Try these preventive health measures for salt, a historically important food that can act as a great natural remedy. Salt is inexpensive, but it has many uses for your frugal household.

The human requirement for dietary salt and the relative difficulty of producing it built and destroyed empires, determined trade routes and the location of cities, occasioned wars, and inspired revolutions.

Before the advent of pressure canning and freezing, salting/brining and drying were the only means of preserving food and eliminating total dependence on seasonal food production.

Aside from its use in seasoning food, ordinary table salt has dozens of uses in the frugal household. It will extinguish flames; kill weeds; extend the life of brooms, toothbrushes, and cut flowers; preserve colors in your wash; remove stains from coffee cups; help clean your oven; and more.

But this common household staple really shines in the domains of preventive health and hygiene. I use non-iodized sea salt for these and other health practices.


Flushing Sinuses

Although this use of salt is ancient, modern medical research has shown that flushing the sinus passages with a saline solution can help prevent/relieve sinus infections,relieve postnasal drip.

One caveat: Boil your tap water for a 3 to 5 minutes and then cool until lukewarm before using. I’d sterilize my water for any solution I planned to use in my sinuses, throat, or eyes.

As an Eyewash

Dissolve ¼ teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water and used it as a wash for tired, irritated eyes.Be sure to boil your tap water for 3 to 5 minutes and then cool before using.

Reducing Under-Eye Puffiness

Dissolve ½ teaspoon of salt in a cup of hot water; soak a washcloth or cotton balls in the solution, and apply to the puffy areas.

Cleaning Teeth

Try a mixture of salt and baking soda for your “toothpaste.“ Pulverize sea salt in a blender or crush it with a rolling pin, mix with an equal amount of baking soda, shake, and store in a small glass jar. Mix with a bit of water, and brush as usual. Both salt and baking soda have antimicrobial properties that kill many of the pathogenic bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease.

As a Gargle, Mouthwash, or Breath Sweetener

Mix a teaspoon of the tooth-cleaning mixture in a cup of warm water. (Boil your tap water for 3 to 5 minutes and then cool before using.)

Reducing Fatigue

Soak your tired feet or entire body in a warm, salt-infused bath for a restorative effect.

As an Exfoliant

Mix equal parts of sea salt and olive oil and rub gently over the body for an exfoliating, moisturizing scrub. Rinse with warm water. For the face, mix equal parts of salt and honey.

Relieving the Pain of Insect Stings

Mix salt with a bit of water and apply to the sting immediately.

For Poison Ivy

Soak the affected areas in hot salt water to help relieve the itch and dry up blisters.



“Living Naturally” is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that’s good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, ideas to make your home a healthy and safe haven, and the latest news on health. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it’s relearning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better, healthier lives.

Published on The Old Farmer’s Almanac


The Old Farmer’s Almanac for April 12: THE MANY HOUSEHOLD USES FOR VINEGAR




Here are some of the many household uses for white vinegar—from cleaning to stain treatment to relieving insect bites. Vinegar is “wonder” product. Discover its common and surprising uses!


Vinegar is a common ingredient in countless homemade cleaners and is especially helpful for cleaning household appliances.

Here are some of the more uncommon uses:

  • Coffeepot: Bring a solution of 1 cup of vinegar and 4 tablespoons of baking soda to a boil in teapots and coffeepots to rid them of mineral deposits. To clean drip coffeemakers, fill the reservoir with white vinegar and run it through a brewing cycle. Rinse thoroughly by brewing two cycles with water before using.
  • Stovetop: A solution of vinegar and baking soda will easily remove cooking oil from your stovetop.
  • Oven: For a clean oven, combine vinegar and baking soda, then scrub.
  • Dishwasher: Use as a rinsing agent to get your glasses and plates clean. Once a year, pour a cup of white vinegar into an empty dishwasher, then run it for a short cycle to get rid of the lime and soap build-up.
  • Humidifier: Clean the filter on your humidifier by removing it and soaking it in a pan of white vinegar until all the sediment is off.
  • Tubs and Showers: Saturate a cloth with vinegar and sprinkle with baking soda, and then use it to clean fiberglass tubs and showers. Rinse well and rub dry for a spotless shine.
  • Shower Curtain: Use a sponge dampened with vinegar to clean shower curtains.
  • Toilet Bowl: Clean and deodorize your toilet bowl by pouring undiluted white vinegar into it. Let stand for five minutes, then flush. Spray stubborn stains with white vinegar, then scrub vigorously.
  • Windows: Clean windows with a cloth dipped in a solution of one part white vinegar and 10 parts warm water.
  • Fridge Odors: Rid your refrigerator and freezer of bad odors by cleaning the insides with a solution of equal parts vinegar and water, then wiping dry.
  • Clothes Odors: To remove smoke odors on clothes, hang them above a steaming bathtub filled with hot water and a cup of white vinegar.
  • Prevent Mildew. Wipe down surfaces with vinegar to clean and to prevent mildew.

When NOT to use vinegar:

  • Do not use vinegar on granite or marble countertops.
  • Avoid using vinegar where there is unsealed grout.
  • Do not use vinegar on wood surfaces or hardwood floors (or no-wax vinyl floors).
  • Never use vinegar on your cell phone or computer screen!

You’ll notice that baking soda is often used as a sidekick to vinegar.


  • Remove Bumper Stickers:  To remove bumper stickers from car chrome, paint on vinegar and let it soak in. Next, scrape off the stickers. Decals can be removed similarly.
  • Wipe down windows with diluted vinegar in winter to keep them frost-free.


