Friday, February 21, 2014

Homemade Liniment

Last fall I used up the last of my little 4 oz. bottle of Absorbine Jr. so I had Hubs pick me up a bottle on the way home from his workout.  As with everything else, the price has gone up (to $10 for a 4 oz. bottle.  OMG)..... I stared at that little bottle and thought, "This is ridiculous." 

Absorbine Jr. has an interesting history in that the original recipe (Absorbine Sr., if you will) was horse liniment.  Heh.  That doesn't bother me.  People love their horses in this part of Oklahoma.  I know what an investment a horse is.  And so if it's good enough for a horse, more than likely it's good enough for me.


'Nuff said?

The bottle label lists the botanicals it contains as absynthium oil, calendula, echinacea, wormwood, and thyme.  The active ingredient is "natural menthol", which is kind of vague, don't you think?  Mountain Rose Herbs sells "menthol crystals", which they say are made from the Mentha arvensis plant, also known as "Wild Mint".  So maybe this is what is meant by "natural menthol".

I Googled for a clone recipe for Absorbine Jr. and didn't come up with anything that looked right.  However, if you use "herbal liniment recipes" as your search term, you will find lots of options to choose from. 

Other ingredients are iodine, FD&C blue and yellow colors, and acetone.  Seriously?  Isn't acetone what's in fingernail polish and remover?  If you've ever spilled it on furniture, you know the remover works the same as paint and varnish remover.  *Sigh*.  I bet Wilbur and Mary Ida Young, the original formulators of this product, never put acetone or food coloring in theirs.  Maybe a little turpentine, though.  Hubs' parents put Turpentine on everything, back in the 1930's and 40's.  Even de-wormed their twelve kids with turpentine in a teaspoon of sugar.  Yikes.  I looked it up on WebMD HERE and well, I guess it IS a botanical. But the warnings about internal usage and especially the warnings for children are scarey.  It's just a pure-dee miracle Hubs and his eleven siblings survived their childhood!  It appears that Turpentine OIL is not the same thing as GUM turpentine, and WebMD does say the oil may be safe for adults to use externally or to inhale, but even so, I wouldn't have the guts to use it.  Where there are reviews that people have submitted, I always read them and one reviewer said they had better results using Arnica for a topical remedy for arthritis pain.  That reminded me that I have bought Arnica seeds and I think I've WinterSown them, but if I haven't I'm going to find the seed packet and make sure I get them planted.  The reviews for Arnica flowers are very positive.  HERE is what WebMD (and the reviewers) have to say about Arnica.

Back when I was a kid, most people didn't believe you absorbed anything from stuff you got on your skin. Those that did got laughed at by their doctor and most of the other people that they knew.  These days, though, even doctors know that it is so.  There is medication, for instance, to calm down nausea that comes in little vials and you rub it on your wrists, where they say your skin is thinnest.  There are some people who say if you have a bad cough that's keeping you from sleeping at night, you should rub Vicks VapoRub on the bottoms of your feet, put on warm socks, and then go right to bed.  I've heard the skin is thickest on the soles of your feet, so skin thickness must not be too much of an obstacle to absorption.  Just as skin takes in that which is on the outside, it emits it.  If you've ever been around people who eat a lot of garlic, you will know this already.  Come to think of it, seems like I heard of people infusing garlic in olive oil and rubbing it on their feet at night.  They said in the morning you'll have garlic breath.  Heh.

So, that being the case, WHY IN THE WORLD would anybody want to rub something like acetone on their skin? 

All the health issues aside, it just gripes me to pay a little over $10 for a 4 oz. bottle of herbal water plus artificial colors and some acetone, for Cripe's sake.

I bought a new jar of Icy Hot at WMT a month or two ago and IT was $5 and something.  I guess it's not enough that we're paying astronomical prices for prescription drugs, now the price of over-the-counter stuff has sky-rocketed too.  Hacks me off, big-time.  I like Icy Hot as a sore muscle rub and I have used Vicks as a chest rub for colds for years.  My mom used to use Vicks for everything.  I'm not going to concern myself today with what's in those, good or bad, though I think there are some petroleum products involved. (Wikipedia lists the ingredients in Vicks as "camphor, menthol, spirits of turpentine, eucalyptus oil, cedar leaf oil, myristica oil, thymol".  Nope.  Not going to address that right now.  But O.M.G......  I looked up myristica oil and that's from nutmeg and mace.  HERE is what WebMD has to say about that.

