Inside Our Natural Medicine Cabinet

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Sometimes people look at me in disbelief when I tell them we don’t keep any pharmaceuticals in our home, including over the counter meds. The one exception is ibuprofen, which we rarely ever use. Besides the ibuprofen, I’m not exaggerating when I say we have an all natural medicine cabinet. So what does a natural medicine cabinet look like? You might be surprised to hear that many natural remedies are foods, so they aren’t actually all stored in a medicine cabinet. Before I walk you through the contents of my family’s natural medicine cabinet (and basket, bag, fridge, and herb shelf), I want to stress a few important points.

  • Not everyone needs all this stuff. Really. What you need will vary from what another person needs.
  • Some of the things we have came from experimentation to learn what works for us and what doesn’t, which things are our favorites, and which ones aren’t so much.
  • Everything we have was purchased/grown/foraged/created for a specific purpose. I recommend starting there and trying to avoid just buying all kinds of random things aimlessly because you think they might help you. Be intentional about it.
  • Start small. Replace what you can when you can. You don’t have to go totally natural overnight. Keep it real. Keep it simple.

My original plan for this post was to write a quick note on why we have each item/what we use it for, but after I got through about ten herbs, I realized that would be way too much time and a very lengthy blog post. Therefore, I am going to list everything for you, with the exception of all our first aid supplies, and you can feel free to ask me any questions you may have about these items. Check back for future posts on natural health and beauty items and natural cleaning products.

LOOSE HERBS

Yarrow
Ginger
Thyme
Wild Cherry Bark
Peppermint
Elderberries
Mullein Leaf
Lemon Balm
Catnip
Skullcap
Meadowsweet
Raspberry Leaf
Marshmallow Root
Basil
Oregano
Fennel
Rose Hips
Goldenrod
Motherwort
Red Clover
Dill
Nettle
Stevia
Calendula
Rosemary
Corn Silk
Sage
Lavender
Yellow Dock Root
Rose Petals
German Chamomile
Spearmint
Elder Flowers
Hawthorn Leaf & Flower
Hawthorn Berries
Alfalfa
Dandelion Root
Eucalyptus Leaf

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TINCTURES

Shatavari
Hawthorn leaf, flower, & berry
Peppermint
Nettle, raspberry leaf, red clover
Yellow dock root, dandelion root, nettle, rose hips
Ginger and fennel
Olive leaf
Lemon balm, catnip, roman chamomile, meadowsweet, lavender
Yarrow
Motherwort
Mullein leaf
Chickweed
Wild cherry bark
Angelica
Wombstringe
Afterease
Placenta

GLYCERITES

Echinacea
Chamomile, Lemon balm, catnip, fennel, and ginger

ESSENTIAL OILS

Peppermint
Lemon
Lavender
Cedarwood
Tea Tree
Bergamot
Elemi
Coriander
Clary Sage
Frankincense
Grapefruit
Carrot Seed
Spearmint
Copaiba
Rosemary
German Chamomile
Eucalyptus
Oregano
Nighty Night
Sweet Dreams
Sniffle Stopper
Sweet Slumber
Germ Destroyer
Relax

EOs

OTHER

Cod Liver Oil
Kids’ Cod Liver Oil
Liquid Chlorophyll
Probiotics (Adult, Kids, Infant)
Pickled Garlic
Fire Cider
Ear oil (Mullein & Garlic)
Oil of oregano
Colloidal silver spray
Lavender hydrosol
Chamomile hydrosol

SYRUPS

Herbal Sleep Syrup
Elderberry Syrup
Ginger Syrup
Pure Maple Syrup
Raw local honey
Blackstrap molasses

fridge shelf

VITAMINS

Vitamin C powder
Vitamin C spray
Kids’ Multi
Prenatal Multi
Baby vitamin D3 drops
Vitamin D3+K2 drops

CAPSULES/TABLETS

Activated Charcoal
Blood Builder
Papaya Enzymes
Digestive Enzymes
Cranberry Capsules
Placenta Capsules

