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Healthy living, herbal remedies and DIY natural beauty.

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In honor of world breastfeeding month, I have written a two-part series on my relationship with breastfeeding. Part one talks about my breastfeeding relationship with my kids. For Part Two, I will discuss my relationship with non-breastfeeding mothers. Here I want to honor the bottle-feeding mothers.

"While breastfeeding may not seem the right choice for every parent, it is the best choice for every baby." ~Amy Spangler

I absolutely believe that breastfeeding is the right choice for every baby and even, in contradiction to the quote above, the right choice for every mother. While intended as a reference, I have read Dr. Jack Newman’s The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers from cover to cover and agree with Dr. Newman that with enough patience and support, there is a solution to every breastfeeding challenge.

However, I also understand that in a society where mother’s are given bottles at baby showers, breast pumps have made it to the needs list and formula comes in as many flavors as does ice cream, that breastfeeding isn’t always going to be the final choice for every mother and baby.

Do I feel more awkward seeing a bottle in a baby’s mouth than getting a glimpse of an undisclosed breast? Yes, I do. Do I wish my breastfeeding-challenged mommas could utilize the wisdom of the perfect lactation consultant for hours, days and weeks in the comfort of their own homes? Yes, I do. Do I want to boast a 100 percent breastfeeding statistic for my birth clients? Yes, I do.

ella feeding escher

Do I think a momma who has chosen not to breastfeed just didn’t try hard enough. No, I do not. Do I make her feel less than and guilt her for her choice? No, I do not. Do I decide her love and passion for her child aren’t as full for not breastfeeding? No, I do not.

I have seen mommas caress their blooming bellies as they look forward to meeting their new babies. I have seen mommas sweat, groan and celebrate as they birth their babies. I have seen mommas balance like a tight-rope walker as they try to understand their new role as parents and figure out how to take care of the new life in their hands. I know they want the best for their babies and whether bottle feeding or breastfeeding, are working through sleep deprived days and healing bodies to feed and nurture their children.

While I still believe breast is best, that doesn’t mean bottle is bad and I champion my mothers on both sides of the coin. You spent 9 months of your life growing an entire human being, hours birthing and have committed the rest of your life to raising a respectable citizen of this world.Each day that you awaken in the morning, be that 3 a.m., 5 a.m. and/or 9 a.m., and have enough mental clarity to crawl into the appropriate bed when the sun goes down, is a success.

So take pride that you, momma, in one form or another, fed your baby yesterday are likely feeding your baby right now and will do it again tomorrow.

Photo courtesy of Katelyn Goslin and Amanda Buffington.


The Dangers of Sitting Too Long

Sedentary behaviors are classified as those that involve sitting for extended periods of time with little movement and low energy output. In day-to-day life, many people spend a lot of time sitting. Many office jobs require sitting all day at a desk, and some people spend hours a day in the car while commuting. After a long day, it is not uncommon to sit down to read, watch TV, or chat with friends. Even the hours eating around a dining room table are spent sitting. In fact, one survey estimates that children and adults in the United States spend 55 percent of their waking hours in sedentary activities.[1] While it may not be surprising that sitting down is not the healthiest activity you can do, it may be shocking to hear that the dangers of sitting too long could actually shorten your life expectancy.

Even people who exercise regularly can be affected by sedentary behavior. It is important to realize that being physically active does not necessarily mean that you cannot be at risk for excessive sedentary behavior. In fact, you can be both a physically active person and a sedentary person at the same time. For example, perhaps you spend eight hours a day sitting at a desk for work. Although you may go on a run when you get home after work, the eight hours you spend sitting each day are not cancelled out by the fact that you exercise daily. Anyone who spends prolonged periods of time sitting, regardless of their overall activity level, is at risk for the dangers associated with sedentary lifestyles.[2]

Sedentary lifestyles decrease life expectancy. Many studies have found a positive correlation between sitting and mortality from all causes.[1,2,3] These effects are seen regardless of general activity level of the individuals, and are pronounced in obese individuals. One analysis concluded that the life expectancy of the US population could increase by two years if adults spent less than three hours a day sitting.[2]

Sedentary behaviors, including sitting and television viewing, are associated with increased mortality from cardiovascular disease.[1,3,4] Time spent sitting or watching TV is also associated with increased mortality from cancer, with an increased risk of breast, lung, prostate, colon, and endometrial cancers.[3,5,6,7] Additionally, sitting may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and dementia.[6]

Why Is Sitting so Bad For Us?

