19th Century Reality

“O my people, listen to my teaching. Open your ears to what I am saying. For I will show you lessons from our history, stories handed down to us from former generations.” (Psalms 78:1-4)

I tend to over-romanticize earlier times in history. Sure, there’s a lot to be said for a quiet, peaceful walk where no motorcars pollute the air, assault our ears with their constant rumble, and the threat of being struck down by one is non-existent. There’s something to be said for growing your own food, knowing where it came from, knowing what’s in it, and knowing how to preserve it for the winter months when nothing grows. There’s an art to cooking. Sadly, many in our society no longer take the time to learn that art. They’re too busy to slow cook anything; nuke for 3 minutes instead…and watch most, if not all, of the nutrition evaporate. And, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, the craftsmanship that went into everything! Today’s styles, whether we’re talking clothing, or furnishings, or even architecture, are–in my not-so-humble opinion–bland. There’s no attempt at individuality. Everything is churned out in a factory so that every house, every sofa, every pair of jeans is often identical to the next. The only difference may be that this house is blue and its neighbor is yellow. So, I lament the loss of such craftsmanship.

However, yesterday afternoon, I spent some time reading some of the literature in the herb garden “office”. “Office” because it’s really the basement to another exhibit, but it has been converted into a part-garden shed, part-gardening library and, yes, part-office. Some of what I read, I already knew but it was kind of sobering all the same:

Every family could expect to lose at least one child in infancy…mostly due to bacterial infections and viruses, of which infants have not developed immunity against and, of course, there’s no real hospital with today’s pre- and post-natal care.

Every family could also expect to lose at least one child before the age of 21 because one out of every five children never got the chance to grow up due to childhood diseases. I often criticize certain vaccinations–usually the flu vaccine and, in this case, I will continue to do so–but, while some of the vaccinations we received as children may cause some unpleasant conditions and/or side effects, they also save lives. I, for one, would not want to contract tuberculosis–what was called “consumption” in the 1800’s. Consumption was one of the biggest killers in the 19th century.

Diseases like malaria and cholera took the lives of hundreds of people each summer. When was the last time we heard of anyone contracting cholera? There’s something to be said for public sanitation, too.

Women between 20 and 45, their childbearing years, were always at risk of losing their lives in the birthing process.

Menstrual pain, PMS and menopause were treated with patent medicines. These were primarily alcohol-based “remedies” prescribed by doctors to suppress certain symptoms. And, as anyone knows who has had alcoholism in their family, sometimes the effect is not calming but the basis for more irrational behavior.

One could practice medicine without a license, without even a formal education. The herbalist in me says this one isn’t so bad. No, I don’t want a surgeon cutting me open without ever having received formal training to do so but I don’t mind being able to tincture a few herbs together and being allowed to call it “medicine” instead of “remedy” or “supplement”. However, doctors of the 19th century were of two extremes. Some were merely learned herbalists who, rather than just the more benign plants like chamomile, mint and fennel that nearly everyone knew and trusted, employed harsher herbs. One such fellow, Samuel Thomson, believed the body must first be purged of all ill humors and then heated up because he believed that cold was the enemy. So he prescribed, almost exclusively, first, Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata) to induce violent and copious vomiting and diarrhea (Lobelia inflata has since been proven to be quite toxic) and then followed it up with a heavy dose of Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum annuum). He was incarcerated for murder when one of his patients died but then acquitted when nobody on the jury panel could readily identify Indian tobacco. The other side of medicine in the 1800’s used mineral-based remedies like calomel (Mercurous chloride), which had pretty much the same effect on the patient as Lobelia inflata. Bloodletting, purging and blistering were other orthodox methods of “healing”, methods that often sped a patient on their way by further weakening the victim. Lastly, though surgeons were often quite skillful, even in the 1800’s, the risk of infection was great and I, for one, would not like to endure such surgeries without the use of anesthetics.

