Archive for April, 2009

dabbling with scents

i’ve been dabbling in perfumery lately. a few months ago, i had several conversations with someone through etsy who was looking for natural lilac lotion which led to several discussions on alternatives for scenting the lotion. she took a liking to lilac scents (and who wouldn’t, it’s so intoxicating?!). lilac essential oil is very rare and expensive.

so, i’ve been trying two different methods…

the first is through distillation, same as making rose water. i did this a few years back with roses and it turned out nice. the lilac water has a nice scent but it is not the wonderful heady aroma that you get when you stick your nose in a bunch of lilac flowers.

to make the lilac water, i used a water bath canner, a fire brick and a pyrex bowl. i placed the brick in the bottom of the water bath canner and filled up the bottom with lilac blossoms, up to the top of the brick. i then added water to cover the lilacs completely. this went over the fire brick, barely covering it. then i placed the bowl on top of the fire brick and put the canner lid on upside down.

i turned the heat on and got the water boiling then poured ice onto the top of the lid and turned the heat down to simmer. every 10 minutes or so, i had jaden hold the lid while i poured off the water in the bowl. i did this for about 35 minutes or so and then the lilacs looked spent so i stopped. i probably ended up with about 4 oz. of the lilac water. the water has a scent, but not the luxurious scent of lilac blossoms. i definitely think it will make a nice face splash after cleansing.

the second method is making a more concentrated version.

for this method, you harvest the flowers, and remove the stems. place a piece of cheesecloth in a bowl and put the lilacs on top of the cheesecloth. pour 2 cups of distilled water over the blossoms, cover with a plate and let sit overnight.

the next day, bunch up the cheesecloth and tie it with a rubber band and set aside. bring the water to a simmer and add the cheesecloth to the pot. let the water simmer for an hour or until the water is reduced by half. (i actually ended up letting this sit for over a day because of time restraints. it didn’t seem to hurt it a bit, the flowers were still very vibrant when i went about tying it up to simmer the water.

strain off the water and pour into a bottle. add 4 drops of glycerin (to hold the scent).

this method proves a lot closer to the real scent. the water is a bit thicker than with the lilac water. it is dark brown in color, tinted from the actual flowers being present, the same as with the waste water strained off from the previous version. the scent however, is much closer to the true lilac scent.

to use as a perfume, i think i’d definitely go with the second method of extraction, purely based on scents after the procedures. however, i’d be happy to use the lilac water (the first method) as a facial splash after washing, etc. also, i think it would be excellent to use as a freshener for underarms as needed (if one doesn’t use commercial deodorant).

this could be a fun experiment to try with numerous flowers…rose obviously, but also perhaps, calendula, echinacea and much more. if time allows, i plan on experimenting with several more floral essences!

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(Note from Robbyn/thebackforty: Today’s wonderful guest post comes from the writers at the homesteading blog Grow The Changes. Welcome!)

For a change, when you sort through the second hand clothing bins, or the bottom of your own drawers and closet for unwanted clothing, look upon this under-utilized resource, not as clothing gone out of style, or otherwise discarded, but as material for re-purposed sewing projects. Instead of choosing articles for their style and size, scout for fabrics, textures and colors. It will open a whole new world in your favorite second hand shop. I have re-purposed second-hand tops and sweaters primarily for socks, although I have also made some gloves, neck warmers, and am in search of the perfect over-sized sweater to transform into long-johns for next winter.

I used to knit all of our winter socks, but both my time and the wool is expensive, and I figured I was spending $3 and 3 hours of my time for each pair, which would inevitably get holes within a few months. And I was still purchasing flimsy summer work socks. Lamenting about this one day, it was my husband who looked at my sewing machine in the corner, and asked why I couldn’t just sew up some work socks from old sweaters. At first, I thought it would not work, they would have no heel and would slip down, and the seam would be irritating. But I am terrible at darning, and I had 3 or 4 pairs of hand-knit wool socks with gaping holes from being over worked, and we need some pretty warm wool socks to make it through our winters. So I dove into the bag of unwanted clothes at the back of the closet and pulled out two medium weight, tightly knitted wool/synthetic blend sweaters, and made the first prototypes. The first thing we discovered was that the seams did not bother a bit, and after making a few pairs, I started to see how I could make these tube socks so that they would not slip and sag.

My next trip to the second hand store was in search of the perfect winter sock material, and I found that the best socks were made from out-dated ski sweaters, the kind with a very tight stitch to prevent wind from penetrating. These knee-hi winter socks stood the test of time and work, outlasting my own knitted wool socks because I never had the patience to knit socks with such tiny stitches.

So again this spring, off to the second hand shop I went, curious to experiment with other fabrics for lighter weight spring and summer socks. I hit pay dirt. I would say that each pair of socks cost between 10 and 25 cents, and only take a few minutes of my time to make up. But I have learned some tricks to making these simple tube socks work for us, and I hope they work for you too.
The ideal second hand clothes for adult socks are XL, or larger, knit tops, t-shirts, sweaters or sweatshirts. Small, medium or large tops will make adult ankle socks or regular kids socks. Choose round necks over V-necks. And the knitted fabric should be tight/small stitches, because loose/large stitches will wear out and make holes quickly. Cotton or acrylic blend t-shirts or long sleeved shirts will make great summer socks, wool or synthetic blend sweaters, or even fleece, will make great winter socks. For the best fitting socks, choose knits with a stretchy give that springs back, rather than stretching out looser and looser. Ribbed knit sweaters, waffle knit tops, or straight knits with an elastic blend have the stretchy kind of give that make particularly well-fitting tube socks.

