Natural Health
Healthy living, herbal remedies and DIY natural beauty.

Natural Winter Skin Care

Winter is here, and with it cold, dry air, sharp winds, and chapped, cracked skin. This can be a real pain, especially for those of us who still have to tend to outdoor chores every day. Last winter, I suffered from a very bad case of red, dry, painful hands and spent a fortune on expensive medical-grade creams and lotions, but this was before I fully discovered the wonders of coconut oil and shea butter and the satisfaction of making one's own simple skin care products.

Try the following easy, natural recipes to keep your skin smooth and healthy during the winter:

Easy Coconut and Almond Body Butter

Coconut oil has wonderful anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and moisturizing properties — and it smells delightful!


• 1\2 cup of coconut oil
• 1 tbsp. almond oil
• A few drops of essential oils (optional)


1. Put oils into a bowl and mix with an electric beater until you get a smooth, fluffy texture resembling whipped cream.

2. Place in glass jar and use on skin after shower to retain moisture, or apply just before going out. This can be also a great handmade gift if put in a pretty jar with a colorful ribbon.

Another tip for healthy hands: if the wind is especially sharp and biting outside, wear gloves even if it isn't very cold. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it has been really helpful for me. It's easy to say, "oh, I'm just nipping out for a minute to feed the chickens", but even so, wearing gloves does make a huge difference.


Whipping up coconut body butter. Doesn't it look delicious?

3-Ingredient Homemade Lip Balm

Melt equal proportions of beeswax pastilles (can be ordered online), coconut oil and Shea butter in a small pot. Pour into small jars and let set.

Optional: Add some drops of your favorite essential oil.

Apply liberally before going outside or when weather is particularly dry.

Find more natural health, beauty and household tips and recipes in my book, Your Own Hands.

Anna Twittos academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

A Step by Step Guide to the Oil Face-Cleansing Method


What is the Oil Cleansing Method?

Oil cleansing has been around for centuries as a way to naturally cleanse the skin. It’s not soap, and it’s not “washing”. Did you know the industrialization of soap wasn’t even around until the 19th century? How did people get clean before soap? Jumping in our hypothetical time machine let’s go back and visit the ancient Roman Baths. Traditionally, the first thing one would do is lather the skin with oil. This oil would gently loosen any dirt on the skin and in the pores, then, using a strigil, the oil and dirt would be scraped away. Only after this oil cleansing would one be permitted to plunge into the baths.

Because oil dissolves oil, the oil cleansing method (OCM) works very well to cleanse, tone and moisturize the skin all in one step, all without the need for soap. The basics of the OCM is to use the right ratio of astringent oil with conditioning oil (more on that below) and massage onto the face in a circular motion. This allows the oil to dissolve any make-up, dirt and oil lurking on one’s face. Meanwhile, the oil softens and removes any built up dirt or dead skin cells within the pores, gently clearing them away. Adios blackheads! (This is also a wonderful and gentle eye makeup remover, but take care not to get it in your eyes.) The last step is to place a hot, wet washcloth over one’s face, allowing the steam to further loosen dirt and grime, then gently wipe away. A thin layer of oil remains on the skin which both protects and moisturizes throughout the day.

Oil cleansing is not a miracle cure for skin issues. The most effective treatment for acne, eczema, psoriasis or other skin ailments is through proper diet and nutrition. However, if you find yourself dealing with these issues, oil cleansing can become your best friend as it’s a much more mild and gentle approach to cleansing and moisturizing your skin than harsh soaps and cleansers.

First Things First - Know Your Skin Type

Is your skin oily, dry or a combination of the two? Do you feel the need to dab your t-zone of excess oil throughout the day? Or does your skin seem dull, dry and even flaky at times? How about oily in some areas while dry in others...and perhaps a pimple or two thrown in for good measure? Once you nail down your skin type, you’ll know which oils will be most beneficial for you and your unique needs, and can begin to combat those pesky issues showing up on your face.

Astringent Oils

Astringent oils, believe it or not, are oils that can be drying to the skin. Which makes them perfect for oily or combination skin, as well as for those with dry skin (in smaller amounts). Astringent oils will temporarily constrict the outermost layer of the skin (the epidermis) by reducing the blood flow, thereby minimizing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, as well as shrinking pore size.

The following oils fall under the category of “astringent oils”: Argan oil, Castor oil, Grapeseed oil, Hazelnut oil and essential oils of Carrot Seed, Cyprus, Ginger, Myrtle, Patchouli, Rose, Rosemary and the citrus oils (Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Mandarin and Sweet Orange). Lavender also falls under this category as it has both astringent and conditioning properties.

