About Me

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As a daughter, granddaughter (still...at my age!), wife, mom, grammy, lover of God and life, it has become my mission in life to encourage others. The purpose of this blog is to introduce the reader to the sustainable life through organic recipes, gardening tips, cleaning and organizing methods, Spiritual help, and anything else which may encourage you in your journey to wholeness--body, soul, and spirit.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Elderberry Syrup

The elderberry is an amazing fruit.  Possibly anti-viral, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory...the mighty elderberry tastes terrible by itself but is worth injesting during cold, flu, and allergy season as both a preventative and curative tonic.  There are some excellent products in the marketplace, but they are a bit pricey--especially when considering that you need to consume 2-4 teaspoons per day in order for this remedy to be effective (multiple small doses is the norm with any natural remedy).

With all this in mind, I set out to create a recipe for elderberry syrup with the best quality ingredients that tastes great, has a decent (refrigerated) shelf life, and incorporates other ingredients that add to the health and wellness properties.  Want my recipe?  Thought you might!  Bear with me, as I discuss ingredients.  Please note that I qualify ALL health claims with "thought to be..." "may help with..." etc. The reason for this is that often there have not been any peer-reviewed, scientific studies proving the efficacy of these claims, but there is a substantive body of folk medicine, natural medicine, and anecdotal information to back up these claims.  Natural medicine is not a substitute for modern medical care, but I have found it a great way to keep me healthy and REDUCE my need for modern medicine!  


All ingredients should be ORGANIC, in order to reduce environmental contaminants and pesticides
 which can contribute to inflammation and illness.

1 lb. Elderberries (of course)--thought to be anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant (which is great for helping prevent cancer) Can be purchased here.

1 lb. Fresh Ginger root, sliced thin--may help with nausea, gas, and other stomach upset, upper respiratory infections, arthritis pain and other pain from inflammation.  

1 c. Echinacea--May help prevent colds, boost immune system.  DO NOT ADD if you have a severe allergy to ragweed, marigolds, or chrysanthemums. Can be purchased here.

1/2 c Cinnamon sticks, broken in pieces--Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, may reduce "bad" cholesterol and normalize blood sugar, may be antibacterial and anti-fungal.  Can be purchased here.

1/4 c whole Cloves--May have anesthetic and antiseptic properties.  Can be purchased here.

2 T Chinese Star Anise--May be anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory.  Can be purchased here.

The following ingredients will be added LATER in the process, and must NEVER BE BOILED: 

1 quart Bragg's (raw, unfiltered) Apple Cider Vinegar--the benefits are too numerous to mention, but include reduction of blood sugar in diabetics, sinus congestion, sore throat, and energy boost.

1 quart LOCAL honey (raw, unfiltered)--May assist with allergy protection, Vitamins B, C, and minerals, cough suppressant


Add the elderberries, sliced ginger root, echinacea, cinnamon, cloves, and star anise to a large pot.  Doesn't it look pretty?

Pour 16 cups of water on top of the ingredients.

Bring to a boil, then simmer for 2 hours.
Add water if needed, to keep the level to 3/4 of the original water level.

Shut off the burner, and allow to cool until the temperature reaches 110 degrees or you can touch the pan on the outside below the level of the liquid without getting burned.  (Be careful testing the temperature with your hand, of course!  Try it with a cloth first, cautiously!)
Remove the large pieces ginger and cinnamon from the liquid and discard.
(I compost them or feed them to my chickens!)

Next, strain the elderberries out of the liquid.  You can either press additional liquid from the elderberries...

 Or you can add the strained elderberries to a muslin bag or cheesecloth...

...and squeeze out the additional liquid.
Next, stir in the honey. 
And add the vinegar.

Set aside the completed mixture.
Place all of your containers in a large pan, and boil for 20 minutes.
This will prevent contaminants (yes, I am a germophobe, but that is ok!).  

Fill each of your containers, leaving a small amount of space at the top.
Feel free to make cute labels!

