Making Plant Medicine – Stages 4-24-21

Identification

Knowledge

Harvesting

Processing

Extraction

Delivery System

Preservation

When there is a need for healing, handling a deficiency, curing anything in the body, according to many herbal philosophies and practices, it is considered obvious that there is a plant or a combination of plants and their constituents which will help bodies mend or improve, or reverse unwanted conditions. Herbalism is an art, a working principle, and a practice that spans the entire history of mankind on planet earth. If we hadn’t had the benefits of plants and the knowledge of their uses we would probably not have people on earth. We would have died off long ago. But nature is an interworking system that has been worked out over millions of years by life force acting on the raw materials of the physical universe, and life with material stuff have come to come pretty good agreements.

The matter, energy, space and time of the physical have made a game place for life forms to develop and thrive. Life acts on the physical and the physical helps life. It’s symbiosis at its best, or at least it has worked for us here. Every living organism and form on this planet is spirit first, then the interaction of spirit and physical, and there is a harmony to it, which we call ‘nature’. It’s a very old system and the interactions and benefits are very thorough and many layered. When one layer fails, another comes in and takes its place. So we must respect each aspect and pay attention because it all acts here to give life force/spirit a place to play the game of living. Every living form has its place. Even harmful bacteria and micro-organisms act as counter balance to keep the beneficial ones strong and weeds out the weak.

Into this picture we have plants and fungi which provide nutrition, stimulant, balance, and harmony to our human and animal life forms. It’s a dance of balance. The healer, the plant lover and grower, the scholar all play a part in providing the knowledge of how to use those plants and fungi to support, provide, and heal.

For myself it is a passion to understand how we fit into the life force and forms on the planet which help and benefit the system I love. To me it’s a wonder and joyful to know how each piece fits into place. How the bird song opens the pores in the underside of the leaf so the atmosphere with its vital nutrients for the plant can be attracted and absorbed by the plant. How the micro-organism in the soil provides just the right mineral for the tree and how the fungi threads called mycelium brings the mineral into the root that supports the leaf above that falls and deteriorates into soil that feeds the micro-organisms and the other plant life.

So as an herbalist and healer, knowing how nature works, and what it provides, then recognizing the beauty of it, and the interrelationships that are there to bring to bodies, human and animal, into harmony, isn’t just science. It’s art, it’s spiritual. We are all part of nature, and using it kindly can bring life into focus so it can in a round about way, then benefit the whole system, plants, animals, air, rock, insects, flowers, weather, water, energy, even the frequencies of music and bird song.

We live on a little rock in a very big universe. The thin layer on this rock is only a few miles thick, and it’s fragile. Nature is a powerful system, but it will break down if abused long enough and hard enough. So, everything we do must be kind to it. When I harvest a wild plant, I am careful to only take a little bit, only what I need, never for profit, but always to benefit. When I grow herbs or other plants in my garden, I use no chemicals that can harm other plants, insects, wild life, or micro organisms in the soil. It isn’t always convenient, but it honors the system so in another thousand years we will still have that little green leaf our great grand children’s great grand children will have it to heal them. Nature has lasted as long as it has because it’s a system that works. Who am I to challenge that system with harsh chemicals or land defying practices?

That being said, plant medicine when used knowledgeably, from pure sources untouched by hidden chemicals or substances, which through nature are available to fit together the broken pieces of a cell or a bone or a tear in the skin, or a rupture in a brain, does so in a science so precise we can’t match it in even the highest tech laboratory in the world. We can’t recreate a seed. We can’t actually create DNA and RNA, we can only change what is there. And if the pieces of nature are broken, it also has the remedies to repair them.

Identification

There are literally millions of kinds of plants and fungi on this planet. The diversity is staggering. We are faced with such an overwhelming number of life forms here, one will never know all of them. We as a scientific community will probably never identify every micro-organism or fungi for example because life keeps finding new ways to manifest when seeking to solve the ever changing conditions on the planet. However, through the thousands of years people have been working with plants and fungi, we have identified ones that are especially beneficial for certain or myriad conditions.

In football they call it ‘deep bench’ i.e. if the star quarterback is injured, another player on the bench can come in and keep the game going. The same goes for herbal medicinal plants. When it is summer and the spring antibiotic rich plants are past their medicinal prime, over there on the other bed or in the woods is another plant which has similar properties but is in its prime in the heat. Knowing the richness and many properties of these powerfully healing plants can make it possible to keep moving from one plant to the next when the need is there.

We all as healers have our favorite herbs and fungi, which we have had success with to bring about the right changes and healings for people or animals. But just as there are many kinds of plants, so are there many kinds of people and animals, from one to the next. We all don’t respond the same to the substances in those plants and fungi. So, again, we need that ‘deep bench’ of knowledge and herbs.

The Cherokee people and their healers were master herbalists. In Appalachia – mountains and foothills – they identified and used over 1500 medicinal plants at least, but no idea how many mushrooms and fungi they used as well as those have not particularly been chronicled. Other ancient medicinal practices such as in India – Ayerveda, or China – Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) likewise use thousands of plants in their vast herbal knowledge bases.

But to be an effective healer, one doesn’t need to know all of this. It would be impossible anyway. And what we have as resources for those ‘medicants’ (medicinal substances) are as limited as the region we live in, what we can grow ourselves or forage, or the connections we have with others who can provide what we can’t directly.

That being said, knowing what is available around where we live can be eye-openingly astounding. When I first came to NE Georgia from being a gardener in California, I was busily pulling up what I thought were weeds from my newly created planting beds. Then I took a couple of classes from a local very knowledgeable herbalist, including an herbal walk up in the mountains, and found out that all those supposed ‘weeds’ I was pulling were 90% medicinal plants. So, I realized how ignorant I was and started learning what was in my little .7 acre subdivision lot on a very steep hill, 1/3 of which was dense undeveloped forest. When I got to 500 identifications, I quit counting. I didn’t stop learning, I just ran out of index cards. Not really, but I figured whatever I didn’t know and couldn’t identify probably had some kind of medicinal value, and stopped just pulling up everything in sight except the neat seed catalog cultivated plants I was familiar with, and got busy finding out what they were.

In the process of learning all this I also discovered those plants also could be used to make dye, ink, beer, perfume, and a host of other things I kept finding out. Like how many of them were antibiotics, anti-virals, could heal wounds, stop bleeding, help women’s and men’s issues, lessen pain and inflammation, attract and support bees and butterflies, feed hummingbirds and those valuable song birds with their lovely singing, and improve the flavor and strength of the cultivated plants I also grow.

I started gathering a library of books, and have continued to keep very careful research notes on those plants and mushrooms, their healing powers, their constituents, how they are used, what they do for the body exactly, what warnings or counter-indications for their use, what they blend well with to increase their healing powers, how to grow them, what to look for when foraging, and what look-alikes are either beneficial or harmful. I use the internet extensively, and often go down the rabbit hole in my research reading everything I can on a given plant. I also follow up on formuli for various conditions from other herbalists and healers, look up scientific abstracts, look up a ton of words (because there is a whole vocabulary in studying this field), and make sure I really understand everything I’m reading.

I have favorite herbalists I follow, and websites I trust as resources for accuracy.

So, after 15 years here in Georgia, I have a library full of books on herbalism and a host of related subjects like wild crafting, Native American folklore and information, gardening, recipes, wild crafting things like ink and dye, baskets, etc. My mind is always filling up with fascinating stuff. But I also keep very good notes because one mind has trouble holding all of it in. At least mine does. After 4 to 6 hours of research a day for 10 years or so, the cup runneth over. However, I also keep very good computer notes and research sites.

So, in the process of identification I always recommend starting slowly, with a few plants, finding out everything I can about them, and try a few of the recipes online. Dandelion, brought over from Europe in the early days of white colonization on this continent as healing plant and edible, is a good place to start since every part of the plant is either edible or medicinal. The flower when harvested and packed into a jar with olive oil, kept in a cupboard for a month or so, strained, the greenish yellow oil saved in a cool dark place, is a wonderful sore muscle rub. The leaves are loaded with minerals for nutrition, are excellent in salads or soup, and being a bit bitter, also have medicinal value for the glands in the body. The roots can be roasted and make an excellent coffee substitute as used in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War by the troops when they couldn’t get coffee bean. But the root is also used to help treat cancer and other conditions. The while ‘milk’ substance in the stems can be applied to warts a few times a day to remove them. The fluffy attached to the seed can be collected over time and used to stuff in clothing as insulation. Just that one little humble plant that the lawn maintenance people attack with chemicals that pollute our ground water, imagine!