Hydrating & Conditioning Oils

The majority of your oil cleansing combination will be made up of conditioning oils. These oils soothe the skin as well as provide all day moisture and nutrients. Conditioning oils are beneficial for all skin types, even those prone to oily skin and breakouts. Oftentimes breakouts occur when our skin is over-producing oil due to a lack of hydration. Many times this lack of hydration is caused by harsh cleansers, scrubs and acne treatments designed to dry out your skin while clearing up blemishes. To make matters worse, a common misconception for those prone to breakouts is to skip the moisturizers altogether due to the excess oil production (truly a vicious I was caught in for years during my early twenties).

Hydrating oils will help keep dry skin moisturized while normalizing oil production, all while improving the look of dull, aging skin. The following oils are considered “hydrating”: Avocado oil, Coconut Oil, Hemp Seed oil, Jojoba oil, Olive oil, Sweet Almond oil and essential oils of Basil, Bergamot, Camphor, Evening Primrose, Lavender, Roman Chamomile and Sandalwood.


Finding the Perfect Combination

There are countless combinations that can be made with the astringent and conditioning oils, and finding which combination is right for you may take some experimentation. But there are some general rules of thumb to follow when you first start with the OCM.

No two skin types are the same, and simply narrowing down your skin type doesn’t mean the following ratios will work perfectly for you. Once you begin using the OCM regularly, pay attention to how your skin responds and make adjustments accordingly. The following are merely guidelines, but let your face have the final say.

Oil Blends for Dry Skin

A good starting ratio for dry skin will be one part astringent oils to ten parts conditioning oils (1:10 ratio). So go through the list and pick out your oil of choice...chances are high you already have these in your house! You may be wondering why we’re adding an astringent (drying) oil to our dry skin blend. It’s true these oils can be drying, but the benefits of the astringent oils far outweigh any drying that may take place at such a small ratio to the conditioning oils. The pore refining and skin tightening properties will be welcomed along with the soothing and moisturizing properties of the conditioning oils. With this ratio you’ll have the best of both worlds.

Dry Skin Option: 1 Tbs Castor oil mixed with 10 Tbs Avocado or Olive oil . A tsp of Vitamin E or Emu oil (these have deep moisturizing components that will be noticeable all day long). 10-20 drops Lavender and/or Roman Chamomile essential oils for their soothing and calming properties. Mix it all up in a re-purposed glass bottle and use 1 tsp each day.  

Oil Blends for Oily Skin (and blemishes)

For oily skin it’s important to increase the astringent oils to help combat the overproduction of oil. But don’t go overboard, remember the overproduction of oil often means your skin is crying out for hydration. One part astringent to three parts conditioning oils should be a good start.

Oily Skin Option: 2 Tbs Hazelnut oil mixed with 6 Tbs Avocado oil (contains Vitamins A, B, D and E). For acne prone skin add 10-20 drops Tea Tree (Melaleuca), Lavender or Patchouli essential oils (or a combination of the three). Tea Tree is antiseptic, great for healing current blemishes, Lavender is anti-inflammatory and calming and Patchouli is also anti-inflammatory as well as antiseptic, both great for soothing current blemishes. (Read this post for additional benefits of Lavender.)

Oil Blends for Combination Skin

For normal to combination skin try a ratio of one part astringent to four, five or six parts conditioning oils.

Combination Skin Option: 2 Tbs Castor oil mixed with 8-12 Tbs Almond oil. Add 10-20 drops of your favorite essential oil such as Lavender, Frankincense and/or Roman Chamomile and you’re good to go. (Read this post for additional benefits of Frankincense.)

Oil Blend Tips

The options listed above are examples for different skin types, but it doesn’t mean they’ll work perfectly for you. If you have oily skin and a 1:3 part ratio isn’t helping normalize your oil production, you may need to make your ratio 1:2 parts astringent to conditioning oils. Increasing the astringent oils until your face regulates oil production may be necessary temporarily, then, if you find that ratio begins to dry out your skin, try upping the conditioning oils again until your face is happy.

The sample recipes above should last approximately 2-4 weeks (depending on how much oil you’re using daily). It’s my recommendation to stick with a new oil combination for about a week or two before deciding to try a new combination.

Barring allergic reactions (which you then should discontinue use immediately), your skin may require time to adjust to this new method of cleansing, especially if you’ve been using harsh cleansers filled with chemicals. Allow your pores to do their job, which is to help detox our body by cleansing and pushing out toxins.

