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Herbalist's Journal > May 2010


~The merry, merry month of May........


May 1 ~ May Day.  I am traveling today--in Washington, DC--where spring flowers and trees are really LOVELY. It is also an allergy haven and my daughter had her Neti pot out on the counter from frequent use. Some people put herbs (such as echinacea/goldenseal) in the neti pot water--which is useful for severe sinus infections, but plain kosher salt water is fine, really, preferable for allergies and regular colds.

May 2 ~ Rain and hot weather have brought up the dandelions--which are now all in bloom. If I didn't have a good store of wine already, now is when I would be out gathering a few gallons of blooms--which takes a LOT longer than it sounds (also a great job for kids). Why people spend so much time eradicating this plant is senseless to me. I may not be in the market to make wine this year, but I am going to pick more greens to eat and maybe even make some fritters tomorrow. My grandson's face is entirely tinged yellow from rolling in the lawn--otherwise known as my dandelion plantation.

May 3 ~  I have decided due to the planned construction that will begin in a few weeks, I am not going to invest in porch plants or in any garden beautification this year.  Instead, it will be all restructuring, refining, maintenance. This is prudent, but it kills me as this is the week I usually make my rounds of local greenhouses and by flats of pansies and johnny jump ups, portulacas and hanging baskets of Impatients and Fuschias (which attract the hummingbirds immediately). I'll have to fill my hummingbird feeder instead and will go to one greenhouse and buy a few flats of each to get me through.  As for herbs--this will be a make do and use up year and make big plans for next year. I have such a backlog of herbs in all stages of medicinal products and herb plants that need dividing, moving, pruning. Use up and tend to the old.....make way for the new.

May 4 ~ Time to fill the Hummingbird feeders. No more suet for the woodpeckers--when it gets hot, it just melts all over the porch!!! But the Hummers will be here any day--if they are not already. Always keep the feeders out of direct sun to slow fermentation of the sugar water. This is a stormy day---pouring and then sunny--only to repeat that cycle all day long--so I got some weeding done. For some reason, the garlic mustard decided to invade my front yard garden. I pulled up a lot--and most of it will make a tasty steamed side dish for dinner. But, while it rained, I started cleaning off my front porch, sweeping, getting rid of winter debris and birdseed--to make way for bringing out the pillows and rugs to civilize this outdoor room. This, in the late spring and summer, is where I read herb magazines, sip tea and come up with most of my good ideas...and just about all of my bad or impractical ones!

May 6 ~ Went with my friend on our annual plant buying spree. Turns out it will take at least one more trip since nobody had fuschias and I admit a weird love of wave petunias--which are so genetically modified, it is disgusting--but their colors are so vivid and they do produce all summer...and smell wonderful. I make this palatable by buying them from a cool guy who has made it his project to develop unique ways to grow/feed/enjoy these botanical monstrosities--so it makes it a more personal and humbling to grow them.

Some of my purchases were replacements of old plants that did not survive the winter--like my Hen & Chicks, but I always try something new too--this year it is a few species of Sedums. BUT--I wanted to jumpstart a few things too. It will be months before my tomatoes produce, so I bought a huge/flowering tomato plant interplanted with basil from a local, Amish run greenhouse. And I got bucket loads of my favorite violas--which due to public outcry, have recently been retro bred to bring back their magnificent scent that had been bred out years ago--and at the same time, the heirloom colors have been reintroduced as well.

May 7 ~ Planted most of my porch plants, did some "garden editing"--mowed around certain areas left to grow for future herb harvest-both foods and medicinals. Mowing is a chore, but mowing around herb beds can be a real olfactory pleasure.

For some reason, the soil is softer and when I pull dandelions from flower beds, the whole root twists out easily, so I have collected enough today to make a gallon of root tincture--and I will steam the leaves for dinner. My grandson is no eater of steamed greens--so I will chop the leaves finely and put them on a pizza along with the oregano.

May 9 ~ So, as I suspected, Mother Nature does not like to be taken lightly--all those who got giddy with early spring warmth and planted out their annuals, have been scrambling to overcome really hard frosts and a little snow. It never pays to get ahead of ourselves.

For Mother's Day, I got a nice arrangement of wildflowers and had the opportunity to show my grandson how Snapdragons got their name (by squeezing the bottom of the flower head, it opens its "jaws").  These are the types of stories and flower games I was taught by my grandparents that really made plants/nature come alive for me..and they seem to be doing the  same for him.

May 10 ~ Got a call from someone with itching brought on by eating too much sugar foods. "Itching " of that nature is always yeast related and the quickest way to kill off the excess (some yeast is necessary) is to take the really bitter grapefruit seed extract in some water. 2-3 doses is usually sufficient.

May 12 ~ Got another request today from an old Apprentice--for info on how to help someone heal from the discomfort of rectal surgery. Warmth and moisture are key--so I suggested a strong tea of equal parts Plantain/St. John's Wort/Calendula and ground oatmeal. strained and applied as a compress. This should deal with pain and promote healing--and act as a anti-bacterial.

May 14 ~ Springtime sure brings on herbal inquiries! Someone called today about flea problems with their cats. Varying advice had her trying a homeopathic preparation, nutritional yeast, etc. Nutritional yeast is no good--for people or animals--but for fleas---put Brewer's yeast in their foods--just a little--everyday during flea/tick season. (This also makes their coats beautiful and shiny--and builds their immune system) Sprinkling ground garlic also helps. This, along with placing aromatic herbs with high levels of natural oils in the animal's bedding (southernwood, pennyroyal or other mints, sage, lemon balm) will discourage fleas and other pests. The brewer's yeast is high in natural B vitamins and causes the blood to have a smell that all stinging/biting insects hate. They hover, sniff and then go on their way.  However, this lady's cats sleep in her bed, so she may not appreciate sprigs of herbs under the covers. If the humans in your home also suffer from the infestation, you can make a dilute spray of essential oils and water and spray in the bedding (not on pillows).....And....they too should either start taking a tsp. of brewer's yeast a day (in smoothies or breads, etc.) or taking a good quality B complex daily to make them equally unattractive to pests. Insects like "sweet blood". The yeast changes the chemical balance. The homeopathic preparation, by the way, was of brewer's yeast. While I appreciate and use Homeopathic remedies, in cases like this, the real thing is available, affordable and a more natural way of handling this situation.

