Monday, March 17, 2014

Save the Bees by Growing these Common Annuals, Perennials and Herbs from Seed

With Bee populations still unstable, we should all do our part to provide them more nourishment in our growing areas. Artist Hannah Rosengren of Portland, Maine offers these attractive and useful prints in her shop to educate people about what gardeners can plant to provide more food for bees. Hannah includes the following recommendations in her poster:

Herbs: Lavender, Sage, Cilantro, Thyme, Fennel, and Borage
Perennials: Crocus, Buttercup, Aster, Hollyhock, Anenome, Snowdrops and Geranium
Annuals: Calendula, Sweet Alyssum, Poppy, Sunflower, Zinnia, Cleome and Heliotrope

The Borage is blooming in our garden right now. The flowers are so pretty. This is the first year that I have grown it.  I thought I was going to loose it when it dried out once, but it was very resilient.

I have found in our garden that the bees are most attracted to the Dotted Horsemint, Monarda punctata.  This makes a lot of sense considering that Dotted Horsemint is a type of Bee Balm. The leaves of this plant taste a lot like Thyme. I use it to make cough syrup. It can also be numbing for tooth ache. There is always a swarm of bees around our plants in the summer, especially when it first starts to bloom.

We are having a seed pack giveaway on our blog right now with one day left to enter. Some seeds for bees from Hannah's poster including Alyssum and Cilantro are included. Be sure to check it out and enter to win, or look for seed packs of these common plants from Organic growers and seed suppliers.  It is best to grow from seed, or buy plants from a grower who does not treat their plants with pesticides. Big box stores such as Home Depot sell plants which may be contaminated with pesticide that are neurotoxic to bees according to this study by Friends of Earth.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Calendula Spotlight: Properties, Cultivation, and Use

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is a herb with a long history of use. The name “calendula,” refers to the Latin word calends because of the belief that calendula blossoms on the first day of each month. It a perennial herb in some parts of the world where the temperature rarely dips below 32° F. Most other parts of the world raise calendula as an annual herb.
Also known as pot marigold, this plant should not be confused with that other common plant with the golden flowers, also called marigold or French marigold, of the family Tagetes. Calendula is a bushy plant that produces daisy-like double or single flowers from spring to fall. It is native to the Mediterranean Sea region of the world, and can tolerate almost any kind of soil.
Historical and Modern Uses
Calendula flowers and leaves have been used as medicine historically. In ancient Roman times, calendula was used to bring down fevers and for skin problems. Calendula spread with the Romans and became a popular cottage garden plant in Great Britain, where it was an important component in skin salves. When the Pilgrims first came to America, the calendula seed rode along with them in the Mayflower, and became an important medicinal herb these settlers couldn’t do without. Medical doctors in the American Civil War also relied upon Calendula in wound care.
More often in modern times, just the flower petals are used. The key to calendula’s herbal power is its skin soothing and detqualities, caused by the high amounts of flavonoids found in the flowers. Flavonoids are anti-oxidants found in plants that defend cells from free radical damage. Calendula also contains phenolic acids and saponins, chemicals which add to calendula’s effectiveness.
And just how effective is calendula in treating skin problems? A study reported by the Georgetown University Medical Center at stated that calendula can cause significant healing for skin burns, dermatitis, cuts and other wounds. A toothpaste containing extracts from calendula even showed promise in curing gingivitis problems.
Noted botanist James Duke, who worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 30 years, writes in his book, The Green Pharmacy, that creams containing calendula are very good for helping to heal sunburn, because this herb reduces inflammation and causes new cells to grow faster.
At Aquarian Bath, we’ve had very good luck using calendula petals in an eye wash for eye infection and inflammation. It even helped to speed healing for a pet cat that injured her eye during what we suspect was a rather nasty cat fight. After a few days of using a calendula wash, the cat’s eye was much better.
Skin Care
Another way to receive benefits from calendula is to make a facial mask from a mixture of powdered calendula petals and clay powder, with enough pure water added to make a spreadable mask. Your face will thank you as the combination of clay and calendula removes impurities from the surface of your skin. Another way to enjoy the healing powers of calendula is in salves, balms, creams and ointments. Often these formulas include other healing herbs, such as aloe, yarrow and comfrey, and natural oils like extra virgin Olive Oil or Jojoba. Salves and Balms which include calendula can be very soothing on rough, dry skin.
You can even add calendula petals to your cooking. Used fresh, they go well in salads and sandwiches, and can be mixed into butters to add an extra touch of golden color and flavor to your breads and biscuits. Dried and powdered, calendula blossoms live up to their old nickname of “poor man’s saffron.” Added to rice, the powdered calendula gives the rice a warm flavor and color reminiscent of the much more expensive saffron spice.
How Do You Raise Calendula in the Garden?
Calendula is easy to grow in your own garden or herb bed, and does well as a potted herb, if given plenty of moisture and drainage. In Central Florida where we are located, our growing season is the Fall and Winter, since by summer, it’s too hot for the calendula to grow. If you live in an area that experiences winter and temperatures colder than 32° F, you plant calendula seeds in your garden or herb bed after the last frost for your area. To determine your last average day of frost, do an Internet search for a “last day of frost for the U.S. map,” which will give you a ballpark estimate of your average last frost date. It also helps to talk to gardeners in your area, who have plenty of experience with the quirks of your region. At our Aquarian Bath garden in Central Florida, the weather is very warm, we raise calendula as a Winter annual by planting seeds at the end of September.  February and March are harvest months for calendula, and this year we have a bumper crop of flowers.
You can buy calendula seed in many regular gardening catalogs that feature flower seeds as well as vegetables. However, if you are looking for a high quality calendula seed, check out Mountain Rose Herbs. They sell a variety of calendula that is strictly of medicinal value. Plant your seeds in a sunny location in soil that is rich in compost and water well, because calendula likes plenty of moisture.
Once your plants begin to produce flowers, you can start harvesting your calendula blossoms. The best time to harvest calendula is when the flowers are young, and recently opened. Avoid older, ready to go to seed blossoms, because the healing ability of these older blossoms is of a lesser quality. Collect the flowers on a dry days. Late morning is usually the best time to harvest. Dry the blossoms in a place out of the sun. When thoroughly dried, separate the petals form the rest of the flower, store the petals in an air tight container out of the light.
Calendula reseeds itself easily, so once you have plants established, let some of the flowers go to seed. You can then harvest the seed for next year, or just let the seed fall to the ground, where it will germinate next year. We wait until towards the end of the flowering period to let our plants go to seed, and save seeds for the following year.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thompson and Morgan Seed Packs Giveaway: Greens, Herbs and Flowers