You’re Ready for the Oil Cleansing Method

Step 1: Gather your oil blend and a washcloth or two and be sure your hair is pulled back, away from your face.

Step 2: Starting with a dry, or slightly damp face, take 1 tsp of your oil blend and gently massage the oil into your skin with your fingertips, moving in an upward, circular motion. Continue rubbing the oil into your skin for 1-3 minutes, even working along your jawline and neck. If you’re wearing eye makeup, wait to rub that off until just before Step 3, doing your best to keep oil out of your eyes.

Mother-Earth-News_Oil-Cleansing_Step-2 (1)

Step 3: Run your washcloth under very hot water (hot enough to tolerate but not burn), quickly wring out excess water and press washcloth gently over your face. Hold the washcloth on your face to allow the steam to open your pores, allowing any excess dirt and oil to loosen. Hold the washcloth on your face for 30-60 seconds. Do not wipe your face with the washcloth, this step is purely to allow the steam to open and cleanse pores.


You can repeat Step 3 two or three times, rinsing the washcloth between each application.

Step 4: Rinse your washcloth well, or grab a clean cloth and wet it with hot water, then gently wipe away excess oil from your face. A thin layer of oil will remain (unless you scrubbed too hard, if this is the case, you can always add a bit more), this oil will protect, moisturize and condition your skin all night long, and even into the next day.


Step 5: If you feel you want a bit more moisture, simply rub a small amount of your oil blend into your damp skin and let air dry.

Step 6: The following morning, simply wipe face clean with a damp washcloth and apply a small amount of oil if needed. Allow oil to soak in before applying makeup.  

OCM Tips

Depending on your skin type, you may be working on clearing up blemishes, eliminating eczema or combating dryness. The OCM can be used up to three times daily. Once your face is clear and moisturized, oil cleansing once daily should be sufficient to keep your skin balanced, smooth and blemish free (assuming you’re keeping that healthy diet in check!).

Remember, no two faces are the same, do what’s best for your skin and continue to experiment with your oil blend until you find just the right combination for you.

Kelsey Steffen is an aspiring farmer, wife, mom of four (with one on the way), and home-school educator in North Idaho. Join Kelsey and her family over at Full of Days as they blog about life in the Steffen household, and follow along on Facebook and Twitter. Read all of Kelsey’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Nature's Multi-Vitamin: The Many Benefits of Bone Broth (with Crock Pot Recipe)

Medicinal Bone Broth

I must admit, when I first heard about bone broth, I wasn't sure quite what to expect. It took me getting a 'winter bug' to give this soup dubbed 'Nature's Multi Vitamin' a try and I was so happy I did. After enjoying homemade bone broth, I set out to discover all of the benefits and I want to share them with your family in hopes that you will add this medicinal soup to your daily nutritional routine. I was pleasantly pleased with all of the benefits this broth offers and can't wait to share them with you.

For starters, bone broth isn't touted 'Nature's Mutli' for no reason. It boasts over 19 easy-to-absorb, essential and non-essential amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). Collagen/gelatin which helps form connective tissue and promotes strong hair and nails (and who doesn't love that!). And it offers nutrients that support your immune system, good digestion, and brain health.

Bone Broth is excellent for promoting overall gut health and helping with 'leaky gut'. It does this by proving a concentrated source of vitamins, amino acids and minerals as well as vital proteins that help to greatly build up your bodies nutritional reserve. 

Leaky gut is something many people suffer with and can result from poor food choices, environmental factors, use of antibiotics and overall chronic inflammation that destroys your gut lining which in turn allows toxins into your blood stream. Long term, this can lead to chronic diseases and conditions.

Bone Broth Benefits and Healthy Considerations

Bone broth is touted for shuffling vital nutrients to the gut in order to help begin the process of 'healing and sealing' the gut. There is a specific type of gelatin contained in bone broths that in combination with the collagen, help to line your stomach and create a barrier against toxins and food getting into your bloodstream. 

Another awesome benefit is that bone broth helps to promote strong healthy bones! Yes, who doesn't need this? Especially as we age, it is important to keep our bones as strong as possible. Bone broth contains calcium and magnesium that promote bone health. Who would've thought a broth packed such powerful punch? 

Here are just a few things to keep in mind and be aware of when it comes to bone broth: 

Store-bought broth is a completely different "animal" (no pun intended). Store bought broths can contain copious amounts of sodium, preservatives and even MSG! This is not the same thing as a properly prepared bone broth.

