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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Homemade Hot Pepper Jelly

Made just in time for football weekends, homemade hot pepper jelly is always an anticipated seasonal treat.

This recipe can easily be altered for personal preference of hotness, depending on what type of peppers you use. In this year's garden I grew a type called Big Hot Cherry, a cute little roundish red pepper. So pleased with the degree of zing, being it has just enough bite without shocking the palate, I intend on planting this type again next season. There are many types of peppers. For those who like it really hot, use 4 Habernero peppers and 1 Bell pepper in place of the 12 oz. weight called for in this recipe. For milder jelly, just experiment with different types and amounts of hot peppers and bell peppers. I used about 8 Big Hot Cherry peppers and a few Banana peppers for a total scale weight of 12 oz.  Banana peppers are what I happened to have on hand, but the recipe calls for 1 large green Bell pepper.

To prepare for jelly making, have your jars and lids ready. This recipe makes 6 cups jelly so you'll need 6 1/2 pint size jars or 3 pint size jars, or whatever combination you want.
Wash the jars, lids, and rings carefully in hot soapy water, even if you just bought them. Rinse well in hot water. Put the jars in a large pot filled with enough water to submerge the jars. Bring to a boil, turn temperature down just enough so the jars don't rattle around so much and boil for 5 minutes.  Carefully grasp jars with tongs, and drain water from them before setting them, right side up, on paper towels. Put the lids and rings in a smaller pot and let simmer until ready for them.


12 oz. total weight hot pepper and Bell pepper combination
2 cups apple cider vinegar
6 cups sugar
2 pouches Ball Liquid Pectin or Certo


Wear rubber gloves to work with hot peppers.
Cut up the peppers and remove the seeds.
Put the peppers in a blender.
Pour the apple cider vinegar over the peppers and blend well.
Pour this mixture into a large pot.
Add the sugar and mix well to dissolve.
Bring this mixture to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Stay at the stove and stir constantly. Once this comes to a boil it rises and will overflow if you're not right there to stir and reduce heat enough to keep it boiling and so it settles down.
Remove the pot from the heat and strain. I use a jelly bag stretched over a metal or glass bowl.
Discard the pulpy part in the jelly bag.
Return the strained liquid to the stove and bring back to a boil for 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the Certo.
Careful as this is boiling hot, ladle the jelly into your jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
Place lids and rings on jars, secure tightly, and turn the jars upside down for 5 minutes.
Turn the jars right side up and allow to cool completely before storing.
You'll hear the popping sound as one by one the jars seal.

If you plan on using the jelly in the near future you may not want to bother with the lids and rings step for long term storage. Just let the jelly cool, use plastic lids, and store in the refrigerator.

Hot Pepper Jelly makes a great gift idea. Add a label and a pretty ribbon around the lid and voila!

Hot Pepper Jelly makes a wonderful snack served on crackers, pita bread, bagels or english muffins. Add some cheese and fresh fruit and you have a great idea for entertaining.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Does Your Hair Do need No Poo for its Shampoo?


If you're fed up with your hair and frustrated that no matter what a product claims to do, you still can't achieve the results you want, then maybe it is time to just start over with as basic as you can get.

The decision to steer away from commercially made shampoos usually stems from scalp sensitivity and/or the growing awareness of the potentially toxic chemicals often added to skin and hair care products.

Washing your hair with baking soda and vinegar, the No-Poo method, is cheap, shampoo-free, conditioner-free, natural hair care. By using this form of hair washing you can avoid a number of chemicals used in conventional shampoo and conditioners. The skin is the largest organ on the body and whether a substance enters the body by mouth or topically on the skin, if it is toxic, it is going to be absorbed into the bloodstream and organ systems. When we think of the daily onslaught of products we use in our daily lives for beauty and hygiene, it can be disturbing to comprehend how hard our systems must have to work to try to eliminate these poisons. And for those that get stored in the fatty tissues, we can only imagine the potential for problems over time.

Emulsifiers, preservatives, solvents, and fragrances are all used to achieve the thick, creamy consistency we want and a long shelf life for the commercial market. However, they have their drawbacks and risks of toxicity.

Examples of common additives are as follows:
Propylene glycol is an inexpensive phytochemical that serves as a solvent and skin conditioner. The concern is that it alters skin structure, allowing the penetration of other chemicals into the bloodstream.

