Friday, May 30, 2008

Lunar Gardening

(from a piece I wrote for the website I share with Melissa: Moon Bees & Herbaluna)

The gravitational, magnetic force of the moon affects everything that that contains water, including the ocean tides, vegetation, and the human body, which is made up of about 70% water. Think about it: It is a scientific fact that tides are mainly caused by the moon’s gravity. Human “tides” are not measurable, and science and folklore have never been good bedfellows. Be your own judge. Conduct your own experiments. We are all connected to nature; to the moon, the sun, the stars, the universe. There is much to be gained from a kind, sensitive, natural approach to life and the mark we leave here.

This is not religion or a lack thereof. It is simple truth. Embracing our connection with nature results in spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual growth.

The moon travels through each zodiac sign about once a month, and stays in each sign for 2-3 days. Check your date, moon phase and sign, plant or harvest accordingly, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Astrological Moon Signs (with corresponding symbols, ruling planets, planting info, etc.) :

Aries (fire, masculine); Ram; Mars; Head; dry and barren. Not good for planting anything; good for cultivating, destroying noxious growth and pests, weeding and harvesting.
Taurus (earth, feminine); Bull; Venus; Neck/Throat; moist and fairly productive. Plant root crops like potatoes & bulb plants;
plant flowers for hardiness, beans, cabbage, lettuce, onion sets, radish, turnip, leafy vegetables and hay; set out/plant peach, pear and plum trees; perform general garden maintenance.
Gemini (air, masculine); Twins; Mercury; Arms/Chest; dry and barren. Not good for planting anything; good for cultivating, destroying noxious growth and pests, weeding and harvesting.
Cancer (water, feminine); Crab; Moon; Breast/Stomach; moist and fruitful. Widely considered to be the most productive of all the signs and most frequently used for planting both above-ground and root crops. Plant seeds, transplant, irrigate, bud/graft. Asparagus, barley, beets, berries, bulbs, carrots, corn, lettuce, potatoes, roses, herbs, wheat, and deciduous trees do very well. Start compost heaps and worm farms when the moon is in the fourth quarter under Cancer.
Leo (fire, masculine); Lion; Sun; Heart/Back; the most barren and dry of all the signs. No planting at all during this sign, ever. Exterminate weeds and noxious growth, harvest and cultivate.
Virgo (earth, feminine); Virgin; Mercury; Bowels; “Bloom Days”; moist but barren. Good for destroying weeds and pests. Vegetables will not do well if planted in Virgo (big blooms, little fruit), but it is a good planting sign for most flowers and vines for large bloom yields. Don't plant vegetables or trees.
Libra (air, masculine); Balance; Venus; Kidneys; moist and semi-fertile. Used for planting crops where good pulp growth and roots are desirable; another good sign for flowers and vines. Plant seeds for hay, corn, fodder, grain. Flowers, bulbs, barley, beans, beet, cabbage, carrot, peas, squash, tubers and vines.
Scorpio (water, feminine); Scorpion; Mars; Loins; very fruitful and moist. Produces sturdy, reliable plants. Plant most vegetables and flowers for large yields; excellent time to plant beans, berries, cantaloupes, cauliflower, cereal, chicory, eggplant, peas, potatoes, pumpkin; do not dig potatoes during this sign.
Sagittarius (fire, masculine); Archer; Jupiter; Thighs; dry and barren Some say this is a good time to plant fiery, “hot” crops such as onions, garlic, peppers, chilies and radishes (I haven't tried this yet); cultivate and harvest.
Capricorn (earth, feminine); Goat; Saturn; Knees; productive Good for most planting. Plant bulbs, potatoes, root crops, beans, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, onion sets, radishes, flowers and fruit trees.
Aquarius (air, masculine); Waterman; Uranus; Legs/Ankles; another barren and dry sign. Not good for planting anything; good for harvesting, cultivation and extermination of pests.
Pisces (water, feminine); Fish; Neptune; Feet; one of the most fertile signs. A great time for planting most types of crops, including broccoli, bulbs, Brussel sprouts, carrots, celery, chicory, cress, cucumbers, endive, horseradish, parsley, peanuts, radishes, pumpkins, flowers (for abundance) and deciduous trees.

