May 2, 2016

Foraging Cleavers for Food and Medicine

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

Even though I don't have a garden right now, I'm still finding food to harvest from my yard. That's because God has provided us with a bounty of weeds that are good to eat - and most of them are "super food," packed with nutrients.

My season for eating fresh dandelion leaves is over because now the plants are blooming. (This makes the leaves awfully bitter - though there are ways around that. See my Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook for details.) Currently, we're eating the flowers. (Here's a favorite recipe.) Plantain is out and about, and is both good to eat and medicinal. Yellow dock is beginning to appear. Sow thistle, which is best when young, is cropping up. But lately, we've been focusing on cleavers (Galium aparine) - one of my children's favorites.

How to Identify Cleavers
Cleavers cling to nearly anything, including other plants.
(Courtesy Hugo.arg and Wikimedia Commons.)

In my yard, cleavers are among the easiest weeds to identify. Cleavers is a vining plant with long, thin leaves, and little bristles ("hooks" that bend toward the bottom of the plant) that tend to cling - or "cleave" - to just about anything it touches. (There's even a rumor that cleavers inspired the creation of Velcro.) The lowest leaves of the plant are petioled and rather round, whereas the upper leaves are sessile and shaped rather like narrow ovals. Cleaver plants can be 2 or 3 feet long when mature, and while they sometimes climb nearby plants or fences, they tend to grow horizontally across the ground. 

Cleavers are also sometimes called clivers, goose grass (because geese love to eat them), catchweed, or sweet woodruff (the latter being it's own variety of cleavers that is medicinal, but toxic when consumed in large quantities). Cleavers grow throughout the United States, and through much of Canada and Mexico, as well as in many other parts of the world.
Cleaver leaves have distinctive, oval shape leaves that appear on the plant in a circular pattern. (This photo and title photo courtesy of Harry Rose.)

What Do Cleavers Taste Like?

To me, cleavers taste like many other greens you are probably familiar with, like kale. They have a slightly bitter taste, much like some slightly bitter salad greens and not nearly as bitter as, say, dandelion leaves. Don't let that slight bitterness scare you, though. Even my children like to eat cleavers!

How to Eat Cleavers

Most often, my kids and I pick the young tips of cleavers and eat them raw. You'll see where the newest leaves grow in a cluster at the end of each vining end of the plant. Pinch these young leaves off and chew well before swallowing.

The newest leaves, or tips, of the cleaver are most edible. (Courtesy of Harry Rose.)
(I remember reading once that a foraging expert ate some raw cleavers during a class and didn't chew well. The plant clung to his throat, causing him to choke a bit before couching the plant back up! I have never had this happen, and I think it's because I eat only the youngest leaves, or "tips.")

But if you want to make absolutely sure cleavers stop clinging, you'll want to cook them. Pinch off the younger leaves and boil them for about 10 - 15 minutes. This will remove the clinging "hooks." After cooking, cleavers can be used like any green. For example, you can add them to omelets, rice, enchiladas, or smoothies.

As the plant ages, the leaves are less and less edible, becoming tough and more hairy. If there are buds or flowers on the plant, it's much too mature to eat.

I've also read that cleaver seeds - roasted at a low temperature - can be brewed into a caffeine-free coffee substitute. (Find complete directions here.)

Making Medicine with Cleavers
Courtesy NATT at NKM.

Traditionally, cleaver leaves (old or young and dehydrated) were used to make a tea or tincture to treat kidney problems (including kidney stones), to help treat fever, and to act as a diuretic. They were also mashed up and applied to stings and bites. Most herbalists also believe cleavers improve the immune system and act as a cleansing tonic; cleavers may also act as a gentle sleep aid.

Mountain Rose Herbs says cleavers are good medicine for hypertension, psoriasis, eczema, and general skin care (including rashes). The plant's leaves also make a nice addition to hair rinses.

Many sources claim cleavers have been scientifically tested and found anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, too. First Ways also recommends clever tea for swollen lymph nodes.

You can read more about the medicinal properties of cleavers at The Homeopathic Information Service website.

