6 Herbs for Immune Support

immune systemStaying Healthy

As we head into winter, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to keep my family healthy and free from colds and the flu this year. We got one brief cold already, but fortunately between taking homeopathic remedies and herbs it was out of the house within a few days! This cold caught me a bit off guard, but I want to be ready for any sickness we might come across the rest of the year. Thus I’ve been researching herbs and natural remedies to keep you healthy in the cold & flu season and help you heal quickly when you do get sick.

 

What follows is a brief explanation of what your immune system is and a list of six readily available herbs that can boost your immune system and help during a cold. There are dozens of herbs with anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities and many different natural remedies for fighting colds such as apple cider vinegar that I specifically chose not to address here. I purposely chose to research herbs that are readily available, can be combined with each other, and cover the full spectrum of an illness from strengthening your immune system before (Astragalus) to the sore throat (Licorice) to killing off the cold bugs in your body. (Yarrow) I would rather know a few herbs well than have an overwhelming list of herbs that I do not know how to use, might use wrong, or do not even have in stock. That said, as the winter progresses, I will definitely be doing more research and will be writing additional posts with more info on fighting colds.

What is your immune system?

“The immune system is the body’s natural defense system that helps fight infections.” (WebMD) It is composed of white blood cells, antibodies, and other cells that destroy bacteria and viruses that they identify as being different from normal, healthy tissues. Your immune system includes your tonsils, thymus, lymphatic system, bone marrow, spleen, and white blood cells.

The Lymphatic System

Your Lymphatic system is composed of lymph nodes/ vessels all through your body that transport and filter lymph fluid. The lymph nodes trap bacteria, viruses, etc. then white blood cells called lymphocytes destroy them. “When the body is fighting infection, lymph nodes can become enlarged and feel sore.” (Livescience.com.)

Bone Marrow

Your bone marrow is spongy tissue found primarily inside the bones of your arms, legs, pelvis, and spine. Bone marrow is made of red and yellow marrow, which makes red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

White Blood Cells

The white blood cells created by the bone marrow are very important because they protect the body from infection by destroying the bacteria or viruses that cause it. Lymphocytes are little white blood cells that are divided into two categories; B-cells and T-cells. Your B-cells make the antibodies that attack the bacteria and toxins in your body and the T-cells are white blood cells that work together to actively destroy infected cells.

The Spleen

Your spleen, the largest organ in your body, is also part of your immune system. It is located on your left between your ribs above it and your stomach right below it. This organ filters the blood to remove blood cells and platelets that are getting old or are damaged. (National Institute of Health) It also destroys foreign substances including bacteria.

Tonsils & Thymus

Your tonsils and thymus help your body by making antibodies against bacteria and viruses. The Thymus is a little organ shaped like a thyme leaf (Live Science) beneath your breastbone. It is here where T-cells mature.

Which herbs should you consider when trying to strengthen your immune system or help it fight off a sickness? Here are six common herbs in alphabetical order

6 Herbs for Immune Health

Astragulus: This root has been used for over 2,000 years in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Studies have shown that Astragalus boosts your immune system by triggering the creation of new cells in your bone marrow and Lymphatic tissue, increases the activity of immune cells, and protects cells against free radical damage. (Mother Earth Living) Take before a cold hits to build your immune system up, but stop if you end up with a cold so you don’t trap it in your body.

Echinacea seems to stimulate the immune system and helps to increase the body’s production of white blood cells. JJ Pursell of The Herbal Apothecary suggests taking it for the first day or two of coming down with a sickness then switching to something that treats your symptoms more directly. Mother Earth Living suggests taking, ” 30 to 60 drops of liquid extract or 1-2 capsules of 300-400mg each every two hours for the first 24-48 hours, followed by the same dosage four times a day for three days after symptoms disappear.” Check out my post on Echinacea for more info

Elderberry contains Vitamin A, Vitamin C, as well as flavenoids and anthocyanins which all boost your immune system. The berries also contain antiviral properties. (HCH) Elderberry products are often used to treat cold, flu, and upper respiratory infections. Quick warning; there are a few different kinds of Elderberry. Don’t use the red elder as it is mildly toxic and don’t eat the berries of the blue elder raw in large amounts as they can cause gastrointestinal distress. Check out my post here for the Elderberry Syrup recipe that I use and love!