HOMEOPATHY

Arnica
Aconite
Bellis Per
Calendula
Carbo Veg
Cauloph
Chamomilla
Cimicifuga
Gelsemium
Hypericum
Ipecacuanha
Kali Carb
Kali Phos
Phytolacca
Pulsatilla
Secale
Sepia
Staphis Agria
Nat. Phos. 6x
Oscillococcinum
Camilia drops

medicine cabinet

TOPICAL

Calendula Salve
Green Salve
Comfrey Salve
Healing Balm
Coconut oil
Sesame oil
Almond oil
Olive oil
Avocado oil
Neem oil
Castor oil
Vitamin E oil
Magnesium lotion
Aloe Vera gel
Arnica Ointment
Bentonite Clay
Baking Soda
Goldenseal & Oregon Grape Root Powder
Shea Butter
Cocoa Butter
Epsom Salt
Beeswax
Colloidal Silver Gel

EQUIPMENT/SUPPLIES

Stethoscope
Fetoscope
Otoscope
Pulse Oximeter
Sphygmomanometer
Thermometers
Nose Frida
Strep A Swab Kit
UTI Test Strips

*You may notice some Garden of Life brand products in the photos. In December 2017, Garden of Life announced that they were acquired by Nestle. Therefore, for ethical reasons, my family will no longer be using Garden of Life products effective immediately.

 

Communing With Plants

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Since the dawn of time, humans and plants have had an intimate relationship, as plants have provided so much life for us in the form of food, medicine, tools, and more. They exhale and we inhale, doing a sacred dance of breaths between us. We have cared for them, and they have cared for us. Even today, 25% of pharmaceuticals are derived from plants, and the World Health Organization recognizes that traditional plant medicine is the main healing modality in much of the world. But we here in America have lost our way. Most people in industrialized nations are no longer in touch with plants. The human-plant relationship has suffered due to cultural disconnection and modern conveniences that always come with a price. When we no longer spend time with plants, and when we take them for granted, we all surely suffer. Generational wisdom is lost in the pages of time. When you can buy a plant under the fluorescent lights at the grocery store, wrap it in plastic, and drive it home to your refrigerator, you aren’t fostering connection with the plant the same way you would if you had spent time with the plant, your hands in the soil, communing with its pollinators, watching, listening, smelling, feeling, learning.

Plants are conscious beings, and they thrive with love and connection just like the rest of us do. There is something extra special about a well loved plant that has given its permission to be used by us, and is eager to help. That is where I find myself in my relationship with plants. Getting to know them, respecting and honoring them, and being truly grateful when they help me. My relationship with plants connects me with my ancestors and those who came before me. It connects me to my instinctual wisdom, and makes me a more conscious human being. Since I have opened my heart to the wisdom of our green friends, I have found them presenting themselves to me in funny ways. Right when I am in need of some blood strengthening and liver support, yellow dock appears in my herb garden. Birds must have carried her to me. Right when I’m defending pokeweed from those who disrespect her and fear her, I see a little pokeweed poking over my fence to say hello. Right when I’ve got a bleeding wound on my finger in the woods, I hear the whisper of wild yarrow at my feet. Every intention I set for the new year has coincidentally revolved around one common theme: Connection. I can only hope this means more connecting and communing with plants, too.

Umbilical Cord Burning

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Baby Sunshine was born over the summer, which is why I haven’t been posting. It was a perfect, peaceful waterbirth at home. Baby and placenta remained intact for several hours before we performed a cord burning ceremony when the time was right. Many people have asked me questions about cord burning and placenta, and I had many questions myself during my pregnancy, so I hope to provide valuable information here about those things.

I read a book during my pregnancy that absolutely stunned me. Placenta: The Forgotten Chakra by Robin Lim is something all people need to read. If you’re planning on having a baby in the near future, make it a priority. I had already come to know placenta as a sacred life force to be honored and respected, but the information presented in this book helped me understand so much more about placenta and the importance of lotus birth (aka intact birth). If you’re not into the spiritual aspects of it, there is still plenty to be gained from the book, including some practical information and studies.

