Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spring Rebirth


Spring is finally making an appearance here and even though it's still in its preview stage, the future is's coming - snow or not.

With warm temperatures in the upper 40's and low 50's, we are seeing some signs on life on our little spot on the planet.

This promising hyacinth is getting ready to make its debut as soon as temperatures give it enough reason to rouse from it's winter sleep.

This purple crocus is still seemingly reluctant to open its petals all the way...maybe it's still wondering if more snow is in the forecast.

One of my favorite late spring flowers is the rhododendron. We have hedges of these along the lake shore road.  They do wonderfully in this climate. This nice fat bud is an indicator of a future beautiful bloom, click on Photo Walk: Rhododendron to see what I'm talking's amazing!

Have a wonderful Easter and be blessed!

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rooibos Tea: An Herbal Wonder

Years ago while I was learning about teas and herbals, I decided to look for a tea I could drink on a daily basis.  I am sensitive to caffeine so regular tea wasn't going to work even though I love it.  I tried lots and lots of herbals as well and couldn't find one that gave me the feeling of black/green teas.  I needed to find something that would take the place of regular tea without any caffeine at all in it and that's where rooibos (roy-boss) came in.  

A South African native plant, rooibos has been consumed there for generations by the native people and is served everywhere as the tea of choice. First noticed by Europeans in the late 1700's, it slowly came to other countries as it was considered a black tea alternative as far as taste.  I find rooibos to have a slightly sweet,sometimes fruity, earthy, full bodied flavor.  It's red in color and gives me the sense of drinking a cup of black tea without any of tea's bitter notes.

Rooibos Bush (Photo Source)

Red rooibos is made by bruising the needle-like leaves and then allowing them to ferment.  Green rooibos is not oxidized and costs a bit more because it's more labor intensive to produce.  Green tea has more of an herbal, grass-like taste.  Both teas are often paired with other flavors to bring out the best of its flavors.  I enjoy red rooibos with vanilla and apple cinnamon, which really brings out the herbs natural fruity flavors.

This is one herb that can be steeped for long periods of time without any bitterness due to rooibos' lack of tannins.  I often leave my tea basket of leaves steep for an hour with no adverse effects of flavor.  I like to extract all of its medicinal benefits but steeping five minutes in boiling water is the normal way to prepare this tea.  Unlike many herbals, red rooibos can be served with cream and sweetened as desired. 

                                           So what are the health benefits of rooibos?

First of all, I like to look at rooibos as a nice tonic type of herb.  In other words, it's okay to use long term and safe for kids. This is important as I was looking for something mild enough to drink on a daily basis.  So, most of its benefits are long term and for helpful for your overall health.

In South Africa it's traditional uses are for colic, allergies, asthma and dermatological conditions.

                                                       Rooibos Tea and Antioxidants

It also contains anti-oxidants. Some articles claim that it contains more than green tea, and others the same. So based off of that information, I would say it's safe to say it's a good alternative to green tea.  Its two comparatively rare antioxidants, aspalathin and nothofagin, each have different benefits. Aspalathin helps to modify hormones in the body, which in turn help to reduce stress and metabolic disorders. Nothofagin demonstrates significant anti-inflammatory activity.  Both antioxidants may help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and are both good for the nerves.

 Helpful against Diabetes?

Both of these antioxidants also help to regulate blood sugar which in turn can help to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and excessive fat production.  This would be an excellent beverage to drink along with a low carb/fat diet to help bring maximum benefits to your body against any sugar problems.

                                                  Helpful against Cardiovascular Problems?

 Rooibos also contains the super-antioxidant compound quercetin, noted for promoting heart health.  Quercetin acts as an anti-inflammatory which helps against heart disease and cancer.
In one study where 6 cups were consumed daily, some of the results were that it lowered levels of LDL (lousy cholesterol) and raised HDL (healthy cholesterol) making it very valuable for overall heart health.

Rooibos is really a great herbal beverage to add to your tea locker.  I have found that red rooibos is generally less expensive (in loose, bulk quantity) and is a great drink to enjoy hot or iced.  You'll often find it in herbal blends with chai or vanilla, both great flavors to drink with rooibos.  Drinking it in a blend is also a great way to get introduced to its unique flavor.  I like to buy plain rooibos and add it to our Summer Tea Blend to boost its already great health qualities.  You can mix plain rooibos with fruity herbal teas to find what flavors you like best.

I drink about 24 oz of rooibos a day.  Usually red but sometimes green in a blend.  I really enjoy it and not only am I getting hydrated but also am receiving its many amazing health attributes. I love the idea of drinking something that I not only enjoy, but it's great for me too.

Hope you were able to learn something new about this fabulous African herbal!  Blessings!

Do you enjoy rooibos?  What's your favorite flavor?


