Watering Plants - Buy a Rain Barrel

Water is getting more and more expensive every year, and if you're like I am, you want you plants to be well taken care of. One way to ensure that your plants are getting the moisture they need without breaking the bank is to install a rain barrel. Rain barrels harvest free water that's relatively pure and great for watering garden plants.

If you want to know more about the advantages of rain barrels, and there are many, I wrote an article about them for the folks at You can find it here: How Rain Barrels Work.

The nice thing about rain barrels is that you're helping yourself and the environment at the same time. The article above also includes directions for making your own basic rain barrel. There are other, more involved directions for making rain barrels all over the web, or you can buy any of the hundreds of commercially available rain barrels on the market. I have a few samples below. Your local home supply store will probably have an assortment too.

Water runoff isn't harmless. In cities and towns, rainwater flowing down concrete streets into storm drains often runs directly into streams and rivers. In more rural and natural settings, some of this water would seep through the soil and return to the water table naturally filtered. When you harvest rainwater you help keep rivers and streams clean, reduce the drain on existing municipal water supplies, and also reduce the need for water treatment.

The next time it rains, think of it as free water, and be prepared. You'll be doing us all a favor.


Portuguese Recipes

Portuguese GaspachoIf you read my post about Portuguese food, you may be interested in creating some simple and flavorful Portuguese dishes. I've been busy publishing a few of my Portuguese recipes around the web. One in particular, Portuguese Cod Cakes, uses an interesting ingredient, dry salted cod. You can find this dried fish in the international isle of your grocery store. You rehydrate the fish by pouring off the salt curing with successive soakings in cold water; what's left is a very flavorful fish that's sweet and succulent, without the fishy taste. It makes a great ingredient in starchy dishes like potatoes or rice.

Portuguese cod cakes (or balls) are a favorite in Portugal as an appetizer and entree. Try them and you'll see why.

The two other recipe offerings I have for you are soups: Portuguese Gazpacho, and Portuguese Kale Soup. Both use the bounty from the garden to make a delicious and light meal that works well with cod cakes or another of your favorite entrees.

Check them out if you have the time. I also have a detailed instruction sheet for preparing dried, salted cod to use in your favorite fish recipes.

Stay tuned. In the next few days, I'll be posting articles on growing and using ginseng and stevia. After that we'll move on to angelica.

I hope you're getting your seeds ready. Spring is just round the corner.


Cajun Spice Blend

Paprika is the base for this smoky Creole spice blend that's hot and very flavorful. Use it to spice up your meats and vegetables. For the best results, use a quality paprika. Many of the imported varieties have either a sweet or pronounced spicy flavor, use a blend of both.

Better yet, this spring try planting a variety of paprika  peppers yourself and dry them for your own ground paprika blend. It's easy to do, and the results are a flavor masterpiece.

Cajun Spice Blend

1/2 cup paprika (sweet)
1/4 cup sea salt (fine)
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon chipotle pepper powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried marjoram

Add all ingredients and store in a cool, dark spot. Paprika releases its flavor as it heats, so this blend works very well on cooked vegetables, meats, soups, and stews.

If you want more information about paprika, visit my article: All About Paprika. Paprika will make a nice addition to your vegetable/herb patch this season.

Photo 2 -  courtesy of  Sarka Sevcikova at Stock Xchng


The History of Portuguese Food - Oh, the Flavor

Portuguese cuisine is simple and wholesome, often using the familiar and delicious trinity of garlic, onion, and olive oil in savory dishes, and the decadence of egg yolks in desserts. I grew up in a Portuguese household, and my love of food and herbs is due, in part, to those early years when there was always soup simmering on the back burner of the gas stove, and bread rising in a big covered dish on the water heater. We kept an herb and vegetable garden just beyond the back door, where my mother and grandmother grew kale, kohlrabi, spinach, beans, sprouts, peppers, tomatoes, squash, and dozens of herbs.

I've started a blog about the foods of Portugal, although it's been slow going. If you have an interest in the cuisine of this amazing country, take a look at some recipes and enjoy the scenery.

Some important herbs in Portuguese Cooking:
Start with some background in: An Introduction to Portugal Cuisine.



Growing Fenugreek


Fenugreek (Trigonella Foenum-Graecum) is an annual indigenous to the Mediterranean and grown widely in Europe and Asia. It has a long medicinal history, and is recommended for cleansing the chest and lungs in Culpepper's Herbal of 1649.

Planting Fenugreek

Fenugreek grows to about two feet (60cm), with yellow/white flowers and long yellow seedpods. It likes full sun and well-drained, neutral to slightly acid soil. It doesn't like to be transplanted. In spring, after the threat of frost has passed, sow seeds to a depth of a little less than a quarter inch. The seeds sprout quickly. Unlike many other herbs that thrive on neglect, fenugreek likes fertile soil, so be generous with the compost. Space plants five to six inches apart.

Fenugreek seed smells like maple syrup
In New York City a while back, the aroma of fenugreek created a cloud of mysterious maple fragrance that was traced to a nearby manufacturing plant. Your garden can smell like maple when you plant fenugreek.

Harvesting Fenugreek Seed Pods

Harvest and dry seedpods in early to mid fall, and store them in an airtight container in a dry, dark spot.

Using Fenugreek as an Herbal Remedy

Fenugreek can be taken internally or used topically. It is most often used to treat coughs and sore throat, although current research suggests that it may be effective in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, can help lower blood cholesterol levels and increase circulation. It is also often recommended as an herbal treatment for tinnitus.

