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Creating a cozy hearth for the family

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It has been 30 years since The Herbal Husband and I started dating. Long before our first Valentine’s Day, the Victorians were way ahead of their time by expressing their emotions through flowers. In this digital age—when everyone is communicating through their phone—it might be nice to communicate through such old-fashioned methods.

Tussie Mussie Books
Two of my favorite books about the language of flowers and tussie-mussies! Photo by Nancy Heraud

For this Valentine’s Day, why not make a tussie-mussie and speak the language of flowers? Geri Adamich Laufer wrote one of my favorite books, “Tussie-Mussies,” with wonderful photographs of actual bouquets. She also wrote a comprehensive article for The Herb Companion (now Mother Earth Living) almost 20 years ago about Victorian tussie-mussies, which taught readers how to make them and speak the language of flowers. Newly retired herb shop owner Kathleen Gips also wrote two lexicons on the language of flowers that I rely on whenever I make my bouquets. My favorite is “Flora’s Dictionary.” Using these resources, I’ve made a number of tussie-mussies over the years for friends on different occasions (not just Valentine’s Day). This is the year I surprised The Herbal Husband by making one for him.

Because the weather has been so frigid, I could not rely on my herb garden for tussie-mussie materials. Instead, I went to my local florist, Z Florist, and found a selection of flowers. They had individual stems of flowers that were very reasonably priced.  

A red rose (“I love you”); carnation (pure and ardent love); daisy (“I will think of it”); baby’s breath (everlasting love); and some herbs from the indoor plants: peppermint scented geranium (cordial feelings), lemon verbena (“You have bewitched me”) and rosemary (for remembrance). I think it turned out very well and he was both pleased and surprised. I had to give it to him early so that this post could be posted before Valentine’s Day. It is always good to surprise them every once in a while. It keeps your relationship interesting and special.

Tussie Mussie
The Herbal Husband’s first tussie-mussie. Photo by Nancy Heraud

One of my favorite Facebook pages, Speak the Language of Flowers, has put together a special potpourri just for my post in time for Valentine’s Day.

Valentines Potpourri
A potpourri in the language of flowers.
Photo by Elizabeth Bergstrom Case

“You’re the Apple of My Eye” Potpourri

Potpourri recipe courtesy Elizabeth Bergstrom Case of Benevolent Botanical Greetings

A high-quality potpourri can be easy to make from dried herbs and blossoms. Try this blend for Valentine’s Day to send a message of love and festivity. Makes about 1 quart.

• 3 tablespoons whole cloves (warmth, festivity)
• 1 to 2 teaspoons apple spice fragrance oil or 1 teaspoon clove or cinnamon essential oil
• 1 1/2 cups red rose petals and buds (for love)
• 3/4 cup white globe amaranth (unfading love)
• 1 cup loosely packed catnip leaves (intoxicated with love)
• 1/2 cup cedar sprigs (“I live but for thee,” think of me)
• 1/3 to 1/2 cup dried apple slices (preference, apple of my eye)
• 18 to 20 1-inch cinnamon sticks (love, beauty, stirs passion)

1. Combine the whole cloves and the fragrance or essential oil in a small, air-tight container. Let the cloves absorb the oil for a minimum of 8 hours or up to 3 days. This step will help your potpourri retain its fragrance.

2. In a 2-quart air-tight container, combine the remaining herbs and blossoms. Add the cloves after they’ve absorbed the oil and gently blend together.

3. Let your potpourri age for at least 3 day and up to 3 weeks so the fragrance can permeate the entire blend. Occasionally, gently tilt and roll the container to blend the herbs and blossoms while it ages.

4. After your “Apple of My Eye” potpourri has matured, display it in a bowl or give it as a gift. See if you can identify the herb/flower and corresponding translation in your finished potpourri. Find more herbs/flowers and their translations at the Benevolent Botanical Greetings website. Join us on Facebook to Speak the Language of Flowers.

I hope I have inspired you to do something old-fashioned and unique to celebrate your love for Valentine’s Day.

NancAs 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.


Have you ever wanted to learn more about crystals, gems and rocks? I was recently given a beautiful piece of amethyst by my sister, which prompted me to want to learn more about crystals. According to some gem enthusiasts, amethyst can have many powerful properties, including its use to help as a dream stone for insomnia: put a small piece of amethyst under your pillow to help with insomnia.

