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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Almond Sugar Cookies..Addition to the Sweet Treat Tradition of the Holiday Season

The trick to holiday baking is to get it done early enough to ease the stressful time crunch of the "to do" list before Christmas Eve. But the downside around this house is that between event contributions and all those people who deserve a little something, by the time the big day rolls around there is often little left. 
But the tradition is rewarding even if we do swear we'll cut back on the "unnecessary" work every year. New, untried and enticing recipes flood our Facebook pages and magazines, adding to the craziness of what makes for holiday cheer.

This new recipe is a keeper. It was cut out years ago from a Taste Of Home magazine and was tucked away in a cookie cookbook.

What sets it apart from the usual sugar cookie is the almond extract rather than the usual vanilla.
The buttery taste makes this a definite melt-in-your mouth gem of a cookie.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees

1 cup softened butter (no substitutions)
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp almond extract

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in the almond extract.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Sift these three dry ingredients.
Add this dry mixture to the creamed mixture.

With your hands, roll into 1 inch balls.

Place two inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Coat the bottom of a glass with cooking spray.
Dip the glass into a bit of sugar and flatten the cookie balls.

Baked at 400 for 7 - 9 minutes or longer (12 minutes) if the cookie dough balls were larger.
Remove the cookie sheet when the edges of the cookies are lightly brown.
Cool for 1 minute and remove the cookies to a wire rack.

For Glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar

1 1/2 tsp almond extract
2 - 3 tsp water.
sliced almonds, toasted

In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners' sugar, almond extract and enough water to achieve a glaze consistency to drizzle.

Tint with food coloring if desired and drizzle a bit onto each cookie.
Let the cookies cool before you add the drizzle or the icing melts into the cookie.
Sprinkle with almond slices.

Makes 3 - 4 dozen, depending how big the dough balls were.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Applesauce Raisin Muffins, Cold Weather Goodness

 Cold weather weekend mornings are perfect for homemade goodness at breakfast or mid-day snacking. Better yet if these muffins started with homemade applesauce!

This recipe was probably cut from a Taste of Home magazine but who knows from what issue.


4 cups flour (you can use 1/2 all-purpose and 1/2 oat or wheat)
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbs ground allspice
2 tsp baking soda

Combine and sift to blend these four dry ingredients in a large bowl.

1 cup butter (soften in microwave if right out of refrigerator)
2 cups sugar

Cream the butter and the sugar in a mixing bowl
Then beat in:

2 eggs
2 cups applesauce
2 tbsp vanilla extract

Fold the butter/sugar mixture into the dry mixture and stir just until moistened. 

Add 1 cup raisins
Don't over mix or muffins can be tough.

Grease muffin pans
Pour the batter into 24 muffin cups about 3/4 full each

Bake at 350 degrees F
20 - 25 minutes or until a toothpick tests done

Cool in pan 10 minutes before removing or muffins may stick.
Cool on a wire rack

Yield 2 dozen
Freeze for later if desired

Enjoy this old-fashioned, healthy recipe!
Ideal for a quick, nutritious breakfast, lunch or anytime snack.
Perfect to make ahead and save for holiday gift giving and party contributions.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Apple Crisp, Cross between a cookie and a pie

Apple season is here and you can never have too many recipes on ways to enjoy them. It is the week before Thanksgiving and the weather has taken a downhill spiral seemingly overnight. So what is there to do on a blustery Sunday afternoon but enjoy home baked goodness and a steaming hot cup of coffee.

This recipe for Apple Crisp is a combination of a crisp oatmeal cookie and apple pie. But you don't have to deal with making a pie crust and most likely the ingredients are already in the cupboard. Originally from an issue of Taste Of Home magazine, this recipe was contributed by Gertrude Bartnick of Wisconsin.


Preheat the oven to 350 F

In a mixing bowl, combine these four ingredients:
 1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Cut in:
1/2 cup butter which is 1 stick.

If right out of the refrigerator, soften for 20 seconds in the microwave. You want it softened a bit but not melted.
Use a pastry blender tool to cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly.
Press half of this mix into a greased baking pan.
The recipe says to use a 2 1/2 qt. baking dish or a 9 inch square baking pan.
I had doubled the recipe so in the photo shown I had used a 9 x 12 in. baking dish.