CAUTIONS: Most herbalists recommend consuming only small amounts of cleavers, since it's considered strong medicine. People on blood pressure medication should not consume cleavers (since it the combo of cleavers and their prescription may lower their blood pressure more than is safe). Those on diuretics or kidney medication should consult a physician before consuming cleavers. In addition, pregnant women should avoid cleavers. Some people are allergic to cleavers and may get a rash (contact dermatitis) when they touch the plant; if this happens to you, do not under any circumstances eat cleavers. As with all new-to-you plants, when trying cleavers for the first time, it's a good idea to crush a few leaves and rub them over your skin. Wait 24 hours before consuming any cleavers. It's also smart to eat just a few leaves the first time you eat cleavers, or any other wild food. If you are allergic to plants in the Rubiaceae family, you should not consume cleavers.

I am not a doctor, nor should anything on this website ( be considered medical advice. The FDA requires me to say that products mentioned, linked to, or displayed on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information on this web site is designed for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for qualified medical advice or care. There are no assurances of the information being fit or suited to your medical needs, and to the maximum extent allow by law disclaim any and all warranties and liabilities related to your use of any of the information obtained from the website. Your use of this website does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship. No information on this website should be considered complete, nor should it be used as a substitute for a visit to, consultation with, or the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider.  

Apr 27, 2016

Free Resources for Teaching Kids About Elections - including the Electoral College

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

 Between presidential candidates claiming the election is being stolen and certain voters thinking the electoral college and brokered conventions are meant to steal their vote, the 2016 primary has taught me that a great many Americans don't understand how our president is actually chosen. So, in the coming months, I'm making it my mission to make sure my children do understand the process.

Fortunately, there are lots of good, free resources to help you and I teach our kids (and maybe ourselves) how our Republic works. (Because, make no mistake, even though some organizations that should know better - like Scholastic and PBS and the evening news channels - say we have a Democracy, they are wrong. In a Democracy, citizens vote for all laws and leaders are directly chosen by voting citizens. In a Republic, citizens vote for representatives who, in turn, make laws and vote for us. Learn more here.)

I want to stress that the links I'm including here are almost all appropriate for grade school kids. I feel they do a good job explaining the election process in a simple way. I hope you agree!

* Who can be president? Apply for the job! This is a fun online activity. (One correction for this site: In section 1, article 2, the Constitution says only a "natural born Citizen" can be president, but does not offer a definition. For nearly forever, this has meant the individual had American citizenship at birth, which is why someone like Ted Cruz, who was born in Canada but had an American mother, and therefore American citizenship at birth, is eligible to run for the presidency.)

* This is a good time to review the Constitution. For younger kids, I recommend The Constitution for Kids, which offers the document in easy to understand language for kids 4 - 7 and K-3rd grade.

* A step by step flow chart of how to become president.

* Most libraries carry the picture book Duck for President, which is a great place to start with young kids. Or, watch a video of the book online. You might also consider the video of Berenstain Bears Big Election, where Papa runs for mayor.

* Schoolhouse Rock video about the electoral college.

* Nice explanatory poster for electoral college.

* Electoral college coloring map. Here's another one.

* 2 minute video explaining the electoral college.

* A more detailed, cartoonish video on the electoral college.

* An excellent activity for understanding the electoral college. (Hint: If you're opposed to soda pop, that's fine. You can use almost anything your kids like - food, toys, etc. - for this activity.)

* Downloadable election lapbook pages.

* Election Day writing ideas.

* There is no download for this cute "vote for me" writing idea, but it would be easy to make, anyway.
Courtesy of

* "If I were president" writing printable. Also check out the "I Am President" writing page.

* "Step Inside the Voting Booth" - an online activity about the importance of everyone voting.

* Cute mock vote printables, with voter registration cards and ballots for "How Do You Like to Eat Corn?"

* Election freebie, including "If I Were President" writing activity, a candidate flipbook, candidate comparison chart, mock ballots, and "I Voted" stickers.

* And just for fun, a recipe for an "election day cake."

Apr 25, 2016

Is A Tiny House Right For You? 6 Things to Consider

In a few weeks, we'll be living full time in our tiny house motor home.That's right. 180 sq. ft. and four people. It will certainly be an adventure! We don't plan to live in our tiny house forever...but we know many people who do want to live forever tiny. You might wonder if tiny living is right for you. Here are some things you should consider.