So last year I started casting around the Internet for an Absorbine Jr. clone recipe but never found one.  I had most of the herbs listed on the bottle, home-grown and already dried and stored away: Artemesia (Wormwood), culinary Sage (which I thought was high in Thymol), a little bit of Calendula, and some dried "Berries and Cream" mint that is decidedly camphor-tasting and nothing like I expected Berries and Cream mint to look or taste like.  I'm not even sure that's what it IS, it wouldn't be the first time I've been sold something that was other than what it was supposed to be.  But anyway, I thought it might be a good ingredient.

I just winged the recipe, heavy on the Wormwood, about half as much sage and mint.  Whatever I had of the Calendula.  A little Rosemary.  The only thing I had to buy was a bottle of the cheapest 100-proof vodka for my base and maybe I didn't even need to.  I could've just used cider vinegar or witch hazel, both of which have some healing properties in their own right.  Rubbing alcohol is another option but it's kind of harsh on the skin.  The vodka was $10, but I used just enough to cover the herbs once they pack down and that was only about half the bottle.  Of course this made a lot more than 4 ounces of liniment.  About a pint and a half, in fact.  Mom always used to say, "A pint's a pound the world around".  That's not the case for everything, but I think in this case it's pretty close.   

Once the herbs are infused in it, it is not drinkable because of the absinthe in the Artemesia.  Yes, I know some people do drink Absinthe, but that's their problem, not mine.  There are A LOT of things people consume that I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole.  I'm not a vodka drinker, anyway.  Having said that, however, I looked up Artemesia (wormwood) to see if it would be harmful if absorbed by the skin.  WebMD says absinthe is harmful to drink because it is distilled in alcohol, which increases the potency of the thujone that's present in the herb.  It didn't say anything about harmful effects of skin absorption.  So I just can't say.  For this reason, though, next time I'll not use vodka.  I'll use witch hazel or cider vinegar as the carrier instead.  There is mention on the Absorbine Jr. bottle that it contains "water".  I'm just not sure as to whether the solution would have very good keeping qualities if the carrier was water, even if it was distilled water.  Ever left a cup of tea somewhere and forgot about it for a few days?  Yuk!   There are several plants that are in the Artemesia family and Sweet Annie is another one of them.  I love the way Sweet Annie smells, and some came up volunteer in the garden last year.  I looked it up on WebMD and didn't see the same warnings for it that I saw for Wormwood.  

So here's the concoction, in vodka, after a couple days.  One wouldn't want to take too deep a whiff!  Hoo-Weee!  Pretty strong-smelling stuff!  The liquid is already copper-colored.  This is a two-quart jar, by the way.  It needs to sit like this for about six weeks.  The herbs soaked up some of the vodka so I had to add a little more every now and then, to keep the herbs covered.

Now that I've had it about a year, I can attest to the fact that it does feel every bit as good when rubbed on sore muscles, as "the real thing", at least to me.  I've also used it on rashes and insect stings.  When my wounds were healed from arthroscopic knee surgery, I rubbed some on my knee from time to time when it was feeling sore.  It was very comforting, I don't know if it was from the liniment or maybe it was just the rubbing action.

I have told Hubs many times, if I ever were to become rich, I'd have fresh, line-dried sheets on my bed every night and I'd get a massage every day.

Maybe it was just the vodka going through my skin into my bloodstream.  Heh.

I filled the empty Absorbine Jr. bottle that had a sponge applicator and kept the rest in a glass quart canning jar with a tight lid.  Store it out of the light and heat, but it isn't necessary to keep it refrigerated.  If I didn't have the little applicator bottle, and eventually I won't because the sponge will wear out, I'd just use one of those small complexion sponges to apply it.  The bottle is on its second refill and I've still got about half a jar left.  I wouldn't see any need to add yellow and blue food coloring, would you?

