Elderberry syrup is a time-tested remedy for flus and colds. The elderberry has been used for centuries, offering deep support for the immune system.
When used at the onset of illness, elderberry can prove active at the cellular level with anti-viral activity and has even been shown to be active against the influenza virus. It’s anti-oxidant properties help maintain balance, and the constituents in the berry promote the health of the upper respiratory system. They support a healthy inflammatory response and help to maintain the health of the mucus membranes.
It can also help reduce inflammation and pain in the joints and muscles, making it an excellent choice when you feel the beginning of a cold or flu coming on. The best thing about elderberry syrup? It actually tastes good!
3 cups water
½ cup dried elderberries
¼ cup dried echinacea root
3 Tbsp minced ginger root
¼ cup dried lemon balm
¼ cup dried yarrow
zest of ½ lemon
½ cup local honey
½ cup brandy
- Combine the elderberries, ginger, and echinacea root with the water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes.
- Remove from heat. Add the lemon balm and yarrow and allow to sit for 20 minutes.
- Strain the mixture through cheesecloth. Squeeze the bag to get as much of the juice as you can.
- Stir in the brandy.
- Add the equal amount of honey.
- Warm over very low heat until honey is fully incorporated.
- Pour into bottles. Label and date.
- Store in fridge – 6 months.
Dose: 1 – 2 Tablespoons, 3x day.
What is a liniment?
A liniment is an herbal remedy that is used topically to help alleviate pain in sore muscles and soft tissues. It’s usually made with either rubbing alcohol or witch hazel, so the herbs can be easily and quickly absorbed into the skin. Oils can also be used, but they don’t have the immediate effect of an alcohol-based liniment, and I prefer to reserve oils for massage oils or creams.
There are several herbs that can be included in a pain-relieving liniment, but I like to include pain relieving herbs, anti-inflammatories, and herbs that help speed healing.
Menthol is naturally cooling and soothing and is often used in salves, balms, mouthwashes, liniments, lozenges, and other remedies
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is my favorite herb for topical pain. It is useful in both nerve pain and muscle pain, and moves quickly to soothe overused, tired muscles or injured soft tissue. St. Johns’ Wort is best used fresh in medicine making, so in my liniment I include pre-made St. John’s Wort Tincture (unless I remember to make the liniment during the brief window of time that St. John’s Wort is ready for harvest).
Meadowsweet (Filipedula ulmaria) is uses as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory. It reduces inflammation, clears heat, and promotes the healing of tissue. It contains salicylic acid, the precursor to aspirin.
Willow bark (Salix alba) is a pain relieving herb with anti-inflammatory properties. Rich in salicin, it alleviates pain and reduces fever and inflammation. It was one of the original ingredients in aspirin and can be used topically to relieve pains of arthritis or other musculo-skeletal issues.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) has been used historically to reduce pain and inflammation, heal wounds, and protect damaged tissues. It helps to alleviate pain, especially in the bones.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) reduces pain and is used as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory, both externally and internally. Yarrow helps to move chi and improve circulation by relaxing the peripheral blood vessels. Topically, it helps to repair tissue, and stop bleeding.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is one of natures greatest gifts as it helps to soothe pain, reduce inflammation, and heal wounds.
Arnica (Arnica montana) has been used traditionally as a remedy for bruising, soft tissue injury, and to increase blood flow to the area of injury. Not to be taken internally, or on broken skin.
Cayenne (Capsicum frutescens), when used in diluted form it helps to relieve pain by blocking the transmission of pain messages to the brain. It is historically used in creams, lotions, and liniments for arthritis, joint pain, and sore, achy muscles.
1 cup Witch Hazel or Rubbing Alcohol
1 tsp menthol crystals
2 Tbsp dried meadowsweet
2 Tbsp dried willow bark
2 Tbsp dried yarrow
2 Tbsp dried comfrey
2 Tbsp dried calendula
2 Tbsp dried arnica flower
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 oz St. John’s Wort Tincture
25 drops peppermint essential oil
- Coarsely grind all dried herbs with your mortar and pestle.
- Put all the ground herbs in a pint-sized mason jar.
- Pour witch hazel or alcohol over the top
- Steep for 4-6 weeks, shaking daily.
- Strain and compost herbs
- Add St. John’s Wort tincture and essential oil
- Bottle and label.