With a little search on the internet you can find a number of excellent ‘field guides’ for hunting down and identifying ‘weeds’ that grow all around us. Some of them are super foods, like purslane which grows into large succulent leafed plants so nutritious you could almost live off of it. Like stinging nettle, a member of the mint family, which has an acid in its tiny needles that sting like crazy, but which when made into a tea is a terrifically nutritious infusion as well as an allergy calming drink loaded with anti-histamines. The plant often found nearby, any member of the ‘dock’ family, the leaf rubbed on the stung place from the nettle, almost instantly, takes the pain away.

Just start out where you are and learn.

If you are a gardener and like to grow culinary herbs, you will be surprised at the benefits of such herbs as basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, sage, mint, and others. They are all medicinal! Powerfully so even. Parsley is even a super food.

If you have fire ants that plague you make sure you grow some plantain herb (not the banana, this is a green herb growing everywhere almost) because at the first sting, if you chew up a leaf from the plantain and rub it on the sting, it instantly takes away the pain and the stung area will not inflame, or infect, no more little pustules and no scars either. I teach all the kids in the neighborhood this trick because we have those ants everywhere. This trick also works well though a bit slower, with bee stings, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets and spider bites. With a hornet or yellow jacket, you may have to apply it a couple of times because those venoms are nasty, but in an hour or so it will also heal up.

If you have a particular problem you want some plant help from, using the internet and searching for ‘herbs for xyz condition’, you will find something that grows around you or something you can get at a health food store to help you. I have found sometimes the number of herbs or mushrooms that help any condition are huge, so narrowing it down to a couple of ones available is a good way to start applying the knowledge.

As you become familiar with what is medicinal and what that plant is commonly used for, your mental ‘apothecary’ (collection of herbs and their uses) will grow sufficiently you can think with this as medicine for use. Most of the ones that grow around me have been used by country people in this area as home remedies for generations, so it has been helpful to talk to the old ‘grannies’ when I can find them, and ask a lot of questions, keeping careful notes. But even those lovely knowledgeable people don’t know it all. But if you know another herbalist in the area, learn from them. Take classes from them if offered, and read up on the internet.

Just as a caution, never use an herb you aren’t 100% certain of its identification, its warnings, its counter-indications (for example using when someone or yourself are taking pharmaceutical drugs, as some will either counter-act the drug, or make it too strong and be harmful), and care of the dosages. Some should not be used by pregnant or nursing moms or babies. Some should not be used if someone is taking heart medication or insulin as you could lower the blood sugar too far, or make the blood too non-coagulating.

I recommend starting with topical applications, like making simple salves and ointments as you learn other applications. A simple salve using plantain, yarrow, and chickweed, olive oil, some bees wax to stiffen it, and some lavender oil to lengthen the shelf life is a great healing and soothing ointment for most skin irritations and small injuries.

As you start to recognize the plants and their applications around you, and you find they carry some properties you would like to try making some medicine with, do a little homework to make sure your identification is exactly right, and take care not to use endangered or rare plants (mushrooms aren’t the actual plant, they are the fruiting bodies and there really isn’t any reason to limit their harvest, just be very very careful your identification is exact because mushrooms can be harmful if you aren’t absolutely sure of their ID).

I also limit the taking of plants in a wild forage to no more than 20% of aerial parts, 10% of a full plant with roots (and then if the roots are split-able, I replant some of the root), and NEVER all of them. We have lost whole plant species from greedy and unethical harvesting of some of our most valuable plants. The Cherokee people stopped sharing their knowledge to others because of this greed and wanton destruction, loosing some of their most valuable plant medicines.

Before harvesting, make sure you are harvesting only the parts that you need. If you can do with only the flower, don’t take the stems and leaves for example. And then, remember flowers are the precursors of the seeds which the plants need to continue their existence, so always obey that 20% stricture.

Some plants loose their potency if not preserved quickly. So, do your home work. Old mushrooms don’t provide much of the ingredients you want, but note their location and come back at a more favorable time. Mushrooms being fruiting bodies can be harvested heavily, but remember they too are the source of reproduction so don’t take it all or everywhere. And if they are rare, don’t share their location unless to very trustworthy others. Be ethical.

I take a basket, a knife, a little brush, and a secateurs (hand pruner) when I go foraging or harvesting in my garden. Some plants look alike so in order to keep them straight I often take plastic zip lock baggies and a sharpie pen to mark their ID.

Knowledge

Now that we’ve talked about the process of learning your herbs, their properties, their caveats on harvesting, and researching, a word about what comes next.

I have a dehydrator which is always on because it is constantly being replenished. You can get a small inexpensive dehydrator from Wal-Mart, or go online and spend a lot more money getting a professional one. But start small in all things until you know how extensive you’ll need the tools of an herbalist. Some of my herbalist friends just air dry their herbs on a paper towel, or a screen frame held with strings in a cool shady area. In any case, dehydration is an excellent preservation method.

Some herbs are best utilized preserved in alcohol, oil, vinegar, glycerin, or dehydrated. When taking an herb for use, find out first which preservation method works to get the constituents out of the herb for use. If I have a glut of herbs in a specific season I know I won’t be able to use right away, I usually dehydrate them. I have some used window screen panels from friends in construction, and lay my herbs on the shady porch till they are crispy dry. Then later the dried herb can be made into a tea, infusion, oil, alcohol tincture and so forth. But once dry, preserve your herbs in tight lidded plastic or glass containers. For liquid preservation I always use glass as sometimes when exposed to liquid, plastic will outgas or otherwise impart toxic material into the herbal medicine making it un-useable. For example, ground ivy, a member of the mint family, in spring is so prevalent in my garden I could take it away in bushel baskets, but I dehydrate it, powder it, and later either place it in capsules or make tincture or tea with it. But once dry it is preserved for at least a year.

Once you have harvested, processed, and collected your herbs, the next action is getting the medicine in the plant somehow to be absorbed into the body. This means some method of extraction.

Usually culinary herbs which are also medicinal like sage, rosemary, mint, thyme, oregano etc. give their medicinal values into the food. We don’t usually notice that eating that spaghetti sauce with the oregano, thyme, and garlic (also highly medicinal) is improving our immune system and helping us fight a cold. Or the sage in the turkey dressing is improving our health. Yet most of the culinary herbs over the centuries used by various cultures are used for their health giving properties, even if the cook doesn’t know they are doing that. So, the extraction method used in cooking is the heat, the liquid in the broth, the soaking in the sauce, etc. However, when specifically making medicine, the extraction method is important.

Extraction methods

Removing the active components of plants leaving behind the cellulose and other non-medicinal plant chemicals means condensing those valuable substances so one can not only save from chewing up a bunch of plants without the benefit of a ruminant stomach system (like a cow), which is often the majority of the weight of the plant, to get out what you want out of it, but also have it in controllable and dosable amounts.

Often plants have many valuable medicinal plant chemicals which do various things for the body. They are dissolvable by various solvents called ‘mentsrums’. Depending on what is desired to get out of that plant will determine which of the solvents one uses. They are: water, oil, alcohol, vinegar, glycerin, and honey. The volatile oils can be distilled using steam and a distiller which then becomes what are called ‘Essential Oils’. Making EOs requires a very large amount of plant material because the percentage of the plant that is oil is often in the single digit percentages or lower. Several tons of plant material may be needed for just a couple of ounces of EO. Usually an herbalist will purchase these essential oils rather than try to distill them directly. However lesser condensed versions can be made by an herbalist using steam or infused oil where the oil in the plant is dissolved into a ‘carrier oil’ such as olive oil, or almond or other nutrient rich oil. In that case the carrier oil is the menstrum.

Water is probably the oldest method. Making a ‘tea’ (called when making a tea out of herbs rather than the specific plant  Camellia sinensis, a tisane) is the usual method. Any other plant than camellia sinensis is officially a tisane. Water dissolves water soluble plant chemicals and also absorbs volatile oils. When making a tisane from an aromatic plant, it’s best to keep the tisane covered once the boiling water is poured over the herb so as not to loose those substances. This usually entails boiling some water, providing an herb or herb, whether fresh or dried, pouring it over the herb, and letting it ‘steep’ or ‘macerate’ (the herbal word for steeping or soaking) for 5 to 20 minutes, the herb removed then drinking.