  • Clothes: Vinegar naturally breaks down uric acid and soapy residue, leaving baby clothes and diapers soft and fresh. Add a cup of vinegar to each load during the rinse cycle.
  • Chewing Gum: To remove chewing gum, rub it with full-strength vinegar.
  • Paint Stains: Soak paint stains in hot vinegar to remove them.
  • Shoes: To remove salt and water stains from leather boots and shoes, rub with a solution of 1 tablespoon white vinegar and 1 cup water. Wipe over the stained area only, and then polish.


  • Insect Bites :Apply full strength vinegar to mosquito or other insect bites to relieve the itching. (Caution: Do not do this if the affected area is raw.)
  • Insect Repellant: Rub apple cider vinegar on your skin to repel insects.
  • Sprains: Place a vinegar-soaked brown bag on sprains to ease pain and aid recovery.
  • Shiny Hair: For brunettes, rinsing hair with vinegar after a shampoo makes hair shinier. Use one-tablespoon vinegar to one-cup warm water.
  • Loosen Jar Lids: Hold the jar upside down and pour warm vinegar around the neck at the joint between the glass and the top.
  • Garden Weeds: Spray directly on plants that you want to kill, especially weeds in cracks in your driveway! Spray on a dry, sunny day.
  • Dogs: Clean inside of dog’s ears with clean washcloth or rag dipped in a white vinegar solution (4 tablespoons water: 1 tablespoon vinegar)

The Old Farmer’s Almanac





It’s hard to think of a natural substance that serves such a wide array of everyday purposes as vinegar. While it might seem as if you can use vinegar on everything, it’s also acidic, which means that it can cause damage to your health and home if you use it improperly.

Here are things that you should NOT use vinegar for.


We’re huge fans of vinegar. It’s natural and non-toxic. It’s cheap to buy. It’s versatile.

People use vinegar (Note: not always safely or effectively) to clean windows (sinks, appliances, glassware, coffee-makers, dental retainers, etc.), remove stains, kill weeds, condition their hair, remove smelly-dog odors from fabrics, “age” wood, remove sticky labels, disinfect cutting boards and other surfaces, ease the pain of insect stings and sunburns, prevent fabric dyes from running, fluff up and stiffen egg whites, make cottage cheese from milk, soften fabrics, dry up pimples, lose weight, disinfect wounds, sanitizing fresh fruits and vegetables, and to prevent or treat diverse ills.

Not to mention its use in pickling, and its appeal as a flavoring ingredient in salad dressings, marinades, and cooked dishes, and as an ingredient in refreshing summer drinks or winter tonics (e.g., shrubs, switchel, fire cider).



Vinegar, whose name derives from the French vin aigre, meaning sour wine, is produced naturally through a two-stage process that starts when yeasts digest the sugars in fruits, grains (and sometimes vegetables) into wines, beers, or grain alcohols. Acetic acid bacteria, ubiquitous in the environment, further ferment the alcohol to vinegar.

Commercially available vinegars have been mixed with water or other liquids to contain between four and eight percent acetic acid—the Food and Drug Administration has a four-percent-minimum standard. The label must indicate the percentage of acetic acid.

So-called “horticultural” or “industrial” vinegars” typically contain between 20 percent and 30 percent acetic acid.

Most supermarkets and specialty food stores offer a wide array of vinegars, often named from the material first fermented into alcohol, but sometimes containing herbs, spices, fruits or other flavoring agents.

But all vinegars, by definition, contain some percentage of acetic acid, which is responsible for at least some of its effects. And some of these effects can cause damage to you, your pets, or the materials you’re working with. So heed the caveats.


Is Vinegar Safe to Eat and Drink?

Yes and no. First, we are only talking about white vinegar with 5% acetic acid, nothing more.

  • If it doesn’t irritate your digestive system, enjoy your 5% vinegars in pickles, tasty dressings and marinades, drizzled over cooked vegetables, and well-diluted in beverages.
  • But don’t start swigging undiluted vinegar! It’s still acetic acid. Especially undiluted, vinegar may harm mouth and digestive-system tissues, A tablespoon is enough for salad dressing or to flavor a quart of drinking water.
  • Children have suffered serious burns from drinking vinegar, and from vinegar compresses used to lower fevers or soothe sunburns.
  • Speaking of child safety: If you have children or child visitors, lock up household vinegars (including those stored under the sink with cleaning compounds).

Is Vinegar Safe for Home Remedies?

  • Before using vinegar as a do-it-yourself remedy, read this fact sheet from the National Poison Control Center.
  • No matter how many testimonials you read or hear about the miracles of vinegar, don’t use it to self-medicate without consulting your doctor. Vinegar may interferewith prescription or over-the-counter medications or supplements you take. Treating yourself for a serious medical problem before consulting your doctor may delay appropriate medical treatment.
  • For the same reasons, unless suggested by your doctor, stay away from acetic acid/cider vinegar tablets, widely promoted for weight loss.
  • Swabbing a small wound, pimple, or insect sting with household vinegar may help sanitize the area and relieve the pain, swelling or itching. Don’t use vinegar as a compressDon’t saturate any large area of skin with vinegar, and don’t cover a vinegar-treated area with a bandage.
  • Don’t use undiluted vinegar or use vinegar preparations to freshen your breath or whiten your teeth. Its acid may erode tooth enamel and injure sensitive tissues.
  • Forget the commercial hair conditioner and rinse with a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar but dilute the vinegar in a quart or so of warm water. (The vinegar will remove the residues of hair-care products and close the hair cuticles, protecting them from splitting and giving your hair a sleek, well-conditioned look.)

Is Vinegar Safe as a Garden Herbicide?

Here’s the basic information for using strong vinegar to kill weeds. If you do choose to use it, store and handle it with extreme care.

