Catnip; Health Benefits & Growing Tips

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Catnip, specifically Nepeta Cataria, (There are over 250 varieties) is an aromatic perennial herb in the mint family. It is generally used by humans as a carminative (helps to expel gas) and as a gastric stimulant. It is “calming, relaxing, pain relieving, and gentle.” (Herbs for Children’s Health/HCH)

“Catnip is best known for its curious effect of cats. Most cats respond to its scent and taste with kitten-like behavior, drooling, sleepiness, purring, anxiety, and apparent excitement.” (West Coast Seeds.) The active ingredient that makes cats go crazy is called Nepetalactone. Interestingly about 1/3 of cats don’t respond at all to catnip; apparently it is genetic.

What it looks like

Catnip grows about 3 feet height and has a somewhat minty appearance (and ability to spread!)It has “Heart-shaped gray-green leaves and whorls of white flowers with purple spots.” (Prescription for herbal healing/ PHH) The flowers are little and not very showy.

How to start it

Want to grow this cat-attractant yourself? Catnip can either be planted from seed or obtained from a nursery or friend and planted directly in the ground. From seed, plant your Catnip indoors in February or March then transplant or plant seeds directly in April or May. Seeds should be sowed about 1/8 of an inch deep. At 70-80 Degrees F (Some sites said 60-70 F), the seeds should sprout in 10-20 days. A heat mat can help seeds germinate indoors.

How to Grow it

From what I have read, Catnip does not seem very picky. It is hardy to zone 4 and does well in any soil or pot with good drainage. It seems that your biggest problem will be keeping cats off it if you either have pet cats or feral cats around your house. Some people suggest getting 2 foot dowels and poking them in your plant 2-3 inches apart so cats cannot roll around and squish it. Others suggest making an 18″ arch of chicken wire over your little plant and letting the stems grow through the chicken wire to keep cats off it. I would also consider NOT planting it near somewhere you do not want cats, like a chicken house. On the other hand, some sites suggested planting it places where you do not want mice, like the edges of your garden. Think carefully before you plant it! Wherever you decide to, plant your Catnip 18-24 inches apart; plants spread by seed and by runners that spread underground, so they need some space in your garden. Through the season, pinch the stems and flowers off to keep the plant full and bushy. You can bring pots of catnip inside for your indoor cat, but it needs LOTS of light, so most people with indoor cats have multiple potted catnip plants that they cycle through so the cats can enjoy their catnip and the plants can enjoy the full benefit of being outdoors.

Companion Planting

Catnip attracts useful bugs such as parasitic wasps, pollinators, and lacewings, which control aphids among other types of pests. West Coast Seeds says that, “Catnip repels aphids, asparagus beetles, Colorado potato beetles, and squash bugs.” I am somewhat new to companion planting, but I think I will be planting my catnip in pots to tuck into my squash bed next year. Our squash bugs were so bad this year that we only got a couple butternut squash, and I would really like to contain the problem as naturally as possible in the future.

How to harvest it

Both the leaves and flowers from Catnip can be used. Most advice I read suggested harvesting the tops of the plant in the fall either right before or directly after they flower. However, Bonnie Plants says that you can cut the stems to harvest the leaves whenever you need them during the growing season. To store them, dry the leaves on the stems (Check out my article on drying herbs here), and strip the leaves off the stems. Discard the stems and save the crumbled leaves in a jar or plastic sealable bag.

What are the benefits of Catnip for people?

Like I said at the beginning of the article, Catnip is generally used for soothing digestive/gas issues and to calm and relax. It soothes digestive problems by increasing gastric secretions, which helps the body move infection & food out of the digestive tract.

Catnip also relaxes the body and induces sleep without causing negative side effects the next day. Is used to soothe children and help them sleep.

Interestingly, Herbs for Children’s Health calls this one of the best herbs to reduce childhood fevers. It is used to relieve pain and lower fever associated with teething by providing it as a tea through the day. (HCH) Some parents also soak a washcloth in catnip tea and freeze it to create a soothing chew toy for their teething baby to gnaw on. I know my 5 month old would love this right now!

