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Comforting Comfrey Can Speed Recovery


Poison ivy. It’s my bane, my scourge, the melter of my skin. And now? I will add a breaker of my bones to the list of frown-inducing encounters that I’ve had with this pesky climate change lover.

You may have noticed that I’ve been somewhat quiet lately — that’s because I fractured my wrist about 7 weeks ago. I was cleaning up that last large bed next to the house when I had a pivotal argument with a vine of poison ivy. It quickly escalated into a tug o’ war worthy of filming (though, to my knowledge, my pride escaped being caught so compromised)

To be fair, I admit to having muttered aloud hateful things for a good three hours as I pulled all the offspring of this evil mother plant. I told each and every morsel that it was mean and horrid and unworthy. Definitely one for the karma books that the tug o’ war ended in point ivy.

After ignoring the little voice suggesting that I’d done enough for the day, I decided “one more vine.” After all, I was already protectively clothed and so close to being finished that I might as well just do it.

We seemed evenly matched, that vine and I. I tugged, it held strong. This continued for several minutes. I strengthened my tugging, it continued to hold. Then all of a sudden, quick as you please with no warning whatsoever… bam. It broke and I tumbled backward on a slight downslope, all of my body weight and quite a bit of momentum onto my left wrist. A loud crack followed by a small snap then my “Aw, man!”

I checked in on my body. No nausea (whew), a little light-headed, and my wrist was starting to hurt. I hoped for a sprain. I carefully shoved the offender into the trash bag and carried it to the curb. On the way back to the house, I had to sit down twice due to the light-headedness. Not good—and my wrist was developing a rather sizable knot. Off to the hospital we went.

Confirmation: a closed, distal fracture of the radius. They wrapped me up and referred me to an orthopedic office. Thankfully, I was able to get in the next day and they fixed me up with a brilliant Exos cast (by Boa Technologies). This made me happy because I would be able to take the cast off and apply comfrey several times a day.

I would also be able to tend to the rash that developed over the next couple of weeks — that dreadful ivy plant had transferred just the tiniest bit of oil to my skin which, in turn, spread and covered the entire inside of my left arm.

The good thing is that I didn’t have to turn to steroids this time as I have figured out the perfect combination of homeopathic remedy and a wonderful product from John RedDeer Cruz. While my skin still blossoms (to put it nicely), it actually no longer melts off leaving a trail of ooze all over everything it touches.


Using Comfrey as a Healing Agent

What about the comfrey? I have used comfrey oil, tincture, and  compresses on my broken toes for years. It has always cut the healing time in about half. I swear by the stuff! It can do wonders healing many things. I urge you to spend a little time looking into this plant if you don’t already know about it.

Two very important things to remember when using this wonder for healing:

1. Never use it on any area where infection is present (you’ll seal in the infection).

2. Don't use it without a lot of study and research when the bone has broken all the way through. Comfrey (aka boneknit) heals bones and connective tissue so well and so quickly that when used on some injuries, it can move the bones out of alignment before knitting them together out of place. Then you’re in for surgery and longer rather than shorter healing times.

This is where my closed fracture break was a blessing. I knew from experience that there was a distinct possibility that my orthopedist might be proven wrong with his initial doubt that my nearly 60-year-old body could mend this in anything close to a quick timeline.

At my two-week check-up, I was thrilled to see his raised eyebrow and suggestion that I was healing more quickly than normal. He even let me start physical therapy sooner, though on a slow track. My Physical Therapist referred to me as an outlier more than once. Both he and my orthopedist urged me to be patient as I was healing much more quickly than most people.

Patience is not one of my strong suits when I have a garden to put to bed and arting projects queued up and waiting. I’ve recently become very adept at one-handing all sorts of chores.

Comfrey Oil and Comfrey Compress

I applied comfrey oil up to five times a day, with frozen compresses once a day during the first week. In addition to my use of comfrey, I had one session of acupuncture, consumed several bowls of bone broth, was religious in taking organic plant calcium, and worked healing energy.

At this point, the only lingering hindrance is my TFCC ligament. The orthopedic physician’s assistant tells me that will take another six months to heal. My comfrey and I accept that challenge with vigor and a wee knowing smile.

Now, if I could just figure out how to make a comfrey bath large enough to immerse the planet in…

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her 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.

10 Herbs for Tea-Kettle First Aid

Learning to use herbs in your everyday life can seem overwhelming at first. There are so many different herbs and ways to prepare them! Thankfully, a tea kettle and some dried herbs are all you need to be able to begin using herbs in your own home and even provide herbal support for common first aid complaints.

