Thursday, April 30, 2009

diy health.

For many minor health issues, medicinal herbs offer the safest and most effective cures. Common medicinal herbs can be purchased in bulk at local food coops, harvested from gardens, or wildcrafted. To dry herbs, place them in a single layer on a tray or a screen, or hang them up on a clothes hanger or line. Just be sure to leave them somewhere dark and dry. Once your herbs are dried, store them in glass jars for later use. Here are some common medicinal herbs that I have found to be helpful.

Borage: Anti-inflammatory. Borage helps to reduce fevers and is used for the regulation of metabolism and the hormonal system. Borage is also taken as an anti-depressant. The flowers can be eaten, or the plant can be used as a tea or tincture.

Chamomile: Antibacterial. Antimicrobial. Antispasmodic. Chamomile helps digestion, calms the nerves, and soothes menstrual cramps. Chamomile is great as a tea for drinking or as a compress on infected eyes, irritated skin and sunburns.

Lavender: Antibacterial. Antimicrobial. Antiviral. Lavender tea can be used to calm the body or as a sleep aid before bed. Lavender oil applied to the temples can help ease headaches and lavender oil in salves can soothe the skin. The essential oil is also great for cleaning because of its antiseptic properties.

Lemon Balm: Antibacterial. Antiviral. Lemon balm is a calming herb, used to relax the nervous system and reduce stress and anxiety. It also helps with digestion, depression, headaches and insomnia. It can be used as either a tea or tincture.

Peppermint: Analgesic. Peppermint helps stomachaches, indigestion and nausea by relaxing the digestive system. It also relieves headaches, anxiety and tension. The essential oil is an analgesic that can relieve tooth pain and arthritis when applied topically.

Raspberry Leaf: Astringent. Raspberry Leaf is an effective aid for menstrual cramps and childbirth pains because it strengthens and tones the uterine and pelvic muscles. It also stimulates milk flow, regulates menstruation and helps with diarrhea. Best taken as a tea.

Rose Scented Geranium: Anti-inflammatory. Rose Scented Geranium helps to soothe the intestines and the stomach. It can also be used topically for treating poison oak. It is usually taken as a tincture.

Rosemary: Antibacterial. Antispasmodic. Analgesic. Antiseptic. Rosemary can help with headaches, indigestion and fatigue and is a stimulant to the nervous system. In addition to medicinal teas, rosemary is often used in balms to treat muscle pain and arthritis.

Stinging Nettles: Anti-inflammatory. Diuretic. Nettles are incredibly rich in vitamins A, C and D, and high in iron and calcium. They are also known to help with allergies, arthritis, anemia and kidney problems. Nettles are a wonderful health tonic that can be taken as a tea, or steamed (to disable the stingers) and eaten like spinach.

Thyme: Antibacterial. Antimicrobial. Antiviral. Antiseptic. Thyme is used to relieve sore throats, coughs and colds and to get rid of intestinal parasites. It can be taken as a tea or a tincture. The diluted essential oil can also be used as an antifungal and a disinfectant to wash wounds.

Yarrow: Astringent. Yarrow is most often used for colds, flues and allergies. Yarrow is known to reduce fevers and is also useful for cleansing the urinary and kidney tracts. Yarrow can be taken as a tea or tincture and an application of fresh leaves will stop bleeding and help to heal wounds.

How to make your own herbal remedies:

1. Infusions
Infusions, or medicinal teas, are similar to beverage teas except that more herbs are used and the herbs are steeped for longer, in order to extract more of the plants beneficial properties.

-Boil one cup of water for every teaspoon of dried herbs you’ll be using.
-Place herbs in a clean jar and pour the boiling water on top.
-Let steep for several hours.
-Strain out the herbs and refrigerate your tea.
-Drink within a few days.

2. Tinctures
Tinctures are plant extracts. Tinctures are usually taken by adding 20-30 drops of the solution to a glass of water.

-Add one cup of chopped dried herbs to a large clean
-Cover the herbs with 5 cups of the highest proof vodka you can buy, or apple cider vinegar for a slightly less potent but non-alcoholic tincture.
-Put a lid on the jar and let it sit in a dark place, shaking the jar occasionally.
-After two weeks, strain out the herbs using cheesecloth and then use a funnel to place the liquid into dark bottles. Find bottles with droppers or use an eye dropper to measure the solution each time you take it.

3. Salves
Salves are healing balms or soothing ointments used on the skin.

-Place 2 oz of dried herbs and 1 cup of olive oil in an enamel pot.
-Stew the herbs and oil on low heat for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.
-Strain out the herbs using cheesecloth and return the oil to the pot. Add 1 oz of grated beeswax and stir until all the wax is melted.
-Use a funnel to pour the salve into small jars. Seal and let cool.

