Natural Health

Healthy living, herbal remedies and DIY natural beauty.

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Cowboy’s Toilet Paper, Our Lady’s Candle, Bunny’s Ear, Beggar’s Blanket, & Quaker’s Rouge are just a few nicknames for Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), a member of the snapdragon family.

You will find this fuzzy, biennial plant growing on roadsides and in areas that have been disturbed in almost every state. A pioneer plant, it grows well in any type of soil, enhancing the soil as it grows (nitrogen fixer) which means it is a great plant to keep on your permaculture property for more than just an herbal remedy (or toilet paper emergency). Its water requirements are very low while sunshine is a must, so don’t look for it in shady, moist places.

The first year, no flowers are present, but it is identifiable by a small rosette of fuzzy green leaves which can grow up to 1 foot in length. Because second-year mullein grows so tall (up to 8 feet!) and produces bright yellow flowers which are great for attracting pollinators it will be much easier to identify and harvest. The entire plant is useful for medicinal applications - the leaves, roots, and flowers. For more information on medicinal herbs and many other subjects consider joining our online community.


One of the most common uses for mullein flowers is to make an oil infusion which can be used for ear infection/pain (a couple of drops 3 times a day). To get the best results, I recommend combining it with garlic. This will make a potent and very effective ear remedy. Here is a recipe for mullein/garlic oil drops.

Mullein and Garlic Oil Drops Recipe

• 1 part mullein flowers
• 1 part garlic crushed (with skin left on)

Put flowers and garlic in a small jar and pour enough olive oil to completely cover. Put the jar in a sunny place, shaking once a day for 2-4 weeks.

Strain the oil through a cheesecloth (there are small hairs on the flowers as well as the leaves that can cause irritation so the cheesecloth will ensure these are removed) and store in a dark jar (preferably one with a dropper), and keep in the fridge for up to one year. When you want to use it, allow it to come to room temperature.


Medicinal Mullein Tea Blend

Additionally, strong tea or infusion can be made of the dry leaves to help with congestion in the chest caused by chest colds, asthma and bronchitis. It is a very effective expectorant, loosening phlegm from the lungs, allowing it to be coughed up. It can also be used to rid the lungs of irritants that have been inhaled.

• 1-2 teaspoons dried mullein leaf
• 1 cup water (just off a boil)
• local, raw honey for taste (optional)
• spearmint or lemon balm if desired.

Put dried leaves in a teaball or strainer, pour in hot water and cover the top with a lid or plate. Steep 15 min. Sweeten if desired.

If you can’t tolerate the taste, then you can make a steam inhalant by putting the leaves in a pot of water, boil for 5 min. Remove from the heat and inhale the steam.

On a side note, If you ever are in need of using these large leaves as toilet paper, make sure you wipe with the direction of the small hairs and not against or you may end up with a rash!

Another use for mullein which I have not tried, is to dip the stalk in oil and use it as a torch, hence living up to one of its nicknames: “Our Lady’s Candle”. Here’s a really good primer on medicinal herbs.

This is NOT medical advice; this is for educational purposes only. You should always check with your doctor before trying any of these remedies.

Check out our online community for ways to help in your local food movement, learn about more medicinal herbs and much more.

Sean and Monica are available for consulting work regarding property analysis & design, personal coaching and speaking engagements.

All photo credits: Linde Mitzel, P3 Photography

Sean and Monica Mitzel homestead with their family on 40 acres and are using permaculture techniques and methods for the property. The homestead is a demonstration and education site where they teach workshops and raise dairy goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, and ducks. The Mitzels have planted food forests, guilds and enjoy wildcrafting and propagating plants. Sean and Monica can often be found podcasting or speaking and teaching at different events. Listen to the podcast and to learn more about the Mitzels, visit The Prepared Homestead. Read all of their MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



When it comes to infectious pathogens, antibiotics are considered the first and most efficient line of defence. While resistant bacterial strains are becoming more and more common and dangerous, we have learned to rely entirely on synthetic or natural formulations to protect human health. Commercial products, like toothpastes, soaps and household cleaners are also loaded with antimicrobial compounds in an effort to prevent microbes from thriving.

But what if there are simple and practically free ways to maintain health and prevent disease? Decades-old research proves that some of the most dangerous pathogenic culprits hardly need sophisticated ways to be controlled.

Experiments conducted in the midst of cold war showed that pathogenic bacteria cannot survive if exposed unprotected in fresh air. Microbiologists Hendry Druett and K.R. May found out that within 2 hours the vast majority of E. coli colonies were dead, after being exposed to air currents outside of their lab.

