May 30, 2015

Weekend Links

In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

* Could you use a tumbling composter? Check out this giveaway!

* Do you know about secondary drowning? This is important information every parent should know.

* We all know high fructose corn syrup is terrible for our the makers are now re-naming it.

* Processed salt is linked to auto-immune disease. Time to change to sea salt, if you haven't already!

May 28, 2015

My Top 4 Favorite Herbal Medicine Books

Once upon a time, all medicine was herbal, and most women understood enough herbal medicine to treat their families for many illnesses (though certainly not all). Gradually, this changed until Americans began seeking help from allopaths (modern doctors) for nearly every health complaint. Yet these days, as more and more people are unable to find help or answers through modern medicine, and as many people suffer from the side affects of prescription medicine, ever more Americans are turning to herbal medicine for many of their health complaints.

Interestingly, more scientific studies are being done on herbal remedies - but very few look at the herbs in their natural form, which means even those studies aren't necessarily all that helpful. Still, science often finds that those old time herbal remedies really do work. My personal experience tells me they do, too.

But learning about herbal medicine can be overwhelming. The internet is full of information, but how much of it is accurate? And even those who wish to pursue herbalism professionally discover there is no official certification for it - no set study that is sure to teach you all you need to know. Fortunately, however, there are a number of excellent books for the Proverbs 31 Women who wishes to learn how to treat her family with natural medicine. Here are my four favorites.

Forgotten Skills of Backyard Herbal Healing and Family Health by Caleb Warnock and KirstenSkirvin. This is a good book to start with because it focuses on just a few herbs, and therefore isn't overwhelming. Warnock is the author of several "forgotten skills" books (including one on winter gardening, which I reviewed here), and he adds plenty of personal anecdotes to this book, explaining how much herbal medicine has changed his life. His co-author Kirsten Skirvin is a Master Herbalist, with some compelling herbal medicine stories of her own. This book gives a good explanations on why you might want to use herbal medicine, and why it's important to take you and your family's health in your own hands. It explains the difference between medicinal grade herbs and varieties of those same herbs that are pretty in the garden, but not of true medicinal value. You'll also learn to make two basic forms of medicine: teas and tinctures. (The best and longest lasting tinctures are made with alcohol, so I like that the authors teach how to make such tinctures non-alcoholic for children or those who are sensitive to alcohol.) Then the authors focus on some basic herbs to start with: Cayenne, lobelia, cinnamon, garlic, and onion - plus apple cider vinegar. The next section gives formulas and examples of how to use these and other herbs for various applications, such as "healing flesh and bones" and "women's health and pregnancy." I appreciate that the authors encourage readers to learn more through some trustworthy online sources. And while I've read a lot of books on herbalism, I still learned some helpful things from this book - including how to use a weighted tuning fork to detect broken bones. (Buy this book.)

10 Essential Herbs by Lalitha Thomas. This is a nice supplement to Warnock and Skirvin's book, as it goes into greater detail about 10 herbs: Cayenne, chaparral, cloves, comfrey, garlic, ginger, onion, peppermint, slippery elm, and yarrow. Thomas gives some amazing stories of how she's helped heal people with these herbs, and gives plenty of specific examples of how and when to use them. Later in the book, she talks about using a specific mixture of herbs as a good remedy for many ails, and offers bonus information on using honey and echinacea as medicine. My only criticism of this book is that the author suggests using garlic directly on the skin. You can do this - I have done it - but it must be done with a great deal of care, or you will burn the skin horribly. The author gives no such warning - which is odd, because elsewhere she's good about explaining precautions. (Buy this book.)

Herbal Medicine by Dian Dincin Buchman, Ph.D.  This is an older book, but it's easy to find on Amazon and other used book sources. It covers a much wider variety of herbs than the two books I've already mentioned. Here, again, the author lists some of her favorite herbs for healing, then gives a wide ranging list of health issues - from acne to worms, with information on how to treat them herbally. Finally, there is an excellent section on how to make herbal medicine: How to dry herbs for medicine; and how to make infusions, waters, decoctions, tinctures, herbal oil, medicinal wines, vinegar, ointment, suppositories, poultices, and more. This is by far the best book I've seen for learning how to make various types of herbal medicine. (Buy this book.)

Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes by Rosemary Gladstar. This book is for the more advanced amateur herbalist, since it's focus is on combining herbs to make medicine, rather than teaching the medicinal value of specific herbs. In fact, this is a book of medicinal recipes - which are mostly broken down into four basic categories: for children, for women, for men, and for "elders." I especially appreciate the section on children, because it covers safety precautions and how to make herbal medicines appealing to kids. Cradle's cap, diaper rash, iron deficiencies, liver ailments, menstrual cramps, yeast infections, ulcers, migraines and other headaches, earaches, and a host of other common health complaints are discussed in this book, with recipes for treating each. The book ends with a brief section on specific herbs and their medicinal uses. (Buy this book.)


May 26, 2015

How to Make Kombucha

By now, hopefully you've read my post on why you might want to make your own kombucha, as well as the post on how to make a SCOBY (or mother) for kombucha. Today, I'm going to show you how to make kombucha itself. It's easy peasy.

But before I get into that, I wanted to share "6 Surprising Health Benefits of Fermented Food." Yes, I was aware fermented foods (like kombucha, fermented sauerkraut, and yogurt) contained stomach and digestion helpers, and that they also give a boost to your immune system. But I didn't know that fermented foods boost your body's ability to absorb nutrients, improve brain function, treat PMS and ADHD, may aid in weight loss, and more. Check it out.

What You Need to Make Kombucha

Making kombucha is very similar to making the SCOBY for kombucha. It's likely you have everything you need already in your kitchen.

A non-reactive large pot
One 1 gallon glass jar (or 2 half gallon glass jars)
A non-reactive stirring spoon
A non-reactive funnel (optional)
Cheesecloth or coffee filter
A length of string, rubber band, or scanning jar screw band
Bottles or jars (for bottling the finished kombucha. I recommend the type that has a flip top cap because they are less likely to burst should you happen to let the drink over-ferment. But you can use any type of glass container you like, including canning jars or used store-bought glass bottles or jars.)

You will also need

14 cups water
1 cup granulated cane sugar*
8 bags black or green tea, or a mixture of both (You can also use 2 tablespoons of loose tea)
2 cups starter kombucha (This can be the same unpasteurized, store bought kombucha brand you used for making the SCOBY. I used Synergy brand. Or you can use a bit of kombucha made by a friend. After you make your first batch of kombucha, you'll be able to use 2 cups of your own kombucha as a starter for another batch. Plain, unflavored kombucha is recommended, but if you can only find flavored kombucha, use the most neutrally flavored kind you can. I did this, and my finished drink turned out great.)

How to Make Kombucha

1. Thoroughly wash everything you'll use to make the drink. This helps prevent bad bacteria from ruining the finished kombucha. Wash all tools and jars/bottles in warm, soapy water, or run them through the dishwasher. Wash your hands thoroughly, too.

Make the base (sweet tea):

1. Pour the water into the pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add the sugar. Stir until dissolved. Add the tea and steep until the pot is completely cooled.

2. Remove the bags (or strain out the loose tea by pouring it through a fine strainer or a colander lined with a double layer of cheesecloth). Pour in the starter kombucha.

3. Pour the mixture into the 1 gallon jar (or 2 half gallon jars).


4. With freshly washed hands, remove the SCOBY from the jar you used to make it in (or your last batch of finished kombucha). Place it in the jar containing the sweet tea mixture. (If you only have one SCOBY, but two jars for fermenting kombucha, cut the SCOBY in half using a knife freshly washed in hot, soapy water. Place one SCOBY in each jar.)

I use 2 half gallon jars to ferment by kombucha, so I cut my original SCOBY in half and put one half in each jar.
5. Cover the jar(s) with a double layer of cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Secure in place with a rubber band, a piece of string, or a canning jar screw band.

6. Keep the jar(s) at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. Allow to sit and ferment for 7 - 10 days. At 7 days, dip a freshly washed spoon in the jar, and taste the drink. If you like the flavor, move on to the next step. If you'd like a less sweet flavor, taste the kombucha over the next several days, until you're satisfied. Remember, the longer you let the drink ferment, the less sweet it is and the more alcohol it has in it. (Concerned about these issues? Check out this post for more information.)

During the fermenting process, the SCOBY may float, sink, sit sideways, and/or have "strings" hanging down from it. This is all completely normal. The SCOBY will also grow each time you use it. Sometimes the new growth doesn't attach to the old SCOBY; that's fine, too.

Starting a New Batch:

7. Once you're satisfied with the flavor of the kombucha, it's time to begin a new batch. Prepare the sweet tea, as outlined in steps 1 - 3, above.

8. Wash your hands well, then remove the SCOBY from your finished kombucha. Transfer to the jar(s) containing the unfermented kombucha you just started. Cover and ferment. (See steps 4 - 6.)

