Gardening Stories – Keeping Volunteers

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post my propensity for hanging on to weeds or volunteers, as I prefer to call them. It only got worse as I became interested in ornamental gardening. In the past, I used to claim that I only planted edibles and medicinals, but ever since I did my first barter and got Vietnam rose and wingpod purslane, I started hankering after flowers.

After that, I did another barter wherein I got different lilies, mayanas (coleus), turtle vine, bleeding heart cadena de amor, pink polka dot plant, hibiscus, alocasia, and a few others I can’t recall right now, and my interest in ornamentals grew.

I never used to care about philodendrons and pothoses, but, now, I want to collect them. I guess I’ve been bitten by the plantita bug. I never considered myself a plantita before. I was a gardener, a wannabe backyard farmer, but not a plantita. I didn’t know a caladium from a calathea. I only very reluctantly kept indoor plants because I already sucked at housekeeping; it just wouldn’t do to add to the already long list of chores I habitually neglected.

But now, I’ve become a convert. I fell asleep the other night with visions of split and variegated leaves swimming in my mind. Last week while driving around Eastwood, which is landscaped with many ornamental plants, I kept on wanting to stop and ask the nearest guard for cuttings. I think from now on I won’t go out without my pruning shears at the ready. You never know when you’ll encounter somebody willing to let you snip from their plants.

This means that while I used to hesitate about yanking out volunteers on the chance that they’re edible or medicinal, now I also often choose to leave them alone for their ornamental value.

Syngonium with a kind of grass with tiny white dots for flowers. Planning to use grass for indoor flower arrangement, our allergies be darned.

I had this plant with pretty heart/arrow-shaped leaves spring up from the base of my potted lemon tree. I thought it would nice to keep it around. I asked for help identifying it in one of my gardening groups, and I was told that it was syngonium. Invasive and often considered a weed, it was now getting popular as an ornamental. Sure enough, in my gardening barter group, many have asked for syngonium in exchange for what they were offering.

There was also this kind of grass that grew under my starfruit plant. It had tiny purple flowers that were so pretty I didn’t have the heart to yank them out. When the blooms were gone, somebody yanked them out, but I don’t think it was me. And then there was this other weed that looked like creeping charlie (and might actually have been creeping charlie); it grew at the base of my kumquat. It’s gone now too. I should have repotted them or used them for decoration because they didn’t stay very long for some reason. I wish I had at least taken pictures.

Of course, I still have white and purple vincas (periwinkle) growing in the cracks of the garden wall. I leave those alone. My mom actually bought a vinca with fuchsia flowers, so I might get a cutting to propagate with and I’d be on my way to a veritable collection.

And then there are the ferns. I know next to zilch about ferns, which is funny because there was one point in my teenage years when I wished my name was Fern instead of Ivy. (Did that make you think of hanging pots of English ivy and Boston fern?) Anyway, I used to just yank volunteer ferns out, thinking unless they were fiddleheads, which would be great in a salad, I didn’t really care to keep them. Now that I’m more or less certifiable as a plantita, I’m repotting them and nurturing them to a thriving state. I actually gasped in dismay the other day when I found whole, already lush fern plants in my mom’s pile of garden discards.

Dill with fish fern(?) and oak fern(?)

Right now, I have what I think is a fish fern? I thought it looked like a sword or a Boston fern, but then I found this, so I’m thinking it’s most likely fish fern or pakong-alagdan (both edible and medicinal). I also have what I think looks most like oak fern, but, probably not. Anybody care to enlighten me?

Oak fern(?) with dragon fruit plant

I have other volunteer plants that turned out to be papaya, sambong, and crown of thorns. Obviously, I kept them. Every morning, I go out to see what new plants have found their way to my yard. It’s one of the delights I derive from having a garden. There are plenty, of course. All that sprouting and budding and fruiting… it’s all pretty exciting. Let’s not even get into the fascinating creatures that choose to hang out there. Or the mushrooms! They’re always thrilling to discover. (That’s not just me, right?) Unfortunately, all that have appeared in my garden had rings around their stems, a sure sign that they were poisonous. Still, I’m glad to have these things for however short a time they get to stay.

Toxic cuties 😀

There are also volunteers I kept that turned out to be duds – in my opinion, anyway. On the grounds of our church’s former location, we used to harvest wild cucumber from volunteer vines that grew everywhere. Our old chapel was such a nice place. We planted mango, chirimoya, atis, mulberry, sapinit, and santol among other things around it. We’d been there since 1995, but a couple of years ago, our landlady decided to use the property herself – and then proceeded to change her mind several times. Unfortunately, we were long gone. Going back to my original track though, I thought I had the wild cucumber vine growing in my garden. I let it grow and flourish and… well, fester. It was so invasive, and it never flowered or bore fruit. I finally had the sense to get rid of it. In any case, I’m still here wishing one of the bugs and birds would accidentally gift me with a wild cucumber or a wild passionfruit.