Conversely, if the same bacteria were kept confined in boxes at identical temperature and humidity conditions, but still outside of the lab, more than 50 percent of them survived.

When the cold war threats faded away, so did these remarkable experiments, or at least so we are told. Florence Nightingale, the famous British nurse, reportedly slashed hospital death rates by applying simple methods, such as throwing the windows open. Her principles regarding appropriate arrangement in hospital wards, led to the Nightingale wards. These long and narrow rooms had windows reaching up to the ceiling, allowing fresh air to circulate freely.

The long sides of the rooms were facing south, which additionally let in as much sunshine in as possible. The health benefits of sunlight became widely recognised for tuberculosis patients, for whom UV light was considered standard therapy before the widespread use of antibiotics. Like fresh air, sunlight not only kills directly pathogens, but improves body defences by boosting vitamin D production in the body, a mighty anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory substance.

Air renewal in hospitals now is accomplished through mechanical ventilation systems, which recycle and filter existing air. Since the 70s, the need for energy efficiency does not allow opening windows or giving priority to let healing sun rays in the hospital rooms. This has certainly played a role in the widespread problem of resistant pathogens currently thriving in hospitals.

The number and variety of such super microbial strains have increased so dramatically in the last decades that hospitals are now considered one of the biggest sources of antibiotic-resistant diarrhoea and wound infections. Common bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus have evolved to form an army of super-resistant strains, such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which are responsible for persistent hospital infections.

Apart from the lack of fresh, clean air and sunlight, the widespread of antibiotics is also a main driving force behind this bacterial evolution.

Back to Basics

The pressure created by this new generation of resistant pathogens has pushed for new and cost-effective ways to battle hospital infections. Getting hospital staff to wash their hands is another old fashioned method revived in an effort to reduce difficult hospital infections. This simple step alone dramatically reduced MRSA rates in UK hospitals by 80 percent within the last decade.

The World Health Organisation recommends access to fresh air for all health care settings as an efficient way to reduce the transmission of infections. “Natural ventilation can be one of the effective environmental measures to reduce the risk of spread of infections in health care”.

These simple methods show that killing microbes is not strictly a matter of using adequate antibiotics or antimicrobial substances; quite the opposite. Abuse of such compounds creates a tremendous environmental pressure for all kinds of microbes, forcing the most virulent and resistant strains to survive and thrive in the absence of other bacterial competitors. With appropriate organization and design of hospital spaces to make the most of the natural antimicrobial power of sunlight and fresh air, the necessity to use antibiotics and antimicrobials could be minimal.


Frank Swain. A Breath of Fresh Air. New Scientist. December 14, 2013.

WHO. 2009. Natural ventilation for infection control in health-care settings.

Photo credit

Eleni Roumeliotou is a mum, clinical nutritionist, geneticist and founder of Primal Babya health sanctuary for all things pregnancy: before, during and after. Eleni passionately helps women, who are trying to conceive or are already expecting a baby, to optimize their diet and lifestyle in order to conceive naturally and have the healthiest baby possible. Her passion is to empower women to take control of their fertility and their baby´s health, safeguarding the wellbeing of the next generation, one baby at a time. You can read all of Eleni´s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Bee Balm Bloom In Garden 

When it comes to landscaping the farmstead or urban homestead, it’s nice to be able to include plants that are both beautiful and functional. Bee balm is a North American wildflower that easily fills both roles.

With an unusual, eye-catching bloom that is loved by bees and butterflies, these showy flowers can come in either scarlet (Monarda didyma) or lavender (Monarda fistulosa), but this plant provides more than just looks and wildlife habitat: It is also a versatile herb with many different uses for health and home.

Flavorful Tea for Enjoyment and Health

If you enjoy Earl Grey, a cup of bee balm tea will seem familiar. One of bee balm’s other common names, wild bergamot, alludes to the sophisticated and citrusy notes possessed by this mint family herb, which is similar to the bergamot orange that flavors Earl Grey tea.

In fact, after the Boston Tea Party, bee balm is believed to have been used as a substitute for the British imported tea that the colonists were boycotting (read more about the history and lure of bee balm).

This herb also makes a lovely after dinner beverage thanks to its ability to support the digestive system, and is much loved by herbalists for its centering and calming influence in the face of nervousness and anxiety. Bee balm is just as wonderful when used in homemade herbal tea blends simply to bring a little extra flavor to the mix.