Methylparaben is a common synthetic preservative with concerns being possible hormonal changes and its link to certain types of cancer.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate is a surfactant which means it helps emulsify and blend different liquids. It can cause problems with skin irritation and again is a substance which alters skin structure.

Phthalates are fragrances which can effect the immune system, respiratory and endocrine function.

Shampoos advertised as leaving your hair squeaky clean do so but eventually may strip away protective oils and dry out the hair. What happens is that when hair dries out the protective cuticle layers are open, resulting in hard to manage fly away hair.

Many of our hair care products are strongly alkaline and cause a dulling buildup on the hair shaft.
Healthy hair is on the mildly acidic side of the pH scale between 4.5 and 5.5. Apple cider vinegar has an acidic pH of 2.9. Apple cider vinegar rinses help to balance the pH and remove buildup, giving you a softer, shinier, easier to detangle head of hair. Rinsing will close the hair shafts resulting in a smoother surface.

Problems such as overproduction of sebum and dandruff are often a part of the cycle of washing the hair on a daily basis, which may not always be necessary. Those of us who shower daily usually also feel the need to wash our hair, thinking if we don't we'll look like we didn't wash our hair, meaning drab and oily. Fact is, the oily secretions of our body become out of whack when we continually strip away the natural oils. We wash, our body responds to the demand to replenish by secreting more oil, we wash, our body secretes some more, and the cycle continues till things are out of balance. If you just stopped, yea for awhile there will continue to be an excess of oil dirtying up your hair, but in time the body slows down this oil production and balance is achieved.

Changing your routine will be met with a period of transition. Try not to use the poo method once and say it didn't work. For some people, this adjustment period could take a week or even a month or two. You'll find over time that you'll only need to shampoo every few days.

This is how it is done:

Have the following ready before going into the shower:
Add 1 Tbsp. baking soda to a dixie cup or whatever small cup you choose. Add just enough water to form a paste.
Have the vinegar handy in a plastic squeezy bottle. Have a plastic 1 or 2 cup size measuring cup.

Wet your hair. Apply the baking soda paste to your scalp and give yourself a wonderful massage to stimulate blood flow. Using your fingertips, start making a circle on top of your head, beginning with the back and fill in the circle with your fingers making little scrubbing motions. Don't forget your temples and the base at the neck. This massage method cleans the pores and loosens built up grime. It isn't necessary to work down the length of your hair. When you rinse, the runoff will clean the hair on its way down. Don't get any of this in your eyes.

There are two choices for applying the vinegar:
1. Dilute 1/2-1 Tbsp vinegar to 1 cup water for short hair or
1-2 Tbsp vinegar to 2 cups water for long hair.
Pour the vinegar/water mixture onto your hair and scalp. Repeat this again if desired. Let sit a minute or so and rinse with lukewarm water (a blast of cold water will seal the cuticles of the hair). Some people don't bother with a final rinse to wash out the vinegar. Leaving it in does help with tangles but for some this proves irritating to their skin.
2. You can just pour a tablespoon or two of vinegar directly onto your scalp, let it sit on your hair a minute or so, and then rinse. Vinegar is rather strong so use your own judgement which method to use. Some people find this undiluted method too strong for their scalp.

Periodic apple cider vinegar hair rinses will also help prevent or get rid of a flaky or itchy scalp
For help with dandruff it is recommended to use the direct application method. Massage the vinegar thoroughly onto the scalp and let sit for at least 15 minutes.
The acids and enzymes in the vinegar kill the "bottle bacillus", a bacteria that is one of the causes for many scalp and hair conditions. The bacteria clogs hair follicles allowing dry crusts to form that itch and flake.

Now to resolve any problems:
If your hair becomes frizzy, use less baking soda or don't let it sit on your hair as long. Baking soda is a very effective cleaner, so you may have to play around with how much to use.
If your hair becomes greasy, use less vinegar or try applying the vinegar only to the ends of your hair.
If your hair dries out, use coconut oil or jojoba oil by applying just a bit to ends and scrunch. Leave this in. Repeat once a week or as needed.

Vinegar will not strip hair color the way chemical lighteners will so it shouldn't remove hair dye. The effect of vinegar is more subtle.

