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HOMEGROWN Life: Creating a Home Apothecary

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-MAGENTAHere’s a secret for my HOMEGROWN friends: I’m a disaster! This summer I’ve been even more so than usual. I’ve always been a person who falls—frequently and spectacularly. I’m also the one who lands in situations where, if things can go haywire, they will. Over the years, I’ve grown comfortable with that. This summer, however, has been a whopper.

At the beginning of summer, I fell and twisted my right ankle and did something to my foot. A week later, while planting fruit trees, I stepped wrong and sprained my other ankle TWO ways. (I’m an overachiever!) As I lay in the hospital for several days last week, I decided straight away to take better care of myself. Of course, I couldn’t have foreseen that the stray tabby I took in would create a riot in my animal kingdom, leaving me with cuts and scrapes and bites into my tendon that led to an infected hand, which sent me back to my mothership, AKA the local hospital.

HOMEGROWN-life-home-apothecary-deskThe time, listening to beeps and alarms in a room by myself with only a fuzzy Maury Povich declaring “You are NOT the father!” in the background to keep me company, I had an epiphany about how I can take care of myself and my family right at home. I’ve always been into herbs and natural remedies, so I decided to expand on that interest by creating an apothecary wall.

I have one wall in my dining room that I refer to as my “problem wall.” It’s plaster—crumbly plaster, due to past water damage—and I had long ago decided to make it an accent wall. I scrolled Pinterest and found exactly what I was looking for: a rustic wall façade made from pallet wood that could accommodate shelves for my apothecary supplies while still looking nice. (That photo at left was my original inspiration.) It not only represented me pretty well but it would serve as a conversation starter. I don’t know many other people with an at-home apothecary, and I would love for it to foster curiosity in others, perhaps even prompting them to consider more at-home remedies.

WHAT YOU NEED FOR A HOME APOTHECARY

Although I’m still in the early stages of assembling my wall, I have started to collect  supplies. I wanted to do all of this on a budget, and since it’s not urgent, I can take some time.

• Herbs. I started out with a few of the natural components that would take a bit longer: I dried mint, sage, and rosemary. I picked up some others in bulk: lavender, elderberry, and bay. I also started to buy essential oils as they went on sale.

• Tools. I  pulled out my old mortar and pestle. Generally, whole herbs have a longer shelf life than powdered, so it’s best to grind on demand, when possible. (If you’re planning to use something up quickly and aren’t worried about shelf life, powder works in a pinch.) I also picked up some cheesecloth and a metal strainer—the fine type, versus a colander—for making infusions. The finer herbs will require use of the cheesecloth.

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• Jars. I also made the much-dreaded trip to Ikea for glass jars, as I’m looking to keep things as uniform as possible and to keep the cost down. I should mention that lots of folks won’t store their herbs in glass jars since they can reduce potency and shelf life by letting in light.

• Location. On a related note, when choosing a location for your herbs, you want to find a darkish spot, out of the sun and direct artificial light. My dining room isn’t quite at dungeon-level status, but it doesn’t receive much sunlight, and we rarely turn on the overhead light (mostly because I picked a light far too bright and hot for the space, and it’s a little like sitting on the face of the sun when the light is on). The dining room is adjacent to the kitchen and gets light from there or from candles, which are much kinder to my crow’s feet anyhow.

• Pallets or shelving. I managed to get my hands on pallets, a feat that seems increasingly difficult these days. I did go to a big home-supply chain, as people online had recommended, and got ten pallets for free, even though the guy said he was supposed to start charging for them. You can probably source them from local companies for free.

HOMEGROWN-life-home-apothecary-pallets

While I’m aware that a raging infection isn’t necessarily best treated at home, I do believe that herbs and natural remedies are one more way of getting back to our roots. Whether it’s ginger tea for an upset stomach or lavender in your bath to relax you and help you sleep, you’re putting far fewer chemicals put into your body to heal something that could be addressed naturally.

TYPES OF HERBAL CONCOCTIONS

Most herbal concoctions are prepared in one of these ways: infusion/teas, tinctures, decoction, maceration, poultices/compress, or bathing practices. The following is a very high-level, simplified overview.

• Infusion/teas. Making one of these is similar to making a cup of tea, by pouring just-boiled water over the herbs or plant in questions. In most cases, you’ll steep 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

• Decoction. This is another boiling method but with more attention paid to the amount of water and herbs. This is more common with harder bark-type or woody materials as opposed to loose and leafy herbs, which only require an infusion.

• Tinctures. Requiring alcohol and water, these are much more time consuming to make but produce long-lasting products.

