Mother Earth Living

In the Garden

Get down and dirty in the garden

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As the season turns, you may find yourself spending less time in the garden. But now is actually the best time to get your garden in shape for spring. (Read our article Putting the Garden to Bed for Winter for more information.) Organizing where you currently stand, laying a final patch of mulch before winter sets in, cleaning your tools one final time—and more—are all important parts of fall cleanup. Outside of chores, you should also have a little fun in the oasis you’ve worked so hard on with some simple, innovative projects.

We’ve collected some wonderful fall garden ideas on our Pinterest page to get you motivated. Check them out!

Preserve Leaves

Preserve Leaves

Once the trees around your home start changing color, don’t you just want them to stay that way forever? The blog Buggy and Buddy, which offers creative learning ideas for kids, shows you how you can preserve those stunning leaves using glycerin and wax paper. Try it out, and then turn your preserved leaves into a beautiful fall leaf mobile. Via Buggy and Buddy.

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Garden Journal

Start a Garden Journal

Fall is the perfect time to reassess your garden and plan for next year. Keep a journal to track where you want to make additions or even do some rearranging. The website Gardenista shows you how to put together a gorgeous garden journal, complete with necessary supplies and steps to best organize it. Via Gardenista.

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Trampoline Hoop House

Hoop House from Trampoline Frames

Building a hoop house is a simple and inexpensive way to manipulate the growing season and protect your plants from pests. GardenWeb, a website for the gardening community, has a very interesting forum about experiences building a greenhouse. One particular reader shared this very cool-looking photo of a hoop house they built from discarded trampoline frames, along with plans and instructions. What a great way to reuse and recycle! Via GardenWeb.

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Mailbox Garden Tool Storage

Mailbox Garden Tool Storage

Another important step for fall cleanup is washing your garden tools and putting them away for the winter—and what better place to store your tools than directly in your garden. This adorable little mailbox storage idea from the blog Little Vintage Cottage is easy to accomplish and super handy. Plus, it will add a little bit of whimsy to your backyard. Visit the blog for detailed instructions. Via Little Vintage Cottage.

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Newspaper Mulch

Newspaper Mulching

Make sure your garden soil is protected and enriched all winter long. Another wonderful reuse project, mulching your yard with newspaper is a wonderful way to suppress weeds. The home and garden blog, A Garden for the House, offers detailed instructions, as well as information about the benefits, for newspaper mulching. Use this method to tuck your garden in for the long winter ahead. Via A Garden for the House.

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You’ve heard these words before, but what exactly do they mean? How do you figure out if a plant is invasive, exotic or native? With a little help, learn which plants will save you a lot of time and trouble in your garden.

Invasive Plants

Invasive plants are…well, invasive. They take over. They spread like crazy. They can cause devastating ecological impacts, and boy are they hard to remove. Many invasive plants travel via human activity, in bird droppings, or are carried on the fur of animals. Their tendency to multiple at alarming rates is part of what makes them invasive.

Invasive plants crowd out native plants and disturb the delicate balance in a region's ecosystem. Invasive plants and trees are able to flourish outside of their native region. Some can even be dangerous. I know two people that were sent to the emergency room after removing a Brazilian Pepper. The Brazilian Pepper can cause allergic, burn-like reactions.

Some examples of invasive plants in the Southeast region of the country are Brazilian Pepper, Melaleuca and Air Potato. To find a list of invasive plants in your area check out your local extension office, and ask for the Master Gardeners.

Invasive Brazilian Pepper Tree
This tree is spread by birds as they eat the red berries and excrete them along their travels. This invasive species can cause serious health issues. Photo courtesy Poly Cal.

Exotic Plants

An exotic plant is a non-native plant that has been introduced into a new region, but does not cause ecological devastation or have exploding populations. However, when an exotic becomes out of control its classification may change to invasive.

Many ornamental plants are exotic. For example, in South Florida many plants from Southeast Asia do quite well in our subtropical environment, but do not become harmful or spread in an undesirable manner. These exotic plants can be the perfect splash of color you were looking for in your garden, but be conservative and lean towards native plants to benefit and support wildlife and pollinators in your area. For help designing your Florida garden see the Florida-Friendly Landscaping plant database.

Monarch Butterfly
Help pollinators, and birds by planting plants native to your region. Photo by Fotolia/Georg Lehnerer

Native Plants

Native plants are plants that have lived in a region for a prolonged period of time. There is a lot of controversy about what constitutes a native plant. Many scientists cannot agree on the base line. Some feel that a native plant should be measured by not having direct or indirect human contact. At this point that is very difficult to determine, many native cultures had both direct and indirect influence on many ecosystems. For our purposes we consider plants to be native if they were here prior to European explorations.