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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Out of the Archives: Butterfly Beauty

 I know I am jumping the gun by posting pictures of this butterfly, but I couldn't hold back the spring fever it brought on while I was clearing out the camera from last year. I found these two pictures that I took in August.  And being as our weather here still contains the word "snow," I thought this little butterfly was a great picture of what is to come in a very short while...

The butterfly is only a 1/2 inch long and is called "Peck's Butterfly."  It's actually a skipper type of butterfly because of the way it flies in short skipping motions.  It was hard getting a picture of this kind because they are constantly in motion and extremely fast moving.  It's busily working on a white "Zinnia Profusion," a short and spreading zinnia hybrid that did awesomely well in containers as well as attracting lots of these little guys.

As my camera is only a simple point and shoot, I was pretty happy to get these photos.  And feel a little more assured that Spring is coming soon..!

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Echinacea: 3 Reasons to Grow This Medicinal Flower

Echinacea Purpurea...aka "Purple Coneflower."  This multi-talented plant has been involved in herbal medicine and enjoyed for it's bold purple blooms for decades.  What's so great about this North American native wildflower?  Why should you include it in your landscape? Keep reading because we're going to look at three reasons why you will want to consider planting this valuable and beautiful flower.

1. Echinacea is a great attractor for butterflies and pollinating insects.

It really is.  I am speaking from experience here too.  This flower is covered with pollinators when in full bloom.  And it's no wonder why either when you look at the giant cone center with the drooping petals which provides an easy resting spot for butterflies and lots of nectar and pollen for other insects.  My stand of echinacea is always a highway of activity and a great butterfly spotting station mid summer.  If you leave the seed heads of the flowers alone in the fall, you'll also attract goldfinches which love their seeds.  This flower is one of the best plants I've seen to bring nature right into your own backyard. 

2.  Echinacea is an easy-care and drought resistant perennial.

 That's right; very easy to plant and take care of.  Once sown, either by seed or by plants, echinacea will establish itself very easily.  A native to Texas and out west, it's used to living on less than ideal water which means this plant is tough. It being tough means that it's easier on your budget as well. Hardy in zones 3-8, this plant is able to grow in many locations. Echinacea likes fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny location.  With rich soil, it should grow about 3-4 feet high and produce flowers 4-6 inches across and it makes a nice addition to the back of your flower or herb bed. 

It's beautiful purple works well in most flower beds, but don't worry if you're not into purple...there are now many varieties of echinacea that come in an array of colors.

Echinacea will also self sow freely, so if you don't want to weed plants the next year, be sure to dead head them to prevent this.  They can take over a flower bed if left to themselves.  I alternate dead-heading every year as I like to let the goldfinches have at the seeds.  Even though it is a perennial, I find that the plants don't necessarily live too many years, they just tend to replace themselves through self-sowing in the flower beds.  So, if you're growing a different colored variety, check to see how hardy that particular echinacea is in your zone.

3. Echinacea is an immune system builder and the leaves, flowers and roots are all medicinal.

Native Americans long valued this plant for it's immune system help and reputation as a help with fevers.  It's come in and out of fashion in the herbal world; but really should be in every established herb or flower garden.  Be aware that this basic variety and not the newer colored varieties are the most medicinal.  So if you're growing it with this use in mind, make sure to purchase echinacea purpurea.

Even though echinacea augustifolia is the more well-known medicinal flower of the two varieties, purpurea is easier to grow and much hardier.  Typically the roots are used in herbal preparations of tinctures, decoctions and teas, but the leaves and flowers have some medicinal value as well, especially in teas.  I don't want to sacrifice my plant by digging up the roots; plus, let's face it, it's hard work to dig it up and dry them for decoctions so I harvest the topmost leaves and newest flowers for my tea blend.

 I made a tea for my kids when they were toddlers from the leaves and flowers as a supplement for them when they were fighting a cold or getting over an ear infection.  Using this milder form still seemed to help them along in their recovery.  You can grow plants and harvest your own roots, or you can order them online to make your own teas or tinctures.  At least I have the plant available if I did need the roots for stronger medicine.  You typically want to harvest roots from 3 year old plants and during the fall once they are done flowering.

Echinacea Tea
1 part echinacea parts, leaves, flowers, roots
1/4 part lemon grass
1/4 part spearmint leaves (or to taste)
Stevia leaves to taste

Mix and brew at the first sign of cold or flu.  Based on the Traditional Medicinal recipe.

Hopefully after reading this, you'll understand the immense value of this versatile and wonderful plant.  To me, it's the first plant going into any new flower bed because of wonderful attributes.  So, if you haven't planted one yet, now is the perfect time to find a start from a friend in early spring (transplant when really young for the best start) or start your own won't regret this one!

