Treehuggers are green environmental machines

I am always looking for websites that give me ideas on how to make my lifestyle more environmentally GREEN. And Treehuggers is one such site. It came to me from another wonderful website and newsletter from Wendyl Nissen the Green Goddess.

The Treehuggers site offers reports such as:

The site is also full of discussions about the validity of ‘green’ claims and information on the best and worst products to use if you want to move towards a sustainable lifestyle. Now that I have found it (thanks, Wendyl) I will be returning regularly.

Fair Trade or Local Trade?

One of the issues I regularly debate in my mind is whether to by Fair Trade items from Third World countries or follow the premise of buying locally produced food or items, even if they cost more. My thinking goes like this:

Pro’s for Fair Trade –

  • I am helping Third World producers by paying a fair price for their goods
  • I am increasing the number of job opportunities in countries with struggling populations
  • I am supporting ethically-driven aid agencies make changes in Third World countries

Pro’s for Local Trade –

  • I am supporting local people earn a living
  • I am reducing transport pollution miles by limiting my choices to what grows in my local area
  • I am more likely to know if the food is organically grown (chemical-free)

Herbal teas

Even in my search for herbal teas I can make from plants I grow myself has brought up these issues. If I limit my tea flavours to local plants, I reduce my ‘demand’ for teas grown in places like China and India (although neither can be said to be Third World in the classic sense of the word). But by not buying classic teas (even if they are packaged in my own country) I reduce those transport miles.

Should I be thinking globally and acting locally; or is that merely a trite saying that has little meaning in a global economy? I’d really like to hear what you think.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

How to dry herbs for teas

I have been experimenting with a number of teas and herbal tea blends looking for useful (medicinal) and flavoursome teas. Of course, you can make lovely teas from fresh herbs and they look great in the cup.


The trouble with fresh herbs is that they are not available all year. The next best option is to dry them for using later.

Retaining the flavour

Because herbs get their scents and flavours from their essential oils you need to take care to dry them in a way that keeps that flavour and oil intact. Essential oils are extremely volatile and will evaporate easily when exposed to light and heat. This is important to remember when picking them and drying them.

You key aim when drying herbs is to do it:

  • Quickly to avoid mould
  • Away from light
  • Without applying too much heat

If you are collecting herbs for drying from your own garden, harvest them in the morning when their oil content is at its highest. However, wait until any dew has evaporated. Overnight, the plants replenish the essential oils they gave up during afternoon heat.

Some herbs do not dry well and are best preserved by other methods. Herbs that do not dry well include parsley, coriander, rosemary, chives and basil. These herbs keep their flavours when made into herbal oils and vinegars which can be used in cooking rather than in teas.

Drying Leafy Herbs

During the winter our wood burner is going almost constantly. I have hastened the drying process by using a roasting tray on the top of the stove, but this is probably not the best option.


Above: New Zealand Kawakawa leaves drying out on the stove

A better way is to hang the herbs, leaves down, with stems held together with a rubber band. Hang the herbs where they can dry away from direct light or heat. After a week they should be crispy-dry and the leaves should crumble easily off the stems.

Strip the leaves from the stems. Crumble them in your hands before storing the dried herbs in tightly covered glass jars, again away from direct light or heat. You can use a mortar and pestle but be careful not to crush the herbs into powder. Just as some cheaper teas are unpleasantly dusty, herbal teas will also become ‘dusty’ if over-worked.


A mortar and pestle can be used to crumble herb leaves for teas. The leaves above are the dried tea made from the kawakawa leaves.

Using a slow oven

If you cannot wait for your herbs to dry naturally, or they are taking longer than a week to dry, put them in your oven on the lowest temperature for no longer than 5 minutes.  Let the herbs cool at room temperature for 5 minutes before transferring to jars.

Drying Herbs in a Dehydrator

Drying herbs in a dehydrator has the advantage of being relatively quick. I have, however, found the dehydrator I bought took ages (and several hours of electricity) before the herbs were dried enough to be crumbled. Drying close to the fire was far more effective. However, here are some tips:

  • Strip larger leaves from the stems (e.g. lemon balm, mint and sage)
  • Leave small-leafed herbs on the stem (e.g. thyme)
  • Make sure herbs are spread thinly over the tray so they dry evenly
  • Dry at 95F/35C until crispy-dry. This will take 2-8 hours depending on the thickness of the leaves and the humidity in the air
  • Check every 2 hours to see if the herbs are dry yet

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

All it takes is an earthquake

Only people who have lived through a major disaster, like the Christchurch Earthquake of 2011, can understand the subtle changes in outlook and fortune these natural events make in your life. Even if you are only affected in a minor way your outlook on the certainty of life is forever changed.

How Christchurch looked before the Earthquake of 2011


Major disasters affect your life because they disrupt your income: your business or your employment or the market in which you offer products and services. If you no longer have premises to work in, what can you do? In the Christchurch earthquake many buildings were unsafe to work in, so businesses scrambled to relocate – moving into residential buildings that were often unsuitable for their commercial purpose. Or they doubled-up with other businesses which added stresses because of the lack of space. The stress levels of the whole community rose along with the fear as the city was rocked by countless aftershocks.