Placentas are part of babies. They share the same DNA. Some people believe placenta is baby’s twin. Others believe placenta is a spiritual guardian, such as an angel. Whatever the case may be, they are together from early on in the baby’s womb life as companions. Separation should not be forceful and quick. Placentas should not be treated as trash or medical waste. Would you throw the body of a deceased loved one in the trash? I would hope not. Most people have burial or cremation rites, or some form of honoring their departed. May it be so for placenta. Many babies let out a cry or otherwise show signs of distress when their cords are cut. I have seen it compared to being with someone you love for your whole life, then going to sleep, and waking up without them. Most people I know are wounded from this separation, even if they don’t know it. Robin Lim discusses this in Placenta: The Forgotten Chakra.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If we want to raise unwounded, whole people, we must start with birth, and placental separation is an extension of the birth process. Delayed cord clamping has gained traction as an evidence based practice, but delaying until the cord stops pulsing only scratches the surface. It’s a good start, but it’s the bare minimum of what humans deserve at the beginning of life. (Words to search to research and know your options: Extended delayed cord clamping, lotus birth, intact birth)

In addition to deciding when to separate the baby and placenta, you need to know your options for deciding how to separate baby and placenta. One option is a full lotus birth. This is when they are simply left alone to separate naturally. The placenta is usually preserved with salt and herbs, and they are otherwise left alone, generally separating on their own with a dried up cord on the third day (give or take). Interestingly, mother’s milk comes in around the third day (give or take). Could it be that there is some wisdom to this design that modern science does not yet understand?

Not everyone wants a full lotus birth, nor is it something that works with every set of circumstances, so there are other options to consider. Some people use homemade cord ties, clamps, or other such tools to clamp the cord before using sterile scissors to separate the cord, but I want to show you a different way. A slower, gentler, and more sterile way: Cord burning.

Burning the umbilical cord is a slow and gentle separation that allows us the opportunity to reflect on and honor the placenta. It allows baby time to say goodbye to placenta, and transition gently to life outside the womb. In some cultures, it is believed that the element of fire helps to move any remaining life force from the placenta to the baby. Besides the spiritual implications, it also has practical benefits. It is the most sterile way to separate an umbilical cord to prevent infections, and it requires no additional cord stump aftercare or clamping. It cauterizes as it separates. It also allows the cord stump to dry up and fall off faster. Sunshine baby’s cord stump fell off on day five.

I’m going to share our cord burning ceremony with you, and then I will address some frequently asked questions about cord burning. I hope this information helps you understand the importance of placenta, and some options that you have when including placenta in your birth plan.

OUR CORD BURNING CEREMONY

This placenta protected Sunshine and me during pregnancy and after birth by providing a barrier against pathogens, providing life-sustaining hormones, nutrients, and oxygen, and providing her with the foundation for lifelong immune system health. This is a miraculous organ only created in the womb when growing a new life. In some cultures, the placenta is honored as the deceased twin of the baby, and is given full burial rites. After all, everything in the universe requires balance. We cannot have life without also having death, and in the wake of death, we can be sure that new life always emerges. Right now, we are honored to witness the full circle of life and death. The way babies and their placentas have been prematurely and forcibly separated in modern times has prevented many people from understanding this important knowledge.

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Dear placenta, your sacrifice has given this baby life, and we are grateful. We are here now to honor you as the sacred life force that you are, the first mother, and the tree of life. You are the roots, the cord is the stem, and sweet Sunshine is the fruit. A sacred trinity. Just as trees give us oxygen here on earth, you provided oxygen between the worlds. While your earthly purpose is now complete, we understand that you will continue to protect Sunshine in spirit, and we thank you. It is time for gentle and peaceful separation, bringing Sunshine fully earthside and releasing placenta back to the spiritual realm.

Welcome earthside, Sunshine!

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FAQ About Cord Burning

Q: Can cord burning be done in the hospital?

A: Most hospitals won’t allow you to have an open flame during your stay, but that need not stop you from cord burning once you get home. Just keep baby and placenta together until then. If it’s going to be longer than a few hours, you’ll want to preserve placenta with salt and herbs following instructions as if doing a full lotus birth, or keep placenta on ice in a thermal bag. If the hospital insists on taking placenta for testing (drug testing is routinely performed in some hospitals) and you consent to that, they don’t need the whole thing. They can use just part of it while the rest remains intact.