  • Because most people think of vinegar as a common and benign pantry staple, someone might mistake the industrial-strength vinegar for the household product. So store the vinegar under lock and key away from kitchen staples, and post a warning sign on the bottle if the label doesn’t already contain one.
  • The much stronger acid content of weed-killing vinegars can cause severe burns and permanent eye damage. Wear chemical-resistant gloves, eye protection, long sleeves and pants before you load the sprayer and head to the garden.
  • Don’t spray when it’s windy; spray drift may kill desirable plants nearby. Point the sprayer nozzle away from you. Experts say vinegar works best for small, annual broadleaf weeds and recommend using vinegar sprays on small areas only.

Where is Vinegar Safe to Use and NOT Use for Cleaning?

Important caveat: If you do choose to use vinegar as a cleaning agent, never mix it with bleach, ammonia, or hydrogen peroxide because any of these mixtures will create toxic gases.

  • Vinegar can play an important role in the household laundry. Choose white vinegar(grain based) for all laundry and stain-removal purposes; apple-cider vinegar and other flavored vinegars may stain your clothes, rugs, curtains, etc.
  • A cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle will dissolve the soap and detergent residues in clothes and in the machine, as well as brighten, deodorize, help soften, and remove many stains from clothes. It’s also safe for septic systems. Note: The user manuals of some new appliances (dishwashers and washing machines) may tell users to avoid vinegar, because it can pit the appliances’ synthetic rubber seals.
  • A mixture of half vinegar and half water in spray bottle is unparalleled for cleaning glass, appliances, ceramic bathroom fixtures, and running occasionally through your coffee pot to eliminate residues. But do NOT scrub stone, marble, or granite surfaces with vinegar solutions; it may be tempting but the acid wears down and etches the stone.
  • Don’t use vinegar on hardwood floors or wooden furniture, as it may damage the finish.
  • Experts also recommend against using vinegar to wipe down computer or smartphone screens, as it may damage their protective coatings.

Vinegar in Food Safety

  • Studies have shown that household vinegar is a pretty good antimicrobial wash for washing fruits and vegetables.
  • For sanitizing cutting boards and other food preparation surfaces, “heat ½ cup white distilled vinegar (5%) in a saucepan to 150⁰F or 66⁰C. Be sure and handle heated liquids carefully as they will be warm but not hot. Using a funnel pour the warm solution into a spray bottle. Immediately spray the cutting board, counter tops or other kitchen surfaces. Let solution remain on the surface for 1 minute and then wipe with a clean paper towel.”

Does anything here surprise you?  Please comment below!



“Living Naturally” is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that’s good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, ideas to make your home a healthy and safe haven, and the latest news on health. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it’s relearning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better, healthier lives.

–The Old Farmer’s Almanac




I’ve listed vinegar as one of my baker’s dozen of household essentials; I’ve extolled its virtues as a hair rinse (after a borax “shampoo”) and as a medium for extracting the culinary and healing essences of herbs.

Of course I use it for making pickles, dressing salads, and improving the flavors of everything from fruit pies to tomato sauces and soups. A bit of vinegar in the dough also helps tenderize pie crusts.

Cleans and deodorizes almost everything
Most of you already know that vinegar, sometimes in tandem with its alkaline companion baking soda, can accomplish the work of dozens of pricey, sometimes toxic, commercial household cleaning products for toilet, tub, windows, baseboards, and tarnished metals.

Vinegar by itself will remove scale from coffee pots and irons, freshen tub and sink drains (and sometimes unclog them). It will prevent colors from fading and help keep lint from sticking to clothing in the wash. It will remove sweat stains from most fabrics.

A vinegar soak removes wallpaper and its adhesive, bumper-sticker glue, and many other adhesives and varnishes.

As for bad smells in clothing, carpets, curtains, and upholstered furniture: a soaking with or in dilute vinegar will deodorize just about anything.

What is vinegar, anyway?
Vinegar results from a two-part fermentation process. During the first stage, a fruit juice or another sweet liquid is transformed by yeasts and bacteria into ethyl alcohol (wine, hard cider, etc.). Special bacteria then convert the alcohol into acetic acid, which gives vinegars their sour taste.

The vinegars commonly sold in food market are diluted with water to a standard proportion of acetic acid, generally four or five percent. Though stronger preparations are available for various uses, these industrial-strength preparations are dangerous and require special handling. I’ve never used them.

Vinegar for health and horticulture

  • Vinegar works as well or better than most commercial products as a disinfectant for washing produce, as well as for cleaning cutting boards and other food-preparation surfaces.
  • Applied full strength, cider vinegar will relieve and help prevent blisters from sunburns and minor burns.
  • A tablespoon of cider vinegar in water will soothe a sore throat or a queasy stomach.
  • Used full strength, commercial vinegar will kill weeds growing through cracks in paved areas such as patios and walkways. Industrial high-strength (up to 30 percent acetic acid) vinegars make effective natural herbicides but require special storage and handling.


Other interesting uses of vinegar

  • To remove the lines and needle holes left in fabric after ripping out a seam, moisten a cloth with white vinegar, place it under or over the fabric, and iron.
  • To thwart dog assaults on long runs or bike rides into unknown territory, carry a small (or large) spray bottle of diluted vinegar in a fanny-pack, backback, or bike water-bottle cage. Give Rover a good squirt  in the face when he jumps out from the bushes and lunges for your legs.
  • To cure organic meat. Scientists have found that vinegar and a natural source of nitrate can serve as curing agents for organic pork.

When to say no to vinegar
The unique chemistry of vinegar makes it a no-no for certain household jobs.