My mom who has actual in-ground soil, not just paved space like I do, has a more lush collection of volunteers. She has is-is (ficus ulmifolia), kapok (Java cotton), and akapulko (candle bush) among other trees. I happen to think those plants are a boon to have. Is-is leaves can be used as sandpaper and scouring pad. I also recently learned that its berries are edible. Meanwhile, kapok is a source of cotton, and akapulko is known in these parts as a remedy for skin issues. Back in the ’90s, my dog Maggie developed mange from an airborne virus (not mites, according to the vet), and somebody advised me to bathe him in boiled (and cooled, of course) akapulko leaves, flowers, and bark. Maggie’s skin cleared almost immediately.

It really does pay to keep volunteers in many cases. What about you? What volunteers have you been blessed with? Did you keep them? Or are you brutally committed to weeding them out? I’d really like to know.

Foraging the Garden – Mustard Greens as Natural Decongestant

I have insane allergies that seem to have gotten worse as I got older. These days, my nasal passages can get so swollen that I can barely breathe. I think I may have chronic sinusitis, but I haven’t gone to the doctor as I’m true to form. As many Asian comedians would say, Asian moms are the last people to go to the doctor. So, I’m dealing with it my own way and keeping myself away from the antibiotics that I’m sure to be prescribed.

My really bad allergies strike about once a month. That’s the time when my immune system plummets and I have to purposefully boost my health so I don’t get debilitated. I’m not exaggerating. You can’t do anything when you’re forcefully sneezing every 10 seconds, or if you have pains bothering you. If I’m not careful, I can get a really severe asthma attack or a nauseating migraine attack. Or both. Since the best defense is a good offense, I usually take more supplements as well as apply and diffuse essential oils to ward off these potential episodes.

Unfortunately, sometimes I forget to be conscious of dates and I find that I already dropped the ball on going on the offensive, giving my allergies the chance to attack with a vengeance.

Home Remedies for Stuffy Nose

When my nose is seriously clogged not only by mucus, but by inflamed blood vessels as well, I have several go-tos for breathing aids.

1. A hot liquid – This could be a drink like herbal tea or some kind of citrus juice, or soup (preferably Korean). Inhaling the steam also helps, of course.

2. Chili in food -That would explain the Korean soup preference. I love spicy food, but, other than pickled peppers like pepperoncinis and banana peppers, I don’t really eat chilis straight. I just season with them or use them as condiments. I’ve found Sriracha to be very effective.

3. Wasabi – Blessed was the day I discovered this Japanese horseradish paste! I love what this can do to my nose. I remember an episode of “The Nanny” wherein Fran Fine tried it for the first time. With a more dignified non-nasal voice, she said, “Gee, you know that mustard really clears up the nasal passages. I like it. I wonder how (nasal voice back) long it’s gonna last.” That’s right; the relief that doesn’t last very long, but those few seconds of normal nose-breathing are gold when you have a stuffy nose. That’s why I like having a tube of wasabi paste on hand.

4. Mustard greens – Bearing the same component (allyl isothiocyanate) in wasabi that causes that nasal burning (and clearing!) sensation, mustard greens are both delicious and stuffy nose-busting.

The Wonderful Mustard

Mustard is getting the spotlight in this post because it’s my favorite vegetable, and as long as I remember to plant seeds at regular intervals, I always have some available in the garden.

I consider the mustard to be all that as a plant. It’s peppery, crispy, nutritious, and biblical! I feel it’s extra special because Jesus talked about it. 😀 In any case, the following are some of the established benefits offered by mustard greens in case I haven’t swayed you over to their fandom.

  • They have loads of health-promoting and disease-preventing phytonutrients.
  • They are rich in vitamins A, C, and K and have sufficient vitamin B-complex for it to count.
  • They are a great source of various antioxidants – carotenes, flavonoids, indoles, lutein, sulforaphane, and zeaxanthin.
  • They have plenty of dietary fiber while also being low calorie.

Studies have found that regular consumption of mustard greens helps protect the body against various ailments and diseases, including arthritis, osteoporosis, iron deficiency anemia, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, and certain cancers.

Mark and I are kind of addicted to the things. He used to like pickling them and having them on standby in the fridge for a side dish or a snack, but he has cottoned to my lazy ways, which involve plucking leaves from the plant and eating them straight like a common garden vermin, lol.

—————-Arugula/Rocket Salad—————-

I’d love to have other peppery, decongesting vegetables in my garden. I’m going to try watercress and nasturtiums, but I don’t think they’ll thrive in my climate. I do have arugula, but its bite stays in the mouth and doesn’t blaze up to the nose the way wasabi and mustard do. That reminds me, I have wasabi radish seeds that I should have another go at. The first seed sprouted just fine, but something ate the seedling, so I have to find a safe place for my next try.

