Monday, July 25, 2016

Summer Sunburn Relief

    If living in Florida has taught me one thing, it’s how to care for sunburns.  Florida’s reputation as the “sunshine state” is well earned.  Even in the middle of a rainstorm, the sun can be out in full force.  With my pale skin, it doesn’t talk long for me to burn to a crisp.  Of course, the best thing to do is to protect yourself and prevent sunburn by applying sunblock, staying in the shade, and wearing protective clothing.  If you get caught out in the sun too long, however, here are some natural ways to help heal and relieve the pain of sunburn.


    One of the best things for sunburns is aloe.  Aloe naturally relieves pain, reduces inflammation, repairs damaged skin cells, strengthens the immune system, accelerates the healing process, and fights off bacteria that can cause infection.  It also forms a protective layer over the skin which helps hold in moisture while adding extra hydration.  This basically means that aloe is a powerhouse for healing any burn.  The easiest way to use aloe is to cut a leaf and squeeze the gel onto the burn, or cut the leaf and scoop out the gel.  Apply the gel to the burn and leave it until it dries.  If it starts to get sticky wash it off.  However, this method can be difficult for sunburns that cover a large area, so I recommend harvesting the gel ahead of time and keeping it in your fridge.  You can also freeze it in icecube trays to have an extra bit of relief from the cold.  You can also add other things to your aloe gel, such as cucumbers which also help soothe the inflamed skin.  Just cut the aloe leaf, scoop out the gel, peel and dice the cucumber, put them into a blender and blend until smooth.  Leave this mixture on the burn for 30 min. 

Sunburn Tea

    Oddly enough, one of the best things you can use for sunburn is one of the staples in almost every southern home.  Iced tea.  Black tea has quite a few amazing qualities that help heal and soothe skin after a sunburn.  Adding in a mixture of other healing herbs can make for an amazing sunburn relief tea that you can then apply (either by blotting with a cloth or by spraying on) as often as you need.  My favorite mixture is black tea, lavender, rose petals, peppermint, yarrow, and apple cider vinegar. 
Black Tea- Earl grey tea seems to work best on sunburns, I suspect this is due to the bergamot that gives earl grey its distinctive taste.  Black tea is packed full of antioxidants which help to block the harmful effects of the sun, even after sun exposure.  It also is full of tannins which help to reduce post-sun inflammation.  Earl gray is black tea and bergamot oil.  Bergamot is full of more antioxidants.  But it is also from a citrus fruit and all citrus helps boost immune function, but bergamot is also a pain reliever. 
Lavender- Lavender is calming, and soothing to the nerves.  It also helps to tone the skin.  Essential oil of lavender is also a great topical pain reliever. 
Rose Petals- Rose petals are high in vitamin C which helps boost immune function.  They also have a great cooling effect on the skin. 
Peppermint- Peppermint has an amazing cooling effect and it helps to reduce inflammation. 
Yarrow- Yarrow speeds up the healing process for wounds and reduces inflammation.  It also prevents blistering and peeling.
Apple Cider Vinegar- Raw Apple Cider Vinegar is great for taking the sting out of burns.  It also is full of amazing nutrients that help to fight infection and heal the skin. 

1 ½ cup water
2 bags of good quality Earl Grey
1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
1 teaspoon dried rose petals
1 teaspoon dried peppermint leaves
1`teaspoon dried yarrow leaves and/or flowers
½ cup raw apple cider vinegar

Bring the water to a boil.  Remove from the heat and add in the tea and the herbs.  Let it steep for 30+ minutes.  Strain into a glass container.  Add in the apple cider vinegar.  If you want, you can add 5 drops of lavender essential oil for added relief.  Storing this is the refrigerator not only adds to the shelf life, but it also adds a bit more cooling relief upon application.

Sunburn Cream

    Creams are good to have premade.  This one is good to keep around for any kind of burn, it also works well for sores and razor burn. 
Witch Hazel- Witch hazel is great to heal all kinds of skin issues.  It will help prevent blisters and peeling as well as reduce inflammation.
Coconut Oil- Coconut oil is a great moisturizer and it helps to reduce the pain of sunburns. 
Cornstarch- Cornstarch helps relieve the pain of the sunburn and has a cooling effect.

