May 30, 2011

Natural Remedies for Bug Bites and Sunburns

Break out the flip flops, pack the beach tote, fire up the grill . . . summertime is here! Along with all that fun in the sun can come some of the not so pleasant parts of summer – bug bites and sunburns. Here are some all natural home remedies to relieve your pain, itching, and swelling so you can get back to enjoying your summer.

Bug Bites
Most insect bites and stings will heal on their own, but you'll still probably have to take measures to alleviate swelling and itching.

First, make sure to clean the skin around the bite or sting thoroughly with soap and water or with rubbing alcohol. If you are stung by a bee, make sure to remove the stinger first. Applying ice immediately can help prevent or reduce swelling and itching.

My personal go to remedy for bug bites is vinegar, particularly red wine vinegar (although friends tell me other types work just as well). Applying vinegar immediately after a bite eliminates itchiness and prevents swelling. If vinegar alone is not enough, try applying a paste of baking soda and vinegar.

Other natural home remedies for bug bites include:

  • Rubbing the insect bite with soap.
  • Dabbing toothpaste on the bite.
  • Rubbing the inside of a banana peel on the bite.
  • Applying tee tree oil to the sting.
  • Rubbing the bite with the cut side of a freshly cut onion slice.

Besides being easy and effective, all these natural remedies are safe to use on even the smallest members of your family.

Sunscreen
Of course we should all be using broad-spectrum, SPF 30+ sun screen every day, but sometimes sunburns do happen. If it happens to you, try these all natural remedies for relief.

Aloe vera lotion and gel is probably the most popular sunburn soother. It is antibacterial and helps stimulate the immune system. Aloe vera can be very soothing as it helps your skin heal.

Vinegar can help relieve the pain of a sunburn. Dampen a cloth or towel with distilled white vinegar and apply it to the sunburned skin for about 20 minutes. Repeat as necessary. Adding half a cup of baking soda to your bath can also be soothing.

Lotions, creams, and oils with antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E cream can help heal damaged skin. Creams and ointments with Calendula, a healing plants with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antiviral properties, can also help sunburned skin heal.

Finally, check the Environmental Working Group's sunscreen guide to find the right sunscreen for you and avoid future burns.

May 27, 2011

Natural Solutions for Common Hair Problems

Dry hair. Oily hair. Dandruff. Thinning hair. For every hair problem there are several chemical solutions available at the salon or drugstore aisle. Instead of sorting through all those products, many of which we know contain some pretty unsavory ingredients, you can look to your pantry for some all natural, do-it-yourself solutions.

First, start with a healthy hair diet. Basically, what's good for your body and overall health is good for your hair. Stick with a balanced diet of unprocessed foods – veggies, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, and good fats found in foods like walnuts, olive and canola oil, fatty cold-water fish. Then, try these home remedies for your specific hair dilemma.

Dry Hair
Dry hair can result from a variety of reasons – harsh shampoo, over-shampooing, styling products, high heat from styling tools, sun, etc. Before trying to treat dry, damaged hair, consider why it's dry and damaged. To protect your hair from any further damage avoid over-shampooing (those with coarse hair can get away with shampooing once or twice a week), use a mild, sulfate-free shampoo, condition after every shampooing, wear hats to protect your hair from wind and sun, get regular trims, wear a swim cap (or rub olive oil into hair) before swimming in chlorinated or salt water, and always brush hair gently. Heat from blow dryers and curling/straightening irons is probably the leading cause of dry hair, so use only the minimum amount of heat needed to style your hair and allow your hair to air dry as often as possible.

Most homemade dry hair remedies can be found right in your kitchen. Mayonnaise and eggs are probably the two most popular home treatments for dry hair. With mayonnaise, simply slather a tablespoon or two of full fat mayonnaise onto your hair and gently massage it into your scalp. Leave it on for 30 minutes and then shampoo and condition as usual. To add some shine with eggs, beat an egg with a bit of tepid water and massage the mixture into your hair and scalp. Then rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water (any hotter and you risk cooking the egg on your head).

Just as you can use vinegar to clean your house and give your laundry a boost, you can use vinegar to clean and condition your hair into a healthy shine. Simply rinse with apple cider vinegar after your usual hair washing and conditioning routine. You can use beer the same way. Both will leave your hair shiny and, whether you use vinegar or beer, the smell will subside completely once your hair is dry.

For a yummy smelling hair mask mash up overripe banana and avocado and work it into your hair. Leave it on for at least half an hour and rinse with warm water.

For very coarse dry hair you can even try rubbing oil (olive, grapeseed, or coconut) into your scalp, working it though the ends of your hair, and letting it sit for at least half an hour before shampooing.

Limp or Oily Hair
If you have oily hair, make sure you are rinsing your shampoo out thoroughly. Any shampoo left on hair can attract more oil and dirt. If you do use conditioner, apply only a small amount to the ends, never near the scalp. Also, avoid brushing or touching your hair too much.