What about you? What’s your favorite vegetable? What decongesting tricks do you want to share? What do you frequently forage/harvest from your garden? I’d love to know.

Garden Stories: Collecting Moss Roses

The first time I ever encountered (or registered) moss roses, they were on Mrs. Hla’s front lawn. She was one of my ESL students – a missionary’s wife who sought to improve her English. Twice a week, I would go to her house to teach her and two other Bangladeshi women. I taught high school English in the mornings at that time, and their kids were actually in my classes. During the school’s first PTC, they had approached me to see if I’d be willing to come over to Mrs. Hla’s house and teach them ESL. I readily agreed.

As I approached the Hlas’ home for our first session, I noticed the round fluffs that seemingly hovered above the grass. In the midday sun, their color took on a vibrant hot pink hue. I was utterly charmed and instantly fascinated. When I inquired what those flowers were, Mrs. Hla informed me that they were Vietnam Roses.

The next time I took a trip to a garden center, I got myself a few pots of said plants. Since the name “Vietnam Rose” is a little unwieldy (not really, lol) and some people actually call the flower Mexican Rose, I decided to call it the more neutral “moss rose.”

I don’t remember what happened to those plants. I was still single and living at home, and although I loved plants and enjoyed the garden, I wasn’t really in charge of taking care of anything. I think the moss roses died or they weren’t thriving, so my mom got rid of them. Apparently, plants need care specific to their needs, duh. This is just another one of the many lessons in responsibility and independence that I had to painstakingly learn when I was finally living on my own.

Fast forward to some 20 years later when I was already entrenched in tending my own garden. I wasn’t big on ornamentals and mainly preferred edibles and medicinals. However, like many plant lovers in the time of pandemic, I became a member of a gardening barter community. Shortly after my joining, somebody wanted to barter portulaca cuttings for succulents and pots. Portulaca happens to cover a range of plants, including moss rose and wingpod purslane, which were what the poster was offering. Remembering my lapsed fascination for moss roses, I immediately offered a succulent (a freebie I got from buying herbs) and a hooked pot, which the poster fortunately accepted. We swapped goods via Lalamove and I became the owner of several cuttings that soon gave me multiple pots of portulaca.

Since I have both moss rose (portulaca grandiflora) and wingpod purslane (portulaca umbraticola), I’d better just refer to both as portulaca. Admittedly I’m more partial to moss roses, but I have every intention of collecting wingpod purslane as well. Right now I just have the yellow-flowering kind, but I’ve spotted pink and orange varieties from a neighbor. I’m just biding my time before I propose a neighborly barter.

My collection thus far of moss roses, on the other hand, has given me a funny anecdote. The portulaca grandiflora is a curious little plant; even its names are interesting. Other known names for it are rock rose, sun rose, rose moss, and eleven o’clock. Now, the last one is uncanny because in Tagalog, moss rose is also called  a las diyes, which means “at ten o’clock” (AM obviously), referring to the time when the flowers are fully open. Incidentally, its other name in Tagalog is alembong, which means “flirt.” It’s not a nice name to be called, and I don’t what these flowers did to deserve it, but my mother is having fun calling the plants this.

Speaking of my mother, a huge chunk of my collection actually came from her. One time I found out she was at the garden shop, so I asked her to get me some portulaca. From my own previous visits, I knew that you could get a bundle of cuttings of different colored flowers for fifty pesos. I wasn’t sure if she was in the same shop I visited, but the price range should stay close to that value. Portulaca isn’t expensive at all and is ridiculously easy to propagate; that’s why I have no guilt over collecting different kinds.

My mom got two hanging pots of moss roses. I asked her what colors she got since I had told her to get any color except for fuchsia and peach, which I already had. Mom, however, had no idea. She said the sales clerk couldn’t say either. That sounded promising, so she said she’d just take the plants for herself and I could get cuttings if they produced colors I wanted. That was fine by me.

We waited excitedly to see what color flowers the plants would bloom, but the buds they already had somehow ended up shriveling. The plants looked fine. They weren’t wilting or dying. They just weren’t blooming. They were getting full sun. They were getting enough water. BUT my mother unfortunately does have a record for killing plants, even hardy ones. She has since gotten better at taking care of plants (with some help) and now has a thriving garden. Still, she did have a record, so she told me to bring the plants home before she wound up killing them.

For some reason, within a week of bringing the plants home with me, I got my first bloom. I was thrilled because the flower was a baby pink color I didn’t have yet. A couple of days later, I got another bloom. This time, the flower was white. I reported to my mom that the pots she got seemed hold a pink and white combo. I was thrilled to have two additional colors to my existing collection. Meanwhile, my older peach-flowered plant produced a decidedly darker orange bloom, more coral than the pastel peach ones it gave in the past. That was really interesting to me. One of these days, I’ll muster enough zeal and motivation to look up what was up with that.

