Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Naturally Clean Home

The products we use to clean our homes may be making us sick. Studies suggest that fumes from cleaning products like spray cleaners and air fresheners may cause the development of asthma and other respiratory issues. Though not conclusive, other studies suggest that cleaning products may be involved in the development of cancers, allergies, and may cause reproductive and developmental toxicity. What's more, many of these products are capable of causing chemical burns and skin irritation and are extremely dangerous if children or pets come in contact with them.

Research is often done on one ingredient at a time. What happens when many ingredients are used together? What are the cumulative effects of all of the other chemicals we are exposed to in day to day life, like personal care products and other chemicals in the environment? More research is needed to tell us exactly what kind of harm these chemicals are doing to us. In the meantime, why take chances? There are safer alternatives and there's no need to spend your entire paycheck on natural products at the health food store. You can make your own using relatively inexpensive, natural ingredients. 

If you are in the Lehigh Valley area, join me from 6 to 8 p.m. on February 16, 2017 at Beleno Spiritual Healing Center in Bethlehem for the "Naturally Healthy Home" workshop! You will learn ways to keep your home clean and chemical-free. Our hands-on project will be making fizzy toilet bombs, and you get to take home what you make. Visit and click on "find tickets" to register or see the calendar at

Fizzy Toilet Bombs

Sunday, December 29, 2013

New Years Resolution Time - Reducing Waste

This year's New Years resolution is reducing waste, especially paper products like paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper. I've been purchasing the huge money saver packs of these monthly. They are still quite expensive to buy this way, and the thought of all the trees and energy that go into their production bothers me. It's going to be a tough sell getting the family on board, but I'm hoping that if I lead, they will follow. To eliminate paper towel use, I have cut up old towels and placed them in a kitchen drawer. A Saturday afternoon project was to cut up an old set of napkins into quarters and stitch the edges on the sewing machine so they won't fray. These will serve as re-useable napkins. Next project...install a bidet attachment to the toilet. Now, if only I can figure out how to attach the hot is supposed to simply attach under the sink, but it is intimidating to someone with zero plumbing skills (any volunteers?)! I figure a savings of approximately $40/month if the whole family cooperates, and there's the added bonus of being more eco-friendly. Wishing you a happy and healthy New year!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tips for Cold and Flu Prevention

We all know the feeling…the tickle at the back of the throat. The sniffles. The feeling that you are about to have a week of misery ahead. It’s that awful feeling of catching a cold. While conventional medicine has no cure for the common cold, nature has many ways to help prevent it.

As much as I had always looked forward to my kids going back to school after summer vacation, a part of me dreaded it because invariably, several weeks into the school year, they would wake up with a bad cold. Since using herbs beginning a few weeks before the start of school, the colds are less frequent, and when they do succumb, the symptoms are less severe and do not last as long.

Here are a few tips for staying healthy this cold and flu season:

Elderberry is an old standby for preventing and treating colds and flu. A clinical trial showed that an elderberry product ended flu within 3 days. Research has shown that elderberry juice stimulates the immune system and directly inhibits the flu virus. Making your own elderberry syrup is simple. In a saucepan, combine 1 cup of fresh or .5 cup of dried organic elderberries, 3 cups of water, and a cinnamon stick, 3 cloves, or some ginger if desired. Simmer for about 30 minutes, smashing the berries to release their juice. Strain, firmly pressing all the liquid out of the berries. Allow to cool, and add a cup of honey and/or a fruit concentrate syrup. Store in refrigerator. Take a spoonful or two several times per day. Some elderberries are toxic, so be sure to know what you are harvesting if gathering your own!

Many people swear by Echinacea – an immune stimulant - for stopping a cold in its tracks. Echinacin, a compound found in Echinacea, is reported to stop bacteria from forming the enzyme that helps make cells more susceptible to infection. 50-60 drops of the alcohol extract every 2-3 hours may be taken at the very first sign of a cold.

Jade Windscreen is an ancient Chinese herbal formula said to “protect you like a jade screen”.  In Chinese medicine, a pathogen is said to enter the body if the “wei qi” is weak. If this protective wei qi that flows just under the skin is depleted or weak, the pathogen will take hold and cause illness. Jade Windscreen strengthens the wei qi. In China, this formula is clinically the preferred method for treating children who experience frequent infections like cold and flu. Jade screen should be started a few weeks before cold and flu season.

Another famed Chinese formula, Yin Chiao is used for relief of cold and flu symptoms and may be taken at the first sign of a cold or as a preventive when exposed to someone with a cold or travelling by plane. This formula is not taken for extended periods.

Good old garlic is amazingly effective for preventing and treating lung infections. The best way to take garlic is chopped fresh, but do take it on a full stomach to prevent irritation. An easy way to take garlic is to cover a chopped clove with honey on a spoon and swallow it.