• Maceration. This is a soaking method. It doesn’t call for any harsh treatment, simply soaking overnight and occasional stirring. This is easy and typically used with more delicate herbs that can’t withstand other methods.

• Compresses and bathing. These last two are just what they sound like. Most herbal-remedy books will walk you through step-by-step preparations, as well as measurements and timelines for maximum efficacy.

WAYS TO USE YOUR HOME REMEDIES

If you’re on the fence about creating your own apothecary, here are some interesting facts:

• Pet care. Your furry friends will benefit as well. Last year I took my dog to an all-natural vet who used herbs to treat a condition that almost always results in a dog being put down. My pooch is perfect now. While I don’t have the expertise to treat seriously ailing animals, I can turn something as simple as Epsom salt (which I use myself three times a week) as a soak to soothe my dog’s sore spots and swelling.

• Cold sores. Lemon balm tea can help with these. No more chemicals on your face to battle the little buggers.

• Prevention. Sprinkling clove on a fresh cut will not only help prevent an infection but also helps with pain relief.

• Headaches. Willow is a long-standing remedy, as it produces the same analgesic effect as aspirin.

• Magic! You get to feel slightly Harry Potterish when your friends ask what’s in your jars. You can answer things like, “mugwart, houndstooth, valerian, and scullcap.” They don’t have to know these are regular, run-of-the-mill plants!

• And more. Some of those weeds in your backyard can be turned into effective remedies. Dandelion, for instance, is a diuretic.

Building up your home apothecary is a great activity for the cold-weather months ahead, but here comes my obligatory warning: PLEASE do your research prior to jumping in with two feet. This is medicine, after all, and there are risks associated. I find the subject fascinating, but I’m still a beginner myself, so I’m taking the time to get educated. While these healing methods can do some heavy lifting when it comes to keeping us well, they pack an equally serious punch if used incorrectly.

There’s a wealth of knowledge and purveyors online, including my current obsession, Mountain Rose Herbs. I could spend hours on the site, perusing their information. (They also have a no-waste policy and a strong environmental commitment.) Happy healing!

RELATED STORIES ON HOMEGROWN.ORG:

HOMEGROWN-life-michelleAlthough she’s something of a newbie homesteader herself, Michelle Wire comes from serious pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a home on the grounds of a Pennsylvania CSA farm. You can read her monthly posts on beginner homesteading with kids and more here in HOMEGROWN Life, and sometimes you can find her popping up in The Stew, HOMEGROWN’s member blog.

PHOTOS: (FINISHED WALL) MYDECOBOX.ORG; (ALL OTHERS) MICHELLE WIRE

HOMEGROWN Life: The Healing Power of Farming

 

HOMEGROWN LifeAnyone who digs in the dirt, mucks out stalls, or tends flocks or herds will tell you that, through the dirt and the grime, past the sweat and the toil, there is a healing power in farming as therapy.

Whether it’s hugging a sweet lamb with a soft coat, jogging alongside goat kids as they do double twists in the air, relishing the beauty of horses running free, tugging off boots almost stuck to the souls of your feet, or scrub-brushing fingernails that are never going to be white again, farming is about the stuff of life. It’s up close and personal. It’s not just walking on the ground but being grounded. It’s dirty and earthy and full of messy stuff.

HOMEGROWN-life-dyanAs emotional creatures, we humans can’t help but react to it. Even the hardest-hit soul, battered by life’s events or simply the trauma of daily living, would find it hard to resist.

Recently, I met a hard-hit soul. A sweet young woman, who had been on the cusp of a life with her soul mate. They had plans. They had dreams. They had hope. They were just beginning a future together. All that was lost in an unexpected and almost inexplicable accident. Now she’s left to sort out what’s next.

She came to my table at the Grange Hall flea market. I had taken my project from last winter to lay out on the table for people to see: a book—my story, about my journey into farming. After she read the opening page, she looked up at me from across the market table and asked me a question, one only someone who has suffered a loss such as hers dares to ask: “How long did it take you to feel like you could go on?”

She was referring to the loss of my son, which I address in the book. It’s the reason my farm is named Bittersweet. I told her it took a long time and was a day-to-day process. She then shared with me her own story and explained how it was all the harder because of the circumstances: There were no goodbyes. I understood. I moved around the table to take hold of her. I could recall how it felt when, no matter what words are spoken, it’s not enough. She stood there in my arms and started to sob. My heart remembered those early days.

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I told her our farmers market was the next day and invited her to come. She did. As she walked over to my table, my new lamb Ariel was grazing tiny white clover flowers at our feet. Ariel, a gift to Bittersweet, comes with me to market most weeks so as not to miss her bottle feedings. I bent down and picked up this four-week-old creature and laid her in the young woman’s arms. Ariel nuzzled under the woman’s chin and laid her head on the woman’s shoulder. The woman smiled and said, “This is the first time I’ve felt happy again.” Her mother, who was with her, nodded and smiled.

