Herbal spotlight: Echinacea (purple Coneflower)

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Bumble bee on one of our Echinacea blooms.

Here at Whimsical Moon Farm, we grow many of the herbs that we use in our handcrafted soaps. We also grow herbs for culinary uses, health and healing, and for the pollinators. We enjoy attracting honey bees, butterflies, and many different bird species. Among the herbs you can find in our gardens, we grow sage, rosemary, oregano, parsley, thyme, chamomile, lavender (lots!), and Echinacea.

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Echinacea purpurea flower with butterfly.

One of my favorite herbs is Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia. It loves the sun and is a native wildflower here in the United States. Not only does it produce beautiful flowers that attract all types of pollinators, but it is an excellent support for the body’s immunity. Tinctured roots and teas made from its leaves and stem help strengthen the body’s ability to resist infection.

With flu season upon us, I always try to have on hand Echinacea capsules, teas containing Echinacea, and lots of tincture from last Fall’s root harvest. At the first sign of a tickle in my throat or a drippy nose, I begin taking the capsules as directed on the bottle or dosing myself with a dropper-full of tincture with each meal. (Dose 1 – 3 ml, up to 5 times a day.)

The roots of the plant can be harvested around the second or third year. I usually take a piece or two off of each plant in the Fall when I divide the root clumps. The fresh root can be chopped up and placed in a pint or quart mason jar. I cover the root pieces with 80 proof, or higher, Vodka making sure the pieces are completely covered. I cap the jar tightly and store in a cupboard, away from sunlight. I try to give the jar a shake each day for 14 to 21 days. When it’s time to decant, I pour the liquid through cheese cloth into a clean bowl, making sure to press the remaining pulp to get all of the good medicine.

I prefer storing the tincture in small brown or blue bottles with dropper caps. These can be purchased from many sources, but I usually get mine from Mountain Rose HerbsBe sure to cap tightly and label with what the tincture is and when it was bottled. The shelf life for the tincture is 1 to 3 years, but many herbalists believe it stays good for many years, if kept tightly capped and stored in a cool, dark place.

I often dry the flowers to use in my handcrafted soaps as they add beautiful bits of color to the bars. But more often than not, I allow the flowers to remain on the plant for the butterflies and bees flitting around the gardens in the Fall to enjoy.

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Echinacea purpurea

May this season be a healthy and vibrant time of year for you!

Please check out our handcrafted soaps at Whimsical Moon Farm.

 

 

Growing a Cottage Business.

Herbal soaps and Whimsical minions, Salvia and Echinacea, Herbal apothecary, and a loaf of uncut lavender soap.

We have lived a year and a half on Whimsical Moon Farm now. A full growing season under our belts plus the original fall garden I planted while we were getting settled has given us much to be thankful for. As I contemplate what we have accomplished, I find myself already figuring out where to build new raised beds next Spring, how I want to increase the herb garden, possibly with a small turtle pond (our turtle Grover has almost outgrown his aquarium), plus I would like to create an herbal medicine wheel near the barn lot. We  have added a small flock of laying hens, a handful of farm cats, and we are researching Dwarf Nigerian goats for milk. (They are adorable!) A never-ending process of growing, experimenting, and enjoying the harvest.

Our local Farmers’ Market, raised bed, owl soaps, a loaf of soap ready to be cut, and my daughter Kayla holding one of our new chicks. 

 Mindy works off the farm so we can make ends meet while I handle the farm chores, the gardening, as well as regular care of my special needs fairy adult child. It dawned on me one morning, while enjoying my first mug of extra bold Sumatran coffee on the front porch, that a small farm business would be a pretty darn good idea right about now. I handcraft herbal soaps for gifts and for sale at the farmers’ market, I figured herbal body products would be a great ‘cottage’ business I could run right out of my kitchen. I grow most of the herbs I would need for the soaps and sugar scrubs and I could work around chores and my daughters needs.

I passed my brilliant idea by Mindy that evening and she said, “um….okay” and thus began my business adventure. I’ve always been a rather ‘shoot-from-the-hip’ type of person, and working for anybody but myself has always been rather unappealing but I did promise Mindy that I would put together a business plan. My research consisted of re-reading Chris Guillebeau’s book, “The $100 Start Up: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future” (which I highly recommend), Blake Mycoskie’s book, “Start Something That Matters” (of TOM’s shoe fame) and “Creating an Herbal Bodycare Business” by Sandy Maine.

