• Natural Cleaning Methods

    The smell of a clean house is something that should be associated with good things like cleanliness, health, and productivity.  Since I have come to discover the myriad of harmful chemicals contained in most store-bought cleaning products though, I now associate these smells with toxicity, respiratory problems and waste.  There are some wonderful ways to clean your house using all-natural non-toxic products you may already have in your kitchen.  Not only does this charge the house with a good clean energy, but it also is quite economical and resourceful.  I also love the ability to incorporate aromatherapy in to the cleaning.  Here are some of my favorite homemade cleaning products:

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    Counter: Simply mix up a mixture of distilled water (or boiled and cooled) and essential oils with antibacterial properties in a spray bottle.  I am always saving old spray bottles for this purpose.  My favorite mixture for the kitchen is water with tea tree, lemon and grapefruit.  I also like the mixture of peppermint and vanilla or of lemongrass and coriander.  The bonus to this cleaner is you don’t have to worry when spraying near food or on a surface that you might later make a sandwich on.

    Foaming Hand Soap: Using an old foaming hand soap dispenser, add about two tablespoon of castile soap and a teaspoon of oil (almond, olive or jojoba all work well) to distilled water.  Be sure to add the soap and oil after the water so it doesn’t get all bubbly.  Drop in about 15 drops of essential oil of your choice.  I initially bought foaming hand soaps at Whole Foods and used the bottles to make a homemade mixture once these ran out but you could also buy empty foaming soap dispensers.

    Floors (wood or tile): In a bucket mix a couple gallons of hot water with a generous squirt of Dr. Bronner’s (or any castile) soap, along with essential oils (about 30 drops) of your choice.  I really like to use the peppermint castile soap and change the essential oils depending on the season/mood.  One of my favorite mixtures is Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap with tea tree, lemon, eucalyptus and cinnamon essentials oils added to the water.  If floors are greasy or you need to cut scum, ¼ cup of distilled white vinegar can be used instead of the castile soap but don’t do this too often or you may strip the wood floors of the wax or oils they are coated with.  And do not mix the castile soap with vinegar.  They will essentially cancel each other out.  You can read more about that here if you’re interested in the details.  A little bit of olive oil added to the floor washing will help seal and shine wood floors.  Sometimes I like to rotate cleaning with castile soap, then vinegar, then oil on different weeks.

    Disinfecting: Spray hydrogen peroxide (an effective bleach alternative) on surface .  It also whitens and helps remove stains, especially in grout.

    Mirrors/windows: Use a mixture of distilled white vinegar and water (approximately one quarter cup of vinegar to each gallon of water).  I keep one pre-mixed in a large household spray bottle.  Just spray and wipe.  I have found that using old newspaper or making use of the flyers that come in the mail in place of paper towels works really well for preventing streaks and reducing waste.

    Carpet deodorizer: Sprinkle baking soda on rugs and carpets before vacuuming.  The baking soda can be left on the rugs overnight for extra freshening.  This could also be used on cloth furniture to combat odors.

    Bathtub/shower/sink: Squirt a generous dollop of Dr. Bronner’s soap across the surfaces, and then sprinkle with baking soda.  Scour away.  The baking soda has a mild abrasive action.  The thing I like about this mixture is that these two things are often ingredients I put in homemade baths so if any gets left behind, it’s no problem at all.  If you have areas of mold or mildew growth, spray undiluted white vinegar on the areas and wipe after fifteen minutes or so.  Baking soda will help if you need scrubbing action.

    Toilets: To wipe the rims, I just use a simple mixture of peppermint and a generous amount of tea tree oil with distilled water.  My homemade disposable baby wipes actually do this job really well too in between cleanings.  For the basin, scrub with Dr. Bronner’s soap mixed in a small squirt bottle with distilled water and lots of tea tree oil.  Again, the added benefit here is if the cat ends up drinking from it later, she is safe.  Or at least only threatened by Chief’s disgust, hee hee.  I also like to put a few drops of a favorite essential oil inside the toilet paper tube to freshen the bathroom without chemicals.  The toilet could be sprayed with hydrogen peroxide and then wiped for further disinfecting.

    Litter box: Remove the litter and spray with the same solution used for toilets above (a mixture of peppermint and tea tree oil with distilled water).