Lavender Substitute for Skincare

A tea made from bee balm leaves and flowers, also called an infusion, isn’t just for drinking. Once cooled, it can be applied topically as an alternative to lavender.

Bee balm used this way can a provide cooling, soothing wash for minor burns and sunburns, or a useful poultice for cuts, boils, and other skin care needs.

Bee Balm in the Kitchen

The complex, unusual flavor of bee balm is also right at home in the kitchen. As a spice, dried bee balm can be substituted for oregano and used on pizzas, in pasta, and anywhere else a pinch of oregano would be welcome.

Fresh bee balm leaves can be added to pesto, and the flower petals make a pretty and aromatic garnish. They can be used in salads, to make an herbal butter, or in homemade ice cream or a cream cheese spread. Bee balm petals are also a lovely way to dress up fresh fruit or a fruit salad like this one.

Another favorite way to use bee balm is by making a wildflower jelly.

Bundle Of Medicinal Bee Balm 

Preserving Bee Balm as an Extract

A tincture or extract is another way to preserve and use this herb. Like the tea, a bee balm extract can be used to support urinary tract health, as a topical antiseptic, for digestive health, and to support emotional wellness.

A bee balm extract made with the “folk method” is an easy project that will make bee balm available year round for your homestead.

Step 1. Dry your herbs. The strongest extract with the best shelf life will be made using the dried herb. When your bee balm is in full bloom, harvest a bundle of bee balm stems with the leaves and flowers. Hang them to dry, or try one of these Three Easy Ways to Dry Herbs. You can even use a dehydrator to dry bee balm.

Step 2. Make your extract. When the bee balm is completely dry, crumble the leaves and flower tops into a clean, dry glass canning jar until your jar is half full. Add enough brandy or unflavored vodka to the jar to cover the bee balm with an inch of liquid. The alcohol provides shelf life and also helps extract the beneficial properties of the bee balm.

Step 3. Give your extract time. Place a tight fitting lid on the jar and gently shake the herbs and alcohol to combine. Let your bee balm soak in the alcohol for four weeks, but be sure to check on it every day and add more alcohol if necessary so that the herb stays covered. Give your bee balm extract a gentle shake each day.

Step 4. Strain and bottle your extract. At the end of four weeks, strain the herbs from the alcohol and bottle your bee balm extract in an amber colored glass bottle. Label and date your extract. Extracts can have a shelf life of two to several years. Herbalists sometimes use as little as 1 to 3 drops of extract at a time, or up to the range of 30 to 60 drops.

Bee balm is a perennial that, once planted, will thrive in your garden for years to come. This herb prefers full sun, but it can adapt to part shade and is deer resistant. It can also be grown easily in containers. Monarda spp. can be grown from Zones 4 through 9 and tolerate poor soils, but they may need to be watered during dry summers.

Take care not to wet the leaves when watering your bee balm to help keep your plants mildew-free. As easy to grow, versatile, and beautiful as bee balm is, it’s sure to become one of your favorite homestead flowers.

You can read more about bee balm in the Benefits of Bee Balm or Recipes and Remedies Using Bee Balm on the Herbal Academy blog. The Herbal Academy offers affordable, flexible online courses for budding herbalists through advanced practitioners and provides a vibrant online community for students to grow their herbal skills.

Photos provided and copyrighted by Annie Hall and Jane Metzger, Herbal Academy.

Agatha Noveille is an author, herbalist, and Associate Educator at the Herbal Academy. The Herbal Academy is an educational resource offering affordable online herbalist training programs for students at all experience levels, ranging from very beginner to the advanced professional level. Set your foundation in the Introductory Herbal Course, explore herbal therapeutics for body systems in greater depth in the Intermediate Herbal Course, prepare for business endeavors in the Entrepreneur Herbal Course, and delve into complex clinical topics in the Advanced Herbal Course. Learn more about the Herbal Academy’s training programs.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Canine sun glasses 

We live in the mountains with our four German shepherd dogs. Our nearest veterinarian is approximately 45 miles one way and so we often treat our furry family members with homeopathic remedies. These have worked for us in the past, and although I am unable to say that the natural remedies always work, these are worth giving a try.

We feed our guys quality food and they don’t get table scraps or treats that are not good for them. There are numerous articles available that describe human foods that could cause harm to your pets, so this blog will not detail on them.

Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome

One home remedy I can attest to as working is bilberry capsules. Our senior girl, Sarah, suddenly and without warning went blind. One minute she was fine and the next she was totally blind. We took her instantly to our veterinarian who diagnosed SARDS (Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome), which affects only a minute amount of canines and has no cure, nor do they know much about it.