 A wonderful option for your vinegar rinse is to use an herbal vinegar.
The addition of herbs to the vinegar allows the rinse to enhance hair color, help bring out desired highlights, and condition hair at the same time.


Vinegar rinse for lighter hair
Chamomile and Calendula have long been used for home hair rinses to condition and try to keep that lovely blonde color from turning what we know as "dirty blonde".
Nettles are full of minerals, chlorophyll and antifungal properties used to prevent and treat scalp funk. Nettle is also a stimulant used to enhance hair growth.
Lemongrass and grapefruit essential oils are additional antimicrobial aides as well as offering their fresh citrus aroma.

Vinegar rinse for darker hair
Sage and Rosemary are often used to help darken greying hair and bring out auburn tones.
Sage, rosemary and nettles are a tonic for dry hair and itchy, flaky scalp. It is also said that these invigorating herbs enhance hair growth.
Basil and lavender essential oils combine for an uplifting, refreshing aroma.

Vinegar rinse for all hair types

Lavender has been called the 'mother of all essences'. Just as its skin-reparative properties have earned it a well-deserved reputation with skin care, lavender can also contribute to a healthy, conditioned head of hair. Its use helps to degrease oily hair and is among the list of herbs said to stimulate hair growth and prevent hair loss.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Butterfly Sightings

The reduction in butterfly sightings has been disturbing which makes these captured shots all the more precious. The only one I cannot take credit for is the Spicebush butterfly photo.
Destruction of natural habitat and pesticide use are the main threats for the survival of these flying flowers. When you plan your flowerbeds and landscaping, try to be aware of not only how pretty are your flowers, bushes and trees, but in how environmentally beneficial they will be. Try to plant native species for your area to supply both caterpillar food sources as well as the nectar plants for the adult caterpillars. Though many photos of adult butterflies are taken on the butterfly bush, these plants are not natives, and are now discouraged for butterfly garden plantings because they can become invasive.

Pipevine Swallowtail on Buttonbush

Many of our common sightings are butterflies from the Swallowtail family.
Pipevine Swallowtails are found in gardens, woodland edges and open scrubby areas. The caterpillars eat Pipevines and the adults seek nectar plants.

Black Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Buddleia or Butterfly bush
Eastern Tiger Black Swallowtails are seen mostly in open areas such as fields and roadsides. The caterpillars eat plants mostly in the parsley family, such as carrot, dill and fennel, and the adults seek nectar plants.

Eastern Swallowtail on Buttonbush
Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are found in open woodlands and wooded suburban areas. The caterpillars seek trees such as wild black cherry, tulip tree, aspens and ashes. The adults search for nectar plants.

Spicebush on Lantana
Spicebush Swallowtails are found in open woodlands, woodland edges, and swampy areas. The caterpillars prefer the spicebush and sassafras trees. Adults seek nectar plants.

Monarch on Tithonia or Mexican Sunflower
Monarch butterflies are in the Brushfoot family and are found in open areas such as fields, meadows, places where milkweed grows. During migration they can be anywhere. Milkweed is the necessary food source for these caterpillars. Adults seek nectar plants.
Monarch on Tithonia or Mexican Sunflower

Red Admiral on Echinacea or Coneflower
 Admirals, the Red-spotted Purples and the Red Admirals are also in the Brushfoot family. They live around moist woodlands and suburban areas. Food sources for the caterpillars include cherries, poplars and birches. Adults seek organic matter such as fruit.
Red Admiral on Echinacea or Coneflower

Red Spotted Purple on Sedum
Red Spotted Purple on Sedum
Fritillary on Liatris or Gayfeather
In the Brushfoot family as well, Fritillaries are found near woodlands and meadows where violets and willows can be found. The caterpillars need violets and willows. The adults seek nectar plants.
Fritillary on Echinacea or Coneflower

Friday, September 20, 2013

Homes for the Birds..Growing Birdhouse Gourds


 Gourds are perfect for a children's garden. Kids love to watch how fast the vines grow and crawl around, and once the little gourds start to grow, their progress can become a daily watch. It has been years since I had success like the above picture. I still don't know what was so different about that year but my son certainly wasn't complaining. That following spring it seemed we had birdhouses and scolding wrens at every turn.

