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!

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 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.

Strawberry Leaves Forever

Recently, while visiting the local garden supply store, I overheard a woman asking a salesman if he had any product that would kill wild strawberries. I have tons of wild strawberries growing all around my yard, and it made me wonder if there wasn’t some good use for them. I know the animals enjoy the berries. What could I do with them? 

I looked in his book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus and found quite a bit on wild strawberries. Apparently the leaves have extremely high levels of Vitamin C — more per serving than a glass of orange juice.

So, I tried making an infusion from the leaves. I picked about a cup of fresh, unblemished leaves. Then I rinsed them off to remove any dirt. I placed them in a quart jar, and poured 1 quart of boiling water over them, then let them steep for 4 hours. 

The result was a mild tea that tasted something like spinach water. I added some peppermint tea to the infusion to give it a more interesting flavor. I’m not sure that this is something I will add to my regular diet, but it is good to know that, in a pinch, abundant doses of vitamin C are right there for the picking.

Please note: My yard is completely pesticide-free and has been as long as I have lived here. Do not ever make teas or consume plants that have been exposed to chemical pesticides.

New Tea in Town

tranquilitea41I’ve come up with the second in my series of organic herbal tea blends. This one, Tranquili*Tea, is made from organic chamomile, organic lemon balm, and organic red raspberry leaf, which have wonderfully relaxing and soothing properties. And it comes in eco-friendly packaging — individual tea bags, which are hydrogen peroxide and oxygen whitened, without the use of bleach or other chemicals. The label is printed on 100% recycled paper, and the packaging is compostable vegetable cellulose.

This tea has a warm, flowery herby taste, with a hint of lemon from the lemon balm. In the herbalist tradition, these herbs are believed to improve blood circulation, aid digestion and serve as an antispasmodic.*

I also offer a women’s blend, Feminini*tea, which contains a blend of organic red clover, red raspberry leaf and nettle, which are considered, in the herbalist tradition, to be excellent women’s tonics, supporting overall health and female-specific health.* Feminini*tea is available on my store website.

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For now, this tea is available only through my Etsy store. But it will soon be available in my online store herbanlifestyle.com. Here’s what customers have said about Feminini*Tea: “Yum. Really nice tea, very fresh tasting and relaxing.” “OH MY GOODNESS! I enjoy tea but I am REALLY enjoying this one! The floral notes in the tea are just beautiful!”


*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.