Spring garden planting has already started here in Central Florida.  Our pole beans are already sprouting along with a few other herbs and vegetables.  For most people in the US there is still plenty of time to prepare for planting.  We would love to help one of our blog followers to get a garden going with this set of 17 seed packages from Thompson and Morgan.  These seeds were packed for sale before the end of 2013, so the viability will be slightly less compared to the seeds that they are selling this year.  Thompson and Morgan provided these seed packs and many more for free distribution to our friends at the Garden Hoard seed company, who in turn shared some of them with us.  

The seed packs included in this giveaway are as follows:

Lemon Balm
Spring Onion
Lettuce Mazur
Sweet Green Basil
Bails Classico
Crisp Mint Lettuce
Cilantro Calypso
Lobelia Monsoon
Mixed Salad leaves
Alyssum Golden Queen
Spinach Medania
Parsley Giant of Italy
Niche Mixed Salad

Depending on your climate, some of these plants may be better suited for a fall garden.  Right now our Lettuce is already bolting.  We plant our greens in September and October.

Bolting Yugoslavian Heirloom Red Lettuce with Lacinato Kale Feb 28, 2014
If you would like a chance to win this seed collection, you are over 18, and you live in the USA, then you are welcome to enter to win this giveaway using the raffle copter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Gardeners should also hop over to Florida Backyard Gardening who is hosting a giveaway for us which includes Aquarian Bath's Gardener's Scrubby Soap, which recently received a make over, and a garden themed Hot or Cold therapy Neck Pillow.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Rosemary's Fire Cider Remedy Stimulates Digestion and Clears the Sinuses

Fire Cider is a traditional herbal remedy which is warming and stimulating to the body.  With ingredients like cayenne, onion and horseradish, it is very helpful for improving slow digestion and reducing sinus congestion with wet watery or white phlegm. This home remedy is in a vinegar base which is nice for people who cannot take alcohol based remedies. One version of Fire Cider was popularized by Rosemary Gladstar in her herbal classes and publications. I learned this recipe from the late great Lady Barbara Hall around 10 years ago on the Healing Wise forum. Your can watch Rosemary teaching how to make Fire Cider in this video, something she has been doing for the last 20 years.  

Unfortunately a young and unscrupulous company has connived to trademark the Fire Cider name while selling this product widely, despite protest against the trademark from Rosemary Gladstar. To add insult to injury, this company has also used this trademark to prevent other small herbalists from selling their Fire Cider products. Specifically, Etsy sellers were forced to remove their Fire Cider products due to complaints over trademark infringement.

The heat that this has created in the herbal community rivals the spicy remedy itself. For our part, as an herbalist owned business which cares about this remedy and other like it, we have signed this petition at to request a cancellation of this trademark.  And more significantly we have educated the decision maker at the store near us which sells this product.  To that end, the buyer is now contemplating an alternatives to selling this company's product, such as a Fire Cider Making class or an ingredient display with Fire Cider recipe cards. If you happen to see "Fire Cider TM" in a store, please be sure to ask the store manager to either 1) boycott this company's product or 2) request that the company relinquishes the trademark.

This issue may seem small when there are so many other important issues that need to be urgently addressed today, however access to herbal medicines like these should not be blocked due to petty greed. We have never considering trademarking our herbal remedies, but I hope we are never asked to stop selling products like our "Black Drawing Salve," which is just one of many blacks salves that are commonly made by herbalists whose communities rely on these types of products.  I was startled to find out that the term "Soap Loaf" was trademarked a few years back, but the mark was forfeited under pressure from other soap makers.  The petition to revoke the Fire Cider trade mark currently has close to 8000 signatures.  Will you please sign the petition today, to help reach the goal of 10,000 signatures?

Thanks a bunch and I hope you try making this remedy.

Cory Trusty
president Aquarian Bath