As one author puts it, “humans are not programmed to be physically inactive.” Indeed, the sedentary death syndrome is a major risk factor for numerous worldwide diseases and millions of premature deaths each year. [6] It is suggested that physical inactivity may accelerate the aging process.[6] Sedentary behavior can directly influence metabolism, bone mineral content, vascular health, and can increase plasma triglyceride levels and decrease HDL cholesterol.[8]

Strategies to avoid the dangers of sitting too long. If you spend much of your day sitting, find ways to get on your feet and move throughout the day. There is evidence that sitting for one prolonged period of time is worse than sitting that is broken up into smaller bouts by short interruptions.[9]

At work, take short breaks regularly to walk around the office. Stand up for your lunch break, and if you can, meet with colleagues while making laps around the office or at least stand during a meeting. Put your computer on a high counter or bookshelf, or try out a stand-up desk that allows you to stand up while working. Some people even set up a desk on a treadmill so that they can walk while they work.

At home, avoid activities that keep you sitting for too long, and find things you like to do that keep your body moving. Find more ideas on how to stay healthy here.


[1] Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 May;41(5):998-1005.

[2] BMJ Open. 2012 Jul 9;2(4).

[3] Am J Epidemiol. 2010 Aug 15;172(4):419-29.

[4] Mayo Clin Proc. 2014 Jul 3. pii: S0025-6196(14)00382-6.

[5] PLoS One. 2013 Sep 26;8(9):e73753.

[6] Ann Clin Lab Sci. 2012 Summer;42(3):320-37.

[7] J Natl Cancer Inst. 2014 Jun 16;106(7).

[8] Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2010 Dec;35(6):725-40.

[9] Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2014 May 2. pii: S0939-4753(14)00143-4.



In honor of world breastfeeding week, I wanted to write something profound, unique and beautiful about breastfeeding. After reading several other stories in honor of breastfeeding week, I quickly realized, however that nothing I say can really captures the mystery of the breastfeeding relationship. So, I simply decided to share my own personal relationship with breastfeeding. Part 1 talks about my breastfeeding relationship with my kids. Part 2 will talk about my relationship with other breastfeeding mothers.

asa sideways

When my first child was born, she was at my breast within a few moments of her birth Once the initial whirlwind of emotions began to settle, I attempted to latch her on. My first feelings were, “okay, this works - but yikes, this hurts.” Thankfully I said something because up until then, everyone approved of her latch. That was when I learned that if it hurts, something isn’t right. We readjusted and were on our way to a very healthy, yet challenging, breastfeeding relationship. The challenge was when I was away from her and needed to pump. When she was six months old, I started a new job doing student recruitment for a community college. This new job had me out in local high schools, college fairs and community events at various times of the day and night during both weekdays and weekends. While I was up for the challenge of pumping, the challenge was always finding a place to pump. When I was on campus, there was a little corner in a basement bathroom where I pulled a sheet between me and anyone else in the bathroom’s lobby. This wasn’t so bad when there is no one in the lobby, but it did get a little awkward when several students were preparing for a performance and had clothes. make-up and themselves strewn about the lobby floor. “Um, excuse me,” I would uncomfortably say,” I need to use that space in the corner. Don’t worry, you can leave all your stuff there, It’ll just be a few minutes.”

