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Monday, April 22, 2013

Leaves of Three and Stings like a Bee....Be Wary of these Plants

With Earth Day upon us, many of us make an effort to increase our appreciation and awareness of our mother earth with all the goodness nature has to offer. If for you that means getting out there and getting in the nitty gritty of yard work, gardening, or naturalizing, then be aware of two plants that can easily sour your mood in a hurry. Poison Ivy and Stinging Nettles

Remember these old rhymes to help you recognize poison ivy   (Rhus toxicodendrun):

"Leaves of three; let it be."

"Hairy vine, no friend of mine." and
 "Raggy rope, don't be a dope."

  Vines on trees have a hairy appearance. Old, mature vines on tree trunks can be large and thick and the recognizable leaves may be higher up the tree where you may not see them.

 "Berries white, danger in sight."
 "Red leaflets in the spring, it's a dangerous thing."

In the spring, new leaflets have a red, shiny appearance. Later, during the summer, they are green and easily blend in with other plants. In the fall they turn a reddish-orange, making them more difficult to distinguish from other plants, while in autumn they can be reddish-orange.

The itchy rash caused by poison ivy is from the potent urushiol oil which irritates sensitive skin. A person's sensitivity can vary from season to season or even change throughout a lifetime. The potent oils stay active on unwashed clothes, garden tools and even dead plants for up to five years. If you are clearing brush and poison ivy is part of the pile, do not burn it or you could end up in the ER with severe lung irritation.

Our body reacts to the urushiol oil by releasing histimine, which is what causes the itch. The miserable cycle starts when the irritation begins to itch and we scratch. Scratching feels good for the moment but only aggravates things and since the urushiol is now on your fingernails it is likely to spread to other areas of your body that you touch. Be sure to change your clothes because you will continue to reinfect yourself if the oils are on your clothes.

Poison ivy, oak and sumac do all serve a purpose. The urushiol oil coats the leaves of the plant and is a natural defense mechanism for them. Also, the small, white or bluish berries feed a number of bird and small animals, and the tangle of the plant form a source of shelter.

Thank you Angelina for this great explanation of what is happening when exposed to plant allergens:
" It's an immune system response.The body's immune system is normally in the business­ of protecting us from bacteria, viruses, and other foreign invaders that can make us sick. But when urushiol from the poison ivy plant touches the skin, it instigates an immune response, called dermatitis, to what would otherwise be a harmless substance. Hay fever is another example of this type of response; in the case of hay fever, the immune system overreacts to pollen, or another plant-produced substance.
Here's how the poison ivy response occurs. Urushiol makes its way down through the skin, where it is metabolized, or broken down. Immune cells called T lymphocytes (or T-cells) recognize the urushiol derivatives as a foreign substance, or antigen. They send out inflammatory signals called cytokines, which bring in white blood cells. Under orders from the cytokines, these white blood cells turn into macrophages. The macrophages eat foreign substances, but in doing so they also damage normal tissue, resulting in the skin inflammation that occurs with poison ivy. ­"

Here is a good post from Rodale's Organic Life about how to get rid of poison ivy without the use of herbicides.

Fascinating in nature is that where one poisonous plant grows its antidote is most likely growing nearby. Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is actually a wild native Impatiens. It favors wet soil and averages 4 - 5 feet tall. Found throughout the eastern United States, it is recognizable in that it has a lovely light green shade and after a rain, the droplets seems to lay on the surface. Should you find this plant after exposure to poison ivy or stinging nettles, break off the stems and crush them in your hands. You'll see that the stems are hollow and contain the itch relieving juice inside. Apply like a poultice to the areas of exposure for relief.

Jewelweed is often one of the first wildflowers children learn about, not only because of its usefulness but because it is so much fun. The flowers are orange in color and shaped like little trumpets so are adorable to look at. It has a second kind of flower other than the orange one. These are tiny petal-less flowers that don't open but that form the majority of the seeds. Once ripe, the slightest touch sends these seeds hurling everywhere, much to the delight of any child. The other name given to this plant is Touch-Me-Not.

Young Nettles mixed with Dock
Jewelweed is also great for the sting of Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica), a herbaceous perennial found almost worldwide. Many of us discovered this plant the hard way. Brushing up against this plant results in a stinging that one isn't soon going to forget. The leaves and stems are covered with brittle, hollow, silky hairs that contain three chemicals, a histimine that irritates skin, acetylcholine which causes the burning feeling and serotonin.

Nettles are a foraging favorite for those seeking out the nourishing spring greens. They cannot be eaten raw, but used in tea form or cooked like spinach, you can just taste the green energy. For health purposes, nettles are known as a kidney and adrenal ally, great for removing toxins from the blood, reducing inflammation, help with eczema, the list goes on. When skin and hair are a problem, nettles come to the rescue to restore balance.