Q: Is cord burning compatible with placenta encapsulation?

A: Yes, it can be. If you wish to consume placenta before separation occurs (such as raw in a smoothie), a small piece of placenta can be cut off for such use (with baby’s permission, of course). Encapsulation or other such processing of the placenta for consumption can be done as long as the placenta is not attached for longer than four hours, or as long as placenta is kept preserved with ice in a thermal bag if intact longer than four hours.

Q: What tools are needed for cord burning?

A: A flame that will stay lit for a few minutes (e.g. a candle or two), something heat proof to catch hot wax that drips, and a heat barrier between baby and the flame (can be as simple as a piece of cardboard). We used a cord burning box, which acted as a barrier and a place for the wax to drip. It had grooves to help hold the cord and candles. but I’ve seen people use something as simple as a plate to catch wax. It doesn’t take much. Be resourceful.

Q: What kind of candles should be used?

A: Any candle will work. We chose 100% natural beeswax candles so baby would not be inhaling toxic fumes.

Q: How long does it take?

A: We had two candles going at once, and it took maybe about 5 minutes. With only one candle, it can take a bit longer.

Q: Does it have a bad smell?

A: Not really! Maybe a mild campfire type smell, but not like burning flesh or anything like you might expect. It might crackle and pop a couple times in the process though, so don’t be alarmed if this happens.

Q: How far from the baby should the cord be burned?

A: 6-8 inches from baby

Q: What do you do with the remaining cord stump afterwards?

A: Nothing special needs to be done other than making sure it doesn’t accidentally get pulled. Just leave it alone, and it will dry up and fall off in a few days time. Wrapping a piece of gauze or other fabric around baby’s belly to keep the cord stump in place is helpful. If you want to, you can even make the stump into a little heart, spiral, or other shape before securing it in place.

Plantain

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Not to be confused with the banana-like plant of the same common name, plantain is an abundant and useful backyard herb. Plantain is native to Europe, and was brought to the Americas by European settlers. This plant is both edible and medicinal, and you probably have some growing near you right now. It is commonly found in areas frequented by people, such as lawns, and along driveways and roadsides.

Briefly touching on herbal actions and energetics again, as I mentioned in the post about wild violets, plantain is cooling, astringent, vulnerary, and diuretic. It is most popularly known for its usefulness in topical applications, and has earned the nickname, “fairy bandage.” Its cooling nature lends itself to assisting with inflamed skin conditions, such as burns, stings, and rashes. Its astringency and vulnerary abilities make it a useful plant when dealing with wounds.

b plantain

Broadleaf Plantain (plantago major)

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Narrowleaf Plantain (plantago lanceolata)

Last time I had a bee sting, I chewed up a plantain leaf and stuck it on the sting as a poultice, which yielded good results for me, but one of my favorite ways to use plantain is in a salve after infusing it in organic olive oil for at least six weeks. In fact, it’s one of the herbs I use in my favorite multipurpose skin salve, which I’m going to share the recipe for in an upcoming post.

I have both broadleaf plantain (plantago major) and narrowleaf plantain (plantago lanceolata) growing abundantly around my home, so I use the leaves of both for my salve. You can use either one or both. It’s a good idea to at least let the leaves wilt for a day or two before infusing in oil because too much water content can result in spoilage in the oil. Dried leaves also work fine. Go forage for some plantain, and check back soon for a great salve recipe you won’t want to miss!

Those Damn Gluten People

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Most of you know my story and how going gluten free probably saved my life (literally) a few years ago. Comments like the ones shown in the images below are all the rage, and they’re nothing new to me. They’ve been popular for years and the trend hasn’t died, despite being tired, unoriginal, and based in sheer ignorance. Let’s take a look…

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When someone has diabetes, do people get annoyed with or make fun of their dietary restrictions? When someone has cancer, do people tell them it’s made up and all in their heads? I’m confident that the answer is no. Why, then, do people do those things to people with celiac disease or gluten allergy? I have folders full of medical records, bills, and laboratory testing to prove that it’s not “made up.” What makes someone feel so entitled that they can dismiss a serious medical condition simply because they haven’t been presented with private, personal medical information for “proof,” or that they are simply too ignorant to understand what it means?

