Tag Archives: herbs

herbal medicine part 4 of 5 ~ my favorite herbs (so far!)

If I were to narrow down my own herbal education to a few important points, they would be these:

  • Well-chosen herbs are very effective at treating illnesses and injuries.
  • You don’t need to know about every herb under heaven to begin using them.
  • Once you have begun to learn about individual herbs and how they work, you can use your imagination to create remedies to serve your needs.

(This post is the fourth in a series on herbal medicine. To read the first three, click here, here, and here.)

Through many hours spent researching herbal medicine online, and reading materials I picked up at book sales, from the library, and on Amazon.com, I learned enough about herbs to feel comfortable making blends of my own choosing. The great thing is that in contrast to pharmaceutical drugs which can be dangerous when mixing them without medical supervision, herbs are quite safe for almost everyone, as long as you use a little common sense (you can blend herbs as needed, but you obviously don’t want to be over using them or giving them to babies without learning about safety first).

Here’s another little story about how I used herbs to help one of our kids heal.

Earlier this year, two-year-old Chickie developed an ear infection. It was fairly severe, lasting days longer than the typical 2-3, with a low grade fever, sleepless nights, and the works. I treated her with ibuprofen for pain, frankincense and lavender doTerra essential oil drops around her ear, and mullien infused oil drops in her ear. While each seemed temporarily to help, the fever kept coming back and she kept complaining about the boo boo in her ear. I began planning a trip to the doctor’s office.

For some reason I decided to follow my instinct one more time across the web and stumbled upon one mother’s blog post about a combination oil infusion, with mullien and garlic. Garlic is a powerful antibiotic, so in a last ditch effort I warmed up our mullien oil and added a bulb of garlic I had finely chopped and let sit for 15 minutes to release the right properties. I infused the mullien oil with the garlic for another 15 minutes and let it cool before putting a few drops in Chickie’s ear. Although I gave her a couple more doses after that, the first results were seen quickly.

Within 3-4 hours her fever was gone, the redness around her ear was gone, and she stopped complaining about her ear. For good.

For the price of a quarter cup of olive oil, a small amount of mullien, and a bulb of garlic, we boosted her immune system, reduced her pain, and eliminated the infection.

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(basil)

What I have discovered over my trial-and-error method of caring for our bodies, is that there is a natural remedy for everything. The trick is figuring out what the right remedy is. And that’s why reading a good quality herbal dictionary and using the internet are essential tools to anyone interested in treating illnesses naturally.

The more I learn about herbs the more I get excited about the power of natural remedies!

Using my no-nonsense plan, I chose to grow a selection of herbs which I thought would be most useful to our family’s medical needs, and which would grow well in our climate. Some have proved more universal in use (herbs which I can use for many of our needs) while others I hardly use, but I am thankful for each of their roles in our medicine cabinet. Your herbal needs may be slightly or significantly different than our own, depending on any chronic illnesses you may have, and the climate you live in, but chances are you will find at least some of these herbs growing in my garden helpful yourself, so today I’m going to share about them with you.

Here are some other fascinating uses for the herbs I grow:

Aloe 

Aloe is an excellent addition to any remedy for skin ailments. It has soothing and healing properties, and has been used for treatment of burns and other injuries to the skin since at least 1500 B.C. It can also be used for cuts, scrapes, frostbite, and dry, cracked skin. It’s antibacterial properties prevent infections while the skin is healing.

While you can buy bottled aloe vera gel, they can contain preservatives which can irritate sensitive skin, so having your own plant you can remove gel from as needed is a better choice.

Anise Hyssop

Anise Hyssop is used to heal a number of digestive and respiratory ailments. Everything from upset stomach, gas, constipation, heartburn, and colic to coughs, sore throats, wheezing, and bronchitis. Hyssop has even been used with success for AIDs symptoms and herpes. Culpeper’s Complete Herbal (written in the 17th century) lists many other uses for Hyssop.

Traditionally, Anise and Hyssop are two different herbs. I grow an herb which is a hybrid of the two, offering benefits of both herbs.

Basil     

Basil reduces nervousness and anxiety and can prevent depression. Regular ingestion of basil improves alertness, focus, and memory, probably because it helps the brain to assimilate oxygen.

Basil strengthens the immune system, and can be used as a poultice treatment for acne, ringworm, eczema, and insect bites.

Calendula

Calendula is a gentle herb, soothing to irritated or injured skin. I use it for a variety of rashes, dry skin, and minor injuries to reduce pain, prevent infection, and heal the injury.

Chamomile

This bioflavonoid-rich herb can be used externally to treat skin irritations and rashes, or taken as a tea to relieve indigestion, asthma, hay fever, toothache, and colic. A compress or rinse made of chamomile tea can be used to heal conjunctivitis.

Chamomile is also traditionally taken as a tea to promote stress relief, relieve pain, and aid in getting a restful night’s sleep, but has also been known to reduce inflammation, fevers, and joint and muscle pain, relieve menstrual cramps, prevent stomach ulcers, dissolve kidney stones, heals hemorrhoids, as well aid the immune system in fighting off viruses.

Comfrey

Rapidly heals sprained muscles and broken bones, cuts, bruises, and inflammation. It heals varicose veins, diaper rashes, and hemorrhoids. Relieves breast soreness while nursing, reduces itching of irritated skin, and is helpful in healing circumcised babies.

