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Herbalist's Journal > JANUARY 2011




                                  "Much rain in January, no blessing to the fruit"

     January is so full of promise.  Now we can settle in and enjoy all that winter has to offer without the stress of holidays.  Relfection, rest, recuperate, renew................Named for the Roman god Janus, who, having two faces, was able to see the past and the future, this quiet month can give us the space to do the same.


January 1 ~ This is the year I am going to experiment with relaxing herbs--to tone--not deaden my nervous  and digestive systems. Often, we wait until periods of stress to address this--but if it is an ongoing priority, some things that previously caused stress, may be more easily managed...........and remember these immortal words when day to day life gets you down---"There isn't anything a foaming herbal bath can't cure" ~ Squidward, Sponge Bob Square Pants

January 3 ~ It has been a nice few days in the greenhouse. Still chilly--but SUNNY--so the  greenhouse temps were in the 70s! I harvested some cabbage leaves. In my type of greenhouse, you can not grow HEADS of cabbage in the winter--but you can keep heads alive (which were dug up and brought inside from the Fall garden) and simply pull off leaves as you want them--and some cabbages, like the Russian Black, only produces loose leaves anyway.

I am learning what is and not possible based on the amount of trouble--and money--it would take to do it--and most importantly--learning about how to water plants/not to water them in cold/dark weather. It has only been a few weeks past Solstice when the days become a bit longer, but the plants have already started to respond.

January 4 ~ A news report came through saying that global weather changes are causing tea plants to produce less tasty/effective tea. The excessive rains in many parts of the world are causing waterlogged soil (which dilutes nutrients) and  plant material that becomes difficult to dry without losing potency. While affecting taste foremost, it also lessens medicinal effectiveness and the amount of caffeine drinkers have come to expect.  This same problem occurs in our own gardens (and mine especially in th e last few years) when we get too much rain near harvest time or to overzealous gardeners who water too much.

January 6 ~ Repotted cherry tomato plants that look as though they are almost ready to set buds! Sun makes all the difference and I am starting to think about "spring cleaning"-already. Because of spring gardening chores, I always get to this before March and it all has to be complete before Passover--sometime in April. I'm not ready to start yet, but I am going to make all my cleaning products--scrubs, window cleaner, furniture polish, vacuum scents and anti-bacterial herbal sprays/oils--and have them ready for service for when the urge really hits--and AFTER I have completed my seed order--first things-first!

January 9 ~ After all the holiday overeating, I am getting back on track......and while I took my herbal digestive aids daily, it is no substitute for actual good eating habits. Right now, I crave oranges, grapes (try them FROZEN-yummy!) and bananas, but with the temptation of a really good coupon, bought a bottle of juice/green tea combo, which I drank over a three day period. While fruit is good--with its skin and  pulp---juice is really quite devastating on the average body and is simply NOT a good "food"--it is certainly not a WHOLE food. It is too acidifying without the temperance of whole fruit, leading to mucos, tiredness, skin issues, excessive urination (OJ can also cause cystitis in those vulnerable to it), mouth ulcers and ultimately, weight gain. Save your money--buy fruit instead!

January 12 ~ While I love winter and even dreary days, the lack of sun is even getting to me this year. Even on a cloudy day, though, going outside for just 10 miutes works wonders--it is a good thing my compost pile is so far from the house--forcing me out for a nice walk.

January 14 ~ Woke up today to the news that our Astrological signs have now been reassigned. Most people I know, myself included, are so typical of their signs--so I am going to ignore this---once a Libra, always a Libra.  The new sign that was created seems like a very weird mishmash and I am hoping it is a hoax. Astrology is responsible for some health issues of particular signs (since all the body parts have already been assigned long ago, I wonder how this will be dealth with?)--which, again, I have found largely accurate--so stay who you are--or who you  thought you were!! Often, change is good--but, this instance does not seem so to me.

January 15 ~ Today is really snowy and cold--the most perfect type of day to tackle the seed order. I started out this morning, with 14 seed catalogs spread out in front of me (after discarding all of those that are clearly not organic friendly/heirloom suppliers/companies located in warm/hot parts of the country).  It is the same every year--all that beautiful temptation of the color photos and new "must have" gardening gadgets---after an hour of looking through, I come back to reality (also after looking at some of the outrageous prices). I marked only those seeds that were really interesting or new and then looked in my faithful fall back catalog, FEDCO Seeds from Maine--where I have bought the bulk of my seeds for 25 years.  I look there to see if they have the seeds I marked in other catalogs--ususally they do---and then discard the prettier catalogs.  Now, I am taking a break--with some tea and a leftover Christmas cookie...or two. By tonight, I'll have made my choices, tomorrow is when I will use some more common sense to thin the order and by early in the week, the order will be ready to go.