Instructions for making these 3 herbal remedies are from recipes found in Make Your Place by Raleigh Briggs- an excellent guide to natural cleaning and health.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

grow your own.

"We learn to place our faith not with actual experience but with authorities who purport to control experience. Our survival has nothing to do with our own efforts, what we know how to do and our ability to survive with our own senses...Therefore truth belongs to cultural authority and not to natural authority...Part of our task as members of the ecology movement is to help people once again to have and trust direct experience. This is really the next stage in the process of democratization."
-Susan Griffin in Listening to the Land

The way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. Daily, our eating turns nature into culture, transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds.”
-Michael Pollan The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Being able to feed ourselves is one of the greatest acts of self-sufficiency. The direct experience of growing food connects us to our most elemental needs. We learn about the life cycle of plants, the specifics of our ecosystems, and our capacity to live autonomously from an industrialized agricultural system dependent on oil. In my city of San Francisco, and other towns where property is such an expensive commodity, few people have access to backyards or traditional gardens. But there are window boxes, community gardens, abandoned lots, rooftops, fire escapes and even medians where we can begin to grow edible plants and fruiting trees. We may not be able to grow all of what we eat, but each time we use herbs growing outside of our windows, or cook tomatoes potted on our porches, we move one step closer to food security. Plant some seeds in a pot, check out a gardening book from the library, ask a neighbor for a cutting. Because growing what we eat is not only a political gesture, it is also an act that connects us to the natural world, taste by taste.

Source has just put out our second zine, this one on growing food in the city. If you live in the Bay you can find it at these stores but here are a few quick tips and ideas to inspire.

container gardening.
you can grow vegetables and dwarf fruit trees in almost any kind of container. old buckets, barrels or cans with drilled holes, ceramic pots from thrift stores, even baskets will work for your container garden. simply be sure that there are drainage holes in the bottom and most books recommend a layer of rocks or broken pottery at the bottom to increase drainage. use a soil mix that is nutrient rich with compost. You Grow Girl by Gayla Trail is a great resource for the beginner.

window boxes.
when installing your window box, be sure it is well secured (you can buy rust resistant screws and brackets at most hardware stores.) also be certain that there are drainage holes and leave some space between the top of the soil line and your window box to keep the soil from washing away. instructions on how to build a window box are available here.

rooftop gardening.
the key to rooftop gardening is good drainage, lots of water and stakes to help with the wind. to get you started The Rooftop Gardens Project has an 80 page Guide to Setting Up Your Own Edible Rooftop Garden that is free to download.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

food for free.

Edible plants can be found growing in any environment, even in the city. Learning to identify and eat the wild edibles that grow in San Francisco has changed my relationship to the landscape. I walk to work scanning the cracks in the pavement to see if I can name the weeds there. Eating miner’s lettuce in the park, or bringing home wild radish flowers, I feel a specific connection to place. These are not plants that have been carefully cultivated and managed. These are plants that are often found at disturbed sites, in abandoned lots and highway medians, the life at the edge of cities. To discover food that is free has also allowed me to experience eating without consumerism and to imagine food outside of capitalism. The following edible plant profiles are from a zine that Source, a Bay Area collective that I am a part of, will soon be publishing. We’ve only been researching wild edibles that grow locally, but many of these can be found nationally. If you’d like a copy of Edible City, please feel free to email bayareasource at gmail with your name and address.

Plants found in parks and parking lots:

California Bay
California Bay leaves that are picked can be left to dry for a few days and later used whole to flavor soups and other recipes that call for traditional Bay Leaves. (But be sure to remove the leaves before eating,) The nuts can be a bit bitter, but they are often eaten roasted. To roast the nuts, remove the outer shells to bake at 350 degrees for a half hour. California Bay leaves can also act as a natural insect repellent. Place whole leaves in cupboards or around picnic tables to deter insects.

Chicory is identifiable for its bright blue flowers, but it is most edible before flowering occurs. The leaves, when young, can be added to salads or sautéed as greens. The roots of chicory are also commonly used as a caffeine free coffee substitute. To make this chicory drink scrub the roots of the plant clean, then thinly slice them before leaving in the sun to dry. Once the slices are dry, roast the roots in the oven until they turn a light brown. The chicory is now ready to grind and brew.

Yellow or Curly Dock

Dock is commonly found growing in disturbed sites and in areas that receive a lot of water. Dock leaves are best picked young before the floral stalk forms and they can be used as a spinach substitute. The flavor is a bit similar to rhubarb.