½ cup witch hazel
1 cup water
3 tablespoons aloe gel (fresh is best, but don’t use the green or blue stuff from the store)
About ½ cup cornstarch
3 teaspoons coconut oil
10 drops peppermint essential oil
10 drops lavender essential oil

Put the water, witch hazel and aloe gel in a glass container.  Mix these together, cover, and let sit for 2 hours.  After the two hours, add the remaining ingredients and mix together (you can use a blender or food processor if you want) until creamy.  You can add more cornstarch if it’s too watery or more water if it’s too thick.  The texture you are looking for is similar to a lotion.  Let it sit for 24 hours before use.  Store in a tightly lidded jar, in the fridge.  Will keep for several weeks.

Potato Paste

    Yes, this next recipe is essentially mashed, raw potatoes, but it really works.  Just like cornstarch, potato starch works wonders on sunburns.  It draws out the heat and toxins from the burn and alleviates the pain and has a cooling effect.  Some people slice raw potatoes and just apply them to the burns, but this paste is a little more effective and has better skin coverage for those pesky sunburns. 

Wash some potatoes, leave the skins on, and put them in the food processor.  Add a little water to moisten the paste.  Apply to your sunburn, but don’t rub it in, dab it on.  Keep it there for 30 minutes.  Discard the potato paste afterwards.

    I hope these tips and recipes help you with your sunburns, but don’t forget to protect your skin before you go out into the summer sun!

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Back to Bare(foot)

    I grew up in the Panhandle of Florida, on a canal that leads to one of the bigger lakes in Northwest Florida.  I was a 20 min drive away from the nearest gas station, 30 min away from a grocery store, and 45 min from the most beautiful beaches in the world.  My dad still lives there, in the house I grew up in.  Last I checked, the road was still not paved and the Google street view team hadn’t actually ventured down it.  There were lots of places to explore, the woods (well really it was mainly scrub), the canal, the lake, etc.  As a kid, I was always going outside.  My parents always knew they could find me either reading a good book in my favorite climbing tree, or listening to my favorite music out on the dock while pretending to fish.  And through all of these activities, unless I was venturing out past the mailbox, I was barefoot.  This is a trait I got straight from my mother, and even now I kick my shoes off as often as I possibly can. 

    Whether you believe that we were created by a higher being, or that we evolved into what we are today, you cannot deny that we have a connection to the Earth.  Our sustenance comes from the earth and our bodies nourish the earth once we die.  We are all part of that great cycle of life that takes place on this wonderful Earth.  Our ancestors spent most of their lives, if not all of them, in direct contact with earth.  In our current era of advanced technology, we spend most of our time indoors and when we do venture outside, we wear rubber soled shoes.  The only time most people go barefoot is when they are at the beach, a lake, or a spring.  I don’t know what caused people to stop going barefoot in their own back yards, but I do know that there are many, many benefits to going barefoot and I think we should bring barefoot back! 

Balance Electrons

    The Earth has a natural magnetic field.  This field is how we are able to use compasses to navigate.  It also can help keep the electrons in our bodies balanced.  I’m sure many of you have heard of the negative effects of positive ions on the human body, though you might only recognize that you have once I let you know that positive ions are also called free radicals.  (Does that ring more of a bell?)  Free radicals are ultimately what causes inflammation and they are being traced to quite a few health issues including cancer and even aging.  When we come into direct contact with earth, our bodies naturally discharge a number of these positive ions.  At the same time, we pick up negative ions which can help to negate any remaining positive ions in our bodies.  So now we know one way to combat positive ions, but how do we keep getting more of them?  Electronics and electro-magnetic frequencies are a big source of these.  Anything with a power source that emits a signal will also be emitting positive ions.  Things like cell phones, computers, tablets, e-readers, televisions, phone towers, and the list goes on and on.  We are constantly being bombarded by these positive ions and putting ourselves in direct contact with the earth can help to counter the effects they have on our bodies.  

