Monday, December 24, 2012

Horse Chestnut

Today is a rather gray, slithy day. Or maybe the sky just got covered with oobleck.

I was reading through one of my herb books the other day, and I ran across the horse chestnut.

Aesculus hippocastanum

The traditional american chestnut is nearly extinct due to a blight about 75 years ago. The horse chestnut is NOT related. I've been trying to talk my sister into getting rid of hers (she has two) with little success.

The nuts fall and litter the ground like tiny durian (and if you know what durian are, good for you! If not, look it up). The leaves smother everything, the shade kills the rest and I basically consider them a garbage tree.

However, just like other garbage plants (see here for my rant on Morning Glory) it has chemical compounds that are useful.

The seeds and the bark of young branches are used medicinally. It is used in tea or tincture form. Its main purpose is as an astringent, for problems of the digestive tract or the surface skin. Things like hemorrhoids, vericose veigns (used externally) or external ulcers and sores.

Horse Chestnut is extremely poisonous. It can cause kidney or liver damage, severe bleeding and bruising, or shock. Allergies are possible, resulting in hives, itching, muscle spasms and nausea. Most people who accidentally eat Horse Chestnut will spit it out before even swallowing, and the body will reject it forcefully.

There are less toxic astringents available, so horse chestnut would not be one that I would use. It appears to be excellent for external problems, though, and as an external astringent. Keep in mind that if you're allergic to anything else in the family it shouldn't be used externally either.

Because Horse Chestnut is a blood thinner, do not take this if you are taking other blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder of any kind.

Interactions: Coumadin, aspirin

Friday, December 21, 2012

Garlic Experiement Update

I got the first garlic yesterday, but for some reason the cloves didn't split. When I pulled it, only one root was still in the water--the rest had dried out and broken off. It was a small bulb, about at big around as my thumb.

A little larger than the original.

I've tried to keep the water level up so that the roots won't dry out, but it also has to be low enough to keep the moss from getting wet. It's an odd balance. I've got gnats in there now, because the moss needs to stay wet until the roots are developed enough to support the plant.

It's totally different from what happened the last time I tried this--the one time I did manage to make garlic grow, the root mass was so huge it pushed the tray up out of the water. Not sure why the difference, so I planted some more.

I'll keep working at it until I find the right balance.

On a side note, my stored garlic has been growing so I've been drying a lot of it.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sleep disorders

A while ago I had a friend contact me regarding what she thought was adult onset attention deficit disorder. She asked a bunch of people about drugs, and I promptly responded with alternatives. Of course.

Attention deficit disorder mirrors the effects of a number of other problems, most of them related to sleep. Several studies have made a connection between ADD and the inability of the brain to turn off the dreaming function when a person is awake.

Most of us go through periods of inattention or distractability. This coincides, in many cases, with an inability to sleep or a lighter sleep cycle, where we don't get all the REM sleep our brains need to stay in top shape. Our brains respond by trying to drop into REM sleep while we're awake. If we get enough sleep, everything works better.

While there are other possibilities, I tend to work with what I can affect. The simplest solution is getting enough sleep, but who has time for that? :) Meditation and exercise increase endorphins and wake up the brain. Many people who exercise enter a state similar to meditation without even thinking about it, a sort of resting state while fully awake.

I learned many years ago that if I could force my brain into a resting state I could make myself fall asleep.

When you're right on the edge of sleep your brain starts to run at random through images, sometimes sounds or snippets of conversation. Almost like a sorting process. One second you're looking at a field of sunflowers, the next you're listening to a snatch of Mozart. Then a child's face pops up, or a conversation overheard. In essence, your brain goes into an ADHD state where anything could be noted and called up. Everything becomes significant.

I found that if I could duplicate this form of random thought, never keeping my mind on anything for more than a second or two, I would drop into sleep without a problem. It does take practice (rather like my technique for getting rid of headaches) but if you're not sleeping well it's worth a try.

If you have random periods of inattention, or find yourself wondering who this person is you've been talking to for the last hour (You know you were introduced, but the name, the name!) it very easily could be a sleep problem.

Sometimes this happens during the day. The trick there is to force the brain to focus on one thing--it usually brings my attention back, and generally it is a clue that I didn't get enough sleep the night before. A fifteen minute power-nap may be helpful.

A tea made of equal parts of catnip, valerian and lemon balm usually helps me to calm down as well, but don't use the valerian if you're taking any kind of chemical anti-depressant or for more than a week at a time. If I need to relax but don't need to sleep, I skip the valerian or go for a smaller dose.

LR Note: YES, catnip is a human tranquilizer. Maybe it affects us differently because cats are alien...or maybe we are.

Additions to your calming pharmucopeia:
Most mints
turkey (triptophan)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Old Age

I worry about my cat. He's ancient for a cat and sometimes he doesn't want to eat. It appears to be simple picky eating, since if I empty out his bowl and give him a different kind he wolfs it down like he's starving.

He still has plenty of energy, he's always purring, but he's old.

Old age is something that most of us will have to deal with sometime, and with that comes a lack of appetite. Not necessarily because we don't want to eat, or because we don't care, but simply because nothing tastes good any more.