Typically the next stronger extraction method with water is called an ‘infusion’ meaning water and herb are brought together, boiling water is poured over it, it is left to steep or infuse for a few minutes up to a few hours. Soft plant parts such as leaves, flowers, small soft stems, fine roots, or tender vines (non-woody) are so infused. The plant matter is strained out and either the infusion is immediately drunk, or it is kept refrigerated until needed.   

A more intense method of using water, usually reserved for larger amounts of herb-to-water, particularly for a nutrient rich nutritional infusion, is in quart sized volumes, to fill a quart jar half or full of herb, covering it with boiling water to the top of the jar, screwing on a tight lid, and letting it sit for 4 to 8 hours, or overnight. Then one drinks it through the day for liquid food and to provide valuable vitamins and minerals as well as the medicinal values in the herbs. It isn’t preserved so the un-drunk liquid is kept in the frig for up to two days. It’s best drunk within the first two days however. See Susun Weed herbalist.

A more intense way to use water for extraction is called a ‘decoction’ usually used in harder to extract substances such as roots, woody herbs, bark, resins, or tough stems or woody mushrooms. In this case the plant matter is cut up as finely as possible so the water can impinge into the tougher matter, the water brought to a boil, lowered to a simmer, and then simmered for several hours. This can be in a double boiler, a pan on the stove, or a slow cooker with a lid on. One watches the water level so it doesn’t evaporate out too much, and one replaces water to keep the same amount of liquid in the pot. The plant matter is strained out, and the decocted extraction is kept in a glass container with a tight lid, refrigerated. It is not preserved so best to drink it within a couple of days.

Water is not a preservation method like some of the other extraction methods, so caution should be made to use it up quickly.

Alcohol Tinctures are an excellent to not only extract the medicinal properties but also preserve the medicine from the plants and fungi. However, some of the medicinal substances in an herb are only dissolved in water. Thus usually the alcohol will also dissolve the water based medicine along with the alcohol dissolved material, because most of the alcohol used is mixed with water. When using spirits such as vodka, hard liquor, wine, beer, or other alcoholic liquids, the percentage of alcohol to water is listed on the label. It’s rare to use or even find 100% alcohol, but Ever Clear, or Moonshine are very high percentages alcohol – in the 90 percentages, the rest water. Usually I use 80 proof vodka which is 40% alcohol, or 100 proof vodka – 50% alcohol by volume. Wine and beer can be used, even mead made from fermented honey, are in the 12% alcohol levels. Check the labels. Then both the alcohol and water dissolvable substances are dissolved together.

Sometimes when making an extract of an herb, we use a double extraction method to get out all the possible medicine from the herbs.  First we extract with alcohol, using the cold method, macerating the herb in the alcohol for 4 to 6 weeks, straining out the solids (called the ‘marc’), then placing the solids separately in a pot with water and simmering it for 40 minutes to a couple of hours, keeping the liquid level sufficient to cover the marc, and not burning it, and straining it finally. Then the alcohol tincture and the decoction are mixed together. Since the alcohol tincture is a preservation method, this does not need refrigeration, and will last a long time, some say indefinitely, but certainly up to 12 years.

If one is in a hurry a hot method for tincturing it can be used, though extreme caution must be made in using heat around alcohol because if an open jar of alcohol is near a heat source, it can explode or burst into fire. Therefore, making a hot method tincture is always done with a covered jar. We use a quart mason jar set over a towel in the bottom of a pot, sufficiently large to bring the water level at least half way up the quart jar. The herb is measured according to the recipe into the jar, covered with the chosen alcohol, up to the shoulder of the quart jar, tightly lidded, lowered into cold water, then the heat is turned up high till the water boils, then lowering it immediately to a slow simmer. It simmers for an hour up to most of the day, then carefully removed with the lid still on. Use a jar lifter, set the hot jar aside, and allow it to return to room temperature before removing the lid. Then if one is double extracting the herb, strain out the alcohol, and proceed to making the decoction from the marc. This is called a double extraction or DX.

I recommend always doing only one herb in a tincture or double extraction. Then later if one wishes to make a blend of herbs, take the individual extractions and blend them. That way if you don’t use all of the individual extract you can use it in other blends or alone.

Tinctures are condensed extractions, usually only used a few drops or a dropper load at a time. Keep the final products in colored glass in a cool dark location to preserve the medicinal properties. They do not need to be refrigerated.

Straining the marc with water or alcohol preparations are best strained thru a cloth bag so the solids can be squeezed hard to get the last bit of the liquid out. We make them using muslin fabric and a double ‘French’ seam (i.e. sewn on one side, turned inside out, and sewn again over the first margins, this makes for a very tough seam which won’t break when squeezing with a lot of pressure).

Oil is another fine menstrum. We use a ’carrier oil’ to dissolve the plant medicines out of the herb. Popular carrier oils are extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, sunflower oil, argan oil, avocado oil, black cumin seed oil, coconut oil, grape seed oil, hemp carrier oil, jojoba oil, shae butter or other hard oil. An excellent full explanation of carrier oils can be founding this website: https://www.newdirectionsaromatics.com/blog/products/all-about-carrier-oils.html

Oil infusions are usually used to make topical (on the surface of the skin, not inside the body) medicines, but sometimes an herbal oil can be given a few drops at a time internally. The herb (one at a time per batch) is either cold infused (like a tincture above) for 4 to 6 weeks, usually in a warm location such as a sunny window, or hot method. In this case a double boiler or bane marie (a metal or glass bowl sitting on a pot with water boiling below it) is used to heat up the oil. It isn’t recommended to heat oil directly on a heat source because it too can burn and hurt you.

When using a hot method, never boil the oil, and allow it to gently simmer for 40 minutes up to 3 or 4 hours, then strained once cooled off. Keep unpreserved oils in the refrigerator. The hot method when making a salve or ointment can break the rules about single herbs, and a recipe of various herbs can be heated together for making a batch. Always allow the oils to cool before trying to strain. We usually use a muslin bag as a filter so it can be squeezed to get the last few drops out of the used herbs.

When making an infused oil from a fresh herb it is recommended to let it dry out – wilt – for a day on a paper towel in a well ventilated place to drive most of the water out. If the herb is wet, the liquid in it will drop to the bottom of the jar and can later ruin your batch as the water supports bacteria which can contaminate your final product. You can also use dried herbs.

If you wish to make a lotion which includes water based substances and oils, you will then need to use some kind of emulsifier to enable both oil and water to stay suspended together in a single substance. The medicinal oil in this case should start out water free as water with the oil can contain bacteria. Usually we use carnauba wax or other emulsifying agent to allow them to exist in the same product. But when making a medicinal oil infusion, you don’t want any water left in with the oil.

Infused oils are not preserved so they need to be kept in the refrigerator once made unless you then make a salve or ointment out of them at which case they will contain a preservative such as Vitamin E oil, lavender essential oil or other anti-bacterial essential oil or ingredient. Coconut oil, Shae butter or other harder oil solidifies and can be kept un-refrigerated as long as two or three weeks, but liquid oil should be refrigerated.

Vinegar being very acidic makes another kind of ‘tincture’ for those who can’t intake alcohol (such as babies, alcoholics, those with religious reservations, or other reasons) yet vinegar in itself has medicinal properties which are beneficial. So, using the same techniques as the above talk about tinctures can be used. Vinegar dissolves pretty much the same plant chemicals as alcohol, and being a water based ingredient, of water as well.

Glycerin, another tincture making solvent, is often used in the place of alcohol or vinegar, and is often used for formulas for babies and small children. It is treated the same as water and tincture above and is called when completed a ‘glycerite’ rather than a tincture or infusion. It is thicker in texture than water or alcohol. It is also a sugar based ingredient so it should be kept refrigerated when not in use.

Honey, being a slower solvent, is often used to make syrups and cough medicine because it can coat the mucus membranes of the mouth and throat. It usually is not heated as honey’s medicinal benefits which are themselves powerful, are destroyed with too much heat. Heat only to soften the texture but never boil or even simmer. Best method to making a honey infusion is to chop up the herbs, place in a jar, pour over with honey and using a chop stick or knife, work out the air bubbles releasing them from the plant material, tightly cover the jar, and leave in a warm spot for a month or so, then either use a strainer or leave the herb in the jar and start using it. Sometimes the action of making a honey infusion will release water from the herb and make it more liquid and make it easier to strain.