Catnip is also traditionally used to prevent hives in children in Europe (PHH) It reduces the eruption of hives when suffering from measles or chicken pox. Definitely something to keep in the back of your mind before a chickenpox outbreak!

Other studies have shown that catnip is antimicrobial as well. (PHH)

How do you use Catnip to enjoy the benefits it has to offer?

Catnip is used as a tea/infusion or tincture. You can check out how to make an infusion and how to make a tincture for more information. For Catnip, use 1 tsp. of herb to 1 cup of boiling water. According to the Herb Book, don’t let the herb boil in the water, only steep. Take 1-2 cups per day for adults to sooth stomachs or to relax. Many people say that catnip doesn’t taste very good, which is probably why it is mixed with fennel to make a tea or gripe water so often. Fennel improves the taste and offers the same digestive soothing & calming properties that Catnip does. You can also make up a tincture and take 1/2 to 1 tsp at a time. Herbs for Children’s Healing says that a few drops of catnip tincture before meals can help with digestion and a few drops of tincture before bed will help to sooth a cranky child. Gripe water with catnip in it has been incredibly helpful for my family, especially when my 2 year old was very colicky as an infant. Check out this article to learn more about using herbs with babies & children.

Please feel free to share any experiences you have had with Catnip or any growing advice in the comments & click the photo below to pin to Pinterest!

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Growing & Enjoying the Benefits of Lavender for Beginners

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Lavender. Who doesn’t love a row of perfectly curved bushes surrounded by that glorious purple haze of flowers and the even more incredible aroma? I love the look of lavender and I love the scent.

While I did appreciate the glories of lavender, I really didn’t know how to use it. Looking on Pinterest, I’ve found a lot of great ideas to use lavender for decorating and making crafts and some about growing it, but not so much about actually using it medicinally. Side note, I may have to do another post of my favorite Pinterest ideas to keep me busy once I have more lavender to play with! There also seemed to be a lot, and I mean a LOT on using lavender essential oil, but not so much on using lavender right off your bush.

So while essential oils are great and many of the benefits of lavender can be reaped using the oil, I want to talk about lavender in general and share how to make a lavender infusion.

Benefits of Lavender

Lavender is aromatic, fights gas, is antibacterial and antiseptic, is an expectorant, and is considered an antispasmodic. The use of Lavender dates back to ancient Egypt and China. Lavender has been used to soothe headaches, toothaches, sore muscles, and coughs , ease anxiety, and eliminate digestive issues. (Doctor’s Health Press)

Lavender for Calming

Lavender is probably most well known for its calming, sedative properties. Studies have shown that breathing in the scent of lavender can promote deeper, more restorative sleep. In fact, I found one study done in a nursing home that found that residents slept just as long and even more soundly when they used lavender aromatherapy as when they used a sleep inducing drug. (Prescription for Herbal Healing) Wow, that is impressive. I know I have reached for the lavender at night when my first daughter was awake screaming for hours at a time and it seems to have helped. It either soothed her, soothed me, or just made me feel better because I was actually able to do something for her. I’m not sure & wouldn’t be able to tell scientifically, but when you’re a mama up in the middle of the night, you want results, not science.

Lavender for the Heart

Interestingly, Lavender is also good for the heart. It slows the cardiovascular system , which allows it to release constricted blood vessels. (Doctor’s Health Press) Lavender been shown to decrease blood pressure and improve blood circulation.

Lavender for the Lungs

Lavender has been used to treat respiratory issues including asthma. As an expectorant, it can be useful when you have a cold or a cough by clearing mucus. (dherbs.com) According to Prescription for Herbal Healing the American varieties of Lavender have been shown to reduce the severity of bronchitis symptoms by acting as an antihistamine. This is definitely one tidbit I’ll be keeping in mind as we enter cold & flu season this year.