Baking soda is great at cutting grease. Add 1 to 3 tablespoons to your regular shampoo and massage it into your hair to really get the oil and dirt out. Then wash and condition as usual.

A vinegar rinse can help remove built up hair products and excess oil from your hair. Just add some vinegar to your final shampoo rinse. If that is not enough, mix two parts water with one part vinegar (white distilled or apple cider) in a spray bottle, apply thoroughly to hair after shampooing, and leave on for 5 to 10 minutes before rinsing. A mixture of equal parts water and lemon juice can be used the same way.

Dandruff
Vinegar can also help treat dandruff. In this case, you massage the vinegar into your scalp before shampooing. Do this every time you shampoo until the dandruff is gone. Going forward you can make your own dandruff-preventing conditioner by mixing two parts water with one part vinegar.

You can also try adding either crushed aspirin or baking soda to your shampoo, massaging the mixture into your scalp, and leaving it on for a few minutes before rinsing and washing with regular shampoo.

Thinning Hair/Hair Loss
While harsh hair products and treatments can damage hair, they do not cause hair loss. Hair loss is caused by internal factors such as nutrition, stress, hormones, and illness. If the following dietary recommendations don't work, your hair loss may be an indication of an underlying medical condition so consult a doctor.

First, consider if you're getting enough iron in your diet. Many women are anemic and don't even know it. Some iron-rich foods are egg yolks, dark leafy greens, beans and lentils, and red meat. Consuming these foods with foods rich in vitamin C aids in absorption. Also important to healthy hair growth is vitamin B12. It's found in eggs, meat, and poultry, but if your hair is already thinning due to a B12 deficiency, you need a supplement to restore levels and curb hair loss.

Another B vitamin, biotin, is absolutely essential for hair growth. It is found in foods like liver and egg yolks, but it's hard to get enough to help hair (as well as skin and nails) without a supplement. The recommended daily intake (RDI) of biotin is 300 mcg, but hair loss doctors recommend 2 mg to 3 mg of biotin a day for those suffering from hair loss. Hair loss experts usually also recommend a nutrient called methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). It's another building block of healthy hair and skin. The recommended dose of MSM is 700 mg a day.

If you want to go beyond nutritional supplementation and try an herbal remedy for hair loss, there is some evidence that saw palmetto is effective in treating hair loss. This herb is strong enough to effect androgen pathways, so discuss with your doctor first. A safer option may be green tea. The jury is still out on its effectiveness, but green tea does have many health benefits, including being a good source of antioxidants, so it can't hurt to try.

May you have many good hair days ahead of you!

May 25, 2011

How to Save Gas

Gas prices are well over four dollars a gallon and with Memorial Day, the official start of summer, approaching they're only going to get worse. So, here are some tips on how to save gas (as well as money and emissions).

Let's start with the most obvious . . . drive less. Walk, bike, use public transit, and carpool when possible. Check with your local public transportation authorities; they often have carpooling information as well as their regular services. If you own more than one car, choose the one that gets the best gas mileage whenever possible. Make the most of each car trip by combining as many errands as you can.

How you maintain your car can have a significant impact on gas mileage. Make sure to get regular tuneups. Stick with the recommended maintenance schedule found in your owner's manual. Keep tires properly inflated (again, check your owner's manual) and aligned. You can even improve your car's gas mileage by 1 or 2 percent by using the manufacturer's recommended grade of motor oil. Selecting oil labeled "energy conserving" can also help.

When it's time to gas up, make sure to fill the tank so you don't waste time, money and fuel driving back to the service station for another small purchase. Never top off the gas tank though. Once the nozzle clicks off the first time, the gas you're paying for is not going into your tank. Waiting until you have just a quarter tank (but no lower) can improve your gas mileage because you are carrying a lighter fuel load.

The way you drive is also of significant importance. For optimal gas mileage, drive at a constant speed and avoid quick accelerations and hard braking. When there is little traffic, use cruise control. You can also improve your gas mileage by 15 percent if you drive at 55 mph instead of 65 mph. When it comes to manual transmissions, the lower the shift speed, the better the gas mileage so remember to shift up early and shift down late.

Avoid idling. Turn off the engine whenever you will not be moving for a minute or more. If you're stuck in traffic or in another scenario where you can't turn off the engine, shift into neutral instead.

Keep your car light to boost fuel efficiency. Take out any unneeded items from the trunk and reduce drag by carrying items inside the car rather than a roof rack.

On hot days seek out parking spots in the shade to reduce gas evaporation as well as your need for air conditioning. Investing in a good windshield shade will help keep your car cool, which also reduces your need for AC. If you have a garage, make sure to use it to park your gar. Parking in your garage helps your car stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer, reducing your need for heat, defrost, and AC. When you do use the heat or air conditioning, remember to turn it off 5 minutes before you reach your destination.