The changes in location made it hard to reach former clients: electronic and hardcopy records were lost or unable to be retrieved when unsafe buildings were officially blocked off to access by owners and tenants. Even though many businesses showed huge resilience in getting back down to business they had to:

  • Re-establish contacts with suppliers who had also moved elsewhere
  • Locate replacement products and electronic equipment and …
  • Wrestle with Insurance companies, which were also dealing with re-locations of their own and struggling under the enormity of the disastrous earthquake

Large companies survive disasters, like earthquakes, because they have reserves of cash/investments they can call on to buy new leases. They are also attractive as new tenants and can negotiate deals.

Small businesses, especially service businesses, are not so lucky. Their reserves have often been used to set up in the first place and are constantly being re-invested into the business to establish a sound financial footing. When the ground is literally shaken from under them, their viability is also threatened. Business life has to change.

I was heartened to come across this website of a Tanya Townsend, a Clinical Medical Herbalist, whose livelihood was destroyed by the earthquake, but who is now using and marketing her knowledge in a different way. She has set up Naturalus –  a natural health online store and I love the philosophy behind her medicinal herb products. And there are herbal products designed to help you cope with stress.

Not only has Tanya gone online (her Facebook site is here), she has also gone back to grassroots marketing by regularly meeting her customers face-to-face at a local (farmers) market in Riccarton, Christchurch. Good on you, Tanya, for being a survivor, even though life will never be the same.

Heather Sylvawood – Amazon Author:

How can you keep your young skin beautiful?

Have you noticed the advertisements for lotions and potions aimed at the Baby Boom  generation? They all promise a return to a youthful skin. We grandmas could be enticed to spend mega-bucks to regain our youthful looks, if we were convinced about the benefits of looking young for our age. And I guess, our grandchildren could be taken in too – convinced that if they don’t start now they’ll look as old as Grandma when they retire. So let’s look at the beliefs behind all that Youth in a Bottle hype.

  1. First: The truth is most grandmas do not feel they need to look less than their age. Lines, especially laugh lines, are a badge of honour. Celebrities, however, know that the advance of lines on the face and body means a reduction in take home pay (unless you’re Judi Dench who manages to look fabulous working those facial lines). That’s why female actors take on these awful advertisements that mostly line (lol) the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies.
  2. Second: Only expensive lotions and potions continually applied will stop aging. Actually, aging of the skin is natural and depends on inherited DNA which dictates whether you have a dry skin or an oily one. Young people with oily skins should rejoice. Their skin will be less likely to show lines as they age – if that is what they want, or don’t want.
  3. Third: Chemical sunscreen is the best barrier against sunburn and cancer. Actually, there are some cheap and sensible things you can do to care for your skin so that it is not put under unnecessary stress while out in the sun.
  4. Fourth: Pharmaceutical-produced products for the skin have been tested and found to be safe. Actually, they may contain chemicals that can cause allergies and actually harm some skins.

Is a tan okay?

Okay, most of us look better with a tanned skin – no argument here. However, some skins take a tan safely and other fairer skins simply burn. Susceptible skins may do more than burn, they may grow skin cancers. Sensible thing is to protect your skin before going out to the beach or pool party.

So how do you choose good protection?

Some commercially developed sunscreens are advertised as being anti-aging! (Now why is Grandma not surprised?) These sunscreens usually contain Vitamin A which is an anti-oxidant, one of those buzz-words in health care. In medical use Vitamin A is applied to the skin to improve wound healing, reduce wrinkles, and to protect the skin against UV radiation. But take a look at this report: The Problem with Vitamin A. The cure may be worse than the cause.

Unfortunately, recognising Vitamin A in a sunscreen list of ingredients is not that easy. It goes by various names including: 3-Dehydroretinol, 3-Déhydrorétinol, Acétate de Rétinol, Antixerophthalmic Vitamin, Axerophtholum, Dehydroretinol, Déhydrorétinol, Fat-Soluble Vitamin, Oleovitamin A, Palmitate de Rétinol, Retinoids, Rétinoïdes, Retinol, Rétinol, Retinol Acetate and others.

Sensible people might then decide to go the totally natural way and make their own. Here is a sunscreen recipe gleaned from ‘The make-your-own Cosmetic & Fragrance Book’, by Elizabeth Franke. An updated version of the original book is available here:

Franke’s sunscreen recipe uses:
⦁    1 cup lanolin
⦁    ¼ cup sesame oil
⦁    ¾ cup very strong tea, made with 3 tsp of tea and infused for 20 minutes
Method: Blend the ingredients together in an electric blender while the tea is slowing poured in.

Unfortunately, some people are allergic to lanolin, which is an oil extracted from sheep’s wool. So try the lanolin on a sensitive but less exposed part of your anatomy before making up the sunscreen. If you go too long under the sun, then there is always this Sun-soothing Lotion to be applied.

Sun-soothing Lotion
⦁    2 tbsp cucumber
⦁    2 tbsp room warm milk
⦁    2 tbsp very strong tea
⦁    2 tbsp witch hazel
Method: The cucumber is pulped and squeezed through a cloth, then stirring all the time the milk, tea and finally witch hazel is added.  

Witch Hazel Essential Oil

Witch hazel certainly sounds rather on the edge, but it turns out to be an essential oil, extracted from the Witch Hazel tree. No doubt Wise Medicine Women have used its healing properties for centuries and it can be bought as an essential oil from a number of different online stores like Medshop Express (click the picture to link).

I think the lesson to be learned is that there are cheap, effective alternative natural remedies to pharmaceutical medicines. However, just as with allergies to chemical medicines, some people may be allergic even to natural materials. Testing on a small area of skin is essential before use, but at least you can be sure no animals will have been harmed in the testing.
Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author