Lavender for the Skin

This beautiful purple plant has many uses for the skin as well. Lavender water (just an infusion of lavender) spritzed on the face or irritated skin can be soothing. Because Lavender is an antimicrobial, Lavender oil can be used to treat acne. It balances out overactive sebum production, which the bacteria grows on. (Eden’s Garden)

Speaking of skin, you can also protect your skin with Lavender by using it as a mosquito repellent. Simply make a very potent Lavender infusion using 4 cups of water to 4 tbsp of Lavender.

Using Lavender in an Infusion

How do you make an infusion, which is really just another work for a stronger tea? Check out my post here for more details or read on for a brief summary.

Simply boil 4 cups of water then, once it reaches boiling, pull it off the heat. Add 2 tablespoons of Lavender, either loose or in a tea ball, and allow it to steep for at least 15 minutes. I would do much longer then this because one, I would forget about it and two, I would want it very strong. To learn more about storing your infusions, check out my blog post on the subject.

Growing Lavender at Home

Knowing the benefits of Lavender and how to use it is all well & fine, but you need to know how to grow it so you have some to work with! As I have learned more while writing this, I have realized that my poor little Lavender plant has not been taken care of all that well . . . Oh well, live and learn.

To begin with, Lavender is a perennial native to the Mediterranean region. The “four necessities” of Lavender are heat, air, drainage, and dryness.

It loves sun and warmth; Plant in full sun or grow in a south facing window indoors. Many people even suggest planting it against a stone wall/foundation to give your plant extra radiant heat.

The next three needs all have to do with dryness. Give your plant plenty of space so that it has sufficient air circulation and does not stay wet. I found suggestions to give it as much space around as it will grow tall; they seem to grow in a pretty ball shape when given ideal conditions.

The next need is drainage; again this is important so the roots do not stay wet and rot, especially in a pot. You can line the bottom of the hole or pot with gravel to increase drainage.

The last need IS dryness. I included this because you need to specifically make sure not to overwater your plant. Water only when the planting soil has dried out an inch deep. Also make sure, if growing in a pot, not to use a container that has a tray under it to retain water. I would water the plant in the sink or tub, let it drain, then return it to its window so it doesn’t drip everywhere.

Lavender plants like an alkaline soil. You can supplement your soil with oyster shells or add lime to increase alkalinity.

When to prune or harvest your lavender plant? To slow woody growth, I found suggestions to prune after flowering and before winter. Harvesting is pretty straight-forward cut it above the woody line and allow it to dry for two weeks before storing. You can bundle it & hang it, tie it into a wreath, or put it in a vase to do double duty as a decoration while it dries too!

If you live in the south and don’t experience very chilly winters, your Lavender plant should do great outside all year round. However, if you live in the north and have to deal with cold, wet winters, either growing your Lavender in a pot or potting it to bring it inside in the winter is probably your best option. I left my lavender outside last winter, but will be potting it to bring it inside this year. (Though it is 85 degrees today and doesn’t really feel like winter is coming yet!) As a side note for potting your lavender, find a pot around the same size as the root ball of your plant because they like to have their roots more tightly compacted in the pot.

So there you have it . . . a crash course on the benefits of lavender, how to make a lavender infusion, and how to grow lavender in your home garden. Please share if you found this helpful and click on the photo below to pin it to Pinterest!

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All About Rosemary

rosemaryRosemary. Woodsy. Romantic. Complex. I LOVE how Rosemary smells and have loved brushing against it as I run up and down the hill that my herb garden is tucked into. However, I have yet to actually learn what in the world to DO with the fragrant stalks I finally just harvested.

Part of me hesitates to harvest my plants because I don’t want to “waste” them. I have to keep reminding myself that NOT harvesting them is the waste, especially as winter approaches! So, in the spirit of using my resources fully, I would love to share with you all about Rosemary; growing it, cooking with it, and using it to stay healthy & sharp.

