Plant Study: Honey Locust

Honey Locust, Gleditsia triacanthos.

Hailing from the Fabaceae family, the peas, Honey Locust is a medium-large deciduous tree native to central North America. It can become very invasive outside its native area and is banned in some areas, so do your research before you plant this beautiful, edible, medicinal tree. Honey Locust is an aggressive, fast-growing, short-lived tree that establishes itself well in hostile environments, thriving in dry, hot, windy, freezing, compacted and alkaline conditions. Its resilience makes it an ideal plant for ecological restoration initiatives and planting following new development. Offering four seasons of landscape interest, its fragrant blossoms appear in spring, followed by feathery bipinnate leaves, offering lovely shade in summer and bright yellow fall foliage. In winter, its twisted, leathery pods cling to the bare branches, adding character to the winter garden landscape–one of my favourites! The wild variety is thorned, but specific thornless cultivars are available from nurseries.

When ripe, the 8-12″ pods are filled with edible pulp that has been used for many ages by Native peoples as a food source and medicine. Recent studies show its effectiveness in treating some cancers, ulcers, indigestion and colitis. The juice is an antiseptic, and the pulp can be added to smoothies, dehydrated, or fermented into beer. The hard, flat seeds inside the pulp can be ground into flour and used in baking. Get creative with this one, but don’t mistake it for its close relative Black Locust, which is toxic!

This beloved Permaculture plant is an excellent addition to any forage system. There is debate surrounding whether this pea family member fixes nitrogen, as it does not produce the typical nitrogen-fixing root nodules. Still, regardless, it is undoubtedly a helpful landscape plant–providing it is not invasive in your area! There is a small, niche furniture market for the solid and rot-resistant Honey Locust wood, which used to be utilized in shipmaking to create wood nails. It is high-quality and polishes well.

Beware the close relative Black Locust!


Best Homemade Kombucha, Every Time.

It’s true! This recipe never fails.

Briefly, let us talk about Kombucha.

Kombucha is a tart, sour, commonly carbonated drink made from tea, yeast, and sugar. It has been around for thousands of years, first bring brewed in China, and is increasingly popular across the world for its reported health benefits. Packed with probiotics, this beverage is a gut happiness blast and, I personally think, very yum!

I have tried to brew kombucha many times over the years. Before the last six months, I always eventually failed: most often either killing my SCOBY (kombucha mother mushroom, which is essentially a symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria) or creating an inedible vinegar substance.

My greatest kombucha brewing fail occurred when I left home for the weekend, leaving a growler of kombucha on the counter in the sun. I came home to a kitchen full of broken glass. Shards of the thick growler stuck into cabinets and walls on all sides. The Cap of the growler was stuck in the ceiling, and the refrigerator was dented, I kid you not, from the force of the kombucha bomb exploding!

I was, amazingly, perhaps stupidly, not deterred!

This winter, I discovered the absolute, best, foolproof kombucha recipe and now enjoy more kombucha than I can drink.

It couldn’t be simpler. You will need a few key pieces of equipment. I have inserted links to products that I use. These are affiliate links, and if you use them, we will be given a small percentage of the sale. It won’t cost you anything additional. If you can get these products locally, of course, take that route!

Firstly you need a SCOBY. Additionally, you need a cheesecloth or a dish towel, a rubber band or method for holding the cloth in place, a vessel for the brew, and bottles to store your finished product in.

I highly recommend investing in these high-quality products as they make brewing kombucha so much easier, and your chances of success go up dramatically.

Optional ingredients I use include candied ginger, and I like my Kombucha of the ginger variety, Lavender, and carbonation tablets

Loose-leaf Raspberry Tea
Tea brewing in 3 cups of boiling water.
Adding one cup of sugar for the SCOBY to eat.

Candied ginger & lavender petals in their jars, ready for kombucha to be added.

Okay, step 1. Place your SCOBY and its liquid (it will come with some tea) into its cleaned vessel while you heat 3 cups of water.

Step 2. Once your water is boiling, add your tea of choice. The best thing about this recipe is that you can use any tea! If you use black tea, get some ph test strips. Kombucha likes to be super acidic with a pH below 4.5. If the brew is too alkaline, add a teaspoon of vinegar and test again.

I like to use herbal tea.

For this batch, I used loose red raspberry leaf tea. Red raspberry is super medicinal and good for the health of women’s reproductive systems. I like to boost the health benefits of my kombucha by using medicinal teas.

Step 3. Add your tea, in any quantity, to the 3 cups of boiling water and allow it to steep for about ten minutes.

Step 4. Add 1 cup of organic sugar and allow it to dissolve in the tea. Stir to speed up this process.

Step 5. Add three quarts (12 cups), cool, filtered water to the tea/sugar mixture.

Add the whole mixture to your SCOBY and let the brew ferment for about two weeks, testing along the way to achieve your desired flavor.

