Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chicken Chili Soup

One of my family's favorites:

1 lb chicken breast fillets
1 T. olive oil
2 c. chicken or veggie broth
1 c. tomato sauce
10 c. water (more or less.. start with 7 and add as you like)
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 small onion, diced
8 oz mushrooms (I normally use buttons), coarsely chopped
1 c. whole kernel corn
1 carrot, sliced
1 c. diced tomatoes (canned works, too)
1 (15 oz) can red kidney beans and liquid
1/4 c. diced pimento
1 jalapeno, diced
1/4 c. chopped Italian/flat leaf parsley
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 t. chili powder
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. sea salt
1/4 or 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
1 t. dried basil
1 t. dried oregano

Saute the chicken in olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken on both sides until done, about 7 to 10 minutes per side. Cool chicken until it can be handled. Don't rinse all that yummy goodness out of that pot! Shred chicken by hand into bite-sized pieces and add back to pot. Add remaining ingredients except basil and oregano. Turn heat to high, bring to a boil, stir, then reduce and simmer (covered) 4 or 5 hours. Stir often. Add basil and oregano in the last 30 minutes of cooking.

My bunch likes this so much they even ask for it in the summer. This recipe is easy to change/customize, and the leftovers are even better the next day!

Happy cooking! :D

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Peptic Ulcers

"Peptic ulcer" is just a general term to describe a "hole", or mucosal erosion in the mucous membranes that line parts of your digestive tract. A common symptom is pain below the ribcage. They appear when the balance between the stomach's mucous lining and the production of acid or pepsin is upset. This may result from excess stress, poor diet, smoking, alcohol, or drugs (including aspirin, NSAIDs & cortico-steroids).

A gastric, or stomach ulcer often causes excessive saliva production and a tender upper abdomen. Eating may induce pain. It may also cause nausea and feelings of general crappiness.

A duodenal, or duodenum ulcer can cause extreme pain which usually appears mid-morning. The pain is usually relieved by eating but reappears an hour or more after a meal.

There are other types of ulcers but those are the two I'm familiar with.

If you've ever heard of H. pylori and were dying to know what that "H" stands for, it's "Heliobacter" (yawn). It's present in up to 80% of gastric ulcers and up to 100%of duodenal ulcers. I'm loathe to say it but sometimes antibiotics will straighten things out. Antibiotics can be great things, of course (as in the case of the treatment of my chicken-egg-sized lymph node which was caused by a nasty infection), but I only turn to them as a last resort.

Now. What to do if you suspect or know you have an ulcer? Well, since I'm not a doctor I can't make you a prescription, but I can pass on some useful information I've picked up over the years in my studies.

Try to rest. No one knows how difficult this can be more than me. I am mother to a beautiful and socially active teenage daughter and an almost-three-year-old, intelligent female Tasmanian Devil. This equals little to no sleep right now.

Try to eat lighter, healthier (whole foods) meals. This should go without saying.

Another doozy: Try to reduce some of the stress in your life. Even if you have currently unresolvable situations, take up some Restorative Yoga (it's very easy and relaxing) or learn to meditate, even if its just for a few minutes every day.

You may have heard that milk is good for ulcers, but research shows that cow's milk actually increases stomach acidity, so if it hasn't worked for you, now you know why.

Now, the fun part! Herbs indicated for ulcers include alfalfa, burdock, calendula, chamomile, chickweed, fenugreek, flax seeds, garlic, ginger, licorice, marshmallow, nettle, plantain, slippery elm (endangered!), and yellow dock. I've had luck with clients using simple daily stinging nettle infusion.

Note: Excessive use of ginger can interact with anticoagulants, cardiac meds, or antidiabetic prescriptions.

Good luck!

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tonight's Music

Suam Elle Ires, by Corvus Corax. And HERE is their official English website.

This is INSANE, and I LOVE IT! If this doesn't make you want to dance around in the woods naked, nothing will.

Herbal Companion Planting

Like humans and animals, plants love harmonious companionship! Many people don't realize that certain plants "don't like" each other, or might not grow or produce properly if seated next to a plant they "dislike". Likewise, there are plants who thrive near or are complemented by others.

"Natural plant associations" are groups of plants that occur and live together in nature, mutually complementing each other. This could mean that a shade loving plant lives happily underneath a taller sun-lover, or that a deep rooted plant resides contentedly alongside a shallow-rooted friend. These plants don't usually flower and fruit at the same times and often mature at different rates to maximize their light source.

Herbs may enhance or hinder the growth of their neighbors. For example, dandelion exhales ethylene gas, a hormone that promotes the premature ripening of fruits and fruiting of plants, inhibiting neighboring plant growth. Some herbs repel harmful insects by emitting aromas from their leaves or roots or aid fruit and vegetable plants by attracting otherwise harmful pest insects to themselves. Aromatic herbs like chamomile, chives, lavender, marjoram, parsley, sage, tarragon, thyme and yarrow enhance neighboring growth, repel pest insects, and attract butterflies and bees to your garden!

The active constituents and essential oil content can be increased in herbs by planting stinging nettle and yarrow in your herb garden. Peppermint's essential oil is almost doubled when grown with stinging nettle! I think that is just amazing.

The following is a list of companion herbs and short descriptions of their uses. When I say a plant "likes" another, it simply means it helps or is beneficial to its growth.

Alfalfa: Protects shallow rooting plants and is one of the few plants that actually grows well with Dandelion.