Photo by Kristy Severin

While there is little to no scientific evidence for the healing powers of crystals, many people find them enchanting, mesmerizing, and truly an integral part of their life. Whether you want to delve deep into the powers of crystals or simply want to incorporate them into your life for the aesthetic qualities, you may find their energy and beauty to have a powerfully positive effect on your life and the people around you. To get started, you can find a book about gemstone healing from the library or bookstore, or read articles published online. You may also find people in your community that use crystals, and you can get started learning about them that way. My personal book of choice, Gemstone Enlightenment by Shelley Kaehr gave me a wonderful insight to some answers I was looking for, and I have slowly begun to incorporate gemstones into my life. The idea of using gemstones to heal and connect with different things in our lives is magical and very interesting, not to mention how truly beautiful something that comes strictly from nature can be. I have started placing gemstones in different places around my home and even just walking by a stone puts a smile on my face and positive thoughts into my head.

Do you use crystals in your home? Please feel free to share your stories and experiences with crystal healing, we would love to hear from you!

Kristy SeverinKristy Severin is a mother of two, a certified art instructor, photographer, painter, writer and cook. She earned her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda, East Africa. Inspired daily by her children and love of the earth, Kristy’s fine art and writings are at The Art of Green Living.


It’s easy to feel bored with your home’s look after a year’s time. Luckily you don’t have to begin a huge renovation to get a new look. Try these five simple home improvement tips to help your home feel like new without spending tons of money and time.

Home Improvement Ideas
Photo by Fotolia/MAXFX

Easy Home Improvements Ideas

1. Rearrange your living spaces. Moving around the furniture in your home will invigorate a room without you having to spend a dime. There are a variety of free tools online to help you layout your updated floor plan. The Make Room from Urban Barn, for example, helps you customize the dimensions of your room. Plus, this site has tons of customizable furniture pieces that are sure to match what’s really in your room.

2. Paint or hang wallpaper. Transform a dark room into a bright and cheery space with a few coats of paint. The color of a room can affect our emotional state and set the tone for our mood (see “Choosing Color for Your Home”).  If you don’t want to get out your paint tools, add wallpaper to one wall for an elegant accent and a pop of style. For some inspiration, check out our favorite wallpaper picks in “Wonder Wall: Stylish, Eco-Friendly Wallpaper.”

Wallpaper Accent Wall
Photo courtesy makelike

3. Incorporate a few new home décor pieces. Consider adding a couple of new throw pillows or hanging new curtains. You could also incorporate a new area rug or add seasonal or holiday pieces. Bring the outside in by introducing a houseplant or a vase of fresh flowers. We have lots of tips for choosing upcycled pieces in “Natural and Recycled Home Décor,” and if you need help decorating with houseplants check out our suggestions in “Houseplants: Easy, Affordable Home Décor.”

4. Dress your bed with new bedding. Incorporate a brand new color scheme with a chic and stylish new comforter and sheets. At the same time, you can get rid of chemicals and toxins by choosing organic bedding. (Try these natural and organic bedding options.) Adding new accent pillows to old bedding is also a great way to make a small-scale change.

Organic Bedding
Photo courtesy West Elm

5. Organize your spaces. If you struggle with a cluttered home, one easy way to make it feel fresh is to organize it. Don’t know where to start? We have all the tools you need to clear clutter and get organized in our Home Organization archives.

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


Whether you are creating art for your home or purchasing a new piece of art, consider using or finding upcycled pieces to give your space true artistic flair. Artists use found materials and objects in ways to express feelings, time, places and experiences that uniquely reflect their personal journey through life. Anyone with a passion to create can make their own upcycled art for eco-friendly home décor.

Personal Fiber Collage
Photo By Jen Rothke via Etsy

One example of upcycled art is using vintage fabrics and/or old t-shirts that are sewn together to create a fiber assemblage such as the hand-stitched fiber collage with upcycled vintage embroidery created by artist Jen Rothke of Rothke uses vintage textiles and linens with colorful embroidery to create her pieces. A fiber collage can be personalized by using family memorabilia—a Grandmother’s handkerchief, a daughter’s newborn onesie, or a well loved husband’s t-shirt.

To create your own, you will need: a sewing machine, used fabric, thread, scissors, and your creativity. Start by cutting and laying out your fabric to fit into a frame, follow by sewing your pieces together in any fashion you like. Enjoy the process as you create your masterpiece.

