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"Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
-- Cicero

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Few things we can do are as rewarding as growing an edible and medicinal garden. When more of us grow more of our own food and herbs, and perhaps enough to share with others, we become less vulnerable to potential shortages, and become increasingly independent of corporate farms which often use chemicals we'd be healthier without.

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My current favorite place to buy vitamins, herbal supplements and such is Vitacost -- because of the ease of buying online, and because Vitacost carries the large and smaller brands I trust, at discounts greater than the health food stores closest to me (which are actually inconveniently far). Let me know if you find a better source! This week I plan to buy:
saw palmetto (said to be helpful for male prostate health),
ashwaghandha (a primary ancient herb from India, sort of their equivalent to ginseng)
and a good willow tablet (as you may know, aspirin was originally derived from willow, and willow is considered by many herbalists to be safer for the digestive system than aspirin, while offering similar anti-inflammatory effects). I grow all of the herbs mentioned above, including siberian and chinese ginseng -- but in quantities too small to use right now (except for the ginsengs).

And I'm out of, and will likely buy, the popular modern supplements CoQ10 and alpha lipoic acid, and maritime-pine-derived Pycnogenol, and boxes of Emergen-C packets of flavored vitamin C -- I especially like the lemon-lime and raspberry - and often stir them into filtered water or cool tea. I have plenty of multi-vitamins already, and Balanced B complex -- those are practically essential. I think fewer people would complain of low energy and troubling thoughts if they'd sleep more, get some kind of pleasant moderate exercise, shift to a vegetarian way of eating, and use more B vitamins. By the way, the supplements I often use to help me sleep are valerian (either as a tea, mixed with better-tasting herbs like mints, or in tablet form), and melatonin (a natural substance which helps regulate our internal clocks, so we feel like sleeping when it gets dark). Here's a link to Vitacost:

Buy Vitamins and Supplements - Up to 75% OFF!  Click Here.

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Sources of Plants and Seeds
If you're considering ordering plants or seeds via the internet or from a catalog you've gotten by mail, you may benefit from first checking the garden watchdog site, where there are more than 24,000 reviews of suppliers, by their customers -- and some interesting rebuttals by suppliers, when reviews are negative! I've long enjoyed buying seeds from J.L. Hudson, because they supply many worthwhile and rare seeds, and because of the nice philosophical entries in the mailed catalogs, which I get about January 1 each year (also click to read the essays on their web site). Many herbs can be acquired from richters.com (located in Goodwood, Ontario, Canada, they probably sell North America's largest variety of herb plants). Forestfarm.com carries an even more vast variety of trees, shrubs and other plants -- and these tend to be larger per dollar than what you can get from most mail-order sources (none are sent "bare root" -- so the survival rate is high) -- most plants sold by forestfarm are not medicinal or considered herbs, but many are -- and some years they sell Siberian & Chinese ginseng (unlike little American ginseng, these eventually grow to be large shrubs, and are well worth growing). Often, though, your local plant nurseries will be the most cost-effective and practical places to buy plants which are well-suited to your particular area's climate. Mail-order sources, including many not mentioned here, are great for finding rare varieties, or for those of you who don't live near good plant nurseries.

"In New England they once thought blackbirds useless, and mischievous to corn. They made efforts to destroy them. The consequence was, the blackbirds were diminished; but a kind of worm, which devoured their grass, and which the blackbirds used to feed on, increased prodigiously; then, finding their loss in grass much greater than their saving in corn, they wished again for their blackbirds."
--Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Richard Jackson, 5 May 1753
-- quotation found at JL Hudson's site.

One of my favorite writers about medicinal plants is Steven Foster. See this site's Qi page for discussion of books on Chinese herbs, including Foster's great Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Another knowledgeable and articulate herbalist, from whom I took a course about 25 years ago, is Michael Moore of New Mexico (not the same guy as the famous filmmaker). Moore's books are excellent -- and check his website for lots of free downloadable info on medicinal plants.