Anise: Seeds germinate and grow better alongside Coriander.

Basil: Really doesn't like to grow near Rue! Likes tomatoes, peppers, oregano and asparagus.

Borage: Attracts lovely pollinating bees. Likes just about all plants; specifically aids strawberry, tomato and cucurbit growth.

Chamomile: Increases essential oil content of Peppermint when grown nearby. Likes Basil, onions, cucumbers and cabbage.

Celery (the word "herb" includes all plant species): Mutually beneficial grown with tomatoes.

Chervil: Helps broccoli, lettuces and radishes.

Chives: Great under apple trees. It prevents apple scab! Also likes carrots, tomatoes, broccoli and cabbage.

Cilantro: Helps spinach.

Coriander: Hinders fennel seed formation. Attracts bees.

Dandelion: Exhales ethylene gas, inhibiting neighboring plant growth.

Dill: Mature dill inhibits carrots. Likes cabbage, broccoli, corn, lettuces and asparagus.

Fennel: Inhibits dwarf beans and tomatoes.

French Marigold: Roots excrete a substance which kills nematodes. Likes tomatoes.

Garlic: Great companion for roses. Controls potato and tomato blight. Garlic spray treats brown rot of stone fruit like peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots and cherries. Along with onions and shallots inhibits growth of peas and beans. Also likes cucumbers, peas, lettuces and celery.

Hyssop: Inhibits radish growth. Likes cabbage and increases grape yields when planted near grapevines.

Lavender: Attracts beneficial insects and aids general plant growth. Helps repel the clothes moth, whose larvae feed on wool, feathers, fur, hair, leather, lint, dust, paper, and occasionally cotton, linen, silk, and synthetic fibers.

Lemon Balm: An all around beneficial herb, and is said to promote milk flow in cows when planted in their pasture/meadows! I've also read that if you rub Lemon Balm inside a new bee hive, the swarm will never leave. Fascinating! I plan on trying this out for myself this fall when we put out some new hives. I do know that our honey bees love the lemon balm that grows in my garden!

Marjoram: Likes peppers.

Mint: Repels cabbage butterfly caterpillars.

Nasturtium: Helps to keep broccoli free from aphids. Great planted under apple trees to keep away woolly aphids.

Parsley: Great for roses and tomatoes.

Pennyroyal: Repels ants and protects against mosquitoes.

Peppermint: Protects cabbage from the white cabbage butterfly.

Rosemary: Repels the carrot fly. Rosemary and Sage have a stimulating affect on each other. Also likes beans.

Roses: Aided by Garlic and Parsley.

Rue: Inhibits most neighboring plants, especially Basil. But it repels houseflies, so I keep some close to my house!

Sage: Also protects cabbages from the white cabbage butterfly and tends to make cabbages more tender.

Summer Savory: Beneficial to onions and green beans.

Spearmint: Repels ants and controls aphids on vegetables.

Stinging Nettle: Very beneficial to neighboring plants by increasing essential oil yields and medicinal constituent contents. Just keep the little ones out of your nettle patch. It bites!

Tansy: Repels ants and flies. Tansy is also perfectly gorgeous.

Tarragon: Generally beneficial for the whole garden.

Thyme: Repels the cabbage root fly.

Valerian: Attracts one of my favorite garden visitors, the earthworm!

Winter Savory: General insect repellent.

Wormwood: I haven't personally had any trouble with it, but it's known to inhibit the growth of neighboring plants. It also repels moths and helps protect cabbages from the .. you guessed it .. white cabbage butterfly.

Yarrow: Increases the aromatic quality of all herbs and enhances growth of neighboring plants.

This isn't all of them, by any stretch, but it's a good starting point. There are lots of books out there on companion planting and is a great place to find good, used (a.k.a. cheap) books, and they have plenty to choose from on this subject. The best way to utilize companion planting is to start with a general guide and experiment in your own garden. This method is invaluable for the organic garden and for defense against the 300+ insects in the world that are now resistant to an increasingly wide array of pesticides. More on natural pest control later...

Happy planting! :D

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Thursday, June 12, 2008


Because I have a very painful, swollen lymph node in my neck, just under my left earlobe, I'm thinking about alteratives and ways to get my blood tidied up. Alterative herbs stimulate, tone, and regulate eliminative organs (kidneys, lungs, liver, bowels, lymphatic system), and are fundamentally blood-cleansers. They normally have a slower action, needing two to three months of continuous administration to really do their job. Using them with another herb which targets a specific eliminative organ can speed things up a bit. There are a lot of alterative herbs out there, but here are some of my favorites:

I'm drinking Stinging Nettle Infusion for extra nutrition and waste elimination. Nettle has iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, vitamins C, A, K, and more. It tastes like, well, to be fair I'm going say try it and see what you think. I drink mine with unsweetened cranberry juice.

My yard is a big salad right now of plantain and dandelion. I went out this morning and picked a bag full for salads, soups, tea, and general munching.

Garlic! How can you not love it? It's very easy to grow and incredibly versatile. I use it in everything from ear oil to flea repellent. I'm eating it in/on almost everything right now. I also love to soak 4-5 crushed garlic cloves in raw honey for 2-4 hours and take a spoonful every half hour or so for throat pain.

Not only is it growing in our pasture, but since I decided to stop mowing down into the dry creekbed in front of my house, I've discovered I have yellow dock growing there, too! Woo Hoo! The root is considered to be the most medicinally active part, but I like to use the whole plant as an infusion or chopped into soup. Yellow dock is a fantastic alterative which is often combined with dandelion. It stimulates the liver and also happens to be a long-term immune response enhancer.

