Hal's Hat

Hal's Hat

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Herbal round up

New stuff on the herbal front....

Dandelion tincture.  We've moved through that crazy full moon and then the dip into waning moon time. Astrologically (whoa, I'm going there. It's an herb blog. I can do it if I want.), Mercury went retrograde and the communication has been dogged and sluggish. I suppose I ought to have tinctured dandelion root at the full moon. But I was staring at the moon. And I was clumsily trying to play ball with all of the super intense Aries energy. I mean.... really? I can't be the only one who was terribly overwhelmed by the intensity of it! But now I'm making dandelion tincture in the new moon, digging by moonlight. Allowing the dark roots to be dark and help me during my hibernation this winter. 

Ayurvedic physicality and changing temperature. I've been studying the three ayurvedic physicalities. Pitta, Vata, Kapha.... clearly I'm very fiery and dry and hot and a Pitta. I'm seeking to work with this in mind as I work on my herbal remedies. As all herbs don't work the same way for all bodies, it's important to register what your physiology is and what your issue/ affliction is. This allows me to identify that I frequently feel burned out/ burned up and dried out. What works to nourish and calm my system frequently is nettle. I also have need of demulcent herbs- herbs with a mucilagenous quality. These nourishes my throat and chest (comfrey, slippery elm, licorice root). The Ayurvedic schema is assisting me to identify and experiment here! 


I am a big believer in all things rosemary. Not rosemary all the time, mind you. But I believe that a "simple" or "culinary" herb can have as many vital effects as big-time medicinal herb. This article outlines great ways to use it= as a tea, daily, to improve circulation and brain fog. And this also reiterates my use of it externally as a tissue healer. Oh rosemary oil on my legs! It feels so good.... 

Important herbals this month-- I was given a gift of an ounce or so of Osha root. This is big medicine, bear medicine traditionally, is only wildcrafted and grows above 6,000 ft. Osha root is a bitter, a stimulant of the immune system and aids "winter wellness". Indicated for coughs, to make them productive. So I would say that it's good for a dry chest to get the mucus out. It is commonly used in syrup for coughs and respiratory infections. It is incredibly pungent and spicy smelling. Traditionally, it was also used as a burning smoke for contagious diseases. It contains oxytocin and is contraindicated during pregnancy or nursing. 

Herbally, I'm considering white willow bark. Always good to have some on hand for pain relief. Probably, many of the folks who turn to OTC pain meds don't realize they can have serious liver side effects. I do. I still take them on occasion. However, if we can more naturally ease pain with wildcrafted willow bark, isn't that cool? Please read extensively about this if you want to do it yourself. I am not providing instructions because you need to have a positive botanical plant ID before you gather anything. And I don't feel comfortable with giving you that here- it might be construed as encouragement to gather whatever! As most

of you know, if you gather anything in the wild, make sure you feel good about where it's planted. If you aren't sure if they spray, don't pick/ dig/ harvest there. If you aren't 110% sure of the plant ID, do not do it. Ask a botanist/ herbalist for help. Ask me. Send a picture! If you are gathering a plant that is over harvested/ endangered, you are part of the problem. Please be conscientious and responsible. What I'm exhorting you to do is tune in to your inner voice and look into the areas that are calling to you. I can identify a white willow. It's calling to me! I'll let you know how it goes. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Garden Almanac

Here are some updates to my garden almanac:

Due to that extended stretch of heat in the first three weeks of September, I've replanted my spinach THREE times. I have a few that are happy now and germinated... but sheesh!

My lettuce and chard are both doing fine. Since I started them from seed, they got bedraggled by heat and insects. However, they are loving Autumn and looking like troopers. 

Made some Melissa officinalis vinegar (that's Lemon balm) this weekend. It is the simplest recipe ever: stuff a jar full of lemon balm, pour cider vinegar over it. Cap it. Woo hoo. I use it for salad and soup. It is lovely tasting- lightly lemon. Balm is used for mood lifting and lightening the heart. It isn't a heavy hitter on the herbal medicine scale but not everything needs to be. (Harvested it from the kid's school garden :))

As the equinox approached and the season shifts, I am aware that my body is craving balance. I need to feed it more bitter foods, more wild edibles and nourishing seasonal goodies. It's important, for me, not to give in to my basest cravings. I natively crave carbs the minute a seasonal change appears. I mean, I wander my kitchen mulling my possibilities and settle on cheez-its. I then eat them, notice they feel and taste tangy (that's good) but also muddy (like rancid oil). Really self? This is what you wanted? It turns out that sesame oil is a recommended Ayurvedic remedy for my constitution. I make a salad bowl with kale and lettuce and beets and add lots of sesame oil. Better. Left over Vietnamese beef broth with noodles and green stuff- also very very good. Warming, dark, flavorful but balancing. Adding kale gives it a tang and kick that settles my stomach. 

First apple crisp of the season last night. My dad loved the seasonal apple crisps! 5 lb bag of Jonathon apples from the Rees farm near Perry. Perfect tart flavor!! 

What is approaching? Waiting for the sweet potato leaves to begin to yellow. Harvesting all the tomatoes I can and cooking them down. Harvesting okra here and there for freezing. Tomatillos are STILL producing well!
I made infused oil in the last month as well. I dragged my feet in the summer... so I harvested rosemary and comfrey during their respective bloom times for oil. 

