“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.”

Hal Borland

rhodedendron-flowers-spring

As forests, wet meadows and grasslands are continually lost, we can play an important role in sustaining habitat for our wild fauna and flora. Here are some great native wildflower plants for the Northeast region, USA. Try and find them in your area and do what you can to preserve their habitat, or plant some of your own!

IMG_5780

Joe pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum)

-Attracts bees, birds and butterflies

-Got its name from a story about a Native American “Joe Pye” who use this plan to cure fevers. It is said that the American colonists use it to treat an outbreak of typhus

-Grows wild in damp meadows and shores

-Flowers August to September

Solidago rigida

Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida)

-Pulls unwanted insects from other areas of a garden

-Tolerant of partial shade and freely self sows

-Blooms April to May

img_5999

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

-Is a medicinal plant whose flowers and roots can be used to make a tea that strengthens the immune system.

-Native to the North American plains but can be grown in the Northeast

-Grows best in fields or open woods

-Blooms from early summer until frost

img_6004

Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

-Foliage is the favorite food of the Monarch butterfly larvae

-Grows in dry, open soil, roadsides and fields

-Attracts butterflies and similar creatures

-Flowers July to August

IMG_5794

As beautiful as they are, wildflowers should not be picked from their natural habitat. The bees, butterflies and birds need them more than we do! Instead of gathering from the wild, consider planting your own (a great regional native wildflower seed source is American Meadows), try buying flower bunches from farmers markets or order pressed flowers online (for pressed flowers try naturespressed.com).

 

A song by the English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, The Fourteenth of February, was inspired by a famous poem that his partner gave to him on Valentine’s Day. That poem was I Wish I could Remember by Christina Rossetti, the Victorian poet. Christina Rossetti lived in England but her father was Italian and in the sonnet that this piece came from she included lines from Italian poets Dante and Petrarch. Those Italian lines are difficult to translate but all of the writing speaks to reconnecting to special moments. In addition to turning back, I appreciate how Billy’s lyrics also look to the future. My husband Greg and I were friends for a couple of years before dating and I don’t remember all of the details of our first encounters. I can relate to the poem and lyrics that ruminate on wanting to better remember the first time that they met their lover. Maybe you will find one of these as touching as I did!

Monna Innominata (I wish I could remember)

Era già  l’ora che volge il desio. It was now the hour that turns back the longing. – Dante

Ricorro al tempo ch’ io vi vidi prima. I turn to the time when I first saw you.  -Petrarca

I wish I could remember that first day, 
First hour, first moment of your meeting me, 
If bright or dim the season, it might be 
Summer or Winter for aught I can say; 
So unrecorded did it slip away, 
So blind was I to see and to foresee, 
So dull to mark the budding of my tree 
That would not blossom for many a May. 
If only I could recollect it, such 
A day of days! I let it come and go 
As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow; 
It seemed to mean so little, meant so much; 
If only now I could recall that touch, 
First touch of hand in hand—Did one but know!

by Christina Rossetti, 1830 - 1894

Below is a recipe for a DIY yoga mat cleaner that I’ve made with my yoga students. The same blend can also be used as a scented spray for rooms, linens or your body.

Scented WItch Hazel Spray
Ingredients
Tinted glass jar with spray top

1 part witch hazel

3 parts water

essential oils
Directions
1. Start with a glass jar that is tinted in color. The tinted glass will prevent light from damaging the quality of the essential oils. Glass is preferable to plastic because essential oils can cause plastic to break down.

2. Fill the bottle 3/4-of-the-way with water and 1/4-of-the-way with witch hazel. You may wish to use distilled water as it is cleaner than tap water and will ensure that the spray lasts longer. Witch hazel can be easily found at the drug store in liquid form.

3. Add your choice of essential oils. I add five drops of each chosen oil to a 2-ounce bottle.
~Tea tree oil is a great addition if the spray is being used as a cleanser, and tea tree combines well with lavender or eucalyptus.
~For a powerful, mind-clearing blend try adding sandalwood, patchouli and cloves.
~For a light and calming scent try using lavender on its own.

4. Shake bottle well before using as oils tend to float at the top. Use spray as needed.
~To use as a yoga mat cleaner, spray all over mat and wipe with a paper towel or towel. Let air dry.
~For home use spray on curtains, towels, pillows or in the air.
~Spray on wrists, elbows neck or chest for a gentle body spray.

