How To Make Delicious Herb-Infused Water

herbwater21In celebration of National Water Quality Month, created to help remind us of the importance of protecting our water supplies, I wanted to share some recipes for herb-infused waters that are as healthful as they are delicious.

For these recipes, I chose herbs that are growing in my garden, along with a complementary flavor – citrus gives the blends a nice zing, and vanilla beans add a light sweetness to the water. There are unlimited flavor combinations, and it is fun to experiment with a variety of herbs, spices and fruit. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Lavender and Vanilla
• 1/4 cup fresh lavender, buds crushed slightly to release the flavor
• 1/2 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise

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Mint and Lime
• The rind of 1 lime
• 1/2 cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped

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Shiso and Lemon
• 1/2 cup fresh shiso, coarsely chopped
• The rind of 1 lemon

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1. Place ingredients in a quart-sized canning jar and fill with cold, filtered water.
2. Allow the filled jar to sit, refrigerated, for 8-12 hours to allow the flavors to infuse.
3. Strain out the ingredients and return the water to the jar. Keep the jar in the fridge to keep it chilled. It will last 2-3 days.
4. When serving, add some fresh sprigs of herbs or slices of fruit to your glass for a beautiful presentation.

You can adjust the amounts of the ingredients for more intense or milder flavors. Have fun experimenting!

Natural Makeup Workshop with HerbanLuxe July 12th and 13th

natural makeup

Have you ever wanted to learn how to make your own natural foundation? Join us for a special beauty workshop co-hosted with Myra Roldan of HerbanLuxe cosmetics. We will offer sessions from 1pm – 3pm with your choice of either Saturday, July 12th or Sunday, July 13th.

In this 2-hour workshop, you will learn how to create your own custom-blended liquid mineral foundation, as well as natural facial masque. There will be plenty of time for Q&A on natural beauty, natural ingredients and more. Take home your creations along with recipes and some sample products from HerbanLuxe and Herban Lifestyle. The class will be held at The Herban Lifestyle Store from 1:00pm to 3:00pm on both days. Cost to attend is $75 and materials are included. Seating is limited, so advance registration is required.

Secure your spot for July 12th here

Secure your spot for July 13th here

For more information, please email us at info@herbanlifestyle.com or call us at (571) 282-3624

How to Make Violet Facial Toner

violet9It’s spring here in the Mid-Altantic, and with it comes violets! In the past, I have posted recipes using these delicate purple flowers, including violet syrup and violet cordial. Besides being pretty, tasty and nutritious, violets also make a wonderful ingredient in natural skin care.

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They are moisturizing, toning, antiseptic, and healing. And violets contain significant amounts of mucilage that help soothe the skin, reduce inflammation, redness, and sooth irritated tissue. Violet flowers and leaves are excellent for dry, sensitive skin. Following is a recipe for violet facial toner, which you can make with either Apple Cider Vinegar or Witch Hazel.

Apple Cider Vinegar makes a great facial wash and toner, since it is great at removing excess oils and helps balance the pH levels. It has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties and also contains alpha hydroxy acids, which help remove dead skin cells, resulting in a healthier-looking complexion.

Witch Hazel has astringent, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and makes a great facial toner, even by itself, for all skin types. Be sure to use a true Witch Hazel extract, which contains mostly Witch Hazel and less than 20% alcohol.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (1 quart) distilled water
  • 1 cup violet flowers and leaves
  • 1 cup organic apple cider vinegar or organic witch hazel
  • Lavender essential oil (optional)

violet2Boil the water. Then make an infusion by pouring the water over the violet flowers and leaves in a glass or ceramic container. Cover and let stand for 1 hour (the closed jar keeps the water-soluble vitamins from escaping in the steam).  Strain out the flowers and you will have a beautiful purplish-blue liquid.

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Combine the violet infusion with the vinegar or witch hazel. Pour into sterilized bottles and store in a cool, dry place. The vinegar and witch hazel act as natural preservatives, so this mixture will last quite a while.

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Use this cleansing, pH-balancing, restoring toner after washing your face.  Apply with clean sterile cotton balls or pour a small amount in your hand and splash on, avoiding your eyes.