Animals and people react the same ways to old age--lack of appetite, loss of weight and energy. Pain becomes a constant companion, and many of us end up in nursing homes. Sight goes, hearing goes, we sleep more and eat less.

"Old age ain't for sissies," as the saying goes.

There's really nothing that can make old age easier. However, there are some things we can do that make the inevitable run a little smoother.

Using my cat as an example again:

1 For the first eighteen years of his life he was an outside cat. He came in at night, but during the day he was patrolling, hunting, walking fences. Lesson: Stay active as long as possible.

2 He ate the normal cat diet, with catfood thrown in. Lesson: High protein, low fat, and some variety. Since cats are carnivores, just say a balanced diet for humans. They say variety is the spice of life, and it's really true.

3 He had a pretty stress-free life. Lesson: While we don't always control the amount of stress, we can control what we do about it. i.e., don't STRESS about it.

4 When his eyesight started to go I made him an indoor cat. Naturally he resents it, and a couple times a week he gets past me and goes exploring--at least as far as the front porch. Lesson: We all need someone who cares enough to make sure we're safe, even when we don't want to be.

Of course, my cat has more of a sense of humor than I do, so I'm guessing he'll live...oh...another fifteen years?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Food sensitivities

Last week I discovered that one of my sisters is lactose intolerant. She hadn't told any of us, so of course Thanksgiving was heavy with cheese and cream and butter.

Food sensitivities are rampant, especially as people get older. Stomacheaches, heartburn, etc, are pretty much ignored except to pump pharmaceuticals and other chemicals into an already overstressed system.

If you have food alergies or sensitivities, the best thing you can do is tell other people about it. Other people can help you (or snipe and warn) and adjust their foods to accomodate. Mashed potatoes may not taste the same with margarine, or without the heavy cream, but they're still good.

Avoidance may be the best option, but some people lack self control and sometimes you simply don't know what is in the food you're eating. Once in a while you may slip and unknowingly eat something you shouldn't simply because it's related to something you're sensitive to.

If you do slip up there are a number of herbs that will help with digestive problems (many of the mints, dill (carrot familly) as well as turmeric and ginger). But herbs, by their nature, are related to other herbs and people will often have the same sensitivities to their relatives (rather like your sister-in-law's mother).

That being the case, I'm going through all the old posts here and putting up plant family information. I've started but not finished, so look back later for additional information.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Experiment update

Looking out at two feet of snow on the ground reminds me that I haven't given an update on the garlic experiment yet (See Soil-less growth medium).

The first "planting" is about two feet high. I wasn't aware (since it's always happened under the ground) that the old clove is destroyed in building the new bulb. It develops at the center and splits the old clove open. Then it just falls off.

I planted two more rows, staggered. All of the original planting is popping at the seams, so I'm guessing we'll have new garlic in time for Christmas, which is good since the cold and flu season is upon us.

Garlic is a heavy feeder, so I've been fertilizing it about once a week. I hope that's enough.

I brought the citrus and the amarylis in months ago (they would normally go on the shelf where the garlic is sitting), so my room is just a little crowded right now.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Juniperus communis
Family: Cupressaceae

Many of my neighbors have juniper. It seems to be everywhere. It's recognizable by the pokey, fleshy, faintly blue tinged "berries" that come on in the fall. They're actually cones.

I see no reason to keep one of my own, although it's nice to know it's available if necessary (and I do have seeds, JIC).

The first thing to remember is that Juniper is poisonous. For the most part it's used internally for infections or intestinal pain, but I can't see that there's any point to that when it can cause intestinal and kidney inflammation.

I think this will have to be one of those things I don't touch unless I have an herbalist who can tell me how it's supposed to be used. Maybe as I become more comfortable with herbs in general I'll be more willing to experiment.

One of the more interesting possible uses is to help with the symptoms of diabetes, but since I'm not diabetic I've never tried it. Studies support its ability to lower blood sugar.

Juniper also seems to have potent anti-viral properties.

Interactions: None listed

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Soil-less growth medium

I decided to do something different this winter. It may be an ongoing thing, depending on how the experiment works.

A lot of people work with what they call a "soil-less medium," by which they mean that the soil they use isn't soil but compost or something of that kind.

I have a different version of "soil-less," which means sphegnum moss. (I tried gelatin, plain water, etc, but they didn't work very well)

I suppose that lots of different kinds of moss and grass would do the same. All it does is create something for the roots to lock into, something that will retain water but won't stay soggy.

We use LOTS of garlic, so last year I tried growing garlic inside. The cloves rotted even before they sprouted. This year I'm trying something different.

Not much different, but a little.

I put the garlic in the refrigerator for a couple months to simulate winter.

Then I put them in the moss. They all sprouted within about a week. Once the roots are well established I'll let the water level drop so the moss stays dry but the roots get all the water they need.

I've grown tomatoes and peppers this way, started melons, beans, etc. They thrive, but before I've just used it as a starter garden before I put things outside in the spring. Not permanent.

We'll see how it works.

Update 1
Update 2
Update 3
Update 4
Final results

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Got my Drug Interaction book back!

Since I didn't have the book that has all the drug interactions, I didn't put the interactions in each of the posts. I think the herbs below are those that I missed (with the exception of a few that aren't in the book).