Traditionally, roots, leaves, and flowers have all been used both externally and internally with great success in treating a wide variety of ailments, but recent research shows that no one, especially those with liver problems should ingest comfrey. Comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which can damage the liver or cause cancer if ingested in large quantities for long periods of time. The highest concentration has been found in the roots of young plants, while the lowest concentration is found in dried leaves of older plants.

Because no link exists between external use and side effects, we stick to using it for poultices, compresses, antiseptic washes, and salves. It is a very effective, rapid healer, and one of my personal favorite herbs.

Echinacea 

This herb has been used since the colonists discovered it in America, and extensively in Germany as well. Studies have demonstrated how it encourages the growth of white blood cells, boosting the immune system. This effect has been utilized in studies to prevent and kill bacterial and viral infections, as well as reduce symptoms of infections, including fevers, and help heal minor wounds and burns.

Horehound

Teas and candies made of this herb have long been known to relieve coughs and help to expel phlegm when you do. I added it to my asthma tea mix as it has also been prescribed for clearing lungs. Older herbal books recommend it for regulating menstrual cycles, pneumonia, trapped gas, stuffy noses, jaundice, killing worms, and eliminating poisonous toxins including rabies. The common theme is that horehound “opens blockages”, releasing fluids that need to move or be eliminated, although the only proven use is for lung-related illnesses.

Lemon Balm        

Relieves symptoms of infections, eases anxiety, lightens the mood, increases energy, eases indigestion, relieves menstrual cramps, treats cold sores and aching teeth, aids in sleep, repels insects, and has similar expectorant qualities to horehound.

Lemon Balm has held a special place in many homes for some 2,000 years around the world, and aiding in confirming it’s “soothe all” properties, a small-scale German study found it does contain sedative, digestive, and anti-sposmadic compounds which would support it’s proposed uses.

Mint

Eases intestinal gas, relieves indigestion and diarrhea, reduces congestion, relieves nausuea, soothes muscles soreness, treats IBS, calms menstrual cramps. Dr. Daniel Mowrey director of the American Phytotherapy Research Laboratory calls it, “our best-known remedy for stomach problems”. It is interesting to note that the active ingredient in mint that gives it its kick is menthol, the same ingredient used in many pharmaceutical drugs including Vicks VapoRub.

Traditional herbalists  recommend it for treating PMS symptoms, rashes, drying up breastmilk and poison from snake bites, kidney stones, pain relief, and gum disease, among other things.

Mullien

Also known as “lamb’s ear” because of it’s furry-soft leaves, mullien is used for digestion and respiratory problems as well as eliminating growths. Everything from colic, coughs, congestion, and stomach ache, to warts, ulcers, stings, and scrapes can be treated with this herb.

I found it particularly useful in healing Chickie’s ear infection along with garlic. I read a story by a botanist who said he and his wife had bronchitis at the same time. She used a pharmaceutical drug to clear hers, and he used mullien tea. Guess whose cleared up first?

Oregano

Although famous for its culinary uses, oregano has been used medicinally for centuries. Around the world it has been used for relief of digestive complaints and in aiding relief of infections. Fevers, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, itchy skin, coughs, and PMS have all been successfully treated with oregano. Its active ingredient, thymol, is also found in popular cough drops and cold products.

Rosemary 

Also known as a culinary herb, rosemary has been used for centuries to sharpen memory, relieve menstrual cramps, treat dandruff, aid digestion, and is now known to reduce the risk of several types of cancers. It can be especially useful to treat the symptoms of colds, including drowsiness and achy muscles, and quickens the senses.

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Sage (as seen in photo above)

Dries up phlegmy coughs, excessive menstrual bleeding, reduces hot flashes, and unwanted mother’s milk. When suffering from a wound, it slows bleeding. It also helps fight diabetes due to its insulin-boosting effects. Throughout history it has been used as a muscle relaxant, an antiperspirant, and a treatment for sore throats, diarrhea, venereal disease, and to treat wounds and insect bites. How neat that it’s Latin name, Salvia is derived from salvere, meaning to heal or be healthy!

Skullcap

Not much is said about this herb, which has long been used as an effective pain reliever. Prior to
the use of pharmaceutical drugs this herb was commonly prescribed for use with tension headaches and other aches and pains. We find it effective in treating headaches ourselves in the form of a tincture.

Sweet Fern

This special fern can be made into a relaxing tea that livens the spirit, but it has also become my absolute favorite for treating poison ivy rashes! After trying numerous herbs for treating the irritating bumps, a salve made from sweet fern quickly dried up the rash and relieved the itching. I will have trouble wanting to try anything else for it now!

Thyme

Thyme is well known for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Its main ingredient thymol is used in many overt-the-counter products like mouth washes and cold products. A chilled tea made of thyme makes a good antiseptic wash for wounds. It is also used to treat coughs resulting from whooping cough, bronchitis, and emphysema, because of its effectiveness in loosening phlegm and relieving coughs.

Valerian

An old-school sedative that eases mild insomnia, calms nerves, and relieves headaches, menstrual cramps and muscle spasms.

Yarrow 

We have found it to be an excellent fever reducer! Chewing the leaves or swishing tincture or tea relieves toothache, sore gums from teething, and canker sores, which we have found true in our family.

Yarrow causes toxins to be released, and is helpful in treating infections, and allergenic mucosal reactions. It lowers blood pressure in this with high blood pressure. It is a mild sedative, eases pain, lessens bleeding, and is otherwise useful as an astringent, similar to sage, drying up excess harmful fluids.