Both versions have mild, pleasant scents, but if you’d like something a little more flowery, you can add a few drops of lavender essential oil.

How to Make An Herbal Vinegar Hair Rinse

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One of my most popular offerings is my natural shampoo bars. My customers love them because they are gentle, effective and don’t strip the oils from their hair, so no conditioner is required. But, depending on the hardness of their water, some of my customers find it helpful to do a vinegar rinse once per month to keep their hair its shiniest.

No matter what type of shampoo you use, vinegar rinses are helpful in restoring your hair’s pH balance. They are also great for oily hair, itchy scalp, dandruff, dull hair, and other scalp conditions. You can easily make your own vinegar rinse, and the addition of dried herbs allows you to customize it to the needs of your particular hair.

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To make your own herbal vinegar rinse, mix 4 tablespoons of dried organic herbs with 8 ounces of organic apple cider vinegar.

For light hair, you can use a blend of 2 tablespoons organic rose petals and 2 tablespoons dried organic chamomile.

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For dark hair, you can use a mixture of 2 tablespoons dried organic nettle and 2 tablespoons dried organic lavender.

IMG_8807Place your herbs and vinegar in a clean glass jar, cap tightly. Label the jar with your herbs and the date. Allow to infuse for 6 weeks in a cool dark place, shaking the jar daily.

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After 6 weeks, strain out the herbs and pour your herbal vinegar into a sterilized glass jar with a plastic cap (vinegar can erode metal over time). The infused vinegar will keep for at least a year if stored properly in a cool and dry place.

vinegar8 vinegar9To use, mix 1-4 tablespoons of your herbal vinegar with 1 cup of water. Pour this mixture over clean hair, working into scalp. Allow to sit for 2 minutes, then rinse with clean water. Or, you can leave it in and allow hair to dry. Enjoy your happy, shiny hair!

This can also be used as a facial toner. Simply apply to clean skin with a cotton ball or cotton cosmetic pad. Because this formula is alcohol-free and non-drying, you don’t need to rinse it off.

 

How to Make All-Natural Insect Repellant

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Summer is in full-swing and the bugs are out in full force! Some of my readers have requested a recipe for an all-natural insect repellant, so I developed formula made with essential oils that works well and smells good, too!

Different essential oils repel different insects, so I used a blend of different oils to cover a wide spectrum of pests. For my recipe, I used cedar, citronella, clove, lavender, peppermint and rosemary with castor oil (which repels mosquitoes) in a witch hazel base.

Ingredients:

  • 3 ounces distilled water
  • 3 ounces witch hazel
  • 3.5 teaspoons of essential oils
  • 1 teaspoon glycerine (optional)

Combine well and pour into clean spray bottles.

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Shake well before each use as the water and oils will separate. Spray onto your skin or clothing, avoiding your eye area, covering as much area as possible. Wash with soap and warm water to remove once you are back indoors. Store in a cool, dark place.

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You can vary the recipe by using different essential oils, as long you keep the ratio of no more than 1 part essential oils to 10-20 parts carrier. Here are some of the best essential oils for repelling insects, along with the insects they repel:

  • cedar oil (fleas)
  • cinnamon oil (mosquitoes)
  • citronella oil (mosquitoes and biting flies)
  • clove oil (mosquitoes)
  • eucalyptus oil (mosquitoes, ticks, and lice)
  • geranium oil (ticks and lice)
  • lavender oil (ticks)
  • lemongrass oil (ticks)
  • orange oil (fleas)
  • peppermint oil (fleas)
  • rosemary oil (mosquitoes)

You can use any combination of the above listed essential oils. And instead of witch hazel and water, you can use olive oil, vodka or straight witch hazel without water.

NOTE: If you are pregnant or nursing, do not apply an insect repellent, natural or otherwise, without consulting your physician

IMG_6725This little nymph recently hitched a ride home on my leg from a hike in the woods. If only I had some of my homemade bug repellant with me, he wouldn’t have had a chance!

NOTE: If you are looking for all-natural pesticide recipes, this post on housekeeping.org has a comprehensive collection, including our neem-based recipe.