My recommended brewing vessel makes the process of tasting and, finally, bottling your kombucha SO EASY.

When bottling your brew, the time has come to add carbonation tablets and any flavor boosters you may desire, such as candied ginger or Lavender petals. Once I bottle my kombucha I leave it, OUT OF THE SUN, on some shelves at room temperature for one week to activate the carbonation tablets. Then I move it to the refrigerator. Enjoy within two or three weeks!

I hope you all enjoy this recipe for years to come!


Getting the workspace ready!
Carbonation Tablets
Candied Ginger & lavender petals
The BEST brewing vessel
Tea is done brewing after about ten minutes.
Tea and water added to the SCOBY. Time to let it brew!
The tablets of carbonation!


Chickens, A Permaculture Approach

Companion Planting and Stacking Functions for Easy, Edible Chicken Environments.

Who doesn’t love Chickens?! Honestly they are one of my very favorite animals. Chickens have amazing instincts, are intelligent, curious, beautiful and, BONUS, they lay eggs which are healthy and delicious. If you’ve never had a fresh laid egg for breakfast you are missing out and should immediately go find a farmer near you. Better yet….start here, do your research and raise some chickens of your own! Most cities are now allowing a few hens per household and there are so many benefits to raising your own flock!

Not only do chickens produce eggs, provide entertainment and nourish our very souls, they eat food scraps which keeps green-waste out of our landfills where it creates toxic gases which can pollute our soils and creep into the water table. Seriously, DON’T THROW AWAY FOOD SCRAPS. That’s a topic for another blog post. Chickens also deter pests, are amazing lawn mowers, can be utilized to prep garden beds and their feces, high in nitrogen, is an amazing addition to your compost pile! Cute. They are so cute.

So, it’s been decided, we should all raise chickens!

Now we want easy to maintain systems so that our Chickens thrive and we don’t have to spend every waking moment tending them. This is where a Permaculture approach comes into play…

Permaculture means Permanent Agriculture and is a design methodology. Permaculture is ethically based and focuses on stacking functions, using intelligent design and aims to create regenerative human settlements. Bringing natural cycles and humanity into balance. Observation is key.

I have designed this template as an example of an ideal Permaculture chicken system.

I will break down the elements of this design into their many different functions to demonstrate how each component fulfills many needs.

The Coop

I will use the template of a complete coop system like the ones built by my friends at Carolina Coops for this. Their coops utilize a deep litter composting method in the roosting area which makes coop maintenance a breeze.

  • Primary Shelter
  • Nesting boxes for egg laying
  • Collects rainwater off of the roof
  • Security against pests
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Functional and easy to clean
  • Protection from predators

Outer Run

  • Additional forage space for chickens
  • Allows forage plants to be protected during establishment beyond chicken reach through separation by the garden and inner run.
  • Any pests trying to reach the garden must travel through this outer run and the chickens will eat many of them.

Inner Run

This is the area directly outside the enclosed coop run where the chickens can venture into a forage zone.

  • Protected inner run
  • Provides space and forage
  • Separates the chickens from the garden

Tree in Garden Zone

For this design I went with a Siberian Pea shrub because they are nutritious, Nitrogen fixing and don’t get too big. See my recommended companion plants for chickens post for other options.

  • Provides shade for chicken run
  • Provides shade for garden beds allowing a space for tender greens and more delicate crops to be grown.
  • Beautiful!
  • Edible and high in protein, this beauty will supplement your bird’s diets.

Garden Zone

  • Provides food for the household and the chickens
  • Placing the garden between the chicken runs makes weeding a breeze! just toss any garden scraps into the run and the chickens will devour them!
  • When it comes time to clear your beds for winter or spring planting just open the gates and allow the chickens access to the garden beds. They will love turning them for you.
  • Houses Composting Operation.

Rain Water Barrel

  • Holds rain water collected off of coop roof.
  • Dispenses water for chicken consumption.
  • Acts as a raised back-up irrigation system for the garden.

With this kind of integrated design thinking, where each element must serve many functions, there is no limit to the beneficial relationships that can be achieved!

Bear in mind that each site is different. Each client has different needs, style, desires, time commitments and budgetary options which is why every system we design is unique and created especially for you.

Listen to Bethany Latham, our Lead Designer, speak on this topic in Episode #3 of Radio Chicken with Carolina Coops!

Monthly Medicinal: Achillea millefolium, Yarrow

Achillea millefolium, common name Yarrow

Quick Guide

  • Medicinal uses: Astringent, Bitter, Antipyretic, Diaphoretic, Antibacterial, Styptic.
  • Methods of extraction: Yarrow makes excellent tea, topical salve, liniment, antibacterial soap, oil and tincture.
  • Part of the plant to use: Leaves and Flowers.

