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Backyard Plant Remedies
by Lisa Maliga
© 2004-2009

Herbal remedies don’t have to come from a health food store in an amber colored glass bottle. In fact, you’ll find many of them growing right in your backyard! Whether these plants are classified as a weed, such as the underestimated dandelion, or are cultivated, the following eight are all more than just food – they are nature’s cures for various ailments. For those of you who live in the city or have no garden, you can buy any of these helpful home remedies in your supermarket or, preferably, a farmer’s market or health food store where organic foods are sold. Plants with contaminating pesticides are worthless, even harmful. Also, if you’re looking to gather any of these items in the wild, please stay away from main roads. Exhaust fumes will have permeated the plant, thereby affecting the quality.

Apple: This is the first word we learn in association with the alphabet, the fruit that symbolizes America when baked into a pie, and the Bible story of Eve’s interest in a fruit that had far more symbolism than the simple apple you’ll read about here. And we all know the saying about that apple a day keeping the doctor away. There are red apples, golden apples, yellow and green; and other sizes and types of apples. Apples are made into cider [alcoholic and non-alcoholic], baked, stewed, beaten to a pulp, fried, preserved, and cut up for so many varieties of recipes that entire books are devoted to them. The minerals and vitamins contained within an apple are always near the peel—the area that is exposed to the sun. While some people can’t tolerate eating the peel as it contains too much fiber for their system, they often are able to combine the apple with bread and have no difficulty with digestion. The apple contains large quantities of Vitamin A, B and C – perhaps that’s why it’s the most popular fruit around! Can Help: Laxative, reduction of fever, intestinal disorders, insomnia, sore throat [baked apple saturated with organic honey], obesity, gout, rheumatism, gangrenous wounds, and stress relief.

Asparagus: Of course this vegetable is good for you – your mother said so! First of all, it’s green, and green vegetables contain chlorophyll, which is a blood purifier. Not only does this plant contain Vitamin B, but also calcium, rutin, asparagin, saponin and tannin – a veritable bouquet of compounds that reduce intestinal inflammation and act to promote a healthier liver. Can Help: Reduce iron deficiency, this low carbohydrate vegetable is suitable for those with diabetes, eliminate water retention, strengthen the kidneys and bladder, and alleviate pain caused by rheumatism, arthritis or gout.

Cabbage: Germans make their staple dish of sauerkraut from this vegetable. Cabbage contains sulphur, a wonderful ingredient that strengthens the immune system, lowers high blood pressure and fights infections. Europeans have long since discovered that the outer leaves contain high amounts of iron, calcium and vitamin-rich properties that allow them to use the cabbage to cure a large assortment of common complaints. Can Help: Ulcers, skin diseases, wounds, hemorrhoids, intoxication preventative, iron deficiency, minor burns, intestinal disorders, nosebleed, and wounds.

Dandelion: Most Americans unfortunately view the dandelion as a weed. People who live along the slopes of the northern Alps have quite a different view of this tall-stemmed yellow flower with the emerald green serrated leaves that contain abundant nutrients. We have been taught that carrots contain a large amount of Vitamin A. This is true. However, dandelion greens [leaves] contain more than 5,000 I.U.s per cup! Andre Voisin, a member of the Academy of Agriculture [France] wrote, “In spring the flowers and stems of dandelion are enormously rich in estrogen.” When this plant is allowed to decompose naturally, it releases properties of iron, copper and other nutrients into the soil. Can Help: The dandelion root is a tonic, diuretic, and assimilates the functioning of the liver. The leaves eliminate iron deficiencies, and are a natural stimulant with no caffeine-like side effects.

Garlic: Not only is this a zesty seasoning, but garlic has been used for medicinal purposes all around the world for the past two centuries. If you’re looking for a natural antibiotic, then garlic’s your herb. Whether in fresh, cooked or capsulated form, garlic contains allicin -- a killer of bacteria. It is said that eating raw garlic helps you have a strong, clear voice. Perhaps this explains why there are quite a few great Italian opera singers! Can Help: Lower high blood pressure, fungus, insect repellent, stress relief, abscesses, dysentery, coughs and congestion, digestion, earache, colds, hepatitis, insect and animal bites, kidney infection, and wounds.

Onion: This is another familiar condiment that’s known the world over. But some of its uses aren’t known – and should be. If you are an athlete, aspire to be one, or know someone who is, then make sure you have some onions. Whether you’ve bruised or sprained any part of your body, the application of a slice of onion will decrease swelling and eliminate bruising. “Onion breaks up blood that gathers under the skin when a bruise is forming, and how it also disperses the lymph fluids that gather and contribute to swelling.” Lalitha Thomas, from her book “10 Essential Herbs.” Can Help: Bruises, congestion, sprains, insect bites, heartburn, hemorrhoids, arthritis, inflammation, high blood pressure, kidneys, pneumonia, swelling, nervous disorders, urinary tract, and worms.

