Monday, August 29, 2016

'Tis the Season

    No, not THAT season, Butterfly season! In Florida, late summer and into fall is the best time to catch sight of your favorite flying kaleidoscopes! There are many things I don't like about living in Florida, mainly the heat. However, nature is amazing and abundantly present in the whole state. We have the highest diversity of butterflies out of all the states east of the Mississippi River. To date, there have been over 180 different species recorded.

    The average lifespan of butterflies is around one month, though the actual lifespan varies depending on size and environmental factors. Generally speaking, smaller butterflies don't live as long as the larger ones.

    One of the reasons that Florida has so many butterflies is that they are cold blooded creatures. They thrive in warmer climates. Some butterflies actually live much longer than one month because of their cold blooded natures, they hibernate in winter if they do not migrate.

    So the question that everyone is asking....if this is an herbal blog, why discuss butterflies? These amazingly colorful insects are great pollinators, and without pollinators we wouldn't have the diversity of herbs that we enjoy today. Butterflies are day-time pollinators who collect pollen on their legs and body. Because they perch on the petals, as opposed to bees who get all up in that flower, they do not collect as much pollen, but they do fly further than bees and carry that pollen over a larger area. Florida's state butterfly, the Zebra Longwing, lives much longer than the average butterfly. They live around 6 months and are one of the better pollinating butterflies, it's believed that they live so long because they have the ability to break pollen into amino acids which they then digest.

    All pollinators are seeing a decline in numbers. Bees are by far the most endangered, but butterflies are in danger as well. Pollinators are attracted to just about every flower out there. Butterflies especially are attracted to all Salvias (Salvia spp.), Firebush (Hamelia patens), Milkweed (Asclepias spp.), and Hollyhock (Alcea spp.) are all great plants to grow for butterflies. Also remember, in order to create a really amazing space for these little insects, they need food, water, and shelter. The plants I listed will provide food and shelter, even a place for them to lay their eggs (Milkweed), but you need to have some kind of water feature, even if it is just a small dish that catches rain water.

    So please grow some beautiful flowers for the pollinators and provide water for their needs. Then you can truly enjoy Florida's butterfly season!

Beneficials in the Garden:
Butterflies & Butterfly Plants of Central Florida:
Florida Museum of Natural History:
Florida Wildflowers & Butterflies:
Naples Daily News:
The Butterfly Site:
US Forrest Service:

Wild Florida:

Monday, August 22, 2016

Aloe Based Hand Sanitizer

    Anyone that knows me knows that I am strange.  With that said, I like germs.  Not that I like being sick, or seeing other people sick, but that germs help our immune systems to develop.  Currently, in modern America, everywhere you go you see antibacterial this and antibacterial that.  I think all of these antibacterial products are contributing to the prevalence of certain diseases such as resistant strains of bacteria.  There are actually quite a few of scientific studies that back up my beliefs in this, check out this article from Scientific American for a good introduction to the concept.  There is a lot more information out there about this rising problem, I encourage you to check it out.

    That little rant being said, we need to be mindful of cleanliness as well.  It’s no secret that many diseases are spread through contact with a sick person or animal.  You can still protect yourself from these without all the added issues that come with overpopulating the world with harsh antibacterial chemicals.  Many plants are naturally antibacterial and products made with these are not as harsh on both your body and the environment.  Homemade, natural hand sanitizer is a great way to protect yourself from the spread of contagions.  I don’t necessarily think that you should carry it around and use it after washing your hands or touching everything, but I always take some with me camping or on road trips in case I end up having nature call in a less than sanitary environment (think about those yucky convenience store bathrooms you always encounter on road trips). 

A Quick Word on Ingredients

Aloe Vera gel is a great base for hand sanitizers because it is gentle on the skin and naturally both antifungal and antibacterial. 
Vitamin E Oil is a great moisturizer for your skin and acts as a preservative which can prolong the shelf life of your sanitizer.
Witch Hazel is a great astringent (meaning that it tightens the tissues) which helps it to get rid of excess oils from the skin and shrink down pores.  
Rubbing alcohol is a great disinfectant and cleaning agent.
All essential oils are also antibacterial, so to an extent you can feel free to vary the essential oils in my recipes, but tea tree and lavender essential oils are typically considered the best antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal oils.  Essential oils are really strong medicine and should be treated with respect.  Rosemary, eucalyptus, camphor and certain kinds of lavender essential oils have been known to trigger seizures in epileptic patients, please use caution when using these oils.

