April 15, 2011

Easter Egg Dyes - Naturally

 Watch the Food Network Video (click here) to see for yourself how to dye eggs naturally, then read the post and get started for a fun family Easter activity.

Why dye with natural colors instead of artificial?
According to Organic.org, “Many food colorings contain color additives such as Red No. 3 and Yellow No. 5, which, according to a 1983 study by the FDA, were found to cause tumors (Red No. 3) and hives (Yellow No. 5).”

Read this other blog's post about the drawbacks of artificial colors if you’d like to read more on the topic.

It is more time-consuming than using a store-bought conventional egg dye kit (highly recommend preparing the egg dye baths a few hours before you plan to dye the eggs with the kiddos), but it is healthier for your kids and the environment. “Dyeing eggs the natural way gives you the opportunity to spend more time with your family, teaching kids to use alternative project methods that are healthier for them and the environment.”

You Will Need The Following to Get Started:
  • Hard boiled eggs (preferably white eggs since they take on the dyes better than brown eggs)
  • Ingredients to make your dyes: vegetables, fruits and seasoning powders
  • White vinegar (2 Tablespoons for every quart of water)
  • Several pots and bowls
  • Optional: stickers, rubber bands, and crayons for decorating the eggs and making interesting patterns
  • Egg cartons for drying the dyed eggs
Creating Your Colors:
As a guideline, use up to 4 cups for vegetable solids and 3–4 tablespoons for spices per quart. Mash up fruits. Play around with what you have on hand and mix colors together--especially using the three primary color recipes noted below.
cherries - pinkish red
blueberries - blue
cabbage - blue
tumeric - yellowish orange
chili powder or paprika - reddish orange

2 cups beets, grated
1 tbsp white vinegar
2 cups water
Substitute: strong Red Zinger tea, or chopped fresh or frozen cranberries

3 large handfuls of yellow/brown onionskins
1 tbsp white vinegar
3 cups water
Substitute: strong chamomile tea, or 2 to 3 tbsp ground turmeric

1 pound frozen blueberries, crushed
1 tbsp white vinegar
2 cups water
Substitute: red cabbage leaves, coarsely chopped, create lavender

Egg Dyeing:

Method 1—Hot
Place eggs in a single layer in a large, nonaluminum pan. Add the dyeing ingredient of your choice—it’s best not to mix until you are comfortable with experimenting. Cover the eggs and other dyeing “agent(s)” with one inch of water. Add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar per quart to help the color adhere to the egg, and bring to a boil. Next, simmer for 20–30 minutes or until the desired shade is achieved. If you cook the eggs longer than 15 minutes, they will become rather tough.
 Method 2—Cold
The cold method is the same as the hot method with the following exception. Once ingredients have simmered 20–30 minutes (depending on desired shade), lift or strain the ingredients out of the water and allow the water to cool to room temperature though you may wish to try keeping the ingredients in the colored water to give the egg more texture as the dye will become concentrated in areas where the vegetable touches the egg. Submerge the eggs until the desired color is achieved. You may keep the eggs in the solution overnight as long as it is refrigerated. The longer the egg stays in the dye, hot or cold, the deeper the hue will be. Using vinegar will also help the color deepen.

*from http://crunchydomesticgoddess.com/

Aromatherapy: 5 Ways to Freshen Up Your Home

I'm trying to get more into aromatherapy and using essential oils from flowers and plants in my everyday life. I like that each essential oil has different properties (some help relax or some concentrate your focus or some stimulate your digestion, etc.).

I wrote a post on some simple oils to start with (like lavender, tee tree, peppermint, etc), but it's important that you like the smell of the oils you buy. Your body knows what it likes and doesn't like, so trust that (it's the same with seasonings--smell the food and the seasonings and you can get a better feel for which seasonings taste well with that food and agree with your body).

Different oils may smell good to you based on your mood. For example, if you want relaxation, lavender is a great one. If you’re looking to get rid of germs, try the antiseptic qualities of tea tree. OR if you want mental clarity, try peppermint.

