Monday, March 27, 2017

Bats for Insect Control

     Living in Central Florida has it's perks (amazing biodiversity, beautiful beaches, easy gardening weather, etc.) but it also has it's drawbacks. The bug population numbers in the top of my annoyances with Florida. This summer is going to be brutal in that aspect, because we didn't have a single winter day cold enough to kill off a decent amount of the pesky little things. Granted, there's still a chance that we could get a good cold snap, but the likelihood that we'll get one cold enough to decimate the pest population is almost zero. This being said, there are ways to keep the bug population in your garden and yard down. One of the best is by inviting bats into your yard.

     Florida can lay claim to 13 different bat species, all of which are insectivores (they eat mainly bugs). There are also around 7 species that are considered “accidental species,” which means that they do not normally live here, but do visit frequently. The majority of these accidental species are pollinators, which is another amazing reason to invite bats into your yard! Most of these accidentals don't typically reach Central Florida, however. But getting back to the bug eating power of a single bat... according to Bat Conservation International a single little brown bat (Florida is home to it's bigger cousin the big brown bat) can eat up to 60 medium sized moths, or 1000 mosquito sized insects in a single night. That's quite a few less mosquitoes we have to worry about, all thanks to a single little bat.

     How do you attract bats? Two easy steps. First, build or buy a bat house. This will provide the bats with a relatively safe place to roost. Second, make sure the needs of the bat colony are in your yard. This includes water features (or simply put out a bowl or two of water), night-blooming flowers, and plenty of shade (dead trees are also a plus).

Building a Bat House:

Normally I would do a tutorial, giving you a step-by-step of how to craft your own bat house, but I am not a big carpenter and feel that a few other sites have already done a great job of this. So instead of my own instructions, I'll send you to a couple of my favorite DIY bat houses.

  • DIY Network has a great tutorial for building a Cedar Bat House that is super cheap, relatively easy to complete, and can house up to 50 brown bats once completed.
  • Bat Conservation International has a great tutorial for building a bat house along with modifications to make it larger for bigger colonies.
  • The National Wildlife Federation's Garden for Wildlife campaign published a great, easy tutorial on building a bat house. This one goes over how to properly place your bat house once finished.
  • Morning chores has a list of amazing bat house tutorials you should check out for ideas if you are wanting to try your hand at building one.

Bat Houses for Sale:

If you are like me and not much into carpentry (though my husband and I do occasionally give it a try), here are a few good bat houses to purchase.

  • Here's a good, top of the line, bat house that blends well with trees. It's also endorsed by the Organization for Bat Conservation, however it's a bit on the pricey side.
  • This bat house is a bit more affordable, but it's recommended to paint it darker to attract more bats.
  • Here's a large bat house that can house up to 300 bats.
     If you want to purchase a bat house and make it more attractive to bats, you can either paint it a dark color or glue bark onto the exterior of the house. Some companies offer pheromone sprays to help attract bats, I have not personally used these and am unsure as to their possible effectiveness. If you have experience with these sprays, please leave me a comment below.

     I hope you all enjoy making or assembling your bat houses! If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments below!

Bat Conservation International:
Better Homes and Gardens: Attract Bats for Pest Control:
DIY Network: Build A Bat House:
Florida Bats:
Morning Chores : 37 Free Bat House Plans:
National Wildlife Federation Garden for Wildlife: Build a Bat House:

Monday, March 20, 2017

5 Natural Ways to Combat Seasonal Allergies

     I don't know how things are in your area, but so far this year Central Florida has seen record breaking pollen counts. This means that my husband's seasonal allergies have been acting up worse than usual. Even my allergies, which usually don't bother me all that much, have made themselves known. So I thought that I'd share with you some of the things I do for allergies in my home.

1-Dietary Changes: There are some foods that can actually make your allergies worse. If you know what you are allergic to, do a little research and find out what foods could be causing oral allergy syndrome, a reaction to your food due to pollen allergies. Even if you don't have oral allergy syndrome, there are a few thing you can do to improve your allergy symptoms. Cut back on the dairy! Dairy products can increase the bodies mucus production and make the mucus much thicker. Cutting back on the dairy can help to manage this aspect of your allergies. Also, quite a few allergy symptoms can be caused by, or compounded by, issues in the gut. Probiotics can help relieve many of the issues that may be the underlying cause of allergy symptoms.