Early autumn is that time of the growing season when heat loving garden plants start winding down. If you had planted gourds, most likely they were of the following types: Gourds of the Lagenaria family are hard shelled and very fleshy (about 90% water), Cucurbita gourds are the smaller ornamental types and Luffa gourds are sponge gourds. If your goal was to make birdhouses out of the gourds, then the type you want are from the Lagenaria family, averaging 9" to 12" in diameter.

Gourds are heat and sun loving plants, so don't plant the seeds until nighttime temperatures don't go below 55 degrees. Here in zone 6 it is best to wait until after Memorial Day to plant. 
Either plant the seeds around poles as pictured, or plant in hills, 4 - 5 feet apart, with about 5 seeds per hill. Once the seeds are established, thin the plants to 2 - 3 plants per hill.

If you have the space, gourd vines will be happy to crawl and climb wherever they please. If you have limited space, give them a hand by gently training the vines to climb some kind of support such as a fence, trellis or as in the picture, an old ladder.

Wait for the vines to wither and turn brown before cutting off the gourds. If your area is hit by frost before you get your gourds harvested, the hard shell types will be alright but getting them in before a frost is best. The thinner skinned types and even the thick skinned gourds, if not fully mature, will begin to rot after exposed to even a light freeze.

Cut the gourd off the vine leaving a 2 to 3 inch stem. If the stem breaks off, the chances of spoilage are greater. Be gentle so as not to bruise them.

Make a weak bleach and water solution and wipe down the gourds to clean off the dirt and kill bacteria. A 5% dilution would be to figure 5 parts bleach to 95 parts water. An example would be to mix 5 TBSP bleach with 95 TBSP water (about 6 cups).

Place the gourds in a well-ventilated area. This is where you will need patience. Small gourds can dry in about a month, but the large ones need up to six months to fully dry out. Don't store them in a cellar or basement where it may be damp or insufficient air flow. An outdoor shed, barn or attic is ideal.
You'll know when they are fully dry by shaking them. If you hear the seeds rattling around inside, you'll know it is dry.
Don't try to hurry things along by thinking that if you cut a hole in the gourd and scoop out the insides, it'll help. This will most likely just cause it to rot.
As the gourds dry, you'll notice the outside layer will begin to change color and peel. Don't be in a hurry to scrape this off. Just leave them alone. You can turn them once in a while but as long as there is good air flow it's not that important. 

If you had planned on saving some of the seeds for next year's planting, cut off the bottom of one or two with a serrated knife. Shake out the seeds, pick off the messy parts the best you can, and spread them out on newspaper, racks or trays. Ideally the seed should be spread out on a screen or something with a mesh bottom. You want good air flow and ventilation. Be patient with the drying process as it'll take several weeks. You don't want to store them before completely dry as moisture will result in mold and the death of your seeds. Periodically check on the seeds and stir them around. As they dry you'll be able to remove more of the bits and pieces still clinging to the seeds. 

Bear in mind the location you plan on using to store your dried seeds. There are two methods you can use:  

Put them into a paper bag or envelope and store in a dark, cool, dry location away from heat and moisture. The bag needs to breathe so don't use plastic. If stored in a sealed plastic bag there is the risk of condensation from moisture and heat. Seeds stored properly have a good germination rate that will decrease at about 10% per year.

The other method of storage is refrigeration or freezer. This eliminates the three risks to seeds which are heat, air and the problem of condensation. The deterioration process is halted and seed can last for years with little drop in germination rates. Put the seeds in ziploc plastic bags or tightly sealed containers and store in your refrigerator or freezer till needed. In the late spring when you pull out those seeds, don't take more than you plan to plant at the time. You don't want the seeds defrosting and then putting those you don't need back into the cold. 

Keep in mind that only seeds from non-hybrid gourd varieties will produce plants true to the originals. Also, gourds cross-pollinate between different varieties of squash, so only plant one type if you are planning to save seeds.

In the early spring months the returning birds are scoping out areas for ideal nesting sites. By that time it is time to clean up and hang up the now dry gourds that hopefully weren't forgotten. Wrens, in particular, like a swaying birdhouse and most likely will check out several of these gourds before making a choice.

Your gourds have been drying for 5 - 6 months and if they made it through the winter without rotting they should look like this picture. They will be very light in weight, the seeds will rattle, and the outside appearance will look like dried, flaky mold spots. Just take a wire brush or sandpaper and brush this off until it is nice and smooth.