Now take some measurements of the feet and calves the socks are intended for. Measure around the foot, ankle, and the thickest part of the calf. Then measure the length along the bottom of the foot, from the toe to the heel and up behind the heel, taking note of the length to reach ankle, mid-calf, and knee-hi. For example, my measurements are 14″ long for ankle socks, 19″ long for mid-calf socks, and 24″ long for knee-hi socks. With these measurements you will be able to decide what to do with your fabrics. If your tops are long enough, and you want to make calf-hi or knee-hi socks, then you will want to cut strips wide enough to fit the circumference of the calf. If you are making ankle-hi socks, the strips can be cut to the width of the foot.

One trick I have learned after making a few pairs of these tube socks is that a good fit is particularly important to preventing the sock from sagging since they lack a pre-formed heel. This is the reason I choose stretchy fabrics. The other trick is that the stretch in the fabric will be taken into account in the measurement. But as long as you start with a wide enough strip of fabric, you can narrow it down after trying them on, to make a good fit. When I come across a particularly stretchy fabric, I measure the fabric when stretched out, rather than relaxed.

One XL men’s top will usually make four pairs of calf or knee-hi socks. Use the waist and wrist edges, whether ribbed or hemmed, as the finished edge of the sock. Measuring across the body of the shirt or sweater, plan out where to cut out your socks, depending on your foot/calf measurements. Below is an XL men’s fleece sweatshirt, measuring 30 inches across the body. This is an ideal sweater to make two pairs of knee-hi socks from the body, and one mid-calf pair from the sleeves, and one ankle-hi pair from the flanks under the armholes.

For the sleeves, measure the wrist opening and make sure it is wide enough for your foot or calf, if it is too narrow for a calf-hi sock, you can make an ankle sock, or cut the original hem until you reach a point in the sleeve where it is wide enough, and sew a new hem for the finished sock. In this picture I left all of the trimmings, showing where I cut. The wedges on the outer edge of the sleeves are scraps, and where I cut the narrow strip along the armhole are also are scraps.

And this is what remains, paired up, each sock is folded in half inside out, ready to be sewn and trimmed.
I sew a pretty thin seam with the thicker fabrics, and I rarely get holes. But I do go over the seam twice with a small stitch. If you have a sewing machine with fancy edge stitches, give them a try. Like I said, the seams have not bothered us when we wear the socks. When using thin cotton knits, I make the seam wider, about 1/2″.
Now round off the toe, and try the sock on the intended foot, still inside out. The sock should be well fitted, so if there is any loose room around the ankle or the foot, pin or mark the correct fit, and take the seam in until you get a good fit. Now you can note these measurements so that each sock does not need to be tried on, but then again, each material has it’s own stretch, so I like to try them on to be sure. Once you are happy with the fit of the sock, trim off any excess material.
Below are some examples using different styles of shirts. The fabric below was extra stretchy and made some very comfortable socks. With this shirt, I measured the socks with the material stretched somewhat, and this allowed me to get an extra pair out of the top, without wasting any fabric.
It was an XXL sleeveless top, and made two pairs of calf-hi socks, and one pair of ankle-hi socks.
The two under arm sections made up a pair, and the middle divided into two pairs.
This Medium short sleeve cotton t-shirt made just two pairs of ankle-hi socks, but they are great summer socks, and how many simple cotton t-shirts are out there, unwanted and under-utilized.
I cut off the sleeve, leaving a narrow end, following the seam of the sleeve edge. The toe of the sock is very forgiving, and can be tapered down like this, by following the edge of the scooped edge and rounding the toe out before it gets too narrow. It made a good ankle length sock where it would have been too short if I had simply cut it off straight under the arm.
This t-shirt was also a good example of how to handle scoop necks or v-necks. There was only one pair of socks out of the body, so the back of the shirt had to be cut to match the front, after the neckline was cut off. When you are looking at scoop or v-neck tops, measure the usable length to make sure it makes a long enough sock for your intended purposes.
Experiment with fabrics and patterns for an unlimited variety of comfortable, inexpensive and ecologically resourceful socks.

Today’s guest writers post under the pen names Freija and Beringian Fritillary and can be found at their wonderful blog Grow The Changes. On their homestead, as in their blog, they practice and advocate human-scaled food systems, with an intimate hands-on approach, as a way for everyone on this earth to be nutritiously and sustainably fed, from the first world to the third world.

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Building a garden

Creating gardens has been a hobby of mine for as long as I can remember.  I’m pretty sure I learned it from my mother.  We moved often when I was growing up, usually into a house owned by someone else.  One of the first things mom did when we got to a new place was start a garden.  Not the big family vegetable garden, that would come in time, and was where we spent lots of gardening time.  The first garden was always a flower garden.  Usually small, close to the house, planted with simple hardy flowers that would give a bright, cheery welcome every time we stepped out of the house.  I find that the need to create a little pocket of beauty stuck with me.  Everywhere I’ve lived I’ve had to make some small garden, filled with color and happiness.

When we moved to this farm there were no visible flowers, shrubs, trees, or gardens of any type, just acres of mowed grass and a variety of buildings in various stages of disrepair.  Within the first month we had planted some trees, poked some marigolds and zinnias in the ground near the porch, and started planning.  Fixing everything has taken most of the time and money available these past four years, so gardens for beauty’s sake where mostly limited to a few flowers poked in the corners.  This year we has an unwanted blessing.  A pipe broke, and the insurance company paid us to have all the damage fixed.  I did the work and we saved a bit of money from the insurance payment.  We briefly considered a big vacation, but decided it would be better spent on something that would last.  There is, of course, an infinite list of practical things we could do with the money, but they will all get done eventually.  So, we decided to build the front garden we have been dreaming of for a long time.  It’s modeled on Queen’s Park in Invercargill, NZ and some of the potager gardens from around the world. 