Pro tips: Separate your perennials (that is DIVIDE them) now. Use root stimulator to assist them getting acclimated. The cooler the weather, the easier it is to plant!
Fertilize grass- Milorganite is a manure-based fertilizer that is non-chemical and fairly natural. Spread it on your grass for a green up and assisting the grass roots!
NOW IS DESIGN TIME. Consider design in your landscape. Yes, I'm a designer. Yes, I think design makes everything feel better. You can work within whatever framework you like- permaculture, native landscaping, xeriscape, fancy English gardens.... 
Bulbs--- because you will love yourself in the spring! I mean it. Great big fancy daffodils will make your March. :) Woodland bulbs I love: 


galanthus or snowdrop
grape hyacinth

Bulb tips: forget tulips or understand that they aren't the best perennials. I like and am experimenting with:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

This liminal moment: summal, fummer? August 35th?

Good morning September.... it's slowly becoming August lite here. Still hot, rapidly whirling toward my birthday and the equinox. I have been gathering the late summer bounty- tomatillos, peppers, tomatoes.
I've also begun sowing the fall bounty and back to work in the gardens....

Here is what I'm doing: I'm picking up clearance annuals. I've planted dill plants and ornamental peppers and nasturtiums! They are beautiful, enjoy the heat/cool dynamic we will be rocking out with for another few months (?) or weeks.
On August 15, I planted my first crop of the fall garden. I planted green bibb lettuce and red leaf lettuce. I also planted a row of Ruby Red chard, pulled out my old kale, planted a small plot of carrots and some rows of spinach. As usually happens in this liminal moment, this threshhold moment, some seeds were so fertile and ready to grow that the 90 degree days didn't phase them. The spinach promptly told me to go to hell, though. So I replanted more this weekend. I can take rejection.

Seed germination basics: they don't like hot weather and will germinate more evenly in sub 85 degree days! Keep the seed bed evenly moist. If the seed dries out, it's dead. I watered every late afternoon- not ideal, but it works for me. Once you see dichots, keep the watering even and don't let them dry out. They are very tender. If they are being attacked by critter (insect, pests, birds), use a floating row cover to protect. Choose seeds that are meant for the time you are growing. Don't start tomato or basil seeds in late summer for a fall garden. Don't start melons. Here is a great list of what to start when! It is from K-State and is the gold standard. The first pages are how many seeds to plant for the yield you want. Page 3 is the calendar.

My sweet potatoes and okra are happy. My calendula needs cool and looks burnt out. The comfrey offered a second bloom and I collected it! The wild original roses, the old ones, are putting on the second show. The nasturtiums like it dry and coolish- so they offer their bubbly presence. And the freaky, perennial rosemary?? It's decided to bloom. I mean, this plant shouldn't be wintering over. But it's moved into sub-shrub territory!

On the docket this fall-- I'm going to interview my yoga teacher, Sharyn, and get the good info for you on some of the poses that have been reinvigorating me. What about stimulating the thryroid by locking my throat bandha, jalandhara bandha? What poses might support my liver, kidneys and adrenal glands? Also, I found this wonderful article on the psoas muscle. It's a profound eye-opener for me, one of those muscles that does so much.

Have you read this much-shared article about the link between gut flora (pro-biotics HEEEYEEE!) and mental illness/ mental health? It is really good support for the notion that we, adults, should support our gut flora in as many ways as we can. We should identify and eliminate foods that are allegens to us and which make us feel crappy. Then, we should help our guts repair themselves by eating lots of probiotic foods/ probiotic supplements. I don't actually take any supplement but I do give them to my kids. The second part of the article is that gut flora is made or broken in childhood. FEED YOUR KIDS FERMENTED FOODS- like good unsweetened yogurt, kefir, kombucha, fermented vegetables (uhm, good luck?). Or use a probiotic supplement.

Update on RAGWEED (which I keep writing as rage weed. Yes. Rage. Weed.): the ragweed tea, not infusion, is very helpful to me. I do not have intense ragweed allergies this year. The tea has kept my histamine reaction to a minimum! What I did was make a large jar of it. I pruned off ragweed leaves and put them in hot water. Very complex. Then I steeped it for  20 minutes or so. I drank a couple cups every few days. Pleasant. Surprising.]
I know that some people who have bad allergies to Ambrosia (that's the botanical name for all ragweeds) should NOT DO THIS. But for those of us with sneezing and itchy eyes who seek relief without pills, it's pretty nice. 
[Please consult someone knowledgeable before picking random leaves....  I mean, you know that. But consult me, send me a message with a picture if you don't know ragweed by sight. I'm here to help!]

Again a list of what I've linked above:
The K-State garden calendar. All pertinent info about vegetable seeds, when to start, how to gauge yield, perennial/annual status, warm/cool season crop and a basic calendar.
The yoga, psoas muscle article.
The link between gut flora and mental wellness.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Happy Ragweed Day!

ragweed in bloom. 
I just learned that August 15th is beginning of ragweed season. This makes sense as I spent a good part of the morning yesterday pulling giant ragweed from Myrna's school playground.
Here is what I want: I want YOU to identify ragweed. I want you to pull it (it's extremely easy to pull)- every kind you see. I want you to breathe easier.
Why? Ragweed is a serious irritant- it causes hayfever in an estimated 15-30% of people. This means nasal irritation, phlegm, itchy eyes, chest and lung irritation and inflammation, etc. You know the drill don't you? Even though I'm not a terribly allergic person, this pollen irritates the shit out of me (sorry)! And it is cumulative... while it might not irritate you as a kid, the more exposure, the more irritated you will get. And then your body has a histamine reaction to this irritation. That is why many people take an anti-histamine. While I understand and do so occasionally myself, I try to stop the cycle so that I don't have to. Histamine reactions in the body can be serious- Encyclopedia Brittanica ahoy!
Where? All open soil can be a potential site for ragweed. It seems to like poor, disturbed soils. It targets alleys, empty lots, and untended garden sites. If you walk into any alley in Lawrence, you'll see it I would guess.

