3 Herb Mamas

New Project Underway!

Natural Homemakers' Almanac Writing Project

Hi, Everyone!

For the past three months I have been working on a writing project that I naively thought would take me a year to complete a rough draft for and perhaps another year to edit. Ha! Now I am not setting dates for anything but simply focusing on keeping myself writing daily while continuing to learn and live what I am writing about. I am calling this process the NATURAL HOMEMAKERS’ ALMANAC Writing Project. It only took me those few months to recognize that I was in over my head and definitely was trying to “keep too many plates spinning.” I had to step back and reassess.

On excellent advice, I am choosing to streamline the places from which I share the writing process, articles on everything from natural approaches to allergy season to the ecological impact of tea bags to making your own home care and cleaning products and much, much more. At least for the next year I will be posting articles, in rough draft form, on this Facebook wall: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Natural-Homemakers-Almanac-Writing-Project/401441936691126?ref=hl With fewer sites to manage, I hope to be able to respond and make use of the comments and questions that appear in that one place as I continue to write. I welcome your (gentle, please) suggestions and feedback as I undertake this sometimes overwhelming, mostly exciting project. I also hope to be able to post several articles per week as I plow through my hundreds of sticky note self-assignments. I may periodically post an update here but the latest information will always be on the Facebook wall.

See you on the NATURAL HOMEMAKERS’ ALMANAC Writing Project wall! ~Leenie

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Seasonal Living: RED RASPBERRY

Red Raspberry
(Rubus idaeus, R. spp.)

raspberries_1586035c

It may seem like an odd time of the year to be writing about Raspberries but since this is my very favorite fruit of the wonderful fruits of the Earth I find some reason to think about, use, and appreciate Red Raspberry in every season. If you grow Raspberry canes in your garden, and I certainly hope you do, then February is the time to begin fertilizing for the year. I am a little behind schedule this year because we keep having snow and ice cover on the ground. It may actually be the first week of March before I can begin side-dressing my canes but I am hoping for a window of opportunity this weekend. Here is a recipe from an old Amish “receipt book” for Fruit Cane Fertilizer:

1 gallon well-sifted wood ash
1 gallon white lime
1 handful sulphur powder
1 handful epsom salts
Mix well and put one large handful around each plant February, March, April, and again in fall.
Make sure to sift out any chunks of wood from your ashes or they will lock up nitrogen as they break down and prevent your plants from benefiting from the nutrient.

Another reason I am thinking of Red Raspberries right now is because this is the time of year when I take stock of what is in the freezer and pantry. I like to make plans to use up anything that has been overlooked and it helps me make plans for the coming gardening season by letting me know what I need to plant more of and what we had in excess. I was delighted to find that we still had about 20 quarts of Red Raspberries in our freezer. Probably half of that will be made into Raspberry Jam to use, along with other flavors, as favors at our oldest daughter’s upcoming wedding this summer. I also made Raspberry Vinegar by simply filling a half gallon canning jar halfway full with frozen berries, then filling it to the top with raw Apple Cider Vinegar. Labeled and capped, this will be ready in plenty of time for making Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing for our spring salads. I can hardly wait!

Red Raspberry Vinegar

I also made Red Raspberry Butter by combing 1/2 cup Raspberry puree with 1 cup softened butter and a generous tablespoon of local Honey. I whipped this well using a stick blender and stored it in the refrigerator to serve to top pancakes, waffles, toast, biscuits, or scone. Heavenly!

Raspberry Butter

I will also simply add thawed Raspberries to my morning homemade yogurt for a nutritious and delicious breakfast. Raspberries are rich in flavonoids, namely quercetin (along with others). Flavonoids are plant pigments with a plant metabolic function that benefits us, when we consume them, by signaling cell pathways and antioxidant activity. Quercetin is one of a group of flavonoids that reduces allergic responses and boosts immunity. Other good food sources of quercetin include red wine, onions, green tea, apples, buckwheat,and most berries. Other good herb sources include St. John’s Wort, Ginkgo, and Elder.

Raspberries and Yogurt Raspberry Yogurt

Several years ago I began eating 1 cup of berries, usually Red Raspberries or Blueberries, every day. A recent eye exam revealed that my vision had improved slightly and that the partially detached retina had healed and re-attached, although this only very rarely happens according to my eye doctor. This is only anecdotal information and hardly conclusive, but I think I will continue eating my daily cup of berries just the same. Red Raspberry is a “medicine” that does not need “a spoonful of sugar” to go down. Yummm…

Red Raspberry (or any of the other bramble species such as Black Raspberry, Wineberry, or Blackberry) leaves make a delicious tea that has an astringent toning effect on female reproductive organs and has a long tradition of use during late pregnancy and after giving birth. It is also effective for treating diarrhea and dysentery. Raspberry leaves are a rich source of minerals, especially calcium, iron, phosphorous, and potassium, as well as vitamins B, C, and E. I include this important herb in my own Herban Iron & Minerals syrup as well as in herbal vinegars that I use to boost nutrition in my salad dressings and marinades.

~Leenie

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Wednesday’s Weeds: WINTERGREEN

Wintergreen
(Gaultheria procumbens)

Wintergreen

Tiny Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) shrub is easy to overlook in the winter landscape.

Probably one of the tiniest shrubs, we generally think of Wintergreen as an evergreen ground cover. Although you can find this sweetly fragrant plant year round, I associate it with the coldest months of the year and winter woodland walks. I have delighted in leading each of our four children to discovering its tasty wonders at a time when the Earth seems to be sleeping and our taste buds have become dulled by stews and starchy meals.

If you have tasted Teaberry gum then you are familiar with the flavor of Wintergreen. Both the leaves and berries are edible and have this delicious flavor. Each plant produces two to five 1-2 inch long leaves that are thick, shiny, oval, and very slightly toothed. It spreads by underground runners so you will often find them in little lines or clusters of individual miniature shrubs. It’s fun to think of them as towering fairy trees if you like to engage in childlike imaginings. In July and August in our area tiny white, bell-shaped Wintergreen flowers can be found dangling beneath the leaves. Later the red berries often persist until the next flowering season. Wintergreen prefers acidic soils so I generally look for them around Pine trees in our woods and I am almost always rewarded. It likes to grow in the same places that wild Blueberries or Huckleberries like to grow.

Wintergreen 2

Nice little village of Wintergreen lining up.

Wintergreen can be eaten (leaves and berries) as is, which is my favorite way, or brewed into a sweet and delicious tea. Since it contains methyl salicylate, a compound similar in structure to the active ingredient in aspirin it would be contraindicated for those with aspirin allergies. I have found Wintergreen tea to be a wonderful headache tea for my own children along with some Chamomile flowers. I would like to point out that Wintergreen essential oil comes with many warnings about toxicity. This highlights the fact that the form in which an herb is used matters. Steam-distilled essential oils are highly concentrated products and should not be used interchangeably with fresh or dried herbs. I have read that a single drop of essential oil is equivalent to 28 cups of brewed tea from that same plant, which explains why what seems like a “small” dose like 1/4 tsp. can really be a huge one. Additionally, essential oils are structurally different from whole plants. Both are useful, each in its own appropriate application. Research, positively identify, and educate yourself before ingesting anything.

