Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Selecting a Holiday Tree - a few facts about the different types

Balsam Fir
Many people choose to have a Christmas tree this month and opinions about what type of tree is best are as varied as anyone can imagine.  Many people argue over whether or not a fake tree is better than a real one...and is more sustainable because you can reuse it every year.  Well, think about where the tree comes from and how it is manufactured and that will give you insight on which is better.  The fact is that most real trees sold as Christmas trees are FARMED, just like many other crops and food sources and are planted every year.  That fake tree is most likely made of plastic using petroleum, harmful chemicals and excessive energy to produce and the fake tree often releases harmful toxins into your home even years after you open the box!
Here is an interesting statement from the National Christmas Tree Association:

MYTH #4: It's better to use a fake tree because you can re-use it each year.
BUSTED: That’s a very short-sighted perspective. According to research, most fake trees are only used 6 to 9 years before they’re disposed. Even if you would use one for 20 years or more, it will eventually be thrown away and end up in a landfill. And unlike Real Trees, which are biodegradable and recyclable, fake trees are always a burden to the environment.

For more myths and answers about Christmas trees, go to: http://www.christmastree.org/myths.cfm

Another commonly held belief is that a live, potted tree is better... well, it's a nice thought but more often than not, these trees, even when planted promptly after the holidays, do not live because they have either been exposed to drastic temperature and humidity changes or were not properly cared for.  So is it worth it to buy a potted tree instead of cutting one down?  If you keep it outside and partially bury the pot - possibly but then you miss out on having that Christmas Tree scent in your home!
More Christmas Tree Facts from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service:
  • Real Trees are a renewable, recyclable resource. Artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and possible metal toxins such as lead.
  • There are more than 4,000 local Christmas Tree recycling programs throughout the United States.
  • For every Real Christmas Tree harvested, 1 to 3 seedlings are planted the following spring. 
  • There are close to 15,000 farms growing Christmas Trees in the U.S., and over 100,000 people are employed full or part-time in the industry.
So the more GREEN option seems to be purchasing a cut tree from your local tree farm or in my case, the street corner or plant store.  But now your decision is "Which type of tree do we buy?"
The following evergreen tree species or types are sold and grown in the United States for Christmas Trees and are thought of as the best for different characteristics.

Fir Trees: Common name (Botanical name)

Balsam Fir(Abies balsamea) – Native to the northeastern United States, the Balsam Fir is named for the balsam or resin found in blisters on bark.  The needles are flat, ¾” to 1 ½” long rounded at the tip and generally last long on the branches.  The color is dark green with silvery cast.  Balsam Firs have good form and are fragrant.  Factoid: Balsam fir oil is an EPA approved nontoxic rodent repellent.

Fraser Fir
Fraser Fir – (Abies fraseri): The combination of form, needle retention, dark blue-green color, pleasant scent and strong branches has led to Fraser fir being a most popular Christmas tree species. Fraser Fir has dark green, flattened needles with a medial groove on the upper side and two broad silvery-white bands on the lower surface and are ½ to 1 inch long. When crushed, the needles have a very pleasant woodsy scent. Factoid:  Named for the Scotish botanist, John Fraser, who explored the southern Appalachians in the late 1700’s.

Needles of White Fir

White Fir or Concolor Fir(Abies concolor): Commonly found in the western/northwestern US, the White Fir has  blue-green needles are ½ to ½ inches long.  They have a    nice shape, good citrus-like aroma and good needle retention. White Fir is named for its light-colored bark and the silvery or "glaucous"  color of its needles. Factoid:  In nature the White Fir can live to 350 years.

Douglas Fir branches
Douglas Fir(Pseudotsuga menziesii): Although not actually a fir, the Douglas Fir is one of the most popular trees for Christmas Trees. They are softer with  1” to 1 ½” flat needles and have one of the best aromas among Christmas trees when crushed. Douglas fir has a good conical shape (and often are sheared on the farm to maintain the "perfect" shape).  Named after David Douglas who studied the tree in the 1800’s;  can live for a thousand years. It is also the state tree of Oregon.