So how do you do this? I'd recommend long sleeves and whatever else you've got- gloves, pants, shoes. You know. After you're done, wash it all and wash yourself. You will have pollen all over you (hair, skin, etc). Ragweed won't cause an itchy bumpy skin rash- except in the most delicate individuals, I'd guess. So I just pull it out bare handed. But don't do this. My hands are wrecked. Save yourself!

Kinds: Small leaved ragweed is about 18" high and has fine ferny leaves. 
this is the small leaved ragweed. 
A giant ragweed: what those leaves look like. 
This is giant ragweed. Just step into your alley to survey that 5' tall giant staring back at you. It's bloom covered in pollen, right at nose level. 

How do I cope with hayfever you ask? I use homeopathic hayfever tabs from Hylands. These work moderately well. I try to be preventative- don't let your body get really worked up. As I said, it's a reaction that will just crank itself up like a sleep-deprived 4 year old. Head that off at the pass! Take it many times a day. If you let it go too far, you might as well take an Allegra, Zyrtec etc. I'm not even going to research that stuff. When I resort to it, I'm usually so miserable I just don't care. 
Also, this year I really am making a tincture from the blooming tops of ragweed. I've heard this is the most effective but haven't tried it. I will keep you posted on results! Also, I'm gathering leaves to dry for infusions/ tea. I wouldn't try the infusion if you are seriously allergic. But the tea would be a safe stepping stone.
If anyone wants to do a weed-walk and plant identification walk, please contact me! I have time in my schedule. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Capturing the heat....

One of the most fascinating parts of creating a garden is discovering, newly every year, what succeeds against all odds. As a designer, I want to give my clients every opportunity to enjoy THIS time of year. By this, I mean late summer. The cicadas, the start date of the school year in view, the heat, the humidity, the tomatoes, the peppers and eggplants, the mosquitoes and lighting bugs. The argiope spiders! It's the time of year when we begin harvesting what we sowed. It's the time when I remember to surrender to the heat and enjoy the salsa. Iced drinks and fleeting time-- gardens are time catchers. So put objects and plants in them that capture and express the beauty of certain times of year....

Here are some suggestions for plants that make me happy during this fleeting time.

Blackberry Lily--This is an oddball. Used to be rare but I'm seeing it more lately. Actually an iris (Belamcanda chinensis), this guy puts on black berries in the fall and is very decorative. It has very small and airy blooms with that crazy red dot... they don't last long but they sure do tower above everything else and create a real note of contrast!

Echinacea-- This is the prairie favorite. It does require additional water when the drought settles in. But not too much... those seed heads and the purple flower really inspire and delight me.The goldfinches love them in season and in winter! 

Spurge- Pairs very well with the Blackberry lily because this hugs the ground, has the small minty green "needle-like" leaves and a persistent bloom (directly contrasting the Blackberry lily). Spurge is strange- reported to be invasive in livestock fields yet a really, really great landscape plant. Drought tolerant and nearly a succulent.... Odd and wonderful.

Hardy Hibiscus- This is a showy mofo. She's loud and tall and her foliage is great. She's worth the wait! Need I say more?

Tiger Lilies- These came with the house, as far as I remember. As in, they came with the house when my folks bought it in 1979! These are a real lily, 3-4' tall. Now they are in dappled shade but they prefer sun. These small black bulblets are how the plant reproduces!

This montage of awesome are yellow Rudbekia 'Goldsturm' with Lantana (an annual) in front of them. I need to reinforce right here- this is why you plant annuals! The color and the wow when it's hot and dry. Also, behind them, that mass of grey-green is 'Silver Mound' Artemesia. It's stunning.

Here are some extras that are not pictured but so worth it in the late summer: Ninebark "Summer Wine" has amazing burgundy foliage and a great structure. Caryopteris is not quite in bloom yet but I always remember why I love this plant right now. Bright blue blossoms, 3' tall stature, grayish foliage. This is one that wasn't probably as cold tolerant at one time. New varieties are really useful and great.

Also, please enjoy this amazing shrimp/ avocado salsa recipe from the Smitten Kitchen.... hubba hubba!

Here are some garden reminders for this part of the season:

It really is time to divide and replant bearded irises. They go into a summer dormancy. Use you garden fork and lift the rhizomes and divide them. Replant them when it isn't over 90 degrees-- other than that, it's pretty simple!

Warning: the spider mites are out in force. I wrote on the landscape company blog about this topic, so visit there if you're interested. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Vitamin controversy- it comes back again.

I don't even know if I want to set foot into this arena. But given the fact that I write for a small audience, most of whom I know, all of whom know how to get a hold of vitamin/supplement experts (like Tyra at the Merc, myself, etc), I feel like I should say a little.
Over the past month, I've heard the wonk wonk of mainstream media (totally bunko CNN) start the semi-annual banter about vitamins, studies, findings and what is POSSIBLY REALLY BAD FOR YOU. 
I should preface this all with: I do not advocate mega-dosing on anything. You want to? Ok. It's your body. Find out what could happen first. Mega doses of fried fish or chocolate or booze or vitamin C will all do something- find out what could happen!
I also just don't like multi-vitamins. Do you know why? As conspiracy watchers (like Boingboing.net, respectable, smart/nerdy and interesting content btw.) often point out, the vitamin industry is unregulated. Now, what happens next in this convo is that the person says they want the FDA to regulate the vitamin industry. Uhhh, that's stupid. The FDA is barely current on medical devices, nutrition, pharmaceuticals and agriculture. I don't think they have the background, interest or expertise to evaluate vitamins. Leave it to the Europeans. They've done research on this stuff for decades and have great info. Back to multis though: they are based on RDA or recommended daily allowances put forth by the FDA, which is questionable science. The vitamin companies then shove a bunch of lab-made elements into a pill and package it for sale. 
Here is another idea: get a reasonable handle on what smart and healthy folks around you take daily. Get a nutritional evaluation done by a doctor or medical professional (my chiropractor is a nutritionist and can do blood work/ spit kit/ urine test to determine where deficiencies lie). Then read up on how to help those deficiencies. My best guess is that nearly everyone needs vitamin D supplementation and fish oil supplementation, maybe B12. Many other deficiencies can be addressed by radical, positive dietary change. I want to emphasize what is at stake in many of these articles-- everyone should not take vitamins. Everyone should pay attention to nutrition and learn more. The SAD (standard american diet) is very very very nutritionally deficient. If this is what you eat, you will need to supplement to get through your day. Wanh-wanh. 

