Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Making Astragalus Tincture

I used to raise medicinal and culinary herbs from my farm in Cedar County, sell them at the Iowa City Farmers Market, and give workshops about how to make them into medicines. Just recently a friend of Prairie Hill gave us a valuable gift: a bucket-full of astragalus roots. Astragalus is an important herb, and takes years to grow to harvest time. The most common form of medicine made from astragalus roots is a tincture. And so Jeanette, Val and I made a gallon of astragalus tincture one Sunday afternoon. This will be enough to keep everyone at Prairie Hill healthy for years to come!

First the roots were scrubbed clean, then dried enough so there was no surface water. Then we cut them into small pieces and/or peeled off the bark in strips, whatever we could do to expose the greatest amount of root to the other ingredient, 151 proof Everclear. This is the strongest, most potent alcohol sold here in Iowa City.

Once we cut up the roots, we filled a gallon glass jar to the top with the roots. The few that were left looked like they had some potential to start new plants, so I planted them in my front yard. The ones in the jar were then covered with the Everclear. The three large bottles of the alcohol were exactly enough to get to the top of the jar. That seemed a good sign somehow, and we smiled.

Now the tincture sits on a shelf in our common house pantry, waiting for at least three months for the medicinal part of the roots to leach into the Everclear. Sometime in the spring, we'll decant the tincture, and then anyone who wants some can have a little dropper-bottle of it to put in their medicine cabinet. Since you use only a few drops at a time, this huge quantity should last well into the 2020's.

Here are some of the benefits of astragalus:

  • Immune system booster
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Slows or prevents growth of tumors
  • Protects cardiovascular system
  • Relieves insulin resistance related to diabetes
  • Slows the progress of kidney disease.
As with most medicinal herbs, astragalus tends to nourish and support the body in a wider way than the targeted and dramatic action of drugs. So it's effects are gradual. And since you take only a few drops at a time, it is a safe addition to the preventive helpers we all call on.

Nan Fawcett

Surviving the Blizzard

Note: your blog host has gotten too busy this past month, and good posts like this one have been waiting to go up. This post was written by Val Bowman a week ago. But tonight it is snowing again!

Winter storm or 'near blizzard' conditions predicted for today. So far it's just rain. We took Kara to a Days Inn near the airport in Des Moines a day early for her flight home to California tonight. But when I look out my window, I see Jeanette walking Cooper and Sophie, the new tree in Donna's yard decorated with lights, a beacon in the early morning light, and the woods at the top of the hill that shelters any number of small animal friends. Later today I will walk a few steps to Nan's house for a massage and later we'll gather in the Common House kitchen to make a tincture of astragalus with her. And tonight we'll walk carefully up the hill (holding the railing) to Marcia's house to watch Strangers in Good Company.

As I was writing this, John called me to the window to see our Osprey hawk! Posing on Dick's truck and then flying to the top of our light pole which overlooks my bird feeder. No breakfast diners there, thank goodness. Life at Prairie Hill.

Blizzard Tips:

  • Stay indoors during the storm. Prolonged exposure to cold can cause hypothermia.
  • Walk and drive carefully on icy sidewalks and roads. Many injuries and accidents are caused by slippery conditions.
  • Before driving, let someone know your destination, route, and expected time of arrival. If your car gets stuck, it'll be easier to find you
  • If you lose feeling and color in your nose, ears, hands or feet, cover the exposed area, avoid rubbing your skin, and seek medical help immediately. You may have frostbite.
  • When shoveling snow, take breaks and lift lighter loads. Working too hard can lead to heart attacks.
  • Stay dry. Wet clothes make you lose body heat, increasing your risk of hypothermia.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Snow and Pumpkins!

We knew it was coming, and true to forecast the ground was covered with light snow this morning, the first we've had this winter. For some of us, the first we've seen at Prairie Hill.

The Jack-o-lanterns still decorating our land and buildings (see the one on the retaining wall above), have a white cap. But they remind us of our first Halloween just a week ago:

Scary faces lined Prairie Hill Lane, luring trick-or-treaters to the common house.

"Prairie Bill" showed the way.

Here are some of the Halloween Team:
Val, Donna, Marcia, Craig, and
Prairie Bill behind.

Michele easily won the Best Costume award

For our first year in residence on Halloween, our turn-out was small but happy. Three families. Next year we'll hope for more. In the meantime, it was fun for us!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Adventure in Composting - A New Beginning

One of the first things we did here at Prairie Hill, once there were residents living (and eating) here, was to fence off a small compost pile up at the top of our site, near the upper garden. We wanted to keep our "garbage" instead of hauling it away, and let it turn into a fertile supplement for our land.  What we found, over the months, was that access to this compost pile was more difficult than anyone wanted: up a steep hill. It discouraged some of us from using it.