How to Make Violet Cordial

It’s that wonderful time of the year when violets make their brief appearance, and my yard is filled with the beautiful little deep-purple flowers. A few years ago, I posted a tutorial on how to make violet syrup, and I thought it would be fun to revive that recipe with a twist. I made the same basic syrup, but added some vodka to the mixture to make a lovely violet cordial that can be sipped by itself or added to other beverages to make a light floral cocktail. The variety of violets I have in my yard are only slightly fragrant, so the cordial has a mild floral flavor. Different varieties will yield different tastes.

violetsyrup02I began by gathering 2 cups of violets, making sure to choose only those blooms that were open and free of bites and blemishes. When you are harvesting edible wild flowers, make sure that you are picking them from locations that are free from pesticide or other chemical applications.

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I placed the violets into a colander and rinsed them thoroughly.

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Then placed them in a Mason jar and covered them with 2 cups of boiling water. The water almost immediately began to turn a gorgeous sapphire blue! I let the violet infusion cool, then placed it in the refrigerator and let it steep for 24 hours.

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After 24 hours, I strained out the violet blossoms, squeezing them to get out all the gorgeous purple hue. I placed some in a bowl so that I could show you what a brilliant color it made.violetsyrup07

I placed the strained liquid into a heavy-bottomed saucepan.

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Then added 2 cups of organic cane sugar and let this mixture come to a boil.

violetsyrup11I then turned down the heat to medium and let it cook at a low boil for about 10 minutes, stirring often.

violetsyrup10I removed the syrup from the heat, then added the strained juice of half a lemon. The acid from the lemon made the syrup go from deep violet to a beautiful magenta color.violetsyrup09

I then mixed the syrup, 50/50, with organic vodka and bottled it in sterilized capped glass jars, which I bought at the Container Store.

violetsyrup12After letting it sit for 2 weeks, it was ready to decant. It is very sweet by itself, but makes a lovely addition to champagne or sparkling water. Enjoy!

How to Make Lavender Wands

On a tour of Cherry Hill Farm, a historic Victorian homestead in Falls Church, the docent showed us, among other things, a lavender wand. She explained that Victorian ladies kept them close at hand to mask unpleasant odors (which were apparently fairly abundant in the Victorian days) by daintily waving the wands under their noses. She let us smell the wand mentioning that it was already a year old. The scent was still strong and pleasant. She said by rolling the bulbous part of the wand between your fingers, you can revive the scent for quite a while.

I recalled that one of my herbal books had instructions for making these wands, and since my lavender plant has just started to bloom, I figured I should give this antique craft a try.

The instructions in my book were very hard to follow, especially since they did not have accompanying images, but I managed to figure it out through trial and error. I have laid out the steps, with photographs, to help make this an easy and pleasant experience if you decide to give this craft a try.

1) Cut several lavender stems, making sure they aren’t damp, choosing those with buds that are not fully opened yet. You will want to leave quite a bit of stem to allow yourself to complete the following steps.

2) To make a single wand, select a bunch of stems that have similarly-sized bud clusters. You will need an odd number of stems in order to be able to do the weaving. I like to use anywhere between 9 and 13 stems.

 3) Carefully strip or trim the leaves and stray buds from the stems.

4) Tie your selected stems tightly with a 1/4″ ribbon, right below the lowest buds, but don’t cut the ribbon from the spool at this point. Also, be sure to leave enough ribbon on the loose end to be able to tie a bow once the weaving is complete (I just leave a piece that is about the same length as the stems).

NOTE: If you can, it is best to let the stems sit for 24 hours at this point to allow them to get soft. This will prevent them from breaking when you follow the next step.

5) Bend the stems back over the ribbon and buds, so that it looks something like a closed umbrella without any fabric (and with a bunch of lavender buds underneath it).

6) Now start the weaving process by working the ribbon under and over the stems, gently pulling on the ribbon to make sure the weave is tight.

NOTE: It can be tricky getting the first two rows of weaving started – I often get mixed up regarding which ones go on top and which ones go under. You just need a bit of patience since, once you get to the third row, it gets very easy. I found that the process of making my first wand was really awkward, but after that, it was much easier!