Pine Trees - Common name (Botanical name):

White Pine
White Pine(Pinus strobus):
This pine has soft, blue-green needles, 2 to 5 inches long in bundles of five and retains needles throughout the holiday season with a very full appearance. White pine has little or no fragrance so has less allergic reactions as compared to more fragrant trees - this is a good choice for families prone to allergies or sensitivities to fragrances. As the largest pine in Eastern United States it is also the state tree of Michigan and Maine. It's slender branches will support fewer and smaller decorations as compared to Scotch pine. It’s wood is used in cabinets, interior finish and carving. Native Americans used the inner bark as food. Early colonists used the inner bark to make cough medicine. Caveat: Branching can be too dense for large ornaments. Needles can be too slippery and soft for heavy ornaments but it's soft appearance takes on an elegant appearance simply with just white lights.

Scotch Pine branches
Scotch Pine(Pinus sylvestris): Another common Christmas tree, the Scotch Pine is native to Europe and Asia and is predominant in Scotland. It is readily identified by its combination of fairly short, blue-green leaves and orange-red bark.  It has stiff branches, stiff, dark green needles in pairs one inch long and holds needles for four weeks - needles will stay on even when dry which makes it very popular for indoor Christmas trees. It has open appearance and more room for ornaments and also keeps aroma throughout the season. The Scotch Pine was introduced into United States by European settlers. Factoid: Pinus sylvestris is the only pine native to northern England and is the National Tree of Scotland.

Spruce Trees - Common name (Botanical name):

White Spruce branches
White Spruce – (Picea glauca): Leaves (needles) are needle-shaped, and are often somewhat crowded on the upper half of the branchlets. Needles are usually 1/2 to 3/4 inch long, blunt at the tip and green to bluish-green in color.  Crushed needles have an unpleasant odor but have good needle retention. As a Christmas tree, white spruce has excellent foliage color, short stiff needles and a good natural shape. Needle retention is better than some of other spruce species.  Factoid: State tree of South Dakota.  

Blue Spruce branches
Blue Spruce(Picea pungens): Color is dark green to powdery blue with very stiff needles, ¾” to 1 ½” long. The needles are 4-sided and have a very sharp point on the end. It is this point which gives the species its name "pungens", from the Latin word for sharp as in puncture wound. Needles are generally dull bluish-gray to silvery blue and emit a resinous odor when crushed; good form; will drop needles in a warm room; symmetrical; but is best among species for needle retention; branches are stiff and will support many heavy decorations. Factoid: State tree of Utah & Colorado. Can live in nature 600-800 years.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Prepare for Cold Season with this Natural Flu Shot Recipe

Last year my whole family was struck down by the flu and multiple severe colds. After spending all of the holiday season sick last year I am determined to do whatever it takes to prevent the same from happening this year! So when I woke up this morning with a stuffy nose and mildly sore throat, I dug up a recipe that a good friend sent me last year (after I had been sick on and off for nearly 2 months!). This recipe has been spread across the internet but I tried it last year and felt it worked so I'm trying it again.

I made this in my blender by juicing the lemons, adding 3 cups of frozen pineapple chunks (couldn't find pineapple juice - don't know why but the frozen pineapple worked great!) and adding several cloves of garlic (I found that the garlic is pretty strong so if you are scared off by the thought of consuming a whole bulb of garlic, start with a little). Then I added the honey, cayenne pepper and grated FRESH ginger, which I really prefer as it tastes great. Blended until smooth and drank 1 cup.

It is powerful but very refreshing! The pineapple really add sweetness and you can start with just a little cayenne pepper then add more depending on how hot you can stand it. As I drank it, I felt that the garlic and cayenne really went to work fast and probably killed any germ, cold or flu bug that could exist in my throat!
If you can't read the photo above, here are the ingredients:


6 lemons - use the juice only
1 bulb garlic (not clove, the whole cluster of garlic cloves)
2 tsp grated ginger (or dry ginger powder)
3 c pineapple juice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper 
2 Tbs honey
 Blend all ingredients thoroughly and store in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Take 1 cup 4 times a day until symptoms are resolved.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Stay healthy,

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Delicious low-sugar Recycled Muffins

My favorite way to use up (or recycle!) left-overs is to make mini muffins!  Who doesn't love a little muffin?  The kids sure do gobble them up so it's a great way to get them to eat their veggies and provide them with a healthier snack!!  This is also a good way to re-use those left-overs instead of throwing them away...
I have made several varieties of this recipe: zucchini-carrot-banana, pumpkin-apple-ginger spice, peas-carrots-green beans with cornmeal and carrots-banana-blueberry (pictured above).  Today I have some bananas, peaches, carrots, applesauce and fresh ginger! You can use any combo of veggies and fruits, just put them all in a food processor or blender (add a little juice or water if it's too dry).  No matter what you put in them, you can make them yummy with honey, vanilla and cinnamon or other spices like ginger or nutmeg.  I usually make these low-sugar for the kids so you can increase the sugar to 1/2 cup if you need the sweetness. I have found that including applesauce not only makes them sweeter but also moister.