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Now, I told you these herbs are growing in my garden, but I must be truthful, in case you haven’t been keeping up-to-date on my  Homestead Happenings posts, then you should know many of these herbs are no longer in my garden. For two years in a row, I gave my herbal garden little care. In 2011, I spent a lot of time in the garden, weeding, harvesting, and preserving.

In 2012, the solar dehydrator was destroyed by ants and I had a baby, both contributing to my lack of attention to the garden. In 2013, we had a lot going on, including cleanup from the porch disaster, building the shed, and moving the gardens and camper. I didn’t have time for herbs, and the fact that most of the remedies I wanted were either in my freezer, in the shed, or easy enough to make when needed didn’t make it any more enticing to attack the herbal garden.

This year I salvaged the perennial herbs I could and began revitalizing one of the raised beds for the herbs. What I have left is:

  • mint
  • lemon balm
  • yarrow
  • mullien
  • comfrey

I also just planted some basil, and I’m hoping some anise hyssop, but I’m waiting until it flowers to be sure I transplanted the right plant!

From 2011‘s bounty I still have first aid and baby bum salves (frozen), and several pint and quart jars filled with individual tinctures, like yarrow, basil, and chamomile.

Herbs have played a very important role in our family’s health. They have come a long way from being just the relaxing teas I once thought they were. Today, we depend heavily on them for recovery, along with using common sense care like hygiene, diet, exercise, and sunshine.

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By treating our bodies holistically, we have been able to avoid the doctor’s office, save money, gain respect for our bodies, and most importantly, spend more of our of days in health and wellness than we would have otherwise.

I feel confident that any family could accomplish what we have by learning how to make herbs a part of their lives too.

Next week I’ll wrap up this series with a list of resources you can use to get started or expand your knowledge and skills using herbal medicine, and additional information about the safety of herbs.

herbal medicine part 2 of 5 ~ 3 original healing tea blends

I promised you four original recipes for herbal remedies, but after taking another look at how I wanted to break up this series, I decided to share the recipes for tea combinations, and two favorite (yet unoriginal) recipes for helpful herbal remedies.

This post is the second part of a five-part series on making and using herbal remedies. To read the first part, click here.

Comfrey ice packs

The first of my favorite herbal remedies is comfrey ice packs. These homemade ice packs infused with comfrey tea have been extremely helpful for our family, saving us at least a couple of trips to the emergency room as their healing properties get to work immediately. We’ve used them for perineal healing after birth, huge swollen bumps to the head, healing sprained joints, and a number of other minor injuries.

Comfrey ice packs are useful for any injury requiring a reduction of swelling and healing of skin or muscle tissues, and provide relief from pain simultaneously. Sprained joints, head injuries, surgical sites, perineal tears, and burns are just a few examples of healing comfrey ice packs can be useful for. If using on a burn, be sure to wrap the ice pack in thin cotton before applying to skin.

Here’s how to make them ~

Ingredients and supplies

  • A 1qt glass jar half full of dried comfrey OR filled loosely with fresh comfrey.
  • A package of extra absorbent feminine pads.
  • 3 zip lock bags

Heat a pot of water to boiling and pour into the glass jar of comfrey. Screw the top on and allow to cool. While you are waiting, set out a baking tray. Open the bag of feminine pads and unwrap enough individual pads to fill the baking tray with them laid out straight. Cut the feminine pads (with protective plastic remaining over the sticky part) into halves and lay on the tray.

When the herbal infusion is cooled, strain out the tea into a clean jar and save the plant material for the compost pile or for making poultices. Carefully pour the tea evenly over the pads until they have absorbed as much as they can handle. Place the tray with the pads in the freezer. Once completely frozen, remove the tray from the freezer and place the ice packs in a ziplock back before returning them to the freezer until they are needed.

Comfrey compresses

When cold and ice aren’t the best choice for healing, comfrey can still heal skin, muscles, and joints via warm compresses or poultices. We’ve had great success using these for relief from sprained joints, healing from surgery, and, after cooling, on bad burns.

Comfrey compresses are useful for any injury requiring moist warmth and healing of skin or muscle tissues, such as a strained neck or back and sprained joints. For injuries in which a cool compress would be helpful (eg. faster healing of burns) simply let the infusion cool for a longer period of time before making the compress.

Here’s how to make them ~

Ingredients and supplies

  • A roll of medical gauze or a clean cotton hand towel
  • A clean hand towel
  • A 1qt glass jar half full of dried comfrey OR filled loosely with fresh comfrey

Heat a pot of water to boiling and pour into the glass jar of comfrey. Screw the top on and allow to cool. While you are waiting, collect the remaining items you will need. When the herbal infusion is cooled to the correct temperature, strain out the tea into a medium-sized bowl.

You may now choose whether to lay the strained plant material over the affected area (called a poultice) or skip that part and dip the gauze or one towel into the tea, squeeze out some of the fluid and lay on the wound, then cover the gauze or towel with a dry towel to prevent other clothing from getting wet. Save remaining tea for future treatments, up to a few hours at room temperature or in the fridge for up to a week.

And now for the teas!

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Women’s Tonic Tea

With all of the many negative impacts of environmental, dietary, and other toxins we are exposed to, it is no wonder women face hormonal imbalances. One seemingly innocent hormone, when slightly too concentrated or too sparse, can cause a myriad of uncomfortable and frustrating conditions. After learning about some of the powerful hormone-stablizing herbs available, I was inspired to combine a few of my favorites to create a tea that could be used to treat symptoms I had myself, or which others I knew had.