  • Mixing vinegar with chlorine bleach for disinfecting purposes creates toxic chlorine gas. Use one or the other.
  • Don’t wipe laptops, smart phones, and other digital appliances with vinegar, as it may damage protective coatings.
  • Using vinegar to clean marble and stoneware counter tops may cause pitted surfaces. Same goes for using it to clean “reactive” aluminum or cast-iron cookware.



“Living Naturally” is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that’s good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, ideas to make your home a healthy and safe haven, and the latest news on health. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it’s relearning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better, healthier lives.

-The Old Farmer’s Almanac

The Old Farmer’s Almanac for April 11th: NEARING THE END OF SOLAR CYCLE 24




Solar Cycle 24 is approaching its end, which will mean the beginning of Solar Cycle 25. What does that mean for Earth’s weather—and for us?

Fig. 1 (below) is a graph from the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center showing Cycle 24’s very low level of solar activity—the lowest in more than two centuries, even lower than the level in the early 1900s and comparable to the very low levels of solar activity that occurred in the early 1800s (the period referred to as the “Dalton Minimum,” which coincided with the “Little Ice Age”).

Fig. 1

As shown in Fig. 2 (below), these three periods have brought the lowest solar activity levels since the Maunder Minimum, the period from about 1645 to 1715, when solar cycles apparently stopped and sunspots were exceedingly rare.

Fig. 2

As you may know, we at The Old Farmer’s Almanac use solar activity as the primary driver of our long-range weather forecasts. We believe that changes in the Sun’s output, although relatively small, are sufficiently amplified in Earth’s upper atmosphere to strongly influence Earth’s weather patterns.

One of the most significant relationships that we have found is that periods of low solar activity are associated with colder temperatures, averaged across Earth. Our viewpoint is a controversial one, as most scientists believe that the magnitude of changes in solar activity are insufficient to have a significant effect on Earth’s weather, and they view as coincidence that past periods of exceptionally low solar activity have historically corresponded with cold periods.

However, an increasing amount of research seems to be giving credence to our theory: Although the changes in magnitude of solar activity are small, there is a mechanism in the upper atmosphere that can amplify these changes, causing larger ripples in the lower portion of Earth’s atmosphere, where weather occurs.

Historically, all of the periods in the known sunspot record that have had low activity have also had relatively cool temperatures, averaged across the globe. The Maunder Minimum coincided with an exceptionally cold period in many parts of the globe. We believe that with low solar activity continuing for at least the next 10 to 30 years, global temperatures will be cooler than they would otherwise be.

Despite the recent low solar activity, April 2018 was the third warmest April ever recorded, averaged across the globe, behind only April 2017 and April 2016. Incredibly, April was the 400th consecutive month in which temperatures averaged across the entire Earth were warmer than the month’s 20th-century average temperature.


So why, you might ask, have Earth’s temperatures been so consistently warm when our forecast methodology, which is based primarily on solar activity, says that they should be cool?

The answer is that solar activity is not the only factor in Earth’s weather.

For example, one factor that all atmospheric scientists believe can make Earth colder for as much as a few years is a volcanic eruption that spews ash into the middle and upper portions of the atmosphere. While this has not been a major factor in recent years, it has been at times in the past and could be again in the future.

Another factor is increased urbanization. The heat from buildings and human activities in cities makes them warmer than the surrounding countryside—something known as “the urban heat island effect.” However, most atmospheric scientists believe that this is a local effect that does not significantly raise Earth’s average temperatures.

It is important to note that although Earth, on average, has been warming for decades, not every place is or will be warmer than normal each season. Remember: Other factors are at play, including the normal variation in weather that occurs from day to day and year to year.

The most significant factor (in addition to solar activity) that has been affecting our weather in recent years has been the increase in greenhouse gases—most notably, carbon dioxide and methane—which most (but not all) atmospheric scientists believe has been making Earth progressively warmer. We have been incorporating the influence of these increases into our forecasts as a factor that will offset much of the cooling from our current period of low solar activity.

If we are correct in these factors, what this means is that the current period of low solar activity has been partially offsetting the greenhouse warming that has been occurring. This suggests that when the current period of exceptionally low solar activity ends and solar activity returns to a more normal level—perhaps in 30 years or so—we will see a rapid jump in the Earth’s average temperatures. Until that time, we would expect the general warming trend to continue, but as a slow warming in which some months set new records for global warmth but many do not.

Read more Weather Updates from Michael Steinber


Published on Old Farmer’s Almanac

The Old Farmer’s Almanac for April 11: DOES THE SUN AFFECT OUR WEATHER AND CLIMATE?





There have many arguments about whether or not variations in the Sun’s activity affect our weather and climate. The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s long-range forecasts are based predominantly upon solar activity, with their basis being that changes in activity on the Sun do indeed directly cause changes in weather patterns on Earth.

Although our seasonal forecasts have been far more accurate than any others made with a similar time frame, until recently nearly all meteorologists and climatologists have not believed that it was even possible for changes in solar output to affect Earth’s weather, let alone control it to a large extent, as we believe is the case.

The reason for their skepticism has to do with the energy output from the Sun, which is known as the solar constant. Technically, it is not really a constant—it does change significantly over billions of years. It also varies over days and years, but as these variations are a tiny fraction of its value, the scientific consensus has been that any changes in solar energy on a shorter-than-geological-era scale are much too small to have any effect on Earth’s weather.

A defining feature of science that helps to make it so valuable is that as new information comes to light, scientific consensus changes, and what was once believed to be incorrect can become the new truth.