Fiber Collage
Photo by Bonny Gorsuch via Etsy

If sewing and fabric isn’t your thing, you can use chipped plates, vases, and glasses that can be broken down for a mosaic. Magazines, scrap paper and any other inspiring ephemera can be used to create a mixed media collage with just glue and scissors. A unique frame will accentuate your one of a kind upcycled artwork.

Kristy SeverinKristy Severin is a mother of two, a certified art instructor, photographer, painter, writer and cook. She earned her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda, East Africa. Inspired daily by her children and love of the earth, you can find her fine art and writings at The Art of Green Living.


You want to be ecological responsible. You want to minimize your impact on the environment. And you want to expand your living space into the outdoors or you want to replace an old, run-down deck or patio. How can you find the balance, create an awesome outdoor space where you can hang out with friends, grill up some kabobs or burgers, and do it with materials that reflect environmental mindfulness? 

It’s tougher than you think, but it’s totally doable.

Deck Underside
Photo via Flickr

Finding the Best Green Building Materials

Much of the process in creating an environmentally friendly deck comes from asking questions. Asking things like:

• Where does the material come from?

• Is it sustainable?

• Is it harvested/manufactured in a responsible manner?

The more questions you can get answered, the better. Of course, determining who to ask can be a challenge in and of itself. Do you ask a retail store clerk or lumber yard specialist? It can’t hurt and it’s always a good place to start. They may, in the very least, point you in the right direction. Or they might have the exact information you need.

Many companies involved in the harvesting and logging business tend to claim their products are sustainable. They claim to practice responsible harvesting and manufacturing.  But “sustainable” is a broad term, so claims shouldn’t always be taken at face value. It certainly doesn’t mean they don’t, but when broad claims are made with any “green” product, a healthy dose of skepticism is good to have.

Let’s look at the available materials you might consider in your quest to build a green deck. When looking for products designed with sustainability in mind, wood is generally a great choice. I say generally because there are plenty of wood products out there that are not planted or harvested in a sustainable manner and only sold for pure, immediate profit by unsavory individuals or corporations both domestic and abroad. 

Typically, imported wood materials can be more challenging for the general consumer to get a hold of, since there are import restrictions in place on wood. This does not mean all imported wood should be avoided in favor of domestic woods. Just bear in mind there a several countries (such as China and Brazil) that employ very unfavorable harvesting techniques that are not sustainable or in any way environmentally friendly (clear-cutting, for instance).

Redwood Deck
Photo via Flickr

So, what types of wood should you consider? Well, your average lumber retailer usually has a limited selection of wood decking to begin with, so what you consider isn’t likely to be much. A typical selection might look like:

• cedar

• redwood

• southern yellow pine

Additionally, there may be a pressure treated option to increase their resistance decay.  Keep in mind many pressure treated wood products are treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA) and you may want to avoid these types of products due to concern of potential arsenic exposure.

Since these three woods originate in the US or Canada, their harvest conforms to fairly strict regulations and the must be sustainably harvested (again, broad term. Historically, this was very much not the case).  And be aware of the maintenance a wood deck requires. It will need to be treated and stained in order to hold up to all outdoor conditions. That means you’ll need to be aware of what stains and other chemicals you’re using in order to determine whether or not their safe for you and the environment in the vicinity of your deck.  Is it a lot of work? Absolutely. But the end result often makes it worth it.

What if you aren’t interested in a wood deck? There are plenty of other options, but they vary widely in terms of their environmental friendliness.

Composite materials fall right under wood in terms of decking. Except the resins and plastics used in the composites (which incorporate wood particles) aren’t biodegradable, meaning after years of use, once they’re worn out and need to be replaced, you’ll have very few options. In most, if not all cases, manufacturers will advertise composite decking as “environmentally friendly” since they are made from recycled materials (wood, plastics) and while true, they cannot be recycled. Also, composites don’t last any longer than a well-maintained wood deck (which can be upward of 20 years). However, over the life of the deck, one built with composite materials requires less maintenance.

Composite Material Deck
Photo via Flickr

Plastic and vinyl options are a little different in their eco-friendliness. While many plastic products still come from non-sustainable sources, and therefore aren’t recommended, you may be able to find plastic decking made from recycled materials and material that may be recycled in the future. Be sure to check what percentage of the material is actually recycled. Each of these factors vary from product to product, so if you’re considering plastic, you may need to do more intensive research, but for those wanting to be environmentally responsible, it may be best to skip this option.