Delivery systems

Now that the herbs and their constituents are drawn out of the plants or fungi, getting those plant chemicals into the body in the intended way are a consideration of the herbalist. We use a number of ways to do that.

A tea or tisane is obvious, you drink a cup of it as needed. Or you can gargle it in the case of a sore throat, use it as a wash topically on a wound, or add it to your bath water. Hot water opens the pores to allow the medicine to go into the skin directly.

Nutritional infusions can either be taken directly in a glass, added to sparkling water for a beverage, or made into a syrup by adding a sweetener if it is bitter or the flavor isn’t palatable. Same with a decoction. Depending on the taste, which can be bitter or flavorful, depending on one’s taste considerations, and the dosage recommended for the herbs in question, they can be mixed with other herbal concoctions in blends, or added to hot water to make a blended tisane.

Water based infusions are the beginnings of syrups which are used in a number of ways for delivery. When an herb is too bitter or unpleasant as an infusion to drink directly, by adding a sweetener it can become deliverable. For someone who refused to take pills, is fussy such as a sick child, or an older person who refused to take medicine, a syrup can be given in spoon doses, or added to juice or sparkling water as a pleasant beverage. Syrups also can be a concentrated form of tea and by adding hot water, makes another pleasant beverage. One doesn’t even know they are taking medicine, which is sometimes a good thing.

Tinctures are usually delivered in dropper amounts, added to juice or water, into a smoothie, or added to other blends depending on the intended use.

Herbal infused oils are used as massage oils delivering the medicinal properties via the skin. They are often combined with the more powerful and concentrated essential oils for pain or inflammation, or rubbed into scar tissue, or healing areas (not open wounds) to improve healing time.

Salves, ointments, balms, lotions, body butters, or unguents, being of various thicknesses and textures, are all oil or fat based, and deliver the medicinal properties along with the moisturizing properties of the carrier oils, through the skin. They can pinpoint an area of inflammation, pain or injury, and work the healing plant chemicals where they are most needed. Lotions being more light can be used all over the skin for moistening, healing, soothing, and in the case of baby rashes or irritations such as diaper rash, they can do so gently bringing comfort. They can even be used to deliver antibiotic herbal remedies to infected areas which penetrate the skin and act directly. Or in the case of comfrey herb, help to heal and knit bone injury. In the case of upper respiratory congestion or infection, a salve with aromatic essential oils can help clear the congestion. An oil with antibiotic and loosening qualities can be dropped in the ear to relieve an ear infection or wax build up. An oil with a sedative herb or essential oil used as a massage oil can help relax traumatized or injured people, or added to a bath, can relax muscles and give relief. Rubbed on the bottom of feet, it can help people relax enough to sleep.

Infusions can be used on the hair and scalp to handle scalp issues, improve the texture and shininess of hair, used as a toner for skin, help relieve acne, and improve skin texture. Specific herbs can be infused to make eye drops or deliver medicine under the tongue. Oils can bring relief to eczema, psoriasis, itchy skin, dry skin, rashes, and other irritations. Tinctures can be taken in morning coffee or tea to handle specific body conditions without discomfort.

Preservation

Preservation of herbs has been covered above through refrigeration, the use of alcohol in an herbal preparation, the addition of vitamin E oil or lavender essential oil in oil preparations, alcohol itself as a tincture, or vinegar in an infusion themselves are preservatives. Often dehydration of the fresh herb, and kept in tight glass jars is itself an excellent preservation method and can extend the useful life of an herb up to 5 years depending on the properties of the herb.

If you have an herb garden, and you harvest herbs at their peak of excellence, determine if the herb is best used in water, alcohol, oil, vinegar, glycerin or honey, and before the herb’s properties dissipate through time, or the aromatic properties are released, act quickly to keep the good effect of the herb.

Resources

Some good resources for understanding herbs are Rosemary Gladstar’s book on herbal medicine for the beginner https://www.amazon.com/Rosemary-Gladstars-Medicinal-Herbs-Beginners/dp/1612120059, Patricia Kyritsi Howell’s book on Medicinal Herbs of the Appalachian Mountains https://www.amazon.com/Medicinal-Southern-Appalachians-Patricia-Kyritsi/dp/0977490505, Susun Weed’s many great videos on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gRKT0orYjY, John Christopher’s many good websites on the internet https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3igtWldaqw and his book https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/356779.School_of_Natural_Healing, Herbalist David Crow, Herbalist Ronda Reno, Herbalist and Naturopath Doc Shillington  docshillington@gilanet.com, Herbalist Jim Buckenmyer buckenmyer1@yahoo.com ,and Herbalist and educator Anne-Marie Bilella https://www.localharvest.org/bella-vista-farm-M65820 and just Google herbalists. There is so much good information available for the beginner all the way up to an expert available.

Summary

Herbal medicine is a vast subject and the number of medicinal herbs and their uses and properties could fill an encyclopedia. In this article I have put down some general information on the subject, some references which can lead into making plant medicine and home remedies, and a general look at what it does and can do.

Diann Dirks, Herbalist, Permaculture designer, Organic gardener, Auburn, Ga.

Some General References

Carrier oils:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321639#how-to-use-carrier-oils-with-other-oils

https://www.healthline.com/health/carrier-oil

More Books on herbs:

MEDICINAL EDIBLE & USEFUL PLANTS OF THE CHEROKEE

Published by the Great Smoky Mountain Association 

 Tommie Bass

Darryl Patton darryl@thesouthernherbalist.com “Mountain Medicine” book

Posted in Emergency Preparedness, Gardening, Herb gardening, Joint pain, Life's Lessons, making medicine, Making Medicine DIY, organic gardening, Permaculture, Self-Sustainability, The future, Uncategorized, Wild crafting and wild plants | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strategies to feed your family in times of food shortages, Container Gardening 4-19-21

With all the changes happening in our culture currently, and I’m sure I do not have to reiterate what those are, some are predicting such economic difficulties as to cause famine, starvation, all the bad news.

I am not that much in agreement, nor am I pessimist, however when people are already afraid because of the much touted danger of disease, another layer of fear isn’t helpful. But I see all the indicators of a food crisis being created. It’s a wise person who confronts and predicts, then acts on those insights. But, just remember, there is always something you can do about it!

During the great Depression of the 1920 and 30s, people made out and kept from starving because most of them were only one generation from living an agrarian life – able to farm, garden, and grow food, hunt, and be more self-sufficient. They weren’t as used to a luxurious lifestyle where so much is convenient as our lifestyle has become. And they more easily withstood hardships. They also had the attitude “I can do this myself”. Welfare and nanny state mentality was abhorred; people were proud and didn’t like accepting charity because it also made one beholden to others, which put their life control in other’s hands. We need to be more like that because attitude can mean all the difference between freedom and slavery. People back then knew that.

That being said, having food, being able to grow it, and having a way to grow at least part of their food needs can likewise make all the difference in one’s attitude, and one’s ability to hold off being the effect of unwise administration or outright suppression.

During WWII, in Poland, the history books tell us, the Polish people who were mostly an agrarian society, grew their own grain to make their own bread. They ground their grain, mostly wheat and rye, in little hand held grinders much like a coffee grinder today, with a little crank. These made a distinctive noise. The Nazi thugs came around and confiscated all the grinders (mills) house to house. They demanded to control all the bread and grain making capabilities because they didn’t want people feeding the resistance forces, and they wanted to steal the food for their own demands. Part of this was to instill fear and keep people poor and hungry so they couldn’t fight back. However, wise people back then gave their old grinders to the thugs, and kept the new ones hidden away. At night, they would sneak off into the woods where the noise of grinding the grain couldn’t be heard. Then they would make their flour, share it with the resistance people, and were very careful to store away and hide the amount of grain they actually grew. I hope it never comes to that here, but just as a word, to overcome suppression, be wise, and don’t trust the authorities to have your best interest in mind. Surviving suppression is not a sin, it’s a vital part of our culture and has been for hundreds of years.

In our time and place, we don’t all have enough open space to grow a garden or enough soil space to grow enough to feed our family. If you live in an apartment or townhouse with no land of your own, where can you grow food? And even if you do have space, it takes quite a bit of time, materials, and work to convert Georgia red clay into soil that will support food growing. It takes some planning and techniques.