Where we started

Where we started

Where we are now

Where we are now

You can see the whole messy process on my blog under the potager label.  In a couple more weeks we will get to the beauty part of the whole project.  I know it is an absurd hobby, but I love it.  My mom always quoted a Chinese proverb when we started building a garden.  She’d say, “If you have two loves of bread, sell one and buy hyacinths.”  Then she would add, “of course, you will probably sell both loaves and buy roses.”  She was right.

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Recently we built and started testing an incubator made from an old refrigerator we got for free. I have always wanted an incubator but truly they are expensive for the small Styrofoam box style when purchased on line or in a feed store. Over the next two, maybe three weeks, I am going to document with pictures the process of building our almost free incubator. And though in the end we are out maybe $30 to $50 higher than the small table top Styrofoam jobs….ours is much nicer (though it does take up more room). If you, or your spouse are even moderately handy, willing to tinker with a job like this, and have the space for a larger incubator—-just read on to see how we did ours. And even though we are documenting this process, that’s not to say a smarter person than my spouse and I might not come up with some better ideas. Or maybe you have better things to scrounge than we found. However it may be…we’ll get you started with at least the idea and you all can take it from there.

First…we acquired a free refrigerator. It was in good overall condition ie: doors still work, shelves are still in it etc. but it needed a thorough cleaning. It was a tad stinky—if you know what I mean.
Then we removed all of the compressor and cooling apparatus from the back. You can see it in the first picture with the external cooling “wires” that were on the back removed and the compressor (at floor level) being taken out. This is one reason why you should be able to get a free one: you don’t need it to cool. It can be a “broken” fridge. Though you do want doors that close of course.
Next we needed a way to let fresh air into the unit. There was a spot, taped over by the manufacturer where the ice maker should have gone through the back wall. We poked a hole in that tape and pushed out the foam plug that was keeping it shut. You could drill a hole if that does not exist in your salvaged fridge with a small hole saw though. However it is you need a small hole to allow fresh air in and it should come into the heating portion of your unit —in this case the freezer section where we will eventually install the lights to heat the air with. A small disc to screw back on to use as a flap to reduce or expand the amount of air moving in the hole is good. If you use a hole saw—you will have your disc. We already had a hole so we control air with a piece of tape until we find a small “something” to attach to the back.

While we were taking it apart and removing everything we salvaged the circulation fan that is in the freezer to use to move heated air from the freezer compartment down into the fridge and around the eggs. (More on the fan in part two)
Next my husband used a hole saw attachment for his drill. I believe it is the 4″ but it could be the 5″ (we couldn’t remember what size we own since we originally bought it for ceiling light installation in the house). He drilled a hole through the back at the highest portion of the freezer compartment and another at the lowest spot he could drill through in the fridge compartment.
We then installed pvc plumbing pipe — 4″—-with street elbows and toilet flanges at both ends to allow air to be drawn and circulated from the very bottom of the fridge back up into the freezer for reheating. You can see the entire length in the picture I took of the back and you can see the toilet flange attachment that we used inside the freezer and fridge part to keep the pipe from pulling back out the hole. Since our hole was a bit large we then used spray in foam (in the red can at the hardware store) to fill and re insulate the area. The foam also helps stabilize the pvc pipe. You could wire it in or attach it in some way to the back of the unit if you want. Ours seems pretty sturdy so we have left it as is. Total for foam and pvc is under $20.
Next, the divider between the fridge and the freezer compartment was removed by my husband. This entailed taking of the doors and working a bit to get it all apart. He then sketched out the idea of the hole he would need for the fan to fit within on the divider. Actually the divider split into three pieces—-one aluminum piece, one lower plastic piece and a sandwich layer of Styrofoam. He taped them all together so the hole would line up correctly upon re installation. To start the hole he used the same hole saw as he did for the pvc installation. Then he used a roto zip (basically a larger dremel tool —you could use a jig saw also) to finesse the hole into the correct shape to screw the fan to. The fan had its own little brackets to use for attaching it. He did end up accidentally getting the hole a tad too big but we will fix that. I will explain how as I move into writing part two and have pictures to show to help explain. You can kind of see in one of the pictures how you can see around the fan and up into the freezer. You can also in the other see me holding the wires of the fan—not yet connected— and see where my husband is bringing in the power. Actually he put the box in there but that is where the original power came in and he stayed with that. Why change when it’s already there right?
It took us a while to decide on the thermostat since we have never done this and were unsure about which one to choose. I finally settled on the DuroStat Electronic Therostat #102720 . Recommended by another person who built a refrigerator incubator. I would link you in to it but I printed it off and I don’t know the exact location to point where it came from. You may stumble on it yourself.
I paid about $60 including the shipping for a new DuroStat—search a bit and you will find them less than $75 or more plus shipping. It is a bit pricey but in the end it should make a fine incubator thermostat. Originally we thought we would buy a wafer thermostat for the back up but have not yet — maybe in the future. We also wanted a wet bulb thermometer for checking humidity with but I ended up purchasing two digital unit from Walmart (yes…Walmart—-don’t kill me please!). More on those next week. Purchasing both of the humidity units added about another $15.

Another way we could have gone (for temperature control) was to use just one wafer thermometer (or two…one main and one back up) and it would have been much cheaper but we didn’t. If you decide to try it I would love to hear how it works out for you—so would others I am sure.