Planting Rosemary

The name Rosemary means “dew of the sea.” This lovely perennial is originally from the Mediterranean, but will grow happily anywhere it seems, as long as you meet its few needs. In warmer southern zones you can plant Rosemary in the fall & enjoy it year round. In colder climates you can either plant it in the ground & harvest before a frost or plant it in a pot & keep it mobile so you can bring it inside in the winter. I live in zone 7/6b so I am trying both. I have it planted in a nice sheltered area against my house and have taken a few cuttings to see if I can get them to root in a pot for winter enjoyment.

Growing Rosemary Outdoors

What does Rosemary like you ask? Botanical.com suggests growing rosemary in a light, rather dry soil in a sheltered location. This is the opposite of our windy, rocky, clay hill (that is the bane of my gardening existence.) I had to laugh because mine is growing very well in clay, though it is against a southern exposed wall somewhat protected from the wind.

Growing Rosemary Indoors

What to do in the winter? Here are a few tips I picked up for growing Rosemary inside. This fragrant evergreen needs lots of light, but not too much heat or humidity. This makes it an excellent houseplant for winter, especially since the woodstove tends to dry out the air in our house. Don’t go overboard with the watering either; too much water can cause powdery mildew. Dr. Mercola’s website suggests misting your plant with water a few times a week. I am really hoping that my cuttings take root in their pot & I will be able to enjoy them this winter (even if I can’t necessarily harvest them.)

Benefits of Rosemary

Now that we have covered the how of growing Rosemary we should move on to the why; what to do with your glorious harvest?

Rosemary is a good source of vitamins & minerals including iron, calcium, B-6 (medicalnews.com) vitamin A, Vitamin C, Folate, Manganese, and Magnesium. (organicfacts.net) It is also an excellent source of antioxidants. Medicinally, this herb has been used for centuries for an extremely wide variety of purpose, though the main purpose has probably been to improve mental sharpness.

Medicinal Uses . . .

  • Rosemary contains carnosic acid, which fights damage from free radicals and thus can help prevent memory loss. Just smelling rosemary is said to improve cognitive ability. Studies have been done that have shown that using Rosemary increases the quality of your memory, though not necessarily the speed of your memory.
  • Rosemary can also be used to improve your mood & zap stress, whether used aromatically, topically, or more intensively as an essential oil. (organicfacts.net)
  • It is also great for your stomach! Rosemary has been proven to fight the stomach bacteria H pylori and aid in the prevention of staph infections. Many cultures have used it to treat various stomach ailments from diarrhea to constipation.
  • It can also be used to relieve muscles aches when applied topically. In fact, Rosemary Essential oil has been approved to treat muscle pain and arthritis in Germany.
  • Additionally, it is reported that Rosemary can speed up the healing of wounds and bruises when applied to the skin. I would be willing to try this just because it smells so good!
  • Rosemary can help to relieve congestion when added to a steam treatment. Simply boil three cups of water and add the hot water to a bowl with a few sprigs of rosemary. Lean your face over the bowl, place a towel over your head to contain the steam, and inhale the aroma to clear your nasal passages.
  • Don’t forget about Rosemary’s antimicrobial properties either. Use a strong infusion of Rosemary and Clove to make a mouthwash. Using this will help to eliminate the nasty bacteria responsible for gum disease and tooth decay, and give you nice fresh breath! Rosemary oil can also be added to your regular toothpaste.

Side note; While rosemary is appealing to us, apparently it isn’t so attractive to bugs and rodents. Many folks have suggested using it to keep the insects away and tucking some sprigs in nooks and crannies to repel mice in your home. I just may try that in our basement this year.

