)聽

Hazards: none known

Medicinal uses: appetite stimulant, useful in treating inflammation (helps with joint and muscle pain) and respiratory infections, said to be helpful in promoting kidney function; works as an astringent and to help stop bleeding.

Edible uses: member of the mint family, said to have a mild mint flavor; young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. Tea is made from fresh or dried leaves. Also, can be added to beer in place of hops.

(Edible) health benefits: High in Vitamin C and other vitamins, minerals

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Hazards: some people may experience an allergic reaction to the latex in the flowers聽and stems.

Medicinal uses: effective diuretic–while acting as such, replaces potassium instead of depleting this important nutrient. All parts of the plant, but especially the root, can be used to help promote liver health, purify/detoxify the body, help with digestion. Roots can be used fresh or dried, but the dried root will have a聽weaker effect. Leaves are harvested when the plant is in flower and can be dried for later use.聽It has some antibacterial and anti-yeast action.

Edible uses: tea can be made from the leaves, roots, or flowers.聽Leaves and flowers can be used raw or cooked (less bitterness is found in younger leaves or leaves harvested during the winter); roots can also be eaten raw or can be dried to be used in herbal teas or roasted to make dandelion coffee; dandelion wine can be made from the flowers–no greens should be used, to avoid bitterness.

(Edible) health benefits: very nutritious, containing protein, carbohydrates, calcium, phosphorous, iron, sodium, potassium, magnesium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin C.

Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)

Hazards: none known

Medicinal uses: none known

Edible uses: leaves and flower stalks–can be eaten raw or cooked, added to soups or salads like other greens; root–grated and used as flavoring. Said to have a peppery flavor, similar to broccoli rabe, but milder (not overly bitter).

(Edible) health benefits: Vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, beta carotene, antioxidants, glucosinolates–help remove carcinogens from the body, also said to contain lutein

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

Hazards: none known

Medicinal uses: poultice can be used to reduce swelling or for bug bites/stings. Helps with joint aches, used to induce sweating and reduce fever.

Edible uses: Can be eaten raw or cooked; member of mint family, but is said to have a mild, kale-like flavor. Apparently, another favorite of hens!

(Edible) health benefits: high in vitamins, iron, antioxidants, fiber

Indian Mockstrawberry (Duchesnea indica)

By Tubifex – Own work, Public Domain,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7767002

Hazards: none known

Medicinal uses: Used as a purifier and fever reducer and antiseptic; also used to treat stomatitis, laryngitis, tonsillitis. Poultice can be used to treat skin conditions, including eczema, burns, infections, insect bites/stings, swellings.

Edible uses: leaves and berries, very mild taste.

(Edible) health benefits: contains Vitamin C, protein, etc.

Lady’s Thumb (Persicaria maculosa)

By Bouba at French Wikipedia – photo by Bouba, CC BY-SA 3.0,
httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=1652454

Hazards: none known

Medicinal uses: poultices can be used to help stop bleeding and promote healing of wounds, also to treat joint pain. Crushed leaves are said to help treat poison ivy rash. Can help relieve stomach ache.

Edible uses: leaves and young shoots can be eaten raw or cooked

(Edible) health benefits: assorted vitamins and minerals

Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)

Hazards: saponins in the seeds are potentially toxic and should not be consumed in excess. Lamb鈥檚 quarters contain some oxalic acid. Small quantities recommended if consuming raw; cooking removes the acid.

Medicinal uses: poultice can be used to treat bug bites/stings, minor wounds, and minor burns. Also used to treat swelling and inflammation. Can also help with stomach aches and digestive issues.

Edible uses:聽Leaves, shoots, seeds, flowers. Lamb鈥檚 quarter can be eaten raw in salads or added to smoothies and juices. Steamed or added to soups, etc., treated like spinach.

(Edible) health benefits:聽Niacin, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

Oxalis/Yellow Woodsorrell (Oxalis stricta)

By Rasbak – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=203108

Hazards:聽leaves contain oxalic acid, which although fine in small quantities, should not be eaten in large amounts since oxalic acid can bind up the body’s supply of calcium, leading to nutritional deficiency. The quantity of oxalic acid will be reduced if the leaves are cooked. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should avoid adding this plant to their diet.