7) Continue weaving until all of the flower buds are covered.

8) Wrap the ribbon around the stems a couple of times and tie into a know.

9) Trim the ribbon, then then the stems, to your desired length.

These wands smell wonderful and make lovely decorations or drawer sachets. Enjoy!

How to Make Rose Petal Lemonade

The antique tea roses as well as wild roses in my yard are in full bloom. They look so beautiful I want to eat them. And, fortunately, I can since I don’t use any chemical pesticides in my garden. In the past, I have made cold strawberry rose petal soup and rose petal jelly. This time, I thought I would try making a beverage out of the blossoms. Inspired by a cold glass of lavender lemonade I had at J. Chocolatier in Georgetown yesterday, I thought I would try making my own version using roses.

I picked the freshest-looking blooms in the late morning, after the dew had dried from them, choosing a mixture of antique tea and wild roses for a greater depth of flavor. I removed the stems and stamens, and tossed any petals that looked brown on the edges. In total, I collected enough petals to loosely pack 1 measuring cup.

I placed the petals in a pyrex bowl and covered them with 2 cups of boiling water. I allowed the petals to steep for 30 minutes.

While the rose petals were steeping, I thought it would be fun to make some embedded rose ice cubes. I used a silicone gem-shaped ice cube tray that I had bought a while ago, but never opened. It seemed like a great girly-girl touch for my lemonade.

I also made some simple syrup from this New York Times recipe using organic Fair Trade sugar, then set it in the refrigerator to cool.

Once the rose petals were finished steeping, I strained the liquid through a cheesecloth into a measuring cup and placed it in the refrigerator to cool for an hour.

After an hour had passed, I squeezed the juice of 3 lemons through a strainer into the rose petal tea. I stirred in the cooled simple syrup, added the rose petal ice cubes, and voila! Rose petal lemonade – a perfect summer drink.

Tea Tree Toothpaste and Other Natural Ideas for Dental Health

image copyright Preserve Products

The following post is by guest blogger, Allison Brooks.

Since we humans come from nature, why separate ourselves from her bountiful remedies? Studies over the past 15 years have shown an increasing interest in natural healing, and many integrative doctors use complementary treatments to treat patients for a variety of ailments. Increasingly, dentists are adopting the trend by helping treat certain oral ailments using non-invasive therapies. There are several Maryland and DC dentist offices that use herbs and other natural remedies to treat a plethora of ailments. They also offer advice on the subject to practice natural routines at home.

Gum disease, also known as gingivitis or periodontal disease, is one of the oral ailments that can be treated with natural and herbal remedies. It affects the deeper supporting tissues of the gums and the infections then spread to the lower parts of the tooth. Gum disease is triggered by plaques formed around the enamel of the tooth. The plaque is formed from a mixture of bacteria, starch and sugar. If the plaque is not removed mechanically by frequent brushing, the plaque will harden underneath the gum line, which leads to gum disease. The main symptoms of gum disease are swollen gums and/or bleeding gums.

image from healthysnips.com

Tea tree oil is a natural substance that has been associated with dentistry for hundreds of years. And in the 1920s, Dr. A. R. Penfold published research showing that a tea tree salve could be used to rid gums of infection and leave behind a completely germ free surface. After more scientific evidence proved the tea tree’s effectiveness, it became a basic household remedy for oral and skin infections. Tea Tree toothpaste is now commercially produced and is very effective in alleviating the symptoms of gum disease (although it does not remove plaque surrounding the tooth).

Brands like Desert Essence and Jason Natural offer toothpaste with tea tree, and are available at natural food stores, including Whole Foods. It is best to go with tea tea products like these, since it is not recommended that you use undiluted tea tree for oral care. The Intelligent Dental blog offers recommendations and cautions to keep in mind when using tea tree. For example, tea tree oil should never be taken internally, since it can cause nerve damage and other problems if ingested. People with celery and thyme allergies should not use tea tree oil, since tea tree shares a potential allergen, d-limonene with these plants. And pregnant and breast-feeding women should avoid using tea tree oil.

image copyright The Telegraph

Cranberry Juice really helps in the prevention and the progression of gum disease. It does this by taking away the bacteria’s ability to stick to the tooth. Concentrated cranberry is available in a pill form at most natural food stores. Cranberry juice is also a rich source of vitamin C.

