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


Make Your Own Yucca Hair Cleaner

yucca elata resize 

These Yuccas looks exactly like the yuccas on our property. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 

The Yucca* (yucca elata) is a perennial plant that is known as the soap tree. It is native to southwestern United States and grows in abundance on my four-acre property. It’s a pretty plant and puts out a tall stem from the center of a nest of spiky leaves. The spike is laden with edible white flowers that form seed pods when mature. The root is where most of the soapy properties are concentrated. Luckily, the yucca is not endangered so uprooting it is not a problem.

The substance in the roots is known as saponin. A little research informs me that saponins are a subclass of terpenoids, which is the largest class of plant extracts. Saponins are both water and fat soluble, which gives them their soapy properties.

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She combs the beautiful hair of her companion using a hairbrush made from stiff grasses.

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A Native American’s hair shines. By Edward Curtis courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Did you ever wonder why the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni women had such shiny hair in old pictures? They kept their lustrous hair clean with yucca hair cleanser. I’m calling it hair cleanser because after having processed some roots myself and having used the liquid to clean my own hair I think it would be more accurate to call it that and not call it shampoo. We associate shampoo with voluminous amounts of suds. Hair cleaner made from yucca does not produce a lot of suds. It’s a light sudsy liquid. It’s not thick and syrup-y like modern shampoo. Also, it has a very earthy, natural scent and is not laden with artificial perfume. Because of this I’m going to postulate that it is very good for people with sensitive scalp like mine. I didn’t need conditioner after I used it.

To make yucca shampoo first dig up a yucca root.

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Dig up the yucca root. Photo by Renee Benoit.

Then remove the pokey leaves from the root. I used a machete. Lay the yucca plant on a board so your machete doesn’t hit something hard which will dull the blade right away. Wear gloves and hack away. It won’t take long but be careful!

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It turns out that the thinnest root on the right yielded the best material. It’s the youngest and softest. Not as fibrous as older larger plants. Photo by Renee Benoit.

Next hose the root with cold water to remove dirt. Then peel or cut the outer skin off the root. A sturdy paring knife and peeler will work.

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I used a paring knife to cut away most of the "bark" and a peeler to get it clean. Photo by Renee Benoit.

Now you’ve got the beautiful white inner root. Using a chef knife chop the root into small pieces one-inch square or smaller.

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The quarter on the right shows how small I made the pieces. Photo by Renee Benoit.Caption:

Pulverize the pieces to a pulp. I found that a heavy mortar and pestle works best. Mine is made out of granite so it’s heavy and unbreakable. Native Americans use a stone metate. (meh-tah-tee).

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The pieces to be mashed on left. The mashed pieces on right. Photo by Renee Benoit.

You can use it right away or dry the pulp and use it later. To dry it place the pulp in a pan and set them out in the sun or bake them in oven at low temperature until they’re is dry and crackly. Store the dried yucca in a cool, dry place.

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Soaking these pieces will make a light sudsy liquid. Photo by Renee Benoit.

Make the Hair Cleaner

Add a cup or more of pulp to a basin filled with about 4-5 cups of water. Smoosh the pulp with your hands to release the saponin properties. Do this for about 5 minutes. Then stir vigorously with a wire whip. Do suds form? Smoosh more until it does. Then strain it through a sieve or cheesecloth to remove the pulp. Get as much of the valuable liquid out as you can. I like cheesecloth because I can wring it. Put the leftover pulp in your compost bin.

To wash bend your head over a catch basin and pour the sudsy liquid over your head a cup or two at a time until all your hair is very wet. Scrub it around a bit to get your scalp clean and then rinse with clean water.

When I did this my hair felt clean and I did not use conditioner. After it dried my hair was not at all fly away. To compare, the next time I used modern shampoo I did not apply conditioner and my hair was very static-y and very dry. The air around here has only 5% humidity. Very dry!

I wish that it was not such a laborious process to make yucca hair cleaner because it is much preferable to the over processed and expensive hair products we are now addicted and accustomed to. When I make yucca hair cleaner next time, I am going to make a whole bunch and store it for later use.