Sweat therapy can also be very effective at thwarting a cold. At the first sign of a cold, drink a cup or two of a hot diaphoretic tea to induce a gentle sweat. Elder flower, yarrow, and peppermint is a nice blend. Then get under the covers in bed and sweat! I have had much success using this blend. The cold virus cannot survive at a raised body temperature, which is why it is usually not a good idea to suppress a fever unless it is very high or prolonged. This may result in prolonged illness.

Eating right and getting enough sleep is very important for a strong immune system. Diets high in sugars and processed foods can weaken the immune system and make us more susceptible to cold and flu. Some people may benefit from abstaining from mucus-promoting foods like milk and cheese. Warming foods should be emphasized…soups and stews, ginger tea, and foods spiced with ginger, cinnamon, thyme, oregano, garlic, hot peppers, etc.

Having adequate levels of vitamin D has been shown to decrease cold and flu. Have your levels tested and supplement if necessary. Zinc is a mineral important for immunity as well, but too much can suppress immunity.

And you’ve heard it before but it’s worth repeating… frequent hand washing and keeping hands away from your face can help stop the spread of germs.

The Artful Herbalist, LLC carries a number of cold and flu products including Plum Flower brand Jade Windscreen and Yin Chiao, Natura S-Clear, Echinacea extract, herbal throat sprays and pre-made formulas, as well as customized formulas.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Art of the Mandala

The art of the mandala

I’ve been fascinated by mandalas recently. A mandala is simply art within a circle form, which may have a square or other 4-fold structure superimposed. In Sanskrit, the word mandala translates to “sacred circle”.  Along with sacred rituals and chants, art in the form of the mandala has been used for centuries in many different cultures as a form of healing and visual meditation.

The psychologist Carl Jung used the spontaneous drawing of mandalas with his patients.  To quote Jung:

“Most mandalas have an intuitive, irrational character and, through their symbolical content, exert a retroactive influence on the unconscious. They therefore possess a 'magical' significance, like icons, whose possible efficacy was never consciously felt by the patient.” 

Many therapists believe there are meanings connected with symbols illustrated in mandalas. You can sometimes determine the meanings in your symbols by taking notes with each mandala. Note the kind of day you had and any feelings and thoughts you are having. Over time, you may notice similarities and patterns. Through art, we can express feelings which cannot be expressed in words. This is a good thing for those of us who tend to keep things bottled up inside! There have been studies showing that drawing within a circle has a calming physiological effect. I have certainly found this to be true not only while working in a circular format. I often find myself going into a meditative state while working on a piece of art.  Sometimes one gets so absorbed in the textures, shapes and colors, that all other thoughts temporarily fade away, and what comes through your art implement comes out from deep within.

I keep a sketchbook on my night table just for mandalas. I like to draw before going to sleep. I find it relaxing and a good way to get the days thoughts out of my head.  It’s sort of like journaling, but you are using images rather than words. For added effect, you can play some relaxing music, nature sounds, or use aromatherapy oils or incense of your liking. While working on your mandala, it is important to remember that this is a therapeutic exercise and you are not trying to make an aesthetically pleasing piece of art, which I find difficult being an artist who makes a living out of creating aesthetically pleasing art!

To make a mandala, begin by sketching a circle. You may use a compass or a plate or draw a freehand circle.  Use any medium you like…paints, colored pencils, markers, pastels, etc.  You may want to try drawing on dark paper too. Quiet yourself and begin filling the circle with whatever intuitively comes to you, there are no rules.  Or, create a nature mandala with objects found outdoors…rocks, berries, seeds, leaves, flowers, etc. I am looking forward to Spring when I can create a wildflower mandala! Pictured below is my winter mandala using pinecones, juniper berries, rhododendron buds, some seed pods, pine branches, and leaves.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Stracciatella – A soup of “documented therapeutic and recuperative virtues.”

I thought this would be a good time to post this traditional Italian chicken soup recipe, since there seems to be a bad winter cold and flu going around. There are many versions of this soup recipe...this is how I make mine. My mother always made her own version for me whenever I had a cold when I was a kid. Just inhaling the steam coming off of a steaming bowl of this soup seemed to make me feel better. According to the Mayo Clinic, "Chicken soup might help relieve cold and flu symptoms in two ways. First, it acts as an anti-inflammatory by inhibiting the movement of neutrophils — immune system cells that participate in the body's inflammatory response. Second, it temporarily speeds up the movement of mucus, possibly helping relieve congestion and limiting the amount of time viruses are in contact with the nose lining." The addition of different herbs can boost its potency and serve as an immune tonic. 

According to one testimonial: 
“If you are a matron with young ideas, take stracciatella. 
If you are a gentleman in whom performance and desire are in disequilibrium,
stracciatella is your soup. If you are an infant and anemic, put
stracciatella in your little stomach. If you are a convalescent,
stracciatella is your dish.” 
One Italian grandmother stated: “It washes away the sins of the weekend.”

