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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Magic Spray for a Happy Hairdo

Something you may not have considered; herbs do not have to be used strictly for your health. They can also be used for your sanity.

Like I did as a child (and still do), my 2 year old toddler has rather unruly hair. If ignored for more than a day, especially if she has gotten it wet, it turns into a hazy honey-colored halo of what are supposed to be curls. Also like me as a child, she HATES to get her hair combed. I tried to escape the inevitable torture by telling my mom that I did not want to brush it because my hair had feelings. It didn’t work which, with hair long enough to sit on, was a good thing (thanks, Mom!)

When my daughter’s hair finally started growing and needing to be brushed, I determined to help her enjoy it so it wouldn’t have to be a battle every morning.

Thus I am proud to introduce . . . our Magic Spray!

The magic ingredient . . .  Psychology. I filled a little spray bottle with water, added some lavender infusion, and tada, we were ready to tackle those tangles! She loves starting off our brushing session with a few yummy smelling sprays of lavender and mini head massage while I disperse it evenly through her curls. She will even sit relatively patiently while I work through her couple snarls and “style” the front by brushing it out of her eyes. Even better, if Daddy is home then she has the added enjoyment of hearing from him how pretty she looks and how sweet she smells!

While Magic Spray works by letting your child think it is doing something & giving you enough time to work through their tangles, most actual detanglers work by either coating the hair strands to make them slippery or smoothing the individual hair cuticles. Unfortunately store-bought sprays are often made up of chemicals. The kind of chemicals I am trying to get OUT of my house, not blindly spray on my children’s heads. I found some recipes online for detangler that include heavier ingredients like conditioner or aloe vera gel. While these may help for my coarse, horse hair texture, I did not see them being a good thing for my 2 year old’s baby fine hair. I also chose to avoid any type of oil. We used coconut oil to work the cradle cap off her scalp a few weeks ago and my goodness, that was an experience I hope I never have to repeat with a toddler. Between the screaming during the event and the multiple baths it took to get the oil out, it was quite a production. Thus, I’m not going to risk making her hair too oily and will be sticking with herbs until her hair gets thicker and she needs more intensive ingredients.

I chose lavender because 1. I like it, 2. I had it on hand, and 3. I thought that it might make the whole experience more calming for everyone involved. Lavender, as well as chamomile, is apparently extra good for dry hair because it stimulates the sebaceous glands to produce oil. If you are dealing with dry hair this could be a benefit.

Another herb to consider adding (which makes total sense, seeing as you use it for soothing throats & making them slippery) is marshmallow root! Simply simmer an 2 Tbsp of marshmallow root in a small pot of water for up to 30 minutes, strain it, let it cool, and add it to your Magic Spray! I am going to try this on my own hair and report back.

Actually, though I started this post as a fun story about getting my daughter to let me brush her hair, with the additional research I have done, I am now realizing that I may benefit from a natural detangler even more than my daughter! I have incredibly thick, coarse, wavy black hair, thanks to my Dad’s Cuban genetics. It is also incredibly long; I just cut it from my hips up to my waist because my husband kept rolling on it & pinning me down by accident in his sleep! Not a good thing when you have a crying baby to feed. It also can take up to 35 or 40 minutes to comb, which leads to me not combing it, which makes it even worse. It is a vicious cycle. I will be experimenting with aloe vera, marshmallow root, maybe a bit of olive oil, and a few other things over the course of a few weeks.

If you would like to learn more about DIY detangler right now, check out this post on Mommypotamus.

In summary, my only caution (aside from making sure your child isn’t allergic to whichever herb you decide to use) is to choose a scent that you like A LOT because you will be smelling it everywhere. If your toddler is anything like mine, she will need to use it while brushing her stuffed animals, on the dog, on your hair if you are taking too long to brush it, on the baby if you are not cautious, on the little fluffy ducks in the bathtub, etc. Let’s just say it is popular around here. And it has saved us both a lot of tears.