I tell my students, interns, and friends to grow in containers. The best option I know of is to use 5 or 6 gal. buckets like what you can get at Home Depot of Harbor Freight for a few bucks a piece. The lid is usually separate but buy that too, as it makes a nice ‘saucer’ under the bucket to hold in some of the moisture while allowing excess water to seep out thru the holes you will put in the bottom of the bucket.

An added benefit is that these bucket/containers can be moved if you have to vacate your space, and bring your garden with you, complete with a nice handle for moving them. And they will grow quite a bit of food if you know how to use them.

Another benefit is that once you have the knack of it, you can keep adding more containers as they are definitely modular. Given a container and soil, you just find another spot to put it, or line them up in rows. I like double rows as they are easier to manage. Some people even set up drip systems to make watering easier.

Before filling your containers with potting soil, and about 10% or so of ground granite sand (Quikrete all purpose sand is ground up granite, lovely source of minerals for your plant), and if you have it, about 5% of wood ash for more minerals mixed in. You can add some native clay soil mixed in too as this will hold on to moisture – maybe 10 at most as it will make your soil more dense.

Make sure you drill ¼” holes in the bottom of the bucket to let out extra moisture so you don’t get rotten roots. I like to put about 10 in each bucket, more in larger containers. You want to ensure you don’t make your container too wet, it must be able to drain.

Then fill with your potting mix with additions, up to about 1” from the top. It will settle and leave a little room for some top mulch to keep the moisture from evaporating.

Either start your plants from seeds or purchase them already started. But in a survival situation, have a supply of heirloom, heritage or open pollinated seeds on hand, and when the end of the growing season comes, save the seeds as these verities of seeds will breed true next year and forever if you take care of them. Don’t bother with hybrid seeds, and most GMO seeds are only sold in large quantities to agricultural businesses, so don’t worry much about that. In a crisis seeds can become a tradable item too, so take the time to gather and process what you can.

I have a few favorite seed companies that only sell heirloom seeds. Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company is the best: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (417)924-8917 http://www.rareseeds.com Another is: Sow True Seed company open pollinating and heirloom varieties https://sowtrueseed.com/ but there are many good ones, check out this site: https://livelovefruit.com/tag/heirloom-seed-companies/

I like to find a nice sunny spot someplace, even a drive way, roof, or patio works just fine, as long as there is someway to get water in there for your plants. It takes a lot of work to walk up stairs or a ladder carrying a bucket of water which is heavy. Much easier to use a hose if you have access to water under pressure, or have a rain barrel set up to gather rain.

You can grow year round in containers. In winter, you can use heavy plastic sheeting – clear or white (3.5 mil works best) or old clear shower curtains, or even sheets over night to protect against very cold weather. Most fall, winter, and spring verities of plants can handle frost and freezing for short periods of time. Elevate the sheeting above the plants so they aren’t crushed. Posts stuck into the soil or other way to hold the plastic up is needed so they don’t get broken off or injured.

Other options for growing are to use larger containers like cut off barrels or other larger vessels – one of my favorites is to cut a 55 gal. plastic food grade barrel about 2 1/2 feet deep, but if they are too big they loose the mobility factor. However, containers save a lot of time waiting and working in-ground soil, and in big containers, you can dump the soil into buckets if you need to transport your growing medium. The most valuable part of this is the soil. Containers can be put almost anywhere where there is just a little space, like along a house or garage in a row, or a corner of the patio, or on top of a garage.

Look on seed catalog descriptions when starting your seed library for plants that do well in planters or are dwarf or bush verities. You can however use trailing plants if you create some kind of a trellis that sticks into the soil, so something can climb up, like cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, beans, some squashes, etc.

You can make planters from black plastic nursery pots used for bushes and trees, though they aren’t as nice looking as a bucket. I collect them by the side of the road or where there is a big landscape project going on and the containers are being discarded. They have multiple uses. No handle, like a bucket, but they work great. I saw one of my students take a very large plastic tree planter for a container bed, and gave her kids spray bottles of terracotta colored spray paint to decorate them. They looked very nice. She grew zucchini and other plants in the ones in her garden.

Another easy to obtain container types are storage containers like Rubbermaid available in various sizes at Walmart or other outlets. Just put the holes in the bottom too. And use the lid as a ‘saucer’.

I stay away from un-glazed terracotta pots though as they tend to wick out the moisture and dry out your plants.

If you have never grown in a container garden, start with just a few to start out. Take easy to grow plants like a patio tomato, some garlic, marigolds for color, some lettuce or greens, Swiss chard, bush beans, and keep them from over watering or getting too dried out. You can even grow potatoes in a container. Do a little Google research and make it fun. See below for some good websites on what grows well in containers.

Some people set up drip systems for their containers. This saves a lot of time, and even that can be rolled up and brought with you if you have to move everything in relocating. You can purchase solar powered pumps, and set up rain barrels as well to make this easier.

When I first got to Georgia from my 23 year old in-ground organic garden from California to our red clay here, and didn’t have a space prepared I started with containers. It’s a very steep piece of property and later I terraced it to 100 beds, growing a multitude of plants and trees. But back then I only had a back deck overlooking, down a very steep back yard, where I could start. I purchased 10 trough sized plastic containers, and had a very nice and productive vegetable and herb garden in a few weeks. Later those containers were moved to the front along the front walk to the house entrance, filled with flowers and herbs once I had beds in-ground for the rest. Yet I still have about 25 containers around various areas of the garden which continue to be productive.

If we have a danger of famine, and you have already set up your family with containers, you will be able to grow at least some of the food you need. If you learn some wild-crafting to forage edibles (there are loads that grow here in NE Georgia, and usually just about anywhere you can find edible ‘weeds’ which will put calories and nutrition into your stomachs) you can keep body and soul together, and even help your neighbors do the same.

My first friend as neighbor when we moved to Georgia, across the street, had never grown anything in her life. I took her to the nursery and we bought a couple of plastic large size planters and some potting soil, and I gave her some tomato baby plants. From that first introduction she got the confidence to start a raised bed and now she is quite the gardener. Just start small, read up on it, and don’t worry if at first you kill a few plants. You will get the hang of it, and have fun picking those few beginning tomatoes, or green beans, or pulling up some plump radishes.

Children can get into the game of this too, and it’s a great way to share the survival and knowledge. If they have their own containers or a few of them to plant what they want to grow, it can be a lot of fun for them and they can participate.

Remember, there is always something you can do about it. And with the help of the internet, you can learn which plants you can forage, and which ones you can grow in a container setting. You can also camouflage containers with flowers growing in them, and maybe some burlap around the outside of the buckets to make them look decorative.

Good Luck,

Diann Dirks, Certified Permaculture Designer, Organic Gardener, herbalist, writer and researcher

Hillside Gardens, Auburn, Ga.

The Garden Lady of Georgia

Blogsite: thegardenladyofga.wordpress.com

Here are just a few good sites for more information on container gardening and tips.

https://www.westcoastseeds.com/blogs/garden-wisdom/growing-food-containers

https://www.almanac.com/content/container-gardening-vegetables

https://gardenerspath.com/plants/vegetables/best-container/

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Spring Seed Starting Tips 4-13-21

Hello friends.

It’s spring and time to start your summer seeds if you haven’t already. For years I have used moon phase planting information as the moon’s gravitational pull either helps or hinders the germination process according to ancient wisdom. So, I’ve been watching for the best days to start my flats for late spring and summer cultivars (cultivated varieties). Here is the link I use to choose days to plant either in flats or in the ground: https://mooncalendar.astro-seek.com/gardening-moon… I used to use Farmer’s Almanac which had free month by month posts for this information but they got greedy and now you have to buy their calendar. So, I looked around and found this site. According to this site today (13th April) through the end of the month (their posts don’t go beyond the 30th for this month). So, we will be starting our flats today.