I think it's important to note (although the people who wrote the book would probably scream at me for it) that many of these "interactions" are increases or decreases in the effect of the drugs. The authors are very careful to state that nothing is proven as to the effects of the herbs, then they state that the herbs increase or decrease the effects of pharmaceuticals. Which would suggest to me that the herbs are actually effective, since taking a double dose of a pharmaceutical would have the same effect.

Avoid using yarrow with depressants (such as alcohol) as well as blood thinners and drugs that lower blood pressure

Avoid using ginger with blood thinners

Avoid using garlic with anti-platelet agents or blood thinners, as garlic may increase their effects

Pepper interacts with blood thinners, some anti-biotics, non-steroidal pain killers, and smoking cessation aids.

No interactions listed

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Anethum Graveolens
Family: Unbelliferae (Carrot family)

A few months ago I made dill pickles. I don't like the process--it wastes too much salt--but I have a patch of volunteer dill this summer so I decided to try it.

Now I have volunteer dill EVERYWHERE so I'm going to harvest and dry it.

The main purposes of dill seem to center around the digestive system. Specifically, it's supposed to be good for gas, colic, hiccups, stomach pain, and to improve digestion. Like many other plants in the carrot family, it's also said to improve the apetite, but I don't think most people are concerned about eating MORE.

The other thing was to promote milk flow, for both humans and animals.

I don't have a lot of digestive problems, so the only thing I've used dill for (other than as a seasoning) is as an additive when I want to help someone relax. I use it with chamomile, catnip, lemonbalm and/or valerian depending on what's needed.

A few months ago I went on a pickle craze--they had to be dill pickles. I was eating them by the ton, it felt like, but I couldn't get enough. When the pickles were gone, I wanted to drink the juice. Weird. Still don't know why. Probably something wrong that I wasn't aware of, but the dill must have been helping or I wouldn't have wanted it like that.

Interactions: None listed. The book I have is very careful to state that no US studies support the effectiveness of dill, which I take to mean that there are studies in other areas.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Achillea Millefolium
Family: Compositae

Yarrow is another of those herbs that isn't mentioned very often.

Greek myth tells us that yarrow (also known as soldier's wound-wort) was used to stop bleeding, a use which modern science supports. It is a diaphoretic (it makes you sweat) so it's good for colds, and it's used internally and externally to stop bleeding. It's effective for cramps and to regulate menses.

I personally know that using yarrow also can make your eyes extremely sensitive. Until you know how it affects you, you probably shouldn't go out in bright sunlight if you've been taking it internally.

I was in an experimental mood and rubbed my hands with yarrow oil. When I went outside, the sunlight was actually painful. I imagine it might be helpful if someone needed better night-sight.

I also use yarrow in my lawn. It grows faster than grass, but it doesn't need as much water so even in a drought it's green. The problem with that being that it has to be vegetatively propegated (i.e., divide the root and plant the pieces) so it's not a viable solution for most lawns.

Interactions: I have no idea. I know there were some in the book I lent to my neighbor, but...

I really need to get after her. I have another book I want her to look at, so maybe I'll go over tomorrow.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Local, local, local

It drives me crazy when I hear about chinese this and japanese that and how this african tree is perfect for whatever.

For people who live in those areas, sure. However, I have always felt that it's better to use what's around us. First, if you can't afford the latest miracle cure from the depths of a tahitian jungle, your knowledge of the local herbs might make up the lack. Second, if those things are no longer available, for whatever reason, you still have other things to fall back on.

Many people rely on the foreign and exotic, when in most cases there are things immediately around them that have the same or nearly the same effect. Mahuang, otherwise known as ephedra, otherwise known as brigham tea, grows wild in the deserts of the western United States. Aloe, recognized as a semi-tropical and tropical shrub, has relatives in most climates all over the world.

Often in herbal books I see a statement that this plant grown in some faraway place has medicinal properties but the local versions are unproven to have those same properties. Apparently, until they are proven to be identical they are not sufficient, in spite of nearly identical chemical properties. Or this version, available in small quantities from some other place, has been shown to work in medical studies while that version, widely available and often growing as a weed, has not been the subject of medical studies and is therefore suspect.

So again, exotic is better. So say those who are peddling the exotics.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Rant on Bees

Welll not on bees, but a rant about bees.

Honey is a miracle food. Packed with nutrition, it is also anti-biotic and anti-viral. It's been used as a dressing for wounds, with pretty much the same results as capsicum cream. Wounds heal faster, without infection, and scarring (anecdotally) is minimized.

The human race uses enormous amounts of honey. It's almost as high on the sweetening list as sugar and where sugar is rare it's higher. Every culture in the world (well, every culture I've studied) uses honey.

Honey is made by bees. So, without bees, there is no honey. Duh.

And the bees are dying. Honeybees in particular are becoming an endangered species. I seldom see them anymore in my garden, although the hornets and wasps are thriving...

But that's not the point. The bees are dying. People scream because they don't know why, but if they thought about it it would make perfect sense. So three points to prevent this from being a VERY long post.