Moisturizing and Gentle Hand Sanitizer

¼ cup 100% Aloe Vera Gel
20 drops Tea Tree Essential Oil
10 drops Lavender Essential Oil
5 drops Rosemary Essential Oil
5 drops Lemon Essential Oil
¼ teaspoon Vitamin E Oil
*optional 1 teaspoon either Witch Hazel or Rubbing Alcohol

Combine ingredients in a bowl and mix.  Pour the mixture into the bottle/container you want to use (Specialty Bottles has a great selection ).  The Vitamin E Oil will act as a preservative (as well as softening your hands) so that the gel will be good for several months.

    Like all of my recipes (both edible and non-edible), you can feel free to play around with it.  I rarely use the exact same recipe twice for my own purposes.  You can even turn this into a spray by making a strong antibacterial tea (some good herbs for this would include lemongrass and green tea) to add to this recipe.  I hope you enjoy making your own hand sanitizers and let me know what you think in the comments below!

DIY Natural:
Everyday Roots:
Live Strong:
Natural Living Ideas:
Scientific American:
Specialty Bottles:
We Love Aloe:
Wellness Mama:

Monday, August 15, 2016

Avoiding Heat Illness

     Living in Central Florida has its perks, but this time of year brings one exceptionally large problem as well.  Heat illness.  We are now beginning the hottest part of the year and temperatures have already, consistently, been over 100° F.  In an arid climate, this would not be quite as bad because our bodies have a natural cooling system called perspiration.  However, in the high humidity of Florida, perspiration does not evaporate as easily and therefore does not cool us off quite so well.  This means we must take extra care of ourselves when we are out in the elements. 

     Heat illness is basically the body’s inability to cool itself down.  This seems simple, but can actually be quite devastating and possibly even fatal.  Our bodies run at a fairly high temperature thanks to our metabolism, which is the process that converts nutrients into energy inside our bodies.  With the conversion of energy, a lot of heat is produced.  Heat is also produced by our muscles when we use that energy during exercise.  When our bodies generate all that heat, we begin to sweat.  If the sweat is not enough to cool down our bodies, then perspiration stops and we begin to suffer from different degrees of heat stress which cause illness. 

Heat Cramps

    Heat cramps are the first stage of heat illness.  They usually occur a few hours after exposure to hot conditions.  Symptoms include involuntary muscle spasms (cramps) in the arms, legs, or abdomen.  These are usually accompanied by profuse sweating, normal pulse, normal breathing, and possibly dizziness. 
     Treatment: Sit in a cool place!  Massage muscles, with ice and/or ice water.  Stretch.  Drink plenty of fluids, diluted electrolyte drinks or plain water are preferred.    

Heat Exhaustion

    Heat exhaustion is the second stage of heat illness.  This is what happens when our bodies no longer can cool itself and, as such, usually occurs after several hours of intense sweating without replacing the body’s fluids and electrolytes.  When this happens, the skin becomes cool and clammy.  Other symptoms include dizziness, disorientation, rapid and shallow breathing, and a weak pulse.
    Treatment: Remove wet clothing and/or equipment.  Use external means to cool the body down (ice water on the skin, ice bath, or cold shower).  Replace fluids by drinking if possible, but IV fluid replacement may be necessary at this stage.  This is the stage where seeing a physician may become necessary.

Heat Stroke

     Heat stroke is the third stage of heat illness, and the most dangerous one.  This stage is the one where our bodies no longer produce sweat because we have lost too much water and salt.  This is also a life-threatening stage so 911 should be called.  Symptoms include high body temperatures without perspiration, vomiting, nausea, increased irritability (usually followed by apathy), disorientation, and a strong and rapid pulse.  During this stage, the blood pressure may drop fast enough to cause convulsions and possibly even a coma. 
     Treatment: Call 911!  Cool rapidly with ice or an ice bath.  The emergency crew will also treat for shock and transfer to a trauma unit.

