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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tick removal

Day 20 

Ticks are a problem here in central PA and many bites result in positive test results for Lyme disease.  So what should you do if a tick attaches itself to you?  You don't want to squeeze it with tweezers or your fingers because you will push more of their body fluids into your blood.  We have a little "J" shaped tool with a slit in the bottom of the "J", called Tick Twister.  By sliding the slit under the tick between it's body and your skin you can gently begin to rotate the tick causing it to release it's mouth parts.  You don't want to pop the tick off once you've hooked it in the tool because it's mouth may be detached, remaining in your skin causing an infection that will have to work its way to the surface.
Lemon balm or basil leaves rubbed on the site may help relieve itching.  Chickweed has drawing properties that will bring the infection and foreign material to the surface aiding in the healing process.
Here's an article that a friend sent to me.  I haven't tried it yet.

Water Kefir

Earlier in my adventures with raw milk, I mentioned milk kefir, a cultured dairy product that you can make at home that is supposed to be full of probiotics and nutrients providing many health benefits. The cousin of this dairy wonder is water kefir. The grains for water kefir arrive in a dried state looking much like course evaporated cane juice or kosher salt. I've read that you can use the milk kefir grains to change over to water kefir but there are conflicting reports on the success of that idea.
When I made my first batch of water kefir, I started with grains from a friend so I don't have experience with hydrating the grains from scratch. She brought them to me in a jelly jar filled with maple syrup which I stored in the frig until I was ready to start.

Quick Tip - Placing the water kefir grains in a little muslin bag makes it so much easier to separate the grains from the fruit pieces for the next batch.  Be sure to use a bag that is large enough to allow the grains to multiply.

It's very easy to make. Since heat kills the culture, you can start with room temp water (not cold). Make sure the water is not chlorinated, however, water that's been filtered by osmosis or through a carbon activated filter is not recommended due to the depletion of minerals. We have well water and I use it right from the tap.  spring or well water is best because of their mineral content.

I use a half gallon canning jar filled about 3/4 full of water. Do not use metal utensils or containers to stir or brew your kefir.
To this I add:
1/3-1/2 cup of evaporated cane juice or rapadura
1/2 lemon washed and squeezed, rind and all, into the jar (Update - I've recently read that citrus fruit can deplete the quality of the grains over time.)
3 slices of peeled ginger root
a generous tablespoon of dried fruit (no sulfites or sugar)
Stir well to dissolve the sugar.
Add the bag of grains (approx. 2-3 Tbsp).
The jar is capped and put in the warm corner of my kitchen counter near the frigerator and always warm coffee maker. After 48 hours, I strain off the solids (these can be composted, fed to my chickens or all but the lemon can be added to my worm bin). I put the kefir in another bottle or jar and cap tightly.
What I'm left with is a slightly to very fizzy, fruity, somewhat tart, refreshing drink that is reported to be very beneficial for detoxing, probiotic supplementation and other health benefits. Cultured water kefir does not require refrigeration.
Many sites recommend culturing your water kefir without fruit for the first 48 hours.  After that, you can removed the grains (really easy if you've put them in a muslin bag) and add fruit.  Allow to culture up to a week for dried fruit.  If using fresh fruit, change daily to avoid spoilage.

Here's the link to a site that talks about the benefits, dosages and specifics of Water Kefir.

You can be as complicated as you like with it. I've found that just following a basic, simple recipe and routine allows me to keep up with it on a regular schedule.
You're probably wondering about the added with all fermented foods and drinks, the culture feeds on the added sugar and by the time it's ready to drink, the sugar has been used up. Keep in mind that this is a fermented beverage so it does contain the slightest bit of alcohol - reported to be less than 1% but can be as high as 3% depending on the amount of sugar, temp, length of time, etc.
Now you are ready to make your next batch. Just drop the bag of grains into the jar and start over with a new batch of fruit. Try a variety to find you favorite combo. As you make more kefir, your bag of grains will multiply and you'll have enough for two batches or some to share.
Again, as I've mentioned before, these are things we do in our home. They may or may not work for you in the same way. Do your research. Learn about what you're making and then go have fun with it and enjoy!

