Aug 14, 2010

How to Make a Smudge Stick and What to Do With It

I just got a bunch of fresh sage from my Mom's garden today -- I mean there's a ton! My plan is to make a smudge stick -- or several! A few weeks ago I got two fairly big stems of sage (also from my Mom's garden) and dried them in the 'traditional manner' by hanging them upside down for several days in a well ventilated place. To do this, get some thread or string that's thick enough to work with easily; yarn is what I used to hang mine. Wrap the stems of the sage with the yarn several times and tie together tightly. Flip the bundle upside down, and string it up someplace out of the way so you aren't running into it all the time! Hooks or rods, such as for many curtains, are good places for this. In several days, your sage will be dried and ready to use. The first time I dried sage, I just chopped it up, and placed it in a mason jar to either burn on charcoal (for incense) or use in a smudging bowl with other herbs. Either way, sage is excellent for protection and clearing away negativity. Make sure you label your jars or bottles clearly so you don't accidentally forget what's inside!

A Bit of Folklore
Traditionally in the old days, people would use the kitchen area for drying herbs and the like. The hanging of garlic was customary to ward off evil spirits -- hung above or near a doorway, it was thought to form a protective barrier between you and anything trying to gain entry that you desired to keep OUT. Smudging with sage, cedar, or sweetgrass can accomplish this, also. The smoke produced is very cleansing and liberating for mind, body and soul. It can be used to mark a barrier (like your property line) if burned as you walk the perimeter of your home. Sage is also excellent in meditation, holiday celebrations, house blessings/cleanings (or, just because you feel like it!). Sage has long been used in Western magical traditions to aid in both ritual and worship. Of course, sage always makes me think of Native American Indians, whose great Earth wisdom originally taught us the secrets of sage. Tobacco is also considered a sacred plant, and was used for smoking and ritual in much the same manner.

How to Make a Smudge Stick
You will need:
Twine or string, color of your choice
Sage, cedar, or other herbs of your choosing
Newspaper (if using for drying)

1. Decide how long you want your smudge stick to be. For a 5" smudge stick, you will need to cut about 10 1/2" of string for wrapping. Having a little extra means you can always trim away the excess string at the end!

 2. Select two, three or four fairly long branches to use for your stick (about 4 - 5"  for a large one or 2 -3" for a smaller one).  If your sage is longer than that, you can cut it to the length you want. The number of branches used is entirely up to you -- it's really about significance or just personal preference. If you want a very thick smudge stick, you may need even more branches!

3. Leaving the leaves attached, place the thickest branches together in the middle, with most of the leaves facing outward. Putting the branches together in the center will allow the smudge stick to have more stability once it dries.

4. Wind the string tightly around the bundle, starting at the bottom and working up to the top. As you do this, use the hand not holding the string to lightly squeeze the bundle, flattening any leaves down. It also helps if you periodically rotate the stick as it comes together, making the wrapping process altogether much easier. Squeezing also keeps any stray leaves from coming loose or sticking out the sides of the bundle. **Leave a bit of space (about an inch or so) at the top so you can easily light the tip of the stick without catching the string on fire!**

5. Then, with the remaining length of string, wind back around the stick (rotating it as you go) in a criss-cross manner, until you reach the bottom again.

6. Wind the string around near the bottom several times so it doesn't come apart. Tie the two string ends together, or just overlap them as you wind it, making certain they are secure!

*EXTRA STEP*   7. Lastly, trim the top portion of your smudge stick flat with scissors or a knife: this supposedly helps the smudge burn easier, although I'm guessing this depends on personal preferences yet again  :)  I left my first stick in its 'natural' state, which I sort of like -- it's a bit more organic that way!

As you read above, you can dry your new smudge stick either by hanging it upside down, or by wrapping in newspaper for several days (sometimes as long as a week, depending on humidity levels).