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!

 

Tinctures: The Basics

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So what is a tincture?

The Prescription for Herbal Healing says that, “Tinctures are made by soaking an herb in alcohol. This causes the active constituents of the plant to dissolve, and gives the tincture a stronger action than teas or infusions.”

Tinctures are beneficial because they are much more concentrated, meaning it is easier to take or administer the amount of herbs you need for a treatment. For example, instead of trying to force down multiple cups of an infusion you can easily take a dropperful of tincture and carry on with your day. The downside is that you have can’t just whip up a batch of tincture like you can make a cup of tea; you have to plan ahead and wait 2-6 weeks for the alcohol to break down the plant suitably.

Technically, a tincture must have an alcohol base; anything else made with a glycerin or vinegar base is called an extract.

If you are morally opposed to the bit of alcohol in the tinctures, or are not comfortable taking them for any reason, you most definitely can substitute glycerin, which has the added benefit of being sweet without affecting blood sugar, or apple cider vinegar, which is healthy but not exactly palatable.

There are some benefits exclusively to alcohol however. According to wildernesscollege.com, alcohol will extract alkaloids, glycosides, minerals, essential oils, and other medical components that water (in an infusion) or glycerin will not. Alcohol also has the benefit of going directly into the blood stream, which obviously helps it to have a quicker affect. This is particularly helpful for treating things that need a quick response like relieving headaches or stopping bleeding. (The Herbal Apothecary)

Are Alcohol Tinctures Safe for Kids?

You may still be wondering, “Great . . . for me as an adult, but what about my toddlers or children?” I was wondering the same thing until I came across this AMAZING article on growingupherbal.com that explains perfectly why it is safe to use alcohol tinctures with your children. She explains it clearly, makes some excellent points, and will set your mind at ease without feeling pushy. She shares her reasoning based on the benefits of using an alcohol base, common foods our kids already may be eating that have notable levels of alcohol in them, just how very very very little alcohol they are actually consuming, and what a professional herbalist has to say on the subject. Basically, the gist of it is that in her mind the benefits outweigh the risks, common foods our kids go crazy about like bananas, orange juice, and fermented foods have more alcohol than a dose of tincture would, and then gives an example using the conversion formulas that shows you will find that a 70lb. 10 year old would be ingesting the equivalent of less than 1% of the maximum dosage of alcohol for his/her size when taking a dose of tincture.

If you are still concerned about the amount of alcohol in your tincture, you can evaporate much of the alcohol out by placing the dose in a hot tea and serving once it has cooled, according to growingupherbal.com

At this point my husband and I have decided that we would not give an alcohol based tincture to a baby just because it is more concentrated and we are trying to follow the principle that gentler is better for little ones. However after learning just how little the tincture dosages are for toddlers, and how to further eliminate some alcohol, we feel that we would be comfortable giving necessary amounts to our children from toddlers on up. (Especially seeing just how many bananas our daughter already eats!) Obviously this is something that you must talk over with your own family and come to your own decision that you will be comfortable acting on.

Once you have decided to go for it and lay in a supply of tinctures, what are some basic things you’ll need to know?

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For anyone still wondering, the process for making a tincture is ridiculously simple. Almost as simple as taking your herbs out of storage, admiring them, and putting them back (which I have to admit to doing sometimes!)It is also not an exact science, which bothered me when I first began researching tinctures, but which I can now appreciate because of the flexibility you have in tailoring recipes to suit your needs. You will need . . .

Supplies:

-an appropriately sized glass jar (I’ve been using pint jars) and a lid,

– some 80 proof vodka,

-your herbs

– some patience.

Process:

– First you fill your mason jar up with the appropriate amount of herb, which will vary whether you are using fresh or dried herbs. See my guidelines below to help you determine how much to use (this is the “not exact science” part!)

-Next, fill the jar up to the shoulder with your 80 proof alcohol and tighten the lid on.

