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Ever since we began gardening as kids, we've both been fond of growing herbs. They are easy to grow, taste fantastic, and are so expensive to buy fresh that they seem like a luxury item. We love wandering out to the kitchen garden to cut a sprig or two of fresh thyme, rosemary, and basil to brighten up a medley of sauteed fresh vegetables. At the end of the season, we dry the culinary herbs and find that they are far fresher than the pricey dried herbs sold at grocery stores. (Makes you wonder how old those herbs are! But maybe they are just processed at high temperatures and that's why they turn dull and nearly tasteless.) We re-use herb and spice jars by refilling them with home-grown herbs to avoid buying more packaging.

Drying home-grown herbs is very easy to do. Cut off a stem or several from the plant (or the whole plant, if it is an annual and it's the end of the season). Put them upside-down in a paper bag, tie the opening around the stem(s) with string, and hang the bag by the string in a dry place, like the garage. When the leaves are dry, which only takes a week or so in our climate, simply press on the outside of the bag, so that the dried leaves fall off the stems and into the bottom of the bag. Then pull the dried stem and any twigs out of the bag, and pour the dried leaves into jars. We like to use recycled jars already labeled with the name of the herb, but you can also clean and relabel jars or bottles that originally held something else. You can also reuse the bag!

I see it as a positive that herbal supplements are readily available now, and that it is relatively easy to educate oneself on which ones to use for a variety of ailments, or to support your health.

For example, Ota suffered a long bout of shingles recently, and it was a relief to learn from her medical doctor that a common inexpensive herb (lemon balm) soothes the discomfort of post-herpetic neuralgia. It works! But, we asked ourselves, why should we buy capsules of dried lemon balm in a plastic bottle packaged by a large distributor and sold at a drugstore or online? It's in the mint family and (in other climates), we've found it easy to grow -- in fact, it had a tendency to take over a garden bed and had to be confined to a pot. So we've decided that lemon balm is our first foray into growing our own medicinal herbs. It didn't do very well outdoors at this altitude, we discovered, but we are going to try it in the greenhouse next and see how it goes. It will probably benefit from a little shade, more water, and not freezing at night.

We also are at the beginning of learning about the medicinal uses of the native plants that grow around us. We have some leads (friends who are into gathering medicinal plants). We hope that, as we learn, we will be able to reduce the number of plastic bottles of herbal supplements we use to maintain our health.

In the meantime, since we can't count on their being recycled, we re-use the herbal supplement bottles. They are pretty useful for organizing small items -- screws, needles, you name it -- that didn't come in a convenient package for storing them. We bought an old-fashioned label maker to make it easier to re-use empty bottles for other purposes. And of course, we will refill those commercial lemon balm bottles with our own dried lemon balm when we have a crop!

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Updated: Dec 6, 2021

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We have been the recipients of food largesse from friends, neighbors, and even strangers who, desperate to pass along a bumper crop before it spoiled, have posted online.

One neighbor keeps bees and harvests so much wildflower honey they are happy to give us as much as we can use. Their property is forested, so their honey has an intriguing piney taste.

Another has given us fresh apple cider from their trees, and rhubarb cake made with their home-grown rhubarb.

Several other neighbors keep chickens and sell the eggs for less than they cost at the store.

Many suburban yards have plenty of space for fruit trees. We have been given as many delicious crunchy apples as we can carry from more than one acquaintance "downhill" in the city who had more apples than they could process from their backyard tree. Some heirloom apple varieties, while amazingly sweet and spicy, don't keep for long after picking, so we ate what we could, and juiced the rest.

We are just getting started on our food production here, so we have only been able to reciprocate by sharing prepared food so far, but one day we plan to have plenty of organically-grown fruits and vegetables to share, as well as feeding ourselves.

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A very helpful trend for those of us looking to reduce the plastic packaging is the zero-packaging food store.

We are lucky that we have one near us, and that they stock some of the items we use regularly. They package food and other supplies in returnable glass bottles, collecting a deposit which is partially refunded when you bring the jar back for cleaning and refilling.

Some of the useful items we've bought at our local zero-packaging food store are locally brewed chai, locally made gluten-free bread, toothpaste tablets, shampoo bars, nuts, and grains. They are also a good source for bulk cooking oils in reusable jars.

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