Herbal teas, or infusions, aren’t just good for drinking. Besides being enjoyed as a hot drink or over ice, they can be applied topically as a compress or added to bathwater to make an herbal soak.

10 Herbs for Tea Kettle First Aid by Herbal Academy

10 Herbs for Your Tea Kettle

These ten especially versatile herbs can make a serviceable Tea Kettle First Aid Kit for your homestead or farm:

• Elder
• Sage
• Goldenrod
• Rose
• Calendula
• Elderflowers
• Yarrow
• Plantain
• Horehound
• Meadowsweet

Here are a few of the ways you can utilize these herbs support your health and wellness!

TEN Herbs for Tea Kettle First Aid by the Herbal Academy

Upset Stomach

An upset stomach is uncomfortable, to say the least. Two herbs from the list above stand out as particularly beneficial for digestive support. Sage, which is astringent, has traditionally been used to help resolve diarrhea. Horehound’s incredibly bitter taste helps prime the digestive system to do its best work, and can also help bring a little ease to an overburdened digestive tract after a big meal.

In addition, rose was once considered to be a valuable liver tonic and meadowsweet has a reputation among herbalists as being helpful for normalizing digestion when acidity is too high.

Settling Down for Bed

Several of the herbs in the list above are nervines that help support the health of the nervous system in various ways.

Rose is a soothing and nurturing option and a cup of rose tea can be just the thing to wind down after a stressful day. Sage is a calming herb that supports frayed nerves and helps put the mind at ease, and even elderflowers can offer a gentle reprieve from stress or daily cares when added to your tea cup.

Soothing Skin (Use as a Wash or a Compress)

Your tea kettle first aid kit’s versatility extends past your tea cup with herbs that you can also apply topically! Calendula is well loved for antiseptic properties that help keep cuts and bug bites clean, and may also help promote a healthy response to inflammation. Yarrow can be used to support healing and hygiene for cuts, as an astringent to balance the circulation when there is excessive bleeding, and even makes a good wash for sores and bruises.

Many herbalists can attest to plantain’s drawing energy that supports the body’s process for expelling dirt and debris from hard to clean or infected wounds. Plantain is also traditionally used on insect bites and stings. Rose petals make a good alternative to lavender when addressing burn or sunburn after care from an herbal perspective.

Taking Care During a Cold

Many of the herbs in this tea kettle first aid kit are also very balancing and comforting when your body is facing down a cold. Yarrow is a diaphoretic herb, traditionally used by herbalists to help promote sweating as the body works to break a fever (more on that here).

Elderflower is also a diaphoretic, and a boon for runny noses—because one of elder’s actions is to dry up and balance excess secretions. Sage can help in a similar manner as elderflower, with the added bonus that its astringency makes it a go-to herb for many herbalists when they have a sore throat!

Calendula can be helpful during a cold, but for different reasons. This herb is used to help gently cleanse the lymphatic system, which herbalists believe can give the immune system an edge and help ease uncomfortable swelling in the lymph nodes.

Breathing Easy During Allergies and Coughs or Colds

Sometimes the worst part of a cold is the respiratory struggle that ensues as your nose runs or feels stuffy and your lungs try to eliminate phlegm. The same can be true of allergies, and thankfully there are several herbal allies that we can turn to in either case. Elder and sage, as mentioned above, are two, thanks to their penchant for drying up excess secretions.

Horehound is one of the most venerated cough remedies in traditional herbalism—but beware! The bitter brew of horehound tea may take both a little getting used to and a little dab of honey. Plantain is traditionally enlisted in herbal lung formulas as an ingredient to thin and expel mucus, and has a much milder taste than horehound. If your breathing woes are allergy related, goldenrod may helpful to you.

Sore, Tight Muscles? Relax!

If stress or a hard day of physical work have your muscles tied up in knots, you can use several of the herbs in your tea kettle first aid kit to put your muscles at ease. Goldenrod is often included in liniments and salves for just that reason, but it works equally well if you make a strong infusion to add to your bath water. Meadowsweet contains some of the same compounds as white willow, the herb that inspired the development of aspirin, so a cup of meadowsweet tea can be a welcome respite when you are feeling achy and uncomfortable.

If you feel cold and achy, sage is wonderful in the bath to help warm up your joints and limbs, and has the added bonus that its nervine properties make it soothing and comforting to the emotions and not just the body.