1. Do you have kids? Tiny houses are great for couples or singles. But if you have kids, a tiny house can be far more challenging. This is not to say you can't live in a tiny house and have children; it's just that you'll need to plan carefully so you don't feel stacked one on top of each other. (Want some inspiration? Click over to Homestead Honey, where my friend Teri blogs about tiny house living with a family of four.)

2. Where will you spend your time? If you have young kids, you'll want your tiny house on enough land that your children will mostly play outside. Because a tiny house is not a great place for children to play. The adults in the tiny house will want to pursue outside activities, too. For example, if you work from your tiny house, you might get some serious cabin fever unless you plan to be away from home (or at least out in the garden) several hours each day.

3. Do you have money to build or buy? Despite the fact that tiny houses are diminutive, they aren't necessarily affordable. Tiny houses generally cost $200 - $400 per sq. ft., or $23,000 on average, and most folks have to pay cash, since it's difficult to find tiny house financing. So if you don't have that much cash laying around, you'll need to get creative. Maybe you have a fantastic source for cheap building materials, or maybe you choose to live in a motor coach or RV instead of a house.

4. Do you have land? Land itself is expensive, but if you don't own land where you can put your tiny house (check zoning laws!), you'll have to pay a monthly fee to park it somewhere else. Even that can be tricky, since not all RV parks accept tiny houses. Your best bet might be a Craigslist ad asking to rent rural property to park on.

5. Can you get insurance? If your tiny house is an RV or motor coach, this won't be a problem. Otherwise, you may have trouble finding an insurance company willing to cover your tiny house. Which is even more of a problem because tiny homes are easy to steal. On the other hand, maybe you're willing to take a risk and do without.

6. Are you ready to save money? Assuming you can get into a tiny house, you have a great opportunity to save money. No mortgage (68% of tiny house owners owe nothing on their house) and lower utilities and taxes equals more cash in hand. In fact, one source claims 55% of tiny house homeowners have more savings than the average American - almost $11,000, compared to the typical $3,950.

Apr 23, 2016

Weekend Links

In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page

* Costco berries recalled for possible hepatitis A contamination.

* Government gives okay to GMO mushrooms, and says they don't need regulation.

* Now there's another reason to avoid fast food. This is interesting...because it's not the food itself that's in question here, but it's high exposure to a chemical found in things like conveyor belts and gloves.

* Common drugs like Benadryl, Demerol, Dimetapp, Dramamine, Paxil, Unisom and VESIcare linked to reduced brain size and possibly Altzheimers. And researchers have known about the drug-brain size correlation for a decade.

* Acid reflux drugs may lead to kidney failure.

* Did you know it's a myth that picking dandelion flowers will hurt bees? Picking dandelion flowers only makes these prolific plants produce more flowers!

* The Environmental Working Group has released its updates on which fruits and veggies are laden with the most pesticides. (Ick! Strawberries and apples now top the list.) But remember, you can almost always grow your own. In fact, I wrote a book about that.

* Billy Graham's 6 Parenting Tips.  

Oldies But Goodies:

* The Job of Homemaking
* Practicing Thankfulness 
* Saving and Using Bacon Drippings 
* Easy DIY From Scratch Steak Fries 
* How to Homestead with Children


Apr 20, 2016

The Woodland Homestead: A Book Review

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

When you imagine your ideal homestead, what do you picture? A suburban home with a 1 acre yard? Old farmland with flat pastures? Rolling, grassy hills and barns? But did you know an increasing number of modern homesteaders are following the lead of old time homesteaders and settling into the forest? Yes, even my own family will soon trade suburban life in for a little house in the big woods. In part, because we love the forest - and in part because forested land is much less expensive than pastures and grassy hills. (In my neck of the woods - pun intended - there are even tax breaks for those who keep a certain amount of their land forested.) Indeed, choosing wooded land can make your homesteading dreams affordable and practical.

But, you may ask, how can you homestead in the woods? Won't the trees get in the way?

It is true you have to clear some of the trees to make way for a house. And it's true you have to clear away a few more for a productive garden and orchard. But the rest? It can stay there! And that's what Brett McLeod's The Woodland Homestead is all about.

McLeod has impressive credentials. Not only does he homestead on 25 acres of wooded land, but he's an associate professor of forestry and natural resources, and spent years as a forester and lumberjack. Even if you think you already know a lot about homesteading in the forest, I'm betting you'll learn a few things from McLeod's book.