When it comes down to it, wood is the best green building material you can choose for your deck. Again, you’ll want to do more research before committing to your material to be sure where the wood is sourced, how it’s sourced, and how it’s replenished (See also The Low-Down on Sustainable Decking Materials). Plus, out of the decking materials, woods, composites, and plastics, wood is regarded as the most visually appealing. So, get out there and find what works for you and start building!

Lisa HenfieldLisa Henfield is an exterior designer who spent a few years designing patio furniture covers for hotels in Las Vegas. She mostly writes about her design experiences, providing tips on exterior design and gardens. When she isn't practicing her sewing or writing about the right colors for the outdoor seasons, she usually works on her paintings.


This year has flown by—Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are all just around the corner! Where did the time go? Seeing as how we don’t have much time, allow me to offer up some inspiration with some of my favorite herbal crafts for the holidays.

DIY Miniature Wreaths

In 2011, I wrote about my favorite Christmas book Christmas Thyme at Oak Hill Farm by Marge Clark ("My Favorite Christmas Thyme Book and Dried Herb Wreaths: Part 1"). I love making Marge's miniature potpourri and spice wreaths. If you have leftover potpourri or spices, you will want to try your hand at making these simple wreaths. While Marge’s original directions call for a donut pan, I ended up using an individual Jello mold. (I have a lot of those.) If you can find a donut pan you can make a lot of these wreaths at one time, and they will be smaller and more manageable. Make these with your kids—they will make a great holiday gift for teachers.

Click here for DIY instructions for miniature potpourri wreaths.

Click here for DIY instructions for miniature spice wreaths.

Potpourri Molds
I bet you will have some leftover potpourri to make these.

Spice Wreath
These spice wreaths smell amazing when they are finished.

DIY Pomanders

My other favorite Christmas craft is curing pomanders with fruit, whole cloves and spices. Some years I get started earlier than others. I have pomanders that are years old, and they still have a scent. You can find the pomander recipe I use from Adelma Simmons in my blog post from 2008 ("Herbal Christmas Decorations: Pomanders"). You don’t have to use oranges. Clementines actually work very well, as do kumquats. They are both small and thin-skinned. You can also visit this link to a Good Housekeeping article about clove-studded clementines

Click here for DIY instructions for holiday pomanders.

Orange Studde 
I studded this orange with aromatic cloves.

Pomander Spice Mix
The spice mixture infuses easily and shrinks the fruit to preserve it.

DIY Potpourri

I also enjoy decadent Christmas potpourri and recently found a blend that I really like in the book Malcolm Hillier’s Christmas (see below). I don’t always have every listed potpourri ingredient available to me, but I usually have a a good majority. For me, a potpourri recipe is like a culinary recipe, so make it your own if necessary. In this recipe I mixed the dry spices and the essential oil with a fixative to enhance the scent.

See below for DIY instructions for woody scented Christmas potpourri.

Potpourri Mix
Ground cinnamon, cloves, cinnamon essential oil and crushed corn cob scent my potpourri.

Woody Seed Mix (Dry Method)

• 10 cups mixture of small pine cones, fragrant pine sprigs, star anise, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, dried oak leaves, dried rosehips and love-in-a-mist seedheads
• 2 tablespoons tonka beans (If you can’t find tonka beans, you may use vetiver, ground orris root, crushed corn cob, gum benzoin or frankincense in place of the fixative.)
• 2 tablespoons ground cloves
• 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
• 4 drops cedarwood essential oil or another Christmas scent (I use cinnamon.)

1. Mix all of the ingredients except for the tonka beans, cloves, cinnamon and oil. In a separate container (preferably glass), mix the tonka beans (or other fixative), remaining dry spices and oil.

2. Next, combine the wet mixture with the dry mixture. (You may even want to let the fixative and oil marry for a couple of days to let it mature, then mix it into the dried mixture.)

3. Seal your mixture in a jar and shake every day for 8 weeks to blend the fragrances. I used crushed corn cob for my fixative rather than tanka beans so that the potpourri would be less dusty. I usually use ground orris root as my go-to fixative, but people can often have allergic reactions to it.

Dry Potpourri mix
The dry ingredients before adding the scent.
All Photos by Nancy C. Heraud

I will update this potpourri on the Mother Earth Living Facebook page when I get it in its jar for blending the fragrances. You will have enough time to get it packaged in cellophane bags for Christmas gifts. This potpourri would be a wonderful hostess gift when you attend holiday parties. If you are making it for yourself, just place it in a bowl so it will perfume the air with holiday smells.