Ten Herbs for Tea Kettle First Aid - Herbal Academy

Stocking and Using Your Tea Kettle Kit

When you are creating your Tea Kettle First Aid Kit, be sure to source your herbs from reputable companies that specialize in herbs. This will guarantee that the herbs are free of contaminants and don’t contain misidentified plants! Many good companies exist that sell herbs in tea bags or loose leaf, in bulk. If you decide to purchase dried herbs in bulk, be sure to store your herbs in an airtight container away from moisture and sunlight to protect their shelf life and keep them as fresh as possible.

More tips for storing your herbs can be found here.

Making Tea

To make an infusion from loose leaf herbs, add 1 or 2 teaspoons of dried herbs to a heat safe glass bowl and add 8 ounces of water just off the boil. Cover the bowl and allow it to steep for 5-10 minutes before straining. If you have a tea strainer, you can brew your infusion right into your favorite tea cup.

For creating an herbal tub tea or bath, place ¼ to ½ cup of dried herbs into a quart canning jar. Fill the jar with water and allow it to steep, covered, for 20 minutes. Strain the infusion and pour the tea into your bathwater, then enjoy as you would a regular bath.  

Building on a Tea Kettle First Aid Kit

The art of making herbal teas is a versatile place to begin learning herbalism, but there are many other ways herbs can be used around the homestead. With reliable, well-researched online programs, the Herbal Academy’s Introductory Herbal Course can help you establish a solid, practical foundation in herbalism that’s perfect for your home or farmstead!

Photos copyright Herbal Academy.

Agatha Noveille grew up in gardens, and under the teaching of her grandparents, she learned how to identify native plants and how to grow fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs in miniature Edens that reflected the personalities of their caretakers. It was only natural that she blossomed into a plant-related career, and she is now a writer and herbalist in Dalton, Ga. Agatha is an Associate Educator at the Herbal Academy, international school of herbal arts and sciences. Learn more about the Herbal Academy and read all of Agatha'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.

Make Your Own Elderberry Syrup


If you've walked the aisle of a health food store lately, you've no doubt seen a proliferation of homeopathic medicines, syrups, and tonics made with elderberries.  Often including honey, these products are designed to prevent and treat cold and flu symptoms and generally boost your immune system.  

According to the University of Maryland medical center: "some evidence suggests that chemicals in elder flower and berries may help reduce swelling in mucous membranes, including the sinuses, and help relieve nasal congestion. Elder may have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-influenza, and anticancer properties."

Honey is likewise well-known for its medicinal qualities (read a history of honey and its medicinal uses in this Mother Earth Living article) — honey can boost the immune system, sooth a sore throat, calm a cough, or fight allergies, especially if it is from your local environment.

Its no surprise that elderberry and honey are being combined by herbalists everywhere.  While I am a huge fanof herbal medicines and I have found success with some of these elderberry supplements, I have two complaints when I shop in the store: cost and ingredients. A small jar of elderberry syrup can cost upwards of $15 to $20 and many of these products contain alcohol which doesn't taste good to me and makes me not want to use the product for my children.

Rest assured, you can make a great elderberry syrup at home for a fraction of the cost with just a few simple ingredients and a little bit of time. This is especially true if you, like us, grow your own elderberries or keep your own bees!

Be sure to find a reputable source for dried elderberries, like an herbalist or a natural foods store. We grow black elderberries, the most common elderberry grown in North America.  Many types of elderberries can be toxic when raw, so its important to cook the berries thoroughly.

Here is a simple elderberry syrup recipe that will keep for a few months in your fridge; you can doll it out in spoonfuls just like cough medicine or you can stir it into your morning juice or tea (stick to about a teaspoon for kids or a tablespoon for adults).

We add cinnamon, ginger, and cloves since these spices can also be beneficial in fighting colds — you can use powdered or ground versions, but I prefer dried whole spices because they are more fresh and also easier to strain out!  If you are brave, you can experiment with adding a little cayenne pepper, but we don't think our kids would be quite so cooperative if we did that!

Elderberry Syrup Recipe

Boost your immune system and fight cold and flu with this simple homemade version of the herbal syrups you're likely to see in your local health food store.


• 1 cup fresh or frozen black elderberries (or 3/4 cup dried)
• 2 cinnamon sticks
• 1 tbsp fresh ginger, sliced
• 1 tbsp dried cloves
• 3 1/2 cups water

1 cup honey (from as local a source as you can find)


1. Place the elderberries, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and water in a saucepan (do not mix in the honey yet).  


2. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes (liquid should reduce down by about half).  

3. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool, then drain out the berries and spices using a fine meshed sieve or colander.  


4. Discard the berries and spices.  

5. Add the honey to the remaining liquid.

6.  Pour the mixture into a pint-sized mason jar to store in your fridge.

Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’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.

12 Uses for Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar is a superfood, able to tackle tasks from cleaning up mold and covering odors to spicing up a salad with ease. It is easy to make yourself, and can also be inexpensive from the grocery store in raw, organic versions with the mother.


Apple cider vinegar can be made at home with chunks, cores, and peels of apple, some sugar, water, and a mason jar covered in cheesecloth. It is a simple matter of allowing the apples to ferment and create bacteria, a process that takes about a month.

There are plenty of great recipes for making your own apple cider vinegar online, but if you are unable to there are also lots of resources for good ACV at your local grocery or health food store. If you’re buying ACV at the store, look for it packaged in glass bottles, raw with the mother. With the mother means that the bottle with have a cloudy mixture at the bottom of it, a collection of bacteria and enzymes that will continue enrich the vinegar throughout its life.

What can you use this amazing vinegar for? It is truly astonishing how many tasks ACV can help out with. Here are just a dozen of my favorites.

As a skin cleanser and toner. Because of its antiseptic properties, vinegar has always been a common recommendation for skin care. Apple cider vinegar in particular helps to regulate your skin’s pH levels, reducing inflammations and blemishes. Leaving skin feeling smooth and soft, ACV has been used to treat acne and psoriasis by some home remedy enthusiasts, and it will help to keep skin clear and even.

Pickling. One of the most well known uses for Apple Cider Vinegar is in the pickling of vegetables, particularly when making classic pickled recipes like dill pickles. Apple cider vinegar is a favorite for pickling because its flavors add some depth to the recipe but do not overwhelm the other spices in the mix. At five percent acetic acid, apple cider vinegar has just the right amount of acid for preserving vegetables.

Deodorizing. Apple Cider Vinegar can be used as an alternative to store-bought deodorants.  Pure ACV can be applied to the underarms with a washcloth, and when it dries it will absorb odors and also kill germs.  It is a much more healthy choice than deodorant sticks, and after an initial scent of pickles it will have almost no smell

As a cleaning solution. Just like how it can neutralize under-arm smells, ACV can also tackle bad scents around the house. Diluted in water Apple Cider Vinegar provides a chemical-free alternative to expensive store bought cleaners, and it works just as well. It has a slight odor in application that disappears when it dries, it won’t leave streaks behind and it will cut through grime and grease with ease

Fight colds and sore throats. I’ve known of apple cider vinegar as a ‘cure’ for the common cold since I was a child.  It’s an age-old remedy, but it is not an old wife’s tale. If you drink a tablespoon as your cold symptoms set in, it will help to battle the germs and set you on the path back to health. Its high levels of alkaline are why it is so good at warding off colds, and it also can be used to soothe a sore throat. Enjoyed with warm water and honey, ACV can feel pleasant on an irritated throat and it is also going to help loosen phlegm and mucus for easy breathing.   

Catch fruit flies. Fruit flies are some of the most annoying and hard to combat household pests. They’re so tiny they are impossible to swat, but you can use Apple Cider Vinegar to create an effective trap for the little bugs. A quarter inch of Apple Cider Vinegar in a cup with a drop of soap, covered with a piece of paper or plastic wrap, will draw flies in and then not allow them to escape. An ACV trap can also be effective against larger house flies.

Hair care. Similar to how it clears and tones skin, apple cider vinegar can also keep hair clean and shining with health. The high acidity of ACV helps it to keep your hair healthy and porous, and it often helps to reduce tangles and make hair easy to comb. Apple cider vinegar can be used directly on your hair, or it can be mixed with other ingredients for a homemade, natural shampoo.

Weed killer. If you’re looking for a natural alternative to chemical rich weed killers, look no further than Apple Cider Vinegar. Straight ACV sprayed onto weeds will kill them and not damage the surrounding soil.  ACV is also much less expensive than most chemical weed killers, and it kills weeds because of its high acidity not because of other potentially harmful ingredients.

Combat fleas. Even more of a nuisance than fruit flies, fleas are hard to get rid of and cause skin irritation and itching for you and your pets. Once again Apple Cider Vinegar is a great, inexpensive and chemical free alternative to flea sprays which do not always work. A little bit of ACV in your pet’s drinking water, or mixed in when you bathe them, will help to prevent flea outbreaks. Using a topical spray of ACV and water, about half and half, will help get rid of fleas and you can apply the same spray around your house, especially against baseboards and on to carpets, to combat an infestation. The fact that ACV dries odorless means you do not have to worry about your home smelling like pickles all the time, either. 

Stop hiccups. Since I was a kid my favorite way to use ACV is to combat hiccups. I’m prone to frequent hiccuping and it is often hard to stop even with traditional “cures" like holding your breath. Apple Cider Vinegar stops them in a very simple way: It is so tart and sour it simply distracts the brain, and hiccups subside. I may be in the minority, but I have always enjoyed the taste so a burst of hiccups seems almost like an excuse to enjoy some vinegar.

Tooth whiter and bad breath fighter. Just as it fights bad odors in the house and from your sweat, ACV will also help control bad breath. A tablespoon of ACV will help to combat bad odors in the mouth, and it also adds to your stomach’s natural acidity, aiding in the digestion of your food. At the same time, Apple Cider Vinegar can also help to keep your teeth white and shining. Gargling a mixture of ACV and water helps keep teeth pearly white and removes unsightly stains.

In your cooking. If you want to add ACV to your diet because of its many benefits, but you don’t like the taste of vinegar, there are hundreds of recipes that can use ACV as an important but not overwhelming ingredient. You do not have to just use Apple Cider Vinegar for pickling, it can also be part of a marinade, a salad dressing, deviled eggs, baked beans, and more. Drink recipes like fire cider and detox drinks use ACV as their base ingredient, and call for other super foods that help to keep your body healthy and fight off infections.


No matter where you use apple cider vinegar, there is no doubt of its incredible powers. Make some or pick some up at the grocery store, and you’ll be surprised how many ways you’ll be using it around your home.

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200 year old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog 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.

Dealing with Sickness on the Homestead

 fresh mint

Mint. Fresh herbs make a wonderful tea for times of sickness.

Recently our entire family got through a particularly nasty stomach bug and then it dawned on me that being sick has some particularly challenging aspects for homesteaders, remote dwellers and backyard gardeners. When one is feeling weak, the usual and sensible advice is to set everything aside and rest, but if you have a garden and especially livestock to take care of, some basics still need to be done. Nothing will happen if dishes go unwashed for a day or two, but keeping animals unfed isn’t responsible or humane, and losing a whole season’s harvest because it’s getting overripe and you don’t have the strength to pull yourself out of bed and deal with it is nearly heartbreaking.

The best thing is to try and have at least one adult in the household avoid the illness. It’s incredibly helpful if someone is still up on their feet to do urgent chores or prepare a simple and nourishing meal. It is possible to avoid contagious illness by limiting contact with sick family members as much as possible, moving to a different bedroom if one is available, using separate hand towels, washing dishes with very hot water and sterilizing door handles, countertops, and other work surfaces.

However, sometimes it just so happens that a particularly nasty virus gets the whole family, like it happened for us – or maybe you are the only adult in the household — and then you just have to cope.

Call on neighbors and friends. Enlisting help from willing neighbors can be a godsend at such a time. If you have a kind neighbor who is ready to come and water your garden and take care of your animals while you are too sick to move, by all means avail yourself of this blessing (and be prepared to reciprocate the favor when needed). If you aren’t actually paying your neighbors for their help, it’s nice to offer some little gift in exchange; for example, when we thus collected eggs for our neighbors, we were offered to keep some for ourselves in return.

Automate what chores you can. Supposing you are on your own, however, take things easy and don’t try to brave it out and go on, business as usual, until you actually collapse. Do the bare minimum: Keep your animals fed, watered and sheltered, and do just what it takes to make sure your garden pulls through until you have the time and energy to tend to it. Don’t worry about weeds or mulching at this point, don’t fuss about a stinky, messy chicken coop and don’t undertake heavy jobs such as fencing or other major projects. Time-saving contraptions such as automatic watering systems and self-refilling feeders and waterers for animals prove the true extent of their worth at such a moment.

Rest. Once these basic chores are taken care of, concentrate on resting and recuperating your strength. Relax in bed or on the couch and take a nice nap and catch up on some reading you’ve been meaning to do for a while.

Caring for sick children. If you also have to deal with a houseful of sick little ones, this can be particularly challenging, especially if your kids, like ours, are used to running in and out of doors at all times and find it frustrating to sit or lie down still and quiet. It helps to provide some quiet amusement in the form of books, coloring books, sketching pads, and other quiet, non-messy crafts. Let your children curl up with you in bed for some reading together, or allow them to spread a board game or puzzle on the floor while you are relaxing on the couch. Movies can have their place, too, of course, but in general I find that prolonged staring into a screen contributes to fatigue and doesn’t promote the overall sense of well-being.

