Caring for Poinsettas

I could have used this information a few years ago.

I could have used this information a few years ago.


AMES, Iowa – The poinsettia is one of the most popular potted flowers in the United States. These colorful plants can be found in nearly every household or business during the December holiday season. However, taking care of this festive flower can sometimes be tricky.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists give tips on how to care for poinsettias for a perfect holiday display. To have additional questions answered, contact ISU Hortline at 515-294-3108 or at

Why is my poinsettia dropping some of its leaves? 

The leaf drop is likely due to some type of environmental stress. Improper watering is the most common reason for leaf drop on the poinsettia. Over-watering will cause the lower leaves to turn yellow and drop. Plants that are allowed to get too dry will wilt and also drop leaves. 

The water needs of a poinsettia can be determined with your finger. Check the potting soil daily.  When the soil becomes dry to the touch, water the plant until water begins to flow out of the bottom of the pot.

The pots of most poinsettias are set inside decorative pot covers. When watering these plants, carefully remove the poinsettia from the pot covering, water the plant in the sink, then drop the poinsettia back into its pot cover. 

Also, make sure the poinsettia is not located near a heat source or cold draft. Warm, dry air blowing across the plant from a furnace register or rapid temperature fluctuations, such as near a door, can also cause leaf drop. 

My poinsettia suddenly wilted and died. Why? 

The sudden death of the poinsettia was likely due to a root rot. Pythium and Rhizoctonia root rots typically occur when plants are watered too frequently and the potting soil is kept saturated. Allow the surface of the potting soil to dry to the touch before watering poinsettias. Also, don’t allow the poinsettia pots to sit in water. Discard excess water which drains into pot coverings or saucers. 

Small, white insects flutter about my poinsettia when I water the plant. What are they and how do I control them? 

The small, white insects are likely whiteflies. Whiteflies are common insect pests of poinsettia, hibiscus, chrysanthemum and a number of other indoor plants. They are most often noticed when watering or handling a plant. When disturbed, whiteflies flutter about the plant for a short time before returning to the plant. 

Whitefly adults are small, white, moth-like insects. Female adults lay eggs on the undersides of the plant’s foliage. After five to seven days, the eggs hatch into small, pale green, immature insects called nymphs. The nymphs crawl a short distance before settling down to feed for two to three weeks.  After feeding for two to three weeks, the nymphs progress to a nonfeeding stage and then finally to the adult stage. 

The nymph and adult stages of whiteflies feed by inserting their short, needle-like beaks into foliage and sucking out plant sap. Heavy whitefly infestations may cause stunting or yellowing of leaves, leaf drop, and a decline in plant health. 

Whiteflies on poinsettias and other indoor plants are extremely difficult to control. Prevention is the best management strategy. When purchasing plants, carefully check for whiteflies and other insects. Avoid purchasing insect-infested plants.  Insecticides are not a good control option as they are not very effective. It’s often best to tolerate the presence of a small infestation of whiteflies on a poinsettia and then promptly discard the plant after the holidays.


Instant Gratification: Dried Tea Powders

The title of this article may be misleading, because there is really nothing quick about the procedure I am about to describe. It is however, a valuable way to quickly incorporate more herbs and foods into your diet, once you get through the process,  which I will explain below.

I first came across a recipe for dried tea extracts on Christopher Hobbs website and as I am always looking for  new projects, I decided to give it a whirl.   The first time I did this I did it with nettles looking for a tolerable way to choke them down.  I’ve messed with the recipe a bit after a lot of trial-and-error experimentation and having a chance to pick Thomas Easley’s brain about the process at TWHC.