My youngest brother was born when I was 8, almost 9-years-old. I was old enough to remember the days leading up to his birthday and his first days home from the hospital. He was born in the middle of of February and brought so much light and joy to my family that winter.

Humans, of course, can come into the world at any time of the year. In the rest of the natural world, though, many plants and animals have more seasonal birth and growth cycles. Where I live in the Northeast, it’s easiest to see plants come to life in April or May when most of their flowers bloom. February still feels cold and snowy, but if we look closely we can see that spring is closer than we think.

One of our first signs of spring are crocuses. Crocuses are bulbous plants that are often visible in February as the winter ground starts to thaw.

Another early sign of spring is witch hazel in bloom. The witch hazel that is native to this region, Hamamelis virginiana, has yellow flowers that bloom in the fall, but the Chinese and hybrid garden varieties bloom around February and March. These vernal witch hazels have fragrant flowers that range in color from yellow to deep red and act as early pollen sources for bees and flies.

Witch hazel is important to us as humans, too. The bark, twigs and leaves have medicinal properties, and witch hazel is a common ingredient in skin care and gentle home cleaning products.

At home I use scented spray that’s powered by witch hazel, the plant with the delicate winter blooms. Click here for the recipe.

Scented WItch Hazel Spray
Ingredients
Tinted glass jar with spray top

1 part witch hazel

3 parts water

essential oils
Directions
1. Start with a glass jar that is tinted in color. The tinted glass will prevent light from damaging the quality of the essential oils. Glass is preferable to plastic because essential oils can cause plastic to break down.

2. Fill the bottle 3/4-of-the-way with water and 1/4-of-the-way with witch hazel. You may wish to use distilled water as it is cleaner than tap water and will ensure that the spray lasts longer. Witch hazel can be easily found at the drug store in liquid form.

3. Add your choice of essential oils. I add five drops of each chosen oil to a 2-ounce bottle.
~Tea tree oil is a great addition if the spray is being used as a cleanser, and tea tree combines well with lavender or eucalyptus.
~For a powerful, mind-clearing blend try adding sandalwood, patchouli and cloves.
~For a light and calming scent lavender may be all that you need!

4. Shake bottle well before using as oils tend to float at the top. Use spray as needed.
~To use as a yoga mat cleaner, spray all over mat and wipe with a paper towel or towel. Let air dry.
~For home use spray on curtains, towels, pillows or in the air.
~Spray on wrists, elbows neck or chest for a gentle body spray.

Enjoy!

I’m sure you’ve heard that raspberries are good for you, but have you ever tried consuming raspberry leaves?

IMG_2086-0.jpg

You won’t want to eat them outright (they’ve got thorns to discourage you from that!) but they make a great tasty and medicinal tea.

IMG_2088.JPG

You can buy raspberry leaf tea at a health food store, or collect some leaves to steep on your own if you are sure the plant you’ve found is a raspberry bush. (Blackberry leaves have the same medicinal properties.) If you’d like to use the leaves as a medicine more than as a soothing drink, you can also make or buy a tincture, a sugar or alcohol that the leaf was soaked in for an extended amount of time.

IMG_2094.JPG

Raspberry leaf is a great remedy to turn to if you’re experiencing menstrual cramps and discomfort. You can also take it more regularly as a supportive herb for women’s health. Try taking it right before your period starts and again two weeks later. Use it as needed for menstrual cramps and see how it works for you.

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”

–Edith Sitwell

ingleside-winter

fireplace

My dad’s best friend Jerry was the guy I new growing up who grew his own tomatoes. My dad had never gotten into vegetable gardening, but at Jerry’s house, wine-making in his basement and practically year-round gardening in New Jersey kept their Italian traditions alive. I remember him bringing some of his tomatoes to my family one August. The fruit, wrapped in newspaper, was as red, tender and juicy as could be.

This past winter, I started growing my first tomato plant. I was randomly given tomato seeds from a box full of annual seed packets in a gardening class. I tended for the seedlings as if they were little children, taking them away with me if I went out of town and carefully transporting them from Brooklyn to my class in the Bronx. My teacher showed me the trick of replanting a tomato deeper into the soil to benefit from its adventitious roots, its ability to grow roots from parts of its stem.  My teacher said that this plant would have three times the roots and therefore three times the fruit. He said, “It would be the best tomato plant in the land.”

 green-tomatoes

It was true! I joined a community garden for the first time and my large tomato plant took up half of my entire 8 ft.² plot. The tomatoes were big, beautiful and delicious. Tasting the fruit that I grew from seed myself made it taste even sweeter.