Lastly, as a woman, the 1830’s hold less appeal, not enough to taint my joy in learning the skills and donning the beautiful outfits of the time, but because I’m simply far too independent to leave myself at the mercy–or lack thereof–of my closest male relative for my care. There were strict boundaries between women’s work and men’s. There was little to no industry for women at all (though the rapidly-growing textile industry was changing this). A widow living alone, even if she could figure out how to manage a plow on her own, hired out for the job instead; that just wasn’t woman’s work and one might appear “unseemly”. I face some of this same discrimination today as there are certain “stations” within the museum that women are strictly prohibited from learning: tin smithing, pottery, coopering and blacksmithing are a few of them. These were men’s tasks and so, in an effort to stay true to the time period, modern women are pretty much denied these skills. (Funny how we bend that period correctness when women are needed to “clerk” at the store and for a Christmas program during a time period when Christmas would not have been commonly celebrated in New England…but that’s another post for another day…) What’s that old expression? “We’ve come a long way, baby!”

May God bless you & keep you!


Have a Coke and a Smile

I think I was in high school–or not long after–when Coca-Cola came out with that slogan: Have a Coke and a Smile. Considering all the sugar in it, the high fructose corn syrup, it’s a wonder anyone drinking it has a healthy tooth in their head with which to smile. I wasn’t as health-conscious back in high school; a glass of Coca-Cola was a treat from time to time. Today, with the Irritable Bowel Syndrome, any soft drink puts me in a world of hurt. But today, I bought a single-serve bottle of Coke.

Just not to drink.

Reducing my carbon footprint has been an ongoing goal of mine ever since I worked in Corporate America. The two hour commute weighed heavily on me. I wanted to work closer to home so that I could walk. Or pedal push. And yet, four years’ ago, when I started working at a local car dealership that is less than two miles’ away (yeah, there’s an oxymoron for you…), I continued to drive. It wasn’t until circumstances forced me to start hoofing it that I actually got up the gumption to start doing it. Granted, I work evenings so safety is a bit of an issue. It’s the whole single-female-walking-alone-in-the-dark-past-fields-of-corn thing. No, I don’t expect children bearing scythes and other sharp, servering objects to come popping out at me, but it does take a bit of nerve…or it did until we set the clocks ahead and now the sun stays up long enough for me to reach home again. There is also a safety issue in that there are no sidewalks beyond the local super Walmart so at least a mile of that walk is spent in the breakdown lane. Not the most operative choice, if I do say so myself.

Pedal-pushing would be much better. But, underemployment, as that evening job at the dealership is part-time, is making that adult-sized tricycle a bit out of reach at the moment. I’m opting for the trike because it is also a cargo bike. There is a big basket that sits between the two back wheels for hauling groceries and pet feed and such home. This would certainly beat lugging heavy bags home by hand. And Walmart will also assemble it for me when I walk down to pick it up. So, a future goal. For now, I make do with what is.

I won a bicycle many years’ ago. Granted, it’s not a cargo bike. It’s not even a tricycle. It’s a simple, two-wheeler…a vintage-style Schwinn, single “gear”, with the brake down by the pedal rather than the hand brakes that usually grace modern bicycle handlebars (picture the bike Margaret Hamilton rode in “The Wizard of Oz”…before she graduated to a broomstick).

I won it…and it has sat collecting dust and rust in the soon-to-be new barn ever since. Oh, I’ve pulled it out a time or two, pumped up the softened tires as needed and given it a whirl here or there. I simply don’t have a lot of confidence in my balancing ability (I’m a bit of a klutz) and I’ve allowed it to intimidate me–especially the prospect of riding it on Interstate 6! But necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, so this morning I pulled it out of its enforced retirement and gave the chain a good drink of WD-40. Then I pumped up the front tire that had gone flat and am now waiting to see if it holds the air or if the inner-tube needs replacing. Sadly, the handlebars had rusted quite a bit in storage. What to do?

