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SMART CONSUMER: Let nature fight your battle with allergies this summer

They look good, they smell good and they can even taste good. But plants have other uses too. They can provide health benefits and if used wisely can save you money.

If you're one of the 90,000 people that visited the Bloom festival in the Phoenix Park recently, you'll have seen the asthma and allergy-friendly garden there.

The garden, created by Fiann O Nuallain and hosted by the Asthma Society of Ireland, was planted with flowers that have a low allergy rating.

But what if it's your home that is sick and causing you to have allergies, asthma, fatigue and eye, nose and throat irritations? Chemicals in your home can come from carpets, sofas, cleaning products, varnished furniture and your computer and TV screen.

"The good news is that there is a solution", exclaims gardener Eugene Higgins, "and once again nature reigns supreme."

He explains that when NASA was researching how to stop the build-up of hazardous chemicals in their Skylab space station, the solution they found came via plants.

"What the plants do," explains Eugene, "is remove chemicals like formaldehyde from the room, breathing it in through their leaves, storing it and breaking it down."

NASA's research yielded a list of 50 plants that can clean up chemicals. They include areca palm, lady palm, rubber plant, poinsetta, spider plants, bamboo and English ivy.

Another practical, and money-saving use of plants is to make your own shampoo.

Eugene's recipe is to mix one tablespoon each of sage and rosemary with three or four drops of lavender oil. Pour two cups of near boiling water into the mix and stir well. When it is cool, strain the liquid, add 8oz of castille soap, and give it a good shake.

And you don't have to spend money on feeding your plants either. All of Eugene's house plants are fed on tea.

"I save all the tea bags in a large jug of water and then give it a good stir and water the plants with the mix. You can also sprinkle new or used tea-leaves around your rose bushes. When you water the plants, the nutrients will be released into the soil."

He doesn't throw out coffee grinds either! "Save them to fertilise rosebushes, azaleas, rhododendrons, evergreens, and camellias, as they are rich in nitrogen."

In fact, in an edible garden project he is working on (see eugenehiggins.ie), to keep everything natural and cost-efficient he is using coffee grounds to feed vegetables. His are supplied by midlands coffee shop chain Chocolate Brown and they are also offering customers free coffee grounds for their gardens.

If you want to deter greenfly, soak 100g of chopped garlic in two teaspoons of vegetable oil for 24 hours. Then mix two teaspoons of liquid detergent to half a litre of water and add to the garlic mixture. Stir and strain into a jar and when you want to use it, dilute 5ml in one litre of water to make a spray.

Another solution involves adding 1kg of nettles to 10 litres of water, allowing it to rot and then straining and adding one part nettle liquid to nine parts water to fertilise plants.

"Nettle feed works well on lawns, lettuce and cabbage," says Eugene. "It is also good at helping improve the compost heap. And if you don't fancy cutting nettles try comfrey instead."

Irish Independent