Independence Day Challenge 7/19

Independence Days Challenge

So this is rather late on a Saturday, but it was a rough week with my health issues cropping up. I have CNS vasculitis (associated with lupus), and sometimes the arteries in my brain swell up can  and as you can imagine it’s not pleasant.  So I spent a couple of days literally icing down my head while Steve ran the show.

Plant or Harvest something:   Aside from doing a pretty good job of eating out the garden,  CA Poppy seed pods are ready for harvesting for next year’s seed bank .  We planted another run of zuchinni, an early acorn variety we have and early pie pumpkins.

Preserve something:  We froze some more greens and things like that that came in from the garden, but I wanted to focus on the things I didn’t grow as a reminder that you don’t have to have a garden to preserve food.  We bought 25 lbs of carrots with the bulk food order last week because they are super cheap right now. So we canned some and froze some shredded to use for carrot muffins and quick breads in the winter.  We also bought the clearance strawberries at Aldi and made ten jars of jam to put up for the winter.  I decided I am just going to take a picture of the cupboard where we keep the canned goods every so often. It’s pretty early in the season for what we can.  Most of our greens go in the freezer which is filling up nicely but doesn’t look as pretty. LOL

Waste not:  I dehydrated a bunch of egg shells and ground them up to add to our dog’s food for calcium and we fed some to the zuchinni.  I also made watermelon-strawberry sorbet for the freezer out of a watermelon that was a bit on the mushy side for my crew.  Sorbet’s are a nice way to use up excess fruit. It’s been our experience that if we pack them my special way, they will last 6-8 months in the freezer.

Want Not: As far as emergency supplies go, I got our own set of two way radios that will talk to the ones we bought for the medic group and I can keep charged with the solar lantern.  I’ve got the medic supplies kind of re-inventoried and know what we need to make to get them stocked back up.

Eating the food:  I ate something new this week.  We got a lot of kohlrabi from the local CSA and to be honest with you, it’s not something I’ve worked with lot.  So we roasted some just to see if you could do it, and it’s pretty good.  We are going to can the rest up and mix it in with mashed potatoes when we make shephard’s pie.

Caregiving and enhancing community support systems and mutual aid:   We did the usual mutual aid lunches (thanks to my partner in crime Steve who picks up my slack when my brain tries to explode.) The mutual aid group is also looking at ways that we can support the local secular homeschool group which is growing exponentially due to the fact that our governor is an asshat and won’t allow online schooling.

I was kind of thinking my days of being involved in the homeschool group were almost over,  but I have a granddaughter in the group now whom I watch a few days a week.  We hosted their first Zoom chat for the kids to get use to that format a little bit before we try to do more organized things in the fall.

Skill Up: I don’t really feel like I accomplished much in this area this week, but hey I was sick. Next week I am “job shadowing” a few people who have been building mutual aid collectives for longer than I have.

Winter is Coming:  That didn’t take long.  We found a dent-and-scratch AC/Heater thing that will keep our upstairs reasonable.  Now to figure out what to do about the electric bill that will result.

Independence Days Challenge 7/11

Independence Days Challenge

I honestly didn’t think anything would make me feel like blogging again but Sharon Astyk has accomplished that unlikely task by reviving the Independence Day Challenge.   I am probably almost fan-girl excited about this because this challenge really helped me pull my act together the first time around. So all you people who ask me how I manage to get so much done, you are about to learn.   First of all I am going to send you to her public Facebook post to read the format.

Then I want to talk to you a little bit about me.  My house is the hub house for distributing food for the Iowa City Mutual Aid Collective and I am  the coordinator of our local Herbalists Without Borders chapter.  I am  also a strong  supporter of the Black Lives Matters movement.  I run with the protests as a medic and coordinate a local medic group. I was there when the protestors were tear-gassed and I was pretty consistenly harassed by cops when they were marching regularly, so I am a pretty vocally and unapologetically leftist.

Plant or Harvest something:  Right now we are doing more harvesting than we are planting. We are mostly harvesting greens (lettuce, chard, beet greens, and colllard greens) although we’ve had a few zuchinni and cucumbers, now too. This week I transplanted some basil,  feverfew,  oregano, and thyme to a new sunny garden spot in our yard left there because we had an ash tree removed, but it was done more out of necessity than really thinking it was a good time for it.  It was beastly hot, so I left most of my herbs alone but the poppies are just at that point where I can harvest tops with some flowers and some seeds.

Preserve something:  We have a fairly good size garden ourselves and we also get garden donations for the mutual aid group. Some we use and distribute during the week and some we put away for winter because our goal is to build sustainable local systems.  This week we froze collards and kale and pickled radishes.  I started a couple of hydroethanolic extracts (tinctures) including wild lettuce and california poppy.