My 2008 Lunar Planting Calender with this article is HERE.

Do not plant on the actual day the moon changes to/from any of the four quarters. For example, if the moon goes full on July 22, you should not plant anything on that day, even though it is a "fruitful" sign. And remember, if the moon is "growing", or waxing, plant things that "grow up" and produce above the ground, like squashes, tomatoes, and lettuces. When the moon is shrinking/going down/waning, plant things that produce below ground, like bulbs, potatoes and onions. If any of this doesn't make sense to you, please feel free to ask for more details!

Happy planting!

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June Gardening Chores

Pardon my French, but where I live, summer is one hot bitch, and I don't mean sexy. You've never enjoyed a real Deep South Summer Day until you've worked your garden in 98 degree weather with full-on, take your breath and make you feel like you're drowning, 90+% humidity at 9 AM. I'm talking about the kind of heat that makes your toenails sweat, and makes you feel like laying down and dying in the dirt. It makes even the most industrious folks feel like lazy old porch dogs. Ahhhh, summer in Alabama. The old cliche is true, you know. Here you have Almost Summer, Summer, Still Summer, and ICE.

So, anyway. Here are some things that can and/or should be done in and around the garden in June. I took some from the web, some from my Old Farmer's Almanac, and some from my garden diary.

**Get your gardening done in the early morning or late evening to avoid the excessive heat and humidity if you're in the south. And yes, we drink out of the garden hose. Gasp!

**Keep all of your new plants well watered, but avoid watering mid-day, and try not to water "over", or across the tops of the plants. Try to water at the base and let the plants do their jobs. The best time to water is always early morning. Watering at night may allow water to stand on plants all night long and encourage fungi and other infections to spread.

**And on that note, make sure everything is still well-mulched. The soil loses lots of moisture through evaporation. You'll conserve water this way, and save yourself a ton of trouble.

**Give your plants a little extra love with a side dress of compost or manure. In case you don't live on a farm like me and aren't lucky enough to have all the fresh cow poop you can stand, and didn't already know this, you don't need to keep a cow in your garage for manure. You can buy it in bags!

**Check plant foliage for signs of disease or nutrient deficiency, and treat accordingly, preferably without chemicals. :)

**Give the compost a good turn, if you haven't lately.

**"Deadhead Ornamentals for long season bloom." This really works.

**"Pinch back tall growing fall bloomers like asters and monarda." So does this.

**"Stop harvesting asparagus and rhubarb." Or else. Okay, I know you're supposed to wait and harvest them in their second year, but have no idea why you should stop harvesting them in June. I found the tip and thought it sounded ominous, so I was afraid to not post it, else the vegetable police come and beat me with a club. I've never grown asparagus because ... well ... because it just seems like too much trouble to me after seeing my mother-in-law (very seasoned gardener) struggle with it, but I love the way the creepy little pointy stalks just shoot up right out of the ground. I found this article from Texas A&M that might help you, if you need asparagus help. My advice on rhubarb is: Google it, man! Other than that, you're own your own.

**Get any remaining warm season vegetables in the ground. This is important. Where I live (north Alabama), this means bush, pole, and snap beans (by mid-month), corn (by mid-month), 'slicing' cucumbers, okra, sweet potatoes, field peas, peppers, summer and winter squash, tomatoes (also by mid-month) and sweet potatoes. The further south you go, the earlier the planting deadlines, and so on. There are many things you can plant/replant from late July to September, but we'll get to them later.

**Keep tomato plants staked as they grow and you might want to pinch out the "suckers" (sideshoots that grow from the 'crotch' above a leaf branch) from the top half of indeterminate tomato plants for bigger fruit. You want to encourage a strong "main stem", and left unchecked the suckers will grow out just like the main stem and produce flowers and fruit, which might sound like a good thing, but the main stem feeds the entire plant during its life and a bunch of babies growing off the side will sap the plant (I know how this feels) and can cause high yields of smaller fruit.

