Monday, May 31, 2010

Today's Flowers

Northern Honeysuckle (Lonicera villosa)
Also called Mountain Fly-honeysuckle. 

I think it's been renamed as Lonicera caerulea,
which reflects the fact that it produces a blue fruit.

A circumboreal species that likes boggy, peaty, cool regions,
it is found scattered throughout Nova Scotia, from Labrador
to Alberta, south to Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota.

The bees think it's pretty special!

Go to Today's Flowers to see more beautiful specimens.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Red Clover

I have always had more than a passing fancy for herbs and their many uses.  As my interest in learning about wildflowers grew, so did my interest in herbs, for I learned that herbs are more than just the plethora of starter plants and seeds that you can purchase from your local nursery, or toss into your grocery cart already harvested from the grocer.  Herbs can also be what most people consider WEEDS!

It didn't take me long to become overwhelmed, so I decided I'd only focus on the 'wildflowers' or 'weeds' growing in my own backyard.  And so I began, filling my notebook with tidbits about this weed and that wildflower. 

One of the most surprising discoveries, aside from the dandelion, was the Red Clover, (Trifolia pratense).

Red Clover has been used in culinary delights and medicinally for many centuries.  Actually a member of the legume family, Red Clover contains the full chain of amino acids, making it a perfect protein that is easily absorbed by the human body.  This fact alone makes Red Clover an easy essential to pack while camping, hiking, etc., or to harvest from the wild when you are there.

As if that isn't impressive enough, Red Clover also contains calcium, vitamin B complex, thiamine, niacin, vitamin C, chromiium, magnesuim, nickel, potassium and phosphorous.

Red Clover is considered to be an alterative herb, meaning it possesses the ability to send its medicine into many areas of the body at once.

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute have found that Red Clover contains four (4) anti-tumor compounds.  It has an affinity for the lymphatic system, which makes it a suitable building herb for dealing with lymph-related cancers, or conditions which require a strengthening of the immune system.  Because Red Clover has a tendency to act as a blood thinner, persons already on a blood thinning medication should use caution when supplementing their diet with Red Clover.  Word is, it keeps the liver healthy, acting as a blood purifier.

Historic accounts of the use of Red Clover indicate it has been used for skin problems, feverish conditions, constipation, and as a gargle for sore throats and mouths.

The two most common ways to use Red Clover is to prepare a tea, and to use the youong leaves and new flowers in salads and soups

Red Clover Tea is easy to make.  Use approximately one ounce of the leaves and/or blossoms to approximately 2 cups of boiling water, and steep for 10 minutes.  Flavor with any of your other favorite
herbs and/or clover honey.

A third recipe that you can try that is pretty simple to make is the Red Clover Remedy for Chapped and Dry Lips, a China Bayles Mysteries recipe!  Simply:  Combine 1 Tablespoon dried Red Clover flowers, 2 teaspoons of honey, and 1/4 cup water.  Bring this to a boil, simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from heat.  Strain, add 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch, and cool, stirring occasionally.

The great thing is that in most areas, it is available right outside your back door!!  It's also available at your local health food store in a variety of forms.  Please keep in mind that any herb can counteract already prescribed medications, so some research might be required.  And know, too, that not many medical institutions commit to or condone the use of herbs for medicinal purposes.  Draw your own conclusions. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Catnip vs. Mosquitos

Researchers from the University of Iowa have reported that nepetalactone, a chemical found in the leaves of Catnip (Nepeta cataris), is ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET, the synthetic chemical compound used in most insect repellents.

You can make some for yourself.