Medicinal uses: helpful in treatment of fevers, stomach cramps, nausea; poultice can be used to treat swelling

Edible uses: leaves can be eaten聽raw or cooked; flowers and young seedpods can also be eaten raw. Mildly sour, resembling lemons in flavor. Leaves can be used to make a lemony drink or tea.

(Edible) health benefits: high in Vitamin C, also contains other vitamins and minerals

Purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Hazards: none known

Medicinal uses: fresh, bruised leaves can be applied to cuts or wounds to help stop bleeding and promote with healing (astringent and styptic properties). Can also be used to stop internal bleeding; used to induce sweating (diaphoretic), also diuretic and purgative. Can be used as an anti-inflammatory and to reduce allergic reactions. Has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Edible uses: leaves–raw or cooked.聽Leaves can be added to smoothies, etc. Also useful as a tea to help treat chills.聽*Since writing the draft of this post, I have braved a single, purple dead nettle leaf. I plucked it in a safe, non-dog loo area and gave it a try. It tasted all right, actually. Sort of salad-y and fresh, a little furrier than my usual salad ingredients.

(Edible) health benefits: High in antioxidants (especially flavonoids) and Vitamin C

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

By Forest & Kim Starr – httpwww.biolib.czenimageid52483, CC BY 3.0,
httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=11046442

Hazards: a similar-looking plant, named “Hairy-stemmed spurge,” (click to see photo and info) is poisonous. They often grow near one another. The hairy-stemmed spurge has (as the name suggests) hairs on its stems and also leaks a milky white substance when stems are broken. (*Note: a milky substance like this is often nature’s way of warning us that something isn’t safe to consume.)

Medicinal uses: helps treat insect bites or stings, skin ailments such as psoriasis. Immune booster, supports heart health and may help prevent headaches. May also be useful in treating Asthma and Type II Diabetes (helps support the body’s insulin supply).

Edible uses: Leaves, stems and flower buds. Pectin makes it work well as a thickener in soups, etc.

(Edible) health benefits:聽contains more omega-3 fatty acids聽than any other leafy vegetable. Rich in vitamins A, C, E; also, magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron

Red clover (Trifolium pratense)

By Ivar Leidus – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=50430032

Hazards: blood thinning properties; should not be taken by anyone on heart medications or with blood thinning problems; also should not be used for two weeks before or after surgery. *Not recommended for pregnant聽women or聽nursing mothers.

Medicinal uses: used as a blood and lymphatic cleanser; can help treat skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis (whether used externally or taken internally); helpful in treating respiratory infections; helps regulate menopause in women. There is growing evidence that it may be helpful in preventing cancer. Also being studied for anti-diabetic and anti-Aids potential.

Edible uses: flowers and leaves. Flowers are more potent and should be used during their prime (before browning occurs). Can be eaten raw or cooked and in teas.

(Edible) health benefits: calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C.

Slender Speedwell (Veronica officinalis)
Hazards: none known

Medicinal uses: leaves and roots–anti-inflammatory, astringent, mildly diuretic, also used to induce sweating, mildly expectorant. Can be used to relieve some types of allergies. Externally used in treatment of wounds, skin irritations, eczema, and to help heal burns and ulcers. Leaves can be dried for later use. Some believe it can be used to treat gastrointestinal troubles, rheumatic issues, to reduce vertigo, increase memory and treat depression.

Edible uses: a bitter tea can be made from fresh or dried leaves, or used as a tonic

(Edible) health benefits: antioxidants, vitamins, minerals

Wild Violet (Viola sororia)

Public Domain, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=640482

Hazards: none known

Medicinal uses: help stimulate lymphatic glands to purify body of toxins, strengthen immune system, reduce inflammation, and treat respiratory infections; can be used to treat minor injuries; poultice was used by Native Americans to treat headaches

Edible uses: leaves and flowers can be eaten raw or cooked, added to salads, soups, teas; flowers can be made into jellies or candied

(Edible) health benefits: high levels of Vitamins A and C, minerals and other nutrients

 

So, there you go. Not a complete list, by any means, and only a teaser of information about each, but I hope it demonstrates just how worthy weeds can be. As for my lawn, I’ve decided I’ll no longer hang my head in embarrassment when the weeds show up. It’s much more fun to celebrate their arrival.

By the way, in case you’d like to continue learning about wild edibles, here’s a post that another blogger reached out to share with me: 62 Edible Wild Plants….聽Lots of really useful information in there! (Thanks, Colin!)

