Thursday, March 6, 2014

Life goes on

The recent loss of our faithful pet, Speedy (the Wonder Dog) Gonzales has left a hole in our home. This photo of him illustrates his favorite position and insistence on being petted. The depth of soul in his eyes was key to his appeal. His exploits deserve a book of his own. The purpose of my essay today is to talk about herbal remedies for our faithful friends.
He'd never been taken to the vet. His daughter Spudz was spayed and received her shots in 2010.  Both animals seemed healthy and vigorous. This past month I took Spudz in to get another rabies shot and to check why she was shaking her head and scratching at her ear (which turned out to be a grass seedhead near her eardrum and was removed). While at the vet's, she tested positive for heart worms. Then I knew both dogs needed the same treatment prescribed for her, confirmed by the vet when Speedy went in.  Previous to this visit, I knew nothing about heart worms.
The treatment was 30 days on doxycycline (a synthetic tetracycline antibiotic) plus a chewable heart worm preventative. Speedy was about 26 days into his treatment when he seemed sick, limping, slow to come to me, and he threw up. When I took him to the vet, things escalated to the point he had to be euthanized. I won't go into the specifics on his symptoms and treatment. He was approximately 11 or 12 at death, we didn't know for sure since he was a stray. I do feel like the doxycycline was part of his decline.

Spudz, just after Speedy died, was developing some sort of growth on her beautiful white nose - the top and both sides exhibiting raised brown patches. Here she is without the obnoxious growth. I looked online at photos of dog skin conditions and read what I could about the possible causes. I thought it looked like a fungal growth caused by a lowered immune response from taking antibiotics. After recently spending nearly 1000.00 on vet bills and losing a dog, while reading the side effects of anti-fungal drugs, I decided I would try treating the condition myself, herbally.

Here's what I concocted: in strong chamomile tea, I added slippery elm bark powder, yellow dock root powder, turmeric,  colloidal silver, and aloe juice to make a slurry which I dabbed on those places several times a day.  The silver was in case it was actually a virus, not a fungus.

I also made some yogurt and/or buttermilk based snacks to reinoculate her beneficial bacteria, again with chamomile tea, eggs, oats and left over cornbread.  I've been applying the topical goo for about 10 days. The growth seemed to be stopped after a couple days; today is the first time I see she's rubbed off part of the growth on the top of her nose to reveal pink skin underneath, as in this photo. I didn't take a picture of it previous to treatment, but it was brown, a nubby texture, and about 1/4 in. tall and growing. In this photo you can see the yellow color of the turmeric and dock root. After I dab the goo on with my finger, she'll lick it off my fingers, so the taste can't be too horrible. She's been avoiding me though, since it's not a pleasant activity for her, so I've gone to 2 or 3 times a day treatment. I think I'll dab some of my Healing Ointment on now that new tissue is being created.  Any strong scented product so close to the nose has got to be doggone annoying!
A noteworthy book on caring for our animals: The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Juliette de Baïracli Levy will get you started. She bases her book on her experiences with Gypsy herbal practices. I've seen many herbal remedies work on my animals.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Zephyrs of Spring

We breathe the same air that Hippocrates breathed. Is that a startling statement to you? A zephry is a light west wind; that wind today is causing the bare ground of our front yard to be littered with pear petals from our 2 trees (left). Nature's confetti, I imagine. But I'm not feeling like celebrating.

It's difficult for me to think of our air supply, our cucoon that holds the breath of life, to be contaminated with radioactive elements. Since the tsunami and aftermath, as we learn more about the '86 Chernobyl explosion and how we each have a piece of that radioactivity in our bodies, the enjoyment of the soft, spring breezes is more difficult. The gentle rains of spring that we hope for may bring down a "hard rain" of harmful particles. I, for one, will not be standing out in it, when it does rain here. I pray the core breach reported on today will not result in a severe release of contamination. We are one world and one people. And we share our world with myriads of living creatures.

Our pear trees have been visited by many species of pollinators. I did see honeybees, even though scientific observers have reported fewer bee numbers. Wasps of various sizes and types, flies, bumblebees and unnamed insects so important to our fruit crop came without my asking and did what comes naturally. They came for food in order to create new generations of their kind. If only humans were so graceful with their approach to life.