Spinach: Popeye was a fan of this high protein vegetable. Kids seem to dislike this intensely green colored veggie while parents repeatedly beg them to eat it, as it’s good for them. And the parents are right. Minerals, including calcium, iodine, iron and potassium are abundant, along with Vitamin A, C, K, [which regulates helps blood clot properly and encourages bone growth] and folic acid. Raw spinach [whether liquefied or in the form of a salad] is recommended for people with vitamin deficiencies. Can Help: Anemia, stress relief, increases longevity.

Tomato: Fresh tomatoes improve salads, are required for most Italian dishes, and can be stewed, fried, pureed, baked, etc. This native Central and South American plant was referred to as love apples or Peruvian apples. In the 16th century they were imported to Spain and grown as a novelty – as they were thought to be poisonous! Of course enough people learned otherwise. Washing in tomato juice is a remedy for any person or animal having the misfortune to be sprayed by a skunk. Can Help: Internal cleansing, sores, rheumatism, gout - elimination of uric acid. This is only a very short list of all the common herbal remedies. [Note: The content of this article is informational and educational. Consult with your health care provider for any ailment.]

Aromatherapy Spotlight on Lavender Essential Oil
by Lisa Maliga
© 2005-2009

Imagine a flower being able to calm your nerves, reduce inflammation and swelling, promote faster healing for minor burns, decrease muscle pain, alleviate insomnia, and work as a natural bug repellant? That purple colored flower named lavender, which is derived from the Latin word lavera meaning “to wash”, is one of the most versatile essential oils the plant kingdom has to offer. Additionally, it’s obtained without a prescription and the price is considered quite inexpensive.

Types of Lavender:
Lavandula angustifolia is the most common type of lavender and it hails from England It is oftentimes referred to as true lavender. Any true lavender will have the botanical name of “lavandula” as the prefix. (There are up to 50 different species, including lavandula officinalis and lavandula vera, yet they will all be simply lavender). Lavender grows all over the world, including many parts of the United States and Canada, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Russia, Croatia, China, and Australia. The reason the “true” lavandula angustifolia genus is so popular is due to the low rate of camphor, less than one percent, it retains after distillation. This lends the essential oil a strong floral aroma, but it also makes it quite effective in aromatherapy usage, especially in accelerating the healing of minor burns. Camphor is a chemical constituent that you don’t want near a burn, and other versions of lavender, such as lavandin, lavender’s cousin, which can contain up to 8% camphor—are not effective for soothing delicate skin tissue.

Lavandin (lavandula x intermedia) ~ According to ‘The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils’ by Julia Lawless, lavandin is: “A hybrid plant developed by crossing true lavender (lavender angustifolia) with spike lavender or aspic (lavender latifolia). Due to its hybrid nature, lavandin has a variety of forms: in general it is a larger plant than true lavender, with woody stems. Its flowers may be blue like true lavender, or grayish like aspic.” The scent of lavandin is also sharper and more penetrating. While the plant grows in parts of Eastern Europe, Hungary, and Spain, cultivation is mainly in France.

Spike Lavender (lavandula latifolia) ~ Spike, sometimes referred to as Spanish lavender, is native to Spain, France, Italy, the Mediterranean region, and Northern Africa. The bright purple-blue flowers commonly found in true lavender are often a grayer hue in the spike variety. The essential oil is very penetrating, more herbal than floral, and retains a higher concentration of camphor than true lavender.

Lavender 40/42 ~ The lavender is blended with other lavenders to bring the percentage of linalol to between 40% and 42%. Linalol is an active component of Lavender that contains therapeutic benefits. Some Lavender essential oils can contain 40% and 45%.

Historical Uses for Lavender:
“Lavender was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians in the sacred walled garden at Thebes. They prized the herb greatly, using it to make a soothing and healing balm that was part of the ritual of mummification. It was turned into an expensive perfume to adorn both the living and the dead. Perfume urns were sealed into tombs to provide fragrance, and when Tutankhamen’s tomb was excavated, the scent of lavender was still strong even after 3000 years.” From ‘The Book of Magical Herbs’ by Margaret Picton.

Surprisingly, lavender is found more frequently in commercial fragrances for men rather than women. “This is one of the oldest scents in the fragrance world, made from oils extracted from the lavender and lavandin plants grown in France as well as spike lavender grown in Spain.” From the book ‘Perfumes, Splashes & Colognes’ by Nancy M. Booth. Examples of men’s fragrances are: Aqua Lavanda, Cool Water, Drakkar Noir, Hai Karate, Lavanda, Le Male by Gaultier, Old English Lavender, Old Spice Fresh Scent, Pino Silvestre (conifer), Pour un Homme and Ungara Pour Homme all contain lavender and/or lavandin essential oils.

Benefits of Lavender:
This versatile essential oil is familiar to many of us. You should have a small bottle of it for your First Aid kit and/or to keep in your kitchen. Lavender is one of the best natural ingredients to help stop the pain from minor kitchen accidents such as burns from the oven/stove or knife cuts. A drop of lavender can ease the pain, and only the addition of the gel-like innards of a freshly sliced open aloe vera leaf is as good a remedy for instant relief. Combining the two is recommended, as aloe vera instantly cools a hot burn.