Several years ago, a research paper was published by some Russian meteorologists who believed that they had discovered and defined a mechanism by which tiny changes in solar output could have an effect on Earth’s weather. They postulated that these changes affected the top of Earth’s atmosphere, an area known as the thermosphere, which was thin enough for these small changes to have an effect on it—and that these changes were then enhanced by orders of magnitude as they reflected into the troposphere, the lowest portion of the atmosphere, where our weather occurs.

Recently, others have picked up on this research, and its concepts seem to be moving into the scientific mainstream.

The SABER instrumentation aboard the TIMED satellite launched 17 years ago has provided data on the infrared emissions from carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitric oxide (NO), two substances that play a key role in the energy balance of air in the thermosphere. By measuring the infrared glow of these molecules, SABER can assess the temperature at the very top of the atmosphere.


Martin Mlynczak, at NASA’s Langley Research Center, has developed something called the Thermosphere Climate Index (TCI), which measures the temperatures at the top of Earth’s atmosphere. Although SABER has been in orbit for only 17 years, Mlynczak and his colleagues recently calculated TCI going all the way back to the 1940s. “SABERtaught us to do this by revealing how TCI depends on other variables such as geomagnetic activity and the Sun’s UV output—things that have been measured for decades,” he explained. (See the accompanying graph of TCI data, courtesy of NASA.)

As 2019 begins, the Thermosphere Climate Index is on the verge of setting a Space Age record for cold, which reflects the historic low in solar activity in the current cycle.

So, recent data has proven that temperatures in the uppermost portion of the atmosphere vary substantially, in parallel with solar activity. Recent research proposes a mechanism by which these changes can have a significant effect on weather patterns in the lower atmosphere. While these changes in scientific consensus may not come close to the importance of the refinements of Newtonian mechanics made by Einstein early in the 20th century, they do, at the very least, add scientific credibility to the forecast methodology that we use to make your long-range forecasts here at The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac for April 11: THE YEAR WITHOUT A SUMMER



A Volcanic Eruption Brings About Snow, Sleet, and Frost
By Michael Steinberg

Have you ever heard of the Year Without a Summer? In 1816, a volcanic eruption and cooling Sun brought about snow, sleet and frost. The world experienced a sudden drop in temperatures and an uptick in erratic weather patterns, causing massive food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere. Here’s the story behind the Great Cold Summer of 1816.

Even now, this year is sometimes called “Eighteen Hundred and Nearly Frozen to Death.”


Nobody, apparently, had an immediate answer, but many conjectured that the curious weather was due to the positions of the planets, the distance between Earth and the Moon, or sunspots.

At the time, Earth was already experiencing the concluding decades of the Little Ice Age, due to a period of relatively low solar activity from 1790 to 1830 known as the Dalton Minimum. May 1816, in particular, had had the lowest sunspot number (0.1) to date since record-keeping on solar activity had begun. As you may know, we at The Old Farmer’s Almanac use solar activity as the driver of our long range weather forecasts, and one factor we’ve found is that periods of low activity are associated with colder temperatures, averaged across Earth.

But it was not only solar activity that contributed to the summerless year.


A 13,000-foot-high volcano on the island of Sumbawa, near Bali, Indonesia, was the primary cause of the Year Without a Summer. The eruption happened in April of 1815 and was one of the greatest volcanic eruptions in history. Its toll: perhaps as many as 90,000 lives.

Mt. Tambora ejected immense amounts of volcanic ash into the upper atmosphere, where it was carried around the world by the jet stream. The volcanic dust covered Earth like a great cosmic umbrella, dimming the Sun’s effectiveness during the whole cold year. This resulted in a further reduction in solar irradiance, which brought record cold to much of the world during the following summer. Such an eruption would explain the appearance of the 1816 Sun as “in a cloud of smoke.”

To which must be added the speculation surrounding a complete eclipse of the Sun on May 26, 1816, and of the Moon on June 9 and the “greater number of conjunctions of the planets than usual,” which would favor, wrote Robert B. Thomas, editor of this Almanac, “old maids and bachelors.”

According to an apocryphal story that goes back to as early as 1846, Thomas had predicted for July 13, 1816, “Rain, Hail, and Snow”—all three of which, greatly to his amazement, did fall on this day.

The unusual cold played havoc with agricultural production in many parts of the world, directly or indirectly creating crop failures, dramatic increases in food prices, famines, cultural disruptions, and epidemics of cholera and other diseases. There were major weather events across the United States (which numbered 18 states at the time, with Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and Louisiana having been added to the original 13).


  • May frosts killed off most crops in upstate New York and the higher elevations of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
  • On June 6, snow fell in Albany, New York, and Dennysville, Maine.
  • In Cape May, New Jersey, frost was reported five nights in a row in late June, causing extensive crop damage.
  • Lake and river ice was observed as far south as northwestern Pennsylvania in July, with frost reported as far south as Virginia on August 20 and 21.
  • Rapid, dramatic temperature changes occurred frequently, as temperatures sometimes went from above-normal summer levels to near freezing within hours. U.S.grain prices at least quadrupled, and oat prices increased almost eightfold.
  • Famine, riots, arson, and looting occurred in many European cities, while China suffered from massive crop failures and disastrous floods, and a disruption in the Indian summer monsoon season spread a cholera outbreak from the River Ganges all the way to Moscow.


In the United States, among the hardest hit were the people of New England. All through July, heavy frosts and occasional ice storms were commonly seen. Most people took off their winter clothing, only to have to put it on again. So many young (and old) birds were frozen that but a few were found around New England in the following 3 years.

Suicides were also not uncommon: Drought, financial panic, and lack of food goaded many to desperation.

In sum, as one anonymous poet put it:

The trees were all leafless,
the mountains were brown,
The face of the country was scathed with a frown;
And bleak were the hills,
and the foliage sere
As had never been seen at
that time of year.