1 Honey is bee food. Professional beekeepers take the honey to sell and feed their bees sugarwater, as if this makes up for the lack. Then they feed the bees antibiotics when the hive fails because of malnutrition.

2 Breeders keep Queen bee hives to breed queens for captive hives. They sell these queens to beekeepers across the world. In a wild hive, the first emerging Queen kills all her unhatched rivals, thus eliminating the competition and the weakest genes. Breeders make sure that all the queens survive. They then sell these weakened strains, the second generation queens hatch and swarm into the wild, passing on the weakened strains to the wild hives.

3 People (in general) don't like bees around, so when they find a wild hive they either destroy it or call a beekeeper to come get it, thus perpetuating the cycle and ensuring that those bees will work all summer for their honey only to see it stolen and be fed on sugarwater.

In essence the problem is not the bees--it's the people, as usual. I guess bees are just insects, in most people's minds, and can be exploited into oblivion without consequence. When there aren't any bees to pollinate the crops, just hire a hive. And when the hives are all gone? Then what?

It's closer than most people think.

Maybe a rant on the responsibilities of humans to domesticated animals would be in order.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Maybe a cold

I had a nasty headache yesterday, and this morning my throat is a little sore. I think I caught something from my nessies (nieces and nephews, for those who don't understand my shorthand) so right now I'm taking honey and garlic.

Both have anti-biotic and anti-viral properties. Usually when I start feeling sick I go to the honey and garlic (which leads to a rant on bees, but that's not for this post) to take it out before it takes me out. I'll take a clove of garlic and a spoonful of honey every day for about the next week.

It usually works. It's when I forget to start taking my "medicine" at the beginning that colds are a problem. Once the thing settles in, it's harder to get rid of.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


I did a batch of pickles yesterday, with less than a week's worth of cucumbers, including the "siamese" cucumber. Two of them grew together.

During the summer I eat a lot of fresh food. Cucumbers, zuccinni, tomatoes, onions, beets, fruit from the trees, carrots, potatoes. My herb garden is going crazy so I have fresh basil and mint, sage and thyme.

I think the hardest part of summer is the transition from "fresh" to "winter" in terms of diet. For close to six months I'm eating real food, not something that's been processed to death for the sake of profit.

There is no comparison between a potato right out of the ground and one of those gray things they sell as potatoes in the supermarket. Fresh potatoes eaten with butter--they need nothing else.

Then suddenly it's gone, and I can feel the difference. What they call "produce" in the stores is a pale shadow of the real thing, short on vitamins and minerals, grown on chemical fertilizer in played-out soil that's been used and reused for years.

It's no wonder that people are always sick during the winter. I've tried growing plants inside during the winter, but it never works. I'll keep trying because I want fresh during the winter, too.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A few facts about herbs

1 Valerian is NOT related to Valium

2 There are interactions between pharmaceutical drugs and herbs

3 Herbs are no more safe in large doses than pharmaceuticals

4 "Herbal" refers to the above-ground portion of any plant

5 Many substances referred to as herbs are in reality roots

6 Plants are annuals (live one year), bi-annuals (live two years), or perrenials (live more than two years)

7 Many bi-annuals are in reality perrenials but they reach their highest potency in the second year

8 Dividing the root of many perennials will create new plants which are clones of the parent plant

9 Plants breathe in and out, just like we do

10 In the winter, all the nutrients from a perrenial are stored in the root. Therefore, the winter or early spring is the best time to harvest roots

11 By harvesting the root you actually kill the plant--no more next year

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The myth of the black thumb

(Note: This was actually written in the spring but it got put off. It's still applicable, though)

I just spent a few hours in my sister's greenhouse. She's still got some tomatoes that she hasn't put out.

The interesting thing there is that the tomatoes were all planted at the same time and in the same way. From the same packages even. But her tomatoes are about three inches tall (or less) and mine are a foot tall and some have blossoms already. Well to be honest, it's the climbing tomato that has blossoms. It's a slow grower so I started it in January--it had better be further along than the others!

I'm not sure what the difference is. Maybe soil, maybe sun. Or that black thumb she keeps complaining about.

Although I'm not certain I really believe in a black thumb. My thumb's black every time I stick it in the dirt.

That was a joke, by the way.

Some people are said to be able to make anything grow, but in reality that's not the case. Some people are just lucky enough to find the group of plants that their particular brand of neglect works for.

Personally I'm in the mid-range. I kill anything that needs a lot of water and care (such as orchids or bamboo) and anything that needs very little water (such as cacti). Oh, and anything that needs to be fertilized regularly. If it can stand being watered once a week and ignored the rest of the time, it grows. I think some people do better with orchids and bamboo because they have the urge to water too much, and others do better with cacti because they forget to water at all.

Then there's the last group, who can't decide. I think this is the group that complains the worst about the black thumb because they'll water every day for a while, then stop, then realize they haven't watered for a month and try to compensate by over-watering and over-fertilizing. Then the watering tapers off (although oh, I forgot, I'll sprinkle some fertilizer, but then forget to water it in) so the plants go through this helpless neglect cycle of drought and plenty and the plants get confused.

There are plants out there that can survive this way, but they're generally not the tropical or semi-tropical greens that we surround ourselves with as indoor plants.

