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!

Artists of the Month: Michael and Mary Devito, Naked Botanicals Apothecary

The following post is by Michael and Mary Devito, Owners of Naked Botanicals Apothecary, the Herban Lifestyle July 2014 Artists of the Month.

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ABOUT NAKED BOTANICALS APOTHECARY

We’re an organic skincare company dedicated to the prevention of violent, brutal attacks by mosquitoes and other little buggers. Our natural insect repellents harness the mighty superpowers of…lavender! Lemongrass! And peppermint! Which smells like you ran nekkid holding candy canes through lavender fields in Provence. (That’s in France.)

Rise up, friends! We’re empowering adults, children, pets–anyone with skin!–to take a stand against unwelcome advances by would-be predators. We’re arming you with certified organic ingredients and intoxicating aromas, straight from our nation’s capital. YUM.

 

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ABOUT ORIGINAL LAVENDER INSECT REPELLENT
Our organic bug spray harnesses the mighty superpowers of…Lavender! Citronella! Peppermint! Which smells like you ran nekkid holding candy canes through lavender fields in Provence. (That’s in France.) And look, Ma! No itchy, nasty mosquito bites. Best. Summer. Ever.
We take a bold, citrus bouquet of lemongrass, citronella plus energizing peppermint then round it out with woody lavender and cedarwood notes to create our signature intoxicating scent. YUM. Not only does it repel biting insects, but the witch hazel-based elixir also refreshes and purifies your skin in high heat and humidity.
  • Certified organic essential oils of lavender, cedarwood, citronella, lemongrass and peppermint are potent, naturally-occurring insect repellents.
  • Effectively repels mosquitoes, ticks and biting insects for up to 4 hours.
  • Biodegradable, vegan and DEET-free.
  • Contains NO nuts, gluten, dairy, chemicals, dyes, fragrances or preservatives.
  • Safe for the whole family: adults, children over 6 months of age, those with sensitive skin, even pets!
  • Proudly made in small batches in the USA.
  • Each durable, recyclable PET plastic bottle contains 4 fluid ounces. Please recycle.

You can find more about Naked Botanicals Apothecary on their website 

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 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 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)

How to Host a Cookie Exchange Party

a photo of the lavender sugar cookies I made for last year's exchange

My friend, Meg, and I have held a holiday cookie exchange for a small group of our friends. It’s a fun, low-key way to get into the holiday spirit. And it has become an eagerly anticipated tradition amongst our regular attendees.

It is not an elaborate event, just a simple gathering, with good food, great company, and a wonderful assortment of cookies, which we in turn give to our friends and family as gifts.

If you are interested in throwing a cookie exchange, here’s how we go about it. We send out an invitation asking guests to bring two dozen homemade cookies to trade with other guests. We promise our guests that they will walk away with an amazing array of home baked treats that will make them look like a domestic rock star, as if they have spent hours in the kitchen :)

We hold it in the early evening on a weeknight in order to minimize its competition people’s holiday social commitments. It is scheduled so that it is not too close to Christmas, but not too far away, so that the cookies will still be fresh for the holidays (however, if you need to, you can freeze most cookies). Sparkling cider, sparkling water and wine are offered along with hearty appetizers, and a backdrop of Christmas music sets the stage for a holiday state of mind.

While the piece de resistance is the gathering of the cookies, the party is also a great way to just relax in the company of good friends. And it’s a lot of fun to see what types of cookies people will bring. I never ask ahead of time, and interestingly, there have never been duplicates. The cookies have ranged from classic (gingerbread), to fun (candy cane), to unusual (organic lavender sugar*). Guests are asked to bring containers to transport their cookie conquests, but if they forget, I always have extras.

I’ve been to cookie exchange parties where the hostess asks guests to bring a copy of their recipe to share, but we skip that part. We feel that it is enough to ask people to make cookies and make time for yet another event during the busy holiday season. If anyone really wants a particular recipe, they can always ask the cookie cook to email it to them. However, we’ve found that our group is quite happy to just bake one type of cookie! I have also see websites that offer elaborate rules around cookie exchanges, but we tend to be fairly lax. All we ask is that our guests bring cookies they’ve made, and if they absolutely don’t have time, they can bring store bought. Again, this is about enjoying time with friends, and the last thing we want to do is add more pressure to our friend’s lives!

If you decide to host a cookie exchange, please let me know how it goes. And if you’ve come up with a creative or fun addition to the tradition, I’d love to hear about it!

*I buy Fair Trade cane sugar (which ensures that sugar cane farmers receive a fair price for their harvest), both for my home baking as well as for my sugar scrubs. My favorite brand is Wholesome Sweeteners, which is available at Whole Foods. I also learned recently that many brands of sugar are not vegetarian! They use bone char (usually from cows) to whiten their product (ew!). For more information on this topic, you can visit the Whole Foods blog.

