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4 Ways to Use Beautiful Bee Balm on the Homestead

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 Homeopathic Treatments for Natural Pet Care

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.

Health and Environmental Effects of Triclosan

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.

7 Easy Ways to Protect Your Skin Without Sunblock

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.

Local Herbal Remedies Using Violets, Plantain, and Dock

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.

Study Finds Benefits in Mediterranean Way of Eating

PREDIMED is a Spanish study (recruited almost 7,500 high-risk participants) that was designed to assess two variations of the Mediterranean diet, based either in extra virgin olive oil or nuts.

These two types of Mediterranean diet were compared to a low-fat diet, which is the standard recommendation for people at high risk for cardiovascular disease. The main targets of the study were to find out how many of the participants would suffer from serious cardiovascular conditions (stroke, myocardial infraction, hypertension etc) or develop diabetes (metabolic syndrome) during the study.

Essentially, the study wanted to find out whether Mediterranean diet can actually prevent any of these conditions. Participants were advised to not reduce their calories in any way or increase physical activity. The only requirements were the consumption of extra-virgin olive oil or mixed nuts (both supplied on a weekly basis) or reducing dietary fats respectively.

Benefits of Mediterranean Eating

Based on previously published data, the study was designed to last for 6 years. From a statistical point of view, that amount of time would be sufficient to show whether Mediterranean diet had indeed any preventive value. The results quickly showed that participants eating a Mediterranean diet enjoyed superior health benefits, which the participants in the low-fat group were increasingly missing out.

The PREDIMED study produced an impressive amount of data regarding the therapeutic and preventive value of the Mediterranean diet. Since 2013, hundreds of studies have been presenting parts of the results. Below, I am outlining two golden nuggets from this important study that highlight the importance of this specific diet for our long-term health.

Participants who complemented their diet with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, enjoyed a reduction in risk of combined heart attack, stroke and death from cardiovascular disease by 30 percent and 28 percent respectively. In the graph below (taken from Estruch et al., 2013), we can clearly see that as years pass, the difference in risk between the people who followed a Mediterranean diet and the low-fat group is gradually increasing.

In other words, the more the study would continue, the low-fat group would be increasingly more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease and risk of death. These results reached statistical significance for men but not for women.

Reduction in CVD risk

A different analysis of the some of the PREDIMED data shows that individuals in high-risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) can reduce significantly their oxidative stress markers, such as oxidized LDL, very fast. This is important because it is now recognized that chronic oxidative damage of tissues is key in the development and progression of CVD and in fact most chronic debilitating diseases. The graph below (taken from Estruch et al., 2006) shows just how much oxidized LDL levels are reduced within three months of following a Mediterranean diet.

A different analysis showed that both types of the Mediterranean diet outperformed low-fat diet, by reducing the risk for developing the diabetes and/or metabolic syndrome by a whopping 52% (Salas-Salvado et al., 2011)!

Reduction in oxidized LDL within 3 months

Because of all the health benefits associated with the two types of Mediterranean diet, it became obvious that the participants of the low-fat group were increasingly essentially harming their health during the study.

Since all scientific research is required to protect the health and safety of all participants, the PREDIMED study was terminated on average at 4.8 years, instead of six, having adequately established the preventive value of Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

Mediterranean Diet for Healthy Pregnancy and Babies

But the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet do not stop in cardiovascular and metabolic health of high risk adults at all. Expectant moms and their babies could actually reap some great benefits too. There is evidence from another important scientific study (following 3,500 women more than 9 years) showing that women who eat frequently Mediterranean-style meals before pregnancy have significantly reduced risk for serious pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia (a condition characterized by hypertension and protein in the urine). Preeclampsia is intimately linked to maternal obesity and it increases the risk for developing cardiovascular disease later in life.

Just like CVD and diabetes, preventing preeclampsia is a significant public health issue. More than 6.5 million women worldwide develop preeclampsia every year. In the US alone, 18% of maternal deaths and 15% of premature births are due to this condition. We don’t know what causes preeclampsia but we know that the only way it passes is by delivering the baby as soon as possible. There are very few ways to manage it successfully and until recently, no way to prevent it.

Now we know that the more women eat a Mediterranean diet, the more health benefits and protection from gestational hypertension they enjoy. A different line of evidence shows that, another component of the Mediterranean diet, the consumption of fruit and vegetables during pregnancy, also helps to prevent gestational hypertension and therefore preeclampsia.

The right diet before and during pregnancy could help many babies to be delivered full term, rather than prematurely. Premature babies are extremely vulnerable to several health problems, both short- and long-term, so any way to prevent such complications is much needed and welcome.

Perhaps for the first time we have a safe, inexpensive and non-invasive intervention that could improve the perinatal and long-term health of mothers and their babies.


Estruch R, et al. Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. The New England Journal of Medicine, 2013.

Salas-Salvado J, et al. Reduction in the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes With the Mediterranean Diet: Results of the PREDIMED-Reus nutrition intervention randomized trial. Diabetes Care, 2011.