This year, I am getting more morning glories and sunflowers and Zinnias.... and more varieties of veggies that do well in greenhouses.

*Post Script ~ By tonight, I had weeded out the seed order and allowed sanity to prevail. Sometime during the afternoon, I got a crazy idea to till up another area to put in berries....until my husband talked me down by saying we already have more cultivated areas than we can really manage well and to, instead, cut back the garden a bit and prep the bottom area for permanent berry bushes. Good idea.  So, the seed order is done already.

January 18 ~ I remember years ago,  when I was new to professional herbalism, I had a bit of an attitude about those who only used herbs for crafts or social teas. Now, especially at this lull in the year, I really appreciate all the "soft" uses of herbs--just for scent, soothing skin, relaxing with a hot cup of tea---nothing scientific, measured, overtly medicinal......just enjoyment.

January 19 ~ So I have one zuchinni growing ( and lots of blossoms--half of which are male, so can be eaten) and today, 2 tomato blossoms!!!! There are no bees in my greenhouse, so I took my little paintbrush to fertilize them myself and will wait to see what happens. It is about to get very cold for several days in a row. I found that putting  a few buckets of hot water in the greenhouse late at night helps keep my warm weather plants form getting too shocked (and cuts down on my electric bill)--but also the idea of using my old, cheap 2x3' portable greenhouses INSIDE the greenhouse, has really paid off, so the cukes, parsley, tomato and squash are doing really well in spite of the 40-55 degree temperatures.

January 21 ~ I get lots of calls about dry skin/hair this time of year-----Drink lots of good fluids (not soda or too much coffee). Nettle tea is probably the best all around tea for this--it makes skin soft (as will elder flower tea as a facial mist or as a tea) and it makes hair wonderful--and sometimes reverses graying too!

January 22 ~ It is COLD!!!!!!!!!!! Going to get colder. As I get older, it bothers me more, but I have no intention of moving south. The only cure is to create  warmth--activity, heavier clothing-----or, my favorite, lots of warm teas. In my drafty farmhouse, the floor is always cold, so teas with a bit of cayenne or ginger keep the circulation going (my husband is more prone to foot coldness and has put cayenne in his socks). Drinking hot tea all day sounds delightful--BUT--the winter is when the kidneys are trying to tone themselves and constant hot liquids stress them. So the trick is to take teas warm and concentrate on warming herbs rather than diuretic ones that will cause frequent (too frequent) urination, as hot liquids are diuretic already. Warm Chai teas are good. Of course, eating hearty foods with spices is a comforting way to get throughreally cold spells. Put on a pot of  soup.

January 25 ~ My grandson's school sent out a bulletin alerting parents to a large incidence of pink eye and strep. At the first sign of either, I will give large/frequent doses of goldenseal/echinacea (and externally, dab that on the eyes as well).

January 28 ~ After New Year resolutions start to fizzle, I start getting calls about: "Is there an herb that can help me lose weight?" The short answer is --NO. There are herbs that are diuretic and will help lose water weight.....there are some herbs that help metabolism and burn off excess food fats--but they are short term fixes. Weight from water retention is limited, so diuretics should not be used excessively as they stress the kidneys. More importantly, causes of water retention are dietary and organic in nature, so a diet change and/or a check-up are in order. Continuously taking herbs (such as nettles/clover) to help process fats is not a substitute for eating better. You may lose 2-5 lbs--per year----but most people have much more to lose than that. The only reasonable and safe way of losing weight is to eat, whole foods, in modest portions and in a combination of carbs/fat/protein.... regularly. Exercise is important, but alone, will not cause significant weight loss without proper eating habits. Many herbs will aid in proper digestion for maximum energy and health, so continue with teas, but there are no magic diet  herbs.

January 31 ~ It is STILL cold and the thought of eating a salad is not really appetizing ---but I always forget ---and finally remember---to add citrus and nuts to the salad and it is very warming. Beware of  ruts !!!They make you forget what you know!! It is the added crunch that helps in winter--celery, olives, seeds, whatever nuts you like.....and added proteins such as cheeses, beans or lean meats. But, definitely eat it with a  nice warm bowl of soup or a hearty casserole.


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