Bottling and Second Ferment:

9. Pour the fermented kombucha into glass jars; using a funnel helps. (Hint: If your jars have narrow mouths, use a new, clean automotive funnel.) Important: Leave at least 1 inch of headspace at the top of each bottle. If you'll be adding anything to flavor the kombucha, leave at least 2 inches of headspace.)

10. If you want to flavor the kombucha, add the flavoring now. (For example, add a tablespoon or two of real fruit juice; or a 2 inch square piece of lemon (with the rind, cut into pieces); or 2 strawberries (cut up), a 1 inch square piece of lemon (with the rind, cut into pieces), and 4 crushed blueberries. For those who aren't as excited about the sweet/tart flavor of kombucha, I recommend the berry mixture.) Hint: When adding fruit pieces, be sure to chop them up quite small, so they easily fit down the neck of your bottle. Because otherwise, when the drink is fully consumed and you want to wash up the bottle, you'll have a heck of a time getting those fruit pieces out. Not that I've ever done that. Um...yeah.

11. Put the lids on the jars. The kombucha may now be consumed - or, to make it fizzy, you may do a second ferment: Store at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for 1 - 3 days. Check every day for fizziness. You'll know the drink is carbonated and fizzy as soon as you open the lid, because you'll either hear a whoosh or air, a "pop," or the "crinkly" sound fizzy drinks make. It's perfectly fine if some bottles get fizzy before others. Putting fruit in the bottles seems to slow carbonation. Headspace and room temperature makes a difference, too. And I think some bottles get more of the "mother" in them than others, which also alters the rate of carbonation.

Important: Remember to measure out and set aside 2 cups of your finished kombucha, so you can use it as a starter for your next batch.

12. Refrigerate the kombucha to stop fermenting. Consume within a month.

* Cane sugar is non-GMO (as opposed to granulated sugar made from beets, which is usually GMO. Granulated sugar not marked cane sugar is typically GMO beet sugar.) Cane sugar feeds the SCOBY best. However, molasses, honey (but not raw honey, which may contain bacteria that could adversely affect the SCOBY), and maple syrup may be used, too. According to Kombucha Kamp, use a 1:1 ratio when using molasses, or 7/8 cup of honey, or 1/2 - 2/3 cup of maple syrup in place of the granulated sugar in this recipe. Expect the fermentation process to take longer when not using cane sugar. (Unlike Kombucha Kamp, I do not recommend using Agave, because it is highly processed and actually very unhealthy.)

More in this series:

What is Kombucha? And Why You Might Want to Make it
How to Make a Kombucha SCOBY

May 23, 2015

Weekend Links

Courtesy Joe Valbuena and Wikimedia commons.
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

* As avian bird flu spreads in commercial chicken farms in the U.S., the cost of eggs surges. If you don't have your own hens yet, now is a good time to set yourself up!

* Poultry meat recall. More evidence that you need hens.

* Did you know jumping spiders have a painful bite? I didn't until I was startled awake this week, thinking I'd been stung by a wasp - but found a jumping spider on my pillow. It hurt for two days. My goodness!

* Looking for a tumbling compost bin? Amazon has this one on sale with free shipping - and it has great reviews

* Four Cancer charities under investigation for scamming donors.

* This is hard to read, but we must know this and pray about it.

* My kids and hubby have been sick this week. How do I keep from getting sick, too? I use this Anti Cold and Flu remedy, a sinus rinse twice a day, wash my hands constantly, and spray areas that have been contaminated with Lysol. I've been drinking homemade kombucha every day, too. Incidentally, that Anti Cold and Fly Remedy has never let me down, as long as I take it at the first sign of illness.

May 22, 2015

When Life Gets Difficult (and an Update on Our New Homestead)

It's been about six months since we decided to sell our house in the suburbs and move into a tiny house motor home in the country. But getting out of the suburbs and into the Little House in the Big Woods (as I've come to call it) has seemed excruciatingly slow.

My husband determined that we needed to fix up our truck (and old beater) first, so we could haul things safely. Next, we'd buy a shipping container to have on the property for storage (because we do plan to move into a regular house eventually - plus the container can be converted into a shop for my hubby once we're done using it for storage). Then we could start moving things out of the house, to make it easier to paint and fix up so we could get it on the market. I hoped we'd have the house on the market by now, but...

My husband seemed to be dragging his heels. I didn't feel he was doing what needed to be done to get us out of here (and oh! how we all long to get out of here!). I was frustrated. Until finally one night he confessed: "I'm not 100% sure this is what we are supposed to do."