I might go into further detail on these herbs later.

I'm not an "herbal cure-all" advocate (I'm actually an active protestor against it), so let's see what else I can do:

Hydration, hydration, hydration. Plenty of clean water every day. Check!

Diet. Well, maybe not so great for the past week. I snuck a Mtn Dew and and a handful of Doritos Monday. Not a death sentence, but not good, either. I've been getting plenty of leafy greens because my kale, collards, and mustard are all up and waiting patiently for me in the garden, and my lettuce and spinach are still holding on for dear life. I also made a huge pot of chicken soup stuffed with fresh veggies and a ton of kale yesterday to get me through the weekend. I always need to incorporate more nourishing herbs, cooked veggies, and whole grains into my diet.

Exercise. I was doing fair to poorly with this to begin with, and then along came my crud. Now there is NONE. Nada. I feel like crap and don't want to. I normally spend a lot of time outside in my garden and hiking around in the woods, but I need a more structured exercise routine to achieve and maintain optimum health. I have no excuses. It's simply something I have to work on.

Rest. This is so very important but difficult to do whilst wearing a fashionable 33 lb, almost-three-year-old girl wrapped around your head and neck. I'm tired and not convinced I will ever have four or more uninterrupted hours of sleep again.

Hopefully I'll feel much better come Monday.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tonight's Music

In keeping with my mood today, I'm sharing this Transatlantic Sessions video featuring the marvelously talented Darrell Scott. I hope you enjoy it.

The Open Door

We sure could use a little good news

I wasn't going to blog today because I'm feeling under the weather, but when I opened Internet Explorer a little while ago, Yahoo News announced, "Oil prices soar!" ... "Pakistan army accuses U.S.-led coalition of killing 11 troops!", and "Floods threaten economic disaster in Midwest!". My first reaction was to frown, shake my head, and think, "Mmm, mmm, mmm. How sad that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and there's nothing I can do about it."

Well, screw that. I may not be able to bring oil prices down, convince Pakistan of America's innocence, or stop a flood, but I can make a difference in my own life and the lives of those around me by being positive, hopeful, helpful and kind. I can actively search out and fill my life with people and things which bring me happiness and joy. A good mood is contagious and one thing that is free and easy to share.

I don't know if you believe depressing headlines affect you personally, but I'm betting that they do whether you admit it - or even know it - or not. Being concerned about the state of this poor planet is one thing. Allowing bad news to affect your everyday life is another. I understand the impact of rising oil prices because I drive a Ford Expedition that gets less than 14 miles per gallon, and I can barely afford to drive it anymore. And forget selling it right now. I've tried. I'm a work-at-home mom raising two daughters with my husband who is back in school for his Economics degree because we're worried about our future. I'm saddened and frightened by the state of things today, but I refuse to let it affect the quality of my life.

So, in my quest for good feeling today, I ran upon this fantastic website, the Good News Network that only has (gasp!) good news! I'm not saying we should turn a blind eye to the world's problems; we are one world and at the end of the day share responsibility for each other's hardships and should do everything in our power to help one another. But one simple thing we can do every single day is to take responsibility for our own lives and make our own little spaces brighter. Put on a smile and do something nice for someone, even if they don't deserve it. After all, one lonely candle can light an entire room.

"How far that little candle throws his beams. So shines a good deed in a weary world." William Shakespeare

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Understanding domestic doses and their equivalents

I've had a lot of trouble with this in the past, so I thought I'd post these numbers to help you in the future when you're reading recipes and trying out your own herbal preparations. Cups and glasses are approximate.

1 teaspoon (t) = 60 drops = 5 ml = 1 dram (double this for two drams, and so on)

1 tablespoon (T) = 15 ml = 3 t = 1/2 fl oz

1 wineglass = 1.5 to 2 fl oz = 56 ml = 3 to 4 T

1 teacup = 4 to 5 fl oz = 150 ml = 8 to 10 T

1 American pint = 16 fl oz = 453 ml

1 English pint = 20 fl oz = 567 ml

1 American quart = 32 fl oz = 906 ml

1 English quart = 1.134 liter = 1134 ml

1 ounce (oz) = 28.3 grams (g)

2.2 pounds = 1000 g

1 gram = 15 grains

1 ml = 15 drops or minims

30 ml = 1 fl oz

I also use the Online Conversion website quite frequently. I hope this helps you in your future herbal endeavors! :)

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Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis, Matricaria recutita)

Sing it now! "... Isn't she loooooov-ely ... Isn't she wooooon-der-ful ... " Oh, I just LOVE Chamomile, don't you? Seriously, sometimes when I'm feeling blue I just stroll out into my garden and sit down beside her. She's so sweet and gentle, and a truly trusted friend. Being with Chamomile makes me feel happy and lighthearted.

She's a member of the Asteraceae/Compositae family and is related to Sunflowers and Ragweed, so watch out, allergy sufferers! We'll have a lesson on Ragweed later. Chamomile is an Eastern European native but is cultivated and naturalized from here to Australia and back. Egyptian Chamomile is supposed to have a particularly high essential oil content, but I haven't made a personal comparison. I try to use the least amount of essential oils possible (It takes tons of plant material to make them, and it seems like overkill to me).