Here are some uses for these oils:
1. Bath/Shower Steam.
Add 3-6 drops of your favorite essential oil to your hot water (or on a rag or in a bowl -- if you're in the shower or want to put a towel over the bowl for a simple facial steam--for sinuses). Another trick is to add the drops to a pan of boiling water. This is great if you want to relax --lavender, or great if you have sinus/congestion issues --maybe a mix of eucalyptus and tee tree.

2. Room Deodorizer.
Add a few drops of essential oils to water in a spray bottle and keep it handy in rooms that often need freshening, like the bathroom or kitchen. You can also spray freshen linens with lavender spray to help you relax or spray them with ylang ylang to make the mood more sensual. OR add some drops to freshen up old potpourri (or make your own potpourri by drying your own flowers and throwing them in a bowl-- you can change them up during the different seasons with flowers from your yard).

3. A Closet Freshener.
Add a few drops of essential oils to some pieces of cotton or wool cloth and place in drawers or on closet shelves, a little goes a long way. A cloth hankie is perfect for this. Lavender, cedar or sandalwood are nice choices.

4. Heat Diffuser.
You can make use of your heating vent by placing a few drops of essential oils on a piece of cloth/ribbons or cotton ball and place by your heating vent or just in front of it. When your furnace kicks on the blower will help spread the scent throughout your home. You can get the same results putting a saucer of water and oils on top of your radiator. This is an easy way to use heat for disbursement without investing in aromatherapy gadgets or special diffusers. Or place a drop of your favorite oil on your light bulbs but make sure to do this when the bulbs are cold. When the bulb heats up after you turn it on, it will heat the oil and fill the room with scent. For increased energy and invigoration use grapefruit, peppermint, lemon, or black pepper.

5. Cleaning Products
You can deodorize things you clean: Refrigerator Deodorizer -- drops of orange, mint or lemon oil in a bucket of warm water. With a clean sponge, use the water to clean out your refrigerator. Or a counter Cleaner -- add lemon, thyme, or eucalyptus oil to equal parts distilled white vinegar and water. Use it to clean your kitchen and bathroom surfaces as you normally would. Or for furniture polish --add four to six drops of lemon essential oil to half a cup of olive oil. With a clean dry rag, use the oil to polish wood furniture.
Essential oils are a great alternative to buying imitation air fresheners and you can have fun playing around with scents you already have. If you don't have any essential oils, why not go out and buy two simple scents you enjoy, or as listed in my other post and give it a try. You'll feel good knowing that you're providing a cleaner, healthier environment for yourself and family.

*Many ideas gleaned from www.naturemoms.com

April 12, 2011

Culinary Herbalism...?

I just finished watching this great video about culinary herbalism (click here)--which basically is about making "food your medicine and medicine you food." By adding certain larger quantities of certain foods and herbs, we can provide more beneficial nutrients/properties to aid our eating.

This video shows an example of a simple meal prepared with basic ingredients the host already had in his fridge, but it talked a little bit more about the properties of the food. (Granted, the host had a few things I know I don't have in my kitchen--dandelion greens, etc.), but it opened my eyes to the importance of getting a variety of foods in the diet and not just sticking to basic veggies and seasoning powders.) He used some bitter greens, kale and collard cooked with more warming spices, like ginger, tumeric and pepper; and talked about the properties of the bitter (cooling) and spices (warming) to balance the digestive effect in your body. Very interesting.

Feel free to watch the video if you like. I'm going to try his basic curried greens recipe and simple roux sauce over some veggies. **I tried it with radish greens and left over lettuces...but I found the greens too bitter. Luckily I had some of my greek soup heated for lunch, so I threw the curried greens in the soup and actually thought it was a good curry, funny enough.