For sunburn pain, lavender is also recommended. Pesky mosquito or other insect bites bothering you? Try adding lavender essential oil to the problem area(s) and your skin will thank you.

Headaches may disappear when you massage a tiny amount of lavender on your temples or the nape of your neck.

Lavender and relaxation are two words that are virtually synonymous with each other. However, according to author Erich Keller in his book ‘Aromatherapy Handbook for Beauty, Hair and Skin Care’ he writes: “Lavender is an all-purpose oil for skin care. Its effect is antibacterial, pain-relieving, healing for wounds, soothing for skin diseases, deodorizing, antiseptic, fungicidal, insect-repelling, rejuvenating, and anti-inflammatory. It may be used to treat all types of skin and is effective for acne and oily hair (as it regulates sebum production), itchy skin, hand care, cracked skin, bruises, shock injuries (in ice-cold compresses), acne scars, blisters, abscesses, furuncles, warts, boils, eczema, athlete’s foot (tea tree is more effective here, however), wounds, and burns. A bath with lavender soothes and heals the skin after sunburn.”

Safety/Precautions:
Unlike many other essential oils, there are few safety notes to share with you. Lavender essential oil can be used neat, meaning without diluting it in a plant based carrier oil, but it must be done in small amounts and only for minor skin problems. However, it is advised to dilute lavender with a vegetable carrier oil such as olive oil, jojoba, sweet almond oil, etc., just to make certain that your skin doesn’t have an allergic reaction. Please be very careful when purchasing pure lavender essential oil to be used for minor medical burn treatment emergencies as you will need true lavender, the type containing the lowest amount of camphor, and NOT lavandin, the genus which has up to 8% camphor – a burn causing ingredient!

Please do not take lavender essential oil internally!

Uses for Lavender:
Bath soak ~ All you need is approximately 15 drops in your bathtub of warm to hot water and you should find yourself relaxing.
Candle ~ Add a few drops to a candle, next to the wick, not on it as essential oils are flammable. Lavender will fill the room with its soothing floral aroma and relaxation should follow.
Sachet ~ Add dried lavender buds to a small muslin bag and store in your drawers/cupboards, and especially where linen is stored. This method also works well as a natural bug repellent if you hang a scented lavender sachet in your closet(s) on a hanger.
Hair ~ Add two to four drops to your hairbrush and brush your hair. Not only will it smell great, doing this helps to condition it naturally. Also, lavender is believed to stimulate hair growth and its antibacterial properties can help eliminate scalp conditions.

Blending With Lavender:
The happy combination of two florals is pronounced with the intermingling of rose, jasmine or geranium (Bourbon or Rose). For more dramatic combinations, consider mixing lavender with the following essential oils: bergamot or any citrus essential oil, clove, rosemary, eucalyptus, patchouli, clary sage, cedarwood, tea tree, oakmoss, vetiver, or pine.

Finding High Quality Lavender:
The most important things to look for on any glass bottle of lavender essential oil will be four categories. Naturally, you would expect to see “Lavender” on the label. However, here are the four facts that you will find on any bottle of essential oil from a reputable supplier/company:

1. Botanical/Latin name. If in search of true lavender it would be Lavandula angustifolia.
2. Part. What part of the plant has the essential oil been extracted from? For lavender, that is the flowering tops.
3. Method of extraction. Is it an absolute, enfleurage, carbon dioxide (CO2), or has it been steam distilled? In this case it has been steam distilled. While lavender can be found in CO2 form as it’s the most expensive, or as an absolute, the most common type is steam distilled.
4. Country of Origin. As noted, lavender comes from many different countries, and my personal preference is for the type from Bulgaria. Location can make a sizeable difference for many reasons such as climate, type of soil, high/low altitude, etc.

Other factors to look for are price, as too low of an amount means it has been adulterated in some way or is possibly synthetic. Essential oils should be stored in a glass bottle to protect the contents. Then you must continue to keep your lavender in the best environment and that would be in a cool, dark place.

For practical reasons, it’s better to buy a small amount. Not only is this more economical, but this way you can determine what lavender oil you like the best. You can consult with a certified aromatherapist for advice on obtaining the best quality lavender. Another way is to locate a reputable farm where lavender is grown, as this would be the best place in which to purchase your lavender essential oil. Lavender farmers will be able to answer your questions and advise you on what type of lavender is best suited for your needs. You will be advised that lavender is harvested in the summertime and that immediately after it has been distilled is not the best time to buy it—usually one to two years after distillation is when it matures. For example, I purchased a bottle of lavender in April, and the following spring I started to notice a less herbal, and more rounded floral aroma. Another benefit to lavender is that it has a fairly long shelf life (approximately five years) and, like fine wine, can improve during its bottled lifespan.

© 2001-2010 by Lisa Maliga

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"Nature is doing her best each moment to make us well. She exists for no other end. Do not resist. With the least inclination to be well, we should not be sick." Henry David Thoreau