Saturday, September 20, 2008

You see weeds...I see wildflowers!

According to the American Heritage Dictionary a weed is defined as: "a plant considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one growing where it is not wanted, as in a garden." The same dictionary defines a wildflower as: "a flowering plant that grows in a natural, uncultivated state." But honestly, aren't these one in the same thing? Almost every "weed" has flowers of some sort.

The Woodrow Wilson Foundation Leadership Program for Teachers 2000 Summer Biology Institute on Biodiversity lists these 10 common weeds:

Milkweed - An important nectar source for bees and other nectar seeking insects, and a larval food source for monarch butterflies and their relatives, as well as a variety of other herbivorous insects. It is not the most beautiful flower in the world, but it serves an important function in the environment.

Mullein - The down on the leaves and stem of the common mullein makes it burn quite readily when dried, so it was used for lamp wicks before the introduction of cotton; therefore, an historic name for the plant was “Candlewick Plant”. Today, a decoction of the flowers is still used as an emollient and treatment for ulcers, wounds and hemorrhoids and for relaxation of the digestive tract and mucous membranes. It also sooths the liver and gallbladder. The leaves have exhibited strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Plantain - Current use of plantain is the commercially significant extraction of its mucilage – a carbohydrate fiber that is used in gentle laxatives. Mucilage also acts as an appetite suppressant and reduces intestinal absorption of fat and bile. It reduces LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. Plantain is commonly used as an astringent; its juice, when rubbed on an insect bite or bee sting, immediately sooths the area and begin the healing process. It can also stop poison ivy from blistering and itching if applied to the skin immediately after contact.

Dandelion - were actually brought to the United States from Europe to provide food for honeybees. Various clinical studies have demonstrated the legitimate use of dandelion as a diuretic, a bile production stimulant, a mild laxative, and an excellent source of potassium. Dandelions are still used as food; many enjoy the dandelion leaves boiled like spinach or mixed in salads. Baby dandelion leaves are often found in haute cuisine. The root, when dried, has been used in coffee substitutes.
Queen Anne’s Lace - Queen Anne’s Lace contains flavonoids, essential oils, vitamins B and C, pectin, lecithin, glutamine, phosphatide and cartotin, a vitamin A precursor. Chinese research has confirmed the function of Queen Anne’s Lace seeds as an abortifacient; other research has shown the plant to be a bactericidal, a diuretic, a hypotensive, and an effective treatment for parasites. It is said to have been named after Queen Anne of England, an expert lace maker. When she pricked her finger with a needle, a single drop of blood fell into the lace, thus the dark purple floret in the center of the flower.

Red Clover - Studies are being done in the use of red clover for combating AIDS, diabetes and the increased cardiovascular risk associated with menopause. Red clover is a member of the legume (pea) family. These are a group of plants that are able to take nitrogen from the atmosphere and make it biologically available to other plants. Nitrogen fixation is of critical importance in protein production in plants and makes the legumes a critical player in agricultural planning.

St. John’s Wort - St. Johnswort is undoubtedly one of the most heavily researched herbal remedies. People use St. Johnswort in capsule and tea form to elevate their moods. Research has verified its efficacy as an anti-depressant, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory. Other studies have shown it as a potent anti-retroviral agent, making it a possible treatment for AIDS. It may also prove to be useful against other viral infections.
White Clover -A member of the Leguminosae family, which includes red clover and other plants such as peas, beans and peanuts that are nitrogen fixers. Native Americans used whole clover plants in salads, and made a white clover leaf tea for coughs and colds. It makes excellent feed, pasture, hay, and silage for livestock and poultry. Once established it serves excellently as a cover crop and in stabilizing soil and reducing erosion.

While it is true that there are some truly unwanted, unloved, and uninviting weeds in the world perhaps we should change our perception a bit. By educating ourselves and identifying noxious, invasive weeds, we might begin to see the beauty (and uses) in some of our wildest flowers.
Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ozone Day 2008

The United Nations' (UN) International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer is celebrated on September 16 every year. This event commemorates the date of the signing of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1987. The theme for 2008 is “Montreal Protocol – Global partnership for global benefits”.

In 1987 representatives from 24 countries met in Montreal and announced to the world that it was time to stop destroying the ozone layer. In so doing, these countries committed themselves, via the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, to rid the world of substances that threaten the ozone layer.

On December 19, 1994, the UN General Assembly proclaimed September 16 to be the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, commemorating the date when the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed in 1987. The day was first celebrated on September 16, 1995.

Ozone depleting substances (ODS) are those substances which deplete the ozone layer and are widely used in refrigerators, air-conditioners, fire extinguishers, in dry cleaning, as solvents for cleaning, electronic equipment and as agricultural fumigants. ODS cause higher rates of skin cancer, eye cataracts and damage to people's immune systems. It also diminishes the productivity of food crops and reduces levels of plankton in the ocean.