I know there are a lot of really stupid people in this world, but sometimes I see otherwise intelligent people parroting these ignorant things, and it really baffles me. I chalk it up to their need to join the crowd and fit in. What other explanation is there? Or maybe they really are too lazy to do just a tiny bit of research on the topic on their own. Who knows?

In general, I don’t care what people think of my medical condition and the dietary needs that I have in order to live, but there is one group of people I really do need to pick a bone with about this. There are people working in the food service industry who say the ignorant things shown in the examples I have presented. Those people prepare and serve food to people, and that’s pretty freaking scary. A negligent kitchen worker or server who doesn’t take a gluten free request seriously can seriously harm or even kill somebody with their arrogant ignorance. If you’re one of those people, try to understand that dining out when you have celiac disease or a food allergy is something that most of us do very rarely because it’s so stressful.

We do not enjoy having to request your special allergen menu, and then watching you roll your eyes to your coworker while you try to find it.

We do not enjoy having to ask you questions about ingredients or how the food is prepared. We know you’re busy. This sucks for us, too.

We do not enjoy only being able to choose from maybe a handful of things on the menu that we can eat while everyone around us eats whatever they want with no cares in the world.

We do not enjoy being the only person at the party without a piece of cake while watching everyone else enjoy theirs.

We do not enjoy having to spend three times as much money for gluten free food (food is my family’s BIGGEST expense), but we must because it’s that damn important.

We do not enjoy wondering if you think we are being bothersome to you. We really just want to eat safely and not end up in the hospital later.

We do not enjoy the awkward feeling that overcomes us when the free bread basket is placed on our table.

We do not enjoy feeling like we are an inconvenience to you, the people in the kitchen, the people dining with us, and the other diners in the restaurant just because we want to have a meal like everyone else.

We do not enjoy having to limit the restaurant choices for our friends and family to a very small number of places when they invite us out to dinner for our birthday once a year. (Where I live, there are only about 3 places I can eat, and they’re all 30 minutes away).

When I dine out, I am actually embarrassed when I must mention to the server that I can’t eat gluten. I say it as discreetly as possible, and always wonder if people around me can hear me and if they think I’m one of “those” people who wants to “tell the whole restaurant how they can’t eat gluten.” And if I wanted to, why is that even a bad thing? For cancer, diabetes, and plenty of other medical conditions, there are marathons, awareness ribbons, and fundraisers. People celebrate bringing awareness to these medical conditions, and they wear the t-shirts. But if I mention my medical condition, verified by several doctors and laboratory testing, when it’s relevant to making sure I can eat safely, I’m some kind of target for hateful comments like these ones. Why is that? And as an aside, when I dine out and get a server who is accommodating and understanding, I always leave them a nice tip. When I get a server who clearly doesn’t care, I spend the next 24 hours wondering if I should cancel all my plans because surely I’m going to be sick soon. Maybe it will take some people needing to be gluten free themselves before they will truly understand. Or maybe one of their children will develop celiac disease or a gluten allergy. I hope they don’t, but sometimes I think that’s the only way these people will get it. To all the food service workers out there who are looking out, we appreciate you.

The Birthday Ring Tradition

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The birthday ring stems from a lovely German birthday tradition called geburtstagskranz, which is also popular in Waldorf schools and Waldorf homeschooling families. This is a fairly new tradition for my family, as we only learned about it and adopted it after beginning our Waldorf inspired homeschool journey. I think it’s a lovely birthday tradition, and maybe our children will grow up and carry on this tradition if they have families of their own someday. I like that this small ceremony adds reflection and intention to the birthday celebration. In this world of mindless consumerism, it’s good to mindfully add meaning when we can.

There are endless options on how to set up your child’s birthday ring, so there’s not really a right or wrong way to do it. The idea is to reflect on the child’s life each year, and celebrate them, which is usually done by decorating the birthday ring with ornamental representations of memories from each year, or even representations of the child’s interests and personality. You can also add candles to the birthday ring. Some people keep a special “life candle” that is gifted to the child as an infant, and that candle is lit in the center of the ring each year. You can add toys, figurines, treats, or even nothing to the center of the ring. Set up your child’s birthday ring in whatever way calls to you. If it brings joy and a celebration of the child’s life, you’re doing it right.

