These herbs are fresh

We became members of the GreenStar Co-op after we moved to the Ithaca area. Co-ops are rather unique because its members are also its owners. Not only do they get the products and services they need, but also have a say in the Co-op’s business decision. As Co-ops go, GreenStar is pretty awesome with three locations in the small college town of Ithaca. I love their progressive focus on building a sustainable future, using profits in the local community, purveying many products from local farmers, supporting local schools and nonprofits, and harnessing the sun for its energy use. They even offer classes on cooking, nutrition, and environmental topics. They are undoubtedly a positive force in the community and we are so happy to be a part of it.

Whenever I walk into the Co-op, I am always amazed how happy everyone seems to be, whether they are working or shopping. Talk about good vibrations! It always seems like a wonderful place to work or volunteer, so every time I passed the employment/volunteer board I would look, hoping to find an opening in the Wellness department with hours that would fit my chaotic schedule. Last fall, I was overjoyed to see the perfect day and time available, and found out it was in the bulk herbs section.  It was perfect! I have a passion for buying in bulk. I even bring my jars to refill and the thought of being around herbs for a morning every week seems like a match made in heaven ~ and it is!

Not only do I get to be surrounded by all the lovely aromas of over 170 herbs and teas, I am learning a lot. I always knew the bulk herbs I was buying were much fresher than the any bottle of herbs but I had no idea how fresh. At GreenStar, they have someone refilling the bulk herbs daily. They order an average of 40-50 pounds of herbs each week. It takes me two hours to make sure all the jars are filled. If an herb is not being purchased on a regular basis, they don’t keep it around because there is no need to waste the shelf space; there are so many herbs vying for space. These herbs are fresh.

Just think about it ~ when you are buying prepackaged bottled herbs, you really have no idea how long they have been sitting on the shelf. In addition, you are committed to that specific amount. It’s not a big deal when you use the herb on a regular basis but from time to time, we all cook something that needs only a tablespoon of a specific herb that we will probably not use again for another year or more. And the cherry on top, over 80% of the herbs are organic while costing less than pre-packaged herbs. Who wants to buy a full bottle? Not me, so it’s a no brainer ~ buy the amount you need from the bulk herb section. It’s fresher and you can buy what you need, not what they want to sell you.

If you’ve never thought about shopping at a Co-op, I suggest you check out your local store. Here’s a directory to help you locate your neighborhood Co-op. You’ll be happy you did.

Learning the natural flow

When moving to a new home and land, I always felt it was wise to pause and observe it for the first year. Live with it, learn it, collect information; get intimate with its natural flow so you can make adjustments that better suit you and your family. Hey, a new home may feel good, but nothing is perfectly matched, everything needs some tweaks or adjustments. However, it is important to pace yourself and pay attention.

I think this process is especially important when looking at the land. Basically, you need to know what’s there and how the land evolves over the seasons. After being on our new land during most of the summer, it may be shrewd to go through two years without making any major changes. Frankly, I have had very little time to really be with the land and experience its nuances, as I have been so busy with painting, packing and moving throughout the magical time of spring and summer.  Most of my time outdoors has been spent relieving the plants from the strangle hold of vines: Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) and Bindweed/Wild Morning Glory (Convolvulus arvensis). And folks, those vines are very impressive, they do not need much time to swallow up plants let alone trees and shrubs. Although Wild Cucumber can cover entire trees, thank goodness, it is very easy to pull off its hosts but Bindweed really grabs hold and refuses to let go unless you unravel it and get to their roots. They really know how to anchor in deep. Along with removing vines, I’ve widened paths and tried to balance the plants on the land, as some seem to have more advantage over others.

Wild Cucumber

Bindweed

As a forager, my desires and the land’s needs will need time to adjust to each other. I can see now that it will need a lot more attention than I’m wired for. Typically, I help the land awaken in the spring and forage my way around it through the seasons. But I fear that it will no longer be sufficient anymore. Therefore, we will need to come up with some compromises as the relationship of steward and land evolves. I have no idea what that means at this moment but know it will take time to evolve as I live with it, learn it, collect information; get intimate with its natural flow.

AHHHHH Ragweed!

My savior

My savior

After a rather mild allergy year, the last couple of nights I have been waking up with a heavy chest, itchy eyes, scratchy throat and a congested head. No worries, all I needed to do is stumble to the bathroom and find my trusty Goldenrod tincture and within a couple of minutes I was able to fall back to sleep. I suspect the culprit of my discomfort is RAGWEED (Ambrosia psilostachya). It’s a rather unobtrusive weed that wreaks havoc with 30% of the human population. It really does not stand out very much as it is a little green plant with green flowers. Since Goldenrod is a much showier plant and comes out at the same time as Ragweed, it is unfairly blamed for late summer allergies. The big difference is that Ragweed’s pollen is dispersed by the wind, while Goldenrod (Solidago, spp.) has sticky pollen and relies on critters for pollination.

