Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Pot Garden

Contrary to some beliefs you do not need a great amount of land to create a garden.  Growing plants in containers has been around for a long time.  If you have some sunny roof space, patio or balcony space you can grow something for yourself.  The benefits far outweigh the time.  I have a 10 x 30 concrete front porch that I have lined and double lined with containers of vegetables, flowers and herbs.  There is nothing quite so pleasing as to sit on the porch and enjoy some nice refreshing veggie or flower from my effots and the earth's goodness.  I love cherry tomatoes and at $5 a pint this winter I was convinced I had to do something about my tomato habit.  So, I have 10 tomato plants in 20 gallon pots.  It is a joy to watch them grow and I get 5-10 tomatos a day off of one plant.  I think I will get my $3 per plant investment back very fast.  Along with daily feast of tomatoes I am getting the occasional zucheni squash from my 1 plant, cucumbers, sweet banana and bell peppers, fresh basil, rosemary, thyme, dill, chives and sweet refreshing day lilies (delish!).  What a treat, and no pesticides in site.  My summer squash and sweet potatoes are not ready yet and the eggplant died so I had to replant - it will be a while.  Plus I am learning what each type of plant likes in regards to light, soil, food and water.  You can order almost any kind of herb seed at www.richters.com from out of Canada.  Good site that tells what the herbs are used for.  Bonnie plants hosts a site that tells you just how to grow your herbs and vegetables.  Some people choose a large pot and plant herbs good for the stomach in that pot, another pot and plant herbs good for burns in that pot and so on.  Get creative, just get started.  It is hard to learn to identify herbs in the wild.  One stepping stone is to order the seeds and grow the herb so that you know for sure what it is supposed to look like before you go searching for it in the wild. 
I found the plants I purchased that were in the degradable peat pots where you have no transplant shock did far better.  Dark pots get as much as 10 degrees hotter in the sun than light pots.  Plastic pots hold onto the water longer, but I prefer the clay pots.  My plants seem to stay cooler and do better in my hot summer in the clay pots.   My sister used one of those round blue plastic children's wading pools for a big pot....don't forget to put holes in the bottom for drainage if you do decide to use one.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Salt of the Earth

Why salt?  Salt is not an herb.  I know.  But, we need it for many reasons.  One significant reason is to help us preserve things.  Think of salt and an enabler and enhancer.  It is one of the tools of an herbalist or medical practionist's trade.  Think not?  What do they use saline solution for? Lots of things, including a brine for preparing and preserving many different foods.  Salt has been used, or some form of it, by most all civilizations...or at least it has been supposed so.  There are over 14,000 uses for salt.  Some interesting uses can be found at the site http://www.care2.com/greenliving/47-smart-uses-for-salt.html
There are many different kinds of salts.  For this article we will look at sodium-chloride or common table salt and seasalt.  The debate still rages as to which is better for you, some concluding they are the same.  Seasalt has trace elements of other minerals, which some argue are needed.  Seasalt does not have enough natural iodine to prevent goiters.  Chemically produced salt, or pure sodium-chloride frequently called table salt, can be purchased with iodine added and has helped prevent goiters. Individuals who live near the sea and eat a regular diet of seafood usually do not get goiters (an abnormal growth in the neck , see images here:  http://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images?_adv_prop=image&fr=slv8-yie9&va=medical+pictures+of+goiters   ) Salt that has iodine added is a good choice for others who are at risk of developing a goiter.  Table salt versus seasalt, your choice.  No decision will be made here as each have compelling arguments.  Distinction will not be made in the article by simply using the word salt.

Histhorically, salt has been mined and harvested from the sea and inland salt lakes by evaporation.  It has been fought over, used as currency, traded and overused. Prior to referigeration, salt meat was a common part of the diet.  According to Thomas Hariot's "A Brief and True Report of the new found land of Virginia" about the food of the American Indians, they did not use salt as we know it.  They had a plant they cultivated, harvested as seasoning.   The species of the plant is not named in the article. He describes their use of the plant as "From the stalk of the herb they produce a kind of salt by burning it to ashes.  This is the only salt they know, and they season their broths with it.  We ourselves have used the leaves for pot-herbs."  There are two herbs that maybe of interest.  Allenrolfea occidentalis (not tasty but edible), called iodine bush or Pickleweed.  The young stems are edible raw, in moderation, because of their concentration of salts.  They are more palatable and wholesome after cooking.  The stems become fleshy and filled with a salty juice; the leaves are reduced to scales.  The seeds are also edible. The pollen causes hayfever in some people.  The other plant is atriplex, a little more tasty, called saltbush.  This plant has a native American variety and also has a variety introduced from Eurasia.  The leaves of many of these species were eaten by American Indians.  They are salty and tend to irritate the throat if eaten raw and alone.  They are cooked into the food or alone in at least one change of water.  The seeds were generally parched and ground into pinole. Some Asian and European species are eaten as vegetables, including orach and sea purslane.  Sea purslane has small very salty fleshy leaves, which are best after boiling in water.  Hopi Indians used the ashes from the leaves of Atriplex.cancescens as baking powder. (from The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America, Nature's Green Feast. by Francois Couplan, Ph.D. c. 1998 Francois Couplan