    That pretty much covers all the surfaces in your house!  To summarize, I have created a shopping list below:

    • Distilled white vinegar
    • Castile soap
    • Hydrogen peroxide
    • Baking soda
    • Essential oils.  Refer to the aromatherapy post for a more detailed list but great, inexpensive ones to start with for cleaning are as follows: peppermint, tea tree, clove, lemon and eucalyptus
    • Household spray bottles
    • Oil (olive or almond)

     

     

  • Kitchen Beautician Shopping List

    Below I have listed some of my favorite natural beauty/health products that can be found at Whole Foods or ordered online if you don’t have access to a natural supermarket.  A lot of the items are components for many of the kitchen beautician recipes I have listed on this site.  Some of the items are useful to have in any kitchen too.

    Hyland’s Homeopathic Smile PRID Drawing Salve : I love this homeopathic drawing salve in the orange tin for two things: 1) first aid and 2) blemishes.  It’s an all-natural salve with sulfur for antibacterial properties.  It is great for applying to any scrapes or cuts.  It also works really well for healing blemishes or ingrown hairs because it helps draw anything out from below the surface of the skin.

    Vanilla Oil in Jojoba Oil – I love this for multi-tasking and always keep some in my travel bag.  It can be added to bathwater or you can add a few drops to a fragrance free moisturizer to scent it naturally.  This also works great to use as an eye cream at night.  The aromatherapeutic property of vanilla is uplifting.  It’s kind of a nice unisex smell that I think both genders find comforting and sexy.  You can even use it as a perfume, dabbing it on pulse points.  Because it comes in a jojoba oil carrier, you can also use it to remove eye make-up in a pinch but it might be too expensive to do that every day.

    Egyptian Magic Skin Cream – I love the ingredients in this skin cream – olive oil, beeswax, honey, bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly.  It is an amazing night cream but also can be used as a body moisturizer, eye cream, or like a pomade to smooth flyaways or the ends of hair.  A little goes a long way.

    Body Brush – Body brushing feels so amazing and is great for your health and skin.  I have the details in this post.  I like to keep one next to my shower and also keep a small travel one in my toiletry bag.

    Sore No More – I was first introduced to this botanical formulation when a Jivamukti Yoga instructor applied it on our backs when we were in downward dog.  It really helps to ease sore muscles and brings a pleasant warming tingle to any particular area.  The menthol and camphor also really help to keep sinuses clear so this could be used as sort of an all-natural Vick’s Vapo Rub type of thing.  It’s a wonderful thing to give someone you love a quick rub on the shoulders and neck with.  It has capsaicin from peppers in it for the warming effect so do a test spot first to make sure your skin isn’t sensitive to it.

    Almond Oil – I use almond oil in a bunch of my kitchen beautician recipes including the pumpkin and honey mask and the rose petal bath.  You can also use it to wash your face if you are doing the oil cleansing method.  It’s also a great oil to make a quick scrub out of by combining it with sugar or sea salt and a couple drops of essential oil.

    Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay – This calcium bentonite clay is amazing for drawing out blackheads and just really refining the skin.  You can see how I’ve used it in the pumpkin and honey mask.  I also did an iteration of the same mask the other day when I didn’t have pumpkin at home.  I put in a little bit of vinegar instead and had amazing results with that too.

    Honey (or manuka honey) – Honey is awesome for its antibacterial and moisturizing properties.  I’ve mentioned using it in a milk and honey bath, in various masks, and mixing with vinegar if consuming for getting beautiful from the inside out.  I just keep a bottle next to my bath.  I’ll often just squirt some in to soften and moisturize my skin or smear it straight on my face as a mask on its own.  The bottle I have has become granulated which is kind of perfect because then it does a bit of exfoliation as well as moisturize the rest of the time I sit in the bath.

    Baking soda – I love baking soda for dumping in to the bath (for softness and detoxing) as well as using it as a really simple exfoliator as I described here.  It also works great to dump a bit on your toothbrush after you’ve put the paste on to help polish and whiten teeth.  I also occasionally use it to remove product build-up from hair.

    Vinegar – I’m sorry.  You all know my obsession with vinegar by this point.  It can be used as a hair rinse for shine and in the bath to neutralize pH’s.  I also like using it mixed with the Aztec clay for a clarifying mask or you can dilute it and use it as a toner.