When gathering take only one or two leaves from each plant so they can continue to photosynthesize and flourish. Be conscious of the population of the Wintergreen tribe, taking from only 1 in every 5 or more plants. Sustainable and respectful wild-crafting practices will assure there is plenty of Wintergreen for generations to come. Sometimes, especially in winter, leaves become tinged a reddish color. Both red and green leaves are equally tasty.

Given the common name Teaberry, this plant was obviously used historically for tea. Author Ellen Zachos, in her book BACKYARD FORAGING: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat, says she also likes to use it to flavor ice creams and liquors. She has several recipes but I think I may try this one: Fill a small jar with leaves, cover with good quality rum and allow to macerate for several weeks to produce a delicious winter aperitif.

According to Peterson Field Guide to Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants by Steven Foster and James A. Duke, Wintergreen tea is traditionally used to treat colds, headaches, stomach aches, and fevers. Externally it is used as a wash for rheumatism, sore muscles, and lumbago. It is analgesic(pain relieving), carminative (flatulence relieving), anti-inflammatory (reduces inflammation), and antiseptic (prevents the growth of disease-causing microorganisms).

Now that is a cup of tea worth brewing and a leaf worth chewing!

Wintergreen 3

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Wednesday’s Weeds: PINE

Pine (Pinus spp.)

Pine

Weed walks and wild herbal foods and medicines are not just activities for the warm months. There are wonderful plants and botanical virtues to be discovered on cold and frosty mornings, too. An easily recognized tree in many areas is the Pine. What is not so readily recognized are its many nutritional benefits and uses.

White Pine (Pinus strobus) is very common in Appalachia where I live. This cone-bearing evergreen has clusters of long, slender needles along the twigs and branches and each bundle contains 5 needles. Pine trees produce both male and female flowers. The latter matures into the familiar dry, woody cones and bears seeds. According to Thomas J. Elpel in his wonderful Botany in a Day, “the female cones briefly become elongated, exposing the ovules to the pollen in the wind. The shape of the cones causes air currents to swirl around them to help catch the pollen. After pollination the scales grow rapidly and again cover the ovules, allowing them to mature into seeds.” Isn’t Nature enchanting?

Pine Cone

Tender new (light green) shoots can be stripped of needles, peeled, and boiled in Maple syrup or even a simple sugar syrup to be candied. Save those needles and chop them up to brew into a tea that is rich in vitamins A & C. All parts of the Pine are edible including the seeds if you can manage to collect them before they are fully dry and dispersed. I am going to experiment with this next fall.

Young Pine Bark Pine Bark Older

Just as with human skin, Pine bark shows considerable variation as it ages from smooth and youthful to ridged and aged.

Right now is an excellent time to study the bark of Pine trees, noticing the variations as it ages from young sapling to towering elder. In fact, studying other nearby trees using a good winter time key is a great way to hone identification skills.

My goats love Pine in the winter when there is so little fresh and green for them to eat. I am steeping Pine needles in both extra virgin Olive oil and in apple cider vinegar to compare the results. The inner bark can be dried and ground into a flour although it will have a pine-y flavor. Pine resin has a long history of use for treating sore throats and I can remember my Grandmother using it. As you would expect with a resin, it coats and soothes. However, I have read that it can be stressful to kidneys in excess. This resin has also traditionally been used as a drawing poultice for boils and abscesses.

White Pine Needle Bundles  Pine Needles

An identifying characteristic of White Pine (Pinus strobus) is that needles are arranged in bundles of five.

According to several of my field guides Pine enriches and improves poor and degraded soils. I think about that when I walk through the Pine-y woods with such thin soil on our rocky mountain top. And I smile gratefully at the variety of young and old Pines gracing the little patch of Earth we call home.

I love the total sensory approach that herbalist Matthew Wood takes to getting know plants. Here, from his book, The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicines, he explores the sound facet of Pine:

Not many plants have distinctive sounds. However, the sound of wind blowing through the tall White Pine has a peculiar relaxing effect, which this plant carries into its medicinal action. Pine is soothing and strengthening to the nerves, at the same time it is an expectorant and antiseptic (it brings up viscid, green, sap-like mucus), and a powerful drawing agent (think of the power it takes to draw that sap up the tall trunk).

A phenolic extract from pine bark (PEPB) from the species Pinus massoniana has been studied and found to be a stronger antioxidant than either vitamins E or C (90.38% for PEPB compared to 88.61% for vitamin E and 85.68% for vitamin C). In vitro studies have also shown that PEPB inhibits the growth of human breast cancer cells.* Stephen Harrod Buhner in HERBAL ANTIVIRALS: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections, suggests it is also effective for addressing herpes simplex virus 1 and 2, as well.

Pine tips with cone forming

Pine needle tips with cone forming.

During these closing days of winter, before the blizzard of spring sprouting greens and freshly scented blossoms vie for our attentions, remember to take some time to walk in woods that are dominated by Pine and other evergreens, breathing in the fresh, clean aroma.

In Mother Nature’s Herbal, author Judy Griffin, PhD says that the affirmation of encouragement that Pine offers is the following, which seems perfectly suited to the season:
I bury the past and look forward to the future.

*Yu, Limei, et. al., Antioxidant, immunomodulatory and anti-breast cancer activities of phenolic extract from pine (Pinus massoniana Lamb) bark (abstract).

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SEASONAL LIVING: Wheat

Wheat Berries

Organic Wheat Berries (Triticum spp., probably Triticum Aesativum)

Winter is a good time to focus on hearty whole grains, root crops, and dark leafy greens along with some high-quality proteins for the bulk of the diet. These are nutrient dense, warming foods that are sustaining. Over the course of the next few weeks I will take a close look at a variety of grains including Oats and Rice. This week, let’s take a closer look at Wheat.

Wheat is getting a lot of bad press these days. I notice that there is so much media hype that equates wheat with gluten in a blanket way, similar to the way Atkins type diets a decade ago equated fruits and many vegetables with simple carbohydrates. Although gluten-intolerance may be a very legitimate condition, I expect that when the dust settles over this it will prove to be yet another dietary fad. That people following a standard American diet (a.k.a. SAD) consume far too much gluten in the form of processed, denatured white flours is undeniable. However, I am not yet convinced that this means all gluten needs to be eradicated from all diets. This smacks of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Those with colitis, celiac, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohne’s disease, and such certainly know the triggers for their condition beyond a shadow of a doubt and I am not suggesting that they do not need to follow non-standard diets any more than I would suggest a diabetic does not need to take care with what they consume. This blog post will be looking at organic whole grain Wheat as part of a well-balanced and varied diet appropriate for the general population.