 

Sources (and recommendations for additional reading):

Medicinal Herbs, by Rosemary Gladstar (Storey Publishing, 2012)

The Green Pharmacy,聽by James A. Duke, Ph.D. (St. Martin’s, 1997)

3.Foragers

Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine

Eat the Planet

Edible Wild Food

Healing Weeds

Natural Medicinal Herbs

Organic Authority

Plants For a Future

United Plant Savers

Apr 09

Infinity Jars (Make Me Infinitely Happy)

Guess what came聽in the mail today! Yes, it was a present from Infinity Jars!Seriously, how did you guess right on your first try?聽Oh, I get it. You, too, like to store things and have already heard of the awesomeness that is Infinity Jars.

The beginnings of my new Infinity Jars collection

I have so many plans for these guys, but I know they can stand up to the pressure. They’re Infinity Jars, am I right? Herbs, spices, lotions, creams, maybe some frankincense and myrrh…. I’m telling you, the possibilities seem limitless–infinite, you might say.

Why am I so excited about these little beauties? Oh, let me count the ways:

*They’re made of gorgeous, violet glass, like the kind ancient Egyptians used thousands of years ago to preserve their treasured herbs and oils (Can I get a wow?!)

*The special pigmentation of the glass blocks all harmful visible light rays, preventing them from breaking down and decaying the natural products we want to preserve

*Meanwhile, the glass allows UV-A and infrared rays to pass through, which actually benefit our products–preserving them and extending their shelf life

*The jars and bottles are guaranteed to preserve freshness for at least six months, but depending upon what is being stored, can preserve some products for much, much longer (think: two years!)

*They’re air tight, whether topped with screw-on lids or the glass-on-glass tops of the gorgeous apothecary bottles (which I’m in love with, by the way–click to take a peek: they’re fantastic!)

*They’ve had laboratory tests conducted to prove how well they preserve natural products (click here to see the seven-month tomato test and two-month chive test!)

*They’re scent proof, which means they keep aromas locked in, right where they should be

*They’re perfect for storing and preserving all kinds of things, like:

*spices

*herbs

*teas

*baking ingredients–flour, sugar, etc.

*essential oils

*DIY products, such as lotions, creams, salves, lip balms聽(I could go on and on)

*cosmetics (including my favorites–the homemade kind)

*perfumes or sprays (I’m thinking…soothing rosewater, mmm)

*and…you guessed it…common lawn weeds! (yup, you read that right…more to come in my next post)

100 ml jar, perfect for storing weedy treasures

*Plus, Infinity Jars are sleek and stylish and deep, deep violet (to me, they look like a really rich black color, although you can catch the violet in the sunlight)

*They offer a variety of different size and style options (from small, lip balm-sized jars and cosmetic applicators with roller balls or droppers, all the way up to two liter apothecary jars. Have I mentioned I’m a fan of those? Oh, and I also love their cooking oil bottles and spray bottles and the covered dish and…)

*The jars arrived in safe, protective packaging, with two unexpected bonuses: soft cleaning cloths for maintaining their gleaming gorgeousness, and a sweet little packet of labels

I was so excited they’d arrived, I took a photo!

No wonder my kids think I’m weird 馃檪

*The customer service was great (Thanks so much for your help, Tania!)

*They arrived quickly (so I didn’t have to wait with bated breath for long)

*They sell discounted variety packs and multi-packs, so you can get more for less (which I took them up on, of course)

*They’ve already had tens of thousands of customers and, before I agreed to try out and review their product, I did my homework. I checked reviews (on Amazon, etc.) and they had such great feedback from highly pleased customers, I felt sure it had to be a quality product. I was right! (Honestly, I wouldn’t share it with you, otherwise.)

When the nice folks at Infinity Jars invited me to sample their wares, I was a little greedy (and they were great about it): I chose a three-pack of 100 ml jars and a 15 ml glass push pump bottle. I picked the jars specifically because I’m planning to harvest and dry some medicinal leaves, and I wanted the natural ingredients to last. Also, I’ve long wanted to make a homemade lotion, but was afraid it might spoil quickly. With my new pump bottle, that no longer worries me.

Just waiting to be filled with a natural, DIY lotion

Seriously, Cleopatra would be envious of my new Infinity Jars. I don’t blame her, because at the top of my wish list are…more Infinity Jars. All those shapes and sizes to mix and match. I can see it now: shelves filled with gorgeous, violet glass jars and bottles, all brimming with natural, well-preserved loveliness! Do you hear a choir singing somewhere, or is that just me?