Salt in the American Civil War

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Salt played a major role during the Civil War. Salt not only preserved food in the days before refrigeration, but was also vital in the curing of leather. Union general William Tecumseh Sherman once said that "salt is eminently contraband", as an army that has salt can adequately feed its men.[1]
The most important saltworks for the Confederacy were at Saltville, Virginia. In late 1864, the Union army twice advanced to capture the saltworks, as it was the last prominent source of salt for the eastern Confederate states. The October 1864 Battle of Saltville I saw the Confederate able to repulse the charge, but the next December in the Battle of Saltville II Union forces under George Stoneman managed to destroy the vital saltworks. Two months later the salt works were back to work for the Confederacy, although the destroyed railroad system around the area hampered its distribution.[2] [3]
In Georgia, the price of salt depended on one's family circumstances. Heads of families could purchase a half-bushel of salt for $2.50. If a widow had a son in the Confederate army, the price was only $1.00. But if the widow's husband served his nation, the price was free. Local court clerks sent the salt requests to the state government, which in turn allotted the salt to the counties as requested.[4]
Some scholars[who?] contend that Florida's greatest contribution to the Confederate war effort was in producing salt. With a total investment of $10 million, Floridian salt plants worked 24 hours a day boiling salt from sea water, mostly in the area between Saint Andrews Bay and St. Marks, Florida. Occasionally, Union forces came ashore just to destroy the boilers.[5] Confederate law made those involved in salt-making immune to being drafted, making it a popular profession in war-time Florida; the estimated total workers involved was 5,000.[6]
One way Southern families acquired salt was to boil the dirt in areas where they had previously cured meats. They would dig it out, and strain it.[7]
Avery Island, off the Louisiana coast, gave the Confederacy a huge supply of rock salt until the Union captured it. However, Confederates never realized that similar structures to the rock salt mine were all along the Louisiana and Texas coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, and therefore salt could have been more easily attained if they had but realized it.  The following is a pot used for boiling seawater to get salt. 
Roman soldiers were paid in salt at one time.  Hence the saying 'he is not worth his salt'.  The word salary comes from the Greek form of the word salt. 
Many recipes are available on the internet for using salt to preserve meat and fish, using a salt brine to prepare meat for smoking or curing; but salt was also used to preserve plants.  Consider this Colonial American recipe for preserving green beans.  This information is from the Foood Timeline at http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcolonial.html#colonialstorage

How did Colonial housewives store their beans?
Our primary sources indicate there were three primary methods for storing (aka preserving) beans in Colonial America: dry salting, pickling & drying. Notes below:

"To keep French Beans all the Year. Take young beans, gathered on a dry day, have a large stone jar ready, lay a layer of salt at the bottom, then a layer of beans, then salt and then beans, and so on till the jar is full; cover them with salt, and tie a coarse cloth over them, and a board on that, and then a weight to keep it close from all air; set them in a dry cellar, and when you use them, take some out and cover them close again; wash those you take out very clean, and let them lie in soft water twenty-four hours, shifting the water often; when you boil them do not put any salt in the water."
Frugal Housewife, Susannah Carter [1803]
"Lima, or Sugar Beans... These beans are easily preserved for winter use, and will be nearly as good as fresh ones. Gather them on a dry day, when full grown, but quite young: have a clean and dry keg, sprinkle some salt in the bottom, put in a layer of pods, containing the beans, then a little salt--do this till the keg is full; lay a board on with a weight, to press them down; cover the keg very close, and keep it in a dry, cool place--they should be put up as late in the season, as they can be with convenience. When used, the pods must be washed, and laid in fresh water all night; shell them next day, and keep them in water till you are going to boil them; when tender, serve them up with melted butter in a boat. French beans (snaps) may be preserved in the same manner."
---The Virginia Housewife: Or, Methodical Cook, Mrs. Mary Randolph [1824, 1838]
"To Pickle Kidney Beans. Take the beans & string them very well, then lay them in elegar with a good handfull of salt & let they ly covered over in ellegar [malt vinegar] or vinnegar 10 dayes. then tak them out & set a kettle of water on the fire & make it scallding hot. then put in the beans, covering them close with a clean course cloth & when you disserne them to be greene & tender, take them up & when they be cold, pickle them in white wine vinnegar & salt, laying a clean course ragg upon the pickle which will keepe them from caneing. & wash the clothe when it canes, and salt & water; & if you carefully take you the cloth all the canes will stick to it."
---Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, circa 1749-1799, transcribed by Karen Hess [Columbia University Press:New York] 1981 (p. 166) [NOTE: Food historian Karen Hess added these notes: "All of the many pickle recipes in our manuscript represent ancient ways of preserving vegetables againt time of need as well as brightening winter menus, which could bet monotonous after a few months. Some of the nutrients must have leached into the picle, but I belive that the liquor was used in cooking as a seasoning." (p. 166).]
"To Keep Green Beans for Winter. Boil salt and water to make a strong pickle; string the beans, and put them in a tight wooden firkin; sprinkle them with salt as they go in; when the pickle is cold, pour it on, and put on a weight to keep the beans under; they will keep in the cellar till the next spring. They should soak several hours in cold water before they are boiled."
---Domestic Cookery
"Lima Beans...Dried lima beans should be soaked over night, and boiled two hours or longer, if they are not soft."
--- Domestic Cookery
[NOTE: we do not find instructions for drying lima (or any other) beans in our early American cookbooks. This quote might explain why: "The bags of dried peas, beans, and fruit sometimes entered in Virvinia inventories suggest a limited use of the Indian method of drying them in the sun. Like jerked meat...dried fruits and legumes were more common in the upcountry than in the humid Tidewarter [Virginia Shore/Chesapeake Bay area]."---Colonial Virginia Cookery, Jane Carson [Colonial Williamsburg Foundation:Williamsburg VA] 1985 (p. 120)
RECOMMENDED READING: Pickled, Potted, Canned/Sue Shepard
Food historians generally agree Amelia Simmons American Cookery, published in Hartford CT, 1796 is the first "American" coobook. Why? It was the first cookbook to include indigenous ingredients, most notably corn meal. The first cookbook printed in the American Colonies was E. Smith's The Compleat Housewife published by William Parks, Williamsburg VA, 1742. Like most of the other cookbooks used in colonial America it was a reprint of a European cooking texts. colonists used cookbooks published in their native countries. English cooks would have had books written by Hannah Glasse, John Farley, John Murrell, and E. Smith. If you want authentic texts start here:

  • 1615,

Medicinal Uses of Sea Salt

According to the Mayo Clinic, the chemical makeup of sea salt is the same as table salt, with differences existing in taste, texture and processing. Nevertheless, medicinal uses for salt--which are mainly topical applications--generally call for less processed sea salt. Many of these are traditional remedies, and their effects will vary. For serious health conditions, talk with your doctor about the effect of sea salt remedies.

Oral Health

  • Sea salt can be used for gargling and to clean the mouth and teeth. To make a gargling solution, mix 1/2 tsp. of sea salt into a glass of warm water. This can help with a sore throat. You can make a toothpaste with one part sea salt and two parts baking soda that helps whiten teeth. Mix equal parts sea salt and baking soda to make a mouthwash.

Eye Treatments

  • A diluted solution of 1/2 tsp. of sea salt to a pint of water can be used to wash and relieve tired eyes. Use the same solution with hot water to dab around eyes to reduce puffiness.

Skin Irritation

  • Sea salt can be applied to some bug bites and rashes for relief. For bee stings, wet the area and apply salt for pain relief. For mosquito, chigger and other bug bites, soak the bite area in salty water, then apply a mixture of salt and lard to the bite. You can speed recovery from poison ivy by soaking the affected area in hot, salty water.