Before I explore the benefits and delights of Wheat, another important consideration that may have contributed to its negative impression for many is serving size and quantity. Although male teens and active men have  9-11 servings suggested by the USDA food pyramid, women and children under 6 years old should consume only 6 servings per day. A serving size is ONE slice of bread or 1/2 cup of cooked grains, pasta, or rice. Measure your spaghetti the next time you make this dish. Hopefully you will not discover, as I did,  that you are eating about 4 servings. Add a couple of slices of French bread. Having rice or a sandwich at lunch time as well as toast or a bagel for breakfast? I could easily be eating twice the daily recommended allowance for grains. I believe this is very common in our busy, over-scheduled modern lives. Sandwiches, wraps, and pasta dishes are readily available, quick and satisfying to eat. But consuming in excess consistently is bound to lead to problems. So, if you do not have any dietary restrictions for health reasons, a first consideration might be trying to eat fewer grains while making certain they are high quality, organic, and whole.

Although theoretically “whole” grain products and recipes are available readily today at fast-food drive-thru windows, big box and grocery stores these bear little resemblance to what our earthier ancestors consumed. We sometimes forget that even whole wheat flour is a processed food. Once grains of Wheat are ground into flour, often “enriched” with synthetic vitamins and other preservatives and conditioners as in bromated flours, they begin to oxidize and decrease in nutritional value. If not properly stored the natural oils can become rancid. Traditionally, truly whole grains were soaked and/or fermented often for days before being cooked or prepared as breads, porridges, or simply cooked. Traditional European bakers not only used fermented starters for their doughs before the rise of modern commercial rapid-rise yeasts, but they would also allow for a long, cool rise often lasting several days. Faster does not always equal better.

Why is this soaking/fermenting of grains important? In simple terms, all grains are coated in the outer bran layer with an organic acid in which phosphorus is bound called phytic acid. In its natural state phytic acid combines with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and most importantly, zinc in the intestinal tract and blocks the absorption of these important minerals. In fact, a diet high in unfermented whole grains can actually lead to mineral deficiencies and bone loss. Soaking whole grains allows enzymes, lactobacilli, and other helpful organisms to neutralize phytic acid. Even soaking grains overnight in warm water before cooking reduces and neutralizes phytic acid and other enzyme inhibitors dramatically and improves their nutritional benefits. It actually encourages the production of beneficial enzymes that aid digestion and increases the amounts of many vitamins, especially B vitamins.

Wheat protein, including gluten, are difficult to digest and a diet high in unfermented whole grains stresses and slows the whole digestive process. However, during the process of soaking and fermenting, gluten along with other proteins are partially broken down, making them more readily available for absorption. Grains can be sorted into categories according to whether they contain gluten or not (or possibly only a trace). Oats, Rye, Barley, and Wheat all contain gluten and therefore should always be soaked/fermented. Whole Buckwheat, Rice and Millet do not contain gluten. However, they still benefit us more nutritionally by being cooked slowly in a mineral-rich broth.

Soaking Wheat Berries

Soaking whole Wheat berries in water overnight improves digestibility and nutrition. This is the first step in our family’s favorite Sprouted Wheat Berry Cakes.

In what I consider to be the beauty and wisdom of Nature, all seeds are coated with enzyme inhibitors that protect the seed during the time when it needs to remain dormant because growing conditions are not optimum. This is an important, essential even, feature of all seeds. However, they are out of place in the human body. Modern agricultural practices further speed harvest and storage so that natural exposure to moisture and sun cannot begin the work of partial germination and healthy enzyme activation that traditional hand harvesting and aging before threshing allowed. Lacking the four stomachs of the ruminants who feed almost exclusively on grain grasses, we need to be certain that we do not skip steps that provide a means of removing or disabling these enzyme inhibitors before we consume the grains. Soaking and sprouting (germinating) is an easy way to accomplish this while boosting nutrition. Sprouting seeds produce a whole range of substances, vitamins, and enzymes that are either completely absent or only present in tiny amounts in the unsprouted seed.

Sprouting Wheat “berries” (actually just the seed or grain of Wheat, also known as kernels) is very simple. I soak 3 cups of Wheat berries overnight in a stone crockery bowl along with 3 cups of cool water, covered with a large dinner plate. In the morning I drain these in a large colander, rinse with cool water, and allow them to drain well. You can use any sieve or arrangement you like based on the tools you have at hand. I spread the grains out to an even thickness, set it over a bowl to drain completely, and cover the colander filled with soaked Wheat kernels with a tea towel to block out light. I rinse these in the same manner 2-3 times per day for the next 2-3 days. When the Wheat berries have little 1/4 inch “tails” or sprouts they are ready to be ground into dough for baking. I rinse them one last time before grinding.

Sprouted Wheat

Sprouted Wheat Berries ready for grinding.

I used my electric food processor with the chopping blade to grind my sprouted Wheat into a fairly uniform dough. Sometimes I use a hand-cranked grain mill for this step. Both do the job well although the food processor is quicker. You can add nothing at all to this or sprinkle in a bit of your favorite sea or earth salt. Note that you can certainly sprout other grains or beans and grind them along with the Wheat to create a variety of nutritious breads, popularly known as Essene Bread. I “knead” my dough slightly for a few minutes using a spatula and my hands but it is really pretty much ready for baking once it has been ground and shaped.

Sprouted Wheat Ground Dough

Sprouted Wheat dough ready to be shaped into loaves or “cakes” and baked. No rising needed. 

I place my sprouted Wheat dough into stoneware bowls that I have prepared by oiling them and then dusting them with cornmeal. These are set down in a roasting pan with about a half inch of hot water added to the pan. I will put a lid on the roasting pan (my homemade version of a baking cloche) before placing it in the oven and it will slowly steam the loaves in a low to moderate oven. Traditionally these cakes may have been slowly “baked”/dried in the sun on hot stones but I have found the oven steamed method to give excellent results. I place the covered roasting pan with the stoneware bowls of dough into an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Then I reduce the temperature to 325 degrees for 2 hours and 15 minutes. Some people use an even cooler oven and a longer baking time. I am happy with the results and quality of these settings but feel free to experiment. Once baked, I remove the roasting pan from the oven and lift the stoneware bowls of Sprouted Wheat Berry Cakes onto a cooling rack and allow them to cool down for 20 minutes or more before removing them. I like to run a knife blade around the edges of the bowls and then lift sliced wedges of them out with a pie spatula to serve.

Essene loaves ready for baking

Two medium sized Sprouted Wheat “Cakes” in stoneware bowls that have been oiled and dusted with cornmeal.

Baked Essene Cakes

Warm Sprouted Wheat Berry Cakes fresh from the oven

Wheat Berry Cake 1 Wheat Berry Cakes 2

Slices of fresh Wheat Berry bread, or “cakes”, are naturally sweet, light and delicious with or without the addition of butter, jam or syrup.

Essene bread meal

A nutritious, hearty winter meal: Cuban Black Beans over heritage Golden Rice with steamed Carrots and Broccoli and Sprouted Wheat Berry Bread.

 Happy “Goes-Within” Season! ~Leenie

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HERBAL HOME-KEEPING: Natural Cleaning Recipes

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Resolution nay-sayers and general pessimists aside, I can’t resist that wonderful feeling this day brings. Like having a new, blank notebook and a favorite pen and a limitless imagination. Or as Anne of Green Gables would say, “a brand new day with no mistakes in it yet.”