This liniment will be shelf stable and should last for a couple of years. I recommend bottling it in little spray bottles, so that it’s easy to apply as needed. Be sure it’s only used on unbroken skin, as this formula is not suitable for open wounds, and the label indicates that it’s for external use only.
Folks are learning more and more that the dangers of commercial sunscreen may outweigh the benefits. Many sunscreens have toxic ingredients, that can cause skin problems. In fact, skin cancer rates have risen and many reports indicate that sunscreens may actually raise the risk of skin cancer. In addition, it’s recommended that children are not exposed to the chemical found in many sunscreens, oxybenzone, which is known to disrupt hormones.
Research is also showing that the use of sunscreen is causing damage to ocean life, especially coral. It’s estimated that over 5000 metric tons of sunscreen wash off swimmers in the ocean each year.
Additionally, some exposure to the sun is imperative to health. Moderate exposure to the sun can increase your levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency has been found to be a factor in many types of breast cancer as well as problems during pregnancy.
So what to do?
Moderate time in the sun – a little sun won’t hurt, but you should never allow your skin to burn.
Keep your face shaded by wearing a wide brim hat.
If you are very fair, do wear lightweight fabric to sheild the strongest rays.
Plan outdoor activities in the morning or afternoon and avoid the heat of the midday.
Use a natural sunscreen
There are some articles that are circulating on the internet now that warn of the dangers of homemade sunscreen, primarily because it’s impossible to tell how strong the sunscreen is and what the SPF of your final product will be. Use common sense in the sun: limit exposure, stay in the shade, wear a hat, etc. This natural sunscreen is an extra layer of protection but is not 100% effective in eliminating the suns rays.
Some ingredients that we commonly use in our herbal preparations contain small amounts of SPF.
Coconut Oil – although coconut oil alone will not protect against sun, it does offer support and protects the skin from sun damage.
Sweet Almond Oil – nourishes the skin by providing Vitamin E, and contains a small amount of SPF, about 5.
Carrot Seed Oil – has been shown to have SPF qualities from 35 – 40.
Shea Butter – has a natural SPF of 4-6 and is deeply emollient and nourishing to the skin
Zinc Oxide (non-nano) – has an SPF of 2 – 20 depending how much is used. Use non-nano type, as it is
Here’s an easy recipe for some homemade sunscreen.
1/2 cup sweet almond oil
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup beeswax
2 Tbsp zinc powder (non-nano)
1 tsp carrot seed oil
2 Tbsp Shea Butter
10 drops lavender essential oil
1 Tbsp Vitamin E
* Combine all the ingredients except the zinc and essential oils in a glass Pyrex measuring pitcher
* Place the glass pitcher in a saucepan with a couple inches of water
* Heat the water over medium heat until the ingredients in the pitcher start to melt. Stir occasionally.
* When all the ingredients are melted, remove from the water bath.
* Stir in the zinc oxide, vitamin E, and essential oils.
* Pour into small jars. Label and date.
The sunscreen is not waterproof. Reapply often and definately after swimming.
Do not inhale the zinc – wear a mask!
Store in a cool dark place, or in the fridge. It’s good for about one year.
by Sara Stewart Martinelli
Keeping hens at home has become increasingly popular over the past few years, and as we see more towns recognizing that people should have the right to keep their own chickens, more and more people are learning how fun and fulfilling it can be. The hens are full of personality, and of course, the most rewarding thing is the incredibly fresh eggs that these ladies bless us with daily. Just a few birds can keep a family of four with enough eggs for breakfast and baking.
Keeping hens is relatively easy, especially with today’s modern balanced chicken feeds. A good healthy pellet, some oyster shell, and some scratch grains serve to keep the hens fed and happy. If they are allowed free run of the garden, the hens will supplement their diets with all the insects they can find. Keeping their coop clean and dry will help them stay healthy and vibrant.
But, there are some ways in which adding some herbs to your hen’s life can benefit her health. Both in her diet and in her environment, adding some herbs can increase her vitality and egg production, while cutting back on environmental pests and bacteria.
Dried vs Fresh
Herbs can be expensive, so choose some herbs that can grow easily and well in your area. Plant them near, but not inside your coop, and then you’ll have access to the fresh sprigs when you need them. Any excess herbs you can dry and store for use in the winter.