6 cups of water: 3 cups of chopped fresh herbs


8 cups water: 2 cups ground dried herb

Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer it until the liquid has been reduced by 1/3 . This takes a long time-maybe give yourself a facial or start another project because you are going to need 2-4 hours depending on the day.  Strain the liquid and allow it to cool. Press the marc (I used my tincture press), then weigh it after pressing. Return 1/2 to 1/3 of the solids to the liquid. I blend the mixture with my immersion blender at this point. I  also add 1/4 cup of astragalus powder at this point.

dried tea extractBring this liquid to a boil and simmer some more. When the mixture has reduced by again 1/3 and become sort of a slurry, I dissolve one tablespoon of arrowroot powder in some cold water and blend it in. This step is optional, but helps to keep the slurry from running off the dehydrator’s fruit leather tray or sticking to it.

Dry this at 100ºF to 120ºF until the mixture becomes brittle and then break it in to pieces and grind them into a fine powder.  I used a coffee grinder and then sifted the powder.  If you don’t grind them, you can suck on these like hard candy. I am storing that in the back of my mind for future experimentation.

It is true that a single herb dried extract of nettles might be easier to choke down in this form (yes, I am a bad herbalist who doesn’t like nettle infusions) but why would I do this when I could just make have a nice nettle chai, or maybe a creamy nettle soup that I would actually enjoy? Keep in mind,  I think herbal preparations should actually taste good. Especially if you are trying to get them into children, or people whose taste buds have grown accustomed to the standard American diet.

Next,  I tried a hawthorn chai blend, but I found that the final product didn’t retain enough flavor even though I used a goodly amount of corrigent spices.   I decided that I don’t think I would recommend this method of herbal preparation for  aromatic herbs.  The length of cooking time seems to have evaporated away most volatile constituents.This probably explains why I’ve seen it recommended to add some peppermint extract or some other corrigent, right before putting the mixture on the dehydrator tray.  I think hawthorn is a good candidate though.  Just wait to add the flavor until later.

Raspberry Hibiscus Dried Tea ExtractSo the next time,  I moved away from aromatics and started with with a raspberry leaf/hibiscus blend that I enjoy to see how that handled reducing.  I also used the trick of adding some of my orange flavored honey and some cinnamon extract right before I dumped it on the dehydrator tray. That seemed to work a bit better.   The result is a pleasant little instant tea that I could happily have two cups of a day.   I mix one teaspoon of the powder with a cup of hot water. According to Dr. Hobbs, each teaspoon is the equivalent 6- 8 teaspoons of the herb.

Those who know me know that I am rarely content with following  directions and I started thinking of uses for the powder other than as a dosing strategy.

I started thinking about cooking and suddenly the light came on. I could use these powders to flavor food. I made  powdered kale “tea” to sneak into sauces,  dips, or smoothies and a mixed vegetable powder that I will use to  thicken stews.  Really the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

From a practical homesteading point of view, this makes good sense.  These powders take up less room and may even have a little bit longer shelf life than conventional dehydrated vegetables-lasting up to a year.     So experiment with the method and see what you come up with.  I haven’t even gotten to fruit yet, but a dried apple powder is next on my list.

History of “Domestic Medicine” and Modern Relevance

Class Notes and a few images from my presentation at the American Herbalist Guild Symposium in Granby, CO.  It is a shortened version of an article I wrote for Plant Healer Magazine a while back and one of my own particular passions which explores the intersection of feminism and plant medicine.

I begin every historical class I teach explaining that I don’t teach the history of “herbalism” as that term is a modern construct.  I teach the history of medicine. Botanical therapies were the only type of medicine for thousands of years before the practice of medicine which focuses on chemically synthesized medicine and botanical  medicine diverged.

When studying the history of medicine, anthropologists recognize that there exist in every culture, multiple medical realities. Anthropologists often define a society’s health care system as being comprised of the popular, folk, and professional sectors.

Popular health care refers to self-care, or familial care, practices informed by popular knowledge. Often knowledge of this nature is passed along by word-of-mouth – frequently as home remedies that are passed down through the generations. In its strictest sense, the term does not apply to any particular type of remedy. Taking an over the counter medicine for a cold, rather than seeking professional advice, is an example of today’s popular health care culture. It also is not limited to remedying illness. Self-care in the form of diet and hygiene are also included as part of the popular healthcare culture. Many modern “folk” herbalists are passing along the sort of domestic information that used to be commonplace knowledge in every household.