As far as landscape plants, I believe in casual neglect. I plant a lot of different things, and whatever survives I buy more of. Or divide and spread, but again that's a different topic.

I love perenials. :)

Monday, July 23, 2012


Zingiber Officinale
Family: Zingiberaceae

Ginger is an interesting herb. For the most part it sits in cupboards and people pass right over it. It's just "there," and has no particular use unless you're making gingerbread.

On the other hand, ginger is pretty much considered a panacea, or a cure-all. I won't go into everything it's claimed to do (plus the kitchen sink!), but its general properties seem to be:

As an anti-spasmodic and an intestinal anti-biotic
Used for intestinal worms and other parasites.
General tonic for the reproductive system and the digestive system.

I've used ginger with turmeric as a tea for stomach upset, but be very careful about drug interactions on this one! Because ginger has so MANY chemical compounds, it will react on some level with a lot of pharmaceuticals.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In the Kitchen: The Perfect Food :)

Even when I'm not paying attention (which is usually) I still have to cook. Or rather, I have to eat, which is the end result of cooking.

All of the following are stimulating cullinary herbs. They have a lot of other properties as well (for example, most of them are anti-bacterial or anti-fungal) and together with tomatoes they make spaghetti sauce. Meat optional.

Marjoram or Oregano

Dice and cook 1 large onion and dice or crush garlic (cook it with the meat if you prefer meat, or add a teaspoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of milk for the same taste without the meat)
Cut up three large tomatoes. Add them to the onions.
Add tomato juice if you like it runny rather than chunky.
Add seasonings.

Cook down and serve. I like eating it alone, without noodles. Tomato soup! Or wrap it in a tortilla before it has cooked down with fresh basil leaves and mint.

Use in place of chicken soup for colds, eat it with additional basil, rosemary and oregano when you need to be alert. Add more Rosemary if you have a headache and more garlic if you have high blood pressure. If I use it for medicine, I add the extra seasonings last, after everything else has cooked in.

I like to sneak it in as an "herbal" meal for someone who needs help but won't admit it.

Monday, July 9, 2012


Headaches are relatively simple. Most people reach for pain killers. I realized early that I didn't like what happened to me when I took pain killers, so I learned other mechanisms for getting rid of that pain.

I learned a number of strategies, but this is the one I use most often. It goes back to the fact that all nerves in the body lead to the brain.

The headache is probably localized on one side or the other. I have learned that for migraines I'm going to use the hand on the same side as the headache and for regular headaches I'm going to use the opposite hand. If the headache is in the center then either both lobes are involved or the headache is in one of the brain pieces that cross the center (such as the occipital lobe).

Walk your fingers firmly across your hand until you find a spot that crunches slightly under your fingers. It may also be very stiff, like a lump under the skin. At first this is going to feel strange, and may be difficult. You'll eventually get to the point where you can find it more easily. I find it more easily on other people, but I have problems finding it on my own hands.

The correct spot may be tender. The more severe the headache, the more likely that the spot you need to massage is going to be extremely tender, so pay attention to that. If it's too tender, massage the whole hand and gradually move in. The spot may also be on the back of the hand or between the bones, but it takes some practice to be able to find these.

Feet work better, but taking my shoes off in public to get rid of a headache is rather awkward.

There may be spots on both hands, but they'll probably be different. You may think the headache is centered on the left side, and massage the right hand (let's just say for argument that you find your spot under the pad of the thumb), then learn that a smaller headache was brewing on the right side. But when you massage the pad of the thumb on the left hand, there's nothing. You might find the "spot" for that hand on the side of one of the fingers. It varies, but over time you can learn where the headaches are most likely to be centered.

This may work for other sorts of pain too, but if you're dealing with back pain (as an example) you're going to have to use the feet because the nerves of the back aren't on the same nerves with the hands. My use of this technique has been primarily on headaches, so I can't say how useful it is for other things.

Note: It's NOT going to work with physical damage. You can't massage a hand to heal a broken arm, for example. You may be able to help the pain (a little) but nerve damage is going to make it problematic.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Back Pain

When our bodies are under stress they react as to any other threat, tightening muscles and pushing us into fight-or-flight mode. Depending on history and genetics that may cause other things, such as muscle pain.

The simplest solution might be to find the source of the stress and eliminate it, but unfortunately eliminating stress from our lives is a lost cause. Mitigating the stress, finding other outlets, would be next, but that has to wait until the immediate symptoms have been taken care of.

Flat on your back, fighting pain with every breath is not the ideal time for starting a new hobby.

Identify the cause of the pain. You might have thrown your back out, but why? Often this kind of injury wouldn't have happened if the muscles weren't already tight from stress.

Second, identify the true source of the pain. Is it physical damage? Is it muscles? Bones? Joints? If the pain comes in waves it might be a simple muscle-spasm problem and taking an anti-spasmodic or muscle relaxant might be the solution to at least get you on your feet. If it's constant, it may be swelling around the nerves and an anti-inflammatory would be your best bet.

There are a number of herbs that work as muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories. Most of them are relatively safe and can be taken in large doses if necessary. This includes most of the mints, but specifically

1 part chamomile
3 parts lemon balm
2 parts catnip
1 part thyme.