Cooking with Rosemary

Of course, you don’t JUST use Rosemary for the health benefits, you add it to your cooking for the amazing flavor too! Rosemary is related to mint like many other herbs, but it is said to have a “warmer, bitter, more astringent flavor” (organicfacts.net)

  • One great idea I picked up was making a vinegar or olive oil infusion with Rosemary to add some pizzazz to recipes that normally would call for plain vinegar or oil. Rosemary olive oil could also be used for a dip for garlic bread or used as a salad dressing.
  • You can also make rosemary salt by layering sea salt over rosemary sprigs. Let them sit for a few days to a few weeks to infuse the Rosemary flavor into the salt, sift to remove the rosemary (or don’t worry about it.)
  • Rosemary is great addition to chicken and lamb, though I can’t say that I have tried it yet for venison. I really need to work on finding herbs to complement my husband’s hunting hobby. Rosemary seems to mix best with things that are already somewhat sweet including sweet potato, roast veggies, citrus, zucchini, etc.
  • For all my fellow bread lovers out there, consider mixing it into your bread dough for some extra interest. It not only will add some amazing flavor, but it looks beautiful as well. I am excited to add it to the recipe the next time I make pita bread then pair the pitas with some fresh hummus. Yum!

And there you have it; a quick primer on what I have learned about growing & using Rosemary. Please share & feel free to add any other ways you use this lovely herb in the comments below!

Chamomile: Benefits & Uses

chamomile” The finest and safest of all medicinals”

is how Chamomile is described by Rosemary Gladstar. What’s not to love about Chamomile? It’s has beautiful little daisy-like flowers that would look great in any garden, it’s gentle enough even for babies, and it has so many uses! It is “commonly used for

-stomach stress,

-digestive complaints,

– nervous system disorders,

-inflammation in the joints,

-wounds.” (Herbal Healing for Women)

Quite a list isn’t it! As I typed that out, it struck me; that list is a relatively accurate summary of Lyme disease complaints, which might be one reason I’ve enjoyed using it so much!

What makes Chamomile so effective? It’s anti-inflammatory properties and its positive effects on the nervous system and digestive system can apparently be traced in part to Azulene, an active chemical in Chamomile. This blue volatile oil has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anodyne properties. ( Herbal Healing for Women)

Using Chamomile

Chamomile has been used for hundreds of years by cultures across the globe, mainly as a tea, topical treatment for skin issues, and as a tincture. It is safe for pregnant mamas & can be used to treat morning sickness in combination with ginger. Wish I had known that a few months ago! It is also an excellent addition to skincare products; you will likely find it in many if not most natural products on the market. Apparently the flavenoids in Chamomile soak into the skin easily and protect it from free radical sun damage. Over the last few weeks I have experimented with using Chamomile as a relaxing drink while snuggling on the couch with my husband at night, adding it to my cough & cold remedy as we’ve battled sickness, and using it as a diaper rash spray on my toddler. I’ve also started a Chamomile tincture, though that has a few weeks before it will be ready. So far, I have not been disappointed with it! And I am definitely making a prominent spot for it in my garden this summer!

When making Chamomile tea, most sources recommend anywhere from 1-2 tablespoons of herb per cup of boiling water. Chamomile has bitter properties that tones the digestive system; these properties become more pronounces the longer it is steeped, so if you would like a strong , but bitter tea, steep for about 20 minutes. If you are looking for a more mild, relaxing tea, steep for only 5-10 minutes. Of course these numbers are not set in stone, and if you happen to forget about your tea for a long while like I do, I can assure you that it still tastes great and seems to have a positive effect!

While Chamomile has a plethora of uses for stomach issues, digestive issues, and use as an ingredient in skincare, I want to talk a bit about a use very close to my heart;

Using Chamomile for babies & children.

Having a toddler and a new little girl on the way I am always looking for herbs that are safe and effective for babies. Many sources have strongly recommended using Chamomile to treat colic and digestive issues in little ones. After using gripe water, which contains Chamomile as well as Fennel and Catnip, to treat colic in my daughter Elsie as a baby, I can happily confirm that this worked. It wasn’t a miracle drug by any means, but it definitely calmed her down and it felt so good to be able to do something for her besides nursing nonstop.

