Posted in Uncategorized

The Garden and the Medicine Cabinet

herbs hangingWhat do a garden and a medicine cabinet have in common?  Herbs, of course!

Is it realistic for a homemaker to actually provide medicine to the household from the garden without a lot of trouble, mess, education, and maybe even danger?  I think not.  Let’s talk about it.

Let’s start with danger.  Nearly everyone agrees, including medical researchers, that pharmaceuticals, used properly and improperly, contribute to one of the largest causes of death in the United States.  Herbal remedies, on the other hand, have been working very well for thousands of years.  Herbalist Monica Rude of Desert Women Botanicals explains that pharmaceuticals are pathology-oriented, whereas herbs are used more to promote health and support the body’s natural ability to heal itself.  There’s always room for caution, of course, whether using manufactured or natural medicines, so some education is required whichever route your choose.

Harvesting herbs from your yard and making pure medicine in the kitchen can be a satisfying, cost-saving, and health-improving step.

Will it require a lot of effort?  Herbalist Naava Kronenberg, of Bear Creek Herbs, told me last year that she first decided to grow herbs long ago after her vegetable gardening attempts in the desert had been discouraging.  “Herbs are easy,” someone had told her, and she said she discovered that was true.

Herbs are often easy because they create their own pest-control with natural chemicals that also help protect us against our pests – bacteria, viruses, mold, etc.  Herbs also tend to be drought-tolerant or thrive in a dry environment.

Best, many herbs are perennial, meaning you’ll put them in the ground one year and enjoy them for many years to come, a permanent part of your landscaping, requiring very little work.

Garden-grown herbs turned into tinctures, ready to make into lotions, salves, toothpaste, mouthwash, cleaners, etc!

Will I have to learn a lot?  This depends on how much you want to know.  To learn what you need about a single herb might take twenty minutes to compare a few different sources.  Herb stores and thrift stores have books on the subject, and lots of information can also be found free online, of course.  And many herbalists like Monica offer classes on how to dry and process herbs and then make tinctures.  If you take one herb at a time, you can learn a lot over the course of your life, little by little.

Herbs that grow easily in Southwest gardens are often also quite beautiful – so easy and beautiful you’ll wonder why you didn’t plan to grow and use them long before now.  And they also will provide you flowers throughout much of the year.  Just remember to educate yourself on specific medicinal uses beyond this very brief introduction.

Below are some obvious favorites for the Southwest and a few of their uses to inspire you:

Lavender – one of the most useful, all-around herbs.  Besides smelling lovely, it can be used in salves and tinctures to clear infections, and has many other uses including relaxation and anti-inflammation.

Catnip – for a relaxing tea to prepare for sleep.

Mint – for stomach ache or indigestion.

Rosemary – stimulates circulation and eases nerves.

Mugwort – strengthens digestion and the nervous system.

Lemon balm – calming stress relief.

Echinacea – combats flu and colds.

Holy Basil – for stress and anxiety.

Motherwort – heart calming.

Yarrow – heals wounds, stops bleeding, reduces fevers.  It grows best in “poor soil” with lots of light – perfect in the Southwest!

Hyssop – gargle for sore throats and viral infections.

Comfrey – anti-inflammatory, and for skin wounds.

Yerba mansa – for colds and other infections.  Will only grow “with its feet wet,” so I have mine in its original black bucket, sitting in the basin of a fountain.

herbs hanging
Hang herbs to dry in the shade with good ventilation till crispy, then place into clean jars for storage or prepare right away.

Oregano – for infections and general tonic.

All these plants can give you multiple benefits (green, flowers, medicine, food for bees, etc.) for very little work on your part – the lazy gardener’s dream!  Just take it little by little, one plant, one medicine at a time.

What medicinal herbs do you find easy and useful to grow in your garden?

Posted in 2 Home

Volunteering to Bring Toxic Chemicals into our Homes…  and Pour Them on our Heads

IMG_4841This article was published in the Silver City Daily Press – Independent (the weekly arts and entertainment edition) in September 2015:

That naked man or woman (from last month’s column) still stands in the shower, this time with shampoo bubbles sliding down the body – containing known carcinogens.  This is especially troubling as the warmth of a bath opens one’s pores to drink up the chemicals from scalp to toes.  And it happens to millions every day America.

Our Food and Drug Administration allows hundreds of toxic chemicals – banned in other nations – to be added to the products we pour on our bodies, wash our towels and sheets with, swish in our mouths, “clean” with, and consume – even with evidence mounting that, alone, they cause cancer and in combination we can only guess at their danger.  Even toothpaste tubes for children warn that the paste should not be swallowed and, if it is, Poison Control should be called!

Just holding flouride toothpaste in the mouth allows the chemical to be absorbed into the body, as it’s intended, despite studies showing it’s linked to neurological damage in children and adults.

So what’s a thinking home maker to do when faced with laundry soaps, fabric softeners, “cling”-abaters, odor cover-uppers, furniture polishes, upholstery and carpet foams, silver polishes, degreasers, and so many other personal and household products containing chemicals that are known to cause cancer?  Consider these options.

1) Shop carefully, reading labels, avoiding everything with a strange-sounding name.  Downside:  research may be daunting, and you might not find much.

2) Change where you shop, seeking out your local “alternative” health food store or coop to find cleaning products with few and simple ingredients.  Downside:  They might cost a little more, and you might not find everything you’re looking for.

3) Best:  opt for simple ingredients in non-fancy packages, like pure soap, borax, washing soda (sodium carbonate – one of those chemical names you might not realize is okay when beginning your research), white vinegar, ammonia, baking soda, salt, hydrogen peroxide, cream of tartar, lemon juice, etc!  Then go online (or find a book, perhaps at your grandmother’s?) for recipes for cleaning just about anything. Downside: time to mix simple recipes – but less time than needed to pay for toxic products.  Besides, it’s fun, they work, and they’ll save a lot of money.

Recently I began to make my own baking soda toothpaste with coconut oil and peppermint – but also with Xylitol, which made it sweet and provided an extra abrasive, though I had concerns about its true “naturalness” and whether it would actually be non-toxic with a name like that. Shortly after, I learned that Xylitol is no longer considered safe – and an alternative for toothpaste was bentonite clay, ironically what I’ve been using for years in my mouth like a poultice around any tooth that might feel sensitive, to help draw out bacteria.  I’ll soon mix up a new batch of toothpaste with bentonite clay, which both draws bacteria and can also help remineralize our teeth!  (Another new possibility is to use activated charcoal.)

Downside of any coconut oil and baking soda toothpaste:  It requires a little care to not mix it too greasy – though that’s an easy fix by adding more soda.  Second, we need to create a new habit for spitting, because the oil would clog up our home’s plumbing, so we need to get it instead inside the trash.  The up-sides win with cost, non-toxicity, and healing properties.

Recipes for cleaning nearly anything with non-toxic ingredients an be found with a web-search for “old-fashioned cleaning recipes,” “home-made toothpaste,” or shampoo, etc.   Take it little-by-little, but do it!

Want to dump those unused toxic products?  Please take them to the next hazardous waste collection, so they don’t wind up in our aquifer, coming back later on our heads.  Thank you!