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 Gift Tags from Repurposed Cardboard

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I like to offer tea to anyone who visits my studio, so I keep a box filled with a variety of herbal and black teas. Last week,  I refilled my tea box with the two most popular flavors, which happen to be made by Tazo.

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As I broke down the boxes to put in the recycling bin, I noticed the beautiful pattern on the inside of them, and realized they would make wonderful gift tags. You can do the same with any other lightweight cardboard. Whenever I come across packaging that has an interesting pattern or a colorful solid side, I make it into tags.

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A while ago, I purchased a hole puncher designed specifically for making gift tags. While this is a super-convenient way to make them, you can also just cut out your tags freehand.

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I like the classic tag shape of this particular punch. You can find a similar one by Uchida on Amazon.

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I then used a small-sized round hole punch to create a hole for a string or ribbon.

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Finally, I threaded a 14″ piece of twine through the hole. And, voila, a lovely repurposed cardboard gift tag. I was able to make 10 tags from a single box. You can have fun experimenting with different packaging. Happy crafting!

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How to Make Rebatched Soap

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The following post is by Herban Lifestyle Outreach and Operations Coordinator, Lisa Seyfried. 

Here in the Herban Lifestyle Workroom, we have lots of bags of soap ends and pieces sitting around, waiting for us to do some wonderful with them.  I did some research on how to rebatch our soap – ‘rebatch’ means to basically melt down the soap and re-mold it as something new – and found a ton of information.  Site after site told me different ways to rebatch, each site claiming their method was the best.

In the end, I picked two recipes that were fairly close, combined them into my own method, and got to work experimenting.

First Batch of Rebatch Soap - Herban LifestyleMy first batch turned out great! It melted down really well, it molded really well, and it looks really pretty.

Second Batch of Rebatch Soap - Herban LifestyleMy second batch didn’t turn out quite so well.  It’s a little lumpier, a little cracked, and just not as pretty looking. I am chalking this up to attempting to double the recipe and the soap not liking that.

I do think that this recipe will  turn out well again if I keep it in small quantities.  The first batch was enough for three heart soaps, and the second batch made enough for five heart soaps.

To make rebatched soap:

You will need a glass measuring cup, or other microwave safe bowl, grater, your soap, 1/4 cup of water. Ingredients for Rebatched Soap - Herban Lifestyle

1. Grate 4 cups of soap in a glass or microwave safe container.  The smaller pieces the soap is in, the better it will melt.  Grated Soap - Herban Lifestyle

2. Add ¼ cup of water to the grated soap.  Don’t stir it in yet.

3. Microwave for 2 min and stir.  Repeat this process until the soap becomes slightly translucent and takes on the consistency of mashed potatoes.Melted Rebatch Soap - Herban Lifestyle

4. Glob into mold with a spoon.  Fill to the top, then bang the mold on the counter to get all the air bubbles out.  Then squish the soap down with your fingers (you might want to wear gloves for this) to make sure the soap gets into all corners of the mold.Molded Rebatched Soap - Herban Lifestyle

5. Cover the mold with a towel or cloth and let sit for 24 hours.

6. Unmold after 24 hours, let sit out for one week to cure.  One week is probably more time than the soap needs to cure, but just to be safe, I’d go with one week.

This is the rebatch method that worked best for me.  I have a feeling that everyone has their own method that works for them, with whatever kind of soap they are rebatching.  I’d really like to try adding some essential oils or some pigments in my next batch! Have you rebatched any soap? What method did you use?

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.

Minted Lemonade: Recipe for a Perfect Summer Drink

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In my opinion, two of the quintessential flavors of summer are lemon and mint. And when combined, they create a harmonious flavor combination that is bright and sunny. One of my favorite summer recipes is homemade lemonade, a tasty tonic. Lemons provide us with healthful amounts of Vitamin C and potassium. And mint is, among many other things, uplifting, breath-freshening and soothing for the digestive system.

Homemade minted lemonade is simple to make, requiring just 4 ingredients! Here’s my recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup filtered water
  • 1 cup organic evaporated cane sugar
  • 2 cups freshly squeezed, strained lemon juice
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 4 cups of filtered water

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Combine the sugar and 1 cup of water in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear. Set aside to cool.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

Place the lemon juice in a large pitcher with the mint leaves (you can crush some of the leaves to release a bit more mint flavor).

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Add the remaining water to the lemon and mint, then sweeten to taste with the simple syrup. Refrigerate for at least one hour to allow the flavors to blend.

Enjoy!

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!

Paper bouquets

By Outreach and Operations Associate, Lisa Seyfried

I’m planning a DIY wedding in a few months, and one of the crafts we decided on was to make all the flowers.  Instead of having real flowers that will surely wilt in the August heat, or pretending that our flowers were real when they were really fake, we decided to just scrap it all and announce it!

I found a whole slew of instructions and patterns on Pinterest, but I found this pattern to be the easiest, and the prettiest looking. And the great thing is that this pattern allows you to print out the flowers on any paper you’d like, in any size, cutting out the need to trace anything!

Printed patterns on colored cardstock

Printed patterns on colored cardstock

Cutting out all those petals takes a really long time.  I found it’s best to cut out a bunch of flowers at one time, so you can put them all together without having to stop and cut out more petals.

The instructions are really easy to follow – cut out the flowers, curl the edges, then glue onto a piece of wire about 12 inches long.  I’ve been using hot glue to glue them on.  I was afraid that the strings from the glue would get all over the bouquets, but it has been pretty easy to just get a drop on there and not have big clumps of glue all over.

The beginning of gluing the flower together.  You can see the scraps in the background!

The beginning of gluing the flower together. You can see the scraps in the background!

I really love the way these came out.  I think they are bright and sturdy and catch the light really well.  Against the bright colors of the women’s dresses, these flowers will really stand out.