Improve Sleep

    One of the effects of positive ions on our bodies is that of poor sleep quality.  Have you ever spent a day outside, at the beach or maybe on the lake, and had the best sleep of your life afterwards?  Part of this is just the physical activities of the day, or the relaxing atmosphere.  But part of this has to do with discharging so many positive ions and flooding your body with negative ions.  Negative ions are super relaxing and help us to get the best out of our night of sleep.

Improve Brain Function

     Our bodies are around 60% water with our brain heart being up to 73%.  The more negative ions we have in our bodies, the more conductive the water in our bodies is.  This increases the speed at which the neurons can move between our nerve endings and our brains.  Which can increase brain functionality.  This also means that positive ions reduce that same speed, so our brain function is impaired when we are not spending at least 5 minutes a day in direct contact with the earth.  Doing this can also help to increase emotional functionality which can help improve and stabilize our moods as well as maintain mental stability. 

Develop and Improve your Senses

        Walking barefoot outside means that we will come into contact with a lot of different surfaces.  Things like grass, wood, leaves, sticks, rocks, and sand.  Each one of these surfaces has a different sensation.  When we are walking barefoot, we are exposing our bodies to all of these sensations.  The nerve endings in our feet transmit all this information to other parts of our bodies.  When we wear shoes, we are missing out on these senses because our feet are not transmitting the information.  It also makes us much more aware of our surroundings and forces us to be more present.  If we are not aware and present, we may hit a particularly sharp rock, step in the excrement left by a neighbor’s dog, or even step on a wonderful little herb called stinging nettle.  It’s called stinging nettle because it literally stings you if you touch it without protection, and it’s pretty common in this part of the United States.  The chemical that causes the sting is the same chemical that causes the “fire” in fire ant bites, just to give you a little hint of how that feels. 

Improve Posture and Balance

    Our foot muscles have become dependent on our footwear over the years.  This weakens them which puts more stress on other muscles in our bodies.  When our feet muscles are unable to perform their duties, other muscles have to step in and fix the problems created this way.  Some of the muscles and joints that can become strained when we do this include the lower back, neck, and knees.  Walking barefoot helps to strengthen our foot muscles and ankles which can often lead to a decrease in pain in those previously mentioned areas.  One of the more important factors in this is toe strength.  Most people take these tiny digits for granted.  I mean what are toes really used for?  Balance and posture.  When we wear shoes, our toes are squished together which has a negative impact on our balance and posture.  Letting those tootsies free allows our toes to move and spread, like they are supposed to do, to help us maintain our balance and improve our posture.  One other thing that has negatively effected our posture is a learned habit from a lifetime of wearing shoes, a pronounced pelvic-tilt.  Typical walking and running shoes have about a 1 (or more) inch heel on them, though it is cushioned as opposed to the ever popular stiletto.  To maintain our balance in this situation, we have to compensate by bending lightly forward at the waist, which strains our hamstrings, lower back, upper back, shoulders, and neck.  Going barefoot helps to correct this tilt and bring us back into our natural posture which reduces all of that strain. 

Improve Circulatory Health

    When we are being flooded by positive ions, we are actually changing the electric currents in our whole body.  This can easily effect our blood cells.  Studies have been done that show that when we walk barefoot, we can actually change the surface charge of our red blood cells.  This can reduce the clumping and change the viscosity of our blood.  Viscosity is one of the major factors in heart disease and is why doctors recommend that people take asprin, or other blood thinners, on a daily basis.  Also, the nerve endings in your feet, when stimulated, can decrease blood pressure as well as the fight or flight response. 

Reduce Inflammation

    Back to those pesky little positive ions.  Not only have they been connected to cancer and aging, but they are a major cause of inflammation in our bodies.  Inflammation has been linked to quite a few diseases today.  Diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, allergies, autoimmune conditions, asthma, anemia, cardiovascular disease, autism, and even Alzheimers.  Discharging these ions helps to reduce the inflammation in our bodies thus reducing our likelihood to develop these issues and/or even reducing the extent of them. 