My very first bicycle was a hand-me-down from my maternal grandfather. It had belonged to one of my aunts who had since graduated to a 10-speed. Like this vintage-Schwinn, her old bicycle had sat in the basement for some time and had rusted. My grandfather took some Coca-Cola, and a bit of aluminum foil, and took the rust off with it. I wondered if it would work for this bicycle, too. We didn’t have aluminum foil. And I wasn’t about to buy a roll of it just to see if I could remove some rust. I also wasn’t buying a whole 2-liter bottle of Coke. A single-serve size would do…along with a piece of steel wool we had under the sink for cleaning the pots and pans.

It only took seconds to see that, yes, the Coca-Cola was taking that rust right off of those handlebars. In less than 15 minutes I had removed every inch of rust from those handlebars, rinsed it with water, and polished it up with a soft cloth. It looks like a new bike. The Coke worked like a charm…and I only used a small portion of what was in the bottle.

As Mom sipped the remainder of it, I wondered what does it do to our insides?

May God bless you & keep you!

Poor Mom WILL be Groaning by End of this Term

I’ve been taking a sort-of “in house” vacation these past few days. My Intro to Drawing class ended last Tuesday and my new class, Global Climate Change, does not begin until today. As frigid, subzero temps have made going out of doors for any but the most essential activities unbearable, I opted to stay in and just veg out.

Well, within reason…

The spring cleaning prompted by December’s minimalist challenge is still ongoing. I didn’t complete as much as I had hoped but I did enough to keep me fueled and to keep me from becoming a slug for 5 days.

So, why is my Mom going to groan before end of this term? The title of the class should clue most in: Global Climate Change. This is a major passion of mine. Last summer’s Environmental Science class had me so fueled, all I did was chatter about both the atrocities affected by global warming, as well as the triumphs of environmentalists to mitigate those effects…ad nauseum. This particular class is more advanced, more in-depth, in regard to the science behind the environmental movement. And I am so looking forward to it.

One of the areas the class syllabus says it is focused on is how global warming affects economics. I remember last summer quoting my Environmental Science book in a Facebook post after an aunt called me out about an article I had shared in regard to the Paris Climate Change Summit (I think that’s what it was called…). It was just after the Paris bombing and terrorism struck at the hearts of many. The article talked about how the people who organized the summit planned to go ahead with it, despite the bombing, as a show of courage and solidarity in the face of that attack–in short, they weren’t going to let it stop them. I admired their brevity, the whole spirit of the thing. There was also something in the article about how economics play a hand in some of the tensions between the US and the Middle East–not so much in regard to terrorist attacks but simple politics. I do not have either the article or the textbook–which was written in recent years (2015)–in front of me, so will refrain going into the murky waters of memory–but suffice it to say, some of what I read, in both the article and my text, resonated. Yes, we know there is more to the tensions than just this but, my textbook in particular, outlined how the Middle East is very arid and many crops do not grow. They do not have even fresh water supplies to adequately hydrate their citizens or what crops they are able to grow. They have to rely on their one major cash crop–oil–in order to buy/trade what they need. When that market is threatened, tensions increase. Again, there is more to it than that–I know that–but this is often a contributing factor. I am looking forward to learning more about this, about how global temperatures and climate change affect the different economies worldwide.

(And, obviously, being challenged about this, even by someone close to me, hasn’t altered my interest in this subject, or the desire to understand…and, yes, I know it is a hot seat; with the way the planet is heating up, I may as well get used to it–literally and figuratively)

So, yes, Mom will be groaning. Suddenly, I will be spouting phrases like permaculture and the greenhouse effect; quoting statistics about lines and bubbles in the icecaps and icebergs that show changes in ocean temps…and zeroing in on less waste of resources and living a more organic, biodynamic lifestyle. I do this anyway but, knowing Mom is of a different mindset in regard to this whole homesteading, holistic health and environmental awareness thing, I tend to go a little easier in-between these passion-fueling classes. The passion is still there, but it’s tempered a bit once I come up for air from the lessons. And, with the climate-denying administration currently entrenched in our nation’s capital, understanding where we are, where we are headed, and what we can do, even in the face of such political ignorance, in my not-so-humble opinion, is worth learning.