A brief list of articles mentioning this topic:
CNN about (mostly) megadoses. Gets lots wrong. Is vitamin or supplementation actually Alternative medicine? Hmm, I thought it went with preventative care or health maintenance. 
CNN is at again in a gross misrepresentation of findings about our friend fish oil!
A decent blog rebuttal of this stupid article! She is a breath of fresh air. 

First- always examine your sources. Most mainstream media view vitamins as weird (maybe) necessary pseudo-science (like chiropracty, in fact) and totally news fodder. Traditional doctors are pretty lame at nutrition. NO, NOT ALL DOCTORS (side note: my friend/neighbor's oncologist recommended pro-biotics for him instead of pills to treat stomach issues after chemo and radiation. This is fantastic!). But I've had pediatricians tell me that homeopathy was dangerous, especially for kids. There is proven research from Europe to contest that. "But that tiny amount of caffeine in those Hyland teething tabs is horrible for kids! It'll make them crazy!" Sigh. These are also the doctors who don't know shit about vegan and vegetarian diets. They don't understand how protein works or where to get it, aside from meat. They don't understand the beauty of eggs (really, if you are low in B12, you must not eat many eggs.). Or that there are 2 grams of protein in a serving of kale. That's alot for a vegetable folks. Think on it- brown rice, beans and kale. Add some eggs and you have a lot of available, non-meat protein. 

Second- Remember that every body is different. Your experience of stress is so different than mine! I had a bad time earlier this month, got really stressed out and discovered that I needed some B vitamins. How do I know this? B vitamins are used for energy. They are used by the body to process white flour, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and IN STRESSFUL SITUATIONS. I have always, since I was little, required more B6 than the average bear. I'm high strung? I like to drink more caffeine and eat more bread than maybe is good for me? And since I changed my diet to eat less simple carbs, very little flour and less alcohol, I stopped taking B vitamins. I needed help this month and I took it. My symptoms that indicate I'm using more B than I'm ingesting: mouth sores, unhealthy cuticles, energy drops, dark circles under my eyes. [I lost a friend and dealt with it by eating convenience food and drinking more alcohol. Wanh-wanh.] 
To this end, with every body being so different, you really have to do some work on nutritional supplements. I hear so many people railing against vitamins because they feel defrauded. Ok, I hear you on that one. You don't know if you are getting what the bottle says you are getting, no oversite or guarantee there. You feel overwhelmed and goaded by opposing information from media sources. You aren't sure, given these opposing POVs, what you actually need. But reading stuff like this right here will help you start to get a handle on what is happening in every body, what you personally need and what your soft spots are! 

Third- Can you get what you need through an amazing diet? Yes I believe you can. Is food today less nutrient dense? I don't know. I think the sources on this topic are highly biased and I can't find information that I stand by. I'm a horticulturalist. I reinforce my soil with good compost and no pesticides. I eat what I raise on this soil. I buy vegetables from people who do the same thing. I eat meat that was raised on pretty fields and finished with nice grain from those fields. I do what I can. I eat organic fermented dairy. It seems to be fine, in the short term. Perfect? No. Unknowns? Lots. 
Do most people get what they need through their diets? Absolutely not! We eat things from boxes that have had "nutrients" injected into them. This makes me uncomfortable! Did you hear the news that Naked juice has to remove the "all natural" from its label? It was found to contain "... Archer Daniels Midland’s Fibersol-2 (“a soluble corn fiber that acts as a low-calorie bulking agent”), fructooligosaccharides (an alternative sweetener), and genetically modified soy." (worldobserveronline.com/2013/07/20)
That makes me feel lied to and reinforces my belief that the more things I eat with a label, the more dangerously I'm eating. I can just take kale from my garden, add some fruit and some yogurt and make a smoothie. And I won't feel lied to. 

Maybe a lot of this post is opinion.... certainly it is. I'm trying to provide information and not useless ranting, though. I hope you take away this: always examine the sources of competing vitamin rhetoric. Try to find out what you really need before you go off trying to take a ton of vitamins. Give yourself a good hard examination of symptoms, needs, etc. Find a medical person to help with outlining any deficiencies you may have. 
Cover up in the sun- skin cancer is real. Wear a hat! Mineral sunscreen is safest but do what you can. 
Nearly everyone needs more vitamin D than they are getting. Get a test at your doctor's office or a clinic to find out how much you are getting and/or need. 
Read up on fish oil. I believe in it! 
blackberry lily says Heyyyy!
Eat good food. Eat it every damn day. Enjoy yourself while you do! Better food = better nutrition = better functioning body machine. 

Cheerio..... xoxox

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Japanese gardens: design to reality

Instead of posting a didactic blog on Japanese gardens (here's what not to do, here are the basics, blah blah blah), I'll relate my experience, give you the design and then final pictures from the homeowners. It's summer and fun time- let's not be too serious but give ourselves over to pretty plants, cool breezes and cocktails on the patio (lots of bug spray on our ankles).