Licorice is an excellent antiviral. Herbs for Children’s Health encourages using it for soothing and healing sore throats, respiratory infections, viral infections, and gastrointestinal inflammation as it also has some valuable anti-inflammatory properties and is mucilaginous. It is deliciously sweet and can be added to other herbs to make them more tolerable. Keep in mind that anyone with hypertension, kidney or bladder problems, anyone using steroids, or anyone taking medicine for a heart issue should not use Licorice. Always use your own discretion & do your own research too!

 Reishi Mushroom is appropriapte when your immune system is low and it seems you catch every cold that comes by. It strengthens your parasympathetic nervous system and the adrenal system. You can use Reishi as either a decoction or a tincture. Simmer a piece about 2″ long for 15 minutes & drink about 1-3 cups per day. Use as a tincture, taking 1-3 droppers 1-3 times per day according to The Herbal Apothecary.

Yarrow was tested against 5 different bacteria and 2 fungi including Staph, E coli, Salmonella, and candida and found to be a successful broad spectrum antimicrobial. It can raise the body temperature & induce sweating, which can help clear out an illness. To use Yarrow as an infusion, steep 2 tsp per cup for 10 minutes and drink 1-3 cups per day. To use as a tincture take 1-2 droppers 3-4 times per day.

I want to leave you with an immune building tincture from The Herbal Apothecary that you may want to start making now to be ready for cold & flu season. Check out my post on tinctures for more information . . .

Immune building tincture; Combine these tinctures together in the amounts indicated; take 1 dropper 1-3x per day.

2 oz elderberry

3/4 oz rosehips

1/2 oz astragalus root

1/4 oz ashwagandha root

1/4 oz licorice root.

Click the link below to share on Pinterest!

immune system

 

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!

catnippinterest

3 Ways to Dry Herbs

“The purpose of drying is to take out enough water from the material so that spoilage organisms are not able to grow and multiply during storage.” (Putting Food By)dryingherbs
Technically the USDA defines dehydrated food as having only 2.5 to 4 percent water left; this is unattainable with home drying. Dried foods are defined as having about 10 to 20 percent water left in them, which is very achievable with methods available at home. This does not apply to dehydrating/drying herbs as much, but I want to explain why I am talking about drying herbs versus dehydrating them.

As a note, when I refer to herbs in the rest of this post, I am talking about the leaves, whole flowers, or petals used for cooking or medicinals. Roots can also be dried, and I have a short bit of information on that by the information below on using the oven to dry herbs.

What does drying food require? Two things . . .

First, drying food requires heat strong enough to remove the water from the herbs, but not too strong that you end up cooking what you are trying to dry. It is the same principle as raising bread; don’t get impatient, set it to rise in too high of a temperature, and end up cooking the top layer of dough.

Drying herbs also requires enough dry, moving air to carry away moisture from the drying herbs. Attempting to dry herbs outside in very humid climates may not work very well even if it is hot.

Basic Steps to Drying Herbs

Regardless of how you dehydrate your herbs, the first few steps and the general principles are the same.

Harvesting Herbs

First you need to harvest your herbs by either trimming the whole sprig or just the top 5-6 inches of growth. Different herbs may benefit from different types of pruning, so be sure to learn about the specific herbs you are growing. The herb profiles here on the blog are a great way to do that!

Harvesting should be done at the herb’s peak, most likely in midsummer before they start to flower. (unless of course you are growing the herb for the flowers.) The ideal time of day to harvest is after the dew has dried, but before the heat of the day has caused the plant to lose any essential oils.

Cleaning Herbs

Pick over them to make sure you are not inadvertently bringing any bugs with you. Yesterday I found a butterfly chrysalis on my lavender plant that I was harvesting from; glad I didn’t dry that! Rinse your herbs in clean water, and pat dry.

Drying Herbs

Next, choose one of the methods below to dry your herbs. Each has their pros and cons, and you will probably end up finding a favorite. Personally I like using a dehydrator because it goes faster thus is easier because I have to think about it for a shorter period of time.