If you're in the market for a new car, get only the options you really need. Optional features, such as four-wheel drive, can significantly decrease your gas mileage. Manual transmissions have better fuel economy than automatic transmissions. Get only the size of car you truly need, since the bigger the engine, the lower the fuel efficiency. Decide on your required model size and compare the gas mileage of cars in that category at http://www.fueleconomy.gov/ – the official U.S. government source for fuel economy information. Consumer Reports released its list of the most fuel-efficient cars it tested just this past April. If you're considering a hybrid, compare the stats and features of available hybrids at Hybridcenter.org.

Safe (and green) travels!

May 23, 2011

Keeping Green at Work

Workplaces account for nearly half of the nation's energy usage. The fact is that many people spend more time at work than they do at home. Even some of the most eco-conscious among us start to let their green ways slide once they get to work. By making many of the same green choices at work as you make at home you can make your working environment healthier, more comfortable, and environmentally friendly.

First consider how you even get to work. If you live close enough, try walking or biking to work. Otherwise, check out public transportation options or organize a carpool.

Rethink how you print. First, consider if something can be read online or emailed rather than printed out. If you have to print, print only the specific text or pages you need and print on both sides of paper. Keep misprints for scrap paper. Print addresses directly on envelopes instead of printing mailing labels.

Keep electronic files, which are easier to organize and backup.

Reuse office supplies whenever possible. Does a paper clip really lose its usefulness after a single use? Paper clips, envelopes, folders, and such can typically be used multiple times.

Make sure to put all recyclables in the correct receptacles. If your company doesn't already have a recycling program, start one. You may even consider composting. Is there a garden nearby that could use the compost you and your co-workers produce?

Save electricity just as you do at home. Turn off lights not in use, take the stairs, and unplug electronics such as cell phones and laptops once they are charged. Change your settings so your computer and monitor automatically go into power save mode when not in use. Before leaving for the day turn off your computer and unplug the adaptor.

Replace the light bulb in your desk lamp with an energy-efficient bulb and it'll use 75 percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer. If you're the only one working in your area, use localized lights instead of lighting up the whole area or entire floor.

Check that all air vents are clear of any furniture, equipment, boxes, or office supplies. Blocked air vents can use up to 25 percent more energy to pump air.

Bring an air-cleaning plant or two into your workplace to improve air quality. NASA spent two years testing 19 different house plants for their ability to remove common pollutants from the air. The most effective plants were proven to be philodendron, English ivy, spider plants, dracaena, weeping fig, golden pothos, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, bamboo or reed palm, and snake plant.

Bring your lunch from home in reusable, non-plastic containers. By preparing your own food you'll be better able to avoid preservatives, reduce waste (think of all those ketchup packets and napkins in take-out bags), and save money. Remember to also bring a reusable mug, cutlery and napkin. Real silverware and a cloth napkin make a meal more enjoyable anyways.

Talk to those in charge of purchasing about switching to eco-friendly office products and recycled paper. Also suggest safer, green cleaning products. By using green cleaning products (check out greencleaning.ny.gov/Products.asp for a full list of EcoLogo or Green Seal products) and equipment (e.g., micro-fiber mops and cloths, HEPA vacuum cleaners your company can vastly improve indoor air quality.

If at all possible, work from home at least once a week. Technology today makes telecommuting a viable option for many workers. You'll save yourself time and the environmental impact of your commute. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, not using your car for just two days a week can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 1,600 pounds per year. Telecommuting makes employees more productive and saves companies money (on the resources you would have used in the office). Alternatively, consider working a consolidated workweek – four ten-hour days instead of five eight-hour days.

Finally, make going green in the office a team effort. Gather like-minded individuals together to work on making your workplace a green workplace. Check out Energy Star's posters and tip cards to help you spread the word. You can even strive to make your building an Energy Star qualified building.


May 20, 2011

Activities To Get Your Family Outside

Sometimes there is no better salve to what ails you than nature. Getting outside and into nature is an important part of keeping everyone in your family happy and healthy. In fact, a University of Illinois study found that children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder were able to raise their attentiveness scores simply by taking a walk outside. Not surprisingly, walks in natural settings had an even more significant impact than walking on city streets. Being in nature can benefit your whole family's mental, emotional, and physical well-being, so here are some ideas to get your whole clan outdoors.

Fly a kite.

Play outdoor games like freeze tag, Red Rover, hopscotch and Kick The Can.

Color with sidewalk chalk.

Visit state and national parks in your area. Many offer great family friendly activities.

Go on a nature expedition at a local park, in your yard, or around your neighborhood. Bring along binoculars, a magnifying class, and a journal (young children can draw pictures of what they see) and teach your kids how to observe, enjoy and appreciate nature without disturbing it.

Make a nature journal. Have your kids decorate a notebook they can carry with them to note what they observe when they're outside. Even young kids can keep a nature journal by drawing what they see.

Explore the wonderful world of bugs. Check your local library for books about bugs and then head outside with a magnifying glass to see what you can find and identify.

Learn about birds. Check out some library books or use the online bird guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Then get outside with some binoculars and that nature journal and see what you can find. You can even take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count than takes place every February.