A variety of almanacs and magazines have published their thoughts on the event, too:

“The Sun’s rays seemed to be destitute of heat throughout the summer; all nature was clad in a sable hue.” –Albany (N.Y.) Almanac, 1852

“During the entire season, the Sun arose each morning as though in a cloud of smoke, red and rayless, shedding little light or warmth and setting at night as behind a thick cloud of vapor, leaving hardly a trace of its having passed over the face of the Earth.” –American Magazine of History

“What would happen if the Sun should become tired of illuminating this gloomy planet?” –North American Review, 1816


  • At least one Vermont farmer, according to the recollection of his nephew, James Winchester, was frozen to death in the great snowstorm of June 17 of that year: “I was at my uncle’s when he left home to go to the sheep lot, and as he went out the door, he said, jokingly, to his wife: ‘If I am not back in an hour, call the neighbors and start them after me. June is a bad month to get buried in the snow, especially when it gets so near July.’ … Three days later, searchers found him … frozen stiff.”
  • The Rev. Thomas Robbins of East Windsor, Connecticut, kept a diary of this cold year. It tells of a man in Maine freezing to death, of a foot of June snow in the Berkshires, and ice in Massachusetts that would bear the weight of a man. The entire corn crop, except in fields nearby ponds or the ocean, failed. Hailstones beat the blossoms off all fruit trees.
  • Caleb Emery of Lyman, New Hampshire, visited a well in his town that was completely frozen over on the 4th of July—8 feet below the surface of the earth and it remained that way until the 25th. The 120-day drought, which began in August, created fearsome forest fire conditions and led to fires that only the November snows could quell. Sheep froze to death in their pastures. Mackerel had to be introduced as a main course instead of pork and beef.
  • Elisha Clark of China, Maine, according to his granddaughter, Nellie Clark Strong of Somerville, Massachusetts, often picked Baltimore orioles off the branches of orchard trees in the cold summer and brought them into the house to warm them up.


  • The lack of oats to feed the horses likely inspired the German inventor Karl Drais to research new ways of horseless transportation, which led to his invention of the ancestor of the bicycle.
  • Many Americans left New England for the Midwest, accelerating the westward movement of the American people. Vermont alone had as many as 15,000 people emigrate, including the family of Joseph Smith, which moved from Norwich, Vermont, to Palmyra, New York. This move may have made possible the publication of the Book of Mormon and the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • In June 1816, Mary Shelley was forced by the weather to spend her Swiss holiday indoors with her literary companions, where to pass the time they decided to have a contest to see who could write the scariest story. The result was the novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.


–The Old Farmer’s Almanac

The Old Farmer’s Almanac for April 10th: POISON OAK: IDENTIFICATION AND TREATMENT


By Samantha Caveny
Poison oak can be a harmful plant if you touch it, as its urushiol oil will cause a nasty rash. —California State University Channel Islands

“Leaves of three, let it be!” “Hairy vine, no friend of mine!” Learn how to spot poison oak, tell the difference between poison oak and poison ivy, and treat a poison oak rash.


Poison oak is a relative of poison ivy. There are many similarities:

  • Both plants contain the same toxic resin, urushiol in all parts of the plant (toxic to humans but harmless to animals).
  • Both plants have three leaflets, white flowers in spring, and can grow as a vine or a shrub.
  • Leaflets can range in size from the length of your thumb to the length of your hand.
  • Middle leaflet has a notably longer stem than the two side leaflets, though more obvious in poison ivy than poison oak.
  • Depending on the season, leaf color can range from green to orange and even a dark purplish-red.

But they are indeed different plants. In North America, there are two species of poison oak: Atlantic (Eastern) and Pacific (Western).

Poison ivy (left) vs. poison oak (right) Grows at altitudes below 5,000 feet.


  • Atlantic poison oak is a low-growing, upright shrub. It can grow to be about 3 feet tall, sometimes giving it the appearance of a vine. Pacific poison oak can grow either as a shrub or a vine, causing it to be even more readily confused with poison ivy.
  • Leaf shape resembles an oak leaf (hence the name, poison oak), but it’s not a member of the oak family.
  • Leaflets are duller green than poison ivy and usually more distinctly lobed or toothed.
  • Leaflets have hairs on both sides, unlike poison ivy.
  • While the fruit of poison ivy is the color of pearls, poison oak fruit (called “drupes”) has a tan color.

At the end of the day, just remember: Leaves of three, let it be. In other words, if you see a plant with clusters of three leaves, don’t touch it!


Symptoms of poison oak include itchy red rashes that can resemble burns, swelling, and even blistering.

Symptoms can take 24-48 hours or even up to a week to show up, particularly if its your first exposure!

Poison oak, like poison ivy, contains urushiol. This oily substance is what causes a poison oak rash, and it can be almost impossible to avoid. Upon contact with your body, urushiol immediately forms a chemical bond to the skin and causes an almost unstoppable allergic reaction. Urushiol will stay on clothes, pets, or other materials for months, and its potency lasts. This means that you could even get poison oak without going anywhere near it.

The urushiol resin can cause harsher reactions for those who have been exposed to it before. Sensitivity to urushiol might decrease if you do not come into contact with it until later in life. Only about 15 percent of people are resistant to urushiol, so don’t feel safe around poison oak unless you are absolutely sure you are resistant. You also may become sensitive with repeated exposure, so your resistance might be short-lived.

Danger: Smoke inhalation from burning poison oak can send you straight to the emergency room. Avoid burning this plant!


Your best chance at avoiding a reaction is to treat poison oak within 10 minutes of contact.