Different methods will take different amounts of time to dry your herbs. Thicker, larger leaves will also take more time than thinner, smaller ones. Keep an eye on your herbs as they dry to get an idea of how long your preferred method takes. You know your herbs are dry when they crumble easily and you can rub them together to crush them.

This applies more to food than to herbs, but the products you’re drying need to be protected from insects at all times. Nylon mosquito netting or a currently unused window screen can be laid on top of your drying herbs for this purpose. If you are drying them outside don’t forget to protect them from dew at night by either bringing the herbs inside, or covering them with a large box, etc.

Storing Dried Herbs

How do you store your dried herbs? Once you strip the leaves off the stems, they should be stored in an airtight container away from light. A pantry or cupboard is ideal for this, though a damp basement or root cellar is obviously not a wise place to store dry herbs because it is too wet. I wash and reuse glass jars that I can’t use for canning such as salsa jars or tomato sauce jars. If I have extra mason jars sitting around I use those, but save a lid by recycling one from a jar of canned goods that has already been used up. (Draw an X on the lid so you remember not to try to use it again for canning.) Also, remember to label your herbs with the name of the plant and when you harvested it. You may think you will be able to tell your herbs apart by appearance and smell, but I know from experience that you will not always remember what is what. Even if you are 90% certain that you are using the right herb, labeling them and being 100% confident provides valuable peace of mind!

Different Ways to Dry Herbs

So what are your options for drying your herbs?

Air Drying Herbs

The first, cheapest, and probably most straightforward way is to air dry your herbs. Herbs are particularly suited to air drying because they do not need to be dried at high temperatures.

A great way to air dry your herbs is to place a large brown paper bag like you would get from the grocery store over your bunch of herbs (10 to 15 long sprigs of herbs per bundles) and tie the opening of the bag around the stems. Hang up the whole contraption in a dry room with good airflow (not somewhere humid like the basement, laundry room, bathroom, etc.) When the leaves/flowers are dry, you can simply shake them off into the bag.

You can also air dry herbs by spreading them out on a screen, such as a window screen, and setting them up on something like chunks of firewood, cinderblocks, sawhorses etc. to allow air to circulate all around them.

Using an Electric Dehydrator

Your next option for drying your herbs is to use a dehydrator. Using an Electric dehydrator for drying herbs is not necessary because they dry so well at room temperature, but if you want to dry them more quickly, it will work very well. There are two types of electric dehydrators, a vertical flow dehydrator or a horizontal flow dehydrator. A vertical flow dehydrator houses the heating element at the bottom of the unit and blows the warm air up. This will work but is not ideal because the trays will not heat evenly, flavors will mix, and things can fall into the heating element. A horizontal airflow dehydrator houses the heating element at the back of the dehydrator, which allows the hot air to blow evenly over all the trays at once. Most dehydrators have an herbs setting, which is their lowest heat setting. I use my Excalibur Dehydrator to dry herbs almost overnight with excellent results. My only tip would be to make sure not to cram the dehydrator too full. Remove some trays and leave enough space between the herbs and the tray above them that they don’t touch.

Using an Oven

You can also use an oven, which can be used like a dehydrator with a bit of creativity. Using the bake setting on an electric oven (as opposed to broil) or just the bottom heating element on a gas oven, preheat the oven to 140 F/60 C, then turn it off to let it drop to around 100 F/38 C. Check the temperature with an oven thermometer. Herbs need a lower drying temperature than most foods do. Once the oven is warmed up, load it with your herbs. Putting Food By suggests using cake racks set on cookie sheets as an alternative to trays built for drying food, which I think is brilliant. This allows air to circulate and won’t accidently melt anything (Though your oven should not be that hot anyway- just a disclaimer!) Leave the oven door open a crack to improve air circulation or prop it open with a rolled up hot pad. Keep a close eye on your herbs as they dry- remember you want them to be crumbly, not charred!

A Note on Dehydrating Roots

The Reader’s Digest Back to Basics book has some notes on drying herb roots. This is not something I have tried yet, but it’s always good to be collecting knowledge! It says to dig the roots up in early spring or fall. After they are thoroughly washed, slice them thinly and set them out to air dry partially. They suggest finishing the drying process in a oven on low heat because air drying completely can apparently take up to two years! Roots are completely dry when you can snap them and they feel brittle.