*yucca (yuck-a) is NOT yuca (yoo-ka). Yuca can be found in grocery stores and is also known as cassava or malanga. Properly cooked yuca is a foodstuff and to my knowledge cannot be made into shampoo.

Renée Benoit is a writer, artist, ranch caretaker and dedicated do-it-yourselfer who homesteads a small ranch in the southeast corner of Arizona near the Mexican border. Connect with Renée at RL Benoit, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS.


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'The Business of Botanicals' Book Review

 

Image from annarmbrecht.com

To protect the plants and the ecosystems which nourish them, we harvest our cultivated or wild plants and make medicines carefully; we buy from those we trust to do the same--local herb farmers at the farmers’ market, our local medicinal companies, a local apothecary.  

Many of us are also likely to buy medicinal herbal products--teas, pills, capsules, powders, oils in bottles from a store or website which itself buys them from a supply company which itself buys from lower on the supply chain and so on down to the original herb collector, whose country may be unknown. Many retailers don’t know the ins and outs of this complex production world. 

When we purchase herbs in a bottle or tea bag, how can we be sure we are getting the best medicinal quality? How do we know the herb going into your herbal formula is the species it’s supposed to be? 

How do we make sure you are supporting organizations along the supply chain that ensure employees make a decent, consistent living in healthy surroundings? How do the companies we buy from ensure continuity of collection, with so many foragers preferring to flock to cities for better wages? 

How can we be sure the ecosystem is not being ravaged by over-harvesting and any of many other destructive practices that come with harvesting herbs for commerce? 

How does the herb company we are buying from ensure plant medicine is strong? And if strong, how do they keep it that way while the plant changes hands many times as it travels thousands of miles? 

How do their farmers regenerate biodiversity to keep the ecosystem strong? Wild plants don’t obey farming needs (schedules, soils)  like domestic plants have been bred to do. How do the farmers figure out how to domestically cultivate wild plants to help conserve both them and the wild? How do they deal with changing and inconsistent, formerly reliable, weather and climate patterns? 

How do herbal supply companies work with the effect of politics--war zones, change of regimes, corruption, contamination and so on? How do they counter competitors who bring low-quality herbs to market with correspondingly lower prices?

Juggling these changing, complex factors is daunting for any business person or team, but particularly acute for workers of integrity. 

Author Ann Armbrecht, set out to investigate these questions, to ”see if this industry can honor plants and people.” She wrote about this multi-year journey in  The Business of Botanicals.

Armbrecht explores global herbal medicine supply chains and networks to bring us answers. After surveying the history of the current U.S. herbal industry from its hippie days to now, she takes us with her visiting organic herb farms in the United States, collectors and collecting companies in Poland, and communities in India. We watch and learn from herb industry company leaders, certifiers, and production companies along the supply chain, which is actually more of an intricate and often confusing network than a chain. No one person or company has all the answers, all the solutions, so caring competitors often collaborate. 

In one place she sees brown, dusty, commodified plants sitting by garbage-filled roadsides. In another she hears villagers say, `oh, we thought these fruits were just going to the tanning industry. Now that we know that they will be going to medicine for people, we will harvest with great care.’ 

Armbrecht tells us that the ability of the herbal products industry to sustain itself comes down to three factors: healthy ecological regeneration and maintenance, healthy local cultural continuity and human regeneration. All are intertwined. And how we deal with climate change. And one more: consumer awareness, consumers who care. 

This is a tough set of standards to live up to in the real world.

Some companies work hard to achieve high standards of integrity in all areas, some do the best they can, some whatever they can get away with. All face complex challenges.

In a recent interview with Acres USA magazine, Armbrecht explains that the only way to live up to integrity with intention in a complex supply chain is through caring personal relationship. A California consumer doesn’t have to have a good relationship with the farmer in India who grows the herb they will take, but someone in the production company does. So we have to be  able to trace the product to the farm, forest, or field where it is grown or gathered.

There has to be reciprocal accountability between farmers or foragers and their buyers. Although the process is not perfect, traceability can be achieved through certification via a trusted third party such as Fair Wild. No one person or company has all the answers, all the solutions, so caring competitors often collaborate. 