And then one of Mom’s plants offered up another shade of pink, this time more watermelon pink than the light pink it used to bloom. I thought, “Oh, I get it now. These pots have a yesterday-today-tomorrow kind of theme.” Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow is what we mistakenly call Mom’s Rangoon Creeper, which has white, pale pink, and darker pink flowers. The real yesterday-today-and-tomorrow plant (Brunfelsia), however, has blooms in different shades of purple.

Anyway, it turned out that the plants were yet to be done with their surprises as a day later, one of them produced a variegated flower with both pink and white on it. I was elated. I admittedly do have a lot of seemingly shallow joys – seeds sprouting from the soil or stubborn ones germinating in damp folded paper towels, plants budding, free new plants from runners and shoots… so something like an unexpected flower color really excites me.

In any case, I was incredibly delighted by my moss roses, and seeing them continues to thrill me. When I get up in the morning and emerge from my bedroom, the first thing I do is to pull the blinds open to reveal the wall of jalousie (louvre) windows facing the garden (our living room has two wall-length sets of jalousies). My eyes are always immediately drawn to the different pots of portulaca.

I only have yellow wingpod purslane thus far, but I hope to remedy that as I mentioned earlier. The moss roses, however, offer different color combinations every day. I’m always eager to see which colors are blooming each morning.

My collection is far from complete. I still need yellow, red, a more vivid orange, and more of the variegated varieties. In time, I’ll get all of them. In the interim, I will attempt the braided portulaca project that somebody in one of my gardening groups shared. It looked really pretty when it started blooming.

As lovely as the portulaca plants are, they contribute more than their beauty to my garden, Since their arrival, I noticed more bees, dragonflies, and butterflies visiting it. In effect, they’re helping my fruiting plants get pollinated. Of course, the insects carry their own charm, and I’m happy just to see them, but seeing the ecosystem at work in my garden is really thrilling.

That’s the story thus far of my portulaca collection. It’s a tale in progress, so I’ll probably post some more about it in the future. Hopefully, this kind of post would be something many readers would be interested in. I once saw a Facebook meme with a guy wearing a shirt that said “Introverted but willing to discuss plants.” I obviously could use that shirt.

Observing the Life Cycle of a Lime Swallowtail

I used to groan in dismay every time I spotted this brown and white slug on one of my citrus plants. One time, I had various lime and lemon seedlings and they were all decimated in a matter of days. I made the mistake of being delighted by the presence of those tiny slugs that turned into an army of chunky, strapping young green caterpillars in the twinkling of an eye.

Since finding out that they’re ravenous little creatures, I started plucking the leaves they’re on and moving them to the other side of the garden. I figured if they could find their way back, then they deserved to feast. However, sometime ago, I read a post in one of my Facebook gardening groups beseeching us to leave these caterpillars alone. They can’t really devour an entire (mature) plant and the butterflies will be an asset in the garden when they emerge.

I could roll with that. That’s why when I found two minuscule brown caterpillars on my Meyer lemon plant, I left them alone to feed. A few days later, they turned green and I got the idea of using them to teach the kids about metamorphosis.

I snipped off the branch they were resting on, still with plenty of leaves for them to feed on, found a big enough jar to temporarily house them in, and relocated them into it. I covered the jar with a doily since I couldn’t find the tulle I knew we had (as usual).

I was going to transform this old Quaker Oats jar into an upside down tomato planter like this one (below) I already have hanging. So far, the tomato plant is thriving (much bigger than that now). The jar also has moss rose growing on top. In the interim, the second jar will serve as as home for caterpillars we want to study.

Something to note is the amount of waste these caterpillars produced. It was A LOT. I thought the quantity was amazing and didn’t really mind; it meant fresh fertilizer every day.

Four days later, one of them went missing. Or so I had initially thought. It turned out that one just pupated ahead of the other. One of the drying leaves on the stem was actually a chrysalis. A day later, the other one followed suit. The chrysalides made a fun little “Find Waldo” kind of game for the kids. They took a bit of time figuring out which ones were the cocoons among the leaves.

We waited about a week for the things to complete their magic inside their cocoons. One morning, I heard a frantic flapping noise as I walked past the jar. One of the butterflies had finally emerged. It seemed ready to fly off, so I got the family for the send off.

What a miracle, right? It transformed from that creepy brown slug-like thing into this pretty butterfly (with a couple more steps in between, of course). Nature really is so amazing. And there are so many life truths in this lesson of metamorphosis.

Anyway, the other butterfly emerged the day after. I think maybe it wasn’t quite ready when we released it because it just flew to the twine we used to hang an old CD (to keep the birds from plucking off cuttings we’re trying to root and beating us to the fruits, especially the chilies.) When it was ready, it flew off.

