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.

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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.

 

Cleaning Up the Greenwash

The following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate.

Back in July, I moved back to Arizona and I’m now newest member of the my Econista friend’s household. With the move came a shift of my lifestyle to the greener side of things, one of them being greener household cleaners. Basically the only things we use are vinegar, baking soda, and thieves all purpose cleaner.

More people are using natural cleaning methods because most cleaning products on the market contain chemicals and toxins that create indoor air pollution and can lead to health side effects such as lung damage.

Because there is no industry certification for what is “natural” or “eco-friendly” or “healthy,” household cleaner manufacturers can get away with greenwashing their products. So the Environmental Working Group (EWG) launched their “Online Guide to Healthy Cleaning” a few weeks ago, to let consumers have a better idea of what’s in their products and what effects these products might have on their consumers. Unlike food and cosmetics, it is not required that cleaning products list all of their ingredients, so EWG had to do some real digging to determine the full ingredient lists.

Like EWG’s Skin Deep Database, the Online Guide to Healthy Cleaning really surprised me with the items that got a bad grade. Here’s an example: When I think toxic cleaners for some reason the first thing that popped into my head was Windex. So I typed in Windex, expecting to have a bad grade come up, which it did. Windex Original Glass Cleaner got the grade of D, so did Windex Nature’s Source Glass Cleaner and Windex Multi-Surface Vinegar Cleaner. So I wanted to try a more eco brand, thinking for sure the eco brand would get a better score. I looked at Seventh Generation’s window cleaner, Natural Glass & Surface Cleaner, Free & Clear, the score was better, but not by much, with a C grade, mainly because of the ingredient methylisothiazolinone. Frustrated, I clicked on the category “Glass/ Window Cleaner” to see who could best the C grade. Turns out of the 49 glass cleaners out there, 4 received an A: Simple Green Naturals Glass & Surface Care, Rosemary Mint; Whole Foods Market glass cleaner, unscented; Green Shield Organic Glass Cleaner, Fresh; and Citra-Solv Citra Clear Window & Glass Cleaner.

For the record, there are simple homemade DIY recipes out there, including pure vinegar; you can check them out here. Or try our Four Thieves Vinegar or All-Purpose Cleaner recipes! Happy Non-toxic cleaning everyone! Have any favorites?

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

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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 White 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!

*My original post called for apple cider vinegar, but I have since begun using white vinegar. According to the Suzuki Foundation, “White vinegar found on most store shelves is a five per cent concentration of acetic acid. It kills about 80 per cent of germs. Look for stronger concentrations at eco-friendly stores that have refill stations.” (https://davidsuzuki.org/queen-of-g…/does-vinegar-kill-germs/)

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Mmmmm…Yard Salad: As Local As It Gets

The Salad, before dressing was added

Yesterday I created a salad made from ingredients that are as local as they get. Each of the ingredients originated on my property – either our month-old garden, or from wild plants.

I was able to harvest a cup full of arugula from the garden, and a few marigold flowers. For the bulk of the salad, though, I turned to the wild plants in my yard.

My newly discovered favorite, garlic mustard (Alliaria Petiolata), provided a very nice mustard-green-and-garlic flavor to the salad. I included both the heart-shaped leaves and the petite white flowers in the salad.

garlic mustard - a very yummy weed

It is a highly invasive plant, which can be harvested throughout the year. It grew in abundance on my property in Connecticut – if only I had known then how delicious it is!  In my area of the country, garlic mustard will flower from April to June. After that, the plant goes to seed.

Besides being delicious, renowned ethnobotanist Jim Duke (in his book, Handbook of Edible Weeds) points out that it is a highly nutritious plant, containing twice the betacarotene of spinach, as well as the cancer preventive constituents of both garlic and mustard.

I also included some young dandelion leaves. I have long avoided eating dandelion because I disliked the bitter taste, but I found that including a small amount of young leaves added a nice bite to the salad, along with plenty of nutritional value. Euell Gibbons, in his book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, recommends using leaves from dandelions before they have produced flower stalks.

Garden herbs

I topped off the salad with a delicious vinaigrette, made with a blend of fresh herbs from my herb garden, and a few violets for color. Here is the vinaigrette recipe:
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano and parsley)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon of prepared mustard
2 garlic cloves, crushed
a pinch of sea salt
a dash of freshly ground pepper

Whisk all of the ingredients together, then pour over salad. It tastes best if prepared a couple of hours ahead of time to allow the flavors to blend.

our nascent garden

Please Note: Make sure not to use any plants that have been exposed to chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. And if you are harvesting wild plants, only use those that are at least 8 feet from the road in order to avoid potential chemical runoff.

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Borax: Safe or not?