To supplement the herbs that you grow yourself, we recommend purchasing dried, organic herbs in bulk from a reputable herb dealer. Our favorites are Mountain Rose Herbs and Monterrey Bay Herbs.
In the Hen House:
There’s any number of herbs that can be used in the hen house to make it smell more fragrant, and to repel insects, mites, and rodents. In addition to the aroma therapeutic benefits, the herbs offer the hens a little boost of nutrition and variety.
Nesting Box Herbs – Fresh
It’s been shown that wild birds often place herbs in their nests, perhaps to protect the baby birds from bacteria in the environment and to repel insects and other pests. These herbs can also help the make the coop smell better! Fresh herbs can be placed in the nests to offer the hens a little healthy snack. Try any of these:
Lavender – repels insects and mites, has antibacterial properties, and makes the coop smell great!
Calendula – The hens will snack on the calendula petals, and it makes the egg yolks more orange and rich.
Mint – Keeps away mice and rodents, and the hens won’t generally eat it due to its high aromatic oil content.
Dandelion – Use both the leaves and the flowers, which are high in vitamins and minerals. Helps control internal parasites
Chamomile – Smells great, repels lice, fleas and mites.
Comfrey – High in vitamins A, B12, calcium, potassium and protein. Feed fresh as a green.
Nesting Box Herbs – Dried Mix
Creating a mix of dried herbs to sprinkle in the nests is a great way to freshen the coop and repel pests during the months when the fresh herbs are not available, (which, truly, is most of the time). The blend can be stored in a five-gallon bucket for ease of use, and it will become an easy thing to add when cleaning the nests. Add only a small amount, about 1/8th of a cup, to each nest. Take a look at our pre-packaged nest herbs, HERE
4 cups calendula
4 cups lavender
4 cups dandelion leaf
4 cups borage leaf
4 cups thyme
4 cups lemon balm
4 cups peppermint leaf
Chicken Waterer Freshener
One of the most gross things about the coop is the waterers. No matter what we try, the water is always disgusting and dirty, even with cleaning and freshening it daily. A quick and easy fix is to add a clove of garlic to the water for every gallon. The garlic is a strong, natural antibacterial. Not only will it help to reduce bacteria in the water, but it’s a natural immune booster for the ladies too.
Garlic –1 crushed clove to 1 gallon of water.
Coop Freshener Sprinkle with DE
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is made from the tiny fossilized remains of little aquatic organisms called Diatoms. These diatoms have skeletons that are made of silica which is razor sharp on a microscopic level. It is often used in products and can be safely added to the barnyard as a good way to control insects, and mites, in the chicken coop. The DE causes the insects to dry out because it absorbs the oils of the insect’s exoskeleton. The tiny sharp edges of the DE are also abrasive to the little bugs.
There have recently been concerns raised about the safety of DE because of its potential to cause lung and respiratory irritation. However, DE has been used for decades safely and effectively and studies have shown that it is safe when used as directed. Naturally, use common sense when handling it and don’t purposefully breathe in large quantities, just like you would breathe in any type of dust or powder. If you have pre-existing respiratory troubles, it might be best to wear a mask when handling DE.
So why use it? It can greatly reduce the risk of mites, lice, fleas and other yucky bugs in the chicken coop.
My herbal DE Coop Spread
6 cups Diatomaceous Earth
4 cup Peppermint
3 cup Chamomile
3 cup Lemon balm
3 cup Calendula
- Blend all herbs in a grinder and add in a large bowl. Mix together.
- In a bucket, add the DE and the herbs. Carefully mix together – do wear a mask for this mixing part to eliminate the risk of breathing in ANY of the powdered ingredients.
- Sprinkle about ½ cup per evert 500 square feet of chicken coop.
Herbal Chicken Treats strung on a string
Here’s a fun way to get some healthy herbs into your ladies, as well as give them something to do. These fun treats also have the added benefit of decorating your coop, so use some fun cookie cutter to cut a variety of shapes. Be sure to hang these treat ornaments where your birds can reach them, but where they will be up out of the dirt and off the floor of the coop.
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup oats
1 – 3 tablespoon dried herbs (use nettles, comfrey, alfalfa, chamomile, etc – whatever herbs you have)
2 Tbsp peanut butter
1 cup cooked pumpkin or squash
1 Tbsp molasses
Mix all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. If the mixture is a little too dry, add a tiny bit of water. If it’s too wet, add a few more oats.