Native Plants
Bring your garden to life with native, and just a touch of exotic plants. Photo courtesy Florida Friendly Plants.

Some native plants can act invasive if they are introduced into a new ecosystem. In nature, plants travel at a slower rate so native species are able to adapt and change to the newcomers. As humans wander, build and introduce new plants to North America, some of those plants have found a perfect place to thrive. How they thrive determines if they are invasive or exotic.

Most extension offices have lists and pictures of invasive, exotic and native plants in your area. The extension service and the Master Gardeners are fantastic networks for providing science based information. Feel free to contact them with any garden related questions you may have specific to your area.

StephanieStephanie Montalvo is a Master Gardener, Master Naturalist and Habitat Steward, currently studying Environmental Science at SUNY Empire State College. She grew up on a small organic farm in South Jersey and loves to garden. Stephanie is also the Executive Director of the Brighter Future Foundation, a 501c3 organization that shares information and inspires people to interact with the environment in a holistic and healthy way. Visit her on the BFF blog.


After printing the Mother Earth Living article “The Best Herbal Remedies You’ve Never Heard Of,” I’ve been interested in uncovering more largely unknown herbal remedies—so let’s delve right into the research behind even more unusual herbs from across the globe! Today we’ll investigate the Szechuan button (Acmella oleracea; syn. Spilanthes oleracea), a flowering herb that can also be found under the pseudonym “toothache plant”.

Note: As research on this herb is minimal and ongoing, be sure to discuss taking it with your health-care provider before incorporating it into your health regimen.

Szechuan Buttons 

My First Experience with Szechuan Buttons

I first encountered this herb on a trip to Vegas with a couple of my girlfriends. We went out on the town where we each purchased a fabulous summer cocktail from a trendy lounge bar. The cocktail was named “The Verbena,” as it is made with a mixture of citrus ingredients, including lemon juice, lemongrass syrup and Kaffir lime leaves; and we were promised that it would be one of the most unique cocktails we would ever drink. On top of the cocktail floated a small, yellow bud—a Szechuan button. After biting into this innocent-looking garnish my mouth immediately went numb, followed by an intense cooling sensation—a unique cocktail indeed!

What are Szechuan Buttons?

A Szechuan button, also known as a buzz button or electric button, is a low-growing plant native to Brazil that blooms repeatedly summer through fall. The plant produces yellow/red gumdrop-sized flower buds that completely numb the mouth once bitten into. Although there is hint of a bitter, grassy flavor, I wouldn’t even say these buds have much flavor. In my opinion a Szechuan button has less of a flavor, and more of a sensation. First your mouth and tongue start to tingle, as if electricity is coursing through it, then everything starts to cool down. It can even cause a sudden increase in saliva production.

Although this herb has become trendy in gourmet restaurants and bars, where it is used as a fun ingredient to liven up dishes and cocktails, the Szechuan button has long been regarded for its health benefits, especially in South America, Africa and Asia. This flower heads of this herb contains up to 1.25 percent spilanthol, a fatty acid amide that contains natural analgesic properties. Similar to capsaicin, this compound is what is responsible for the tingling sensation: It triggers a reaction in the trigeminal nerve pathway, which is responsible for motor and sensory functions in the mouth.

Because of its spilanthol content, some countries use the numbing qualities of this plant to relieve toothaches (thus the “toothache plant”), as well as throat and gum infections. This plant has also been used to treat blood parasites. (In vitro studies have shown that the plant can act as an antibiotic against a variety of bacteria, including E. coli, salmonella and staph.) Szechuan buttons may even help improve digestion and help overcome nausea, and it has been shown to have a strong diuretic action in rats.

In non-medicinal uses, Indian manufactures use the buds to flavor chewing tobacco. The raw leaves are used to flavor salads, soups and meats in Brazil and India. People also use this herb topically—an extract of Acmella oleracea can reportedly reduce muscle tension and facial wrinkles caused by tense facial muscles, making it a great ingredient in anti-aging beauty products.

How to Use Szechuan Buttons

Worldwide, the flower heads of this plant are most popularly used fresh, or dried and powdered, although the roots and leaves can be used as well. To use this plant orally, make a decoction or infusion from the leaves or flowers. (A mouth rinse of a spilanthes extract is excellent for gum health.)

These buttons are quite costly, selling for about $50 a bag of 30 buttons (available from Marx Foods). However, you can try growing this plant at home: Buy a packet of 30 seeds for $3.50 from Terroir Seeds. Grow it as a beautiful ornamental, or to harvest for its fun electric-packed buttons.