I pumped behind a display stand in an exhibition hall. I pumped in the car several times, covering myself with a coat or sweater parked in the back of a lot, under a tree if I was lucky. I pumped in a bathroom bar with graffiti littering the walls. I pumped in a high school bathroom with a stall barely wide enough for me and all my equipment. “What’s that sound,” I remember the young girls saying on the other side of the door.

I hadn’t committed to a timeline of breastfeeding and pumping for my daughter, but the time came to put it all away when my daughter was two years and one month old. I was pregnant with her little brother, my breasts were extremely tender and supply was decreasing. The day I told her that there were no more nursies, she replied, “Go get some more.” I asked her from where. “Go to the store and buy some,” was her matter-of-fact response.

My second child latched easily and without pain. A month after his birth, I started a jobshare in a new position. I took the new position, because it offered a more consistent schedule in a single location. This time pumping happened primarily in the same basement bathroom corner protected by a sheet and in a sometimes vacant office. I did have to pump once on the freeway when a friend and I were on our way to run a half marathon. Since my daughter has nursed for two years and one month, I felt I had to be equal with my son. So, at precisely two years and one month, I stopped nursing my son, cold turkey. I would not recommend that. He cried and I cried. He cried more and I cried more. Once the crying was over, I wore red cabbage leaves in my bra for a week to help the soreness of my engorged breasts. We finally made it, we had weaned. But, I still reflect and wish I had thought through that experience a little more.

We have just celebrated my third child’s second birthday. So, that two year and one month marker is looming. While I look forward to having my bed back and can’t wait to go dancing until the wee hours of the morning to celebrate having no one attached, I am not so sure I am quite ready to let go. Or, rather, I am contemplating waiting until he is ready to let go. Le Leche League recommends letting children self wean. Based on how much this kid nurses, that is not going to happen anytime soon. My husband is also ready to have our bed back, he probably more than me. He has made several comments about counting down to a night without nursies for baby. He asked recently straight out, “when are you going to wean him?” I replied that I didn’t know and asked what his plan for weaning was. And for today, I think I’ll leave it at that - my husband can wean the baby and I will continue to nurse.

asa and ez

Caption above: My youngest nursing at two years and two weeks.

Caption below: Nursing is a family affair.


Is the world’s number one herb a sleeper? Well, if you have never heard of the benefits of neem (Azadirachta indica) then the answer is yes. However, very few people in India will not be familiar with this herb since its use in ayurvedic healing dates back some 5000 years. Described by some as a panacea, neem is an evergreen tree  found growing throughout the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan, Nepal, Iran, and in the tropics. Every part of this tree has medicinal value and all parts of this tree can be used, from the sap, twigs, flowers, and bark to the seeds, gum, fruit, and roots. To describe anything as a panacea might seem outmoded and unbelievable since rarely does the reality meet the expectation but, as you will see, that lofty pinnacle is achieved by neem. The Medicinal Properties of Neem

So many uses in herbal medicine! Neem is used to combat tiredness, cough, fever, loss of appetite, and worm infestations. It is used in vomiting, skin diseases, and excessive thirst. It heals wounds, reverses gum disease, reduces high blood pressure, and is used to treat arthritis, malaria, diabetes, liver disease, and cancer. Neem leaves reportedly remove toxins, purify blood, and prevent damage caused by free radicals in the body by neutralizing them. Neem seeds and leaves are purported to be spermicidal. 

Healing properties of Neem

The root, bark, resin, gum, twigs, leaves, seeds, flowers and fruit of the neem tree contain chemical compounds with extensive therapeutic qualities, including: analgesic, alterative, anti-inflammatory, antithelmintic, antipyretic, antigastric, antifungal, antimicrobial, antienemic, antibacterial, and antianxiety.    

What does the neem tree look like? Neem is a large evergreen tree of elegant stature with an attractive leaf and an olive like fruit. It is fast growing and remarkably disease and insect free. The neem tree is known for its drought resistance and can grow in many types of soil.