Summing it Up . . .

So there you have it, the basics of drying, how to tell when your herbs are dry, different ways to dry them, and how to store them. Drying herbs is a great step towards further self sufficiency. The feeling of knowing what herb you need to treat a problem and reaching for a jar of herbs you grew and dried yourself to make the remedy is amazing! I want to strongly encourage you to start experimenting with saving your herbs for when your family needs them this winter. And remember, always keep learning!

Growing & Enjoying the Benefits of Lavender for Beginners

lavender

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!

lavender

Storing Your Herbal Infusions

What’s easier? Grabbing the bottle of Ibuprofen/tube of diaper rash cream/oragel to suppress symptoms or just researching what the problem is, finding the appropriate herb, making an infusion, waaaaaaiting for it to infuse, filtering it, and using it? Obviously the second option, right? Not really, especially when you are sick, in pain, holding a screaming baby etc.

storing infusions

However it CAN be just as easy to grab the herb as it is to grab the pain medicine or diaper cream. All you need to do is plan ahead (which I know can feel overwhelming.) Just follow my blog 😉 I’ll do the planning and sharing and you do the prep work.

Today I want to share some thoughts on storing infusions so they are ready to go when you or a loved one needs one! What is important to consider when stockpiling your finished herbal infusions for the future?

First, they need to be easy to access.

Sometimes even running downstairs to my basement freezer seems like too much effort, so I keep a small sample of ready herbs upstairs in my kitchen.

Store The Right Size.

Next, you need to be able to store them in the appropriate sized amounts. If you need a spritz of diaper rash spray, having a mason jar in your fridge isn’t going to help you very much. On the other hand, if you need to drink a cup of raspberry tea each day during your pregnancy, storing little bottles is not going to go very far. Think about how you will be using this herb and plan accordingly.

Make Sure They Don’t Mold

Why worry about it & not just make a TON while you’re at it (my usual approach to anything . . . bigger is better) Because big batches of things WILL go bad when you don’t take care of them properly and things do get forgotten in the back of the fridge, pantry, etc. So be smart & store your herbal infusions so they don’t mold or attract bugs. For example, making a gallon of elderberry syrup then realizing you don’t have the lid for the container, or leaving it out on the counter because there is no space in the fridge is not the best idea (ask me how I know.) It will attract fruit flies & ruin the whole batch. Even in the fridge, a whole gallon will likely go bad before you can use it if you have a little family like ours.

Stash a variety of herbs in smaller amounts

Another good reason for not keeping huge batches, unless you use huge amounts, is that you don’t want one infusion taking up too much storage space. As you learn more & get more prepared, you will want a wider variety of remedies at your fingertips. I would rather have four quart jars in my fridge of Elderberry syrup, anti-nausea tea, gripe water, and rash spray rather than one giant gallon of gripe water. So consider keeping a smaller amount of a wider variety of herbs easily accessible and storing the rest elsewhere like the basement, chest freezers, etc.

Label Everything

Another quick note; You will want to be able to label your infusions. Again, ask me how I know! A lot of herbs look very very similar once they are all packaged in jars and smell a lot more similar when frozen.

So how do you store your herbal products?

My first suggestion is to freeze your infusions in ice cube trays. Use a tablespoon to measure how much will fit into your specific tray because I have found that they vary greatly, then write it in permanent marker on the side of the tray so you don’t forget. After your infusion is ready, just fill your trays and set them in the freezer until solid. I then pop them out and stash them in a zippered plastic bag in my freezer until I need to thaw them.

To thaw I put them directly in the container or, if they don’t fit, I put them in a covered bowl on the counter until they thaw. Of course, if you need them quickly you could melt them in a saucepan on the stove too. Just please don’t zap them with the microwave.

Another excellent option for things that you use topically is to fill little spray bottles. I have a stash of spray bottles from some homeopathic medicine I was taking, but you can buy them in bulk relatively inexpensively too. This is great for treating babies & little kids especially because they can’t spill them and the bottles are easy to use while your hands are full.