Also, the host of this show has an awesome website if you're trying to get a little bit more into herbs. I was fascinated that you can make regular things out of stuff you can find outside....and why not? It makes sense. (And he breaks some things down really easy for the beginner)

He has free e-books with simple intro recipes (like honey ginger tea) and such. www.learningherbs.com

April 11, 2011

Detox and Heal with Psyllium Powder

“Every tissue is fed by the blood, which is supplied by the bowel. When the bowel is dirty, the blood is dirty, and so on to the organs and tissues.” Dr. Benard Jensen

This is why we need to detox and make sure our bowels are cleansed from toxic junk we put in. Here's some info about a great little natural powder that you can add into your daily life, a little here, a little there, to help cleanse your bowel without doing crazy and scary cleanses. Try adding it to your water or a smoothie.

About Psyllium:
Psyllium husk comes from the crushed seeds of the Plantago ovata plant, an herb native to parts of Asia, Mediterranean regions of Europe, and North Africa. In addition to its traditional use for constipation, psyllium has also been used topically by herbalists to treat skin irritations, including poison ivy reactions and insect bites and stings. It has also been used in Chinese and Indian traditional herbal systems to treat bladder problems, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, and high blood pressure.

Similar to oats and wheat, psyllium is rich in soluble fiber. Traditionally, psyllium husk is used as a gentle bulk-forming laxative for constipation. Its ingredients include alkaloids, amino acids, oils, protein, tannins, flavonoids, and a variety of sugars and carbohydrates. It is used as a stabilizing and thickening agent in many salad dressings, soups, lotions, and creams. Psyllium seeds are oval-shaped, odorless, practically tasteless, and are coated with mucilage. Most commercial preparations consist of blonde psyllium. 

Used as a dietary fiber, psyllium makes stools softer, which helps relieve constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids and other intestinal disorders. When psyllium husk comes in contact with water, it swells and forms a gelatinous mass that stimulates the transport of waste through the intestinal tract. It is considered a good intestinal cleanser in that it speeds waste matter through the digestive system, shortening the amount of time toxic substances stay in the body and thereby reducing the risk of colon cancer and other diseases.

Psyllium encourages the growth of healthful, "friendly" intestinal bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilous and bifidobacteria which are helpful in regulating bowel movements.
Good Psyllium Uses:

Detoxification of the Colon
The bulking effect of psyllium also works to rid the colon of toxic substances, including heavy metals, as it acts almost as a sponge to soak them off the walls of the intestine. This spongy action has a dual advantage as it can decrease hunger when taken with meals.

Studies have concluded that psyllium relieves constipation as it is believed to speed the passage of stool through the digestive tract by softening the stool and attracting water thereby producing more bulk (which stimulates the transit of waste through the gastrointestinal tract).

Psyllium can be used as a bulk-forming agent to relieve mild to moderate diarrhea. Psyllium soaks up a significant amount of water in the digestive tract, thereby making stool firmer and, under these circumstances, slower to pass. In other words, Psyllium acts to slow down a too rapid transit time. It appears to stabilize bowel movements and is often used in cases of alternating constipation and diarrhea.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Several studies have found that soluble fiber (including psyllium) helps regulate stool frequency and consistency in people with IBS. Psyllium also has the additional advantages over other sources of fiber of reducing flatulence and bloating.

Psyllium may be recommended by a physician to help soften stool and reduce the pain associated with hemorrhoids.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
In a study of people with ulcerative colitis (a type of inflammatory bowel disorder), psyllium seeds were as effective as the prescription drug mesalamine in decreasing recurrences of the disease. In addition, psyllium has been prescribed as a bulking agent for mild to moderate cases of diarrhea from either ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.

Studies suggest that a high-fiber diet, which may include psyllium, can lower insulin and blood sugar levels and improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels in people with diabetes. This type of diet may also help prevent diabetes in those at risk for the condition.

Psyllium Husk for High CholesterolStudies have shown that psyllium husk is effective in lowering total cholesterol and LDL (the Bad cholesterol) levels. Studies also found that a 1% reduction in total and LDL cholesterol can reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 2%.

In general, prescription drugs should be taken 1 hour before or 2-4 hours after psyllium, because the absorption and effectiveness of many drugs may be reduced.
Psyllium should always be taken with (at least) a full 8 oz glass of water. It is also important to drink at least 6 to 8 full glasses of water throughout the day or constipation may develop.

