Natural Health
Healthy living, herbal remedies and DIY natural beauty.

Mullein: a Gift From the Birds

Occasionally I find I have random plants popping up in my flower beds. These plants make an appearance despite me not planting them there. I call these my “gifts from the birds.” Let’s face it, seeds migrate. There’s evidence of plants moving across entire continents. Windblows seeds. Waterways carry seeds. Seeds can cling to animal fur. Birds eat the seeds and sometimes they leave droppings with still viable seeds in it.

Once of the summer gifts from the birds that I am overjoyed to see in the side ditches this summer is mullein. This is a distinctive plant that makes its presence known. It is described as growing one to two feet in height in most informational sources, but I have seen them taller than me. So, they have gotten over five foot three inches tall. They have one stem and around this stem fuzzy, broad leaves grow in a whorled pattern. The single flower stalk is home to the small balls from which the little yellow flowers bloom. They are native to Asia and Europe, but have made their way west to North America. It grows readily in the midwest and eastern states. Here in Ohio I get to enjoy this plant often.

The yellow flowers of mullein

Mullein is sometimes referred to Kings Lantern. Its Latin name is Verbascum thapsus, but there are a ton of different plants that belong to the Verbascum species. Mullein is listed in many herbals as being especially beneficial for the lungs and respiratory system. Through the ages, the fuzzy leaves were used to line the insides of shoes to insulate against the cold. There are wives’ tales about this being enough to help remedy lung congestion.

The flowers can be boiled in olive oil to produce an oil many people use to alleviate the pain associated with ear aches. Boil these same flowers in honey and you get a delicious syrup which is said to relieve cough and chest congestion. The leaves and roots can be dried, powdered and encapsulated. These capsules are then ingested to aid with a host of discomforts. It has emollient and astringent properties, so it can soothe irritated tissues, including skin.

>is a treasured gift from the birds.


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Cannabis: Not Just About Getting High

 

I grow many different things on our farm, but one of my favorites is cannabis. A little under two years ago, I purchased my first plants and haven't looked back. Since my first harvest, I have not used any NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen for any reason. I much prefer skipping all of the possible side effects of pharmaceuticals and rely on the medicinal uses of cannabis instead. My favorite way to harness the healing powers of the cannabis plant is in tincture or salve form. Topical applications will not cause a psychoactive response.

So let’s talk basics and why cannabis might be for you. Cannabis actually decreases inflammation in the body to reduce pain, where medications such as NSAIDs or narcotics/opioids only mask the pain and inflammation temporarily. Cannabinoids, like THC or CBD, are the chemical compounds that provide relief from pain, inflammation or nausea by communicating with our endocannabinoid system.

Our endocannabinoid system affects our homeostasis, appetite, mood, memory and pain. Our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids, and supplementing with a cannabis tincture or salve can bring immense relief. Terpenes, which give cannabis its characteristic smell, also have a medicinal effect when used in conjunction with cannabinoids. Which is why I prefer using the whole plant, both flowers and trim, to get the full range of compounds rather than using a one note product that singles out just THC or just CBD. Whole plant products hit more receptors within the body and in turn are more effective. 

Luckily, society is starting to change their opinion of cannabis users from “always altered, unproductive members of society” to accepting the idea that people from all walks of life are reaping the benefits of cannabis in many different forms. 

SALVE

So let’s talk salve. There are many different recipes online for making your own salve. Most are some combination of oils like coconut and olive, beeswax and finely chopped cannabis. They can be infused on the stove in a double boiler, or my favorite way, in my slow cooker. You want to keep the oils warm so that the compounds from the plant matter infuse into the oil, creating a potent topical medication. After infusing the oils until they are dark in color and fragrant, you strain out the plant matter, mix the infusion with beeswax to give you a solid product and store in a jar for future use. This salve can be used to rub into sore muscles, cramps, localized swelling and pain, bruises, massaged into the neck for tension, rashes, bug bites, acne...and the list goes on. Sometimes I even use it as a facial moisturizer!

 

TINCTURE

A tincture is an extract of plant matter typically using alcohol as the solvent, which dissolves the medicinal compounds from the plant into the alcohol. As with salve, there are many different recipes online for making tinctures. All you need to make a cannabis tincture is finely chopped cannabis and high proof alcohol such as vodka or Everclear. You can do this two ways: 1. with decarboxylated cannabis, decarboxylating (or heating) converts THCA into THC and can provide a psychoactive effect, if that is what you are after or 2. with un-decarboxylated cannabis which retains the THCA compound and will not give you a psychoactive effect, but will still be medically beneficial.