Grow a garden together.

Build and/or decorate a bird house.

Set up an outdoor scavenger hunt.

Go camping.

Play in the snow. Build a snow man. Make snow angels. Mix food coloring and water in spray bottles or bowls and snow paint.

Build a sand castle.

Have a picnic (even if it's in your own yard).

Start an outdoor hobby together. The options are limitless – biking, skating, fishing, hiking, canoeing/kayaking, horseback riding, tennis, etc.

Build a fort. Use these simple directions from wikiHow or get fancy with these instructions from This Old House.

Go letterboxing. Letterboxing is an outdoor activity that dates back to the 1800s. It combines elements of orienteering, hiking, art, and puzzle solving. Participants search for letterboxes hidden in public places, such as parks, by following clues from a catalog or web site. These letterboxes usually contain a notebook and a rubber stamp. Finders stamp their personal journal with that stamp to record their find and then leave their personal stamp in the letterbox's log book. Your own local parks and recreation department may have a program or you can check out one of the many web sites available to help you get started. If you'd prefer a more high tech treasure hunt involving gps tracking, try Geocaching.

Learn about the solar system. Kidsastronomy.com has several great resources you can check out before heading outside to connect the constellations together.

May 19, 2011

A Plea to 'Be Straw Free'

Milo Cress, a fourth-grader from Burlington, Vermont, is encouraging all of us to say, “No straw, please” next time we eat out. The nine-year old is the founder of the BeStrawFree Project which focuses on cutting down on the five hundred million disposable straws American use every day. Milo's encouraging restaurants to ask customers if they would like a straw instead of putting one in every drink, but you can be proactive and let your server know you'd prefer your drink without a straw. At home, if you really want to use a straw, there are reusable steel, glass, and bamboo options available.

Hats off to Milo for bringing awareness to a very simple action we can all take to be greener.

May 18, 2011

Green Laundry

Laundry. I know . . . ugh! But it has to be done. And it's no surprise that with all we need to launder (clothes, towels, bedding, etc.), the washing machine and dryer guzzle a serious amount of resources. Home appliances account for 20 percent of overall home energy use and the washer and dryer come behind only the refrigerator in energy usage. With just a few simple steps though, you can not only green up your laundry, but save money and make your clothes last longer, too.

First, only wash full loads. If you must run a small load, set the water level accordingly. But really try to make sure most loads you run are full. This doesn't mean to overfill your washing machine – clothes still need to move freely in the washer in order to get clean.

Cold water rinses detergent out just as well as warm or hot water, so always select the cold rinse option on your washing machine. Most laundry can also be washed with cold water as well, so give it a second thought next time you go to wash something in warm or hot water. Using only cold water for washing clothes would save you at least $100 a year.

There are a few options for all natural stain treatments you can create with products you already have at home. You can spray most stains with a mix of equal parts water and distilled white vinegar. Lemon juice mixed with a little cream of tartar is also an effective stain remover. Gently rubbing a little salt into a fresh stain can help keep it from setting in.

Most laundry detergents these days come in concentrated form which is greener (than non-concentrated options) because they use less packaging. Plus, it's a little known fact that you really shouldn't use the manufacturer's suggested amount of detergent. Use ½ to ¾ of the recommended amount and you will save money, reduce the amount of suds polluting our waterways, cut down on detergent bottles sent to the recycling center, and get your clothes just as clean if not cleaner than before (un-rinsed detergent on your clothes can actually attract dirt!).

Still, laundry detergents can contain ingredients that are harmful to you, your clothes, and the environment. If you are in the market for an eco-friendly laundry detergent, opt for one that is plant-derived rather than petroleum-based, biodegradable, and free of phosphates, brighteners, dyes, or artificial fragrances.

Adding half a cup (quarter cup, if you have a front-loading machine) of baking soda to the wash helps boost your detergent's cleaning power. Adding it to your washer's rinse cycle will help rinse clothes better, ward off hard water stains, and make clothes feel softer.

Fabric softeners can also contain harsh ingredients. Instead, you can simply add a cup of distilled white vinegar during the rinse cycle (or in the softener cup, if your machine has one). Fabric softeners can build up on your clothes, reducing their longevity. Vinegar, on the other hand, neutralizes the water's pH, rinsing the detergent out better, eliminating static cling, reducing lint buildup, and leaving your clothes softer.

Chlorine bleach is a highly caustic substance that can cause eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. It can also be harmful to the environment. An inexpensive, and much better smelling, alternative is lemon juice. Lemon juice is a natural bleaching agent and can be used just as you would bleach.

Next time you're in the market for a washing machine, check out Energy Star certified front-loading models. These machines typically use 18 to 25 gallons of water per load, compared to 40 gallons for older washers. Today's washing machines are about 90 percent more efficient than they were 30 years ago, so if your washer dates back to the 80's, you probably want to shop around for a new one. You'll save about 7,000 gallons of water a year!