This combination of herbs is a blood cleanser that strengthens and tones the heart and adrenal glands and normalizes imbalanced hormone production. It reduces excessive menstrual bleeding, eases cramps, promotes breast health, reduces varicose veins, and may provide relief from UTI’s.
Unfortunately, I was not able to make enough of this tea to treat chronic symptoms before my solar dehydrator was put out of commission by an army of ants. Once I get a new one built this summer I will be able to start drying teas again, in hopefully larger quantities.

Here’s how to make it ~

Ingredients and supplies

  • 6 TBSP each of dried yarrow, valerian, and calendula
  • A glass jar to hold 18 – 1TBSP servings
  • A tea ball

Combine the dried herbs and place them in a mixing bowl. Mix together, breaking up the herbs so they are small enough to fit into a tea ball, but not too small that they fall through the holes. Once they are combined, place the mix in a glass jar with a screw top lid. Now the mix is ready to use when you want a cup of tea. Tea will maintain its medicinal qualities the longest if kept in a cool, dark, dry place, approximately 6 months.

When you are ready to make tea, simply scoop enough tea mix to fill your tea ball, approximately 1-3 TBSP, and place in a mug. Pour boiling water over the tea ball and allow the tea to steep for 2-5 minutes before removing. Sweeten as desired. If you are sick, honey is a good choice.

Dosages ~

Do not use if allergic to ragweed. Large amounts may decrease mother’s milk supply or cause stomach upset. Adults: For chronic problems drink 1 cup of tea 3-4 times a day. For acute illnesses drink a few sips of tea every 30 minutes until symptoms subside, up to 3-4 cups daily. The elderly should limit dosages to half that of younger adults, and pregnant women should limit intake to 1-2 cups per day. Children: under the age of 2 should drink no more than 1 tsp of tea. Increase dose with age, up to 2 TBSP of tea for a 12-year-old.

Cold and Flu Tea

Despite problems with my dehydrator and keeping up with the demand for teas, I was able to save a whole recipe of this combination for myself. This stuff is amazing! When I am able to dry more herbs, I will be stocking up on this tea, as it produced fast-acting positive effects on numerous viral infections. Cold symptoms disappeared within hours and flu symptoms were lessened. Once I have a big enough supply, this will be my go-to recipe for immunity strength in winter.

Not only can it be be used for colds and influenza, but these herbs have also been used successfully to treat ear infections, laryngitis, and other viral and bacterial infections. They reduce fevers, respiratory congestion, coughing, headaches, and stiffness related to chills and head colds, and they sooth the throat, relax the nerves, aid digestion, increase energy, and stimulate the immune system.

Here’s how to make it ~

Ingredients and supplies

  • 3 TBSP each of dried chamomile, echinacea, thyme, lemon balm, valerian, and calendula
  • A glass jar to hold 18-1TBSP servings
  • A tea ball

Combine the dried herbs and place them in a mixing bowl. Mix together, breaking up the herbs so they are small enough to fit into a tea ball, but not too small that they fall through the holes. Once they are combined, place the mix in a glass jar with a screw top lid. Now the mix is ready to use when you want a cup of tea. Tea will maintain its medicinal qualities the longest if kept in a cool, dark, dry place, approximately 6 months.

When you are ready to make tea, simply scoop enough tea mix to fill your tea ball, approximately 1-3 TBSP, and place in a mug. Pour boiling water over the tea ball and allow the tea to steep for 2-5 minutes before removing. Sweeten as desired. If you are sick, honey is a good choice.

Dosages ~

Do not use if allergic to ragweed or plants in the sunflower family. Large amounts may cause stomach upset or act as a stimulant in a small number of people. Use with caution if you have hypothyroidism. Adults: For chronic problems drink 1 cup of tea 3-4 times a day. For acute illnesses drink a few sips of tea every 30 minutes until symptoms subside, up to 3-4 cups daily. The elderly should limit dosages to half that of younger adults, and pregnant women should limit intake to 1-2 cups per day. Children: under the age of 2 should not drink this tea combination, though you may be able to use certain herbs individually for babies. Increase dose with age, up to 2 TBSP of tea for a 12-year-old.

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Asthma Relief Tea

Because so many people struggle with asthma or other breathing problems, it was not a surprise that this tea quickly sold out and there were many requests for more, even two years after my experiment with herbal remedy parties. I heard back from a few people who used it, all saying it helped them to breathe easier, reducing their need for any asthma medications.

Papa helped me to combine the herbs for the asthma tea. He has struggled with allergy-induced asthma, and he reported that as soon as he started breaking up the herbs in the bowl, he felt his chest relax, enabling him to take much deeper breaths than before. And that was just from smelling the herbs!

This combination of herbs works wonders to build strong, healthy lungs and reduce recurring respiratory problems like asthma, colds, and general congestion. They relax the chest and open constricted bronchial passages.

Here’s how to make it ~

Ingredients and supplies

  • 3 TBSP each of dried calendula, horehound, thyme, anise hyssop, echinacea, and sage
  • A glass jar to hold 18-1TBSP servings
  • A tea ball

Combine the dried herbs and place them in a mixing bowl. Mix together, breaking up the herbs so they are small enough to fit into a tea ball, but not too small that they fall through the holes. Once they are combined, place the mix in a glass jar with a screw top lid. Now the mix is ready to use when you want a cup of tea. Tea will maintain its medicinal qualities the longest if kept in a cool, dark, dry place, approximately 6 months.