Do not take this product if you have difficulty swallowing. People with esophageal stricture (narrowing of the esophagus) or any other narrowing or obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract should not take psyllium.
*** Do not give psyllium to a child. ***

Add 1/2 to 2 tsp of psyllium seed to 1 cup (8 oz) of warm water. Mix well, and then drink immediately before it becomes too thick to swallow comfortably. (Psyllium thickens rapidly when water is added to it.) If using a commercial product that contains psyllium, follow package directions.
For those not accustomed to taking psyllium, it is best to begin with a low dose (such as 1/2 tsp in an 8 oz glass of water once a day), then increase to 2 tsp in two 8 oz glasses of water per day, as needed.

DISCLAIMER - This is all info we've found online from veritable sites that we've sourced. But please talk to your medical professional about your needs.

Home Remedies for various types of allergies

Home Remedies From the Cupboard

Baking soda. One-half cup baking soda poured into a warm bath is an old New England folk remedy for soothing hives (red, itchy, raised areas on the skin). Soak in the bath for 20 to 30 minutes.

Tea. Allergy sufferers throughout the centuries have turned to hot tea to provide relief for clogged-up noses and irritated mucous membranes, and one of the best for symptom relief is peppermint tea. Peppermint's benefits extend well beyond its delicious smell; the essential oil acts as a decongestant, and substances in peppermint contain anti-inflammatory and mild antibacterial constituents.

To make peppermint tea: Place 1/2 ounce dried peppermint leaves in a 1-quart jar. Fill two-thirds of the jar with boiling water, and steep for five minutes. (You can inhale the steam for added benefit). Let cool, strain, sweeten if desired, and drink. (Note: Peppermint tea should be used with caution in children, as the menthol in peppermint may cause them to choke.)

Home Remedies From the Freezer

Ice. Wrap a washcloth around ice cubes and apply it to your sinuses for instant relief and refreshment.

Home Remedies From the Refrigerator

Milk. For hives, wet a cloth with cold milk and lay it on the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes. (best to stay away from milk during allergies that increase your mucs production though!)

Wasabi. If you're a hay fever sufferer who also loves Japanese food, this remedy will please. Wasabi, that pale-green, fiery condiment served with many Japanese dishes, is a member of the horseradish family. Anyone who has taken too big a dollop of wasabi (or plain old horseradish) knows that it makes sinuses and tear ducts spring into action. That's because allyl isothiocyanate, a constituent in wasabi, promotes mucus flow.

The tastiest way to get those allyl isothiocyanates is by slathering horseradish on your sandwich or plopping wasabi onto your favorite sushi. Another option -- although harder to swallow -- is to purchase grated horseradish, and take 1/4 teaspoon to alleviate allergy symptoms.

Home Remedies From the Spice Rack

Basil. To help ease allergy symptoms such as hives, try dousing the skin with basil tea, a traditional Chinese folk remedy. Basil contains high amounts of an anti-allergic compound called caffeic acid. Place 1 ounce dried basil leaves into 1 quart boiling water. Cover, and let cool to room temperature. Use the tea as a rinse as often as needed.

Salt. Nasal irrigation, an effective allergy-management tool that can be done at the sink every morning, uses a salt water mixture to rid the nasal passages of mucus, bacteria, dust, and other gunk, as well as to soothe irritated passageways. All you need is 1 to 11/2 cups lukewarm water (do not use softened water), a bulb (ear) syringe, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. Mix the salt and baking soda into the water, and test the temperature.

To administer, suck the water into the bulb and squirt the saline solution into one nostril while holding the other closed. Lower your head over the sink and gently blow out the water. Repeat this, alternating nostrils until the water is gone. Nasal irrigation isn't a pretty sight, but it works wonders on sore noses.

