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Christmas in Pittsburgh

Living in the Pittsburgh area, Christmas celebrations are a blend of many different ethnicities. During the days before Christmas there is a Peoples Gas Holiday Market in the downtown area, which is patterned after the Christkindlemarkt created in 1545 in Nuremberg, Germany, and the Christkindlmarket in Chicago, Illinois.

The city is also lucky enough to have a replica of the Vatican’s Crèche, which is built in St. Peter’s Square in Rome every year. It is a larger-than-life replica, and it is beautiful. The Herbal Husband and I visited several years ago. It has become a popular tradition for many families to visit this attraction every season. I wanted you to see the Crèche at night. I found a beautiful photo taken by Dr. Dennis Woytek, an assistant professor of Journalism and Multimedia Arts at Duquesne University. Dr. Woytek has a blog, The Woytek Blog, talking about his travels and this Crèche. If you are in the Pittsburgh area, the Crèche is a not-to-be-missed Christmas experience.

Vatican Creche

Vatican Creche
Be sure to visit the Pittsburgh Creche at night, when it is at its most beautiful. Photos Courtesy Dr. Dennis Woytek, The Woytek Blog.

My Favorite Christmas Herb Books

This time of year, two of my favorite herbal authors are Adelma Grenier Simmons and Bertha Reppert. Simmons wrote a number of herbal books, but one of my favorites is A Merry Christmas Herbal, which was published in 1968. Simmons considered Christmas to be a season all by itself. In another one of her books, Herb Gardening in Five Seasons, at Caprilands (her famous herb farm) they celebrated Christmas from St. Nicholas Day, December 6, to Twelfth Night, January 6, extending the season.

Find Simmons’ books at

Herb Christmas Books
These are two of my favorite herb books by Adelma Grenier Simmons. Photo By Nancy Heraud.

Reppert was also prolific in her herbal works. She compiled a series of scrapbooks, one of which is about Christmas. Bertha Reppert’s Herbal Scrapbook #2 was created in 1987 and it is jam-packed with all kinds of recipes and ideas for Christmas. In it she writes “The magic of herbs will guarantee you an unforgettable holiday with memories to treasure.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Find Reppert’s books at The Rosemary House & Gardens and

Christmas Herbs
I recommend this Christmas gem from Bertha Reppert. It is filled with all kinds of recipes and ideas for the holidays. Photo By Nancy Heraud.

Christmas Herbs

Speaking of herbs and Christmastime, here are some herbal legends associated with Christmas and the manger. These first three herbs were known animal insecticides that helped to protect the animals and—as it turned out—the Holy Family while staying in the stable.

Bedstraw was in the stable along with hay the night Christ child was born. Bedstraw bloomed with white flowers and no fragrance. After the birth, the flowers were turned to gold and there was a heavenly fragrance.

Pennyroyal was used by Joseph for the manger because of its minty scent, not for its blossoms. Once the baby was born, it bloomed beautiful purple blossoms ever after for the King of Kings.

Thyme was another herb used in the manger because it gave the manger a sweet, clean scent. It was also a  symbol of bravery.

Rosemary is well-known as the Christmas herb. My favorite story of rosemary says that while Mary rested in a grove of rosemary bushes during her flight to Egypt, she laid her cloak out to dry on a white blooming rosemary bush, and her cloak turned the flowers blue.

Rosemary Blooms
My potted rosemary has produced some beautiful blue blooms this year. Photo By Nancy Heraud.

Herb Christmas Craft

In the early days of my blog (Lemon Verbena Lady’s Herb Garden) I wrote about one of my favorite herbal crafts that can decorate during any time of year, but especially at Christmas—"Angels from Nature." If you are looking for a quick herbal craft before the holidays, and you have extra dried herbs and flowers, this would be a fun project for you and your kids or grandkids to do together.

Herb Angel Decoration
I display my "Angel from Nature" Christmas decoration all year long. Photo By Nancy Heraud.

Nancy HeraudAs always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here or my email at and put in the subject line “Herb Comment or Question.” If you could also let me know where you live in the U.S. (or elsewhere), it will help me answer your herb question more precisely. And be sure to visit my blog Lemon Verbena Lady's Herb Garden. Talk to you soon.


Let’s be honest, vaginas can get expensive. From periods to contraceptives to special doctors, being a woman will inevitably cost a lot of money. One way to cut down those expenses? Switch to reusable menstrual products.