Yup. Poor Mom…I’ll try not to spout too many stats. Really, I will.

May God bless you & keep you!

Woefully Out of Shape

I am determined that this year I WILL lose these extra 30 lbs. So Wednesday Mom and I visited Pourings & Passages’ bookstore in Danielson, CT. This is a second-hand bookstore that also carries pre-owned DVD’s and such. I purchased a Jillian Michaels’ 30 minute Shred DVD.

There’s a reason why Jillian is known as the toughest trainer in Hollywood. There’s also a reason why she’s got such an incredible, muscular shape. She works her…can I say it?…ASS off! This video is intense. So much so, I only made it through the first 8 minutes before I was ready to collapse. If I can finally see my way through the whole thing–even just this beginner level workout–I will be back to the slender frame I vaguely remember a couple of centuries ago.

Yup. I did a more traditional resolution this year. Lose weight. Middle-aged spread didn’t just creep up on me. It clocked me over the head. And my vanity is seriously offended. Which isn’t exactly the stuff you’d expect to hear from an ordained minister but I am only human, after all. And, really, the extra weight has brought a decrease in energy; I can do a lot more for Him if I’m feeling my best. And right now, I’m not.

Back to the video, those 8 minutes left me with a right knee that didn’t want to support my weight yesterday and an aching shoulder this morning. Of course, this is an older video. Jillian looks to be in her mid- to late-20’s–about half my age. Maybe at 25 or 30, I could’ve made it all the way through the beginner’s 20 minute workout. I certainly didn’t have the injuries that are flaring up from all these new moves. A car accident in 2002 threw the shoulder out of whack and a close-range shot from a paintball pellet screwed up the right knee/calf area. So I’m feeling it a bit, shied away from it this morning, but more determined than ever to finally work my way through level 1. I’ll worry about levels 2 & 3 later…

May God bless you & keep you!

Wednesday’s Weed Walk with the Crazy Cat Lady

That title should make it obvious what herb I’m going to write about today: Nepeta cataria, or more commonly known as, Catnip.

Catnip typically conjures up cartoon images of helpless felines languishing about in the sun, looking like someone on a healthy dose of Cannabis…and, in this household, with 10 felines, that image is pretty accurate. I keep a quart-size mason jar in my pantry full of dried catnip; the moment I unscrew the lid, every feline comes running. And the effects are almost instantaneous as even my geriatric felines start rolling around like young kittens, only to nod off into dreamland shortly thereafter. They also like to eat the dried leaves and, as it is very good for them, I allow them to take all they want.

Catnip is a mild sedative and is an excellent remedy for nervousness and hyperactivity in children (m. Tierra 114). It is also a carminative (relieves gas and bloating) and a diaphoretic (induces sweating), helping to ease fevers and colds. However, it is the analgesic properties to which I have lately been putting Catnip to use (M. Tierra 32). Catnip relieves pain. And, as the mammary tumor grows under my Ariel’s right front leg, keeping her comfortable is important. At her age (she’s 16), surgery is no longer an option and, to be honest, I am not overly-confident it is the best course of action anyway. It is highly-invasive and extremely painful for them; I’ve witnessed it time and again. Ditto for many of the orthodox pain-relievers that eventually shutdown the major organs. Fortunately, our vet’s sister is an herbalist and he approves many of the herbal alternatives, carries many of their tinctures in his clinic. She is under his care, just not under the knife. And the Catnip does appear to ease her pain and discomfort. What’s more, it is a lot easier getting her to drink an eyedropper-full of Catnip “tea” than some of the orthodox remedies with their medicinal tastes.

For humans, Catnip tea is very good for easing headaches, toothaches, and the deep-down body aches and pains of fever and flu (Tierra 114). It also tastes good so give it a try. Your cats will love you.

May God bless you & keep you!

**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This article has been presented for educational purposes only; it is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.”