    Our bodies are intricately connected.  We can acutely feel this when we are in pain.  Have you ever injured a specific muscle or joint, yet felt a connecting, or even traveling, pain on a completely different part of your body?  This is called radiating.  Our nerves connect our bodies in ways we don’t always understand.  Using the radiating effect of these nerves to our advantage, we can improve function, reduce pain, and “massage” other parts of our bodies.  Reflexology does this by working with different reflex points on our bodies.  Our feet are a major hub of these points.  When we walk barefoot, we stimulate the nerve endings on the bottom of our feet which works as a natural reflexology, stimulating every point on our body, giving us a natural and gentle massage as we walk. 

    So the next time you wander out into your back yard, or decide to go for a walk in the park (or even go hunting for Pok√©mon) consider shedding your shoes and getting back to barefoot. 

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Fermented Lemons

     One of my favorite comfort food snacks has always been pickles.  When I first began learning how to cook, pickles were something I wanted to learn how to make.  Of course I learned the basics of refrigerator pickles, then typical pickles made in a vinegar bath.  It wasn’t until I learned about fermenting a few years ago that I really came across the idea of fermented pickles.  This opened up a HUGE new topic in my search for pickle recipes.  I had known that cucumber pickles were not the only pickles for several years, but it wasn’t until I started experimenting with ferments that I really began to appreciate more of the non-cucumber types out there.  Shortly after taking a class on fermenting (taught by my friend Caitlin), I decided to try fermenting everything in my refrigerator.  This led to some crazy experiments and wonderful discoveries.  One of my favorites is fermented lemons. 

     After I fermented my first batch of lemons, I found out that fermented lemons are a tradition in both Italy and Morocco (all three recipes will be included in this post).  However mine were slightly different.  First, I sliced my lemons into circles before adding the brine.  Secondly, my brine was just simple salt water.  The lemons ended up being absolutely amazing (the rind being particularly buttery and delicious) and they can last up to 2 years in the refrigerator! 

     The method of fermentation that is used for these recipes is lacto-fermentation.  When you first read the name “lacto-fermentation,” you may assume this has something to do with dairy.  Well, good news for all of your lactose intolerant people out there, it doesn’t.  Lacto-fermentation is actually in reference to lactic acid.  All fruits and vegetables have a measure of beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus, on their surface.  When you place these fruits and vegetables in an oxygen free environment (anaerobic), like submerging them in water, the bacteria will begin a process that consumes sugars and produces lactic acid.  Lactic acid prevents the growth of harmful bacteria and preserves the fruits and vegetables.  Since it is an acid, lactic acid is also the source of the characteristic sour flavor found in fermented foods.  This also greatly helps the human digestive system by repopulating the beneficial bacteria that lives in our guts while fighting the harmful bacteria that occasionally gets ingested and attempts to take over.

     Many of you will already be familiar with the health benefits of lemons, or even ferments.  However this dish combines both in a delicious way.  Lemons are high in vitamin C as well as many other vitamins and minerals.  One of the main ones to note is potassium.  In modern America, our diets are sorely lacking in potassium.  This is leading to a great number of health issues that are being attributed in an excess of sodium.  Potassium and sodium work hand-in-hand in our bodies.  For our bodies to function properly, our sodium and potassium levels need to be balanced.  While yes, too much sodium is going to cause issues (too much of anything will cause issues), a lack of potassium will only make matters that much worse.  Lemons can help to combat the growing potassium deficiency problem.  Lemons are also great to help boost the immune system and to cleanse the stomach.  Add in the amazing digestive power of the probiotics you get with any ferment, and this recipe is great powerhouse to help improve your digestive system.  As an added bonus, you can even drink the brine after the lemons are all gone.  It is full of electrolytes to help you recover from the intense summer heat (particularly helpful if you live in Florida like I do).  Just think of it like an all-natural, DIY version of Gatorade! 