My jaw dropped. I said nothing - because I was afraid of what I'd say. After the emotions I went through when my husband announced the moving plan, I could hardly believe what I was hearing. "Lord, help me!" was all I could think. Eventually, I told him I'd pray for him to know with certainty, one way or the other. And I did. (Even though I thought he was already certain!)

A few weeks later, he said, out of the blue, "Well, I know we're supposed to do this now. Otherwise Satan wouldn't be making every step toward it so difficult." (The list of obstacles and difficulties is long, but let me give you an example: He needed a part for our trailer, which we'll be using to move the things we want to put in the shipping container. He took the day off work to fix it, as well as several other things. He drove 30 minutes away to a place that sells trailer parts and made to sure to ask if the part he was buying included a certain do-hickey he needed to go with it. The guy making the sale said yes, it did. Then my hubby drove a half hour back home...and when we he went to use the part, the do-hickey was missing! So he drove another 30 minutes back to the store to return the part and go someplace else to buy what he needed. And, of course, he spent another half hour or more driving home. By now, the afternoon was gone. So weird and frustrating. And this type of thing occurred over and over and over again.)

But whew! I was thankful he felt certain about the move. At last. Hopefully permanently now. But while I didn't say anything, I was thinking, "When I experience obstacles, I'm more likely to think, 'God must not want me to do this, or it wouldn't be so difficult.'


"Satan doesn't want things to be hard for us when we are following his plan. He only wants things to feel tough if we are following God's plan."

Yet not long after my hubby made the connection between tough times and walking on the path God's made for us, a friend loaned me the book Give Them Grace. It's a parenting book, but really, what hit home with me applied not just to parenting. It was what the authors had to say about the obstacles in life.

For example, the apostle Paul. Now, here's a guy you'd think would have stunning success. I mean, Jesus visited him personally - his glory so great Paul (then Saul) was temporarily blinded - and he gave Paul a very specific mission. If Paul followed the mission Jesus gave him, things should be easy...right? Nope. Not. At. All.

Paul constantly suffered hardship and failings. He had to sneak out of towns like a criminal. He lived through not one, not two, but three shipwrecks. He lived through a poisonous bite from a snake. He suffered countless beatings and stonings, often bringing him near death. He was arrested and spent years in prison without trial. Other Christians criticized him. In short, just about everything he did was really, really difficult. Obstacles were everywhere.

Satan doesn't want things to be hard for us when we are following his plan. He only wants things to feel tough if we are following God's plan. So when life throws us difficulties, we can rejoice. Rejoice that we are on a path Satan hates. Rejoice in our weakness. Rejoice that we can rest fully in Christ, because he says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9) Amen.

May 20, 2015

6 Ways to Teach Children to Worship God, Every Day

As Christians, it's vital we learn to worship God through our ordinary, every day experiences. The wonderful thing is, if we as parents do this, our young children will follow our example. And once that habit is established, it's likely to stick. On the other hand, if we reserve worship for Sunday mornings alone, our children will mimic that example, too, and their spiritual lives will be awfully narrow because of it. Are you encouraging your children to worship as an everyday, natural part of life? Here are some ideas to help.

1. Play Christian Music. This could be popular Christian music or worship songs, but I challenge you to dig into music with deeper meaning - namely, hymns. In addition to this, young children should have simple Sunday school type songs (some are deceptively simple, but hold important spiritual truths, such as "Deep and Wide."). Even more important, give them Bible verses set to music, such as those found on Hide 'Em in Your Heart. Try to spend at least 10 minutes a day focusing on worship music. Then play it during breakfast. Or in the car. Or while doing chores. And use it as background music, too.

2. Practice Thankfulness. As you mature in Christ, it's difficult not to cry "Praise God!" throughout the day. But if you're not quite there in your walk, make an effort to thank God out loud whenever possible during your day. Your children will pick up on this thankful attitude, and soon you'll hear them praising God, too.

3. Have an Alter in Your Home. An alter is really just a place to meet with God. Maybe your alter is the kitchen table. Or maybe it's a sunny porch, or a cozy chair. Wherever it is, make sure your children know about it, and give them opportunities to delay their wants and not bother you when you are using it. Then encourage your children to find alters of their own.

4. Pray Throughout the Day. Yes, more formal prayer at meal times and bedtime is good, but show your children they can praise God and talk to him throughout their entire day - about anything and everything. Let them see you give praise, ask for help, ask questions, and so on. Say your prayers aloud - and your children will follow suit.