I learned from Blake, “When you have a memorable story about who you are and what your mission is, your success no longer depends on how experienced you are or how many degrees you have or who you know. A good story transcends boundaries, breaks barriers, and opens doors. It is a key not only to starting a business but also to clarifying your own personal identity and choices.” Well, I certainly have stories. And the story about Whimsical Moon Farm certainly identifies my mission and is easily entwined within my business purpose.

 Butterfly on Echinacea flower, me holding Mamie, one of our Ameraucana chickens, and a field of wildflowers near the barn lot.

As I hammered out my business plan, I decided simple was best. So, I determined I had products to sell: herbal soaps, bath salts, sugar scrubs, and dream pillows.

I considered who my targeted customer base would most likely be (besides my loving family): those people, mostly women ages 16-90 (approximately) interested in lovingly hand-made, natural body-care for their personal use and as gifts. Although I also create a wonderful beard oil and soaps for men, I have found women are usually the ones initially attracted to my products.

And, I figured out a way to get paid, or how I would sell my products: an online market/website plus my favorite farmers’ markets and seasonal festivals. I chose Wix.com as my e-commerce site not only for its ease of navigating through the complex dashboards plus their on-going support, but also because the cost was budget-worthy and I thought the name Wix was catchy. Not to negate Etsy or Shopify, (or any of the other many possible markets out there) they are excellent sites as well, but I felt Wix.com would be a good fit for my farm soap business.

After stewing and fretting over my business plan, which now exceeded three paragraphs, I felt confident I could present to Mindy who, by the way was now listed as CO-OWNER, the details and the budget for OUR ‘cottage’ business start-up. I had determined a nice round figure of $1000 would be sufficient to get the business up and running with a little cushion for padding. Where we would get this $1000 was undetermined at that time but after an informative meeting with our bank customer service rep, we walked out with a zero-fee, zero interest-rate for 15 months, credit card with a cap of $3000. We still intend on keeping the business costs at or below the $1000 we planned for and figure if the business is not paying for itself in 15 months, then we would surely need to reconsider our options. I, however, am confident that between the two of us and the story woven throughout our farm business, we will be prosperous. Well, you know….something like that!

Our goal is to have our web-site up and running by early November, but we are shooting for Halloween because it seems rather auspicious and fun. I have been learning about marketing via social media (I had NO idea there were so many sites to get involved with) and I have been crafting soaps like a mad-woman. The kitchen smells incredible as does the pantry where I dry the soaps and any other flat surface in the house that isn’t occupied at the moment.

I am looking forward to growing, experimenting, and harvesting this newest ‘crop’ endeavor here on Whimsical Moon Farm, and I will definitely follow up with our experiences and adventures.

Stay creative and have a prosperous Whimsical Moon day!

Walking the Path of Herbal Lore

Raised bed of Echinacea angustifolia (purple coneflower), Salvia (sage), Echinacea with a butterfly, apothecary counter, and raised bed of herbs and vegetables. 

                                 Featuring Echinacea (purple coneflower)

“True health comes from loving relationships, good food, time spent in nature, daily hugs, inner peace, meaningful work, and breathing thankfully of the richness of this life.”  Nancy Phillips, Herbalist.

It is time to do my early morning chores, so I bundle up in my thick sweater, fuzzy socks, and warm hat to ward off the chilly air of Autumn. As I toss the chickens their favorite scratch and apple slices, I find myself turning over in my head the contents of my herbal medicine cabinet. This is the time of year I need to make sure I am stocked up on all my favorite teas, tinctures, and salves. The one herb I turn to over and over again is always Echinacea. Whether in a tea, tincture, or even a throat spray, Echinacea angustifolia is the foundation of my herbal remedies and I want to make sure I am prepared for cold and flu season.

I have grown Echinacea for many years as I have found it to be a lovely perennial that is not fussy to grow. It can get to be three to four feet high and loves the full sun and warm weather.  Purple coneflower, as it is commonly known, blooms beautiful cone-shaped flowers and is well-loved by bees, butterflies, and many wild birds that enjoy their seeds in the fall.

Many herbalists and natural medicine practitioners believe Echinacea to be an important immune-enhancing herb with very few known side-effects. It helps protect cells against the many viruses and bacteria we are often exposed to, plus it has antifungal and antibacterial properties. This makes it an important remedy for many of our common infections and illnesses.