Sharing this post with Jenny and friends @ Alphabe-Thursday.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Environmental hazards and health concerns surrounding marcellus gas wells

Day 18

A few days ago I shared some concerns that face many families in PA and other areas surrounding the growing Marcellus gas well drilling that is becoming more and more prevalent through out the state.

Here's some links my friend sent to me that share info on the industry and it's impact on our water, air and soil; and the negative ways in which that affects our health.

Please think about keeping informed about natural gas drilling issues
through any or all of these listed websites

May i suggest joining the Susquehanna County Group Forum
They really do a great job of posting state and national news on
natural gas drilling also on impending legislation

Monday, June 21, 2010

Milk Kefir

Day 17

It's a busy VBS week at our church so I'm reposting some info that was originally posted on my home blog.

The next project that I'm making with my raw milk is milk kefir. The reported health benefits of kefir are many. You can find a lot of info online and in various books about it. Sally Fallon talks about kefir and it's benefits in Nourishing Traditions. This book dares to go against many things we've been told about the food we eat. It's a valuable resource for those of us who are trying to break into the fermented foods arena. Kefir is a good place to start.
Kefir is a cultured milk product similar to yogurt but because it has very low curd tension, it is a liquid. It's made from a symbiotic culture of lactose fermenting bacteria and lactose fermenting yeast that co-exist forming a polysccharide grain. It's the only milk culture to form grains. These grains look like a little clumps of cauliflower or coral.

The smaller particles in kefir make it easier to digest than yogurt. Getting back to our discussion about homogenization, these particles are made smaller by the partial digestion that takes place by culturing the milk with a lactofermenting organism rather than by physically changing the structure by artificial means.

As with yogurt, kefir is great in smoothies with a little fruit and honey. The taste of kefir is more refreshing than yogurt. It is mucous-forming but that is one thing that makes it work well in our digestive tract. It actually coats the walls of our intestines making a welcoming home for beneficial bacteria to grow. Because it is made with completely different organisms, kefir does not feed yeast and many folks who can't tolerate lactose can drink kefir without problems.
Kefir is also reported to have antibiotic properties as well as detoxification benefits.

In a quart jar mix 2 cups of whole raw milk and 2 T of kefir grains. Cover and let rest in a warm place for 12-48 hours. Stir or shake the mix occasionally. Taste it...if the tartness is to your liking, strain the grains of kefir out of the milk for your next batch. The grains can be stored in a little milk in the frig until you're ready to make it again. Oxygen and a little heat are needed for the cultures to work so when you remove those elements, the process slows down or stops. There will also be some formation of curds in the mix. I used to mix those back into the kefir but my friend told me that it's beneficial to the grains to be stored in the curd mix until you next batch and I've found that the grain size has increased a lot faster by doing this.

The fun thing about kefir is that is actually develops a little effervescence as it cultures. A fizzy milk drink is a little different but it's easy to develop a taste for it.

Quick Tip - when I mention the addition of heat, I'm not talking about very much. I've found the ideal place to culture all the things that I've been making is in a warm corner of my kitchen counter next to the frigerator and behind the coffee pot. The only one that has to be wrapped and insulated is the yogurt.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Herbal Vinegar

Day 16
Another of my favorite resources.   Herbal vinegars can be used for a variety of things from adding herbal zest to your food to medicinal remedies.  They are easy to create and offer a great way to use herbs all year long.  Experiment to make your own herbal blends or simply use one of your favorite herbs alone.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sourdough adventures

Day 15

Lot's to do today in the garden and yard before thunderstorms hit the area.  I'm toying with my sourdough starter and wondering if I could make a loaf that doesn't weigh 10 pounds!  The taste is wonderful but it's very dense and heavy.  This time I've tried to capture wild yeast from the air and freshly ground rye flour.  To do this I started with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water in a wide mouth jar covered loosely with a coffee filter.  For 7 days I've added 1/4 cup flour and enough water to make it "soupy", then placed the jar in a warm spot on my counter.  Seems to be off to a slow start considering the warm weather but I should be able to bake soon.