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OUR METHOD

The artist and I decided that it would be special to gift our daughter a new ornament for her birthday ring each year. As the years go by, each ornament will represent a year of her life and something special about that year to remember. Since she’s still very young, we will also have room to include a beeswax candle for each year for a while. A special addition that many children love is wearing a birthday crown. You can make one from felt or fabric, or even buy one from one of the many crafters on Etsy.

We gifted the annual ornament to our daughter on the morning of her birthday, where we had the birthday ring set up. Each candle was added to the birthday ring with reflection on each year they represent. We said, “On Wildflower’s first year, she learned to walk.” And then added the first candle to the ring. “On Wildflower’s second year, she learned to talk.” Then added the second candle to the ring. And so on. With each year, we name special milestones or memories.

Next, we sang a fun birthday song that is simple and easy so children can sing along, too. (Credit for this song goes to Earthschooling.com)

The earth goes round the sun
The earth goes round the sun
The earth goes round the sun and (child’s name) is one! (*light first candle*)

The earth goes round the sun
The earth goes round the sun
The earth goes round the sun and (child’s name) is two! (*light second candle*)

Do this for each year, and then let the child blow out her/his candles to applause!

If you’re looking for something simple to add more meaning and memories to your child’s special day, I hope you can find some inspiration in these ideas and create your own family tradition. Enjoy!

Why I Like Herbs More Than Essential Oils

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SUSTAINABILITY

It requires over 2 lbs. of peppermint leaves to produce just 1 oz. of peppermint essential oil, and that is on the modest end of it. Some sources say that it requires many more pounds than that. You can make a cup of peppermint tea with 2 teaspoons of peppermint leaves, or a whole jar of peppermint infused oil or a peppermint tincture with something in the neighborhood of 1 oz. of peppermint leaves. Why take more from the earth than we need?

AVAILABILITY

Susun Weed always says, “Herbal medicine is the people’s medicine.” I could not agree more. One of the best things we can all do for the earth, our health, and our budgets is to learn about the plants we have growing around us and use what we have available. You likely have free food and medicine growing in your own back yard, and if you don’t, you may be able to grow some of your own. Herbal preparations are easy to make with simple things most people already have in their kitchens. Essential oils require a whole lot of plant material and steam distillation equipment, which most people do not have access to.

SYNERGY

Essential oils do not contain whole plant synergy. They contain only the volatile oils that are light enough to be extracted via steam distillation. Some heavier molecules are left behind, so what you end up with is a bottle of isolated and highly concentrated plant constituents. We could argue that this makes essential oils more closely related to drugs than herbs. After all, 25% of pharmaceuticals are derived from plant materials, and contain highly concentrated and isolated compounds (plus synthetics). Herbs are different. With herbs, the whole plant synergy remains intact so the various constituents can work together the way they are meant to. Here’s one interesting example of scientific findings to support the use of whole plant synergy over isolated compounds.

SAFETY

Since essential oils are highly concentrated and more like drugs than herbs, they are not metabolized in our bodies with the same efficiency as herbs. Herbs are more closely related to food than drugs (and most of them actually are food). While there are safety considerations with herbs, generally speaking, our bodies recognize the plants as food and know what to do with them. Essential oils, on the other hand, are responsible for many adverse effects, including liver damage, because they are not recognized the same way the plant would be if it were intact as an herb. It takes more work for the body to filter essential oils, so I often prefer the gentleness of herbs. Here is just one example of someone nearly dying from ingestion of peppermint oil. Peppermint tea would never do that to us!