Take a serrated knife and cut out a hole about midway from the bottom with a diameter hole size of about 3/4 - 1 inch. Poke additional little holes or small slits into the bottom of the gourds for drainage. Using an ice pick, poke holes through the top near the stem so that you have two holes, one on each side. Now take a crochet hook and poke through both of these holes. Loop a length of about 12 inches of weatherproof cord rope around the hook and pull back through these holes. Now your cord rope is through the birdhouse and it is ready to hang. Be sure to hang these birdhouses at least five feet above the ground to be out of reach of nosy predators, such as cats.

It is difficult to clean these types of birdhouses after the season is over, so I don't even bother. Usually after one or two seasons, they either have fallen, have woodpecker holes in them, or they become a home to a mouse or a bees nest. I never cared since I try to have a fresh batch of gourds each spring.

Have fun!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

To Plant or Not to Plant..Learning about Invasives

 When it comes to trying to do right by our environment, even those to whom we seek advice are always learning. Years ago we made two mistakes in our choices for what to plant to naturalize our property.

Wanting butterflies, like most people that list included the Butterfly Bush (Buddleia spp). Now we are told not to plant this butterfly magnet because even though the adult butterflies are drawn to its pretty flower clusters, it offers nothing as a host plant for caterpillars and being it spreads it is destroying native habitat. Like many plants from Asia, once it escapes home garden settings it starts to spread uncontrolled in natural areas which disturbs the delicate balance of native plants. When I first noticed it popping up elsewhere, I thought it neat that I could get more for free and just dig it up and put it where I wanted it. Now I'm told to dig them up and get rid of them or just cut off any volunteers that appear.

The second plant was the Autumn Olive ( Elaeagnus umbellata).
Autumn olive is a vigorous, deciduous shrub with pale yellow-white bell-shaped flowers to a half-inch long borne in late spring and early summer. Its silvery fruit turns red in fall and attracts birds. Wavy-margined leaves are silvery when they emerge and mature to bright green above.
At the time what we wanted was a plant to use for a roadside hedgerow. We were looking for something that would be drought resistant, hardy in cold weather, would not need to be pruned, would form into a privacy hedgerow, and supply safe nesting sites and berries for the birds.

 Autumn Olive ( Elaeagnus umbellata)caption
Though originally from Asia, the autumn olive was recommended by a forestry catalog supplying bulk plants for naturalizing purposes. In the eastern and central U.S., the autumn olive was purposely planted back in the 1960's along highways, to revegetate road banks, reclaim mine spoil, and supply food for wildlife. This plant was purposely planted in areas for erosion control. Being it grows in poor soils thanks to its nitrogen-fixing roots, it was planted to improve soil quality, but now we find that in doing so it adversely affects the nitrogen cycle of the native communities that depend on infertile soils.

For some years after planting the shrub seems contained, but then it suddenly becomes invasive and difficult to control. At first I loved this plant. I looked forward to its wonderful, sweet fragrance every May when it flowered. I looked forward to its delicious, little berries that ripened by October. The birds love it too, so much that if I didn't pay attention they would have them stripped before I had even a nibble. But now I see the problem. The plant spreads by way of bird droppings, allowing the shrubs to pop up in meadows, fields and I notice it along many a roadside. Its branches grow in every direction, which though that is what makes it such an effective, intertwining hedgerow, that characteristic makes it horrendous to work with in trying to get rid of it. Heavy work gloves are a must in handling the branches.

My real vengeance is with the Oriental Bittersweet. I didn't plant the Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) but the last few years it seems to be appearing everywhere, crawling over everything in its path. This invasive vine can literally form a canopy over smaller bushes and eventually pull everything down.

Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)

Oriental bittersweet is a vigorous, woody, deciduous climber with rounded mid-green leaves that turn yellow in autumn. It bears small green flowers in summer and axillary clusters of bead-like red berries with contrasting yellow casings in the fall. Fruit splits open to reveal pink to red seeds. These berry clusters are actually very pretty for fall decorating but since this vine can't seem to behave itself, it is with great satisfaction whenever I snip a vine trying to climb yet another poor tree.

There is a native bittersweet called  American bittersweet (C. scandens), which is noninvasive.
American bittersweet (C. scandens)
The plants look very similar so it is easy to mistake one for the other when small. 