My clients here are a wonderfully eclectic pair- kids, grandkids, etc. But they have lived in the past in Japan and harbor a deep love of Japanese gardens. (And who doesn't??) But these two also have the unique experience of actually living in Japan, not just visiting or reading the occasional book. They are also fair gardeners. When you look at the pictures, you'll see that Roger and Sharon are also good craftspeople! They built the pond more than a decade ago (at least 15 years they said), Roger built the Tojo gate, they laid the stepping stones themselves. As well, they installed all the plants and mulch and the extensive drip irrigation system!

First step in the process was speaking with my clients, extensively, about their needs and wants. Who would use this? How would this be enjoyed? What activities are going to be done in the back yard? In their case, as well, they had purchased trees, had the existing pond and a small retaining wall/ berm. The idea was to create a cozy, enclosed and private backyard that minimized some of the outside interference. They also wanted a separation from their small lawn into the garden area with a gate. 
From there, I researched Japanese design elements. I knew many Japanese garden favorites. But it's always important to shift plant choices to the climate and culture of the garden where they will live. Roger and Sharon have a backyard that faces east. 
Important elements for me: rock, wood, evergreens, groundcover plants, a curved path. We have no gravel or sand. But we have a body of water and the curved rock path. We also have a bamboo gate. 

Hand colored design:

gate drawing


Roger in his gate: hand tied bamboo.... very lovely! If you would like more information about the design or plant choices, let me know. I can detail them. You get an idea of the plant palette through the design and images, I hope.

--- Laurel

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Big June, the solstice, the supermoon and summer

During the summer months, it's always refreshing and invigorating when so many circumstances coincide. I'm talking about the full moon, the supermoon (meaning super close to the earth and huge) along with the solstice BUT then you have all of the wonderful big summer medicine, the harvest month for herbs.
This month, this past week I've harvested calendula blossoms for infused oil. I've harvested rosemary for spice and oil. Comfrey for oil. Yarrow and echinacea flowers/ stalks for tincture. I will go back in the fall and do a root harvest for both of those and make a tincture that is a combination of the flower and the root. Pretty powerful stuff.....

Yarrow- are you interested in this plant? Here is an image of the native white yarrow that we find around here. It can be invasive- which... I don't really find that appropriate here. It can be a garden thug, if you don't want LOTS of it in your garden. It loves to spread! It will populate your lawn if you let it. But that also means it's strong and supple and resilient.
Active volatile oil: azulene and others.
medicinal white yarrowUse as an antispasmodic, certainly astringent (due to its tannin content),  In addition, I use yarrow against colds, sore throats, infections or suspected upper respiratory/ ear/ throat infections. It is a great topical healer against skin things/ eruptions: bad bug bites, stings, burns (crush and hold against it), also read that it can be used topically to help take down warts. Though I have little experience with it in this form, due to its highly bitter quality, it is a bile stimulator and kidney tonic (blood purifier perhaps). I am drying it this year for an emergency tea (YUCK, bitter, psst, blech) and/or wound healer. Can you tell I have a lot of it?
[Interesting side note: just found this on a Google search of Yarrow. It can be used on animals, namely horse, bleeding/ oozing wounds:

Wound Aid for Animals is yarrow, Achillea millefolium, harvested in full bloom, dried and powdered. It is liberally applied to open bleeding, oozing or otherwise raw wounds. I have used it most on horses with moderately severe to gruesome wire cuts. I apply it by liberally sprinkling it on the open wound or throwing it on the wound if the horse is not cooperative or restrained. A large quantity will adhere to the wound. Yarrow is a hemostat — or blood stopper — it works best on lacerations. It does not impress me as a blood stopper on incisions or clipped nails. It does work effectively to stop oozing sutured incisions. It is anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and accelerates wound healing with reduced formation of scar tissue." http://www.buckmountainbotanicals.net/treatments/woundaid.html]

Clary Sage: Exotic looking, blooms every other year. Reseeds itself. It is a salvia. Its most common use is in essential oil. Obviously, I'm not making essential oil at home, am I? No. Part of the danger of essential oils is that they are the chemical extraction of hundreds and hundreds of plants to create 1 ounce of highly concentrated oil. The oil then has lots of potency and can be deadly if ingested. Don't leave it around for small people to mess with... I've gotten burns from very concentrated oil.
That being said, this plant with its huge leaves and very pale exotic spikes is going into oil. I'm making an infused oil of it- it has a lemony, mysterious scent. In old herbals, it warns over and over not to mix with alcohol due to its intense effects. Or maybe it is a warning TO MIX with alcohol, since it intensifies the effects! But I used the aromatherapy oil during my labor, on a handkerchief tucked into my bosom. It was centering.

I'm also making oil from calendula blooms- calendula oil is just.... well, it heals everything. Diaper rash to radiation burns- it isn't magic or super fast, but it is a calming, lovely golden ray of sunshine! I dry my blossoms just a few hours to get any water off of them then put them in my oil jar. I did all of this on the solstice- I started the jar last week and am adding to it until the season for calendula is done.

Also, this link here is a great article on plantain! My dad was a huge proponent of plantain (the narrow and the wide leaved). I prefer the wide as it is softer, brings down swelling and bites quicker, etc. I do chew it up and put it on insect bites if I'm walking/ hiking OR (here is a major flashbulb moment folks!)-- it grows right near poison ivy most of the time. If you spot poison ivy, or you don't, and walk through it, chew up plantain and rub it on your affected parts. Now obviously, the best thing is to wash off your exposed skin that contacted the PI. Because you're dumb if you don't. But Plantain will help after the poison ivy has erupted and made your skin and life hell.

Next up is a garden design blog... that's in a few days. I designed a Japanese garden and I had the pleasure of seeing it brought to life! And the Oakleaf Hydrangeas... knocking me outttttt!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Use what you have, love the one you're with, blah, blah, blah.