You then combine your cannabis with your alcohol into a glass jar, shake and place in the freezer for five days up to a couple of weeks. Daily shaking of the jar will aid in the dissolving of the compounds into the tincture. The longer it infuses, the stronger your tincture will be. Once it becomes dark green in color and has infused for the appointed time you will then strain the plant matter out and bottle your finished tincture. You will want to choose a dark dropper bottle and store your tincture in a dark cool place such as the refrigerator or a cabinet. When you need relief, place a few drops (start with small doses and adjust as needed) under your tongue for conditions like headache, nausea and anxiety.  There are other tincture methods such as the ‘Traditional Warm Method’ and ‘Hot Method/Green Dragon’, but the cold method mentioned above is what I use and have had success with. Pick whichever method works for you.

So get out there and grow some of your own medicine! It’s fun, easy and I bet you’ll be glad you did.

As always, please check your state laws and requirements when you begin your cannabis journey. I do hope you are lucky enough to have access to cannabis either through a medicinal use card or recreational dispensaries.

Photos by author.


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Regaining Balance by Making a Garden Peace Pole, Part 1

Man Sanding Wooden Peace Pole 

Seems I’ve always been a gardener. My earliest garden memory: building rock gardens with Mom when I was a wee one as my two older sisters went off to school.  Warm spring days found the two of us collecting pebbles, stones and rocks to add to our backyard “garden.”

Mom always had a vegetable or flower garden, or both.  And she was often found “piddlin’ around” in one or the other, clothed from head to toe in order to ward off the array of pests found in the Connecticut landscape. Even as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis nagged her, she found respite toiling away on her hands and knees. She would often say, “If I can’t work in my garden, I might as well be dead.” She continued to work that New England soil up until her death from cancer at 79.

Gardening is in my blood. So, when hip issues, ultimately leading to a hip replacement, sidelined me for two years, I felt I was missing out on an important part of life — losing my balance in more ways than one. Luckily, my husband, Bill, discovered his green thumb and worked steadily to keep our yard in bloom while I watched from the front porch.

In order to add my touch to the garden and to get my creative juices flowing during this “downtime,” I set about making a peace pole to be placed amongst the flowers. I’d seen many prefabricated garden poles which I’d admired. However, I felt that if I painted my own, I could include inspiring words and paint designs from nature...all in the hopes of bringing the gift of peace, love and joy to my garden.

Peace Pole For Garden Decoration

Prepping the Garden Poles

A friend in town just happened to find three beautifully turned, antique newel posts in her barn. Chunks of white paint were embedded in their grain, and they seemed to have survived a fire, as indicated by the deep, black scorch marks. These three posts were survivors, and my friend and I made a deal that, if I prepared them all for painting, I could keep one for my own.

Bill and his electric sander provided much of the muscle needed to sand off the soot and chunks of paint. This was just the beginning of the prep process. Being able to stand and move a bit at three months post-surgery, I took over from here, filling in the deep gouges with putty and then re-sanding. Once the gaping trenches of grain were as smooth as possible, it was time to whitewash each pole with many coats of white primer.

Finding Balance

Throughout this preparation process, I pondered the fact that we are all creatives — whether we're creating art, a story, a new recipe. Maybe we're planning a garden, growing food from a seed, building a shed, or creating an ornament for the garden. Whatever we create can be a pathway to balance as long as we're mindful of the process.

So often, we go about our daily business, no matter what it may be, without realizing that we are actually creating.  As I became more mindful to what I was making, I began to re-find my balance. I was in the flow. Not only that, but I was immersed in nature and dreaming of the future, to a time when I would get back on my hands and knees and toil in the soil just like Mom.

The whitewashed pole became my blank canvas. It was time to begin collecting words and ideas as inspirations for this garden pole.  I hope you’ll check back soon for Part 2 of my report on this project. I spent five months getting this pole painted and ready for the garden, where it proudly stands today.

Whitewashed Wooden Pole Garden Decoration

What Do You Create?

Have you caught yourself in mindfulness during the process?  I'd love to hear about it.

Barbara Hengstenberg is the founding artist at WildesArt and North Carolina Arts Incubator Board Member. When she’s not in her garden, Barbara writes a monthly “Let's Create!” column for Southern Neighbor Newspaper. Connect with her on www.WildesArt.com, her website, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.


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Plogging: Eco-Friendly Fitness

plogging jogger trash 

Plogging – picking up litter while jogging – has become a popular new eco-friendly fitness craze. This common pastime began in Sweden as an organized activity and has recently begun catching on in other countries across the world. The word plogging fuses ‘plocka’ and ‘jogga’, meaning ‘picking (up)’ and ‘jogging’ in Swedish. The founder of this spontaneous movement is said to be the 57-year-old Swede Erik Ahlström. Moving back to Stockholm after having lived in the north of Sweden, Erik felt that there was a lot more litter on the streets than he previously remembered. Thus, he began his initiative to clean his community that caught on rapidly.

plogging close up

Not only does this new pastime combine jogging with picking up litter, but it also turns it into a community event or a social gathering. Therefore, plogging has many added health benefits, including overall fitness, social wellbeing, and improved environmental quality. It can even be a more effective form of exercise than jogging alone. As a workout, it involves variations in body movement, such as bending, squatting, and stretching in addition to the main act of running. According to data from the fitness app Lifesum, one hour of plogging burns 288 calories on average compared to 235 calories on average for plain old jogging. So by plogging not only will participants get an excellent workout, but also the added benefit that their local communities are simultaneously being cleaned.