I like to make my own seed starting soil-less mix to help seeds sprout and grow to seedlings without dense soil. I use peat moss, vermiculite, some kind of very finely sifted composted manure or compost – this batch has mushroom compost – and some fine potting soil. I also add a little sand and some hardwood ash from the fireplace, no more than 10% by volume though as it is quite alkaline. Mix the ash with sand to make it easier to handle – ash can be very fine and blow into your face. I like Quikrete all purpose sand from Home Depot as it is crushed granite and nicely loaded with minerals for the soil. It also helps drainage. You want your seed mix to be well drained. I make up a huge batch of it and fill my flats about 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep to plant. To make labels I cut up mini-blinds and write on them with pencil as this won’t fade in the sunshine. They can be reused if you erase last year’s label writing. I cut them about 4″ long, square then on an angle (which makes a point to stick in the soil) then square again. When the seeds sprout I take the label from the flat and put it in my garden bed to save time. I’ve seen people use sharpie pens on popsickle sticks but they are useful only once and often they can fade or get blurry from moisture or rot. Not miniblinds. They are meant to handle UV rays being in windows.

When your seeds are just in, use a watering can with rain water if you have access to it. I collect enough in used cat litter containers to use on my baby plants. Chlorinated water is hard on babies.

When labeling my seeds in flats I have a system. First the kind of plant (i.e. cabbage), then the variety (Chinese), then the year from the seed packet (i.e. 2020), then any information needed (i.e. likes water, doesn’t like water, full sun, part sun, acid soil, neutral soil) etc. Some people put the time to maturity. I’m lazy. Also many of my seeds are self-saved and I didn’t keep that information from the original beginning of that variety in my garden.

Keep your flats moist but not drowning (which can cause a fungus called wilt which will kill your babies) so they don’t dry out. If you start them outside and you know it will rain, it’s a good idea to cover the flats with a tarp and something to keep the tarp up off the flats – maybe some bamboo held up a foot or so from the top of the flat. If it gets terribly hot suddenly, you can cover the flats with some white bug protection cloth to give it some shade and keep it cooler. This is available online or at a nursery near you . I don’t have a site. Just google it.

Keep a journal of what makes it and what doesn’t because you will most likely have seed packets with more seeds you didn’t use at the end of planting time. Don’t keep seeds that don’t germinate.

Remember to keep your working seed packets for next year, or share them with friends. We do seed swaps twice a year around here – spring and fall. And if you have plants going to seed in your garden space, remember to label them because once things go to seed they often look alike and you’ll loose track of what you are saving. I get wire bag closers out of the grocery store or in boxes of non-ziplock bags and use the mini-blind blank labels with the holes in them (where the cord goes thru in the blinds) threading the closers thru the hole and attaching them to the main stem of the plant I’m saving the seeds from. That way when they dry out you will know what they are.

Hope this helps.

Visit my blogsite for more information and tips for gardening, herbs and many other subjects: thegardenladyofga.wordpress.com

Diann Dirks, Certified Permaculture Designer, organic gardener, herbalist

Posted in Emergency Preparedness, Gardening, Herb gardening, organic gardening, Permaculture, Saving seeds and cultivars, Seasonal gardening plants, Seed propagation, Self-Sustainability, The beginning Gardener information, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hillside Gardens Presents our 11th Year Program

ORGANIC GARDENING AND PERMACULTURE* INTERNSHIP

2021 Spring and Summer Session now accepting applications

In Auburn, Ga., Barrow County

Learn how to confidently and skillfully grow organic food and medicinal herbs for health and self-reliance in a friendly and fun environment, in a 100 bed garden and food forest orchard. Learn how to create rich natural soil, fertilize without chemicals, chose the right plants for your own use and in the right seasons. We grow over 150 medicinal herbs, and over 300 varieties of heirloom fruit and vegetables. Learn when to plant, when and how to harvest, and process food and herbs. We make plant medicine. Learn the science of Permaculture and Asian Natural Farming techniques to sustainably produce healthy and nutritious food, with a limited need for outside resources. We especially stress increased awareness of nature and a connection with the earth so you get the best production and yield from land. This will carry over to when you grow your own garden or farm. Our graduates have gone on to amazing careers in herbalism, farming (7 farms from our graduates), wild life management (butterfly garden in Athens zoo), and gone on to higher education and Permaculture certification.

Or just created amazing gardens on their own land.

We require a 6 month commitment, one 4 hour session a week, week days, scheduling for your convenience. We have found that this 6 month period is what it takes to really understand and master the rhythms and cycles of growing your own food and medicine. It will change your life. It’s the only Permaculture internship on the East Coast. Admission fee $100 one time only. You may continue longer in the program without additional fee. I guarantee you will go home with more than the fee in plants, garden produce and other benefits. The skills will last a lifetime.

If interested, contact me at didirks@comcast.net or call and leave a message at 678 261-8141 so when I come back into the house I will call you back.

You must be able to lift 35 lbs. and have no pending health issues which would prevent you from doing what often is hard but satisfying work. We are a drug, tobacco and alcohol free environment. You must be at least 16 years of age.   

*Permaculture Design is the premier science of environmental design on the planet – based on an ethic – care of the planet, care of people, equitable use of the abundance – and 23 precepts or laws of how nature works. Its use increases yield, restores land damaged or destroyed land, brings land to harmony and production, and protects wild life. We design into the 7th generation for long lasting and productive land, using all natural means, no harmful chemicals. This system has restored completely useless land to full production, and brings ordinary land to highest production completely organically.

Posted in Bee haven gardens, Emergency Preparedness, Food Forest, food forest management, Forest Agriculture, Gardening, Herb gardening, Living a happier life, making medicine, Making Medicine DIY, organic gardening, Permaculture, Planet restoration, Planetary management using Permaculture, Seasonal gardening plants, Seed propagation, Self-Sustainability, Soil fertility and yield, Wild crafting and wild plants | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Jerusalem Artichokes, aka Sunchokes growing, harvesting, using 2-2-21

Jerusalem Artichokes are a wonderful and delicious survival food, a very abundant crop and easy to grow. They are a root vegetable and full of valuable nutrients. They are also freely propagating so if you harvest them every year and leave a few in the soil, they will reward you year after year. They can be stored in the refrigerator or root cave or cellar.

Growing them takes a little bit of planning because you’ll want to dedicate a plot for them, being so freely propagating.

JAs are a member of the sunflower family and like full sun. They also get 10 to 12 feet high so planting them along a wall (facing the sun) or fence helps to support them.

Dig down into the soil 18” and add a lot of sand (they are a root and do better in looser soil) and organic matter. You will need to dedicate the space to them because they regenerate off the smallest piece of root even after aggressively harvesting them. So, pick a spot in the sun that you will want to not plant other things in, amend the soil, plant about 8 to 10” apart (I usually do it in a grid pattern, not rows), 6″ deep.

You wait till the year progresses – they flower in Sept. usually (they make very nice flower arrangements) and the more you harvest the flowers the more they root so it’s a good thing to use them, then they die out in late Oct., early December. I cut the stems once the tops are dead, leaving 1 foot of stem up from the soil level. I do that so I can easily see where to carefully dig out the roots.

The stems make great kindling for fireplaces btw, and I cut them into 1 foot lengths and keep them out of the rain till I need them for fires.

After the first real freeze (not just frost), the inulin (sugar) develops for best flavor, and you can now dig them up and harvest the root. You can do it all at once or section at a time as they keep well preserved in the soil till you need them.

Dig deeply because they like to hide under rocks and walls and deep into the soil. That’s why 18” deep a preparation and lots of sand works so well.

I harvest section at a time in the soil to get every little bit of the smallest roots. Then I soak them in some water to loosen the soil and clean them up a bit, and refrigerate them. They will last up to 2 years in the frig.

Once harvested, save the nicest ones for replanting. Again plant them in a grid pattern about 6″ deep about 8 to 10 inches apart.

To use them you don’t peel the skin, just use a vegetable brush, clean all the soil off them so they look light tan, cut away any parts that are blackened or look not good, then use them. They grow with various bulging parts so make sure you get all the dirt out of the creases or break the bulges off to clean the soil out.

Inulin is also a wonderful ‘prebiotic’ which is a fiber source which actually feeds the good bacteria in your gut microbes – 85% of your immune system.

Cook them or steam them till they are tender, add some butter or seasonings, and enjoy the delicious flavor.

They are a terrific flavor enhancer to any cooked dish you add them to, or you can eat them fresh in salads. But realize they will cause a lot of digestive gasses if you eat too many of them. A few slices in a salad are fine or grate them. Cooking tends to handle that. I put them in soups, stews, mashed potatoes (cook them along with the potatoes), casseroles, sauces, etc. You can even grate them and add them to quick breads like you would carrots.