To begin with, did you know that livestock don't need pastureland? That's right; even cows can thrive in thinned woods. And some livestock, including pigs, goats, sheep, and poultry not only benefit from the food the forest provides, but help keep the woods in good health. This is a win-win for the homesteader because it cuts down feed costs, results in healthier meat or eggs - not to mention woods, and the critters do a lot of work that would otherwise fall to the humans.

Yet, as the author points out, there are so many other benefits to homesteading in the woods. He not only goes into depth about understanding your forest (this is where his forestry experience becomes awesomely apparent), but he explains how to use specific types of trees for different homestead needs and how to maintain your woods through forest succession - that is, keeping the right balance between old and young trees. Have you never cut your own firewood? You'll learn how in The Woodland Homestead. Never built with cordwood? You'll learn the basics here. Want a portable sawmill? McLeod gives great advice. He even talks about using draft animals in lieu of heavy equipment.

McLeod also covers topics like living fences, building with stumps, orchards in the forest (including resurrecting old orchards and planting new ones), bees in the woods, making cider, gathering sap for syrup (Hint: you don't have to have sugar maple trees), hugelkulture (using decomposing stumps and limbs as the basis for a garden bed), and other forest edibles, like berry vines, strawberries, nuts, mushrooms, and more.

In fact, this book is packed with so much information, I had to read it twice to soak even most of it in. My only complaint is that much of the information in the book is based on the author's experience in the Eastern part of the United States. Therefore, he talks a lot about the trees that grow there, and not so much about the trees that grow elsewhere in the nation. Too, as someone who lives where frosts aren't heavy, I didn't find the answer to my long-time question: "Can I collect sap for syrup even if it doesn't get very cold on my homestead?"

Still, if you're considering a wooded homestead, The Woodland Homestead is a must read.

Apr 18, 2016

How I Cured an Irregular Heart Beat...Naturally

The women in my family have a problem. (Well, probably more than one...Ha!) We tend to have irregular heart beats. That is to say, we experience heart palpitations. Our hearts will lope quickly one minute, skip beats another. It's a bit unsettling, and has caused many of us to seek the help of a heart specialist.

But the heart specialists always say the same thing: "There's nothing wrong with your heart." One of my sisters was given medication to help regulate her heartbeat, but the drug made her depressed. So she does what so many doctors suggest: Cough hard. This "resets" the heartbeat.

But last year, I discovered an actual cure for my irregular heartbeat, via my naturopath: Potassium. This was fascinating to me because the women in my family also tend to have low potassium levels.

Turns out, potassium is "crucial to heart function" and, despite the fact that no MD or heart specialist ever mentioned this to any of the women in my family, low levels of potassium (known as hypokalemia) are recognized as causing an irregular heartbeat.

The thing is, I found it tough to get enough potassium through my diet. (Click here for a list of foods with high levels of potassium.) But as soon as I started taking a quality potassium supplement? My irregular heartbeat went away almost immediately.

Such a simple fix!

Now, a couple of caveats:

1. Heart palpitations can be a sign of a serious health problem, so if you experience them, you should definitely see a physician.

And 2: Not all supplements are created equal. You may have read in the news that some common supplements are complete frauds. So I always ask my naturopath to recommend a brand of supplement that's high quality and trustworthy. She recommended Designs for Health K+2 Potassium supplements.

How much do you need to take? Adults need 4,700 mg of potassium daily. I usually take a 300 mg tablet daily, and try to eat lots of potassium rich foods. But if I notice I'm experiencing muscle cramps or twitches, I take two capsules a day for a couple of days.

Do be smart about taking potassium, though. You should discuss it with your doctor because too much potassium (hyperkalemia) can lead to heart palpitations - and in severe cases may even make the heart stop beating.

I am not a doctor, nor should anything on this website ( be considered medical advice. The FDA requires me to say that products mentioned, linked to, or displayed on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information on this web site is designed for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for qualified medical advice or care. There are no assurances of the information being fit or suited to your medical needs, and to the maximum extent allow by law disclaim any and all warranties and liabilities related to your use of any of the information obtained from the website. Your use of this website does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship. No information on this website should be considered complete, nor should it be used as a substitute for a visit to, consultation with, or the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider.  

