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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Chamomile, It all Started with Peter Rabbit

My introduction into the world of herbs all started with the famous children's book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Most mother's can relate with how to handle mischievous children who don't listen and then come whimpering to Mom when hurting or upset. Mama rabbit simply put her little bunny to bed with a cup of chamomile tea and let him reflect on his lesson learned after such an adventurous day.

Be it frazzled nerves or an upset tummy, chamomile tea was the best remedy to calm both conditions at the same time. Better yet, chamomile tea lulled little Peter Rabbit into the la la land of sleep.
Much of chamomile's medicinal effects are targeted toward the digestive tract and nervous system. It's rich history around the world has it regarded as a drug in many areas, with the respect going far beyond being just another plant brushed aside with the emergence of western medicine.

As said by herbalist Kathi Keville, "It looks like a tiny daisy, smells like apples and has a sweet, almost fruity taste. But chamomile is no dainty herb. It's a virtual powerhouse of healing."

The word itself comes from two Greek words, khamai, which means "on the ground", and melon, which means "apple".

 The two two main types of chamomile we see are German (Matricaria recutita) and Roman (Chamaemelum nobile). 

The active constituents of chamomile include anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and anti-anxiety properties within the essential oils of the plant. By soothing the gastrointestinal tract, chamomile relieves painful spasms and the pressure from gas build-up. Skin conditions are calmed down with the topical application of chamomile salves and even just by laying wet, used tea bags on the irritated area. Compounds called flavonoids present in chamomile promote both an anti-inflammatory and an anti-anxiety effect when they bind with certain receptor sites in the brain.

Chamomile tea can be a godsend for parents pacing the floor with a colicky baby. The build-up of intestinal gas is very painful. Just a teaspoon of cooled chamomile tea given every ten minutes can relieve a baby's misery amazingly fast. Catnip is another wonderful herb safe for babies.

Combine a hot water bottle placed over the lower abdomen and sipping chamomile tea every 15 minutes for a sure relief from those dreaded 
 PMS menstrual cramps. Add cramp bark, grated ginger, scullcap, and wild yam to the tea for an even better blend.

Be it a child or an adult, everyone has occasional trouble falling asleep. A cup of chamomile tea with a spoonful of honey can become a nightly ritual to look forward to in readiness for bed. The nerve relaxing properties of this herb are wonderful for settling down overtired children and the cluttered minds of over stressed adults.

Long-term stress can be one factor in the development of ulcers. Chamomile contains azulene, which is believed to promote healing in the mucus layer of the stomach. Azulene in chamomile essential oil is what turns the oil a bright blue.

For muscle pain in general, a great combination of essential oils is:
chamomile, clary sage and marjoram. Use just three drops of each of these essential oils added to one ounce of a carrier oil such as olive oil. Use a bit of this mixture to massage the areas of muscle pain.

Skin rashes of all types can be eased with the topical use of chamomile. Added to baths, creams or salves, the anti-inflammatory effects can calm down such skin flares. Besides the anti-inflammatory benefits, chamomile is also antibacterial and antifungal. Among the microbes that chamomile inhibits are the ones responsible for staph and Candida infections. This is very good to know for people dealing with itchy conditions such as eczema where scratching can lead to secondary bacterial infections.

It may not be completely understood as to why, but chamomile tea can lessen the symptoms during allergy season. It is thought that chamomile stimulates the release of the body's natural cortisone. Cortisone inhibits the release of histamine, which is the chemical responsible for the runny nose, itchy eyes and hives. For better results, mix chamomile with yarrow for hay fever and mullein for asthma. There is debate as to whether a ragweed allergy automatically means a person is allergic to chamomile.

A great eyewash for sore eyes is made by seeping two teaspoons of chamomile in one-half cup of boiling water. Let this strong infusion cool and then strain through a coffee filter. Use an eye cup or an eye dropper to flush the eyes. A nice warm compress laid over the eyes would feel wonderful as well. You can even use the spent tea bags from the cup of tea you just drank and lay over your eyes.

In beauty care, chamomile is wonderful as part of facial toners and hair rinses. Chamomile's anti-inflammatory action helps calm down inflamed skin therefore very useful for breakouts.
Long used by people with blonde hair as a hair rinse to bring out those natural highlights.

If you want to grow your own chamomile it is fairly easy. Chamomile is an annual which once it is planted and gets established, it will pop up on its own every year. The flowers are the parts collected and if you harvest on a regular basis during the growing season the flowers will continue before finally going to seed. 

Below are several products utilizing this amazing herb:
Click on the link below the pictures to take you into the shop
Coconut Herbal Balm, Wounds, Dry Skin
Rich Foot Balm for Blisters, Calluses, Skin Cracks

Shea Butter Herbal Balm for Dry Skin, Healing
Herbal Salve for Eczema, Skin conditions
Hurting Tummy Oil
Children's Settle Down Massage Oil

Tension Headache Massage Oil

Mensus Misery Massage Oil
Sleep and Dream Mist Linen Spray
Chamomile, Nettles, Calendula Facial Toner
Raw Honey Facial Mask
Vinegar Rinse for Light Hair

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Butterflies and the Nettle Patch

 The reduction in butterfly sightings has been disturbing. Pesticides, herbicides, loss of their natural habitat, air and water pollution all contribute to the survival threats against these flying flowers.