Farming is therapeutic. It brings a sense of being a part of something none of us understands or can explain—that feeling you get when you see the first seedlings pop their heads above the earth. When the smell of old lilacs wafts through the bedroom window on a late spring day. When a dam, after laboring through the wee morning hours, produces a perfect goat kid. When, 15 minutes later, that kid takes its first steps on brand new wobbly legs. When you’re sitting at the kitchen table, still sticky to the elbows from the brine, sipping a cup of tea and listening to the pop pop pop of lids on bread and butter pickles. (How many jars this year? I lost count.) When you hug a four-week-old lamb and realize for the first time since tragedy struck your life that your heart is still beating.

HOMEGROWN-life-lamb

We are strong, us humans. We dare to dream and hope, love and laugh, even in the face of things that seemingly would beat us to the ground. Farming has brought me a stronger sense of this. It seems—to me, anyway—that people who work the earth or rub shoulders with beasts have a clearer understanding of our resiliency. Farming isn’t just a living; it’s a way of life. And sometimes we get to share that way of life with those not as fortunate to be living it daily.

People’s lives change, sometimes in an instant. But out of those moments, I believe there are opportunities. My own opportunity came on a rainy August day five years ago, as I was headed out to look for sheep. I had bought this piece of property and decided to cover it in lambs. It was Open Farm Day in Maine, an annual event for the past 25 years.

I made a left turn down a long road and ended up walking into a goat barn. That turn and those few steps changed my life. I hope that, as a farmer, I can make some kind of small change in someone else’s life. I hope this young woman will hold onto the happiness she felt hugging a newborn lamb. I hope that, in time, she’ll start to rebuild her life. And I hope that life is filled with love and promise—maybe not in the way she had planned, but in a way that brings healing to her and to those around her. That’s something those of us who call ourselves farmers are privileged to experience every day: hope.

HOMEGROWN-Life-Dyan-profileDyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Her farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Bittersweet Heritage Farm is an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

ALL PHOTOS: DYAN REDICK

HOMEGROWN Life: The Pros and Cons of Living in a Tiny House

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREEN

It was once thought that bigger was better. People were buying up these giant homes with at least 1,000 square feet per person. Since the housing bubble popped, the tables have turned. The tiny house has become the new McMansion. People are protesting the monstrosities of the 4,000 square foot home by living in 244 square foot apartments. The smaller the better. It’s all about living in a 78 square foot apartment: the size of a small closet in a McMansion.

We live in an almost tiny home—not as small as a closet but smaller than what most people live in and smaller than most two-bedroom, one-bath apartments. It was a conscious decision. When we started looking to buy a home, our specific requirements were “large property, small house.” That’s exactly what we got. At 750 square feet, it can be tight for two adults and a teenager. I get asked pretty regularly what it’s like to live in such a small home. Is it worth it? What would I change? So, here’s the lowdown on living in a small home.

TINY HOUSE PROS

  • Cleaning the entire place, top to bottom, only takes about an hour.
  • It limits the amount of junk you can accumulate. And keeps the chicken tchotchkes to a minimum. (Tom, I’m looking at you.)
  • It takes no time at all to heat up the house in winter. The wall heater is more than enough. A few fans can cool it down pretty quickly, too.
  • Which leads to less money spent on energy.
  • You know the kids can hear you when you call them.
  • Maintenance work and remodeling costs a lot less.

TINY HOUSE CONS

  • No storage space and no pantry. Well, our garage serves as our primary storage and as our pantry.
  • We had to get rid of a bunch of our furniture when we moved from our previous 970 square foot home. Amazingly, 220 square feet makes a huge difference when you’re living in relatively small homes.
  • Our garage is so small neither of our vehicles fits in it. Mine is too tall to get through the garage door (and it’s not a four-wheel drive), and Tom’s vehicle is too long. This did help with our decision to turn the garage into our pantry/laundry room/storage space.
  • No dining room = no entertaining in the winter.
  • The small kitchen makes it a challenge to process a lot of food at once, so we’ve now set up a spot outside to do some of our processing. It’s a good thing most of it occurs in the summer. Plus, not having a dishwasher due to a lack of space means a dish rack takes up a good chunk of our precious counter space.

My ultimate feeling about living in a small house? I’d like a little more room—not much, just a bit—if only for a slightly larger kitchen and an actual dining room. A pantry would be nice as well. Would I go smaller? I can unequivocally say no.

Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!