Neem seed oil is probably the most significantly important derivative from the neem tree. It has a wide spectrum of uses as an antimicrobial, and can be applied topically to fungal and bacterial skin infections. Its composition is much like other vegetable seed oils, composed primarily of triglycerides of oleic, stearic, linoleic, and palmitic acids. The seeds are pressed in expellers andthe oil yield can be as high as 50 percent of the seed kernel. Research suggests that the high fatty-acid content may be responsible for its effectiveness in treating skin disorders. Internal use of neem seed oil can be toxic and should not be used internally in large doses or for long periods of time. Certain people should never use neem oil, especially children and infants, some of whom have had fatal reactions to the ingestion of neem oil. Pregnant and nursing women should also not use neem seed oil internally.

Neem Healing Benefits

Oil can also be created by infusing neem leaves in a carrier oil, which is purportedly a more traditional preparation and yields gentler results according to traditional Ayurveda. 

Skin Disorders

Neem has a curative effect on chronic skin conditions that have not been successfully helped through conventional medical treatments. Acne, dry skin, dandruff, psoriasis, eczema, herpes, shingles, andringworm have all been shown to respond to natural creams salves or lotions made with neem. This is where learning about herbs and how to incorporate them into your daily life comes in very handy. (If you are looking for a self study program, check out the Online Intermediate Herbal Course). There are many wonderful sources for recipes and formulas for making your own body products. Becoming familiar with the healing properties of herbs and how they can be used in products that are tailored made for you can be a gigantic step towards better health.


Remember that many of the conventional anticancer drugs are derived from plants. The benefits of neem have been extensively and scientifically studied. The components extracted from the seeds, leaves, flowers and fruits of the neem tree have been used in traditional medicine for the cure of multiple diseases including cancer for centuries. These extracts show chemo preventive and anti-tumor effects in different types of cancer. Two bioactive components in neem, azadirachtin and nimbolide, have been studied extensively. The key anticancer effects of neem include inhibition of cell proliferation, induction of cell death, suppression of cancer angiogenesis, restoration of cellular reduction/oxidation balance, and enhancement of the host immune responsive against tumor cells. These effects are tumor selective as the effects on normal cells are much less. Furthermore, neem extract sensitizes cancer cells to immunotherapy and radiotherapy, and enhances the efficacy of other chemotherapeutic agents.  

Neem in the Garden

We are becoming ever more aware of the dangers to our health from organic pesticides applied to our food. For many of us this has lead to growing our own vegetables and fruit, at home, in our own backyards, and increasingly in our front yards too! Yet, most of us to our chagrin have learned just how difficult this is: beautiful squash ruined at the last moment by squash –borers. Or some of our crops end up pitted and scarred, which makes one strongly suspect of the beautiful, organically grown specimens of fruit and vegetables in expensive stores. We ask ourselves how we can get our produce to look like that without resorting to the use of chemicals.

Towards the end of the 20th century the pharmaceutical companies moved away from the highly effective, but highly toxic organo-chemical pesticides by developing allegedly less toxic and much more selective pesticides called neonicotinoids. Unfortunately the use of these new chemicals is strongly implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bees. Here in the USA and in Europe honey bee colonies are disappearing. This tragic phenomenon  has a profound impact on our own survival because the pollination of many crops worldwide is dependent on the honey bee.

The Medicinal Properties of Neem Neem won’t harm spiders, butterflies, ladybugs and other insects that pollinate plants because neem must be ingested to be effective. Pests that eat the treated leaves will eventually die while “good” insects are spared. Scientists have looked especially at the effect of neem oil on honey bees since bees do eat pollen. What they found was reassuring. To see any harmful effects very high concentrations of neem must be used, much more than you would ever use for pest control. Weekly use of neem oil spray at a normal concentration (0.5 %- 2%) does not hurt honey bees at all.    

You still need to be careful when you spray neem oil in your garden because any oil spray can smother and suffocate insects. I suggest that you spray first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening when beneficial bugs are least active.

Using these techniques, you can raise a beautiful garden in a very conscious way.

So why are we not all using neem if it’s so good?