Rather than feel helpless and hopeless amidst the vast problems with environmental issues, we can turn what land we have into habitat havens.                                                                                           

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. For a successful butterfly garden you have to remember to provide food sources for both the caterpillars as well as the adults. Though the butterfly bush can be a butterfly magnet, these plants are not natives, and are now discouraged for butterfly garden plantings because they can become invasive.

Stinging nettles can be a valuable food source for not only our butterflies and moths but for us as well. Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica), a herbaceous perennial found almost worldwide is an undervalued and misunderstood plant. Many of us discovered this plant the hard way and probably cursed its very existence. Brushing up against stinging nettles results in a sting you won't soon 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. But once one learns the plant's value and proper ways of handling it, it can become a medicinal and vegetable dish favorite. 

Nettles prefer rich, somewhat moist soil in part shade to full sun. They can be found in garden beds as well as part of the understory beneath deciduous trees like maples. They are perennials which means they die back in autumn and return in the spring. They spread through their rhizomatous roots, therefore depending where they are located you may have to keep their spread under control with either your weed trimmer or lawn mower. You don't want them growing where there is the constant risk of people brushing against their stings.

Early in the spring, when the plants are young and tender, wear gloves and cut the plants for a very nutritious boost to your diet. Nettles cannot be eaten raw, but are delicious when cooked like spinach or made into a tea. Wonderful boost for a weakened immune system, the chronically ill, and those who feel tired all the time.

 By the time summer rolls around, the nettle plants are going into flower and become too tough to be enjoyable. Some people cut them back so they regrow new tender stalks, but if not interested in that, let them alone and they'll be a welcome, important food source for the large number of caterpillars on their way to becoming our beautiful butterflies.

Lepidoptera or, in other words, butterflies and moths, is one of the most popular insect orders.
The name Lepidoptera, derived from the Greek words "lepido" for scale and "ptera" for wings, refers to the flattened hairs (scales) that cover the body and wings of most adults.

The order Lepidoptera is divided into groups. One of these groups is the group we call butterflies and all the other groups are called moths. There are over 100,000 moth species. To tell the difference between butterflies and moths, just remember a few basic facts:
Most all adult butterflies fly during the daytime and the majority of moths are only out at night (that is a generalization being there are some types of moths out during the day).
Butterflies fly much more gracefully than moths. This is because moths have a structure called the frenulum, that hooks the forewing to the hindwing. The result of that is the flight pattern is stiff and jerky. Butterflies don't have the frenulum, therefore fly with more graceful movements.
Another difference is with the antennas. Think of golf clubs to remember the look of butterfly antennas. There is a long shaft with a little club on the end. Moth antennas are either fuzzy filaments tapering to a point or have crossbars, like little TV antennas.

There are six families of butterflies found in the United States.
Each family has characteristics to help you recognize their name.
These butterflies are large, have tails and are not the color orange. An exception to that rule are the parnassians who don't have tails.Very familiar is the Tiger Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail and Spicebush.

Whites and Yellows
Almost all members of this family are either white or yellow with black markings. Always on the move, they don't hang out on the same nectar source for very long. Perhaps you are familiar with the pesky white cabbageworm fluttering around your garden vegetables.
These are small, delicate butterflies with fluted hind wings. Blues, coppers and hairstreaks are in this family.

Similar to the gossamer-wings, these New World butterflies aren't very common and can be recognized by their green eyes.

This family contains many of our best-known butterflies, such as the Monarchs, Mourning Cloaks, Viceroys, Fritillaries, Buckeyes, Crescents, Coma, Peacocks, Snout, Satyrs, Admirals, Emperors, Tortoiseshells and Painted Ladies. Characteristic is their front legs are reduced in size. This is due the front pair of legs ( which are much smaller than the other two pairs and so not used for walking ) being covered in tufts of hair like scales. Most color combinations are brownish, orange and black.

Seen are likely to be a spread-wing skipper or a grass-skipper. The antennal club is hooked at the tip.  The Silverspotted skipper, a spread-wing, is a common species. The Checkered skipper is also common. These species are often difficult to tell apart.

On a side note, people often confuse swallowtail caterpillars and monarch caterpillars. First clue is that monarch caterpillars will be found on milkweed and swallowtail caterpillars are found on plants like not only nettles but fennel and dill. Here is a good post about their differences.

 Butterflies of the nettle patch are usually members of the Brushfoot family (Nymphalidae). The caterpillars depend on nettles for their growth in order to transform into the beautiful creatures we certainly don't want to see disappear. Below are a few you may see in your nettle patch.


Hoary Comma
Red Admiral




White Peacock