They aren’t actually an artichoke, just to clear that up. They tend to taste similar to an artichoke when cooked.

Diann Dirks 2-2-21

Posted in Bee haven gardens, Emergency Preparedness, Flowering plants', Gardening, Gut health, Immune booster, organic gardening, Permaculture, Seasonal gardening plants, Self-Sustainability, The beginning Gardener information, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Winter Growing in Severe Zones like Zone 3 or Colder 1-8-21

Recently a friend living in Montana asked me about growing in winter in Zone 3, and she felt she had to do a lot of study to find what would work there. So, I gathered some things that might help her and I’m sharing them with you. Here are my potential solutions:

Yes, zone 3 is pretty cold. But I know of a CSA in Alaska that has something like 50 members, growing out of green houses https://www.talkeetnafarm.com/about. And at U of M near Lansing, Mich, there’s a student run CSA that has 100 families as members who provide 48 months out of the year, with double walled greenhouses. The greenhouse’s double walls are kept apart with little blowers, and thermostat run openings and closings for hot weather or cold adjustments. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277848120_Development_of_a_Year-round_Student_Organic_Farm_and_Organic_Farming_Curriculum_at_Michigan_State_University I think that is the answer.

I also know of a farmer in Kansas that has greenhouses sunk 6’ in the ground that grow year round as well. https://greenhouseinthesnow.com/ So, I think it’s a matter of infrastructure. Not much will grow at 20 below 0 but certainly things grow fine around 35F if protected from wind and sheltered.

Some people use either Rocket Mass heaters or geo thermal, maybe a combination:

Paul Wheaton is an inspired perma-culturist who has a lot of personal experience and does a lot of workshops. He also has a book I think, or at least a tutorial. https://richsoil.com/rocket-stove-mass-heater.jsp

Rocket Mass Heater for a greenhouse Paul Wheaton

Better Than a rocket stove green house heat https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIzWgBWF3SQ

Building a Greenhouse Rocket Stove https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCp7dQPwdkA

Brick Rocket Box Stove

Rocket stove for $6

Double burner rocket stove with concrete bricks

Also geo thermal is another method to keep a green house above freezing even in very cold climates.

Ground to Air Heat Transfer (GAHT®) system

A GAHT® system allows our greenhouses to provide their own heating and cooling using the energy of the sun, and the soil underground. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTQ3FL0IGhU

Large scale geothermal in greenhouse growers https://www.greenhousegrower.com/technology/going-geothermal/

Inspiring system in Holland

So, of course you’d want cultivars that grow well in cold weather already – Brassicus, parsley, lettuces, roots like carrots, beets, garlic, onions, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips etc., Swiss chards, other brassicus like kales, cabbage broccoli, etc. and lots of oriental greens like bok choy and Chinese cabbage. Here’s my favorite Asian seed company: https://www.kitazawaseed.com/ But I also love Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds https://www.rareseeds.com/?SID=1dda1aa275d2baecc3212c192a97516c

Starting off with things that already like it cool then providing them with environments that hold in as much heat as possible, it works. But then I also take care to order from reliable and non-GMO and non-Monsanto seed companies.

In France I think it was during Louis 16th’s reign, they had gardens that provided the court with luxurious warm weather crops all year https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potager_du_roi  More gardens in France grew with building long rows of heat sink walls with overhangs or large areas of small walled- in gardens out of bricks , which caught the heat and held it, even growing citrus and many warm weather crops. https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2015/12/fruit-walls-urban-farming.html They did a lot to provide year round out of season food.

Some of those ideas could be converted into smaller applications.

If you were to take a likely piece of land in your ranch area there, and started building some infrastructure like a sunken greenhouse, walled in gardens, or regular greenhouses with rocket mass heaters, I think you could actually convert some of the resources of the ranch into agri-tourism and a demonstration garden, giving classes and workshops in the winter, when the tourism ranching is low. Just a thought. We really need to start looking at ways to bypass the insanity right now being generated by the political situation, teaching people how to feed themselves and their families in crisis times. It’s what I have been working on for about 12 years with my demonstration garden and internship program. And my blog thegardenladyofga.wordpress.com

We are in zone 8B here so we don’t have the severe cold and weather conditions like in Montana, but we do get below freezing off and on all winter. So, here I lay my summer tomato cages on their sides alternating direction down my beds and cover them with 3.5 mil plastic weighed down with single cinder blocks, and grow all winter. This makes the beds protected enough while also growing cold tolerant varieties that I get more food production in the winter than in the summer. Mostly because we don’t get bugs in the winter. And with the crazy weather changes we’ve been having in summer here, growing has been particularly difficult the last 5 or so years. But in our little ‘tunnels’ under the tomato supports, it’s quite nice. When it’s really cold things grow slower, but in general, we get a steady flow of salads, greens, and other vegetables. It just means we have to keep track of the weather, and make sure we cover the beds when it’s below about 28 F, and uncover them when it gets about 45 F for several days. I open it up when it’s going to rain and cover them when I see snow in the predictions.

Diann Dirks 1-8-21

Posted in Gardening, organic gardening, Permaculture, Seasonal gardening plants, Sustainable and safe seed companies, The beginning Gardener information, Uncategorized, winter gardening | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review of new book “Wild Eating With the Forager Chicks

XMA Header Image
Wild Eating With The Forager Chicks

My dear friends Anne-Marie Bilella and Denise Hardin just released their new book Wild Eating with the Forager Chicks, and I wanted to share this with my friends who are foragers, gourmet cooks, off the grid people, survivalists, homesteaders, chefs, wild crafters, preppers, and adventurers who love to try something news. They have combined the expert knowledge of what’s for dinner in the wild, and recipes that bring the culinary experience to a new level. Anne Marie is a certified wild mushroom forager and between the two wonderful cooks, they have come up with this wonderful book. I highly recommend it. You can purchase it thru lulu.com.

Wild Eating With The Forager Chicks

lulu.com

I had a chance to review this wonderful book recently. These are my observations: First, it’s a beautifully presented book, Martha Stewart quality (top of the mark), layout professional and aesthetic. The pictures are beautiful, on fine matt paper and very enticing, you want to eat off the page. Second, the recipes are well thought out as to ingredients, directions, and for a forager, it’s a Godsend because it gives gourmet quality uses for those things you bring home in your foraging bag. Third, it’s brilliant because at a time in history when food has become a critical issue, eating wild crafted foods which tend to be more nutritious than cultivated food grown in worn out chemical laden soil, is healthier. The timing is impeccable for future survival. I think this is a perfect companion for many people in groups – homesteaders, foragers, wild crafters, preppers, off the grid living, campers, or people with families who want better food for their kids and their health. Well done to Anne-Marie and Denise. I have no financial interest in this book, I just loved it so much I had to give you the scoop. https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/denise-hardin-and-anne-marie-bilella-and-tonya-mooney/wild-eating-with-the-forager-chicks/paperback/product-vw87yg.html?page=1&pageSize=4

I’d love to hear from you about this book if you are lucky enough to get a copy and read it.

Diann Dirks, 12 – 23 – 20

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Making Your Own Herbal Pills for Self-reliant Health 12-4-2020

Recently on a FB group post from Europe someone asked how they could take turmeric living in Portugal where they couldn’t get pills and they hated it in a milk mixture. I sent them this article with additional information from my own research:

Mix the powdered turmeric with about 10% black pepper so it is absorbable in the body, or if you follow Ayervedic medicine, also add cumin, fennel and coriander to lessen the strain on the kidneys. Then put it in empty capsules. Or, barring that, make pills the old fashioned way.

MAKE YOUR OWN HERBAL PILLS – I have done quite a bit of research over the years on making my own medicine, including various ways to make pills. If you can get empty glycerine capsules, you can purchase a little device from Mountain Rose Herb Company to fill them, about $18 USD plus shipping and handling. I get my empty Capsules from IHerb site using NOW brand capsules – usually in “0” or “00”size.

But if you can’t get empty capsules, then you can make little round herbal pills yourself. More labor intensive, but a way to get the herbal medicine you make yourself in a do-it-yourself way. This actually is how 100 or 200 years ago, apothecaries made their pills for dosing individuals. Then capsules and pressurized tablet machines came along. But tablets made under great pressure often don’t dissolve in the stomach and are defecated out without benefit. And sometimes you can’t get empty capsules. So, with a little practice you can make your own pills with the formula and technique below:

“Herbal pills are an easy-to-make, practical way to consume medicinal herbs.”