A specialist was consulted and said the damage was permanent and non-reversible. It is believed to be caused by high blood pressure, but even that is uncertain. I wrote a blog about it and a reader wrote that her dog had the same diagnosis and it was suggested she use bilberry capsules as they restored her dogs sight.

When retinas detach and are floating free, there is not much to do, but I went into town immediately and bought a bottle of bilberry capsules and started giving her one a day. Three weeks later, we noted she could see and now she is doing just fine. The specialist proclaimed less than a handful of dogs ever regain any sight but Sarah is pretty much back to normal sight.

Hot Spots

One of our four has suffered with hot spots each summer even though we have cool temperatures at 9,800-foot elevation. We have had him allergy tested, mite tested, and tested extensively and still in the summer he has hot spots. He is not alone, because other dogs I am aware of have the same problem in the summer.

There are several possible causes but the most common is bacteria. Recently a rescue friend told me about something that worked for her dogs who had hot spots: She gave the dogs a pinch of oregano on their food once a day. Most of the time a steroid and antibiotic is prescribed and steroids have a host of side effects that many vets don’t always have to deal with — not the least of which is repeated potty breaks and some lethargia.

Thanks to a TV commercial about using oregano in chickens as opposed to antibiotics, she wondered if it would work on the causes of hot spots as an antibacterial. She said she tried it and noticed immediate results.

I went to the spice cabinet and started our boy on it and also noted he stopped licking and scratching within a couple days. So far, we have not noted any side effects and he has enjoyed some relief from his annual summer hot spots.

Canine Pannus

Two of our four have pannus, which is found in middle-aged German Shepherds but also can occur in other breeds. It is a progressive disease where blood vessels and scar tissue invade the cornea and can, if left untreated, cause ultimate blindness.

Our vet advised us that living at high altitude can be a contributing factor due to the intensity of ultraviolet rays' impact on the eyes. In the winter when we have snow, the sun and snow glare combined can be harmful to the eyes.  We have drops that we use as prescribed by the vet, but the most effective remedy seems to be having them wear dog sunglasses in intense sunlight.

We have seen that by using the sunglasses, the disease does not seem to progress and we don’t have to use eye drops as often. (See photo above.)

Intestinal Worms and Skin Parasites

For worms, we use diatomaceous earth (DE), which is a small abrasive diatom that when given orally with food will eliminate any worms and the eggs. If we suspect that there are mites or fleas/ticks, we will very lightly dust their fur, being very careful to keep it away from their head and eyes.

Since it is a similar consistency to talcum powder and freely floats on the air, we ruff the fur and lightly dust behind the shoulders. We use food-grade neem, so if they lick it off, it will not harm them. A special note: Do not get it in their ears and protect them from getting it in their eyes or lungs as it is an irritant. We did this initially on the dogs many years ago and now we dust the fenced-in backyard which they often frequent.

When using DE, a little goes a long way so don’t over apply. We have found it far better than the chemicals that are sprayed or squirted on our guys. We used it in the house one time and found that it freely floated in the air and attached to everything, so we vacuumed it up after a couple days, as we didn’t like breathing it nor did we want our dogs to breathe it in. I have asthma and am quite sensitive to airborne irritants.

An excellent information source on DE is Wolf Creek Ranch.

Not to be overlooked is using raw, unflavored pumpkin when they have loose bowels or mineral oil when they are constipated. Both have and do work for us. If those don’t work, off we go to the vet.

Using Neem Oil with Pets

When our furry friends have dry, crusty spots like on their ears or other parts of their body, we use neem oil. Neem oil is an antifungal, antibacterial, and antiseptic. It repels fleas, ticks, and mange mites.

A dab on the exterior of the ear, top of the head and the tail base works well to repel mosquitos, flies, and only needs to be reapplied every 2 or 3 days. We prefer using it as opposed to the sprays that have so many chemical ingredients that we have no clue what we are applying or if it will pose harm our pets.

Some of what we use is preventive but some is remedial also. None of this is justification for not having your furry family checked regularly by your veterinarian, which we do. We work with our vet in using these homeopathic treatments and we keep our vet informed.

Our fur family are all inside dogs and only go out into our protected backyard to go potty and sniff and for regular walks. Living remotely as we do, they are not exposed to other dogs, but we still keep their vaccinations current. Others may have different environmental conditions and may have to use homeopathic remedies in conjunction with their veterinarian approval.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lives in the Sangre de Christo mountains of southern Colorado, go to their blog site: They live in a small cabin with their four German Shepherd Dogs at 9,800 feet elevation. Read all of Bruce's remote-living blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Triclosan is used for its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties in a variety of common household products, including soaps, mouthwashes, dish detergents, toothpastes, deodorants, and hand sanitizers (in concentrations ranging from 0.1 – 1%) since 1972. It is also incorporated into an increasing number of consumer products, such as kitchen utensils, toys, bedding, socks, and trash bags. In hospitals, it is found in surgical scrubs and personnel hand washes.


According to the FDA, there is no evidence showing that the presence of triclosan may exhibit additional properties, other than the antibacterial and antifungal capacity. Therefore, there is no recommendation for replacing triclosan in personal, healthcare and other products. The reality however is very different.

Human Health Impacts from Triclosan

Existing evidence has identified multiple, potentially toxic properties of triclosan in a variety of organs, adding up to known thyroid disruption problems. A study published in the Journal of Toxicological Sciences in 2013 (see References below) has shown that inhalation of triclosan can be toxic for the lungs, triggers, within a day from the inhalation, acute inflammatory responses in the lung tissue.

Upon exposure, lung cells show reduced survival rates, which is accompanied by changes in the morphology and increased tissue permeability. The specific study showed that it takes two full weeks for the inflammation to resolve.

Another study published in the journal Chemosphere has shown that methyl-triclosan, a common intermediate metabolite of triclosan, can bind human albumin, which is the main protein of the blood plasma. This interaction can have profound impact in endocrine functions of any organism. Under normal circumstances, albumin binds cations (such as Ca2+, Na+ and K+), fatty acids, hormones, bilirubin and thyroxine (T4), acting like a “molecular taxi”.

The well documented impact of triclosan in thyroid functions can be explained through this recently found interaction. In pregnant women, maternal exposure to triclosan, disrupts the mother’s thyroid hormones production, which can result in irreversible neurological and reproductive abnormalities in the baby, because thyroid hormones are considered critical for normal brain development, especially in humans. Female embryos are particularly sensitive to such hormonal disruption.

Men, on the other hand, show sensitivity to different organs. According to a new animal study published in the journal Environmental Toxicology triclosan tends to accumulate in the male reproductive organs and more specifically to the epididymis, the system responsible for transporting sperm from the testicles. This causes pathological damages in the tissue, which result in a significant decrease in daily sperm production and changes in sperm morphology, after only 8 weeks of daily exposure to triclosan.

Environmental Risks from Triclosan

Apart from these health effects, the long-term use of triclosan in a variety of products has resulted in a significant environmental load. During wastewater treatment, a portion of triclosan is degraded, while the remaining adsorbs to sewage sludge or exits the plant in wastewater effluent.

In the environment, triclosan may be degraded by microorganisms or react with sunlight, forming other compounds, such as chlorophenols and dioxins, both highly toxic. In the US and EU, manufacturers of products containing triclosan must indicate it on the label. Caution is necessary, especially with personal care and household products, since a certain quantity of the containing triclosan will be absorbed and enter the human metabolism.

According to a study published in 2010 in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, approximately 6% of the containing triclosan is absorbed after skin administration of relevant products. A study published in 2000 assessed the absorption of triclosan after the use of topical mouthrinse products and found a similar absorption of 7% of the triclosan applied. Surprisingly, both studies concluded that triclosan is safe to use in personal care products and no significant adverse effects were observed.

We have in fact plenty of evidence that this chemical shouldn’t be used liberally as if it were a harmless substance.Thanks to more recent studies, it is obvious that there are important side effects of triclosan and perhaps a lot more that we haven’t studied or even thought of.

There is a significant gap in our knowledge about the systemic and long-term effects of triclosan, and thousand other chemicals with which it could be interacting — this gap doesn’t prove that triclosan is safe, but highlights the need to investigate what is really happening before it is introduced in our bodies and food chain.


Wu Y, Beland FA, Fang JL. 2016. Effect of triclosan, triclocarban, 2,2',4,4'-tetrabromodiphenyl ether, and bisphenol A on the iodide uptake, thyroid peroxidase activity, and expression of genes involved in thyroid hormone synthesis. Toxicol In Vitro. 32:310-9.

Lv W, Chen Y, Li D, Chen X, Leszczynski J. 2013. Methyl-triclosan binding to human serum albumin: Multi-spectroscopic study and visualized molecular simulation. Chemosphere.

