Monday, December 31, 2018

Make Time For Nature

      The Holidays are a wonderful time, however they are also stressful. Holiday parties, gift wrapping and giving, cleaning, decorating, baking, merry-making, all of this is wrapped up into just a few weeks. This tends to leave people strung out, exhausted, and ready for a break. So I'd like to offer up one of my favorite ways to relax and detox from the stress of this crazy season. Nature.

Spending time in Nature has a great number of health benefits that come with it.

1. Improved Mood

    Growing up on the coast of Florida, I've always heard about a group of crazy people who like to go swimming, in the ocean, during the winter. Brr! But science may have determined that there is actually something good that comes from their chilly dips. According to a series of recent studies, short term immersion in cold water actually stimulates the immune system as well as triggers your body to release more endorphins, helping to boost your health and mood.

     Now you don't have to take the plunge to boost your mood in the colder months. With winter comes shorter days, reducing your exposure to the sun. This plays a pretty huge part in the “winter blues” and can be countered with more time outdoors while the sun is up. Also, any mild exercise can help to release those same endorphins that are triggered by the chilly dip, and even more of them are released when you're exercising in the cold.

2. Improved Immunity 

     Most of us are aware that stress has a negative impact on our health and immunity. Especially for those of us who live in more urban areas, stresssors are becoming more easy to encounter and that much harder to avoid. Spending time out in nature helps us to reduce our stressors and relax. Not only does this reduction of stress improve our immunity, but when you're out in nature you tend to be surrounded by plants, which has it's own set of immune boosting benefits.

     Trees and other plants have to fight off disease just like we do. They each have developed unique ways to do this. One way can really benefit us as well. Phytoncides are chemicals that plants have developed to kill off harmful bacteria and fungi. Many of these phytoncides are released into the air by a breeze, some are released when you brush up against a plant, and of course there are some that are taken in when the plant is ingested. But just simply breathing in the outside air, in natural areas, can help to build your immune system and help you fight off disease.

3. Increase Metabolism and Burn Fat 

     Your body works a little bit harder when you're cold, but you don't have to be shivering for this to happen. Your body is less efficient in colder temperatures. This boosts your metabolism, helping you to burn more calories.  This is helped greatly when you're exposed to the cold on a regular, consistent, basis and even more so if you're exposure includes cardiac pumping activities such as skiing, ice skating, or even just a brisk walk.

4. Reduce Exposure to Seasonal Illnesses

     Most of us have an association with winter and illness. Growing up, I always heard my mother say things such as “don't go outside or you'll catch a cold!” However we really have more to fear from staying inside during the winter, at least as far as getting ill is concerned. We spend so much time indoors during the colder months, and with central air and heat all the pathogens just get circulated around our homes and businesses. The better to spread between people and cause more and more infections. Getting outside during the winter helps keep you from that constant pathogenic exposure, at least for a little while.

5. Stop Negative and Obsessive Thinking

     When you're walking through the wonders of nature, most of the time you are happy just to “be.” Nature, fresh air, trees, and plants can all help to calm your mind, helping you to find your center. This helps to reduce stress, but it also helps to reduce negative thoughts and obsessive thinking. We all do it. We get stuck on analyzing our actions, our work lives, what we could do better next time, etc. Most of us are very familiar with thoughts that go in circles just obsessing over how we messed up and how to do better if we're ever presented with the opportunity to do so. Thoughts like this lead to depression, anxiety, and a whole host of other mood and mental conditions. Science has told us, for quite a while now, that these obsessive thoughts and their associated mental illnesses are more common in cities. However, recently science has also taken these studies a bit further, confirming that just a walk in the neighborhood does not change these thought processes. One study in particular found that taking a 90 minute walk in an urban area did not effect most people's negative and obsessive thoughts, however a 90 minute walk in more natural areas, like a park or the woods, did decrease these negative thoughts.

Seasonal Cautions:

     The benefits are definitely great reasons to spend time outside during the winter, but don't forget that the cold can be dangerous as well. Living in Florida, where people live in perpetual fear of temperatures under 50 degrees, I often forget certain safety measures about the cold. So here are a few reminders for those who will be exposed to the chillier side of winter.

1. Dress Appropriately

     Layers are always a good choice in the winter. That way, while you're in warmer areas, you can peel off any layers when you get hot, but you also have those layers for when you're in the cold again. But don't forget your hat, scarf, and gloves when you expect to be in the cold. A lot of body heat is trapped by a hat, keeping you warmer over all. A scarf helps you protect your face, especially when the wind is blowing. Your fingers tend to get cold easily in warmer months, so in the colder ones we need to not forget to take measures to make sure they stay warm, and mittens are actually warmer than gloves for those of you who may be around the snow this winter.