Do you grow echinacea?  How do you use your plants?





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Saturday, March 16, 2013

March: What a Difference a Year Makes!

Woke up this morning to see this outside...A surprise winter storm.  Just when we're all getting spring fever too!   It's looking like 4 inches of snow so far with only one day in the next ten days with temps in the 50's.  The rest of the time is supposed to be back in the 30 degree range...wait, is this March or February?? 

This is March 13th last year AND a picture from my very first post on Spring.  Definitely a change in weather...sunny, warm(er) and more colorful.  

So I celebrate my one year blog anniversary with a snowstorm but with much anticipation of sunnier, warmer days ahead!  Hope your day is filled with lots of love and happy thoughts...blessings! 

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Health Benefits of Coffee

Coffee.  I've generally found that people either love it or hate it.  For some reason, this bitter brew evokes strong emotions in some; usually more in the "I love coffee" realm than the other.  Of course that's obvious by the abundance of coffee shops that litter the streets of most major cities and a smattering of them in the smaller towns.
 Our very small town/village has a locally owned one that my husband managed and I worked at for 6 years.  We really grew to love and appreciate the rich depths of flavor coffee has and also did some research on its possible benefits.

Benefits?  That's right.  Coffee does have some health perks that go along with it despite a lot of negative press in the past.  More recent studies have shown that coffee can be helpful to your body.

Should everyone drink it?  The purpose of this post is not to make you a coffee drinker as most people don't have to be "made" to love coffee.  It just happens.  Once it starts, coffee is not only a satisfying drink, but one that may just deliver a few helpful benefits as well.  So if you already drink it or are just plain curious, here are a few things I learned...


It is important to note that most studies mostly show an association of coffee drinkers with these health benefits.  They aren't direct "cause and effect studies" which show a direct correlation between coffee and the coffee drinker as other factors could affect the outcome of the study.

However, coffee has been with us now since before the 14th century when the Arabs learned how to cultivate and successfully trade the beans. That's a LONG time of usage and it helps to give us some insight into any long term effects of coffee even though most studies will say they "they still don't know the long term impact that coffee has on our health."  

Caffeine is coffee's most obvious draw.  That's a bit obvious.  However, coffee has some other benefits besides caffeine that is now showing up in studies being done on coffee's decaf version.

Compared to non coffee drinkers:

"A growing body of research shows that coffee drinkers, compared to nondrinkers, are:

  • less likely to have type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and dementia
  • have fewer cases of certain cancers, heart rhythm problems, and strokes."

"The vast majority of those studies have shown a benefit of coffee on the prevention of diabetes. And now there is also evidence that decaffeinated coffee may have the same benefit as regular coffee,  says Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD, nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. 2
"Hu calls the data on coffee and type 2 diabetes "pretty solid," based on more than 15 published studies." 3
How could coffee help keep type 2 diabetes at bay?  It seems like it's a combination of its antioxidants and minerals such as magnesium and calcium which help the body use insulin which in turn regulates blood sugar.  

                                          Heart disease and stroke? 

 Well, when you lower the risk of diabetes, you automatically lower your heart risk...there's one way it helps.  

                                 "And, for women, coffee may mean a lower risk of stroke.
In 2009, a study of 83,700 nurses enrolled in the long-term Nurses' Health Study showed a 20% lower risk of stroke in those who reported drinking two or more cups of coffee daily compared to women who drank less coffee or none at all. That pattern held regardless of whether the women had high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and type 2 diabetes." 4


 According to a study done on clinical mice, coffee was shown to help boost the levels of GCSF (granulocyte colony stimulating factor), a growth factor that was shown to help fight off Alzheimer's Disease. 5

                                                                  Certain Cancers?

"A Harvard School of Public Health study shows that men who drink six cups of coffee a day have a 60 percent decreased chance of developing a dangerous form of prostate cancer, as well as a 20 percent decreased chance of developing any other kinds of prostate cancer." 6

"New research presented at the American Association for Cancer Research conference shows that coffee could help to ward off basal cell carcinoma, (skin cancer) the most common cancer in the world." 7

These recent studies are sure to encourage coffee drinkers everywhere and make us sigh with a bit of relief when indulging in a cup of our favorite dark roast.  

1. Just remember, these results are conducted on plain coffee cream, sugar or syrups.  Not that you can't still achieve some health benefits with them but to remember to go easy on the additives if you plan on getting the best results. 

2. Also, if you have any sensitivities to caffeine in the coffee, try decaf instead. 

3. Keep your coffee consumption reasonable and moderate.  Four to seven cups are considered heavy usage (this can depend on your body size) and can lead to negative effects like sleeplessness, anxiety and irritability as well as other slight health risk factors.8  Listen to your body, it has its way of telling you when enough is enough.