Proper preparation is key. The most often missed step when it comes to bone broth is not allowing the bones to simmer long enough. You don't want to miss out on the vital nutrients the bones provide so patience is key with this process. Allow your bones time to steep properly to release the most nutrients such as glucosamine, glycine and chondroitin sulfate.

Don't forget your veggies and herbs. These are an excellent compliment to your bone broth and allow the potency of the bones to be greatly increased. Some great herbs to consider adding are:

Bay Leaves
Shitake Mushrooms

With all of the benefits listed above, I bet you can't wait to get started on making your own broth at home. Alex and I have worked to perfect our bone broth soup to our liking. We use an 8 quart crock pot and I would like to share our recipe for you to modify as your own.

Medicinal Bone Broth  

A+A Crock Pot Bone Broth

Start by choosing your bone marrow bones from healthy grass fed animals. My suggestion is to look up local organic farms or check with your local Whole Foods (ours sells Grass Fed bones). If you are local to metro ATL you can also check out Two by Two Farms they offer a fantastic assortment of various bones, pastured eggs etc.

1. Rinse your bones with cold water. Place bones in the crock pot with your veggies and herbs of choice. We like to add carrots, celery and a variety of herbs such as turmeric, bay leaves and also shiitake mushroom.

2. Fill pot with distilled or purified water. You can use a soup pot but we prefer the Crock Pot (8-qt) because it has the slow simmer option.

3. Add apple cider vinegar. Add 1/4 cup of raw unpasteurized Apple Cider Vinegar per one gallon of water used.

4. Stir well and bring to a boil. Once the soup comes to a boil switch to the lowest setting and allow to fully simmer for 48-72 hours (the longer it simmers the better). Make sure to keep a close eye on water level and top off if needed. Just prior to turning off your soup (about 20 min prior) add in some fresh organic parsley.

5. Turn off soup and let it cool fully.

6. Remove bones and veggies/herbs using a strainer.

7. Take crock pot and place in fridge for broth to cool OR move to another pot and place in fridge. Allow it to harden in the fridge for 4-6 hours. Make sure there is a layer of fully hardened fat on top before removing (like a little mini ice skating rink).

8. Remove fat from top and then strain broth using a cheese cloth. Very important that you not miss this step as you want to make sure no pieces are left in your broth.

9. Store in quart-sized mason jars. Be sure to not fill to the top or they will rack if youa re storing in the freezer. Only fill to about 75-80% full. You can keep your broth in the fridge but if you wont use in 7-10 days we suggest taking leftovers and storing in the freezer. Note: You can mass make your broth for use throughout the month which is what Alex and I do.

Alex and I hope that this excites you enough to further research the benefits of bone broth and to add 'Nature's Multi' to your nutritional regime. We have greatly enjoyed the benefits and hope you do as well.

Alexander Poptodorov is a health and wellness enthusiast who has a passion for helping others to achieve their very best through optimal living. In 2005, he and his wife, Ashley, opened A+A Wellness in Atlanta, Ga. Today, Alex has embarked on his newest adventure, obtaining his N.D. Degree. Alexander and Ashley are excited to share their experiences and excitement with you about the endless possibilities of being healthy. Read all of their MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

Comforting Comfrey Can Speed Recovery


Poison ivy. It’s my bane, my scourge, the melter of my skin. And now? I will add a breaker of my bones to the list of frown-inducing encounters that I’ve had with this pesky climate change lover.

You may have noticed that I’ve been somewhat quiet lately — that’s because I fractured my wrist about 7 weeks ago. I was cleaning up that last large bed next to the house when I had a pivotal argument with a vine of poison ivy. It quickly escalated into a tug o’ war worthy of filming (though, to my knowledge, my pride escaped being caught so compromised)

To be fair, I admit to having muttered aloud hateful things for a good three hours as I pulled all the offspring of this evil mother plant. I told each and every morsel that it was mean and horrid and unworthy. Definitely one for the karma books that the tug o’ war ended in point ivy.

After ignoring the little voice suggesting that I’d done enough for the day, I decided “one more vine.” After all, I was already protectively clothed and so close to being finished that I might as well just do it.

We seemed evenly matched, that vine and I. I tugged, it held strong. This continued for several minutes. I strengthened my tugging, it continued to hold. Then all of a sudden, quick as you please with no warning whatsoever… bam. It broke and I tumbled backward on a slight downslope, all of my body weight and quite a bit of momentum onto my left wrist. A loud crack followed by a small snap then my “Aw, man!”

I checked in on my body. No nausea (whew), a little light-headed, and my wrist was starting to hurt. I hoped for a sprain. I carefully shoved the offender into the trash bag and carried it to the curb. On the way back to the house, I had to sit down twice due to the light-headedness. Not good—and my wrist was developing a rather sizable knot. Off to the hospital we went.