Works Cited

Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs. Pocket Books, New York: 1998

Wednesday’s Weed Walk: Do Re Mi…

Singer’s Tea…no, that’s not actually a legitimate product, that I know of, but that’s what I call one of my favorite herbal tea blends.

I don’t sing professionally anymore. Or even semi-pro. While the vocal chords may get a bit of a workout on the weekends when I’m enclosed in my home office and working on the mural that is currently consuming me, rare do I get on a stage–or even in the choir loft at church–to sing. Some of it is time constraint. As a full-time (online) student, minister, herbalist, homesteader, writer, artist, holistic healthcare practitioner and part-time photographer/receptionist most evenings, I have a pretty full plate. But many years ago I fronted metal bands, both lead guitar and lead vocals. I didn’t know about this tea then; I learned about it years’ later. It might have helped in the metal years; however, no matter what genre you sing in–even if it’s only the shower–taking care of one’s vocal chords is important.

In 2007 I took Apollo Herbs’ “Herbal Apprentice” course with Michael Ford and Joanne Pacheco. It was during one of our weekend workshops that Mike mentioned this combination, primarily for sore throats, but he also mentioned that a student from one of his previous classes used this combination religiously. She was a singer, like me, and fronting a local band. I was singing regularly with the Folk Group at Our Lady of LaSalette Catholic Church in Brooklyn, CT at the time so I gave it a whirl.

The blend is equal parts of Echinacea purpurea (Echinacea, Purple Coneflower are common names) and Ulmus fulva, or Slippery Elm. “Equal parts” is just what it suggests. If you measure a teaspoon of Echinacea, you also measure 1 teaspoon of Slippery Elm; a tablespoon of Slippery Elm, a tablespoon of Echinacea, and so on. The combination has a pleasant flavor so it is also palatable rather than tasting “medicinal”. I typically use the dried herbs, purchased from a local and reliable herb shop (organic; responsibly harvested) but you may also use fresh herbs if you have them in your garden or from another reliable source (i.e. one without pesticides). As we are brewing roots and bark here, a standard infusion doesn’t quite cut it. You will need a decoction of the herbs. And how we do that is preferably through the use of a double boiler but a makeshift of setting a slightly smaller sauce pan inside a larger one that has at least an inch or so of water in it will do in a pinch. No non-stick pans for this. The coating may leach into your herbal tea; I don’t recommend non-stick pans for any purpose. Cast-iron will also leach into the herbs and affect the outcome. Stainless steel, or enamel, is preferable. Place the herbs in the smaller pan, cover them with water (about an inch higher than the herbs) and place a lid on the pan with the herbs in it. The idea is to simmer them, not boil them. And you will want to watch that the water is not evaporating too much as you don’t want the herbs to scorch. If you see the water level lowering too rapidly, you may add a little warm water and lower the heat a bit. This takes approximately 45 minutes on low heat. I always add honey to mine, which also acts as a mucilage to the throat but it is optional.

So how does it work?

Slippery Elm** (Ulmus fulva) is the inner bark of the slippery elm tree. This dried bark is rather stringy and may range from a light tan to a light beige in color. It has a sweet, spicy scent and it is a well-known demulcent. “Demulcent” means that it soothes and moistens, usually via mucilage. This particular demulcent is specific for sore throats, cough, bronchitis and for relieving the inflammation of the respiratory tract, including the mouth and throat (L. Tierra, 121). It is also good for soothing the intestinal tract, and relieving the pain and irritation from indigestion and colitis, but it is the respiratory tract that we are most concerned with here, for obvious reasons.

Echinacea** (Echinacea purpurea) is also good for relieving sore throats; all infections and inflammations, and swollen glands. A known sialagogue, it increases the flow of saliva in the mouth. It is also an immune enhancer, helping to prevent and cure colds and flus (Tierra 78-79),; for singers, it makes it a wonderful combination with Slippery Elm. Back in the metal years, it seemed I always came down with a cold and/or upper respiratory complaint whenever there was something important coming up in music. It is a singer’s nightmare. It could be because I tend to be a perfectionist and so pushed myself harder, practicing longer, and depriving myself of much-needed sleep in preparation for whatever I was doing but, regardless, whatever “bug” was lurking around always found its way to me. Again, I wish I’d had this tea in my arsenal then.