More to follow.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Stinging Nettle

Day 14

Stinging Nettle - urtica dioica

This interesting herb is one most folks seek to avoid on a trek through the wild.  It's stems are covered with sharp hairs that are loaded with histamines and formic acid which trigger an allergic response.  A few years ago a friend gave me a start of her plant so I gave it a home it in a moist spot in the woods.  It's been doing very well there so we decided to harvest some plant tops this year.  In the spring, I was able to pinch off the stems without feeling any "stinging" even though my daughter was not so fortunate.  This week as I harvested another batch, I learned why stinging nettle has earned it's reputation!  The hairs are more pronounced and delivered a series of burning welts that lasted a few hours.
 Back in Caesar's day, Roman troops brought stinging nettle to Britain to be used to keep them warm in the colder climate by beating their bodies with the stinging hairs.  This method, called "urtication" is a traditional folk remedy used until quite recently for rheumatism and arthritis.
Nettles take minerals from the soil, especially iron.  The aerial parts are really good for folks who are anemic because they are also high in Vitamin C which aids in the body's ability to absorb iron and use it efficiently.  The greens make a cleansing spring tonic because the stinging is destroyed during cooking or drying. 
My husband suffers from gout so learning about nettles ability to flush uric acid from body tissues makes it a valuable remedy to have on hand.   The greens can be eaten as a vegetable or made into an infusion taken for arthritis, rheumatism, gout and eczema.  Compresses made with the infusion can be applied to relieve sciatic pain, sprains, hemorrhoids and tendinitis in addition to the above maladies.  Juice from the plant is actually a remedy for it's own stings as well as wounds, burns and insect stings.  Powdered nettle can be inhaled to stop nose bleeds. 
Don't take my word for any of the above claims.  Always be sure to check it out for yourself before attempting to use any folk remedy or herbal concoction.  They do have the benefit of empirical evidence to back them up and since nettle is still used medicinally, it also has science to prove its worth.
We enjoy an over the counter nettle medicinal tea which has a pleasant taste.  The plant tops that I harvested this week are hanging up to dry for future tea and infusions.  While the plants were fresh, I convinced my husband to allow me to experiment with a gout attack that he felt coming on.  He allowed me to gently tap the stinging hairs against his ankle resulting in lots of little welts that increased the blood low to the area.  After the stinging subsided, he actually admitted that the pain had eased somewhat and the attack never developed fully.  That is worth any stings I might get while harvesting!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Making my own Cream Cheese or Fromage Blanc

Cream Cheese or Fromage Blanc

We love the tart flavor of yogurt and even the more intense Greek yogurt for some things but our favorite is the "sweet" yogurt made from a mild culture.  I don't mean sweetened with honey, sugar or any other sweetener, just a mild yogurt.  You can buy the starter or just save a bit from a store bought yogurt that contains active, live cultures that you like.  Learn how I make what I call "old world style" yogurt.

Once you've found a yogurt you like, to make cream cheese, just set up a strainer lined with a cotton kitchen towel, a piece of laundered muslin or several layers of cheese cloth over a bowl to catch the liquid that drains out.  Salt can be added to the yogurt but, again, we prefer "sweet" cream cheese. After about a hour, gather the corners of the towel and hang it over the bowl. I hang mine from the upper cupboard knob so it can drip into the bowl on the counter.  Allow it to hang there for 6-8 hours or until it stops dripping. What's left over is Fromage Blanc, a lower fat variety of cream cheese because it is made from whole milk instead of cream.

This yogurt makes a great one to use in this recipe for my own "Fruit on the Bottom" yogurt.