Plogging has also become increasingly popular in social media, with many participants posting their collected trash and litter. Numerous ploggers are shocked at just how much trash can be collected in a short run, and even more post mid-run to encourage others to come join in. In Instagram alone, the exercise has been tagged in over 3,000 posts and many communities are creating Facebook groups dedicated to the organized activity. In fact, the Keep America Beautiful organization has begun promoting plogging to its affiliates and discovered that several had already created similar programs, such as the Trashercize program in Tennessee.

Most people do not have to look far to find areas that could use a good clean up, but if scenery is a concern, then consider visiting one of your local State Parks to do a good deed. Pack a picnic, bring a trash bag and some gloves and make a day out of it. There are plenty of trails to visit, and even the main roads could use some good litter removal. Bring some friends or your kids along, organize a community group, partner with the park’s Friends Group, or find a local Keep Tennessee Beautiful group to get involved. With June 2nd approaching, now would be an excellent time to honor National Trails Day and participate in a trail clean up run. Visit here to find your trail for National Trail Day, or here to find the closest park to you.

With so many opportunities to improve your health and your home, there is no reason not to torch some calories and tidy up the planet. So next time you are out on a jog or visiting your local park, try picking up some trash while you are at it. It will really pay off for both your body and the environment.


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5 Ways to Dry Herbs

 

Whether you have some leftover store-bought rosemary from yesterday’s meal of roasted veggies, a garden overflowing with lemon balm, or a large backyard patch of wild stinging nettle, drying herbs is a great option for preserving this abundance for a year-round supply of cooking spices and herbal preparations.

Drying herbs effectively is a key step in getting the most out of your wildcrafting experience! Find five ways to dry herbs below, an excerpt from the online Botany & Wildcrafting Course, which takes students on a captivating voyage through the science of botanical identification and the art of wildcrafting edible and herbal botanicals.

A Guide to Drying your Herbal Harvest

Drying methods depend on many factors, including the herb(s) in question, the plant part(s) to be dried, the temperature and humidity of your drying space, the equipment available, and how the herb(s) will ultimately be used (i.e., home use versus commercial distribution).

Most herbalists will dry their herbs in one or more of the following ways:

Herb Drying Method 1: Outdoors on a clean surface, shaded from direct sunlight

Spread fresh herbs on a tarp, cloth, or other clean surface on the ground. To keep plant material out of direct sunlight, choose a naturally shaded area or create shade with a canopy, shade frame, or hoop house.

Herb Drying Method 2: In layers on drying frames or screens

This method maximizes available space much like an urban skyrise: spread herbs on screens or drying racks that can be stacked on top of each other in a frame. If your drying room is small enough, use a dehumidifier to speed up the drying process (this applies to any indoor drying method, including the next method below).

Herb Drying Method 3: Bunched for hanging or drying in paper bags

Collect herbs into small, loose bundles, and hang from nails or a string (much like a clothesline) in an out-of-the way location away from light. Bundles may be tied with string, twist-ties, or rubber bands (the last option keeps individual stems from slipping out of the bundles as they shrink with drying). Alternatively, bundles may be placed in paper bags to prevent contamination by dust or other particulate matter. When drying herbs in paper bags, the bags should be left open or have holes cut into them to allow air to circulate.

Herb Drying Method 4: In dehydrators

Layer herbs on racks in an appliance designed to maintain air flow and control temperature. Dehydrators range from standard home food dehydrators (choose one with an adjustable thermostat) to larger, specially designed cabinets.

Herb Drying Method 5: In an oven at a very low temperature

Spread herbs on trays or oven sheets, and place in an oven that can be set to a temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (gas ovens can be kept off with only the pilot light lit; the light bulb in some ovens may provide enough heat), and monitor for dryness. If needed, the oven door can be left ajar to increase air circulation and ensure that the temperature doesn’t rise too high.

Next time you’ve got an overabundance of fresh herbs on your hands, give one of these herb drying methods a try! And for more details on drying and the pros and cons of each drying method, along with a wealth of information on plant biology and ecology, botanical terminology, field identification, wildcrafting techniques, and more, sign up for the Botany & Wildcrafting Course, curated by the Herbal Academy’s team of expert herbalists and botanists.

Learn more and register for the Botany & Wildcrafting Course.