I found the yellow stickie where I wrote down the amounts of what I used, and here it is:

16 grams dried peppermint leaves  (I used orange mint, which tastes and smells medicinal, and not anything like orange or mint.  I'm told it's also called "perfume mint".  I've ordered seeds for Mountain Mint, which is said to be "camphor-ey" and was used by the mountain folk in teas and salves for coughs and sore throats.  If it grows well here on the prairie, I might use that instead in the future.)
32 grams dried artemesia leaves (I used Wormwood, specifically)
16 grams dried sage leaves*
5 grams dried calendula flowers (but I would've used 16 if I'd had it)
6 grams dried rosemary leaves (I might up that to 10 grams)
vodka to cover, about a quart (or witch hazel, cider vinegar, rubbing alcohol)

*I used the sage in the place of thyme, because I didn't have any thyme.  Now I have oregano which contains almost as much Thymol as thyme.  (I'm trying to grow thyme but not having much luck yet.  Of course I could always order some from Penzey's.) 

I thought about using Echinacea, since it was on the list of contents, but as I researched it, I just didn't see that it would be all that effective in a sore muscle rub.

Iodine was on the list but here again, I just didn't think it was necessary.  When I was a kid, every medicine chest had a little bottle of iodine in it.  We called it "monkey blood".  Sometimes my nephews would hurt themselves on purpose so they could have some smeared on.  Iodine stains whatever it touches and it feels kind of sticky when dry.  WebMD says it's used to kill germs and the only other use for skin that it lists is for treating diabetic ulcers.  Nope.  Not going in THAT direction.  But it's funny how things in households change over the years.  When I was raising my kids and grandkids, Hydrogen Peroxide was our go-to for cuts and scrapes.  Kids like that too, because it bubbles.  Kids.  Gotta love 'em.

I also had some dried Comfrey that I might've used, but you aren't supposed to use Comfrey on deep wounds and though I intended to use the liniment for sore muscles, and maybe minor cuts, scrapes or stings, I wanted to get more information first.  The jury's still out and WebMD says it causes liver damage when taken internally, but there are many anecdotal comments of its healing properties to the skin, reduction of swelling, and pain relief from arthritis.  I think I'll include some next time, but my Caveat would be that you educate yourself and do what you feel comfortable with.  For sure, I'd feel more comfortable putting Comfrey on my skin than Acetone.  Or Turpentine.  But that's just me.

It's funny how the medical community gets so up in arms over possible harmful side-effects in herbs, yet the pharmaceutical industry always has a list of side-effects as long as your arm for their lab-created medicines and that's just those they KNOW about.  After they've been used by us (aka guinea pigs) for awhile, the list gets longer and sometimes the drug is completely taken off the market.  In the doctor's office, nobody even TELLS you about the "known side-effects", they just write out the prescription.  You have to hear about that on the TV commercials.  OMG!  Liver Damage, Anal Leakage, Heart Attack or Stroke, Blindness, and we all know about that one side-effect that you have to see your doctor for immediately if it lasts longer than four hours. 

So if you want to make your own liniment, maybe this will be enough to get you your wheels turning.

HERE is the WebMD information about Artemesia (Wormwood).  And HERE for Artemesia (Sweet Annie).
HERE is what WebMD says about Peppermint.
HERE is what WebMD says about Rosemary.
HERE is what WebMD says about Calendula.
HERE is what WebMD says about Thyme.  I used sage because I didn't have any thyme, and turns out it was not as good a choice as an alternative as oregano might've been.  HERE is what WebMD says about Oregano.

As with everything, if you decide to try making your own liniment, do your homework and know what the properties of the herbs you use are.  Once made, use cautiously at first, watching for any signs of sensitivity.  Some people are allergic or at least highly sensitive to certain herbs.  Don't use if you are pregnant or breast feeding.  Herbs are natural medicine and should be used with care. 

Hugs to all  XOXOXO

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Preparation For The Coming Garden Year

The time is coming up now when most of us will be getting very busy on good days and twiddling our thumbs on days when it's too cold, or raining (hopefully), or the ground's too wet to mess with, or when we still have energy left in the evening (yeah, like THAT's gonna happen at OUR house....).

There are lots of things that need doing that don't require us to be outside.  They can, in fact, be done all winter long, depending on what inside work spaces you have.  If you think ahead a little, I'll bet you can come up with several do-ahead projects, depending on your resources and your needs.

It's a good time to clean out the pantry, defrost the freezer, and maybe even cook double- and triple-batches of main dishes and desserts, stowing the extra away into the freezer for those days when you don't want to have to come in from the garden to cook.