Waste not:  I spent some time this week re-organizing the freezers, but more of the week was spent planning what we could do to make some space out in the garage and making lists because my partner is taking the next two weeks off and we plan on getting some stuff done.

Want Not: Tonight was the night we picked up our monthly bulk food order.  I’ve been buying in bulk for decades now so I have a pretty good rotation going so that I am always about four months ahead of the game.  I got a really good deal on 25 lbs of organic #2 carrots.  It was also the month to stock up on cultures from the cheesemaking website– about every four months I order just enough to get the free shipping.

We have been super fortunate thus far that my partner has been able to work from home through all of this… so far.  I have held on to a couple of my paying writing gigs, but we definitely have less coming in than we did before because I can’t teach in-person classes right now.  Since that’s beginning to feel like I pretty long term reality, I finally broke down and bought a renewed computer and a webcam.  I have tried the online class thing before but my ten year-old computer was really holding me back.

Eating the food:  We eat really well because cooking dinner is the way my partner unwinds from work and people who are friends with me on Facebook probably see enough of those pictures.  I will share some of those recipes, but instead of taking the easy way out and talking about that a lot, I am going to talk about my struggles with executive function and feeding myself. 

I am an Autist and one my particular challenges is that I struggle with body awareness both in recognizing where my body is in space and with what is called interoception. You can read more about it here if you like, but the bottom line is that  I don’t really pick up on all the cues my body sends me to help me self-regulate. It is not unusual for me to have gone all day long getting food to other people without feeding myself.  So I am going to work on that.

Caregiving and enhancing community support systems and mutual aid:   I have kind of a easy out in that department.  I sent 120 sack lunches to our unhoused neighbors, 10 bags of prepared meals to households in need, (some due to illnesss and some due to financial need)  and this week we sent a meal to one of our amazing Community Helpers as a show of support for all their work.

Skill Up: I  have to take CEUs, so on the 2nd I finished a standard precautions training on safe injections/managing needle injuries. Between that, re-upping my Red Cross Severe Bleed cert and the WHO module I took on IPC for covid, I have pretty much all I need for the year which is pretty good because I usually put it off until October. I am working through a conflict management specialization from Coursera because communication is not my strongsuit and I hope it gives me some insight. I am also learning Adobe Captivate so I can put the medic trainings online.

Winter is Coming:  It was a rough week.  Yesterday was the first day that a lot of people around here were officially late with their rent after the legal protections ran out and you could hear it in the voices.   So I feel pretty petty saying that my major concern right now is trying to figure out a way to make it cooler in this house, but losing the tree has made our house like an oven. It really would make all the baking I need to do tolerable.  It’s the middle of the night and it still 88 degrees in my house.  I am also thinking ahead to when canning begins in earnest.

Pandemics and Preparedness

This is not my sciencey viral intervention post.  That one is going to take me a few days to fact check and I am honestly dreadfully dreary of reading scientific journals and sitting through WHO modules. We have the first three confirmed cases of this blasted virus in our town and not surprisingly all contracted it on a cruise ship.  I am reminded of a story I heard once about the cnotan na gall – the “strangers’ cold” that came in on a vessel from a far away land.

I needed a break from it.    So I decided to write a history post  because I felt the need to connect with my roots a little . My maternal grandmother was born in 1907. Which means that when the flu of 1918 hit, she was an eleven year old helping her mom care for her siblings.   As I’ve mentioned before her dad died during that flu and her mother had a premature baby because of it, so you can imagine life lessons came early for  her.

It seems that when Grandma was little the lives of poor, rural people were pretty similar on both sides of the pond. When I came across first-hand accounts of the 1918 pandemic in the NFCSC material, they sounded familiar.  These stories in the collection were gathered about 18-20 years after the pandemic swept Ireland, so they were fresh in their minds. I picked a couple to share.

Mr. Patsy Corrigan of Co. Cavan the told young Breda Callaghan,

“In the year nineteen hundred and eighteen an epidemic of influenza spread over the country. It was one of the most fatal diseases in history. It sent more people to the grave than were killed in the great war. Owing to the war there was a scarcity of foodstuffs and beverages which if plentiful would hinder the spread of the disease. This disease which started as a germ in the air spread from Europe to the United Kingdom. It was an uncommon sight on an Irish country – side to see coffin after coffin being borne to the grave-yard.