Roll the dough out on floured surface to 1/4 inch thick.
Cut with cookie cutters. Use different shapes for fun but be sure that most of the shape is simple and large. Avoid intricate shapes with lots of little parts.
Transfer the treat to a cookie sheet sprayed very lightly with cooking spray.
Put a hole in each treat with a chopstick. Be sure that the hole is large enough to string your choice of string through it after it’s done cooking.
Bake the treats at 350° for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven, and allow to cool completely.
Gently string the treat with the string, and then hang in the coop as a special treat for the hens.
Published in Natural Awakenings Magazine 2011
By Sara Stewart Martinelli
Making your own teas from herbs that you’ve planted, tended, and harvested is one of the most satisfying ways to enjoy your gardening efforts. Herbs are wonderful to grow in the garden because they are easy to grow, don’t need meticulous care, and yield completely usable harvests. There are countless varieties, unlimited uses, and myriad smells, textures, and habits. Here’s a list of 10 easy- to- grow herbs that can be combined in a number of different ways to make delicious and healthy brews.
Planning your Garden
Find a spot that gets a fair amount, to full sun. Once established, herbs tend to like it bright and hot and to be relatively drought tolerant. Be aware of the amount of space each plant will need, and how high it will grow. Remember when designing your garden to plan for harvesting, so leave a few stepping stones close to the plants.
Many tea herbs are also prolific spreaders. Mints, for example, will need to be carefully controlled, either by edging, or container gardening, or else they may become invasive to other areas. Decide how much time you want to spend controlling the spread of some of the plants, and plan accordingly. If you hope to harvest a year’s worth of peppermint, you may not mind if the mint spreads to a large area.
Planting and Tending
After you’ve designed your garden and determined where your herbs will go, you’ll need to either start plants from seeds or purchase starters from a local nursery. Choosing organic seedlings is highly recommended, especially with herbs that you plan to use for tea or other culinary uses. Herbs that are given commercial fertilizers do not always develop the same high levels of essential oils as their organic counterparts, and this can affect both taste and shelf life in the long run.
Herbs tend to love our rocky Colorado soil, and many of these herbs will survive over the winter with a little mulch. As your herbs grow and start to flower, be sure to pinch of the flower stems and the first few leaves before they go to seed. During the hot weeks of late July and August, this is especially important as plants that are left to go to seed will get leggy and woody, instead of focusing their energy on developing the aromatic leaves that are used for tea.
Harvesting, Drying, and Storing
Harvesting – The best time to harvest your garden herbs is on a warm summer morning, after the dew has evaporated but before the sun gets so hot that it affects the essential oils of the plant. Harvest often, using a sharp knife or harvest shears to minimize trauma to the plant. Do not yank at the leaves or stems as this can damage the roots and bruise the plants. Most leaves are best harvested before the plant comes into flower. Flowers themselves are best harvested when in full bloom, however some are best harvested just before they bloom.
Drying – After harvesting, wash the herbs thoroughly. Shake them dry, or pat them gently with a clean towel. There are a couple of easy drying methods.
Oven drying – place the herb on a cookie sheet and put it in the oven for a couple minutes at about 85 -95 degrees. Leave the door open and check the herbs often, so they don’t overcook. When chip dry, they are done.
Bundling – small leaf herbs can be tied into small bundles and hung upside down to dry in a cool, ventilated place safe from insects and moisture.
Basket drying or paper bag drying– Dry flowers or large leaves in a basket, and gently shake or turn them daily. Carefully monitor their level of dryness and watch to avoid any moist areas. Flowers seems to dry quickly so the basket method works well for them. Large leaf herbs take a little longer, and need to be shaken a couple times a day. You could use a paper bag the same way, although you don’t get the same level of air circulation as with the basket. Be sure to poke some holes in the bag to encourage air flow and moisture evaporation.
Storing – When the herbs are fully dry, try to store them in the largest form possible to preserve the essential oils in the leaves and flowers. Do not chop them up as you see in grocery style herbs. Airtight glass jars, preferably not clear, will best preserve the herbs. If you can’t find colored glass jars, then keep the jars in a cabinet or some place with minimal light. Most herbs when stored in their full form will maintain their potency and aromatic oils at least until the next harvest season. Compost herbs that have been dried for over a year.
Lemon Balm – Melissa officinalis – this perennial herb is a staple for any tea garden. It grows about 24’ high and the leaves create a great base for any herbal tea. They have a delicately citrusy flavor, which lends itself well to balancing a blend. Lemon balm is relaxing and reduces anxiety, and is safe and widely used for kids. The fresh leaves make a flavorful tea, or just place a few sprigs in your water bottle. Dry the plant in bunches and hang, and use the dried leaves throughout the colder months.
Mints – Peppermint –Mentha piperita, or Spearmint – Mentha spicata – these extremely prolific and often invasive herbs love disturbed soil. Luckily for the tea lover, these strong, vigorously spreading plants make some of the best and most useful teas. Both are very high in essential oils and are extremely beneficial for the digestive tract. Mint has many healing properties, and is especially useful in blends for colds, digestive distress, and flu. Mint is often used to improve the flavor of less palatable medicinal herbs.
Echinacea – Echinacea purpurea – Well known for its immune enhancing properties, Echinacea is also a beautiful plant in the garden. The large, purple petaled flowers are also known as purple coneflower, and prefer full sun to partial shade. All the parts of the plant are medicinally beneficial, but in order to keep the plant returning year after year, use only the aerial parts (leaves and flowers) for teas. Snip the flowers and leaves and dry in a basket or bag. Echinacea is useful in blends for colds or flus, and to support the immune system. It has an earthy, aromatic flavor. Avoid excessive use, and it’s not reccommended for people with compromised immune systems.
Calendula – Calendula officinalis – This common garden flower is one of the most useful plants you can have. The cheerful sunny flowers make a wonderful addition to the garden and gladly reseed themselves each year. Use the petals of the flower to add color to teas, with a delicate floral flavor. Harvest the flowers before they begin to seed, and remove any spent blossoms to encourage the plant to continue blooming. Calendula is often used in blends to soothe the stomach. Topically, calendula is recommended for a number of skin irritations.
Anise Hyssop – Agastache foeniculum– Anise Hyssop combines the flavors of anise and mint, and has a pungent root beer – like aroma. All of the aerial parts can be used for teas, so ideally harvest when the flower is in full bloom and has not yet begun to fade. This beautiful perennial herb grows to about 2 -3 feet and attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, and honeybees and readily reseeds its surrounding area. Anise Hyssop supports digestion, soothes respiratory tract symptoms, and helps to lower fevers.
Chamomile – Matricaria recutita – Chamomile has been used as a relaxing, soothing blend for centuries, and truly makes a delicious tea. This annual herb grows about a foot in height and produces small, daisy – like flowers. Harvest the flowers using a “chamomile rake” or just pinch them into a small basket. The tea is soothing to both the nervous system and the digestive system.
Roses –Rosa spp. – The world of roses is large, but even a single rose bush can provide you with enough rose petals and hips for a year’s worth of tea. Look for a variety of rose that has a strong scent, which indicated higher levels of essential oils in the petals. The size of the hips can vary greatly as well, so look for ones that are nice and large. Dry the petals gently in a fine basket. The hips are collected in late fall, after the cold weather has had a chance to increase the sugars in these tiny fruits. Slice the hips in half, remove seeds and fibers, and string on a thread to decorate your holiday tree. Once dried, the hips can be stored. Rose hips are extremely high in Vitamin C, and taste like tiny citrus fruits. They add a wonderful flavor to tea.
Fennel – Foeniculum vulgare – this member of the carrot family produces some of the most flavorful and beneficial seeds. The licorice flavored seeds can bring sweetness to a tea blend, and enhance digestion and the body’s assimilation of food. It can also support milk production in nursing mothers. Unlike the other herbs in the list, it’s important to allow the yellow, umbrella-like flowers to develop into seeds. Dry the seeds for about a week in a paper bag before storing to ensure there is no moisture. The leaves can also be used for teas.
Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis – This evergreen style, aromatic herb is well known for its rejuvenative properties and ability to improve memory. This is due to its affect on digestion and circulation. It’s also a strong anti-bacterial herb. What isn’t as commonly known about rosemary is that it makes a delicious, slightly piney, but sweet tea. It can be used either fresh or dried, but definitely dry your own, storing the dried stalks intact before using. Rosemary is grown in Colorado as an annual herb since it doesn’t fare well through our harsh winters. However, it’s a great container plant and may make it through the winter if brought inside during the coldest months.