Basic Lacto-Fermented Lemons

1 glass quart jar (mason jars work great)
2 cups water
1 ½ tablespoons natural salt (I usually use sea salt)
Sliced lemons (however many you can cram into the jar while leaving ¼ inch space at the top)

Add salt to water and stir until it is dissolved.  Add lemons to jar, leaving a ¼ inch space at the top.  Pour salt water brine over lemons.  If the brine does not completely cover lemons, make another batch to add in.  Make sure the lemons are covered, but don’t let the brine reach the very top, you need that space for the ferment to “breathe” while it is working.  Put the lid on the jar, label it (your label should have the name of your ferment as well as the date) and forget it for at least 2 weeks.  I let mine sit for 3 weeks before opening it, however it may be ready sooner.  The thing you want to look for are bubbles.  If the ferment is still working, it will be making bubbles.  I wait until the bubbles are minimal or gone before opening mine, though being a bit hasty won’t hurt a thing.

     If you really want to get fancy, you can add herbs to your lemons to change the flavor up a bit.  Some of my favorite herbs to add to lemons include garlic, ginger, rosemary, or basil.  Get creative!  Lavender might make for a nice, relaxing treat.  Parsley might be good to add for a refreshing palate cleanser between courses at dinner.  Remember, you can use these lemons slices in any recipe that calls for lemons.  Feel free to play around with flavors to make your recipes more exciting!

The following recipes are ones that I found on the more traditional fermented lemons.

Italian Lacto-Fermented Lemons

7-8 organic lemons
7 lemons freshly juiced
¾ cup sea salt (any grain will be fine, the amount of salt can vary, it is not an exact science)

Wash lemons and trim off the tips, making sure not to cut into the flesh.  Cut lemons into quarters, stopping ¼ inch from the bottom to keep the quarters connected.  Stuff 2 teaspoons of salt into each lemon, gently compacting it into each segment.  Pack lemons into 1 ½ liter container.  Mix remaining salt with lemon juice.  Pour this brine over the lemons.  Lemons should be  ½ inch below the level of the brine, if not add filtered water to raise the level.  Secure the lid onto the jar and sit in a dark corner for 30 days. 

Moroccan Lacto-Fermented Lemons

Use the Italian recipe, but add in the following herbs/spices.

Bay Leaf (4 leaves)
Cinnamon Stick (2-3 inch)
Allspice (1 teaspoon)
Coriander Seed (1 teaspoon)

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Monday, July 4, 2016

The Power of Purslane

     One of the most amazing things about living in Florida is the absolute abundance of plants and wildlife. Even living in the city (Orlando), I can still look around me and find plants, animals, and insects. This place is just overflowing with life. Everywhere you go you can find weeds (I hate the term “weed”) poking up through the cracks in the pavement, or in between sections of the sidewalk. One of the more common weeds we see this time of year is purslane.

     Purslane Portulaca oleracea is a succulent, which means that one or more of its parts is swollen to allow for the accumulation of fluids. The plump part of purslane though is the leaf. Along with plump leaves, purslane has tiny yellow flowers and a strong stem. One of the major varieties I see around here even has red stems. Almost every place on Earth has a variety of purslane, and with its great taste and a high amount of nutrients, it has been eaten all over the world. The taste is mildly sour and it has a slightly chewy and crunchy texture. This plant is most commonly used as a raw green in salads or as a pot herb (meaning you cook it in a pot like Southern greens). The flowers and stems are edible as well as the leaves. This tiny plant is jam packed with nutrients. Even some nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids, that are not typically found in the plant kingdom. It also has more beta carotene than spinach, as well as an incredible amounts of vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium and potassium.

     Though it is easy to find nutritional and culinary information on purslane, its uses as a medicinal herb are not quite as well known. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), purslane is used to improve both respiratory and circulatory function. In traditional European herbalism, it has been used to treat arthritis and other inflammation. It is known to be helpful in cases of scurvy, cataracts, heart disease, asthma, gingivitis, multiple sclerosis, and psoriasis. It is also a great immune booster. It has been suggested as a daily tonic for the reduction/prevention of headaches. Purslane contains at least two kinds of antioxidants that have been known to prevent cell mutation, so it can prove to be helpful in the prevention of cancers. Purslane is believed to help balance the body’s insulin. It can also counter the negative effects of consuming too much caffeine, such as jitters and sleeplessness. It also contains antidepressant substances such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, phenylalanine, and tryptophan that have been known to help counter depression by moderating the chemicals that cause depression.

