Monday, October 20, 2014

Mindful Monday: Surprise! There's Frost!

This morning, taking Isis outside and letting the chickens out of the coop, I walked down the walk and noticed the dew wasn't quite so dewy.  In fact, it was frost!  

Now, this stirred mixed feelings.  

For one, I was worried.  I still have tomato vines producing fruit, and some of my herbs aren't exactly cold tolerant.  But then, frost means Autumn has taken firm hold of the land.  The air is more likely to keep its nip.  

And I do love to walk outside in the morning to see the grasses tipped with sparkling ice crystals.  For me, frost is beautiful.  Poetic.  

However, most plants don't like those frozen fingers clinging to their delicate leaves.  So here are a few things to do in order to protect your fall gardens:
  • Pay attention to the weather predictions!  Most weather forecasts will warn you a frost danger, but it's important to know that frost can form at temperatures 37° and below.  (This is too complicated to go into here, but I did research it and found this to be temperature most noted by scientific data.)
  • Cover the plants.  You can use plastic, tarps, or even sheets.  The point here is to stop the dew from settling on the plants.  Make sure the cover goes to the ground or past the top of the pot, and that fabric covers are not touching the plants.  You can uncover them after the sun has risen or temps are above 37°.
  • Alternately, you can bring your potted plants indoors overnight.  If you want those that prefer the warmer climes to keep performing, you should consider keeping them inside at this point.
  • Frost-sensitive fruits and vegetables (i.e. tomatoes) should be harvested before frost can touch them.  You can harvest them when green, just be sure to keep them in a dark space above 55° and with air movement.  The flavor may not be as full, but better that then losing them to Mother Nature.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Mindful Monday: Herbal Aid for Insomnia or Trouble Sleeping


We've all heard about it.  We've all experienced it.  Each one of us probably knows at least one person affected by insomnia.  You may ever suffer from it, yourself.

My personal experience is on an almost daily basis.  But it's not me.  It's my husband.  There are very few nights when he gets a good night's sleep.  I feel sorry for him because I sleep well, and I can't imagine what it must be like to live with the exhaustion I feel on those rare mornings when I haven't had a good night's sleep.  

Lavender Buds

He's tried medications.  He's tried forcing a change in schedule.  He's tried my eye pillow and mask.  He even tried supplemental melatonin.  All to no avail.  (I should point out that he refuses to turn off the TV, which is a huge problem and the first thing a sleep specialist would tell him.)

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, insomnia is the most common sleep complaint.  It is defined by trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, or not feeling refreshed in the morning despite the opportunity for a full night's sleep.


How about some numbers*:

  • 30-35% of adults have brief symptoms of insomnia
  • 15-20% of adults have a short-term insomnia disorder
  • 10% of adults have a chronic insomnia disorder

This leads to two types of insomnia*^:

  • Acute insomnia is short-term, lasting from one night up to three weeks.  It goes away without treatment.
  • Chronic insomnia is long-term, affecting a person three or more nights a week and lasting longer than three weeks.  It can have a negative impact on a person's health, increasing the risk of depression and high blood pressure.  Generally chronic insomnia requires treatment.  
Lemon Balm

The causes of these two types can be similar, but with differing degrees of intensity or duration.

Causes of acute insomnia^:

  • Significant life stress (job loss or change, death of a loved one, divorce, moving, etc.)
  • Illness
  • Emotional or physical discomfort
  • Environmental factors (light, noise, extreme temperatures) (Turn off the TV, folks!)
  • Some medications
  • Interference in normal sleep schedule (shift work, jet lag, etc.)
Causes of chronic insomnia^:

  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Chronic stress
  • Pain or discomfort at night

There are two more ways of classifying insomnia^:

  • Primary insomnia is not directly associated with other health conditions.
  • Secondary insomnia is caused by something else, such as a health condition, medication, or pain.

There is another, less documented cause of insomnia:  intelligence`.  Sounds, silly, I know.  The idea behind this is that some people can't "turn off" their brain, and so their brain doesn't rest while their body tries to.  (See reference.)

Here is where I wanted to focus on my herbal sleep aid because this is a big reason why my husband suffers.  I also watched an episode of Dr. Oz where he talked about insomnia and offered solutions.  

One of the things he mentioned was Passion flower.  It helps the brain "shut down" so it can rest.  

I don't have passion flower--yet.  But I do have other herbs that have the same sort of effect.  So, I did a bit of reading, and I came up with a sleep aid utilizing these herbs and honey.  I started with a recipe I found on The Nerdy Farm Wife where she uses lemon balm.  I made her recipe first, then I changed it according to what I'd read and my personal tastes.  (I'm not much on the flavor of honey.)

Bee Balm

After 4 slight changes, I found one that worked very well for both myself and my husband.  

Herbal Sleep Aid
1 part Lavender buds
3 parts Catnip leaves
3 parts Bee Balm leaves
6 parts Lemon Balm leaves

Place herbs in a small pot and fill with water until just covered.  Simmer on low until the liquid is reduced to about half.  Strain the herbs from the tea (compost them!).  

While the tea is still warm, add 1 part honey to 4 parts of the herbal tea.  Mix well.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Take 1-2 tablespoons of the Herbal Sleep Aid before bed.

You can add more honey if you like, but I prefer the herbal taste to the over-sweet honey taste.  (It gives me an headache.)  Also, I used fresh herbs.  If you use dried herbs, the general rule is to use half the amount of dried herbs as you would fresh.  (i.e. 1 tsp fresh herbs = 1/2 tsp dried herbs.)  And, of course, the longer you simmer the herbs in the water, the stronger your tea will be.

