Not body language—facial expressions, gestures, movement, etc. Rather, body parts used in clichés and idioms that mean more than the words. Keep your nose to the grindstone or Have a silver tongue.

Linguists have noticed that English is not the only language with idioms full of body parts. Czech, Korean, Malay, Pashto, Turkish, Igbo, and Vietnamese (just to name a few) are full of body part phrases that mean more than the literal sum of their parts. It seems, no matter what language you speak, your brain reaches for parts of your own body when looking for interesting ways to express yourself.

So, head to toe, here are examples.


  • Hard-headed
  • Soft in the head
  • Bang your head against a brick wall
  • Keeping your head above water
  • Able to do something standing on your head
  • Keep your head down
  • Hold your head high
  • Bite someone’s head off
  • Head in the clouds
  • Head in the sand
  • Bring something to a head
  • Can’t make heads or tails out of something
  • Drum something into someone’s head
  • Head to toe
  • Keep your head in the game
  • Fall head over heels in love
  • Get a head start on something
  • Get someone or something out of one’s head
  • Give someone a head’s start
  • Go over someone’s head
  • Have a good head on your shoulders
  • Head someone or something off
  • Hit the nail on the head
  • In over your head
  • Lose your head
  • Keep your head
  • Off your head
  • Scratching your head over something


  • Right brain/left brain
  • Brain storm
  • Brain fart
  • Brain buzz
  • Brain freeze
  • Brain dead
  • Braining (to hit someone on the head)


  • A pain in the neck
  • Stick your neck out
  • Neck and neck
  • Breathe down your neck
  • Dead from the neck up
  • Up to your neck
  • Neck of the woods
  • Millstone round your neck
  • (Competitors are) neck and neck
  • To save your neck
  • Risking your neck
  • Wring his or her neck
  • Rubber necking


  • A chip on your shoulder
  • Come straight from the shoulder
  • Give someone the cold shoulder
  • Put your shoulder to the wheel
  • A shoulder to cry on
  • Stand shoulder to shoulder
  • Shoulder a burden


  • Arm of the law
  • Cost an arm and a leg
  • Give your right arm
  • Up in arms
  • (Keep) at arm’s length
  • Strong arm someone


  • Give a hand
  • At hand
  • Out of hand
  • Bite the hand that feeds you
  • Change hands
  • First hand
  • Hands down
  • Have a hand in
  • A firm hand
  • Hand something over
  • Hand in glove
  • Heavy handed
  • Hand holding
  • In your hand
  • Lend a hand
  • Out of your hands
  • Wash your hands of
  • Get your hands dirty
  • Hands full
  • Hands tied
  • Live from hand to mouth
  • All hands on deck


  • Something will put hair on your chest
  • Get something off your chest
  • Keep your cards close to your chest
  • Chest thumping


  • Spineless
  • (Send) a shiver down someone’s spine
  • Spine-tingling
  • Spine of steel


  • Change of heart
  • Heart of gold
  • Eat your heart out
  • Know/learn something by heart
  • After your own heart
  • Cross your heart
  • Lose heart
  • Follow your heart
  • Heart skips/misses a beat
  • Take heart
  • Follow your heart
  • Break your heart
  • Have your heart set on/against something
  • Heartbeat away
  • My heart bleeds
  • Bleeding heart
  • Heart of stone
  • Soft-hearted
  • Young at heart
  • Wear your heart on your sleeve
  • Big-hearted
  • A heavy heart
  • From the bottom of your heart
  • Get to the heart of the matter
  • Be halfhearted about something
  • Have a heart-to-heart talk
  • Heart in the right place
  • Pour your heart out


  • Gut feeling /reaction
  • Gut punch
  • Beer gut
  • Blood and guts
  • Bust a gut
  • Go with (one’s) gut
  • Gut feeling /instinct
  • Gut it out
  • Gutted
  • Gut-wrenching
  • Hate someone’s guts
  • Have someone’s guts for garters
  • Have the guts (to do something)
  • No guts, no glory
  • Puke (one’s) guts out
  • Slog/sweat/work your guts out
  • Spill your guts
  • Split a gut


  • Not have a leg to stand on
  • On one’s last legs
  • On the last leg (of a journey)
  • Pull (someone’s) leg
  • Put your pants on one leg at a time
  • Have/find your sea legs
  • Get/give a leg up
  • Break a leg (theater)
  • To have hollow legs
  • To leg it
  • To talk the hind leg off a donkey
  • To pull someone’s leg


  • Bee’s knees
  • On one’s knees / bring to one’s knees
  • Knee-high to a grasshopper
  • Weak in the knees
  • Take a knee (football)


  • Cold feet
  • Foot in the door
  • Have two left feet
  • Get off on the wrong foot
  • Have itchy feet
  • Put your foot down
  • Feet on the ground
  • Foot the bill
  • Get back on your feet
  • Feet of clay
  • Get your feet wet
  • Swept off your feet
  • Best foot forward
  • Have a lead foot
  • One foot in the grave
  • Bound hand and foot
  • Dead on my feet
  • Foot in both camps
  • Jump in feet first
  • On the back foot


  • Achilles heel
  • Bring someone to heel
  • Cool one’s heels
  • Dig in your heels
  • Be a heel


  • Dip one’s toes in (the water)
  • Keep someone on their toes
  • Step/tread on someone’s toes
  • Toe the mark

Bottom Line: When words about body parts don’t literally mean what they say, they can be used in an infinite number of ways.


Simple Pleasures

The first thing I’ll say about life’s simple pleasures is that with age I am more conscious of them. That’s probably because I have more time to notice—and this is a good thing! These are among my pleasures, in no particular order.

Weather and seasons affect me daily, and always have. In the past, mostly that’s been for practical reasons: do I need an umbrella? A snow shovel? Extra sunscreen? While those questions are still relevant, now I’m also aware of breezes on my face, and the skyscape—bare branches against “Carolina”
blue sky—seasonal changes, and the varied faces of clouds.

I have stained glass panels hanging in the window over the sink and in my study window. Sunlight through those windows gives me great pleasure, more than either sunlight or colored glass alone. This underscores my preference for daylight over dark.

Drinking many mugs of water every day has made me aware of the pleasure of ice cubes—one of my favorite things! Our old refrigerator wasn’t dispensing ice well for months, so the contrast with the new one is stark.

And speaking of sensory pleasures, I enjoy flannel sheets and down comforters, and lying in bed deciding whether to get up then or later. (It’s usually later.) Even better is turning off the alarm and going back to sleep. And in a similar vein: I like to nap in my recliner in late afternoon.

This is not my bedroom, but it sure looks pleasant!

With the exception of high winds and rain, virtually every breakfast and lunch brings the pleasure of bird and squirrel watching. I’ve now learned the names of our resident bird species: house finches, gold finches, bluebirds, blue jays, titmice, chickadees, robins, mourning doves, mocking birds, cardinals, white-throated sparrows, catbirds, grackles and starlings, and the occasional sharp shinned hawk. I can
usually remember them! But I enjoy them regardless.

The other kitchen table pleasure is watching squirrels. I admire their athleticism. It’s amazing what having back feet that can rotate 180 degrees allows them to do! All the males I call Stanley and all the females, Olive.

Speaking of kitchen pleasures reminds me of coffee—strong, black, and moderately hot. Mocha java, Moka Batak Blend, and Columbian Supremo are among my favorites. Three particular coffee pairings bring pleasure: cranberry-nut bread with plain goat cheese, crusty bread with havarti, and anything chocolate!

Reading. I read every day—sometimes long into the night. Having more books on hand than I’ll have time to read is wonderful. I’ve often said it’s like money in the bank. Should I ever be laid up for three months, I’m prepared!