Peel and chop:
4 cups apples

Add the chopped apples to cover the crumbly mixture already in the baking pan.

In a saucepan, combine:
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp. cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1 cup water
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Cand stir this sugar mixture until it comes to a slight boil and turns thick and clear.

Pour the sugar mixture over the apples which are already in the baking pan.

Sprinkle with the remaining crumb mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour or until the apples are tender and the topping is golden brown.

Let sit to thicken up before cutting into it to serve.
Serve warm as is or add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to each serving.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Winterberry Holly, A Deciduous Native Shrub

Mention holly and most people think Christmas and holiday decorating. The image that comes to mind is the bright red berries and the glossy, pokey, evergreen foliage. But did you know there is a deciduous holly that doesn't have those glossy leaves and loses them every autumn?

The holly we are most familiar is Ilex opaca, the American Holly.
The deciduous holly is Ilex verticillata.
Both species are natives to eastern and south-central United States and very beneficial to our wildlife.

The Winterberry Holly is generally considered a wetland holly but it does grow just fine in drier soils. The difference is that in wetter soils it suckers to form a spreading thicket and in the typical garden soils it tends to be more of a clump.

 A tough, easy to grow shrub with few serious disease or insect threats, this shrub is a winner. The size ranges from a height of three to fifteen feet with a variable width as well.

There are male plants and female plants. Originally I didn't know this and only planted the one you see in the photos, so obviously there must be males around or this one wouldn't produce berries.

In the spring, Winterberry Holly produces tiny white flowers, not much to write home about. But by late summer, the slender branches are covered right to their tips with numerous berries. This photo was taken in November and you can see that the leaves are still hanging in there.

Then when the leaves do finally drop, the shrub is in it's glory all winter long.

The berries provide beautiful winter color to the landscape for months until they are finally stripped by the birds and small wildlife.
Keep in mind that though the berries provide an important food source for wildlife, they should not be eaten by humans as they are considered mildly poisonous.

Therefore, if you do cut branches of the Winterberry Holly and bring them indoors for holiday decorating, keep them out of reach of small children and pets. If the berries or leaves are ingested, they can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Nasturtiums, Cottage Garden, Children's Garden

Nasturtiums are everything a gardener could want in a flower. Easy to grow, drought resistant, totally carefree as they cheerfully meander their way around to quickly fill in bare spots.
Not only pretty to look at, these annuals can be used as a companion crop, an edible, part of herbal medicine and a source of play for a child's imagination.

When one thinks of their grandmother's garden or a cottage garden, Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus), most likely are at the top of the list. This self-sowing annual flower germinates easily, usually within 10 - 14 days. Some people like to soak the seeds overnight to speed things up a bit.

Being the seeds are fairly large, these are perfect for the little hands of children to handle. Just press the seeds down into the warm soil about 1/2" deep and a foot apart. Children will be delighted when the little umbrella shaped leaves emerge since they are so easy to recognize.

Though planted after the threat of frost is past in the spring, these flowers are cool season annuals and wait till late summer to really put on their show. They like full sun and will grow in partial sun, but the result will be more lush foliage than flowers. Drought resistant, these plants need well-drained soil and actually thrive on neglect.

Once established, they'll reseed themselves, so there really isn't any need to collect the seeds and store for the winter unless you want to plant them elsewhere in a different spot.

Nasturtiums come in two forms: compact (dwarf) and trailing. The compact variety is low and stays bushy at around 12" tall. This type is good in spots where you want a lot of dense growth and color such as in borders, places where you need the plants to behave and not spread out onto the walkways. The trailing types are great for areas you want a tumbling effect such as in hanging baskets or down rocks or walls. If simply planted without caring where they go, nasturtiums will meander around other plants and by early fall they will fill in any bare spots.

There are climbing varieties such as "Canary Creeper" or "Jewel of Africa". These have runners that climb six to eight feet, good for a trellis.