Hail Hydra(tion)! And other forms of Prevention

     -Though I started this off with heat cramps as the first stage of heat illness, don’t forget dehydration plays a big part as well.  If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.  This is the biggest part of prevention you can do.  Hydration isn’t just about drinking enough water, it’s about replacing the water and the electrolytes you lose through perspiration.  If you keep a weight chart (weigh yourself before and after exercising) remember, you need to replace 8oz of water for every pound of weight lost. 
     -Allow your body to acclimate to the warmer climate.  Don’t immediately rush into physical activity when you emerge from the A/C in your home or car, allow a few minutes to get used to the heat and you’ll be better prepared for it.
     -Wear loose, comfortable clothing.  Some synthetic materials are great for wicking the sweat from your skin, but natural materials allow for better air flow.  Avoid polyester if at all possible as it does not absorb sweat and it does not breathe at all. 
     -Plan your heaviest activities for the coolest parts of the day.
     -Listen to your body.  When you feel overheated, rest in a cool place and drink plenty of fluids. 

     Each of the stages of heat illness do include various degrees, and heat stroke can easily be mistaken for heat exhaustion.  Also, these stages build on each other, heat stroke can include all the symptoms from the previous two stages as well as its own set of symptoms.  Heat illness is very preventable, just be aware of your body and your surroundings.  Hydration is key and listening to your body is a must. 

About Kids Health:
Center for Disease Control:
Missouri Families:

Monday, August 8, 2016

5 Great Herbs for Smoothies

     A lot of people are always on the lookout for something life changing for their diets, something that will be tasty, nutritious, and easy to incorporate into a busy American lifestyle.  For me and many others, smoothies fit this description.  Smoothies are a great way to add an amazing amount of nutrients into a convenient, and often refreshing, snack.  One of my favorite things to do with smoothies is add in healthy herbs.  Herbs are full of great health benefits and they can also be a greatly flavorful edition to any food, including smoothies. 

    One of the things I do to incorporate herbs into my smoothies is herbal ice.  There are two main ways to make herbal ice, the first is very simple.  You just put the herbs in ice cube trays and add water before freezing.  You can chop the herbs, or just put them in whole.  Chopping the herbs will provide a greater amount of flavor than just using the whole herb so keep that in mind when you're experimenting.  The second is my preferred method and is also pretty simple, especially if you want to use a blend of herbs.  Make an herbal tea and freeze it.  How strong you make your tea will determine how intense the flavor of the ice will be.  A good ratio to begin with is 1 tablespoon of dried herb for each cup of water.  Just boil the water and pour it over the herbs, let sit for 30 or more minutes.  For ice I usually let my tea sit over night to extract all the wonderful goodness that those herbs can bring to my nutritional table.  It also will bring a greater intensity of flavor to my smoothies. 

    You can also just throw some herbs into your smoothie to blend, but I prefer to add the herbal ice because many nutrients will be more easily absorbed by our bodies that way, however I am not above adding a handful of herbs just for fun.


    This herb is infamous in the kitchen, but it also makes a great medicinal herb.  Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is packed full of nutrients, including vitamin K and manganese.  Basil is also a great herb for helping ease stomach problems including stomach cramps, gas, and improving the appetite.  It also helps to reduce inflammation, ease headaches, and ease the symptoms of the common cold.  There is an Indian basil called Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) which is used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine for heart disease, stress, insect repellant, and malaria.  Tulsi tea is actually one of my favorite herbal teas for relaxing at the end of the day. 

    Basil's flavor goes well with all kinds of berries, citrus fruit, and other herbs in the lamiaceae family (mint, rosemary, thyme, etc).  I also like it with stone fruit, such as peaches, and with watermelon. 

Basil Blackberry Watermelon Smoothie

3 cups cubed watermelon (seeded and frozen)
2 cups blackberries
¼ cup pomegranate juice
2 ½ cups basil flavored ice

Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.  Taste and adjust sweetness if desired (some good sweeteners to consider are honey, stevia, and turbanado sugar).


    The popularity of herbal teas has grown over the past few decades, and with it has grown the awareness of certain herbs.  Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) has become one of the go-to herbs for most people’s tea drinking habits.  And why not?  It’s naturally sweet smelling, pleasant tasting, and calming to the senses.  It’s so calming in fact that some people can’t drink it or they will fall asleep.  This herb has been popular since the days of Egypt, Greece, and Rome.  Even in the Middle Ages, people looked to chamomile to help cure many of the health conditions of the day.  Today it is still used as a sleep aid, a treatment for fevers, colds, stomach upset, and as an anti-inflammatory.  It’s used to help with teething babies, as a wash to lighten hair, to help with morning sickness during pregnancy, and to help hasten the healing of wounds.  The uses for chamomile are many and varied, which make it a great addition to a daily routine.  It does come with two major cautions though.  First, be aware that chamomile affects certain people more strongly than others and don’t plan on operating any heavy machinery after consuming it.  Second, it is related to ragweed and a few people with ragweed allergies might have a histamine response to chamomile as well.