The folk health care culture was comprised of non-professional specialists who work in their communities. These healers often had far more in their repertoire than the therapeutic delivery of plant medicine. Many of them worked from a framework influenced by indigenous cultural ideas about the spirit world influencing health. Others had a specific skillset, such as lay midwives. Most historians agree households called for this specialist only after knowledgeable domestic caregivers had exhausted their resources. Medical historian James Mooney reported in 1887 that “every housekeeper is well acquainted with all the virtues of the common herbs” and that she only turns for help when “she has exhausted her resources or is convinced that the illness is of supernatural origin.”

The professional healthcare sector is comprised of academically trained providers such as MD’s, naturopathic physicians and yes, clinical herbalists. This is a relatively new sector, in a historical context. Harvard medical historians write, “Almost all healing work in Europe and the United States took place at home until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and self-care guides and domestic medical manuals were found in nearly every literate household.”

This talk will focus on the popular healthcare culture, frequently referred to as “domestic medicine.” Domestic medicine was historically the province of women. Economic forces drove this reality. Feudalism, like many economic systems, thrived on the domestication of women due to its capacity to force the unpaid labor of women. Once the colonization of women successfully established housewifery as the status quo, caring for their family’s illnesses and injuries was a mandatory part of a housewife’s subsistence work.

Wealthier women were frequently called upon to care for community members, as well. This may have been simply as a means of protecting her family’s economic interests, as healthy workers are more productive. Regardless of her motivations, we do know that women oversaw medicinal herb gardens and the production of these remedies in the stillroom.

The stillroom at Chillingham Castle. This is my favorite picture of a still room because when I see it, I imagine a group of women healers chatting around this table.

The stillroom at Chillingham Castle. This is my favorite picture of a still room because when I see it, I imagine a group of healers chatting around this table,next to a roaring fire. <3

"A Booke of diuers Medecines, Broothes, Salues, Waters, Syroppes and Oyntementes of which many or the most part haue been experienced and tryed by the speciall practize of Mrs Corlyon. Anno Domini 1606."

“A Booke of diuers Medecines, Broothes, Salues, Waters, Syroppes and Oyntementes of which many or the most part haue been experienced and tryed by the speciall practize of Mrs Corlyon. Anno Domini 1606.”

In Europe, this especially seemed to be the case after Henry VIII and other monarchs ordered the dissolution of the monasteries. While hospitals replaced the monasteries as charitable facilities, they only provided care for the poorest populations and people with no family to care for them. Few people of means would have consented to be going to the hospital.  The appearance of stillrooms and stillroom books during this time indicate that women of means stepped in to fill that void. The education of women born to wealthy families of that era included basic surgery and physic in order to fashion them as “useful domestic companions to men.” Women like Lady Grace Mildemay, Lady Margaret Hoby, Lady Anne Halkett, Lady Fanshawe and many others kept stillroom books which documented the fact that they practiced medicine, including minor surgical procedures, to care for their families and provide charity to the poor.


Surfeit Water was a fairly common remedy for indigestion due to overindulgence. Other recipes from the period specify that red poppeys be used. It tastes somewhat like flat Dr. Pepper.