    Sea Salt – I love sea salt for putting in the bath (like the red wine bath) as well as for making scrubs.  I will eventually add some more recipes in the beauty section of the blog for specific recipes but you can generally mix it with a little bit of oil (grape seed or almond) as well as essential oils for a good body scrub to do in the shower.

    Whole milk – Whole milk works great as a moisturizer and also has lactic acid, which helps to exfoliate.  I’ve mentioned using it for the milk and honey bath.  The other thing I really like to do with it is to soak cotton balls in milk and then place them over the eye area to restore moisture.  The coolness of the milk also helps to reduce puffiness.

    Coconut Oil – Coconut oil has wonderful benefits for both internal and external consumption.  It has antibacterial and antifungal properties.  It works great as a body moisturizer all on its own, especially after a day at the beach.  I also love using it as a hair mask.  I just apply it to my hair and then make a hair towel out of cling wrap and put a towel over that and add some heat with a blowdryer or the sun.  You can rinse it out after 20 minutes to an hour (or sleep in it with a shower cap on) and shampoo and condition as usual.  If you’re going to be beachy all day too, it’s kind of nice to apply it to the ends of hair and put it in a loose braid to keep everything hydrated.  It’s also a great natural personal lubricant.

    Rose Water – Rose water works as a toner for slightly dry skin and can also be used as described in the rose petal bath.  I like to keep it in the refrigerator and use it as a really refreshing mist on a hot day or after a good workout.  Orange water works great too and has more astringent properties.  The rose water can also be used in recipes.  The other day we mixed it with sugar to make a simple syrup and then made strawberry rose gimlets with muddled strawberries and gin.

     

  • Make Your Own Kombucha

    Have you heard of kombucha?  It’s a really popular drink in the health foodie community but has been consumed throughout human history, beginning in ancient China and spreading to Russia.  It’s a refreshing tonic made from fermented sweet tea that delivers both powerful antioxidant and probiotic benefits.  It has a slight fizziness to it and is tangy and slightly sweet at the same time.

    The first time I tried it I didn’t know what to expect and was really surprised by the vinegary taste (like how you’re expecting milk and you get orange juice?).  Once I learned more about it and went in with a different mindset, though, I found I really loved the taste.  It is so refreshing and energizing. I find myself craving it, especially after a hard bike ride on a warm day or a yoga class.

    The kombucha drink is made by the kombucha “mushroom” acting on the sugar in sweet tea.  The “mushroom” is also called SCOBY (which is Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast).  The process begins much the same as it does in the post in which I described the vinegar process.  The fermentation produces acetic acid (as it does with ACV), as well as lactic acid and gluconic acid.

    Along with these organic acids, kombucha also contains a number of other beneficial components.  It has a spectrum of active enzymes and amino acids that are produced by the microbes in the SCOBY.  The tea contributes polyphenols and the drink has an array of beneficial bacteria (probiotics).

    Because of the actions these constituents have on the body, kombucha has been cited as aiding in the prevention of some types of cancers and other degenerative diseases and boosting the immune system.  It may also help to fight yeast overgrowth resulting from an abundance of sugar in the body (from sugar or alcohol consumption) because of the acetic acid present, which stabilizes blood sugar.  For more information about kombucha helping in the prevention of cancer, check out Tom Valentine’s Search For Health.  Kombucha has also been cited over the centuries as having anti-arthritic compounds and liver-protective detoxifying and cleansing compounds.  There have been various studies investigating exactly how this works  (I won’t bore you with the details) but now most of the evidence is anecdotal.

    So, the only downside of kombucha as far as I’m concerned is the cost.  It usually runs about $4 for a 16-ounce bottle.  To circumvent this prohibitive cost, I began brewing it at home, which has also turned out to be a lot of fun!  To do this, you will only need a few ingredients: SCOBY, tea, sugar, a heat-resistant glass jar and a clean cloth to cover it.  Chief and I have been playing around A LOT with the ratios so the recipe I have below is a simple recipe that we have found to work best but our experiments are ongoing:

    • ¾ liter boiling water
    • 2 liters cold filtered water
    • 1 cup plain white sugar
    • 8 tea bags of organic black tea (or equivalent amount of loose tea wrapped in muslin)
    • 1 cup kombucha (from a previous batch or that comes with the SCOBY)
    • 1 kombucha mushroom (SCOBY)

    Bring water to a boil in a teakettle or pot.  Put the tea and sugar in to a large glass jar.  I usually tear the paper off the tea bags.  It took us a while to find the right glass jar because some were too big and some had the bottoms crack off because they weren’t made for boiling water.  We eventually found a nice 3 liter jar made for heat and canning.

