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 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!

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

How to Make Four Thieves Vinegar

Legend has it that during the Great Plague of the Middle Ages, grave robbers would wash their hands in a solution called “Four Thieves Vinegar,” which was very effective in staving off infection. The concoction was made by infusing vinegar with wormwood, rue, mint, sage, lavender, and rosemary. Because these constituents all have known antibacterial and antiviral properties, it seems like a feasible tale. I was fascinated by the idea and since I grow most of these herbs in my garden, I decided to try brewing up a batch.

I looked at various recipes, and decided to go with the basic set of ingredients, plus some lemongrass for its mild insect-repelling and good antimicrobial properties. The finished product can be used externally, and safely, for a variety of purposes: as a surface disinfectant, a hair rinse, a skin cleanser, to treat insect bites, as a hand-sanitizer, just to name a few. While the ingredients are very effective, it is gentle enough to use on pets and kids, just dilute it one part Four Thieves to three parts purified water.

Here is what you need to make your own:

  • 2 tablespoons of Rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons of Sage
  • 2 tablespoons of Lavender
  • 2 tablespoons of Wormwood
  • 2 tablespoons of Rue
  • 2 tablespoons of Peppermint
  • Apple cider vinegar (enough to cover the herbs completely)

You can also throw in cloves, cinnamon and/or garlic for extra potency.

Fill a pint-sized jar with the herbs. For best results, cut the herbs into small pieces, and packed the jar with the herbs, leaving as little space as possible. Susun Weed recommends using a jar with a plastic lid since vinegar can erode metal over time. If you use a metal jar, place a piece of waxed paper between the rim and lid to form a barrier, or use a cork.

Pour room-temperature apple cider vinegar into the jar until it is full, then tightly cap the jar. Label the jar with “Four Thieves” and the date. Place the jar away from direct sunlight, like a kitchen cupboard, or some other place where you will remember to shake it every day or so. After six weeks of steeping, strain the mixture through cheesecloth and place in a clean jar or spray bottle. It will last at least 18 months (some articles I read say up to 30) if you store it in a cool, dry, dark place.

Let me know what you think. Or if you have your own recipe for Four Thieves, I would love to hear about it!

In My Herb Garden: A Visual Diary

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis)

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Rue (Ruta graveolens)

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)


Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)


Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)


Oregano (Origanum vulgare)


Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)


Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Jewelweed

While hiking in the mountains recently, I came across several patches of Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). The plants were lush, and several were about 4 feet high. I carefully picked off about two cups of leaves, stems and flowers, with the idea that I would create an infusion from them.

The plant gets its name from its leaves’ strange characteristic of resisting water — if you pour it on the leaves, the water simply beads up in balls that look like little crystal gems.

One of the medical constituents of jewel weed is Lawsone, which has  antihistamine and anti-inflammatory activity. I experienced the medicinal power of jewelweed several years ago while on a guided nature walk. I accidentally brushed against stinging nettle with my bare calf, which instantly resulted in extreme stinging pain and a raised, burning rash. The woman guiding us pointed out some jewel weed growing next to the nettle and instructed me to grab a bunch, smash it into a ball and rub it against the inflammation. It was miraculous how quickly it alleviated the pain. And the swelling went away just as quickly.

I have since read that it works equally well for insect stings and poison ivy. It also is effective in preventing poison ivy rash if rubbed on immediately after exposure to the poison ivy.

For an instant cure, you can just crush up a bunch of leaves, stems and flowers until they become juicy, then apply the poultice to the affected area. Or you can make an herbal infusion.

I made an infusion of the leaves, stems and flowers and used it to make jewel weed and calendula soap. It will be fully cured and ready for sale by the next Ballston Arts & Crafts Market, scheduled for August 14!

How to Make a Skin-Nourishing Herbal Salve

If you have a yard, chances are you are growing the ingredients for a skin soothing herbal infusion without even trying! Plantain (Plantago major) is considered a weed, but it also contains natural constituents that are wonderful for your skin. Violet (Viola odorata) leaves are in the same category (not to mention that the flowers are delicious in salads or syrups!).

Violet is moisturizing, toning, healing, and great for sore nipples. Plantain is good for eczema, acne, minor cuts, stings, insect bites, poison ivy itch, and diaper rash.

The basis of a skin-nourishing herbal salve is an herbal oil infusion. Gather about 4 cups of plantain and violet leaves, making sure to choose ones that are fresh and green looking, with no major brown spots, rotten areas, or major insect damage. And make sure that they have not been sprayed with chemicals of any kind.

Rinse the leaves in cold water to remove any dirt, bugs, etc. Drain thoroughly, then gently pat the leaves to remove excess water.

Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at the lowest temperature for a couple of hours, until the leaves are dry and crispy.

Put the dried leaves into a glass quart-sized jar, then fill to the top with olive oil (preferably organic). Use a chopstick or blunt knife to poke the leaves down into the oil and release any air bubbles. Place a piece of waxed paper over the top of the jar and screw the top on tightly. Label it with the date.

Keep the jar in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks. It’s a good idea to place a dish under the jar in case of leakage. Turn the jar over from time to time to move the oil through the herbs.

Strain the oil through a sieve, lined with cheesecloth, into a glass measuring cup or top of a double boiler, squeezing out any last bits of oil from the herbs. You can throw the cheesecloth and drained herbs into your compost pile.

Add 1-½ tablespoons of natural beeswax for each ounce of oil (I used unbleached beeswax pastilles). Set the glass measuring cup in water (or the double boiler top over a water-filled bottom) and heat over medium heat until the beeswax is just melted.

Remove from heat. Add 1 teaspoon of Vitamin E oil. Stir unti well-mixed.

Pour into clean containers (I used tin, but you can also use glass jars), and allow to cool.

This salve can be used for all types of itches, irritations, insect bites, and minor cuts, as mentioned above. There are no known contraindications for using plaintain or violet leaves internally or externally, so this salve is safe for use as a nipple cream.