So here are the pictures and I will get to part two next week.

Since word press can be difficult for picture placement let me explain: picture one and two show “gut” removal. Picture three and four show the fan from both freezer perspective —with my hand and notice the toilet flange air connect above it—and from below looking up. Picture 5 is the back and shows how the PVC connects the top and bottom for air flow. In picture 5 if you look almost to the right upper corner you can see our fresh air intake hole poked into the square sticker/label. I know these are pretty basic pictures but next week will have much more to look at—promise 🙂


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I’ve asked a few different bloggers the question “How do you Not Dabble in Normal?”  Over the course of the next few weeks I’m going to share their answers with you in the hopes that we’ll all learn something new and perhaps get a different perspective on normal and the folks who choose a slightly different path.  This week’s answer & post comes from Joanna (her bio follows her article).

Fighting the Normality of the Suburbs

Unlike many of the other writers here, I live squarely in the suburbs of a city, in one of the most affluent counties in the country. My old farmhouse on an acre is surrounded by miles of subdivisions of new, identical houses, with perfectly manicured lawns and the occasional privacy fence. By moving to the house we did- the little over-100-year-old farmhouse on an acre instead of the typical “starter house” on a postage-stamp lot, I made a conscious choice to fight “Normal” in the suburbs.

A year and a half after moving to my non-typical suburban dwelling, I’ve forgotten what “normal” is. I’ve forgotten Normal people shop at Walmart without a second thought to the company’s employment practices or sources of cheap products. Normal people buy fruit in the dead of winter, in our Midwest citywhere strawberries won’t be growing for six months, and any mango available for purchase has more frequent flyer miles than I do. Normal people talk about the latest episode of The Office or LOST over coffee at work. Normal people care that their lawn is green and pruned perfectly, regardless of what chemicals it takes to make it that way. Normal people eat frozen dinners and Hamburger Helper.

As for me? I shudder when I step into a Walmart or get served a way-out-of-season tomato. I’m clueless as to pop culture because I don’t watch the TV at all- I’d get rid of it except for the fact we still watch the occasional movie. As for my “landscaping”- I plant something edible anywhere I can. I’ve got berries and herbs in my front yard, more herbs in the flower garden in back, and a big, practical vegetable garden that most Normal people would consider unsightly.  I still have a box of Hamburger Helper sitting in my pantry, from my Normal days, that I don’t have the heart to cook. I hadn’t realized how spoiled I had gotten on fresh, local, and home-canned food until I bought some frozen veggies from the store in a pinch- and when I served it to guests and I gagged and apologized- they didn’t taste anything wrong.

It was then I realized I was no longer Normal- which is a feat in the depths of the Suburbs, where Normality, Conformity, Consumerism, and Competition rule.

By fighting off Normality and choosing to live lightly, sustainably, responsibly, and justly, I’m able to opt out of the crazy game played here- a game of one-upping your neighbor with your next house, car, electronics, or vacation purchase. Because my house and lifestyle is so different than my neighbors, in their houses worth 5 to 6 times what mine is, I don’t feel a need to keep up with the proverbial Joneses. My footprint on the earth is smaller, and my life is simpler. Now, my Normal family and neighbors don’t think so- Why would you make your own laundry detergent or can your own food or buy beef from a farmer, when all of this is available at so much convenience at one of the five drugstores or two grocery stores within two miles of your house? (Yes, there are actually  3 CVSes, 2 Walgreens, & 2 Krogers within 2 miles of me.)

My Normal friends see my efforts as adding levels of complexity to my daily life, while I see these things as freeing- letting me choose what I support, rather than being locked into giving my money to just the industrial food supply and big-box stores. Do I have it all figured out? Not even close. But I tell myself, “Baby steps.” Little by little, I’m becoming aware, thinking about my lifestyle choices, and moving in the right direction.
Joanna has been blogging for five years and a day at Keeping Feet and, more recently, at her food blog Sunflowers in my Kitchen and It’s Just Change. She combats Normal daily alongside her husband Josh and Australian Shepherd Casey. When she’s not programming at her day job, she’s getting her hands dirty in the garden or the kitchen, looking for new experiments to try.

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raspberries "fresh" from the freezer

raspberries "fresh" from the freezer

I posted this picture a week ago on my blog, and I am still getting questions about how my berries come out of the freezer in berry shape, and not mushy.  And since I am pressed for time (milking two cows instead of one) I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and answer here since I cannot think of a single thing interesting to write about!

Anyone over the age of about 40 living in the Pacific Northwest probably had to pick berries for a summer job.  I started at age 9 and picked all types of berries until I could get a job at the local tourist trap, Multnomah Falls.  To be a good berry picker we had to be careful with the berries, if we turned in mushy, dirty or unripe berries our meager pay was docked.  Wanting to earn money to fuel my jerky and comic book habit, I was careful with my bumper.  The cans we picked in were called bumpers, but they were actually No. 10 cans with holes cut in them and a rope to tie around your waist.  We were instructed to not bounce the can on our legs, and to take it off when taking it to the crate to dump, so as not to jostle the berries. 

homemade "bumper" or berry picking can

homemade "bumper" or berry picking can

I used a can opener to make these holes in this coffee can.  It’s a great way to re-purpose a coffee can and gives me an excuse to drink copious amounts of coffee. 😉

Our procedure for freezing raspberries (or any berries for that matter) is pretty simple:  we pick a can and then gently place the berries in freezer bags immediately, and freeze.  I do not wash the berries, and I don’t mess with individually freezing them on cookie sheets. 