When you are ready to make tea, simply scoop enough tea mix to fill your tea ball, approximately 1-3 TBSP, and place in a mug. Pour boiling water over the tea ball and allow the tea to steep for 2-5 minutes before removing. Sweeten as desired. If you are sick, honey is a good choice.

Dosages ~

Do not use if allergic to ragweed or plants in the sunflower family. Large amounts may decrease mother’s milk supply. Use with caution if you have hypothyroidism. Adults: For chronic problems drink 1 cup of tea 3-4 times a day. For acute illnesses drink a few sips of tea every 30 minutes until symptoms subside, up to 3-4 cups daily. The elderly should limit their intake to half that of a young adult, and pregnant women should limit intake to 1-2 cups per day. Children: under the age of 2 should not drink this tea combination, though you may be able to use certain herbs individually for babies. Increase dose with age, up to 2 TBSP of tea for a 12-year-old.

What if you don’t have a garden?

If you are not interested in or able to grow your own medicinal herbs, but would like to try these remedies, go to your local natural food store to ask about what fresh or dried herbs they sell, or stay tuned for part 5 of this series to find an online store to purchase from. You should be able to combine your own tea remedy from purchased herbs.

If you try one of these herbal remedies, or if you have used a similar remedy in the past, please tell us! Share your story below to encourage other folks who have struggled with similar symptoms.

a short history of the gardens at AFN, and hopes for 2013

Papa and I are no experts in gardening. When we tell people we are living off-grid, it seems like it is expected that we are growing and preserving most of the food we eat, but that is far from the truth. We have dabbled in gardening for a few years, but have yet to produce enough to store more than a few jars of beans or tomato sauce to eat through the winter. But we have a dream.

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(photos feature our produce from 2012)

Our dream is to produce a large amount of the food we consume. Not because we want to leave small carbon footprint, or to be part of the latest self-sufficient trend, but because we want to eat healthy food, and we want to do it as inexpensively and independently as possible. But we subscribe to the one bite at a time theory as well.

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We can’t grow a huge garden with Papa at work 40 hours a week and me homeschooling and caring for four children at home. A huge garden off the bat is not practical, financially responsible (until we know what we are doing), or good for our family’s emotional well-being. Gardens are a lot of work, which is why we have stuck to a little bit at a time over the past few years. Here’s what our history in gardening looks like ~

2008 – Had bad luck planting flowers in the ground – trouble with sun exposure, moisture of the soil, and chipmunks. Decided then and there that a vegetable garden would not be a wise investment.

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2009 – Began harvesting from my comfrey plant for multiple medicinal uses – making ice packs for kids boo boos and diaper rash salve. Great success. Planted a small raised garden on the new property with vegetables. Harvested radishes, then we had torrential rain that drowned everything and we had vehicle troubles that prevented us from getting to the land frequently enough to care for it.

2010 – Planted a small hanging garden at our old house. Six – five gallon pails holding herbs and tomatoes. Began experimenting with composting. Preserved herbs as salves and tinctures.

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2011 – Planted and harvested a large perennial cooking and medicinal herb garden. Grew tomatoes, green and wax beans, peas, onions, greens, bell peppers, and carrots. Had a decent enough turnout to eat fresh veggies into the late fall. Preserved canned tomato sauce and dried onions, as well as many of the herbs into teas, salves, and tinctures.

2012 – Harvested perennial herbs to use as needed. Grew tomatoes, green beans, onions, and greens. Ate some fresh, tried to preserve some, but had trouble with frost due to a late start in the garden (something to do with having a baby I think).

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What will 2013 hold for us? I hope more vegetables! This year I do not have a newborn, and I have a much better plan on how to get outside early enough and frequently enough to work the garden before July! I hesitate to say whether we will preserve much or not. This is a learning experience, and gardening takes a long time to become accustomed to, but I do expect to harvest more than in previous years based on what we have learned so far.

A couple weeks ago I recommended the book, Garden Way’s Joy of Gardening by Dick Raymond. If you want to garden you really need to find this book! I borrowed it from the library, and filled it with slips of paper so I could go back and take notes (off to my home management binder they go!).

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This week Girlie and Pal planted most of our tomato and bell pepper seeds for me. We started them in a 72 call peat moss filled seed tray. As soon as the snow melts Papa and I will be moving the garden boxes to a new spot that we believe will offer better drainage. There will be quite a bit of rearranging out here, and we are both anxious to get the garden in, even though we won’t be putting much in the ground until May.

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To keep things simple, and hopefully more likely to be preserved, I limited my seed choices to those I knew would be easy to grow and eaten frequently. We purchased them from a local seed company. You may notice there is no lettuce or broccoli or other leafy greens on this list. Those I hope to plant in late summer when pests won’t be so abundant, as we’ve had trouble with them. I know there are ways to fix that, but I don’t want to give myself too much to handle this year. Anyway, here’s the list:

  1.     Kentucky Blue pole green beans
  2.     Kentucky Wonder wax pole beans
  3.     Boltardy beets
  4.     Atomic Red carrots
  5.     Garden Sweet Burpless cucumbers
  6.     Green Arrow peas
  7.     a Kaleidoscope Mix of sweet bell peppers
  8.     Sweet Dumpling winter squash
  9.     Subarctic Plenty tomatoes
  10.     Copra-Long Day onions
  11.     Golden Ball Turnips

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The seedlings we’ve started don’t look too exciting right now, as tomatoes and peppers can take a while to sprout. They say we are on a warming trend now, so I’m crossing my fingers that it won’t be much longer before we are sharing pictures of outdoor projects!

april showers bring may… tomato sprouts?