The average price of the best-selling brand of pads is $5.79. Multiply that by 12 months and your period will cost a woman $70 a year. That’s doesn’t seem so bad, right? But what about over her whole life? The average woman can expect to menstruate for 40 years. $70 a year multiplied by 40 years? That’s $2,800.

And tampons are even more expensive. The average price of the best-selling brand of tampons is $8.79. Multiplied by 12 months and then by 40 years? The average woman can expect to spend $4,220.

A typical cloth pad starter kit is about $120. That means you save more than $2,500 over your lifetime.

One menstrual cup runs about $40. That means you save more than $4,000 over your lifetime.

A woman who has to use both tampons and pads during her period can expect to save more than $6,500 just by choosing cloth pads or a menstrual cup instead. If that number doesn’t convince, there are plenty of other reasons to switch to reusable menstrual products. From helping the environment to keeping your body safe from toxic chemicals, switching to reusables is well worth the money.

So what will you do with the $6,500 you save over your lifetime?

Take a trip?

Take A Trip
All you need is a cold drink and a good book. Photo By PhotoRack.

Redo your bathroom?

Redo Your Bathroom
There’s nothing like a good soak in a hot bath to relieve bad cramps. Photo By Holland And Green Architectural Design/Flickr.

Go back to school?

Go Back To School
Take that class in Ancient Greek Women’s Studies, just because it seems interesting. Photo By PhotoRack.

You’re doing a lot for you, your body, and your environment by using reusable menstrual products. You deserve to treat yourself!

And don’t be afraid to talk to your friends about cloth pads. The more women who switch to reusable menstrual products, the bigger the impact on the environment. Plus, it’ll be nice to have a friend on that vacation with you!

Tracy Puhl is the owner of GladRags, washable cloth menstrual pads and menstrual cups that are better for your body, your budget and the environment. Tracy is passionate about period positivity, woman-owned business, and empowering women everywhere to make healthy choices. In her free time, she likes to volunteer, travel, read and cuddle with her fluffy black cat.


As I said in my last post, Aromatherapy Crafts for the Holidays, Part 1, a great way to relieve stress during the holiday season is by using the herbs in your garden. Read about the following herbal scents for even more ways to help relieve stress over the holidays!

Garlic Cloves
These garlic cloves are ready for making Rosemary Garlic Jelly!

GARLIC: Garlic (Allium sativum) is said to repel negative energy. Breathe in garlic’s odor and get rid of negative thoughts, depression and all forms of obsession. Do not use dried or dehydrated garlic. Instead, use fresh cloves. Here is a recipe for one of my favorite jellies, posted in October 2009. It is delicious served with cream cheese as an appetizer and as a condiment for pork or other meat and maybe even your turkey.

Rosemary Garlic Jelly Recipe

GERANIUM: This is an herb that is great as a houseplant during the winter months especially the lemon varieties. The essential oil of geranium (Pelargonium crispum) is usually made from the rose geranium. Either put several drops of essential oil on a cotton ball or rub a leaf and inhale the fragrance. It calms the body and refreshes it as well.

Geranium Potpourri
Mix a beautiful rose-geranium potpourri for any holiday gift.

Here is a potpourri recipe using rose scented geranium leaves created at Hinode Farm and from the book Scented Geraniums by Jim Becker & Faye Brawner.

Scented Geranium Potpourri

• 2 cups rose-scented pelargonium leaves
• 1 cup lavender flowers, preferably left on the stem
• 1 cup lemon-scented herbs
• 2 cups rose petals
• 1 cup oak moss
• 1 cup larkspur petals
• 1 cup rosemary leaves  (I used sage leaves.)
• A few small spruce or fir cones (I used hemlock.)

For a sharper fragrance, mix 50 drops of rose pelargonium oil with 6 tablespoons orrisroot. It will make the fragrance last longer. If you are allergic to orrisroot because of its dusty qualities, you can add corn cob, oakmoss or another fixative to the mix with the essential oil.

Window Garden 
My lemon-scented herbs reside on my windowsill during the winter.
All Photos By Nancy C. Heraud

LEMON VERBENA: You didn’t think that I would leave my favorite herb, lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla or citrodora), out of this post, did you? The essential oil is expensive. The fresh leaves are crushed and used for purification and the fragrance of the leaves encourages spiritual love. In the photo above you can see there are two lemon scented geraniums, ‘lemon crispum’ and ‘lemon meringue’ and my favorite, lemon verbena. I need to start using these leaves for some aromatherapy.

