Saturday, January 31, 2009

Spiral Herb Bed is in the Works at the Urban Fair Share Garden

I am blessed to have been bestowed the title of Herbal Specialist at the new Urban Fair Share Garden in Daytona Beach. This spiral bed that we built over the last two Saturdays is destined to become a community herbal demonstration garden. Joel Tippens, coordinator of the Fair Share project, in his brilliance laid out the initial spiral last week, digging into the ground and upturning soil, then covering the it with leaves and partially composted manure. We further mulched with bagged leaves throughout the inner pathway of the spiral and around the perimeter of the spiral. Today we covered the spiral with coffee grounds from Starbucks. I just learned today that Starbucks offers their spent coffee grounds through their Grounds for your Garden Program. Stop in and grab some coffee grounds and run! For the final layer of the spiral, my helpers and I added a thick layer of dark soil all the way around.

Now I'm dreaming and planning what herbs to put in this lovely bed. Joel has asked me to lead one or more herbal classes at the garden. I'm so excited to plan this the garden with a mind to using it as a teaching aid. Right now I'm thinking about Lemongrass in the center, an excellent herb for preventing or treating colds, an important herb for supporting persons with AIDS in the tropics. However, for the center of the spiral, I haven't ruled out an exceptional tree such as the very healing and nourishing Moringa oleifera. Mugwort (Artemesia argii), Yarrow, Oregano, and Holy Basil (Vana tulsi) herbs, extremely useful herbs I have growing strongly and with relatively little care in my own yard and will surely take some to the spiral. Purslane and Plantain will be there to demonstrate that they are more than just common weeds, they are also nourishing and healing herbs. Rosemary are Sage are a must with their culinary and therapeutic attributes. Parsley with it's varied uses would make another great addition. Comfrey, the ultimate herb for green compost, is a good candidate, however it does not like the hot sun so much as other herbs. If it is too hot for Comfrey, then Rose Geranium will certainly flourish. This is going to be so fun! Maybe some Hawaiian Ginger will find it's way in as well.

The spiral bed is just one of the demonstration areas that we have built.
These gardens will provide food for low-income households in need. We will also be providing people with the space for growing fresh food and herbs for themselves. Karen Washington says "To grow your own food gives you a sort of power and it gives you dignity. Your know exactly what you're eating because you grew it. It's good, it's nourishing and you did this for yourself, your family and your community." This also applies when you grow herbs as medicine to heal yourself, your family and your community.

If you live in Daytona please join us or donate some tools, bird houses, benches, young fruit trees, etc. We meet every Saturday, and new weekday work parties will be starting up soon. Visit our groups meet up page:

Snowy Egrets Nesting in Elder Trees

Have you ever seen Snowy Egrets, Egretta thula, nesting in Elderberry trees? Neither had I until yesterday. I couldn't resist posting this picture for all my wild harvesting and nature loving friends. I took this picture yesterday in Orlando, Florida at Gatorland. There must have been 50 or more Snowy Egrets in dressed in full breeding plumage nesting among the Elder trees high above the Florida Alligator. These Elder trees are the variety Sambucus simpsonnii. As you can see Elders bloom very early in Florida. I image the baby egrets look quite soft and fluffy and camouflaged with elder blossoms to the right and left. Some of the trees even had berries on them. Elder flowers and Elderberries are two of my favorites items to harvest in Florida. I make extractions with the flowers and berries separately, or make a syrup with the berries. Elderflower extract can be added to hot tea to help resolve Wind-heat common colds characterized by fever, sore throat, and rapid floating pulse. Elderflower infused oil also makes a nice cosmetic base for skin salves or creams. I also make Elderberry extract from the ripe berries and take it at the first sign of on coming cold. This can help to ward off a full blown cold. I have found the berry extract particularly useful for children or babies in small doses for common cold with fever and sore throat or rashes. Make sure if you are harvesting Elder you are in a bird-free zone. ;)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sweet Hearts Rose Geranium Soap Just in time for Valentines Day

This is the second batch of Sweet Hearts Rose Geranium soap that I have made. However I have to say I've outdone myself aesthetically with this batch. Like the first batch this soap is double layered with natural white on top and the bottom layer colored pink with rose clay, also known as pink kaolin clay. Each bar is hand-stamped with a heart in the middle, and scented with essential oils of Rose Geranium, Camphor, and Mint. The aroma is rosey and fresh. With this new batch I've also added rose buds into the top layer and pressed petals into the top of the soap which gives a nice contrast. These are very hard and long lasting bars. This is an orangutan friendly soap, in other words no palm oils are used in this soap.