Because I am much more likely to do the type of deep cleaning that many call spring cleaning at this time of year than in the spring when the gardens are beckoning and the greenhouse keeps me busy, my thoughts naturally turn to a fresh start in this area. If any of your resolutions involve greener living and frugality then this blog post is for you! Making your own cleaning supplies will save you a significant chunk o’ change and reduce your trash as well. They will also be non-toxic, healthy for you and your family as well as the planet.

My original impetus to make my own cleaning products was mostly motivated by a desire to cut down on all the excessive packaging and refuse. It seemed ironic that cleaning would involved generating so much trash. Although I have not completely eliminated all of that I am at least not throwing away several big heavy-duty plastic jugs every week or two. Most of the supplies needed come in simple cardboard boxes that are easy to break down and recycle for a variety of purposes, glass bottles or sometimes metal cans.

Natural Cleaning Supplies Natural Cleaning Products

Some of the basic supplies and tools and some of the finished cleaning products I use daily.

Once you begin making your own natural home care and cleaning products those long aisles in the grocery, drug, and big box stores will inspire awe and wonder by their sheer volume and seemingly endless variation. However, the variety is mainly centered on labels, packaging, scents, and colors of the contents rather than the main ingredients. What gets the job done hasn’t really changed much since our great-grandparents scrubbed with the likes of homemade soap and water, polished with something coarse and abrasive, be it sand or baking soda or Great Scouring Rush (Horsetail), and disinfected with vinegar or ammonia. After many years of simplifying my own cleaning arsenal with homemade versions I have decided that the bulk of the considerable cost of cleaning products lies in the advertising with which we are assaulted  in every media outlet by which we are surrounded. Sometimes I feel like that creates yet another kind of excessive psychological garbage that is best avoided.

So, on to the basics in herbal home-keeping for me. That is, what I use and why.

Citrus Cleaner

Making All-Purpose Citrus Cleanser starts with a healthy breakfast.

*All-Purpose Citrus Cleanser: This is my go-to cleaner for almost every purpose. I rather like when I notice my glass jars, which I have been using and re-using for years to store this cleaner, getting low. It means a healthy breakfast that never fails to jump-start my commitment to starting the day with excellent nutrition. This is such a simple cleaner that you may find it hard to believe that it will be effective…until you use it. I simply peel 3 or 4 (or more) citrus fruits. I like a combination of grapefruit, orange, and lemon best but you can get creative to find your favorites. I simply peel these citrus fruits, placing all of the peels or ‘skins’ in a half gallon or gallon canning jar, depending upon how many peels I have. Use whatever containers you have. Cover this with plain white vinegar up to the rim, cap and allow it to sit for at least a few days. I’ve let mine sit for up to 2 weeks before decanting. LABEL & DATE EVERYTHING! That is this herbalist’s mantra, as my family knows only too well. It is tragic to have to throw out something that is probably perfectly useful and wonderful because you can’t remember whether it was cough syrup or shampoo for the dog. [The voice of experience wailing here.] Now just place all those lovely fruits freshly peeled in bowls, add some other delights like sliced bananas, berries, or whatever you like and call everyone to a refreshing breakfast. If you’re preparing/eating for one this simply means you get to nosh on these citrus jewels throughout the day from a refrigerated container. Yumm! Back to your cleaner. Once it has steeped for at least a few days you can strain out the citrus rinds and compost them. I fill labeled glass jars with my All-Purpose Citrus Cleanser as well as a spritzer bottle. I use this on almost all surfaces from counter tops to sinks and tubs and windows. The scent is fresh and uplifting. If you want it to smell even stronger you can add a few drops of citrus essential oils as you prefer. For windows and mirrors I spritz the surface with cleaner and wipe to a shine with wadded up newspaper. It works better than any commercial product I have ever tried. A quick clean up for sinks and tubs is to spritz All-Purpose Citrus Cleanser all over the surface and then sprinkle lightly with a little baking soda and then scrub a bit and rinse. It will fizz some, which is fun. By the way, a recycled shaker top container like Parmesan cheese comes in serves this purpose handily.

How effective is vinegar as a cleaning agent? Basically as effective as chlorine bleach for most cleaning and disinfecting jobs according to Rodale Press, a reliable vanguard for health news. According to a September 28, 2009 Rodale News report:

“When it comes to your immediate health and the health of the planet, vinegar, a natural disinfectant, is probably strong enough to handle most germy tasks, and when it doesn’t work, resort to hot soapy water. Use bleach as a last resort, use it sparingly (follow the 1:4 ratio), and make sure the room is well ventilated so you don’t hurt your lungs. Also, never use bleach in combination with another cleaner, even vinegar, as toxic fumes can result. This is particularly dangerous considering that premade cleaning products aren’t required by law to disclose their ingredients, and you may unknowingly use an ammonia-based cleaner before or after swabbing down a surface with chlorine bleach (mixing chlorine and ammonia results in a toxic chlorine gas).”

You can read the full article here http://www.rodalenews.com/natural-disinfectant

*Earth Scrub, a natural alternative to scouring powders and soft scrubbing products. This is fun to make with kids because, like many homemade products, it can be a science lesson that is fun to learn. What kid doesn’t love to make concoctions and watch reactions? We all have a little mad scientist in us. To make about a pint of cleaner place 1-2/3 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup liquid Castile soap (Dr. Bronner’s is one brand.), and 2 Tbsp. distilled water in a mixing bowl. Stir slowly to combine. You can add several drops of any essential oil that you like at this point. Next add 2 Tbsp. white distilled vinegar. I generally substitute my homemade All-Purpose Citrus Cleanser here and leave out the essential oils since I have the natural ones from my citrus peels. Stir well, place in a jar, cap, and label. It is ready to use. I just scoop a little out onto a sponge sufficient for the job, be it scouring a pan or a sink or a tub, and apply the proverbial elbow grease. Sometimes for tough jobs I will spritz the surface with All-Purpose Citrus Cleanser first and allow that to loosen dirt or soap scum a bit before scouring with Earth Scrub. This recipe comes to me from my sister herbalist, Andrea Koutras Lay of Hidden Hollow Farm.