Just be careful combining them. When I threw my back out (not the first time, and not the last) I started taking chamomile and thyme on top of an ibuprofen and acetominaphen cocktail and it actually made the muscle spasms worse. Taking the herbs alone was not a problem, it was only when I took them with the pharmaceuticals.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Chronic pain

Most types of pain--muscle spasms, headaches, backaches--are easily handled. Taking a muscle relaxant will take care of most muscle spasms (which includes the majority of backaches). These types of pain relief I'll address another time.

But some people live with chronic pain, to the point that they have difficulty sleeping and rely on either massive doses of pain killers or chemical sleep aids. Or both.

I try not to take anything chemical, or anything that is considered pharmaceutical. I have people in my family who have serious reactions to certain chemicals, and we have a family history of addiction, so I stay away from anything that might lead in that direction.

Pain is a difficult problem with herbal medicines. If it can't be resolved by a simple anti-spasmodic or anti-inflamatory, there just aren't many choices. Most of the choices for true pain relief are dangerous and addictive.

Sometimes the choice is between pain and sleep. Below is a simple sleep aid, but valerian is an addictive anti-depressant. It should not be taken regularly, or for more than a week at a time. It should also not be taken with other anti-depressants.

1 T valerian leaf
1 T catnip
1 T lemon balm

I choose not to use the valerian root. The leaf has the same effect, it's just not as strong and I still have the plant after. Catnip and lemon balm are both relaxation aids.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Wildcrafting is a term used for going out into the wilds (i.e., any land that wasn't deliberately planted) and harvesting wild plants.

While we may consider many of the things that grow on their own weeds, most of these have other uses. Some you can eat. Some make good rope, or shelters, or medicine, or weapons.

Every step that you take into a wild area disturbs the animals and plants that live there. Next time you go hiking, take a look at what's beyond the trail. That thick brush to your left probably hides half a hundred different types of animals. The wild berries you stuff in your mouth would normally feed a number of birds, which would spread the seeds to other places where they could grow.

Look at the crushed grass where someone scrambled away from the trail, at the lizard perishing out there in the sun because his shade is taken by a pair of hiking boots. The deer hovering in the forest above a spring waiting for people to leave so that they can drink.

Wildcrafters take this a step further. They actually go out into that thicket, into the forests, looking for the plants they need, either to sell or to use.

Many plants have been overharvested in our desire for a more "natural" lifestyle. Unethical wildcrafters will go out into a stand of a rare plant and harvest it all, with no care for the next generation, no seeds replanted, no concern for the animals that would normally live in or off of those plants.

A rare find to them means either more money or "I got my share."

Ethical wildcrafters will never take more than they can personally use, they will always replant if seeds are available, they will not take more than can be easily replaced in a season.

Many ethical wildcrafters will leave something else in exchange for what they take. Some present this as a thanks gift to the spirit of the plant, but it's usually something that will help the plant recover, such as planting a seed.

Still, if twenty wildcrafters find the same stand of something rare like goldenseal, and they each take 5% of the stand, by the end there's only a third of the stand left. (No, my numbers are correct--figure it out.*) That stand won't recover in a year. It may never recover. Even if the wildcrafters replant, the territory taken by those plants will not remain empty for long--other species will move in.

One thing that a lot of people are working on is using domesticated stocks rather than wildcrafting, so that the wild plant populations get a chance to recover. Whenever I'm in the plant stores I look for seeds that say "Plant Savers." I can plant these in my yard (many of them are quite decorative) and create a refuge for these endangered species.

The "at risk" list at UnitedPlantSavers includes goldenseal, black cohosh, american ginseng, echinacea and many more.

* For simplicity, let's say that the stand contains 100 plants. The first person to find it takes 5%, or 5 plants. The second person takes 5% (four) of the remaining 95. The third person takes four. The fourth person takes 3, the fifth takes 3, each taking 5% of what is left. After 20 people have taken 5%, the stand is down to about 37 plants.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Cranesbill Geranium

Family: Geranium

Last year I went on a nature walk. I got all curious about a number of things that grow in the canyons here, then returned to find that the same things were growing wild (i.e., weeds) in my yard!

Just weird. One of them was the wild geranium, or cranesbill geranium. It's called cranesbill because the seed pod (i.e., the burr) cuts off at a right angle and looks like a long skinny bill--like the bill of a crane. The flowers are tiny tiny tiny, the plant itself so small that collecting enough to be useful might be a chore, but somehow they managed.

Actually it's rather funny. The information I've been able to find states that wild geranium is found east of the Mississippi and that it's one to two feet tall. The version I've identified here in the Rocky Mountains fits the description for all but the size. Try two to three inches. :)

Cranesbill is an astringent, which means it tightens and constricts blood vessels, skin, etc.

Apparently the cranesbill geranium was used in any situation where blood vessels needed to constrict, such as hemorroids (I always spell that wrong) or excessive bleeding. It was also used for intestinal problems such as diarhea or irritable bowel syndrome. As a surface astringent it might be used for acne and as an addition to facial cleansers. It is also a blood coagulation agent, but I'd guess that this is again at least partially a matter of the blood vessels constricting that are letting the blood through.