    Chamomile is fairly sweet so it goes well with just about every fruit, though it is particularly tasty with the tangy citrus fruits.  It also pairs well with other herbs such as lavender, mint, and lemongrass. 

Strawberry Chamomile Smoothie

5 cups strawberries
¼ cup orange juice
2 ½ cups chamomile flavored ice

Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.  Taste and adjust sweetness if desired (some good sweeteners to consider are honey, stevia, and turbanado sugar).


    The past handful of years I have seen several friends go through pregnancy and deal with things like morning sickness.  Almost universally, they all seem to reach for one thing when they feel sick and that is ginger.  Whether it is ginger candy or ginger tea, it’s very well known for easing the stomach and being gentle enough for use during pregnancy.  Ginger (Zingiber officinale) isn’t just useful for your stomach though.  Throughout the years it has been used in many situations.  Its warmth is well known and useful for boosting circulation, lowering blood pressure, as an anti-viral, and as an anti-inflammatory.  This makes it one of the best things for colds and flus and has been researched extensively for use in dealing with arthritis, fever, headache, toothache, and preventing blood clots.  This brings to mind one warning that comes with ginger, if you are preparing to go in for a surgery please don’t consume any ginger beforehand as it may cause problems with blood flow during the surgery. 

    Ginger’s warmth goes great with creamy textures like yogurt and bananas, also with other warming spices such as cinnamon.  It also goes really well with citrus, apples, pumpkin, and many other fruits. 

Orange Ginger Smoothie

4 cups orange slices
1 cup avocado
2 teaspoons orange zest
¼ cup coconut water
2 ½ cups ginger flavored ice

Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.  Taste and adjust sweetness if desired (some good sweeteners to consider are honey, stevia, and turbanado sugar).

Green Tea

    Green tea has always been a staple in my home and is one of my favorite comfort drinks.  It is also packed full of amazing nutrients like antioxidants.  Antioxidants have been getting a lot of publicity in recent years, they have been found to have major health benefits, the least of which include preventing cancers.  Green tea (Camellia sinesis) is also known to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, combat fatigue, regulate blood sugar levels, and increase metabolism.  This makes it great for losing weight and a wonderful tea for diabetics. 

    Green tea goes well with vanilla, mint, rosemary, lavender, tropical fruits, citrus, and quite a few other fruits as well.

Tropical Green Tea Smoothie

2 cups pineapple
1 ½ cups papaya
1 ½ cups mango
¼ cup coconut Milk
2 ½ cups green tea flavored ice

Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.  Taste and adjust sweetness if desired (some good sweeteners to consider are honey, stevia, and turbanado sugar).

Lemon Balm

    As its common name suggests, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has a lemony flavor and is soothing to the nerves.  It comes from the same family as mint, rosemary, lavender, and basil.  This amazing herb is used for quite a few things including soothing the nerves, sleeping problems, and menstrual cramps.  It also helps to relax stomach, uterine, and bladder muscles which make it ideal to relieve gas, cramps, and nausea.  It has also been shown to help increase mental clarity by reducing stress and insomnia.  Lemon balm is a great herb for almost everyone.  The one caution I have about this herb is concerning hypoactive thyroid conditions.  Lemon balm reduces production of the thyroid hormones, aggravating these conditions. 

    With its lemony flavor, lemon balm goes great with just about every fruit out there.

Peachy Lemon Balm Smoothie

3 cups peaches
2 cups banana
¼ cup lemon juice
2 ½ cups lemon balm flavored ice

Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.  Taste and adjust sweetness if desired (some good sweeteners to consider are honey, stevia, and turbanado sugar).

    In trying these recipes, I found a good basic ratio that works.  Feel free to play around with it and have fun.  Smoothies are really easy to adjust to your own tastes.  My ratio is 5 cups of fruit, ¼ cups liquid, and 2 ½ cups of ice.  You can add in all kinds of powders, seeds, nuts, and dried fruits to your smoothies and I encourage you to do so.  Nouveau Raw has posted a good flavor pairing list that may help with flavor combinations.  Have fun and feel free to post any favorite recipes you come up with in the comments below!