I hope you enjoy making all of these simple holiday crafts!

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.


As the American economy recovers, the average new home size has reached an all-time high of 2,300 square feet. This is part of a cultural shift where many Americans are shying away from children sharing bedrooms, and bathrooms are becoming more plentiful and sophisticated. Homes have more than doubled in size since the 1950s, meanwhile vegetable gardens and close relationships with neighbors have declined.

I’ve noticed friends and family raise an eyebrow when I announce that my family of four (with a boy and a girl) is purchasing a two-bedroom, 900-square-foot home next month in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage (BC&E)—a multi-generational community in Midcoast Maine, located just 2½ miles from the center of town and the Penobscot Bay. We are drawn in large part to the simplicity of a small home, shared resources and social activities with the other 35 households.

Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage kids
Sarah Lozanova's kids play with a toy borrowed from Nessa Dertnig, a member of BC&E and a mother of two. Photo By Jeffrey Mabee.

Cohousing is a collaborative neighborhood where residents actively participate in the design and operation. BC&E will soon be a 36-unit community with private kitchens and bathrooms on 42 acres. More than half of the homes are complete and inhabited, some are still under construction, and just three remain unsold. We are also breaking ground on an approximately 4,000-square-foot common house with a shared dining room, commercial kitchen, laundry room, guest bedroom, playroom, offices and root cellar.

“The idea is that everyone’s home is just small enough that they will make use of the common house,” says BC&E cofounder Sanna McKim. “If the homes were too large, nobody would make use of our wonderful shared spaces.”

By design, cohousing helps encourage both modest homes and a high standard of living, while dedicating fewer resources and time for each household to maintain them. Social gatherings and impromptu interactions reduce the need to drive and make carpooling simple. The common house will help offset having a smaller home by providing a setting for activities such as entertaining large groups, teaching a yoga class, hosting overnight guests, and storing canned foods.

Living small inside will not cause us to do the same outside. Garden space is plentiful and there are plans to create a rustic playground. My husband is building a low hoop house for fall and winter greens, and we’re planting fruit trees soon. Harvesting fresh produce as needed will help offset the need for large home food storage spaces.

The houses are all located in 2, 3, and 4-unit buildings, reducing the heating load and keeping the footprint smaller. The shared land has clustered homes, plenty of open space, limited automobile access, individual gardens, and a small CSA farm. Residents have access to many acres, yet are only responsible for maintaining a small yard and optional nearby garden space. A few acres is currently dedicated to Little River Community Farm, a worker share CSA that many community members participate in. A weekly harvest brings neighbors together to share the bounty and learn from each other.

This layout stands in contrast to most new neighborhoods in the U.S. that are largely automobile-centered, thus significantly reducing contact with neighbors. “I know a lot of people who live in houses with attached garages and they have never even seen their neighbors,” says Dan Capwell, a member of BC&E. “All they see is a car enter the garage in the evening and a car leave in the morning.”

Limiting automobile access does have its advantage and drawbacks. I’ll certainly feel safer when my children are playing outside, but unloading groceries will take longer, especially with a toddler.

Living in cohousing can reduce resource consumption and save money. Toys, children’s clothes, furniture and books are commonly passed from member to member. A least a dozen people met us to help unload our moving truck when we arrived from Wisconsin and the opportunities to share belongings are plentiful.

“We have thought about the fact that not everyone would have to own their own rototiller, hoe or snow plow,” says Nessa Dertnig, a member of BC&E and a mother of two. “We also have just one car and we’ve thought of car sharing in the future. There are all kinds of ways we can share resources and time and it is all so convenient.”

Despite plentiful shared spaces and resources, living in a 900-square-foot home will require us to keep clutter to a minimum and make good use of our space. We’re purchasing a combo washer and dryer (all in the same unit), so we have room for a small chest freezer. We’re buying a dishdrawer (instead of a full dishwasher) and bunk beds for the kids. We’ve already downsized our toy collection. When I’ve done that in the past, my children invent new games with found objects, such as pinecones and bark. It’s a good reminder to take pleasure in simple joys.

Sarah Lozanova is a mother of two, a holistic parenting coach, and a freelance environmental writer. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and has an MBA in sustainable development. View her natural parenting blog at 

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