This can be debated, but the economics have to be considered. Neem contains 4 major and 20 or so minor pesticides. Most major commercially available pesticides contain one. It is presumably more expensive to manufacture 25 different chemicals rather than one. Furthermore, when in 1992 a patent was applied for neem oil in the US, it was not allowed after opposition by the Indian Government, because they said neem oil had been used for this purpose for 2000 years; not getting a patent may well effect the economic prospects of a pesticide preparation.

Global significance of neem

Neem is the “village pharmacy.” Every part of the plant has bioactive compounds that can be used in medicine and agriculture. It is a fast growing tree that can provide fire wood, shelter, food, medicine, and crop protection. The western world is just beginning to learn of the benefits that this tree offers. With the news spreading, trees are being planted here in the US in semi tropical regions such as southern California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida. We at the Herbal Academy of New England concur with the United Nations Declaration naming the neem tree to be the tree of the 21st century. 


Brahmachari G. (2004). Neem--an omnipotent plant: a retrospection.

Chembiochem. 2004 Apr 2;5(4):408-21.

Conrick, J. (2006). Neem The Ultimate Herb. Twin Lakes, Wisconsen: Lotus Press

Hao F, Kumar S, Yadav N, Chandra D. (2014). Neem components as potential targets for cancer prevention and treatment. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2014 Jul 10. 

Khillare B, Shrivastav TG. (2003). Spermicidal activity of Azadirachta indica (neem) leaf extract. Contraception. Sep;68(3):225-9

Meeran M, Murali A, Balakrishnan R, Narasimhan D. (2013). "Herbal remedy is natural and safe"--truth or myth? J Assoc Physicians India. 2013 Nov;61(11):848-50.

Mishra A, Dave N. (2013). Neem oil poisoning: Case report of an adult with toxic encephalopathy. Indian J Crit Care Med. 2013 Sep;17(5):321-2

National Research Council. (1992). Neem A Tree for Solving Global Problems. National Academy Press, Washington, DC

Tillotson, A. K.  (2001). The One Earth Herbal Sourcebook. New York, NY: Kensington Books

Photos provided and copyrighted by Vicki Parsons, Neem Tree Farms.


Mother Earth News Plant Healer Blogs

Every third week of September, my partner Kiva Rose and have the responsibility and pleasure of organizing the HerbFolk Gathering ( in the forests of northern Arizona.  It is an event that draws people from all over the country to learn about natural healing with plants, but it is only one of dozens that you can choose from among during each year’s conference season. 

Whether you are studying medicinal herbs in order to take responsibility for the well being of yourself and your family, or if it is your hope to become a practicing herbalist that helps others, one of the very best ways to accelerate your learning is by attending one of the many herbal events in your area or beyond.  Esteemed teachers cover the topics that you most need to understand how to be a safe and effective user of medicinal plants, and the gatherings of like-hearted plant lovers provide the support and camaraderie of a true healing community... an inviting resource and great way to enjoy a season of personal growth and blooming.

Different Kinds of Herbal Events

Julie Caldwell teaching an herbal class.

There are basically 4 different kinds of herbal conferences:

1. International, Broad Spectrum:
Inclusive, geared towards the widest range of participants, with the broadest possible scope (for example, the International Herbal Symposium).  Almost everyone wants to attend one of these extra large events sometime, and feel the energy of it.

2. International, Professional:
Designed for professionals, academics (in the case of university conferences), and/or primarily for existing or applying members (as in the case of the American Herbalist Guild conferences).  Nothing else can take the place of such an event, if yours is a particularly professional, official, or academic career path.

3. International, Niche:
Events that still invite global participation, but that are characterized by a particular tradition or approach (such as Traditional Chinese Medicine conferences, and the Southwest Conference on Botanical Medicine that’s known for a naturopathic emphasis), a certain constituency or subset (the various new radical or “revolutionary” herbalism events, for example), or a community or cause (such as HerbFolk Gathering, devoted specifically to the folk herbalism revival... and the seeding of other groups and events).

