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Surviving the change of season

st. johnswort flowers

A belated Happy Autumn to you! And as if I wasn’t already feeling low enough about Summer’s end, the season change has brought me a throat virus.

My throat is like my early-warning signal . When I start getting run down, a sore throat is always the first symptom. If I pay attention to it (start going to bed on time, make sure I’m eating well, load up on herbal tea with elderberry syrup, take a hot soak in the tub), it usually resolves without becoming anything more than a sore throat.

But if I don’t pay attention and let it go for a couple days… Well, it worsens and I end up where I am today: headache, sick stomach, and a really sore throat with both tonsils swollen and sore.

Change of season is a time many people get sick, so it’s a good idea to keep a couple go-to remedies on hand. I mentioned elderberry syrup. It’s a proven cold and flu remedy and is pretty easy to find if you don’t make your own.

Calendula and St. Johnswort (pictured above) are helpful for many different complaints, including cold and flu, so I always have them around in various forms (dried, tinctured, infused oil, salves and creams).

Calendula tea can be used as a gargle to reduce inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat, which will ease a sore throat. Tincture can be substituted if you don’t have it dried.

St. Johnswort with its antiviral, expectorant, and anti-inflammatory properties is another great herb tea to gargle with, and is said to be especially useful for chronic sore throat. Again, substitute tincture if you don’t have the dried plant.

Drinking those teas is great too but may take an acquired taste. Try making a big batch of tub tea with Lavender or Chamomile added to the Calendula and St. Johnswort and treat yourself to a nice, long soak.

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There she goes (reformulating) again

botanical skincare

Maybe I make it harder than it has to be. But, you know, I want my skincare creations to be perfect and for me that means ingredients that are organic, fair trade, and from as close to home as possible.

Which means I have to say goodbye to Watermelon seed oil. I’m hooked on this oil! It’s light, it’s nutritious, so beautiful and so good for skin. Unfortunately, I can’t find it organic.

So I’m reformulating my balm recipes and bringing in organic Safflower oil and organic virgin Sunflower oil, two lovely oils I’ve worked with before but kindof forgot as I got caught up with the more exotic options.

The balm herbal blends I have now (Tulsi, Calendula, and Echinacea will stay the same, with a new one (Yarrow) being introduced for Holiday season later this year.

Perfection might be a lofty goal, but I have a reason: I never want you to have to worry when you put something I’ve made on your skin.

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Who here loves Weeds?

chickweed patch in the garden

Weeds = the common plants that grow abundantly with no help at all from the gardener. I adore them!

Chickweed (Stellaria media) is one of my all-time favorite plants. It likes cooler temperatures, so it’s one of the first herbs I see pop up in the Spring (always a cause for celebration!).

Chickweed is succulent and low-growing, sprawls like a ground cover and spreads quickly where it’s happy, engulfing entire garden beds, landing it the “weed” label. My dad curses it every year as he rips it out of his garden. Telling him Chickweed is an “indicator plant”, indicating healthy soil because it only grows where the soil is rich, didn’t change his feelings at all.

A favorite too of Chickens, Mourning Doves, Sparrows, and other birds, they relish the young greens and seed which is said to be how Chickweed got its name. Caged birds like Budgies and Parrots also enjoy eating Chickweed and it’s more nutritious than lettuce!

It’s high in minerals (especially calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, phosphorus and potassium), and vitamins (especially C, A—from carotenes—and B’s, such as folic acid, riboflavin, niacin and thiamine).

Chickweed can be chopped and tossed on a salad, or can be steamed, boiled, or fried. Raw, the flavor is kindof sweet/weedy/green, but cooked it’s more like spinach. It’s great in soups and can even be baked in bread. But what do I make with it every Spring?

(Skin soothing balms of course and… ) PESTO!

Chickweed Pesto:

  • 2 cups fresh Chickweed
  • ½ cup fresh Basil (or Parsley, Cilantro, Arugula, Garlic Mustard, whatever green you’ve got)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 Tbsp sunflower seeds, pine nuts or almonds
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup olive oil

My method isn’t too fancy. I add the seeds/nuts to the blender first and chop them up, then add and chop the garlic, then add the greens, salt and oil and blend it until it’s smooth.

The leaves contain saponins and although toxic, these substances tend not to be well absorbed by the body and pass through without causing harm. Even so, some caution is advised. Don’t eat large quantities raw and avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding. Saponins are broken down by thorough cooking.

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Got Skin? Get Yarrow.

yarrow flowers close-up

Yarrow flowers close-up (image courtesy of trakaislapsis/123RF)

 

Yarrow is a plant many people recognize as it’s commonly seen in gardens and growing wild. It has a pretty flower and is a beneficial companion plant both for vegetables and herbs.

It’s the go-to herb to treat wounds and cuts as it disinfects, stops bleeding by speeding blood clotting, promotes tissue repair, and reduces inflammation.

(To get the medicine though, it has to be the Yarrow with white flowers. Modern, colorful cultivars don’t have it.)

In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, Yarrow is astringent so it’s used in skincare to reduce the size of pores and the appearance of fine lines.

Most often found in creams, balms, salves, and toners, Yarrow makes a wonderfully soothing bath herb for irritated, itchy skin.

(Remember, when the going gets tough, the tough take to the bath!)

* A small caution here: If you are allergic to Ragweed, you may be allergic to Yarrow. Do a patch test before using. Prolonged use of Yarrow may cause photo-sensitivity.

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Yarrow, January’s Herb of the Month

yarrow flowers

Each month, I focus on one herb to write about. January’s herb is Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

Though sometimes said to be native to Eurasia, Yarrow is also a North American native. It is believed that the Yarrow now found growing wild here is a hybrid of the two.

Yarrow has been used medicinally by many cultures and also has a long history of use in magic and divination. One example I’ve always found intriguing is the Chinese tradition of using 50 Yarrow stalks to consult the I Ching.

Irish folklore teaches that even just to dream that you are gathering Yarrow foretells of good fortune.

Yarrow was believed to be protective and often worn as a charm. Do you suppose people got this idea from observing that when Yarrow grows in the vegetable garden, the veggies are stronger and more disease resistant?

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It’s Winter Solstice- Celebrate with Sage

winter solstice sun on snow-covered conifer

Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year and the beginning of Winter. We toast days past and make plans for the year to come…

One herb I associate with Winter is Sage. It’s in lots of recipes for cold weather foods, and drinking and gargling with the tea is an old remedy for cold weather coughs and sore throats.

Probably another reason I think of Sage as a Winter herb- Sage is practically evergreen in my garden. The leaves get small and curl in the frigid temperatures but they and their stalks keep standing, even in the snow. It reminds me the garden is still there, though out of sight asleep below the ground.

But many old herbalists thought of Sage as an herb of Spring. They taught that the leaves are at their best before the flower stalks rise, so late Spring was the proper time to eat lots of Sage and drink Sage tea if you wanted to ensure good health.

Sage was considered a magical plant too, said to give protection and grant wishes. From my perspective, all plants are pretty magical. They have abilities that are so beyond me (for instance, being able to regrow their whole body when cut down to the root)! Sage does feel special, though; the textured, almost-sticky leaves with their unique gray-green color, the beautiful aroma left on your hands after touching them. Even the feeling you get when you’re hanging out with Sage. It’s so peaceful.

So tonight, as Hawkeye and I celebrate the Solstice, I’ll have a big pot of water with some dried Sage simmering on the stove. We’ll make our Solstice wish and breathe in the soft green scent of the promise of next year’s garden.

 

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