Interactions: I still don't have my drug interations book back, but the usual advice is to avoid anything that will cancel out or duplicate the results. I would never use over the counter or prescription astringents, or blood thinners at the same time I was using cranesbill geranium.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Drug Interactions

A lot of the "common wisdom" about herbs is wrong.

A lot of people are under the impression that "herbs," being natural, are by definition safe. The idea of an herb-drug interaction (or an herb-herb interaction for that matter) is met with derision and contempt. Many people take herbal medicines in massive doses and mix and match plant types as if the plants were some kind of jigsaw puzzle.

They think you can safely combine a pharmaceutical blood thinner with an herbal blood thinner and not have them effect each other? Oh, come on! It's a double dose. Or take an anti-depressant with alcohol and not have them interact? Alcohol is a depressant.

Really, anyone taking any kind of herbal medicine, whether a simple vitamin supplement or a full regimen prescribed by a licensed herbalist should be paying attention to the interractions just as you would if the medication was from a pharmacy.

Chemicals create changes in the way our bodies react. That is the basis of pharmaceutical medicine. In a laboratory or a factory they create a particular chemical chain that has a certain effect on the brain or the body. They package it up, stick a fancy name on it and call it medicine.

That same chemical chain, or one very much like it, is created by the growth of a plant. It has the same effect on the body--the only thing it's missing is the fancy name and the bottle. Logic would dictate that the same precautions should be taken, the same drug interactions should apply.

Just because it hasn't been proven by "science" doesn't mean that the interactions don't exist. In the absense of scientific proof, it's our responsibility to use common sense--which really isn't that common, when you think about it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Digestive disorders

I always worry about posting too close together, but I've got a number of blog posts that I just had to write all ready to go and not posting until Monday is going to be a chore. So I'll give in. :)

I went blog hopping this morning (in a sense). I wanted to check on Life With My Aspie to see if she had gotten my message. Blogs aren't good for passing messages when you really want to talk to someone. But she got the message! Thanks!

Then I checked out the others who had followed the blog and found another friend--small world--and found that she has Celiacs, which means (in short) she can't have wheat products.

Have you ever looked at the ingredients list for anything you buy from the store? Flour (i.e., gluten) and dairy. Flour and dairy. Even in the cat food, which is disgusting. They're not vegetarians, people!

But the point is that digestive problems are rampant. We had an interview for WritingSnippets last week with a lady who has Celiacs. And of course I brought chocolate, which usually has flour in it. If I'd known in advance I could have brought something else, but I read the e-mail as I was rushing out the door.

And the hostess made a salad but used a commercial dressing. It's not easy.

I know several other people who have Celiacs and (here's the thing that brings it all together) several of them also have Autism.

People with Autism (which is a spectrum disorder and includes those with Asbergers) often have digestive problems. Celiacs disease is one of the most common. Another is a diary alergy. Put those together, you have vomiting, cramps, running at both ends, and doctors don't think to diagnose it. It's just "the way it is."

Dealing with an autistic child can be challenging enough without having to comfort one who's always sick.

You learn to adjust. One mother took her son entirely off dairy, and noticed a measurable improvement. The mother of another child has him on a "predigested" diet, which means everything is not only in small pieces but actually ground up. Without wheat or dairy. Since his digestive problems have started to clear up, he's improving. (He turned and looked at me the other day when I said his name. Actually looked AT me, met my eyes!) A third is strongly Celiacs and even the tiniest hint of gluten ties his stomach in knots. His parents carry gluten-free snacks for him so he can have his treat when the other children do.

It leads to another question. The sudden increase in digestive disorders has popped up in the last fifty years or so. Prior to that we were eating a diet of mainly organic foods--lots of greens, preserves, freshly slaughtered meats, kitchen garden produce when available. Most people didn't eat huge amounts of dairy simply because it wasn't available. Wheat was important, but only a small part of the overall diet.

Since they started putting preservatives in the food (a particular pet-peeve of mine) lots of things have started cropping up that just weren't serious problems three generations ago.

So here's a list:

Chew your food very small. That's what your teeth are for.
If you have digestive problems, try removing one thing from your diet at a time for at least a week. Preferably a month. Keep a food journal and write down whether there are fewer "incidents" in a day. This is going to be a challenge if the person in question is autistic because they need stability. So take it slow.
Eat more from the produce aisle
Grow a garden if it's possible. You have no idea how much better something tastes picked fresh.
Use substitutions. Sliced zuccinni can be used in place of noodles in lasagna or pizza.
If cheese is a staple (as it is in my family) consider going to goat cheese if you can.
Remember that soy is also a common alergen.

And last, do NOT ever assume that stomach pain is inevitable. It's usually a symptom. Find out what your body is trying to tell you, rather than telling it to shut up.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Morning Glory

Family: convolvulaceae

I hate morning glory.

It's a desperate outlaw weed and should be dispensed with entirely. Seeing morning glory seeds in the stores drives me crazy. Even the shape of the leaves is enough to make me go into an orgy of digging and weed pulling. The other weeds suffer from this mania by association. Poor things.