♥  Pick in a small enough container that your berries don’t get crushed.

♥ If you are picking at a u-pick farm, place your berries in shallow crates or boxes for transporting home.

♥ Plan on dealing with them right away – a hot summer day in the trunk of car can be murder on soft fruits.  Make the berry picking/buying your last stop of the day.

♥ If you’re just planning your berry garden, read the descriptions carefully, you may want to buy a variety that touts it’s processing qualities.  In berry lingo, good for processing usually means a concentrated crop and a firm berry.

Don’t worry about sacrificing taste for good processing quality – I don’t think anyone who likes to eat berries has met one that doesn’t taste good.  And they taste especially good in the winter when summer is just memory we are clinging to.

Happy freezing!

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The family medicine chest will be an ongoing series on the fourth Thursday of each month.

This month, As a request, I’ll be writing about mullein. Each month, I open up my home and teach a Herbal Study Group. We read about the particular herb, taste it fresh and dried, make infusions and teas to drink and do various other exercises to learn about it. The following is my hand out for Mullein.

Next month, I’ll follow up with last month’s post about cough drops with lozenges and pills.

The down on the leaves and stem makes excellent tinder when quite dry, readily igniting on the slightest spark, and was, before the introduction of cotton, used for lamp wicks, hence another of the old names: ‘Candlewick Plant.’ An old superstition existed that witches in their incantations used lamps and candles provided with wicks of this sort, and another of the plant’s many names, ‘Hag’s Taper’, refers to this, though the word ‘hag’ is said to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon word Haege or Hage (a hedge) – the name ‘Hedge Taper’ also exists – and may imply that the sturdy spikes of this tall hedge plant, studded with pale yellow blossoms, suggested a tall candle growing in the hedge, another of its countryside names being, indeed, ‘Our Lady’s Candle.’ Lyte (The Niewe Herball, 1578) tells us ‘that the whole toppe, with its pleasant yellow floures sheweth like to a wax candle or taper cunningly wrought.’

Mullein facts:

  • Native to Britain, Europe and parts of Asia
  • Grows mostly on dry soils

Mullein description:

  • In the first season of the plant’s growth, there appears only a rosette of large leaves, 6 to 15 inches long, in form somewhat like those of the Foxglove, but thicker – whitish with a soft, dense mass of hairs on both sides, which make them very thick to the touch.
  • In the following spring, a solitary, stout, pale stem, with tough, strong fibers enclosing a thin rod of white pith, arises from the midst of the felted leaves
  • Leaves near the base of the stem are large and numerous, 6 to 8 inches long and 2 to 2 1/2 inches broad, but become smaller as they ascend the stem, on which they are arranged not opposite to one another, but on alternate sides; are broad and simple in form, the outline rather waved, stalkless, their bases being continued some distance down the stem, as in the Comfrey and a few other plants, the midrib from a quarter to half-way up the blade being actually joined to the stem
  • Towards the top of the stalk, which grows frequently 4 or even 5 feet high, and in gardens has been known to attain a height of 7 or 8 feet, the much-diminished woolly leaves merge into the thick, densely crowded flower-spike, usually a foot long, the flowers opening here and there on the spike, not in regular progression from the base
  • Flowers are stalkless, the sulphur-yellow corolla, a somewhat irregular cup, nearly an inch across, formed of five rounded petals, united at the base to form a very short tube, being enclosed in a woolly calyx, deeply cut into five lobes
  • The five stamens stand on the corolla; three of them are shorter than the other two and have a large number of tiny white hairs on their filaments

Mullein nutritional information:

  • Vitamins B2, B5, B12, & D
  • Choline
  • Herperidin
  • PABA
  • Sulfur
  • Magnesium

Mullein constituents:

  • Flavonoids such as verbascoside and herperidin
  • Mucilage
  • Saponins
  • Tannins
  • Volatile oil

Mullein actions:

  • Expectorant
  • Demulcent
  • Diuretic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Nervine
  • Anti-spasmodic
  • Vulnerary
  • Alterative
  • Astringent

Mullein Medicinal Indications:

  • A very beneficial respiratory remedy useful inmost conditions that affect this vital system; an ideal remedy for toning the mucous membranes of the respiratory system, reducing inflammation whilst stimulating fluid production and thus facilitating expectoration
  • It is considered a specific in bronchitis where there is a hard cough with soreness
  • Its anti-inflammatory and demulcent properties indicate its use in inflammation of the trachea and associated conditions
  • Externally an extract made in olive oil is excellent in soothing and healing any inflamed surface or easing ear problems.

Mullein Applications:

  • Infusion of leaves – Use 1/2 ounce of dried leaves per cup of boiling water. Steep 10 minutes. Drink up to 3 cups a day.
  • Tincture – take 1-2 teaspoons up to 3 times a day
  • Oil of flowers (best when used in combination with garlic) – warm oil to body temperature, add 3 drops to both ears at first sign of ear infection

Preserving mullein:

  • Drying (leaves)

Getting to Know mullein:

Experiment 1 — Know what it looks like

Study a live plant or pictures if the live version is not available. Notice how it grown out of the ground. Is is bushy? Does it sprawl? Where are the leaves located? What do the flowers look like? Sketch the plant on the last page of this handout.