Healthy foods for recovery. Provide refreshing, healthy snacks for yourself and your family (some planning ahead can be helpful here): chicken or vegetable soup, fresh and dried fruits, whole-grain crackers, natural yogurt with some raw honey. If you are experiencing a stomach virus, stick to bland foods such as bananas, white rice and white toast. Small sips of clear natural grape juice can also be helpful when it’s difficult to keep anything down.

Brewing herbal teas. Brew some tea, preferably with fresh herbs from your garden. I find this so wonderful at times of sickness that I truly believe it’s worthwhile to keep a patch of herbs (or even just a few pots on a sunny windowsill) for this, if for no other reason. Different herbs have different healing properties. Mint, sage and lemon balm combined make a tea that is great for colds, sore throats, respiratory infections, stomach viruses and inflammation of all kinds. Ginger, though not a herb, also makes a wonderful tea to keep nausea at bay at times of digestive system disorders.

Prioritize your most important chores. If it makes you feel better, make a concise, not-too-long list of chores that have to be done when you recover, in order of importance. For example, “1. Repair chicken coop door; 2. Pick and juice lemons”, etc. Above all, allow yourself the time to rest and heal; everything else can wait.

This post was an excerpt from my upcoming book, Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living. Get book updates and more by following my Facebook page

Anna Twittos academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna'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.

Canine Skin Problems Caused by Food Allergies

Boz (1)

Where we live remotely in the Sangre de Cristo mountains (9,800-feet elevation), we have to be constantly aware of our surroundings, especially when it comes to our four German Shepherd dogs. Our veterinarian is 45 miles away, so we need to be familiar as laymen with ailments and conditions that may impact our fur family.

We have had numerous situations over the years where they have needed to be treated professionally for various conditions, such as sebaceous cysts, sudden blindness, teeth extractions, plus the subject of this blog post: skin issues caused by food allergies.

Testing for Allergies in Dogs

Perhaps the most confounding and difficult issue we have had to deal with is food allergies. We have gone through numerous foods over the years and our Bozwell’s skin will clear up and then suddenly he will begin itching, biting, and licking himself again. Dealing with food allergies is a real roller-coaster ride with its ups and downs.

We have had the rather expensive allergy tests done as well as skin scrapings and all came back negative for allergies. When his allergies happen, it is usually after a period of tranquility where he has enjoyed normal life temporarily and then the allergies start all over again.

Food Allergies are Perplexing

We have gone through numerous foods from the most expensive brands to the grocery store variety. He will do well for a while and then serious scratching, licking and hot spots start to manifest again. Food allergies are probably the most perplexing problems of canine ownership we have dealt with. We don’t like to see our fur friends constantly itching or with hot spots and discomfort.

Only one of our four (Bozwell) has food allergies, and it is almost a full-time job to keep him free of the discomfort associated with them.

Dog Food Package Labels are Difficult to Read

Canines seem to manifest irritable symptoms on their skin when they have food allergies. We learned that putting a pinch of oregano on his food once a day helps eliminate his irritation, but it doesn’t totally resolve it. To further compound his food allergies, we are totally confused by the labels on food bags.

In checking his current kibble, it has 57 specific ingredients, including chicken, brown rice, peas, kelp, spinach, carrots, yucca extract, glucosamine, and 49 other seemingly harmless ingredients. It is when I read the multitude of ingredients that I can not pronounce or understand that I get concerned. His allergy tests came back negative for most of the target ingredients but clearly something in his food is causes his problem.

When we read down through the ingredients, I also see metals like zinc, copper, plus several sulfates, so when trying to compare ingredients from bag to bag, my eyes start spinning, along with my mind. Our veterinarian recommendations have been tried along with several other types and brands — all with limited success. Raw or natural feeding is not an option, because of where we live. Our canine family are all inside family members, so we are with them 24/7 and we notice when any scratching or licking becomes abnormal.

Treating Flare Ups

We have had success in treating the affected area topically with neem oil and washing the affected area twice a day with warm, clear water. We also use Vetericyn spray on the real raw areas and other topical sprays like Solarcaine spray with aloe to relieve itching.

These methods all are effective and give Bozwell relief for the symptoms but do not resolve the root cause. If the symptoms are really bad, we treat topically and also with antibiotics prescribed by our veterinarian. We get dazzled by the labels and their multiple ingredients as we seek a new brand of kibble. Changing his diet may work for a few months, but then he starts with the symptoms all over again.