Read what? It scarcely matters. Mysteries, action/adventure, romance, creative non-fiction, memoirs, popular science… Not much poetry. But a related pleasure is finally allowing myself to not finish a book that is boring or poorly written.

And then there is laughter. It can be any sort of laughter, from giggles to guffaws, tinkling to belly laughs, as long as it comes from joy and pleasure.

Life’s small pleasures are nearly limitless. Blooming plants. Mah Jong tiles, the look as well as the feel of them. Playing computer solitaire. Playing with my jewelry, organizing “sets” of pieces that I find make pleasing combinations.

Rocks, stones, shells, sticks. A completely silent house. This list could run on, but I won’t let it.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned family, friends, love, good health, writing or other big pleasures—because they are big—but pleasurable they are.

Bottom Line: Stop and smell the honeysuckle. You will be glad you did.


It’s here, it’s there! In the car. Under the china cabinet. On book shelves—and books. Curled into dust bunnies in closet corners. Where on earth does all that dust come from? Short answer? Nearly everywhere!

Wherever it comes from, dust is fine particles of solid matter, heavy enough to see and light enough to be carried by the wind.

What Makes Dust?

Pay no attention to the cuteness – these creatures are dangerous!

Tiny fragments of human skin account for 20-50% of household dust! People are generally aware of dry skin on the scalp and body. Now you know: it doesn’t just disappear! If you sleep on flannel sheets, your bed might look like you have full-body dandruff. (Told to me by a friend!)

Pets also shed skin cells. People who are allergic to cats, dogs, guinea pigs or whatever, are allergic to that pet’s dander. Personally, I have a major anaphylactic response (throat swelling, unable to breathe) to guinea pig dander—even to a room where a guinea pig has been! In Peru, guinea pig meat is a traditional and major source of protein. It turns out, I can eat guinea pig, I just can’t be around them.

BTW, although it is extremely rare, people can be allergic to human dander! And some dogs are allergic to humans!

Hair is usually seen in strands, but can disintegrate into dust, too.

Dangerous Dust

Smoke and ash often go together. You smell smoke because of the particles coming in contact with your nasal membranes. And as you all know, excessive exposure to smoke or ash can be deadly. But don’t forget volcanic ash!

Pollen season where I live washes the world in chartreuse.

Those spring days when your vehicle seems to have been powdered in yellow, you can see pollen dust. But even when you can’t see it, airborne pollen can adversely affect breathing.

Bacteria are dust? Yep. Or at least they are in dust. The most common ones are staphylococcus and streptococcus, both common on human skin and relatively prevalent in our everyday lives.

Dust that is small bits of dirt or rock are hazardous to one’s lungs with long or repeated exposure. Think black lung disease for coal miners. Ditto asbestos used in construction. Even plaster or chalk dust.

Wind moves dust in dry places. A small wind gust can swirl debris almost anywhere, such as the driveway or a city street. A strong, well-formed, relatively short-lived whirlwind makes a dust devil. It can be short or tall, like a swirling cone of dust.

A gigantic dust cloud engulfs a ranch in Boise City, Okla., in 1935.

Big winds, over expansive areas can form dust storms. This happened long-term in the 1930s across the American and Canadian prairie. The result was called the Dust Bowl, and great damage to the ecology and agriculture.

People with asthma or other breathing problems pay close attention to the daily air quality index, which is affected by all these sources of dust pollution.

Useful Dust

Scott Wade turns dusty cars into fantastic works of art!

Is there anything good about dust? I mean apart from children being able to write their names on tables, cars, etc.

Beauty, maybe? You can buy sea salt spray for your hair, purported to offer texture, a natural look, and to counter some of the oil on hair to give you an extra day of good style between washes.

Sea spray (aerosol particles of salt crystals from the ocean) is formed mostly by bursting bubbles where the sea meets the air, transferring matter and energy between the ocean and the atmosphere. It’s most obvious when it dries on surfaces.

Dust particles help in pollination of plants.

Then, too, individual dust particles are a major part of rain. Water vapor in clouds condenses (turns to liquid) around invisible dust particles. A “grain” of dust is likely at the center of every raindrop.

In agriculture, dust can enhance soil fertility and improve crop growth. Adding rock dust to fields can also help to capture carbon in the atmosphere, potentially helping to reverse climate change.

In industry, dust can be used in the production of such materials as concrete and ceramics.

During Holi, celebrants throw colored dust (typically made of corn starch and dye) on each other to celebrate spring, love, and the triumph of good over evil.

Among the benefits of dust is that it reduces the air temperature, as well as reduces the risk of toxic gases in the atmosphere.

Exposing children to dust through gardens and dust in the child’s natural surroundings enhances children’s immunity.

Household dust actually purifies the air by neutralizing ozone that can harm our lungs—because one of the major components of house dust is human skin, which contains the ozone-eliminating component squalene.

Dust is important for survival because it plays a role in a range of physical, chemical, and bio-geological processes, and interacts with the cycles of energy, nitrogen, carbon, and water that are necessary for Earth system functions.

Bottom Line: Like so many things, dust is good for you—in moderation.

In Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series of fantasy novels, “dust” is actually an elemental particle responsible for consciousness.


“Self-soothing” refers to behaviors people use to regulate their emotional state by themselves. It’s a strategy used to regain equilibrium after an upsetting event, or when facing a stressful situation. (For example, when a child’s parents argue, or an older person has to make a public presentation.)

Self-soothing behaviors are often apparent early in life, and are calming or comforting for a child or adolescent. Infants, for example, may be seen repeatedly sucking fingers or thumbs, hugging a toy or blanket. These habits may continue for years.

Self-soothing behaviors are repetitive/habitual in nature—and are often not consciously applied. Do you touch your hair, twist a ring, straighten your tie, etc.? Noticing when you engage in such behaviors can help you recognize mildly tense or stressful situations. It’s another form of self-awareness.

Following a shock, a traumatic or upsetting event, all people need soothing. In these more intense situations, two common self-soothing behaviors include reaching for an alcoholic drink or a tub of ice cream or other emotional eating. However—as you no doubt know—these kinds of self-soothing behaviors can cause additional problems.

Several self-soothing behaviors can lead to other problems: binge-watching TV, compulsive gaming, or internet surfing. Many superheroes have unhealthy self-soothing behaviors, including Jessica Jones and Iron Man.

Constructive Methods of Self-Soothing

Positive Psychology published an article suggesting several more positive strategies: “24 Best Self-Soothing Techniques and Strategies for Adults.” The following 7 suggestions quoted below are included in that article.

1. Change the Environment

If possible, just change the environment for a few minutes. Go outside and focus on greenery or find a soothing indoor space with a pleasant view or ambiance.

(The origin of the “Green Room” in theaters may stem from Elizabethan actors resting “on the green” between scenes to calm their eyes and their nerves. As the wavelength of green light causes the least strain on the human eye, those Elizabethans may have been on to something!)

2. Stretch for Five Minutes to Move Any Blocked Energy

For best results, try to put your chin between your heels.

Often, after upsetting news or a shock, our bodies respond by freezing and energy gets blocked. A few simple trunk twists, neck rotations, or bends at the hip to touch the toes can help shift stagnant energy.

(Even without a shock, our bodies tend to store tension and stress in our backs, shoulders, and necks. Stretching these areas can prevent headaches and improve circulation.)

3. Take a Warm Shower or Bath

Treat yourself with soothing body wash or bubbles and a fresh, soft towel afterward.

(For best results, do not use overly hot water and avoid scrubbing too hard. If hot water is not available, you can turn to oil, smoke, some types of mud, or simple cold water to achieve cleanliness and promote peace of mind.)

4. Soothing Imagery

Find soothing things to look at such as a burning candle, soft lights, pictures of loved ones, favorite places, or perhaps some framed inspirational resilience quotes or affirmations.