makes about 48 mini muffins


2 cups wheat or unbleached white flour
1/2 cup quick oatmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup sugar
2-3 tablespoons honey (optional)
1 egg
3 cups blended, mashed or pureed vegetables and fruit (whole or mashed) (if the mixture is too thick or dry, you can add some fruit juice so it is more like the thickness of applesauce)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cinnamon (less if you don't love cinnamon) or any other spice you like


1. Preheat oven to 350°F
2. Spray mini muffin pans or rub with olive oil (or you can use muffin paper cups my favorite: If You Care Mini Baking Cups, 90-Count Packages (Pack of 24))
3. Mix all ingredients with fork or mixer on low speed - just till blended
4. Fill muffins 2/3 full with batter
5. Bake 15-20 minutes until or toothpick comes out clean
6. Remove from oven a let cool about 5 mins. in pan
7. Remove muffins from pan and let cool on a wire rack or wood cutting board
8. Store half in an air tight container.

These Freeze really well in an air tight container - let defrost on the counter over night

tip: If you don't have 3 cups of vegetables, you can add unsweetened apple sauce or mashed bananas; you can also add dried fruit like raisins to add some sweetness

substitution:  If you want corn-veggie muffins, use 1 cup flour and 1 1/2 cup of corn meal or one box of Jiffy Corn Bread mix (made in Michigan right down the road from my parents!)  I also make mini corn muffins with Jiffy mix + 1 can of creamed corn adding a couple TBSP of flour

Happy baking!

Click images below to purchase at best prices!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

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Monday, April 22, 2013

#EcoMonday Earth Day History 101

Every year on April 22 we celebrate Earth Day - a day set aside to think more seriously about our impact on the earth and a day to pledge to make changes that will decrease negative impact. It is a day that hopefully will incourage changes that will last the whole year and become part of our daily lives.  The first Earth day was in 1970 to bring attention to environmental issues and make them a priority on the federal level.  Not only did this first event bring together supporters from all walks of life, it did what it's founder intended and then some - the EPA was created and the Clean Air,Water and Endangered Species Acts were established.  Now in it's 41st year, Earth Day has grown into an international event and one that is as closely tied to community initiatives as it is to politcal agendas and is now even more broadly celebrated as economical issues have come into play.

Here is a history of Earth Day from Earthday.org:

The idea came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media; persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair; and recruited Denis Hayes as national coordinator. Hayes built a national staff of 85 to promote events across the land.

As a result, on the 22nd of April, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.

Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. "It was a gamble," Gaylord recalled, "but it worked."

As 1990 approached, a group of environmental leaders asked Denis Hayes to organize another big campaign. This time, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1995) -- the highest honor given to civilians in the United States -- for his role as Earth Day founder.

As the millennium approached, Hayes agreed to spearhead another campaign, this time focused on global warming and a push for clean energy. With 5,000 environmental groups in a record 184 countries reaching out to hundreds of millions of people, Earth Day 2000 combined the big-picture feistiness of the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990. It used the Internet to organize activists, but also featured a talking drum chain that traveled from village to village in Gabon, Africa, and hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Earth Day 2000 sent world leaders the loud and clear message that citizens around the world wanted quick and decisive action on clean energy.

Much like 1970, Earth Day 2010 came at a time of great challenge for the environmental community. Climate change deniers, well-funded oil lobbyists, reticent politicians, a disinterested public, and a divided environmental community all contributed to a strong narrative that overshadowed the cause of progress and change. In spite of the challenge, for its 40th anniversary, Earth Day Network reestablished Earth Day as a powerful focal point around which people could demonstrate their commitment. Earth Day Network brought 225,000 people to the National Mall for a Climate Rally, amassed 40 million environmental service actions toward its 2012 goal of A Billion Acts of Green®, launched an international, 1-million tree planting initiative with Avatar director James Cameron and tripled its online base to over 900,000 community members.