Lan Z, Hyung Kim T, Shun Bi K, Hui Chen X, Sik Kim H. 2013. Triclosan exhibits a tendency to accumulate in the epididymis and shows sperm toxicity in male sprague-dawley rats. Environ Toxicol. [Epub ahead of print]

Parolini M, Pedriali A, Binelli A. 2013. Application of a biomarker response index for ranking the toxicity of five pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) to the bivalve Dreissena polymorpha. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 64(3):439-47

Kwon JT, Yang YS, Kang MS, Seo GB, Lee DH, Yang MJ, Shim I, Kim HM, Kim P, Choi K, Lee K. 2013. Pulmonary toxicity screening of triclosan in rats after intratracheal instillation. J Toxicol Sci. 38(3):471-5.

Paul KB, Hedge JM, Devito MJ, Crofton KM. 2010. Developmental triclosan exposure decreases maternal and neonatal thyroxine in rats. Environ Toxicol Chem. 29(12):2840-4.

Rodríguez PE, Sanchez MS. 2010. Maternal exposure to triclosan impairs thyroid homeostasis and female pubertal development in Wistar rat offspring. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 73(24):1678-88.

Pearce EN, Braverman LE. 2009. Environmental pollutants and the thyroid. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 23(6):801-13.

Queckenberg C, Meins J, Wachall B, Doroshyenko O, Tomalik-Scharte D, Bastian B, Abdel-Tawab M, Fuhr U. 2010. Absorption, pharmacokinetics, and safety of triclosan after dermal administration. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 54(1):570-2.

Lin YJ. 2000. Buccal absorption of triclosan following topical mouthrinse application. Am J Dent. 13(4):215-7.

Photo copyright DepositPhotos/elenathewise

Eleni Roumeliotou is a mum, clinical nutritionist, geneticist and founder of Primal Baby, a health sanctuary for all things pregnancy: before, during and after. Eleni passionately helps women, who are trying to conceive or are already expecting a baby, to optimize their diet and lifestyle in order to conceive naturally and have the healthiest baby possible. Her passion is to empower women to take control of their fertility and their baby´s health, safeguarding the wellbeing of the next generation, one baby at a time. You can read all of Eleni´s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Summer is a wonderful season filled with lots of fun in the sun - weekend parties, barbecues and gatherings of all kinds. But what if your job requires you to spend several hours outside each and every day?

Our ranch is located in the heat and humidity of Northeast Texas, and our days are filled with outside chores such as working cattle or repairing fences, gardening or mowing pastures. Sun protection is important, but I shy away from using sunblock whenever possible. Why?

Although sunblock is marketed as safe and effective, I just don't know how I feel about slathering chemicals on my skin several times each and every day. Sunblock has its place in my skin-protection arsenal, but today I'm sharing seven easy ways I'm able to protect my skin from the sun's harmful rays without resorting to sunblock.

Time of Day is Important

The sun is at its most intense level and UV is at its strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If I have a choice, I plan my outside activities around those times. Our workload doesn't always allow us to pick and choose when we start and stop our tasks but we always keep this in mind if we have any flexibility at all.

Because we're not held to a rigid 9-5 workday, we typically try to complete the bulk of our outside chores before 10 a.m. When the sun starts getting high in the sky we come inside during the heat of the day to perform our inside chores such as house cleaning, financial planning, cattle record maintenance, etc.

Sometime after 4 p.m. we're back outside to finish up the mowing, fencing or cattle working and can often work until it begins getting dark before finally coming inside for the day. I've leaned that the shorter your shadow underneath you, the stronger the UV rays can be. So it's best to be outside when your shadow is longer than you are tall.

Shade is Your Friend

Not only will the shade help cool you from the intensity of the sun's heat, it will help protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun as well. Because I can't spend the day under a nice cool shade tree, I found a way to take that shade with me while I work!

We purchased a rigid canopy that attaches to our tractor's ROPS. Not only does that canopy protect me from the sun's harsh rays, but it cuts the glare and also helps keep me cooler as I work.

We chose this one from Sun Guard because the canopy is very quickly and easily removed for times when we’re working around trees but reattaches in minutes for those times when we’re mowing pastures or doing anything else tractor worthy. When I must be on the tractor mowing pastures, I'm very thankful that I have that shade!

Cover Arms and Legs

Even though the summer months are hot and humid in Northeast Texas, when RancherMan (my husband) mows the yard, he wears heavy jeans and a lightweight long-sleeve shirt. He's mentioned that, although he was initially very hesitant to wear a long-sleeve shirt while mowing, he was actually cooler than he would have been otherwise because that hot sun was not shining directly upon his skin.