She is also known as English Chamomile, Camomile, Roman Chamomile, Chamomilla, Fleur de Camomile, German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), Hungarian chamomile or wild chamomile, Manzanilla, Matricaire, Pin Heads, Sweet False Chamomile, and True Chamomile. Good grief! It's no wonder plants can be so confusing. Sometimes I think a bunch of important people were sitting around a big table arguing about what to name plants, but couldn't agree on just one name and so in their great importance decided to use them ALL. This is why I love Latin botanical names. They can be hard to pronounce, but they're safe (you know exactly which plant your working with), reliable, and they cut down the confusion. I would much rather remember one fancy name than two dozen simpler ones. Interesting note: Her fresh blossoms have an apple scent, thus her Greek name "chamos" (ground) and "melos" (apple).

Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) the "official remedy" and my favorite, is a low growing perennial herb with hairy stems, and she creeps, which I adore. She may be propagated from seeds in early spring, by runners, or transplants. Either should be spaced about 18 inches apart. I have had great success with transplants. She loves a sunny site with any good, well-drained garden soil (a bit of soil acidity is also appreciated by Chamomile). For some reason I'm unaware of, seeds often produce mostly the single-flowered variety. She forms a gorgeous, aromatic (my mom thinks Chamomile's foliage smells like bubblegum) ground cover and has fine, feathery leaves and single or double sweet little pleasant tasting daisy-like flowers with a yellow center and white florets on a single, long erect stalk. She has a jointed, fibrous root.

Roman Chamomile flowers' therapeutic actions are anodyne, antiallergic, antiemetic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, aromatic, bitter tonic, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, sedative, and stomachic.
***According to Newall, Anderson and Phillipson, large doses of Roman Chamomile have been reported to cause vomiting and stomach irritation. Excessive use during pregnancy and lactation should be avoided due to reputed abortifacient actions, its ability to affect the menstrual cycle, and the potential allergic affects. Its coumarin constituent may interfere with anticoagulant therapy if used in excessive doses.

German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is an erect annual with round stems, is branched, and about 15-24 inches in height. She may be propagated from thinly sewn seeds. They'll flower in about 8 weeks and can be harvested until the plant dies. Remember to leave some flowers to set seed for next year's crop! The German's flowers are similar to the Roman but with a hollow conical center 2 cm across, and stronger, more bitter tasting flowers. It has a fibrous root and fewer leaves which are divided and threadlike. It also smells similar to Roman but stronger and less aromatic.

German Chamomile flowers are anodyne, anthelmintic, antiallergic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiulcer, antiviral, calmative, carminative, diuretic, diaphoretic, stomachic and tonic. WHEW! I hate typing therapeutic actions!
***German Chamomile should be avoided by people with sensitivity to the Asteraceae/Compositae family, especially asthmatics. It is not recommended for teething babies, and should also be avoided in excessive dosesduring anticoagulant therapy. Newall, Anderson and Phillipson recommend avoiding excessive use during pregnancy and lactation due to reputed effects on the menstrual cycle and uterotonic activity.

Needless to say, both Roman and German Chamomile flowers have similar medicinal properties. The wild, single-flowered variety is considered to be more medicinally powerful than the cultivated double-flowered. They are used to treat abscesses, colic, conjunctivitis, cramps, fevers, fluid retention, headaches, heartburn, indigestion, inflammation (external or internal), loss of appetite, menstrual troubles, migraines, nausea, scalp disorders, swellings, teething, ulcers, vomiting and wounds. But the lovely Chamomile is most famous for her sedative action which is useful against nervousness and induces relaxation and deep sleep. I can tell you from personal experience that it is an excellent mild sedative for restless babies and children. A cold Chamomile infusion will relieve congestion in the uterus and stimulate menstruation (emmenagogue).

Never boil the flowers because the volatile oil that contains much of the active constituents will evaporate. Always brew chamomile tea in a closed container! Allow it to steep a minimum of 10 minutes. For colic, restlessness and teething, use 1/2 to 1 t of the cool infusion. For fevers, indigestion or headaches, use a hot infusion with the addition of Ginger root. Chamomile infusion is also a wonderful, soothing addition to your bath for minor aches and pains.

I hope you'll give Chamomile a try in your garden! Happy planting!

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Toothache Plant (Spilanthes acmella) UPDATED PICS!

My Spilanthes seeds are finally coming up nicely. I was beginning to think I'd dreamed the whole Planting of the Spilanthes, but there they are, nice as pie, and thriving (so far).

A member of the Asteraceae family, Spilanthes acmella is an East Indian tropical native (USDA Zone 10-11!) but I'm giving her a try here in Zone 7 anyway, with a strong feeling she will behave as an annual. Normally she should be spaced 24 to 30 inches and should reach somewhere between 12 and 15 inches in height. I've babied her like no other plant in my garden, and so far so good. Once again in my seed paranoia I planted way too many, so I've also thinned her several times and plan to try and transplant some of the babies on the next round. We'll just have to see how that goes. She's reported to enjoy high humidity and regular watering in well-drained soil, so planting her in one of my raised beds in this crazy Alabama weather is definitely in our favor! She blooms all summer into early fall, loves full sun, is heat and frost tolerant, and requires only low maintenance {two thumbs up!}. I bought my Spilanthes seeds (along with a whole bunch of other herbs) from

Her common name is a dead giveaway, but here goes anyway! Chewing the flower buds and/or leaves (which have a peppery flavor) produces a numbing effect that can ease toothaches and gum pain. I once heard Rosemary Gladstar say in a live webcast that Spilanthes is her favorite herb for teething babies, and tooth pain in general. It also stimulates the salivary glands to produce more saliva, and may function as a simple tonic for healthy gums. I have some guinea pigs ... I mean family members who suffer from gum disease, so they're going to be trying Spilanthes this year! :D

Harvest Spilanthes leaves and flower buds as needed. The dried flower buds are great in teas! I like to use a 1:1 mix of catnip and spilanthes tea for fussy, teething babies and children. It's not too shabby as a mild sedative for worn out parents, either. It's also yummy with Lemon Balm and Ginger.