Thyme – Thymus vulgaris – The strong flavor and aroma of thyme tea clearly indicates how useful it is in relieving congestion, colds, and coughs. It’s one of the most antibiotic of the herbs and it helps to cleanse infection and treat all types of mouth sores. Thyme tea supports the immune system, digestive system, and respiratory system. This powerful plant comes in a small package, with plants featuring tiny leaves and growing only about 12 inches high.
2 parts peppermint
1 part Echinacea
1 part lemon balm
1 part rosemary
1 part thyme
2 parts chamomile
2 parts lemon balm
½ part rose
½ part anise hyssop
Kids Cold and Flu Tea
2 part peppermint
1 part Echinacea
1 part rosemary
1 part rose hips
Digestive Distress Tea
2 parts fennel
1 part peppermint
1 part chamomile
1 part calendula
2 part Thyme
2 part Rosemary
1 part Anise Hyssop
1 part Rose Hips
Clarkson, Rosetta E., Herbs- Their Culture and Uses, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1942.
Hartung, Tammi, Growing 101 Herbs that Heal, Storey Publishing, Vermont, 2000.
Mars, Brigitte, Healing Herbal Teas, Basic Health Publications, CA, 2996.
By Sara Stewart Martinelli
Did you know that you can plant any number of things around and near your barn to reduce and repel flies, mosquitos, and other insects? Here’s a list of some easy to grow plants that thrive in Colorado that are wonderful allies for keeping the population of these pests down.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) – Every cat’s favorite plant, catnip is a member of the mint family, so it grow with great enthusiasm. A natural compound found in catnip, nepetalactone, attracts cats, but repels insects. In one study, this compound has been found to be 10 times more effective at repelling mosquitos than DEET. [i] Catnip grows wild here in Colorado, and we have found that merely crushing the leaves and rubbing them on your skin can be effective at keeping mosquitos at bay in the evening. Planting catnip near the barn has the added benefit of attracting the barn cats, helping to put the mice on notice that the area has a feline patrol. Catnip is also a wonderfully relaxing herb when prepared as an infusion. While drinking this relaxing and quite tasty tea in the evening, spread a few drops on exposed skin to ward of the bugs.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) – Grow some mint around the barn so you can always grab some when it’s time to make mojitos. But, in addition to the it’s mojito uses, mint has been found to contain highly effective properties that repel mosquitos. Research has shown that mosquito larvae were unable to survive when exposed to peppermint oil.[ii] We throw a few sprigs of fresh mint into water trough’s in the summer to prevent mosquitos from breeding there, and have found that the horses love the added flavor. Peppermint oil has also been shown to be highly effect at repelling mice, and a few drops placed in areas where mice tend to hang out will let them know that they’re not welcome. Be careful, though, as mint grows with glorious abandon and will need to be controlled once it’s established. We find it to be an attractive plan, with a wide range of uses, so we encourage it to grow all over the farm.
Lavender (Lavendula ssp) – Lavender one of nature’s most beloved gifts due to its incredible scent that has been used for centuries as a relaxing, soothing aromatherapeutic ally. The highly fragrant essential oil is repellent to insects, however, and can be used directly on the skin. In addition to the scent, lavender oil is known to be highly antibacterial and antimicrobial, so it’s an effective treatment for minor cuts and scrapes. It is also useful as a topical remedy for minor burns, and can be soothing to painful or itchy bug bites and stings. Growing lavender near the barn offers a beautiful garden plant with a multitude of uses. Here at Three Leaf Farm, we make lovely herbal swags each year using lavender sprigs, catnip, lemon balm and tansy and hang these throughout the barn
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) – this low growing mint is famous for its ability to deter and repel mosquitos, fleas, and flies. It was one of the traditional strewing herbs used to keep bugs from the home. A few crushed stems can help repel mosquitos in the evening, or the dried and powdered leaves can help repel fleas when sprinkled on dog beds or even sprinkled directly on your dog. Like catnip and peppermint, pennyroyal is in the mint family and can tend to get a bit invasive if not controlled, however in Colorado we’ve found it to be relatively low maintenance and not as aggressive as it is in other zones
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) – this perennial plant has been used historically in funereal practices to ward off bugs and worms. It was placed in coffins, wrapped in burial sheets, and made into wreaths to place on the dead. [iii] In Colonial days, tansy was used to preserve meat by rubbing it with the leaves. It has shown usefulness in repelling flies, and ants, and in the 1940’s it was infused in alcohol as a common mosquito repellent. Today’s research has shown tansy extracts to be useful in repelling mosquitoes, but not as strong as DEET.[iv] Research in Sweden has shown that tansy is effective in helping to repel ticks.[v] Some people have shown a sensitivity to applying tansy directly to the skin, and most herbalists today do not recommend internal use of tansy at all. However, it will grow with exuberance in the garden, and should be planted in areas where it can spread and reproduce without concern of invading the space of other plants. Tansy is a great plant for cutting and hanging in the barn to help repel flies.