Green up the drying process by avoiding the dryer altogether. Hang your laundry on a clothes line or drying racks and your clothes will last longer, your household energy usage will drop, and you'll save up to $75 a year.

For the times you do use your dryer, make sure it is running efficiently. Check the exhaust vent every so often to make sure it closes tightly and clean the lint filter after every load. If doing more than one load, try to do one right after the other to take advantage of the leftover heat. Also, ditch the dryer sheets which are loaded with some unsavory chemicals that can actually contribute to the breakdown of certain fabrics.

Next time you are in the market for a dryer opt for one with a good moisture sensor that will automatically stop the machine once clothes are dry. It'll help you avoid over drying which wastes energy and wears on clothes.

Reduce how much you have to iron by hanging clothes up immediately after the wash is done. If you use the dryer, take items out immediately, smooth them out, and fold and store them neatly. Less ironing means less energy used, less wear on your clothes, and less work for you!

When the process of dry cleaning started over 200 years ago solvents like gasoline and naphtha were used. Over time other, not necessarily safer, solvents were developed for cleaning clothes. Today, 80 percent of all dry cleaners use perchloroethylene (perc) – a synthetic liquid solvent described by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a “toxic chemical with both human health and environmental concerns.” Luckily, there are alternatives. Click here for some green dry cleaning options.

The simplest way to cut back on laundry is to wear clothes more than once before washing. Lots of items (e.g., cardigans, jackets, jeans, some dress clothes) can be worn multiple times before really being soiled. In fact, the best way to preserve jeans is to wear them at least a few times before washing inside out and hanging up to dry.

Green laundry is not an all or nothing proposition. By implementing just a few of these suggestions, you can make a significant difference – in your carbon footprint and in your wallet.

May 17, 2011

2011 Heart of Green Award Winners

Check out Good Housekeeping's 2011 Heart of Green Award Winners. This segment on GH's The Daily Green site points the spotlight on 18 inspiring people, places, ideas and companies that are helping green go mainstream.

May 16, 2011

National Kids to Parks Day

Next Saturday is Kids to Parks Day. The National Park Trust is encouraging every family in America to visit a national, state or local park and play outdoors on May 21st.

Visit the National Park Trust's web site to make the National Kids to Parks Day pledge and search for national parks, state parks, U.S. Army Corps. Lakes or waterways, or other nature centers near you.

Go outside, breathe some fresh air, get some exercise, and show your kids why preserving our parks is so important!

May 13, 2011

Natural Allergy Relief

Spring has sprung and if you're like 35 million other Americans you're feeling the sting of seasonal allergies – runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, and wheezing. Before heading off to the drugstore, consider some natural remedies that cost less and have fewer side effects than over-the-counter drugs. You may find an all natural way to alleviate mild allergies or compliment a more traditional treatment of severe allergies.

First, take some steps to lessen your exposure to allergens. Avoid using window fans or air conditioning units because they can pull pollen indoors. Keep your car windows closed while driving and limit your time outside when allergy counts are high. Check out weather.com's Allergy and Pollen Count forecast when making plans. Take a shower and wash your hair at the end of the day to wash allergens out of your eyes and pollen out of your hair. A saline nasal spray can help rinse pollen from your nose and thin mucous. A neti pot goes even further and helps rinse your sinuses as well. You simply use this little genie lamp-shaped contraption to rinse saltwater through your nasal passages and pollen grains and the sinus congestion they cause are flushed away.

Next, cut out any foods that cause even the slightest irritation (e.g., eczema, hives, stomach ache, bloating, etc.). There appears to be a strong connection between food intolerance and seasonal allergies. By cutting out any foods you have trouble digesting you lighten the burden on your immune system, leaving it better able to process environmental allergens. It's suggested that anyone suffering from ragweed or other weed pollen allergies avoid eating melon, banana, cucumber, sunflower seeds, chamomile, and any herbal supplements containing echinacea.

While some foods can exacerbate allergies, other foods can provide relief from allergy symptoms. Spicy food can thin nasal mucous, which in turn clears your sinuses. The foods and spices most frequently recommended for clearing sinuses are cayenne pepper, chili peppers, hot ginger, horseradish, hot mustard, onions, and fenugreek. Also, studies show people who eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids are less likely to suffer from allergy symptoms. Cold-water fish, walnuts and flaxseed are all high in omega-3s.

There is also a theory that a spoonful of honey can keep keep allergies at bay. The premise is that by consuming local honey produced by bees in your area you gradually introduce tiny doses of pollen (which gets into the honey thanks to those bees) to your system, reducing our sensitivity. It's a very simple form of homeopathic immunotherapy. In order to build your immunity, you would need to start consuming a daily dose of local honey (it's important that it be produced from bees living near you) several weeks or months before allergy season.