The kids are sad to learn that their butterflies will only live a week or two, but such was the life of an adult lime butterfly. In any case, the cycle continues. Our butterflies and their comrades must have come back to lay their eggs in our garden because there’s a whole bunch of brown slugs on our citrus plants again. We’re just going to leave them be. I’ve stopped thinking of them as garden pests because their presence just shows that the garden is part of the ecosystem, and, really, having butterflies in the garden is a wonderful treat.

I think next we’ll see what those caterpillars on the pechay are going to turn out to be.

Fruit Cookies (Apple, Lemon)

Sometimes I get tired of chocolate chip cookies. Take note that I’m talking about me; I’m sure my kids would happily eat them every day. My other go-to cookie option is the snickerdoodle, but I prefer to bake it around Christmastime. I have baked snickerdoodles at other times of the year, but if I can help it, I reserve them for the -ber months. It’s just a silly personal tradition. Don’t even get me started on gingerbread or stained glass cookies; those are just for Christmas.

Sigh. I’m one of those people who like to make unnecessary rules and limitations for themselves, essentially making things pointlessly harder for myself. It’s pretty annoying.

In any case, I’m afraid that cookies are more than a “sometime food” in our home. It’s easy to make them, and my lazy/picky eaters are partial to them. To take a break from chocolate chip cookies, I’ve started baking oatmeal and raisin/dried berry cookies, but my boys (they’re on the spectrum) tend to pick off the raisins/berries. They’ll happily eat these, but not mixed in cookies. I have no idea why. They don’t pick off chocolate chips or apple chunks, which brings me to the alternatives that have worked for us: apple cookies and lemon cookies.

Apples and lemons are ingredients we usually have on hand since we buy them weekly. I have a Meyer lemon plant, but it hasn’t reached fruiting stage yet, so these two are the only ones benefiting from it right now.

Meet Muncher and Chomper. Names are obviously interchangeable. 😀

I know those of you who live in a place with four seasons associate apples with fall, but we import apples year round, so I was able to spare myself from a season-based restriction regarding it.

Here are the recipes. Tweak as you wish. The apple cookie recipe can be turned into another kind of fruit cookie depending on what chunks you put in. Just hold the cinnamon if your fruit of choice doesn’t go with it.

For the lemon cookies, when lemon extract isn’t handy, I find that a few drops of lemon essential oil work just as well. Note the different levels of flatness in the image? I had helpers, and one liked it flatter than the other. Mine was the happy medium.

Drizzle either cookie with a sugar glaze if your sweet tooth is a thug. Mine usually is.

Did you check out Muncher and Chomper? I’ll be posting about them soon. One has already reached the chrysalis stage as of last night. Soon we’ll be setting them free as beautiful lime butterflies.

That’s it for now. What’s your favorite non-chocolate chip kind of cookie? Do you also confine certain cookies to just the Christmas season? Let me know. 🙂

Quarantine Nature Scavenger Hunt

Do you miss immersing yourself in the natural world? Now more than ever, I wish my family lived in our own homestead. This quarantine wouldn’t be as oppressive if there was a bigger space in which to move around. At least we do have some outdoor space and a garden to which we can venture out (sans mask) for some fresh air and greenery.

We like going out though, especially to drive down to the river or up to the mountains so the kids can get their nature fix. Another usual outdoor recreation haunt for us that we greatly miss is the UP Diliman (my alma mater) campus, which seems to have acquired squirrels in the absence of the typical university bustle! Also, there are said to be sheep grazing on the grounds or hanging out at the jeepney stands! All these, of course, just make the hankering to see the place that much stronger.

I have to say that I’m the worst kind of introvert, but even I’m feeling penned up. I miss our church. I miss our homeschool co-op. I miss bumping into friends and acquaintances as I’m out and about. I miss eating out (how my heart breaks over all those long-running dining establishments that have been forced to permanently close their doors, or those that just opened and never even got the chance, or just all the businesses out there that have suffered and continue to suffer because of the pandemic). I also miss buying stuff from brick-and-mortar stores and not having to worry about exorbitant shipping fees. I’m most definitely craving our family road trips.

But I disgust myself when I get this whiny, so I compensate by finding ways to make the situation work.

Like I said, I crave nature and doing nature-oriented activities, but even in our concrete (or cinder block and plaster) cocoons, we can still encounter bits of the natural world (all very “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”). As that cool Dr. Malcolm says, “Life finds a way.” If we bother to take our eyes away from the screens, we can find living nature, other than the humans, at home. If we take the time to register their presence and appreciate their existence, we’ll feel a connection with the fresh and living world out there and our minds are healthier for it.

We can consciously look out for these things in our confinement, and what better way to do that than with a Scavenger Hunt. This is always fun. At least, for me, it is.

I know we have different home situations, so I’m going to make a list each for those who are really pretty much limited to finding the items listed inside their homes, without even a window with a good view to look out of; for those who don’t have exterior space, but do have a nice view from a window; and for those who have a yard. I hope at least one of these can help you pass the time and the activity can help tide you over until you can venture out again.