A Spilanthes tincture is said to ease toothache from a decayed tooth with remarkable efficiency!

Here's some info on Spilanthes I snatched from A mouth rinse of spilanthes extract can be used daily to promote gum health, and chewing as little as a single bud of the plant can numb the mouth and reduce the pain of toothache for up to 20 minutes depending on the sensitivity of the person. The most promising research into the use of spilanthes, though, is in its antibacterial properties. So far, in vitro testing has shown that the plant's extract has strong effect against E.coli, pseudomonas, salmonella, klebsiella pneumonae and staphylococcus albus (sorry, no link for that one .. you'll have to google it), as well as inhibiting the growth of candida albicans.

I think that's one very interesting and beautiful flower, don't you? I wish I could mail out some of my extra plants to my readers, but I just don't think she'd make the trip. I'm sure I can find some locals to share with!



I've recently started a jar of Spilanthes tincture and thought I'd share my method with you in case you're curious: Loosely fill a glass jar (I am tincturing a pint of spilanthes but do use quarts sometimes for tinctures, especially yarrow) with "arial", or above-ground Spilanthes plant material (leaves, stems, blooms) and cover with 100 proof vodka. Cap and label, then wait six weeks. Strain (or don't, it's up to you), and your tincture is ready for use! Besides being a famous toothache remedy, Spilanthes tincture enhances immune system function and is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial & is used to treat candida.

I did take a bite out of one, though, and joyously report that it did, in fact, numb my mouth! :D

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Making Herbal Tea

I thought you might enjoy (and benefit from!) this video of one of my very favorite herbslists, John Gallagher of, teaching how to make herbal tea from his own kitchen! Enjoy!

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Stop! Thief!

Say, what's that there in your mouth, big fella?

I've been missing eggs now for over a week, and I've thought my hens were striking. So here we have two scenarios:

1. The snake was eating the eggs, and
2. The hens went to lay elsewhere or just said "Screw this," because there was a freakin' SNAKE in their nests. If I came into work every day to find a snake in my chair, I'd strike, too. Wouldn't you?

If you're worried about what happened to the snake, stop reading right now!

I really hate to say it, but I called my brother-in-law to come dispatch the intruder. He said it was a "chicken snake" (a pretty generic term for non-poisonous snakes - a.k.a. rat snakes - who loiter around farms killing mice and stealing eggs) but wasn't interested in the whole catch-and-release procedure. I'm sure the snake was doing a fine job keeping the mouse population under control (I would have gladly let him stay if he'd left my eggs alone), but I'm not keeping hens for reptile food production, and we have another setter just two nests down from where I found him. She should be hatching soon - maybe this weekend (I'll post pics!) - so I just couldn't take the chance. :(

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Transatlantic Sessions

"Originally recorded for a BBC television program ... this collection of modern and traditional acoustic music celebrates the Scots-Irish influence on both sides of the big pond with charm, grace, and melancholic beauty." ~Alanna Nash

I will be posting other Transatlantic Sessions featuring different performers, as well as miscellaneous other music and video clips from time to time. Darrell Scott just happens to be one of my all time favorites. Enjoy!

You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive, with Darrell Scott and Karen Matheson

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How To Make Your Own Herbal Preparations

Here you will find a few simple, easy-to-follow instructions for creating your own indispensable herbal preparations at home. Please remember that these are basic recipes and can be personalized, modified, or otherwise tweaked to your heart's content. You have some friends out there in your yard who are just waiting to help make you feel better, so have fun educating yourself on your local plant life and get to work!

Have you ever read about using an herb and wondered what the words infusion, decoction, or tincture meant? Have you thought about making your own remedies but don't know where to start? All natural, herbal rememdies need not be expensive or hard to make. With a few basic tools and ingredients and the right instructions, you can easily make fresh, effective preparations at home that you'll feel good about. Remember that many medicinal plants can also be eaten! Herbs will prevent sickness as well as assist with illness if they are used in the daily diet.

It is true that many medicinal plants taste unpleasant. Many also require an extraction method to draw out their active constituents. This is where preparations are invaluable! As you will see, the methods are not as difficult as they sound. Remember to never use aluminum ware when preparing any herbal medicine. Aluminum can react with the chemicals in the herb and affect the end product. It is also known to accumulate in the body over time and has been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. Use stainless steel, Pyrex, earthenware, or enamel, free from chips and cracks.

Safety first! Only buy herbs from trusted, reputable, reliable sources, and always check botanical plant names to be sure you are buying the correct plant material. Many different plants share the same common names. Start with simples, or one herb at a time, before trying herbal combinations. This makes it much easier to eliminate herbs you might be allergic or sensitive to, or those you might simply dislike. It will be very difficult to pinpoint an herbal allergy from a tea containing five different herbs! Do your homework and make intelligent, informed choices. Organic is best. If you are wildharvesting, remember this: Never harvest from roadsides where plants have been contaminated by vehicle exhaust and road maintenance weed killers, and harvest ethically by never taking all of one plant species from any location. Leave some for Mother Nature and for others.