4. Regional/Bioregional:
Created special for the herbal community in a certain bioregion, intimate, evoking a strong regional/cultural flavor, and often emphasizing the medicinal plants common to the area.  Close-by regional events are less expensive to attend, and one can therefore often afford to attend one even if planning on going to an international conference the same year.  Every bioregion (defined by natural landscape and biota, not political boundaries) needs its own herbal gathering, and all of us need to support local involvement.

Which Herbal Event is Right For You?

Which of these 4 types might serve us best, hinges on how we answer some basic questions, such as:

Another basket of herbs.

Am I seeking a path to accreditation, professional credibility and career?
Or am I desirous of an empowering but informal education?
Would I do best with entry level classes, advanced, or something between?
Am I looking for classes within a certain tradition, or diverse perspectives? 
Am I searching for a particular skill set, for a specific intended use?
What do I most need to know, and what would I most enjoy learning?
What do I plan to do with what I learn?

The 1970s saw a revival of herbalism in America, with the famed herbalist Rosemary Gladstar being instrumental in the creation of the first new herbal gathering in a long time.  She still helps put on the New England Women’s Herbal Conference, which she calls “a place where we come to ignite and spark one another, and to create healing not only on a personal level, but planetary as well.” Other treasured herbal events designed especially for women include the the Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference, every October in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and the Mid-Atlantic Women’s Herbal Conference held on a very pretty 100 acre Pennsylvania farm also in October.
Smaller bioregional events, such as the Montana Herb Gathering tend to have a particular local flavor, both serving and evoking the feel of a particular region.  Specialty conferences such as United Plant Saver’s Planting The Future focus on the conservation and cultivation of native medicinal plants.

Early Herbal Conference, 1974

HerbFolk Gathering

The HerbFolk Gathering emphasizes a folk herbalism that empowers the individual, inspiring and enabling action and healing in all other aspects of our lives, in our communities and the natural world that sustain us.  This year’s theme is “The Enchanted Forest,” providing “the information you need, the enchantments you desire,” held Sept. 18th-21st at gorgeous Mormon Lake, in the high forests just south of Arizona’s awesome Grand Canyon.

From the intimate Breitenbush Gathering in Oregon to the mighty International Herbal Symposium, dozens of large, medium and small events provide a magical confluence of education and delight.  There are few parts of the country where there is not a conference or weekend workshops within a day’s driving distance, and it can be well worth it to drive or fly across the continent to attend a particularly awesome gathering.  From their opening ceremonies to the final bittersweet parting, the experience is one of affirmation, stimulation, and celebration!

Plant Walk

How to Plan and Prepare

As of 2013, tickets are averaging from $250-$350 for most multi-day events, although a few nonprofit conference cost as little as $35 per person.

Besides tickets, you may need to figure-in your gas costs or plane tickets, the price of a cab or shuttle from an airport to the site if you are flying, meals and lodging in route, meals and lodging at the event, and a little extra for fun purchases at each conference’s Healer’s Market.

Decide if you are driving or flying, plus a shuttle or rental car from the airport when necessary.

Conferences may include the price of meals in the registration costs, provide and charge separately for prepared meals, invite food vendors to take care of the participants’ needs, or simply suggest you bring enough food to both eat and share in a potluck atmosphere. No matter what the meals arrangement, I recommend you bring a supply of easy to prepare meals or snack foods to supplement.

Arrange far in advance for childcare at home while you are gone, if needed.  Children are usually very welcome at events, if you plan to bring them be sure to pack accordingly. 

Conferences usually last from 2 to 4 days, and you will want to arrive on site the evening before.