(The color green is most restful to the human eye, but some evidence suggests that other colors may have a calming effect on stress and mood. According to the principles of chromotherapy, surrounding oneself with blue, purple, or white can calm, soothe, and relax the central nervous system.)

5. Soothing Music

Harpist Carlos Reyes

Listen to favorite tracks that have a calming effect or one of the many relaxing music videos for stress relief that are available online.

(Harp music in particular has a soothing effect on the body as well as the mind. Research has shown that listening to harp music improves pain management, blood pressure, and heart rate regularity.)

6. Soothing Smells

Create pleasant smells by using an essential oil diffuser, scented candle, or incense. Also, try using scented hand lotion.

(The most soothing scent of all!)

7. Self-Compassion

Speak compassionately to yourself aloud. Talk to yourself like a good friend would. Give yourself the grace to be off-balance and the space to just be as you are for a while.

Soothing Every Sense

When people experience high levels of stress or discomfort often, some therapists recommend making a self-soothing box that includes objects or reminders of how to soothe all five senses:

  • Comforting smells such as scented candles, essential oils, or body lotion
  • Pleasant tastes such as herbal teas or favorite snacks
  • Soothing things to touch such as a favorite sweater, wrap, or stress ball
  • Comforting sights such as photos of loved ones, pets, or favorite places
  • Soothing sounds such as a favorite piece of music or guided meditation track

Most of us are familiar with people soothing other people—a hug, a back-rub, a shoulder to cry on. During COVID, when interpersonal soothing was less available, researchers studied the benefits of self-touching (Dreisoerner et al., 2021). They found that both self-soothing touch (in this study, most participants chose to place their right hand on their heart and their left on their abdomen while focusing on the rising and falling of their breath) and receiving a hug from another person were equally effective at lowering stress levels.

When adults are distressed, it’s difficult to regulate potentially disruptive emotions like anger, fear, and sadness, especially in a public space such as the workplace. If you want to explore self-soothing further, just look online. You will find lists of techniques from 8 to 100. Surely there’s something there for everyone.

Bottom Line: Everyone experiences distress of various sorts and at various levels. Self-soothing is a life skill worth learning.


Once Halloween is over, it’s all about Thanksgiving. The shift of focus from goblins to gobblers is instantaneous. Although officially called Thanksgiving, for many it’s really Turkey Day. But beyond dinner, what do people really know of Meleagris gallopavo, the wild turkey that gave rise to the one likely to be on the platter?

Turkeys in North America

flying turkey

Turkeys are native to North America, as are all the subspecies. M. gallopavo silvestris, sometimes called forest turkeys or eastern wild turkeys, are the most numerous of the subspecies, more than five million.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Native Americans domesticated turkeys more than 1500 years ago, before Europeans set foot on the continent. Archaeologists have found turkey bones in burial mounds in Tennessee, Kentucky and some other parts of the South. Turkey relics have surfaced in Arizona dating as far back as 25 C.E., and turkey-raising may well be one of the oldest forms of organized meat production in the Northern Hemisphere.

Indigenous farmers raised turkeys in Mexico and Central America more than 500 years before the Spanish arrived. Evidence of turkey bones at religious sites and burial mounds suggests that turkeys served a ceremonial role as well as providing meat. Although native to North America, the turkey’s range extended into Mexico.

Turkey Trade in Central America

Chalchiuhtotolin, Aztec turkey god
Chalchiuhtotolin, the god of plagues, depicted as a turkey in the Aztec Codex

Central Mexico once acted as a center of turkey domestication. Archaeologists have found bones of Meleagris gallopavo from as early as 8000 B.C.E. in what was once Maya territory. Remains of turkey pens and fossilized poop containing traces of corn suggest ancient Mayans kept and fed turkeys, trading them throughout Central America.

A 1980s archaeological dig at the El Mirador assemblage in Guatemala unearthed seven turkey skeletons. The bones were from more than 2000 years ago and more than 400 miles from their native range in Central Mexico.

One thing is certain, says Erin Kennedy Thornton, an environmental archaeologist at Trent University Archaeological Research Centre in Peterborough, Canada. The turkeys “didn’t walk there [to the Jaguar Paw Temple] themselves.” Like many Native American cultures, she says, the Maya used turkey feathers in ornaments and carved turkey bones into picks, pins, and elaborate tubes.

Ocellated Turkey
Ocellated Turkey – no wonder Hernán Cortés confused them with peacocks in 1519!

Thornton studied the bones, and concluded they did not belong to the indigenous ocellated turkeys that roamed Mayan territory. Those birds are small, with blue heads and iridescent blue, green, and copper feathers, she says,”almost like a cross between a turkey and a peacock.” The bones found in the temple appeared to belong to the larger, duller Mexican turkey.

After reexamining the bones, Thornton collaborated with archaeologist Camilla Speller, an expert in ancient DNA analysis at the University of Calgary in Canada, to confirm that the bones belonged to M. gallopavo. Only one of the bones yielded enough replicable DNA for analysis. That DNA was an exact match with M. gallopavo, and not the ocellated turkey.

Mayan traders maintained long-distance exchange networks between northern Mesoamerica and Mayan territory. They moved many objects such as jade, obsidian, and pottery throughout these networks between 300 B.C.E. and 200 C.E., when the bones likely originated, says Thornton. However, she says, this is the first sign that Mayan traders may have transported living animals as well.

As early as 300 B.C.E, people transported Mexican turkeys between 650 and 950 kilometers outside of the their natural range. In a study Thornton and others published, they argued that this distribution suggests turkey domestication in Mexico may have begun centuries earlier than scientists previously thought.

“I think they did a good job of making the case that the Meleagris gallopavo birds at El Mirador were derived from Central Mexico and were probably being confined,” says William Lipe, an archaeologist at Washington State University, Pullman. However, the small sample of DNA concerns him, and he agrees with Thornton that scientists need to do more research. “My guess is that the history of turkey domestication in the New World is fairly complex and that we are just beginning to see some of the outlines of it.”

Turkeys in Europe

Turks call this bird a “Hindi.” Hindi speakers call it a “Peru.” Arabic speakers call it a “Greek chicken.” Greeks call it a “French chicken.” The French call it an “Indian chicken.”

So, it’s likely that the Mayans of southern Mexico domesticated turkeys, maybe 2000 years ago. Spanish explorers took Mexican wild turkeys domesticated by the Aztecs back to Europe about 1519. These turkeys spread rapidly throughout Europe, and traders introduced them to England between 1524 and 1541. There, they became a highly sought-after element of gourmet dinners.

After those early domestic turkeys spread across Europe in the 1500s, European colonists brought them back. When colonists set off for the New World, they brought turkeys back across the Atlantic, to the land of their origin. At the time, the turkey was already one of the most plentiful foods of Native Americans. The wild cousin is slim, tall and long-legged. It possesses keen eyesight, hearing, and native cunning, making it a difficult target for human and animal hunters alike.

“The wild turkey in a sprint can outrun a galloping horse for a short distance,” said Charles Ruth, Big Game Program coordinator for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). “Although it is one of the largest game birds, weighing up to 25 pounds, it can fly distances of more than a mile, sometimes at speeds of 55 miles per hour.”

The Modern Turkey

Despite these survival traits, by the early 20th century, wild turkey numbers had plummeted because of overhunting and loss of habitat. In the early 1900s, the population reached a low of around 30,000 birds.

Fortunately, game managers stepped in, re-introducing wild-caught birds to areas where turkeys had disappeared. Thanks to these efforts, since the 1940s, wild turkeys have been prospering. There are now wild turkeys in all of the lower 48 states and even Hawaii, far beyond their original range. They number more than seven million.