14th century pharmacist, totally jealous of me and my new Infinity Jars.

Should I tell him where to order? (Hint: click here <–)

L0005335 A pharmacist dispensing syropus acetosus in his shop.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images聽images@wellcome.ac.uk
http://wellcomeimages.org
A pharmacist dispensing syropus acetosus in his shop. School of Giovannino de Grassi, Lombary, late 14th century.
Miniature聽late 14th century Theatrum sanitatis聽Ibn Butlan (‘Elluchasem’)
Published: –聽Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Feb 17

For the Love of Dandelions

I love dandelions. Maybe 鈥渓ove鈥 is a strong word, but I really do like dandelions.聽 I鈥檓 also a fan of what they represent: a chemical-free lawn.

Unfortunately, I live in an area where many lawns are chemically treated and mine tends to stand out鈥specially at the height of dandelion season.聽 I bite my lip, duck my head a little and wait for it to pass.聽 Luckily, it鈥檚 fairly short-lived.

Image via Unsplash/Natalia Luchanko

Let me say, I鈥檓 not *quite* a tree hugger (yet) and I do appreciate the beauty of emerald-green lawns and well-manicured gardens.聽 On the other hand, I鈥檓 even fonder of the health of our planet, not to mention the well-being of my kids and pets.

Therefore, the question I pose is this: are all the acres of green carpet really worth it?

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 鈥淗omeowners use up to ten times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops, and they spend more per acre, on average, to maintain their lawns than farmers spend per agricultural acre.鈥澛 Likewise, a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey found our environment to be riddled with pesticides. Roundup specifically was found in 75 percent of air and rain.

Why are all these chemicals necessary, again?聽 Oh right, the dreaded dandelions.

Then, for those of us with eco-concerns, what are the options for healthy and attractive lawns?聽 Luckily, there are several.

Go native.聽 That can be our new mantra.聽 Native plants and flowers (essentially those which occur naturally in a given area) require less care (hooray!) and are more resistant to local pests, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for pesticides.聽 Of equal importance, native plants meet the specific needs of native animals and native insects, thereby helping to keep nature in balance.聽 Makes sense, doesn鈥檛 it?

So, now that we鈥檙e thinking native, where do we start planting?聽 Well, we can consider devoting a portion of our yards to natural meadow, full of wildflowers and other native plants.聽 Once established, such meadows would be nearly maintenance free (again, hooray!) requiring only single, late-winter mowings.聽 As another option, we could dedicate a section of our yards to evergreen ground cover or a landscape element, such as a collection of trees, a rock garden or water feature.聽 Also, by maximizing the plants per area in garden spaces, we can reduce the need for mulch and weed control.聽 It鈥檚 a win for us and the environment!

Our lawns, too, can be made healthier, with some adjustments.聽 In terms of mowing, making sure the blade is sharp, raising it to one of its highest settings, and avoiding cutting in the heat of the day will protect grass from unnecessary damage and make it more pest and weed resistant.聽 Don鈥檛 scrap those grass clippings, either.聽 They can be spread over lawns to act as natural mulch.聽 Other lawn-friendly practices include fertilizing with composted manure and avoiding over-watering.聽 To earn additional earth kudos, we can try aerating the soil, balancing its pH and seeding it with a mix of the types of grasses best suited to the area.聽 I found a wealth of information regarding soil testing, etc. at Penn State鈥檚 site.

If, however, you are loyally devoted to using sprays and solutions, it鈥檚 best to opt for those with organic or biologically based formulas.聽 Remember, though, that the benefits of these treatments can be short-lived and are likely to increase your lawn鈥檚 problems over time.

Image via Unsplash/Jason Long

The choice is yours.聽 As for me, I鈥檒l be staying chemical free and learning to embrace the inevitable weeds.聽 I may even try out a recipe for dandelion wine and, as long as my neighbors don鈥檛 mind picking their way through my au naturel lawn, they鈥檒l be more than welcome to join me in a glass.聽 We can raise a toast to the environment, together.

*I based much of this article on information provided by the National Wildlife Federation, but there are countless resources out there, for homeowners whose brains are tinted slightly green, like mine.

*This originally appeared in the 4/6/2014 edition of The Chester County Press.