Though the stems break off easily, don't think these are delicate plants. They are actually very durable and even when our dogs bumble right through them, they always bounce right back. The leaves look like little water lily pads, flat and round with the stem attached to the center and the vein radiating out from there. Some think of the leaves as parasols held up by their stems but the actual name is called peltate or shield shaped leaves.

 The traditional colors are a bright yellow and orange, but there are varieties available now such as "Empress of India", which have brilliant red blooms, and the "Whirlybird", which can be described as mixed colors of soft salmon, tangerine as well as a deep cherry rose. Then there are the "Peach Melba" which are the color of cut peaches. Try "Alaska" for varigated leaves.

The blooms have spurs at the back, sort of like the Columbine, which are nectar tubes and a draw for hummingbirds.

Before the age of pesticides gardeners utilized companion planting to deter pests. With the awareness of just how damaging insect killing sprays are to our pollinators, organic gardening is thankfully making a comeback. Plant nasturtium amidst your vegetable plants to deter slugs. Aphids love nasturtiums, therefore they make a good "catch crop" for your other plants. Years ago, nasturtiums were often seen among those large truck patches of potatoes.

Nasturtiums originated in South America and brought back to Spain in the 1500's. Once introduced to European gardens, their popularity quickly took off. Monet had them planted in his pathway borders. Thomas Jefferson loved them and they are now seen in American historical gardens.

The actual meaning of the word nasturtium is "nose-tweaker". Victorian ladies used to include the flowers and leaves in their tussie mussies to help alleviate bad smells.
The latin, Tropaeolum, is a reference to the battle victory trophies which the Romans hung on poles, called tropaeum. The flowers resemble hemets and the leaves resemble shields.

Medicinally, the leaves were used in teas to treat respiratory conditions and bladder infections. High in vitamin C, nasturtiums are a natural antibiotic. Minor cuts could be treated topically by using the leaves as a poultice.

In the kitchen, the flowers, leaves and seeds can all be utilized.
During WWII, the dried seeds were ground and used as a substitute for black pepper.
The chopped leaves add a zesty zing to mayonnaise, vinaigrettes, cheese spreads and dips.
That peppery spicy taste gets hotter as the summer progresses.
Add the flowers to salads for a beautiful visual effect and spicy flavor.
Make pretty tea sandwiches with both the leaves and the flowers.
Children love stuffing the blossoms with egg, chicken or tuna salad or cream cheese mixtures. Guacamole is another great option as a filler. Used as appetizers, these stuffed flowers are a hit with summer parties.

Put the flowers up in vinegars. Place some blossoms in a decorative bottle and cover with hot (not boiling) white wine vinegar. Use about five blossoms per cup of vinegar. Strain when ready to use or strain and add fresh blossoms to give as gifts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Bluebeard Shrub, Late Summer/Fall Color Blue/Purple

For late summer to fall color, try planting the 
Bluebeard shrub or Blue Spirea
(Caryopteris clandonensis).

This non-native perennial shrub is a very well-behaved plant great for foundation planting or as part of a low hedge. It only reaches about 5 feet tall and gets about 3-4 feet wide. 
It needs about six hours of direct sunlight a day and alkaline, well-drained soil. 
The Bluebeard is a deciduous shrub meaning it loses its leaves by the season's end. 
Hardiness zones include Zones 5,6,7,8,9
The entire shrub should be cut back to about four inches from the ground in early spring. This encourages denser growth each year.
Propagate by taking softwood cuttings in the early spring.
Established plants can be divided in either spring or fall.

This beautiful bush is an attraction to both bees and butterflies.
The powder blue/purple flowers have a nice fragrance and if you rub the leaves they smell like eucalyptus.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Homemade Pizza For Pennies

Friday night pizza is a mainstay in many a tired household by the end of a long week. Even if on a tight budget you can enjoy a good pizza and even have control of what goes in and on it for variety and better nutrition.

The recipe originally came from a cookbook called The Food Processor Bread Book by the editors of Consumer Guide, but I got it from a wonderful book called The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn There are three books to this set described as "promoting thrift as a viable alternative lifestyle". This recipe came from book two.

Bread dough made in a food processor requires no hand kneading, just a few spins to form a dough ball, a short rest and you're ready to roll it out and get it in the oven.