Home Remedies From the Stove

Steam. Breathing steam refreshes and soothes irritated sinuses, and it helps rid the nasal passages of mucus. While it takes some time, it will make you feel wonderful! Boil several cups of water and pour into a big bowl (or a plugged sink). Best to add 2-3 drops of eucalyptus or tea tree essential oil into the water. Lean carefully over the bowl, and drape a towel over your head. Breathe gently for 5 to 10 minutes.

When you're finished breathing steam, use the water for a second purpose: Let the water cool until warm, saturate a washcloth, and hold the cloth on your sinuses (to the sides of your nose, below the eyes, and above the eyebrows).

*many ideas are from http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/natural-medicine/home-remedies/home-remedies-for-allergies3.htm

Natural Remedies: What to do about Allergies?

Most allergy medications attempt to treat the symptoms your body instigates to get rid of the allergen. But doesn’t it make more sense to shore up your defenses before your body goes into attack mode? Many of the natural remedies discussed below are designed to prevent a reaction before it occurs.

1. Avoid bad air: close window, don't use fans (can pull pollen indoors), stay indoors during peak times-August until the first frost. Maybe wearing glasses could limit some allergens getting into your eyes.

2. Keep clean: Frequently dust, vacuum (with HEPA filter) and wash your hair, bedding, clothes, pets, rugs, carpets (wood floors are best to have), etc. Wash your eyes if they're irritated. Make sure your laundry does rinse, or even add an extra rinse if needed.

3. Saline Solution
 You could simply use your cupped hand instead of a neti pot to rinse sinuses, but netis are inexpensive, and many people find them much easier to use. To flush your sinuses, mix a quarter to a half teaspoon of noniodized table salt into a cup of lukewarm water and pour it into the pot. (You can adjust the amount of salt, depending on what feels most comfortable.) Lean over a sink with your head slightly cocked to one side, then put the spout of the neti into one nostril and allow the water to drain out the other nostril. Use about half of the solution, then repeat on the other side, tilting your head the opposite way. Gently blow out each nostril to clear them completely. Neti pots are widely available online and at natural food stores. Use your pot about twice a day during allergy season, especially in the morning and after spending time outdoors. You also can use a neti pot before bed to prevent snoring caused by allergies and promote optimal overnight breathing.

4. Quercetin -- and less processed, sugary foods
A natural plant-derived compound called a bioflavonoid, quercetin helps stabilize mast cells and prevents them from releasing histamine. Quercetin also is a natural antioxidant that helps mop up molecules called free radicals that cause cell damage, which can lead to cancer. Citrus fruits, onions, apples, parsley, tea, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce and wine are naturally high in quercetin, but allergy sufferers will most likely need to use supplements to build up enough of this compound to prevent attacks. The recommended dosage is about 1,000 milligrams a day, taken between meals. It’s best to start treatment six weeks before allergy season. Those with liver disease shouldn’t use quercetin, so please consult your doctor before using this or any other supplement — especially if you are pregnant or nursing.

5. Allergy-Fighting Foods
Omega-3s help fight inflammation and can be found in cold-water fish, walnuts and flaxseed oil, as well as grass-fed meat and eggs. Or add a dash of horseradish, chili peppers or hot mustard to your food — all act as natural, temporary decongestants. Be careful: fighting off allergies can also render the body hypersensitive to foods you're allergic to, causing more severe reactions than usual.

6. Dehumidify
Dust mites love humidity. Don't let bathroom steam up and be careful if you use humidifiers.

7. Don't mow your lawn
Let someone else mow the lawn

8. Stinging Nettle. If you decide you need an antihistamine but want a natural option, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) behaves in much the same way as many of the drugs sold to treat allergies, but without the unwanted side effects of dry mouth and drowsiness. Nettle actually inhibits the body’s ability to produce histamine. It’s a common weed in many parts of the United States, but the most practical medicinal form is a freeze-dried extract of the leaves sold in capsules. Studies have shown that taking about 300 milligrams daily will offer relief for most people, although the effects may last only a few hours. You also can make your own tinctures or teas with stinging nettle. (You could grow some in a corner of your yard--that your children won't play in though! Why? Contact with the stinging hairs on fresh nettle can cause skin inflammation, so wear protective gloves when handling it. )

April 7, 2011

April is Earth Month!

