Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Developing a Personal Herbal Pharmacopeia

A question has been posed to me, regarding the impending collapse of our worldwide economic systems, ecosystems, and the weirding of our weather as it relates to self health care and the use of herbs. If we are to survive all that we imagine, and that may in fact, be headed our way--having access to someone with a good knowledge of the use of herbs will be essential. All traditional cultures, all Indigenous people everywhere, had herbal, mineral, and ethno-biological pharmacopeias. Healing with nature is an essential human survival art. I am going to answer this question, using my book “Food Security & Sustainability for the Times Ahead” as the beginning text for an herbal study.

However, I would encourage you to think about water, before you think about herbs. We cannot survive long without water and a way to purify it, should it be polluted or contaminated. In Chapter 6 of my book “Food Security & Sustainability for the Times Ahead,” I teach you how to access if your area is likely to be sustainable in regards to long term production of irrigation and municipal water. With our current state of weather weirding, long term water outlooks are difficult to project. However, if your current location is already coming close to running short of water for its needs, and it is currently supporting a large population, things could turn ugly faster than one might think. Beyond Chapter 6, you will want to read the section on water on page 51, and then Chapter 21, and then check the index for more water information. You will find that you have in your hands a complete study guide for learning everything you need to secure clean water—if your location is sustainable. If you have more questions, please ask. I can’t guarantee I have all the answers—but there are many resources available and there are many interested and knowledgeable people on my friends list that may join in the conversation.

Also, before moving on to herbs, you are going to need to eat. But if you have a copy of the above mentioned book in your hands, and put the information to good use, I will rest assured that you will do your best to get the process of food sustainability started, not only for yourself, but for your family, your neighborhood, and your community. We are all in this together, after all.
Now we are ready to think about herbs. If you want to involve yourself with the journey that is involved with learning to heal with herbs in a way that is sustainable, you are going to need to have access to the Earth. If you don’t have a yard, a community garden plot may do. (And I give tips on finding a plot in the book!) One thing you will want to know about the plot is, do they allow you to plant perennials or is the plot completely plowed in the spring or fall? If it is plowed you will need to dig up your plants and remove them, and replant then after the plowing has occurred. Hopefully that won’t be necessary, as it is undue stress both on you, the plants, and the soil.

What to plant? If you start with the herbs and foods listed in Chapters 13 and 14 in my book “Food Security & Sustainability for the Times Ahead,” you will have the beginnings of a complete pharmacopeia. (Pay special attention to the cautions and research tips.) However, over time, you will need to personalize this pharmacopeia. One good way to begin expanding the herbs available to you is to learn as much as possible about the wild plants and weeds found in your area. Page 64 gives you tips on finding classes in your area. Any walk or class that will help you learn to identify wild plants and weeds will be helpful. You can later look them up to see if they can be used for anything. Native plants rock—but don’t ignore the weeds. Many weeds are edible, nutritious, and/or medicinal. And they tend to be much more adaptable to changes in climate, including varying temperature and moisture regimes, than native plants. Weeds may be our climate change allies.

Once you start amassing some knowledge on a variety of herbs, it will be important to start using that information. By using the very simple herb safety information at the end of Chapter 14, I will be comforted to know that you will cause no harm. (If possible, it is also a good idea to study, or at least converse, with someone that has firsthand experience with herbs in community—rather than just in consultation—so they really know how they work.) For further fine tuning your personal pharmacopeia, go over the herbal actions on page 69 (in “Food Security & Sustainability For the Times Ahead”), and add to that list the terms anti-biotic, anti-fungal, and anti-viral. You may also want to make another list of specific ailments that affect your family and friends, and anything else that you would like to have ready remedies for.

In a notebook, begin organizing information on the various herbs and remedies you have learned, under sections addressing herbal actions, as well as sections addressing specific ailments. Keep good notes on the herbs that can have side effects or that should only be used in small amounts and very occasionally. Those will be your “Big Medicines.” Things you would only use if all else fails. Make sure these items are clearly marked and differentiated from the herbs that are safe to use freely and that can be considered food.

For each action and ailment, you really only need two or three different herbs and one “Big Medicine.” Big Medicines should be chosen, not on the basis of them being powerful, or toxic, or scary—but on them being strongly effective. Choosing effectively will take conversations with other learners, with experienced herbalists, as well as reading and some hands on experience. Most herbs have more than one action, so with just a handful of herbs in your personal pharmacopeia you will easily fill up your categories. Keeping track in a notebook will help assure you that you have all the information you need, and if not, it will help point you in the direction your research needs to go.

So—if you have the passion for this—it is time to get started. After everything goes to hell in a hand basket it will be too late . . . And if we are wrong and the word is set to go on just as it is for a few more generations? There is still no time like the present to save our herbal heritage, if we wait too long it may be too late.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Heating a green house without using “energy” . . .

Sources of information . . .

Start with thermal mass:
We use barrels filled with water:

Add a compost pile for some supplemental heat:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VI5bDP4q8F4 He is talking about keeping the temperature above freezing most of the time. However, I grow many winter crops in temperatures down into the low teens. If you adjust what you expect to grow in the green house, you don’t need to keep it very warm.

Add animals for even more free supplemental heat:
These folks are using some high tech options—but I have read about this being done in a much simpler fashion. Your animals will need ample water, and a way to freely leave the green house during the day—because the solar gain can be enough to cook them. When it is 50 degrees outside on a sunny day, our greenhouse here can be over 120 degrees.

Not only can you heat your green house for free—you can use the heat the greenhouse collects to heat your home. On sunny days that works for the main farm house here, without any major retrofitting at all. The green house is simply bolted to the main house.

But if you want to get fancy, check out what these people have done:

Hot Beds are also useful ways to heat green houses and hoop houses. They utilize manure, usually horse or cow, in deep trenches over which you plant your crops. They provide heat to the soil and roots, with some escaping into the air:

You are also going to need vents and vent openers--unless you are going to monitor your green house all day every day. On 50 degree days here, our green house can be over 120 degrees! Here is a company that offers some solar powered automatic vent openers: http://www.greenhouses-etc.net/equipment/solar_vents.htm I am not recommending this company, I am just recommending that you design your green house with vents and have some sort of vent openers. Since we are talking no energy use here--solar ones seem like the way to go.

Here are some book recommendations for those who would like to know even more . . .

Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest: Cool-Season Crops for the Year-Round Gardener
(This one is pricey, check with your library or local used book seller. And if anyone knows of a great book, which is still in print, that gives details of how wind breaks and microclimates work for the winter garden let me know.)

Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long

Be sure to check with your local library—and if they don’t have copies they may be able to request a copy from another library system for you to read.

Don’t forget to do some searches on the Internet—there is lots of information available.