Archive for July, 2011

and the winner is…

July 27, 2011

Congratulations to Barbara McGouran for correctly guessing July’s green ally: Burdock (Arctium lappa)!

Burdock is a biennial plant and in the second year of growth, he/she grows very tall (sometimes up to 8 feet!) and develops flowers. These flowers or “burrs” of burdock are hermaphroditic and self-pollinating. Burdock is also an attractor of pollinating insects like bees. The burrs are nature’s velcro, sticking to anything or anyone who brushes by (another strategy to ensure the next generation of burdock).

Like its friend Mugwort, Burdock shows up in disturbed ground and poor soil. Burdock’s presence helps to improve the soil, breaking up the earth with his/her long taproot and drawing up minerals from deep in the soil. When the plant dies back after the second year, the organic material and nutrients he/she provides enriches the soil so that other plants demanding richer soil can grow. In this way, burdock is a pioneer species promoting ecological succession.

Burdock’s roots are well known as a nourishing food. The Japanese name for burdock is “gobo,” a key ingredient in kinpira, a delicious salad dressed with mirin, soy sauce, and sesame seeds. Burdock root is rich in inulin, a dietary fiber. Burdock is known as a “blood purifier” that supports the liver, bile production, and digestion. It also helps to clear chronic skin conditions such as eczema.




Medicinally, the root is taken as a decoction: simmer 1 teaspoon of dried root per cup of water for about 20 to 25 minutes. Strain out the root. Drink 1 cup, 3 times per day. {source: David Hoffman} The decoction can also be added to soups, as can the fresh root.

Today I made a syrup of burcock root by cooking the decoction down even more, reducing the liquid by about one-third, and then adding honey and maple syrup to sweeten and preserve.

I like to infuse the leaves of burdock in oil and use the oil in a skin soothing salve. Last month’s green ally winner, Roxanne, likes to add the dried leaves of burdock with lavender buds to apple cider vinegar to use as a hair rinse. I’m going to have to try that!

I feel I’ve only scratched the surface of burdock’s great attributes. It’s a good thing I’ve chosen to “walk with” this green ally for the herbalism course I’m currently taking at Third Root. I hope to provide you with more insights into this deeply rooted lovely in the near future.

july’s green ally contest

July 24, 2011

Last month I introduced a new feature – the Green Ally Contest. For June, the green ally was Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), and the prize was a set of To-Go Ware. This month…

Prize: Sunflower, Comfrey & Lavender Facial Scrub (value $18)


  • In her second year of growth, he/she likes to reach out & grab you!
  • He/she is nourishing and most notably supportive of the liver
  • He/she has hermaphroditic flowers (hence the use of “he/she”!)

I think this is another easy one!

If you think you know who this green ally is, email me at liz (at) raganella (dot) com by 11:59PM on Tuesday, July 26. Out of the correct guesses, the winner will be selected at random (using and announced by noon on Wednesday, July 27.

Happy Guessing!

my plastic obsession confession

July 6, 2011

UPDATE: All of the plastic bits were claimed by a budding fashion designer, Sarah, who will make plastic couture with them. I’m so excited to have found someone who’s going to put all of my trashy treasures to use!

I’ve admitted this before, but I think I’ve lapsed into denial for a spell. Here’s my confession: I can’t throw plastic away. Mainly because I’m fully aware there is no “away.” Away is a hole in the ground in the best case scenario, and in the worst, away is in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (there’s also a North Atlantic version, though it seems to get less press) and perhaps eventually our bodies (by way of the fish who are eating the plastic thinking it’s smaller fish or plankton). I think of the harmless creatures who end up living with and consuming this eternal flotsam. How can I discard all of these plastic bits that inevitably end up in my home in seemingly benign ways? Surely I won’t stop buying glass bottles of olive oil (with a plastic cap) or milk (with plastic cap), or stop buying plants (that come in plastic starter pots). And so I collect.

{bucket o’ plastic}

obsession #6

My collection started back when I had a regular day job and still drank coffee. I started thinking about my daily cup and the plastic (#6 polystyrene, or PS) lid that kept hot java from spilling on me or my computer. I thought about how just little old me was using up at least 250 of these plastic lids a year (now think of all of the people in the office, in the building, on the block, in the city, &c). For some time, instead of bringing my own travel mug, I continued to utilize this “free” paper cup and plastic lid as my vessel. And I began collecting. But then I quit my job and coffee along with it. To freelance gigs, I’d bring my own mug and tea. Though I still had that collection sitting in a box at home…

{PS. i hate you. yes, i’m talking to you, smiley plastic bear!}


what doesn’t get trashed, gets stashed

The #6 obsession was just the beginning. Plastic tabs from bread bags, bottle caps, grocery store vegetable conveyances – it all became fair game. Whatever bits of plastic I can’t recycle now get stashed in what has been deemed the crap closet, aka The Library of Trash (we are blessed with abundant closet space). The intention with the collection was to create something, a sculpture perhaps, that would heighten public awareness to the plastic pollution problem. My inspiration was an image that is deeply embedded in my psyche, encouraging my obsession to thrive: a dead albatross, stomach cut open to reveal about a half a pound of plastic bits.

{tragedy as a source of inspiration}


obsessions are obstructive

The collection sits and grows. And although my library of trash has proved useful for other projects, this sculpture I dreamed up has not come to be. I’ve decided it’s time to move on and find a new home for all the petroleum-derived bits & pieces. I know it will never really have a rightful home because it will outlast us by many millennia (no known organism has been found to degrade #6 plastic – move over Iron Age, the Plastic Age will live on in infamy!). But I imagine it will make a good material for kids’ art projects or might make a fellow trash artist happy for a while. I’m posting it on Craigslist, Freecycle, Krrb, Facebook, Twitter & right here. Any takers?

{polystyrene comes in many forms}

{#3 plastic, aka, PVC, polyvinyl chloride. another plastic i love to hate}

{this sticker is likely made of vinyl}

{i bring this form of polystyrene to the local postal shop for reuse}

{i’ll reuse some of these as packing material}

{it’s hard for me not to picture some kind of sea creature caught up in these nets}

For more about how to avoid the dangers of plastic & other toxins, check out Plastic Albatross.

related posts:

when will demand for virgin resources be exhausted?

revisiting the 3 Rs