How to Burn your Smudge Stick
Light the tip of the stick well. Make sure the sage has plenty of air for the flame to really get going. Allow the sage to smolder. Use a feather or other fanning device (your hands work just as well) to direct the smoke where you'd like it to travel. Inhale the smoke lightly as you visualize all negativity leaving your body and environment.

To easily put out the smudge, have a plate (or traditionally, an abalone shell) filled with a bit of sand nearby. When you are finished, put the sage out in the sand by lightly tamping it down until extinguished. Stored properly, a sage stick can last for years of use!

Some Ways to Use Your Smudge Stick
Burn to help guide you in meditation
Use during ritual, worship or prayer
Cleansing yourself/others
Cleansing your home indoors
  Cleansing your property outdoors
  Sage is a wonderful offering for your god/dess , as are many fragrant incenses

Aug 9, 2010

Light Requirements Rule of Thumb

Here’s a basic guide for plant light requirements, both indoors and out. My list defines what sun and shade really means, gives a corresponding direction, and offers plants suited to that location! I hope it helps!

Full Sun = 5 + hours of sunlight per day which falls on the plant’s leaves and causes a distinct, sharp shadow behind the plant. Watch for sunburn! Water plant often *unless it has low watering requirements.* Plants like Jade and Aloe don't need a lot of water, even in the summertime! If your plant sits outside in a full sun location, it just might need water every day!
Direction: South
Plants: Cacti, Jade Plant, Echeveria, Croton, Venus Flytrap, Aloe Vera, Chrysanthemum, Sansevieria, Basil, Marigold, most roses

Partial Sun = 3 - 4 hours of sunlight per day, causing a shadow behind the plant. Be cautious of sunburn, water your plant fairly frequently (especially a Peace Lily!)
Directions: Southwest, West
Plants: Peace Lily, Majesty Palm, Norfolk Island Pine, Coleus, Sansevieria, Wormwood, Mugwort, Parlor Palm, Philodendrons

Indirect Sun = 2 - 3 hours of sun per day that’s not falling directly on the leaves, but is rather diffused – obscured by a tree’s leaves or some other object directly in front of the plant. Light in these locations is often diffused or reflected off walls and never direct. Shadow cast is fairly weak
Direction: East
Plants: Pothos, Spider Plant, Lucky Bamboo, Warneckii Dracaena, Janet Craig Dracaena, Palms, African Violet, Sansevieria, Philodendrons, Begonias

Shade = About 1 - 2 hours of sunlight per day, which does not cause a shadow on the plant. Light in these locations is often diffused or reflected off walls and never direct. A window, if present may be far away, such as in a basement environment. Wet soil will take longer to dry out in less sun, so soggy conditions are dangerous!
Direction: North, Northeast
Plants: Sansevieria, Cast Iron Plant, Chinese Evergreen, Ferns, Philodendrons

Full Shade = Less than 1 hour of sunlight per day. No shadow is cast by the plant.
Direction: North
Plants: Belladonna, Persian Shield

Here’s a quick test to be certain of the light levels around your plants: During the day, place your hand between the nearest light source and the plant you want to test. If your hand casts a deep shadow over the plant, you have full or partial sun. If the shadow is less obvious, the light is indirect. If there is little to no shadow, your plant is located in a shaded area. Follow individual plant rewquirements, especially for watering, and only use this information as a general guide. The only way to truly know how your plant will react once in your home is to keep an eye on it -- if it appears to be doing well, don't change a good thing!

If you suspect your plant needs less light, you don’t necessarily need to move the plant to another room altogether. Simply move it back from the light source by a few feet: you will be surprised by the effect!

Peace Lily

Pretty Plant
The Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum cochlearispathum-- or Spath for short) has large, oval shaped leaves and white, dainty flowers when in bloom.  My Peace Lily proves time and again its need for LOTS of fresh water. While it does prefer potbound conditions to bloom regularly, this makes watering even more important!  Not only will a pot bound plant "slow down" even during its growing season (usually Spring or Summer), but it will require vast amounts of H2O simply because of a large root system.  A plant that already likes water ((which is also pot bound)) will certainly put a major crimp in your organized, perfectly 'syncd same-day-every-week watering schedule!  Peace Lily likes a lot of water and will require a bit more attention....this I cannot overstate by any means! Give your plant a regular shower every once and a while, both to clean the leaves and boost humidity.