Plan to Bring:
A blank journal or note taking supplies.  A time piece to avoid being late to.  Supplementary food, snacks, special dietary needs.  Clothes for any weather, due to nature’s many surprises.  Basic first aid, skin care, and any herbal preparations you use, and any extra herbs or preparations you have around that you might want to trade to others.  If any of the classes are held outdoors, you may want to bring a sun hat and sunglasses, and even consider bringing your own comfortable seating pads or chairs if you are driving to the event.  A tent, bags, sleeping pad, pillows and ground cloth if camping out.  And remember your camera, to capture those precious memories of your time at the gathering.

*To receive conference updates and over 30 pages of free monthly herbal information, subscribe to the complimentary Plant Healer Newsletter at: ...and stay tuned to our Mother Earth News/Plant Healer posts.  Wild herbal blessings to all!


blueberries’ health benefitsMy 83-year old dad is a blueberry fanatic. Each year, he and my mom pick and freeze blueberries from a farm at the foot of Mount Si, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in the Northwest. His annual goal is to pick and freeze 100 pounds, enough to take advantage of blueberries’ health benefits year-round. He eats blueberries every day to help keep his macular degeneration at bay, his blood pressure down, and his memory sharp. It’s not surprising that my dad’s blueberry habit seems to be helping, given the plentitude of research on the health benefits of blueberries and other kinds of berries.

Health Benefits of Berries

Known for their bold, attractive colors and deliciously unique tastes, berries are one of the richest sources of natural antioxidants and polyphenols.[1] Polyphenols are the largest and most important group of phytochemicals in people’s diets. Polyphenols such as flavonols, phenolic acids, anthocyanins, and procyanidins are found in particularly high concentration in various berries.[1]

Blueberries, in particular, are very high in two specific polyphenols known for their health benefits: proanthocyanidins and anthocyanidins. These are thought to be the primary polyphenols responsible for blueberries’ health benefits. Proanthocyanidins and anthocyanidins are considered nature’s most potent antioxidants, but their powers have been found to extend far beyond the suppression of free radicals.[2]

In addition to polyphenols, berries contain other important nutrients such as vitamin C, folate, potassium, and soluble fiber.[1] Berries are relatively low in sugar and have a low glycemic load, meaning they do not cause sharp spikes in blood sugar the way some natural fruits do. Plus, in contrast with some of the other excellent dietary sources of polyphenols, such as chocolate, wine, and tea, berries contain no fat, alcohol, or caffeine.

Berries for Disease Prevention

Regular berry consumption has been linked to the prevention of some of the most common and debilitating chronic diseases.[3]

Berries for heart and blood vessel health: Berry consumption is associated with improved cardiovascular disease outcomes.[4] Eating berries helps the heart and blood vessels by reducing blood pressure, raising “good” HDL cholesterol levels, decreasing oxidative damage, lowering inflammation, reducing blood clotting, and improving the functioning of blood vessel walls.[1,4] Proanthocyanidins, the polyphenols responsible for blueberries’ health benefits, for example, have been shown to help treat and prevent cardiovascular disease by relaxing blood vessels and preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.[5]

Berries for brain health: Recently, the effects of berry consumption on the brain and cognition have been studied and results indicate that regular berry consumption can be an effective therapy for treating and preventing several diseases related to nervous system degeneration and age-related brain dysfunction.[4] Studies show that eating berries can enhance cognitive performance in humans.[4]

Berries for immune boosting and cancer protection: Frequent consumption of berries is also associated with improved immune function and cancer outcomes.[4]

Berries for eye health: Because of their high concentration of anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins, berries like blueberries and bilberries have been studied and found to improve vision and help prevent eye inflammation, cataracts, and macular degeneration.[6]

How To Get Blueberries’ Health Benefits Year-Round

Summer is the time for foraging for wild berries, picking berries at your local berry farm, or buying them in large quantities to freeze for later eating. If possible, choose wild berries. Although all berries are superfruits, wild berries are typically more loaded with health-promoting polyphenols compared to their commercial counterparts, which tend to be bigger and sweeter, but not as intensely pigmented or flavorful.[7] After wild, your next best option would be certified organic and local; and next best after that would be local with minimal spray but not necessarily certified organic.