Last weekend, I had the good fortune of viewing Frog Chemical Water You, one of many wonderful films that were part of the DC Environmental Film Festival. Frog Chemical Water You is a 17-minute film on how chemicals affect our environment. I liked the film because, even though it is quite clear regarding the harsh facts of the impact of our use of chemicals on the environment, it includes simple steps we can take to reduce our chemical footprint. One step is to create our own kitchen cleaner (the recipe is included at the end of this post).

As a member of Team EcoEtsy, a group of crafters with Etsy stores who are dedicated to following sustainable practices, I have been privy to several discussions on making your own household cleaners. Recently, the topic of Sodium Borate (Borax) came up, along with the issue of how safe it is.

According the Mountain Rose Herbs’ data sheet on Borax, it is a mineral, which “naturally occurs from the repeated evaporation of seasonal lakes.” While it is natural, Mountain Rose Herbs does warn that Borax is “Not to be ingested, large doses may be fatal. May cause irritation if exposed to the skin, eyes, or if inhaled. Handle with caution, and keep away from children and pets.”

A report published in the International Journal of Toxicology stated that “Sodium Borate and Boric Acid, in concentrations of ≤ 5%, are safe as cosmeticingredients when used as currently recommended (not in food products). However, cosmetic formulations containing free Sodium Borate or Boric Acid atthis concentration should not be used on infant or injured skin.”

And a post on the EcoEtsy team listserv listed one article that advises caution in using Borax, while another says that it is safe to use in your home. Not having a chemistry background, I was not sure how to weigh and balance all of this information.

So, when two producers of Frog Chemical Water You offered to take questions after the film, I was the first one to step up to the mike and ask them about the safety of Borax. Dr. Shirlee Tan (a biologist who specializes in environmental toxicology, wildlife toxicology, and cellular and molecular biology) and Dr. Christiana Grim were very helpful. They said that overall Borax is pretty safe and has a low toxicity profile.

Because of the conflicting information I have come across in trying to determine the safety of various ingredients, I asked them for definitive sources of scientific information on chemicals. They suggested I search the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, which I already use all the time as a resource. They also recommended looking at the Materials Safety Data Sheets for any given chemicals (here is one for Borax). Being unfamiliar with the nomenclature of Materials Safety Data Sheets, I found this resource helpful in deciphering the information.

After sifting through all of this information, I have come to the conclusion that Borax is safe to use in homemade cleaning products, as long as you use common sense in handling it. Don’t handle it if you have cuts, abrasions, or burns on your hands, don’t ingest it, and definitely don’t let your kids and pets get into it.

Recipe for Homemade All-Purpose Household Cleaner

  • 3 cups of hot water
  • 2 Tablespoons of vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of Borax (sodium borate)
  • 1 Tablespoon of phosphate-free dishwashing liquid (like Seventh Generation)

Mix well and store in a spray bottle. Use as you would any commercial cleaner.

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Natural Crunchy Hair Solutions

Image copyright iVillage

Image copyright iVillage

The last couple of hairstylists I’ve visited have said that my hair is coated with minerals, most likely due to hard water — water high in calcium, magnesium and/or iron. I had noticed that my hair had been feeling very “crunchy” and kept conditioning every day in order to try and soften the feel. Both stylists said that conditioner doesn’t help, that I actually need to strip the minerals from my hair. One of them suggested a Bumble & Bumble product that is specially designed to eliminate build-up, but it can only be used once a week. I was happy to see that the product does not contain parabens, but I wanted something more natural, gentle, that I could use more often as my hair seems to be getting crunchier.

I came across the following suggestions:
1) Baking soda rinse (add 1 tablespoon of baking soda to 1 cup warm water, pour this solution over hair and massage into hair for about 1 minute, rinse and shampoo as normal)
2) Aspirin rinse (crush several aspirins and follow directions for Baking Soda rinse)
3) Vinegar rinse (add 2 tablespoons of vinegar to 1 cup of water and pour over your hair as a final rinse after shampooing)

It seems that these treatments can strip the hair, so it is recommended that you follow with a conditioning treatment. I found an olive oil and egg treatment that looks interesting, along with several other natural hair care ideas.

In reading about high mineral content in water, I found that it can also dry out your skin, and because it makes it harder for soap to sud, leaves your laundry less clean. A commonly noted solution to this is to get a household water softening unit. I had noticed a “minerally” taste to our water, and had been considering a purifier. It seems like it’s definitely worth looking into a water softening/purifying system since it can address so many different issues.

Recommended Reading:
The Organic Consumers Association report on research linking parabens to breast cancer
Environmental Protection Agency’s list of non-toxic alternatives to household and personal care products

 

 

[NOTE: When I originally wrote this, I neglected to add another excellent source for finding non-toxic hair care and body care products, the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database of Cosmetics

This article originally appeared in my other blog, Becoming Your StellarSelf.