Dock Soup

3 medium potatoes, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tbsp butter or oil
3 cups vegetable broth

Sauté onions, garlic and potatoes in butter over medium heat. When soft, add broth and dock leaves. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer for 20-30 minutes. Cool the soup and puree. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Recipe from Plantworks by Karen Shanberg and Stan Tekiela)

Fennel is found in many vacant lots in the Bay Area and has the slight scent and taste of licorice. When the stems are 1/2 an inch or less in width, they can be eaten raw or substituted for celery in recipes. The seeds that appear in late summer and fall can also be eaten raw or dried for later use. Do not confuse the feathery leaves of fennel plants with poison hemlock. Remember to confirm the characteristic licorice smell of fennel.

Fennel in wine and honey
4 fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup white wine
1 teaspoon mustard seed

Place the fennel quarters in a large deep skillet with the centers facing up. Drizzle with olive oil then pour in the broth and honey. Season with mustard seed, salt and pepper. Cover over low heat for 45 minutes, turning occasionally.

Miner’s lettuce
Miners Lettuce prefers moist and shaded spots and is distinct for its wide round leaves. Miners Lettuce is a plentiful native species but to practice responsible foraging, leave the flowering leaves in favor of those without obvious white flowers. The mild leaves and stems can be eaten in a salad mix, sautéed or steamed.

The fresh leaves and stem tips of this sprawling plant can be found in open fields or gardens and eaten raw, pickled, or cooked. Purslane contains more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant, and is also abundant in calcium, potassium and iron. Do not pick the whole plant, simply pinch off the stems you wish to use.

Purslane Rice

1 bunch of purslane, washed and chopped
1 onion, peeled, halved and then sliced
2 medium size tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup of rice, washed
3 tbs of olive oil
salt and grounded black pepper, to taste

Place all the ingredients in one pot, cover it and cook on slow heat until rice is tender enough (about 30 minutes.) Serves 2-3. (Recipe from

Stinging nettle
Stinging nettles are often found in the same habitat as dock and should always be picked with gloves because of the painful rash they can cause. However, this vitamin rich green is edible when steamed or boiled and is known to have medicinal properties. The water left from cooking stinging nettles can be used as a tonic or the leaves can be dried and used as a tea. Nettle is known to help anemia, arthritis, hay fever and other ailments.

Nettle Soup
3/4 lb. Nettle leaves
7 cups water
3/4 cup cashews, preferably soaked in water overnight
1 tsp. butter (or oil)
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbls. dry beer
Squirt of lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
One medium onion

Chop the onion and sauté in butter until it's translucent and golden brown. Puree nettle leaves in six cups of water and add to pot. Puree cashews with a cup of water and add to pot along with beer, nutmeg, lemon juice, and salt & pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes, adjust seasoning, and serve Nettle Soup hot. (recipe from the website of the Pacific School of Herbal Medicine,

Wild Radish
Wild radish is found in fields and vacant lots and can be identified by its purple four leafed flowers. Both the blossoms and its fresh young leaves taste strongly like radish and can be used raw in salads.

Yarrow is a common medicinal plant that can be found in a variety of habitats. The foliage, once dried, can be used in tea to relieve cold symptoms and a piece of the plant held against a wound will staunch bleeding

Coastal plants:

Rockweed is one of the most common seaweeds of the coast, with the highest Vitamin A content found in summer and the highest Vitamin C content in fall. Rockweed can be added to soups for flavoring or baked as a vitamin rich treat similar to potato chips. To make rockweed crisps, place 3 cups of dried rockweed in a large baking dish with 1/2 tbs olive oil. Bake at 275 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. The rockweed is done when brittle, crisp and fragrant. (Recipe from Eating and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by Steve Brill)

Ice plant
Iceplant is plentiful along Bay Area shores and both the leaves and fruit can be eaten. In early fall the red fruits are ripe and slightly sweet. The leaves can be eaten raw but most people recommend pickling.

New Zealand spinach
New Zealand Spinach is one of the few greens that is available all year long. It usually grows within sight of saltwater in large clumps several feet across. Pluck off the top 3 inches of tender green stems and leaves. Raw leaves are mild, slightly salty, succulent, and fleshy. Cooked, they taste like garden grown spinach.

-Edible and Poisonous Plants of Northern California by James Wiltens
-The Flavors of Home: a guide to wild edible plants of the SF Bay Area, Margit Roos Collins
-Comprehensive wild foraging database
-Great recipes for wild edibles

Friday, January 25, 2008

natural care.

With Burt's Bees now owned by Clorox and Colgate-Palmolive holding an 84% share of Tom's of Maine, organic cosmetics seem to be going the way of many organic food labels. (To see a map of who owns what in the organic food industry you can visit here.) Homemade lotions, soaps and other items are often on sale at local farmer's markets and health food stores but if you'd like to make your own, here are some simple alternatives to corporate owned products. (The website Kitchen Cosmetics also has recipes for anything you might need.)

Mint Toothpaste 
6 teaspoons baking soda
1/3 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons vegetable glycerin
15 drops peppermint, mint or tea tree oil extract.