Soaking and Stress Relief

  • Bathing in salt solutions is known to have a relaxing effect that soothes aching muscles. Add a handful of sea salt to a hot bath to relieve fatigue, or several tablespoons to hot water in a basin to sooth tired feet. You can also exfoliate skin by using salt as a rub after bathing

There are many other 'home remedies' that use ordinary salt.  If we cut our foot or stepped on a nail, mother immediately had us soak our foot in warm salty water.  Sound familiar?  Salt does stop some bacterial growth, however, it does not kill the bacteria.  The warm salty water seemed to help. 

Some herbal formulas, like prescription drugs, are better used by the body when administered through the blood stream.  Saline solution has become the benchmark of IV solutions.  Chelation therapy utilizes intravenious application of several different natural minerals and solutions.  Although there are other mediums that can be utilized as IV solutions, saline solution appears to be the choice.

Our bodies need salt.  It does, however in excess cause problems such as fluid retention, and hypertension.  It is a fantastic food flavor enhancer, and eating salty rather than sweet when you are traveling will better keep sleep at bay.  Salt is worth keeing a good backup supply on hand.  Include rock salt, of course, for making ice cream.  Remember, over 14,000 uses and climbing.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

New Beginnings

About 25 or so years ago, my sister Mary and I started studying weeds and herbs.  I really don't care to separate the two.  They say a weed is just a plant they haven't found a use for yet.  Some though are noxious and pests; no way around it.  I invite you to join me in this awsome journey.  My sister died recently and I need a new partner.  Just join right in.  I don't suppose I'll ever know all there is to know about plants, you might just know something I don't or correct something I have wrong.  Feel free....  If you do decide to travel along with me....I promise it won't be dull.  Plants have so much history and even more promise.  After all they need us as much as we need them.  Because that is just the way it is.   And we both need the earth, sun, air and water and of course God, critters and each other.  What are my qualifications?  None....I just study it out. So you see, you are at least as qualified as me.  Interesting Documentary (available on Netflix) "The Secret Life of Plants"...suggested viewing.  I am not a medical practioner of any sort.  I cannot tell you what is wrong with you nor how to treat it. 
     At the moment I am researching 'saltpeter' or 'saltpetre'....not a plant you say....well it once was; and right significant in history. " It was a great pity, so it was, This villainous saltpetre should be digg'd Out of the bowels of the harmless earth, Which many a good tall fellow  had destroyed  So cowardly; and but for these vile guns, He would himself have been a soldier. "-  Shakespeare. Henry 1V part 1.  
Yes, saltpeter, formed by the earth naturally by rotting plants in caves, seeping through rocks was made into gunpowder.  Sodium nitrate or saltpeter has many uses, among them fertelizer and a preservative. Saltpeter forms naturally in caves found in heavily forested lands where the rotting leaves, roots and plants decompose, seep through the ground and form saltpeter...a white crystaline structure.  There are also directions for making saltpeter or saltpetre from decaying composte.  Consider these instructions given on the internet: 


Potassium nitrate (KNO3) also known as saltpeter and in the 1800’s as, nitrate of potassa, or saltpetr. It has many uses including the manufacture of gunpowder, gun cotton, dynamite fusses and it is a good oxidizer. It can be extracted from green plants, ashes, and almost any dirt except sand and on the large scale from cow manure.
Before the 1900’s people in Sweden had to pay their land taxis in saltpeter; we will be using the same method of extraction that they used.

Step 1: Make a heap

Gather a large amount of cow manure or you can use some planting soil. Now mix the cow manure with some green plant life, dirt and a little bit of ash from burned thistles, worm wood, ash from tree bark or normal wood ashes, The ashes contain potassium carbonate which helps extract the minerals in the pile. The pile is also known as a saltpeter bed. If you can you should mix in some potato leaves so that the dirt and cow manure just cover the leaves; potato leaves are good because they contain a lot of potassium. The pile should be about ½ cow manure and it should be 6 to 7 feat tall so that most of it is exposed to the atmosphere and if you have some straw mix that in too it will help circulate the pile. Your pile should be setting on something that is waterproof so that the (KNO3) doesn’t seep into the ground, a peace of plie wood or a layer of clay will work. Now you need a roof over it; you can use a tarp and some cinderblocks. It should look like this. If you don’t have enough cinderblocks you could attach one side of the tarp to a fixed structure like a shed.