It's cold. And my plants aren't moving very fast. I'm antsy and want to enjoy and harvest and eat and tend! Wow, says Mother Nature, that's really want-y. You might want to slow down and leash up your expectations a bit. 

So here is what is available to me right now. Just Stinging Nettle tops.... barely enough for a cuppa. But so beautiful! And her stings are so subtle at this stage or maybe I'm just that primed.
Do I need to sing the praises of stinging nettles? Country folk can't believe I even touch them but they are good food, especially early in the spring. They are called for if you have systemic arthritic or inflammatory diseases (Hi, John H.). They really help the build-up in the joints that happens... now herbs aren't magic bullets, are they? They are not super charged, lab-generated gel caps. You have to invest, ingest, think health and be your own health. It isn't always anything. But it is all you. It's also all not you- it's not in your control, really. I believe in practice, like yoga, where you visualize your health and well-being. 
But also, when you're thinking of having a baby (Hi, Cass! Hi, Sam!), this high amount of iron, selenium, Vitamin K is perfect for the uterus. It isn't raspberry leaf (a prime uterine tonic that works LIKE A CHARM- drink your infusion please preg ladies!)- but remember all those stories of rupture and bleeding after birth and trauma to baby and vitamin K shot? I do. In Greer's birth, I drank large amounts of nettle infusion and it helped me not get anemic (a big issue with Myrna's birth) and I turned down the vitamin K shot because her levels were wonderful. As well, large amounts of vitamin c which help with the absorption of iron. 
Miss Cass asked last year how to identify nettles for sure: the serrated leaves, opposite position (one on each side, instead of alternate) of the leaves and the sting. They are easily wildcrafted in Shawnee Mission Park, along hte streamways trail. I spend years in KC, using this in the spring to get my nettles. Look for partially shaded, moist areas. You might find a perfect morel as well!  
If wildcrafting them isn't available to you, go to a bulk herb store. Call Whole Foods and see if they have cut nettle leaf. I know they have it at Phoenix Herb Co on Boradway, near the Plaza. Work on making a nice, rich infusion. Make a quart. Drink it in 3-4 days. Keep refrigerated! 
Here is what Dr.Christopher's website says: It is a slow-acting nutritive herb that gently cleanses the body of metabolic wastes.  It is one of the safest alteratives, especially in the treatment of chronic disorders that require long-term treatment.  It has a gentle, stimulating effect on the lymphatic system, enhancing the excretion of wastes through the kidneys.  

I'm going on the radio this weekend (About the House with Jeremy Taylor) to talk about the opening of the Lawrence Farmer's Market- oh yay! I'm also talking about planting blooming trees- picking the right one, the ones blooming now, care and feeding. Join me on KLWN at 10:00 to talk with Jeremy Taylor, of course, but also John Pendleton! 

So expect an apprentice update- her name is Sarah, she told me I could share it. :) I think I'll show her a friendly, sticky, clingy friend this week. You never know where your ally will show up....

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

go get it- landscaping! apprentice! nettles! daffodils!

spring flowers, garden design, bulbsI got to be in the local paper this week. It's the Go-Getter section- Try Landscaping. It's a very basic, to be sure, but HEY! I run my mouth all the time. This just warns the beginning homeowner to research their tree planting carefully, re-mulch to give a fresh perspective or look....
Seriously wish they would have used a real picture, not a shutterstock photo. The paper is really cutting its budget.... this is getting ridiculous. Opinions are like a$$holes- everyone has got one!

tansy, design, landscape

If you have questions about your landscape, I specialize in herbal, medicinal plants (obviously) and native/ xeric gardens that embrace your existing garden culture, as well as garden consulting.

Onto other topics: yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting with a friend who is going to be "apprenticing" with me. I'm not averse to leadership but I put quotes around apprentice because I feel like she and I are contemporaries and, while I'm teaching her, I still consider us on equal footing. Apprentice? Well, ok.
We spent some time working on what we wanted to teach/ learn about.... she walked around my messy and organic garden space, looking at all the new medicinal beauties popping up. The echinacea is popping its burgundy shoots out of the ground, the yarrow is pushing forth frothy tendrils, the bronze fennel has brown fuzzy cattails and the comfrey has ears of yellow green right now! The clary sage says loudly, "I DIDN'T GO DORMANT. OMG, I'M RIGHT HERE!". As well, the never-dying rosemary is a broad evergreen shrub! I have to say I'm excited. Oh, and the calendula? Greening up from the roots. :) Happy smile....(properly, I believe calendula is perennial but doesn't survive hot summers well.)

She and I planted Feverfew (looks like a cross between chamomile and daisy), Holy Basil (Tulsi) and some creeping thyme for strictly garden (not medicinal)  purposes. She is keeping hers indoors to sprout, while I'm letting my germinate outside in the cold! The basil won't move for awhile but the other two will be just fine.
As well, this gave me the opportunity to get out my beloved herbal books and assign some reading! I love my books dearly and firmly give away those I don't love. I have my dad's collection, which I find invaluable as well! Next week, I'm taking her, her two kids (4 and 6), my two girls and myself to wildcraft nettles. Folk herbalism at its finest, right there. Can't wait to have some fresh nettles- infusion for me! That bright sharp green with the gentle taste..... Here is a picture from last year:
nettle, urtica dioica, health
Urtica dioica: great for kidney, liver, bile function. Arthritis, Vitamin K, potassium.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A cold spring but verdant!