Patience and Persistence

It is a long and difficult process where we are always hoping to find the right product that will provide him lasting relief. It takes patience and perseverance and just when we think we have a solution, the symptoms seem to resume again. Allergy tests cover the most common known food allergies but not all of the components listed on the food ingredient labels. We have eliminated nervous itching or itching from boredom as he is neither. We have been working with our veterinarian throughout regarding this problem, but no permanent solution has been found yet.

The entire purpose of this blog topic is to inform readers that when dealing with food allergies in the canine species there doesn’t seem to be any quick fix short of a miracle. It is a long trial and error process that requires patience and persistence. Oregano helps, but only with the symptoms and not the root cause. For the cause the solution is to change food but additionally not all dogs like all foods which doesn’t make the challenge any easier.

Some Symptoms of Food Allergies in Dogs

Symptoms of food allergies can be skin irritation, ear infection with frequent head shaking, gastrointestinal upset with vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence and weight loss. Some breeds are predisposed to food allergies and others, like Bozwell, don’t seem to get them until they reach adulthood.

Bozwells symptoms are deep red irritation and rash in the genital area and on his flanks (see photo). His ear tips also become slightly crusted. One veterinarian diagnosed his problem as mites, but we had him checked for those and found he did not have them.


Any canine that has the symptoms of food allergies should have that suspicion confirmed by a veterinarian and start the long process that will give the dog some relief and a better quality of life. Don’t be discouraged when hopeful solutions don’t work, but be willing to persist until you find the one that does work.

I have not had to deal with food allergies in canines before, but as I have gone through various stages of success and failure, I have picked up some insight into the problem. It can be a long haul to find your canine some relief and give them a better quality of life. It is easy to become discouraged while trying to find a resolution, but persistence will be appreciated by your canine fur friend.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lives in the Sangre de Christo mountains of southern Colorado, go to their blog 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 our Terms of Agreement and to follow blogging best practices. They are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

4 Herbal Teas for Autumn and Winter

Four Herbal Teas for Autumn and Winter 

The cool, dry winds, unsettled weather, and decreasing daylight hours that we experience as the season transitions into autumn and winter can be difficult for our bodies and minds. While some of us welcome this rhythmic seasonal change and the downward movement of energy back to the earth and others dread it, we can all benefit by incorporating foods and herbs into our diet that help balance the energetics of the season. By doing so, we can replenish ourselves with the inward movement of energy as we settle into a slower, more deliberate season, enjoying warm soups and stews, bread fresh from the oven, a steaming cup of tea, and nights by the fireplace or curled up on the sofa.

Bodily imbalance may arise during autumn and the long winter months either due to illness arising from fluctuating weather or passing viruses around, reduced activity, the stress of the holidays, or the decreased daylight hours. We can turn to herbal teas to support our body’s resilience and to correct imbalance.

The process of blending and the ritual of making and drinking herbal tea is a fine way to tune into the slower rhythms of this season and is therapeutic in and of itself. Sipping a cup of tea allows us to pause for a moment and let the stillness of this time of year nourish us.

Read on for 4 herbal tea recipes that we can turn to this season to keep ourselves healthy and happy.

Tea Preparation

The recipes that follow use dried herbs. You may already grow herbs in your garden and dry them; if not, you can purchase bulk dried herbs at your local natural foods store or online, or if you are fortunate to have one, at a local herb shop. To make teas, you’ll just need a kettle (or pot) for boiling water, a pot for making herbal decoctions with rooty herbs, a measuring spoon, a teapot, a tea infuser or strainer, and a teacup (or two or three).

Take note, some of the recipe measurements are in parts. This “part” can be whatever you would like: 1 tablespoon, 1 cup, etc., depending on how big of a batch of dried herb blend you want to make. Just keep the ratio of the parts equivalent to the recipe!

There are two approaches to preparing tea: an infusion, which is used for more tender plant parts such as leaves and flowers (more on infusions here), or a decoction, which is used for harder plant parts such as roots and barks (more on decoctions here). Infusions involve boiling water, pouring it over the tea blend, and then steeping for 10-15 minutes.

Decoctions involve simmering the herbs with the water for 15-20 minutes to extract the plant constituents. In both cases, you’ll want to keep the tea covered during steeping/simmering, particularly for aromatic herbs with volatile constituents.

You can drink these teas as-is or choose to sweeten them with a bit of honey or maple syrup. Adding one or two dried apple rings to the tea while it steeps or simmers adds a subtle but lovely sweetness as well

Herbal Teas for Autumn - Winter Nourishment Tea by Herbal Academy

Teas for Autumn and Winter

The words that come to my mind when considering teas for autumn and winter are warmth, nourishment, immune support, and cold and flu relief. We can do much for our wellness just with the foods and herbs we choose as daily nourishment, and teas can be a part of this sustenance.