1/4 - 3/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F, you don't want it too hot or it'll kill the yeast)
1 package or 1 tablespoon dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine 1/4 cup of the water with the yeast and the sugar in a small bowl.
Stir to dissolve the yeast and let it stand about five to ten minutes till the yeast starts to bubble and rise.

Put the flour, oil, and salt into the food processor and process on blend for about five seconds. Use the steel blade.

Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and process about 10 seconds or until blended.

While the food processor is running, slowly drizzle just enough of the remaining water through the feed tube so the dough forms a ball that cleans the sides of the bowl. Once the ball is formed let it spin around about 25 to 30 times.

Put the dough ball onto a 14-inch greased pizza pan. I used a pizza stone and sprinkled corn meal over the surface but if I don't have any cornmeal I grease it with coconut oil.
Cover the dough ball with plastic wrap of a bowl and let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Using your fingers or a lightly floured rolling pin press out the dough into a circle shape, leaving a ridge along the sides.
Spread with pizza sauce or spaghetti sauce if you don't have pizza sauce, add your choice of cheese, toppings and pizza seasoning if desired.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 - 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbly.

Remove the pizza pan from the oven, cut and enjoy!

You can make the dough ball(s) ahead of time and freeze them so you have them on hand.
Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and freeze up to 3 months. When ready to use, remove from the freezer about 12 hours before you need to make the pizza and put in the refrigerator to thaw. Bring out of the fridge about 30 minutes to warm up before attempting to roll it out.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Flour Free Blender Muffins, Healthy Snacking

When I discovered this recipe on Facebook for a flourless muffin I was intrigued to try it as a great, healthy idea to cut back on the amount of wheat based bread our family eats. The recipe seemed simple enough but the first time around I certainly didn't have them on the table as quick as suggested. Here's why, so should you try these you don't waste time out of frustration and toss the whole idea.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F
Use cooking spray or add muffin cup liners to your muffin pan.
Recipe makes 12 muffins

Gather your Ingredients:

2 cups rolled oats
2 ripe bananas
2 eggs
1 cup Greek yogurt  (I don't see why it specifies Greek yogurt other than it is nice and thick. I used vanilla yogurt rather than plain but that is up to you)
3 tbsp honey
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
dash of salt which is about 1/8 tsp

Topping Suggestions:

-cinnamon and apple chunks
-strawberries and blueberries
-chocolate chips and almonds
-strawberries and chocolate chips
-unsweetened coconut

I found these also make a healthy snack idea for our dogs. Just be sure not to include raisins or chocolate as toppings if your dog will be sharing them with you.

The original recipe says to just add all ingredients to a blender, blend for 1-2 minutes and voila. Well, this is the part that can get you to say, umm...what am I doing wrong...and bag it.
From this picture you can see I added the ingredients in the order listed which is the oats first. When I turned on the blender it just seem to strain the motor. Since the liquid (which there isn't much anyway) couldn't drip down to the blades, my blender wasn't strong enough to get things going. So I ended up dumping the whole thing out into a big bowl and stirring it to blend a bit. I put it all back in and tried no avail. So out it goes again into my bowl and I added it back to the blender in parts. I put about a fourth in and blended it before adding some more, continuing to do this about four times till it was all in and churning nicely. Blend till smooth but don't over do it cause we all know that an overly mixed muffin ends up a tough muffin.

Pouring the batter over into the muffin cups was easy enough since it was in a blender and not a bowl where you have the drips from having to scoop them into the pan.

I chose granola for my topping since that is what I had but fresh fruit would probably be delicious and you can't lose with chocolate chips. Vanilla, butterscotch or cinnamon chips are also ideas to try. I also want to see how it works with dried fruit, like blueberries, cranberries, cherries and of course raisins. Keep off the raisins or the chocolate chips if giving to your dog. The other type chips should probably be avoided too since there's no reason a dog needs sugary sweets.

So in the oven they go for 15 minutes. Maybe it's just my oven but they weren't done in only 15 minutes so I baked them another five minutes and my toothpick came out clean. I let them cool a bit so they wouldn't stick when getting them out. They didn't just pop out (maybe your type of pan will, but I used a stone muffin pan), so I ran a dull knife around the edges to loosen first. Don't use a sharp knife or you may scratch your muffin pan.