**"Put a couple of drops of mineral oil on corn silks within a week after they appear, to prevent corn earworm." I've never tried this, but I'm going to.

**Be prepared for ‘June Drop’ of fruit from fruit trees, and don't panic. They’re just thinning out to a manageable crop size. Clean up any fallen fruit to prevent possible reinfestating of fungi (like brown rot on peaches .. spores can release their nastiness right back up into the tree) and other diseases, and because rotten fruit lying around all over the place stinks, attracts bugs, and is just gross.

**Protect ripening berries with nets or row covers, if you don't want to share with the birds and bugs.

**If you want to prune or shear your evergreens, do so as soon as the new growth starts to turn a darker green. Once the wisteria finishes blooming, you can do a maintenance pruning to keep it in check, if needed. I accidentally "weed-eated" my beloved's baby wisteria vine (a 5 year old baby, I am compelled to note, hmmmm) to the ground a couple of weeks ago, and he moved what was left of the poor thing to the other side of the garden. Guess what? It's growing like a little weed! :D

**Summer is bug time! Be vigilant! I'll post my natural insect repellent recipe later on, when I think of it (which could possibly be next Thanksgiving).

**Keep watch for bug damage, and pinch those pesky little boogers off! It really is the best way to get rid of them while keeping the chemicals off your plants. Someday I also hope to blog about natural pest control and "good bugs", but not today!

**The Japanese Beetles are back in June, oh-joy-to-my-soul. I think I might hate them worse than mosquitos.

**Begin to cut back on mowing, YEAH! My second favorite thing about summer, after a big juicy tomato fresh from the garden! Oooh, over a big plate of homemade biscuits and gravy .. I promise they are worth every single Weight Watchers point! ;)

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Southeast Women's Herbal Conference, Oct 3-5, 2008

Tomorrow is the LAST DAY for early bird registration. I should be horse-whipped for not mentioning this sooner. I'm registered as of today, as is my BFF Melissa, and we are *very* excited! The link below will take you to the site for all of the Conference info and registration details. Early bird price is $185. Pre-registration (by September 5, 2008) is $220, and full registration after Sept. 5 is $260. All registration fees must be paid at the time of registration. The price includes workshops with amazing women and camping at Rockmont (between the towns of Asheville and Black Mountain, NC), but you can pay extra for a bed, if you like. You can also purchase a weekend meal ticket for $55, if you don't want to bring all of your own food, which I certainly do not! Last year's menu looked pretty amazing to me! They offer work exchange and scholarships, as well as child care and programs for young women. Please check it out!

I hope to see you there!

Registration and Inquiries: Fin Ferrell - call toll free (877) 739-6636 or (828) 669-5235.

Conference Coordinator: Ema Carmona - call toll free (877) 739-6636 or (828) 669-0012.

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"Ethnobotany Weekend" at DeSoto State Park, June 6-7

From the JSU Field School 2008 Program Schedule:

Jacksonville State University (AL) Field Schools and DeSoto State Park will offer fun activities Friday night, all day Saturday and Saturday night for families who want to learn about nature together. Join ethno-botanist Francine Hutchinson for Campfire Talks on Friday and Saturday nights, register for the plants workshop on Saturday. For lodging information, visit

Campfire Talk: Medicinal Plants of Little River Canyon
Join botanist Francine Hutchinson for a presentation of local healing herbs, and learn how to grow many of them yourself.
Date: Friday, June 6, 2008
Time: 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm CST FREE

Medicinal & Edible Plants Workshop & Hike
For centuries, local residents have used hundreds of different species of medicinal plants found in our forests. Come learn about many of them with botanist Francine Hutchinson. This workshop will include demonstrations, short hikes, and instructions on herbal preparations. Participants should bring a lunch and other light-hike needs.