Other common names: Gordaldo, nosebleed plant, old man’s pepper, devil’s nettle, sanguinary, milfoil, soldier’s woundwort, thousand-leaf and thousand-seal.

In History: Yarrow has long been a human ally. The discovery of Yarrow in ancient burial graves shows us that humans have had a relationship with this useful plant since prehistoric times. Achillea (Achilles) millefolium ( Thousand-leaved) gets it’s name from it’s presence in the Iliad where it was used by Achilles to treat the wounds of his men. There are reports of peoples throughout time having used Yarrow as a hair rinse, insect repellant, to treat boils, scars, sores, cuts, piles, burns and rashes.

Harvesting Yarrow in the NM mountains with my friend Daisy and our dogs.

Yarrow is a wonderful, apple smelling, flower. Beloved by the birds & bees for it’s healing properties. (I made a rhyme.)

Harvest is best done early in the season.

Medicinal Uses: Use leaves and flowers, dried. Yarrow makes wonderful topical salve, oil, liniment, tincture, antibacterial soap and tea! It is an incredibly useful plant for treating wounds as it can both thin and thicken the blood. Used to treat colds, dry up mucus, mitigate diarrhea, and regulate fever. Yarrow can stimulate circulation, open pores and helps the body to cool itself by stimulating sweating. Because Yarrow is a bitter it can increase digestive function and health. Yarrow tones and tonifies blood vessel walls and is useful for regulating menstrual cycles.

The Science behind it: The effectiveness of Yarrow as a medicine comes primarily from the Alkaloid Achilleine which encourages blood clotting. One study found that 1/2 milligram of Achilleine per kilo/ body weight can reduce the time it takes a wound to clot by 32%. (Miller 1954). Terpenes in it’s essential oil give Yarrow anti-microbial properties making it even more effective in first aid.

Caution: Pregnant women are not advised to use Yarrow unless guided by an herbalist. It is not advised to consume Yarrow leaves in Large quantities. If using Yarrow to regulate fever by inducing sweating make sure you are well hydrated.

Growth & Ecology: Yarrow grows native across basically the entire Norther Hemisphere, Asia through Europe and all over the Americas. It is considered by some to be an aggressive weed and can be found growing wild in a vast array of environments. Yarrow spreads through underground tubers and is an excellent pollinator plant. Some birds including the common Starling line their nests with yarrow and the rich volatile compounds help to prevent insects in the nest.

WARNING! In our litigation loving world herbalists such as myself must point out that we are not doctors and this information is not intended to diagnose or treat or cure any of your diseases. Use any plant medicinal or otherwise at your own risk and harvest with integrity and consciousness. Never take all that nature has to offer from any one location. Do your research and take care to correctly identify any plant you intend to consume. My personal Opinion is that plants have all the medicine we need.

This is my opinion only.

Companion Planting for Chickens

Chickens are amazing, hungry Omnivores.

Adding forage crops to your chicken run is a great way to supplement your chicken’s diets.

Healthy Birds, Healthy Eggs, Healthy People, Healthy Planet

As soon as chickens are given the chance to free-range and forage for some of their food you will notice a difference in their eggs. When a chicken is getting the proper nutrition the egg shell will thicken, the yolk will darken and the flavor will be out of this world! Healthy Chickens, like healthy humans, need variety in their diets.

Don’t forget the added benefit of the money you will save not having to buy feed!

Plants for Chickens

Plants have so many different uses!

Keep in mind, please, that while I am recommending these plants for their chicken-friendly attributes, each plants has many other strengths and uses.

Mullein for instance is an amazing medicinal herb which is famous for its Lung healing capabilities, makes a great tea, has beautiful flowers, is reportedly an excellent emergency toilet paper and is beloved by chickens. Comfrey can be used to make a wonderful compost tea for your garden…Sunflowers not only produce seeds that the chickens will enjoy, they are beautiful, provide shade, can be used as a privacy wall, attract pollinators, their tap roots loosen compacted soil, and on and on and on and on and on…forever….

Stack the functions! Be creative and familiarize yourself with your tool kit! (plants).

Ground Covers

  • Clover
  • Dandelions
  • Grass
  • Chickweed
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Thyme

Lower Level Plants

  • Comfrey
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Fennel
  • Wormwood
  • Nettles
  • Lavender
  • Parsley
  • Greens
  • Asparagus
  • Amaranth
  • Brassicas
  • Carrot Greens
  • Alliums
  • Rhubarb
  • Grass
  • Clover

Mid-Story Plants

  • Sunflower
  • Corn
  • Blueberries
  • Currants
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries

Vining Plants

  • Nasturtium
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Mouse Melon
  • Honeysuckle
  • Squash
  • Watermelon
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Hops

Trees/ Canopy

  • Most fruit trees
  • Mulberries
  • Siberian Pea Shrub

Enjoy designing your own garden/Chicken paradise or let us do the work for you!

At Environmental Harmony this is our specialty!

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