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June 2017

Staying Positive in a Negative World

Lately, I’ve been asking myself how anyone can keep a positive outlook in today’s world. I’ll admit, this off-grid, homesteading life limits my exposure to the constant stream of news updates that most people are accustomed to these days. Yet, every time I get in the car or catch a glimpse of the news on TV there seems to be another terrorist attack or domestic shooting being reported. Just writing these words feels unnatural and makes my heartache. I’ve found it challenging to be my usual “glass half-full” self.

Luckily, not all hope is lost. (It never is!) I started asking myself, “What can I do to keep all of this negativity from bringing me down?” My answers to that question are pretty basic. They don’t require any financial costs and they can easily fit into a busy schedule with a little effort. There isn’t anything revolutionary about them. They are simple, and effective when practiced consistently. Give one (or all) a try and let me know what you think.

Tips for Staying Positive in a Negative World

Carefully select what you watch, listen to, and read.

This is very important. Most of us don’t realize how much of an effect the news we hear, watch, and read about has on how we feel. Be critical of what you allow your mind to focus on. Don’t close yourself off completely because the world needs you to be knowledgeable. But, find a trusted news source and limit the amount of information you take in each day. (Read more about trusted news sources here.)

Practice Meta (Loving Kindness) meditation to cultivate compassion.

The constant stream of negative news stories makes me think, “What terrible thing will happen next?” To combat this, I practice a form of meditation that breaks my heart open to the struggles of all people. I don’t want to be numb to the sad and scary parts of life. This practice asks you to repeat phrases wishing yourself and all others peace, health, and happiness. Click here to read more about this compassion practice.

Promote what you love, rather than putting down what you dislike.

Have you ever noticed how addicting it can be to talk about things that you don’t like, or things that make you feel angry? When I find myself doing this, I don’t walk away from a conversation feeling any better. I just spent all of this precious time focusing on something that I don’t like. Not only have I brought myself down, but I probably left the others in that conversation feeling pretty down, too.

I have this one life. I can either spend it being angry about the things I dislike or I can focus my energy on the things I love and know to be important. I’m going to choose the latter. In order to do that, I need to be sharing what I’m passionate about and find to be good in the world.  Spreading positive energy can be just as contagious if we give it a wholehearted try.

Practice being grateful, and reflect on the positives.

Gratitude is our greatest ally against negativity. Gratitude humbles us. It turns what we’ve been given into more than enough to sustain us. Practice finding things to be grateful for (it’s best to write them down) every day.

Another practice is to focus on the positive events in life (or in the world). The next time something happens to you (or someone else) that makes you feel happy, commit one minute of your time to reflecting on that good thing. All too often, something happens that makes us feel good but we don’t stop to soak it in. Give yourself that time to really feel your own happiness.

Take an electronics break.

Let’s face it. You know it’s good for you, but it is so difficult. We can’t live without the technologies of the modern world. But we can take a break from them. Start small if you need it. Take a walk (without your phone) and look for something you didn’t notice before. Read a book instead of watching TV before bed just one night a week. Even a little bit is something.

Listen to OnBeing.

If you need to listen to something while working, or as a replacement for TV in the evenings, I suggest a podcast called OnBeing. It aires on public radio once a week, and it’s free to download episodes to your computer. The host, Krista Tippett, interviews writers, philosophers, activists, scientists, doctors, various religious workers, and more. The central theme of each interview is to get a better understanding of what makes us human, and how we are all connected. I’ve found so much inspiration from these interviews, and I always walk away with the desire to be a better person. Check it out, I’d love to hear which episode you find most inspiring.

Do something.

Obviously, if you feel the world bringing you down, you can always find ways to do something to play your part in making it better. There are lots of different things you could do, and the internet is a helpful resource in finding ways to contribute. It’s best if you find an organization or a cause that you are passionate about. I’ve used VolunteerMatch as a way to find opportunities in the past.

I often wonder why I’ve been given this life and not a different one. Why do I live where I live? Why do I not worry when my next meal will be, or if my home will be attacked while I sleep? I don’t know why. But, I’ve been given many reasons to hope. I hope that all people can find this happiness and security, and I won’t let that hope go to waste. I share it because without hope, life would be meaningless.

These little suggestions are my techniques for remaining hopeful, and not giving in to the negativity that surrounds us. They really work for me when I practice diligently. You might have different methods that work for you, and that’s great. The important thing is that we are all doing our part to engage our minds and hearts with the world in an appropriate manner. Because simply put, that’s the only way anything will ever change for the better!

Making a Healing Plantain Oil

Summer is nearly here and the thought of farmer’s market melons and sweet corn is making my mouth water. I watch eagerly for the first signs of vibrant red tomatoes and peppers in the garden. Yet, with all of this outdoor activity my chance of being bitten or stung by something increases.

Don’t get me wrong-most bugs fascinate me. (Those on the “not-so-fascinating” list: ticks, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, roaches, mosquitoes, and the tiny gnats that fly in your eyes.) A day in the garden being interrupted by an irritation sting or bite is not particularly appealing.

To prepare for such an event, I need a quick, effective, and all-natural remedy to have on hand. Plantain, a medicinal herb, found nearly everywhere, is easy to identify and safe to use for a variety of health problems. (Read more about it’s superpowers here.) To relieve itchy, painful bites and stings, a plantain infused oil is superb. Preserving the plant’s healing and soothing properties within a skin-friendly oil turns your next first aid need into a much less daunting experience.