Date: Saturday, June 7, 2008
Where: Meet at DeSoto State Park Nature Center
Time: 9:00 am – 3:00 pm CST
Fee: $10/adult; $5 child; Pre-registration is required. (256-782-5697; JSU Field School Office)

Campfire Talk: Ethno-botany/Edible Plants of Little River Canyon
There are many wild plants that have a wide range of uses. Join botanist Francine Hutchinson for a presentation on what’s safe and what’s not.
Date: Saturday, June 7, 2008
Time: 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm CST FREE

I'm planning on attending. If you're within driving distance, send me a note and I'll try to meet you there!

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Brag Warning!

My First Love. My Voice of Reason. My Amazon Queen. My Daughter. Sweet, kind, sensitive and extremely intelligent. She also has the most wicked sense of humor this side of the Mississippi. In other words, she rocks.

Wild Violets (Viola papilionacea, et. al.)

One of my favorites! Sweet Aunt Vi is in the Violaceae (vy-oh-LAY-see-ay) family, and Viola (vy-OH-la) genus. She grows 2 - 5 inches tall and is found throughout the United States, except for the Rocky Mountains, I'm told. She also grows in Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, India and other places. She loves moist gardens, shady wood edges, and meadows. She is a "clumping" perennial with a fibrous root system, and she is aggressive. She walks over with a purpose, hikes up her ample skirts, and plops right down to stay.

There are many other species of violet, including V. arvensis, V.calcarata, V. canadensis, V. clandistina, V. diffusa, V. heterophylla, V. japonica, V. kauaiensis, V. palmata, V. pedata, V. pubescens, V. rotundifoli, and maybe a hundred or more others (S. Weed: Healing Wise, 1989, Ash Tree Publishing). Some of her common names include Blue Violet, Butterfly Violet, Common Violet & Sweet Violet.

Vi is easily identified by her beautiful green, smallish, heart-shaped leaves which are rolled in around the egdes, especially the young ones. They often take on a funnel shape. Click on the pic above to get a closer view. The leaves have been known to externally irritate some with sensitive skin (they've never bothered me at all, and are safe and yummy to eat), but that's just Aunt Vi. She doesn't mean you harm ... she just wants some respect. Keep in mind, though, that large doses of her roots or seeds could be toxic, causing upset stomach, nervousness, breathing problems, and also may affect blood pressure. Violet leaves are very nourishing and are wonderful in salads. They are alterative, anodyne, antineoplastic, antiseptic, demulcent, depurative, dissolvent, diuretic, emmolient, expectorant, laxative, mucilaginous, nutritive, suppurative & vulnerary. Whew! That's a mouthful! Violet is a cooling, soothing herb. Imagine a kindly aunt smiling sweetly while gently stroking your fevered brow with her cool, soft hand. That's Sweet Aunt Violet.

Her flowers (Thanks for the bloom pics, Mel!) range from white to blue to purple, and appear in my area (Zone 7) from March to May. The flowers have three lower petals and two lateral petals on long single flower stalks. I love that you can pick violet flowers to your heart's content. They don't set seed! In Susun Weed's "Healing Wise", she says that some botanists say violet's flowers are "just for fun" and "out of sheer joy". I love that! The seed-making flowers don't appear until autumn, and are green (can you say camoflage?). The flowers are antiscorbutic, aperient, and are all edible. They are used in syrups for sore throats and coughs, and given to children for digestive upsets. Violet flower oil is used for relief from tinnitus. They are also absolutely dreamy crystallized in sugar. YUM! Besides having her on the menu, I love to make Violet vinegar, oil & tincture.