These muffins are very tasty, but were a little spongy. I don't know if that is normal or perhaps I mixed the batter too long or maybe they could've baked a bit longer. Future trial and error will tell me that.
Since one batch only makes 12 muffins I had no need to freeze them so don't know how that would work out. I have a feeling they would defrost and be even more spongy than they are now. But I'd have to try it to know for sure.
With all the ideas for toppings, these muffins do have a lot of potential to be made frequently.
They are easy and quick and very healthy. One muffin is said to have about 115 calories, 2 grams fat, 20 grams carbs, 5 grams protein, 2 grams fiber, 8 grams sugar.
If it says anything, my dogs loved them!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Shrubs, A Healthy, Energizing, Fruit Vinegar Drink

The benefits of drinking unpasteurized, raw vinegar has long been documented and utilized for improved health and beauty. Combining raw honey and raw vinegar are described as the "elixir of youth" and is even believed to fight cancer by helping to maintain an alkaline body pH.

But if you have trouble acquiring a taste for the honey and vinegar blend in a daily glass of water, then perhaps making shrubs is the next best alternative. Now this recipe uses sugar rather than honey but the use of honey could easily be substituted to see how it turns out. I do make my elderberry syrup with honey so I don't see why it couldn't be used in place of the white sugar.

The word "shrub" comes from the Arabic sharbah which means "a drink". Drinking vinegar isn't as common today as in the past, but using vinegar has a history going back to the Babylonians and Romans. Without preservatives, wine turned to vinegar and never went to waste. it was also added to water to make it safer to drink. The acetic acid in vinegar acts as a preserving agent so recipes were recorded on how to enjoy seasonal fruits year round. High in antioxidants, shrubs were an excellent way to get enough vitamin C during the winter months and to help ward off illness. Colonial period sailors made sure to carry shrubs on their boats to help prevent scurvy.

The most common way to make shrubs is to create a fruit-flavored vinegar and sweeten it with sugar. The resulting syrup is then added to water when needed for a very refreshing, energy boosting drink. People laboring long hours in the fields during the heat of the summer were extremely grateful for the energy boost of such refreshment.

Be sure to use raw, unpasteurized vinegar that still contains the "mother". The Mother of Vinegar occurs naturally as strand-like enzymes of connected protein molecules. Though commercial vinegar contains the 5% acidity, the powerful enzymes and minerals are destroyed during the distilling process. Public demand for clear, pretty vinegar is the reason raw vinegar is rarely seen on store shelves. For the health benefits of minerals, pectin for fiber, and amino acids, be sure to use raw vinegar.

If you have access to seasonal fresh fruit, use whatever you have. If you don't or during the off season for fresh fruit, you can find frozen berries in the grocery store. I used Costco's Kirkland brand since they sell in money saving larger size bags. The berry blend here uses rasperries, blueberries and blackberries but you can use strawberries, cherries, cherries, peaches, elderberries, etc.


Place 2 cups of berries in a pot.

Pour 1 cup raw Apple Cider Vinegar over the berries.

Heat the berries on low heat and add 1 1/2 cup sugar.

Stir to blend and dissolve the sugar.

Bring to a boil and remove from the heat.

Mash the mixture to crush the berries and put through a strainer to remove any pulp.

Pour the concentrate into a jar and store in the refrigerator. Try to use within six months.

To use:
Add ice cubes to a glass along with 2 - 4 tbsp of syrup (depends on how you like it).
Top with cold water and drink up!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Autumn Olive Shrub, Should it Stay or Should it Go

Autumn Olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, is a deciduous shrub that is one of those plants intentionally introduced into North America from Asia for a very practical purpose. It was first brought here in 1830 but was widely planted in the 1960's along highways to revegetate road banks and prevent erosion. For areas where the soil was poor, such as land devastated from mining practices, the Autumn Olive plants improved soil quality due to its nitrogen-fixing root system.