It is particularly useful against bronchial and respiratory infections, sore throat, and the common cold. I use it anytime my immune system needs a boost or I have been exposed to somebody sniffling and sneezing. Echinacea can be taken as a tea, tincture, or capsules and should be used at the first sign of a cold or flu.

 

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This is my herbal apprentice, Winter the farm Chihuahua

As a cottage herbalist, I usually practice with simple formulas rather than mixing several herbs together, so I take Echinacea either as a tea, a tincture, or in capsules. I prefer tinctures as it tends to be more potent when I begin to feel crummy, but it isn’t the most palatable going down. I often mix it with orange juice for that extra push of vitamin C, but it can still be gag-worthy until you get accustomed to it.

You can purchase the teas already made (just follow directions on the carton) as they are usually considerably tastier, especially with a dribble of honey in your cup, or you can make your own tea by placing 4-6 tablespoons of dried herbs into a clean quart jar and pouring boiling water over them, filling the jar. Let this steep a good 30-45 minutes, strain it well, and drink about a quarter of a cup every half hour for a total of 4 cups a day.

As I prefer the tincture, I usually try to get a batch started towards the end of summer so it will be ready for flu season. To create your own, you will need fresh or dried Echinacea root, a pint of 80 proof or stronger vodka or brandy, and a clean glass jar. Place these roots in the jar and pour enough alcohol over them to completely cover by a good 2 or 3 inches. Seal the jar with a tight-fitting lid and place in a warm spot and allow to soak (macerate) for 4 to 6 weeks. Try to shake the tincture regularly. Once a day is fine, but don’t worry if you forget a day or two. Strain the herbs well and store in clean, dark bottles. Your tincture will last for two, even three years.  You should take 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of tincture every hour up to 6 teaspoons daily.

You can also purchase already made Echinacea tincture and tincture blends at most drugstores and many grocery stores.

I do keep Echinacea capsules on hand, but I usually purchase them from the drugstore as I have found I usually make a huge mess when I encapsulate my own pills. You can take 1-2 capsules every two hours up to 8 pills daily.

A wonderfully soothing sore throat spray I have discovered is to mix together one-quarter cup of your prepared tincture, one eighth cup of vegetable glycerin or honey, one eighth cup of fresh water, and 1-2 drops of peppermint essential oil. Mix that all together and place in a spritzer bottle. Spray directly into the back of your throat as needed, about every half hour or so.

 

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Porch Herb Garden

I believe we need to restore a healing tradition in our country that allows us to understand beneficial herbs and nourishment to our bodies and our souls. We need to learn how to rely on the wisdom of our bodies and community with each other for basic healthy living.

If we trust our bodies ability to heal and function in a balanced way, we will be able to make informed and wise decisions about our health and well-being.

Herbalism is about our connection with plants and how they can be used to nourish and heal each of us. As I walk this herbal path, I continue to learn how to listen to the plants and how to listen and trust my self.

Please note: This information is meant only to increase your knowledge about herbs and how they can be used in your own healing path. I am not a licensed medical doctor not do I ever intend to be one.  Always seek the advice of your doctor or health care professional for your individual conditions. 

Thank you to Rosemary Gladstar and Nancy Phillips for their inspiration and guidance along my herbal journey.

 

Whimsical Moon Farm Musings

Bella-boo heading outside, the girls in their attic loft, a tiger lily blooming next to the chicken coop, and another tomato ripening.

 

Even though it is hot and muggy, you can feel the summer season winding down on the farm. Leaves are turning golden on the old maple tree and I can feel a slight chill in the air when I go outside to do chores each morning. The days are increasingly shorter, yet there is still plenty to do as we look forward to the Autumn equinox.

Tomatoes and peppers continue to ripen on the vine and the ‘girls’ greet us almost every morning with an egg or two. The Ameraucana chickens have been laying for a few weeks now and we are patiently waiting for the Buff Orpingtons to begin their laying cycle. There is nothing tastier than  fresh chicken eggs!

Fresh picked peppers, tiny first egg next to regular sized eggs, Sweetums snoozing on the comfy chair, baby toad, and a recent farm sunset.

 

I find myself just as busy in the kitchen as I am outside. Besides freezing bushels of corn last month, I have canned tomato sauce, pickled dilly-garlic green beans, and dried peppermint, sage, and rosemary for tea and crafting soaps. Soon, we will be gleaning fallen apples from the neighboring farm and I will fill my kitchen with the spicy scent of bubbling applesauce and apple-pear butter for the winter.