SAGE: This traditional Thanksgiving herb (Salvia officinalis) was used to strengthen the ability to memorize.  You should only use fresh or dried leaves. 

Warning: The sage essential oil contains high levels of thujone, a dangerous substance. It should not be used at all, particularly by pregnant women.

Nancy HeraudAs always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here or my e-mail at and put in the subject line “Herb Comment or Question.” And be sure to visit my blog Lemon Verbena Lady's Herb Garden. Talk to you soon.


If you are looking to relieve stress during the holiday season, look no further than your herb garden. Even if you don’t have an herb garden, growing potted rosemary, lavender or scented geranium indoors can help you stay stress-free thanks to aromatherapy, the art of using aromatic essential oils. Using scented herbs in potpourri, bath bags or simmering spices can help you boost your energy, keep you calm and relaxed, or get you some rest whenever you need it the most. Here are a couple of the best seasonal scents.

Basil Plant
The scent of basil will help you calm your nerves.

BASIL: Even though it may not be a traditional holiday herb or scent, you can use the fresh or dried form of basil (Ocimum basilicum) to help reduce mental fatigue and clear your mind. Inhaling the fragrance helps you to remain calm and ease your nervousness.

Warning: Do not use basil essential oil internally.

Basil Bath Bag

I found this Basil Bath Bag recipe in The Basil Book by Marilyn Hampstead. It is a great idea to clean out your kitchen cupboards and enjoy an herbal bath in the process. If the flavors of the herbs are not strong, they should no longer be used for culinary purposes, but are still great candidates for the bath bags. She cautions not to use peppers in the blends or turmeric (which is a yellow dye, as is saffron). I personally would not use any herb blends that would have garlic in them, but that’s just me.

• 1 cup crushed dried basil
• 1 cup mixed kitchen herb and spice discards
• 1 orange, or 2 lemon peels
• 18-inch by 18-inch muslin, or large handkerchief
• Rubber band, twist tie, string, or 1 clean knee-high stocking

1. Place dried herbs and citrus peel in the middle of the fabric square and grab edges to make a pouch and tie securely, or place herbs and peels into the knee-high stocking and knot the open end.

2. Fasten your bath bag to the bathtub faucet and turn on the water. Let the tub fill slowly and allow the herbs to steep. Then get in and soak. Unfasten the bath bag and use as a gentle skin massager.  You want to make sure that the bag is securely fastened because it is not fun cleaning up two cups of herbs in your tub or on your body.

Cinnamon Sticks
Take a whiff of a bundle of cinnamon sticks for extra energy!

CINNAMON: Use cinnamon sticks (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) rather than the ground cinnamon to give you a burst of energy when you need it.

Warning: Cinnamon essential oil is very irritating and should never be used on the skin.

Marge Clark’s Simmering Citrus Potpourri

This aromatic potpourri is from Marge Clark's book Christmas Thyme at Oak Hill Farm. Even though this is one of my favorite Christmas books, I think you will enjoy this for Thanksgiving as well. Your home will smell wonderful with the scent of citrus and spice.

• 1 cup dried, cut-up orange peel
• 1/2 cup dried, cut-up lemon peel
• 1/2 cup cinnamon stick pieces
• 1/2 cup whole allspice
• 1/4 cup whole cloves
• 1/4 cup anise seed
• 1/2 tablespoon coriander seed (optional)
• 1/2 cup bay leaves
• 1 teaspoon orange oil

1. Mix all ingredients together, then store in an air-tight container. Give this as a hostess or a holiday gift.

2. To use, simmer 1 cup water with 3 tablespoons potpourri in a pan or potpourri burner. Don’t let the water evaporate. Keep filling the container with water.

Thanksgiving Bouquet
Make this herbal Thanksgiving bouquet, from our house to yours!

All Photos By Nancy C. Heraud

Be sure to check out the following links to some of my past holiday blog posts, all of which are Thanksgiving recipes that I use in my home. Hope you enjoy them! 

Turkey Tetrazzini Recipe

Cranberry-Orange Sauce Recipe

Lovage and Sage Recipes

Nancy HeraudAs always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here or my e-mail at and put in the subject line “Herb Comment or Question.” And be sure to visit my blog Lemon Verbena Lady's Herb Garden. Talk to you soon.