Morning glory covers a huge range of plants, and there are a number of cultivars that are considered annuals. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that if a cultivar (i.e., a hybrid) goes to seed the baby plants will revert to the parents of the hybrid. So a morning glory that goes to seed will go back to weed status. Those seeds that aren't strong enough for their new climate don't survive the winter.

People wonder where the strangling vines come from that attack their plants and come back every year? Well, it was the morning glory they planted last spring.

Morning glory is a perrenial weed that can't stand to have anything else alive in this world. It digs its tap roots six feet underground and spreads from that point, so roads and hedges are useless as barriers. It twists around everything it gets close to and strangles whole trees if it's allowed to spread. It holds first place (in my head) for the original devil weed.

Apparently the seeds are laxative, but I can't see that this is sufficient positive to out-weigh the strangling nuisance factor. We have lots of herbal laxitives. Some morning glories are edible, ditto. Wikipedia says "In the USA it is a Federal Noxious Weed, and technically it's illegal to grow, import, possess, or sell." Yay! Now if they would only enforce that...The USDA Noxious Weed website lists its range as California and Florida. Then they go ahead to say that it's a noxious, invasive weed in about 30 states. Duh.

I guess in an odd way I admire it, though. It's sure persistent.

Armed with shovel and gloves, I now go to do battle with the pernicious devil weed.

Monday, June 4, 2012

What topics would you like to see?

Since people seem to be coming by to visit...

Insect control

Several years ago I made this stuff--I figured, insects don't like garlic, they don't like onions, they don't like hot peppers and they don't like vinegar.

So I mixed the four, using onion seeds instead of onions. The second batch I left out the garlic and it worked just as well. The ingredients are better fresh, but dried works.

Let it all sit in the vinegar for a couple days to as long as necessary--no bacteria or fungus is going to be caught dead in this stuff! Then strain it and pour the juice into a spray bottle. Or just pour off the juice and cover the pulp with more vinegar for the next batch.

Mix it with water at 5:1 or more. For a really bad infestation you may need to use it straight, but only if the problem has gotten to that point before you start. Aphids, beetles, spiders, whatever. It seems to work on everything. I never tried it on spider mites, because they're mostly in the house and there are people in the house who don't like hot peppers. :)

Spray it every day until the problem is gone, but watch the plants. Some plants are really sensitive to acids. It's totally biodegradable and you don't need to worry if your kids drink it (although they might end up immitating a fish to get rid of the taste).

Oh, and try to use white vinegar. My understanding is that other vinegars have a lower acid content, not to mention that they're usually made from fruit of some kind. I use a dilution of water and plain white vinegar (10:1) to get rid of fruit flies and gnats on my houseplants.

Note: I've seen suggestions that you should use some dishsoap in your mix, but unless it's biodegradable it might damage the plants. If you use dishsoap, don't get it on the roots and keep a careful eye on the more tender plants.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


My spice cabinet is full of little bottles, carefully sealed, but with the masking tape lables worn off or illegible. While most of what's in the spice cabinet can be easily identified by smell, that is not always the case.

Out in the yard, there are two weeds that look very much alike, except that one has thick fleshy leaves and the other has flat leaves that hug the ground. Which is purslane, an excellent source of vitamin C?

Purslane (the thick fleshy one) is a delicacy in some areas where it is commercially farmed. In many areas, it's a weed.
I'm sure you've seen it, but a former co-worker got all excited about it and asked me for seeds. She keeps it on her porch in a planter. It tastes like bland lettuce, but the texture is weird.

If you have an urge to go out in the wild and see what's there, carry a good identification book and NEVER eat or otherwise consume anything unless you've positively identified it.

Various types of alliums (onion family) are toxic. Others are used everyday in the kitchen. All are virtually identical to the untrained eye. Queen Anne's Lace (Wild carrot) is edible (sort-of) and medicinal but a nearly identical cousin (poison Hemlock) is toxic.

I identify in the wild and if I want to try something I see I buy it from an ethical grower and put it in my herb garden.

Knowing what's around us will be important in the future, but until we can't get what we need from another source I'll leave the wild herbs alone. Ethical wild-crafting is a subject for another day.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Allium Sativum
Family: Allium (includes onions, leeks, etc)

I've been so busy writing that I haven't done much with the herbal stuff. But all my herbs are up, my garden is in, I've started harvesting my garlic.

Garlic is interesting. It's both antibacterial and antibiotic, and research suggests that it may have anti-viral properties as well. Eaten raw, it's an incomparable healer. Cooked it loses many of its properties but still assists to lower blood pressure.

A garlic (clove) a day keeps the doctor away?

I've also discovered (although the evidence is completely circumstantial) that if I eat the paper of the garlic clove along with the garlic it doesn't affect my "aroma." I have no idea why that would be.

My main problem with garlic is that I don't have enough of it. This year I planted more, so I can hope that I won't run out in January again.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The results of Stress

Six months ago I quit my job to write full time.  A while before I was having problems with my jaw, apparently stress related since it got worse when I was around people.

So a few weeks ago it started again.

I tried a combination of catnip and mint just before I went to bed in the hope that it would relax me enough not to grind my teeth while I sleep.  It seems to have worked, for now.  I need to work on moderating the problems that are causing the stress, now that the initial pain is gone.