(Parenthetic words are my addition to this article.)

“If you are used to taking over-the-counter pills for a headache (or other conditions), there’s no reason you can’t make your own headache (or herbal) pills as a replacement.

Making herb pills is easy for anyone who’s ever played with modeling dough. Make them any size you like, noting appropriate dosing details for the herbs used. Store them in the fridge so they stay soft, and make them with any spice (or herb) you like. Do you like chocolate? Roll your headache (or herbal) pills in cocoa powder. We don’t have to step completely out of your comfort zones to live naturally.

(Make small batches. Honey is anti-microbial so it is a kind of preservative by itself, but it will stay fresher if made regularly.)

1. Start with a blend of finely powdered herbs. (Turmeric usually comes as a powder as does pepper so you don’t have to have a spice or coffee grinder but other herbs you probably would need to powder if they don’t come already powdered.)

2. Add a dollop of raw honey and enough water until the mix resembles bread dough. (I like to work my ‘dough’ in a small glazed ceramic or silicone bowl.)

3. Split your dough into two or three pieces and roll them into a thin rope.

4. Cut the rope into small segments.

5. Roll each segment into pea-sized balls or smaller

6. Coat each ball in a powder of your choice (cinnamon, cocoa, etc.) and refrigerate in a glass jar until needed. *

Learn more about building your herbal apothecary in The Home Herbalist’s Local Apothecary.

This URL also has a picture of the final product which wouldn’t reproduce in this post.

*I thought of another way to take them but haven’t tried it myself. It’s how my mother used to get us to swallow pills when I was a kid. Before adding a coating of powder, or if you find it hard swallowing a powdered covered pill, put the rolled pills in the freezer, and on a spoon (probably a good thing for children – or with animals wrap the pill in a bit of cheese or meat) with a bit of honey or jam on it, put a frozen pill together with the honey and swallow. Let me know if you find this a good way to take your herbal medicines.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Tonight is the first big freeze of the year here in NE Georgia. 11-30-20

It’s 45 F now, very windy, and I’m wearing layers because it’s also 88% humidity. That’s the kind of cold that cuts right to the bones.

My winter garden is mostly planted now but with the freeze upon us, I must protect the tender seedlings in the annual garden, and prepare the perennials for the winter.

The herbs that can’t withstand the freeze will be harvested, dried or otherwise preserved. But the perennials that need protection need mulching, or wrapping. Depending on what zone you are in, we’re in 8G here, you may want to tour your garden, assess what needs help or harvesting, and act quickly.

The annual beds have seedlings that are tender. For the annual beds we lay our empty tomato cages sideways down the beds alternating direction, then clear or white 3.5 mil plastic sheeting is laid over them, weighed down with cinder blocks, rocks or other weights, and if we are expecting wind, we lay some other weights like lengths of rebar over the tops to keep them from sailing away or flapping.

Here are a couple of good sites that cover what needs protecting and how – herbs, perennials, annuals, bushes, etc.

https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/winterizing-the-herb-garden For our east coast friends.

https://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/flowers-shrubs-trees/winter-care-perennials For our west coast friends.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Growing a fall and winter garden 10-5-20

Here in NE Georgia it is definitely fall weather.

Many of us have gardens and farms. Do you know you can grow year round both food and medicinal herbs?

I’ve heard people say “I garden in the summer – tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, etc, but we don’t do it in winter”. But we here in NE Georgia we grow almost more volume of food in the fall and winter than in the summer here.

The cool and cold weather is excellent for lettuces, Swiss chard, spinach, garlic, beets, carrots and other root crops, kelp, broccoli, and other brassicus like collards, Italian flat leaf parsley and many other greens. If the freeze isn’t too low, spinach, parsley don’t even need to be covered as they are really cold hardy. In the fall cool weather, peas do well.

Even if you don’t have a green house, you can do this. To keep the soil fertile and productive we always do another few layers of ‘sheet mulching’ aka Lasagna Gardening techniques before planting, where you layer organic matter and composted manure to enhance the soil. We add crushed granite sand (Home Depot sells it as all purpose sand – Quikrete brand, mixed with hardwood ashes from the fireplace (about half an inch layer), and layer kitchen waste, fresh grass clippings, autumn leaves (we like to chip them up first) and chipped up summer garden debris like tomato vines etc. Then we give it some compost tea. https://thegardenladyofga.wordpress.com/2020/08/17/making-the-most-out-of-your-organic-matter-for-weed-tea-compost-manure-tea-and-biochar-8-17-20/

To plant seeds or seedling plants, make a little hole in the new mulch layers, put a couple handfuls of compost or top soil, and plant in that soil. Put a bit of light mulch around the soil but don’t smother.

To protect your new babies, I lay my tomato cages on their sides, alternating direction along a bed to raise up and cause an air layer between clear or white plastic sheeting. This keeps the plastic from smashing the babies into the soil, and also forms a little green house heat holder in cold weather, making a 10 or 15 degree difference from the outside air.

Also having a goodly layer of mulch over the soil holds in the heat in the soil for the roots.

Home Depot sells both white and clear sheeting in either rolls or bags of 3.5 mil plastic (it can be used for several seasons). Lay the plastic over the planted beds with tomato cages once it gets cold (don’t do this in warm weather as it will cook the babies) and give it some water or let it rain on the beds. When the temperature gets close to freezing, cover the beds. Once it’s cold, the moisture stays in the soil so you don’t have to keep watering. Every 3 weeks or so, you can sprinkle the beds with more compost tea – I dilute it with rainwater.

You will have harvestable food all winter and into the spring. It may take a while for some of the crops to get big enough to harvest, and cold weather everything tends to slow down growing, but be patient. We plant in September if it isn’t too hot. Now it’s early October and we’re starting seeds in flats to transplant when they are large enough to go in the garden. We usually start earlier but it has been unseasonably hot this summer and lasting longer. It finally cooled down enough to not cook the seedlings.

Once it’s time to cover with plastic sheeting we weigh down the sides of the plastic sheeting with single cinder blocks, rocks, or other heavy things. You might want to put something over the top of the sheeted beds to keep the plastic from blowing off the beds. I like rebar laid carefully over every 6 feet or so if it’s high winds.

When it warms up during the winter, lift one side of the sheeting to harvest or keep it from cooking. Cool weather plants don’t like too much heat.

I recommend this book: https://www.amazon.com/Four-Season-Harvest-Organic-Vegetables-Garden/dp/1890132276 Four Season Harvest Organic Vegetables Garden by Eliot Coleman. He uses green houses but much of what he recommends can be utilized in this system of little covered beds.

I know how important it is in these troubling times to have food security not only having food available, but having food free of chemicals, toxins, poisons, and food that is actually nutritious from good quality nutrient rich soil. It can mean the difference between health and illness.

So, please share this information with others and encourage them to at least grow some of their own food.

One way to get someone started on the road to self-reliance is to grow food in 5 gal. buckets with holes drilled in the bottom to let excess water escape. Use the lid as a bottom tray. Fill with good potting soil, and plant them.

One of the benefits of this kind of growing is that they come with handles and you can move them around for better sun exposure, protection against wind, or into a little mini climate area, or even move them inside if it gets extremely cold below the planting zone of the plants being grown. These work year round.

I started my neighbor (who thought she couldn’t grow anything) with a pot with a tomato plant years ago. Now she has a nice garden in her yard in Michigan after she moved from Georgia. She now has the confidence to do this on her own.

When I hear of possible food shortages, I think, but people can grow their own food and not worry. Pass it on.

BTW often you can get free buckets by going to soap making businesses or local bakeries. Home Depot sells their buckets if all else fails. But look around for free ones. Make sure the things they had in them were food grade, not chemicals. I use a drill with a 1/4″ drill bit to make about 10 or so holes in the bottom for good drainage. You will have to fertilize bucket planters like the in-ground beds using compost tea or liquid fertilizer (use organic fertilizer not ‘commercial’ ones because they aren’t so intense and don’t act like steroids to plants). And when it gets hot again watch for moisture levels because containers tend to dry out faster than in the ground planting areas.

Good growing.

Diann Dirks, 10-5-2020

Posted in Emergency Preparedness, Gardening, organic gardening, pest management, Recycle, repurpose, reuse, Self-Sustainability, Soil fertility and yield, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments