Saturday

Relocating Aloe Vera Outdoors in Spring

I over-winter my aloe vera plants indoors. They can't survive a frost, so I make them "commuter" plants that enjoy the outdoors during spring, summer and early fall, and come back inside before the first frost. I have so many around the house that I've contemplated putting Christmas ornaments on them for the holidays.

A Bit About Aloe Vera

Closeup of the largest -- center stem -- plant I repotted last year

You probably already know AV is a rugged succulent. It can take a lot of neglect. Frost is really its only kryptonite, and if you put plants outdoors and watch the weather report to be sure and bring them in before the first frost for your area, you're golden.  They can stand being crowded and virtually ignored.

This is good news if you're used to cultivating plants and herbs that are persnickety about pH, water, lighting and fertilizer. Think of aloe vera as a minimalist plant with benefits.  Even though you can ignore it, this beauty will give you years of service taking the sting out of bee stings and offering nearly instantaneous relief from the pain of minor burns. Just slather on a little goo extracted from the leaves.

If you don't have an aloe vera, you're doing yourself an injustice. Even a black thumb novice can grow one. This is my not so subtle way of encouraging you to buy a young plant this season. It will grow quickly, so you don't have to invest in a large specimen. Even a two leaf baby will double in size if not more during the summer.

These are the smallest repotted specimens -- doing well.
Last fall, I repotted a rangy AV that was getting too big for its accommodations. You can find the article and photos on a previous post: How to Repot an Aloe Vera Plant

After repotting one plant into five pots (sized from 4 to 10 inches), I left the booty outdoors for another couple of weeks then brought everybody in for the winter. In the following five months, I only watered them twice, and then the amount was minimal, about two ounces per pot applied near the base.  I've included pictures of how they fared throughout this post.  Although they were positioned in different rooms, all ended up receiving at least some light. The largest were near a glass patio door.  The smallest were in an eastern facing window, back a few inches to avoid any cold spots. We have double paned windows, but sometimes that's not enough to keep out the chill.

You can see everyone did well. Now they'll remain outdoors all summer. I won't water them -- nature will take care of that.  I'll just protect them from bright sunlight for about 10 days while they adjust. They'll change color somewhat as they acclimate to the outdoors, going from light green, to bronze, to dark green. They'll put on some impressive growth in the next three months, too.

These pups shared space with larger plants. They're do for repotting soon.
The dimpling on some leaves are scars from a run-in with kittens, but they healed okay (so did the cats), and I'll use those damaged leaves to start new plants this fall.  You'll also notice the small babies in the photos. They were triple (or more) potted because I didn't have enough pots to go around. I'll remove them to their own pots shortly.

If you're looking for a plant that makes a great gift, AV is good for that, too. Babies, or pups, begin popping up as the plant becomes crowded, and they're easy to remove and start in tiny two inch pots -- the perfect size for  party favors.

Before you complete your plant wish list, pencil in aloe vera. You'll be glad you did.

For more information on this wonderful plant, visit:

How to Grow Aloe Vera 
Propagate Aloe Vera
Grow Aloe Vera and Have Its Healing Properties at Your Fingertips

Friday

How to Make Dandelion Oil

If you have an achy back or inflammation from arthritis, dandelion oil may be able to help with pain control. When applied topically, it can reduce inflammation and joint pain. Although there hasn't been much research to confirm the efficacy of dandelion as an anti-inflammatory, folks have been making and using this herbal remedy for a long time. When I'm looking for a gentle, safe way to help manage minor arthritis pain, especially in my hands, dandelion oil rates high on my list of remedies, and usually makes it to my spring "make it soon" to-do list.

Well, the dandelions are up, and this could be one year you're harvesting them instead of cursing those yellow flowers dotting your lawn. Dandelion oil is a no-cook recipe that's a good spring introduction to preparing homemade herbal remedies.

Bowl of fresh dandelions

Dandelion Oil Recipe


Ingredients

8 to 10 ounces of olive or avocado oil
*7 cups dandelion flowers

You will also need:


2 clean 12 oz. jars (I use the sanitize setting on my dishwasher, but you can also use hot soapy water.)