Fenugreek seed makes a refreshing and very flavorful tea.  You'll enjoy it.  It really does have a maple fragrance. You can find a recipe here: Fenugreek Tea Recipe

Other Uses for Fenugreek

Photo Courtesy of Rose BridgerIt is a common ingredient in curries and imitation maple syrup. Fenugreek can also be used as a dye.

Fenugreek Aphrodisiac

Fenugreek usually makes the short list of sexual stimulant herbs, and has been used with some success in treating male impotence. It's thought that Fenugreek's ability to help improve circulation is the reason it's effective.

In women, fenugreek may also help in treating vaginal dryness.


Photo1 - (top) Fenugreek1_Wiki.jpg By Katyare (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Make a Soothing Fenugreek Tea

Make Fenugreek TeaMy favorite cure for occasional tinnitus is fenugreek in a warming tea. It tastes a little like a cross between molasses and maple syrup. To make fenugreek seed tea:

Make Fenugreek Tea

Pour boiling water over one teaspoon of fenugreek seeds.
Let steep for five minutes.
Discard seeds

Fenugreek as an Herbal Remedy

A native of the Mediterranean, fenugreek's curative properties have been associated with treating a number of illnesses, and studies show promise in using extracts from fenugreek to treat Type-2 diabetes and help lower cholesterol. Some other conditions that fenugreek may help with are:
  • Sore throat
  • Arthritis
  • Indigestion
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Inflammation and swelling (ground and used topically)
  • Low milk production in lactating women
  • Loss of appetite
  • Breast Enlargement
Avoid taking fenugreek if you are pregnant. Before taking this or any other herbal preparation, see your medical practitioner.

Herbal Remedies for Tinnitus

Herbal Remedies for TinnitusTinnitus is a ringing in the ears that occurs when there is a malfunction in the way inner ear talks to the brain, causing the equivalent of white noise. It can be temporary, intermittent or constant, and can be caused by a buildup of earwax, prolonged exposure to loud noise, cold, flu, tumors, high blood pressure, and overuse of aspirin (or white willow bark). It can be exacerbated by diet too, like eating too many high fat foods, drinking red wine, or maxing out on sodium.

There are some herbal and home remedies for tinnitus that can help reduce or stop the noise. Depending on the cause of your tinnitus, you may have to do some experimentation, but don't give up. As a last resort, you can get relief by creating another type of sound to distract you from the ringing in your ears. It isn't an ideal solution, but it might reduce your stress level long enough for the problem to correct itself. People have used TV white noise, white noise machines, fans, and music as a distraction.

Herbal Remedies for Tinnitus

Herbal Preparations can help reduce the symptoms of Tinnitus too.
  • Ginkgo biloba
  • Vitamin B complex
  • Fenugreek seed
  • Sunflower seed
  • Spinach
Herbs and vegetables high in zinc are generally considered effective. I've been writing for the folks at, and you can find more information in an article on tinnitus that I completed for them recently.


Herbal Remedies

Herbs and SpicesIf you're tired of coming out of the doctor's office with an expensive prescription every time you visit, you may find some relief . . . in your kitchen cabinets. Herbal remedies have been around for centuries, and modern science is rediscovering the wisdom of many of these treatments. The three examples below will give you an idea of scope of herbal cures and show you how they can help you fell better, stay fitter, and sometimes avoid prescription medication altogether.

Cinnamon for Type 2 Diabetes

Studies conducted in Pakistan and at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland are showing that cinnamon has a powerful ability to help the human body deal with excess glucose. It's believed that the hydroxychalcone in cinnamon works on fat cells, using them as scrubbers to remove glucose from the bloodstream. For sufferer's of Type 2 diabetes, this may be very good news. A daily dose of ground cinnamon, taken orally, has fewer potential side effects than conventional treatments and may turn out to be a low cost, effective way to help manage the disease. More than that, cinnamon is also showing promise in treating high blood pressure and kidney disease.

Sage and Black Cohosh for the Symptoms of Menopause

Both of these plants contain high levels of natural estrogens that can be effective in treating menopause and other reproductive system ailments. They are completely safe and are easily available. With current medical literature condemning the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRTs), safer solutions involving plant estrogens may be an effective way to reduce the hot flashes, night sweats, and irritability associated with menopause. Sage and black cohosh can be taken alone or in combination with other plant estrogens.

Lavender for Sleeplessness

Your grandmother believed in the advantages of keeping some lavender in the house, and she was right. Researchers at Wesleyan University found that lavender essential oil increased the slow-wave sleep of test subjects. This is the part of the sleep cycle in which heart rhythm slows down and the muscles relax. In a related study conducted at the University of Southampton, test subjects improved their sleep quality by 20% when exposed to air that was scented with lavender. Better yet, lavender is inexpensive and has no side effects.

There are many others too, like:

· Fenugreek for tinnitus
· Ginger for asthma
· Comfrey for cold sores
· Nettle for hives
· Peppermint for indigestion other than acid reflux (GERD)

Lower Cost, Safer Herbal Remedies

Do your homework, and talk to your doctor. Trying to reduce your cholesterol, blood pressure, and indigestion with dietary and herbal alternatives may save you unforeseen prescription drug side effects and interactions. Some herbal remedies on the market are unproven, and others are outright quackery, but every day researchers are finding reasons to respect plants for their ability to help us get and stay healthy.

Although herbs certainly can't treat every medical condition, finding safe, effective alternatives to expensive prescription medications is a good way to start taking control of your health. Don't run to the drug store the next time you're looking for a little relief. Ask your doctor about the risks, and try to find a healthier solution with an herbal remedy instead.