There it is hiding among the other plants. It looks quite innocent , but, oh no, don't be fooled.

There it is hiding among the other plants. It looks quite innocent , but, oh no, don’t be fooled.

Ragweed is very adept at wind pollination. Scientists estimate that a single Ragweed plant can release one billion grains of pollen over the course of a single Ragweed season. In addition, the grains are so light that they float easily even on gentle breezes. Pollen has been detected as far as 400 miles out to sea and up to two miles up in the atmosphere. There are a few of things a person can do to try to protect themselves from all that pollen floating around:

  • Close the windows
  • Do not use window fans
  • Use air conditioners
  • Limit time outside
  • Take a shower before bed
  • Don’t hang laundry on clotheslines
  • Use a neti pot to clean out your sinuses

I do not know about you but even though all the items above will help with my allergies, I will probably only do one or two on the list. Take a shower before bed and use the neti pot. So what do I do? Thank goodness for Goldenrod, my allergy savior. During very difficult days, I will do one of two things, depending on my mood. Add 30-60 drops of Goldenrod tincture in my water bottle, that way I will be slowly getting some all day long. Alternatively, I’ll make a quart of infused Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) and Goldenrod to sip throughout the day. Sometimes I add Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculumthat I have in the garden to improve the taste. It has a nice licorice taste and helps aids my respiratory system to boot.

My special blend of Goldenrod for allergies

How do you deal with your seasonal allergies? Please share and I will continue to share.All information is shared for educational purposes only and has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

We learn what we love

I love sitting outside our new home with my Mom. After living 20 years in Florida our New York rural backyard is quite the change of scenery for her. She often asks me the names of our trees and plants. Although, I haven’t had much time to explore our new land, I am able to answer most of her questions along with adding some interesting details. She always seems amazed and asks me how I know all these things. My simple answer, “We learn what we love.” Basically, I have been exploring the natural world as far back as I can remember. Perhaps, she just thought I was simply playing in the backyard as a child, but it went deeper than that. I would observe how the seasons and land changed and what happened to the critters as they go through metamorphosis in our little brook behind our house. I was very curious about everything in the woods and was fortunate to grow up on over 2 acres of forested land in suburbia.

When I was little we went to the Bronx Zoo, and remember reading a poem by a Senegalese conservationist that was engraved into a stone wall.

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.”― Baba Dioum

The quote resonated with me and has stayed with me ever since. I love learning about the natural world, and, I’ve always tried my best to conserve all its wonderful resources. Simply put, I feel at home, at peace in the natural world ~ understanding the flow and connections is down right thrilling for me. The experience centers me. When I go too long without a pause in nature, I can feel its absence deep inside, like my soul screaming for relief. The simple antidote ~ walk outside, hug a tree, and be with the natural world. Some days it may be more challenging to steal a moment from my daily tasks but I try my best to not go too long without it.

I think it is so important to find out what we enjoy in life and pursue it. Yes, we all need to make a living and can’t always support ourselves by pursuing our passions. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that our passions can’t be part of our lives. Some lucky souls may have the good fortune to pursue their passion everyday, while there is always evenings, weekends or time after retirement for everyone else.  Regardless, we must all explore life and find joy, whatever it may be.

Know Your Roots found a new home!

Spring is a time for new beginnings, and so it is appropriate that early this past spring we found our new home. Finding a home for our multigenerational family and business was no easy task. It took almost two years. Our list of needs and wants was great and nothing seemed to fit the bill until we walked into the house on Brook Road. It simply felt right, as if we always belonged there ~ home. Although it was very painful saying farewell to the land we nurtured for almost 7 year; it was clear that we were making the right move.

There are many wonderful features to our new home but the one that is hard to miss, are the gardens. The previous owners had cultivated the landscape for over 23 years with lots of love and intention ~ not to mention, hard work. As an herbalist and forager, the land will present many amazing learning opportunities for me. There are so many cultivated plants that I have never come across before. Some plant varieties are familiar, as I know their wild relative but others are quite foreign to me. It will be wonderful experimenting and learning from all my new green allies.

The land does have some of my favorites, while others are not to be found, so I did my best to transplant my dear plants into the nursery Mike built for them. Folks, let me be honest, this was very difficult for the forager in me. I felt like a fish out of water, I am not sure I did it right, but I do visit them a lot, ask them to grow and water them with lots of love and intentions. I hope they feel comfortable and will flourish on their new land.

Interestingly, Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) did not come back in abundance on the land at my old house this year. Therefore, I only took one small plant. Sadly, it wilted within the 2 mile drive to the new house. I was very nervous and planted it on the edge of our little stream bed in the back, as it likes wet feet. To my surprise, it is doing the best out of all the transplants and has already started to produce buds.

