Archive for May, 2013

goldenrod spider

goldenrod_spider_0We discovered a Goldenrod Spider in the lavender this week. They can change their color to yellow or white, depending on the camouflage they need.

goldenrod_spider_1They don’t make webs, but instead hunt for insects on the ground or on flowers – though usually on white or yellow flowers.


There are a lot of spit bugs in the lavender this year, which may have been it’s disguise in this case. The day after we found the spider, we were reading that bees were among the bugs they especially attack (if only they ate spit bugs), so Steve went out to see if it was still there (the lavender patch is a huge bee magnet).

goldenrod_bee_0To our amazement (and maybe a bit of chagrin), he found it sucking the life out of a bumblebee! Poor little bumble. Definitely interesting to witness though.

(Any of the photos can be clicked to view larger.)

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The first foxgloves of the season are starting to bloom. They are deadly poison if ingested,  but one of the prettiest wildflowers I can think of. I saved tons of seed last year but then missed my window to sow them in time for blooms this year. They are pretty proficient at reseeding on their own though, and we have some hardy stands of them that seem to get a little bigger each year. Foxglove stands out as such a symbol of summer to me.

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wild things





There is a whole lot of lounging and ruminating happening around here these days. The bucks seem wily and restless, and the does are very restful. Babies should be born any day now!

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mid may





Planting and smelling as many flowers as we can. Sewing for the arrival of a new little one in my family. Working hard, playing too. Soaking up these long, sunny days.

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This time of year my hands are especially prone to becoming rough and dry – constantly in the dirt planting, weeding and digging. I rub them daily with lotion, to restore lost moisture and smooth any roughness (this and this have been my all time favorites for years).

Last week I finally decided to try my hand at making my own lotion with herbs we grow here in our gardens… Let’s just say, it is a little bit ridiculous how excited I am at the outcome. I don’t know why, but I didn’t think I would achieve such an amazing final product. It’s pretty much everything I could hope for in a nourishing cream – save for a super minor tweak here and there. I’m psyched. Totally!

I did some research to get a sense of the process. I started with, “A Complete Book of Herbs – A practical guide to growing and using herbs,” by Lesley Bremness. I also found a few online resources. I knew I wanted to use lavender – possibly my favorite floral herb,  and we have an abundance of the notoriously skin-supportive calendula blooming right now. I have also been learning about the healing properties of elder flowers, which are blooming right now, so they felt like a natural addition as well.

With a general feel for the ratio differences between salves and lotions, a sense for what I wanted as my outcome, the help of this site for the process and quantities,  and then with what I had on hand, my recipe ended up something like this:

Approximately 1/2 cup of a mixture of calendula flower petals, elderflower and dried lavender

then fill to 3/4 cup with olive oil

.4 ounce beeswax

1/2 ounce witch hazel

3 1/2 ounces calendula infused water

15 drops lavender essential oil

(ounces are by weight)


A little bit about the herbs I chose:

Calendula – Reduces inflammation and soothes the skin. It is a wonderful herb for the general care of skin irritations of all kinds. “Calendula has been used for centuries to heal wounds and skin irritations. Calendula has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, astringent, antifungal, antiviral, and immunostimulant properties making it useful for disinfecting and treating minor wounds, conjunctivitis, cuts, scrapes, chapped or chafed  skin, bruises, burns, athlete’s foot, acne, yeast infections, bee stings, diaper rashes, and other minor irritations and infections of the skin.” (mountain rose herbs – http://mountainroseblog.com/healing-calendula/).

Elderflower – Soothes dry skin and has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. It is a supportive tonic for all skin types, particularly mature skin. Reputed to soften skin and smooth wrinkles, fade freckles and soothe sunburn.

Lavender – Has antiseptic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, soothing and stimulating. A healing and gentle cleanser and tonic for all skin types. Aroma-therapeutic as well, acting as an uplifting nerve tonic.


I measured a generous 1/2 cup of calendula petals, dried lavender flowers and elder flowers (separated from the stems), and then covered this combination with organic olive oil until I had a total quantity of about 3/4 cup.


I poured the mixture into a double boiler, covered it, and slowly warmed it, letting it set at a very low heat for about 3 hours.


I weighed out nearly 1/2 ounce of beeswax


and made an infusion of calendula petals and purified water.


When the oil and herbs were steeped to my satisfaction, I strained them into a jar,


squeezing any excess oil out with clean hands.


The oil infusion was then placed back in a warm pot of water and gently heated with the beeswax, until the beeswax was fully incorporated.


Once incorporated, I set the jar on the counter to cool to room temperature, blending periodically with an immersion blender. Then I measured out my witch hazel, calendula infusion and essential oil.


All the ingredients were gradually blended until I reached my desired consistency.


The final step of blending was the most exciting, as the whole mixture gradually transformed into something beautiful and creamy.


The cream is smooth and silky, and not too heavy or oily – particularly when applied to freshly washed skin. Steven is appreciating it as well, for dry elbows and knees, and areas that have been exposed to a lot of sun recently.

Next time I will try different, more deliberately chosen oils, and will explore some other herbs with properties specific to my skin and it’s particular needs at the time. My skin is loving this combination though, and my hands haven’t felt so soft in quite some time!

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Red elder trees are blooming everywhere right now. They are all along the roadsides out here near the lakes on the edge of the woods, and there are a couple growing right in our yard. Until recently, when I was reinspired by a photo of elderflowers intended for cordial, by a fellow instagrammer halley roberts, I had pretty much ruled them out as a useful plant, knowing that the leaves and fruit contain toxic “cyanoglycoside sambunigrin” (with further research, the fruit turns out to actually be edible if prepared correctly (cooked, de-seeded), and is used by some to make jam). I did some further research and learned that the flowers of red elder are safe and gentle for internal and external use, and can make a beautiful, healing addition to the medicine cabinet. The flowers of the elder tree – both red and black – are the most mellow part of the plant.

Please do your research, and always double triple quadruple check when identifying a plant that is new to you, if you plan to consume it or apply it to your skin.


I harvested a few elderflowers from each tree in our yard, and a few from a few different trees off a roadside nearby. It’s getting late for collection and I think I just made it. Many flower clusters are now transitioning toward the fruiting stage.


I made a tincture with some of the flowers, and used the rest for another project I will share soon. For the tincture, I separated the flowers from the stems, loosely chopped them, and filled a jelly jar (about 7 ounces) with them. I covered the herb with 3 parts Everclear to 1 part water. I labeled my jar, and tucked it into a dark cabinet and will shake it each day. It should be ready for use in 4-6 weeks.

[I would have been more selective in my alcohol choice, but Everclear is what we had on hand. As a little aside, Everclear makes an excellent disinfectant. We fill small spritz bottles with it, and take it with us when we are out and about to keep our hands clean.]

Elderflower has diaphoretic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties. The flowers have long been used to treat many kinds of inflammatory and congestive conditions of the respiratory tract, and has been traditionally used to treat flu, colds, mucus, sinusitis, feverish illnesses and other upper respiratory tract problems, as well as hay fever.  Externally, elderflower soothes irritable, itchy skin.


I will try to report back in a month or so, when it’s time to strain and bottle our tincture.

Do you make your own medicinals? If so, what are some of your most used medicinal herbs?

[a few references:

Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch


http://www.ageless.co.za/herb-elder-flower.htm ]

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