The best way to freeze depends on the berry, but generally involves spreading unwashed berries out on a large tray or cookie sheet in order to sort and pick out any bad one and remove any stems. Then chill on cookie sheets if possible before transferring to bags or containers for storage in the freezer. Rinse frozen berries before eating. Blueberries will thaw in minutes by simply soaking in room temperature water.

Frozen berries can be used in juices and smoothies; thawed and eaten as is; juiced; or used on yogurt, whole grain cereal, or in all kinds of delicious recipes. Read more about berry benefits here.


  1. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Feb;87(2):323-31.
  2. Nutr Neurosci. 2011 May;14(3):119-25.
  3. J Sci Food Agric. 2014 Mar 30;94(5):825-33.
  4. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 May 28;100(Suppl1):347S-352S.
  5. Biofactors. 2010 May-Jun;36(3):159-68.
  6. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Apr 2;14:120.
  7. J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Nov 19. [Epub ahead of print]


Homemade Flower Press In Action

I have been pestering my husband for over a year to make a plant press for me. At one point, I even madeit public by writing a few blogs to drop the hint. Alas, our farming activities have included so much growing, harvesting and processing of plants that there was little time to spare to make me more equipment to study them.

Anyone who wants to learn more about their local medicinal plants should have a plant press. In some spaces of course, such as anational park, it is inappropriate to take plant specimens. This is a project more suited for outings in privately owned wild areas where you are given permission to hike. A good guide book is essential, but there are times when it is inconvenient to stay out in the field long enough to research the identity of any new find. For these times a good pocket knife and plastic baggies are just as important as the field guide.

A plant press will allow a budding naturalist to preserve plant specimens in a more permanent way. Keeping a library of dried plant material connects us with the earliest botanists and medicine makers. When I first started I used phone books and old magazines stacked between heavy encyclopedias. This is a great way to work in a pinch, but invariably I lost track of which books held my latest collection and they were easily damaged or forgotten. I had in mind a plant press that James Green describes in his Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook, A Home Manual, but making it required a trip to the hardware store... insert my previous comments on lack of time here....

Finally, this year for my birthday, my husband came up with a new design that was quick and easy enough to get done in between weeding the garden and taking care of the kids. I couldn’t wait to share it with others as I believe it is a practical way for anyone to make their own press. So many do-it-yourselfers don’t have a wood shop, so his solution will allow anyone who can operate a simple cordless drill to connect with their environment in this ancient way.

A Cutting Board Plant Press

Time is always of the essence, so going to the local store and buying two matching cutting boards was a quick choice.  You can pick the size of the board to meet your needs.  We selected ones with handles so that it can be carried around the farm or on trips.  With materials in hand, this project took us about 15 minutes to complete and is much more cost-effective than ones you can buy on the internet:

Tools and Materials

A View Of All The Parts Of Our Homemade Press

drill with drill bit
paper cutter (or scissors)

optional wood clamps
2 wooden cutting boards with handles
4 bolts with matching wingnuts
blotting paper or watercolor/marker paper

Drill holes in the four corners of one of the cutting boards and use that board as the template to make matching holes in the second board (clamp with wood clamps for ease).  To minimize wiggling/twisting, the holes should be just big enough to force your bolts through. Take cardboard and blotting paper and cut into a stack of rectangles that will just fit inside the bolt holes on your cutting boards. Put your bolts through the bottom cutting board and stack in your cut cardboard and paper.  Place on the top cutting board and tighten down with the wing nuts.  You’re ready to go in search of flowers!

Out in the field, take off the wing nuts and top cutting board to begin layering flowers.  Start by laying a sheet of cardboard on the bottom board and place as many flowers as you can fit in between two sheets of blotting paper.  Add a square of cardboard to complete the first layer.  Keep adding layers to dry as many flowers as your bolt length will allow.  When finished, put on the top cutting board and tighten down with the wing nuts to press.  Sit your harvested flowers in a dry ventilated place and wait for success.

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