The gigantic pile of broken tree limbs and cleared scrubby locust trees and encroaching mulberry shrubs is still smoldering ash after Farmer Matt came chugging down the road in his backhoe three days ago and helped us build the pile into a massive bon fire. It is such a relief to get the back yard cleaned up but it looked like a scene from the ‘burning-man festival’ for most of the afternoon into the evening.

Farmer Matt working on the burn pile, glowing bon fire in the evening, the tiny egg sunny side up. (We couldn’t help ourselves. It was one of the first eggs!)

 

I’ve noticed many of the birds in the area gathering into their flocks. Chickadees, finches, and hummingbirds will soon be moving south and the juncos will be moving back in. The fields of corn and soybean are beginning to turn brown and soon we will hear the loud combine and tractor engines crawling through the crops harvesting another years income.

Each season in Central Indiana is distinctive and defined by different types of work and activity. As the urgent summer heat and growing season mellows towards Autumn, I look forward to the cooler temperatures, the slower work load, and the pile of books growing next to my favorite reading chair.

Harvest blessings from Whimsical Moon Herb Farm.

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Pookie Poo peeking out from my bamboo garden cage.

 

 

The Way of the Cottage Herbalist

 

“Those who dwell….among the beauties and mysteries of life are never alone or weary of life. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”  –Rachel Carson

A Cottage Herbalist is anyone who honors herbs and has an inner desire to understand and share their healing properties. Spending time with these plants, growing, harvesting, even meditating with them, takes us to our Source. Time with Mother Earth is healing. You won’t find a dictionary definition for cottage herbalist, but I’m pretty certain this is pretty close to how I would define it. This is how I define myself.

I have studied medicinal plants, growing herbs and ethically wildcrafting, making herbal products, and crafting with them for many years. I began my herbal ‘career’ as a young girl when I planted my first herb garden in a scrappy, worn-out iris bed that mom determined would get plenty of sunshine and relieve her from further weeding.

My studies continued when I attended the Seattle School of Massage and found several herbal courses available as elective subjects. I enjoyed every single class. Several years later, I was ecstatic when I found Rosemary Gladstar’s “The Science and Art of Herbalism” course offered through her Sage Mountain Farm. Rosemary has always been my herbal idol and long distance mentor, and she said, “Whatever you choose to do, do it well, and do it joyously”, and I determined herbs, gardening, and crafting would always be my joyous work.

I have learned as I continued my herbal studies that nobody becomes an herbalist overnight. In fact, learning the healing qualities of plants is a life long process. It does require us to grow and harvest, make effective preparations, and then use them in our own lives as well as share them with others. I realized that discovering our own medicines in the fields and woods that surround us, and in our gardens, can be empowering.

Herbal medicine is about creating a deep relationship with the plants and ourselves, and not just about a jar of herbal supplements or a bottle of uncertain tincture we purchase from the shelf of the nearby big name mega-store. An herbalist begins with the healing plants growing outside their door, working hands-on with them, as well as learning from mentors, taking courses, and reading books on the subject.

I believe a Cottage Herbalist understands the everyday use of herbs, studies the traditional use of plant remedies, grows and ethically wildcrafts their regional plants, prepares plant medicines, and even teaches others the aspects of the herbal healing arts. Helping people discover the healthy possibilities for themselves is an important part of being an herbalist.

Creating an herbal livelihood within the context of a sustainable farm and community is important to me. Amanda M. Crawford, an herbalist, said,”Sometimes when technological medicine has nothing more to offer a person, we may find the deepest healing in a simple green blossom”. I wholeheartedly believe this, and I believe that our health, as individuals and as a society, is inextricably linked to that of the earth. Herbal medicine is nature’s ultimate ecological medicine.  Herbalists teach this Earth awareness and the nourishing good health that comes from the plants, clean water, fresh air, and the pursuit of your passion — and laughing often.

I enjoy sharing the adventures and antics here on Whimsical Moon Herb Farm as we continue to grow our herbs, raise our chickens, and scratch the farm cats behind their ears. I also intend on sharing my adventures as an herbalist and herbcrafter. I will alternate my focus on farming and herbalism in future posts, with a bit of everyday whimsy. Please feel free to comment or ask me questions as the seasons progress! I hope you will enjoy learning about the herbs – and healing with them – right along with me.  Have a most whimsical-moon day!