Apr 16, 2016

Weekend Links

Courtesy MJJR and Wikimedia Commons.
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page

UPDATE on our move: We got the first of three offers on our house three days after listing. We've now accepted an offer and the house is pending sale. God is so good!

* Recall of Fisher Price baby swings.

* Reser food recall.

* The more I read about how commercial food is grown, the more I don't want to buy ANYTHING from the grocery store. Take this, for example.

* How Not to Miss Stuff You Really Like on Social Media. Chances are, right now you're missing posts from your favorite bloggers and friends. Here's how to get around that.

* Antibiotics linked to diabetes. Just another good reason not to take them unless you truly need them!

* I'll soon be moving to an area with lots of mosquitoes, so I've been doing research on what plants deter them and what herbs or essential oils we can use instead of DEET. The Herbal Academy recommends these essential oils.

* When I had to replace my Dyson because the Dyson would have voided my carpet warranty, my husband grabbed this vacuum for me. They advertise that it's better than a Dyson...and I agree! (Plus, it doesn't void my carpet warranty.) It does better on bare floors, fits under my cupboards (my Dyson wouldn't), and doesn't get clogged, which my Dyson frequently did. And it's under $100!

* I like this article on wisely choosing disciplinary consequences for your children.

* Grow your own bay leaves.

* Did you know hostas were edible??

* The Baal arches aren't going up after all. (And here's why that's a good thing.)

* You probably don't know about this way criminals can easily get your debit card or other codes. But there's an easy fix!

Oldies But Goodies:

* How to Protect Your Child's Hearing in an Ear Bud World 
* Free Spring Cleaning Checklists 
* How to Organize Bill Paying (with free printables) 
* How to Make Kombucha 
* How to Can Tomatoes

Apr 13, 2016

Reader's Gardens: Tereza's Treasures

Last week, bemoaning the fact that I won't have much of a garden this year (due to moving), I asked readers to send me their garden photos, and a little about why they started growing food. (If you'd like to participate, send your photos to kriswrite at aol dot com. If you have a blog or website, be sure to let me know, so I can link readers to it.) Tereza, a long time reader, sent this:

"I began gardening because I live in a small rural town and love to cook. I really wanted fresh herbs and other produce I could not find here or they were way too expensive. Five years ago we moved into this house and it is in the middle of 5 acres - so there's plenty of space for gardening. 
Before this, we lived in a garden home and my husband wouldn't let me do much in our backyard. So I tried planting herbs in pots and planted a few tomatoes in a corner. Although they produced well, I didn't know much about helping them thrive. When I moved to this house, I convinced my husband to build me 3 raised beds. He wanted to buy a tiller and till the ground, but I told him I wanted to begin small with something doable so I wouldn't get overwhelmed. Since I homeschool, I also wanted to be able to, if necessary, take a break or neglect my garden, and not feel guilty. :)
Tereza says many of the greens were planted last fall; the lettuce was planted about 5 weeks ago.
So I planted green beans, kale, mustard, basil, cilantro, green onions, peppers, tomatoes and we all fell in love with gardening. My husband had experience eating produce fresh from the garden because his Grandpa gardened while he was growing up. But he never did participate in it much, other than eating. This time around he built the boxes, gave me some instruction based on what he watched his Grandpa do, and gave me support. Lots of support.
After the first year, I asked for more boxes, a compost bin, more pots with herbs and we began increasing. I got lots of free plants from our local garden center. I befriended an older man who gave me lots of tutorials. I watched tons of YouTube videos. I used your ebook on planting seeds. (Note from Kristina: She means Starting Seeds.) I asked you questions and you answered them. :)
Today I have 20 raised beds plus all the pots I used for herbs and tomato plants. I have 3 strawberry beds that got started with 5 free plants. Today I saw the first ripe strawberry of the season. Last year, I didn't have to buy a single strawberry carton! I love gardening. At the end of summer, I am so tired and don't want to do much. But then, I can't entertain the idea of not having fresh produce during the winter. So I plant greens and anything else that will grow in the winter. The gardening gives me motivation in the Spring to come outside and begin working. I love gardening.
We are thinking of moving and traveling. The one thing that always makes me hesitate is that I will not be able to garden and will have to give up my green patch. :)"

Tereza has a YouTube channel with some gardening videos, and she also blogs at Creating Treasures.