It’s that time of year again, when gardeners pull their shovels, hoes, and forks out of the tool shed and start playing in the dirt. Despite the 20+ hours of overtime Papa has been working each week, he has been making some nice progress on the gardens here. I can’t say I’ve been much help. Although I do believe our garden is important I have had a hard time getting into the mood, what with children, housekeeping, homeschooling, arrends, spring cleaning, and well, you get the point.

But this isn’t a post about excuses. Actually, I intended to show you some examples of the work Papa has been doing to make our gardens look a little prettier this year, and offer proof that our tomatoes are in fact sprouting. Today I can do you neither because the sun hasn’t been shining around here, making picture taking difficult. The pictures shown here are from last year’s garden landscaping.

If self-sufficiency is the goal, it doesn’t really matter how pretty your garden is as long as you have edible food and herbs growing there, but while our piles of scrap wood and junk may fool you, we really do want our yard to be presentable!

Last year Papa laid out dock sections and painted them to create a walkway. He also added stone edgings and frames to a few small gardens. This year he’s rearranging the dock sections we have left and installing circular garden boxes he made out of water barrels. Fill in the gaps with landscape fabric and bark mulch and you have a more intentional looking garden area that provides both nourishment and beauty.

Around the time of Chickie’s birth in March, Papa set up the bulk of the greenhouse, which is currently providing shelter to the tomato and sweet pepper sprouts. It still needs the gable ends finished, but it will get done with time.

Some of my medicinal herbs are coming up again. The comfrey is growing faster than ever. Thyme, yarrow, calendula, mint, anise hyssop, and some others are showing their spring leaves. And, I fear I may be killing my second aloe plant. Is it that hard to maintain or is it just me?!

We’ve added a few new plants as well – lambs ear, parsley, and rhubarb that was transplanted from my step grandmother’s garden.

Most of our veggies we will start from seed, except for onions which are bulbs. We had planned to use a local seed company, but because of other things vying for our attention we ended up purchasing them from a farming store nearby out of convenience.

I am making an honest attempt at spending more time outdoors though, and planting flowers is near the top of my to-do list. We may not be rich, but a few packets of flower seeds will do wonders to a humble home.

Are you planting a garden this year? Tell us what you’ve got planned! If you have written a gardening post recently, feel free to leave the link in a comment below.

an herbal remedy review

Last week I attended my eighth and probably my final herbal remedy party for the season. Not only am I thankful God blessed us with the extra income while we were in limbo between unemployment and the first paycheck, but I am also very excited to report that not only has customer feedback back simply positive, but a couple of my remedies have far surpassed my hopes in their design.

Like I tell my customers, I have no further education in herbal medicine – everything I have learned has been through countless hours of research and experimenting on my family. The trouble is, experimenting on one’s family takes a long time to learn the effectiveness of a time-old remedy’s use in today’s world of over-the-counter meds. So it is very exciting to see volunteers come forward, use my remedies, and give amazing feedback.

This is not a sales pitch, but I do want to tell you about these wonderful herbs because God deserves the credit for designing them.

Many of you know that for a couple of years I have been making a diaper rash cream out of comfrey. I’ve been giving this salve away to friends with babies, and confirmed that it wasn’t just my baby’s bums it could heal (because sometimes I really do wonder if I’m just imagining the miracles this salve works), but that it really is a great alternative to store-bought creams.

This year I added a new salve to my line of products, using not only comfrey, but several othe herbs: Calendula, chamomile, yarrow, lavender, rosemary, valerian, lemon balm, thyme, and echinacea.

My hope was that this remedy could be used to treat minor wounds and replace the need for antibiotic ointment. Then Papa discovered that both salves removed pain from his elbow joints, and I was amazed to discover that the first aid salve was able to remove both joint and nerve pain from my hip (thank you pregnancy!). This really is a universal first aid product!

The second most popular remedy among my customers was the clear mind tincture, which I made from basil, oregano, lemon balm, chamomile, and valerian. This remedy was made for treating various nerve-related symptoms such as insomnia, stress, indigestion, and depression. Some of the herbs have been used historically for increasing memory and energy, but while I did say that was a potential benefit, I was excited to see that it was a quick responding treatment for memory problems! The most incredible story yet came from a customer whose son has tourette syndrome. His meds were not really helping with the tics, so she got permission from his doctor to add my clear mind tincture to his morning routine, and right away the tics were dramatically reduced!

Next year I want to work on new ideas I have, such as a cold and flu treatment for young kids, and comfrey ice pack kits, but with a new baby on the way and sleepless nights ahead, I may instead be devoting much of my herbal time to drying and combining teas. We’ll see. I am happy with how the parties went, and I still hope to start a business in the next couple years, but for now I’ll use the remedies I have and encourage family and friends to use herbs for medicine. They really work!

(if you are a family or friend of mine, I do still have TONS of salves and some tinctures available for sale, email me if you are interested!)

Why we are closing our herbal store

Yes, it is true. Just weeks before our 2011 herbal remedies will be available, we have decided to close our online store.

Why the change of plans? For three reasons: one, response to the salves we had available last year was less than exciting; two, I have six herbal remedy parties scheduled among friends and family so far and I don’t think I will have much left afterwards to sell online.