If you want an excellent, inexpensive book about herbs, I recommend Herbs for Health and Healing, by Kathi Keville, Director of the American Herb Association. It's pleasantly easy to read, and covers both traditional and modern findings on all significant ways of using herbs -- though it contains no info on growing them. First published in 1996, so this doesn't mention the very latest scientific studies on herbs -- but the sad truth is that there's relatively little such research going on. A primary reason is that pharmaceutical companies (and others)
can't patent herbs, so there's little financial incentive for conducting extensive, expensive studies on them. Instead drug companies study and produce costly prescription drugs which are patentable -- even for conditions in which they're less effective than herbs and have more dangerous side-effects. So the U.S. FDA has insufficient research on which to base approval or disapproval of specific herbs for specific conditions. And partly to avoid any potential for legal liability, most M.D.s never learn about or recommend herbs (often adopting an uninformed, dismissive attitude toward all herbs and supplements). If U.S. governmental priorities were more health-oriented, more funding would go to herb research (as has occurred in Germany and a few other countries). Meanwhile, it's up to each of us to learn what we can about diet and herbs and health, ideally not being overly influenced by any one info source, and remaining cautious when hearing governmental recommendations which are politically influenced by heavy campaign funding from the meat, dairy and pharmaceutical industries.

Alert, Relaxed, Ready ~ Toadal Serenity
upchange-toadfriend.jpg
Grass Roots Skeptic of Bush Bugs

In my garden there's always much to be done, yet I find something surprising and delightful every day, including some attractive "weeds", and plants with mixed benefits (such as Japanese honeysuckle, which smells wonderful these days while growing somewhat wildly) -- and I equally enjoy most of my experiences with the non-plant inhabitants of my garden, including frogs, toads, cats and ladybugs. And worms (which transform my kitchen scraps and old newspapers into excellent compost). Via internet search you can find plenty of info on growing worms; or check out Mary Appelhof's book.

I'll return here and insert a few tips on this sometime -- it's an easy and rewarding process. I've grown worms in worm-bins (hand-made from wood or just big plastic containers bought in stores), beginning in 1974, when I bought some redworms by mail order from an ad in the back of Organic Gardening Magazine. Those first worms of mine arrived (and survived and thrived), sent by a farmer in Plains, Georgia named Jimmy Carter, who was elected President of the United States two years later.

One too rarely appreciated effect of living with large numbers of healing herbs (including having containers of them indoors in winter) is that they exhale not only oxygen (which people need) but also minute molecules of healing alkaloids -- chemicals which have subtle positive effects on people who inhale them -- with each of these chemicals having its own distinct kind of effect. The delightful or unpleasant fragrances of plants are caused when our noses take in air-borne molecules of plants. Many of the molecules plants put into the air are not "smellable", yet may have several kinds of effects on us, altering our thoughts, our moods, our health. I find that when I grow a large number of species, the air around them is remarkably refreshing to breathe -- in fact, I find this to be as important a use of herbs as consuming extracts or tablets or teas -- possibly more important. Growing the typical houseplants, some of which can be slightly poisonous, may have some usefulness in adding oxygen to the air and removing carbon dioxide, and bringing some gladness to the heart through their beauty, but such plants generally do not emit the healing alkaloids which herbs provide.

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borage (blue), amaranth (red), jerusalem artichoke
borage_amaranth_jerusalem-artichokes.jpg
part of my community garden plot in Santa Cruz, Ca, 1980s

Teas made using tea bags are an easy and sensible way of bringing the nourishing qualities of herbs into our bodies, and a great way of getting much of the liquid our bodies need (well chosen teas are better for us than water alone), and many wonderful tea blends are available and inexpensive -- in addition to simple green tea, which I like to mix with mints, at least, and a little soy milk. Usually, though, I instead make tea using several "loose" herbs picked from my garden -- such as lemon balm, rosemary, lemon grass, and leaves from my ginkgo trees and small camellia sinensis (green tea) shrubs and ho shou wu vines -- or I use herbs bought in "bulk" in health food stores (including white willow and stinging nettle and hawthorn).

whistling_kettle.jpg

For many years I've made tea using a glass kettle -- nowadays, the brand shown above. For those new to tea-making, and who want to venture beyond tea bags, I'll add some suggestions which may help (though it's fine if your way is different): I boil filtered water, then add my best available "loose" herbs (often adding the contents of a few torn-open tea bags too) and leave the herbs in the hot water for several minutes (or until the water cools), stirring occasionally, then pour the water into ceramic cups, through a hand-held strainer. I like to boil the water and steep the herbs in a somewhat wide-topped glass kettle which does not have a narrow, separate pour spout -- because loose teas can clog the narrow spout in the typical "tea pot", which is really adequate only when using tea bags, not coarse diverse plant material. The brand of glass kettle I've mostly used is "The Whistler", but when I recently broke my last one, and couldn't find the same model for sale anywhere locally, I instead bought an almost identical Stove Top Whistling Kettle (made by Medelco) from Amazon.com (actually, I bought two, because the shipping cost was about the same for two as for one; and I like to have a spare).