With all that being said, I do not wish to demonize essential oils. They certainly can be useful, and I own many of them and use them when called for. Herbs just happen to be my go to for most things for the reasons listed above. The adverse reactions people have had from essential oils are due to using them in an unsafe manner. It’s important to know how to use anything safely, even herbs. With essential oils becoming popular, largely due to multi-level marketing companies with independent sales people, many people are using them and doing so unsafely. My advice to anyone using essential oils is to do your own research from reputable sources, recognize marketing scams when you see them, and understand that people selling essential oils in an MLM company are not required to have any training whatsoever, so take their recommendations with a grain of salt. As always, listen to your body and do what feels right for you and your situation. And for the love of health, sustainability, and budget, learn a little about herbs!

Spring Assessment of Progress

Spring assessment

It has become a bit of a spring tradition for me to take an inventory of the plants growing at our house each year, not including all the wild growing ones (violets, dandelions, chickweed, lamb’s quarters, plantain, etc.). A few of the things in the following list were here when we moved in, but the rest has been planted by us over the last three years. We still have much more we intend to plant this season, but here’s what we are working with so far.

Irises
Blue salvia
Orange marigolds
Yellow marigolds
Yarrow
Calendula
Asiatic lilies
Hydrangea
Pink roses
Yellow roses
Some kind of multicolor hybrid rose
Light pink crepe myrtles
Dark pink crepe myrtles
Sweet William
Mums
Denver Daisies
Rose of Sharon
Pink purslane
Orange purslane
Bee balm
Pink lantana
Yellow lantana
Bugleweed
Lily of the valley
Begonias
Blue torenias
Lavender torenias
Violet torenias
Bacopa
Chamomile
Lavender
Oregano
Garden sage
White sage
Rosemary
Thyme
Cilantro
Basil
Spearmint
Lemon balm
Red clover
Tomatoes
Green bell peppers
Red bell peppers
Peas
Butternut squash
Green beans
Lettuce
Garlic
Strawberries
Blueberries
Raspberries
Grapes
Sunflowers
Evening primrose
Echinacea
Redbud tree
Aloe Vera
Ghost flower

And my mother-in-law bought me two elderberry trees as a Mother’s Day gift! Unfortunately, we don’t have room for those here, so she has agreed to let us plant them at her house, which is not far from us.

That probably doesn’t sound like much to some people, but we are not working with a large space. Our entire lot is about 1/8 of an acre, and that includes our driveway, where our house sits, and where our shed sits, so our actual garden/yard space is much smaller. We also live right in the middle of city limits with neighbors yards butted right up to ours on three sides, and a street on the fourth side. By most standards, an urban or suburban homestead is 1/4 of an acre or smaller. We are doing a lot with less than half of that!

Some other things we are working with to make our small space more efficient:

Compost bin
Rain barrel
2 veggie gardens
1 herb garden
2 berry patches
A few flower beds
Wood pile
Fire pit
Retractable laundry line

Maybe our next adventure will be chickens, but it’s not happening this season. It’s time to focus on our growing family this summer.

Don’t let a small space stop you from achieving greater sustainability and self sufficiency. Start small if you must (we did), get creative, and work with what you have. This did not happen overnight, and it’s always a work in progress. We try to accomplish a couple new things each year. We usually have some plant casualties each season, and we are learning as we go, but we learn from our mistakes and keep getting better at it. There are only so many books you can read before you just stick your hands in the dirt and give it a go. We have also had a lot of help from our families (for whom we are eternally grateful) in the process of making our little house a homestead. I especially love this old, little house we call home. It needs a lot of work, and we are slowly working on it a little bit each year as well. We plan to paint the inside with bold colors because we are very colorful people, and life is too short for beige!

My goals to be accomplished still this season include building an archway to let our squash climb vertically, and planting a LOT more veggies! What is your one goal to move toward greater sustainability this year? That’s all you need is just one small goal each year. Go for it.

Easy Natural Hand Soap

hand soap cover

One of the easiest ways to save money, support sustainability, and avoid unnecessary toxins in your daily life is to make some of your own household products with simple and sustainable ingredients. The Internet is overflowing with recipes on ways you can do this, but I don’t like many of those recipes I’ve tried over the years. Some contain far more ingredients than are necessary, and others are more complicated than I care to get when it comes to things like simply washing my hands. We go through hand soap pretty quickly around here, and I don’t have the time or the desire to be concocting time consuming soap recipes on the regular. I finally found a fast, easy, and inexpensive way to make hand soap that I like. (Bonus: It smells great!) You only need these three things:

  • A foaming soap pump
  • Dr. Bronner’s castile soap (1-2 TBSP)
  • Water

Just put a tablespoon or two of castile soap in the soap pump, add water until it’s full, and put the lid on. Give it a little shake once in a while, as the soap will settle to the bottom.