For things you use in larger servings, you could also freeze cup-sized servings of infusions in muffin trays, yogurt containers, or even fill cups, freeze them, and store the infusion blocks in plastic bags. Imagine how convenient it would be to wake up to a vomiting toddler and be able to quickly run to your fridge and pull out a few servings of stomach soothing infusion? Or grab a cube of elderberry syrup when you are so congested you can’t think straight? Or just thaw the ready-made gripe water when your head is echoing from a baby screaming?

One way I have made life much easier for us is by freezing ice-cube sized blocks of diaper rash spray that fit perfectly in a little spray bottle when thawed. When I see one of my children is getting red, or if a rash pops up overnight, I quickly thaw my infusion and am ready to go in a matter of minutes, compared to at least overnight when making the diaper spray from scratch. This saves us a whole day of my baby being miserable & me having to deal with a cranky baby. It also keeps the rash from progressing and becoming more difficult to treat.

I encourage you to joining me in thinking ahead to problems you & your family may encounter and preparing your treatments ahead of time. You will be a blessing to your family/friends and make serving them more convenient for yourself!

 

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!

Pineapple Sage; Growing, Harvesting, and Using

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I’ve had Pineapple Sage growing in my garden for two years and have finally gotten around to harvesting it! I’ve appreciated that it has grown enthusiastically and has produced beautiful flowers, but I haven’t thought of anything off the top of my head that I NEED to add a Pineappley flavor to. So, instead of waiting for inspiration to strike, I finally have done some research and learned what to do with this delectable smelling herb.

But first, a quick Pineapple Sage primer

This fragrant herb is native to Central & Southern America. It is considered a tender Perennial, meaning that it will happily overwinter in warmer climates, but needs to be brought inside overwinter, babied by planting strategically & mulching, or grown as an annual in colder climates. I have found that it grows very well as a perennial with minimum TLC in our zone 7/6b. I have it growing against a concrete wall on the south side of our house to block any wind that might strip the leaves off. Here it reaches 4-5 feet tall, but in less suitable climates or in a pot it will not grow as high. Consider planting this in an area you frequent because it releases a glorious Pineapple scent when you brush against it and produces beautiful tropical red flowers that are also edible. If you just can’t get enough Pineapple Sage, most gardeners say that this is best propagated from cuttings.

Medicinally Pineapple Sage has been used to treat indigestion and heartburn. A 2009 study suggests that common sage may assist in the digestion of meat products. Traditional Mexican medicine also uses Pineapple Sage to treat anxiety, depression, and level out blood sugar. (ramblingtart.com)

How to harvest Pineapple Sage

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I used some scissors to trim back my Pineapple Sage bush a few feet on each side and ended up with a huge armful of sage. I also ended up with an armful of creepy bright green beetles that were covering my plant. I learned my lesson quickly and left the sage out on the porch instead of bringing all the bugs in the house. To harvest, I had my two year old help me pick the leaves off the branches and put them in a strainer then rinsed them under the sink. I dehydrated them in my Excalibur dehydrator overnight and have them stored in Mason Jars in my pantry. Some sites claim that it’s flavor intensifies as it dries and others claim that drying it makes it lose its fruity flavor. I guess I will have to experiment with it .

What to Use Pineapple Sage for?

I found many relatively similar ideas for using Pineapple Sage when I searched online, so I have distilled the many ideas into some guidelines to give you some inspiration when you are up to your knees in sage leaves. Pineapple Sage is a relatively mild herb, so I would suggest using it larger quantities than you would use other more potent herbs.

– As a general rule, Pineapple Sage is best in light and fruity things. It makes an excellent addition to desserts such as ice cream and fruit salads.

Pineapple Sage can be used as a flavoring for chicken, pork, and fish. I made a delicious Pineapple Chicken using frozen pineapple, pineapple sage, Turmeric, a bit of maple syrup, and sautéed onions as a counterpoint. My husband was skeptical at first, but the first bite had him convinced! I did not find anyone else using this more delicate herb for red meat, and just can’t picture Pineapple flavored venison, so I believe I will be skipping that and sticking with the white meat when getting my Pineapple fix.

Pineapple Sage can be added to cream cheese. Let me know if you try this one; I am very allergic to Milk & milk products and will not be doing this myself, but I would love to hear your experience!

Make herbal sugar; layer leaves in sugar & let them sit to infuse them with the flavor. I did this & it definitely has a fruity aroma. I need to test it on my husband and see if he notices anything different or likes it more than the plain sugar.