This batch will be available February 1st, just in time for Valentines day. You can pre-order it at, and it will ship on February 1st. Alternatively check out my etsy or 1000markets store on February 1st to place an order. I have a couple of the first batch of this soap sans rose petals available at this time. Check out

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Orangutan Friendly Soap: Environmental Concerns Over Palm Oil & Orangutan Habitat

I wanted to share an excerpt and link to a great article which was published in the LA times recently explaining the concerns over the Palm oil industry. In summary, there is huge demand for palm oil internationally, which is negatively impacting Orangutans. The demand is being met is by cutting down rainforests in order to plant palm plantations. This is a concern from the standpoint of global warming, ecological diversity, and most tangibly obvious for the habitats of endangered Orangutans. Ironically, palm oil is one of the most common ingredients found in vegan and vegetarian soaps. Some soap makers use organic palm oil with the assertion that their consumption is not a factor in the environmental equation. As for me I feel more comfortable avoiding it completely so that I will not be adding demand to the palm oil market as a whole.

Here is the lead into the article as reprinted in the Seattle Times. Follow the link for the full report.

For Orangutans, Palm Oil is a Bust
by Paul Watson

TANJUNG PUTING NATIONAL PARK, Indonesia — In the rush to feed the world's growing appetite for climate-friendly fuel and cooking oil, the Bornean orangutan could get plowed under.

Several plantation owners are looking at Tanjung Puting National Park, a sanctuary for 6,000 of the endangered animals. It is the world's second-largest population of a primate that experts said could be extinct in less than two decades if an assault on its forest habitat is not stopped.

The orangutans' biggest enemy, United Nations experts said, is no longer poachers or illegal loggers. It's the palm-oil industry.

Photograph by Oliver Spalt licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.5 and GNU Free documentation license.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Inspiration for my Yin Ylang Soap

This soap is inspired by the Taoist Yin Yang symbol and the theory it represents. Yin Yang theory is at the heart of Traditional Chinese medicine, which is one of my areas of training. This theory is essential in understanding physiology, pathology, pattern diagnosis and treatment in Chinese medicine. Yin qualities, to name a few, include passivity, slowness, and coldness, whereas yang qualities include activity, fast movements, and heat. The back of the body is considered Yang, while the front of the body is considered Yin. Patterns of disharmony are characterized as either Yin or Yang in nature. For example, a Yin disharmony would be indigestion accompanied by bloating and runny nose, which is relieved by warming herbal teas such as ginger. Insomnia with night sweats is a good example of a Yang pattern of disharmony, which would be treated with cooling or heat clearing herbs which are Yin in nature.

My Yin Ylang soap was made by the cold process method and colored with activated charcoal. It includes an exotic blend of therapeutic grade essential oils including the Ylang Ylang Extra (high grade), Lemon, Cedarwood, and Clove essential oil.

For those of you who are interested, these are the 4 tenets of Yin Yang theory as described in Wikipedia:

Yin yang are opposing Yin yang describe opposing qualities in phenomena. For instance, winter is yin to summer's yang over the course of a year, and femininity is yin to masculinity's yang in human relationships. It is impossible to talk about yin or yang without some reference to the opposite.

Yin yang are rooted together Since yin and yang are created together in a single movement, they are bound together as parts of a mutual whole. A race with only men or only women would disappear in a single generation, but men and women together create new generations that allow the race they mutually create (and mutually come from) to survive.The interaction of the two gives birth to things.

Yin yang transform each other Like an undertow in the ocean, every advance is complemented by a retreat, and every rise transforms into a fall. Thus, a seed will sprout from the earth and grow upwards towards the sky - an intrinsically yang movement. Then when it reaches its full height, it will begin to weaken, and eventually will fall back to the earth in decay - an intrinsically yin movement.

Yin always contains the potential for yang, and yang for yin. Yin-yang are balanced Yin-yang is a dynamic equilibrium. Because they arise together they are always equal: if one disappears, the other must disappear as well, leaving emptiness. This is rarely immediately apparent, though, because yang elements are clear and obvious while yin elements are hidden and subtle.

Ingredient of the day: Neem Oil

What is so special about Neem?

Neem oil from the seeds of the Azadirachta indica tree, is a panacea for a number of skin conditions. Native to India, the neem oil is commonly used there in soaps and cosmetic preparations, especially in cases of psoriasis, eczema, and acne. Neem oil has a strong and distinctive scent, which to me smells like a strong peanut butter. The oil is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial.

Beyond cosmetic uses, Neem oil is sovereign in it's capacity as an organic pesticide. I use it in my garden to repel worms, spider mites and a number of other unsavory beasties. I use a small amount in my garden diluted in water with a little added liquid soap in a spray bottle to spot treat various plants.

If you would like to learn more about neem I would suggest John Connrick's book "Neem: the ultimate herb."

Right now I have 4 small neem trees growing in my back yard here in Central Florida. I'm hoping they will survive through the winter and bear fruit this year.