Soup Party

Via Soup Night

Hosting a soup party or “soup night” in your neighborhood is a great way to build community and friendships. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated, just a fun night for neighbors to enjoy a warm bowl of deliciousness filled with an array of healthful, nutritious ingredients. Here are a few tips to help you organize your very own soup party.

Find a partner-in-crime. Recruit a close neighbor to help you plan and prepare.

Set a date. You will want to give people 1 to 2 weeks notice. Weekends usually work best.

Distribute invitations. Hand them out personally or leave them at the door. Keep invitations simple and invite everyone.

Soup Night Invitation

Via Pinterest

Once you have invited the neighborhood, it’s time to start planning your soup party. Keep it laid back and don’t stress over making it perfect. We have gathered ideas from successful soup nights to help you along the way.

Soup Party Ideas

• Make the soups ahead of time and save yourself the stress of preparing everything the day of. Made-ahead soups can be warmed on the stove and ready to serve in no time.

• Skip the waste of disposable bowls—or the pile of dishes—by asking attendees to bring their own bowl and spoon.

• Instead of one person cooking all of the soup, try a potluck soup night; ask each neighbor to bring one bowl of soup and have a recipe swap.

• Host a soup night for a good cause. Soup is casual and has a way of drawing in donors better than a fancy dinner.

• If you aren’t sure where to start in planning which soups to make, check out the following suggestions from Maggie Stuckey’s new book Soup Night.

Sweet Corn Chowder

Photo By Lara Ferroni, Courtesy Storey Publishing

Soup Recipes

Chicken-Artichoke Soup Recipe

Zucchini-Tortellini Soup Recipe

Sweet Corn Chowder Recipe

Slow-Cooker Chili Recipe

Once you’ve held a successful soup night, you can begin to plan how to make it a monthly event. Create a sign-up sheet for neighbors to take turns hosting and set a regular date and time. Have you hosted a soup night? Share your experience in the comments section below.

Adapted from Soup Night by Maggie Stuckey, photography by Lara Ferroni used with permission from Storey Publishing. Buy this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Soup Night.

Victoria Pitcher is Web Editor at Mother Earth Living. Find her on .


Cloth pad converts are known for (loudly) proclaiming that reusable cloth pads changed their life. If you’ve never tried cloth pads before, you might be wondering how a pad could possibly revolutionize your period. In this article, you'll learn just five of the ways switching to cloth pads changed my life for the better.

5 Reasons to Use Reusable Cloth Pads

Cloth Pads1. No more soreness.

When I was in high school, I hated my period with a passion because I was painfully sore “down there” for a week. Little did I know…that’s not supposed to happen! Once I switched to cloth, I realized that my body was irritated by the moisture-wicking chemicals inside regular disposable pads. Now my period is relatively painless (except for the occasional bout of cramps when I don’t take good care of my body throughout the rest of the month).

2. Pretty colors = major mood boosters.

This one might sound silly, but it’s totally true for me. Cloth pads can be pretty! And pretty colors make me feel happy. I enjoy picking out which pads I’m going to use each day during my cycle, and I have my go-to favorites that always brighten my mood. It’s kind of like wearing really awesome underwear. No one knows about it, but it makes you feel good anyway!

3. Your period will go by in a flash.

I am routinely surprised each time my period is over. “It only just started!” I’ll think. Then I’ll check my period tracker app and realize, yup, it’s about time to be wrapping up. Scientifically, it’s unclear if switching to cloth from disposables actually makes your period shorter, or if it just feels like it! But then…as long as it feels quick, does it really matter?

4. You’ll never waddle awkwardly to the store with a bunch of toilet paper stuffed in your undies at 9 o’clock at night to buy overpriced tampons.

This one speaks for itself, I think. Yes, I was that girl (multiple times). With my stash of cloth pads, I will never be that girl again. Thank goodness.

5. You might actually feel GOOD about your period.

The monthly ritual of using cloth makes me feel like I’m taking extra care of my body. When I use cloth pads, I find a deeper appreciation of my cycle and the work my body is doing. I no longer feel like my period is some sort of medical problem that needs to be bandaged up; rather, I feel like I’m honoring my body by making a healthy choice. My period is not always a welcome visitor, but it’s certainly not a curse since I switched to cloth!


is the owner of GladRags, washable cloth menstrual pads and menstrual cups that are better for your body, your budget and the environment. Tracy is passionate about period positivity, woman-owned business, and empowering women everywhere to make healthy choices. In her free time, she likes to volunteer, travel, read and cuddle with her fluffy black cat.