2-Apple Cider Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a wonderful tonic for the whole body, but by far it shines when dealing with seasonal allergies. ACV is packed full of beneficial vitamins, including lots of B vitamins. Make sure you get the raw, unfiltered ACV with the mother (the mother is the bacteria that helped make the ACV), the bonus for this is that you get some amazing probiotics in with it. Take 1 teaspoon in water 3 times a day for maximum results. It works (and tastes) even better if you use ½ teaspoon of raw, local honey in the mixture.

3-Nettles: Urtica dioica, or stinging nettle, is a natural antihistamine. Nettle can be made into a tea, tincture, or capsules, and in many places it's a common cooked green. However, to best use nettles for allergy relief, you should find an alcohol based tincture. The natural antihistamine found in nettle is best extracted using alcohol, so a tea won't have as much. If you eat the herb or take a capsule of dried nettle leaves, you'll still get all the antihistamine properties as well, but you'll need to consume more to get the same effect that you would get from just one dropper-full of the tincture.

4-Goldenrod: I know it seems strange that the plant most known for causing hay fever can actually help, but it really can. Solidago spp. is a great herb to use on a regular basis to help prevent and control allergy symptoms. However, it does not work if you are taking any synthetic allergy medicines with it. Goldenrod works well as either a tea or a tincture. If you're worried about a pollen allergy, make sure that the tea/tincture is made with leaves that have been harvested before the plant has flowered, to keep from accidentally getting pollen on the leaves.

5-Local Honey: There may not be any scientific evidence that consuming raw, local honey lessens allergy symptoms. However, it has worked like a charm with my family. The thought is that local honey contains the pollen from local flowers and consuming it will help your immune system to acclimate to this pollen. Whether or not this is true, honey is packed full of amazing vitamins and minerals that help to boost immune function and improve symptoms such as congestion.

     I hope these tips will help you and your family through this allergy season! If you have any questions or comments please leave them below.


Earth Clinic : Apple Cider Vinegar for All Allergies :
Know Your Roots : How to Take Goldenrod for Allergies :
Naturopathic Physicians : Natural Treatments for Your Seasonal Allergies :
Wellness Mama : 7 Effective Natural Remedies for Seasonal Allergies :

Monday, March 13, 2017

Wild Herb Pesto

     As many of you may know, I am very much an advocate for wildcrafting and using herbs as both food and medicine. One of my favorite ways to incorporate wild greens into my diet is with pesto. Pesto is such a great sauce/spread. I use it on sandwiches, in pasta dishes, and even mix it with hummus or sour cream to make a tasty dip for vegetables and chips. Even better, pesto is so easy to make. All you absolutely need are greens and olive oil. You can leave out the cheese if you are vegan, or the nuts if you have an allergy. It's great!

     Just be very careful when harvesting your wild greens. A few good rules to remember is to harvest only 100 feet (or more) from roadways to avoid contamination from road run-off. Make sure to harvest only in areas that are not treated with herbicides and/or pesticides. Also be careful to not harvest from waste areas (many of these plants have a tendency to take in the harmful chemicals and minerals from these areas). Make sure that you thoroughly wash these plants before using them to avoid bacterial contamination, this is also important if you are harvesting plants that grow shorter than a dog's leg. I also follow the Native American harvesting tradition of only harvesting ¼ of the plants you encounter. You leave ¼ for the animals to eat, ¼ for the next wildcrafter/forager who comes along, and ¼ to grow and continue the population. And the most important rule of all, be 100% sure of what you are harvesting. If you are 99.99% sure, do not harvest. There are a great number of look-alikes that can be toxic, so please please be sure of your plant before consuming it.

Wild Herb Pesto

2 cups Herb (or herbs) of your choice
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup pine nuts (or cashews)
2/3 cups extra virgin olive oil
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Combine herbs, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Add in 1/3 cup of the olive oil and process until smooth. Stir in remaining olive oil, cheese, and seasonings. Enjoy!

*For more of a traditional pesto flavor, use 1 cup of basil and 1 cup of wild herbs. I also like to use tulsi (holy basil) occasionally for an added health boost.
*Feel free to play with the amount of olive oil you use for different textures and flavor.

10 Herbs to experiment with:
  • Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica is notorious for it's sting. If you encounter it in it's raw form you'll know exactly why. However, once cooked or dried, nettles loose their sting and can be quite tasty, not to mention nutritious. Nutritionally, it's a great source of vitamins A, C, and D as well as iron, calcium, and magnesium. Medicinally, nettles are used to treat hay fever and similar allergies throughout the world. Because of the sting, this is one green you definitely want to blanch or dry before using in recipes.