Now, in my Master Gardener class, Wild Violets were a topic of conversation during our "Weeds" lecture. I was suprised to learn that I was the only person in a class of 12 who loves Wild Violets, and was horrified to sit and listen to all of the creative ways mankind has devised to torture and kill her! Okay, so she's agressive and resistant to some herbicides. I loathe the very word "herbicides", and hope you do, too! She's prolific, and I love that about her. I can see why people who are lawn-obsessed harbor ill-will toward Wild Violets, but I've never been a "Lawn Person", so I allow her to run wild and free wherever she may roam in my yard. The more the merrier! Grass doesn't grow under Aunt Vi, and that's just fine with me.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

"Energy fears looming, new survivalists prepare"

Okay, I'm not going to comment very much on this. Read the article for yourself and make your own judgements. All I'll say is that to me, while I believe 100% in being prepared, allowing fear and dread to ruin my life today are worse than the possiblity of a looming economic fall. You don't have to agree. Life is short for everyone, even people living off the grid. What difference does it make if you aren't prepared when you've allowed this fear to ruin your life? Dig in your heels and educate yourself. Do the absolute best you can under your own personal circumstances, and live your life with hope, kindness, and joy if you can. Get to know your local farmer's market, make some friends in the country if possible, teach yourself to garden if you don't already know how, and if you aren't a landowner, learn how to container garden. It sounds silly but you might be surprised how much produce you can harvest from a well maintained container garden. It's certainly not realistic for *everyone* to move to the country and become self-sustainable, so arm yourself with knowledge and be confident that you will be prepared in the event of a disaster. Have a plan, and a little faith in mankind. Don't turn your nose up at those who are becoming prepared or scoff at the possiblities, and above all, don't let the fear take you.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Fighting Climate Change!

Thanks to Hedgewitch (check out her blogs, they're great) for posting about the "350 Challenge" on her "Earth and Tree" blog so others could follow suit! Brighter Planet will offset 350 pounds of carbon in your name when you install the badge on *your* blog!

Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Virginia Creepy .. I mean, Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Lord have mercy. I almost had a heart attack when I first read that there are people who actually *plant* this vile stuff. Wikipedia has a glowing page on it, but let me tell you, the stuff makes me ITCH. I honestly think it affects me more than poison oak/ivy. I developed this strange Creeper "allergy" about five years ago after many, many years of pulling armloads of it off of my property. I also discovered that there are many folks who think it *is* poison ivy. Well, it's not, but apparently they are good bedfellows and love to lay up together, plotting their next territorial takeover.

So, here's what I found: Virginia Creeper sap contains oxalate crystals and can be a skin irritant to some (like yours truly), and is definitely an irritant if eaten (shiver). The California Poison Control System lists it as a skin irritant. I can't imagine why all of them don't! It is *very* vigorous and will take over your property in short order.

Although it pains me, in the name of fairness I think I should list what it's good for. Just don't stuff your britches with it until you know for sure that *you* aren't sensitive to it, too.

{{loud sigh}}

If we're gonna say it, let's try and say it correctly. "Parthenocissus quinquefolia" - par-then-oh-KISS-us kwin-kway-FOH-lee-uh.

- a valuable cover for trellises, tree stumps, walls and rock piles (whatever)

- enhances the appearance of older buildings (like tombs, where no living being can be eaten alive by it)

- it has pretty autumn color (so do saddleback caterpillars, ever given one of those a squeeze?)

- The fruit is edible. You know, if you're lost and the woods and starving to death. It is also supposedly good for treating fevers, but I've not tried it, obviously. The stalks and roots can also be cooked and eaten.

- According to Foster and Duke's Field Guide to Medicinal Plants, Eastern and Central North America, a tea made from the leaves is aperient, astringent and diuretic, and is used as a wash on swellings and poison ivy rash. I find this terribly ironic. A tea made from the plant is used in the treatment of jaundice, and a tea made from the roots is used in the treatment of gonorrhea and diarrhea.

- Mrs. M. Grieve said it is stimulating, diaphoretic and cathartic. You can read the rest of what she had to say about it here. Lots of people on the web have copied and pasted her info about it.

- Virginia Creeper berries are eaten by a variety of animals (birds, deer, skunks, mice, foxes, and the Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar eats the leaves). A truly redeeming characteristic.

- Some invertebrates and amphibians (including my favorite, the American Toad) use the foliage of Virginia creeper as shelter, and may be responsible for assisting in pollination as they move from plant to plant. Okay, I'm softening up a bit. Anything for my sweet little toadies!