Very few houses escaped its ravages. This was the first time that influenza became known as a fatal disease. No year has passed since, without it claiming some victims.  The influenza of nineteen hundred and eighteen ranks in the hearts of the people as the greatest disease in living memory.  It carried away hundreds of victims, including priests, nuns, doctors, and nurses.”[1]

In Co. Westmeath the teacher Sister Ní Chonaire wrote:

“An epidemic of influenza broke out in Ireland in the year 1918 and it lasted for about three months. There were a lot of people stricken down with it and many of them died from the effects of it. It was different from the usual influenza cold, as very often people were nearly better of it, but got pneumonia and died.

In some houses all the inhabitants were sick together, and as the neighbors were frightened of the dread disease they did not like to go near them, so they suffered great hardship as they had nobody to nurse them. The Doctor was kept so busy that he had not time to visit all his patients every day. The shops in the villages were closed and a gloom was cast over the place. When people died their coffins were not brought to the Church fearing the germs of the disease would be spread, when crowds congregated for the funeral.”[2]

It gave me a moment’s pause reflecting on what it would be like to live during a pandemic like that when there was no PPE, no antibiotics, and no oxygen therapy.  I hurts my heart because I know many people in our society wouldn’t have access to those things today. (I sometimes feel foolish making recommendations about herbal adjuncts they don’t have access to either.  This is why the affordable apothecary project is my first priority this year.  I don’t have enough to share widely right now in case of an outbreak, and I want that to change.)

So what I wanted to do was to look at these two first hand accounts and maybe draw some conclusions about how people weathered these events in the past.

It certainly seems that social interactions were curbed considerably. I don’t think that’s particularly surprising.  I think that Mr. Corrigan’s observation about the fact that the war had left them short on healthy foods and beverages bears thinking about.

Back in those days it was typical for women of all classes in the UK (or their servants) to put up a good number of jams, jellies, cordials, liqueurs made from a variety of fruits and vegetables.  The variety of phenolic compounds in their diet was probably triple that of the standard American diet (SAD).  I don’t have any good proof of that other than knowing that mine was growing up.

My grandmothers and mother gleaned fruit from all over the countryside and put a huge variety of juices, jams and jellies up for the winter along with their garden produce.  I loved it when Mom made jelly because she sealed the jars with paraffin, and I liked to dip my fingers in it and play with the wax.  I followed suit as best as I could growing up in town.

But my point here is that my people weren’t putting up closets full of herbal tinctures,  they were putting up vegetables, fruit, and condiments full of the herbs and culinary spices we should be eating every day. The fact that people don’t eat a wide variety of antioxidants anymore is already contributing to an epidemic of chronic diseases and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that people with those same diseases seem more susceptible to this virus.  So eat your fruits and vegetables.

That’s why that the only thing I bought compulsively was a big box of apples and a bag of oranges, while everyone else is stockpiling hand sanitizer and toilet paper.
I want  to point out to city folk that there is nothing wrong with being prepared.  I am by nature, a prepared person.  Part of that comes from growing up country poor.  We had to put enough food away in the fall to get through winter.  If we didn’t we ate mealy potato soup for weeks. I still don’t love potatoes and I will probably never get over the fear of running out of food before the garden comes in or the next paycheck.

When I was young we also never knew when a snowstorm was going to keep us snowed in for a week or even more, or when we might lose power for that long.  These days I never know when my RA is going to flare up and I am going to be unable to get around while Steve is out-of-town on a business trip, and so those skills I have learned as a kid have served me well.  This brings me to another thing these stories brought up for me.

Sr. Ní Chonaire felt like it was their neighbors fear of going in and taking care people like they would have normally done that led to so many people passing on.  I think that’s worth thinking about. I mean today in many places neighbours don’t do that at all.

I am not suggesting we all put ourselves in harm’s way, though I am obstinate enough I probably will.  But  I am suggesting that we need to pull our heads together and plan to do something.

I had a friend drop off ice when we had the flu earlier in the season and I was so grateful. I think in the 15 years I have lived here, that’s the only time someone has done something like that for me. The kind of preparedness I advocate for is being prepared to help yourself and your neighbors like that regardless of what comes along- be it a  pandemic or just general hard times.

This weekend I  made up a roaster full of broth heavy on the garlic, thyme, and pepper  so that I can make  some “sorry you are sick” soup and drop it off on people’s doorstep. We are making  the brew pot full of ham and bean soup, because we have some meal train meals to deliver this week, too.

I thought I would give you a few recipes for other things you could include in a care basket to comfort people when they are ill that contain ingredients that you could pick up here at the store and not have to order online. And you know me I love to trace things back to my roots,  so I included some historical references just for fun.