Also announcing the arrival of spring is one of our early wildflowers, called bloodroot. (right) I've loved how the few bulbs I'd planted have bloomed every year, and the seeds have washed downhill, so now I have an additional patch started, maybe 5 feet away, below some cedar slab edging I'd placed around my wild geraniums. And having more than one patch means fewer chances our dogs will wipe out an entire population.
The trillium (left) was struggling to come up since it was on a major dog path, so I cut some branches and placed them over the top of where I expected to see them emerge. Sure enough, a couple days later, I saw their little heads rising. This shot was taken last year, sans branches. They're shade lovers, so a few extra twigs over their heads won't be a problem. It'll be a few more days before the red color shows, and they'll be taller too.
May our puny efforts at beautification last beyond our lifetimes.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What a summer

Since my last post, life has intervened. Memorial weekend I visited my mother for a week at her apartment connected to the Kansas Christian Home in Newton. The day before I was to leave she had a health crisis and ended up in the hospital for 2 weeks. I stayed until she was released to the Halstead Health & Rehab Center, getting her settled in for another month long stay. I returned then to help her return home. So, the good news was that she got better. Lying in bed for long periods though, whenever I would suggest more exercises, as prescribed, her answer would be, "You wait 'til you're 93 and see how easy it is." I can see nothing gets easier with age. My older brother Al is visiting her now. And the oldest, Dave, lives within 2 hours drive, so we all keep in touch. I especially appreciate emails when sometimes it's hard to hear each other.
My husband Raymond's younger brother Ron passed away June 20. The Creasy family felt so blessed that we were able to reunite in Sardis, TN May 15, and in essence, say our goodbys to Ronnie. He was cremated, so a service was planned for July 3 at our home in Dennard, Arkansas. Many family members came from several states to remember him. He was part of the Tibetan Buddhist
group in Memphis and had helped build the new Meditation Center at their Retreat. They sent the prayer flags seen here.

On the 13th, 11 days after we hung the flags, a single wisteria bloom opened up. Normally wisteria blooms in April. If you look closely, it's right above the yellow flag. This photo of the out-of-season bloom meant a great deal to the family, as a sign that life wins out. "May he be reborn in a purely spiritual realm," according to his Buddhist beliefs...and his Christian beliefs as well.

This turned out to be the hottest summer on record, averaging June through August temperatures. We fought back a flea infestation in the house upon my return after 3 weeks. Raymond began to fix-up our kitchen while I was in Kansas the last time, so we continued on until we finished. A new corner cupboard, a new under the counter cabinet
with drawers, tile behind the sink that I had made, new finishes for our old counter tops made by Raymond, and a new white coat of paint on our rusty fronted refrigerator. When I use the term "new," that is, new to us. Many of the components have been salvaged from friends and relatives and fixed up like new.
I had made the terracotta 8" tile years ago with a white glaze that turned out streaky. We discussed using new 4" tile from stoneware and I started them, but during the process, I brought the 8" ones in and set them up to see how they would fit, so decided to go with them. While making pots again, I threw some mortars sans pestles and some bowls, the first since injuring my knuckle in 2007 playing the piano. I was pleasantly surprised I hadn't forgotten everything I knew about pottery, plus no pain while throwing.

Our drought was broken this first week of September, thank you very much, tropical storm Hermine, and cooler temperatures make life worthwhile again. I've been hitting the landscape chores hard, trying to eliminate all those weedy privet, hackberry, briars, and vines of several sorts that have grown up in my yard all season. They'll be back: life does win out.

Oct 1 and 2 at the Ozark Folk Center, I'll be a vendor and a speaker. Saturday morning I'll speak on herbs that are good for the respiratory system, especially herbs from the Aegean Sea region - Greece and Turkey. That's the theme of this year's herb event. Check it out at for the schedule, other speakers, tickets and more.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Jewel of a Weed

Jewelweed - the way the dewdrops or raindrops stay on the leaves could be the reason it has this common name. Impatiens capensis is the scientific name for this annual that grows about 4 feet tall. There's another species, Impatiens pallida, whose flower is all yellow. The foliage reminds us of the dwarf impatiens we plant in shady flower gardens. In the woods, one sees it in wet areas, almost in companionship with poison ivy, for which it is a remedy, using the stems, leaves, and juices.