Gina DeBacker HeadshotGina DeBacker is the associate editor at Mother Earth Living, where she manages the health section of the magazine.


Controlling invasions of pests isn’t an easy task. Taking the health of your soil into consideration adds an entire new level of difficulty. Here are some tips that will help you rid yourself of garden pests while continually managing and improving the health of your soil.

Garden Pest Control
Photo by Fotolia/kuzelv

Tips to Control Garden Pests

A Dangerous Journey: Don’t make it easy for pests to waltz right up to your plants and destroy them. The more effort they have to put in, the more likely they are to give up. Making the ground near your plants unpleasant to be on is a great way to deter many different types of pests. You can use woodchips or even rock. However, the most effective ground barrier is crushed up eggshells. Many insects/pests have sensitive abdomens. Scraping their bellies across cracked eggshells will be sure to keep them out. Crush them up and place them at the base of your plants.

Predator Versus Prey: Every pest that could possibly cause a problem in your garden has a natural enemy. They all have predators constantly seeking them out. The key to this method is research. It is important to not only know your pest, but also to know its predator. After you know which predator you will be recruiting, you will need to find out what is going to attract your ally to your garden. Generally speaking, plants like mint, fennel, basil and citronella attract many predators that will not harm your garden and rid you of pests quickly. If you can handle having a few parasitic wasps around, this is an effective and easy way to get rid of various pests.

Traps: Another way to achieve a pest free garden is to utilize traps. They are non-toxic and extremely effective. The concept is simple: pests wander into the trap, become stuck and aren’t able to free themselves. This is a very basic and efficient method of pest control.  Check out this learning center for some additional information on using traps!

Weeding: If you were trying to seek something out and get rid of it, would it benefit you to give it a place to hide? I doubt it. It is important to not help your pests out! Keep your garden free of weeds and other objects that an insect or pest could hide behind. This will not only make your garden more aesthetically pleasing, but it will also make getting rid of your invaders easier.

Getting rid of pests without harming your soil isn’t necessarily the easiest task to accomplish. However, with these tips, you should have some new knowledge that will aid you in the battle that is keeping your garden pest free and having the healthiest soil possible.

Glenn Mitcham is an avid gardener and finds enjoyment in being able to share his experiences with those also interested in the complex world that is gardening. When he isn’t waging a full scale war with garden pests, he enjoys mountain biking and rocking out with his cocker spaniel.


A few issues ago Mother Earth Living magazine printed the article “The Best Herbal Remedies You’ve Never Heard Of.” Even though some of you pointed out that you did know one or two of the listed herbs, everyone really seemed to enjoy the topic of largely unknown medicinal plants and the research behind them. With this in mind, I thought it might be fun to delve into the research behind more unusual herbs from across the globe every once in awhile. Today we will investigate zallouh, an herbal shrub grown on the Syrian-Lebanese border that may help boost libido.

Note: As research on this herb is minimal and ongoing, be sure to discuss taking it with your health-care provider before incorporating it into your health regimen.

Mount Hermon
{Zallouh is abundant on Mount Hermon, a gorgeous cluster of mountains that straddle the Syrian-Lebanese border. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.}

What is Zallouh?

A member of the parsley family, zallouh (Ferulis harmonis) is a small, wild shrub with thin leaves and tiny white or yellow flowers that grows between 6,000 to 10,000 feet tall on Mount Hermon, a gorgeous cluster of mountains that straddle the Syrian-Lebanese border. Zallouh is abundant in this region, but it is not safe to source zallouh on the Israeli side of Mount Hermon because of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, according to Chris Kilham, a researcher and author also known as the “Medicine Hunter.”

So what medicinal benefits can this Syrian herb provide? It has a long tradition of being used by men and women to increase sexual frequency and pleasure, treat sexual dysfunction, boost libido and treat erectile problems. The gnarled roots of this natural aphrodisiac actually contain a number of compounds including ferulic acid that dilate blood vessels and stimulate circulation.

The Lebanese Urological Society has sponsored a number of clinical trials for zallouh, but so far the only human clinical studies have been conducted on men—no study has yet to focus on women’s sexual needs or function, says Kilham. In the largest zallouh study (4,274 male participants, ages 18 to 87), 86 percent of participants who completed the study experienced improved erectile function. However, one 2001 study evaluated the safety and efficacy of zallouh in enhancing erectile function in male rats. Scientists determined that while the root can enhance erectile function, it becomes toxic if used over a long period of time.