*Natural Wood Balm Being married to a woodworker and living in a hand-built home in the mountains means that I am surrounded by mostly wood. From walls to cabinetry to kitchen utensils, there is A LOT of wood in our home. And I love it! I am not always consistent or conscientious about their care but I try and trying harder is definitely on my New Year’s Resolution List. Having the supplies and tools at hand enhances the likelihood of success significantly. None of the wood in our home is sealed with polyurethane or varnish so the natural grain of the wood is still open to absorb water, air, and whatever else is in the environment. Keeping it from drying out requires nourishing the wood with natural oils. The botanist in me likes the connection to the living trees from which these beloved items and structures came. Extending their useful life as tools for comfort and ease in our own lives is simply good stewardship. Maintaining cutting boards and other treenware, which in case you’ve not heard the term before is the name for carved wooden utensils like ladles, spoons, rolling pins, etc., can be as simple as washing with a mild soap and water, rinsing, drying well, and then rubbing them down with a bit of natural oil. Walnut oil is probably the finest oil and least likely to go rancid. However, it is rather pricey. Olive oil makes an affordable substitute. It does not necessarily have to be Extra Virgin Olive Oil for this purpose. Lower-priced pure Olive oil would be fine. Natural, unfinished hard woods have many antimicrobial properties of their own. However, I also like to make my own Wood Balm because it is less messy to apply and quick and easy to make. I simply place about a cup and a half of oil (Walnut or Olive) in the top of a double boiler along with 1/3-1/2 cup of grated Beeswax from a local apiary. Once these are melted the balm is ready. You can enhance the antimicrobial qualities by adding a few drops of appropriate essential oils. [See below.] Pour the finished balm into containers, labeled of course, and allow it to firm up. You can make this any consistency you like from a gel to a firmer waxy salve. Apply to clean wooden surfaces using a soft cotton or wool rag.

*Natural Air Fresheners Clean is probably the freshest scent I know and nothing more need be added. Commercial air fresheners with their sickly intensity and highly questionable ingredients are not even on the table for discussion to me. In the warmer months a clean house, if a bit cluttered with books and our various hobby supplies, with the windows thrown open for fresh air is all I need in the way of “air-fresheners” but in the winter months in our mountain home, the air is decidedly bracing and not conducive to this method. This is my favorite winter air-freshener recipe. Combine and place in a labeled spritzer bottle:

3/4 Cup distilled water

1/4 cup vodka

30 drops Orange essential oil

12 drops Rosemary essential oil

8 drops Clove essential oil

8 drops Peppermint essential oil

It is ready to use but you will notice that the scent changes after about 24 hours of blending. I cannot remember for sure but the original recipe for this, and probably I have tweaked it over time, came from Mountain Rose Herbs. They carry a fine line of pure essential oils as well as herbs and other herb-related products.

 https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/catalog/aromatherapy/essential-oils

A special word is in order regarding essential oils. They most certainly warrant at least one blog post, and probably many, all their own but I will try to rein myself in today and keep it simple. You may have noticed the book Jeanne Rose’s Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations in the photo above of my basic cleaning supplies and tools. I use this reference extensively and daily. Not only is it a joy to read cover to cover but the charts and tables are something I turn to again and again. This book, and others by Jeanne Rose, along with correspondence courses are available here:

http://www.jeannerose.net/

I use essential oils in my homemade cleaning products for two main reasons. One is that they can affect the mood of the person using them. I really think this is the main reason for scent in commercial cleaning products. If scrubbing your tub or tending to the needs of your cutting board proves to be an uplifting, energizing experience then you are much more likely to enjoy it and repeat it often. I really like both the bright, refreshing citrus scents as well as warm woody ones like Rosemary and Cedar, and these are prominent in my home care products.

The other reason to use essential oils in homemade cleaning products is that they all inhibit the growth of organisms [read: bacteria and germs] and some are particularly effective at this such as Eucalyptus, Lavender, Rosemary, and Tea Tree essential oils. A word of caution is in order because essential oils are very concentrated and potent. I have read that a single drop of essential oil taken internally is the equivalent of drinking 28 cups of infused tea of that same plant. That is a lot of potential energy to unleash in one tiny drop. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of thoroughly educating yourself before applying or ingesting any essential oil. They are wonderful natural resources and it takes many, many pounds of plant material to even make one tiny 1/3 oz. bottle of essential oil. For both safety and environmental reasons learn when and how to use herbs and when and how it is appropriate to use essential oils.

May 2015 be bright and merry with blessings for you and yours! ~Leenie

Essential Oils

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THE ECOLOGICAL, SOCIAL & ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY OF SUPPORTING LOCAL HERBALISM

Rose Hips

Vitamin C-rich Rose Hips from Rosa canina in my yard

Rose Hip Syrup

Wonderfully delicious Rose Hip syrup gathered from my garden and prepared for winter colds & flu prevention. Yumm!

Herbalists are as varied as the flowers of the field so I do not pretend to speak for all. However, I am feeling so grateful, at this time of the year especially, for the support I find in my local community. This blog post has been brewing for awhile. Every person who has contacted me, ignoring my quirky lack of advertising and promotion, and accepting my simple, homemade packaging, in order to purchase soaps, salves, syrups, or other herbal preparations for their holiday gifting has been counted as a blessing. I really feel encouraged and supported. Thank you!

Supporting a local herbalist whether through purchase of herbal products, attending classes offered, or spreading the word to others who might be interested offers three major benefits and all are rooted in sustainability. They are ecological, social, and economic sustainability. They build communities as well as relationships between individuals as well as health on many levels.

Wineberry Centerpiece

A summer harvest of wild Wineberries provides a favorite fresh treat with more than enough for jam making. The Sunflowers attract pollinators, feed us with beauty, and the birds with seeds.

When we find a local herbalist to support we also support ecological sustainability. An herbalist who grows, wildcrafts (gathering where no man, or woman, has sown), preserves, and prepares her/his own herbs for a variety of purposes will automatically have an eye to conserving the resources because repeated harvests year in and year out, season after season is essential. Because local herbalists are mainly concerned with providing their local communities’ needs, as opposed to building a large, broad customer base, they will be keeping an eye on the status of wild species, planning their gardens for appropriate harvests to meet local needs, and making sure to keep production clean and green since they live where they work and will reap the benefits (or consequences) of anything used to amend or nourish the soils in which they grow.

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Gathering St. John’s Wort (an important herb traditionally used for addressing depression and healing wounds as well as achy muscles) for making oil & tincture on or around the Summer Solstice is an annual habit I look forward to all year. Some years the plants are abundant and productive with a high hypericin content. Other years they are scanty and less vital. I can adjust harvests accordingly and plan for alternative herbs to use if necessary.

Supporting local herbalists is socially sustainable because this is someone with whom you continue to interact well past the time of an initial purchase. Herbalists are generally dedicated to ongoing education and you can count on being able to get answers and information along with any herbal preparation whether it is as simple as a bar of natural soap or tea blend for clearing congestion. They know the herbs they use intimately, having often tended them all the way from seed to product. They know why they have included every single ingredient, its purpose, actions, and attributes. And they are usually more than happy to share that. If something is not effective or there is a problem you have someone to come back to for other options. A local herbalist is invested in you being not only satisfied with a given herbal preparation but in your optimum health and vitality because you are part of the same community that she/he lives in.

motherwort_closeup

Motherwort in flower; a local “weed” that can be wildcrafted for heart health and cyclical balance for women.

Lastly, there is economic sustainability as a byproduct of supporting a local herbalist. More money stays in your community. We live in a rural area where grocery shopping is at least 30 minutes away from many of us and the closest larger city is an hour away. A local herbalist is likely close by and/or will meet you halfway or even deliver to your door if you are somewhere along the route of her/his travels locally. Often packaging can be simple because your herbs and herbal preparations are not being shipped long distances. This encourages using recycled and recyclable materials that are at hand. I generally use canning jars and lids for most of my preparations because they are readily available and save money and natural resources over mail ordering specialty containers, professionally printed labels, and other packaging. Every dollar spent with your local herbalist can be viewed as an investment in a stronger, cleaner community.