Of course you can do your garden planning now.  And you can start seeds for cold-weather crops.  In fact the window for that is beginning to close for our zone (Zone 6a).  It's also closing for Wintersowing, though the "baby-sitting" part of that project is nearing.  Lots of people here are buying and planting onion plants and even the extension agency had an article in the local paper saying it's time to plant potatoes here.  I don't agree.  I really don't plan to put ANYTHING into the garden until early March.   When you say "Oklahoma" to people, they automatically think of weather like it is in the southern part of the state.  That's Zone 7, and if you go south far enough, there's even some Zone 8.  But our part of Oklahoma is in the northeastern corner.  We're almost in Kansas, and fairly close to Arkansas and Missouri.  In fact, we're considered part of the Ozarks region. 

I've been washing styrofoam seedling cups that I brought in from the shed.  I won't buy any more of them, but I will use what I do have until they are no longer useable.  I don't like having to store them, nor do I like having to wash them before I can use them again.  So much better to make paper cups that will be buried with the seedling still in it.  I don't imagine I will have any trouble getting newspaper to make them from, at least till all the newspapers are no longer printed because of going digital, which I don't see happening till a bunch more of us Baby Boomers kick the bucket.

Last week when the power was off for a couple of hours, I sat at the dining room table and made a stack of seedling pots.  If you don't open them out until you're ready to use them, you can store a lot of them in a box.  The link to the instructions on how to make these newspaper pots are on a previous post, called "Burying Flower Pots In The Garden". 

On those days when the ground is not frozen, I'm digging up buckets of soil out of one of the raised beds we're going to be moving, and bringing them into the garage.  Every time I need to mix up a new batch of seedling mix, I can bake ("sterilize") a couple of pans of it and save having to buy bags of inferior "compost".

If you have a garage or shed to work in, now is the time to make tomato cages.  You might want to try making the reinforcement-wire tomato cages like the ones that we used last summer.  The beauty of reinforcement wire is that it's about the sturdiest wire you can get for the money.  I like how, at 5' wide, there is enough to cut off the horizontal piece along the bottom of the roll of wire so that will leave "prongs" about 6" long to stick into the earth and help stabilize the cage, and the cage is still tall enough to support most indeterminate tomato plant varieties.  After having used them last summer, I can tell you that I was able to push the cage down into the ground all the way up to the next wire which made for a pretty stable cage.

Our cages were kind of mis-shapen because we had to use wire that came in a roll.  We could bend out the curve, but no matter what we did, we could not straighten them out well enough so the hooks down that one side would match up very well with the spaces they were supposed to hook into.  They were always coming loose and then catching in inconvenient places.  I think this summer I will close those hooks into a loop with the pliers and I will tie the open side closed, maybe only in two or three places, by running a wire or a twist-tie through the loop and then wrapping it around the side it's supposed to connect to.  Other than that, they worked great and contrary to the comment from Hubs about how they'll rust away during the first summer, anyway (Oh, the negativity!), they were still in good condition by the end of the summer and they all folded up well and were easy to stack.

I might also add that what I said about the bolt cutter still holds, and in fact, I used it a lot last summer.  Some of those small wire tomato cages had bottom wire sections that were as much as 2 feet long.  They would only go into the ground so far and then the cage was wobbly because it was so top-heavy.  I guess manufacturers added that length to make us think the cage would work for bigger tomato plants and in fact it's just the other way around.  So I used the bolt cutter to shorten some of those ends, the part that pokes down into the ground, to uniform length.  I think about a foot is plenty.  We also used it to cut through those heavy stock panels when Hubs made the trellis over The Fraidy Hole. 

My initial inspiration was THIS You-Tube tutorial.  This man has an advantage that we didn't have, and that is that he can get concrete reinforcement wire in flat sheets.  All we could find locally was in rolls.  This is a problem because the makers and sellers of these rolls don't care how they handle them and aside from each piece having a curve in it that has to be flattened out, you have to waste a good bit of it that's on the inner part of the roll because it gets progressively crooked as you unroll.  So if you can get reinforcement wire in sheets, do that, even if they do cost a little more, because you will not have any waste.
Hubs and I have made tomato cages out of other stuff.  We made some out of PVC pipe.  They were just OK.  And expensive to make because of all the little elbows and tees they need.  We had some we bought at a garage sale to start with, which eased the pain some.  The thing I didn't like about them was there was too much open space for the tomato to lean outside of the cage.  When this happens and the tomato plant gets big, it will tip over the cage. I like that they come apart for storage but they are a pain to take apart and put together, that's a project in itself.  I followed Bob Matney's instructions but now there are a lot of PVC variations on You-Tube.  You can do a search on "PVC Tomato Cages" and see all of them if you're interested.  Mostly now I use my PVC cages around baby trees we've planted out on The North Fourth.  Being white, they stick out like a sore thumb.  Anyone can see where the trees are and not drive or back up over them.  And if the tree dies we have the hole marked so we can replant.  Every tree that's planted out here has to have rock excavated from a big ol' hole, so we don't want to lose that hole.  I'm told PVC will disintegrate out in the hot sun after awhile, but I've used these outside every year for probably five years now and they still are just as strong as ever.