Although zallouh is most commonly regarded as an aphrodisiac, it is much more than a “sex plant,” explains Pierre Malychef, a doctor and pharmacist in Beirut, Lebanon. The root also contains antioxidants and may slow down the aging process. “I have not seen any other plant that revitalizes people the way that zallouh does,” Malychef says.

How to Use Zallouh

Zallouh root is not currently standardized, but Kilham recommends taking 500 mg to 1,500 mg of the freeze-dried root concentrate daily for maximum efficacy. You can also prepare a tea from the freeze-dried root, or add a few drops of zallouh tonic to your favorite tea. 

Zallouh is not recommended for those with hypertension related to heart disease or diabetic neuropathy without the approval of a physician. It should also not be used during pregnancy or while breast-feeding.

Zallouh capsules by H&N Herbs, $16.

Gina DeBacker HeadshotGina DeBacker is the associate editor at Mother Earth Living, where she manages the health section of the magazine.


Spring is officially here. As the snows melt and the earth warms up, the natural world comes to life… green shoots poke through the damp ground, birds sing joyfully in the sunshine, and the heady scent of fruit tree blossoms fills the air. It’s time to go outside and soak in the beauty and the bustle! This is my favorite season for keeping a nature journal, a place to record what I’m seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting in the world around me, as well as how these observations make me feel. Want to join in?

Nature Journal

Keeping a seasonal nature journal can deepen your connection to both nature and self. Through prose and poetry, drawings and photos, collected nature items, and creative elements, a nature journal provides a place to explore the role nature plays in your life, and to safely express your creativity. In turn, it fosters mindfulness, gratitude and a heightened sense of place.

Here are a few ideas from my self-paced nature journaling eCourse, A Sense of Place ~ Spring, to help you get started on your own nature journaling journey!

Connect to Nature

Look for signs of spring. Use all your senses to observe your natural environment – what do you see, smell, hear, taste and feel? Keep your journal with you and record your observations with short notes and simple sketches.

Birds Nest

You may include:

• the rising temperature outside
• the return of migrant birds at a backyard feeder
• emerging buds on bare tree branches
• the smell of damp earth
• the bustle of critters and creatures waking & mating
• lingering snowfall or heavy rains
• the sound of a lawn mower in the distance

Later, select one observation from your journal to think about more closely. Consider how it relates to the overall environment, the season and to you. Make connections by asking basic questions, such as: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

Connect to Self

Look for natural moments to record in your journal that evoke an emotion, or inspire an insight. They might include: baby blue eggs in a perfectly formed nest; rain falling outside your window; a warm, moist breeze on bare skin; digging in damp dirt to plant a garden.

Nature Journaling

When recording these moments, consider and note:

• Did you have a role in this moment? 
• How did it make you feel?
• Did it change your perspective on the day, or the object/event being observed?
• What memories were ignited?
• How might it impact your future?

Pick one moment and write about it in depth. Describe it from your unique perspective. Include which of your senses were engaged, what connections you made to the natural world and what connections you made to yourself.

As you spend more time with your journal, you’ll begin to see your place in nature through new eyes, noticing objects, events, and patterns you’d not seen before, and connecting the to the rhythm of the seasons in new, meaningful ways!

For more seasonal journaling prompts, creative exercises, and nature journaling guidance and inspiration, check out A Sense of Place ~ Spring, a comprehensive, self-paced nature journaling eCourse at Natural Nester.

Photos by Elizabeth Sniegocki

Elizabeth SniegockiElizabeth Sniegocki is a writer, naturalist, suburban homesteader and mother in Sarasota, Florida. She writes on seasonal and sustainable living, wholesome cooking, community building, conscious parenting and more for various print and online publications. Elizabeth also offers self-paced eCourses and family eGuides to help others create a natural and mindful environment around them, and within. Learn more about her work at Natural Nester.


Spring Garden

“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in the garden.” —Ruth Stout

Spring is almost here which means it’s almost time to bring that garden of yours back to life. The rewards of homegrown foods can be heady. Whether you are biting into a juicy tomato from your own backyard, gathering the first radishes of the season or whipping up an herb-infused honey, you are engaging with your food in a new way. Get the best garden tips from the pros and start growing your own food now.

Vegetable Gardening Tips for Beginners: These vegetable gardening tips will help you choose varieties of produce known for their flavors, productivity and resistance to disease.

Growing Mint: From Harvesting to Using: Discover tips for growing mint, including how to harvest and use it.

Herbal Tea Garden Plans: Get plans for herbal tea gardens that will help fight stress, colds and much more.

How to Build a Local Food Community: Use these tips to seek out like-minded individuals, organizations and food producers to build your own local food community.

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