The liquid that drains off is cultured whey.  Whey has a lot of minerals and can be added to many things in the kitchen. It's great for aiding digestion because of the probiotics created in the culturing process. Also, think whey protein powder.  Or better yet, think lacto-fermentation!  Like these Lacto-fermented Peppers.

It is reported that one tablespoon of whey in a little water can ease digestion.  We've tried this remedy and it really works.
Try using whey instead of water for a lemonade that is refreshing and full of nutrients.

Here's a recipe for Olive Dip made from yogurt that is really yummy on Homemade Crackers or Crispy Flatbread!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rose water

We are blessed to have three varieties of heirloom roses in our yard that smell heavenly. One is a lovely deep pink vintage bush that is over one hundred years old, another is a pale pink hedge rose that came from my grandfather's house, and the third is a wild vining cottage rose that has been passed from one family to another to another because it grows so rapidly.

One way to preserve the aroma of these beautiful flowers is to make your own rose water. The old method is quite effective and very easy to do.

You'll need:
2-3 quarts of rose petals (be sure they are pesticide and chemical free)
an old fashioned speckled granite canner with lid or a large kettle with a stainless bowl big enough to seal the top of the kettle.
a fire brick that will fit in the bottom
a heat resistant glass bowl

Place the canner on the stove. Put the fire brick on the bottom of the canner.

Gently bruise your rose petals and scatter them loosely in the canner around the sides of the brick. Add water to barely cover the petals.

Place the glass bowl on top of the brick.

Invert the canner lid and put it on top of the canner. Bring the water to a boil and immediately reduce to simmering. Add 2-3 trays of ice to the top of the inverted canner lid to cause the rose water steam to condense on the bottom of the lid.

Because the inverted lid is curved down into the kettle, the condensation will drip into the glass bowl. What you are doing is essentially distilling the rose essence leaving you with rose water and possibly some rose essential oil in your bowl.
Here's a cut away sketch of what that looks like.  Read more about making herb waters or hydrosols in Herbal Medicine Chest - Lotions, Creams and Hydrosols
Continue to gently simmer for 30-40 minutes. Store your rose water in a sterilized glass jar in the fridge. Varying reports on the shelf life say that the rose water will keep from one month to one year. If it develops a sour smell or taste it's time to discard it and start fresh. Since rosewater you buy at the store is not refrigerated, I'd like to try sealing the hot water in a mason jar. My only fear is that it will spoil and I'll lose my precious batch for the year.

Rose water can be used in cooking and cosmetics. Besides the lovely aroma, rose water is mildly astringent making it a great facial freshener for dry or sensitive skin types. I've added it to moisturizers and cold creams with great results. If you have a good recipe for Turkish delight, you know that rose water is a traditional flavoring. I recently found a recipe for rose water shortbread cookies that I'm hoping to try out soon.

Sharing this link with Alphabe-Thursdays @ Jenny Matlock.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Raw milk and Yogurt

Did you know that humans are the only mammals who drink milk after they are weaned? We've made it into an entire food group! I'm trying to eliminate as many artificially processed foods from our diet as possible. The many natural processes humans can use to culture milk are beneficial to us because they begin to break down the milk proteins, add probiotics, make digestion easier because the process has already been started, and this makes the nutrients more readily available. In times past, these processes prolonged the shelf life of dairy products. Think aged cheese.

Let's start at the beginning. You might be wondering why raw milk is better than processed. Raw milk separates into skim milk and cream. Is that a bad thing or a good thing? Milk also contains enzymes that God put there to help us digest the milk sugars and proteins. Good things right? Because milking conditions can be less than what is considered sanitary, raw milk could be contaminated with bacteria including e-coli. This can be very dangerous as a toxin and can lead to serious health issues and even death.

Pasteurization - As you know from your high school biology class, this process involves heating whatever you're trying to sanitize to a high enough temperature to kill any harmful bacteria present. But, guess what happens to the enzymes and helpful bacteria that are there to help us digest the milk? Yep, they're gone too. What does that mean to us? Well it makes it harder for some folks to drink milk because of lactose intolerance and lack of proper enzyme activity to utilize the nutrients.

