Sunday, August 23, 2009


Also known as ‘Pot Marigold’, or "Edible Marigold", Calendula (Calendula officinalis) was once used as a vegetable. The leaves were added to soups and stews, and the bright flower petals strewn in salads. While I haven't (yet) tried cooking with it, I have made copious use of it's other well-known feature: as a medicinal. Remember, the "officinalis" means a plant was used by early apothecaries.

I really am kicking myself for not getting some Calendula plants going in the herb beds and flower gardens this spring. I usually have plenty for drying the flower petals and still enjoying the sunny yellows, light and dark oranges of these sturdy plants sparkling among the summer and fall flowers. Hybrids can have double or single flowers, darker centres, or petals tipped with another colour. Calendula is one of the easiest to grow annuals, performing well in sun and dry soil or semi-shaded borders and rainy gardens. The tips should be pinched out to encourage bushiness. It also self-sows, so once you plant it, you can usually count on hardy volunteers the following season!

This year I'll be ordering dried calendula petals from bulk herb suppliers. I use home-made calendula oil as one of the components of my favorite healing salve. Calendula is known as a healing herb, most notably for the healing of wounds. It has antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal properties that prevent infections. It can also support coagulation and scab-formation in sores that resist healing. Calendula salve or cream helps with healing skin conditions such as sunburn, eczema and psoriasis.

Calendula oil is a supurb healer. Easy to make, easy and very safe to use. Not only one of the most effective topical oils, it also makes an excellent base for salves, facial creams and many other natural cosmetics. It is gentle, cooling, and soothing. Calendula oil is the most successful oil for assisting us with dry and damaged skin, skin inflammations, rashes, diaper irritations, and other skin disorders. It makes a wonderful baby's oil, in fact there is a whole line of baby products based on Calendula. Being safe enough for babies, of course it is exceptional for those with sensitive skin.

How to make your own Calendula oil

Things You'll Need:

1/2 cup calendula blossoms
1 cup extra virgin olive oil, safflower oil, sweet almond oil or jojoba oil
3 capsules vitamin E oil (optional, but acts as preservative)
Quart-sized canning jar
Cheese cloth
wooden spoon
Dark colored bottles, sterilized

*Pick the calendula blossoms on a warm dry morning. If the blossoms are still damp, spread them out on a flat surface and let them dry in the sun for a few hours. It's important that the blossoms are dry because moisture on the blossoms can cause mold to grow in the calendula oil.
*Put the calendula blossoms in a quart-size canning jar, and pour the oil over the top. Stir until all of the blossoms are covered with oil.
*Cover the jar with cheesecloth to allow any moisture to evaporate, and place the jar in a sunny window. Leave the jar of calendula oil in the window until it has turned a deep golden color, usually one to two weeks.
*Strain the calendula oil through a folded cheesecloth laid in a strainer, squeezing the blossoms with a wooden spoon.
*Pour the calendula oil into the sterilized bottles and store in a cool, dark place. It will keep for a year.

The oil may be used as-is, or with other oils and beeswax to make salves and ointments. Here is a simple basic calendula salve:

Things You'll Need:

1/4 cup dried calendula flowers
1/2 cup oil (olive oil, almond oil, saffower, or sunflower oil)
1/8 cup grated beeswax, or beeswax pellets
40 drops therapeutic grade (not aroma grade) lavender essential oil
pint canning jar
small saucepan
several wide-mouthed jars, i.e. baby food jars, with lids

*Make an infused oil by putting 1/4 cup calendula flowers into a pint-size canning jar. Add 1/2 cup oil and stir well. Cover the jar with a lid and place the jar in a sunny window. Once the oil turns a deep golden yellow (this generally takes one to two weeks), strain the oil through several layers of cheesecloth to remove the flowers.
*Combine the Calendula oil with the grated beeswax (or pellets) in a small, heavy saucepan. Heat gently until the beeswax is melted.
*Add 40 drops of lavender essential oil to mixture in the saucepan.
*Pour the mixture into several wide-mouth glass jars.
Allow the salve cool in the jars, then lid. Store in a cool, dark place.

This gentle healer will bless you body and soul, as you enjoy it in bouquets, in your borders and gardens, and in your medicine kit. You will find yourself turning to Calendula again and again, for healing and soothing skin upsets and injuries. Make a point of planting some next year, don't miss out like I did this season!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dandelions in Winter

I've been so busy picking, drying, freezing, taking care of the garden and keeping the lawn mowers at bay so I can keep harvesting dandelions and plantain, that I have had little time for posting this week!