The problem with that, as found out, was that this adversely affects the nitrogen cycle of the native plant communities that depend on infertile soils. It wouldn't be a problem if the shrubs wouldn't propagate so easily and pop up in naturalized areas, meadows and farm fields. The seeds find their way so far and wide from the droppings of birds. This is the catch. We want to provide food for wildlife and that this shrub certainly does since one bush can produce several gallons of berries a season.

Opinions differ on the attitude about the Autumn Olive shrub. Those interested in a permaculture lifestyle love this plant because it is so prolific, inexpensive to purchase or simply find in the wild to propagate. As such, it serves as a valuable food source for both people and wildlife.
Permaculture is the development of agriculture in sync with the ecosystem that is sustainable and self-sufficient. It combines the best of natural landscaping and edible landscaping.

Here is a good video on the benefits of food bearing plants.

Those seeking to create hedgerows have various reasons for doing so. Some want a low maintenance privacy hedge, others want to create a wildlife haven that will provide safety, nesting sites and food for both birds and animals. The Autumn Olive perfectly fits the bill for that purpose. It is drought resistant, winter hardy, can be pruned but doesn't have to be, and quickly fills in with its intertwining branches.

People who plant these shrubs for hedgerow privacy purposes have to be aware of the growing habits of this plant. It needs lots of space to spread out. The branches don't just grow up towards the sun like most shrubs and trees, they grow in any direction and intertwine. So if there is no intention of keeping a shape by pruning, expect them to reach a height of 20 - 30 feet high and depending on if the branches reach sideways at ground level, the shrub could be 15 - 20 feet wide.

These plants are very tough but do have the dying back of branches as the inner parts get shaded out. Working around the shrubs definitely requires thick work gloves. While there aren't actual thorns on the limbs, they are very spiny to handle.

Those who want to eradicate the plant have good reason as well since they do pose a threat to our native plants and are now on the invasive species list. Here is an excellent video all about recognizing the Autumn Olive and how to remove it. 

Autumn Olive shrubs are easy to identify once you are familiar with them. The leaves form alternately on the stems and have wavy margins to their oblong shaped leaves. Flip them over and there is the tell-tale silver sheen to the undersides of the leaves. The berries are small and form clusters along the stems.

May is a wonderful time to enjoy the scent of these shrubs. The flowers are not very conspicuous, only about a half inch long, and a pale yellow to white bell shape. But they give off a sweet, exotic fragrance that can be very noticeable, but interesting is that if you just stick your nose into the bush and sniff you may not smell anything. Unless you know the source of the aroma you may not know where it is coming from.

The berries form in early August but are too sour to eat. They sweeten up as the temperatures drop and are best by October when the red berries have a speckled appearance. They can be eaten right off the bush but if you wait too long the birds will get to them first. Some people don't like them because they can be seedy, but as far as eating for nutritional purposes, they are at the top of the list of fruits high in antioxidants.

Here are two previously written blog posts on the Autumn Olive.
To Plant or Not to Plant..Learning about Invasives

The Marvels of May

Friday, July 8, 2016

My Sweet Annie

The genus Artemisia is a member of the Asteraceae (formerly Compositae) family. There are many varieties of Artemisia and though Sweet Annie is also called Sweet Wormwood, it is an annual whereas Wormwood, Mugwort and Silver King are perennials. If let go to seed you'll never have to plant it again, as it'll pop up anywhere. This sun, loving, drought and heat tolerant plant will grow in even the poorest soil.

Any of these plants are grown for medicinal purposes, to ward off insects, or as an ornamental plant used for wreaths and crafts. Growing to 4 - 5 feet tall, Sweet Annie isn't grown for their flowers and best used as a background plant. The foliage is attractive, various shades of light to silvery green and gathered for beautifully scented wreathes, swags, baskets...a crafter's love.

I've found that although Sweet Annie is a finer textured and softer plant to work with than most Wormwoods, it does wilt rather quickly once cut. To use it for wreaths it is best used as the foundation part of the wreath like you would use moss, and to use other everlast type plants layered over the top. 
Here is an informative post all about the various types of Artemisias and how to use them for crafts.