Experiment 2 — Taste the herb

Try it both fresh and dried. What does it taste like in both instances?
Fresh leaf:
Dried leaf:

Experiment 3 – making an infusion

  • 4 tablespoons raw herb (leaves and stems, chopped) = 1 tablespoon dried.
  • Use 1 tbsp dried herb per cup of water. Boil water, and remove from flame. Add herb and steep 10-20 minutes.
  • Compare the difference between fresh and dried infusions
  • Compare the difference between warm and chilled infusions

Fresh leaf

Dried leaf



Experiment 4 – making a medicinal remedy

Mullein-Garlic Ear Oil

  • Equal parts of Fresh Mullein flower and Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Place mullein and garlic in a quart jar. Cover with oil by 2-3”. Seal and set in sun for 4-6 weeks, shaking daily. Strain off herbs.

Experiment 5– cooking with mullein

Mullein is not usually used in cooking

Experiment 6 – Further study/references

The following are some internet sites that have great information on mullein:

On your own, read at least three separate sources of information regarding mullein. The following are some books that have information but do not limit your search to my selections.

  • Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by Steve Brill pgs. 247 – 249
  • All About Weeds by Edwin Rollin Spencer pgs. 228 – 233
  • Indian Herbology of North America by Alma Hutchins pgs. 201 – 203
  • Earth Mother Herbal by Shatoiya De La Tour pgs 84 – 86
  • A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve pgs. 562 – 566
  • The Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman p. 159
  • The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody p. 111
  • Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal by Rosemary Gladstar p. 352 – 353

See if you can locate mullein growing nearby your home. Dig some up, pot it up and put it in a location where you can observe it every day for the next month or visit

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Recently, I began “test-driving” a hygiene product I’ve heard about over the years but had never tried…the “rock” or “crystal” type deodorant.

I’ve heard opinions on the purported health risks associated with other sorts of underarm antiperspirants and deodorants, namely calling into question the healthfulness of the active ingredient, aluminum, for long-term users.  I know there are some homemade recipes for underarm care out there, some utilizing baking soda or vinegar, but in my own case, I need something tantamount to a Fort Knox of odor control.

Maybe it’s having lived my entire life south of the Mason-Dixon line and its inherent steamy, humid, and often sweltering climes, but I just don’t seem to be the sort of girl who can go from AC to Dante’s Inferno without breaking a sweat.  And folks, as many times as that happens in a day down here (even minus the AC), personal hygiene can be a progressive meltdown into an eventual puddle.  Or, to state it more succinctly….phewww-eeee!  I have a friend who refers to this as “making gravy”…(laughing…GROAN)

Before I go any further, I’ll volunteer the fact that my personal comfort level with All Things Natural when it comes to my own hygiene has been fully explored and is now firmly established.  I’ve traveled the campgrounds and rails of Europe, been through my Bohemian Angst-Ridden Artist stage, dated (in younger years) men from many areas of the world, and am still to this day enamored with anthropology, native and traditional cultures, herbs, and the old ways of doing things.  I’m open-minded, have gone through periods where I never shaved my legs, and have few hang-ups about what sorts of clothes to wear as long as they’re clean and servicable.

That said, I’ve found my balance, and for me, I don’t like to stink.  (And I do shave my legs now…personal preference).

I’m not prissy about real life…I actually love the smell of horses, cattle, county fairgrounds, barns, compost, sawdust, and sunburnt skin.  I’m no shrinking violet with an overly-sensitive sniffer, and don’t swoon into a dead faint if my husband and I smell like hardworking people after a long day spent sweating in the yard digging around in the dirt.  I just enjoy the shower afterward all the more.

I’ve met plenty of folks who barely perspire, or who naturally just are aroma-neutral…but I’m not one of them.  So from an early age, I needed the Rosie The Riveter version of underarm care, which resulted in adopting regular usage of the most heavy-duty antiperspirants.  I’ve tried the gamut…creams, solids, sprays, gels.  I learned which ones cut the mustard and which ones were lightweights.  There were a lot of scents to choose from, too, and halfway through the day you could have your choice of which fragrance began warming to its duty…Lilac, Baby Powder, Tropical Rainforest, Shower Fresh, Arctic Ice, to name a few.

I heard a lot about the dangers of using aluminum, and was told it was one of the main ingredients in deodorants/anti-perspirants.  I’m not sure what to make of the various claims about aluminum, but I do know that I prefer to keep things simple, and I decided to try the “rock/crystal” type deodorant someday…on the one condition that it could really do the job.

A couple months ago I looked for one at my local natural foods store, and wasn’t sure what the difference was between similar-looking products, so I chose one that was the solid rock but was formed into a cylindrical shape (stick) and was dispensed like a stick deodorant.  It is applied wet, so I used it right after the shower on wet skin, after wetting the stick.  There is no sensation when applied and the only caution is to wash my hands afterwards…I have a habit of rubbing my eyes sometimes and think it would be bad to get that into them.

The rock deodorant I have is made of a single ingredient…ammonium alumThere is no smell to the crystal at all, not even when wet.  I’ve tried to research exactly what ammonium alum is and isn’t, and I still don’t understand it.  Some believe it’s a salt whose molecules are of a different size and type (preventing absorption into the body through the skin) than other deodorants whose main ingredients are aluminum, and others claim that alum IS aluminum in a certain form, and may or may not pose the same risks as aluminum.

Well here, at least, is how the Rock works for me…regardless of what it is.

It’s not an anti-perspirant, so this is not the product you’d need just before a big interview if you’re wearing a white silk shirt on a hot day and driving an unairconditioned car. 

However, I  really LIKE the fact that there is no talc or anything noticeable that seems to block the pores…my underarms seem free of anything that would clog my skin and have to be vigorously scrubbed off like normal deos.   

I refresh mine, which means I apply it up to twice a day if there’s a reason to.