    Empty Bottle Sugar

    Pouring Hot

    Once the water has come to a boil, pour it over the tea bags and sugar, just enough to cover them.  Give a gentle stir without breaking any tea bags and making sure all the sugar is dissolved.  Cover the jar with a clean cloth fabric and allow it to sit for about 20 minutes.

    After 20 minutes, remove the tea bags and gently squeeze them to get out any excess.  Be sure you don’t leave any bags behind.  Fill the jar about 4/5 full with cold filtered water and gently stir.  If the whole batch is at room temperature, gently place the SCOBY along with the cup of kombucha liquid from the previous batch/starter.  Cover with a clean swatch of organic fabric and secure tightly with a rubber band to keep out insects, etc.

    Scoby by Jar

    I have had good luck with the brand Goldfinch for the starter mushroom that I ordered from Amazon.

    Place the kombucha in warm dark place where it won’t be disturbed.  Depending on the temperature and how you like your kombucha, it will take anywhere from 7-21 days for it to be ready.  It should have a slight sourness and some fizz and you shouldn’t be able to taste the tea when it’s ready.  Feel free to start tasting it after the seventh day to see how it’s changing.

     Kombucha on Table

    Once it’s ready, we like to funnel it in to 750 ml growler bottles we get from the local pub that has beers on tap.  It’s a good excuse to try some good beers so you have bottles for kombucha!  After pouring them in to the refillable bottles through a funnel, secure the top and place them in a dark place for about 3 days.  We like to label them as we go along with information about when they were brewed and any variations.  For exmaple, we’ve occasionally brewed some hibiscus tea along with the black tea, or added galangal root we dug out of the garden and ground turmeric root, etc.  Then they can be refrigerated and served once cold.

    If you get too busy or go traveling and forget a batch for a long time, no matter.  It will have just turned to vinegar and you can use the vinegar for cooking/consuming, cleaning or beauty treatments.

    Your SCOBY mother will grow a spongy pancake-like daughter with each new batch.  You can save these in a glass container along with some of the kombucha liquid for additional batches or give them away to friends or give them to your kids to be grossly fascinated with.  I hope my family is getting excited about their Christmas presents 😉

    Please place any questions in the comment section.  I love talking about kombucha!

     

  • Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse for Hair

    To make your hair soft and shiny, try rinsing it with 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar mixed with 1 cup of cold water.  Apply the solution by pouring it over the hair after conditioning and then rinse with cold water to help seal the cuticle.  Take care to avoid your eyes.  This is a really inexpensive way to clarify the hair and make it silky-looking.  Add a few drops of any essential oil if you like to help eliminate the vinegar smell, though it mostly evaporates after the rinse.  My favorite oils to use in the solution are either rosemary, lavender, or bergamot.  Try using a few drops of tea tree oil if you have any problems with dandruff.  You may find you don’t need to use conditioner on the days you do this.

    This is a trick I have been using for some time and my mom recently told me my grandmother used to use it as well.  She would wash her girls’ hair in the kitchen sink and rinse it with a vinegar water solution.  I love hearing about these tried and true simple tricks that have been passed down through the ages.  Apparently the hair and scalp are both slightly acidic so this rinse just helps to balance the hair to its natural pH.  Not to mention, you all know how much I love vinegar for consuming and for beauty!

    While I’m talking about hair and vinegar, I’ll use this post to tell you that I did try using the whole “no ‘poo” method.  Besides the name “no ‘poo” which really annoyed me, this method just didn’t work for me.  It basically consists of washing hair with a solution of baking soda diluted in water and using a vinegar solution as the conditioner.  If you try Googling this, you will see what a craze it is.  A lot of the people that have tried the method really rave about it.

    I loved the idea and always appreciate resourcefulness and anything that applies to the whole “want not, waste not” philosophy but I just couldn’t get this one to work.  I tried tweaking a lot of things throughout the process including the type of vinegar, the ratios, and the frequency but absolutely nothing worked.