It’s okay to include items in the fridge or pantry.


Repeat items ought to be different kinds, e.g. Bird 1 (sparrow), Bird 2 (pigeon), Bird 3 (crow).


Feel free to add interesting items you spotted to the list. 🙂

From Vicks to Katinko to Essential Oils (Plus Homemade Laundry Soap)

I recently saw a clip of Fil-Am comedian Jo Koy joking about Filipino moms’ tendency to cure everything at home. While I don’t resort to Vicks VapoRub for every malady like his did, it was definitely a staple at home when I was growing up. It was used a lot on me as I had a running cold (allergies it turned out) for most of my… oh, why limit it to childhood – for most of my life. That’s still the case up to now. I’m snotty in the morning, and my nose is sensitive to any disturbance – external (whatever’s in my environment) or internal (strong negative emotions). The urge to follow suit in the Vicks dependence is strong, except now, there’s Katinko. It took over Vicks VapoRub’s reign. I use it for pains, cough and cold, gas, etc.

As a true Katinko fan, of course, I got the ointment, the liniment, and the stick, but I’ve relegated them to the second line of defense. As much as I love Katinko, I know its ointment/balm is petroleum-based and it has synthetic ingredients in all its forms. In looking for a more natural alternative, I came across essential oils. This was about a decade ago, before the essential oil hype raged around the world.

I’ve always been interested in botany and herbalism. I can attribute the interest to various factors. First and foremost, plants and fungi are just so fascinating (right? *uncertainly* :D). Second, I was exposed to plant-based home remedies growing up.  I drank juice or tea from ampalaya (bitter gourd) leaves for my asthma, lagundi (Chinese chastetree) for coughs, calamansi (calamondin) for colds, and coconut water for UTI. I used acapulco (candle bush) for my dog’s episode with mange (it was an airborne problem, not mites), and you can safely assume that I squatted over a steaming pot of guava leaves tea in the days after giving birth. Third, my great-grandfather was an herbolario (herbalist, although many herbolarios were also witch doctors), so you could say it’s in my blood. I’ve always flirted with the idea of running an apothecary myself. Yes, in this century/millennium. I like the idea of making healing salves, balms, ointments, poultices, tinctures, teas, and (my daughter’s preferred term) potions all from natural ingredients. I know I have to do formal studies to run an apothecary. I don’t think my degree in foreign languages will cut it, lol. When I finally learn how not to be distracted, maybe I will formally study herbalism. In the meantime, however, I’m building my own FARMacy and using items from my garden for immediate remedies.

In any case, I thought essential oils fell right in with this lifestyle choice. When my first son was diagnosed with autism, I got even more into it. I came across various articles extolling the benefits of essential oils for special needs individuals. I started using oils to influence mood, encourage sleep, and stimulate mental clarity. Still connected to our autism diagnosis, essential oils figured as well in my bid to detox the family. Apparently, the commercial hygiene and home products that we use are rife with toxins, so I endeavored to start making my own from scratch, using oils and other natural, wholesome ingredients.

Considering my interest in essential oils, you’d have thought I immediately signed up with one of the dominant brands. Unfortunately, I have a problem with the idea of multi-level marketing, so I didn’t for a long time. I used different brands for years until I detected the better efficacy and general superiority of a couple of brands. It came down to two options, but I eventually chose Young Living as my essential oil brand of choice. I really liked doTERRA too, but most of the people I know were signed up with Young Living, so I decided to bite the bullet and sign up too. I figured if I was going to be using YL oils for virtually everything, I might as well get them at member rates.

Now, I likely won’t flourish much in the business side of YL because, first, I suck at selling; second, I suck at recruiting; and third, I don’t really have the time to devote to building a business. That’s not going to stop me from making a half-pantsed effort now and again though. You’re obviously getting a sample of some such effort right now.

All I can do is write about my experience with oils, how delighted I am with the benefits, how thrilled I am to be able to make my own products and know with certainty what’s in the stuff we use, how excited I am to share the oils and the knowledge with my loved ones, etc.

For now, I’d like to show you some of the essential oil blends I recently made. These are mostly rollers, blends I use for helping boost the immune system, for soothing itches, for repelling mosquitoes, and for combating allergies. There is also the spray blend I use to discourage aphids or to freshen up the smell of the room, plus a jar of homemade laundry detergent.

For the roller blends, it’s just fractionated coconut oil (which I prefer to virgin coconut oil, because it is more easily absorbed by the skin, doesn’t clog pores, and stays liquid no matter the temperature) as carrier oil and drops of essential oils. The spray, on the other hand, consists of distilled water and essential oils. For the laundry detergent, here’s the recipe.

You can make this by the gallon, of course, but it doesn’t have preservatives or other stabilizing agents, so I only make what I’ll be using for a week or two and then make another batch.