Urushiol is not water-soluble! Use strong soaps (like dish soap) and wash with cold water to keep the oils from spreading. Cleanse the area of contact within the first ten minutes, then rinse off with cold water. As urushiol can remain active for years, you’ll want to wash any clothes, items, or furniture that may have come into contact with the invisible oily residue.

If you don’t catch the exposure immediately, treat the resulting itchy rash and blisters topically with calamine lotion, baking soda pastes, aloe vera, and a number of commercial products.  If you don’t mind mixing breakfast and skin care, one tried-and-true remedy for itchy skin is oatmeal.  Since poison oak rash is the same as the poison ivy rash, see more remedies on our poison ivy post. If poison oak is extremely serious, speak to your doctor about a prescription.

Of course, the best remedy is always prevention; study our photos so you can recognize poison oak.


–The Old Farmer’s Almanac




By George and Becky Lohmiller
It is important to learn how to identify both poison ivy plants and rashes in order to prevent a rash from spreading.—Pace University

Poison ivy can cause a nasty rash, so it is important to learn how to identify the plant as well as how to treat poison ivy. There are many home remedies that can be helpful in relieving the itch, but your best bet is to avoid getting it in the first place!


Poison Ivy Plant

  • Poison ivy’s “leaves of three” are glossy-green, but are tinged with pink in the spring, and take on a brilliant orange in the autumn.
  • These leaves sometimes vary in appearance, however. They can be either shiny or dull, and some are lobed or toothed while others are not. Usually, they are shiny when young and turn dull green as a mature plant.
  • Poison ivy can grow as an erect shrub, a winding vine, or simply along the ground.
  • It has small, pearl-colored berries. These are a favorite treat of many birds, which spread poison ivy seeds around the countryside.
  • Seedlings of the boxelder tree look similar to poison ivy with three leaves, but they do not have berries and are yellow in the autumn. The leaves of Virginia creeper also look similar to those of poison ivy, but Virginia creeper has five leaflets rather than three.
  • Poison ivy is especially common around fences or along roadways.

Poison Ivy Rash

  • A poison ivy rash will usually occur within 12 to 48 hours. The area will severely swell, itch, and turn red. Later, blisters will form. The blisters eventually become crusted and take about 10 days to heal.
  • Red bumps also might form where the blisters will soon appear.
  • Often, a poison ivy rash appears in a streaked pattern. This mimics the way in which a person has rubbed up against the plant.
  • It is a common misconception that touching a body part with a poison ivy rash, and then touching another body part, causes the rash to spread. The rash might appear on some body parts later than others, but this is only due to a difference in the time it takes for the poison oil to absorb into the skin.
  • Be careful not to confuse poison ivy with swimmer’s itch. They might seem similar at the beginning, especially because poison ivy might be in a lakeside or pondside area where you’re swimming.


The “poison” in poison ivy is an oily resin called urushiol that occupies every part of the plant, including the roots.

  • The leaves, especially young ones, contain the most toxin.
  • The oil can remain on tool handles and clothing for as long as a year. Dogs and cats can carry its potency on their fur. This is why you can come down with a rash without having seen poison ivy in months.
  • People may become more sensitive to the oily resin urushiol with multiple exposures. If you’ve had poison ivy before, be sure to avoid it in the future.
  • Different people have different sensitivities to poison ivy. The older you get before coming into contact with it, the better: You will have a lower chance of developing an allergy. Only about 15 percent of people are resistant to poison ivy.

Fortunately, the oils don’t always go to work immediately, especially on dirty or work-hardened hands. If you come in contact with poison ivy, wash up at once and launder your clothes using old yellow laundry soap or boraxo to cut the oil. (Soaps made with fat are ineffective.)


If you become affected, there is no shortage of remedies, but many of them are useless and some can even make matters worse.

  • If you realize that you or your clothes have touched poison ivy, get to a source of water immediately. If you can clean yourself and your clothes with cold water within five minutes of touching the plant, the oil might not be absorbed into your skin. Soap is helpful within the first 30 minutes as well.
  • Be sure to wash any clothing or gear that comes in contact with poison ivy, as the oil can persist for months. Bathe animals as well if they may have touched the poison ivy.
  • Mild cases can be helped by calamine lotion, over-the-counter cortisone creams, and saltwater soaks, but severe cases require prescription cortisone. Soaking in cool water or a lukewarm bath with a baking soda solution also might help.
  • A barrier cream, IvyBlock, containing quaternium-18 bentonite, which bonds with the urushiol, promises to be effective 68%of the time, if applied before any contact with poison ivy.
  • Excessive itching of blisters can cause infections. Try to ease the itch, or simply find a distraction, so as not to make your rash even worse. Wash broken blisters lightly, and cover with a bandage to prevent further itching and infection.
  • Prevention is key. Use our tips for identifying poison ivy, and wear long sleeves when walking outside. Also, wash any clothes or equipment if you have been walking in a wooded area with shrubs.
  • Eradicating poison ivy is probably the best way to remain itch-free. The plants can be destroyed by covering them with black plastic or spraying them with appropriate herbicides. But beware—even dead plants are infectious. And do not burn the plants! Smoke from burning poison ivy can cause great irritation to your lungs.
  • One great home remedy for poison ivy rashes—as well as most other itches—is oatmeal.
  • Be sure to check out on Summer Itches to know when you need to take a trip to the hospital based on complications of a poison ivy rash.

Perhaps someday, plant scientists will develop a non-poisonous variety. Rumor has it that they have already crossed poison ivy with four-leaf clovers, hoping to get a rash of good luck. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist.)


