Prevent Colds & Flu with DIY Elderberry Syrup

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There are so many great ways to support your winter health with herbs.  Starting with simple dietary additions (like garlic!) and ending with soothing choices to make your cold or flu more tolerable and shorter, herbs are my go-to for prevention and treatment.

One of the tastiest herbal allies, however, is the elderberry.

This shrubby perennial plant has been used as medicine for centuries to support health and well-being.  I often see it growing naturally in moist soils, but it has also historically been planted at the edge of gardens as the protector of the garden.  Even its name, Elder, speaks to its wise and respected role in our collective medicine chest.

Elder’s lacy, delicate flowers, and bright purplish-black berries can both be used for their medicinal properties.  The flowers are diaphoretic meaning that they help to lower fevers by inducing sweating.  It is a common ingredient in many cold-care tea formulas.

The berries are rich in vitamins C & A, flavonoids, phenolic compounds, beta-carotene, iron, potassium, and phytosterols.  They are often used in prevention and treatment of colds because of their ability to boost the immune system.  As an antiviral, they are helpful in treating upper respiratory viruses including colds and flu, but have also been used in treatments for other viruses such as herpes and shingles.  Elderberry’s effectiveness is not just an “herban” legend, but its ability to reduce the duration of the flu and to fight viruses has been published in a number of scientific articles (links to abstracts in the resources below).

As a food, elderberry can be consumed as a jam, wine, or in pies, but it’s easiest to use as preventative medicine or for treating cold and flu when made into a tasty syrup.  Luckily, it’s really pretty easy to do, too!  I even made a handy graphic . . .

Elderberry syrup Continue reading

Sheet Mulching – Create New Gardens Without Digging!

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Fall is a great time to begin new garden beds so that things are primed and ready to be planted come Spring.

Starting a new bed can be intimidating if it involves digging up all the grass, tilling, and going through other heavy-duty preparations.

What’s the easier solution?  Sheet mulching!

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The best selfies are with new garden beds.

Also referred to as lasagna gardening, sheet mulching is basically composting in place.  Instead of digging up the ground and adding soil amendments, you create a new garden bed by layering soil-building materials right on top of the ground.

But what about the grass or weeds that are already there?  They get covered with a layer of newspaper or cardboard that acts as a weed protecting barrier that will kill the grass or weeds.  They will just turn into compost along with all of your other additions.

Sheet mulching is really very forgiving.  I think the two most important steps are to: 1) Make sure the ground is covered with newspaper or cardboard to kill the grass and prevent weeds, and 2) Pile on a lot of organic matter.  This will get you started with the essentials for a new bed.  The more amendments you add right away, the healthier the soil will be that you start out with, but don’t be afraid to start with whatever you’ve got. Continue reading

A Visit to Quiet Creek Herb Farm

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A couple weekends ago we made a trek across Pennsylvania to attend the Mid-Atlantic Women’s Herbal Conference. It was inspiring to be in the company of so many like-minded women and I was especially grateful to finally meet one of my favorite herbal mentors, Rosemary Gladstar.  I’ve been an online student of hers for some time, but hearing her speak in person really reaffirmed how wonderful it is to call her one of my teachers.

She has an amazing way of synthesizing the big picture on the interrelatedness of herbs, health, happiness, and our connection with nature into an easily accessible and moving message.  I hope I can be like her when I grow up!

On our way home, we planned to spend several days in the Western part of Pennsylvania visiting old growth trees in Cook Forest.  Serendipitously, as we traveled along the road to our lodge we passed a sign for “Quiet Creek Herb Farm”. Continue reading

Homegrown Mushroom Tacos

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When I saw a Mushroom Mini Farm for sale nearby, I knew that it was something I needed to try. It’s made by Back to the Roots, a company that seems to be trying out forward-thinking indoor food production systems.  They also have a pretty neat mini fish farm that might end up as a holiday present for a few family members.

Growing these mushrooms was incredibly easy – I cut a hole and soaked the bag holding the spores for 8 hours, and then I gave them just a little water each day.  Within a day or so, I noticed the little bulbous beginnings of the mushrooms and then they grew immensely each day thereafter. Finally, they looked like the right size to eat and so I decided that it was oyster mushroom taco day! Continue reading

Lately

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I think we’re finally getting close to having a rhythm again.  We are settling in to this as our home.

As everything around us blossoms and comes into fullness, so do we.

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Homestead Update – We live here!

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We’ve been swirling around in the whirlwind that is moving. I am so grateful that we are finally living in our new home.  It’s been a long road here — we put our first offer in on this house early last September.

I guess moving is never easy.  Everything takes longer than anticipated and random inconveniences happen regularly.

Luckily, I have an accommodating family that let us camp there for quite awhile.  I’m too tired to write much else, but I thought I’d share some photos for a bit of a homestead update.  I hope to be back to writing more regularly soon.  Continue reading

First Cob of the Season

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There’s nothing quite like sinking your toes into cob for the first time in the summer (or the first time in your life!).

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There’s something about cob that draws people to it like insects to glowing lamp lights.  We hover around it, watch it with amazement, and can’t help ourselves but to dive right in. Continue reading

Homestead Update – The Beginning

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We’re still in the process of getting our house move-in ready, but it’s always a treat to go visit the land we’ll soon be living with.

Without any input at all there are many strawberry blossoms!

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Our New Homestead!

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After at least 10 years of dreaming, 2 years looking at properties, and 7 months working on closing on this particular piece of land, we finally have our permaculture homestead.  These 23 acres are the land that will sustain us into the future, where we hope our dreams will blossom into fruition, and where we will grow together as a family and into our community.

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Back to the Garden (+ the Littlest Permaculturist)

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Today was the first day I really dug my hands into the soil for quite some time.  I’ve been putting it off for a few reasons — mostly because of the weather, but also because I’ve felt conflicted about whether or not I should invest the time when we will hopefully be moving in the next couple of months.

However, the soil still calls asking me to dip my hands in, refresh my immune system, and connect with the Earthly energies.  I couldn’t resist.

A lot of today was just clean-up.  I was very pregnant last fall and didn’t get the beds taken care of the way that I should have.

There were also little surprise tasks like baby garlic plants ready to be separated and begin life anew.  Hopefully somebody will be able to harvest these culinary delights in the fall!

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