Confirmation: a closed, distal fracture of the radius. They wrapped me up and referred me to an orthopedic office. Thankfully, I was able to get in the next day and they fixed me up with a brilliant Exos cast (by Boa Technologies). This made me happy because I would be able to take the cast off and apply comfrey several times a day.

I would also be able to tend to the rash that developed over the next couple of weeks — that dreadful ivy plant had transferred just the tiniest bit of oil to my skin which, in turn, spread and covered the entire inside of my left arm.

The good thing is that I didn’t have to turn to steroids this time as I have figured out the perfect combination of homeopathic remedy and a wonderful product from John RedDeer Cruz. While my skin still blossoms (to put it nicely), it actually no longer melts off leaving a trail of ooze all over everything it touches.


Using Comfrey as a Healing Agent

What about the comfrey? I have used comfrey oil, tincture, and  compresses on my broken toes for years. It has always cut the healing time in about half. I swear by the stuff! It can do wonders healing many things. I urge you to spend a little time looking into this plant if you don’t already know about it.

Two very important things to remember when using this wonder for healing:

1. Never use it on any area where infection is present (you’ll seal in the infection).

2. Don't use it without a lot of study and research when the bone has broken all the way through. Comfrey (aka boneknit) heals bones and connective tissue so well and so quickly that when used on some injuries, it can move the bones out of alignment before knitting them together out of place. Then you’re in for surgery and longer rather than shorter healing times.

This is where my closed fracture break was a blessing. I knew from experience that there was a distinct possibility that my orthopedist might be proven wrong with his initial doubt that my nearly 60-year-old body could mend this in anything close to a quick timeline.

At my two-week check-up, I was thrilled to see his raised eyebrow and suggestion that I was healing more quickly than normal. He even let me start physical therapy sooner, though on a slow track. My Physical Therapist referred to me as an outlier more than once. Both he and my orthopedist urged me to be patient as I was healing much more quickly than most people.

Patience is not one of my strong suits when I have a garden to put to bed and arting projects queued up and waiting. I’ve recently become very adept at one-handing all sorts of chores.

Comfrey Oil and Comfrey Compress

I applied comfrey oil up to five times a day, with frozen compresses once a day during the first week. In addition to my use of comfrey, I had one session of acupuncture, consumed several bowls of bone broth, was religious in taking organic plant calcium, and worked healing energy.

At this point, the only lingering hindrance is my TFCC ligament. The orthopedic physician’s assistant tells me that will take another six months to heal. My comfrey and I accept that challenge with vigor and a wee knowing smile.

Now, if I could just figure out how to make a comfrey bath large enough to immerse the planet in…

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

10 Herbs for Tea-Kettle First Aid

Learning to use herbs in your everyday life can seem overwhelming at first. There are so many different herbs and ways to prepare them! Thankfully, a tea kettle and some dried herbs are all you need to be able to begin using herbs in your own home and even provide herbal support for common first aid complaints.

Herbal teas, or infusions, aren’t just good for drinking. Besides being enjoyed as a hot drink or over ice, they can be applied topically as a compress or added to bathwater to make an herbal soak.

10 Herbs for Tea Kettle First Aid by Herbal Academy

10 Herbs for Your Tea Kettle

These ten especially versatile herbs can make a serviceable Tea Kettle First Aid Kit for your homestead or farm:

• Elder
• Sage
• Goldenrod
• Rose
• Calendula
• Elderflowers
• Yarrow
• Plantain
• Horehound
• Meadowsweet

Here are a few of the ways you can utilize these herbs support your health and wellness!

TEN Herbs for Tea Kettle First Aid by the Herbal Academy

Upset Stomach

An upset stomach is uncomfortable, to say the least. Two herbs from the list above stand out as particularly beneficial for digestive support. Sage, which is astringent, has traditionally been used to help resolve diarrhea. Horehound’s incredibly bitter taste helps prime the digestive system to do its best work, and can also help bring a little ease to an overburdened digestive tract after a big meal.

In addition, rose was once considered to be a valuable liver tonic and meadowsweet has a reputation among herbalists as being helpful for normalizing digestion when acidity is too high.

Settling Down for Bed

Several of the herbs in the list above are nervines that help support the health of the nervous system in various ways.

Rose is a soothing and nurturing option and a cup of rose tea can be just the thing to wind down after a stressful day. Sage is a calming herb that supports frayed nerves and helps put the mind at ease, and even elderflowers can offer a gentle reprieve from stress or daily cares when added to your tea cup.