If you are using fresh herbs in your preparations, double the quantity of the amount stated for dried herb(s). Water used in herbal preparations should be free from fluoride and chlorine. Make sure you have a small accurate scale on hand when making herbal preparations.


Whether for health or simple pleasure, herbal teas are gentle, soothing, beneficial, and enjoyable any time of day. They are also a wonderful substitute for caffienated colas and coffee. Mix flavors and have fun creating your own blend!

Basic Tea Recipe

1 T. dried herbs

½ pint water

Place herbs into a clean non-reactive metal or enamel pot with a lid. Bring water to a boil. Turn off the heat and pour the water over the herb(s). Cover the pot and let steep for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain in a non-aluminum strainer and drink. Honey, lemon, or milk can be added if desired.


An infusion is stronger than a tea and will extract glycosides, alkaloid salts, and water-soluble vitamins. Infusions are intended for immediate use. Store for a maximum of 24 hours in a cool place. Nourishing herbs packed with vitamins and minerals and perfect for infusions include oatstraw, nettle leaf and red raspberry leaf.

Basic Infusion Recipe

1 oz of dried herbs

1 pint boiling water

Pour water of herbs. Steep for 10 to 20 minutes then strain and drink. Sweeten if needed.


This method is used for hard woody substances such as roots, bark, and stems whose constituents are water soluble and non-volatile. Decoctions are intended for immediate use. Store for a maximum of 72 hours in a very cool place. Decoctions extract mainly mineral salts and bitter principles.

Basic Decoction Recipe

1 oz of dried herb or root

1 pint water

Cut or crush herb or root and add to water. Simmer with the lid off until the volume of water is reduced by ¼, so ¾ of a pint remains. Cool, strain, and take in divided doses according to the herb’s use. Sweeten if needed.


Tinctures extract the chemical constituents in alcohol, cider vinegar (white vinegar is synthetic and defeats the purpose, I think), or vegetable glycerin. Alcohol is most effective and therefore the most commonly used. Vinegar or vegetable glycerin can be used where there is a reason not to use alcohol, such as for children. Tinctures are invaluable, as water will retrieve only some of the medicinal properties. You can certainly use 90% or higher alcohol for any tincture, but to save money, find out the required alcohol concentration for each herb. For example, garlic requires only 25% alcohol, while Chaste Tree berries require 75%.

Tinctures are extremely useful, quick, easy, simple to dispense, and will last indefinitely if stored correctly. They are also great for when an infusion or decoction is too bitter to drink.

Basic Tincture Recipe

1 to 2 oz of powdered or chopped herb

1 pint of alcohol such as vodka or Everclear, or cider vinegar, or vegetable glycerin

Mix herb with liquid. Keep the tincture in a tightly closed jar in a warm spot (but not in the sun), for approximately 2 weeks. Shake the tincture 2 to 3 times every day. Strain through a coffee filter, folded cheesecloth, or muslin. You may need to strain your tincture two or even three times to remove all the herb.

Store your tincture in a dark bottle or cabinet. Half a pint of tincture should equal the medicinal potency of 1 oz of the fresh herb, so approx. 1 t. will equal the medicinal strength of 1 cup of infusion. Dilute at least 1 t. of tincture in ¼ cup of water.

Another tincture formula is to add 1 part herb to 5 parts of alcohol.


A poultice is an effective way of applying herbs directly to the skin. The fresh leaves can be bruised and mashed, or powdered or dried herbs can be used. Pour over just enough boiling water to wet the mixture. Ground linseed, white bread, or bran can be added to give the poultice bulk and help retain the warmth. Apply the mixture wrapped in a cloth (cheesecloth, old cotton sheet sections, etc.) over the area and cover with another hot, wet cloth. Replace the cloth with another when it cools. Repeat this process keeping the poultice hot. Poultices are useful for drawing inflammation to the surface or easing painful joints. Wash the poulticed area with chamomile infusion to ease any inflammation.


Syrups are very useful for cough mixtures.

Basic Syrup Recipe
1 pint decoction of herb of your choice

1 cup honey

Vegetable glycerin, for preservation (optional)

Prepare your decoction of choice. Add honey to decoction and simmer 10 minutes. Vegetable glycerin can be added to help preserve the syrup using 4 T. of glycerin to every 8 T. of syrup. Honey has some natural preservative action of its own.


This is a useful method of applying herbs topically. The herb is held in suspension and a certain amount of absorption of active constituents occurs through the skin. The ingredients making up the bulk of the ointment can also have therapeutic value. For example, beeswax has natural antibacterial properties.

Basic Ointment/Salve Recipe

4 oz good quality cold-pressed oil (olive, sweet almond, etc.)

½ oz bees wax

8 oz fresh herb(s) or 4 oz dried herb(s)

Slowly heat oil over a pot of hot water or in a double boiler over med-low to low heat. Add herbs and heat gently for ½ to ¾ of an hour. Do not allow the oil to boil; it can cause your infusion to lose important healing properties. (If you do allow it to boil, carefully discard the oil and start over.) Strain through muslin or cheesecloth, squeezing the herb to extract all the oil, being careful not to burn yourself. Add the beeswax, varying the amount depending on how firm the final ointment needs to be, and stir gently until the wax is melted. Pour into sterile, labeled jars and cool before putting on the lid.