So put on a big smile when you enter your next Starbucks or coffee house and know that a simple cup of coffee will not only make you a little more wide awake, but can help your body out just a bit too...


Are you more of a tea drinker?  Read this post The Health Benefits of Tea.


2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.

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Friday, March 8, 2013

Lake Erie Shoreline: Earth or Moonscape?

A desert? The Arctic? Mountains? Or maybe more the surface of another world? No, not really.  It's actually the shoreline of Lake Erie during an early March thaw. 

I wanted to get some shots of it while it still had ice and snow on it, but the wind usually comes from the north so it's normally too cold to stand on the shore.  Today, the wind was coming from the south so I was able to comfortably capture some pictures before it all melted away. 

It's a bit hard to tell, but the hills are caused by the wave motion on the shoreline. Snow and sand mix to create a waterscape of dunes capped with snow.

Here's a better perspective of what it looks can see the beach this way and the other views are while looking out at the frozen water.

It's was a bit surreal...even I had to remind myself where I was.

A special place though.   Glad I was able to get these photos.


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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Winter Sowing Seeds with Recycled Materials

I'll admit it.  I am basically a "lazy" gardener.  Well, at least in the fact that if I can find an idea that saves me from extra work, then I am all about it. That's what I've discovered with the idea of "winter sowing."    I actually tried this two years ago with lettuce plants and liked the results but forgot about it until a gardening friend shared a blog post about it recently.  

It's such a great idea.  You plant your seeds pretty early, some in January (like cold hardy perennials) and put them outside in mini-greenhouses, usually made out of gallon milk jug containers, and let nature do its work on the seeds.  Snow, freezing and thawing eventually soften the seed coating and help it to germinate when the temps become just right.  Now the seeds with the added protection of the greenhouses means that they'll germinate earlier for you.  

So, it's like starting indoors but in my thinking much better because I don't have to set anything up and I don't have to harden off any seedlings. This means I will start my cold hardy greens and lettuces now, as well as some perennial herbs, but will start my peppers, tomatoes and basil outside in April.  

Clear plastic cup having a second life as a greenhouse.
Normally I direct sow many of the seeds right into the garden, but this year I am going to attempt a no-till garden (less work, yeah!) and so I will need plants to begin the garden.  Because we are so limited in space, I normally have to buy almost all my plants which is $$$ and often times they run out of my varieties or the plants don't look so great.  So, winter/early spring sowing is going to help me out immensely. 

Because I am lacking in milk jugs, I ransacked my recycle bin to see what I could use.  Any clear, fairly tall container should work.  I will be on the lookout for milk containers as well but in the meantime, I used what I could find.  I don't need too many plants of most things so I am not concerned about their size as I can always transplant them right into the garden once the weather warms up a bit.
This rectangular spinach container makes a great greenhouse.

I am using the toilet roll holders as seed pots too.  I marked the what the seeds were on the little pots.  You could plant the whole container, but again, I don't need 20 plants of everything.  I also like the idea of just planting the little pots into the ground.  It gives the small plants more of an anchor when starting them out in the garden.  

When making mini-greenhouses, you want to make sure that there is at least one hole in the top for snow/rain to get through and also drainage holes at the bottom.  You can duct tape them closed if you had to make a cut in them to use them like the honey container above.

When temps rise you only need to remove the tops during the day and seal up at night.  If it goes below freezing after the seedlings have emerged, cover with and old blanket or shower curtain to give them extra warmth.  

You may want to try this for spring vegetables or if you don't have a lot of space inside.  I am space limited inside and out but the outdoors is much easier for me to start lots of seedlings because I'm not stuck to a few sunny windows. 

Plants started this way are often hardier and healthier because they have adjusted to the temps in their own setting.  It's like a lot of small cold frames but these are moveable and adjustable to the specific needs of each plant variety.  If you have very tender plants like tomatoes, you could also bring them inside on frosty'll just need to watch the weather during the early spring transition.

For more information, please check out this great post on Winter Sowing.  He will show the technique with milk jugs ( which I used successfully too) and even a list of plants and when to start them.  You'll have to adjust the dates according to your own planting zones. 

Have you ever tried winter sowing?  What kind of items do you use as mini greenhouses?


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Friday, March 1, 2013

Photo Fun with Flowers

I am an obvious flower fan.  I really can't help it.  They are gorgeous and if I were able to have them in every room, I would.  So, I content myself with growing them outside in the summer where I can see them every day.

I thought I would have fun with this photo my son took with his Panasonic GH2 of some cut flowers I brought home one day.   Here's his original photo above.

Here's one where I softened it up a bit and added more color and a bit more contrast...

Here's the last one with a "poster-izing" effect.  It's really modern and a completely different look from the original photo.  

Just a bit of fun with flowers.

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