If despite these preventative measures you still suffer from seasonal allergies, there are specific nutrients that can be effective in treating your symptoms. The most commonly recommended all natural remedy is a combination of vitamin C and quercetin. Vitamin C is an antioxidant shown to be effective at reducing allergy symptoms. Quercetin, also an antioxidant, is a natural plant-derived compound called a bioflavonoid that may control the release of histamine (the chemical that starts your body's allergic reaction). Each boosts the other's effectiveness, so together vitamin C and quercetin have a synergistic effect that's proven quite effective at quelling seasonal allergies. Try 1500 mg of vitamin C with 500 mg of quercetin once or twice a day starting up to six weeks before allergy season.

Some studies show the herb butterbur to be an effective allergy medicine. A Swiss study demonstrated how 32 mg of butterbur four times a day was as effective as the drug cetirizine (the active ingredient in Zyrtec) in controlling the symptoms of hay fever. Plus, no drowsiness, a common side effect of antihistamines, was noted. Stinging nettle is another natural antihistamine alternative. Studies show that 300 mg a day will offer relief for most people, but the effects typically last only a few hours.

Finally, many people have found significant relief from their allergy symptoms with the use of acupuncture. It can be especially helpful for those suffering from multiple allergies.

While natural remedies can be extremely helpful, it's important to use them with the same caution you would use with over-the-counter medicines. It's best to consult with your doctor before starting any type of treatment, but it's especially important if you are mixing alternative treatments with traditional drugs.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy spring!

May 11, 2011

Throwing a Green Birthday Party

Parties can generate a lot of trash. Kids' birthday parties in particular, with all the throwaway paper and plastic goods, decorations, balloons, and favors, can be very wasteful – not to mention expensive. With just a few simple choices your child's next party can be more environmentally friendly, less expensive, and possibly even more meaningful.

An eco-friendly party theme can help set the tone. A flower, garden, sports, or bug party are all fun ideas that you can pull off right in your own back yard or local park. A little creativity can get you a lot further than simply buying out the superhero/princess section at iParty.

A short invite list is also a good idea. A good rule of thumb is capping the number of invitees to the number of your child's age. If your child is turning four, then four pint-sized guests is enough. I know many will disagree with me and it can be hard to buck the trend, but you don't really HAVE to invite every child in the class. Remember, the party is about your child (not you fulfilling any perceived social obligations) and too many guests can leave a child feeling overwhelmed.

Invitations can go out online either via email or a site like Evite. You'll save paper and money and make it easier for people to respond. If you prefer more traditional invitations, consider printing them at home on recycled paper and hand delivering them to any friends and family you'd be seeing anyways.

For decorations, try making your own with materials you already have on hand or purchasing items you can use again. Just google your theme and you'll be amazed at all the crafty ideas out there.

When it comes to any type of party, the worst environmental offender is usually all the disposable plates, cups, utensils, napkins, and tablecloths. Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks and spoons every year to circle the equator 300 times! Instead of buying paper or plastic tableware, offer reusable options. If you don't have enough at home (here's a good example of why it's good to keep the guest list small), you can always check out thrift stores for an eclectic mix of tableware. Other options are reusable plastic cutlery and compostable paper plates.

Make recycling easy for guests by placing clearly labeled recycling bins in a convenient location everyone can reach.

The principles of eating green apply to party food as well. Prepare as much as you can at home and opt for local and organic when possible. Your kids can help prepare food, giving you the opportunity to discuss healthy eating and them a sense of pride from preparing food for their family and friends. Guests can help make or decorate cookies or cupcakes as a party activity. Reduce waste by filling pitchers with water, juice, and milk rather than offering juice/milk boxes and bottled water. Baking your own birthday cake gives you control over the ingredients and avoids all the packaging waste of store-bought cakes.

Some of the funnest party games and activities require little or no materials. Just a few options to consider: musical chairs, limbo, Simon says, charades, lip-sync contest, three-legged race, red rover, hopscotch, and duck, duck, goose. Crafts can double as an activity and a favor. Children can decorate a picture frame, make a friendship bracelet or other accessory, or tie dye a shirt.

Talk to your child about asking guests to either not bring a gift or to make a donation to a charity in lieu of a gift. When you send out invitations with the site ECHOage, your guests can go online to RSVP and contribute to both a birthday gift and charity of your child's choice. Alternatively, you can ask close friends and family (or anyone who asks for a gift suggestion) to give your child an activity or experience gift, such as a trip to the zoo, a ticket to a show, a YMCA/recreation department class, or a pass to a museum. Gifts that get kids outside, like bikes, sleds, kites, bug kits, and orienteering gear, are also a good option. Since it makes it easier and less expensive for your guests, you can ask that any gifts be wrapped in recycled materials such as newspaper, magazines or leftover fabric.

Instead of giving each guest a goodie bag full of candy and plastic junk, consider giving a small donation to a nonprofit in their honor. Otherwise, you can at least make the gift something more practical – art supplies, a craft they can make at the party, a puppet or other non-plastic toy, a garden kit with a packet of seeds and little clay pot, a small bug kit, etc.