***See the comments for this post for more information on Virginia Creeper!***

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

American Mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum)

American Mandrake (the photo is from my yard) is a small, perennial herb found naturalized in damp woodlands, thickets, shady fields, and the edges of boggy meadows. It is native to the east coast from Quebec to Florida and west to Texas, and is cultivated elsewhere. Mandrake needs rich, damp soil and partial shade. It is a member of the Berberidaceae family, and common names include May Apple, Devil's Apple, Hog-apple, Indian Apple, American Mandrake, American May Apple, Racoonberry, and Wild Lemon.

North American Indians valued the May Apple for its medicinal properties, and reportedly used it as an insecticide for their crops. I've read that they also used it to commit suicide. Early pioneers used the root extract for constipation.

One of the many herbs associated with witchcraft in folklore, mandrake was once called the "Witches' Umbrella" and thought to be employed by them as a poison.

Mandrake has a solitary, pale green, unbranched stem. It grows up to 1 to 2 feet and is crowned with two leaves at maturity. The leaves are yellowish-green on top and paler underneath. The solitary, white, drooping flowers are somewhat fragrant and about 4 cm across. It has a yellowish berry like a Rosehip. The roots are long and horizontal, and a dark red-brown color. The root and rhizomes are dug in the fall or late summer, washed, cut into pieces and dried. The rhizome is said to be most active when it is beginning to shoot. The seeds and rind are not edible, and are also said to be poisonous. The fruit is non-poisonous and edible (sans seeds!) but I've never worked up the nerve to try one, so I can't offer an opinion there.

The root contains a glycoside substance, podophyllotoxin, and an amorphous resin, podophylloresin, which are responsible for its purgative action. It also contains a yellow coloring matter, quercetin, sugar, starch and fat. Mandrake root has an unpleasant, bitter taste (or so I've been told) and strong, nauseating odor (which I can vouch for).

If you're interested in terminology, the therapeutic actions of mandrake include: Cathartic, cholagogue, emetic, hepatic, sialagogue, tonic, and vermifuge.

Mandrake has been shown to have antitumor effects (including some success in the treatment of acute childhood leukemia at a children's hospital in Tennessee: J. Heinerman, Science of Herbal Medicine: 136-137) and is used to treat venereal warts, scalp ringworm (tinea capitis), constipation, corns, headaches, indigestion, liver complaints, and worms (see warning below).

Warnings about American Mandrake:

The American Herbal Products Association Botanical Safety Handbook recommends the following labeling for Mandrake: "To be used only under the supervision of an expert qualified in the appropriate use of this substance."

Mandrake has a low "therapeutic margin" (the dividing line between toxicity and non-toxicity) and should be used with extreme caution. Consult a professional before using mandrake and never use more than the stated dose. The whole plant, apart from the ripe fruit, is highly poisonous in large doses. Excessive amounts of American Mandrake will produces nausea and vomiting, watery stools, and convulsions. It may also cause inflammation of the stomach and intestines, which has been known to prove fatal. Even in moderate doses it is a drastic purgative (causes bowel evacuation) with some cholagogue action (promotes the flow and discharge of bile into the duodenum by contracting the bile ducts, and produces purgation of the bowels). American Mandrake may cause birth defects and should not be used during pregnancy or lactation.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Marinated Vegetables

I made this for a family reunion this past weekend and it's one of my favorite things in the world to snack on. Hope you try it!

Prepare the vegetables except for the tomatoes; place in an 11" x 14" glass pan (they won't fit in a 9" x 13") and cover with vinaigrette (recipe below). Refrigerate overnight. Toss in tomatoes before serving. Serve chilled or room temperature.