     There is one major warning that comes with this herb though. If you are prone to kidney stones, you want to avoid high doses of purslane as it contains oxalates which can cause stones to form in the kidneys.

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Edible Wild Plants of Eastern/Central North America by Lee Allen Peterson

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Herbal Inspired Drinks for a Happy 4th of July!

     Summer is a great time of year for Barbecues and getting together with family and friends.  One of the traditional days for all of this is the 4th of July!  So in the spirit of getting together to celebrate our nation’s independence, I have compiled a list of great drink recipes to share! 

For the whole family:

Cucumber Nasturtium Lemonade
2 large cucumbers, peeled and diced
The juice of 4 large lemons
The juice of 3 limes
½ teaspoon fresh dill
4 young nasturtium leaves, chopped fine
½ cup agave syrup
1 ½ cups chilled club soda
Fresh nasturtium flowers for garnishing

Add cucumbers, lemon and lime juices, dill, and nasturtium leaves in food processor or blender and blend until mostly liquid.  Add in the agave syrup and blend well.  Mix in (don’t blend) flowers and ice, then add the club soda.  Makes 6 servings.

Watermelon Berry Punch
3 teaspoons dried basil or tulsi (holy basil) leaves
¼ cup water
¼ cup honey
8 cups (1 lb) watermelon, diced and all the seeds removed
¼ cup cranberry juice
¼ cup fresh basil or tulsi leaves
1 cup blueberries
1 cup strawberries
1 ¼ cups chilled club soda

In a saucepan, combine dried basil leaves and water.  Simmer and stir, over low heat, about 10 minutes.  Strain and honey.  Simmer and stir again, this time for about 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool.  While waiting for syrup to cool, blend the watermelon until smooth.  Strain out the liquid, pressing firmly on the pulp to get as much juice out as possible.  Discard the pulp.  In a large pitcher, combine the syrup, fresh basil leaves, berries, and cranberry juice.  Using a wooden spoon, lightly muddle (smash) the berries and basil.  Add the watermelon juice and club soda.  Pour over ice and refrigerate for 2 hours.  Makes 8 servings.

Honeydew Palmer
1 medium sized honeydew melon, seeded and diced
2 cups fresh mint leaves
1 ½ cups fresh lemon juice
½ cup agave nectar
1 tablespoon matcha green tea powder

In a food processor or blender, combine the melon and mint leaves.  Blend until chunky.  Add all other ingredients.  Blend until smooth.  Serve over ice.  Makes 2 ½ quarts.

Lavender Iced Tea
8 ¼ cups water
8 teaspoons good quality, loose leaf, black tea (Darjeeling is my favorite)
1 teaspoon dried lavender
¼ cup sugar

Bring 8 cups water to a boil and remove from heat.  Add in tea and lavender and let steep, covered, for 10 minutes.  Strain and let cool.  Meanwhile, combine sugar and ¼ cup water in saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved.  Combine with tea and serve over ice.  Makes 6-8 servings.

For just the adults:

Cucumber Mint Rickey
6 ounces good quality gin (Hendricks or Magellan are my preference)
2 limes, cut in quarters
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
3 teaspoons agave nectar
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
1 ½ cups chilled club soda

In a pitcher, add the cucumber, mint, agave, and limes.  Muddle together using a wooden spoon.  Add the gin, ice, and club soda.  Stir well.  Makes about 4 servings.

Grilled Pineapple and Starfruit Sangria
3 cups pineapple pieces
2 starfruits sliced
2 750-milliliter bottles of red wine
8 ounces agave nectar
8 ounces brandy

Grill the fruit over high heat on a hardwood charcoal fire.  The pineapple pieces can be grilled using a perforated grill sheet or a grill basket.  Periodically toss/flip the fruit while cooking for 6 minutes.  Transfer to a plate to cool.  In a large pitcher, combine the brandy, wine, grilled fruit, and agave nectar.  Chill for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight (8 hours).  Serve over ice.  Makes 6-8 servings.


Greetings from the Bat Lady!

     Welcome to Bat Lady Herbals.  I have been fascinated by herbs and various herbal uses for quite a few years now.  Plants are amazing t...