Restoration of the wild turkey in South Carolina is one of the Palmetto State’s most noteworthy conservation success stories. In the early 1900s, only small pockets of wild turkeys survived in South Carolina. They lived primarily in the Lowcountry’s Francis Marion National Forest and along the Savannah River swamps. Today, the wild turkey is widespread throughout South Carolina. All 46 counties hold a spring hunting season (there is no fall season). Wild turkey restoration was made possible through the efforts of the SCDNR, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the forest products industry, private landowners, and South Carolina sportsmen and sportswomen.

Myths Busted

The name of the Republic of Turkey (now spelled Türkiye) and the funny-looking bird we eat in November are actually related (maybe). In the 1550s, merchants brought the birds to England by way of Spain and North Africa. People associated the new delicacy with the Ottoman Empire, particularly with the Turkish people.
  • Myth: Benjamin Franklin suggested the turkey as a national symbol or part of the Great Seal for America.
    • Fact: In 1784, Benjamin Franklin did praise the turkey. He wrote that compared to the bald eagle, the turkey is “a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America.” But he never actually proposed the turkey as a symbol for America.
  • Myth: Turkeys are just big chickens.
    • Fact: More than 45 million years of evolution separates the two species. However, both are more closely related to dinosaurs than most modern birds!
  • Myth: Turkeys are so dumb, they’ll stare at the sky during a storm and drown in the rain.
    • Fact: Some turkeys have a unique genetic condition called tetanic torticollar spasms. This condition can result in some strange behaviors, like staring at the sky. No turkeys with this condition have been reported dying from looking up in the rain.
  • Myth: Turkey is high in tryptophan. Eating turkey makes you sleepy.
    • Fact: Turkey is just one of many foods that contain tryptophan. In order to feel the effects, you’d need to eat nearly 8 pounds of turkey in one sitting.

Bottom Line: When you think turkey, think beyond the supermarket.


Bananas: feeding toddlers and entertaining onlookers!

Commercially available bananas are far from my favorite fruit: too soft, too sweet. I may well be in the minority here. In the U.S., they outsell oranges and apples combined.

Just look at the numbers!

Bananas are one of the most consumed and cheapest fruits worldwide: they are the most traded fruit and the fifth most traded agricultural product. In 2022, the global export value of the banana trade totaled US$12.5 billion. Banana growers exported 19.6 billion metric tonnes of bananas (with the exception of plantains) in 2022. Cavendish bananas alone had a retail value of approximately US$ 25.74 in 2022. They are the fourth most important crop in the world, behind wheat, rice, and corn.

Red bananas in Thailand

The U.S. imports bananas primarily from Guatemala, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Columbia, and Honduras. Chiquita-Fyffes, Del Monte, Dole, Grupo Noboa S.A. own or subcontract the majority of banana plantations around the world. According to World Top Exports, “The biggest 5 exporters of bananas (Ecuador, Philippines, Guatemala, Costa Rica then the Netherlands) accounted for three-fifths (60%) of all banana sales on international markets.”

Many banana growing countries don’t export them; banana growers sell them for domestic consumption.

A Brief History of Bananas

Wild bananas have lots of hard seeds.

But what are we talking about, really? Botanically, a banana is a berry that grows on several kinds of large herbaceous flowering plants in the genus Musa. These plants look like trees but are actually giant herbs. The Latin name for banana, musa sapientum, translates to “fruit of the wise men.”

Food historians believe the first wild bananas grew in jungles in regions of Asia such as the Philippines and Indonesia. Researchers have found domestication projects of the fruit in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Based on archaeological evidence, the cultivation of bananas in the highlands of New Guinea dates back as far as 8000 BCE.

Alexander the Great first discovered the taste of bananas while campaigning in India in 327 BCE. Islamic conquerors brought the banana back to Palestine in 650, and Arab merchants eventually spread them around Africa.

Portuguese sailors brought bananas from West Africa, introducing them to the Americas in the 16th century. Its Guinean (Wolof) name was banema, which later became banana in English. From Guinea, we also get the word guineo for an unripe banana.

Merchants introduced bananas to North America in the 1880s. Fashionable people ate them with a knife and fork.

Gros Michel banana plants affected by banana wilt (1919)

What we eat in the U.S. today is almost exclusively the dessert banana Cavendish. Prior to the 1950s, the Gros Michel variety dominated the US market. However, a combination of fungal plagues, particularly Panama disease, wiped out nearly all of the Gros Michel plantations.

Artificial banana flavoring actually tastes like a Gros Michel banana (or an English pear, depending on who you ask). When you eat banana flavored candy, you’re getting a taste of the past!

The Cavendish banana variety is now under threat from the same disease that struck its predecessor. Panama disease has evolved into a new strain (Tropical Race 4), which can resist many of the quarantine and anti-fungal measures of farmers. Since researchers first identified Tropical Race 4 in Australia in 1997, they have traced its spread across Oceania, South-East Asia, and the Middle East. In 2021, the Peruvian government declared a phytosanitary emergency for the whole country after detecting the new strain of Panama disease. (Researchers think Panama disease actually originates in South-East Asia, not Panama or anywhere in South America.)

And then there’s banana ketchup. During World War II, ketchup producers in the Philippines faced a shortage of tomatoes but had plenty of bananas on hand. Maria Orosa, a Filipino chemist and food scientist, created banana ketchup to solve both problems. She made a paste of bananas, vinegar, sugar, and spices, and added red food coloring. People who have tried it claim it tastes just like the ketchup you’d find in any fast food restaurant in America.

But How Much Do You Really Know About This Fruit?

One might think that a banana is a banana, but there are between 500 to 1000 different varieties of bananas growing around the world, subdivided into 50 groups. Some are sweet, like the Cavendish banana, which is the most common and most widely exported. In many countries, people differentiate between bananas (sweet and eaten as a snack or dessert) and plantains (starchy and used in cooking).

Banana Varieties

Cultivated bananas reproduce asexually. Each plant basically grows as a clone of its elder, starting from suckers or pups growing out of its base. The lack of variety and adaptation leads to extreme vulnerability, such as from Panama disease.

Banana Tree in Vietnam

Due to their need for a warm, tropical climate, bananas can not grow easily in most of the United States. Many farmers in Hawaii grow some of the lesser well-known varieties of banana, such as Blue Java bananas, which purportedly taste like vanilla ice cream. Small groves of banana trees grow throughout the American south, in Florida yards and along Louisiana highways.

Banana bunches grow pointing up. Growers call these bunches “hands.” Each hand typically has about 20 “fingers”.

In 2001, a banana cluster took the title of the “largest bunch of bananas.” It held 473 individual bananas or “fingers” and weighed a whopping 287 lbs (130 kg). Kabana SA and Tecorone SL grew the bunch in the Canary Islands.

Consider health benefits in particular. Bananas are nutritious. They have approximately 89 calories per 100 grams (3.5 oz). Bananas are most known for their potassium content but also contain B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and fiber. These support heart health and digestive health. According to research, eating bananas can lower the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Foods that are high in potassium might stop fatal blockages from occurring and can also inhibit the hardening and narrowing of arteries.

Banana cart in Vietnam

Bananas contain serotonin, a natural substance that alleviates depression and balances other moods. This form of serotonin cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, so bananas don’t act as a kind of natural antidepressant. However, a banana’s high concentration of vitamin B6 can help the body to produce its own serotonin naturally. This chemical also contributes to an overall well-balanced feeling amongst consumers.

If you have a bug bite, the inside of a banana peel can relieve itching. The natural oils found in the banana skin contains a chemical that helps alleviate irritation from mosquito bites and poison ivy.

Fun Facts

Banana leaves make versatile, biodegradable, and very handy packaging!

If bananas are too green to eat, put them in a paper bag with an apple or tomato. The banana’s ripening will speed up overnight. These helpers release more ethylene than others. This is the chemical that helps fruits ripen over time.