1 head broccoli florets, rinsed, patted dry, divided into small pieces
1 head cauliflower (ditto)
4 carrots, sliced
3 medium zucchini, sliced
8 oz button mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced (size the slices to your liking)
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced (ditto)
1 cup sliced black olives
1 or 2 cups whole grape tomatoes

Vinaigrette (play around with the ingredients to suit your own tastes)

1 c. olive oil
1 c. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. fresh dill
2 scallions, minced
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. thyme
4 freshly torn basil leaves
3 tbsp. lemon juice
Salt & Pepper to taste

Place in a jar and shake well. To make a Creamy Vinaigrette, add 2 tablespoons sour cream to above ingredients and shake well.

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Gingko (Gingko biloba)

My sweet little gingko tree out front was looking very much like she wanted her photo taken last night, so I obliged. I planted her several years ago and she's just now reaching waist height (on me, anyway). She's a beautiful little tree, and will surely outlive me (they have been known to live for well over a hundred years) but I'm hoping to be around here long enough to watch her grow strong and tall.

The leaves and fruit are used medicinally and are harvested in the fall. She's a Chinese native (until a hundred years ago Ginkgo was thought to be extinct until it was found growing in a remote area of western China) but is also grown elsewhere including on plantations in France and here in the Southern United States. The leaves are rubefacient (stimulate capillary dilation; draw blood from deeper tissues and organs, relieving congestion and inflammation) and a circulatory stimulant (herbal stimulants increase functional activity and energy in the body). Gingko seeds are antibacterial, antifungal, astringent, and expectorant.

Gingko is useful for improving blood flow to the brain, and studies have shown it is beneficial for people with memory loss and Alzheimer's. Gingko has also been widely used in Germany to treat Attention Deficit Disorder.

The German Commission E Monographs list the following properties for gingko:
**Increased memory performance and learning capacity.
**Improvement in the compensation of disturbed equilibrium.
**Improvement of blood flow, particularly in the region of microcirculation.
**Neuroprotective effect (ginkgolides A and B, bilobalide).
ADD, Alzheimer's, Circulation slow, Concentration loss of, Depression, Dizziness, Memory loss of, Tinnitus, Headache, Vertigo

Not everyone has a gingko tree growing in their yard. Something important to remember when purchasing herbal products is to always read labels to ensure that you are getting a pure and "whole herb" product. There are a number of "standardized" herbal capsule products now on the market containing synthetic fillers, artificial colors, and sweeteners. You don't need or want that junk. Some of the fillers may include hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose, silicon dioxide, and polyethylene glycol. Sounds pretty bad to me. It is the antithesis of herbal medicine to include artificial substances in a formula if at all possible.

If you live between USDA hardiness zones 3 - 8, I highly recommend planting yourself a gingko tree. They are durable, pest-resistant, fascinating trees with incredibly stunning yellow fall foliage (short-lived, but worth it). They tolerate almost any soil type and grow slowly to 75+ feet. Don't let the slow growing deter you, though. They are beautiful and interesting at every age. I love mine and hope you'll decide to give one a try.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Herbal Gallstone Blend

I'm posting this because my best friend is suffering from gallstone problems and it's on my mind; not to mention the fact that it also contains dandelion (I'll stop obsessing shortly, promise), which induces the flow of bile and gastric juice and stimulates the gall bladder, bladder, kidneys, liver, spleen and pancreas. Dandelion is also a valuable nourishing and natural internal cleanser due to its high sulfur content and helps to eliminate urea and uric acid.

Moving right along ...

Hopefully you won't need it, but in case you do:

1 oz Dandelion root
1 oz Parsley root
1 oz Lemon Balm leaves
1/2 oz Ginger root
1/2 oz Licorice root

Place all roots except the ginger in 2 pints of clean water. Simmer, well covered for 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the Lemon Balm and Ginger root, cover, and steep for 20 minutes. Drink 1/2 cup every 2 hours as needed.

Please note: Do not use dandelion root if you have blocked bile ducts, gallbladder inflammation or intestinal blockage. (Botanical Safety Handbook, American Herbal Products Association, 1997: 114)

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Dandelion Beer (non alcoholic)

In the spirit of my current dandelion obsession, I want to share a yummy, healthful recipe with you! Dandelion beer is refreshing and an effective remedy for upset stomach, indigestion, and kidney and bladder troubles. Dig up and clean the entire plant to make it.