– Some sites suggested using Pineapple Sage as an addition to syrups. They also suggested making it into jelly. I am not looking to get more sugar into our diet (the opposite actually!) so I won’t be doing this, but it could be a good option if you enjoy more delicate jellies.

And there you have it; some fun ideas to make your cooking more exciting. Leave a comment to share how you have used your Pineapple Sage and please share if you found this interesting or helpful!

Planter Ideas for Indoor Gardening

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There’s a hint of cool in the air, it is officially after Labor day, the kids are back at school, and pumpkin flavored everything is making an appearance. Sounds enough like fall to be thinking about bringing the outside herbs in!

I began looking on Pinterest to get some ideas for my indoor herb garden and was quickly overwhelmed by just how many different posts there are, and just how many of them are SUPER similar to each other.

So, wanting to streamline things, I decided to narrow them down into categories, post a picture of each category, and share some thoughts on each one to help you decide how  you want your garden to grow.

First I want to talk about some of the issues you’ll have to contend with: The two biggies are light and watering. Obviously, it is super important that your herbs get enough light. .Window sills, the sides of cabinets next to windows, stand alone shelves in front of windows or the unused side of sliding glass doors, sunny table tops or desks, etc. They don’t all have to be in the kitchen either. I have plants tucked in my laundry room, bathroom, the window sills behind my couch, and on the dining table. The only thing to consider is that they need to be accessible or you will forget to use them and forget to water them.

Which leads me to my second point; indoor plants are completely dependent on you for water. You can’t forget about them and hope it rains enough to keep them happy like in an outdoor garden. I am absolutely terrible at remembering to water my houseplants and am working on developing some ideas for remembering. That will be a post in itself once I prove to myself I can actually keep them alive. Like I said already, make sure that your plants are accessible; a plant on top of your kitchen cabinet is likely NOT going to get watered as much as a plant sitting on your sink windowsill.

On the flip side of NOT watering your plants is OVERWATERING your plants. With a toddler who really likes to “help mama” I can see this becoming more of an issue. A damp plant will become moldy or get root rot, so let your pots dry out between watering.

Consider drainage too. Some planters like mason jars or tea cups won’t have drainage holes and will need to be watered less. Keep trays under your plants with drainage holes so you don’t damage your window sills or set them in the sink to water them and let them drain for a bit before putting them back.

With these general guidelines in mind, here are a few broad ideas for growing an indoor herb garden.

Shoe Holder Gardens:

indoor1

I don’t know how I never thought of this before, but it is brilliant! You could stash it behind a door that gets a good bit of light, or mount it directly on the wall. You would just have to be sure to mount it securely because that much dirt could get very heavy when wet. Which leads me to my next concern. Some shoe hangers are made from breathable fabric, and that could very likely start dripping on the floor when wet, stay damp and damage the door/drywall, or cause mold to grow. If I did this, I would definitely stick with vinyl and potentially cycle my watering schedule to only water 1 or 2 rows at a time. Just a thought.

Cup Gardens

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A Cultivated Nest

How cute are these! I don’t drink coffee, but I have some super cute giant sunflower coffee cups that I would love to display in my kitchen and I think this would be the perfect reason to do so. Only downside is that my husband DOES drink coffee and might not appreciate me filling all the good-sized cups with dirt & plants. This would also be a good use for cups that you love but have a crack in them.

Upcycled Cans as Planters

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listotic

Any sort of cans headed to the recycling bin can be washed out and used as is or spray painted your favorite color. I especially love the idea of copper spray paint to make plain silver cans look a bit more expensive. Adding labels to them is a great touch too because I tend to forget what I have planted in each pot. Another benefit is that unlike other planters such as tea cups or mason jars you could easily drill a few holes in your recycled cans for drainage.  I love the look of matching tin cans lined up along a window sill, but if you are limited on window space, you could also mount them on a board by screwing them on from the backside of the board then mount the board on the wall.