Ozone depleting substances include:

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) **
Carbon tetrachloride, Methyl chloroform
Hydrobromofluorocarbons (HBFCs)
hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
Methyl bromide ~~
Bromochloromethane (BCM)

**Trichlorofluoromethane, also called freon-11, CFC-11, or R-11, is a chlorofluorocarbon. It is a colorless, nearly odorless liquid that boils at about room temperature. It was the first widely used refrigerant. Because of its high boiling point (compared to most refrigerants), it can be used in systems with a low operating pressure, making the mechanical design of such systems less demanding than that of higher-pressure refrigerants R-12 or R-22.

  • Because of the high chlorine content and the ease with which the chlorine atoms can be displaced when the molecule is subject to ultraviolet light, R-11 has the highest ozone depletion potential of any refrigerant, by definition assigned the value 1.0. U.S. production was ended in 1995.
~~Bromomethane, commonly known as methyl bromide, is an organic halogen compound with formula CH3Br. It is a colorless, nonflammable gas with no distinctive smell. Its chemical properties are quite similar to those of chloromethane. It is a recognized ozone-depleting chemical. It was used extensively as a pesticide until being phased out by most countries in the early 2000’s. Some use, notably in the United States, continues. Trade names for bromomethane include Embafume and Terabol.

  • Because bromine is 60 times more destructive to ozone than chlorine, even small amounts of bromomethane cause considerable damage to the ozone layer. In 2005 and 2006, however, it was granted a critical use exemption under the Montreal Protocol. The most recent set of 'critical use' exemptions in the US include use of Bromomethane for tomato, strawberry, and ornamental shrub growers, and fumigation of ham/pork products.

A new study led by Columbia University researchers has found that the closing of the ozone hole, which is projected to occur sometime in the second half of the 21st century, may significantly affect climate change in the Southern Hemisphere, and therefore, the global climate. The study appears in the June 13th issue of Science.

"Our results suggest that stratospheric ozone is important for the Southern Hemisphere climate change, and ought to be more carefully considered in the next set of IPCC model integrations," said Seok-Woo Son, lead-author of the study and a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS).

It wouldn't do for us to get complacent, however. This is a triumph, as yet, unrealized. There is much to be done to stop all air pollution. There are hazardous chemicals being used whose adverse effects still aren't fully known. At some point we will have to ask ourselves if the conveniences made possible by the substances are worth the risk to our future and that of future generations.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The landfill blues

How many times have we driven down a street and seen a perfectly good (albeit used) piece of furniture on the side of the road, or sitting in (or outside of) a dumpster? Multiply that by hundreds of streets in your town, tens of millions of streets across the country, and hundreds of millions of streets around the globe. How much good stuff is ending up in our landfills? What about all the people who need that stuff but can’t afford to buy it? What if there was a way to save the planet and help people at the same time?

The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,593 groups with 5,760,000 members across the globe. This is an entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) free items in their own local areas. It's all about reusing and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer and membership is free. To sign up, go to and find your community by entering it into the search box or by clicking on “Browse Groups” above the search box.

If you are handy with tools, have knowledge of upholstering or refinishing, why not cruise the neighborhood and retrieve items you see on the side of the road? If they can be reclaimed, why not fix them up and donate them to someone in need? If you don’t know of anyone personally, contact your local United Way or other charitable organization. There are many people in need who don’t have the resources, or skills, to obtain essential items for their homes.

What a wonderful way to turn a hobby into a means to help people, and the environment! Only recently, have people developed a “disposable” mentality with regard to material objects. In the past, furnishings, clothing, housewares, etc. were of good quality, expensive, and treasured. Items that were damaged, or worn, were repaired or refurbished – not thrown away! Average people had few possessions and those were well cared for and made to last for as long as possible.

It is time that we went back to producing goods of quality, rather than cheap, disposable merchandise that clog our landfills at an alarming rate. It is time to embrace a different design philosophy.

In their pioneering book “Cradle to Cradle”, William McDonough and Michael Braungart explain how waste equals food. This principle explains how products can be designed from the beginning to provide nourishment for something new (after the products’ useful life has ended). They can be conceived as biological nutrients that will easily re-enter the water or soil without depositing synthetic materials and toxins – or as technical nutrients that will continually circulate as pure and valuable materials within closed-loop industrial cycles. Rather than being recycled, these products can be down-cycled into low-grade materials and uses.

Not only will this benefit the planet, it could positively impact the global economy, as well. By incorporating this principle in world-wide global manufacturing practices, we could reduce the strain on natural resources, reduce landfill sizes, and create new jobs in recycling, and remanufacturing.

Take a minute to think about ways that you can reclaim items in your own home, or those you find abandoned by the side of the road. Someone in need will thank you! The earth will bless you!
Until next time...become the change you imagine.