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Home Remedies In Your Kitchen

black tea 

I love exploring various home remedies, and am a strong believer in everyone raising a patch of medicinal herbs in the yard, on a balcony, or even in a row of pots on the windowsill. Mint, rosemary, sage and lavender are all easy-to-grow, delicious-smelling herbs with a variety of uses, both medicinal and culinary.

But are you aware of the fact that not just herbs, but many staples which you almost certainly have in your kitchen, can also be used in a variety of safe, effective and healthy home remedies?

Baking Soda – while I mostly use baking soda as a cleaning agent, it can also be used as a quick, temporary treatment for indigestion. Just mix a little baking soda (a ¼ teaspoon) in a glass of water. A paste made of baking soda and water is good for taking the itch out of insect bites.

Lemon – add some lemon juice, or a few slices of lemon, to a cup of warm water (or tea) and honey for a soothing, antiseptic drink when you have a cold, cough or sore throat. The vitamin C in the fruit will also give your immune system a boost.

Olive oil – the health benefits of olive oil are innumerable. A tablespoonful of olive oil in the morning on an empty stomach helps to relieve constipation; a drop or two of warm olive oil will relieve earaches; in addition, olive oil can be applied directly, in small amounts, as a powerful moisturizer for very dry, chafed skin. It is an ingredient in many homemade skin care products.

Salt – these plain grains of salt can really come in handy on various occasions. Gargle a solution of warm salty water for sore throat relief, or use it to rinse your mouth for help in cases of inflamed gums. A mixture of salt and olive oil makes a great moisturizing scrub. A warm salt bath is wonderful for soaking tired, swollen feet at the end of a long day.

Vinegar – apple cider vinegar is famous for its health benefits, but plain distilled white vinegar has many uses as a home remedy as well. Apply it to skin or toenails to treat fungus; use it on your scalp to treat dandruff and head lice (the acid in the vinegar aids in separating nits from hair, which makes combing easier). Applying vinegar also helps reduce the irritation and itchiness caused by insect bites.

Black tea – the astringent properties of tea are wonderfully soothing when used on tired, inflamed eyes. Pour boiling water over two teabags, let cool slightly, squeeze excess liquid, and place the warm teabags over your closed eyes for a few minutes. Teabags can also be placed on superficial cuts and scrapes to reduce swelling and bleeding, as well as applied to boils and cold and canker cores at the start of an outbreak. Drinking warm, unsweetened black tea can improve gum health.  

To sum it up: your herb garden and kitchen cabinets are a veritable pharmacopeia for a variety of minor complaints, which can usually be resolved at home without the need to run to the drugstore. Don’t be afraid to explore your possibilities, but be sure to consult your physician for any serious symptoms.

Image: black tea leaves. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Anna Twitto’s 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. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.


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Spring is for Dandelions

It is spring in the Great Lakes region, even if we did receive a healthy dose of snow for Easter. While the lilies and snowdrops are fighting their way through the snow, the herbalist in me is craving the first of the spring herbs. Dandelion is one of my absolutely favorite herbs in general, but in the spring time it holds a special place in my heart.

 Lilies fighting to bloom in Easter snow in Ohio

Piss-a-lint as it is sometimes called sends tender lion-toothed leaves out while some plants are still dormant. These greens can be consumed much like spinach. As a kid I have faint memories of my grandpa cooking spring dandelion greens with eggs. These leaves are rich in minerals like iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. It supplies thaimin, riboflavin, Vitamin C and B6. But what I love is the mild, yet slightly peppery, flavor of the fiber packed leaves. The young spring leaves are not as bitter as they can be as the weather warms up, but they still offer a bitter quality.

In herbalism, a “bitter” herb is one that stimulates the secretion of certain digestive enzymes in the digestive tract. They contain a chemical constituent called “tannins.” These tannins send out the signal to the pancreas and liver to start churning out the enzymes to break down the food that is coming. . Dandelion has been said to “thin the bile.” This is referring to its tannin content’s ability to cause the gall bladder (or directly from the liver if the gall bladder is gone) to squirt bile. Traditionally, bitter herbs were served as a salad as a starting course of a meal. The pile of iceberg is a far cry from the original starter greens of the past. Aperitifs made from gentian had been used as a bitter, as well.

Dandelion also serves as a mild spring cleansing herb. Its diuretic actions pull excess fluids via the urinary system, while supplying minerals like potassium to keep from becoming dehydrated like some over-the-counter diuretics.

 Dandelion leaves greening up in the Ohio spring rains

I pick fresh dandelion from my yard. Be sure you gather yours from an area free from chemical sprays like weed killers. I also do not gather from along the road sides of busy highways due to the exhaust pollution. Dandelion greens can be eaten fresh, just like you would eat baby spinach this time of year. It can also be cooked. One of my favorite recipes is sautéing fresh picked and washed leaves in butter with finely chopped onion added to scrambled eggs. You can also dry the leaves for use in teas later.

Photos by author.


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