BTW, raw milk sours as it ages but is still safe to use up to a point. Pasteurized milk doesn't have it's natural enzymes to protect it so it is open to contamination and colonization by whatever bacteria is floating around. It putrifies or rots. Not good!)

Homogenization - is the process of reducing the size of the fat globules in the creamy part of milk so they will mix in with the milk rather than separate. They are emulsified. This makes the milk nice and creamy and never needs stirring or skimming. But, in His perfect plan, God made different elements of our food in sizes that, as they are digested and prepared for use by the body, they are reduced to the proper size to pass through our digestive tract at the proper place and be recognised by our body as something it can easily use. If the globules are reduced in size but not predigested, they pass through our digestive system at the wrong place in the wrong state and our body says, "What is this? What am I supposed to do with it?" I don't know where it's supposed to go." So it treats these renegade molecules as foreign substances. Also not good.

Hey, don't take my word for anything you read here. Check it out.

So what am I really getting around to? Yogurt. A cultured milk product that is really good for us. It is full of active cultures that aid in colonizing our intestinal tract with good bacteria. Probiotics. This can support the beneficial bacteria that are supposed to grow there and it can also help to recolonize our system after the natural bacteria has been killed by antibiotic use. Antibiotics, being undiscriminating, basically pasteurize our bodies to eliminate overgrowth of harmful pathogens and in the process kill off the good ones too. These pathogens are bacterial, not viral, so unless a virus has caused an infection (which means there is now bacteria involved), antibiotics don't really help. But you knew that, right?

All that to get to the fact that I made my own yogurt from raw milk that I bought from a local dairy farm whose thorough procedures at making a safe, clean milking environment, lack of growth hormone use, limited use of antibiotics and free range grazing for their cows make me feel confident that what I'm buying is healthy and safe to use in it's raw form.

I decided to make a traditional yogurt using a store bought organic yogurt as a starter. My friend taught me how to do it the "Old World' way that they learned from their grandmother.

Bring 1/2 gallon of milk to a boil over low heat. You can do this with direct heat and a watchful eye or in a double boiler. The reason for this pasteurization is to remove bacteria that will compete with the yogurt culture. So you're saying, "Hey, I thought you just said that was bad!?" Hang on, we're going to replace those enzymes with other enzymes from the culture in a controlled trade off. Relax. Remove the milk from the heat and allow to cool until your little finger can be held in the milk for 10 seconds with out making you holler! Grandma was so technical! Remove the milk scum and mix it with 2T of store bought, organic yogurt. Add this to the milk in a glass jar. Cover the jar with a plate and wrap in towels to keep it warm. Allow to rest for 8 hours or overnight. Refrigerate to chill and enjoy! The results were good.

Homemade yogurt is a little thinner than store bought and at first I wasn't sure why but after reading the label on the store bought variety, I've realized that they add pectin to their yogurt, just like you would add to jelly. It's not bad for you but it's an extra step in the yogurt process and it doesn't change the taste. Maybe I'll try adding some to my yogurt sometime.

UPDATE: I'm learning more and more about whole foods and those unknown factors that are inherent in them that give a synergy to their health building qualities in a raw or natural state that we can't always define.

All that to say...I've changed the way I make yogurt...but just a little. I no longer bring the milk to a full boil. I do warm it on the stove until almost to the finger hollering stage and remove from the heat. From there, it's the same. The idea here is to create an environment that will be condusive for the yogurt cultures I'm adding to grow, grow, grow. If I'm confident enough to drink the milk raw, why would I want to kill off all the reasons I drink raw milk in the first place?  I don' I'll just enhance them with other healthy cultures.
Also, I've learned that whey is a wonderful thing so after the yogurt has cultured, I'll often drain off some of the whey for use in fermenting, etc. This takes care of the thin yogurt, too. When it reaches a nice texture, kinda like Greek style yogurt, I put it in the fridge. To take this a step further, you can make your own cream cheese.
You might also like My Own Fruit on the Bottom Yogurt.