I've learned that the darker the material and the tighter the weave, the more protection from the sun is received. But for us, it's a balance between protection from the sun and protection from the heat (which can also be a danger in Texas) when we're making decisions on desired fabric for a specific outdoor task.

But it's good to remember: When possible, wear the tightest-weave fabric you can. The more light you can see through the fabric, the less sun protection you receive.

Cover Your Face!

A wide-brimmed hat that shades your face and ears (and ideally the back of your neck as well) is a smart move when you are in the garden or mowing the yard.

I have a lightweight straw hat that's my favorite for quick garden chores and such, but keep in mind, just like the tighter-weave rule for clothing, the tighter the weave in the hat's fabric the more sun protection you receive. If you'll be out in the sun for a longer duration of time, a wide-brimmed hat made of a tighter-weave polyester or even heavy cotton might be a good choice.

Gloves Serve Double Duty

I typically wear gloves when doing outside chores. Of course, if we're repairing fences I'll wear heavy leather gloves, but most of the time I like to wear lightweight garden gloves with special fingertips to allow me to operate my smart phone without removing the gloves.

Wearing gloves not only helps me grip things more securely and protect my hands from barbed wire or sharp garden trellis edges, but they also shield the skin on my hands from the sun.

Your Eyes Need TLC, Too

I'd never really given this much thought before, but according to the American Cancer Society, the sun can be harmful to your eyes as well. My eyes have always been pretty sensitive to strong light, so I typically wear sunglasses anyway, but I'm doubly sure to be wearing them now.

When I’m buying, I always shop for wrap-around sunglasses that have UV protection. I found some *lightweight sunglasses in the fishing department of a local discount store that had all the features I was looking for, and as a bonus they cost very little!

Advancements in Protective Clothing

While shopping at a sporting goods store recently, I discovered a shirt made of an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) 30 material to help protect your skin from the sun. Touted primarily as a fishing shirt, it's made of with vented cape back and also vented above the front pockets to allow the heat to escape from around your body while still protecting your skin from the sun's rays.

I was quite enamored with this concept and *immediately purchased one to try — I'm thinking this may be the best of both worlds — covering the skin and still staying cooler! Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s care recommendations to assure you have a good product for years to come.

Although there are still times when a good sunblock is appropriate, these seven skin-protection tips get me through most days of our work outdoors.


1. American Cancer Society

2. Sun Safety Alliance

This article was written by Tammy Taylor, owner of the ~Taylor-Made Homestead~ blog.  Tammy lives & works on a Northeast Texas ranch and writes about home cooking, gardening, food preservation, MIY, DIY and living as gently as possible on this big blue planet we call home.  You can visit her Homestead Blog – or follow her on Facebook or Pinterest. Find all of Tammy's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


With so many medicinal plants available with the push of a button and so many herbal resources highlighting the role herbs can play in supporting wellness, it is often easy to become overwhelmed with the possibilities for your home herbal apothecary.

Here at the Herbal Academy, we offer educational materials on hundreds of herbs to support our students on their learning journey. Even with this resource and a multitude of herbs at our fingertips, we deeply value the education and support we get from the most humble of plants — those growing without fuss or notice in our backyards, along waysides, at the edges of farm fields, and pretty much anywhere they can establish a foothold.

Creating a Local Materia Medica with wild plants

We’ve been exploring and celebrating these widely available yet underappreciated plants this summer on our blog with our Creating a Local Materia Medica series, and feel that these plants deserve their time in the sun, so to speak! Let’s dive in and learn about the edible and medicinal uses of three common wild plants - violet, plantain, and yellow dock. 

Are you also interested in plant botany? You can find botanical descriptions of violet, plantain, and yellow dock, as well as more information about their medicinal use, in the Creating a Local Materia Medica series over on the Herbal Academy blog!

Local First Aid

Violet (Viola spp.), plantain (Plantago spp.), and yellow dock (Rumex crispus) are all valuable as go-to first aid plants for cuts, scrapes, wounds, stings, burns, and bites. Since first aid situations often arise when you are out and about gardening, playing in the yard, farming, exercising, hiking, and camping, these local herbal remedies are often in the right place at the right time.

Violet Plant In Home Garden

Plantain is Nature’s First Aid Plant

Plantain is an exceptional vulnerary, or wound healer. It is a demulcent, soothing and cooling tissues and mucous membranes throughout the body due to its mucilage, which provides welcome relief to hot, irritated tissues.