Below is a list of better options for wildlife habitat planting.
The  list comes from conservation biologist, Carole Sevilla Brown

 Good options for woody plants:
  1. Quercus—Oaks support an astounding 543 species of Lepidoptera, including Polyphemus and Imperial moths, Banded Hairstreak, Striped Hairstreak, White M Hairstreak, Juvenal’s Duskywing, and Horace’s Duskywing. There are about 60 native species of Oak in the United States, which are divided into two groups: the white oaks, and the red oaks.
  2. PrunusPrunus include: beach plum, cherry, chokecherry, peach, plum, sweet cherry, wild plum, and almond. These plants support 456 Lepidoptera species, including Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Coral Hairstreak, Striped Hairstreak, Red-spotted Purple, Cecropia moth, Promethea Moth, and Hummingbird Clearwing.
  3. Salix—455 butterfly and moth species use Willows. Including Mourning Cloak, Red-spotted Purple, and Viceroy.
  4. Betula—Birch are used by 411 species, including Luna Moth, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Cecropia Moth, and Polyphemus Moth.
  5. Populus—367 species use aspen, cottonwood, and poplar. These include Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Mourning Cloak and Twinspot Sphinx Moth,
  6. Malus—crabapple and apple are used by 308 species, inclucing Io Moth, and Cecropia Moth.
  7. Acer—Maple and boxelder are used by 297 species, including Io Moth, Saddled Prominent, Luna Moth, and Imperial Moth.  Don't plant Norway Maples. They are highly invasive.
  8. Vaccinium—cranberry and blueberry are used by 294 species, including Brown Elfin, Spring Azure, and Striped Hairstreak
  9. Alnus—Alder is used by 255 species including Orange Sulphur, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, and Giant Swallowtail
  10. Carya—Hickory, pecan, pignut, and bitternut are used by 235 Lepidoptera species, including Io Moth, Polyphemus Moth, Luna Moth, Pale Tussock Moth, and American Dagger Moth.

Buttonbush, Button willow, Honey balls (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Good options for  herbaceous plants:
  1. Goldenrod (Solidago), support 115 species. 125 Goldenrod species occur throughout the US. Goldenrod is used by many insects and spiders and birds who feed on the seeds and insects. No autumn garden is complete without several species of goldenrod bending in the breeze.
  2. Aster (Aster), support 112 species. This is a huge family, with species that thrive in prairie, meadow, pasture, roadside, and woodland environments. There are both spring and fall blooming species which means that you should choose a wide variety of species. Try to avoid the cultivars and opt instead for true native species. The asters provide abundant pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies and are a wonderful choice for any wildlife garden.
  3. Sunflower (Helianthus), support 73 species. When thinking of sunflowers, it is common to call the large-headed, many-seeded annual cultivars to mind, but there are many native perrenial species as well. The plants provide lots of nectar and pollen, and the seeds are eaten by many birds and other wildlife. Try a mix of native perrenial species with several annual species as well.
  4. Joe Pye (Eupatorium), support 42 species. Joe Pye is one of the best native alternatives for invasive Butterfly Bush, and includes Boneset, Snakeroot, and many species of Joe Pye. They produce a lot of nectar and pollen, making them an excellent choice for a pollinator garden.
  5. Morning Glory (Ipomoea), support 39 species. You must be very careful with morning glory because there are many introduced varieties which can be extremely invasive. When choosing a Morning Glory for your garden, it MUST be native to your area, or you will regret planting it. Please research your choice very carefully. Check with the native plant society in your state for guidance.
  6. Sedges (Carex), support 36 species. Many native sedges are considered threatened or endangered in the U.S., so your planting of them will help to protect them in addition to providing for wildlife. Sedges work in grassland, prairie, and woodland environments. We often neglect these species when planning our gardens for wildlife, but grasses and sedges are an essential element for wildlife in our gardens.
  7. Honeysuckle (Lonicera), support 36 species. Do not plant Japanese Honeysuckle! Please check carefully to ensure that you are choosing Lonicera species that are native to your area because there are several very invasive alien honeysuckles wreaking havoc in many ecosystems. Native species are wonderful for hummingbirds and butterflies.
  8. Lupine (Lupinus), support 33 species. Several endangered butterflies, such as the Karner Blue, are reliant on species from this family. Check with your state native plant society to determine which species will be most appropriate for your garden.
  9. Violets (Viola), support 29 species. Violets are host plants for one of my favorite groups of butterflies, the Fritillaries, many of which are endangered. Choose several species for early spring color and wildlife habitat
  10. Geraniums (Geranium), support 23 species. This does not mean those hanging baskets you can buy at the grocery store. You want to find native species that are best for your location.
Goldenrod, (Solidago spp.)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Our Bodes need Salt, But NOT Refined Table Salt