A normal dosage is 1 teaspoon twice per day.
During flu season or at the first sign of illness, take 1 teaspoon four times per day.
Do not give this to children under the age of 2, due to the presence of raw honey.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Few Words on Essential Oils

Essential oils from Shepherd's Harvest

"Oils," EO's, Essential Oils...different names for the same thing.  Essential oils, basically speaking, are highly concentrated distilled plant oil.  For those of us who who are "into" essential oils...a few warnings and pieces of information, with some helpful links (Warning: this is not a "feel good" blog!):

1. NEVER INGEST THEM! Not in your tea, not in spaghetti sauce, nowhere! Essential oils are chemicals--yes they are natural and often organic, but they are highly concentrated. You can get hurt.

2. Don't be taken in by pyramid companies that charge WAY too much for tiny amounts. You can buy more for less and mix them yourself. (I never wanted to go into the essential oil business, but I have a few on this page and they are a lot less expensive, organic, and traceable. If I don't have them, I can get them or send you to a reputable company, like this one...just ask. Or don't buy them from me, I can send you to plenty of other non-pyramid companies again...just ask or research.  More info later.)

3. Essential oils are great for cleaning, they smell nice, may help with skin issues and give a sense of well being, but if you are sick, GO TO A DOCTOR. They are not a substitute for medical care, and do not cure disease! Many claims have been made by some (sometimes well-meaning) companies and people that essential oils cure various maladies. They don't. There are (yes) herbal and medicinal cures for things, but they must be science based and targeted. Even my Naturopath uses the results from blood tests to determine what foods to eliminate from my diet and which supplements will work best for me, to help me be well (and when I am sick I see a medical doctor). The "shotgun" approach of trying different oils and herbs is not good science. 

4. Be careful of claims. Just because someone is "certified" by a company does not mean they know anything substantial that will help you. They are going to sell you something, quite often.

A few resources:

  • This is an extensive database, showing the chemical makeup of essential oils.  Whenever you purchase an essential oil, ask for the GC/MS (Gas Chromatography/ Mass Spectrometry) test sheet for the specific batch of oil.  Compare the results with the specific oil in the database--the same chemical components should be present, in similar percentages.  This will give you a measure of confidence that you have the correct oil.  Here is the database: http://essentialoils.org/eoudb/  (You can sign up for free, and they don't spam you  with a lot of newsletters and offers.)  Keep in mind that this is NOT a perfect process, but at least it gives you an idea that you have purchased a reasonable oil.  A shout-out to Whole New Mom and a terrific article about the shortcomings of GC/MS here
  • .A while back there was a major issue between two pyramid essential oil companies.  In the course of the lawsuit two things happened:  synthetic compounds were found in the "organic" essential oils of both companies, and both companies were accused of making claims that the oils cured diseases such as cancer (since then, evidence has surfaced of claims that one company has claimed that their oils cure Ebola!).  An article with some excellent primary source material can be found here.
The bottom line when it comes to essential oils?  Be careful out there!  Do the research, find a reputable company with reasonable prices, and use essential oils with care.

Peace and love,

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Scoop on Soap: Is Pure Really Pure? Ivory vs. Dove vs. Dr. Bronner vs. Hand Made

One popular soap markets itself as being 99 and 44/100 percent pure.  I always wondered what that meant...so pure it floats?  How does floating make a soap "pure" and what does a soap's integrity have to do with its ability to not sink to the bottom of the bath tub?  ...so I did a little investigating.