It gives me such fun, not to mention a sense of accomplishment and self-sufficiency, to make things from scratch. Essential oils make the endeavor better for all the benefits they offer. You can count on me sharing more recipes for essential oil-based products here from time to time.

As wonderful as essential oils are, there’s a learning curve to using it. It’s important to know the basic safety protocols before you even start. For instance, use of certain oils is discouraged for certain ages. There are also important diffusing guidelines you should know before you start. What about pets? Are essential oils safe for them? Arm yourself with the fundamentals and you can reap the benefits of essential oils without courting risk.

If you’re interested in getting into essential oils, or you’re curious and want to know more about them, or you’re a fellow enthusiast and would like to chat about them, reach out to me here. Or we can chat in the comments section. Your call. 🙂

Foraging the Garden – Unlikely Edibles, Part 2

You’re stuck at home with nothing fresh and healthy in your fridge or cupboards. First, resolve to modify your grocery list (jk!), and then, look out to your yard for inspiration. When I go to my garden, I see quite a few things that I can use to add nutritional value to our meals. It’s not quite the “grocery garden” that I intend for it to be, but it’s getting there.

I enjoy gardening. I like to cultivate plants from seeds and cuttings. I get such a thrill from seeing green sprouts burgeoning out of the soil or green buds developing on stem nodes. Flowers have me doing a happy little wiggle, not only because they’re lovely, but they usually also mean that fruiting is at hand.

As much as I love plants that I grew myself, the excitement that a volunteer brings is something else. I will ruthlessly yank crabgrass from the soil, but with any other weed, I manifest a strange fascination. I’m always willing to let a volunteer grow more sturdy and then replant it in a separate pot, waiting to see what kind of plant it would turn out to be. More often than not, these weeds are medicinal, usually offering what could count as leafy greens as well. There have also been instances when volunteers turned out to be plants I would have grown willingly myself. For example, a papaya seedling suddenly showed up in a pot beside my dragon fruit plant. In another instance, a purple periwinkle (vinca) grew in a crack on the garden wall.

There is a popular volunteer, however, that tends to get overlooked since it’s common to see it as ground cover. I’m referring to the pansit-pansitan (pepper elder/ shining bush/ man to man). It’s characterized by shiny heart-shaped leaves and spikes with dotted tips, which are supposed to be their flowers. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), it also bears tiny round or oblong fruits, ridged, first green and later black. I’ve never seen a pansit-pansitan with fruit, or maybe I just haven’t been paying attention. Its presence is so ubiquitous that I tend to ignore it.

Pansit-pansitan is incredibly medicinal. It helps with various ailments from skin problems to diarrhea to gout, et cetera. And, as I’ve learned from various gardening groups I belong to, it makes for good eating too. So, I decided to try it out. I went to the garden and snipped the bigger leaves, washed them, and then included them in a salad. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a chopped up onion, tomato slices, and lettuce, plus the pansit-pansitan. I then drizzled it with a dressing concoction of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon essential oil, ground black pepper, and sea salt.

Now, as mentioned, I harvested the pansit-pansitan from my own garden. I know it’s clean since I garden organically. My main fungicides are baking soda and ground cinnamon, and my pesticide is a garlic-chili spray I made myself. I nourish the soil with natural fertilizers like vermicast, epsom salt, fermented fruit juice, et cetera. Don’t get your pansit-pansitan from the side of the road and other questionable spots.

Another word of caution involves use of essential oils. Not all of them may be ingested orally. Make sure you’re familiar with the list of edible oils before putting any in your food.

I’m interested to learn more about wild edibles. I would really love to suddenly find pako (fiddlehead fern) in my garden, but that’s probably not going to happen since I don’t live in a rainforest (I used to!).

Anyway, I’d love to hear about your own foraging stories. Please share if you have any. Hasta luego.

Foraging the Garden – Unlikely Edibles, Part 1

When word of a lockdown started buzzing across the nation, my brain went on prepper mode. If we couldn’t go out for weeks, would we have everything we needed at home? While I can’t say that I came face to face with my inner hoarder, I can say that the impulse to panic buy bucked and reared, ready to gallop straight to the nearest warehouse store.

Unfortunately, all this went down right before we were to do our weekly grocery shopping. Taking stock of our fridge, I could tell our supplies were running low. And while our cupboards boasted enough packaged and canned goods to last us a week (mainly items I tended to ignore since they weren’t favorites), the fruit bowl was beginning to collect dust and a desolate wind was whistling through the barren vegetable crisper.

Obviously, there was really no need to panic buy since the stores remained accessible. For a few minutes though, I had to rack my brain for ideas on how to make our then-meager supplies stretch. With the absence of fresh produce, I also had to think about other ways to source fruits and veggies.