The third reason is a little more complicated. We live in Maine where making and selling herbal remedies is legal, but in order to avoid FDA regulation (which is cost prohibitive to a home-based business) we have to keep our sales within our state.

My interest in herbal remedies began in part because increased government intrusion into people’s lives made me wonder how long it would be before over-the-counter medications became a thing of the past. I wanted to ensure that even if that happened I would be able to treat my family’s illnesses.

My suspicions grew when herbal remedies were made illegal in the UK. How long before pharmaceutical companies decide they don’t have enough control over home-made remedies and start banning them in the US? It’s not that far-fetched, really.

My hope is that not only will growing, preparing, and selling herbal remedies locally will enhance my knowledge and skills, but that I will also inspire others to take responsibility for their own healthcare as well.

That inspiration is why I will continue to share with you how we prepare our remedies, because even if I can’t sell them to you (if you live out-of-state), I can do my best to encourage you to do it for yourself. I have found it a rewarding experience and I’m so glad I was inspired to start in my humble kitchen.

a few changes

A whole week without posts, I can’t imagine how you have managed without updates from our family! (I do hope you hear the sarcasm) Even with the week off, I was in doubt for a few days whether I would have enough time to accomplish my short-term goals for blog development before the time I told you I would be back. Despite the craziness of the past couple weeks I have still managed to make a few changes and breakdown my goals into easy steps which I can take over the course of the next few weeks while still posting updates.

a friend comes to visit

 Updates to AFN this week include adding mentions of our newest baby and house updates on the Who We Are page and Q&A. The Store page has been updated with our current Sale on comfrey salves in prep for the release of our new remedies this fall.

 I also removed comment moderation, which means new visitors will be able to share a comment and not have to wait until I approve it to see their comment on the page. Spam will hopefully be caught by the WordPress program, but if not I will delete it as soon as it is spotted. The last of the noticeable changes is the option in the side column to add AFN to your RSS feed, which some blog readers prefer over email subscription. We want this blog to be convenient for our family, friends, and new visitors to enjoy.

 I can’t wait to put all my ideas in action, but it may take some time. Keep checking back to see what’s new. Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already, and share your thoughts – we love comments!

Garden Designing

With the yard sale over and much of the moving done, Papa has been able to focus on the garden. Our starters have been sitting uncovered in the field, and we’ve been getting anxious to get them in the ground. While life on the homestead is more “simple”, we are certainly not bored! So many projects to do, and an order for getting them all done. The starters just haven’t been on the top of the list, but now that Papa has been able to start working the land, we’re finally able to put them in their new home.

The greenhouse will have to wait though, and we are actually rethinking the purpose of the greenhouse to make sure we don’t overdo ourselves. For now we have nice raised beds. Papa found part of a rock wall that wasn’t being used as a property marker anymore, and he’s been using the kids’ wagon to bring them to the garden area. From there he has built up the outside of the smaller beds with the rocks. The idea being that as the pine rots the frame will be replaced with the stones. While he has a lot on his to-do list, Papa has been having fun taking the time to make these beds look nice.

The larger beds are made from bowling alley material that we picked up off the side of the road. They will never rot and are plenty sturdy! We can build four of them, but we may end up only building two and then the rest of the tilled area will be used for a “regular” garden. Perennial herbs are planted by the side of the chicken run, walled off by small stones, and we’ll have more small gardens for the rest of the perennial herbs, along with sunflowers and other flowers.

While Papa has been building stone walls, I’ve been transplanting most of the starters; all but the tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, blueberries, and some onions that will have to wait until we have ground ready for them (not including all the seeds still to plant!).

I’m amazed how much I’ve been able to accomplish while taking care of the kids! Actually, the kids have had a blast playing in the dirt. Buddy has been finding wild flower seeds and planting them in his own little garden.

Our camper is not currently where we plan to leave it. The place I was standing when I took the first picture at the top of this post is the basically the view from where our front door will be. It will be facing the alcove at the top of our little hill, behind the trees. Other than the power lines, it is nicely tucked into the corner, out of view, and sort feels like The Little House in the Woods.

My biggest frustration in the planting process has been our three hens. As they are free-rangers, they like to dig for grubs, and they’ve been scratching up some of my freshly transplanted herbs, herbs that were already having a hard time germinating. I can only hope they will root themselves into the ground and survive long enough that the chickens will leave them alone.

In the picture below, you can see my drawing of the garden layout. Beware, this is completely inaccurate in scale. It simply gives an idea of what boxes are where. The camper is not drawn in, but will be in the bottom right hand side, at an angle, facing the chicken run and gardens. It also does not include future patches for perennials and flowers, and I have not listed all the vegetables we have yet to plant. This is still a work in process!

Herbal Remedies and Christianity

This post was written Tuesday, May 17, 2011
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I’m so excited! This week I transplanted my comfrey and nettle plants from the old house to the new homestead. The chickens were just as excited, because as I dug the holes for the plants they found TONS of grubs and worms. The soil is rich and I think thinning them out like I did will probably help them to spread faster.

My list of remedies for this summer is nearly complete. Looking through my herbal books, I felt like a shopaholic perusing a catalog of the newest season’s line of clothes. There are so many useful remedies I could make from the herbs I’ve started this year! What to make? What to make? I finally narrowed my list down to about 12 recipes, most of which would be beneficial to my own family, but some others I’ve kept in mind for family members who might like them. Remember, I’m planning to start herbal parties to sell these remedies, in part to cover the cost of the remedies my family would use, and hopefully enough to make a little profit too!