Relationship, she says, is fostered through attention. “Attention is a kind of care,” she says. The biggest difference she found in quality between one company and another wasn’t scale. It was respectful relationship for both people and plants up and down the supply chain.

At the end of the book, after gripping and crucial experiences, Armbrecht took note when an administrator at an Ayurvedic healing center in South India told her to “be careful about not doing anything just because it isn’t perfect. It [is] important to find the middle way.”

She writes: “I was coming to see that my role in following these plants was less to tell the details of sourcing and production and more to tell stories about the conditions needed for connections between people and plants to be awakened and sustained. These connections happened when people showed up and paid attention.”

She concludes: “Plants invited me on a journey that taught me as much about the qualities of  care and attention needed to create and sustain relationships as it did about the details of processing and manufacturing. This journey has been far more complex than I ever imagined at the outset.  I came to realize that the point was not to arrive at a place where I could make definitive statements about what is or isn’t sustainable. It was about learning how to live in the presence of a world we did not make. Like the plants, the world is alive. And the task first is to meet that aliveness.” 

This book is alive on many levels--challenging, changing our perspectives. For anyone who works with or consumes medicinal herbs, it’s a necessary--and gripping--reading about the state of the medicinal herb supply chain world wide, its effect on real communities of people and plants, and its effect on each one of us as we contemplate this journey on which Ann Armbrecht is our guide. 

We are invited to join Ann in this ongoing inquiry into the Business of Botanicals at the project Armbrecht heads, The Sustainable Herbs Program at the American Botanical Council.


Pamela Sherman is a permaculture educator of children and their grown-ups. She blogs for Mother Earth News, gardens at altitude, and can be found at  Colorado Local Food & Regenerative Ag Hub.You can read all of Pam’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.

Medicinal Balsamroot Cough Syrup and Tincture

Field of Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Field of arrowleaf balsamroot
Photo by Lindsay Dawson Mynatt

The hillsides are blanketed with arrowleaf balsamroot, signifying the fullness of spring in the Central region of the Pacific Northwest. The indigenous Wenatchi Tribes calendar was based on a seasonal cycle with this native sunflower, Smokakhin, first appearing in March. Balsamroot was a significant source of food and medicine for the Wenatchi. All parts of the plant are edible and useful. The tender shoots and early leaves were collected as early spring greens and seeds were pounded into meal. The large arrow shaped leaves were used as poultices for burns. The long taproot, was used medicinally to support the respiratory system, as an ointment to treat wounds and blisters, and for relief of body aches and pain.

How to Harvest 

Balsamroot plants take years to mature and should be harvested selectively and mindfully. Smaller less developed roots from singular stand-alone flowers are preferred over clumps with thicker roots. The expansive root system of these plants help prevent soil erosion so be attentive to harvesting locations, staying away from steep embankments.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Arrowleaf balsamroot
Photo by Lindsay Dawson Mynatt
 

Some people harvest using a kupenz, or digging stick. I used a pointed shovel and carefully upended the root until I could pull it out. Even with harvesting thinner root systems, expect it to be more effort than anticipated.  

Cleaning and Preparing the Taproot

The taproot will be covered in hardened bark and lots of dirt. The bark can be cleaned and used along with the taproot or removed. I chose to peel off the bark, revealing a resinous long root. With careful attention, the root did not require further cleaning which is good because it is very sticky.

Taproot before cleaning

 Taproot before cleaning
Photo by Lindsay Dawson Mynatt

Taproot after peeling bark 

Taproot after peeling bark
Photo by Lindsay Dawson Mynatt

From this step, I cut the root into smaller pieces and peeled the taproot to expose as much surface area as possible to prepare the infused honey and tincture.

Infuse with Honey to Make Cough Syrup

Using a 3:1 ratio of honey to taproot, place both ingredients in a pot. Bring to a simmer (do not boil). Let cool. Repeat process over several days. Honey will change from pale to dark amber. When ready to store, heat the mixture and pour into small glass jelly jars to cool. The end result  will be thicker and harder than honey with a lovely clove-like essence—a soothing and delicious cough elixir. Keep the roots to use in flavoring teas. 