For the same reason, don’t keep fresh flowers on a counter or table next to bananas. The released ethylene will make the flowers wilt more quickly.

In 2016, police in Mumbai forced a thief to eat 48 bananas so that they could retrieve the gold chain he stole and swallowed.

Authorities in China have banned seductively eating a banana during a live stream, as of 2016. This is to keep under-aged women from attracting older male audiences. The Chinese government deems such acts harmful to social morality. Wearing suspenders on a live stream is also illegal.

Jordan Maddocks set a record for running the fastest marathon while dressed as a fruit in 2020. He ran the Rock n’ Roll Arizona Marathon in 2 hours and 41 minutes.

APOPO trains African giant pouched rats to identify landmines and tuberculosis, often by rewarding these HeroRATS with bananas, one of their favorite foods.

Banana fruits are naturally radioactive! This radioactivity is present in fruits containing potassium and potassium decays. You could die of banana radiation poisoning if you were able to eat 10 million bananas at once. You might experience chronic symptoms if you were to eat 274 bananas every day for 7 years. What are the chances?

The Guinness Book of World Records recognized Patrick Bertoletti as the man who could eat the most bananas in one minute. He peeled and ate eight bananas on the 14th of January in 2012 at Sierra Studios, Illinois, USA. In 2015, Pedro Aguilar from Mexico City, Mexico matched the record on July 26, 2015. You can do the math!

If a child hands you a banana, you are legally obligated to hold it to your ear and answer it like a phone.

Fifty percent of people who are allergic to latex are allergic to bananas as well. The term for this phenomenon is latex-food syndrome or latex-fruit allergy. While few people are born with allergy, it can be developed later on in life.

Bananas can float on water. They have relatively low density and multiple air pockets. Similar fruits such as watermelons, oranges, and apples are also naturally buoyant.

Bananas are approximately 75% water, which seems like a lot. By comparison, cucumbers or radishes have 96% and 95% water respectively.

A team at Kitasato University in Minato, Japan won the 2014 Ig Nobel Prize in Physics for calculating precisely how slippery a banana peel is. As it turns out, it is all down to the polysaccharide molecules in the peel, a substance also found in our joints. When crushed, the cells in a banana peel release these polysaccharide molecules as a gel, coating whatever surface they touch.

The International Banana Museum in Mecca, California

Rubbing the inside of banana peels on leather products like handbags or shoes works like shoe polish. The potassium in bananas, just like the potassium in leather polish, conditions and shines leather. Just rub the banana peel on the surface needing a polish and wipe off any residue with a cloth.

The use of “bananas” or “going bananas” to mean insanity may stem from flapper slang in the 1920s. The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English traces this use back to the late 1910s, when flappers used “banana oil” to mean “nonsense.” Alternatively, a glossary of criminal slang from 1935, The Underworld Speaks, noted that “bananas” meant “sexually perverted.”

The Coat of Arms of Fiji, featuring bananas on the lower right

A monkey peels a banana upside down compared to our method: they pinch the nub at the floral end and split the skin to peel it down toward the stem. The most nutrient-dense part of a banana is opposite the stem, the part that would be pointed up when a banana was growing on the tree. Peeling a banana from this end allows the monkey (or you) to reach the best part of the banana first. People who peel a banana from the floral top are also slightly less likely to contaminate the fruit with bacteria from the stem. Hungry monkeys will sometimes just eat the whole banana, peel and all!

Humans share about 41% of our DNA with bananas.

Banana leaves have nearly as many uses as the fruits. When cooked, they have many nutritious benefits. People use them as a building material or for rain protection. They can be formed into biodegradable cooking or eating utensils. Weavers can process fibers from banana leaves and stems into rope and fabric.

The Dark Side of Bananas

I don’t like to write downer blogs, but be aware. There is evidence of price fixing on bananas, keeping them at 79 cent a pound. This is possible because of the concentration of banana plantations and export under the control of just a few companies. The cost savings to consumers means that those actually growing and harvesting the fruit often live on subsistence earnings.

Bottom Line: Bananas are popular and convenient and more complicated than you probably knew.

Market in Huế, Vietnam


Fluffy bandits a.k.a. trash pandas a.k.a Pyroton lotor a.k.a raccoons are infamous for raiding garbage cans, even those with weighted lids. They are reputed to eat almost anything.

They look like cute, cuddly bandits, but they can be quite fearsome when approached. (More about that later.)

What Do Raccoons Eat

They also ate every single seed and the entire suet cake out of the bird feeders in my backyard.

Raccoons are truly omnivorous, and in the wild they eat about 40% invertebrates, 33% plants, and 27% vertebrates.

More specifically, when it comes to meat, raccoons eat more invertebrates than vertebrates. Some of the raccoon’s favorites are frogs, fish, crayfish, insects, rodents and bird eggs. Their voracious appetites allows raccoons to help control the populations of some pests, like yellow jackets and mice. When food is scarce (or they’re feeling lazy), raccoons will scavenge human trash or eat roadkill.

For plants, they like cherries, apples, acorns, persimmons, berries, peaches, citrus fruits, plums, wild grapes, figs, watermelons, beech nuts, corn, and walnuts. And they raid bird feeders whether food is scarce or not!

In more urban environments, raccoons will eat pretty much anything.

In fact, urban raccoons suffer some of the same consequences as humans when they share the unhealthy parts of human diets. Their access to drive-thru dumpsters and grocery store bins provide raccoons with plenty of fried, sweetened, and highly processed foods. A research team in Canada has found that raccoons in urban areas have higher blood glucose levels and higher weight than those living in wildlife preserves.

Raccoons in Cultural History

Long before Europeans came to North America, raccoons played a vital role in the lives of Indigenous people who already lived here. Our names for these animals today reflects this history. The English name “raccoon” comes from the Powhatan word aroughcun, meaning “hand-scratcher.” Further south, the Nahuatl/Aztec word mapachtli led to the modern Spanish word “mapache” or “one that takes everything in its hands.”

Several tribes, including Muskogee Cree (Wahlakalgi or Wotkalgi), the Shawnee (Sha-pä-ta’), Chippewa (Esiban), the Monominee (Aehsepan), and the Chickasaw (Shawi’ Iksa’) have Raccoon clans.

In many mythologies, Raccoon played the part of a trickster spirit, spreading mischief or using cleverness to escape danger. The Abenaki told stories of how the raccoon Azeban tricked other animals into giving him food or lost a shouting match with a waterfall. A Menominee story of a raccoon tricking blind men served as a morality tale for children. A Seneca legend of raccoons disguised as humans illustrated their intelligence escaping from an evil magician.

Raccoons in the Cooking Pot

from the 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer

In addition to starring in many American stories, raccoons have also starred in the American diet! Until the middle of the 20th century, people commonly trapped and ate raccoon along with many other small game animals that adapted to survive near humans.

Raccoons require very clever traps to outwit their nimble paws. According to historian Michael Twitty, enslaved people from West Africa adapted traps they had used for grasscutters, a West African bush rodent, to catch raccoons. Those traps were nearly identical to the traps Native Americans had been using to catch raccoons for centuries. The cooking methods both groups used for raccoon meat also greatly resembled West African culinary traditions.

In addition to providing people with a ready source of protein, hunting and trapping raccoons also helped to control the population of animals that would otherwise eat crops. Selling pelts also brought in some extra income. In some places, particularly in the North where raccoon fur is thicker, raccoon meat for the table was more of a byproduct of the practice of selling pelts. Mark Twain listed raccoon as one of the foods he missed most while traveling in Europe in the 1870s.

At one point, discerning consumers could find raccoon meat on the menu from cookbooks in Colorado to fancy restaurants in Maine. The spread of factory farming in the 20th century made beef, chicken, and pork more affordable and more popular in the American diet. There are some places where you can still find raccoon in the kitchen. I hear the best meat is in the hind-quarters.