 Stress related conditions all start somewhere and in our efforts to thwart the grip of a chronic illness in our daughter, we sought the advice of  Dr. Andrew Neville at The Clymer Healing Center in Quakertown, PA

The goal at this facility is to provide comprehensive natural health care by utilizing the whole person approach.  Specializing in Adrenal Dysfunction and Chronic Fatigue, their mission is to educate and treat patients by utilizing all of "God's healing gifts and nature's healing agents".
Adrenal Dysfunction basically means dysfunction in the entire stress response system, which consists of half the hormone-related side (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis) and half the nervous system side (Autonomic Nervous System). The hormone side controls the hormones of the stress response, primarily cortisol and adrenaline. The nervous system side of the stress response uses our nerves or wiring. The stress response system involves every nerve and cell in the body.

Normal use of our stress response would involve a balanced seesaw between the "fight or flight" side and the "rest and digest" side. Problems arise when things get off kilter and unbalanced. If our lives continue to be hectic, stressed and anxiety ridden, we are continually in the fight or flight mode, which inactivates the rest and digest mode. The lack of balance stresses our delicate systems, putting us at risk for Adrenal Fatigue, Adrenal Exhaustion which could lay out the welcome mat for Adrenal Dysfunction.

So what does this have to do with salt?

We tend to forget that the water content of our bodies is a salty water solution very similar to seawater. Our bodies have evolved with salt over thousands of years and it is incredibly important to our basic survival. Salt plays a crucial role in our general metabolic function, as the body literally runs on the energy produced by little pumps called sodium/potassium pumps. Every function, every chemical reaction, are dependent on adequate levels of sodium and potassium. Those levels of sodium and potassium are controlled by the hormones of the adrenal glands, with aldosterone being the hormone that controls our ability to hold onto sodium. If our adrenals are weak, the levels of aldosterone decrease, resulting in our bodies inability to hold onto water, thus losing sodium as well (remember the basic rule that water follows salt). Since our bodies are made up of roughly 70% water, to lose too much water decreases our blood volume, which means we are dehydrated. To put it bluntly, to be dehydrated most of the time means you'll feel lousy most of the time, tired, brain fog, lightheaded, etc.

So what about all the doctors' warnings about the evil of salt in our diets. As with most things associated with the diets of modern society, the problem lies in refined vs. unrefined, processed vs. unprocessed, synthetic vs, natural, the confusion over choices continues.

It isn't salt itself that is bad, it's the type of salt we consume that needs to change. Table salt is processed sodium chloride or NaCl. Salt in this form does not exist in nature, therefore is foreign to the body.

There is a purpose for refined and processed salt. Salt is used for a lot more than seasoning our foods. Most of the various kinds of salt are used in the chemical industry, mainly as a source of chlorine, snow and ice removal, stabilizing soils, construction and preserving food.
Salt intended for food processing is treated to remove impurities, pollutants, and added to it are anti-clumping compounds to prevent caking together (A characteristic of all salts is that they absorb water from the surrounding environment and thus clump). A quality people want in their salt is that it be fine grained and free flowing from the salt shaker. What are considered impurities are things that can cause problems with certain foods in production, such as: small amounts of calcium tend to toughen vegetables, traces of copper or iron tend to destroy vitamin C and to increase the rate at which fatty foods become rancid, and calcium and magnesium both tend to make salt absorb more water, causing it to cake.

Salt in its natural state is not white and fine in texture. The color of unrefined sea salt depends on the concentration of all the minerals in it; it could be tan, gray or pink. Table salt is 99.99% sodium chloride and only 0.01% trace minerals. Salt in its natural state contains about 80 minerals and can make up from 2 to 15% trace minerals, depending where it was harvested and how it was produced. The minerals exist in the same balance as they do in the ocean, which is very similar to the balance of minerals that we need in our bodies.  They are still moist and often clump together because they don't contain any of those anti-clumping agent additives.