Annies Remedies:
Herb Wisdom:
My Heart Beets:
Nouveau Raw:

Monday, August 1, 2016

Bitter is Better

     I am a huge fan of foraging, wildcrafting, and ethnobotany. As a result, I have been on many “wild weed walks.” Some of these have been strictly about food, some about medicinal properties. There is one plant that I have encountered a few times, on both kinds of walks, but until this summer I never had the pleasure of having it grow in my own back yard. Bitter Melon Momordica charantia is strikingly attractive, but terribly stinky (smells like old gym shoes). This vine has attractive green leaves, yellow flowers, and fruit that starts off green, but as it matures it turns a bright orange. When it’s finally ripe, it splits open in three parts, showing off the red arils (a fleshy coating around a seed). In Florida, it is considered a class II invasive, which means it is spreading in the wild but hasn’t done any significant habitat damage. It is, however, a major problem for citrus growers. Which means it’s great for those of us who like to harvest wild plants for food and/or herbal uses!

    Bitter melon, also called bitter gourd or wild balsam apple, is commonly used in the traditional dishes of many cultures, but it is only edible when it is green. It is toxic when ingested raw and has been attributed to several accidental pet deaths, dogs are particularly susceptible. The young leaves are also edible when cooked and drained. Bitter melon is packed full of wonderful nutrients, if you can get past the bitterness.

    A side note on the bitter flavor profile. In the USA, our diets are full of things that are not very good for us. This is causing most health professionals to see a major increase in digestive upset and disorders. One of the things we are lacking in our diets that could help with these issues is the bitter taste profile. Americans only really have one bitter flavor that they consume, and that’s coffee. Those of us that drink beer have another bitter flavor to add, but we even breed the “bitter” out of our greens now, mildly flavored greens are way more popular. The bitter flavor activates our bile production in our digestive tract. Bile helps us to digest fats and absorb more nutrients. If you consume something bitter at the beginning of (or even before) the meal, your digestion will improve greatly. Bitter flavors also helps with addictions, especially for those of us who are addicted to sugar because it helps to curb our cravings for sweets. If we would just add in a little bitter to our diets, we’d be much healthier as a nation.

    So, after that rant let’s get back to this wonderful plant. Bitter melon might be used as an edible, but it is best known for its medicinal properties. In recent years, I have seen a number of advertisements for various nutritional supplements that include bitter melon. These adds are targeting diabetics and people who want to lose weight and look young. Well, they’re not all wrong. Bitter melon is high in a number of vitamins and minerals, but it is particularly high in those that are considered antioxidants. Recently, there has also been lots of scientific research done on this plant. Most scientific studies have shown that the fruit has lots of promise in treating diabetes. Some doctors even recommend that diabetic patients eat the green fruit, or drink the juice of the same, on a daily basis. However, alcohol extracts (tinctures or bitters), while still working wonders on digestion, do not have an effect on diabetes. This is probably due to the alcohol part of the extract, as alcohol can have a detrimental effect on insulin levels.

    Traditional uses of this amazing plant abound. It detoxifies the blood and colon. It has been used, in other countries, to combat HIV/AIDS as well as certain types of cancers (including leukemia). Some cultures even believe that it can cure leprosy. The Amazonian natives use the leaf tea internally for diabetes and as a carminative (relieves flatulence), and topically for wound care, sores, and infections. It is also used, both internally and externally, to get rid of worms and parasites. In the traditional medicines of both Asia and Africa, it is used for digestive complaints, as a laxative, to enhance metabolism, and to increase both blood circulation and immunity. It is used in Ayurveda (the traditional Indian medical system) to help control fever, purify the blood, and reduce jaundice. Ayurveda also lists the gourd as beneficial to the liver, skin, and to help with “windy complaints.” Asians, Panamanians, and Columbians also use bitter melon to treat malaria. The list of benefits from this plant can go on, and on. It really is amazingly useful.

    I know that I already covered the fact that this plant can be toxic. However I wanted to stress caution with this plant as the nature of its toxicity is tied to its medicinal uses. Bitter melon toxicity causes “violent loss of fluids from both ends.” Pregnant women should avoid using this plant as it can cause spontaneous abortions. Also exercise caution with this plant if you are hypoglycemic because it can lower your insulin level to a dangerous level.

Eat the Weeds:
Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council:
International Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences:
Wild South Florida:


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...