I'm sharing this post with Jenny Matlock and friends @ Alphabe-Thursdays
Wildcrafting Wednesday

Monday, June 14, 2010

Natural Mosquito Repellent

It's that time of year when mosquitoes attack the moment we step outdoors.  There are a few plants that act as natural repellents for these pesky little insects.  A plant that most folks are familiar with is citronella.  The essential oil is used in lotions and candles to keep bugs at bay.  Other essential oils that may help are tea tree, sandalwood, patchouli, lavender, ylang ylang, chamomile, rosemary, eucalyptus and oregano.

To make an effective spray for both you and your pets, add essential oils in a 1:10 ratio to witch hazel.  If you make your own soap, these oils can be used to scent the bars for bathing or you can make the bars into laundry soap.

Strategic planting in areas where you spend a lot of time outdoors can create a "safe", bug free area.  Sweet fern, catnip, oregano, garlic, lemon balm, lavender, citronella, geranium, marigold,  basil, and sage.

My daughter loves to burn incense.  I've read that burning incense inside your tent will repel mosquitoes within minutes.

Bats are the natural enemy of mosquitoes and many other insects.  Installing bat houses will encourage bats to live near your yard where they will eat hundreds of bugs each night.  If you live near a street light, hang your bat house near that area because the insects will fly to the light.

Adding certain foods and supplements to your diet may also help protect you.  Vitamin B1, zinc, garlic, apple cider vinegar and oregano to name a few.

Pets are also bothered by bugs, some of which can cause infestations of worms or carry disease.  Adding apple cider vinegar to their drinking water and garlic or brewer's yeast to their food can give them an edge. 

Rubbing plants on your skin can be a good "on the spot" way to protect yourself.  Sweet fern, catnip, lemon balm, oregano work well.  I've read that vanilla extract can be rubbed on your skin but I would think the sweet smell might draw other insects.

There are a few other ways to keep the bugs away that aren't really natural but since we're not applying them to our skin, might be worth a try.  Lemon scented dish soap on a white plate will draw them in and they will drown in the soap.  Bounce dryer sheets hung in bushes or even attached to your clothing is another idea.  Avon original Skin So Soft bath oil has also been reported to repel mosquitoes.

The old standby that my husband often uses while fishing is smoking a cigar.  He's not a smoker but doesn't mind a cigar once in a while and the cloud of smoke it creates keeps the bugs away.  Probably much on the order of burning incense.

So try one of these natural ways to repel mosquitoes and get outdoors!

This post is part of the Home Remedies Carnival at Keeper of the Home.

Sharing this with Wildcrafting Wednesday #26

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Gardening Favorite

Day 9

A great tool for orgainc gardeners is Rodale's Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening.  My copy is an old one so I'm sure the "All-New" version offers lots more information.  This resourse answers just about any question you might have about gardening from planting guides to pest control to soil testing.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Day 8

Our Vacation Bible School for this year is focusing on the story of Joseph and his time in Egypt.  To help bring the setting alive for the kids, we're creating a live Egyptian marketplace as the center of their activities for the day.  I'll be running one of the market shops; the embalmers.  So I'm looking for info on which herbs were used in the mummification process.  So far I've found thyme and myrrh listed as important embalming herbs.
Thyme is another one of my favorite herbs.  We have a patch of lemon thyme in the kitchen garden and I use it fresh 3 seasons of the year to flavor drinking water.  The refreshing taste of the lemon makes a wonderful alternative to plain water, especially on a hot day.
Lemon balm, mint and basil make great flavored water also.  For a twist, add some carbonated water to make a fizzy treat.  My all time favorite flavored water is chocolate mint.  Reminds me of a "grasshopper" without the calories or alcohol.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cleansing Facial Mask

During a community theater play I needed to apply a facial mask for one scene and then quickly remove it before going on again. All I could think of was how dry my face would be by the end of the run so I started thinking about ways to make the mask beneficial and easier to remove than traditional clay masks. What I came up with was better than I expected and it makes my face feel so clean and fresh! Now that the play is over, I think I'll keep some on hand to use on a regular basis.