Infused Honey

Infused honey
Photo by Lindsay Dawson Mynatt

Making a Tincture

Using a one-to-one ratio of 80% alcohol to taproot, place ingredients in a glass jar and set in a cool dark location for 6 weeks or longer. Gin, Rum or Vodka (the most common) are all suitable alcohols for tinctures. Recipe from the Herbal Home Remedy Book by Joyce A. Wardwell. The tincture can be added to warm water or tea to soothe sore throats, loosen phlegm or taken as an overall immunity booster.

Medicinal Properties

Michael Moore, Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West compares Balsamroot to a marriage of echinacea and osha root. It is an expectorant but has the resins and oils to stimulate respiration. Topically, Balsamroot disinfects, reduces inflammation and enhances healing.


Lyndsay Dawson Mynatt is a dedicated forager, outdoor enthusiast, and blogger for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Her published articles include: Build a DIY Cider Press in the 2015 September/October issue of GRIT and 5-Minute, 5-Ingredient Mayonnaise in the 2015 Best of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Follow her adventures at A Faithful Journey, and read all of Lyndsay'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.

How to Determine the Quality of Essential Oils, Part 3: Honing Your Senses

smelling
Photo by Adobestock/andreypopov 

It is a given that the vast majority of aromatherapy practitioners, and perhaps even lay practitioners (home users), are seeking genuine and authentic, plant-derived, preferably organic or wild crafted, unadulterated essential oils. This is how I personally would define “therapeutic grade,” although like Harris, I dislike the term (see Part 1 and Part 2 of this series for more information on terminology and certification).

Finding them and knowing what to look for is a challenge, particularly given the power of marketing. What do we mean by the terms genuine, authentic, plant-derived and unadulterated anyways?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the terms genuine and authentic as follows: Genuine (adj.) 1 truly what it is said to be; authentic. 2 sincere; honest; Authentic (adj.) of undisputed origin; genuine.

To my knowledge, Kurt Schnaubelt was the first to use the terms “genuine” and “authentic” in relation to essential oils. According to Schnaubelt (2004), a genuine essential oil means it is completely unaltered and an authentic essential oil means it is from a specified plant only.

Which brings us to plant-derived: Essential oils used in aromatherapy should all be extracted from a specified plant species, e.g. Lavandula angustifolia versus Lavandula x intermedia. And this naturally leads into unadulterated: no additives, no extenders, no price reducing ingredients, no nothing except what was there after distillation or expression.

The main concerns with adulterated essential oils include: 1. potential interference of adulterants with components of the natural oil; this may affect synergy and the expected physiological and psychophysiological activities of the oil; and 2. Toxicity implications of the adulterants. (Bensouilah and Buck, 2006) Hence, adulterated essential oils can reduce the therapeutic benefits of treatment, increase the likelihood of adverse reactions and potentially introduce toxic compounds into the body.

Qualities to Look For in a Supplier

Now that we know what we are looking for, how in the world do we find it? My goal in this section is to offer up some qualities to look for both in a supplier and in the essential oils you purchase. I personally would want a supplier:

• who is dedicated to supplying essential oils to the aromatherapy practitioner market and educated public.
• owned by an aromatherapy practitioner or essential oil specialist
• who has relations with his/her distillers, if possible
• who verify the authenticity of their essential oils prior to selling them.
• who has a strong ethical reputation in the field
• who has preferably been in the field for a number of years and is well known to other aromatherapy practitioners and/or educators

If you have found a supplier that fulfills the above criteria or at least the vast majority, then one can begin with the idea that the essential oil you have purchased is of a higher quality than those sold at grocery stores or in the mass market or by a large corporation.

If you have been provided with the GC/MS spec sheet that is batch-specific, you are aware of its chemical profile and potential therapeutic applications and safety precautions.

Qualities to Look For in an Essential Oil

Important items to obtain on each essential oil you purchase include: Common name, Latin name (exact genus and species), Country of origin, Part of plant processed, Type of Extraction (distillation or expression), how it was grown (organic, wild-crafted, traditional) and chemotype (when relevant).