1/2 lb young Dandelion plants
1 oz Yeast
Rind of one fresh lemon
Juice of one fresh lemon
1 lb Demerara sugar (a coarse-textured, dry, raw sugar from the Demerara area of Guyana; available from Domino and other sugar manufacturers; easy to find online)
1 gallon water
1 oz Cream of Tarter
1/2 oz Ginger root, bruised

Wash the plants and remove the smaller, hairy roots without breaking the larger tap root. Put them into a pan with the bruised ginger root, lemon rind (no pith) and water; boil for 10 minutes.

Strain out the solids and pour the liquid over the sugar and cream of tarter. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. When the liquid is lukewarm add the yeast and the lemon juice and leave the mixture covered with a cloth in a warm room for three days.

Strain out all the sediment and bottle in screw-topped bottles. Store them on their sides. It is ready to drink in a week or when it hisses when the cap is loosened. It will only keep for a few weeks, so drink up!

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Good Morning Beautiful

I love to go outside by myself early every morning to just enjoy the plants and trees and breathe in some fresh mountain air. This is what was waiting to greet me today at the bottom of my front steps. A very humbling experience to behold such beauty at 6:30 AM. Click on the image to get a better, close up view of her. Can't you just almost smell the rose? Am I lucky or what?

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Friday, May 2, 2008

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em!

Dandelion is one of the most valuable wild herbs available to an herbalist, or it is to me, anyway. I wish I had a quarter for every time I've recommended it. Almost every part is useful; root (fresh and dried), leaves, flowers and juice!
Dandelion is useful for treating anemia, arteriosclerosis, arthritis, breast problems, bronchitis, bruises, circulatory problems, constipation, diabetes, eczema, fevers, gout, heartburn, hypoglycemia, indigestion, kidney complaints, premenstrual fluid retention, psoriasis, sluggish digestion, skin problems, stiff, joints, and much more! The milky stem juice is even useful against warts, pimples, sores and blisters. Preparations for use are usually leaf infusion, root decoction, fluid extract, or tincture.

With the current popularity of bitter salad herbs such as endive and chicory these days, most people won’t cringe in horror because of something a little odd in their salad bowl, and they might not even notice a few little dandelion leaves. For those who would like to make the plunge, follow these tips:

**Gather the leaves when young, before they have flowered in the spring.
**Be sure to collect from a spray-free area, away from the road, or in your own (preferably organic!) garden.
**After flowering, you can cut the plant back to the top of the roots, and then harvest the new growth.
**Harvest or grow dandelions in the shade for the least bitter flavor.
**You can plant dandelions too: you don’t need to rely on the wild ones!

Be aware that some other plants look like Dandelion. You can identify a Dandelion by its stem, which is hollow and smooth, and exudes a milky bitter juice when crushed. The leaves are hairless and have serrated edges. Dandelion usually bears a single flower, which is bright yellow and made up of many narrow petals. The flowers close up at night and in rainy weather. Use the young leaves, as the older leaves are bitter.

Dandelions distinctive taste goes great in sandwiches, with vinaigrette dressings, with meats, cheeses, pasta, and in tomato sauces.

Here in the south we gather dandelion roots from October to late spring, beginnging after the first frost when the plant dies back and sends it's nutrients below ground to store for next season. Be sure to collect in a spray free environment, away from roads!

To make your own dandelion coffee, wash the roots well, slice lengthwise in half, and then air dry for several days. Cut into one-inch sections, and roast on a baking sheet at 375 degrees for 2 to 4 hours. Turn them regularly so that they brown evenly. There should be a coffee-like odor coming from the oven by the time they are done. Grind as needed, and use in place of coffee beans! You can also grate the raw roots into salads, or stir-fry.

Why don't you go dig up some sunny dandelions and enjoy them today? :)

Just a note; you should avoid dandelion root if you have blocked bile ducts, gallbladder inflammation or intestinal blockage.

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