Cleansing Facial Mask
I started with a basic cold cream recipe Galen's Cold Cream;

1/2 cup distilled water
3/8 tsp borax
1/2 cup almond oil (may use oil of your choice)
2 Tbsp grated beeswax
See directions

To this I added;
1 Tbsp sea clay
1 Tbsp kaolin clay
(or other clay of you choice)

5 drops lavender essential oil (for its healing properties plus I love, love, love the fragrance!)
5 drops peppermint essential oil (to provide a fresh, perky feeling)
Use any combo of EOs to customize your mask.

In a heat resistant container dissolve the borax in the rosewater and set aside.
Mix almond oil and beeswax in another heat resistant container. Heat in a water bath or microwave until beeswax is melted; stir well.
Heat water/borax to same temp. as oil/wax; hot but do not boil.
Begin to whip the oil/wax mixture with a stick blender while slowly adding the water/borax.
Then whip to a light, cold cream texture.
Continue whipping while adding clays and essential oils.
Allow the mixture to cool and store in a clean container with a lid.
Gently massage a small amount onto your skin.  You can allow the mask to dry a little on your face or you can remove it shortly after applying.  To remove, tissue off or use a warm wash cloth to gently wipe away the mask. Rinse with warm water and follow with cold rinse.

Leaves your skin feeling soft, fresh and invigorated!  Makes a great gift!

I'm sharing this post with
Wildcrafting Wednesday-Hygiene Edition
Wildcrafting Wednesday and Stangers and Pilgrims on Earth Body Care link up

Thursday, June 10, 2010

#6 Strawbale gardening experiment

Another alternative to the traditional till and plant gardening method is creating garden beds from straw bales.  I couldn't find a book about this type of garden bed but there's some info online at various sites. 
The bales are placed with the straw running up and down to encourage drainage.  Because the bales are wrapped with twine, they need to be staked at the ends in case the twine breaks after a few weeks in the garden.  It seems that each site offers a little different means of preparing the bales for planting so I'm kinda winging it.  The bales have been in place for 2-3 weeks.  The rain has soaked through and the decomposing process has begun. 
When it's time to plant, some sites say to simply use a small shovel or spade to pull the straw apart deep enough to set your plant down into the bale. Then release the straw to close around the stem.  Others say to add some soil to the slit to ensure that no oxygen can reach the roots, while still others advise you to remove some straw making a hole in which to plant your crops in dirt as you would traditionally.  Also, a trough of dirt can be layed on top of the bale if you are going to direct sow seeds.
We're going to try it all and I'll probably be adding some organic nutrients as well.  Stay tuned to see how it works.  Hopefully, I'll have pictures to show soon.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

#5 Lasagne gardening

Because our top soil is very shallow and what lies beneath it is clay and shale, tilling a garden has always been a challenge.  We've added things like peat moss and compost to it in an effort to loosen things up a bit but we still fight with poor soil quality.
Plus, I'm ashamed to say it, the weeds get the best of me EVERY year.  I get off to a good start but after a soaking rain it seems that the weeds grow 3 times as fast as my garden plants!
So, this year we've taken another approach.  Lasagne gardening.  We started out with a layer of cardboard to discourage grass and weeds from growing up through the beds.  Two years ago, in preparation for this process, we started stockpiling leaves that the township picked up along the road.  They use a large truck that sucks the leaves into a shredder before shooting them into the back of a dump truck for removal.  The only problem with this is that we are unsure if the trees these leaves came from have been subjected to chemical lawn treatments. Hopefully the composting process will remove some of that problem. What we are left with is lovely composted leaf mould that has decomposed into nutritious, loamy, dirt.  We piled this dirt about 6-8 inches thick on top of the cardboard.  Next, we added a layer of straw, and then grass clippings.  I have chicken litter that I'll add later. 
Here in PA, we have to be cautious of the late May frosts so we'll be planting this week.  I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

#4 Companion Planting

Companion planting is a new practice in our garden this year and Louise Riotte's book, Carrots Love Tomatoes, is full of helpful info. 
Not only do some plants act as natural enhancers for their companions by putting beneficial things back in to the soil or using a nutrient that their companion doesn't need, some also benefit other plants by being a natural insect repellent for common pests that can destroy their neighbors.