Geraniums (Geranium spp) – Geraniums have been selectively bred for scent, and the lemon scented variety is the most effective against mosquitos. Best grown in pots, they make attractive, useful, and low maintenance additions to the barn gardens. Our local variety, Geranium maculatum, commonly called American cranesbill, blooms from May to August in the foothills and make an attractive, clumping garden plant that emits a unique aroma that drives away flies and mosquitos. The root is traditionally used in herbal medicine as for its astringent and anti-inflammatory properties.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) – Lemon balm has a delightful and delicious lemon scent and flavor. While attractive to humans, insects are repelled by its citrusy aroma. Also a member of the mint family, lemon balm is a relaxing herb prized for its ability to calm anxiety, slow a racing heart, and instill a feeling of serenity and peace. A few sprigs in a water bottle can calm nerves, and a tea made from either fresh or dried leaves is both delicious and slightly sedative. Like it’s other mint cousins, lemon balm spreads with joy, so be thoughtful where you plant it. We cut and dry our lemon balm at Three Leaf Farm to use in tinctures and teas during the rest of the year, and we’ve found that you really can never have too much of this plant.
Marigolds (Tagetes spp) – these pretty little orange or yellow flowers have a compound in them called Pyrethrum, which is used in many commercial insect repellents, and in controlled studies it’s been shown to be even more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitos. These little annuals are easy to start from seed, and make a great border for a garden or are easy to grow in pots. They come in many colors and sizes, and tend to be easy to grow and tolerant of many conditions. Marigolds will bloom faithfully from late spring all the way into the fall, so they make a wonderful addition to a garden border or to a potted arrangement.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – Yarrow is a common wildflower in Colorado, but has also been selectively bred for the garden. The wild variety tends to be smaller, with white flowers, while the garden varieties are taller, and tend to have either soft or hot pink flowers. All are useful as insect repellents, both in the garden and directly on the skin. The feathery leaves can be mashed and rubbed on the skin, or they can be infused in either vodka or vinegar as a spray to keep away mosquitos. The medicinal uses of yarrow are many, and it grows easily in the garden, so it’s a useful and attractive addition to any barn garden.
Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) – Citronella is a clumping grass. The oil has been used commercially in insect repellents and candles, and most people are familiar with it’s citrusy scent. It’s native to Southeast Asia, so here in Colorado, we can only grow it during the summer in pots, and it will die off during the winter. Plant some citronella in pots along with the geraniums, and you’ll have a lovely, bug repelling floral planter by the doors to the barn.
A recipe for a natural mosquito repellent
In a large, quart size mason jar:
½ cup fresh yarrow, chopped small
12 sprigs fresh pennyroyal, chopped small
12 sprigs fresh peppermint, chopped small
12 sprigs fresh peppermint, chopped small
Rind of one lemon, chopped into small pieces
Place all herbs into the jar.
Pour either vodka or apple cider vinegar over the herbs.
Place the lid on the jar, and allow it to steep/infuse for 6 weeks.
Strain and compost the herbs.
Add 25 drops each of lavender, citronella, lemongrass essential oils.
Put into spray bottle and use as needed.
[iii] Mitich, Larry W. (March 1992). “Tansy”. Weed Technology. 6: 242–4.
[iv] Mitich, Larry W. (March 1992). “Tansy”. Weed Technology. 6: 242–4.
[v] Pålsson K, Jaenson TG, Baeckström P, Borg-Karlson AK (January 2008). “Tick repellent substances in the essential oil of Tanacetum vulgare”. Journal of Medical Entomology. 45 (1): 88–93