First, I read the label.  The ingredients in Ivory Soap are:  sodium tallowate and/or sodium palmate, water, sodium cocoate and/or sodium palm kernelate, glycerin, sodium chloride, fragrance, coconut acid, palm kernel acid, tallow acid, palm acid, and tetrasodium EDTA.  Mostly that means there is animal fat, some palm and coconut oil, salt, acids (probably to balance the pH), glycerine (soap byproducts to moisturize), artificial fragrance; and a preservative, Tetrasodium EDTA, which is made from formaldehyde and sodium cyanide.  Tetrasodium EDTA is also a penetration enhancer which breaks down the skin's protective layer.  So, I am not so sure about that other 66/100.  It seems a little risky to me.  
Advertising note:  If you click on the "Ivory Soap" link, you will find that it looks very old-fashioned and wholesome.  The link for "Ivory.com" leads to a Tumblr page with lots of advertising, and it is nearly impossible to find the ingredients.  Clever.

What about the soap that claims to be 1/4 cleansing cream?  That sounds like it is GREAT for your skin, right?  Wrong.  The list of ingredients in Dove  reads kind of like a toxic waste dump:  
Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate , Stearic Acid , Sodium Tallowate or Sodium Palmitate , Lauric Acid , Sodium Isethionate , Water , Sodium Stearate , Cocamidopropyl Betaine or Sodium C14-C16 Olefin Sulfonate , Sodium Cocoate or Sodium Palm Kernelate , Fragrance , Sodium Chloride , Tetrasodium EDTA , Tetrasodium Etidronate , Titanium Dioxide.  The heaviest hitters here are Sodium Lauoyl Isethionate, Sodium Isethionate, Cocomideopropyl Betain, Sodium C14-C16 Olefin Sulfonate, Fragrance, and anything with "Tetrasodium" in front of it.  Do you want the details?  Me either.
Advertising note:  I found the "Dove" link in a google search on soap ingredients.  Ironically, it is impossible to find the actual ingredient list on the Dove site.  You have to go to the Amazon link to find the ingredients.  Hmmm.

Now for the good stuff...Dr. Bronner's and Shepherd's Harvest!I checked out a commercially made organic soap, and will also disclose our own soap ingredients (spoiler alert:  shameless self-promotion here!).

First, Dr. Bronner's Citrus Orange Castile Bar Soap:  Organic Coconut Oil*, Organic Palm Oil*, Sodium Hydroxide**, Water, Organic Olive Oil*, Organic Orange Oil, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Organic Lemon Oil, Organic Lime Oil, Sea Salt, Citric Acid, Tocopherol.  Be still my heart!  This soap is made with all organic, fair trade, non-GMO ingredients.  The chemically sounding ingredients are Sodium Hydroxide, which is simply lye (you MUST have lye to make soap); citric acid, which is made from citrus fruit and used to balance the pH; and tocopherol, which is vitamin E oil.  VERY nice list!  You can buy it in some grocery stores and most health food stores, which makes it nice and convenient.

Shepherd's Harvest soap has undergone a bit of a change of formula lately.  We use what I call "plain language" labeling rather than the "INCI" labeling that most commercial soap companies use, because we believe it is a little easier to understand.  The label for Shepherd's Harvest Onyx Detox soap reads:  Olive oil*, Sunflower Oil*, Palm oil*,  Coconut oil*, Castor Oil*, Food grade lye (used to saponify oils), Essential Oils of Tea Tree*, Lavender*, and Lemon*, Activated Charcoal. *Ingredient is organic 

What can I say...another great list!  The ingredients are organic and sustainable.  Shepherd's Harvest soap is cured for several weeks so that the pH is naturally reduced over time, which is why we do not add citric acid.  The sunflower oil is high-oleic, which means it is naturally high in vitamin E, so there is no need to add additional vitamin E, which is a natural preservative. 

So there you have it!  You decide...commercial chemical, commercial organic, or hand crafted?  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Making Laundry Soap with Recipe!

Commercial laundry detergent is expensive.  And has a LOT of chemicals.  
As one of those "crunchy-granola-people" I like the idea of an all natural laundry detergent that WORKS. There are a few options for those who are looking for natural laundry detergent. 

Soap nuts are an organic alternative--you use them with hot water, smallish loads, and use a separate stain remover.  On the plus side, they are extremely gentle and totally organic, and the best for the earth as no chemicals enter the waste stream from their use.  They are also reusable, so they are very cost effective.