According to the Peterson Field Guide by Steven Foster and James Duke, Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, one crushes the leaves to release the juice and a poultice is applied to a new rash. "A 1957 study by a physician found it effective (in 2-3 days) in treating 108 of 115 patients." This book also suggests freezing the plant and juices after harvesting prior to bloom.

Of course, one should realize that seed set is important to the continued life of these populations, so one should never decimate a population, but leave plenty for seed set. When the seeds are ripe, it behaves much like the old-fashioned flower, "touch me not," (also an impatiens) in that the capsules explode when you touch them, and the seeds are shot out in all directions.

I am affected by poison ivy nearly every year, sometimes several times a year. I never have it so bad that I need to see a doctor, but those of us who weed gardens in the Ozarks or handle firewood in the winter without gloves, know the itch and annoyances of getting it. So, with many of my home remedies, I started growing and harvesting jewelweed to address my own needs. I soak it in alcohol, along with witchhazel and echinacea and market it under the name, Ivy Rinse. This last year I started bottling it in spray bottles in 2 different sizes: 2 and 4 oz. bottles. The spray application is less messy and stops the itching, while speeding up the healing process. Scratching inflames the area and the body's histamine reaction makes it worse. Whatever you do, don't scratch!! Good advice, but hard to follow.

I started growing it with one plant, transplanted when about an inch tall, growing in a pot and let it go to seed where I wanted my population to establish itself, right near my water hydrant where I keep other potted plants that need watering. In a couple years, it has expanded its territory on its own, and I hope to allow more patches to take over. When I see a far-flung individual whose seed has washed downhill, I leave it, hoping it'll become the parent of the next patch. I had to build a dog-proof fence around my jewelweed this winter to protect it. It's worth more than precious jewels to me.

Friday, May 7, 2010

2 Favorite Native Plants

Ninebark is a woody shrub that grows on the banks of Ozark streams so is adapted to wet areas. It's a member of the rose family. It also grows on ditch banks. I transplanted one to my yard in sandy soil in part shade where it isn't that wet (next to where I park my car) and it does pretty well. I do have to prune out some dead stalks every year.

After the blooms fade, the spent blooms hold their interesting shapes and provide interest for several months afterwards. Their color continues to darken, so it's becomes closer to an earthy orange. Height is about 5 1/2 feet with a spread of at least that, as the branches arch and droop. This particular one gets afternoon sun.

A public service announcement from the Univ. of Florida recommends native plants because they're more adapted and require less care. Another plus for natives is that they reseed. A great ground cover that I really love is the white violet. Not only do they self-sow, but they mound up around other perennials and really last a long time. I have several more favorites, but I'll save those for another day.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Save the Insects!!

We never hear that, do we, except about the honey bee. The proof that insects are vital to this world is in the flowers. The adaptations flowering plants use to attract pollinators impress even us. When I take the photos, I sometimes don't even see insects. Left is a super close-up of pussy toes, with a tiny ant making its way through a tangle of flower parts. The plant gets about a foot tall and has a very small flower head, see below.
As a child I had 3 huge lilac bushes in the yard, which were covered with all shapes and sizes of buzzing insects during blooming. The heavenly lilac aroma carried on the wind, pulling my nose closer to bury itself in a pile of flowers.
One thing to remember about the stinging insects: while "pasturing" in flowers they are too busy to bother stinging anyone. Squishing them incurs their angry reaction. Treat them gently and approach without fear or swatting, and you can observe them safely, even up close. I kept honey bees for many years while living in Kansas and learned that bees and wasps are territorial and will protect their brood to the death. While they are collecting pollen and nectar, stuffing themselves, they're away from home and too fat and happy to bother stinging. So, if we're relaxed about our interactions, they will be too.