If you have hard water like we do, you would be better off using filtered water for this recipe, but tap water is fine as well. Since this recipe does not have preservatives added to keep a long shelf life, I recommend using distilled water if you don’t go through soap very quickly, and only make it as needed.

* Please note: This is not a thick and creamy soap like many of the store bought ones, which have added thickeners, emulsifiers, and foaming agents, but it gets the job done, and your hands, the earth, and your budget will thank you.

The soap pump

For best results, you really do need a foaming pump. I tried it with a regular pump I recycled, and it didn’t work out very well. You can recycle an old foaming pump, or they are pretty inexpensive to purchase on amazon. Plastic ones are cheaper than glass ones, but we try to avoid plastic where we can, so we have glass.

The castile soap

Castile soap is concentrated, so it lasts a long time since you are supposed to dilute it. Therefore, even the tiny bottle you see in my picture will last us for months. It is available in different sizes, and sometimes you can find a deal on Amazon, Thrive Market, or Vitacost. It is also easy to find at most health food stores and even big retailers like Target. I have a friend who buys a whole gallon of it at a time, and that’s even better if it’s in your budget. It can be used for a lot more than just hand soap.

Dr. Bronner’s comes in many different scents, and even a gentle unscented option. I love the lavender one for hand soap. (Peppermint is nice around the winter holidays if you get the fever for mint everything.) There are some big box corporations making their own brand castile soap now, and that’s okay if that’s all you have access to, but I want to tell you why I specifically buy Dr. Bronner’s. They are still a family owned and operated business, and they have great ethics, as well as great products with truly natural ingredients. (Read more about their company here.)

You don’t have to throw out and replace all of your household products at once. The easiest way to transition to using more natural products is to simply replace one at a time as you run out of the ones you have. One step at a time, you can make a difference and find yourself heading strong down your own green path.

Wild Violets

wild violets cover photo

One of my favorite cool weather blooming herbs is the wild violet, which is one of the earliest signs of spring’s arrival. It’s usually found in shady spots, such as under trees or alongside buildings and fences. Many people view this gorgeous flower as a pesky weed, and they work hard to eradicate it from their lawns. The way I see it, when a weed becomes useful, it’s an herb. That’s right, not only is this little flower great for pollinators and pretty to look at, but violet leaves and flowers are also edible and medicinal.

Abundant in vitamins A and C, as well as calcium and magnesium, violets are a perfect spring food. You can put the leaves and/or the flowers in a raw salad, but the greens also work well as a cooked green in soups and other dishes. Many people enjoy making sweet treats like candied violets, violet jelly, and violet syrup from the flowers. Violets also make great natural decorations for cakes. Every time we harvest enough violets to make treats, our little Wildflower usually eats most of them by the time we get them in the house! I guess that’s a good problem to have.

violet id

There are many different species of violets. The ones pictured here are common blue violets (Viola sororia). The heart shaped leaves in the picture are the violet leaves.

For those who care to learn a little about herbal energetics, violets are cooling and wet, which means they are often called upon for medicinal use when there is a hot and/or dry condition (e.g. Irritating skin rashes, dry and inflamed respiratory ailments). They can be made into poultices, teas, long infusions, infused oils, salves, and extracts, and are also a great herb to include in yoni steams. Don’t know what half of those things are? Don’t worry, we can cover some of that at a later time.

Violets are an ingredient in my favorite homemade herbal salve, which I will post more about after they’ve infused with other herbs in some oil for a few weeks. You won’t want to miss that recipe!

(If you want to make the herbal salve when I post the recipe, now is a good time to harvest some violets (leaves or flowers, or both. Whatever works for you.) and let them air dry in a place out of direct sunlight. Once they are dried, you can store them in a jar or any container you have available.)