Of equal importance to all the above criteria (including supplier qualities) is your own organoleptic assessment. “Organoleptic” means perceived by a sense organ. In relation to essential oils, I believe we need to utilize all six senses (taste, touch, smell, vision, auditory, and intuition) — even though the use of some of them is different than one would expect.

Naturally when it comes to essential oils, one would think first of your sense of smell and indeed this is the case. Utilizing your sense of smell may seem rather simple at first glance; however, the ability to smell (or sense) the “quality” or “wholeness: of an essential oil is actually more complex and involved.

I shall attempt to outline how to powerfully utilize your sense of smell for determining the quality of essential oil. Each of the steps takes time, patience, consciousness, and willingness.

Strengthen Your Sense of Smell

The sense of smell, in my opinion and experience, is like a muscle: The more you use it and become aware of it, the stronger it becomes. I would encourage you to first become more familiar and conscious of the aromas (odors, scents) that are present in your everyday life:

The smell of your home, your dogs, dinner cooking, your cleaning products, the way your clothes smell, your lover/husband/wife/partner, your children, the individuals you work with, your work environment, the smell of a woman or man with too much perfume or cologne on, the smell of the city, the country, the smell after a day’s rain, the smell of humidity, the smell of your favorite restaurant or grocery store, the aroma of freshly mowed grass, the smell of gas, the smell of wood burning in a fireplace or wood stove.

Spend two to four weeks simply observing, becoming aware of the different aromas which waft under your nose each day.

Strengthen Your Relationship with Aromatic Plants

Aromatherapists are in some ways at a disadvantage when it comes to relating to the aromatic plants from which essential oils are derived. Unlike herbalists who often spend much of their time touching, smelling, visually observing, and interacting with plants and plant material, aromatherapists simply purchase a bottle of essential oil without ever having come into direct contact with the plant.

I believe firmly that this relationship is critical to the full appreciation of each essential oil. Even though the vast majority of us will never go to Madagascar or Costa Rica to smell ylang ylang as it lingers on the tree, there are still many aromatic plants which one can have access to in a variety of settings.

The spring and summer months (particularly late spring and summer when the essential oil content is higher) are the best times to explore aromatic plants, either in your own garden or at an arboretum, a garden center, an herb farm, or even in nature. This relationship-building with aromatic plants is the key in being able to appropriately utilize your sense of smell when it comes to the quality and wholeness of essential oils.

If it is autumn or winter (as we are now moving into), then you may need to put this off until the spring, but nonetheless, it is a vital step towards strengthening and empowering your sense of smell.

Grow what you can. Wherever I have lived, I have grown as many aromatic plants as possible, sometimes to use for herbal teas but mostly just to be able to walk out into the garden and pick a leaf or flower and breath in its aroma. Even when I lived in a small apartment in Boston I was blessed with a fire escape and on it I grew as many aromatic and herbal plants as I could.

If you travel, visit gardens when possible. I will always remember visiting the Dupont gardens (Longwood gardens) just outside of Philadelphia. It was there in the conservatory that I had the great fortune of meeting black pepper, a plant I would otherwise never have seen. And although I could not spend time smelling the black pepper (which is dried from the green pepper once it has matured), I at least was able to observe its growth, its leaf structure and the berries.

Strengthening our relationship with aromatic plants strengthens our relationship with the essential oils they give forth. It provides us with a much wider olfactory palate and empowers our sense of smell in better perceiving a quality essential oil from one of inferior quality.

Compare and Contrast Essential Oils

Now let’s talk about using your sense of smell with actual essential oils. I remember years ago while studying esthetics, my instructor said something to the affect of: In order for you to truly understand the various degrees of oily or dry or dehydrated skin, you must come into contact with as many individuals as possible.

Once you have seen slightly oily skin and then very oily skin and also very dry skin and degrees thereof, then and only then will you have an appreciation and understanding of each of the skin types. And the same goes with massage — only after massaging numerous clients will you begin to be able to truly feel differences in muscle tone, range of motion, muscle tension, etc. This concept holds true for essential oils.