Soothing Skin (Use as a Wash or a Compress)

Your tea kettle first aid kit’s versatility extends past your tea cup with herbs that you can also apply topically! Calendula is well loved for antiseptic properties that help keep cuts and bug bites clean, and may also help promote a healthy response to inflammation. Yarrow can be used to support healing and hygiene for cuts, as an astringent to balance the circulation when there is excessive bleeding, and even makes a good wash for sores and bruises.

Many herbalists can attest to plantain’s drawing energy that supports the body’s process for expelling dirt and debris from hard to clean or infected wounds. Plantain is also traditionally used on insect bites and stings. Rose petals make a good alternative to lavender when addressing burn or sunburn after care from an herbal perspective.

Taking Care During a Cold

Many of the herbs in this tea kettle first aid kit are also very balancing and comforting when your body is facing down a cold. Yarrow is a diaphoretic herb, traditionally used by herbalists to help promote sweating as the body works to break a fever (more on that here).

Elderflower is also a diaphoretic, and a boon for runny noses—because one of elder’s actions is to dry up and balance excess secretions. Sage can help in a similar manner as elderflower, with the added bonus that its astringency makes it a go-to herb for many herbalists when they have a sore throat!

Calendula can be helpful during a cold, but for different reasons. This herb is used to help gently cleanse the lymphatic system, which herbalists believe can give the immune system an edge and help ease uncomfortable swelling in the lymph nodes.

Breathing Easy During Allergies and Coughs or Colds

Sometimes the worst part of a cold is the respiratory struggle that ensues as your nose runs or feels stuffy and your lungs try to eliminate phlegm. The same can be true of allergies, and thankfully there are several herbal allies that we can turn to in either case. Elder and sage, as mentioned above, are two, thanks to their penchant for drying up excess secretions.

Horehound is one of the most venerated cough remedies in traditional herbalism—but beware! The bitter brew of horehound tea may take both a little getting used to and a little dab of honey. Plantain is traditionally enlisted in herbal lung formulas as an ingredient to thin and expel mucus, and has a much milder taste than horehound. If your breathing woes are allergy related, goldenrod may helpful to you.

Sore, Tight Muscles? Relax!

If stress or a hard day of physical work have your muscles tied up in knots, you can use several of the herbs in your tea kettle first aid kit to put your muscles at ease. Goldenrod is often included in liniments and salves for just that reason, but it works equally well if you make a strong infusion to add to your bath water. Meadowsweet contains some of the same compounds as white willow, the herb that inspired the development of aspirin, so a cup of meadowsweet tea can be a welcome respite when you are feeling achy and uncomfortable.

If you feel cold and achy, sage is wonderful in the bath to help warm up your joints and limbs, and has the added bonus that its nervine properties make it soothing and comforting to the emotions and not just the body.

Ten Herbs for Tea Kettle First Aid - Herbal Academy

Stocking and Using Your Tea Kettle Kit

When you are creating your Tea Kettle First Aid Kit, be sure to source your herbs from reputable companies that specialize in herbs. This will guarantee that the herbs are free of contaminants and don’t contain misidentified plants! Many good companies exist that sell herbs in tea bags or loose leaf, in bulk. If you decide to purchase dried herbs in bulk, be sure to store your herbs in an airtight container away from moisture and sunlight to protect their shelf life and keep them as fresh as possible.

More tips for storing your herbs can be found here.

Making Tea

To make an infusion from loose leaf herbs, add 1 or 2 teaspoons of dried herbs to a heat safe glass bowl and add 8 ounces of water just off the boil. Cover the bowl and allow it to steep for 5-10 minutes before straining. If you have a tea strainer, you can brew your infusion right into your favorite tea cup.

For creating an herbal tub tea or bath, place ¼ to ½ cup of dried herbs into a quart canning jar. Fill the jar with water and allow it to steep, covered, for 20 minutes. Strain the infusion and pour the tea into your bathwater, then enjoy as you would a regular bath.  

Building on a Tea Kettle First Aid Kit

The art of making herbal teas is a versatile place to begin learning herbalism, but there are many other ways herbs can be used around the homestead. With reliable, well-researched online programs, the Herbal Academy’s Introductory Herbal Course can help you establish a solid, practical foundation in herbalism that’s perfect for your home or farmstead!

Photos copyright Herbal Academy.