I used to have a butterfly ID book, but I have misplaced it. It didn't have the moths in it, so sometimes the flying insect remained a mystery. I think it's a painted lady on the lilac bloom, but I'm not sure. With internet sites and photos, maybe I won't need a book. The website I found to ID butterflies of Arkansas was created by photographer, Herschel Raney.
The photos you see here were taken by me this spring.
Beautiful flower gardens are more than a feast for the human eye -- it's prime real estate for bugs -- the ecosystem. Life is interdependent and each species has its role to play. So before you reach for a spray can of bug-killing poison, remember, the web of life holds you too. Life is abundant and messy, but delicious, so move over all you bugs, my nose wants to be buried in lilacs.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Smoking what?

President Obama, 95% a quitter? Sorry, you're still smoking. I heard on the news he's using the gum, doesn't smoke in front of his kids. Even the most powerful man on the planet is still beholding to the tobacco companies. I feel his pain; I identify. I used to smoke cigarettes while in college.

For me, even more powerful than the addiction and withdrawal symptoms of nicotine, were the habitual behaviors I didn't even realize I nervously practiced - twiddling with ashtrays and thin twirly-white meditational objects of focus, and hand-to-mouth touches that occupied moments of down-time. Seeping into my consciousness upon quitting were behaviors I'd picked up while being a smoker would have to be changed in order to feel calm and at peace with solitude and relaxation. Substituting one plant for another helped my transition during withdrawal and behavioral changes. I could still satisfy that oral fixation thing without stuffing my face with food, gum, or chew toys.

My second husband Dave was a 3 pack a day smoker and sincerely wanted to quit. We recognized a "Quit Smoking Mixture" would be a great addition to the Legacy Herbs product list. I consulted several of my herbals, including ones on native American uses of plants. The Herbalist by Clarence Meyer, Meyerbooks, Glenwood, IL, 1981 had extensive ideas on over 30 herbs that could be smoked, or had been smoked in the past, both in the English tradition and in our own. So we began experimenting with mixes of plants we could get easily for mildness, flavor, heat, and feel. Red sumac leaves were too harsh and hot. I learned that the color red symbolizes the spirit and its power in our lives, so if native Americans added red sumac to their smoking herbs, perhaps it was just a pinch.

We tried some of the old English combinations that included rosemary, lavender, thyme, oregano. Too sweet and aromatic - not enough like tobacco for our tastes. Two local Ozark plants considered were dittany and rabbit tobacco. Dittany has an aroma akin to a oregano and thyme combination and a beautiful fall blooming plant. This would make a better soup flavoring than a smoke.

Rabbit tobacco, the plant on the right, blooms in the fall as well. It's sweet everlasting (Gnaphalium obtusifolium), and could be chewed for hoarseness, giving one "the urge to sing," according to one herbal. It has a slight flavor of maple, but smoked, it also was too hot and harsh. The Peterson Field Guide to Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants by Steven Foster and James A. Duke lists some properties for this plant that go beyond a sore throat.

My old friend mullein, pictured in the last blog, became the mainstay of our new smoking mixture. Once called "Indian tobacco" it has been smoked for asthma, both here and in the old countries. It's large leaves are easy to dry, and even resemble the leaves of tobacco. It's plentiful and easy to grow.

Coltsfoot has been used as the symbol for an apothecary (drug store to us) in England and France, also known as "coughwort" (wort means weed), and is mentioned over and over again as a respiratory remedy and main ingredient in smokes. The leaf is shaped like the hoof of a colt, thus the common name for Tussilago farfara. As a ground cover, it's beautiful and spreads in a shady, moist spot. Under actual growing conditions, the flowers may come up first, followed by the leaves.

Finally, upon the advice of The Herbalist, I added bearberry leaves (Uva ursi) because it was "used by the Potawatomi Indians to mix with their tobacco (evidently for a milder smoke.)"

Dave, my ex, discovered over the course of the first couple weeks, he smoked a lot, but began tapering off that first month after quitting cold turkey. He kept a bag handy in the next 6 months and would puff on his pipe whenever he felt like it. The beauty of these herbs in smoke form -- no addictions or cravings. He did it himself, using his own motivation, his own tools. Those who smoke inhale deeply, and he found inhaling less deeply with this mixture of coltsfoot, mullein, and bearberry, resulted in a satisfying, not too harsh, herbal tasting pause that pulled him through the worst of it. Ultimately, becoming a non-smoker, he was 100% proud of his accomplishment. I'd love for the President to be able to try this unconventional method and "kick the habit."