May 15 ~ Went on yet another plant buying spree. The weather has been too awful to actually work out in the gardens, so instead I continue to harbor illusions of how much energy I WILL have and how beautiful the gardens will look in a few more weeks.  For some reason I am attracted to Sedums this year and have bought 4 different ones. They are not generally used medicinally in this country, but legend has it that they protect your property from lightening. I do not question an instinct I might have toward a plant--so, now I have a little sedum bed.

May 16 ~ Used the last of my Spring Tonic this morning and so will make up my family size batch of Summer Tonic. Officially, summer is 5 weeks away, but seasonal tonics need to be started several weeks ahead as the subtle changes our bodies make in response to the natural cycle begins before man made calendar dates. Summer tonics attend to the heart and circulatory system--hawthorn, linden, motherwort, mint, oats, dried berries, wild raspberry/strawberry leaves, purslane, nettles, cayenne.

May 17 ~ Lilacs--the smell is a balm for anything that ails you. the blooms survived heavy frosts somehow--those years when they don't never get off to a good start. 

Getting a very late start, but will put in my salad bed today--with onions interplanted to ward off rabbits/gophers--and my grandson wanted a few whirlygigs in the garden  for fun--but they too, will keep critters away.

May 19 ~ PAIN!!!! The early gardening season is hard on the body. The weather is still volatile, so when it is good, my inclination is to get outside and work fast. All the good intentions about stretching and taking it easy go by the wayside in the face of weedy gardens, piles of mulch, unopened seed packets, unmown grass........and the constant threat of showers. So, I work fast and pay for it later with an aching back and sciatica that also affects my ankles. So I exercise and stretch afterwords--better late than never...but it is not entirely sufficient--especially when  the pain prevents a restful night's sleep--so--I dig through the cupboards for pain reliving herbs and those that enhance relaxation and calm, to help get me through this spring panic of getting the gardens planted and into shape.....to allow time for me to remember to stop and actually smell my own roses. St. John's Wort helps with both. Willow bark helps with pain and to a lesser extent, catnip and skullcap do as well, but combined with lavender and chamomile, I can cover all the bases and continue on to garden another day.

May 21 ~ The smell of Basil !!!!!!!!!

May 23 ~ Getting the garden in slowly and am excited this year for the 6 varieties of Beets I planted. I had a fabulous multi-beet salad at a brunch not long ago. It is a shame more people don't try them. The secret is to pull them young. The greens are tender and great in salad or steamed or in soups and the beet is still tender enough that you do not have to go to all the trouble of cooking/peeling it.  I steam/bake them with the skins and even sliced for cold salads, you don't even know the skin is still there---but all the nutrients that leach out when they are being boiled and those discarded with the tough skins...are still there to be benefited from.  Now, the heirloom varieties are gold, purple, long, red, deep red and really deep red--great confetti salad.

May 25 ~ Slugs are on the move----there are certain crop and flowers they avoid....and others they simply devastate. There are two popular ways to get rid of them---leave out beer for them to drown in, or leave boards in the garden for them to congregate under during the day and kill them. The problem with these and some other natural pest control methods is that they ATTRACT the pest in the first place and then you have to kill/dispose of the loot. I have better things to do and don't need to attract more of any pest. There are two other ways. One is to go to a craft store and buy thin copper wire and just lay in on the soil --interwoven among the affected plants. This has to be replaced and removed if you are going to till--too much work for me!! ---but it does work in that as they crawl over the copper, they shrivel and die--at least they provide fertilizer as they drop in their tracks. My method in to sprinkle a little bit of wood ash around affected areas, replacing it after a soaking rain. Same deal--they shrivel as they crawl over it.  Both the copper and ash add nutrients to the soil--but keep it in small amounts.

May 28 ~ Is it a weed? ? Is it a dandelion? It's CHICORY!! Mowing is always a challenge and moral issue for me. Since I have visitors touring the gardens and an active family, there are areas that have to be kept clear and/or pristine. Living in a rural area makes this difficult as lawn is really meadow/hay grasses--not the more tame sod. Every time I mow, I can either be in a hurry and massacre perfectly good weedy herbs or I can take my time and plan to harvest good stands of chickweed, gallium, ground ivy, heal all, etc--before a mowing.  Today, I, am in a hurry--but not so much that I destroy my new growth of chicory. At this early stage, chicory, to the untrained eye, looks like dandelion--which, to be honest, is useful and good to eat, but is also a dime a dozen. Chicory is not as plentiful, so I try to go out of my way to preserve it until late summer/fall, at which time, it will be tall with a beautiful periwinkle blue bloom and with roots good for roasting as a coffee substitute and kidney tonic. I mowed AROUND it.

May 29 ~ This seems to be a really good year for chickweed. My attention is peaked as it is good for lymphatic issues as well as cysts, blood cleansing and lung problems. I like to eat it fresh in salads, but prefer it tinctured when preserving it, to drying, as it is a slight, wiry plant that is difficult to dry without overdrying if you forget to watch it closely--my weak spot! LOTS of Yellow Dock this year too. That always presents a problem if you care about flower/herb beds looking perfect. These are BIG plants that can not be harvested until fall--but they are worth it.



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