Love Potion No. 9

In the past couple of weeks, two different friends told me they are planning trips to Rome (lucky them!). Because I visited Rome two years ago, they had asked me to suggestion some interesting, non-touristy places to visit. One of my absolute favorites was an apothecary that carries only products made by monks. Many of the herbal products are made using centuries-old recipes.

Rather than try to describe this amazing store, I sent them links to the following post, which originally appeared in my old blog, Becoming Your StellarSelf

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the things that has struck me about Rome is the interweaving of the sacred and the profane in every part of the city. An example of this was my discovery of an incredibly unique and wonderful store called Ai Monasteri, which features products made in the ancient monastic tradition. This beautiful store, set up like an old pharmacy, carries a variety of handcrafted essential oils, wines, liquors, preserves, honeys, beauty products, candies and teas produced by monks from 7 different monasteries throughout Rome. In addition to these more typical souvenir-type products, they also carry a variety of elixirs and remedies, made from ancient recipes. When the store was established in 1894, herbal remedies were their focus. And many of the products are made from recipes dating back to pre-Christian Rome, which were preserved through the writings of the monks during the Middle Ages.

There are remedies for all that ails you, including stress, joint pain, weight control, melancholy, sleep disorders, fatigue, eyesight, cholesterol, circulation, digestion, skin health, coughing, smoking cessation and much more.

photo copyright Ai Monestari

One of the elixirs that caught my eye was the Elixir Dell’ Amore, which is described as: “The formula and modus operandi used for this “Love Potion” dates back to the 16th century. It was rediscovered in the Ricettario Senese (Sienese Book of Prescriptions) by one of our ancestors at the end of the 19th century. Only ten bottles of this exclusive liqueur are made each year, as it requires an extremely careful, drawn-out process. People were told to drink this elixir when they were not in the mood for love to arouse desire and give them energy. It is made by carefully adding officinal plants during the long distillation process, making this drink extremely tasty and effective.” I have to say, that while in Rome, elixirs aren’t necessary – the city is a natural aphrodisiac :)

The other elixir that sparked my interest was the ‘Elixir Della Felicita’, described thusly: “Happiness is quite easy to find. Sometimes, often by chance, our thoughts return to the past and we remember and re-live happy moments. Sitting in a comfortable and quiet corner of your home in a peaceful moment with a glass of this herbal liqueur in your hand will almost certainly help you to dig up such lost moments.”

If you are interested in Ai Monestari’s products, they can be ordered through their website. Their PDF catalog contains detailed descriptions of their many wonderful products.

Trastevere neighborhood in Rome.

How to Make Your Own All-Natural Pesticide

This year, we planted a vegetable garden and have been in constant amazement at the miracle of life happening in our back yard. I was so enthralled with my first full-grown snow pea, that I had to take a picture of it to share with you. However, in addition to the life that is our plants, there is other not-as-welcome life: the inevitable garden pests. Critters with teeth have been nibbling and insects have added decorative holes to our greens.

creatures are camouflaged, yet evident, on the leaves of my broccoli

Wanting to keep to our commitment of maintaining a natural garden, we refuse to buy pesticides, and have planted thing like marigolds and hot peppers, which are supposed to deter interlopers. However, it became apparent that we had to take a bit more aggressive action, so I pulled out the neem oil, which I keep in stock for the production of some of my bath and body products. Neem oil is extracted from the tropical neem tree. I had read a while ago that it is a very effective insecticide, miticide and fungicide, and is listed as okay for use in organic production.

According to Plant-care.com, neem oil has the following features:

• Broad spectrum insecticide/fungicide/miticide

• Controls insects and mites including whitefly, aphid and scale

• Controls fungal diseases including black spot, rust, mildew and scab

• For indoor/outdoor use on ornamental plants, flowers, vegetables, trees, shrubs and fruit and nut crops.

Mountain Rose Herbs says that neem biodegrades rapidly in sunlight and within a few weeks in the soil. Neem oil has very low toxicity to humans and pets, but it is not recommended for internal use.

I had also read that rosemary and lavender are effective pesticides, plus they smell better than neem, so I decided to include the in my natural pesticide.

Here is my recipe: Mix 1 gallon of water with 2 tablespoons of neem, and ½ teaspoon each rosemary and lavender essential oils (I used organic version of all the oils). You can also add a couple of tablespoons of phosphate-free liquid dishwashing soap. Mix thoroughly and pour into a spray bottle. Spray over every part of your plants, mixing frequently to keep the oils and water from separating.

By the way, these Sprayco spray bottles, which I buy at my local family-owned hardware store, are made in the US from recycled materials and provide jobs for handicapped individuals.