Thankfully, we have a small garden, and it can provide us with some healthy edibles if the scenario we were anticipating had been realized. With my exaggerated perception of the situation’s urgency, I was googling “edible weeds” and “edible mushrooms” (not that we’ve ever come across an edible kind in our garden). Thankfully, pansit-pansitan (in English aka pepper elder, shining bush plant, man to man), which we often get, is always featured in the list of wild edibles. 

However, a really exciting discovery for me (because I’m a plant nerd; also, I’m lame) is that we can eat mulberry leaves. I know you can feed them to livestock (I wish I had goats. 🙁 ) and you can brew them for tea, but I didn’t realize we could eat them as leafy greens. According to several posts I came across in my local gardening Facebook group, you can pluck young leaves and fritter them as you would making crispy kangkong (Chinese water spinach), make laing (he’e lu’au in Hawaiian – we don’t need to make this with octopus in the Philippines) with them instead of taro leaves (you won’t have to worry about your tongue possibly itching either), and stuff them as you would grape leaves.

Since I tend to like most fritters, that’s the first option I tried. You basically make crispy mulberry leaves the same way you cook crispy kangkong. It mainly involves egg, cornstarch, flour, cold water, and seasoning. I tried frittering talinum (fameflower) leaves as well, which I have a lot of, but I think they’re too soft. I’ll stick to just mulberry leaves next time. Or throw in some actual kangkong as well. Since the last frittering attempt, I’ve grown both lowland and upland kangkong.

I didn’t know I’d be blogging about it, so the pictures aren’t very appetizing. I just sent them to my family to show them, hey, you can do this! 

In the same eating-off-the-land/foraging-my-garden vein, I will also post about making pansit-pansitan salad and sprouting chia seeds for microgreens.

If you also forage your yard for food, please share your finds and what you do with them. 🙂

Having an Herbarium (an Emily Dickinson Inspiration)

Emily Dickinson is my people. I first came across her poetry when I was about 12 or 13, reading the height of ‘80s teen romantic literature, a series called “Sweet Dreams”. Anybody else remember those books? Did you read them with New Kids on the Block muzak coming from your cassette player? Anyhow, I’ve lost my copies of those along with many other books from my youth, which really makes me sad and explains why I don’t lend books anymore.

The Sweet Dreams stories I distinctly remember as the ones that sparked my fascination in Emily Dickinson are called “The Right Combination” and “Love Lines”. I remember the titles and the story lines like I read them yesterday. I would give anything to own traditional copies of these books again… okay, maybe just a hundred pesos each, so if you have them, please consider selling them to me.

This post isn’t about Sweet Dreams, but about Emily Dickinson and how, decades after she grabbed me with lines like “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” (fodder for my reclusive, angst-ridden, popularity-loathing teen self), she’s still finding ways to remind me that she’s a kindred soul.

Consistent with my fangirl leanings, I already know a lot about Emily Dickinson. I did my high school senior year research paper on her (my teacher actually groaned at the breadth of the folder I’d turned in), as I did my Comm 2 research paper in my first year of college, with focus on Emily’s love life (the professor was amused and delighted with my enthusiasm, saying that I’d actually already created a mini-thesis and I could just develop and expound on what I had for my actual thesis – yeah, that was three years away and I couldn’t connect the topic with my actual major, which was Spanish).

So, the recent pleasurable fellow feeling I’ve had in relation to Emily stemmed from an article about her herbaria. I knew she studied botany and was an avid gardener, but I failed to home in on that information as something of significance when I was young. I’m very much interested in botany, but have never actively pursued the study, except casually in gardening and reading for the purpose of gardening and homeopathy. I figured it was time to put some system and structure into the interest.

With the feature on her herbaria, I found another way to not-so-subtly re-introduce her to my homeschooler (of course, my daughter is already familiar with some of Emily’s poems, thanks to her obsessed mother). With the poet as inspiration, we started working on our own herbarium.

We basically took a scrapbook, onion paper, and white label stickers (all of which were already in our supplies and miscellaneous drawers), and then we started clipping from our own garden. Let me tell you, our herbarium smells lovely. It’s not limited to our own garden plants, of course. When we see something pretty or interesting in our nature walks, we clip a sample and put it in a baggie to be researched and added to the herbarium later. Don’t worry; in our foraging and wildcrafting jaunts, we’re always careful not to overharvest.

What information do we usually jot down in our herbarium to accompany the cuttings?

  • Common name, location where it was found
  • Scientific name
  • Description
  • Practical function

Doing this reminds me of the 100 Species Challenge I participated in on my other blog, which was kind of like working on an online herbarium, using pictures instead of actual clippings. Virtual or actual, I find creating an herbarium fascinating and really fun. Now, I understand how this interest can leave others cold, but if you like botany and find pursuits like this incredibly satisfying, make your presence known in the comments section. Do the same if you love Emily Dickinson. 🙂

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