I found that even when I was keyed up at night, this blend helped me relax enough to find dreamland.  

Sweet dreams!

Sources: *American Academy of Sleep Medicine
                       `Sleep Dynamic Therapy

This post is part of the Clever Chicks Blog Hop.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Mindful Monday: Fried Dandelion Flowers

I have known for years that dandelions are edible.  The entire plant can be used, from the root up to the flower--bud or open.  I've had homemade dandelion wine, and I must admit that it was one of the best wines I've tasted.  I've tossed a few young dandelion greens in my salads for bit of a different taste.

Now, with that being said, it's one thing to understand that a plant is edible.  It's quite another to go into the yard and harvest what I grew up viewing as weeds instead of herbs.  I've seen numerous recipes for fried dandelion heads (flowers) online and in books, but I've never had the nerve to to try any of them.

With our "yard" excavated and seeded for grass, weeds of all types are popping up through the straw.  While my husband curses them, I delight in seeing the many varieties of what I now know are herbs.  One of those this cool, early Autumn is the tenacious dandelion.

I hadn't seen any flowers until one brisk Wednesday morning after I'd dropped my son off at school.  I was scavenging for herbs to toss in for the chickens, and I noticed a few tiny spots of sunny yellow scattered throughout the yard.

I decided to be brave and give the fried flowers a try.

For this first time, I kept it very basic.  I used only a few, completely open, flowers, as that was all I had, and simply fried them in butter.  For this learning path, I wanted to start at level one and add or change my method each time.  In this way I can learn every aspect of cooking sunshine in my own way, and share it with you, my readers, as I go.  Then you can pick and choose which sounds best to you if you want to try frying dandelions for yourself.

A couple things about dandelions before we start:
  • Dandelion has diuretic properties.  This means it increases the amount of urine the body produces.  From what I have found, this seems to be mainly the leaves, but as the flower is also the arial (above-ground) part of the plant, I will reason--for now--that it may contain the same properties.
  • Dandelion is an appetite stimulant.  Again this is attributed to the leaves, but I will presume the flower does this, too.
  • Dandelion flowers have antioxidant properties.  
  • Be absolutely certain that the plants you harvest are from an area that you know has not been treated with chemicals of any kind--be it weed control or fertilizer.

On to the cooking of wildcrafted yumminess!

I melted a tablespoon of butter in my pan, then put the flowers face-down into the butter with their stems sticking up in the air.  Made nice little handles, those stems.  I made sure to coat all of the petals in the butter.

I fried them like this on medium-low heat, so as not to burn the butter, and to cook the flower heads all the way through without crisping the outer petals too much.  

The butter boiled around the flowers, turing a yellowish-brown color.

When they were what I thought was done--about 5-8 minutes--I used the stems to pull them from the pan and laid them on my plate.  

The flavor was sweet and buttery, with a bit of a bitter nip at the end.  (I later learned that the smaller flower heads are less bitter.)  I bit the heads off and gave the stems to my chickens.  There was one flower that fell over in the pan, and the stem was cooked, so I ate that stem.  I actually thought that one tasted the best.


Fried Dandelion Flowers
       Dandelion flowers (How ever many you wish)
       1 tbsp butter (real is always better)

Melt the butter in a pan on medium-low heat.  Place flowers face-down in melted butter and fry for 5-8 minutes, or until a crispy brown.  Serve while still warm.

Happy wildcrafting!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Class Creation" Basket for Silent Auction at Bug's School

Saturday, Bug's school will be hosting their annual Fall Festival.  This year, along with scarecrow making, and pumpkin painting, and other Fall fun, they added a silent auction.

The idea was to have each class make a "class creation" to be auctioned off in the silent manner of bidding on paper.  Examples were things like each child's thumbprint on a vase, or a collage of their drawings.  They had to be completed by the end of September since the festival date is (was depending on when you read this) October 4.

Well, you know I jumped at this.  I could make a gourd bowl like I made for Mrs. Huber, only use artwork instead of faces.  Easy peasy.  So I contacted the person in charge, who put me in touch with one of the room moms for Bug's class.  I just happen to have gone to school with this wonderful lady, so we're Facebook friends.  She talked to the other room moms, and they handed me the reins.

I decided to make a basket instead of a bowl.  I cut the the gourd and prepped it for paint.  Then I made an appointment with the teacher and took the gourd basket and a brand new box of washable paint to class one Friday.

I explained to the class what we were going to be doing:  "Each of you will paint a fingerprint flower on the gourd."  Then I set up at a table and called them up one by one while they worked on their regular activities.

I put aside the green paint.  I let each child pick the color they wanted for their flower's petals.  We made the outside of their flower, then they picked a different color for the center.  (Most of the girls picked pink and purple.  Bug was the only one who picked red.)  Then, using a paint brush slathered in green paint, they painted a stem for their flower.  A few added leaves to their stem, and one boy put thorns on his.

I added the teacher's name, the "grade," and the school year to the bottom.

I used decoupage to seal the inside, and sprayed the outside with four coats of clear semi-gloss.  And, wow, did the flowers POP after the clear went on.  The colors were so much more vivid.

I then took a pale green ribbon and wrapped the handle of the basket to add a little flare.  If the handle had been cut straight instead of curved, I could've added a bow at the bottom.  As it was, though, I liked the results.

Inside, I used thumb tacks to hold the ribbon in place.  This also helped position the ribbon where the curves were forcing it to go in the wrong direction.

I'm sorry I forgot to get good pictures of the finished gourd before I took it in.  I am very proud of my donation.  I do hope it helps raise a few extra dollars for the school.