To gather nettles, you must wear long pants and uses gloves to touch them so avoid the nasty sings. Best when gathered while tender and young, April and May are the best months to cut and harvest the plant.

Even if you have no interest in dealing with a nettle patch for food or medicinal purposes, let it alone to help out the butterflies. Members of the Nymphalidae or Brush-footed butterflies, depend on nettles for the growth of their caterpillars. Look for Red Admirals, Tortoiseshells, Peacocks, and Commas.

Nettles also make a great fertilizer for the gardener. Soaked in a bucket of water, the resulting tea once strained is great for the plants and can be used as a spray for aphids and black flies. Add chopped up nettles to the compost heap to act as a natural activator which speeds up decomposition.

Even with precautions, no doubt you will get against the plant anyway, so it is best to know what to do. The plant that often grows nearby is Dock.

Tinged with red on the leaves, once you recognize this plant it is easy to spot. Tear off the leaves and crush them good into a mushy poultice. Apply this to the stinging area of skin. Don't rub or you may just aggravate it. You want the juice from inside the leaves to drip onto your skin to offer its neutralizing relief.

Nettles in flower (behind the orange Daylilies)

A look-a-like plant that is often growing amidst Poison Ivy is Virginia Creeper. A harmless vine that may be annoying because of its aggressive growing habits, but is a beautiful red in the fall and offers dark blue berries for wildlife. Virginia Creeper has five leaves, whereas Poison Ivy has three leaves.

Virginia Creeper

It is always a good idea to have on hand a natural remedy in your medicine cabinet in preparation for those time when you are exposed to the misery of Poison Ivy or Stinging Nettles. Jewelweed infused with apple cider vinegar results in an itch relieving spray. Lavender essential oil is added for its healing properties to help with the inflammation and harm done to the skin from scratching.

Jewelweed Vinegar Spray

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Spring Chickweed isn't just for Chickens

Even a chicken's diet must get monotonous after a long winter of feed grain and cracked corn. While the reappearance of the lawn weeds in early spring aggravate many people, for those who own chickens or guinea hens, this is the perfect opportunity to shake off the winter blues and make use of those plants and reap the rewards with happier birds and stronger eggs.

Comfrey and dandelions are calcium-rich plants that chickens relish and does help with soft eggshells. Broken eggs are not only a waste but a mess within the nest. Other plants loved by your chickens include clover, fleabane, violets, perennial grasses, purslane, shepherds purse, plantain and groundsel, but their favorite is usually the tender chickweed.

Chickweed is Stellaria media which in latin means little star. The little white flowers appear to be made up of five petals but look closer and you'll see each petal has a cleft to become ten little slivers. Chickweed is one of those creeper plants often cursed by gardeners when it "invades" the garden as it self-sows very rapidly. Preferring cool, moist soil, once the summer heat builds these flower patches seem to just disappear.

Loaded with potassium, phosphorus, and manganese, this plant is sought out by foragers as a mineral rich salad green. As assumed by the name, this tender plant is sought out by chickens if given the freedom to free range in the garden or pasture.

For safety purposes, our little flock is confined to a fenced in area and because of their scratching habits, the soil soon becomes just dirt. So what we do to help supplement their diet is to take advantage of the fast growth of the chickweed spreading across my garden and flowerbeds before it is time to disturb it with my gardening. The larger weeds I just pull and gather a pile, but the chickweed gets a haircut. Chickweed pulls out of the ground easily, so if I want to extend its growth time and delay its going to seed, I take a pair of scissors and snip right across the mound. Once the weather gets warm, the chickweed gets lanky, goes to seed and somewhat disappears. People who don't want it should pull it before it reseeds itself.

While you're snipping away, keep back a bowl full to add to your salad at dinner. Known as an herbal diet pill, a healer of wounds, an eye poultice during allergy season, a joint oiler, and an overall nourishing, strengthening food. Susan Weed has excellent information on several plants she calls herbal allies in her book Wise Woman Herbal Healing Wise

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Are You a Weekend Warrior?

It finally feels like spring, and you wake up on a Saturday morning with the sun pouring through the window. The energy starts flowing as your mental to do list for the day rolls out before you. All the things you continually walked past during the winter, telling yourself you'll take care of it when the weather warms up, are now tugging at your heels.

Time away from our work schedules is precious so of course we try to make the most of every minute.
We cram as much into our free time as possible and risk paying the price with a stiff back, shoulders, knees or whatever else put in overtime.
If you are what is called a weekend warrior, prepare for the next day aches by having on hand a few pain relieving balms, liniments or oils.

Weekend Warrior Relief is a balm which utilizes two herbal infused oils, comfrey and ginger root.

Called the living medicine chest, both the leaves and roots of the comfrey plant are important. High in silicic acid comfrey can reduce swelling, bruising and strengthen ligaments and tendons. Also known for its allantoin content, a crystalline oxidation product of uric acid, comfrey stimulates and accelerates tissue repair.
Ginger root is used for its aid in increasing circulation which enhances blood flow to the damaged tissue or achy muscles and joints.
The addition of shea butter adds to the therapeutic value since this rich soothing butter helps to heal bruising.