The most important part of a green birthday party is the lesson you provide for your child. Make sure to talk to your birthday boy or girl about why you make the choices you do. Of course it is impossible to make every aspect of a child's birthday party eco-friendly, but you can be a great example of how even small steps can make a big difference.

May 9, 2011

Everyday Green now available on Facebook!

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Understanding Chicken Labels

Chicken can make for a tasty, low sodium, nutritious meal. It's a great source of protein, vitamin B6, phosphorus, niacin and selenium. But picking out the right piece of chicken among the sea of labels can be confusing. There's all-natural, organic, pastured, and free-range, just to name a few. We've covered egg labels and the different types of beef, so now let's review the meaning of all those chicken labels.

All-Natural. This label is used often on a variety of different foods and it's basically meaningless. There are no set standards for calling something natural, so pretty much anyone can add this label to their product. With chicken it's taken to mean nothing, such as flavoring or coloring, has been added to the bird after slaughter. Naturally enhanced or naturally flavored are two other ambiguous labels. They could mean anything from the chicken was pumped up with a broth made from its own bones to sugar was added.

No hormones. Another superfluous label. All chicken is hormone-free because the USDA banned the use of hormones in poultry production back in the 1960s.

Raised without antibiotics. Antibiotics are allowed in conventional chicken production, but the administration of antibiotics is supposed to happen early enough in the bird's life that there is not supposed to be any antibiotic residue in the final product. The term “raised without antibiotics” is supposed to mean the chicken did not receive any antibiotics at any point in its lifetime, but this label is not certified by the USDA.

100% Vegetarian Diet. This label means the chickens were raised on feed (most likely grains) free of animal by-products. Chickens are actually natural omnivores who, if left to their own devices, would forage through grass for insects.

Air-chilled. Most chicken is water-processed which means it's chilled in cold pools of chlorinated water. The chlorine is necessary to kill bacteria. Air chilling avoids the chlorine, but takes more time and expense resulting in higher prices at the market. Air-chilled proponents say air-chilled chicken tastes better and has skin that cooks up crispier.

Kosher. This term refers to Jewish religious criteria, which is primarily focused on the slaughter of the birds. Kosher chickens are raised more humanely than conventionally-raised chickens and their slaughter must be done by hand. One of the principles of kosher meat production is being very careful that the animal is not sick, so chickens are carefully inspected for any signs of disease. Kosher birds are typically washed with salt, creating a kind of pre-seasoned taste that many people prefer. This label is certified by religious authorities, not the USDA.

Free range. Free range means the hens were un-caged with at least some access to the outdoors. In theory, free range chickens should be more nutritious because the chickens are outside absorbing Vitamin D from the sun and (as natural omnivores) eating insects for protein. In reality, the USDA allows this label to be placed on any poultry product that has had at least 5 minutes of open air access a day. That open air may very well be in a barn or warehouse and whether or not the chicken took advantage of the access is of no consequence.

Pastured or Pasture-Raised. This label means that the chickens are kept in coops at night, but are left to forage on grass, seeds, and insects during the day. Their diet may be supplemented with grains. Pasture-raised chickens are raised more humanely and their meat is more flavorful and nutritious (with higher levels of vitamin E and omega-3s) than conventionally-raised chickens. The Pastured label is not verified by the USDA or any other third-party.

Organic. For a chicken to be certified Organic by the USDA it must meet the following criteria: its feed must be 100% organic with no pesticides, chemical fertilizers, animal by-products, or genetically modified organisms; it cannot have been administered any antibiotics (thus, organic chickens are not crammed together as they are in conventional production because then it would be impossible to prevent disease without drugs); and it must be free-range (i.e., have at least 5 minutes of outdoor access a day).

Organic and pastured are probably your best options, but they may not be available at the local grocery store and, if they are, you're likely to pay a premium. If available, a whole chicken is generally more economical and stays fresher longer. Otherwise, local farms, co-ops, and CSAs are all great places to look for reasonably priced pastured or organic chicken. Find resources near you at LocalHarvest.org (http://www.localharvest.org/).

Finally, if you have the time, space, and inclination, you can always raise your own chickens (think of the eggs, too). You may be surprised at how big the whole backyard chicken movement has gotten. Find out more at backyardchickens.com.

May 6, 2011

Green Up Your Next Vacation

Summertime is around the corner and that means vacation season will soon be in full swing. For most folks vacation is a time for some much needed rest and relaxation. No one wants to stress about their vacation's carbon footprint, but there are measures we can all take to protect the environment while getting that R & R.

You can start greening your vacation before even leaving the house. Small measures, such as adjusting the thermostat, turning down the water heater and furnace, unplugging appliances, and stopping your newspaper can go a long way. Pack your own shampoo and soap to save on those small plastic hotel bottles and, if possible, bring your own refillable water bottles and/or travel mugs to cut back on the number of disposable cups you use.