A mixture of Borax, Washing Soda, Baking Soda, and Soap is natural because it uses oils and minerals (the minerals make it not strictly organic but they are from the earth), and works well because the ingredients react with water and fabric to remove dirt and some stains.  One recipe (the recipe used here) consists of 1/2 cup Borax, 1/2 cup Washing Soda, 1/4 cup Baking Soda, and 1/2 cup shredded soap.  Always use soap with organic oils, no synthetic fragrances, and food grade lye.  That way you know you have the purest, gentlest soap possible.

Shepherd's Harvest makes a laundry kit with all of the ingredients pre-measured (see it here: http://www.shepherds-harvest.com/collections/home/products/laundry-kit-with-stain-stick).  The reason I decided to make the kit was that there were so many people who wanted to make their own, but Borax and Washing Soda come in huge boxes...they cake after a while.  There is a commitment to purchasing huge amounts, and what if you don't like the result?  Also, it is nice to have a little natural fragrance, but really expensive to purchase essential oils.  And what about set-in stains?  A stain stick would be nice... So the laundry kit has everything pre-measured, with some essential oil for fragrance, and a stain stick.

If you want to make your own, go for it!  Use the recipe above, and mix the powdered ingredients together before you begin.  Here is the how-to:

You will need:
Bucket that holds more than 2 gallons of liquid
Large pan
Measuring Cup
Hot Water

Pour soup shavings into a pan.


Boil 6 cups of water and pour over the soap shavings.  

Heat on low setting, stirring occasionally, until soap is melted.  

Add the packet of powder and stir until all ingredients are dissolved. 

Pour 4 Cups water into bucket, then Add soap mixture and stir.  

 Add 1 Gallon plus 6 cups hot water and allow to sit overnight.  The mixture will be thick and gel-like, and may be used as it is, or you may add additional water if desired.  Shake well before using, and use the same amount you normally use of non-concentrated detergent.


After the detergent gels, you can either leave it in the bucket (you will want to cover it) or you can fill old detergent bottles with the liquid.  The detergent will be brownish with a gloppy "wonton soup" consistency.  Always stir or shake it before using, and use the same amount that you would use of a non-concentrated detergent.

Have you ever made your own detergent?  What was your experience, and how well did it work?


Monday, February 10, 2014

Help...There are still some forms of fast food that I want!

Like KFC.  It has always been a favorite of mine.  And my husband, who, by the way, has a completely separate cupboard so that he does not have to eat "that organic crap" that I keep in "my cupboard."  Interestingly, his cupboard is becoming healthier as time progresses...and we are both losing weight.  And yet.

So, my dear hubby set out to find a suitable KFC substitute, and I set out to "organify" it.  This is what we came up with.  It is similar to other recipes we have seen, with the salt drastically reduced.  Since he does not like onions, we deleted the onion powder, but you can add a little if you like. Needless to say, all the ingredients are organic.

First, the seasoning mixture:
  •   1/2 cup sea salt
  •   1 T sucanat or organic cane sugar 
  •   1 T garlic powder
  •   1/2 T curry powder
  •   1/2 T chili powder
  •   1/2 t cayenne pepper
  •   1/2 t allspice
  •   3 T paprika
  •   1 t dry mustard
  •   1 T lemon pepper
  •   1 t freshly ground nutmeg

Mix all ingredients thoroughly and store in a large airtight container.
Next, the chicken.  I like to use a free range chicken, skinless.  You can bone it too.  Since my husband made it, he picked up whatever chicken was on sale at the store (yuck), but I ate it anyway.  (Still feeling a little guilty).
Here is the recipe:
Soak boneless, skinless chicken in milk for 20-30 minutes.  While the chicken is soaking, mix the following ingredients in a bowl or gallon size bag:
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 1 T seasoning
  • 3/4 t pepper
  • 1 c unbleached organic white flour
  • 2 t paprika
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cut up 1/2 stick of butter (pasture butter is nice) and place in a 9 x 13 pan.  Melt the butter in the oven, then spread it around the bottom of the pan.  If needed, you can lightly spray the pan with some organic cooking spray to be sure there are no dry spots. 