Making Plantain Oil
Collect your Materials

You will need:

  • oil (I use grapeseed oil because it is less greasy when applied topically; but you can also use coconut, olive, or apricot)
  • 2 glass jars with lids
  • plantain (either Ribwort or Greater Plantain; I like to mix them)
  • cheese clothe or a fine mesh strainer
  • drying rack (optional)
  • scissors
Gently was the dirt away.

Take a damp towel and brush each leaf, front and back. This will eliminate dirt from ending up in your oil.

Wilt-dry the leaves.

For several hours or overnight, lay the plantain leaves out to dry. Oil and water don’t mix, so letting the plant wilt-dry decreases it’s water content. The leaves don’t need to be completely dry, just limp and wilty. Of course you can use completely dried leaves if you wish. I placed mine on a drying rack on the screened-in porch overnight.

 

Cut the leaves, and cover with oil.

Chop or cut the leaves into small bits and cover with oil. The smaller you chop the plantain, the more you open the pieces to release their healing properties. Place the leaves inside the clean glass jar. Ideally, the jar will be filled to within an inch of the top-it just depends on how much plantain you collect. Pour the oil over your leaves filling up that inch of extra space in the jar.

The plant material will soak up some of the oil. If you notice that the plantain leaves stick up out of the oil, top off the jar with more oil at any point in this process.

Cap it, and let the sun do the work.

Put the lid on, and label your jar. Be sure to include the oil type used and the date this infusion was made. Set the jar in a sunny spot for four weeks. Keep it within sight so you remember to shake it a few times a day to keep everything mixed up.

After four weeks, sift the plantain out of the oil using cheese clothe or a strainer. Pour the oil into a glass jar and label your now ready-to-use healing oil. This will keep for some time if left in a cool, dark place. Be sure to check for rancidity from time to time. The smell will give it away! And don’t forget to compost the plantain leaves.

Plantain is such a wonderful (overlooked) resource for healing. Making my own plant medicine connects me intimately with nature, and helps grow my appreciation for the lovely plants growing all around. Now you, too, have a quick and effective remedy for the minor bites, stings, and scrapes that often accompany summertime fun. I hope you enjoy this wild crafting project and feel the sense of self-sufficiency that I do when making simple plant medicines.

(Note: This is the solar method for making plantain oil. I prefer it when making medicinal oils, however it will take four weeks for the oil to be ready, as it needs to sit in the sun for this length of time. For instructions for a quicker method check out this tutorial at Bella Vista Farms.)

 

 

 

Keeping it Simple with the Power of Plantain

I first encountered plantain as a child. I picked the broad leaves from my grandparents’ yard to feed their rabbits. Carefully plucking from the Earth, I would try for the entire stem. I imagined its purple tip was an extra tasty treat for those bunnies. At the time, I was oblivious at the time to the plant’s medicinal properties—or that humans could even use plants for healing. I simply enjoyed making friends with those rabbits as they nibbled the greens I stuck in their pen. This is a memory that comes to me when I see the plantain popping up throughout the yard today.

It’s easy to want to grow and craft with more exotic herbs than just the ones found in your backyard. I know this, because I seem to fall into this trap often. But, I don’t want to lose sight of the real magic of herbalism—which is most visible when I keep things simple. Sometimes I need to be reintroduced to a plant in order to regain my balance. It is the easily overlooked, but wonderfully common plantain that has helped me back there this time. Bringing to light this plant’s healing power will grant you a renewed appreciation and better health—for only the price of a little time and attention.

Plantain & It’s Powers

Greater Plantain (Plantago major) and Ribwort (Plantago lancelota) are the two primary species (of 250 found worldwide) that you’ll find in the yard, at parks, filling the cracks of concrete, or just about anywhere the Earth is trampled regularly. Plantain has been highly regarded throughout history for its cleansing properties. The Anglo Saxons even listed it as one of nine sacred herbs.

Plantago major or Greater Plantain

Plaintain’s most noted use early on was as a blood cleanser (alterative). Since then, we know that plantain does a lot more cleaning up of the body when given the opportunity to do so. Should you find worms plaguing the digestive tract, plantain can help to wipe them away when consumed as a tea. Furthermore, as a deobstruent, plantain has a drawing out effect on particles and substances not naturally found within the body. Examples of this would be splinters, bug bites, stings, or snake venom.

Plantago lanceolata or Ribwort

Plantain is a cooling, soothing herb. Perhaps this is why it is a go-to plant for healing wounds. In fact, it’s use is said to shorten recovery time on a variety of painful, irritating levels, such as bronchitis, sore throats, heavy menstrual cycles, and more. It will effectively ease poison ivy, along with any other infection that causes excessive heat in the body.

Using Plantain for Healing

All of these helpful benefits are wonderful, but to see them in action you have to know how to use the herb. For internal conditions (or if you’d like double strength when using externally) make a strong tea from plantain leaves by chopping them up and placing them in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Fill the jar with near boiling water and replace the lid. Let that stand for at least twenty minutes and then strain out the leaves before drinking. For internal issues it is suggest that you drink small amounts of tea frequently throughout the day.

Ribwort growing in the center of the driveway

My favorite way to use plantain for skin conditions is by making a salve. You could also extract the benefits into an oil and use that topically. Traditionally, plantain was used topically as a poultice. Simply mash (or chew) the plantain and place it on your bee sting for twenty minutes. The sting will be drawn out and the wound will be nourished with plantain’s lovely healing magic.

Plantain is easy to find, full of beneficial nutrients, and simple to use. Feeling silly for having overlooked this lovely plant, to work hard to get other herbs to grow, I am thankful for the gifts naturally provided. I can’t find an excuse for letting this “wayside weed” (considered by many today) remain unnoticed any longer. I hope you, too, will bring it into your home and let this wonderfully common plant find a new appreciation within your heart.