Remedy for Dysentery 1 grain is approximately 65 milegrams

Remedy for Dysentery by Lady Fanshawe who has gone down in history being important for having written her husband’s memoirs, rather than her work as a healer. :-/  For those trying to approximate the recipe,  1 grain is approximately 65 milegrams

The stillroom books clearly illustrate the old networks of skill sharing. Entries in these books often credited other women as the source of a remedy. The following, found in The Receipt Book of Mrs. Ann Blencowe, is titled

“A receipt to make ye Green Ointment that cured Lady Probyn’s Coachman’s back” attributed to one Mrs. Lethiculear

Take of Sage and Rue of each one handfull, of wormwood and bay leaves, each half a pound. Gather these in the heat of the Day. They must be unwashed and Shread small. And take a pound and half of sheep suet and stamp it with the herbs untill they be all of one couler; put it in a pint and half of the best Sallet Oil, and stir them well together, and put it in a pot and stop it close up, and let it stand nine days. Then boil it till the strength of the herbs be gon, and take care in boiling that, you doe not burn it. And when it is boil’d put in an ounce and half of Oil of spike, and keep it for your use. It is good for all manner of wounds, bruises, burns and sprains. The best time to make it is in may.

Sometimes an entry offered a simple nod to the country folk or the gardener, which illustrates that the popular health culture extended through all classes. The books passed from parent-to-child and informed generations of familial care. This persisted for hundreds of years, in both the UK and the United States.

These books also seem to document that there was a respectful relationship between these women and physicians. On the rare occasions that a doctor was called for, he would share his formulas and instruct the woman of the home on how to best proceed with the case and return later to check the progress of his patient. The caregiver would frequently record these recommendations in her book, for future use. Sometimes physicians passed along formulas from other women. This seems to imply that doctors were learning new tricks from their clients, too.

As merchant capitalism replaced feudalism, financial competition increased amongst physicians and the professional health care culture started to assert its dominance. This was problematic for the popular sector of the healthcare system because creating a dependence on professional authority hinged on belittling domestic caregivers’ competency and disrupting the methods by which they obtained their knowledge. One could argue, however, that domestic caregivers were better off than the specialists of the folk sector, who more frequently fell victim to the witch-hunts.

It is important to note that this didn’t happen quickly. This was a slow process of erosion. The gradual decline in respect for women’s healing knowledge was mirrored in the way the stillroom books slowly started to resemble the modern cookbook and “phisical receipts” began to disappear from their pages.

Family herbals, written by doctors, but marketed at the public began to take their place. Historical herbals such as Culpeper’s The English Physician & The Complete Herbal were published for the lay public rather than fellow practitioners. In 1769, Dr. William Buchan published Domestic Medicine: or, a treatise on the prevention and cure of diseases by regimen and simple medicines. In this text, Buchan made the case for the wide dissemination of basic healing knowledge. He argued against professional trade secrets saying,

“The affectation of mystery not only renders the medical art more liable to be abused, but likewise retards it progress. No art ever arrived at any comfortable degree of improvement for so long as it was kept in the hands of a few who practiced it as a trade.”

This book, and others like it, was wildly popular. Over the course of a century, it was reprinted over 20 times and distributed throughout the UK and US colonies. Buchan was not without his faults. He showed an annoying affinity for bleeding and other “heroic” practices and many of the recipes he mentions can be found stillroom books written two hundred years earlier such as the following bitters infusion.

Take tops of the lesser centaury and camomile flowers, of each half an ounce; yellow rind of lemon and orange peel, carefully freed from the inner white part, of each two drachms. Cut them in small pieces, and infuse them in a quart of boiling water.
For indigestion, weakness of the stomach, or want of appetite, a tea-cupful of this infusion may be taken twice or thrice a-day.

The drop off in the practice of domestic medicine coincides with the time when certain plant medicines, such as narcotics, became more difficult for the average person to obtain. There were valid reasons for those types of restrictions. Patent medicines were a nightmare before regulation came along. One example, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, marketed to calm children, contained morphine and opium. Not surprisingly, it killed many children and created a host of addiction problems. Unfortunately, these regulations, and exclusive access to new synthetic drugs increased the professional health care sector’s chokehold on the health care system.

You might wonder what this has to do with modern plant healing and why I feel compelled to talk about it modernly?

This history compels us to examine the exclusionary nature of professionalism. Popular healthcare cultures thrive on freely shared knowledge. The professional health sector has historically operated in direct opposition to this sharing of knowledge because they derive their authority by undermining confidence in self-care practices.