5. Don't Use His Name in Vain. This is a tough one if you're around other people who do. But using God's name in vain is the opposite of praising him. Check yourself, and ask out loud for God to forgive you if you slip up. Remind your kids how important it is to honor God, even though our society constantly says things like "OMG."

6. Teach Your Children the Law. Yes, teach your children about God's amazing grace, but don't neglect to teach them the law, too. Only by knowing the law (the 10 commandments and Jesus' explanation of them) can anyone truly know just how much they need grace - and just how sweet grace is. By understanding how much we fall short, and how much God has forgiven us for those sins, we can praise him all the more earnestly and joyfully.

May 18, 2015

How to Make a SCOBY for Kombucha

Last week, I typed about kombucha - the fizzy, fermented drink - and why you might want to make it. Some of you said you already drink it, but buy it in the store. But because it's about $3 a bottle, and because most store bought kombucha is pasteurized, thereby killing all the good-for-you-stuff in the drink, you might want to try making it at home. Thankfully, it's very, very easy.

But before you begin, you need a SCOBY (an acronym for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast," otherwise known as a "mother"). This is the "starter" that will make your kombucha ferment. There are three main ways to get one:

1. Get a SCOBY from a friend who makes kombucha.

2. Buy a SCOBY

3. Or make your own.

When I started making kombucha, I made my own. Here's how.

How to Make a Kombucha SCOBY

You will need:

4 cups water

1/3 cup of granulated sugar (cane is best)

2 black tea bags

One bottle of store bought kombucha (Read the label carefully; you need raw kombucha with live, active cultures or this process will not work. I used Synergy brand. Most other tutorials say to use unflavored kombucha, but I couldn't find this, so I used the flavored kind. It worked just fine.)

a large, nonreactive pot

a stirring spoon

a 1 gallon glass jar (or 2 half gallon glass jars)

1 piece of cheesecloth or a coffee filter for each jar, plus a length of string or a rubber band for each jar

1. Begin by thoroughly washing everything (jars, spoon, pot) in hot, soapy water. Or run everything through the dishwasher. Wash and dry the cheesecloth, too. Wash your hands thoroughly. This prevents unwanted bacteria from contaminating your SCOBY.

2. Pour four cups of water into the pot. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in sugar until the water looks clear. Add the tea bags.

3. Allow the tea to brew until the pot and water are completely cool.

4. Pour the cooled tea into the glass jar. Add the bottle of store bought kombucha. Cover the opening of the jar with cheesecloth or a coffee filter, securing in place with a rubber band or a piece of string. This keeps bugs, dust, and debris from entering the jar. Keep the jar in an out of the way location, with a relatively steady temperature, and out of direct sunlight.

5. Check the jar every day. Within a few days, you should begin to see some scummy stuff growing on top of the liquid. This is part of your future SCOBY. Within 2 - 3 weeks, there should be a layer of rubbery stuff across the liquid in the jar. Your SCOBY is ready!

A Few Notes:

Don't remove the SCOBY until you're ready to make kombucha.

Don't touch the SCOBY, except with well cleaned hands. (It's better just to leave it alone until you're ready to make kombucha.)

When you are ready to use the SCOBY, you can discard the liquid it grew in. It's very acidic, and not suitable for drinking. I have, however, heard of using it in place of vinegar in a meat marinade.

Next week, I'll show you how to use the SCOBY to make kombucha.

More in this series:

What is Kombucha? And Why You Might Want to Make it
How to Make Kombucha

May 16, 2015

Weekend Links

In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

* Would you do me a favor? Would you take this short survey? It will help me shape the content of this blog. Thank you!

* Preparing to move into our tiny house motor home has really made me think about the stuff that's bogging us down. Check out these stats - some pretty alarming - and consider whether you need to rethink your stuff, too. 

* Ever wonder why you can't double jam or jelly recipes? Food in Jars explains.

* My garlic is beginning to grow scapes (the long stems that eventually grow a bud, then flower). Did you know they are edible? In fact, they should be removed for optimal garlic clove size.

* I don't feed my family tofu because I'm concerned about soy - that it's usually GMO and that it can increase estrogen in the body. But here's another reason to avoid tofu.

* Last week, I asked this blog's Facebook followers to pray for an extremely painful Staph infection I was suffering from. THANK YOU. About 45 minutes after I made the request, the pain completely went away. A day later, the infection began healing. I'm still healing, but I'm so much better now.