Two summers ago, we paid $100 for a big roll of wire fencing at Lowe's, but the wire is just too bendy and lightweight.  The dang cages were blowing over all. the. time.  We didn't have the garden fenced yet and so the dang things went visiting our neighbors a lot more than we do.   One summer I mostly used them laying on their sides to spread shade cloth over, or tucked in under things that were getting floppy, for extra support.  Or covered with orange barricade fence to keep the chickens out of things.  (The spaces between the holes were so far apart that if the barricade fence material wasn't draped over them, those silly chickens would just walk right through the holes.)  Or staked along the edges of my zinnia bed during my garage sale to keep people from walking on my baby zinnias.
I have lots of the small tomato cages that inexperienced gardeners buy to support their tomatoes and then find them woefully inadequate and put them in their garage sales.  Atwoods puts them on sale every spring for about a dollar apiece, but the used ones at garage sales go for a quarter or so.  While these aren't that great for tomatoes, they are wonderful for lots of other things.  Peppers, for instance.  They are decent for tomato plants that stay relatively small, like paste tomatoes, allowing you to save the big cages for plants that get bigger.  I like that they nest into one another for storage.  Mark them well, or spray paint them with an easily seen color if you're going to use them in unexpected places.  Our postman, who liked to cut through my zinnia bed rather than use the sidewalk (when we lived in town), would tell you they are not fun to get tangled up in.  Nor is it good for the tomato cage, which you will find laying in your yard all bent up or flattened.

I posted the next few paragraphs on the old blog and so some of you will have already seen the next few paragraphs.  But for those that didn't, here it is:
I am really enjoying owning a bolt cutter!  MVC-024SSeriously, why have we not owned one before this??  This small one pinches through heavy wire, like stock panel and concrete reinforcement wire, in just one quick motion.  I took it out to the driveway and cut all the sections for our triangular, folding tomato cages.  Good thing we experimented with some old round ones we took apart first, because following the specifications given in that You-Tube demonstration I found left a little to be desired.  Each section is cut right up against one vertical wire, so that each piece has all the sticky-outy wires on only one side.  The fella doing the demo recommended one section with two squares and a side of sticky-outies and two sections with three squares and a side of sticky-outies.  We decided it made a better cage to make them all the same, three squares and a side of sticky-outies. MVC-025S(The ends of the sticky-outie wires are then bent into a little hook that attaches to the straight side of the next piece.)  When it's all together it looks like each panel has 4 squares.  Pinch down the hooks on two sides so they're permanently in place but still loose enough to work like a hinge and leave the hooks loose enough on one side so you can easily get them apart.  That way, they fold flat when not in use.  Oh, and you cut the bottom horizontal wire off so that it makes stickie-outie wires that will poke down into the ground to stabilize the cage when it's in place.  Now isn't this just the coolest idea?  Hubs bought a 150-foot roll of 5' wide CRW for about $95.  I don't know how many that'll end up making, I'll estimate about 35.  It takes a little doing to bend the end hooks small enough.  Hubs, who has nearly every tool known to mankind, found a pair of Diamalloy pliers that he bought at a garage sale for a dollar sometime back.  MVC-031SI just found one on eBay listed for $8.  They call it a "cowboy fencing tool".  But anyway, there are two holes on the head of it, and the hole nearest the outside edge is just right to bend the right size loop.  MVC-029SThe tool is forged steel so it stands up to the job without breaking, too.  MVC-030SThese cages are a little work to make but they should last for as long as we need them to, be a lot easier to store, and I won't have to be weighting them down with rocks to keep them from falling over or blowing away. 

Well, this is about all for this time.  There are things to do and I'm burning my daylight.  .......Are you?