Estruch R, et al. Effects of a Mediterranean-Style Diet on Cardiovascular Risk Factors. Annals of Internal medicine, 2006.

Schoenaker DA et al. 2015. Prepregnancy dietary patterns and risk of developing hypertensive disorders of pregnancy: results from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health. Am J Clin Nutr. 102(1):94-101.

Danielle AJM Schoenaker et al. 2014. The association between dietary factors and gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. BMC Med. 2014; 12: 157.

Eleni Roumeliotou is a 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. 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.

Repel Mosquitoes with These Plants, Part 3: Cooking with Lemongrass and 2 DIY Bug Spray Recipes

Lemongrass Leaf With Water Droplets

Photo by iStock/photographer unkown

Click here to read Part 1 and here for Part 2 of this series.

Lemongrass is more than just a beautiful garden plant – it’s a favored ingredient in Asian and Thai cooking, perfect for stir fries, marinades, and grilling. All portions of the plant are edible and add lemony flavor from Happy Hour to the dessert course.

This great plant also grows well all season so you can harvest frequently through the summer.

Harvesting Lemongrass

Lemongrass grows lots of stems out of a bulbous base and the lower portions are edible. When stalks reach about ½-inch thick and the plant is at least 12 inches tall, you can harvest the stem.

Just twist off at the base (much like picking rhubarb) or cut off with a sharp knife. The plant will continue to grow throughout the season and can be harvested until the first frost.

Cooking with Lemongrass

Lemongrass Sliced For Cooking

Photo by iStock/photographer unkown

After harvesting, remove the outer, woody layers and leaf tips as they can taste bitter. The remaining portions of the plant are all edible and will add a delicious hint of lemon to your dishes. Here are just a few ideas for cooking with this amazing plant:

Fresh Leaves. Whole fresh leaves can be tough and must be mashed, simmered, and chopped very finely if you plan on eating them. They can be used, though, brewed into hot or cold tea; coarsely chopped and added to marinades or stews, or submerged in oil or vinegar for a lemon infusion.

Dried Leaves. Place in a dehydrator and dry to the point where leaves can be crumbled and ground  such as with a bay leaf. Store in an airtight container and use either whole or ground to flavor meats, vegetables, and sauces. Whole dried leaves are great added to stew or combined with other herbs for a meat rub.

Bulbs and Stalks. The bulbous portion and lower thicker stalks are the most commonly used part in cooking. Similar to how you would prepare scallions, slice into rings and add to stir fries or grilled dishes or slightly mash to release flavor into your dish.

Try using the whole stalk as a meat skewer when grilling to infuse your dinner with lemon-flavor. Lemongrass can have a hint of ginger which is complemented if combined with dishes using chili pepper, garlic, or turmeric. Mashed leaves, whole bulbs, or sliced rings can be frozen for up to six months.

Make Your Own Mosquito Repellent

Spray Bottle DIY Bug Repellent

Photo courtesy of Centers for Disease Control

Why turn to chemicals when you can use common garden plants and grocery ingredients to make your own mosquito repellent? All-natural and really effective, these concoctions have been used for centuries to deter insects. And the bonus: they’re much cheaper than store-bought bug sprays! Just make sure to test first on your skin or clothing to make sure it won’t cause a rash or damage the fabric.

Vinegar of Four Thieves Recipe

This powerful bug repellent dates from medieval times. Lore says thieves used it during the Black Plague to protect them from disease while they were robbing the sick. Scientists now think it repelled the fleas that carried the disease. Be warned: It is very strong smelling!


• 32 oz. Apple Cider Vinegar
• 2 Tbsp of each of these dried herbs: sage, rosemary, lemon thyme, mint, and lavender


Combine vinegar and herbs into a large glass jar and seal tightly. Shake well every day for three weeks. After 3 weeks, strain the herbs. Mix remaining liquid with equal parts water and keep in the refrigerator in a spray bottle.

Herb Combo Witch Hazel Spray Recipe

This spray uses multiple fresh or dried herbs and smells great while keeping bugs at bay. Tweak your batch to make your own signature scent.


• 1 cup distilled water
• 1 cup witch hazel
• 4 Tbsp dried herbs or 1 cup of chopped herbs (include at least one mint family herb)


Bring distilled water to a boil and add herbs. Stir well and turn off heat. Cover and let steep until cooled. Strain herbs and mix remaining liquid with witch hazel. Pour into a spray bottle and keep refrigerated.

You can also use these recipes to make a homemade “mosquito strip” by spraying them onto pieces of cloth and hanging near your outdoor spaces. To keep the odor strong, you’ll need to keep the strips moist, though, so the concoction doesn’t quickly evaporate.

Julie Fryer is a landscaper, gardener, and sugar-maker. Clovers Garden is offering a free Mosquito Repellent Plants ebook which also includes five original garden designs (like the one shown here). Readers can gain instant online access by signing up hereEven more great ideas can be found at their website.Any gardening questions, feel free to contact Julie at Read all of Julie'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.