Even so, Peace Lily will fascinate you with its beautiful greenery and pleasant flowers -- if it blooms for you, the chances are your plant enjoys its current location and the light it’s receiving.  An east or west window will do nicely, but a northern exposure will suffice.  Avoid a southern window due to Spath's quick-to-sunburn temperament. In case of sunburned leaves, move the plant away from the window by 3 or 4 feet.  Allow it to still receive good light but not direct sun (See my post about Light Requirements). Peace Lily is well known for it air cleaning abilities, so having one nearby is certainly a plus! Since plants give off oxygen (essential to humans) and absorb CO2 (carbon dioxide), a human waste product, breathing on your plants as you groom or water them is an excellent idea! As you can see, in this way there's a certain symbiotic relationship between the plant kingdom and humankind!

Leaf Tipping
To avoid leaf tipping, use distilled water or rainwater, which can be easily collected: just set out a bowl or deep container outdoors when it rains and then transfer it to a clean milk jug. The chemicals present in our tap water often cause tipping issues! If you'd prefer to not use rain water, use tap water; but keep scissors handy -- snip off brown leaf tips when they appear, cutting just below the healthy green tissue. Cutting into the plant's green section will only cause more tipping! If you absolutely cannot stand tipping, look to plants with rounded leaves only. These plants tip rarely, if at all. Plants with pointed leaves are the most likely to tip. Keep this in mind when you head out to plant shop!

Aug 6, 2010

Amaretto Sour Recipe

I know this post has little to do with plants, except maybe the cherries which are grown on trees...LOL. But this was so tasty, I couldn't resist sharing it with you! From now on, look for more great recipes (plant based or otherwise) throughout my blog. Also, click on the recipes label (on the main page) for easier access!

My Amaretto Sour Recipe

You'll need:

A martini shaker
A shot glass
Maraschino cherries
Mr. Boston Amaretto (or Disaronno, any brand you like)
Sweet and Sour mix
A rocks glass or tumbler

1.  Place several ice cubes in the shaker.
2.  Add 3 shots amaretto
3.  1  1/2 shots sweet and sour
4.  1/2 shot maraschino cherry juice, if desired
5.  Shake vigorously until ice cold! Pour into glass. Garnish with cherries. Sip. Enjoy!

Aug 5, 2010

Dust -- A Plant's Ultimate Nemesis

Dust is a dangerous thing for your houseplants, yes...really -- and for one key reason: accumulated dust on a plant's leaves can prevent the plant from getting good light. This means your plants can't properly photosynthesize, and that's no good! Photosynthesis is the process by which a plant creates its own food, and let's face it: sun is the catalyst of this process! If we could photosynthesize, do you think I'd want to be covered in a layer of dust?

Maybe you're a lot like I am when it comes to dust -- you just don't like doing it, and it gets the better of you time and again? Well then, what to do if your Croton is getting dusty? Philodendrons a bit on the grey side? Plants that have big, broad leaves (like Janet Craig Dracena or Corn Plant) will tend to trap and hold onto dust particles more than others. Here's what you can do:

A. Misting the plant beforehand will help cut through the layer of dust and make wiping it away easier on you.

B. Use a sponge or damp paper towel to lightly wipe the leaves...use caution so as not to break or damage them. If this method has little to no effect on your dust disaster, it's time to get serious!

C. Take your plant to the shower or sink and spray it down lightly with tepid (room temp) water. Pat dry with a towel to avoid water spots (if they drive you nuts!).

Hint: Your African Violet prefers not to get water on its leaves, so in case of dust or dirt particles, use a dry paintbrush or artists' brush. I suppose even a new makeup applicator would work....

So there you have it -- a few simple steps to help ward off the dust! Trust me, your plants will be happier for it!