So, I'm giving you all advanced notice of Earth Day this month, April 22nd. However, the whole month is Earth Month. Ever since 2005 I've been wanting to do something special for Earth Day--just for the fun of it.

So this year I'm going to start my annual Earth Day Celebration. Each year I'll throw a bash to celebrate Earth Day. It may sound silly to you, but when else do we have a chance to stop and think about the Earth and choices we're making in daily life, and what their effects are?

There will be games and prizes and information about how we live better, more sustainably, etc. And yes, healthy food to snack on...and maybe even some demonstrations. I hope to eventually add some fundraisers or awareness things/pledges that we can do collectively to help in regards to Earth Day topics, but I'm still working out the details....so stay tuned.

Here are some quick facts:
www.planetpals.com (this is a cute site for kids...check out the planet pal characters link on the left)
  • Each person throws away approximately four pounds of garbage every day.
  • 84 percent of all household waste can be recycled.
  • 14 billion pounds of trash is dumped into the ocean every year
  • Here is an example of how long it takes some things take to break down:
      plastics take 500 years, 
      aluminum cans take 500 years, 
      organic materials, take 6 months, 
      cotton, rags, paper take 6 months.
  • In 1995 over 200 of the world landfills were full.
  • Most families throw away about 88 pounds of plastic every year 
  • The energy we save when we recycle one glass bottle is enough to light a traditional light bulb for four hours
  • Recycled paper requires 64% less energy than making paper from virgin wood pulp, and can save many trees. Every ton of paper that is recycled saves 17 trees 
  • It takes 90% less energy to recycle aluminum cans than to make new ones
  • We each use about 12,000 gallons of water every year
  • Here is an example of the water we use everyday:
      3-7 gallons for toilet, 
      25-30 gallons for tub, 
      50-70 gallons for a 10 minute shower, 
      1 washing machine load uses 25-40 gallons,  (non-energy efficient)
      1 dishwasher load uses 9-12 gallons
  • The 500 million automobiles on earth burn an average of 2 gallons of fuel a day--Each gallon of fuel releases 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air.
  • Approximately 5 million tons of oil produced in the world each year ends up in the ocean.
  • Computers pose an environmental threat because much of the material that makes them up is hazardous. A typical monitor contains 4-5 pounds of lead.
  • Each year billions of used batteries are thrown away in the United States. This constitutes 88% of the mercury and 54% of the cadmium deposited into our landfills
  • One gallon of motor oil can contaminate up to 2 million gallons of water. so dispose of properly!

YOU can do something simple. Here are some ideas...
1. Pledge to do at least one small thing this year:
- use reusable grocery bags
- use non-toxic cleaning products
- use a reusable waterbottle (PBA free)
- change all your old light bulbs for energy efficient ones
- reduce the amount of water, gas, energy you use (buy energy efficient appliances)
- cut down your amount of trash by recycling more (elementary schools typically have newspaper bins)
- buy bulk more or from bins, so there's less package waste (or reusing containers)
- start composting in your backyard
- cloth diaper
- buy local, organic produce and other items
- start a vegetable and/or herb garden
- bike more often and reduce your fuel emissions 

2. Contact your local Elementary School and local grocer
Coordinate getting brown bags for students to decorate for earth day and then return to the local grocer to use for bagging so customers can see and get the fun Earth Day drawn bags.

3. Pick up Trash Day
Pick up trash with your family or friends around your community

4. Go for a hike
Be outdoors and talk about how beautiful nature is. Try a new area you haven't been to before or go to a museum or library to find out more about your area's native plants and animals.

5. Family nature art event
Invite each family member to draw, color, build something with stuff laying around the house (reusing) etc. something resourceful or something about nature or their home and surrounding community. (Good Family Home Evening activity)

6. For a fun activity, go to www.greenyourhome.recyclebank.com and get clues on how to green your home room by room! It's awesome!