2 rubber bands (I like those small but mighty ones that often come with fresh asparagus or broccoli from the produce department of the local market.)

A stick or other implement for stirring

Cheesecloth (You'll need a two-layer square for each jar that is large enough to cover the opening with a 2 inch overhang all around.)


Instructions


Harvest dandelions in the morning when they're full open.

Rinse them gently in cold water.

Drying rinsed dandelions
Spread them on a paper towel out of the sun to dry for a few hours.

Once the water has evaporated, tear half to all of the flowering heads in half. This helps the oil get deep into the petals. (You can tear them all if you want, but a few intact blooms look so pretty in the mix that I usually leave them. Although the flowers are eventually discarded, when the mixture is fresh, it looks like spring in a jar.)

Fill the two jars with blossoms, pressing hard to pack them tight.
Pack the jar tight

Slowly, fill each jar with oil, stopping halfway to stir the mixture to release trapped air bubbles.
Add oil


Fill the jars to the top.

I use a kabob skewer for stirring


Stir again to remove as many bubbles as possible, making sure to submerge the top blooms.
You can just see suspended bubbles. Gentle stirring will remove them.


Cover the mouth of each jar with cheesecloth, and secure the cloth with a rubber band.



Place the jars in a sunny window, and let the mixture infuse for three weeks or so. (You'll know when the oil is ready because the blossoms will lose their bright yellow color and turn tan to brownish. The oil itself will be bright gold to somewhat green-ish and have a flowery scent.

Attached cheesecloth and place jars in a sunny window
Strain the oil using a fine mesh strainer lined with a couple of layers of cheese cloth.

Store the bulk of the mixture in the refrigerator, but fill one or two small glass jars (1 oz. or so) to use at room temperature. Refill them as needed. (Recycled moisturizer jars or even sample jam jars are good for this.)

How to Use Dandelion Oil


**When your joints feel achy, or you know damp weather is on the way, apply a little oil to a cotton ball and rub on your knees, hands, neck, back or other affected area. Wipe off any excess. Store the container in a dark, somewhat cool location. (Don't keep it in the sun or near heat.)
Strain oil through a cheesecloth lined sieve

Safety and other info: Although dandelion is considered safe to eat, and generally safe in higher concentrations, there are some exceptions. It's always a good idea to discuss starting any new treatment or medication with your physician. Because the effects of dandelion haven’t been tested extensively, using it is contraindicated if you are pregnant or nursing. It is not recommended if you are allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums and some other flower varieties, are diabetic or have gallbladder problems. It may also react with some medications, like some antibiotics, blood thinners, lithium and other drugs, especially those that are changed by the liver. You can find additional safety information about dandelion here:

 

Tips for Making and Using Dandelion Oil
Finished and strained oil


*Harvest dandelions you know haven't been treated with pesticide. This could be courtesy of your happily neglected backyard or another spot that's in jeopardy of going native. I have plenty of dandelions for oil, tea and even dandelion jam. I don't feel too guilty about growing these useful weeds, either. I harvest the heads before they have a chance to go to seed, and dig up most of my plants for the roots. My spring harvest every year is typically thanks to unwitting neighbors sprouting crops in their tree lawns. Oh, there are cultivated dandelion varieties, too. You can read more about dandelions here: How to Grow Dandelion

I keep dandelion oil from season to season, so the oil I started today will last until next spring when I'll toss any remainder and begin a new batch.

You can make half of the recipe. Although one jar looks like it will produce quite a bit of oil, you'll only get 5 to 6 ounces or so. Once you realize how useful it can be, the oil goes pretty quickly, too.

Dandelions aren't in flower long, so expect to make oil within two weeks of seeing blossoms.

If you have to hunt around to find enough flowers, you can keep snipped blossoms in a covered bowl in your fridge for a couple of days. They draw in somewhat, but just make sure you slice those blossoms to get the best oil exposure from them.

Dandelion oil can stain clothing, so use caution.

This oil may have other applications. I've read about it being used to treat acne, for instance. I haven't used it for anything other than mild muscle and joint discomfort, though.

 **I know there may not be a link between inflammation and the weather, but I do get achy when it's damp, and the oil does seem to help.