2. Stay Dry

     Water helps us to cool down in the summer, but it also cools us during the winter. Make sure that your outer layer of clothing is waterproof to help keep in your body heat and keep out the damp. Also, perspiration speeds the loss of body heat, so removing excess layers when you feel warm is a good thing to do.

3. Take it Slow

     Your body work less efficiently in the cold, which means it's harder for your heart to pump blood, for your lungs to take in air, your digestive system to digest, etc. So for those of you who may have a heart condition, this means that you should take things slow in the cold. Physical exertion will demand more effort from your bodily functions, which means that it will be that much easier for you to over exert yourself. Don't over do it! Take it slow and listen to your body.

4. Use Common Sense

     Just like the summer, winter has it's own perils. If you're planing on spending any time outside, especially if you're doing this alone, make sure that your friends and family know where you are and approximately how long you plan on staying out.

     Be prepared for changing conditions. All seasons have different weather patterns in them, in winter you need to be prepared for cold weather conditions. Make sure you carry matches and other materials to start a fire with if needed, extra clothing or a blanket in case the temperature drops suddenly, etc. Especially if you're heading out in conditions you're not familiar with, check out and research safety tips before you go.

     I hope I have helped to motivate you to get out in nature, even if it's cold.  Spending even a few minutes a week in nature can have amazing benefits. Have fun with your outdoor adventures and if you have any questions or comments please leave them below.


4 Simple Secrets to Feeling Your Best Through the Depths of Winter: Hyperbiotics:

5 Unexpected Benefits of Enjoying Outdoor Winter Activities: Cheat Sheet:

5 Ways Spending Time in Nature Benefits Your Brain: Care 2:

5 Ways Spending Time in Nature Benefits Your Health: Hyperbiotics:

Bundle Up and Get Outside: Fix:

Ecotherapy: Health Benefits of Nature: Wellness Mama:

Monday, December 10, 2018

Blueberry Citrus Fruitcake

     Fruitcake. It's the Christmas tradition that nobody wants.  However, this tradition stems from abundance. Historically, fruitcakes were made after a very successful harvest, and stored until Christmas (or even the next harvest), when they were eaten in celebration and for good luck in the next year's harvest. The secret to keeping this cake so long is in it's care. Each week the cake needs to be brushed with alcohol or flavored syrup. This helps to preserve it as well as to keep it moist. The modern dislike of fruitcake probably comes from the lack of care and attention given to them, making them hard bricks of weird fruit and nut bread.

     That being said, this year I decided to put my own spin on this traditional baked good, hopefully reviving the old tradition with a bit of a Bat Lady flair.

     As with all my recipes, there are a number of awesome variations that you can use. I really don't like apricots, so I used pineapple in this recipe, but feel free to use the traditional apricots. Really, you can use any fruit you'd like in place of any of the other fruits (a small amount of elderberries might make for an interesting cake), same goes for the nuts. I prefer cashews and almonds to a few of the more traditional nuts, but you can use whatever nuts you'd like. Have fun with it and make it your own!   
     This awesome recipe features Juniper berries and Gin, two of my favorite things! Also, it makes about 12 cups of batter, so you can use a 10-inch bundt pan, a 9X13 inch baking pan, 2 9 inch round cake pans, or it can make 18-24 cupcakes.

Blueberry Citrus Fruitcake

The Fruit Mixture:
1 ½ cups dried Blueberries
½ cup Golden Raisins
½ cup dried Pineapple
¼ cup candied Ginger
½ cup Gin (my favorite gin to use is Magellan, but any gin will work) or St. Germain (an Elderflower liqueur)...or go crazy and use half of each!

The Cake:
5 tbsp ground Chia Seeds
10 tbsp Water
2 cups Gluten Free Flour Mix of your choice (my favorite is by Namaste)
¾ cup milled/ground Flaxseed and/or Chia seed (buy it already ground or grind your own using a coffee grinder)
1 tbsp Baking Powder (gluten free of course)
½ tsp Sea Salt
2 Oranges, remove the peel (not the pith) with a vegetable peeler and reserve it, squeeze the oranges after peeling and reserve the juice
1 Lemon remove the peel (not the pith) with a vegetable peeler and reserve it, squeeze the lemon after peeling and reserve the juice (½ for the cake and ½ for the glaze)
1 Lime remove the peel (not the pith) with a vegetable peeler and reserve it, squeeze the lime after peeling and reserve the juice (½ for the cake and ½ for the glaze)
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 tsp ground Juniper Berries (I grind mine using a coffee grinder)
4 cups Honey (or Agave)
1 cup of Coconut Oil (or Ghee)
¼ cup Cashews, chopped
¼ cup slivered Almonds