This is a head's up: summer is on the down side. Yes, I know, you don't want to hear that. But it's the sad truth, and we need to make like squirrels and get our winter stores in hand.

I have found that my body seems to have a real affinity for dandelions, so I have focused this week on making sure I have them all winter. Here are a couple of methods.

1. FREEZE THEM. I put freshly picked dandy leaves on cookie pans, loosely piled about 2-3 leaves deep, and flash freeze them (that means about an hour in the freezer). Take them out, package in LABELED quart freezer bags, and pop them back into the freezer. I will be using these in green smoothies, in blended soups, and NOT for fresh salads.

2. DRY THEM. I have kept both the dehydrators running continuously, drying dandelion leaves. They will be used in teas, infusions, and whatever else I can think of.

3. DANDELION VINEGAR. This was covered previously, but a quick recap - pack dandelion leaves, well chopped (food processor!) into a quart jar. Cover with apple cider vinegar, using a bamboo skewer or chopstick to poke them into submission as the jar fills. Cover the jar with a piece of waxed paper, then a lid and ring or solid lid. This vinegar potion will be used as a tonic, by taking a couple tablespoons a day in water, or as part of salad dressings, mixed with some flavorful olive or walnut or avocado oil.

My dandelion stash is growing daily. I'm feeling very "squirrely".

Sunday, August 9, 2009

St. John's wort

This cheery yellow flower is found all over the world, in uncultivated area, woods, roadsides, meadows, hayfields - in fact, it is so abundant in some areas it is considered a weed. But herbalists and wildflower afficionados have a different view of St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum).

The bright terminal blossoms and leaves on these one- to three-foot tall plants are prized especially for one of the plant's active ingredients: hypericin. Blossom time runs from June to September in most climes. Prime harvest time for St. John's, or St J, traditionally fell on June 24 - St. John's Day, of course.

When harvesting for medicinal purposes, it's useful to check for hypricin strength. The simplest method is to pluck a flower or two, rub between your thumb and fingers, and see if your finger tips become stained with the signature blue-violet dye released from the hypericin-filled little black dots that border the flower petals. The darker the stain, the better the hyperion!

Oh yes - it does wash right off. No blackberry picking permanent-purple- fingers type stains.

Or, you can put the flowers in a small jar, cover with vodka, and see if the liquid turns bright red, or dark red, or maroon. Again, the darker the dye, the stronger the hypericin content. I prefer the cheaper finger squish method...

St. John's wort has been in common use for literally centuries - an herbalist's volume noted it in 1597. I can remember my parents using "red oil" while growing up. It was the farmer's "Red Turkey oil". Pharmacists also used to dispense "Hyperion liniment."

So what is it used for?

Among other actions, St. John's wort is antibacterial and anti-inflamatory. Steeping the flowers in olive oil results in the trade-mark red oil, which can be used as-is on bruises, spains, burns, sore muscles, all sorts of skin irritations. Or, with the addition of beeswax, the oil can be made into a salve. I like to combine it with other like-minded oils for a marvelous healing salve. (for salve how-to, see archive for Plantain salve...)

To make the oil, fill a jar with flowers (and top leaves if you want), mash a bit with a fork, then fill the jar with olive oil, stirring as you go to fully immerse all plant material. Add more flowers if needed. Set in a warm place, shake the jar daily for 2-3 weeks. Strain out the plant material, and bottle the oil in a dark container. Kept in a cool place, the oil will be good for a year.

St. John's wort may be dried, and used in teas and tinctures. Drying effectively disables the hypericin (which may not be a bad thing - no purple Chow tongues...) but brings into use other components. Cut the top third of the plant, and hang to dry.

St. John has long been used as a sleep aid and for depression. It is an herbal aid, not the "magic bullet" our society has come to expect for every problem. Herbs tend to work gently with our bodies, over a period of time. St. John in tea or tincture works as a mild nerve tonic. It may help relieve anxiety, insomnia, depression, and general unrest.

NOTE: if you want try St. John's for a depression issue, please consult with your physcian or naturopath. Here is a link to a monograph that explains it much better than I have room:

St. John's wort tea or infusion is reported to help with bedwetting. An ounce of dried flowers steeped in hot water, taken as a 1-2 Tablespoon dose, is said to be effective. It's been awhile since I wet the bed, so I can't really test this one....

To make a tincture, stuff a jar with the flowers, fill it with 100-proof vodka to cover the flowers, and lid. Shake daily for 2 weeks. Strain out the plant material, and store the red tincture in dark dropper bottles. Dosage is noted as 2 droppers 3 times a day.