Vitamin C is one of the most popular cures for gum disease. Vitamin C repairs cell damage and connective tissues especially along the gum lines. This vitamin is also a very powerful antioxidant which helps by removing free radicals. The antioxidants help to eliminate the free radicals that are responsible for most of the gum damage being caused. And Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory properties and therefore strongly reduces the chances of developing gum disease. While it is available as a supplement in many milk products, sun exposure is an excellent source for vitamin D (although you have to balance this with the need for sun protection to prevent skin cancer!).

While these natural remedies are a great way to enhance healing and prevent disease, the mechanical action of brushing the teeth is the best method of preventing gum disease. Brushing regularly, flossing, eating a balanced diet with adequate amounts of Vitamins C and D, and regular dental checkups are important in supporting your dental health.

Allison Brooks recently graduated from University of Mississippi, with a degree in biomedical  anthropology. She is currently living in Florida, and doing field studies to support an ethnography on the effects of biomedicalization on Bolivian cultures. Her current studies have peaked her interest in traditional and natural healing remedies, and have inspired her to spread the word about nature’s healing bounties.

The Story of the Stinkhorn and the Four Thieves

My husband found something very strange growing in our yard, and asked me to come outside to look at it. Elongated, pinkish with a red tip, it looked like some magical sea creature that nature had guerilla crocheted on our lawn. It was bouncy and spongy to the touch. We had no idea what it was, other than some type of fungus, and I have seen enough Sci-Fi flicks to know that I needed to keep an eye on it…

To try and unravel the mystery of this fungus, I turned to my Facebook network of friends. I posted the above photo and within minutes our friend JT, who is knowledgeable on a surprisingly wide array of topics, responded, “Looks like a stinkhorn. Didn’t know we had any around here. Live & learn.” So, I Googled “Stinkhorn” and found on MushroomExpert.com that they are “notorious for popping up suddenly and unexpectedly in urban settings.” They are member of the aptly-named Phallaceae family of fungi and they are called stinkhorns because of the distinctively stinky slime they use to entice bugs to come pick up their spores and spread them around. Ours being newly formed had not developed the slime, so did not have a scent.

I planned to leave it in the yard to see how it would develop, but the next morning when I went to check on it, it was gone, along with a patch of grass around where it had been. Some critter had gotten to it! However, I found another one near where it had been that was fatter and slimier looking than the first. Not long afterward, my friend Andi warned me with some information she had found on eHow.com’s Facts on the Stinkhorn Fungus, “Whatever you do, don’t uproot it. they’ll just propagate.” On the other hand, she noted that “Because of their suggestive shapes, the Phallus and Dictyophora stinkhorns are sold as aphrodisiacs in China,” so I could start a new business! Andi also found that the “eggs” from which certain stinkhorn varieties emerge are “edible and taste like radishes.”

Intrigued by the possible utility of this newly discovered wild plant in my yard, I did some further research. Perhaps I had discovered some new gourmet edible. I found an article by Wildman Steve Brill, who has tried stinkhorns in a couple of different forms, and came to the conclusion that they are flavorless with a weird slimy texture like “mock squid.” I decided I needed to eliminate the second stinkhorn before they took over my lawn.

In the meantime, Andi had found this method for eliminating them:

1) Locate the fungus.

2) Make a mixture of boiling hot water and bleach.

3) Plug your nose with free hand or with the help of a neighbor.

4) Pour the mixture (still hot) onto the fungus. (Add to sneaker tips too for an extra brightening effect.)

5) Repeat steps once a day until the fungus is gone

I had recently bottled a batch of Four Thieves vinegar, so I chose to start with a natural solution, following the above directions but substituting the Fourt Thieves for the bleach. It has been over a week now, and my lawn remains stinkhorn-free.

As a bonus for those of you who have read this far, here are some images from the Stinkhorn Hall of Fame