I thought of my dad’s friend Jerry all summer. I thought of him when I tended my garden, I thought of him when when I did a poor job of carrying my tomatoes home and they burst open in my bag (I should’ve used his newspaper trick, but who has newspaper these days?) I thought of him when I sat down and enjoyed fresh tomatoes as part of my meal just as he must’ve done thousands of times with his wife over the years. I thought of him as my gardening inspiration but I also thought of him because he was not well. Jerry’s health with failing because of cancer and as tough, healthy and strong as he was, he wasn’t winning the battle.

harvest-in-hat-square

Sometime in August my tomato plant got infected. I thought I had made some rookie mistake, but it turned out that the problem had affected all of the tomato plants in my section of the garden. We could try cutting off the infected leaves and letting the existing tomatoes grow, but for most of the plants it was just a matter of time. Even if they had not gotten infected, the growing season would soon be over and we would be done producing our own tomatoes for the year.

As an annual plant that only lasts one growing season, the life of a tomato plant is always limited. When we plant the seed, we know we will only be able to enjoy our tomatoes for a few glorious months before the seasons change and we’re left dreaming about a summer harvest.

tomato-plant

What I have learned from Jerry over the years is that taking time to care for something, even if won’t last forever, is a worthwhile experience. I’ve learned that life can be very meaningful when you honor life cycles and traditions, especially if you have the opportunity to share them with others.

This year I’m trying to save some tomato seeds to have them ready to plant again next winter.  I’ll do so in honor of the plant’s short but beautiful life and in honor of the earth and its ever-changing rhythms. I’ll also do it in honor of a very old Italian tradition that I’m proud to feel connected to. Now I can’t help but attach even more meaning to this ritual. I’ll always remember my first garden plot and the tomato plant that got it started. I’ll always remember my times with Jerry and his insistence to honor family and traditions. I’ll always think of Jerry when I garden, when I cook and when I travel to Italy. He loved people, he loved life, he loved Italy, he loved food and he loved me. I’ll garden in honor of Jerry.

Fresh Mint Tea
Ingredients
Fresh mint sprigs
boiling water
Directions
Use 2 Tbsp. of the fresh mint leaves (or 1 Tbsp. if you're using dried leaves.) Add another Tbsp. if you'd like to ice it later.
Pour boiling water over the leaves. Use a spoon to crush the leaves. Cover it to steep for up to 30 minutes. Strain with a teapot, a metal strainer or a coffee filter.
Enjoy.

“If you would be happy for a lifetime, grow Chrysanthemums.” –Chinese philosopher

yellow-chrystanthemums

In the United States, chrysanthemums, or “mums” as we call our common garden variety, are the “Queen of the Fall Flowers.” Their hardy flowers bloom and out-last other flowers as the days shorten in the fall. While we associate the flower with happy feelings, other cultures use this flower as a memorial on graves, giving off a different sentiment.

Chrysanthemums are native to the Far East, where some of their species are commonly used as food and medicine. A tea made from an infusion of chrysanthemum flowers is one of China’s most popular herbal teas — think of it as the chamomile of the East.

dried-chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum’s use was first recorded in China where all parts of the plant were grown to be eaten. The boiled roots were thought to cure a headache, petals and young sprouts were used in salads and leaves were used as a festive drink. It has been seen to have a whole slew of health benefits,  from heart health and longevity to calming the mind and keeping it sharp. As an herb it was thought to have “the power of life”.

Modern chrysanthemum tea as it is popularly sold is almost always very sweetened (and too sweet for me!)  The tea from the flowers is bitter, but also has some sweetness of its own so I recommend brewing it, trying it and then adding a little sweetener to taste.

chrysanthemum-tea

Chrysanthemum Flower Infusion (Herbal Tea)
Ingredients
Dried chrysanthemum flowers (from a tea shop, health food store or online)
Boiled water
Directions
Fill teapot 1/2 full with chrysanthemum flowers.
Pour boiling water over the top to fill the cup or pot.
Let steep for 20 minutes.
Add honey to taste.