Iodine is naturally occurring as the ocean is rich in iodine, so it doesn't need to be artificially added in (and the iodine that is added into salt is usually synthetic, which is difficult for your body to process properly, as with any synthetic ingredient). If our diets include foods such as kale, brussel sprouts, kelp, and cabbage we needn't worry about getting enough iodine.

Minerals act as catalysts in the body to make everything happen and run smoothly. People with adrenal fatigue and adrenal dysfunction actually have low amounts of salt in their bodies. Normal sodium levels in the blood is roughly 142. A craving for salt is the bodies way of trying to get the minerals it needs to function properly and get the water levels back in balance. Refined table salt is not the type of salt craved by our bodies so if that is the type we are giving it we are only aggravating  other problems with our body chemistry. The issues with salt elevating blood pressure are not common when using unrefined sea salt because the necessary minerals are present for proper function.

The advice of Dr. Neville is that if you have the following symptoms you may be suffering from Adrenal Fatigue:

Frequent urination
Brain fog

To balance your system and help your body function properly, eliminate white, processed table salt and replace it with unrefined, sea salt found at health food stores. Don't buy any sea salt, if it is white it is still processed. Though better than table salt, ideally what you want is for the package to say unrefined sea salt.
Try to stay away from highly salted, processed foods.

Dr. Neville highly recommends the following book:
Salt Your Way to Health by David Brownstein

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Freezer Pickles, Easy and Quick

Cucumbers are often a staple in home gardens, but when they start coming in faster than we can eat them, it is a shame if they go to waste. Or perhaps you would love to take advantage of the inexpensive seasonal surplus at farmer's markets but tell yourself you don't have a use for so many. If  home canning isn't something you want to get into, try this delicious recipe from a great cookbook called From Amish and Mennonite Kitchens.

Sugar and vinegar are used quite frequently in Amish, Mennonite and Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. Pickling vegetables such as red beets, cucumbers, green beans, and the most popular being a mix called chow chow, then eaten as cold salads,  are a common method of using up a large quantity of fresh vegetables.

These pickles freeze well and stay crisp when defrosted for serving.


7 cups cucumbers, thinly sliced
   (A food processor makes this job quick, easy, and produces evenly sliced pickles)
   (peeling the cucumbers is unnecessary if the skins are thin and not bitter)
1 cup onions, thinly sliced
   (Again, use a food processor)
1 cup green peppers, thinly sliced
   (Yes, again use a food processor)

2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. celery seed

2 cups sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
Place in a smaller bowl to fit into your refrigerator, cover with a lid or plastic wrap.
Refrigerate for 3 days, stir each day.
After 3 days, divide up into freezer containers and store in the freezer until ready to use.

That's it!


Being mostly water, cucumbers are very hydrating for the skin. The cool feel of cucumber slices placed over tired eyes can do wonders for puffiness. Cucumbers have the same pH as the skin, so they help restore the protective acid mantle, thus a great aid for skin irritations and burns.

High in vitamin C, fiber, silica, potassium, and magnesium, cucumbers are a great addition to the diet to help maintain a glowing complexion.

Besides being used for relieving puffy, tired eyes, here a a few additional beauty recipes:
Make a toner for calming and tightening your skin:

1/2 cucumber with peel, chopped
3 tablespoons witch hazel
2 tablespoons distilled water
Using a blender, add all ingredients and blend until smooth. Separate the solids from the juicy part by straining and then pour your toner into a lidded jar and store in the refrigerator. To use, apply to your face using a cotton ball or one of those cotton squares or rounds. It should last a few weeks if kept in the refrigerator.
A real treat for your face is to make a facial mask:

1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped avocado
1 egg white
2 teaspoons powdered milk
Using a small food processor, blend all the ingredients together to form a smooth, paste-like consistency. Massage 2 tbsp of the mask onto your face and neck using circular upward motions. Relax for 30 minutes, giving the mask time to dry. Rinse off with warm water followed by cool water and then pat dry. Store the rest in the refrigerator.

An easier facial mask would be to puree a cucumber in the food processor and add some plain yogurt. Apply as above, rest for 20 minutes and rinse.

1/2 cucumber
1 tbsp plain/natural yogurt
optional for blemishes would be to add 1 drop of rosemary essential oil