Bones from 1 roasted organic, pastured chicken (include feet for bone and skin health)
diced, cooked chicken
2 onions, chopped
as many garlic cloves as you like
4 carrots, diced
4 celery sticks, chopped
a handful or 2 of sliced mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, oyster)
a handful of chopped kale, escarole, or chard
1 T. apple cider vinegar
1 egg
salt and pepper
small soup pasta, cooked (optional)
grated parmesan cheese (optional, note that dairy may worsen congestion in some individuals)

Optional - herbs may be added if desired:
• black reishi mushroom slices (immune stimulant, builds resistance against infections when used regularly)
• codonopsis or ginseng root (immune tonic, enhances energy)
• astragulus (immune tonic, strengthens the lungs)
• jujube dates (strengthens resistance to colds, adds mild sweetness)
• thyme (mild expectorant for wet coughs)
• hot peppers - cayenne (helps clear the sinuses and ward off colds)

Place the chicken bones in a crock pot and cover with water. Add the vinegar (helps extract minerals from the bones), 1 onion, most of the garlic, 2 carrots, 2 celery sticks, and optional herbs, if using. Turn crock pot on and allow to cook overnight. Strain into a large bowl, pressing down with the back of a large spoon to extract the flavorful juices. Discard what is left in the strainer and return the broth to the crockpot. Add the remaining carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms, kale, and diced chicken and let cook for 1 hour. Beat in the egg, add parsley, salt and pepper to taste, and soup pasta, if using (kids like this). I like to add a bit of raw garlic to my bowl before I scoop the soup in - for extra infection-fighting power. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top if desired. Be healthy and enjoy!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Catnip – not just for cats!

Nepeta cataria

We all know catnip as the herb that makes most cats go delightfully crazy. The ancient Greeks and Romans even cultivated this member of the mint family for cats. Not all cats seem to enjoy the effect of catnip though, which comes from the essential oil nepetalactone being released from the herb when crushed. This essential oil is also a very effective insect repellent. But did you know that catnip is good medicine for humans?  Catnip is a tried, true and safe children’s remedy for colds, stomachaches, insomnia, intestinal cramps and colic.  Adults can use catnip for stress-induced gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea or nervous stomach. Chewing on the leaf is an old remedy for toothaches. As a tea, catnip combines nicely with lemon balm, chamomile, and peppermint for a calming effect; or raspberry leaf, peppermint, and cinnamon for diarrhea.

Since I am a glutton for herbal lore and mythology, here are a few fascinating tidbits:
In early America, hangmen consumed catnip roots to harden themselves for their work. It was believed that the roots could make even the kindest person mean.  In ancient mythology, catnip was dedicated to the goddesses Bast and Sekhmet, the cat and lioness. It was said to help women transform themselves into cats at night! Unfortunately, it has never had that effect on me :)

The genus name – Nepeta – may have come from a town in Italy where it was once cultivated – Nepete. Catnip grows easily in the garden and is a common weedy plant.

Catnip in my mint garden in the foreground, with sage, lemon balm and peppermint in the back.
I think there's some skullcap hiding in there somewhere.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

CSA season has begun! And an easy baby bok choy recipe

We had our first CSA pickup yesterday, and there is no shortage of spring greens this week! Included in this week's share was spring mix lettuce, head lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, baby bok choy, breakfast radishes, hakurei turnips, broccoli, and from the u-pick...snap peas and fresh herbs. Unfortunately, the strawberry crop did not do well this year due to the unusually mild winter. But we've been enjoying a few from our own patch. We also purchased a chicken share this year, and a fruit share which will start later in the season. Picked up bacon and eggs for Sunday brekkie at the farm store. The store also carries locally made cheeses, yogurt, meats, breads and baked goods, soaps, flour, and new this year, sunflower oil.

I also planted a small garden this year to supplement our small CSA share. The bunnies got to the broccoli  and cabbage plants, but the tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce, chard and herbs are going strong. I wanted to put up a fence, but that's just one of those things I haven't got around to.

I love the local growing season because that means not having to rely on supermarkets, knowing where my food is coming from, it's the freshest it can be, and supporting local farmers.

Baby bok choy recipe:
Slice the bok choy.
Toast some sesame seeds (I used black sesame seeds)
Sautee the stalks first ( I used coconut oil, but you can use sesame oil, olive oil, or butter).
When stalks start getting tender, add the leaves and cook till tender.  
Add some Tamari, Braggs Aminos or other soy sauce to taste.
Toss with toasted sesame seeds.
You can also add fried onions and/or garlic. Enjoy!
We had this with dinner and I had some with breakfast this morning.

The taste of freshly picked produce does not compare to most you get at the supermarket which may have been shipped from far away or may have been sitting around. They may also be higher in nutrient content.