Oats at Milky Stage

Oats in the “milky stage” which only lasts about 3 days. Gathered at this time and preserved they provide optimum nourishment for a healthy nervous system.

Think Globally. Act Locally is still a good slogan and perfectly suited to herbs. Consider this blog post my thank you note and virtual hug along with wishes for a blessed and healthy holiday season! ~Leenie

comfrey

Comfrey in all her beautiful glory in my garden!

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THE EDUCATION OF AN HERBALIST (Part I)

Echinacea sprout

Getting an herbal education, or perhaps any type of education for that matter, implies that there is a starting point and an ending point. It suggests that a time will come when one will graduate, so to speak, and will have become a master of the subject. I’ve been studying herbs in one form or another for well over three decades now and I can still honestly say that I would classify myself as a rank beginner. The difference between me now and that green 20 year-old is that I find it exciting, rather than overwhelming, to consider all that lies ahead for me to learn, explore, and discover about the fascinating universe of Plants.

I’ve wanted to write about my own journey and process of “getting an herbal education” for the past year but I have had great difficulty finding the right words to convey all that these years have encompassed. It is still a huge challenge for me but I have decided that it has steeped long enough in my brain and, for better or for worse, it is time to pour out the infusion and give you the opportunity to “drink up” (or at least give it a cursory sniff). There are, naturally, as many ways to learn about the world of plants/herbs as there are individuals. My path has been just right for me but I am hardly saying it is the only way.

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is, “How did you get started? I am interested in herbs but I have no idea where to begin!” That is a great question. Each person starts from a different place, background, life experience. Learning about herbs, at least initially, is best approached within the framework of a person’s daily life and what matters most to them. If you love cooking, then learning to tend a small culinary herb garden, harvest, and preserve would be an excellent place to start. If you have a chronic health issue, diving into intensive research about natural and botanical options for supporting optimum health might prove useful. (One caveat: Beware googling and internet surfing! There is A LOT of information out there available at the click of a mouse but quantity does not in any way equate with quality.) Maybe you are a crafter or textile artisan; growing fiber plants and plants that can be used as natural dyes, gourds, everlasting flowers for drying, or some other botanical crafter’s garden would be an intriguing place to start. There are many, many places to start but to be sure that it is a passion that will last, you should begin with your own driving interest. Or, perhaps like me, explore the discontent with some area of your life. It may motivate you to find out what herbs have to offer. It’s a little crooked and off-the-beaten-path, like most good stories, but I will share my own beginnings in herbalism by way of description, rather the prescription.

Dandy

Maybe my herbal education began with the simple question, “What is wrong?” I was 19 years old, if I remember correctly, or maybe I was 20. I had just come out of the hospital after a very costly 3-day stay for yet another urinary tract infection (UTI) that had escalated quickly and had me doubled over in extreme pain. My mother told me that I had my first UTI at the age of 10 months, and recurrent ones throughout my young life, worsening as I entered puberty. I had come to know tetracycline (and other antibiotics) intimately… and to know that they did not confer lasting health for me. There was a family history of kidney disease on my mother’s side. In fact, two women in the family would die from complications of kidney disease in the coming years, although I did not know that then. During my hospital stay I had had nothing to eat or drink and basically simply spent the 3 days in bed with a glucose drip. Perhaps there were antibiotics in that IV as well. I’m not sure. At any rate, I checked out of the hospital with a determination that it would be my last UTI. Ever!

I made a bee-line for a little health food store in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia and headed back to the book shelves. They had both a research area and books for sale. After perusing the titles, skimming indexes, and trusting my intuition (Finally!) I gathered up a small stack of books and sat down on the wooden bench nearby to read as I breathed in the wonderful scents emanating from the glass jars of bulk herbs that surrounded me. I can still smell that delicious place in my memory. After a little while I’d decided which books I would buy (HERBS & THINGS:Jeanne Rose’s Herbal by Jeanne Rose and HYGIEIA: A Woman’s Herbal by Jeannine Parvati Baker) and which herbs (Dandelion, Red Raspberry, Comfrey, and Spearmint). I didn’t know it then but my life was about to take a turn for the better and I would one day be blessed to learn from both of these amazing women. Those books still have pride of place both on my, admittedly crowded, herbal book shelf as well as in my heart.

I’ve had four children and plenty of adventures in the 33 years since I found those books but I have never had another UTI. I not only found empowering information and herbal allies but I also found my passion in life. I couldn’t seem to read enough about herbs. I squeezed an old metal bookshelf from a flea market into my tiny city apartment kitchen and started filling it with jars of dried herbs, which I began to use daily for teas as well as cooking. It would be many years before I learned to prepare syrups, tinctures, vinegars, or encapsulated herbs but I certainly brewed and consumed hundreds of pots of tea. It is still a favorite daily ritual all these years later.

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I think I consulted those two books for some purpose every single day over the ensuing 5 or 6 years and they are still in use today. That was the main way I learned back then: reading and brewing pots of tea, drinking them and noticing how I felt and how they affected my health. When I married the love of my life at 24 I had a whole new reason to dig deeper into the rich, earthy world of botanical blessings as we learned more about cyclical fertility and natural family planning.

When we conceived our first child I became a correspondence (although she called it a correspon-DANCE) student of Jeannine Parvati Baker’s Hygieia College, an unconventional school taught in the “Mautic” (or way of a woman) tradition. It was a very unique approach, a mystery school as she called it. All work was turned in and responded to but not returned. Upon completion I also returned all the course materials so there is no tangible residue from the process. However, it was a transformative experience and all that I learned is still being lived out in my daily life. It certainly impacted our choice to home birth and home educate our children. It affected how and where we wanted to live and raise our family. And I was still brewing daily pots of tea.

Autumn Country Road

Over the years that magically spiraled out into decades before I knew it, I had embraced the opportunities that came along to take classes and workshops with a number of well-known herbalists, sometimes just for a day or a weekend, sometimes as long as a week at a time. Rosemary Gladstar, Doug Elliot, Phyllis D. Light, Mimi Hernandez, Paul Strauss, David Hoffman, Matthew Wood, 7Song, Deb Soule, and I’ve probably forgotten others. Additionally, I’ve benefited from the written teachings of many other herbalists who have walked this earth before me and am so thankful for the books they took the time to write. I know how hard it is for an herbalist to come in from that beautiful green world and apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair long enough to get a book (or books!) written. I am so grateful for the work of each and every one of you in the world.