The new school year’s just started. Everyone’s on a level field right now, whether you’re a straight-A student or one who’s just trying to stay in school. It’s a fresh start, before studying, tests, classes, extracurricular activities and—obviously—your personal life wear you out.

taking a test 

So what’s an overwhelmed student to do? Everyone’s always telling you about how cheating is bad and that an unfair advantage is something to be avoided. Let’s face it though—a little boost here and there couldn’t hurt. Besides, it’s not really cheating per se…it’s more like a way to give you an edge.

Wondering what you have to do to get this advantage? Believe it or not, it’s as simple as eating healthy. Read on for a cheat sheet on why and how to ace your exams through your stomach.

1. Eating healthy gives you energy. This one’s a no-brainer. (Get it?) Candy, chips and soda are easy to grab on-the-go, but they will cause you to crash in no time at all. You might be alert for the first part of class, but drooling on your desk by the end. This dramatic shift in your ability to focus can completely tank your learning and test-taking efforts. Don’t be that guy snoring in the back of class. Choose snacks that have fiber and protein for long-lasting fuel that won’t cause crazy insulin spikes.

Tip: Boost your memory with a hard-boiled egg instead of the sugary and salty snacks from the vending machine. As a good source of choline, eggs are an amazing brain food.

2. Staying hydrated means staying awake. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and sleeping through class. Or it can cause you to not be able to focus on what’s on the page in front of you. Have you ever tried to answer questions when your brain’s fuzzy? The fastest way to ruin all your studying is to show up for a test without being properly fueled—and that means drinking plenty of liquid. The brain is nearly 75 percent liquid and has no way of storing water, which is why dehydration affects your mental performance so quickly.

Tip: Stay away from sugary drinks as they’ll just cause you to crash a few hours later when the sugar and caffeine have worn off. Stick to plain old water or unsweetened tea (watch out for the caffeine though). Your teeth, jeans and brain will thank you.

sleeping while studying 

3. Your brain needs glucose to function. Just because your brain needs glucose does not mean it’s free-for-all time at the candy store. Trying to jumpstart your brain with a heavy dose of glucose can harm the rest of your body and the brain itself, leading to sleepiness, impaired memory and mental fog. Glucose can be drawn from recently eaten carbohydrates—like vegetables, fruits, and whole grain. The fiber and other nutrients in these whole foods help prevent the sugar spikes that lead to the crashes.

Tip: Eat fruit to power your brain. Fruit is a great source of fiber and fructose, as well as that all-important glucose. The glucose will keep your brain running, and fructose with the fiber will keep your energy levels up and stable. Added bonus: fruits are packed with antioxidants, which can help protect your brain.

4. Certain nutrients protect your brain from environmental damage. What’s that you say? You’ve never done anything hazardous or harmful to your health, ever, in your whole life? Well, good for you. Most students have—and eating healthy can help protect or even repair some of the damage done from exposure to the, ah, “elements.”

Tip: Eat fish for the omega-3s, which could minimize the effect of junk food on the brain while boosting your memory and ability to learn. Skip the fish sticks in the cafeteria though, as there is probably very little omega-3 and a lot of extra fat and filler.

5. Brain food slows aging and cognitive decline. Unless you want to end up like your older relatives who constantly wander about, asking where their keys are, start protecting your brain now against aging factors—and you’ll end up seeing a boost to your memory. Better memory equals better test scores.

Tip: Snack on nuts and seeds. They’re good sources of the antioxidant vitamin E and of omega-3 fatty acids, which help prevent cognitive decline. Mix together pumpkin seeds, walnuts and dried blueberries for a brain-boosting snack with lasting power.

6. Improve your recall with the magical fruit. Beans aren’t just good for your heart. Packed with protein and fiber to give you energy to stay alert while learning, studying or taking an exam, beans are also a great source of folic acid. A necessary nutrient for the developing brain, folic acid improves memory and brain performance.

Tip: Don’t like beans (or its side effects)? Try eating strawberries or asparagus instead for the same effect.

Just remember: eating well alone will not help you ace those tests (obviously). You might have to crack open a book once in a while, or stay awake in class long enough to hear what the teacher has to say. But healthy eating will help give you a boost to help you succeed in school—and in life.

Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer in Southern California. With kids of her own, sending them off to school with healthy foods is very important to her. She contributes to the BenchPrep blog, helping students prepare to ace their exams and get through school with flying colors. Follow her on Twitter today!

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