Habitat (Natural and Otherwise)

Raccoons are very adaptable, living in a wide range of climates and habitats. They live quite happily in forests, marshes, prairies, and cities. Historically, raccoons ranged from Central America all the way up to what is now southern Canada. They typically make their dens in trees or caves, though they will also make homes in barns, abandoned vehicles, and other human-made locations.

A waschbaer in Albertshausen Germany

Raccoons have made themselves right at home in Germany, much to the dismay of German homeowners and wildlife control. Back in the early 20th century, a few people in German started raising raccoons for their fur. Bombs struck one of these farms during World War II, releasing dozens of raccoons into the surrounding countryside. In 1934, forestry officials released several pairs of raccoons into the wild in an attempt to increase wildlife diversity. Today, there are as many as a million of these waschbären (“washing bears”) in Germany, devastating local bird and turtle populations, destroying vineyards, and causing traffic accidents. German raccoons seem to be especially attracted to stealing beer, wine, and hard cider, getting noticeably drunk at festivals or breaking into kitchens and targeting beer.

Germany isn’t the only place in Europe where raccoons are making a nuisance of themselves. A similar story of fur farms and war has caused an invasion of raton laveur (“little washing rats”) in France. Authorities in Madrid called for a raccoon culling in 2013 “to control and eradicate this unwelcome invasive species” that has made itself unwelcome in Spain. Scotland lists raccoons as one of the top 50 invasive, non-native species. The European Union has classified Pyroton lotor, the North American raccoon as an invasive species and banned their sale and import.

Though they look similar and share many of the same habits and dietary preferences, North American raccoons and Japanese raccoon dogs (tanuki) are not related.

In 1977, the anime Araiguma Rasukaru, telling the story of a man who adopted a pet raccoon, became a massive hit in Japan. Fans of Rascal the Raccoon began importing at least 1,500 raccoons a month to Japan. After realizing that raccoons don’t make good pets, many people then released them into the wild. The descendents of those raccoons today have spread to 42 of the 47 prefectures in Japan. They destroy crops, damage historic shrines, spread disease, and steal from fish and produce vendors. North American raccoons have begun to displace native Japanese “raccoon” dogs, tanuki.

Cohabitation with Humans

Though raccoons are more than happy to live in human areas, they can be vicious when defending themselves or their kits. But generally, even if people try to scare them off with noise or lights, raccoons are bold and simply back off to return later.

Humans should be particularly cautious of approaching raccoons in North America because they are common carriers of rabies, roundworms, and leptospirosis, according to The Humane Society. Having a raccoon as a pet is not recommended, even if you’re the President.

Grace Coolidge with Rebecca the raccoon at the 1927 White House Easter Egg Roll

In 1926, Vinnie Joyce in Mississippi sent a raccoon to the White House, promising the Coolidges that it had “a toothsome flavor” and would make a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. Rather than eating the furry gift, Calvin and Grace Coolidge named the raccoon Rebecca, gave her an embroidered collar, and invited her to participate in the White House Easter Egg Roll. At the end of Coolidge’s presidency, Rebecca went to live in Rock Creek Park in Maryland.


Raccoons are round, fuzzy creatures with bushy tails and a black fur mask around their eye area. They are about as big as small dogs, about 23 to 37 inches and 4 to 23 lbs., according to National Geographic.

They are adaptable and use their dexterous front paws and long fingers much like human hands to climb and manipulate things. These front paws are hyper-sensitive, particularly when wet. Raccoons in the wild use this extreme sensitivity to search for food underwater from the banks of streams.

Even in captivity, raccoons will often rub their food underwater before eating it. Scientists believe that, rather than washing their food, raccoons are softening the vibrissae on their paws, allowing them to feel their food more carefully to ensure it is safe.

With their clever paws and intelligent brains, raccoons can open locks, figure out traps, solve puzzles, and get into almost anything containing food. In studies, raccoons successfully opened complex locks 11 out of 13 times and then remembered the solutions when presented with the same locks later.

Raccoons live around 2 to 3 years in the wild, though raccoons in captivity can sometimes live as long as 20 years. But they are always with us.

Rocket is not actually a raccoon. He is a cybernetically-enhanced alien species from a planet in the Keystone Quadrant. Unlike Earth raccoons, he has opposable thumbs!

Baby raccoons are called kits or cubs and are usually born in the early summer. Females have one to seven offspring and are only pregnant for 2-2.5 months. A mother and her baby raccoons are called a nursery.

At birth, raccoon kits are blind and deaf. For the first two months of their lives, babies live in their den and nurse from their mothers. At 12 weeks, they will start to roam away from their mothers for whole nights at a time. They become completely independent at 8 to 12 months of age.

Coonpath Road is near the town where I grew up. The implication that coons follow a circuit or path is accurate. They are active from dusk to dawn, and when they raid my bird feeder, it is near the same time every night.

Bottom Line: Raccoons are fascinating creatures, but best observed from a distance.


King Richard III, or (as Shakespeare called him) “Thou toad, thou toad”
(Richard III, 4.4.149)

Toads have had a bad rap in the west. At least as far back as Shakespeare the toad’s ugliness had become a synonym for anything loathsome. And then there is the poisonous nature of toads. Could anything so repulsive and toxic not be evil? And let’s not forget the association of toads with witchcraft, and even Satan himself.

On the other hand, according to Robert DeGraaff (The Book of the Toad), “There is a great deal of evidence that in early Asiatic cultures and in the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas the toad was regarded as a divinity, the great primeval Earth Mother, the source and end of all life.”

Today, there is evidence that reality falls somewhere in between.

All toads have toxic substances in the skin and parotid glands. Ingestion of toads or toad cake (i.e., the dried secretions) can lead to intoxication. They secrete one or more of five compounds: bufotoxin, bufotenin, 5-MeO-DMT, bufotalin, and bufalitoxin.

Most toxic compounds of these toxin are steroids similar to digoxin. Patients who have inadvertently ingested toad toxins usually have gastrointestinal symptoms consisting of nausea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort.

Toad secretions and cake have been used as a drug for its cardiotonic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic (pain relief) effects since ancient times. Doctors in China have used Bufo genus toad cake dissolved in water to treat heart disease and slow the spread of cancerous cells for centuries.

The mild poison of most toads in the U.S. is not lethal to humans, but it can cause allergic reactions. It is important to wash your hands after touching a toad.

yellow dart toads
“If you bite it and you die, it’s poisonous; if it bites you and you die, it’s venomous.”
Toads are not venomous. They secrete toxins rather than injecting it.

Two Poisonous Toads in the U.S.

Cane toads

The glands of American toads secrete bufotoxin, a poisonous substance meant to make the toad unpalatable to potential predators. Although most toads in the United States are only mildly toxic, their secretions can cause serious damage when smaller pets (such as dogs or cats) eat one of these toad varieties.

I’m going into some detail here because these two species pose a real danger as opposed being a nuisance or discomfort, like most toads in this country.

FYI, the most poisonous toad in the world is the golden poison frog (Phyllobates terribilis), also known as the golden dart frog or golden poison arrow frog, is a poison dart frog endemic to the rainforests of Colombia. Think curare.

Avoiding toads is relatively easy for most of us: they are nocturnal, and they hibernate underground during cold weather.

There is no specific antidote for toad toxins, so pay attention!

Rhinella marina (Cane Toad)

Cane toads’ native stomping ground ranges from to the Amazon basin in South America all the way north to the lower Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas. They have established habitats in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam (including Cocos Island) and Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and Republic of Palau. In Australia, where farmers originally introduced them to help control scarabs eating sugarcane, cane toads have become one of the worst invasive species in the world.