I am always excited to see the first St. John's wort blossoms in the summer. The field that resulted in the "Mullein Mania!" post also had a good amount of St. John's wort. On another harvesting foray, my friend Laurie joined me for several hours of herby delight. When we had returned to our cars, the farmer and his wife had to come see what we had harvested, and had many questions. I had a tin of salve with me (as always), to show-and-tell; what a wonderful opportunity to provide a bit of herbal education!

St. John's wort is easy to harvest, easy to fill jars with the flowers and oil, and I know I can count on it for wonderful healing experiences.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Green Epiphany

OK, this is anecdotal. I want to share something that happened to me last week that I think I just figured out.

Excuse me for the graphic description here, but POOP happens! I had two days of bowel movements that were deep GREEN. Completely. Like nothing I had ever seen before. Startling, to say the least. Sometimes, there will be bits of green here and there, but this was like it was dyed!
I'm not obssesive over my bowels, but I DO tend to pay more attention, since the bout with colon cancer.

A few days later, I was browsing through some general information, when this caught my eye:

"Dandelion also cleanses the blood and liver, and increases bile production."

The light bulb went on. That green was exactly the color of bile! With some further searching, I read about how during a liver detox the bile ducts become unblocked, releasing many many very small stones, allowing the bile to flow freely from it's blocked up tubes.

So. I THINK, that all my dandelion noshing has inadvertantly achieved something I had long fretted over (liver detox). I have always "felt" that my liver needed more support. But, I was never inclined to go through the somewhat strenuous detox regime I had read about in many places.

And here's another interesting (at least to me) piece of a puzzle. I noticed I immediately felt better. I had more vim and vigor, and no more waking up nauseated as I have been for several months.

I had actually researched gall bladder symptoms during that period of time, because I'm familar with some of them and I seemed to have been manifesting a few. I didn't think I had gall stones, but the story on gall stones was incomplete. It's like they magically appear in the gallbladder, when in reality they start in the liver. So maybe the abdominal pain and nausea I've been experiencing for quite a bit, were caused by the bile situation in the liver?

There! More than you ever wanted to know about my plumbing!

If just EATING DANDELIONS could achieve even a limited measure of freeing the bile flow, giving me relief and better digestive health, I'll KEEP EATING DANDELIONS!!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Mullein MANIA!

Have you ever been in a place that was so unique, so spiritually uplifting, that you just wanted to bring everyone you knew to experience it with you?

I had a real "Scotty, beam me up" moment this morning, as I stood silently contemplating where to start harvesting 15 acres of mullein. I just wanted to instantly transport all my herby friends to that spot!

I had permission to enter: the owner, an 80-year old codger with a sense of humor, gleefully told me to "just go out there and get all you want, anytime. It's only a penny a flower...." He's still chuckling over that one.

I also had my shoulder totebag with a bottle of water, some light-weight plastic containers, my hat and long-sleeved shirt. I was ready.

But still standing there, in awe. All the farmers around are in awe. No one has seen this phenomonon before and there are many different opinions of how it came to be. Since there wasn't one plant visible last year.

Now, one may not think a field of oats overgrown with a MULITITUDE of mullein is an epiphany-creator. But if you've been struggling to gather mullein in half-cup increments from the few generous plants around your home, you definately are in awe of the vision created in this field.

As I stepped into the field, I silently offered heart-felt gratitude and appeciation for an answer to an unspoken prayer. I knew in my core that I needed more mullein - and was resigned to just getting to my few plants daily and doing the best I could with what I got. As I put that desire out to the universe and let go of it, it was obviously heard. A few days ago I drove by this field, as I do at least once a week, and for the first time actually SAW it for what it was.

In the eye of the beholder. The spirit of these plants is filled with healing, just waiting to be used as intended.

Along with the amazing amount of flowers, there were many first-year plants, so I soon had my tote filled with fuzzy, soft, comforting leaves to be dried. Just handling these leaves makes you soften inside, become more spiritually receptive to the natural world around you, more appreciative and giving.

I shared this particular plant with a tiny bee-like critter, several rambunctious ants and a shy spider. We were in harmony; not disturbing each other, respectful of our individual needs from this generous, beautiful plant.

The harvesting was pure joy. Listening to the Chipping sparrows, already gleaning the tiny seeds of older plants, and to the wind murmuring through the oats, was soothing. In the middle of the expanse of mullein I never felt alone.
I brought home, in less than two hours of easy work, the bag of leaves and over two quarts of flowers. Hey! They're little.The leaves filled two dehydrators. Three trays of flowers are now drying, and as soon as I finish this I'll be putting some of the flowers into tincture.
This morning's adventure was truly a gift.
A generous gift from the mullein, and a caring gift from the Spirit.
I am grateful.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mullein moxie

If Mullein volunteers in your flower beds or herb garden, rejoice! Learn to recognize baby mullein, so you don't weed them out. There are two small youngin's here, in typical mullein-friendly soil. Well-drained, lots of sand and pebbles.