Easter is this weekend: while I'm don't celebrate Easter as such, I do present it for the holiday it is. It is meant to celebrate rebirth of the son, the sun, the land, the green.... there is a facebook picture going around showing Ishtar and correcting their perception of an Easter that celebrates only the Christian holiday. I appreciate this but it's also, in its own way, incorrect. Easter is, in northern European countries, based on Oestara. Oestara is alternately the goddess figure of spring and the pagan/ Wiccan/ proto-Christian celebration of spring itself. Usually it is on the Vernal Equinox (last week of course) because the date was based on a celestial occurrence that could be noted from year to year. I celebrate the equinox with Easter baskets, decorated eggs, lots of yummy food and too much frenzied gardening! Don't you??
According to Karen Pendleton, down the road of all the asparagus fame, we are at least two weeks behind growing schedule! I bought and am installing floating row covers for my vegetable patch. I grow in raised beds and large trees encroaching on my space. So we push it. And I especially love early season cold/ cole crops. This means I grow lots of lettuce, spinach, arugula, and kale. I'm finally to the point where I think my soil is friable (loose, rich) enough to grow carrots. My kids are absolutely in love with snow peas and sugar snaps so I've added lots of those in their honor!
from michaelweishan.com
Floating row covers are invaluable around here. Many people use them to keep pests out, as they are permeable, allowing air and water to move through. But I'm using them to get the soil warmed up sooner. Since I'm putting them on seeds that have yet to germinate, I'm laying it directly on soil. I'll suspend them a bit when the seedlings emerge.

Herb Update:
This season, I'm growing calendula again. Many of my supposedly annual calendula is still alive and green. Well. Huh. I'm planting more since my calendula oil was such a success last year. Golden yellow/orange and vibrant. I didn't dry my blooms, even though reputable sources say "dry the blooms completely!" (Mountain Rose Herbs blog). Other reputable sources (Susun Weed) simply say, eh, dry 'em a bit. I did that. I let them sit for 6-8 hours. It's oil.... nothing to be taken internally.
I have a HUGE amount of medicinal yarrow this year. As in- want a transplant?? Give me a holler, hit me up. I'll say yes. It's a lot. I've got it in front in multiple places and a large amount in a vegetable bed that must be transplanted soon!
I'm sowing St. John's Wort seeds this next week with a new helper of mine. She is a mom of two and on her own journey- and she'd like to learn about herbs. So I'm getting her to come explore with me: we are going to plant StJW, wildcraft nettles in a few weeks, transplant echinacea and yarrow. She's going to start learning about infusions, decoctions, infused oils and tinctures (vinegar, alcohol, glycerine). Doesn't that sound fun? Really- this is giving lots of discipline to personally "get it together". Organize my herbal bookshelves, make up a syllabus and ways to present the information effectively. I'm a natural teacher but an employed landscape designer, so this is wonderful for me!
On another note: here is the powerpoint from the presentation I did at the Flower, Lawn and Garden show in KC last week. Use it as a guide to basic landscape design- within your theme or not! Please feel free to contact me if you have landscape/ design questions! Listen to me live this Saturday on Jeremy Taylor's "About the House" radio show, AM 1320.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Insulin, carbs, my drama!

The theme for this month, Miss March, is cleaning up my act. My dad would like it- I've started doing headstands, early in the morning! He did yoga basically every single day. He'd sit zazen (Zen Buddhist meditation) and do forward bends, plow, push ups and head stands. He also jogged, ten minutes or so, no big deal.
I'm also on a nutrition journey that is very interesting. My dude and I are off simple carbs- still eating fruits and a few complex carbs here and there (oats, quinoa), definitely starchy vegetables. But I feel very different already. Enjoying kale smoothies with a bit of fruit and yogurt too. Lots of fat, protein, vegetables..... Don't get me wrong, I'm not into deprivation or being hungry. I'm just working to rearrange the cravings and hungry. The science behind this goes a little something like this:
Eat carbohydrates, sugar (even fruit) and your body produces insulin. Insulin is a fat storage hormone. It tells your organs (liver especially) to hold onto the fat, don't use it! Bodily organs, like the thryroid, get very tired from all that insulin. Sometimes, when there isn't enough protein in your blood, your adrenals will start to produce cortisol. You know that shaky energy? That fight or flight energy? That's cortisol. You shouldn't be existing on cortisol. Adrenal exhaustion... the stories I could tell. At one point, my cortisol production was so totally off that I was spiking cortisol at midnight (right when baby would wake to feed). I was screwed up- I went back to my meditation practice and began taking a supplement call Phosphytidyl Serine for a short time. I'd take it at 8:00 pm and it would limit my cortisol production during sleep time. It was a perfect, "get me through a hard patch" helper.
Anyway,when get your body off the insulin train, eat vegetable and protein, your body produces glucagon instead of insulin. This is a fat burning hormone. It tells your liver: Hey, eat up all that fat in there and get the fat in the blood stream utilized! STAT! We want a glucagon ratio that is HIGHER than insulin. Clearly. Natural food and eating in a natural pattern will do that.

So, it looks like I'm eating Paleo. Shrug, grimace, yuck. I really have resisted fads or what I perceive to be fad diets because I am not a joiner. I don't like dietary changes that are based on perception  (vs. science) and that might actually be veiled "thinspiration". I've been continually grossed about by the Paleo crowd because I think they seem like zealots who want to be thin but cloak it with nutrition. I also really dislike diets that replace real food with bars and pretend food made with a wrapper. But, I'm trying this because there is physical science telling me how my body is becoming estrogen-dominant (thus putting on subtle amounts of fat on the thighs, hips area). Estrogen dominance is a pre-cursor to estrogen triggered cancers, Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic syndromes of the Typical American Diet (TAD).