Herbal Nourishment Tonic

This tea is my go-to, vitamin- and mineral-rich tonic to nourish and support the body through the winter months.


•2 parts nettle leaf
• 2 parts peppermint or spearmint leaf
•1 part lemon balm leaf
• 1 part milky oats
• 1 part red clover blossom
• 1 part burdock root


Blend herbs together. Steep 1-2 tablespoons tea blend in each 1 cup of boiling water for 10-15 minutes. Sweeten to taste with honey, if desired. Several cups of this tonic tea can be consumed throughout the day.  (A longer infusion period of several hours will extract even more vitamins and minerals; you can make a big batch, let it infuse overnight, and drink it throughout the next day, reheating if desired.

Herbal Teas for Autumn - Herbal Chai by Herbal Academy

Warming Adaptogen Chai Tea

This warming tea keeps you toasty as the days turn cool while supporting the immune system and adrenals during the cold and flu season to help fend off illness.


• 2 tablespoons reishi mushroom
• 1 tablespoon astragalus root
• 1 tablespoon eleuthero or ashwaganda root
•1 tablespoon burdock root
• 1 tablespoon cinnamon chips
• 2 teaspoons dried ginger (or 7 slices fresh ginger)
• 5 cardamon pods, crushed
• ½ tsp cloves
• 2 cups water
• 2 cups milk (dairy or non-dairy)


1. Combine reishi, astragalus, eleuthero/ashwaganda, burdock, and water in a pot.

2. Bring to a gentle simmer for 15-20 minutes.

3. Add remaining herbs and milk, and heat for another 10-15 minutes.

4. Strain herbs and serve with honey or maple syrup to taste and a dash of nutmeg on top, if desired.

5. Refrigerate unused portion and reheat later. Drink up to 3-4 cups throughout the day.

Those who enjoy a more traditional chai recipe could add a tablespoon or two of loose leaf black tea (regular or decaffeinated) to this recipe along with the cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves. Check out the Herbal Academy blog for another take on herbal chai. Roasted chicory and dandelion root also add a rich, earthy taste.

Uplift Tea

As the dark nights grow longer and sun is in short supply, support your nervous system and mental outlook with these uplifting and building herbs.


• 3 parts lemon balm leaves
• 2 parts St. John’s wort flower and leaf
• 2 parts milky oat tops
•2 parts spearmint leaves
• 1 part linden leaf & flower


Blend herbs together. Steep 1-2 tablespoons tea blend in each 1 cup of boiling water for 10-15 minutes. Sweeten to taste with honey, if desired. Drink up to 3-4 cups throughout the day.

Nip It in the Bud Tea

At the first sign of a cold or flu, nip it in the bud with this immune- and lymph-stimulating tea! Make a big batch in the morning and sip it throughout the day to support your immune system during acute infection.


•2 parts elderberries
•2 parts echinacea root and/or leaves
• 2 parts calendula petals
• 1 part rose hips
• 1 part orange peel
• ½ part ginger root (or 1 part fresh ginger root)
• ¼ part cinnamon chips
• 1 cup water


Add elderberries and water to a pan. Bring to a simmer for 10-15 minutes. Turn off heat and add the rest of the herbs. Let steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain and drink up to 3-4 cups throughout the day.

Herbal Teas for Autumn - Chai_blend by Herbal Academy

Teas for Colds and Flus

If despite your best efforts you do come down with a cold or flu, herbal teas can provide relief for congestion, sore throats, coughs, fevers, and headaches and make you more comfortable while your immune system does its job.  

For more herbal tea recipes, check out Ten Homemade Herbal Teas for Cold and Flu Season

For some simple herbal teas you can make using culinary herbs, check out Five Kitchen Herbs for Cold Season

For an easy herbal tea for colds, check out Kitchen Medicine: A Simple Cold and Flu Remedy

And get well soon!  

Photos copyright Jane Metzger, Annie Hall, and Herbal Academy. 

Jane Cookman Metzger is the Assistant Director at the Herbal Academy. Herbal Academy programs offer multiple levels of comprehensive herbal education, ranging from very beginner to advanced professional levels. 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. Through the Herbal Academy’s training paths, students will gain the knowledge and experience required for careers as professional herbalists, and with additional hands-on training, clinical herbalism. All programs are held online, and designed with an international classroom in mind. Read all of Jane's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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