Note: Tinctures or essential oils can be used instead of the fresh or dried herbs. Use 1 ½ t of tincture or oil to 4 oz of oil, stir before pouring tincture into sterile jars, so the tincture does not settle on the bottom.


Cleanliness is important when preparing herbs for medicines, particularly if you intend to store the preparation. Sterilize all jars and bottles. This can be done by boiling them and their lids separately for 20 minutes or putting them in an oven and heating them to 350 F for one hour.

Don't let any of the recipes daunt you; they are much easier than they look. You'll be surprised how much fun it is to make your own remedies, and practice makes perfect!

Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only! I am not responsible for any accidents, miscalculations, or other mishaps whatsoever that may occur from your own herbal preparations. Be smart! Be safe!

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Herbs for Arthritis

I'm feeling particularly lazy as of late, so I'm just going to (once again) copy and paste something I've already written on the subject of treating arthritis naturally. I believe poor nutrition is at the root of almost every health problem today, and never recommend any herb or natural treatment as a "cure all" or "quick fix". The foundation of good herbalism is treating people as a whole and providing good, current information (as current as possible .. sometimes it seems herbal info changes daily) and guidance to positively change your *lifestyle* in the name of overall good health. If your diet is awful and you aren't properly hydrated, then I would be suprised if you weren't having some problems. Many people treat their animals better than they do themselves. Think about it. Would you get a puppy and feed him sugary sweets and Big Macs, and never give him water? Why do we do this to ourselves? Doesn't make sense, does it?

Anyway, here is the pasted information. There's a lot of it, but don't let it scare you. There are a lot of herbs out there and many, many different natural therapies for just about whatever ails you. Unfortunately, the same things don't always work for everyone, so there may be some trial and error in store for you. It's worth it. It's also worth your trouble to find a good local, professional herbalist or natural health practitioner (your local chiropractor might have some suggestions) and have an evaluation. You didn't ruin your health overnight, and you aren't going to 'fix' it overnight, either.

The best nutrition is found in whole, properly cooked foods, but if you’re like most Americans and aren’t eating a balanced, healthy diet, then supplementation might be for you. Only buy fresh supplements with no added dyes, flavors, stimulants, etc., from reliable, reputable sources. It is also important to note that more does not mean better, and natural does not mean safe! Take recommended daily doses of vitamins and supplements only unless advised otherwise by your trusted healthcare professional. Become and remain vigilant about monitoring what you put into that body of yours. It’s the only one you have.

Poor nutrition isn’t just a third world problem. Most of us find it difficult in this hectic day and age to pay close attention to what we are consuming, especially when we can drive through for fast food or open a box and have dinner in minutes. Regardless, a proper diet including good fats, adequate protein and the vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates found in vegetables and whole grains has proven to be successful in treating many diseases, including each type of arthritis. I also cannot say enough about the importance of an adequate, clean water intake. At least 64 oz every day will decrease fluid retention (oh yes it will) and help with inflammation and increase important (good) fluids surrounding joints, easing movement (among a host of other dramatic health improvements it provides).

According to The Complete Guide To Natural Healing, toxins absorbed from the intestines promote joint inflammation. In cases of food allergies or intolerances, intestinal irritations and malnutrition, foods are not fully digested, and the intestinal lining begins to "leak" toxins, allergens and partially digested proteins into the bloodstream. Here are some guidelines to prevent this from occurring:

**Avoid constipation.

**Support the growth of beneficial bacteria with acidophilus supplements.

**Eat a high-fiber diet low in commercial, non-organic animal products, chemical additives and pesticide-treated foods.

**Avoid any foods that cause adverse reactions.

**Consider taking herbs that support liver function, including licorice, burdock, milk thistle, and red clover, and herbs that aid the intestines, including peppermint, aloe vera, alfalfa, ginger and marsh mallow.

**For some, an enema can reduce pain by releasing toxins and buffering intestinal acids. Discuss this with your healthcare professional. Hyperacidity, in addition to intestinal toxins, has been linked to acute inflammations. Try an enema using 2 cups of clean water. Or, combine 1 qt. of clean water or fresh, warm chamomile tea with 1 tbsp. of sodium bicarbonate (never use an enema if you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant without consulting your physician!).

Try eliminating nightshade plants, including peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes from your diet to make sure you aren’t sensitive to them. Foods affect arthritis symptoms differently from person to person so it is worth the effort to discover if any of them are causing symptomatic flare-ups for you.

Also try systematically eliminating refined, processed sugars and flours. Eliminate each suspect food for about six weeks to determine if there are any symptom changes. Record your progress.

If you are not pepper-sensitive, regular use of cayenne pepper in the diet has been shown to ease arthritic pain.

Herbs and Herbal Teas for Arthritis (my next post will be "How To Make Your Own Herbal Preparations" with instructions on making herbal teas.)