Mine was a small “rock,” and as such cost me about $3.00.  The larger ones ran a bit expensive, and I bought mine simply to try.  It’s been lasting quite well, and I can see  how over time this is an economical product…I’m guessing a standard sized one would last at least a year.

But what of its effectiveness for folks like me?  Does it work?  Or can a novice Boy Scout still track you from three miles out, through heavy woods, blindfolded?

Well, good news!   It works! 

It inhibits bacteria, and thereby there is NO odor…which is a real feat, and a comfort as I watch the spring temps daily edge higher towards summer’s eventual highs.

Clothing still has to be washed because of perspiration, but there is no lingering odor to be dealt with at wash-time, just the dampness.

This, to me, would not be the ultimate answer if wearing business wear on a daily basis, or synthetic clothing a lot…the perspiration issue would still remain.

But since sweating is the body’s natural balancing mechanism and is actually necessary for good health, if you can wear natural fabrics and are in a more relaxed environment, the “rock” as a deodorant choice might be the perfect fit…and is possibly a lot more healthy.

Have you ever tried it?  If not, do you use a homemade or natural deodorant product you’d recommend?

I’d love to hear what’s worked…or not…for you!

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Tree Grafting 101

A couple of weekends ago I attended a fruit tree grafting workshop. Brian Campbell, a fruit tree grafter and beekeeper from Vancouver, flew in to teach the course. He brought with him a nice variety of scion (grafting) wood as well as the root stock for us to use during the  workshop. He’d sent a list around to us the different kinds of scion wood that he would bring which provided a chance to look them up on the web and decide which three species I wanted. I was thrilled to see in his list that there were several heritage breeds of apples, one of them (the blue pearmain) is listed in the Slow Food  ‘Ark of Taste’. That, I had to have.

Apple and pear trees don’t grow true from seed, consequently most trees are grafted on to a type of root stock. In fact, nowadays, almost all fruit trees you buy are grafted. There are some good reasons for this: it can give increased disease resistances as well as pest resistance, it allows you to control the size and vigor of the tree depending upon the root stock you choose, and the root stock can be chosen to match your soil type so you can design the tree to grow in what would otherwise be a less than optimum breeding ground for the particular apple or pear you wish to grow.

Because grafting is making the successful union of the cambium layers, there is an art to the process that takes some time to learn. After providing us with a demonstration and a few basic tools (knives and a metal washer to  preserve our fingers), he turned us loose on some wood to practice with. There are a few ways of grafting but the method Brian showed us was called the ‘whip and tongue’ graft. The idea is to make two cuts into the root stock and then two cuts into the scion wood and slide the two ends together and bind it with grafting tape.

Step one: The whip cuts.

Make a diagonal cut on the scion wood leaving only three buds above the cut.

The whip cut.

The whip cut.

Make an identical cut on the root stock about one hand length above the soil line (roughly 8-10 inches above the roots).

Where to make the whip cut on the root stock.

Where to make the whip cut on the root stock.

Step three: Slice through the diagonal cut on the whip cuts on both the scion wood and the root stock to make the tongue cuts.

Use a metal washer to protect your hands in case of knife slippage!

Use a metal washer to protect your hands in case of knife slippage while making the tongue cut!

Step four: Join the scion to the root stock and wrap securely with grafting (or electricians) tape.

Slide the two tongue cuts together being careful to make the bark meet as best you can.

Slide the two tongue cuts together being careful to make the bark meet as best you can.

Wrap your join carefully.

Wrap your join carefully.

Label the trees and place them in wet wood shavings in a shady, but warm spot, for about a month or so and do not let it dry out! After this time it can be planted in the soil in the garden or moved to a larger pot. The little tree can be kept in a large pot for one year if you do not let it dry out. Once the graft has calloused over (after about one month to six weeks) you can safely remove the grafting tape.

My first grafting attempt, wrapped, planted and labelled.

My first grafting attempt, wrapped, planted and labelled.

All up we each go to make three grafts. It was a straightforward procedure which surprised me because I’ve read about grafting and the literature tends to make it sound more complicated than it is (or that is the way I’ve been understanding it!). Of course, it will be another month or so before I know if I was successful or not. Our intstructor boasted a nearly 100% success rate–here’s hoping some of his talent has rubbed off!