Cane toads
Adult Cane Toad

The skin-gland secretions of cane toads (bufotoxin and bufotenin) are highly toxic and can sicken or even kill animals that bite or feed on them, including native animals and domestic pets.

When swallowed, cane toad toxin can affect the heart and central nervous system. People may experience blood pressure swings, breathing problems, paralysis, seizures, salivation, twitching, vomiting, and crying. Adult cane toads can secrete enough toxin to kill a small child. In severe cases. exposure can cause death through cardiac arrest, sometimes within 15 minutes. At the least, the skin secretions irritate the skin or burn the eyes of people who handle them.

Humans can also use this toxin as a weapon. The Emberá and Wounaan people of Panama have traditionally used Cane Toad toxins on the tips of their arrows.

The prevalence of a toxin resistance gene makes it possible for some snakes of the sub-family Natricinae to consume native toads. In a 2021 article from the Journal of North American Herpetology, researchers Jordan Donini and Sean Doody said, “We documented successful consumption of the invasive cane toad by the Southern Watersnake (Nerodia fasciata) in southwest Florida, both in the wild and in the laboratory.”

Depending on where you live/travel, it can be important to know the difference between a cane toad and a native southern toad (Anaxyrus terrestris). Adult cane toads are much larger than adult southern toads, which only grow to a maximum of approximately 3 to 4 inches. Cane toads do not have ridges across the head, as seen in the southern toad.

Cane Toad Appearance:

  • Tan to reddish-brown, dark brown or gray
  • Creamy yellow belly
  • 4”-6” long (sometimes 9 inches)
  • Backs are marked with dark spots
  • Warty skin
  • Triangular parotoid glands on shoulders that secrete a milky toxin substance (native southern toads have oval glands)
  • No ridges on top of head unlike native southern toad

Incilius alvarius (Sonoran Desert Toad)

The Sonoran Desert Toad – previously known as the Colorado River Toad – is native to the United States and Northwestern Mexico. Like the Cane Toad, the Sonoran Desert Toad secretes bufotoxins that can seriously injure humans and kill smaller animals such as dogs.

colorado river toads
Sonoran Desert Toad

Their native habitat in the US includes Arizona, New Mexico (where they are a threatened species), and California (where they are a species of special concern). Because these toads are native, they cannot be legally killed in those areas. That hasn’t stopped people from trying to harvest their toxins.

Sonoran Desert Toad appearance:

  • Olive green to dark brown color
  • Belly is cream colored
  • 3”-7” long
  • Smooth and shiny skin, but warty
  • Distinctive oval glands behind each eye
  • Visible glands on their hind legs

Psychedelic Toads

In 2022, the National Park Service had to issue a blanket warning to visitors not to lick wildlife, especially toads. The toxins that some toads secrete can (under specific circumstances) cause psychedelic hallucinations.

The smoke from dried toad cake of both Cane Toads and Sonoran Desert River Toads causes hallucinations. Licking a toad will likely just cause extreme discomfort for both yourself and the toad.

Cane Toad secretions contain bufotenine, a tryptamine that can have hallucinogenic effects in large enough doses. Several religious traditions have used this toxin for ceremonial purposes. The Olmec obtained bufotenine by milking toads over hot rocks and then using the toxin as a narcotic. Chemical analysis of seven Haitian “zombie powders” found secretion glands from Cane Toads, along with puffer fish and hyla tree frogs.

Smoking dried toad toxin may cause you to see them stand up and play musical instruments.

Sonoran Desert toads secrete an enzyme known as O-methyl-transferase, which converts bufotenine into the extremely potent psychedelic 5-MeO-DMT. When a human inhales smoke from 5-MeO-DMT, they experience hallucinations many have called “religious.” Researchers are developing treatments for depression, anxiety, and addiction from the psychedelic properties of Sonoran Desert toad secretions. Dr. Alan K. Davis, a clinical psychologist at Johns Hopkins University warns, “It’s such an intense experience that, in most cases, doing it at a party isn’t safe. It’s not a recreational drug. If people get dosed too high, they can ‘white out’ and disassociate from their mind and body.”

Ingesting Sonoran Desert Toad toxin orally does not cause hallucinations, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying. According to the National Poison Center, “Licking toads (typically cane toads) can be dangerous, however, and may cause muscle weakness, rapid heart rate, and vomiting.”

The Toad Pharmacy

All Bufo species of toads have parotid glands that release toxic substances when the animals are threatened. These toxic substances are biologically active compounds, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, serotonin, bufotenine, bufogenin, bufotoxins, and indolealkylamines. You might notice that the first four listed here are familiar!

In “The Development of Toad Toxins as Potential Therapeutic Agents” by Ji Qi, Abu Hasanat Zulfiker, Chun Li, David Good, and Ming Q. Wei, the authors make the following points:

  1. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), processed toad toxins have been used for treating various diseases for hundreds of years. Modern studies have revealed the molecular mechanisms that support the development of these components into medicines for the treatment of inflammatory diseases and cancers.
  2. Recently there have been studies that demonstrated the therapeutic potential of toxins from other species of toads, such as Australian cane toads.
  3. Toxins from toads have long been known to contain rich chemicals with great pharmaceutical potential. Recent studies have shown more than 100 such chemical components, including peptides, steroids, indole alkaloids, bufogargarizanines, organic acids, and others, in the parotoid and skins gland secretions from different species of toads.

Frogs or Toads?

Many people confuse frogs and toads. After all, they are biologically related and share many characteristics. Scientifically, frogs and toads belong to the same taxonomical group. Both have glandular skin and similar diets, which they swallow whole. Additionally, both are amphibians and periodically shed their skin.

Live on landLive near water
Warty-looking skinSleek, smooth skin
Dry skinMucus-covered skin looks wet even when dry
Short legsLegs longer than head and body
Get around by crawlingHop instead of crawl
Broad, flat nosePointed nose
Spawn in chainsSpawn in gooey clumps
Solid black, round shaped tadpolesGold-flecked, slim shaped tadpoles

Toad Miscellany

This is clearly not a toad; it’s a frog. Note the green skin and long legs.

Among amphibians, the anurans, or frogs and toads, are perhaps the most intelligent, and have the largest brain-to-body ratio of the amphibians.

By and large, the brighter the toad’s coloration, the more toxic it is.

American toads hibernate during the winter. They will usually dig backwards and bury themselves in the dirt of their summer home. However, they may also overwinter in another area nearby.

You can find toads in all but the coldest parts of the world.

Adult toads eat insects, snails, slugs and earthworms.

Toads do not drink water. Instead, they absorb it through their skin.

Toads in the Super Mario Brothers franchise do not have the same physical characteristics of other toads. They are staunch protectors of the Mushroom Kingdom!

Despite spending most of its life on land, a toad will return to the water during the mating season. They lay their eggs in water.

Being carnivores, toads prefer eating live meat. They do not consume dead meat or previously killed animals. Technically, they are able to consume fruits and vegetables, but it might not make them happy.

A toad will also eat its own skin after shedding it. However, they do this to hide from predators rather than for any nutritional value.

Toads live approximately 5-10 years in the wild. However, a toad in captivity can live up to 40 years.

Collective nouns for a group of toads includes a knot, nest, array, knob, knab, lump, and squiggle.

Toads can carry salmonella, which they can transfer to humans or other animals handling them.

Toads are great additions to any garden because they eat the pests that may plague the plants—and the gardeners.

Bottom Line: Better know toads!


Besides the actual labor and costs involved, “taking care of” the out-of-doors can be harmful to the environment. Creating the beautiful, healthy gardens we love can have less than ideal side effects on the planet and on our own bodies.

Take Care of the Environment

Many tasks that were formerly done by hand, now performed with the help of machinery or strong chemicals, can cause long-term damage even as they make life easier in the short run.