The Syrup:
½ cup Honey
½ cup Gin
½ the reserved Lemon Juice
½ the reserved Lime Juice

Combine the dried fruits and booze in a non-reactive (I use glass) bowl. Toss well, cover, and allow to soak overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat your pan/pans with olive oil (or ghee) and dust with flour. Combine 5 tbsp ground Chia Seeds and 10 tbsp water, mix well, and chill in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Combine flour, Flax/Chia Seed mixture, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Combine ½ of the lemon juice, ½ of the lime juice, and ¾ of a cup of orange juice with vanilla extract and set aside. 

Toss soaked dried fruit with 2 tablespoons of flour mixture, set aside.

In a food processor, process your citrus peels and ground Juniper until the peels are finely ground. Add in honey, chilled chia mixture, and coconut oil. Process until smooth. Pour into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Using a rubber spatula, fold in half of the flour mixture, add juice mixture to combine. Fold in the rest of the flour mixture, dried fruits, and nuts until just combined.

Scrape batter into the prepared pan(s) and baked until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes.

In a saucepan, over medium-high heat, combine honey and citrus juices. Bring to a boil, while stirring to combine. Remove from heat and add in gin. Stir until well combined.

When the fruitcake is done, remove from the oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack, about 10 minutes.

Using a skewer or toothpick, poke small holes in the top of the cake. Slowly spoon a small amount on top of the cake and allow it to soak in. Let the cake set and absorb the syrup for a few minutes, then repeat the process as many times as it takes to use up all of your prepared syrup.

*Optional. Dusting the cake with powdered sugar helps make it look a little more Christmas-y and the powdered sugar helps preserve the cake as well.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for at least 2 hours before removing from the pan. Can be served immediately, but this cake tastes better if allowed to sit for at least 24-48 hours before serving. If you want to store it long-term, wrap it up in cheese cloth and foil before placing it in an air-tight container. Each week, using a basting brush, cover the fruitcake with more syrup (one application of syrup at a time). For more detailed instructions on long-term care of fruitcake check out this page.

     I know this is a little more complicated than most of my recipes, but I hope you enjoy making (and eating!) this fruitcake!  If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below!

Thursday, December 6, 2018


    It's that time of year. The time when people are decking their halls and gathering together to celebrate whichever Holiday they choose to celebrate. In my house, there is always a tree. Christmas trees are beautiful, traditional, and make the house smell like you're walking in the woods on a snowy Christmas morning. When you combine that wonderful scent with the scent of Holiday cooking, you get a comfortably Christmas-y scent that everyone loves. One of my favorite spices to help bring more of that Christmas tree scent into the season (though I do use it year round) is Juniper.

     Juniper Berries are actually not berries at all. They are the female seed cones of Juniperus communis, a conifer (cone bearing plants) commonly known as the Common Juniper. This shrub has the largest range of any woody plant and can be found in most places in the northern hemisphere. In many parts of it's natural habitat, Juniper will only grow close to the ground, but it can easily reach 15 ft tall and there are even a few variants that have been known to reach 50 ft. This tree is extremely amiable to a number of different growing conditions, which probably is why it's one of the most popular conifers used in traditional Bonsai art.

     I will admit that I am one of those “weird people” who loves to drink gin. Most people I've encountered just don't get it. And when I describe gin as “Christmas tree in a bottle” they get super confused. But I LOVE the fresh flavor, and it's all thanks to Juniper. Not only is Juniper used to flavor gin, but it's also a common spice in traditional German food, as well as an amazing herb to use for quite a long list of health benefits. If you talk to culinary experts, they'll tell you that Juniper is great to flavor meat and to use in sauces. I tend use Juniper berries in a lot of foods and drinks that I make during this time of year. Wassail, mulled wine, and my homemade cranberry sauce, are just a few of my favorite recipes that use Juniper Berries.

Medicinal Uses:

Scientific Name- Juniperus communis

Common Names- Common juniper, fairy circle, hackmatack, gin berry, horse savin, gorst, aiten, dwarf juniper, genevier, mountain common juniper, old field common juniper, genévrier, ginepro, enebro, gemeiner, gin plant, wachholder, reckholder

Parts Used- Commonly, the dried and ripe berries but sometimes the needles and wood have been used for medical purposes. Essential oils are often made using a combination of needles, wood, and powdered berries.