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Encouraging all writers

As a whole Not Dabbling In Normal tries to stay away from all political and religious topics. However, there is one controversial topic we all decided we could break the “no writing about rules” for and that is NAIS. The National Animal Identification System.  Below is a message that has come into my email from Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance.  Many of you probably know of NAIS and some of you, like me, will be immediately affected by it in  the unfortunate event that NAIS becomes a reality.  But even if you don’t own (and maybe never will own) livestock everyone will be affected by NAIS. Whether through bad policy, tax money or the opening the “door” of government monitoring of what we own (very communistic isn’t it??) we all stand to lose.  This is in, its most insidious form, just government intrusion. In more optimistic terms it is nothing more than taxpayer welfare for corporations that don’t need it AND a worthless “device” to try and improve and protect our food supply—which unfortunately doesn’t look to me and many others as if it will work. Only those who will gain financially seem to think it will work and they some how have convinced our government officials of it (wonder how don’t you?!)
Hopefully all of you have contacted your representatives to tell them you disagree with NAIS and are against this government flim flam. Whether you did it by email (good), handwritten letter (better) or phone call (best) —we need to speak out and stop this travesty. And we need to do it more than once. Obviously we may need to do it 10 or 20 or even 30 or more times!
I will admit there are times I get tired of expressing my opinion to my representatives about this. Especially since mine seem to be very …ummmm…..unaware? Maybe gaining money from those who will benefit most so there for ignoring their voters who understand this topic (very few unfortunately)??  Whatever the reason there are times when the thought of typing, writing or calling one more time just makes me want to ….well…quit. But I don’t. And I never have believed in giving up— though sometimes I may falter. Hopefully you all will decide that you can give just a bit more time to try and defeat….once and for all…this stupid stupid plan.
If you have never contacted your representative before or written someone like Mr. Vilsack (see below) it is very easy. Just be polite (Dear Agricultural Secretary Vilsack)….to the point ( I completely disagree with NAIS with maybe a reason or two or three why) and sign with your name. If you like you can add your contact information (just your mailing info. only will do). The addition of a polite little sincerely down there works nicely too…and Voila! you are done.
If you want to call it doesn’t have to be an intensive interface unless you specifically ask for the assistant handling a particularly issue. You can just tell the person that answers “Please tell (fill in the name) that I disagree with NAIS and do not want the government to enact it in any way”.  If you are more comfortable with the topic you can ask for the assistant who is handling it and discuss it with them. Hopefully you may even teach them a thing or two 🙂 However we contact them it is imperative to do so. And so as a small livestock owner I say in advance “Super Duper THANKS for your help!!”
Have a great week all and don’t forget to send your emails! (more information about Nais and its impact on individual producers is available at the organic consumers web site)
Forward from Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance:
Last week, Secretary Vilsack held a round table in DC, inviting 29 organizations to present their views on the NAIS.  More than a third of the organizations at the meeting opposed a mandatory program, showing a growing trend among a wide range of organizations to question NAIS.  But some of those who claim to support a “voluntary” program agree with the use of coercive tactics, which we have already seen happen under the current so-called voluntary program.  And multiple Big AG organizations, who have a lot of influence with USDA and Congress, still openly support a mandatory NAIS. So we have a tough fight in front of us.
At the round table, I opened FARFA’s comments by placing the issues in context: “Traceability is not a goal in and of itself.  Animal health, food security, and food safety are the goals, and traceability is just one tool.  NAIS will not get us to these goals.”  My statement on behalf of FARFA focused on key points, such as:
  • The lack of scientific support for the design of NAIS, from the 48-hour “goal” to the supposed need to trace every movement of every animal
  • The critical differences between factory farms and small farms in animal management and, as a result, animal health and susceptibility to disease
  • Food safety calls for “factory to fork” traceability, NOT “farm to fork”
  • The importance of decentralizing our food supply.  NAIS tries to substitute high tech solutions for the inherent safety that comes from diversity
  • The real push behind NAIS – profits.  For example, IBM recently took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to promote RFID tagging of food, and noted that one analyst predicts that 900 BILLION food items will be RFID tagged by 2015.  Imagine the profits!
  • The many other things, such as inspecting imports and testing for Mad Cow, that USDA should be doing to help reach the goals of animal health and food safety, instead of NAIS.
Secretary Vilsack took a lot of notes and briefly commented on the need to take some sort of action.  He announced that there will be a series of regional listening sessions in the coming months, and that the USDA will be taking written comments as well.  There is a lot of pressure in Congress for USDA to mandate NAIS, and the next few months will be a critical time in this fight. We will send out alerts as soon as we have more information.
The list of organizations that were at the meeting is as follows:

National Animal Identification System Roundtable Discussion
April 15, 2009, 9:00-11:30 am
•   Moderator Welcome
•   Secretary Vilsack’s Opening Remarks
•   Participant Statements
Order of Speakers
1. Holstein Association USA: Adam Griffin, Manager of Dairy and ID Programs
2. National Turkey Federation: Michael Rybot, Director of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs
3. Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance: Judith McGeary, Executive Director
4. U.S. Animal Health Association: Don Hoenig, President
5. U.S. Cattlemen’s Association: Chuck Kiker, Region V Director
6. National Pork Producer’s Council: Neil Dierks, CEO (by phone)
7. American Sheep Industry: Glen Fisher, President (by phone)
8. National Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, Liz Reitzig, Secretary
9. American Meat Institute: Patrick Boyle, President and CEO
10. North American Elk Breeders Association: Joel Espe, President
11. United Egg Producers: Howard Magwire, VP of Government Relations
12. R-CALF: Bill Bullard, CEO
13. American Horse Council: Jay Hickey, President
14. Livestock Marketing Association: Nancy Robinson, VP Government and Industry Affairs
15. National Association of State Departments of Agriculture: Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of
16. National Chicken Council: George Watts, President
17. American Farm Bureau Federation: Mary Kay Thatcher, Public Policy Director for
Commodities and Livestock
18. NoNAIS: Walter Jeffries, Founder (by phone)
19. National Bison Association: Lance Cook (by phone)
20. Western Organization of Resource Councils: Gilles Stockton, Representative of Northern
Plans Resource Council and Chair of WORC Trade Team
21. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association: Collin Woodall, Executive Director of Legislative
22. American Quarter Horse Association: Billy Smith Executive Director of Information
Technology, co-chair of the Equine Species Working Group
23. National Livestock Producer’s Association: James Cook, President
24. National Farmer’s Union: Roger Johnson, President
25. American Veterinary Medical Association: James Cook, President
26. Public Lands Council: Jeff Eisenberg, Executive Director
27. National Renderer’s Association: Tom Cook, President
28. National Meat Association: Barry Carpenter, CEO and Executive Director
29. National Milk Producers’ Federation: Jerry Kozack, CEO and President

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