I’ll be covering the “stems” with ribbon and a few beads to hide the edges.  I’m thinking about making the men some kind of pin on flower that is similar, but we’ll see if I can find a great pattern for that!

What I think I love most about these flowers is that they will last.  I’ve made a few out of recycled paper (mostly old grad school papers!) and they came out really lovely looking.  And they will stand out among the several bouquets that I’m sure people have from other weddings – at least I save them all!

The final bouquets!

The final bouquets!

 

 

How to Make a Solar-Powered Battery Charger

The storms that blew through the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic on June 29 left us, along with millions of other people and all of the businesses in my town, without power for several days. I was incredibly grateful for a handcrank/solar-powered radio that I’ve had for years. It keep me abreast of the news, and provided some musical entertainment. It also inspired me to figure out how to make some solar appliances for future power outages. I heard stories on the radio of  people buying up batteries, and it occurred to me that I would prefer not to have to rely on them.

So, I headed to a library a couple of towns away (the closest one that was open) and did some research. I decided to start with a solar-powered battery charger since it was an easy first project. It required knowledge of how to use a soldering iron, but I had learned this as a child, having put together many Radio Shack kits with my father. The charger would be a low-cost-of-entry project, and if it turned out okay, I would go on to bigger and better things!

In addition to a 25-watt soldering iron ($8.99) and some solder ($5.49), which I can use for numerous future projects, I found that all I needed was the following items:

1) A solar panel. You need to have a total of 9V to have enough energy to charge your batteries. I purchased a 1W 9V ($16.99), but some articles I read used anywhere from 2V to 4.5V and connected them. You can even salvage some from inexpensive solar garden lights for less than that.

2) A rechargeable battery holder. I chose an enclosed one that can hold four AA’s ($2.29), but they come in a variety of configurations for different types of batteries.

3) A few things I read said that I needed to have a “blocking diode” to make sure that once the batteries are charged, and the light source is taken away (i.e., the sun goes down), that the power doesn’t flow back from the batteries into the solar cell and damage it. However, at one of the Radio Shacks I visited (I ended up going to a total of 3), the guy helping me said it wasn’t necessary, and since I didn’t know the exact number/name of the diode that I needed, I decided to forgo it and do some more reading.

Apparently, there is some debate over the necessity of blocking diodes for such a small project. However, I came across an article by someone who had actually measured the amount of energy flowing in and out, and he concluded it was necessary even for a project of this size. So, after some more reading, I decided to purchase a 2-pack of 1N4001 micro 1A diodes ($1.29).

Once I had gathered all of my materials, the actual putting together of the battery charger was very simple.

1) I soldered the negative (black) wire from the solar panel to the negative (black) wire from the battery holder.

2) Then I soldered one end of the diode to the positive (red) wire from the solar panel, and the other end of the diode to the positive (red) wire of the battery holder. I then trimmed the excess wire.

NOTE: It is important that you attach the diode in the proper direction to make sure that the energy is flowing TO the batteries and is blocked from returning to the solar panel, so it is important to read the diagram on the diode packaging to see which way it should be facing. Diodes have colored (or in my case grayed) bands indicating which end is which.

3) This part is not necessary, but since you have to leave your charger in the sunlight for several hours, it is nice to have some sort of weather protection. So I taped the solar panel to the inside of the lid of a takeout container. You can use anything with a clear top.

4) Once it was assembled, I just inserted four AA NiMh rechargeable batteries and let it sit for a total of 15 hours in the sunlight (I read that it takes anywhere from 10 to 15 hours for the batteries to fully charge).

Once the charging period was over, I transferred the batteries into this little flashlight. It worked like a charm! It was very satisfying to know that I had harnessed the sun’s power for this simple task, and it gave me the confidence to move onto bigger things.

My next project will be a solar USB charger so that I won’t have to worry about running out of juice in my phone during the next extended power outage!

[UPDATE: I came across some new instructions for a solar-powered battery charger in which the author recommended the use of a 1N914 Diode. I don't know enough about the differences between the 1N914 and 1N4001 to say which is more appropriate. If there are any experts out there who can shed some light on this, I would greatly appreciate it!].

How to Make Almond Milk

My daughter has been a vegetarian since age 5. More recently, she has become a vegan. Luckily, she is a wonderful cook, so never lacks for delicious, healthy, balanced meals. And almonds are one of her main sources of protein and omega-3, and she has found almond milk to be her preferred dairy substitute. Finding that she wasn’t satisfied with store-bought almond milk, she learned how to make her own, then passed that knowledge on to me. It is surprisingly easy to make, and far more delicious than any pre-made almond milk you can buy. The following recipe makes about 1 quart of almond milk.

You start by soaking 1 cup of raw organic almonds in filtered water for at least 4 hours (I soak them overnight) to soften them. I buy them in bulk from Whole Foods or other natural foods stores.

You then drain the almonds and place them in a blender with 4 cups of water (you can adjust the water to make a thicker or thinner milk).

Blend the almonds and water on high speed for until very well blend. I used the Liquefy setting.

Pour the blended almond milk mixture through a very fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth and allow to drain. You can press on the mixture with a spoon to help the liquid come through the strainer. You may need to do several batches depending on the size of your strainer. You can either compost the pulp or save it for use in a recipe (see below).

Ta dah!

Your almond milk needs to be stored in the refrigerator, and should stay fresh for about 4-7 day (although I have found that it doesn’t usually last that long in my house!)

I was wondering what to do with the leftover almond pulp, so I did a Google search. And thanks to the wonders of the Interwebs, I found filled with great almond pulp recipes a site devoted solely to almond pulp recipes! I plan to make yummy-sounding savory almond pulp crackers using fresh herbs from my garden.