~Stinging Nettle a.k.a. Nettle, or Common Nettle (Urtica dioica): Rich in vitamins and minerals including Vitamin A, Vitamin C, potassium, calcium, sulfur and magnesium, Stinging Nettle has many anti-inflammatory effects. It also helps the kidneys excrete uric acid, which builds up in cases of gout. Drink at least 3 cups daily. Nettle tea may be drunk long term.
~Alfalfa a.k.a Lucerne (Medicago saliva): Literally packed with nutrients; vitamins, minerals, proteins and good fats for increased overall health.
~Chickweed (Stellaria media): A very mild, gentle laxative which aids in overall cleansing of the body.
~Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens): An anti-inflammatory, analgesic, digestive stimulant.
~Horsetail (Equisetum arvense): Contains silica, vital in rebuilding bone and strengthening and regenerating connective tissue. Simmer 2 teaspoons of dried horsetail in 1 cup of water for about 15 minutes. Drink 2-3 cups a day.
~White Willow Bark (Salix alba): Contains salicin, a natural pain reliever which is used to make aspirin, but does not irritate the stomach.
~Wild Yam Root (Dioscorea villosa): Is an anti-inflammatory and can help reduce pain. It also has mild diuretic properties to gently cleanse the body of toxins and waste.
~Yucca: Contains saponins which help aid digestion. An impaired digestive system may result in excess histamine production, which may leads to increased inflammation and pain in some people.

Bromelaine is an anti-inflammatory food enzyme from the pineapple plant. Also available in pill form, bromelaine is good for pain reduction and has been shown to help with connective tissue disorders over time.

Boswellin (Boswellia serrata) is a natural and safe herb for optimum joint health. Also available in pill form, it contains the active constituent Boswellic Acid, a pyrazoline derivative shown to be very effective in supporting healthy joints.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center website (, Omega 3Fatty Acids from natural sources like fish (such as tuna or salmon, twice a week), broccoli, spinach, kale, roasted walnuts and pumpkin seeds, and seaweed eaten regularly can reduce inflammation and increase blood flow. Omega 3s may also be found in fresh, high-quality, certified mercury-free supplements. Rancid fish oil has been scientifically linked to serious health problems.

Vitamin C helps repair and maintain cartilage and bones, but PLEASE NOTE: Study results appearing in the June 2004 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism showed that the long-term use of supplemental Vitamin C may worsen the severity of osteoarthritis (a different disease process than rheumatoid arthritis) of the knee. Osteoarthritis sufferers should never take more than the daily recommended dose of Vitamin C. Good sources of Vitamin C are broccoli, cantaloupe, grapefruit, green bell peppers, fresh orange juice, oranges, red peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, tropical fruit juices, and tropical fruits such as papaya and mango. Keep in mind that the Vitamin C in your fresh squeezed orange juice is susceptible to oxidation, so only squeeze as much as you’re going to drink immediately.

Vitamin A is an antioxidant and helps with bone formation. Foods containing Vitamin A include eggs, milk, butter, sweet potatoes, canned pumpkin, raw carrots, cantaloupe, mango, spinach, broccoli, kale, collards, and butternut squash.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant reportedly as effective in long term pain relief as NSAIDS (Advil, Ibuprofen). Food sources include dry roasted nuts, olive oil, avocado, peanut butter and fortified cereals. PLEASE NOTE: If you have high blood pressure or are taking blood thinners/anticoagulants, be sure to consult your physician before starting supplemental doses of Vitamin E.

According to Dr. John M. Ellis, the master vitamin in processing amino acids, B6, helps to support the structure and function of the muscles. Vitamin B6 has also been shown to be effective in relieving the pain, stiffness and locking of finger joints. Foods rich in Vitamin B6 include fish, meats, poultry, avocados, and bananas.

Make sure you get folic acid, also known as folate, or Vitamin B9, every day. Good sources of folic acid are: dried peas and beans, oranges, orange juice, green vegetables, and whole grains.
Vitamin B12 helps to maintain a healthy blood supply and stimulates osteoblasts, a type of bone cell that generates not red blood cells but bone. You can meet the Recommended Daily Allowance mainly by consuming foods with added B12 (such as low sugar fortified cereals) or by taking a supplement containing B12. B12 in crystalline form (look for the word “cyanocobalamin” on the supplement label), is better absorbed.

Glucosamine Sulfate (GS) is a naturally exisisting amino sugar important in the biochemical synthesis of glycosylated proteins and lipids (glycosaminoglycans, which are a major component of joint cartilage). GS improves flexibility of joints, rebuilds lost cartilage, prevents further deterioration of joints, alleviates stiffness & is scientifically tested. It generally takes about 3 months to notice progress and up to 6 months for real benefit, so be persistent. Liquid form (if you can find it) is best. Look for “Glucosamine HCL” or “Glucosamine Sulfate” on the package. Since glucosamine is usually derived from shellfish, those allergic to shellfish may wish to avoid it.

MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is an organic sulfur compound which occurs naturally in some primitive plants and is present in small amounts in many foods and beverages. MSM supplies sulfur and in a double blind study showed that patients with osteoarthritis found pain relief within 6 weeks.

Chondrointin Sulfate rebuilds cartilage and eases joint discomfort.

Manganese Ascorbate is a mineral essential to forming connective tissue/cartilage, and helps keep bones strong.

Spending time in water relieves strain on joints! Swimming, water aerobics and aqua jogging (running in water) are very effective for any type of arthritis. They can restore joint mobility and help you lose weight (and reduce any unnecessary load on your joints) if you are overweight.

One of the secrets to any natural therapy is patience and persistence, which is why they don't work for those who expect immediate results and give up too soon. It often takes weeks or even months to see results, but in the long run you will be making positive changes in your health and saving money.

***This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to prescribe, diagnose, treat or prevent any disease. It should not substitute the advice or recommendations of your physician or health professional, nor should it replace prescription medications without proper supervision. You are encouraged to seek professional medical advice from a qualified medical practitioner, naturopath or local professional herbalist before making dietary changes or beginning a new supplement program.

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