This reality provokes questions to think about as we  build a professional community. How do we best support and empower the popular health care culture? How do we protect consumers from junk marketing and poor information on the internet, without resorting to scare tactics [although some of the misinformation on the Internet, is quite frightening] or undermining their confidence?   I think part of the answer to that lies in making sure that women understand that using herbal remedies to address day-to-day illness was once as commonplace as knowing how to bake a cake, or mend a shirt.

I am often a little put-off by people who make it sound as though they have some sort of special status in the herbal community because their ancestors were “herbalists”.  The truth of the matter is  that every one  of us shares that history.  Both of my great-grandmother were skilled in domestic medicine (one was even a lay midwife) and I wager that if you go back far enough in your family history your female ancestors were too.

Also, as a feminist, I would like to see more herbalists teach their students about the contributions that the female healers made to the herbal craft. I mean it is good that St. Hildegard gets some acknowledgment for her contributions, but she was by no stretch of the imagination unique amongst women of her time, except perhaps in her literacy. Knowledge of these important women, and the forces that silenced them, seems somewhat lacking amongst modern herbalists.

I have studied their writings, which are the legacy of a thriving popular health care culture. Just seeing the hundreds of names to which various remedies are attributed helped me to grasp how widespread domestic healing knowledge was. It also makes me cringe to think how many of these books were tossed away as useless cookbooks. We should honor the memory of these ancestors by working to revive knowledge of domestic medicine, in part by sharing the names and stories of women history has forgotten.

Digitized Library Collections

Wellcome Library Digitized Collection – Explore medicinal and culinary recipes through the ages with this collection of 16th-19th century domestic recipe manuscripts.
University of Minnesota – Medical Receipt Books

 Archer, Jayne. (2002). The Queens’ Arcanum: Authority and Authorship in The Queens Closet Opened (1655). Centre for the Study of the Renaissance: Renaissance Journal 6, 1(6). Retrieved from
 Blencowe, Ann. (1925). The Receipt Book of Mrs. Ann Blencowe A.D. 1694 [1972 Reprint] ([1972 Reprint]). London: The Adelphi, Guy Chapman.
 Ehrenreich, B., & English, D. (2005). For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Anchor Books/Random House.
 Green, M. H. (2010). The Trotula: An English Translation of the Medieval Compendium of Women’s Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
 Hatfield, G. (1999). Memory, Wisdom and Healing: The History of Domestic Plant Medicine. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Ltd.
 Hatfield, G. (1994). Country Remedies: Traditional East Anglian Plant Remedies in the Twentieth Century. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press.
 Hunter, Lynette. (1997). Women and Domestic Medicine: Lady Experimenters. In L. Hunter & S. Hutton (Eds.), Women, science and medicine 1500-1700: mothers and sisters of the Royal Society (pp. 89 –107). Gloucestershire. England: Sutton Publishing Ltd.
 Illustrandam, 19, 095–117.
 Martin, R. (2009). The Autobiography of Grace, Lady Mildmay. Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Reforme, 18(1), 33-81.
 Mooney, J. (1887). The Medical Mythology of Ireland. Philadelphia, PA: MacCalla & Company.
 Rundell, M. E. K., & Katherine Golden Bitting Collection on Gastronomy (Library of Congress) DLC. (1819). The family receipt book : containing eight hundred valuable receipts in various branches of domestic economy, selected from the works of the most approved writers, ancient and modern, and from the attested communications of scientific friends. Pittsburgh : Published by Randolph Barnes. Retrieved from
 Sharp, S. A. (1986). Folk medicine practices: Women as keepers and carriers of knowledge. Women’s Studies International Forum, 9(3), 243–249.
 Wynne Hellwarth, J. (1999). Be unto me as a precious ointment : lady Grace Mildmay, sixteenth-century female practitioner. Dynamis : Acta Hispanica Ad Medicinae Scientiarumque. Historiam