I guess there are some companion planting ideas that I've grown up knowing about like marigolds to repel insects and garlic for voles.  But there's a lot more chemistry going on here than I ever dreamed!

Monday, June 7, 2010

#3 Lavender

Lavender (Lavandula spp.)

Lavender is my all time favorite essential oil.  It's soothing, clean aroma is pleasant and just inhaling the vapors helps to relax the mind and body.  It's mainly cooling character is also a bit on the dry, astringent side and somewhat bitter.
It's also one of the most popular medicinal herbs since ancient times. The name comes from the Latin lavare, to wash.  Medicinally, L. augustifolia or L. spica are the species used. 
Lavender is one of the safest essential oils and one of only a few that can be applied to the skin neet (straight).
As a relaxant, it's wonderful as a sleep aid. Just place a few drops on a cotton ball near your pillow to encourage sleep.
As a circualtory stimulant and tonic for the nervous system, I've found that placing a dab of lavender EO on my temples and the near the base of my ear (where you'd apply perfume) helps get rid of the odd vision disturbances that accompany migraines.
As an antiseptic, antibacterial and analgesic, lavender is great for wound healing and is used in burn ointments.
It's also helpful for easing sunburn or scalds, eczema, insect bites and stings.
As an antispasmodic, lavender can be added to chest rubs for asthmatic and bronchial spasms and massage oils to help relieve muscle tension.  Because lavender is also an analgesic it can ease muscle pain, too.

But to me, these health benefits are merely extra perks because I simply love the aroma of lavender!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

#2 One of my favorites

Penelope Ody's Complete Medicinal Herbal is a great reference book with lots of info, history and lore about herbs, how to prepare herbal remedies and much more.  It's one of my favorites and I use it quite often.  She shares lots of practical applications in various forms of preparation for each herb listed, as well as which parts of the plant to use for each remedy and the best time to gather them.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Galen's Cold Cream

The following basic cold cream recipe was taken from Janice Cox's book, Natural Beauty from the Garden.  Janice gives the following background for the recipe;
Cold cream was developed by the Greek physician Galen in the second century.  It's probably one of the oldest cosmetic recipes still in use today.  Two beauty staples in this recipe are rosewater and olive oil.  As the rosewater in the cream evaporated, it created a cold sensation on the skin that the Ancient Greeks enjoyed, thus the name.

This easy to make cold cream can be used to remove makeup and gently cleanse skin keeping it soft and smooth.  Cold cream can also be used as a heavy moisturizer for hands and feet as you garden.  Apply before putting on your boots and gloves to prevent drying and cracking as you work.
Rosewater gives the cream a light scent but for an unscented cream use distilled water.

Galen's Cold Cream
1/2 cup rosewater or distilled water
3/8 tsp borax
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp grated beeswax

In a heat resistant container dissolve the borax in the rosewater and set aside.
Mix olive oil and beeswax in another heat resistant container. Heat in a water bath or microwave until beeswax is melted; stir well.
Heat water/borax to same temp. as oil/wax; hot but do not boil.
Begin to whip the oil/wax mixture with a stick blender while slowly adding the water/borax.
Then whip to a light, cold cream texture which will thicken as it cools.
Store in a clean container with a lid.

To use:  Massage a small amount in to your skin and tissue off or rinse with warm water.

This cold cream makes a great gift for special friends on your list.  Combine it with my Cleansing Facial Mask for a special treat!

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