The cool, refreshing aroma of wintergreen and peppermint essential oils greet you upon application of this balm. They both contain analgesic properties which help soothe tired, sore muscles and joints.
Helichrysum essential oil is from the garden flower you probably know as immortelle. This oil has a reputation for improving circulation and the regeneration of nerves and tissue repair.

Wintergreen essential oil contains menthyl salicylate. If you are allergic to aspirin, pregnant or breastfeeding please consult with your doctor before using a product containing menthyl salicylate. Be aware of this product containing menthyl salicylate before using on children.

 Ease The Ache Massage Oil is a nice way to end a busy day. The power of touch can do wonders to work out those hard, ropey, knots in our strands of muscle. You don't necessarily need another person or a massage therapist to benefit from a massage. Whatever area you can reach will appreciate a good deep kneading to work out those painful points. Use kneading motions as you apply an anti-inflammatory massage oil blend into your neck, shoulders, lower back, calves or your own feet. In fact, one of the most effective forms of utilizing essential oils is to apply them to the soles of the feet where they are easily absorbed throughout the bodily system.

Should you have assistance for your back, enjoy the warm, flowing motion of their touch as the anti-inflammatory properties of the essential oils in this oil blend help you relax and find relief.

The chosen essential oils for this blend are lavender, eucalyptus, juniper and chamomile. All contain anti-inflammatory properties which means they help reduce inflammation, pain and swelling in the joints and muscle tissues. Useful for relaxing those muscle spasms, the aches of arthritis, and tension headaches. Elimination of bodily toxins and fluid retention are both helped along by the increase in circulation.

Carrier oils used are almond and jojoba oils. Almond oil is very popular for massage oils because it is nourishing, gentle and glides easily over the skin. It absorbs quickly but not fast enough that you feel you'll need to stop and reach for the dropper bottle. Jojoba oil is very similar to our natural skin oils and easily penetrates and nourishes.

 Herbal Pain Relief Liniment is an alcohol based preparation ideal for those who dislike the oily feel of a balm or massage oil. It is useful in the relief of muscle aches, joint pain, inflammation, bruises, as well as part of the warm- up routine prior to exercise.
It can be used as a disinfectant but not to be applied to broken skin.
Useful for the treatment of headaches as well. Spritz fingertips so as not to get into eyes and rub into temples, forehead and the back of the neck.

Prior to strenuous physical activity, it is important to warm up your muscles and keep them supple. The application of a liniment before exercise increases blood flow thereby helps to warm up the muscles and decrease the chance of injury.

Should there be pain from over-exercised muscles, liniments can also help after soreness has set in. The muscles need to rest and relax.
Liniments have a way of tricking the brain. Pain creates a loop between the area of pain and the message to the brain reinforcing this pain. The focus on the pain makes it hard for the muscles to relax. The combination of the liniment and the friction caused by the rubbing application from our hands creates an increase in heat. This provides an opportunity for the muscles to relax. Certain plants activate both hot and cold nerve impulses in the skin. The contrast between the two makes a liniment seem hotter than it actually is.

Isopropyl alcohol 70% is the liquid base in which fresh or dried herbs are infused for several weeks. The idea behind using alcohol is that upon application the alcohol evaporates leaving behind the therapeutic herbs to penetrate the skin's surface.

Herbs and spices used for this liniment are peppermint, rosemary, comfrey, oregon graperoot, echinacea, ginger, cinnamon and cayenne. These combine to activate both hot and cold, relax muscles, increase blood circulation, and soothe bruising.

So dig out your gloves, dust off the equipment, spring has sprung!

Monday, April 1, 2013

No April Fools! Affordable prices in Health n' Beauty!

Color is fun and when we think spring we think pastels!
Pinks, yellows, purples and greens brighten up our homes, wardrobes and spirits.

Check out Meadow Muffin Gardens for fun, fresh and natural ways to keep you and your family clean, fresh and taken care of!

 Natural and affordable home remedies and personal body care. Handmade with a touch of the love and wisdom from past generations.

Handmade, organic, eco-friendly solutions in skin care and healing for the entire family.

"Beauty is only an herb away" The quip from my son that started it all.

Utilizing herbs, flowers, aromatherapy, and oils without the use of parabens, artificial colorings or synthetic fragrances to create natural solutions to personal and family care needs.

Ingredients used are purchased from reputable, certified organic companies or grown organically in my own gardens.

"Wholesome and practical is the best way to describe our line of body care. Simple pleasures are among life's best treasures. Guided by wisdom and knowledge passed down from generations of women our products consist of ingredients provided by our natural world. Information and recipes often tucked away in quaint old books resurface to remind us that 'simple is best'."