I am eager to teach and share our new land with you. My first class “The Golden Answer,” will held be on September 2nd. It will be fun exploring the Golden Goddess on our new land. I am particularly, curious to see how many different varieties of Solidago we will find. There are over 130 different species in North America. Our old land had huge stands of Goldenrod, which predominately 5 species. A time of new beginnings begins…

I am looking forward to sharing and exploring our new land with you.

Getting the rust out

Nasty stained tub! YUCK!

Nasty stained tub! YUCK!

Over the past weekend, we moved out of our old 1858 house. And of course, I needed to clean it for its next residents. I used my magical remedy on our rust covered tub and thought I would share my discovery again with you.

I really hate cleaning something when it doesn’t end up looking any better than when I started. I really need the validation of appearance that it is indeed clean. Call me superficial, but that’s the way it is. We live in a house built in 1858 and not being validated for my efforts happens a lot. The hard water leaves a nasty terracotta hue on everything, and the other day, I decided I couldn’t bear looking at our tub anymore. It did not matter that it was clean and it was only a stain covering most of the tub. I wanted to take a shower in a WHITE tub. Of course, I tried my old buddiesbaking soda and white vinegar, but nothing. I scrubbed it with comet and left it on over night. Perhaps the stain was not as orange, but it was still there. I started to Google rust stains. I came across an interesting remedy that the blogger swore by ~ Dawn dish detergent (it had to be Dawn) scrubbed into the tub then sprayed with white vinegar, and left on over night. I decided to give it a whirl ~ it did not make an ounce of difference. Needless to say, I was getting a bit despondent. I know I should be grateful that I have a clean tub, but living in grunginess tends to get a girl down after awhile.

I remembered years ago, hearing that Cream of Tartar was good for removing rust stains. I decided to Google it. There were quite a few blogs about using Cream of Tartar for cleaning and some other interesting tidbits about it. Cream of Tartar is a by-product of the winemaking process. It comes from tartaric acid, a naturally occurring substance in winemaking. It’s found in the sediment left behind in wine barrels and bottles after fermentation, before it gets purified into the powdery white substance that we use in baking. Another helpful tip for bakers who have run out of baking powder ~ all you have to do is combine cream of tartar with baking soda to create your very own baking powder. Cream of Tartar is also known as potassium bitartrate. It is an acid salt, and something very interesting about acid salts it that when they are dissolved into a liquid, they lower the pH of the liquid.

But I digress, Cream of Tartar is also known for removing stains, even rust stains on bathtubs. I found several recipes; all of them combined the cream of tartar with an acidic liquid ~ white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide or lemon juice. I suspect the acidity of the liquid helps the Cream of Tartar do its job. I was curious to see which liquid would better facilitate the bleaching action of the cream of tartar.

I decided to compare Cream of Tartar with white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. I didn’t think it was necessary to use lemon juice as well. The recipe is very simple and the results blew me away.

The miracle

The miracle

  1. Combine equal parts of Cream of Tartar with the acidic liquid to make a thick paste.
  2. Gently cover the tub in the paste ~ no scrubbing needed.
  3. Wait 30 mins. and rinse off paste.

    Just mix into a thick paste

    Just mix into a thick paste

tub half and half

Check out the difference!

I was blinded by the white tub in front of me! Both pastes worked well, but I think the one with the hydrogen peroxide might have been a little brighter. I am so amazed how easy and fabulous the results were. I know it may be silly but I cannot tell you how fantastic it feels to shower in our bright white tub.

I swear, it really is the same tub!

I swear, it really is the same tub!

How do you clean rust stains? Please share and I will continue to share.

Foraging Black Birch

When I was about 8 years old, David introduced me to Black Birch (also known as Sweet Birch, Betula lenta), which is rather easy to identify when the branches are broken or scratched, it smells of wintergreen. Yellow birch also has a wintergreen aroma but not as strong. David taught me that I could make tea out of the Black Birch bark. After a long hike, we took a young branch and broke it into small pieces (each about an inch long, the thickness of a matchstick), added it to boiled water and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes (it’s important not to boil the twigs themselves, as they will lose its aroma). The water turned this beautiful red and smelled of wintergreen; the tea was delicious!

As my passion for the natural world grew, I loved to share it with friends. I found I could keep their attention if I identified plants that we could eat along the way. After a long hike, I would harvest some Black Birch and make tea for my hiking companions. This always impressed them and was a good ending to a lovely hike.

What I learned later was that Black Birch has analgesic and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory properties. Methyl salicylate compounds found inside the oil are effectively absorbed and used by the body to naturally treat pain. Methyl salicylate is related to the compound from which aspirin is derived from, so it was a perfect ending to a long hike and relieved any muscle aches we had.

When foraging it is important to properly identify the plant before eating or tasting. Peterson has an excellent field guide series.

Audubon also has a great series

P.S. I don’t think you can have too many field guides.

All information is shared for educational purposes only and has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.