 The resilience of plant seeds and how they just lie dormant and wait for ideal growing conditions never ceases to amaze me. We used to have our chickens wandering around an area I had for my perennial plants and native shrubs. We fenced it in and the chickens helped keep the weeds down so I didn't have to mow in there. After a winter storm took down the fence we enclosed a much smaller area which didn't take long to become bare ground from the chickens scratching. This year we had only a handful of chickens so that area was able to fill in again. I was thrilled when I realized that a large patch of those little plants were my Sweet Annie!

 All is abuzz out there with so much insect activity. Artemisias are one of the group of plants that attract beneficial insects and pollinators to your gardens. By providing a variety of plant sources for all stages of insect life, you will find a healthy, balanced ecosystem that has no need for man's pesticides. Here is a good post on the subject to help identify beneficial insects and plants that attract them.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Yarrow, Woundwort, A Multitude of Uses

To see Yarrow listed as a common weed is an insult to this plant. For a plant to be known as woundwort makes one wonder just how many lives it saved over the years. Today when we think of illness we figure there must be a physical cause and even if a cure is not yet known, with enough research we'll find a physical cure.

Years and years ago illness was thought to be more mystical and linked to the stars, the humors and even the Devil himself. To discover a plant that could heal was much more than simply a medicine, it had mystical powers.
Dioscorides,(c 40 - 90 AD), the Greek physician who wrote the De Materia Medica, a 5 volume encyclopedia about herbal medicine, claimed that the name "achillea" originated from the fact that Achilles, the Greek hero of the Trojan War, used it to heal his wounded soldiers on the battlefield. Throughout the millennia and much of the world until after the American Civil War, yarrow was part of the battle gear right along with the weapons.

The power of healing was not only physical. The name "yarrow" comes from the Anglo-Saxon (Dutch) gearwe, which is believed to come from gierwan, meaning "to be ready". Considered a defense against other ills, yarrow was burned to protect against evil.

Achillea millefolium, common yarrow, is a member of the aster or composite family (Asteraceae). Achillea is the genus name and millefolium is the species which means "a thousand leaves". Yarrow has flat-topped clusters of small white flowers that are in bloom from June through October. A hardy perennial, this fern-like, feathery plant with it's clusters of tiny daisy-like florets making up each flower head, is an important pollinator plant for butterflies, bees and many other insects.

If you want a plant the deer will leave alone, yarrow fits the bill. It spreads quickly and being it is so bitter, (the leaves contain tannin),animals won't touch it, domestic or wild.

All parts of yarrow are useful, whether its fresh, dried, in tea form, poultices, steamed vapors, alcohol tinctures, herbal oils and vinegars.
It's reputation as woundwort comes from it being a styptic, or stops bleeding. On the battlefield, most wounds were a result of the types of weapons used back then, resulting in deep gashes and puncture wounds. These types of wounds were very high risk for infection if the soldier didn't bleed to death first. Yarrow leaves and flowers were crushed and chewed to add saliva which formed a poultice and then  packed into the wounds. This method was used to stop the bleeding, act as an antiseptic for infection, and as an analgesic to help lessen pain.

Yarrow has so many uses the list could go on and on. It's best known for wound care, but it is also used to sweat and break a fever. Drinking hot yarrow tea does this by relaxing the circulation, allowing the body to sweat and get rid of infection.In fact, the original formula for cold tea is a combination of peppermint, elderflowers and yarrow.
By the way, this blend should not be used by pregnant women.

Since yarrow is so good for the circulatory system, it tones the blood vessels, dilates capillaries and gets the blood moving. People with spider veins, varicose veins and hemorrhoids find yarrow balm massages very soothing and effective.

The effects on the circulatory system along with it being one of the "bitters", yarrow is very useful for stimulating the digestive juices, excellent for the liver and pancreas.

Maria Treben considers yarrow an "herb for women". An aid for reproductive troubles, yarrow can help everything from heavy bleeding, clotted blood during menstruation and painful periods, as well as spotting between cycles.
Women with recurrent bladder infections could benefit from the anti-septic properties of yarrow tea.

Cosmetically, yarrow's astringent properties make it an excellent herb to use for a facial steam or astringent for oily skin and blackheads.