Noise Pollution

Gas-powered lawn mowers range from 82 to 90 decibels. Weed whackers make 96 decibels of noise. Hedge trimmers can blast away at 103 decibels. Gas-powered leaf blowers make 80 to 92 decibels of racket.

Proper ear protection is nearly as important for safe operation as being able to reach the pedals

Here’s one specific example. More than 11 million gas powered leaf blowers (GLB) operate in the US. Most are powered by inefficient 2-stroke engines. According to a study by Erica Walker and Jamie L. Banks, noise from this equipment was found to exceed WHO outdoor daytime standards (55 dB) up to 800 feet away from the source. The ability of this sound to travel over long distances (because of strong low frequency components) suggests that GLB sound has wide ranging impact on surrounding communities. The noise is intolerable to some and many communities have enacted ordinances restricting their use.

Ear protectors can help save your hearing, but also consider your neighbors!

Better alternative: A lawn mower that mulches leaves and clippings, thus using a natural fertilizer to enrich the soil

Air Pollution

Small-motor, gasoline-powered equipment is a significant contributor to climate change. According to the EPA, off-road gasoline-powered equipment, such as lawn mowers and leaf blowers, emit approximately 242 million tons of pollutants annually, just as much as cars and homes.

Chemical fertilizers also create substantial amounts of air pollution. Only about half of the ammonia used to make nitrogen fertilizer contributes to crop growth, while the remaining ammonia is returned to the atmosphere as nitrogen gas, causing an increase in greenhouse gas and the eutrophication of rivers.

Better alternative: Electric or hand powered tools are quieter and create much less air pollution

Soil and Water Pollution

Fertilizers contain high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, which can lead to oxygen depletion, overgrowth of vegetation, and fish kills.

Excess nutrients can cause harmful algal blooms in freshwater systems, which not only disrupt wildlife but can also produce toxins harmful to humans.

Fertilizers can also leach through soil into groundwater, which is very harmful to the surrounding ponds, streams, rivers, and oceans.

Better alternative: Compost kitchen scraps and yard waste to fertilize plants naturally.

Pesticides and Herbicides

Is it best to live and let live?

Chemical herbicides and pesticides can contaminate soil, water, turf, and other vegetation. In addition to killing the targeted insects or weeds, they can be toxic to a host of other organisms including pets, birds, fish, beneficial insects, and non-target plants.

Better alternative: Pulling unwanted plants, creating physical barriers with mulch, or using less harmful alternatives such as vinegar or soap

Ecosystem Disruptors

Sometimes non-native or non-adaptive species in the garden can wreak havoc on the local ecosystem.

I recently wrote about invasive species that started out as garden ornaments, including kudzu and Japanese honeysuckle. Different growth patterns and the lack of local predators allow these plants to grow out of control in their new environments, often displacing native species.

Lush green lawns actually create what scientists call “ecological deserts.” Grass monocultures wear out soil nutrients quickly and provide nothing for local insects and other wildlife to eat. The lack of flowering plants contributes further to declining pollinator populations. Grass lawns also require more water than any other type of ground cover, a growing concern in many drought-prone regions.

Better alternative: Try local plant varieties that are already adapted to regional conditions or replacing grass with “pollinator lawns

Take Care of Your Physical Well-Being

Gardening requires physical exertion, including lots of bending, stooping, digging and carrying. The repeated gardening actions put strain on your back and joints like your knees. If you already have problems with pain or limited mobility, taking care of your garden can worsen those symptoms. Distribute the work rather than having marathon days or weekends. Also, some equipment can be helpful, such as stand-up weeders and kneeling benches.

Gardening can also seriously injure your skin. Fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides can cause skin irritation and even chemical burns. Without proper sun protection, gardeners run the risk of sunburns and sun stroke. Exposure to irritants in plants like rue, celery, geraniums, and daffodils can result in reactions ranging from rashes to serious illness.

Participating in lawn mower racing also greatly increases the dangers of injury from crashes or flips. Better wear a helmet!

BOTTOM LINE: Choose your tools and products carefully and use sparingly. Despite the negative impact gardening can have on the environment, with a little thought, and perhaps a little behavior change, gardening can truly benefit the earth.


Didn’t know that artichokes are members of the daisy family? Lots of people don’t. There are many surprises in this enormous plant family. It boasts 1,911 genera and over 32,913 species! But even so, so what?

Well, it’s National Garden Month, and it turns out that the daisy family—a.k.a., the Asteraceae family and the Sunflower family—has gardeners covered for both food and beauty.

Daisy chain

Note: The lists that follow are illustrative, not exhaustive!

Delicious Daisies

Have you had your daisy today? Dandelion greens? Probably not. Perfectly edible, they were introduced into the New World by European immigrants in the 1700s as a food source.

Artichokes are surprisingly pretty in the garden

Today, not so much. But what about the following?

  • Lettuce (various varieties, cultivated for the last 5,000 years)
  • Endive
  • Chicory
  • Artichokes
  • Jerusalem artichoke (a.k.a. sunchoke, sunroot, earth apple)
  • Sunflowers
  • Safflower
  • Tarragon
  • Salsify
  • Stevia
  • Camomile
  • Sage
  • Absinthium

Medicinal Daisies

Chamomile being harvested for tea

People use daisies to make all sort of medicines: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, diuretic, wound healing, and more. According to the World Health Organization, over 80% of the world’s population depend on traditional and folk medicine. Agata Rolnik and Beata Olas have written a fascinating study of the many ways plants in the daisy family can protect human health. Some daisies frequently used for health purposes include the following:

  • Wormwood
  • Camomile
  • Dandelion
  • Yarrow
  • Tansy
  • Milk thistle
  • Echinacea

Beautiful Daisies


Though plants in the daisy family are often also edible or medicinal, many people know them primarily for their beauty, for example daisies, dahlias, and coreopsis. But also including:

  • Gerbera daisies
  • Shasta daisy
  • Asters
  • Calendula
  • Zinnia
  • Chrysanthemum (also has insecticidal properties)
  • Marigold (a.k.a. German stinkblumen)
  • Carnation
  • Coreopsis
  • Brown/black eyed daisies

Commercially Important Daisies

French Marigold
French Marigold

A wide array of plants in the daisy family are grown for commercial use. They’re everywhere, including food crops, cooking oils, sweetening agents, coffee substitutes, and herbal teas, as well as all the members of the asteraceae family that florists rely on. One that surprised me is the French marigold, used in commercial poultry feed and produces oils used in colas and the cigarette industry.

  • Common marigolds – insect repellent
  • Chrysanthemum – produces insecticides
  • Guayule – hypoallergenic latex

Daisies for Beekeepers

Red Sunflower
Daisy Family
Red Sunflower

Colorful, fragrant daisies attract all manner o pollinators, particularly bees. Beekeepers often plant members of the asteraceae family to keep their bees happy.

  • Sunflowers
  • Knapweed
  • Some species of goldenrod (for an especially high protein pollen)

Daisy Black Sheep


Not every variety of the daisy family finds a warm welcome, for various reasons.

  • Dandelions, as a robust weed and cause of contact dermatitis
  • Ragweed causes so-called hay fever
  • Ox-eye daisy, causes both contact and inhalant allergy
  • Any-pollen heavy plant can aggravate rhinitis for allergy sufferers


Mutant Daisies
Some daisies are just weird.

Daisies are old: they were first described in 1740. But the oldest known fossils are pollen grains dated to c. 76-66 million years ago. The family is huge: 1911 genera and at least 32,913 named species. It is arguably the largest plant family, possibly rivaled by orchids. Both families are too big to count. They’re everywhere, on every continent except Antarctica. I’ve focused on flowers and herbs, but it also includes shrubs, vines, and trees.

Bottom line: Whatever the garden needs, consider the Daisy family!