– Label it with what herb it is, what proportion of herb to alcohol you used, and when you started it. You may think you will remember these details, but trust me, once your pantry starts filling up with little jars of chopped weedy looking things, you will be glad you wrote down the details!

-Next find a dark place to store it for 2-6 weeks. If you remember, try to give the bottle a good shake every day to keep everything covered and well mixed. This is a good part for your kids to help with if you want to involve them!

– After 2-6 weeks, strain the tincture into a fresh container, store it away, and don’t forget about it or be afraid to use it when you need it!

Guidelines:

Alcohol: What kind of alcohol should you buy? According to Mountain Rose Herbs, 40 to 50% pure alcohol (which is the same as 80-90 proof Vodka) is standard. They say that a higher alcohol percentage is better when using more high-moisture herbs and will pull out more volatile oils. We bought 80 proof vodka to make our tinctures from. However, because he couldn’t find plain vodka, my husband bought one bottle of vanilla flavored (smells AMAZING) and one bottle of mango flavored, so our tinctures will have a little extra pizzazz to them!

If you purchase The Herbal Apothecary by JJ Pursell, she includes a great list on pages 221-224 of individual herbs and what percentage of solvent they need.

Herbs: The amount of herb you use is also obviously important; I was very pleased to find some general guidelines on Mountain Rose Herb’s website that can be applied to whichever herb you are working into a tincture.

Fresh leaves & flowers; fill the jar 2/3 to 3/4 full of chopped herbs.

Dried leaves & flowers; fill the jar 1/2 to 2/3 full of herbs.

Fresh roots, bark, and berries; fill the jar 1/3 to 2/3 full.

Dried roots, bark, and berries; only fill the jar 1/4 to 1/3 full because they will expand.

In conclusion, I’ve noted some of the benefits of tinctures, some of the possible concerns involved with using tinctures, basic guidelines for using herbs in tinctures, and the very easy process for making a tincture. So far I have made an echinacea tincture for beating colds, a chamomile tincture to help with teething, and will be making a nettle tincture to use as a tonic & replenish minerals, and give us an energy boost.

Now I want to encourage you to start thinking ahead to what health concerns your family may encounter in the future and prepare some tinctures so you are ready to meet any common health issues head on!

 

 

Fennel: Benefits, Uses, & Concerns

fennelFennel. Delicious, aromatic, soothing, and a Godsend to anyone with a colicky baby.

Fennel seeds have been described as one of the best herbs to use for digestive issues. It is safe enough to use for cranky babies yet gently effective enough to be described as nature’s Pepto Bismal. It is an antacid that neutralizes excessive amounts of acid in the stomach. (Herbs for Children’s Health) The seeds can be ground and made into a tea, infused into an oil to rub on irritated tummies, or taken as a tincture.

What do these little licorice scented seeds do? Prepare to be amazed . . .

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Garlic & Mullein Oil for Ear Infections

dsc_1028Crying, pulling on red, irritated little ears, boogery noses & cold symptoms that go along with it. Uhg. The dreaded ear infection. Fortunately we have not dealt with ear infections with our toddler yet, but I like to be prepared with the knowledge and supplies to treat things as they come up. Continue reading

Using Herbs for Babies & Kids

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Using herbs for kids can be incredibly beneficial, but also rather nerve-wracking. Sometimes it seems easier to just head to the pediatrician for some professional advice on your little munchkins’ earache or cough. Now I want to make it clear that  I definitely believe conventional medicine has it’s place. However I also want to encourage you to educate yourself enough to be able to confidently treat the everyday issues that crop up like colic and colds, as well as provide complementary treatment for more serious issues that you decide to treat more conventionally.

Discussing EVERYTHING pertaining to using herbs with children or EVERY herb to use/avoid would be outside the realm of one blog post. That said, I do want to share some basic principles regarding using herbs for kids that can help guide your treatment. I also want to share a short list of go-to herbs that are considered very safe for babies & children. Continue reading