Hanging Bucket Garden:

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HGTV

This looks a good bit more time intensive than simply washing out a can or filling a cup with dirt, but I love the effect! This would be great to add to a window that didn’t have the best view (as long as you don’t open the window very often) It would be fun to put hanging plants in a high row and let them cascade down the window. Another benefit for home herbalists with kids is that could mount them out of reach of tiny fingers and there is no way they would get knocked over during any rough housing. I’m actually talking myself into this as I type!

Tiered Organizers:

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There are so many beautiful tiered organizers available that could be used to display your herbs. It would save space on your counter, catch water that drips out when you water your plants, and be moveable. It could also double as a centerpiece on an island or table, yet be easy to move out of the way when you need the additional space.

Mason Jar Planters:

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Domestically Speaking

We can’t forget the quintessential mason jar! Whether you want to mount them on a cabinet like this photo suggests or spray paint the inside and line them up on your window sill, I love the country touch a mason jar adds (even if it is a bit stereotypical).

So there you have it . . . six broad categories of indoor planters to spark your imagination and help you get your creative juices flowing as you bring your herbs inside. Have another idea that I didn’t cover? I would love to see your ideas & photos of your indoor gardens in the comments!

 

 

 

 

Get Your Herbs Ready for Fall!

summerslump

Hot. Humid. Buggy.

Summer plants are withering.

My fall garden NOT GROWING as fast as I think it should.

It still feels like summer so I still feel like retrying to plant some of the things that were not successful this year like cucumbers, but it is too late.

It’s the August slump. It feels like it happens every year. Either I am frustrated because things didn’t grow as well as I had hoped (yep), overwhelmed with one thing that took over the garden,(it’s weeds this year) or ready to get planting and try again, but I have to wait for next spring for some things.

Maybe you’re feeling this way too. If so, keep reading and check out a few idea for fun things to do as we approach fall. Here’s a quick overview of what I’ll be sharing in the coming weeks to get you through the late summer slump.

Bring the outside in!

                My husband thinks I’m crazy for my houseplant collection, but hey, he has taxidermy deer and little woodland animals all around the house so he can’t complain about bringing the outside in!

My biggest suggestion is to start an inside herb garden! I am sooooo excited about trying this and will be posting about some of my favorite pinterest suggestions along with some practical ideas for making your inside garden a success.

– Take cuttings and restart them in pots. I’ll be writing soon on how I learned to do this and the best plants to transplant from cuttings so you can try it yourself.

– Dig up plants that will not overwinter in your area and repot them. Some plants will go dormant in the winter and spring back to life in the spring, while others will not be coming back after the cold months. Learn which plants to baby and which plants will tough it outside in my upcoming post.

Start some exotics inside

– Like I said (my Grandpa used to say that lol) this is a great time of year to turn some more attention to your indoor plants. I bought a turmeric root and an ginger root to plant as houseplants back in the spring and they are doing great! It’s always fun to have something fresh and green to take care of in the house.

Harvest & Dry what you do have

– trim plants & dry the cuttings inside or outside. I will be posting on how I harvested from my    herb plants including lavender, rosemary, sage, mint, chives, and more!

– Make some quick-grab infusions so you are ready to use your herbs on a moment’s notice. I’ll be sharing how I make extra strong infusions and freeze them in ice cube trays so they don’t go to waste and always have them available.

Start some seeds!

I’m so doing this with my cilantro. I have a cilantro plant outside, but I want some inside in the kitchen window so I can snip some off whenever I need them. I’ve been reading about how to start herb seeds inside and instead of encouraging them to grow into a giant plant, just maintaining them by keeping them trimmed.

Learn how to USE what you have

Here’s a shocking idea; learn to use what you have in a way that your family will enjoy. For example, my mint is growing great. I was crazy enough to plant it directly in my garden & it may as well be a weed now. Only problem is that we don’t really like mint tea so much, so I really do not have anything to use up all my mint for. Same goes for my pineapple sage plant. It’s big and beautiful, but I need to figure out how to cook with it. I am looking forward to using these hot sticky end-of-summer days to do some research and experiment with the plants that I have already.

So there you have it; some of the things I am super excited to be sharing with you all in the coming weeks as we enjoy the harvest we have been blessed with and get ready for fall. I KNOW there are plenty more great ideas to keep learning and growing as the garden season wraps up (reading my blog is one of them!) Leave a comment with your ideas to prepare for fall; I’d love to hear them!