Mix to a paste consistency and store in a glass container.

Honey Butter Lip Balm
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon grated bees wax
1/2 teaspoon shea or cocoa butter
1/2 teaspoon honey
flavored oil to taste
1 Vitamin E capsule

Melt the oil, honey, wax and butter over low heat. Allow a few minutes to cool and then add the flavoring and contents of the Vitamin E capsule. Stir to blend and then pour into containers. If you would like a firmer lip balm, just add a little more wax.

Honey Oatmeal Facial Scrub
1/4 cup uncooked oatmeal 
2 1/2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon warm water

This scrub has no shelf life so it should be used as made.

Orange Lotion
1/2 oz cocoa butter, melted
1 oz. olive oil
1 oz. of orange juice, freshly squeezed
2 drops essential oil

Mix all ingredients together in a blender until fluffy. If you want to create larger quantities to keep, you can store the lotion in the refrigerator.

Soaps and Shampoos
Many soap and shampoo recipes call for lye, which should be handled carefully, but there is a wealth of books and online instructions available to walk you through the process. Here are just a few of the resources that i found at my library:
-The Natural Beauty and Bath Book by Casey Kellar
-The Complete Soapmaker by Norma Coney
-Making Natural Liquid Soaps by Catherine Failor
-Clean, Naturally by Sandy Maine

please feel free to comment with any other recipes you've tried.

Friday, October 19, 2007

a cyclical understanding.

reading Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground i'm reminded that nothing is ever truly disposed of, nothing really goes away. matter simply changes form. industry, agribusiness and our water infrastructure are all designed on a linear model, when we live within a cyclical system. how different things would be if we took into consideration the full life cycle of every resource and every element.

modern toilets are only one illustration of a forgetful, wasteful model. when cured correctly, human urine and feces can become a nutrient rich humus for growing food, or simply returned to the soil for positive impact. instead, massive amounts of clean, potable water are used in the US to flush them away, and massive amounts of energy and chemicals are used to prepare this sewage for dumping in waterways.

Dam Nation chronicles alternatives, from individual composting toilets to centralized collection systems. As Laura Allen writes "A system that enforces [waters] thoughtless use and waste necessarily inculcates a disregard for own lives requirements." Here are some resources for finding out more about ecological sanitation.

-the dry composting toilet explained
-how to construct a composting toilet
-The Humanure Handbook online
-companies that sell composting toilets: Envirolet and SunMar

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

real urban greening.

+Majora Carter talks about her important work with Sustainable South Bronx:

+Amy Franceschini of the art collective Future Farmers builds backyard gardening in SF:

+People's Grocery maintains 5 gardens in Oakland and
assists West Oakland residents in starting their own backyard gardens: (film #3)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

urban composting.

San Francisco (considered the 8th greenest city in the world) produces a 5 ft. high football field of trash a day. sadly, as much as forty percent of that waste is actually organic matter that could be diverted from the waste stream. (when organic matter is placed in landfills it produces methane, a major source of global warming. but when organic matter is composted it becomes nutrient rich soil.) worm bins are perfect for composting food scraps in an urban environment because they can be stored inside, allowing us to recycle our waste on site. worm bin systems are also easy to maintain and if worms are not overfed, bins are odorless.


-many counties offer discounts on worm bins, pricing them at about $40. if your county does not provide worm bins at cost, you can purchase
the deluxe Wriggly Wranch Worm Bin for around $100 online.
-for a more inexpensive system, worm bins can be constructed from wood or created by drilling 1/4 inch ventilation holes in a plastic storage bin. instructions for building each type are available here.
-1 lb. of red wriggler worms cost around $20. local environmental and gardening organizations, as well as government waste management sites, often list local sources for worms.

starting out
-once you have all of your supplies, shred enough newspaper to fill your bin 3/4 full. sprinkle or spray the paper with water until it is damp, but not dripping. place your worms and a handful of chopped scraps in the bin on top of the bedding and cover with more shredded paper.
-leave the bin for a few weeks in order to allow the worms to get adjusted. once you see that the food has changed and is being eaten, you are ready to add another handful of food.

-chop food scraps into 2-3 inch pieces before placing them in the bin.
-avoid meats, dairy, oil and cooked food.
-the bin should be damp at all times. use a spray bottle to dampen the newspaper if it is drying out or add dry newspaper if it seems too damp.
-alternate sides for feeding in order to evenly distribute food.
-as the worms reproduce you'll be able to feed them more scraps more often. it may take a few months before the worms establish themselves and can eat 1 lb. of food a day.
-the worm castings you'll harvest are nutrient rich and they can be used to fertilize and inoculate soils. always dilute castings by mixing with 5 parts soil or water for a "tea."

-Worms Ate My Garbage by Mary Applehof

-The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart
-worm composting handout (by Amy Stewart)