–The Old Farmer’s Almanac

The Old Farmer’s Almanac for April 10: THE ITCH(ES) OF SUMMER



Mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies and horse flies, no see-ums. Poison ivy. Swimmer’s itch. Heat rash. Pollen allergies. Healing, peeling sunburns.

These tormentors balance out the luscious scents, sounds, and sights of summer around here. Most of them have already visited me.


As with most afflictions, prevention beats any amount of treatment or cure.

The best prevention for insect bites: Cover up completely, leaving no exposed skin. You can buy a head-covering or a complete suit, including a zippered head covering, called the Bug Baffler (see photo). Pull socks over pants legs and don gloves for full protection.

I love the Bug Baffler suit, but it does have its drawbacks: it’s somewhat claustrophobic with the headgear zipped up; it’s stifling on hot days, and I do feel a bit like the village eccentric if people come by and see me working in the get-up. (Plus, it adds a good 15 pounds if you want a photo of yourself wearing one.)

For biting flies, gnats, and mosquitoes, an array of insect repellents line the store shelves. Entomologists say these products don’t actually repel the insects, but rather confuse them by blocking the receptors they use to detect appropriate hosts for their next blood meal.

The best-tested of the commercially available repellents contain either DEET or Picaradin. Used as directed, they work well, as long as every inch of exposed skin is covered. (Warning: Some people will have an allergic reaction to the repellents themselves, especially DEET.)

Repellents have little effect on deer flies and horse flies, either of which can deliver a powerful bite that swells and itches for days. Jim Dill, the extension entomologist for the University of Maine, suggests trapping these large, annoying flies instead.

“Smear some Tanglefoot on a hardhat or helmet, or even a large 15-ounce plastic drinking cup tied on your head like a party hat. That should trap most of them and keep them from biting you.”

Poison ivy prevention involves learning to recognize the plants and stay away from them.

Before you head out to mow a poison-ivy infested lawn or you plan on bush-whacking an area rife with the toxic weed, cover all areas of exposed skin and wear eye protection. Afterwards, separate clothing that may have come into contact with poison ivy from the rest of your (or other people’s) laundry, and wash it separately in cool water.

Recent research indicates that increasing carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is making poison ivy grow bigger and faster, as well as intensifying the potency of its rash-causing oil, called urushiol. So if you’re susceptible, you may find your next poison-ivy rash quite a lot worse than the last.

The American Academy of Dermatology suggests going to an emergency room with a poison ivy rash if

  • You have trouble breathing or swallowing.
  • The rash covers most of your body.
  • You have many rashes or blisters.
  • You experience swelling, especially if an eyelid swells shut.
  • The rash develops anywhere on your face or genitals.
  • Much of your skin itches, or nothing seems to ease the itch.

Swimmer’s itch is caused by the larvae of a flatworm whose life cycle involves both snails and (in most cases) birds, especially the geese and ducks that float so serenely close to shore on ponds and lakes. If your computer has a Flash player, you can see an animated simulation of the organism’s life cycle.

To prevent swimmer’s itch:

  • Avoid swimming in areas where lots of ducks and/or geese congregate (usually because people are feeding them), or near marshy areas that may harbor lots of snails.
  • Slather on the “waterproof” sunscreen before you send your kids into lakes and ponds. It seems to help prevent the flatworms from penetrating the skin.
  • Shower right after swimming, if possible. If you can’t (or even after you do), rub down vigorously all over with a rough towel.
  • Homemade itch remedies

Treating Itches

You’ll find plenty of products on drugstore shelves that promise relief from summer itches, and your healthcare practitioner may offer prescription medications for the most severe cases. But in most cases, home remedies can work as well.

  • My go-to therapy for severe itching, especially a widespread rash of poison ivy or swimmer’s itch: tepid oatmeal baths.
  • For a smaller patch, I find itch relief in my homemade comfrey-plantain salve. It’s easy to make, and I usually make a peanut-butter jarful, enough to last a full year. In addition to quieting an itch, the salve makes a good first-aid remedy for scrapes, sunburns, and chapped hands and lips.
  • I’ve learned that I can get quick, fairly long-lasting relief of a small or large itchy patch, by plunging the area under a faucet running with the hottest possible tap water and leaving it there as long as I can stand it. This produces a few moments of almost unbearable itching, followed by a period of relief that can last an hour or even longer.
  • Dabbing cider vinegar on itchy spots may give temporary relief, as does rubbing the area with a piece of cut lemon or lime. In a pinch, rubbing the itchy area with an ice cube or a cold pack works pretty well, too.

And as for itchy eyes that come along with hay fever and other seasonal allergies, I’ve found life-changing relief from freeze-dried nettle capsules. They also relieve the post-nasal drip, frequent sneezing, and nighttime sinus congestion I’ve suffered from for decades. I couldn’t find them in local stores, so I order mine online.

Stinging nettles in various forms have been used for centuries to treat a variety of common ills, including hay fever. Freeze-drying apparently does something to improve the potency of the nettle leaf for reducing hay fever symptoms. If you decide to give it a try, talk it over with your healthcare professional first.

Why do we itch?
An itch is a message from the brain that something has happened in the itchy area that needs attention. A mosquito bite or a bit of urushiol oil of a poison ivy plant stimulates immune-system cells to release a special protein called histamine, part of the body’s inflammatory response to injury or threat of injury. The histamine binds to specialized nerves that notify the brain of the assault, triggering a cascade of chemicals we interpret as an urge to scratch. Scientists suggest itching was an evolutionary response that would lead to grooming parasites from the body.



“Living Naturally” is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that’s good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, ideas to make your home a healthy and safe haven, and the latest news on health. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it’s relearning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better, healthier lives.


–The Old Farmer’s Almanac