Agatha Noveille grew up in gardens, and under the teaching of her grandparents, she learned how to identify native plants and how to grow fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs in miniature Edens that reflected the personalities of their caretakers. It was only natural that she blossomed into a plant-related career, and she is now a writer and herbalist in Dalton, Ga. Agatha is an Associate Educator at the Herbal Academy, international school of herbal arts and sciences. Learn more about the Herbal Academy and read all of Agatha's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Make Your Own Elderberry Syrup


If you've walked the aisle of a health food store lately, you've no doubt seen a proliferation of homeopathic medicines, syrups, and tonics made with elderberries.  Often including honey, these products are designed to prevent and treat cold and flu symptoms and generally boost your immune system.  

According to the University of Maryland medical center: "some evidence suggests that chemicals in elder flower and berries may help reduce swelling in mucous membranes, including the sinuses, and help relieve nasal congestion. Elder may have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-influenza, and anticancer properties."

Honey is likewise well-known for its medicinal qualities (read a history of honey and its medicinal uses in this Mother Earth Living article) — honey can boost the immune system, sooth a sore throat, calm a cough, or fight allergies, especially if it is from your local environment.

Its no surprise that elderberry and honey are being combined by herbalists everywhere.  While I am a huge fanof herbal medicines and I have found success with some of these elderberry supplements, I have two complaints when I shop in the store: cost and ingredients. A small jar of elderberry syrup can cost upwards of $15 to $20 and many of these products contain alcohol which doesn't taste good to me and makes me not want to use the product for my children.

Rest assured, you can make a great elderberry syrup at home for a fraction of the cost with just a few simple ingredients and a little bit of time. This is especially true if you, like us, grow your own elderberries or keep your own bees!

Be sure to find a reputable source for dried elderberries, like an herbalist or a natural foods store. We grow black elderberries, the most common elderberry grown in North America.  Many types of elderberries can be toxic when raw, so its important to cook the berries thoroughly.

Here is a simple elderberry syrup recipe that will keep for a few months in your fridge; you can doll it out in spoonfuls just like cough medicine or you can stir it into your morning juice or tea (stick to about a teaspoon for kids or a tablespoon for adults).

We add cinnamon, ginger, and cloves since these spices can also be beneficial in fighting colds — you can use powdered or ground versions, but I prefer dried whole spices because they are more fresh and also easier to strain out!  If you are brave, you can experiment with adding a little cayenne pepper, but we don't think our kids would be quite so cooperative if we did that!

Elderberry Syrup Recipe

Boost your immune system and fight cold and flu with this simple homemade version of the herbal syrups you're likely to see in your local health food store.


• 1 cup fresh or frozen black elderberries (or 3/4 cup dried)
• 2 cinnamon sticks
• 1 tbsp fresh ginger, sliced
• 1 tbsp dried cloves
• 3 1/2 cups water

1 cup honey (from as local a source as you can find)


1. Place the elderberries, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and water in a saucepan (do not mix in the honey yet).  


2. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes (liquid should reduce down by about half).  

3. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool, then drain out the berries and spices using a fine meshed sieve or colander.  


4. Discard the berries and spices.  

5. Add the honey to the remaining liquid.

6.  Pour the mixture into a pint-sized mason jar to store in your fridge.

Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

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12 Uses for Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar is a superfood, able to tackle tasks from cleaning up mold and covering odors to spicing up a salad with ease. It is easy to make yourself, and can also be inexpensive from the grocery store in raw, organic versions with the mother.


Apple cider vinegar can be made at home with chunks, cores, and peels of apple, some sugar, water, and a mason jar covered in cheesecloth. It is a simple matter of allowing the apples to ferment and create bacteria, a process that takes about a month.

There are plenty of great recipes for making your own apple cider vinegar online, but if you are unable to there are also lots of resources for good ACV at your local grocery or health food store. If you’re buying ACV at the store, look for it packaged in glass bottles, raw with the mother. With the mother means that the bottle with have a cloudy mixture at the bottom of it, a collection of bacteria and enzymes that will continue enrich the vinegar throughout its life.

What can you use this amazing vinegar for? It is truly astonishing how many tasks ACV can help out with. Here are just a dozen of my favorites.

As a skin cleanser and toner. Because of its antiseptic properties, vinegar has always been a common recommendation for skin care. Apple cider vinegar in particular helps to regulate your skin’s pH levels, reducing inflammations and blemishes. Leaving skin feeling smooth and soft, ACV has been used to treat acne and psoriasis by some home remedy enthusiasts, and it will help to keep skin clear and even.