Step 2: Pore stale cow urine over the mound

Lant (stale urine) is pored over the pile at least once a week for three or fore months or until thin light yellowish crystals collect on the surface. Stop poring lant over the pile and wait until you see a layer of potassium nitrate efflorescing over the surface 6 to 10 centimeters in thickness. The trick hear is knowing what to look for, potassium nitrate collects in light yellowish crystals. This takes longer in dry climates like Arizona. Next scrape off the top layer and start purifying it, later when you see more crystals you will scrape off the next layer and so on until the pile needs replaced.

Step 3: Treatment of the ripe saltpeter earth

Poke several small holes in the bottom of a five gallon bucket and place a peace of cotton cloth over the holes in the bottom then pore a ¼ to ½ inch layer of fine wood ash over the cloth, place another peace of cloth over the ash so as to make a filter. Now fill the bucket ¾ of the way to the top with dirt from the heap. While you are doing this you should be boiling two gallons of water. Set a pan under the bucket, you can use some wood blocks to keep the bucket from touching the bottom of the pan.
Next very slowly pour the boiling water over the top and wait for the water to collect in the bottom of the pan; “this may take a while”. Then bring the water back to a boil in order to get the most out of the solution you can add some potassium carbonate. Next pour it through a paper filter “a coffee filter will work” it is important that the water is close to boiling when filtered. “Do not use a charcoal filter it will remove the potassium nitrate”. If you want you can boil most of the water off. To get the fine silt out of the bottom you could use some tape; stick the tape to the bottom while you pour the water out; you could also try using non soluble glue.
Next pore the water into black containers, “you could use film containers”. You don’t have to use black containers but it makes it is easier to get all of the potassium nitrate out of them. If you want real fine saltpeter you should find a way to role or spin the container while the water evaporates.
Important note: if you are going to use this saltpeter for nitric acid; after the water is evaporated you should mix the saltpeter in with some purified distilled water, re filter it and evaporate the water off once again to insure that there is no other alkalis in it like potassium chlorate.
(The Arabs are said to make saltpetre from camel dung and urine.  I wonder what will win in the end...their camel dung or our cow piss.) The saltpeter for the gunpowder for the Revolutionary War was mined from a huge cave in Kentucky.

I think I would buy mine.  Now what is the medicinal use of saltpeter...well, let me see in the years before refrigeration it prevented....starvation.  Yes, that's it.  They used it to preserve food or at least to help the salt cured meat like sausage, ham and corned beef keep its pink color.  And, they used it in some food, notably butter, milk, cream, cured meats and in preserving eggs.  They used in fertilizer it to grow bigger crops. And, they used it in guns to hunt game; one of the 3 ingredients of gunpowder.  OK.  All this from a bunch if rotten plants, manure even.  How did they use saltpeter as a food preservative?  There are many 'colonial' recipes on the internet, for cured/smoked bacon, ham, sausage, brisket, corned beef, potted meats and potted fish...etc.   It might be nice to collect a few just incase our old standby electricity fails us sometime.  I like to think they used the saltpeter mined from the caves on and in their food.  There are something like 2200 caves in the USA.  Used in too large of a percent in food, saltpetre can have some adverse effects on the digestive system, kidneys and liver.  Saltpetre is usually used in conjunction with common salt or sea salt.  It stops the growth of bacteria that causes meat to spoil but does not kill the bacteria, salt does likewise.  When the brine solution is removed the meat is smoked or cured. 
    Potassium nitrate is also commonly called saltpetre.  Wikipedia has this to say about its medicinal uses.  "Pharmacology
Potassium nitrate can be found in some toothpastes for sensitive teeth.[11] Recently, the use of potassium nitrate in toothpastes for treating sensitive teeth has increased and may be an effective treatment.[12][13]
Potassium nitrate in some toothpastes has shown to relieve asthmatic symptoms in some people. It was used in centuries past to treat asthma as well as arthritis.[citation needed]
Potassium nitrate successfully combats high blood pressure and was once used as a hypotensive. Other nitrates and nitrites such as glyceryl trinitrate (nitroglycerin), amyl nitrite and isosorbide derivatives are still used to relieve angina.
Potassium nitrate was once thought to induce impotence, and is still falsely rumored to be in institutional food (such as military fare) as an anaphrodisiac; however, there is no scientific evidence for such properties. "
If you harvest saltpetre from a cave you will need a chemical anaylsis to determine if it is sodium nitrate or postassium nitrate.  I think I would just purchase mine.
Perhaps if you look at any plant, and think 'what good is that plant?', you will know at least one good use it could serve if just in its rotting death....saltpeter.