As a bug repellent, yarrow works. Infused in 100 proof vodka is creates the base for a very effective insect deterrent.

Below are some very good ways this amazing plant has been put to use. For therapeutic purposes, the white flowers from the wild yarrow plants are used rather than the yellow and pink hues from the nursery.
Click on the link below each picture for more detailed information on each of these items.

Spider Vein Massage Oil

Biting Insect Deterrent

Healing Yarrow Balm/Salve

Men's Aftershave
Facial Astringent/Toner
Pet Flea Powder
Information for this post came from sources: Whispering Earth, 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names and a post by Ryan Drum.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Exfoliate Without Doing Harm, Ban the Microbeads

On December 28, 2015, President Obama signed into effect the "Microbead Free Waters Act", which prohibits the sale of products that include microbeads in their formula and will ban microbeads in the U.S. as of July 2017.

This is wonderful since microbeads have become an environmental disaster. The polymer technology to manufacture polymer beads was invented by the late Norwegian Professor John Ugelstad and these perfect little monosized spheres went into production in 2002 with the Norwegian company, Microbeads AS. They were used in a wide range of industries, not just with cosmetics and personal care. Uses included paints, plastics, ceramics and adhesives. Being cheap to manufacture, they seemed like a dream until it was realized how destructive they were to marine life.

Microbeads are made of non-biodegradable plastic. When they get washed down the drain they end up in local rivers and lakes. Being so tiny, they slip right through most water treatment systems. 
About the same size as fish eggs, to any organism that lives in the water, they look like food. Once in the food web, such toxins are passed right along to humans and other wildlife.

Microbeads are in so many personal care products, body scrubs, facial cleanses, toothpastes, all things most everyone uses on a daily basis. So many beads are believed to be polluting the Great Lakes that our world's largest source of fresh water is being poisoned.

Until the ban is completely in effect, what you can do is read labels. If polyethylene or polypropylene are listed as an ingredient, there is most likely microbeads in that product.

Another option is to use other sources for exfoliation. 
The definition of exfoliation is the cosmetic practice of removing dead skin cells from the top layer of the skin, called the epidermis. Amazing fact is that our skin can naturally shed 30,000 to 40,000 dead cells per minute.

If you feel your face or body has a dull appearance it could mean an accumulation of those dead surface cells. Remove them by means of dry brushing, a loofah sponge, a hemp scrubby pad or by using a salt or sugar scrub. 
Complaints people often have with moisturizers is that they seem to leave an oily residue. Of course a reason could be the lotion itself, but it could also be because the person is applying a moisturizer to old, dead skin cells and it is not penetrating the upper layer of the skin.

Sugar scrubs are a great way to slough off that old layer, unclog blocked pores, and reveal radiant freshness to perk up that tired look.

Cane sugar contains a naturally occurring acid known as glycolic acid which belongs to the family of alpha hydroxy acids (AHA). These acids stimulate and loosen the dry, flaky layer created by accumulating dead skin cells. 
White sugar is the result of sulfur dioxide being introduced to the cane sugar before evaporation which bleaches the sugar to be white as are most familiar. 
These scrubs below use raw, unprocessed sugars such as demerara and cane juice sugar.

Though exfoliation is important for an effective skin care routine, you can't overdo it and you must be very gentle. The skin of your face is fragile and can be easily damaged. It should be treated with care, no scrubbing, or you may irritate or even create tiny tears which leave the skin vulnerable to bacteria.

Salt scrubs are great too, but if used on the face you must remember that salt can be more abrasive than sugar. Using salt for a body scrub is a great way to cleanse and detoxify by drawing out impurities. Sea salt is a much better choice than table salt. Table salt is bleached and refined, therefore it lacks many of the minerals of the ocean.

The salt scrubs below are called salt polishes because they not only contain a moisturizing oil but also a touch of castile soap. Therefore, you get the effect of a good clean as well as the expected exfoliation.  

Coconut Oil Face and Body Sugar Scrub

Vegetable Glycerin Face and Body Sugar Scrub

Glowing Skin Salt Body Polish

Lemon Zest Glowing Skin Salt Body Polish