Mullein leaves are softly grey-green, and fuzzy. One old-fashioned name for the plant was "grandmother's blanket". Another name was "flannel leaf". Makes you think warm and comfy, doesn't it? The leaves were stuffed into shoes and boots to provide warmth during the winter. A savvy wildcrafter would do the same even now!

Medicinally, to narrow the broad use of this herb, the mullein leaves offer relief for respiratory related issues, as well as other areas such as skin problems.

Mullein is a bienniel, blooming the second year. Leaves are gathered from first-year plants, and from second-year plants before blooming. In the above photo, a small second-year mullein is shouldering up to a clump of comfrey. Take a close look at the leaves, they are very similar, especially as babies. But there are definate differences - the mullein is soft, the comfrey is harsh feeling. Comfrey also has a defined texture, while mullein is smoothly surfaced with a single center vein.

Mullein leaves can be dried by spreading on screens and kept in a warm area until crispy. A dehydrator may also be used, handy for smaller leaves. The flowers can be dried as well, to be used in teas and in combination with the dried leaves. Both leaf and flower may be used fresh during summer for brewing medicinal teas. The leaf tea is slightly bitter, and a bit pungent. I don't find it off-putting, but I eat 3 dandelion leaves straight up every day, too. So consider the source on that taste recommendation...

Mullein leaf tea is a good drink for people who tend to get colds that settle in their lungs. Herbs such as mullein and garlic are health supporting by helping to prevent or treat the respiratory problems we usually seem to deal with during fall and winter.

One account reported that mullein tea is useful for people who are grieving. Grief is the emotion associated with the lungs and colon in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I found that of interest, something to pursue since I have been having both lung and colon challenges.

Tea prepared with dried mullein flowers can be used as a gargle for sore throat or to soothe a chronic cough. Mullein leaf can be used alone or added to a tea mix along with red clover, plantain, calendula blossoms.

To make a mullein tea, use two teaspoons of dried leaf and/or flower per cup of hot almost boiling water. Cover and steep 10-15 minutes. This can be taken three or four times daily.

All the possible uses of mullein would take several more postings. This should be enough to get you safely started.

NOTE: Medicinal use of mullein or any other herb mentioned on EarthHeart should be done with knowledge and consideration. The information I share will hopefully provide a springboard for your own research. I do not mean to imply medical expertise in any of the information I pass on. A naturopathic doctor is my recommendation for health issues greater than those relatively simple dis-eases discussed here.

(This is known as "covering my rear"!)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

More on Mullein

When I first got acquainted with Mullein years ago, I expected to find baby mullein surrounding the tall parent plant. After all, there were at least a gazillion seeds in those tall spires. Surprise. No babies in sight. I soon found, being the bird watcher that I am, that gold finches admired the beautiful yellow-flowered spikes. They looked upon them as their own personal deli, harvesting those little seeds like vacuum cleaners.

However, where there is one mullein, somewhere in the vacinity there will be a few more. They like well-drained soil, and it doesn't have to be rich. Drought conditions don't bother them, which is a good thing in my area right now.

Have you found your mullein? I think harvesting the flowers is sorta like popping kernels off a corn cob! It does take quite a few plants to round up enough flowers to use. Make a mental map of where you find mullein, so you can return daily for repeated flower harvest - they continue blooming for a long time, as the spire grows ever taller.

My infusion jar was started with about a half cup of flowers, covered with olive oil, and I added to it for several more days to get the amount of oil I wanted. It helps to release the oils in the mullein by slightly mashing the flowers with a fork. Let the infusion steep in a warm place for 3-5 days. You can add more flowers and let it set another 3-5 days for an even stronger infusion. Then strain the oil through several layers of muslin or a very fine strainer. Label the finished jar of oil, and store in a cool dry place. It will keep for several years.

This easily prepared oil can be used to ease the pain of earache. As long as the eardrum is not perforated, one to three drops of mullein flower oil is remarkable at relieving inflammation and pain in the ear and incidentally eliminating wax accumulation. St. Johnswort, calendula and garlic oils can also be mixed with the mullein oil - these herbs together are very effective for resolving ear infections.

Mullein flowers aren't the only useful part of the plant. Next we will see what mullein leaves offer for our herbal medicine kit. If you have ever dealt with racking coughs, sore throat, laryingitis, bronchitis and such, you will want to start drying mullein leaves, as well as the flowers.