  • Spanish Needle Bidens Alba is one of the most under-appreciated plants in North America. It's also one of the most prolific. Everywhere you look, especially here in Central Florida, you can find it. The young leaves and flowers are edible, but the whole plant is used medicinally. If you are using the leaves for pesto, you really want to blanch them first. Nutritionally, bidens leaves are very similar to spinach and packed with lots of vitamins and minerals. Medicinally, they are very useful for upper respiratory conditions. For more information on how bidens is used medicinally, you can find a previous post of mine here.

  • Purslane Portulaca oleracea is the most nutritionally jam packed green on earth. It contains more omega 3 fatty acids than any other plant known. It's also full of vitamins A, B, C, and E, beta carotene, magnesium, calcium, folate, lithium, iron, and protein. It's also a powerhouse of medicinal benefits. For more information on how purslane is used medicinally, you can find a previous post of mine here. You can use the leaves and stems for the pesto.

  • Red Clover Trifolium pratense is in the legume (bean) family and the leaves have a slight bean flavor. The flowers are even more tasty and are supposedly the most tasty of any of the clover flowers (I haven't personally tried all of them yet, but so far it's winning for me). Nutritionally, red clover is full of nutrients including vitamins A, B, and C, zinc, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and potassium. Medicinally, red clover is one of the best herbs for women as it helps to balance the female hormones. It's also a great aid in helping to prevent cancers of all types.

  • Peppergrass Lepidium virginicum is quite peppery in taste, almost like a very mild horseradish. The seeds can be used to flavor foods like pepper, the root can be used similarly to horseradish, but the leaves are delicious raw. Nutritionally, the leaves are a good source of vitamins A and C. Medicinally, this plant is great for the kidneys and has been used, traditionally, to treat asthma. This is one of the few plants that actually have no known dangerous look-alikes.

  • Chickweed Stellaria media is one of the earliest spring greens that show up in the eastern portion of the United States. Nutritionally, it's full of calcium, magnesium, potassiom, and quite a few other nutrients. Medicinally, this is one of the most amazing little herbs for your lymphatic system. You can use the leaves, flowers, and stems in this recipe.

  • Dollarweed Hydrocotyle bonariensis (also known as pennywort) tastes like carrot tops, or a bit like celery. It's a common weed in Florida that drives most lawn-owners crazy. Not only does it like lawns, but it also really loves to get it's feet wet, which means that you'll find it at the edges of rivers, streams, and lakes. You can also find it marshy areas. You can eat it raw, but you can also pickle/ferment it to make a “kraut” similar to sauerkraut. Dollarweed is often confused for Gotu Kola, which is a close cousin and has similar medicinal and nutritional benefits. Nutritionally, dollarweed is a decent source of minerals as well as B vitamins. Medicinally they are great for lowering blood pressure. Use only the leaves for this recipe.

  • Nasturtium Tropaeolum spp.may not be native to Florida, and may not be found in the wild, but my mother got me addicted to growing these tasty treats as a young girl. She used the excuse that for every flower I picked, two more would bloom, but I think it had more to do with the fact that we both loved to eat them in our salads. The whole plant is edible, and nasturtium flowers are one of the most recognizable, edible flowers on the market in America. The whole plant tastes peppery and you can use the flowers and leaves fairly interchangeably, but you can also pickle the seeds to add a little pop to your salads. There is only one warning associated with eating this plant, and it's a common one. Nasturtiums contain oxalic acid which can cause health issues when consumed in abundance. For that to happen, you'd need to eat several pounds of the leaves in one sitting, but the warning is there none-the-less. Nutritionally, nasturtium leaves and flowers are packed full of vitamin C and iron. Medicinally, nasturtium leaves are antibiotic, and this property is strongest just before the plant blooms. I use both the flowers and leaves for this recipe.

  • Watercress Nasturtium officinale has been eaten by humans for our entire history, and one of the oldest to be cultivated. You can still find it in quite a few grocery stores today. Nutritionally, it is loaded with vitamins A and C, and contains significant amounts of iron, calcium, and folic acid. Medicinally it is loaded down with benefits as well. The vikings considered it THE food to eat in the spring because it helped to flush the body of all the built up chemicals that come from existing solely on meat throughout the harsh winters. Just avoid this tasty green during pregnancy.

  • Wood Sorrel Oxalis spp. can be found everywhere in the world, except at the North and South poles. There are around 850 different species and they are all edible. Oxalis leaves taste a little sour, reminiscent of a very, very mild rhubarb. You can eat every part of this plant, but I do need to caution you about over-eating it. Oxalis contains oxalic acid which can cause health issues when consumed in abundance. For that to happen, you'd need to eat several pounds of the leaves in one sitting, but the warning is there none-the-less. Nutritionally, oxalis is high in vitamin C, iron, and zinc. Medicinally it's great for reducing fever, increasing appetite, and it happens to be a diuretic. For this recipe, I use the leaves, but the tubers are eaten all throughout Eastern Europe and South America.