Black Currant Tea
Judging by the folklore commission accounts, black currant tea was probably the most common cold remedy taken at the turn of the 20th century in the Ireland.  They also called them Quinsy berries.  Quinsy is a complication of tonsillitis that we call a peritonsillar abscess, these days. The tried-and-true great-grandma’s way of making the tea is explained here by Mrs. Quinn of Co. Dublin:

“This is a cure for a bad cold.  Before going to bed at night make a good mug of black currant drink. But only put a tea spoon-ful of black currant jam in the mug. Then fill it up with hot water and let it cool off. Do that for two or three nights and your cold will be gone in three days.”[3]

There is a good deal of modern clinical research to support the idea that it’s a good adjunct.[4]  If you can’t find black currants, that’s okay. You can tuck a nice jar of blackberry jam or bilberry jam in a basket with directions how to use it. This is one of the things I make with my bramble berry syrup, and I think a teaspoon is a little stingy. I use a good tablespoon or so, but maybe my mugs are bigger or my tea spoons are smaller?  ( I promise to get to the bramble berry thing before Beltaine.)

Blackberry Brandy
Modern herbalists often write about taking blackberry root infusions for diarrhea (the leaves work just as well), but the anthocyanins in the juice are what you want during cold and flu season. Kiva told me the other day that Michael Moore taught that, too.   Most of the old-timers simply stewed the berries and strain ed the juice through a jelly bag.  Some people preserved the juice by making it into wine.  Kate Donegan of Co. Westmeath simply wrote:

Blackberry Wine. Stew the blackberries with sugar. This cures colds.”[5]

I don’t have any blackberry wine made and we drank up the cranberry wine, but I am thinking I will make up some blackberry liqueur to have on hand. I have this quick recipe for making it:

Highland Bitters
This bitters recipe is very simple. I’ve adapted from one of my favorite books  A Hundred Years in the Highlands in which the author noted of his uncle “On the sideboard there always stood before breakfast a bottle of whisky, smuggled of course, with plenty of camomile flowers, bitter orange-peel, and juniper berries in it — ‘ bitters ‘ we called it — and of this he had a wee glass always before we sat down to breakfast, as a fine stomachic.[6]

Ingredients
1 cup chamomile flowers (you can use the tea bags you buy at the store)
¼ cup bitter orange peel or mixed peel
¼ cup juniper berries
1 bottle of whiskey

First of all local accessibility:  they sell juniper berries in the spice section at HyVee and you can use chamomile from tea bags.  If you can’t afford juniper berries steal some cedar needles or pine needles off a tree at the park.  Grind the ingredients and put them in a jar with an airtight lid and pour the whiskey over top.  Close the lid and shake every couple of days.  Then strain and bottle it.

You can drink it like Sir Mackenzie up there did or you can put just a few drops in some sparkling water.  Bitters have been shown to improve digestion and assimilation of nutrients. There are more recipes on this post. 


Heat is a wonderful adjunct.  It can relieve aches and pains by causing muscles to relax which in turn helps people rest.  It can ward off the chills that often accompany an illness. People who know me know that I have a long love affair with my hottie, so it made me smile to come across this recommendation from Ellen Evans of Co. Wicklow:

“Yarrow is one of the most valuable herbs that grows in the district. It is great for curing colds influenza and all classes of fevers. If you have a cold, influenza or fever, go to bed between two blankets, have a hot-water bottle placed to your feet and drink a cup of hot yarrow-tea.”[7]

I will have more to say about a yarrow in my more serious post about viral interventions but what I want you to think about here is tucking in the other things in a care basket, that could provide people comfort like a hot water bottle with a wool cover.

You could also share reusable ice bag and a big bag of ice.  I find that tucking an ice bag under the base of my neck helps with a headache.  Migraine sufferers should try my favorite trick which is ice under the neck and a hot water bottle at the feet.  I like actual ice because it puts some pressure on my neck but you can also sew up hot/cold rice packs .

[1] NFC: The Schools’ Collection Volume 1000, Page 337-338
[2] NFC: The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0734, Page 402
[3] NFC: The Schools’ Collection Volume 0798, Page 103
[4] Ikuta, Kazufumi, Koichi Hashimoto, Hisatoshi Kaneko, Shuichi Mori, Kazutaka Ohashi, and Tatsuo Suzutani. ‘Anti-Viral and Anti-Bacterial Activities of an Extract of Blackcurrants ( Ribes Nigrum L. ): Anti-Microbial Activity of Blackcurrants’. Microbiology and Immunology 56, no. 12 (December 2012): 805–9. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1348-0421.2012.00510.x.
[5] NFC: The Schools’ Collection Volume 0740, Page 101
[6] MacKenzie, Osgood Hanbury. A Hundred Years in the Highlands. London, England: Arnold, 1921. http://archive.org/details/hundredyearsinhi00mack
[7] NFC: The Schools’ Collection Volume 0915, Page 165