Birch not only cleanses the stomach and intestines but it is reported to help in the alleviation of arthritis and is additionally used by herbalists to treat acne and minor skin irritations and itching.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/KARELIN DMITRIY
The Natural Remedies column shares information on how to create your own household remedies.
Natural Remedies for Health
Homemade Beauty Supplies: Cheap and Easy Skin Care
Most members of the legion of shiny, shrink wrapped squeeze tubes and dispensers lining pharmacy shelves — items loosely described as "beauty products" and cosmetics — are not only unnecessary but each time we use one of them, we are absorbing substances through our skin, some of which we would never dream of putting in our mouths.
What few things we really must have can actually be better and more cheaply made at home. Using nature's products, some of which you may find in your own backyard, and a few harmless supporting materials available in grocery and drugstores, you can save a bundle of money on cosmetics and, most of all, protect the health of your skin.
For instance, if your hands often feel dry from exposure to weather or from handling irritating substances like fertilizers, cement, or gasoline, one cosmetic that does do a great service is a soothing hand lotion which refreshes the skin and restores its moisture.
In her book, Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter without Me, Paula Begoun details the many harsh substances often mixed in lotions that, while creating the appearance of a lotion, are often worthless or even potentially harmful to your hands. Some of these products include acetone, which irritates the skin, or alcohol, which dries, as well as so-called trade secret name ingredients, which seldom do what the ad says they will do.
Here are some easy-to-make hand lotions that use natural substances and avoid the harsh chemicals of commercial products. Each recipe is designed to make only a small quantity of the lotion so you can test it out and see how you like it. In the event all goes well and you are happy with the results, you can increase the amounts proportionately in order to obtain a larger supply.
To prepare the first lotion, place I teaspoon of castor oil, 1/4 cup of mineral oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of cod-liver oil along with I tablespoon of lecithin powder in a blender. You an get these oils and lecithin at your local health food store or pharmacy. Now prepare gelatin mix by dissolving I teaspoon of plain unflavored gelatin in cup of cold water. Then add 1/2 cup of boiling water to the gelatin and let it sit until cool. Remember to use the plain gelatin, not a flavored one, unless you don't mind having hands that smell like a raspberry patch. Place the entire mixture in a blender until you have gotten a smooth lotion. The oils serve to restore the skin's natural oils, while the phospholipid lecithin serves as an emulsifier for the oils to mix and the gelatin creates a quality of smoothness.
Another excellent hand lotion can be prepared by melting 1/2 cup of vegetable shortening (a grocery store item) with 1 tablespoon of lanolin (obtained at a pharmacy) and 1/8 ounce of beeswax, of which your local beekeeper has ample supply. Remove from the heat and add 1/4 cup of almond oil and a few drops of glycerin and rosewater, which covers up the unpleasant odor of the lanolin. While lanolin, or sheep wool fat, is great for restoring the natural oiliness to the skin, you don't want to go around smelling like a flock of sheep. Mix the substances well and let cool. Once it is cooled check the consistency of your product. If it is too watery, add some more melted beeswax; if it is too stiff, add more almond oil. An additional value of the almond oil is its great moisturizing ability.
One other hand lotion formula employs leaves and flowers of the violets growing in your garden. Did you know that the violet plant has more vitamin A than any other known plant, and that vitamin A is an irreplaceable tonic to the skin? To make this lotion, place 1/4 cup of violet leaves and 1/4 cup of violet flowers in a stainless steel pan and cover them with almond oil. Place the pan over gentle heat and leave covered to steep for about 6 hours. Now strain off the flowers and leaves and add 1/2 ounce of melted beeswax to the almond/violet extra. Stir until the mixture is creamy, and you're ready to use it.
Birch: The Herb All Around You
The whole point of using herbal remedies is to make an end run around the ridiculous cost of prescription medications, but what good will that do if you then have to run to the herbal store for the "Fenugreek" an herbalist suggests? Here's one herb that you won't have any difficulty finding, not only because of it's unmistakable white bark but because it grows in abundance in virtually every temperate forest in North America. Birch not only cleanses the stomach and intestines but it is reported to help in the alleviation of arthritis and is additionally used by herbalists to treat acne and minor skin irritations and itching. Use leaves or bark, dried (2 tablespoon) or crushed fresh (2 tablespoons), to make a tea taken two or three times daily. Steep fresh leaves or bark longer.