Catnip Mosquito Repellent

   2 cups catnip, washed
   2 cups almond oil

   Bruise catnip and pack into a clean jar.  Cover with oil, put a lid on the jar and set in a cool, dark place for two weeks.  Shake jar lightly every day, and push herbs under the oil to avoid mold.  Strain into a clean jar, seal and refrigerate for up to 8 months.  To use, rub on exposed skin.  (If mosquitoes are especially ferocious, you can add other strong-smelling herbs, such as rosemary, pennyroyal, basil.)
(Source: China Bayles' Book of Days, Susan Wittig Albert)

I have yet to try this, but it is on my list of things to do!!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Celebration of Herbs

Television bores me. 
So, I read. 
Or listen to audio books while I craft. 
I have dozens of nature related books at my disposal,
but I do like to be entertained with a good story,
and I have discovered
the most delightful author, Susan Wittig Albert
Her vast knowledge of herbs is threaded
throughout intriguing mysteries
 based on a single character, China Bayles, and her surroundings.

In a nutshell, China Bayles was a high-powered attorney in the city
who realized it wasn't the life for her. 
She quit her job,
cashed in her retirement,
and purchased an herb store in the small fictional town of Pecan Springs, TX.

Thyme of Death (China Bayles 1)The chosen titles for her books reflect the herb she has spun her tale around.  One example of the many titles offered is:  Lavender LiesI especially enjoyed reading the books in order, beginning with the first one, Thyme of Death.  My library didn't have access to them all, so I had to skip a few here and there.  I've copied many a recipe for yummy treats, bath and beauty recipes, and other 'green' and natural concoctions.

Susan goes beyond writing fun to read books full of interesting facts. 
She has a newsletter, All About Thyme that exceeds all expectations,
has published the China Bayles Book of Days, which I've just acquired from the library, and hosts an on-line book club.  She co-authors another series of mysteries with her husband, and has developed yet another series that I have yet to venture to read based on the Beatrix Potter books, called Cottage TalesIf you visit her website, you will discover many more interesting  things about Susan.

Ant Farming

Because it is THAT time of year, I am duplicating a previous post for

 My favorite flowers of all,
the spring ephemerals!
One of the phenomenoms surrounding these alluring
harbingers of spring
that intrigues me the most
is a symbiotic relationship called myrmecochory,
or "Ant Farming".

Ants are attracted to the seeds of certain species of spring bloomers because the seeds bear small protruberances called elaiosomes.  These elaiosomes contain fatty food, attractive oils, and possibly sugars, and are considered to be a tasty treat if you are an ant.  The ants carry the seeds into their nests, sometimes as far away as 70-75 yards, where they dine on this gourmet meal.  But the seed shells are too hard to penetrate, and are cast off in an unused tunnel.  Here, protected amid the nutrients in the soil, the seeds will germinate.

Among the species of spring ephemerals that encourage ants to collect their seeds are:

violets (Viola sp.)

Wood Anenome (Anenome cinquifolia)

Hepatica (Anenome Americana)

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) 
Ground beetles and crickets also disperse trout lily seeds. 

Purple Trillium (Trillium erectum)

Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum)

(Photos compliments of Little Sister, the "Holly" in KaHolly, my mentor.)

"Just what makes that little old ant, think he can move a rubber tree plant.........." 

Most of this information was gleaned from my favorite book of all - The Secrets of Wildflowers by John Sanders

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Decisions, Decisions!

This poor little kitty
wasn't too sure
what to wear today.

For more interesting Camera Critters, click HERE!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Happy Birds

Early last summer, I had a surprise visit from an Orchard Oriole, quite uncommon in my neck of the woods.  In an effort to entice him to stay, I quickly put out some treats - namely orange halves and jam.

To contain the jam, I grabbed the closest container, the lid to an empty carton of milk still sitting by the sink, and secured it to a wooden compost bin on the perimeter of my yard.  It was the perfect size for a teaspoon full of jam.

Sadly, the oriole move on.  But much to my delight, the song sparrows and robins cleaned out the proffered sweet treat on a daily basis.  It became, and still remains, a morning ritual to carry my little teaspoonful of jam out to the compost bin to fill the tiny dish.  I swear they wait for me because no sooner do I turn to step away then they are sampling the day's tasty treat!!  Until I set up my summertime feeding stations, I also offer dishes of water and other treats on this pseudo-tabletop.

Moral of the story:  It doesn't take much effort to have happy birds!