Plantain is also analgesic, astringent, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory, helping to relieve pain, tone tissues, staunch bleeding, fight infection, soothe inflammation, and relieve itching. Plantain is an antidote to poisonous bites and stings, and helps to draw splinters as well as venom from the skin. 

Violet - nature first aid
Violet Soothes and Cools

Like plantain, violet is a cooling, mucilagenous plant that can provide soothing relief to the irritation and inflammation associated with a skin wound or angry stings. As an analgesic, it also relieves the associated pain.

With both plantain and violet, a quick poultice can be quite effective. To make a poultice, either chew up a leaf and apply the maceration directly to the wound, or mash up the leaf in a mortar and pestle with a bit of water and then apply. Reapply a fresh poultice as needed to provide continued relief until no longer needed.

An infused oil or salve require a bit more preparation, but a small tin of salve in your back pocket is a convenient option. You can use the stove top or oven method in this tutorial to make an infused oil with fresh plantain and/or violet leaves, and then use the directions in this tutorial to make that infused oil into an easy-to-transport salve.

yellow dock to relieve stings

Yellow Dock Relieves Stings!

The petiole of each yellow dock leaf is a papery sheath called the ocrea which holds a slimy mucilage that acts as a lubricant to keep new leaves from tearing as they emerge – and in a pinch it can provide soothing relief from stings and bites. 1, 2  It is surprisingly effective on the persistant pain of a nettle sting. Dock leaves can also be rubbed on insect and nettle stings to provide relief.

Local Edible Plants 

Local Edibles

Violet, plantain, and yellow dock are all edible - the flowers of violet are pure delight, and the leaves of all three can be used in various ways. The young leaves are preferred as they are the most tender and mild tasting.

Violet flowers and young leaves can be enjoyed in drinks, soups, salads, and pestos.

1. The leaves and flowers make a nourishing violet infusion for drinking,
2. The leaves can be included in comforting and savory violet leaf soup, and
3. The leaves can be made into an energizing violet green juice.

Plantain leaves having a strong taste and a slight bitterness, but young leaves can be enjoyed:

1. Chopped up in a salad,
2. In an energizing, phytochemical-rich green juice like described above for violet, and
3. As an addition to green smoothies. 

More mature plantain leaves can be steamed as a cooked green, but are made more palatable by removing the leaf fibers first. The ripe seeds can be chewed right from the stalk!

The newly unfurled leaves of yellow dock are a nutritious green with a sour and slightly bitter taste. They can be used:
1. As wild greens in salads or on sandwiches,
2. As a nutritive green in soups, similar to French sorrel, and
3. With herbs and other greens in pesto.

For the mildest and tastiest leaves, look for the smaller, freshly emerged leaves by identifying two faint pale green vertical lines running down each side of the leaf - these remain for a short time after the leaves uncurl. The ocrea will also be greenish white and soft, not yet drying to brown.

The sour taste of dock leaves comes from their ascorbic acid (vitamin C) content, which metabolizes to oxalic acid (also found in rhubarb stems and spinach). While oxalic acids should be avoided by anyone prone to kidney stones or gout, they are fine in moderation.

Gather only young dock leaves, as oxalic acid content increases as they mature, and if desired blanch dock greens for a minute or two in boiling water and dispose of the water to remove the soluble oxalic acid.

Creating a Local Materia Medica with wild edibles and medicinals

Local Herbal Allies

Thanks to their resilience, wild herbs are available to all of us. At the Herbal Academy we encourage budding and experienced herbalists alike to take a look around your own backyard and get to know the plant allies that grow there. With a new perspective, you will recognize that the plants deemed as weeds are in fact effective local herbal remedies that are useful additions to your apothecary - and your plate!

Learn more about the Herbal Academy international school of herbal arts and sciences and the school’s online herbal training programs at The Herbal Academy.


1. Thayer, Samuel. (2010). Nature’s garden: A guide to identifying, harvesting, and preparing edible wild plants.

2. Drum, Ryan. (n.d.). Rumex crispus.

3. Blair, Katrina. (2014). The wild wisdom of weeds: 13 essential plants for human survival.

4. Pedersen, Mark. (2012). Nutritional herbology.

5. Eat That Weed! (n.d.) Some notes on oxalic acid for foragers.

Jane Cookman Metzger is the Assistant Director at the Herbal Academy of New England, home of the online Introductory Herbal Course and Intermediate Herbal Course. HANE recently released its affordable membership program, fittingly called The Herbarium, featuring one of the most complete plant monograph databases to date. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

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