Summary of Actions-  Antiseptic, sudorific, antirheumatic, depurative, antispasmodic, stimulating, stomachic, astringent, carminative, diuretic, rubefacient, vulnerary, and a tonic.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)-  Known as Du Song Zi, Juniper has quite a number of uses in TCM. It's bitter and pungent and works primarily on the heart, spleen, and lung meridians. It's also known to promote digestion, warm the middle, expel phelgm, warm the lungs, and cleanses both the kidney and liver.

Ayurveda-  Juniper has several names in Ayurveda; Hapusha, Matsyagandha, Aaraar, Abhal, and Haubera.  Juniper is recommended for pacifying both kapha and vata doshas, and for enhancing pitta dosha to aid metabolic functions.

Essential Oil-  Juniper essential oil is a well known antiseptic, used in the past to treat wounds, and even to sanitize medical equipment. Makes an excellent choice for deodorants and deodorizing sprays. When diffused it helps to sanitize and cleanse the air.  It is also calming and stress relieving without sedating. There are some studies that even recommend this oil over medication for certain insomnia patients. It's also a gentile stimulant, helping to overcome fatigue, dizziness, and even depression.

Joint Pain-  Juniper helps to increase blood circulation, remove toxins, and reduce swelling, all of which help ease join pain caused by gout, arthritis, or rheumatism.

Skin Conditions-  This herb is amazing at helping treat skin conditions. In fact, it's one of the most common uses today. It helps speed up your body's natural healing process, helping to reduce the appearance of scars, sooth rashes, and helps reduce the inflammation that leads to outbreaks of eczema and psoriasis. Some studies are actually pointing to Juniper helping treat certain cases of vitiligo, a condition that causes patches of skin to loose pigmentation.

Antibacterial and Antiviral-  Juniper is a great herb for use in your household cleaning products. It works to kill most of the common bacteria, fungi, and viruses you find in your home. It also is effective against Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) , even against the antibiotic resistant strains of Staph and other resistant bacteria.

Heart Health-  Juniper helps to reduce high blood pressure, helps to lower high triglycerides, and acts as a tonic for the circulatory system. It also helps to cleanse blood of toxins like uric acid, heavy metals, pollutants, and excess hormones.

Digestive Issues-  Often used as a bitter herb, to aid the production of bile and ease digestion, Juniper is also excellent for quite a few other digestive issues. It's a carminative, helping to relieve flatulence and bloating. It's also a stomachic, helping to speed the healing of ulcers and helps prevent their formation.

Diabetes-  Ingested, Juniper has high amounts of natural insulin, which helps lower blood sugar. It also works to benefit the pancreas, helping to strengthen it as long as no permanent damage has been done already.

Urinary Tract and Kidneys-  This is the major action of Juniper. It's a great diuretic, helping to cleanse the body of excessive toxins. It's also been known as an effective remedy for kidney and urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and quite a few other kidney and urinary tract related issues.

Contraindications and Warnings- Avoid use if you are pregnant, nursing, or trying to get pregnant. Check first with your doctor if you are suffering with kidney problems. Topical use of juniper can cause skin irritation, burning, redness, or swelling in certain people. Some individuals experience stomach and intestinal irritation after ingesting juniper. Juniper interacts with diabetic medications as well as medical diuretics so talk to your doctor if you are on any of those. Individuals should stop taking juniper at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery to prevent blood sugar concerns.

     I only included a basic introduction to this amazing herb.  I hope you have learned a new appreciation for this lovely conifer.  If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.


9 Health Benefits of Juniper Berries: Dr. Axe:

13 Incredible Benefits of Juniper Essential Oil: Organic Facts:

Juniper: Ayurveda Medicare:

Juniper: Baseline of Health Foundation:

Juniper: Medicinal Plants India:

Juniper: WebMD:

Juniper: White Rabbit Institute of Healing:

Juniper Benefits: Herbwisdom:

Juniper Berries: A Modern Herbal:

Juniper Berries: Richard Whelan:

Juniper Berry Oil: Ayurvedic Oils:

Juniper (Gin Berry): Ageless:

Juniper- Health Benefits and Side Effects: The Herbal Resource:

Juniper Herbal Remedies: Annie's Remedy:

Juniper Herbal Remedies: How Stuff Works:

Juniper Plant Benefits- How To Use Juniper for Herbal Use: Gardening Know How:

Medicinal Benefits of Juniper Berries: SF Gate:


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...