Lessons I've learned the hard way: If you get one of these glass kettles, don't fill it completely with water (leave a waterless inch or two at the top, in which the heating water can expand) -- and don't leave the water boiling too long -- or the kettle may blow its top (messing up the kitchen a bit). And don't clean a glass kettle with anything which might scratch the glass, or that scratch will probably eventually develop into a crack. And don't let the kettle's water all boil away so that the kettle is empty and still heating -- that'll crack it too. And don't drop your glass kettle, or use it on an electric range without putting it on the enclosed "metal heat diffuser" (a simple trivet). Over the decades, I've goofed in all of those ways, leading to the sad death of more than a few beloved glass kettles, and renewed realization of my fallibility -- though lately I've grown careful enough to get a couple of years of frequent use from each glass kettle. Also, after the water has begun a slight boil (at which point the kettle begins to whistle), remove the kettle from the heat (and turn the heat off), and before adding loose herbs, first put in a few squirts of herbal tinctures (or some other worthy, non-hot liquid). That cools the water a wee bit; when that's not done, the first dry herbs which are put into the water can sometimes, surprisingly, make the apparently no-longer-quite-boiling water swiftly boil stronger than ever, and boil over the top, herbs and all -- which is interesting but kind of messy. Sometimes I add cocoa powder to my hot tea, or some chocolate-flavored soy milk (which cools hot tea nicely). Or if the tea is already cool, I often add papaya juice or lemon-lime or raspberry vitamin C powder, for good flavor and effect.

Of course, the varieties of herbs you use will determine the tea's effects on you. For example, green tea plus ginkgo and ginseng will tend to keep you alert. Valerian plus passionflower and chamomile will help you relax. Ginger combats nausea, has anti-inflammatory effects, and (like turmeric) contains curcumin, a potent anti-oxidant which suppresses some cancers. Willow and feverfew and skullcap often relieve headaches (though it's a good idea to find and quench the cause itself). Black walnut hulls plus cloves plus wormwood will kill internal parasites -- but don't use that effective combination too often. It's a good idea to become familiar with the pluses and minuses of a few favorite herbs, and (generally) not to use any one herb every day. Before long, I'll add some reviews of more of my favorite herb books, and further thoughts on using and growing important herb species. Well, anyway, however you make it (any way is better than none) or have it made for you (lucky one!), happy tea to you!

I've temporarily deleted this web site's page that's specifically about my own garden, partly because my real-world gardening and other tasks are taking so much of my time this spring, and I want to improve the page before including it again. I've grown hundreds of species of herbs (on a small garden scale), in several parts of the United States, so if you have questions related to herbs, you can submit them via the comments box near the bottom of the page, and I'll answer but perhaps not promptly.

Several years ago, when seeking translations (from Portuguese) of the names of herbs used in Brazil, I found the Alphabetic Spice Index, a multi-language alphabetical list of herbs. This is quite a site (and quite a long opening page)! Click on any of the herb names in the many-language list, and you go to a page on that herb which gives the translation of the name into many languages (I counted 58 languages for one herb), and photos and info on the history, places of origin and uses of the herb (in English, luckily for me, with a link to a German version). Unfortunately there's no cultivation information, but other resources are often good for that. In the frame on the left of the page, there's a link to possible sources for obtaining the herbs or living plants... I haven't evaluated how comprehensive or useful that is, but I know good sources for most herbs (and they can be found with an internet search). If you study herbs much, this site may be worth a bookmark... lots of herb info ... I do have books which give more details than one can find here (including entire books on single herbs) & there's lots on the internet. This site is useful mainly for translations & etymology & international history of use ... it translated most of the Brazilian herbs which had me puzzled. A simpler site with multi-language translations of herb names is herbnet.

"The true meaning of life is to plant trees,
under whose shade you do not expect to sit.
~ Nelson Henderson

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Please delay sending anything via my amazon wishlist (not currently working). Probably won't take long to fix, but I have more pressing priorities. The contact form below does work. Various site additions and repairs will come before long.

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