    I feel like I gave it an honest try because I spent five weeks doing the method during which time I basically looked like a greasy drowned rat.  Normally I consider natural to be beautiful, but I felt like a little misfit throughout this whole experiment.  I think the way I felt was reflected in the way I interacted with the world and I was kind of moping around.  Even my mom admitted it looked terrible!  When your mom tells you a look/practice isn’t working, listen up people!

    The whole concept still makes a lot of sense to me.  That is, our hair produces extra oil to compensate from it being stripped of shampoo and that many of the ingredients in shampoos and conditioners are bad for the environment and unhealthy for us to absorb through our skin.  But I just wasn’t looking professional or feeling like a sexy bitch walking around looking like a well-fed meth head.  I am thinking I might give it a try one of these days again, especially if I go hang out in the wilderness for a couple of months!  I suspect I would have adjusted more quickly had I just completely quit washing my hair for a month and hardly used the baking soda shampoo.

    After the failed experiment, I did go out and find some sulfate-free, all-natural shampoo with argan oil and seaweed extract by the Seawood Bath Company that has a eucalyptus and peppermint scent that I am really loving.  Actually Chief found it at Whole Foods since I didn’t have any shampoo or conditioner in the shower for him.  I don’t think my hair has every looked better since I started using this shampoo and conditioner.  Walking around with it doused in natural oils for five weeks may have helped my cause though!  I am using the apple cider vinegar rinse 1-2 times per week.

  • Vinegar Water Health Tonic

    Vinegar is a panacea that has been used over the millenia for internal and external bodily health and to maintain homes and possessions.  Vinegar has a wide range of healthy functions and can be used to help with anything from digestion to cleaning to cooking.  I use it in a lot of different ways but this post will focus on one of my habits that I do every day to maintain good health – drinking vinegar water.

    Vinegar is primarily  acetic acid and its etymology is related to the French words for sour wine.  It is created by a two-step fermentation process.  The first step in the process is the fermentation of sugar in to alcohol.  The sugar can be from any natural source.  In the case of apple cider vinegar (ACV), the source of the sugar is the juice of apples.  Other vinegars you may be familiar with come from other fruits or grains such as rice, malt, or grapes (for wine vinegar).  Once the alcoholic liquid has been produced from fermentation, the second part of the process begins.  Naturally occuring bacteria begin to combine the solution with oxygen.  This process forms the acetic acid solution we know as vinegar (along with other minerals, aminos and nutrients).  You might have experienced this naturally when you haven’t finished a bottle of wine and it goes sour.

    Vinegar has been touted to have amazing benefits.  It has been cited as preventing obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, cancer, common colds, arthritis and aging.  It is also thought to boost immunity and serve as a natural antibacterial and antifungal agent.  While some of these claims are pumped up, vinegar does have some real health benefits that I believe in:

    • Increases calcium absorption.  The acid in vinegar increases the body’s absorbtion of vital minerals, including calcium.  This is especially helpful for those who don’t consume dairy or suffer from osteopenia or osteoporosis.
    • Controls blood sugar levels. Consuming vinegar prior to a meal slows down the speed at which the carbohydrates are converted to glucose in the body.  When the sugars from the meal are released more slowly, the body doesn’t become so overwhelmed by the glucose.  In essence, drinking vinegar can help inhibit insulin sensitivity which can help control the onset or symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes.
    • Aids digestion.  Vinegar is full of prebiotics that are present from the bacteria involved in the fermentation process.  The prebiotics nourish naturally occuring intestinal bacteria (probiotics)  that live in the gut.  Keeping the intestinal bacteria balanced and happy can help irritable bowel syndrome or a bad tummy and keeps digestion moving along.
    • Eliminates heartburn.  People get heartburn for different reasons, but one of the reasons is that certain foods can cause the esophagus to relax which allows the acid in the stomach to rise up.  Drinking vinegar makes the esophagus contract which prevents the acid from rising up.  In the case of pregnancy, the esophagus is relaxed because the placenta is producing progesterone which relaxes the smooth muscles in the uterus.  This also causes the nearby esophagus to relax which is why heartburn is such a pain during pregnancy.
    • May aid in weight loss.  According to the Nutrition Diva (whose podcast I love), acetic acid activates certain genes that cause your body to store less fat around your waist. Instead the fat is deposited more evenly around the body.  It is also thought to increase thermogenesis which essentially makes your body run hotter using fat as the fuel, similar to my post on cold showers. Read more