Jeanne and other teachers

 Left to Right: Leah Maggie Garfield, Rosemary Gladstar, Nan Koehler Soloman, Jeanne Rose, and Jeannine Parvati Baker

I’ve saved talking about my most significant and enduring herbal teacher for last. Remember that first book I mentioned purchasing on what I now think of as a fate-filled day in the health food store? HERBS & THINGS? I would eventually begin my studies with Jeanne Rose via her correspondence courses. And that, as poet Robert Frost would say, has made all the difference. Jeanne Rose has graduate studies in Marine Biology and her thoroughness and attention to details is reflected not only in her teaching methods and assignments but in all that she does professionally, and I suspect privately as well. Many call her the Grande Dame of Herbalism and I consider her the foremost expert on Aromatherapy. Choosing to study with Jeanne Rose has meant raising the bar in my own life, demanding that same thoroughness and organization that she displays in her 25+ published books. Like me, she loves the natural world, but is never lax about research, record-keeping, and academic discipline. And she expects the same from her students.

In this day and age no herbalist can expect to retain every fact, every Latin binomial, every contraindication. We are, after all, living in the Information Age. Jeanne Rose is masterful at organizing information into a plethora of tables and charts that, once I learned to use them, helped me to be less vulnerable to the whims of my brain’s information retrieval system. If you are young you may not fully appreciate the value of this yet, but I assure you that one day you will. My textbooks for the Herbal Studies and Aromatherapy courses range from herbals to anatomy and physiology tomes, poetry to botanical keys. I might be reading historical works hundreds of years old or one hot off the press but I can assure you I will not be consulting the almighty Google search in its hit-or-miss fashion for reliable information.

One habit I have developed from studying with Jeanne Rose is keeping a daily Herbal Experiments Diary. Some of my experiments might be as simple as tasting a leaf and noticing the effects. Some might be as elaborate as stratifying herb seeds for months, planting, tending and waiting 3 years to harvest and prepare. Although it was a challenge for me at first, this one habit has probably been the most important overall in my process of becoming an herbalist. It is not so much an assignment, as an approach to life-long learning. It nurtures my sense of curiosity and trains me to be observant and to write down my results so the experience has enduring benefit. These experiments revealed to me that even the everyday things that I do can be educational, that learning is not something that only happens in a classroom or by using textbooks. I like to think of my recording of these experiences as a sort of Botanical Playbook. Even adding a dash of Cayenne to a store-bought jar of pasta sauce and noting that everyone in the family thought the spaghetti sauce was especially good is an application of the scientific method. Hypothesis: A dash of Cayenne might boost the flavor of our hum-drum sauce. Experiment: Add a pinch of Cayenne to said sauce. Results: Although I didn’t mention the experiment to the test subjects 5 out 6 participants said the sauce was extra special. (I liked it, too!)

Studying

Herbal Experiments Diaries

I am heading into the season when my academic studies are most intense. During the winter months I love to dive deeply into botany, anatomy and physiology, biology, and chemistry as it all relates to herbalism. Jeanne Rose’s Aromatherapy & Herbal Studies Course is intensive, taking 2-3 years to complete, and is organized into three sections, a Seasonal Herbal (12 chapters), a Medicinal Herbal (12 chapters), and Reference Herbal (12 chapters). In addition to my Herbal Experiments Diary, I must keep an herbarium (either real or photographic). I actually have a photographic one already but carrying it to so many weed walks and herb talks for years has taken its toll. I’ve also decided I would like to have an actual herbarium with real plant specimens so I’ve pulled out the old plant press and have begun filling it. There are case studies to prepare and document as well, and I have access to my teacher via telephone 4 days per week during her student hours when I can ask questions.

For me, this course of study along with the ongoing education provided from both gardening and wildcrafting (gathering where no man, or woman, has sown) herbs for food and healing is a perfect fit. I also attend hands-on botanical identification and herbal preparation classes as time and opportunity allow. I like to visit farms, especially ones practicing organic and sustainable methods, botanical gardens, and the homes and gardens of my herbalist friends. There is no area of my life that is separate from my love of plants now.

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This morning before it was barely daylight I had packaged up Elderberry syrup that I had prepared and allowed to cool overnight so that my husband could deliver it when he went to work this morning, brewed two pots of tea, made vanilla bean yogurt, gathered Rose hips and prepared a vitamin C-rich syrup, did several loads of laundry using my own homemade, natural soap, fed my Nubian goats their grain with chopped Apples, Carrots, Kelp, and Garlic/Ginger paste and a splash of Fire Cider (Yes, they are definitely herban goats!), and gathered up the recycling for drop off today (For me, keeping the Earth clean and green is part of herbalism). These things have become as natural as breathing and gradually and subtly over more than 3 decades I realize that I have become an herbalist.

Aromatherapy Certificate

Recently I completed the Aromatherapy Course — Home & Family through Jeanne Rose and I can tell you that the certificate of completion means more to me than a diploma from Harvard could. I will frame and hang it up in my study area as a reminder of the joy as well as challenge of these studies. I look forward to the day when others will be hung alongside it. I feel extremely fortunate to be walking this Earth at a time when I can study directly with such a knowledgeable teacher and benefit from her 40+ years of teaching experience.

Jeanne Rose

My teacher, Jeanne Rose. Simply the best!

http://www.jeannerose.net/courses.html

http://www.jeannerose.net/books.html

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Herbal Medicine Making: ECHINACEA HARVEST

Echinacea

Echinacea purpurea

As the nights turn chilly and the mornings frosty, I know that it is time to turn my thoughts to harvesting medicinal roots before the ground freezes solid. Chief among my autumn digs is Echinacea, a flower much beloved by the winged pollinators during the summer. Although I often make whole plant tincture by steeping each plant part in turn, starting with leaves in spring, flowers in summer, and roots in fall, I have found the roots to be the most active. Since I have also found fresh root tincture of Echinacea to be much more active than dried (Huge understatement!) I always use freshly dug and scrubbed roots.

Native Americans used Echinacea for a variety of health needs but its use today is nearly synonymous with immune system support. Unlike pharmaceutical antibiotics, Echinacea stimulates and strengthens our immune system to better defend against viruses and infections. Our family likes to use it both preventively as well as during active infections.

Echinacea root harvest

Quite a harvest of Echinacea ready for trimming off the small feeder roots and stems, scrubbing, and chopping.

Echinacea roots

Echinacea roots after an initial washing. They still need more feeder roots removed and a more thorough scrubbing.

Range of Echinacea root sizes

Top to bottom these are all harvestable Echinacea roots. The top one is an average sized root, the middle and above-average, and the bottom is what I generally refer to as a “Grandmother” which is conglomerate of third-, second-, and first-year roots along with some tiny buds that would have grown into new plants next year. These roots are often near and growing under large rocks and the alkaloids are very active and potent.

Small Echinacea root

An average sized Echinacea root with feeder roots removed and scrubbed up.

Sliced Echinacea root

Sliced Echinacea root. I consider tasting each Echinacea harvest to be an essential step. I learn so much about how the growth season affects the vigor and vitality of that year’s crop, the differences between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year roots, the most active parts of the plant. Chewing a slice of fresh Echinacea root is an experience not to be missed. The polysaccharides lend a subtle sweetness and the alkaloids leave my tongue and lips “buzzing”. 