One last thought, as both of these herbs are now on the endangered list, please use only the cultivated herbs from a reliable and responsibly-harvested source. For more information about sustainable harvesting, please visit http://www.unitedplantsavers.org.

May God bless you & keep you!

**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This article has been presented for educational purposes only; it is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.”

Works Cited

Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life. Ten Speed Press, California: 2003.

Friday’s Flora & Fauna: Basil


My first introduction to pesto sauce was atop a slice of gourmet pizza. Instead of the usual tomato sauce, or the sometimes “white” sauce many pizzerias provide, this particular restaurant slathered a rich and spicy pesto sauce over that crust. Spinach, broccoli and, of course, lots of cheese rounded it out. That first bite felt like a slice of heaven on earth; I’ve been hooked ever since.

And, of course, the main ingredient of this culinary miracle is sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum).

Basil = pesto sauce in my book. But even a little bit of basil sauteed in some olive oil with some fresh garlic and a little onion, then tossed with some pasta, makes a delicious, healthy and easy-to-prepare meal. And, of course, basil is a popular spice for more traditional pasta sauces as well.

I love basil. Even if it wasn’t a culinary miracle, that aroma is divine. I can’t help but brush my hands over the leaves whenever I see it, just to catch a bigger whiff. Amazingly, many bugs do not like the smell and, thus, it is pretty effective in keeping some of them away. Just grab a few leaves and rub them over any exposed skin. You may smell like an Italian restaurant but it beats the acrid stench of chemical sprays–and it’s safer for you, and for the environment.

I grow basil primarily for its culinary uses. It is easy to grow and it’s also an attractive plant. I’ve grown it both outside in the garden, and inside the house in a pot on the window ledge. It does need regular pruning or else it may grow quite “leggy” but this legginess doesn’t seem to affect either the flavor or the scent. However, “leggy” means there’s more stem, less leaves. And it’s the leaves you want for either pasta or pesto sauces. With regular trimming, the plant will bush out beautifully, adding a pop of bright green color, a sweet aroma, and a handy spice to any kitchen.

Medicinally, it is not a usual “go-to” for me but it does have some medicinal properties. It is said to be good for alleviating bad breath, headaches, and basil contains at least 6 compounds that help to lower high blood pressure (Duke 312). It may also be used as an expectorant, helping to expel excess mucus from the lungs and throat. I even found one reference for using basil to treat warts (Duke 549-550). This actually makes sense as basil also contains many antiviral compounds and warts, which are benign skin tumors, are caused by a family of viruses called papillomavirus. I confess, I have never tried using basil for this purpose but I also don’t have any warts to experiment with at the moment.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is provided for educational purposes only; it is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.

Whenever I think of warts, I associate them with witches and, as we are heading into the Halloween/Samhain season, I decided to look this herb up in Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. This book brings a touch of romance and whimsy to the art of herbalism and I love reading it. But the first thing that caught my eye was that it is said to “keep goats away from your property” (Cunningham 48). I’m not sure I like that use for it, as my goats are my life. They don’t seem to mind it in the garden, nor do they flee from home whenever I plant it, so maybe this is for wild goats–like in the Rocky Mountains–rather than beloved pets. Primarily, Cunningham talks about its use in love divinations and for exorcisms, the latter needing only to have basil strewn upon the floor to protect one from evil (Fr. Karras could’ve used this with Linda Blair; somebody should have told him about basil on the floor…). But, while I jest, there is a variety known as “Holy Basil” (Ocimum tenuiflorum) so maybe there’s something to it after all. Either way, at least the rooms will smell nice as you walk through them.

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

Cunningham, S. Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, 2nd Edition. Llewellyn Publications, Minnesota: 1985.

Duke, J. The Green Pharmacy. St. Martin’s Press, New York: 1997.