Pickling. One of the most well known uses for Apple Cider Vinegar is in the pickling of vegetables, particularly when making classic pickled recipes like dill pickles. Apple cider vinegar is a favorite for pickling because its flavors add some depth to the recipe but do not overwhelm the other spices in the mix. At five percent acetic acid, apple cider vinegar has just the right amount of acid for preserving vegetables.

Deodorizing. Apple Cider Vinegar can be used as an alternative to store-bought deodorants.  Pure ACV can be applied to the underarms with a washcloth, and when it dries it will absorb odors and also kill germs.  It is a much more healthy choice than deodorant sticks, and after an initial scent of pickles it will have almost no smell

As a cleaning solution. Just like how it can neutralize under-arm smells, ACV can also tackle bad scents around the house. Diluted in water Apple Cider Vinegar provides a chemical-free alternative to expensive store bought cleaners, and it works just as well. It has a slight odor in application that disappears when it dries, it won’t leave streaks behind and it will cut through grime and grease with ease

Fight colds and sore throats. I’ve known of apple cider vinegar as a ‘cure’ for the common cold since I was a child.  It’s an age-old remedy, but it is not an old wife’s tale. If you drink a tablespoon as your cold symptoms set in, it will help to battle the germs and set you on the path back to health. Its high levels of alkaline are why it is so good at warding off colds, and it also can be used to soothe a sore throat. Enjoyed with warm water and honey, ACV can feel pleasant on an irritated throat and it is also going to help loosen phlegm and mucus for easy breathing.   

Catch fruit flies. Fruit flies are some of the most annoying and hard to combat household pests. They’re so tiny they are impossible to swat, but you can use Apple Cider Vinegar to create an effective trap for the little bugs. A quarter inch of Apple Cider Vinegar in a cup with a drop of soap, covered with a piece of paper or plastic wrap, will draw flies in and then not allow them to escape. An ACV trap can also be effective against larger house flies.

Hair care. Similar to how it clears and tones skin, apple cider vinegar can also keep hair clean and shining with health. The high acidity of ACV helps it to keep your hair healthy and porous, and it often helps to reduce tangles and make hair easy to comb. Apple cider vinegar can be used directly on your hair, or it can be mixed with other ingredients for a homemade, natural shampoo.

Weed killer. If you’re looking for a natural alternative to chemical rich weed killers, look no further than Apple Cider Vinegar. Straight ACV sprayed onto weeds will kill them and not damage the surrounding soil.  ACV is also much less expensive than most chemical weed killers, and it kills weeds because of its high acidity not because of other potentially harmful ingredients.

Combat fleas. Even more of a nuisance than fruit flies, fleas are hard to get rid of and cause skin irritation and itching for you and your pets. Once again Apple Cider Vinegar is a great, inexpensive and chemical free alternative to flea sprays which do not always work. A little bit of ACV in your pet’s drinking water, or mixed in when you bathe them, will help to prevent flea outbreaks. Using a topical spray of ACV and water, about half and half, will help get rid of fleas and you can apply the same spray around your house, especially against baseboards and on to carpets, to combat an infestation. The fact that ACV dries odorless means you do not have to worry about your home smelling like pickles all the time, either. 

Stop hiccups. Since I was a kid my favorite way to use ACV is to combat hiccups. I’m prone to frequent hiccuping and it is often hard to stop even with traditional “cures" like holding your breath. Apple Cider Vinegar stops them in a very simple way: It is so tart and sour it simply distracts the brain, and hiccups subside. I may be in the minority, but I have always enjoyed the taste so a burst of hiccups seems almost like an excuse to enjoy some vinegar.

Tooth whiter and bad breath fighter. Just as it fights bad odors in the house and from your sweat, ACV will also help control bad breath. A tablespoon of ACV will help to combat bad odors in the mouth, and it also adds to your stomach’s natural acidity, aiding in the digestion of your food. At the same time, Apple Cider Vinegar can also help to keep your teeth white and shining. Gargling a mixture of ACV and water helps keep teeth pearly white and removes unsightly stains.

In your cooking. If you want to add ACV to your diet because of its many benefits, but you don’t like the taste of vinegar, there are hundreds of recipes that can use ACV as an important but not overwhelming ingredient. You do not have to just use Apple Cider Vinegar for pickling, it can also be part of a marinade, a salad dressing, deviled eggs, baked beans, and more. Drink recipes like fire cider and detox drinks use ACV as their base ingredient, and call for other super foods that help to keep your body healthy and fight off infections.


No matter where you use apple cider vinegar, there is no doubt of its incredible powers. Make some or pick some up at the grocery store, and you’ll be surprised how many ways you’ll be using it around your home.

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200 year old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.