I hope you enjoy making this pesto and have fun gathering your herbs! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below!

(if you can't tell, I'm a Green Deane fan)

Eat the Weeds : Chickweed Chic :
Eat the Weeds : Oxalis How to Drown Your Sorrels :
Eat the Weeds : Nasturtiums Natures Nose Nabber :
Eat the Weeds : Pennyworts Making Sense :
Eat the Weeds : Peppergrass Potent Pipsqueak :
Eat the Weeds : Purslane Any Portulaca in a Storm :
Eat the Weeds : Spanish Needle Pitchfork Weed :
Eat the Weeds : Stinging Nettles :
Kansas City Star : Not Just Pretty :
Mom Prepares : Red Clover and Edible Plant that Packs a Punch :
Plant Care Today : Backyard Weeds You Can Eat :

Monday, March 6, 2017

Bidens Alba

     One day, while out wandering in nature, my husband made a comment about how much Spanish Needle we had growing in the area. My response was “that's how you know you're in the Southeastern part of America.” And there is a bit of truth in that sarcasm. If you look around anywhere here, you'll see white flowers with yellow centers. In fact, it's so prolific that our founding fathers were once wondering if they should grow it as a food crop and decided against it because it was all over the place and very easy to forage.

     The genus Bidens contains almost 200 distinct species of herbaceous plants in the Aster family (Asteraceae). In Central Florida, Bidens alba is most commonly referred to as Spanish Needle or Beggars Ticks. We also have Bidens pilosa which is used in the same way and looks so similar that the only major identifying difference is height (alba is taller) which is hard to distinguish when you’re dealing with a plant that gets mowed over quite regularly. The latin name will actually help you to identify the plant a little easier. Bidens refers to the seeds and literally translates to two (bi) teeth (dens). Alba refers to the flower and translates to white. The flowers and young leaves are edible, both in salads and as a potherb (just don’t eat Bidens too much or too often as it has a high saponin content and has a tendency to take up silicas from the soil), and the whole plant can be used medicinally. Bidens is also the number one plant that bees use for honey in Central Florida. So if you want to help out our local pollinators, encourage the growth of Bidens in your garden.

Medicinal Uses:

Summary of actions- Astringent, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antidiabetic, antidysenteric, antimalarial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, blood tonic, carminative, diuretic, galactagogue, hepaprotective, hypoglycemic, hypotensive, immunomodulant, mucus membrane tonic, neuroprotectant, prostaglandin synthesis inhibitor, styptic, vulnerary.

Traditional Chinese Medicine- This plant is used to clear up heat, remove toxins, and eliminate stagnancy. The applications listed include influenza, swollen and sore throat, enteritis (inflammation of the small intestine), dysentery, jaundice, epilepsy in children, malnutrition in infants, and hemorrhoids.

Mucus membrane tonic- Use the whole plant to dry up excessive mucus, relieve pain, soothe and heal the mucus membranes. This is particularly potent when dealing with the urinary tract. My husband and I use it, in addition to Nettle, for help with our seasonal allergies when our sinuses are particularly effected.

Antimalarial- A tincture of the fresh leaves is extremely effective against malaria. Only slightly less effective, in the short term, than typical malaria drugs. If taken longer, however, Bidens shows a greater measure of effectiveness, even once the parasite becomes resistant to typical drugs.

Blood pressure and heart rate- Bidens relaxes vascular tissue, is a vasodilator, and relaxes the heart. The effects are also long lasting. This makes it a great herb to lower blood pressure. For this use, it’s good to pair with ginger as ginger works as a catalyst to increase the effectiveness of Bidens.

Antimicrobial- The whole plant can be used as an antimicrobial remedy. If you are using the leaves, fresh leaves make the best tincture. Black pepper should also be added as it works synergistically to increase the effectiveness, unless you are using this for the GI tract (black pepper can cause irritation). Bidens has shown a great amount of effectiveness in this use, particularly when dealing with resistant strains of bacteria.

Styptic- If you collect and grind the seeds into a fine powder, Bidens can be used to help stop bleeding.

     I hope you have a new appreciation for this common plant. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

Bitter Root Restoration:
Chinese Herb Info:
Eat The Weeds:
Item Online:
Joybilee Farm:
Medicine County Herbs:

The Great Kosmic Kitchen:


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...