So, are you curious to know what I’m making? Here goes…
• Itch-Relief Spritzer
• Baby Bum Salve (currently for sale from our Store)
• Women’s Tonic Tea
• Nourishing Body Cream
• Asthma Relief Tea
• Joint and Muscle Pain Salve
• Cold and Flu Syrup for Kids
• Cold and Flu Tea for Adults
• Nature’s First Aid Salve
• Heart Health Tea
• Digestive Aid Tincture
• Clear Mind Tincture
• Headache Relief Tincture

Like I said, I narrowed them down to this list! The final list of remedies available will of course depend on what the harvest looks like. If it doesn’t turn out so well this year, I may limit my recipes to those I know my family will personally use.

While I’m on the topic of herbs, I wanted to touch on a topic that has been on my back burner of post ideas for at least a year. That of Christianity vs. New Age beliefs and herbalism. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know our family is Christian. We hold the Bible to be the absolute truth and the gospel message of Jesus Christ to be our saving grace. On the other hand, we do not take for granted what “Christian” pastors preach. There are some really funky sermons out there, and many cultural beliefs held as truth by Christians that really make no sense.

Herbalism is one of them. When you ask a Christian about herbalism, you are very likely to hear that the practice of making and using herbs for medicine is a New Age practice, something used by people who worship the mother earth and talk about “body energy” “yin and yang”, and “chakras”. I have a serious problem with this belief. Saying that all herbalists are New-Agers is like saying all vegetarians are animal rights activists. It is a very assumptive judgement, which unfortunately leaves Christians who believe it, unable to receive the benefits of God’s herbal creations.

God made the world, and He made EVERYTHING in it. He designed every cell in this universe and gave each a specific function. Then humans sinned and twisted God’s creation to serve their own purpose. When a person takes something of God and tries to manipulate it, does that ruin God’s creation? Does it make utilizing God’s creation a sin? NO!

Herbs have been used since the beginning of time to promote health and wellbeing, and heal many illnesses. Prescription medicines are often derived from herbal sources. They are typically safe, usually effective, carry few side effects if any depending on the herb, and can be made at home for little expense.

Actually, many of the New Age values are based on God’s creation. Consider yin and yang, a term used in Chinese medicine to describe balance. Your body needs balance. It’s called homeostasis. Yin and yang is actually quite scientific and is used to identify areas of a person’s lifestyle (such as diet) that need to be adjusted to bring health. It’s not voodoo, it’s not satanic, it’s not even “earth worship”. For example, if a person has a fever, they should avoid “hot” foods like coffee, cinnamon and other spices. Instead they should eat fruits and other water veggies that are considered “cool” foods. I don’t personally turn to the yin and yang system to address my own health, but it is much like yoga. You can use the physical aspects to your benefit (using God’s creation and inspiration to maintain health) without worshiping some inner god.

To bring herbalism back into the picture, I am concerned for people who think herbs are dangerous to ones’ health, either because they are unregulated by the federal government, or because of a superstition that all herbalists are anti-God. That is taking for granted God’s wonderful creation, and they not only miss out on personal benefits of using herbs, but they are buying into a false belief that they pass on to other Christians who trust what the general Christian consensus is.

“Behold – I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of the Earth.” ~ God speaks in Genesis 1:29.

Check out www.bibleherbs.net to learn about all the herbs specifically mentioned in the Bible as used to maintain health and heal sickness.

Marigolds, chicks, and ducks

Yesterday when Buddy was treasure hunting behind the garage, he found a few pretty purple flowers, which I shared with you in my last post. He told Papa he wanted to plant some flowers, so we told him we could plant flowers when we started the rest of our seeds.

Being rainy, there weren’t too many projects Papa was able to do today, so he got us all working on starting the starters. First came the marigolds in special pots labeled “Nemo” and “Daphney”, then came the oregano, rosemary, coneflower, peppers, tomatoes, and onions. We have about 8 more varieties of herbs to plant indoors, which Papa and I will be working on later this evening.

What is a day of farming without new chicks? Papa took Buddy to “the chicken store”, a.k.a. the Tractor Supply Company, intending to purchase six Golden Comet pullets to add to our collection of layers. Because we are required by Maine state law to purchase six at a time, we fully anticipated bringing home six chicks, but as it turned out we were able to buy six Red Comet chicks for the price of four, because two of them were runts, so Papa picked out two ducklings as well.

The kids were very excited, of course. While the two men were off on their assignment, Girlie and I prepared the chicks’ (and ducklings’) new home, a rubbermaid tub we used for the last batch of chicks. When they arrived the chicks and ducklings jumped around their home, were held a few times each I’m sure, and settled in for a nap.

Unfortunately, one of the runts has already passed on. We knew she looked sickly and as time went on she was responding less and less to stimuli. We talked to Buddy about the possibility that she might not live through the night, and he was fine with that, provided that we give him the chance to hold her after she died. He did, and he put her in the brown paper bag that we’ll bury her in tomorrow. She was just a chick, and we didn’t even know her, but it’s still sad. I told her runt “sis”, she has to get stronger and live well for her lost friend, but we have a feeling she won’t make it much longer either.

Quite a day of farming adventures really. Life, death, learning, adjusting, and moving on.

Enjoy this video of our six chicks and two ducklings when they first came home.

Update – Both runts died, so we’re down to four healthy chicks and two ducks, and I forgot to mention that Buddy named the ducks (of unknown gender) Maiko and Teaka!