Older hollow Echinacea root

In the third or fourth year Echinacea roots will become hollowed out in the center. Although the remaining root parts are still somewhat active the “daughters” and “granddaughters” that come after and around these hollow roots are often more potent. Clumps of mature roots often remind me of little villages and I like to read the “stories” of their history through the arrangement of the root crowns and sprouts.

Fresh Echinacea Tincture 2014

Fresh Echinacea root tincture 2014. I won’t go into all the details about water to alcohol ratios for optimum extraction of both water-soluble and alcohol-soluble components but if you are interested I would highly recommend Richo Cech’s (of Horizon Herbs) book MAKING PLANT MEDICINE. This is a very large batch of Echinacea tincture because I was cleaning out an old garden bed of all its plants in preparation for starting a fragrant Rose bed next spring. I will also need to start more Echinacea from seed this winter and begin a new bed, which means it will be three years before the next harvest. Good thing tinctures are fine for 10 years or longer.

One of my quirks in life is that I have a need to understand the true cost and value of things I use in every day life, as opposed to simply the current market rate for them. Growing Echinacea from seed to harvest, with all of the attendant care-taking and work involved, is part of the wholeness of its healing magic for me. This plant is easy to grow, a blessing to watch (especially when the butterflies are feeding on it), and an essential component of my herbal medicine chest. Maybe $10 for a tiny tincture bottle seems high in the glare of florescent-lit pharmacies, but waiting 3 years to harvest leaves me feeling like that is an amazing bargain…although it won’t hold a candle to what comes from my own garden at any price.

Echinacea tincture with inulin

A previous year’s Echinacea tincture with inulin settled to the bottom. When I strain the plant material out I try to include as much of this inulin as possible. Research indicates that naturally occurring inulin increases absorption of minerals like calcium and magnesium, benefits the immune system by enhancing the growth and activity of beneficial gut flora and inhibiting the growth of certain pathogenic bacteria, decreases cholesterol and triglycerides, improves kidney function (rehydration and re-mineralization), blood sugar regulation, and more. You won’t find the inulin in commercially available tinctures but you can grow it easily in your garden and make your own. I always shake up my tincture bottle before using in order to redistribute this water-soluble component. 

Dig deep for healing! ~Leenie

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Seasonal Living: Facing Colds & Flu Season

Pantry Blessings

Be Prepared! is a good motto for herbal homemakers as well as  boy scouts.

My Feeling-Under-the-Weather First Aid Kit

Along with being Autumn, and Back-to-School, it is also the season for colds and flu “bugs” to start making their appearance. I like to be pro-active so my herbal medicine chest is well-stocked by now. I know that an ounce of prevention is absolutely worth at least a pound of cure so I do all I can to make sure we are eating nutritious whole foods in wide variety, staying well-hydrated with plenty of pure water, herbal teas, and warming soups and broths. Since we heat our home with wood stoves I like to make sure the air stays moist with humidifiers (water pots on the wood stoves) to which I add a variety of essential oils particularly supportive of the respiratory system, like Eucalyptus, Lemon, and especially Rosemary.

For the times when I do feel something coming on…like right now…I turn to these tried and true natural allies:

*Pots of Herbal Teas. Yes, as pictured, I often use a canning jar for my “teapot”. That clear glass jar catches my eye and reminds me I still have more tea and I find that I remember to drink more throughout the day. Today I am drinking a blend of Nettles, Red Clover, Comfrey, Horsetail, and Dandelion leaf but I custom blend for current needs on a daily basis. A quart a day is fairly normal for me but I will double or triple this if I feel a cold coming on. Brewing in a thermos is a good way to not only keep your tea warm but also carry it along if you have to be away from home.

*YEGG(-ish) capsules I make using freshly dried and powdered roots of Yellowdock (Rumex crispis), Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia see my note), Ginger (Zingiber officinale), and Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) based on a formula of the same name that I learned from my herb teacher, Jeanne Rose. I actually like to take Echinacea in the form of a fresh root tincture so I leave that out of the capsules now and take it alongside the dried herbs.

Encapsulating herbs Tinctures & Fire Cider

I like to have a variety of encapsulated freshly powdered herbs like YEGG, tinctured herbs like Echinacea, and vinegars like Fire Cider on hand at all times.

*Neti Pot. I use a neti pot to keep sinus passages clear and healthy. Once a day is fine but if I feel a cold coming on or am stuffed up I have used it as often as hourly to keep breathing easily.

*Hydrogen peroxide. My ears are often the first place I can feel a virus trying to gain a food hold. They may feel dry and itchy. I place a few drops of peroxide in each ear, doing one at a time, and allow it to bubble and foam, then tilt my head back up to let it drain out, and repeat on the other side.

*Garlic (Allium sativum)…and lots of it in whatever form. Our favorites are probably delicious Garlic Soup with a slice or two of toasted bread slathered with freshly whipped Garlic butter. Roasted Garlic, raw, or any way I can ingest it, I eat as much Garlic as possible for its immune strengthening, anti-microbial talents.

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Mugs of delicious Garlic Soup are warming and healing.

*Quercetin & Fresh Nettles Tincture. These two in combination are an invaluable resource for promoting clear nasal passages. They probably need a whole blog post to themselves so I will write that on the calendar for a Spring Allergy Tactics article. For now, I’ll include the Reader’s Digest version and say that Quercetin is a flavonoid extracted from fruits and vegetables and often combined with Bromelain (a Pineapple stem extract enzyme) to enhance absorption and effectiveness. It is available encapsulated at health food, vitamin, and some grocery or drug stores. Although research indicates uses as an antioxidant and in lowering cholesterol, the main purpose I have for using it is its antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties. Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) is a traditional respiratory health and hay-fever remedy. In my experience, it must be used fresh or tinctured using fresh plant material for maximum effectiveness.

*Hot Ginger Baths (and tea). If I have chills or just can’t seem to stay warm, I chop up a nice sized fresh Ginger root and simmer it in at least a quart of water for 20 minutes or more. Then I strain and add the “tea” to a hot bath. I like to pour some of the Ginger tea into a mug along with some raw honey and a squeeze of lemon to sip while relaxing in the tub as well. Very warming! Keep the room warm and dry off quickly, dressing in warm pajamas and a robe. I like to cuddle up in bed under warm quilts and get a good night’s rest to assure a healthier tomorrow.

*”Flu Shots” as some call them. I like to use Fire Cider, which is a blend of Horseradish, Onion, Garlic, Ginger roots, and Cayenne in an apple cider vinegar base and sweetened with just a touch of local, raw Honey. As a prevention, I take a tablespoon in a couple of ounces of water once a day during fall and winter, but if I feel a “bug” coming on I take that much hourly until symptoms begin to subside. For those who don’t care for the kick-in-the-pants variety of hot shot remedies that Fire Cider provides, there is always the sweetly warming tonic, Elderberry Syrup. It can be taken in exactly the same ways and amounts as Fire Cider.

Elderberry Syrup

Happy, healthy Autumn to All! ~Leenie

Edited and updated 12/30/2014  This information is shared descriptively as opposed to prescriptively. Always research thoroughly anything you plan to ingest and consider its potential benefits vs. possible risks in light of your own unique health condition.

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