Rosemary Gladstar suggests using Chamomile baths, both for adults and children, to relax and sooth. Since Chamomile is so gentle, she even suggests using it in baby’s first bath to make it extra comforting. Now, it took me months and months to work up to being able to give my daughter a bath without having her scream in terror (we did a lot of snuggle-with-mama-while-she-sponges-you-off type of baths) , so this would not have been super helpful for us. However, if you have a baby who enjoys the warm water, this may be just the extra bit of relaxation you both need for those extra cranky days.

Another way to use Chamomile for little ones is as a teething remedy! The blog Growing up Herbal suggests using a Chamomile tincture both topically on the erupting tooth and internally to help sooth teething pain. Something natural and DIY that can effectively treat teething pain? Yes please! I literally did not even finish reading the article before I jumped up and ran into the kitchen to start my Chamomile tincture and am very much looking forward to trying this with my daughters in the future. For your reference, here is blog post I wrote about making tinctures. The average adult dose of Chamomile tincture is 30 drops; here is my post on safely calculating children’s doses based off of adult doses for your convenience.

The last way I have used Chamomile with my daughter is as a diaper rash spray. She was having tummy problems that consequently led to a very red, sore, irritated diaper area that traditional diaper cream and antibiotic ointment were not helping. Instead, I made a strong infusion of Chamomile and Calendula and put it into a little bottle to spray her with after wiping. I also used bentonite clay as a diaper powder to sprinkle on after the diaper spray. They worked wonders! No I didn’t take before & after pictures, and no I’m not sorry because I respect my child’s privacy, but it was incredible. We went from a red painful diaper area to perfectly clear in a day or two. Better yet, she actually LIKES getting her diaper changed now. Instead of a flailing, kicking maniac, she cooperates and even hands me her spray and her “sprinkles” (powder) and laughs while I use them. I call that a success.

I’ll be updating this post with our experience using Chamomile tincture for teething after we try it. In the meantime I want to encourage you to add this wonder herb to your collection and to your garden come spring! I’d love to hear of any other experiences you have had using Chamomile as well; I’m always looking for new ideas!

 

Creating a Herbal Notebook

dsc_1054Creating a Herbal Notebook

I want to share with you an exciting tool I’ve put together to wrangle all the new information we are gathering about herbs; a Herb Notebook! I’ll share the benefits & purposes of an herb notebook, break down each category I have included and give ideas for filling each section, post photos of my own notebook in progress, and

best of all, I have included FREE printables of the beautiful title pages I designed for each section for you to start your own notebook.

Why Maintain a Herb Notebook?

Continue reading

Medicinal Herb Seed Purchase; Indoor/Outdoor Gardening

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A cold dreary December day lulled to bored restlessness by the steady drizzle of rain. The perfect day to get new seed catalogs with pages exploding with life and color and fresh energy for spring. The seed companies really know what they are doing sending out catalogs right at the beginning of winter!

One of my plans for this winter, as I have mentioned, is attempting to start some herb seeds in the house so I have some healthy little plants to place outside come spring when I am more focused on  recovering after having our new daughter.  Continue reading

Growing Herbs: Trial by Error

growing-herbs-indoors1Growing herbs indoors can be a great idea if like me you get super excited about starting things at completely inappropriate times of the year! Our unseasonably warm weather has had me itching to start my garden when in reality I should be winterizing and planning our holiday activities. However, this week we lost an hour of daylight from the time change and the temperature plummeted to a balmy 25 degrees F this morning, so it’s safe to say winter is upon us. ugh. To fight the rapidly shortening days and biting temperatures, I decided to transplant a few herbs into pots in the house and start a few additional varieties from scratch.

It hasn’t gone well. Continue reading

Saving Stevia; Harvesting & Overwintering

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As the weather has gotten colder I finally got motivated to figure out how to 1. harvest & 2. overwinter my stevia plant. It has been happily residing on the side of my house next to the air conditioner all summer, but I haven’t done more than nip a leaf off to munch as I run by. So let me share what I’ve learned . . .  Continue reading