We recently took a field trip to the Iowa City Landfill, where they have a wonderful composting section. Below, you can see a huge pile of partly-done compost being turned by the large machine on the right:

We saw a number of piles, each at a different stage of decomposition:

We learned that air ventilation is important to having a successful compost operation, as well as a mixture of ingredients: some wetter garbage from the kitchen, some drier grasses and yard "waste". Jane Wilch, head of the Iowa City compost program, gave us a tour through the composting grounds, and forwarded us much information to help us with our own smaller composting efforts.

And now, for the past several days, we have been using a new compost bin, built by several members with some plans using pallets, a low-cost and relatively easy construction. This bin is located just northwest of the common house, by the recycling and trash platform.
It has plenty of room for air circulation, a gate that makes turning the compost easier, and sufficient space for our community's kitchen and yard waste. And best of all, it's a short walk from any of our homes, with no steep path to get there.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Walking through our Parks

Yesterday, after walking up the hill to dump our kitchen compost into the community compost pile, I took a stroll through Benton Hill Park. It was the best thing I did all day.

This is a 3.5-acre park with a variety of hackberry and oak trees, a pre-school playgound and a small shelter. There I was, alone with bushy-tailed squirrels, playful rabbits, sparrows, finches and fresh air, right in my own backyard. Benton Hill Park, founded by the city nearly 20 years ago, sits atop Prairie Hill Cohousing at the intersection of Benton Street and Miller Avenue.

I read somewhere that Iowa City has 50 parks. I am delighted that we see one of them when we look out our windows. It is one of the myriad benefits of living in the Iowa City Cohousing community. Having moved from Northern California six months ago, I was drawn by the idea of having a park nearby, but I didn't realize how easy it would be to be in nature.

We have enjoyed several two-mile walks around the lake at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area, a five-minute drive from our home. And, in the past week or so, we have been exploring Willow Creek Park, off Benton Street. The winding and wide walking trails seem to be endless and offer walks across the creek on several small bridges.

This morning's walk there was glorious because of the warm sun and the canopy of trees brightened by yellow, red and orange leaves. And, we made a new discovery -- the oak sculptures created by Russian artist Valery Kovalev, who visited Iowa City a number of times in the 1990's, A plaque there explains that the five Willow Creek sculptures represent just a portion of the work he left here.

The most evocative of the sculptures is titled "Zoya," a tribute to Zoya Anatolyevna Kosmodemyanskaya, a revered martyr of the Soviet Union, who gave her life fighting the Nazi Army during World War II. The sculpture was donated to the people of Iowa City by Khristofor and Marianna Agassandian.

We also came across a stone tribute to donors and volunteers who have contributed to Iowa City's Hospice program, situated in a shady grove also featuring rose bushes.

It's as if Iowa City's parks are calling to us to meander through and find our way to more treasures.

We are having a great time living and working at Prairie Hill Cohousing. We have helped others move in, planted trees and weeded by the hour shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbors. And, we are learning that only minutes away, endless new adventures in nature are waiting.

John Bowman

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Week of Sunny Skies and PROGRESS!!

Finally the ground is dry enough to begin work on the retaining wall behind the new duplex:

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Things Are Happening at Prairie Hill!

A Second Garage Building Is Going Up.  One day this week, Jim (yellow T-shirt and foreman of our construction team) was laying out the materials for a new garage on the ground. The next day he and Tom (grey T-shirt) were raising the structure. Here they are on the third day.

And here they are on the fourth day, which was in the 40's.

And by the end of the day, the building already looked like this!

Meanwhile, our Detention Basin, despite many, many inches of rain falling in the last couple of weeks, has been functioning well. We've watched with interest as several families of ducks have enjoyed the water. You can see in the background the mound of dirt for the excavation of our next building, a one-story duplex.

The duplex is going on this site, just below and to the south of the completed two-story duplex.

Here's a closer shot of that completed duplex. Barb and Del have moved into the south side, with the other side still available to a new cohousing member.

Here's a photo of our second completed two-story duplex. John has moved into his new home on the left, and the one on the right is as yet unsold.

The herbs and flowers in the new raised beds at the upper entrance of the common house are still going strong, but temperatures are due to get into the 20's this coming week. It's a good time for us to harvest, and also to plant trees and shrubs.