When deciding on transportation, consider trains and buses which are more eco-friendly than flying. If flying is the only option, you may want to consider carbon-neutral travel. Expedia and Travelocity both offer carbon offsets to customers. Basically, you pay an extra fee (Expedia charges $5.99 for flights up to 2,200 miles, $16.99 for up to 6,500 miles, and $29.99 for a flight up to 13,000 miles) that is used to sponsor projects, such as wind farms or landfill gas capture, that produce clean energy.

When it comes to accommodations, the number of eco-friendly facilities all over the world continues to grow. Environmentally Friendly Hotels lists almost 3,000 hotels throughout the world that meet strict environmental impact standards. Many of these green hotels compost waste, are equipped with solar or hydro renewable energy systems, and are outfitted with gray water recycling systems (which purify and reuse laundry, bath and dishwasher water). They also take simple measures such as recycling, providing newspapers only upon request (to avoid wasted paper), and allowing guests to reuse linens and towels instead of laundering them each day. And these hotels don't necessarily have to cost more because they're green. Sustainable operating techniques save hotels money in the long run – savings that can be passed onto the customer.

Green Key or Blue Flag certified resorts have met special criteria to qualify as a green lodging site. The Foundation for Environmental Education endorses these programs and ensures the resorts maintain sustainable practices. On average, Green Key sites use 20 percent less electricity, 25 percent less heating energy and 27 percent less water than other vacation facilities. The American Hotel and Lodging Association also maintains lists of hotels that have been commended for their environmentally-conscious practices.

Once you reach your destination, continue with your eco-friendly habits from home. Keep showers short and turn off heat/AC and lights before heading out. Rent bikes or a scooter instead of a car. Use public transportation and walk when possible. If you do rent a car, consider a hybrid. If your hotel doesn't already have a policy in place, reuse your sheets and towels and ask if the hotel will recycle collected items for you. Seek out local artisans and businesses for sustainable souvenirs that benefit the local community.

By 2020, over 1.6 billion tourists will be flying to international destinations. Special consideration is needed when traveling to an area with an endangered ecosystem. Your green practices of conserving energy and water and keeping waste to a minimum become even more critical. Also, make sure not to buy any products made from endangered species, hard woods or ancient artifacts. Again, it's best to choose local products (such as jewelry or textiles produced by locals) rather than imported goods.

And finally, what's the greenest (and cheapest) vacation of all? A staycation! Play tourist in your own town (or neighboring towns) and visit local museums, zoos, historical sites, festivals, traditional tourist spots, and anywhere else that piques your interest. Check out your state's tourism website for ideas. You may be surprised by how much is available right outside your door.

So, whether you're traveling around the world or discovering the beauty of a staycation, remember: Leave only footprints behind you; take only memories when you leave.

May 5, 2011

Greener Email

Green up your email with an eco-friendly electronic signature. Check out http://www.ecofriendlyemail.com/ for ideas to create an Eco-signature all your own. My personal favorite is “Save a tree. Don't Ctrl P.”



May 4, 2011

A Billion Acts of Green

Earth Day Network has organized the A Billion Acts of Green campaign to encourage individuals and groups (big and small) to document their commitment to reducing carbon emissions and supporting sustainability. Their goal is to register one billion actions before the global Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.

Currently, the most popular commitments are eating more local food and bringing reusable shopping bags to the store. Get some more ideas about how others are committing to go green and register your own pledge at http://act.earthday.org/.

May 2, 2011

Creating a Wildlife Habitat

Whether you have a small spot on a porch or deck, a community garden lot, or acres of land, you can create a beautiful garden that provides food, water and shelter to local wildlife. Your wildlife habitat can be your own simple pleasure or you can boast a bit and encourage others around you to follow your green footsteps by becoming a certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation.

Here are the basics of a Wildlife-Friendly Garden:

Food. Planting native plants is the easiest way to provide the leafs, nectar, seeds, and nuts local wildlife needs. You can also supplement with elements like squirrel and bird feeders.

Water. Wildlife needs clean water to drink and bathe. If you are not near a natural water source such as a pond, lake, or wetlands, you can provide an artificial one like a bird bath, puddling areas (for butterflies), or rain garden.

Shelter. Wildlife needs a place to hide from people, predators and bad weather. Little critters also need a place to raise offspring. Dense shrubs, thicket, rock piles, and birdhouses are a few options for shelters you can include in your wildlife habitat.

And don't forget . . . practicing Green Gardening methods will keep soil, air, and water clean and safe for local wildlife (not to mention you and your family).

Once you have these basic elements of a wildlife habitat, you can apply to be part of the National Wildlife Federation's Certified Wildlife Habitat program. For $20 you get a personalized certificate, a year's subscription to National Wildlife magazine, 10% off NWF catalog purchases, a subscription to Habitats (a quarterly gardening and wildlife e-newsletter), your name listed in NWF's registry of certified habitats, and the opportunity to purchase a Certified Wildlife Habitat (see picture below) yard sign.

Now get out and enjoy that wildlife!