That said- I'm not judging you for eating all that carb loaded goodness. (What's up last night's dinner: spanikopita and MAC N CHEESE. *sigh)  It's been hard and isn't over yet- getting over that emotional hurdle of expecting breakfast to include breads. But it can and is really, really good. And I've not lost any weight, with all my exercise, so I can assure you that I'm not doing this to be something other than what I am (well more muscle is in my plans, MORE MUSCLE!). So if your body still works great, SALUT! Mine just stopped feeling and looking so great. And I have to part with pizza, traditional pizza, for awhile. As I said someplace else, the idea is to reset the receptors in my body (in all of those organs- THYROID) and let them get back to good shape. Then, it's like being a kid again. I eat a lot of good for me stuff, indulge some, feel a bit yummy then yucky, then make better choices. And not suffer a bunch of consequences. THIS is why "kids can eat anything". Well, no they can't. But they are fresher and younger- don't do them a disservice and teach them only to eat the shitty stuff. That's your Type 2 diabetic youngster right there. What we all need to do is remove weight and fat from the judgmental analysis- make it about nutrition. Everything else will follow- some people are little, some big, fat is beautiful. Type 2 diabetes is painful and sick. Sick isn't anyone's goal. Right? So let's allow ourselves beer and bread and then have a hangover and eat our vegetables and move around and feel good. Right?

On another note- I'm presenting at the Kansas City Lawn and Garden show!  I'm giving people some tips on thematic gardens- like Japanese, xeric, meadow, woodland, etc. It's both didactic and supportive! A gentle reminder to remember to do what you do well and leave the rest to professionals. Hope to see some of you there!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Cowgirl Up: triglycerides, heart disease, stroke

How I learned to Cowgirl Up-
or Quit Yer Bitchin' and Eat Somethin' Bitter.

A friend mentioned to another friend that I might be a resource about high triglycerides. I want to emphasize, as I do often, that the resources, information and reminders I offer are informational. I believe that every person is their own best healer, when/ if they tune in to that voice inside. By giving resources and my experience, I hope I'm putting people on their own paths to healing. As always- high triglycerides is a medically diagnosed condition. I have not the training nor schooling to provide that diagnosis. Here is what I (and you) have: herbs, plants, energy, experience, smarts, intuition.

What's up with the title? Well, I don't want to be an asshole, really. But I also want folks who are in need of healing to quit looking for the easy way out. Not you specifically, but me. I look for the easy way out- don't we all?. But I'm working on it- I really am! That's all I'm asking you to do. Put in at least 50% of the energy required for a solution- you will be surprised!

So what are high triglycerides? Triglycerides are a kind of fat found in your blood- used by your body for energy. If you have high triglycerides, you are at higher risk for heart disease. Possible causes: obesity, poorly controlled diabetes (type 1 or 2??), under-active thyroid, kidney disease, too much processed food, too much alcohol.

A quick list of ways to help with any and all of the above possible causes: fish oil, adrenal and liver support (see burdock, dandelion, etc), dandelion to help kidneys, and exercise.

I buy mine from Vitacost!
These are oversimplified but a place to start. Let's look at supplements frequently recommended for heart, blood and cholesterol help. Fish oil is the first step in any healthy journey going to your heart. The typical western diet is sorely lacking amazing Omega-3 and fish oil specifically. You, yes all of YOU, need to take 2,000 mg of high quality Omega-3 fish oil a day. Eat more cold water fish, but still take fish oil. It helps with SAD, depression, hang overs, generally slow moving blood (which is the pre-cursor to heart disease). It works.

Another key part of your body that aids in the digestion of fatty foods is your liver. Well, really it's your gall bladder that produces bile which allows your liver to process out fat. One way to assist a stressed out system is to take dandelion tincture or enjoy any bitter food you can stomach. It is most bitter and yet totally easy on your body (not like some drastic liver cleanse). The typical american/ western diet doesn't include bitter foods, sorely necessary for your liver and gall bladder. So with the addition of dandelion (tincture is my favorite form- 1-2 droppersful a day, in water if you want to), I would recommend burdock (vinegar is my favorite here) as an addition to your diet. Again, bitters that stimulate liver and gall bladder function. Add burdock vinegar to soups, salads or drink it in hot water in a tiny espresso cup (this would be like medicine. Eating it like food is much more fun!). [Please do not complain about your health, learn that you need to ingest bitter foods to help your stressed organs, then act like I've given you the most horrendous news you could ever get. Really. You are not 4 years old- cowgirl up America!]

One supplement- which means it is made in a lab and comes in a pill- that people take for high triglycerides is Red Yeast Rice. Very effective. A lot of info online. My mom had high blood pressure and high triglycerides (hereditary for us) and controls it with RYR and niacin daily. As for niacin, I have collected a couple resources listed below. Links about triglycerides (mentioning niacin): http://www.livestrong.com/article/404462-do-statins-lower-triglycerides/
Niacin info here too.
Red Yeast Rice info.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you have high triglycerides:
Am I exercising? Am I choosing homemade food over processed, purchased food? Am I eating enough greens? Am I walking, everyday? Am I exploring bitter foods?

2013 Revolution

I have to say that I am most surprised to have found a new plant ally. She's sitting pretty up above in the blog; she helped me stay on track and centered during the Yule, Christmas, New Year's Eve express train to overkill! She is dandelion. I cannot wait to eat some of those spring greens. But I've been taking the bitter tincture at most meals. I dug it this fall with my Myrna fairy to help (a day off from school). I tinctured it in 100 proof vodka. It helps my stomach and digestion and really aids in generally feeling good. My skin is pretty good- my liver feels pretty damn good and I'm craving and eating good, healthful foods. Good on me! I've been experimenting with other bitters- like ones that are bitter but a bit more friendly. One on its way is a ginger, orange peel, fennel, dandelion bitter! I predict less medicine- more yum factor.