Happy Earth Day and let your thoughts and energy on this day be continued all year long!
*~ Sprout ~*

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Purify your indoor air naturally with plants

Many of us spend so much of our day indoors - especially in the winter time.  It is obvious that the air indoors is not as "fresh" as outdoors but do you know that there are many chemicals and toxins that prevent us from getting really fresh air indoors?  Synthetic materials release many volatile organic chemicals (VOCs)  into the air - chloroform, ammonia, acetone and formaldehyde, just to name a few. These toxins are found in almost every item in the home from furniture and carpet to cleaning solvents.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks indoor air pollution as one of the top five threats to public health (1).  On their website, the EPA also states: Children are more susceptible to air pollution because they breathe a greater volume of air relative to their body weight. To make matters worse, schools tend to be at a higher risk of poor indoor air quality because they can have 4 times the occupants as a regular office building for the same amount of floor space and generally less maintenance making air quality in schools an area of a particular concern.(2)

Poor indoor air quality can lead to or contribute to a host of problems including irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, sinus congestion, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, respiratory infections, allergies, and asthma (3).  If you already suffer from any of those symptoms, entering or residing in a room with poor air quality can cause you to become more sensitive to allergens, dust, and VOCs.  Learn more about Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) at the EPA's website: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/ia-intro.html

So...What do we do to control or reduce indoor air pollution and improve air quality?  Grow Plants!

Plants remove air-born toxins through tiny openings in their leaves called stomata as they absorb carbon dioxide then release oxygen in a process called photosynthesis.   Plants also emit water vapor that creates a pumping action to pull contaminated air down around a plant’s roots, where it is also converted into food for the plant.  This was studied in the late 1980s by NASA, lead by Dr. Bill Wolverton, and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) when they researched to find ways to purify the air for extended stays in orbiting space stations (4). The conclusions of the study not surprising proved that the plants did clean the air but what was groundbreaking was that the plants also were greatly successful in reducing the high levels of toxins found in closed environments (sealed buildings) - the study showed that many houseplants remove harmful elements such as trichloroethylene, benzene, and formaldehyde from the air. Formaldehyde is used in many building materials including particle board and foam insulations and can be found in furniture, carpet and drapes. Additionally, many cleaning products contain this chemical. Benzene is a common solvent found in oils and paints. Trichloroethylene is used in paints, adhesives, inks, and varnishes.

The advantage that houseplants have over other plants is that they are adapted to tropical areas where they grow beneath dense tropical canopies and must survive in areas of low light. These plants are thus ultra-efficient at capturing light, which also means that they must be very efficient in processing the gasses necessary for photosynthesis. Because of this fact, they have greater potential to absorb other gases, including potentially harmful ones.   Dr. Bill Wolverton highlights the NASA / ALCA study as well as the best plants for removing toxins in his book, "How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office". 
I highly recommend this book if you are interested in the study and want to learn more about the cleaning abilities of houseplants.

Bamboo Palm
Based upon Wolverton's book, here are the TOP 10 plants most effective in removing: Formaldehyde, Benzene, and Carbon Monoxide from the air:

Bamboo Palm - Chamaedorea Seifritzii
Chinese Evergreen - Aglaonema Modestum
English Ivy Hedera Helix
Gerbera Daisy Gerbera Jamesonii
Janet Craig - Dracaena "Janet Craig"
Marginata - Dracaena Marginata
Mass cane/Corn Plant - Dracaena Massangeana
Mother-in-Law's Tongue - Sansevieria Laurentii
Pot Mum - Chrysantheium morifolium
Peace Lily - Spathiphyllum

Warneckii - Dracaena "Warneckii"

These plants are all pretty common and can be found at your local florist or plant store.
Wolverton recommends having two or three plants in 8- or 10-inch pots for every 100 square feet of floor space to successfully remove toxins and provide enough fresh air for living comfortably. An average living room size is 16'x16' (5) which is 256 square feet - this would require about 5-7 medium sized plants to adequately reduce indoor toxins, based upon Wolverton's study.  You may think this is a lot, but if you choose larger plants or plants with larger leaves, you can effectively reduce pollutants with fewer plants.

So while the weather is cold and we are spending more time indoors, think about the air quality and consider adding a few houseplants to give you a little fresh air indoors.

(1): http://www.epa.gov/
(2): http://www.epa.gov/region1/communities/indoorair.html
(3): http://www.epa.gov/iaq/ia-intro.html
(4): Download and read NASA's study: Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement, 1989
(5): http://www.dimensionsinfo.com/average-living-room-dimensions/