Shake the excess milk off  each piece of chicken, then coat it with the mixture by either shaking it in the bag or dipping it in the bowl.  Place each piece in the pan and bake for 20 minutes then turn and bake for 20 more minutes or until crispy.

This came out delicious!  The only thing we noticed is that it was not as crispy as we would have liked.  Next time we will cook it at a slightly higher heat, or for a little longer time.  The taste was incredible.

If you try this, let me know!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Gleanings from the Harvest...new name, new url, woot woot!

"'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.'" ~Leviticus 23: 22

The tradition of gleaning in ancient times had to do with leaving some of the best of the harvest--not the junk, mind you--for the poor and foreigner residing in the land.  When working out a new name for the blog, I wanted to come up with something which tied the blog to Shepherd's Harvest; yet remained a little bit separate.  All of the same material is remaining from the dozens of blogs written over the past year, the look and feel is a little different but all of the great material is still there (and I am keeping the beautiful picture of my granddaughter, below)!

You will see some improvements coming, and I'll re-run and update, as well as adding new material as the summer unfolds.  Feedback is more than welcome.  If you have questions or would like to see a particular topic, please let me know.  I will research and write!  

Peace and love,

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Raw Food Part 1: In Search of the Perfect Green Smoothie

Smoothie before blending: Top to bottom: fresh papaya, raspberries, spinach, ice, orange juice and raw honey....

The GREEN smoothie after!  It tasted great!
In a continuing quest to live a healthy, natural, and pain-free life; I made a decision to eat raw food for two meals per day.  In the research I have conducted (which I will attempt to cite in a later blog), raw food has enzymes, fiber, vitamins, and other benefits that cooked food does not possess.  An additional benefit is that it cuts back on inflammation.

To that end, I needed something EASY for breakfast...smoothies fit the bill.  Groupon had a BIG BOSS promotion so I purchased one and my daily smoothie adventure began!  One thing about drinking smoothies each day that I have noticed is that I feel much, MUCH better when I am drinking them, and not-so-good when I don't.  Let me give you a few guidelines when making smoothies (your ingredients, of course, should be organic when possible):

Use something thick:  Smoothies need body.  1/2 Banana or a few slices of papaya works well.  1 T Peanut butter is nice too.

Use a handful of something green: Spinach is my favorite, you cannot taste it, and it provides iron, fiber, and all kinds of other benefits.  In summer I also use swiss chard, which has a lot of vitamin A.  Kale works, and just about any other green.

Use something wet:  You will not be able to blend it otherwise.  Orange juice is fantastic, because the vitamin C helps the iron in your greens to work.  You can also use green tea, raw cow or goat milk, soy or almond or rice milk, or any other unsweetened juice--cherry is nice.

Use something frozen:  The best option here is frozen berries--blackberries or blueberries are excellent.  You can use strawberries too, it helps to have them chopped.  Super-important that berries are organic, because they are particularly prone to contamination.

Options are good:  Some options--wheatgrass, spirulina, raw local honey, raw apple cider vinegar, vitamin E or D oil, ground flaxseed, cocoa powder, etc.  Only use a small amount of certain additives so as to not alter the taste.  I know from experience that too much spirulina is NOT a good thing taste-wise! (shudder!)

So...here is my go-to morning smoothie recipe:

1/2 c orange juice
1/2 banana
1 c baby spinach
1 c frozen berries
1 T raw apple cider vinegar
1 T raw local honey
1 t wheatgrass
Blend 1 minute.  Drink!
I take it with a ginseng, vitamin D and C in winter, probiotic, and elderberry if I feel as if I am coming down with something.  Keeps me going until lunch!

Do you ever drink smoothies?  If so, what do you drink?  I would love to find out!