To be able to understand and interpret the differences between qualities of essential oils one must spend time with and be exposed to different qualities. Remember, too, that even within the category of high-quality, authentic and genuine essential oils, there will be subtle differences and nuances in the essential oils.

If you have never smelled an essential oil of superior quality (in every sense) or an inferior essential oil, how are you truly able to distinguish qualities? To know a superior quality, one must have access to companies which exemplify this quality.

I would highly recommend purchasing essential oils from companies in Europe (such as Florihana or Fragrant Earth or the U.S. company, Original Swiss Aromatics) and also from reputable suppliers here in the United States and Canada.  Purchase at least 2-4 essential oils from a few different companies, perhaps even the same essential oils to compare.

References

Harris, B. (2001). Editorial. International Journal of Aromatherapy, 11 (4), p.181-182.
Harris, B. (2006). Editorial. International Journal of Aromatherapy, 16 (2), p.55.
Schnaubelt, K. (2004). Aromatherapy Lifestyle. San Rafael, CA: Terra Linda Scent and Image. 

Jade Shutes is the Director of Education for The East-West School for Herbal and Aromatic StudiesShe began her study of aromatherapy and herbs while living and working in England over 26 years ago and has been instrumental in setting educational standards and serving as President of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. You can also find Jade online at Aromatic Studies.


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.

The Incredible (Totally Edible) Homemade Face Mask


Photo by Tabitha Alterman

Most of us are looking for ways to save money during this … what are we calling it these days … economic kerfuffle? Of course, one of the most logical places to look is at life’s nonessentials. You know, cable TV, restaurants, European vacations, and of course fancy schmancy cosmetics and beauty treatments.

In more robust times, I’ll spend $10 to $15 on a body care product that I really love. But how about this? For just a few cents, you can treat yourself to this fabulous at-home facial, and then eat the leftovers!

Ingredients and Equipment:

  • 4 grapes, cut in half
  • 1 tsp yogurt
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 washcloths 

Step One:

Prepare the ingredients for your at-home facial, and place them in your staging area, probably the bathroom.

  1. Cut the grapes in half.
  2. Mix the yogurt and honey together.

Wet the washcloths, and place them on a plate in the microwave. You don’t need to warm them yet — just get them ready. (If you prefer to use the stove, just set the cloths in a steamer basket with a little bit of water underneath.)   


Photo by Tabitha Alterman

Step Two:

Cut the grapes in half and rub them all over your face (don’t forget your kisser!) in circular motions, squishing the grapes into your skin as they begin to run out of juice. And sure, go ahead and eat the skins when you’re done — why not? I’m not here to judge.

 


Photo by Tabitha Alterman

Step Three:

Pat the clumpy yogurt-honey mixture all over your face. (Hey there, you trying to save the money! Yes, you. Learn how to make yogurt at home — it’s a cinch.)


Photo by Tabitha Alterman

Step Four:

Get ready for the fun part! Warm the towels on half-power in the microwave, for about 45 seconds. (Or heat them gently in a steamer basket on the stove.) They should not be too hot to handle. Place the warm cloths over your face, and lie down to relax until the washcloths have lost all their heat. (Tip: For a more spa-like experience, first light an aromatherapy candle, dim the lights and listen to some pleasant tunes. And remind someone to wake you up in about 15 minutes!)

Step Five:

Rinse the mask off with warm water. Then take your new face out on the town, and party like it’s 1999!

Why This DIY At-Home Facial Is So Great:

  • Grapes contain fruit acids that exfoliate and smooth skin.
  • Yogurt soothes inflammation and redness, and softens dry skin.
  • Honey moisturizes skin, and attacks germs.
  • Heat opens pores, allowing the other ingredients to get to work. Plus, it’s soothing.
  • Relaxing, or giving yourself permission to enjoy a few minutes of R&R, is part of the healing process.

— Thanks to Caudalie and Time Out New York for inspiring this easy natural treatment! By the way, if your budget woes haven’t forced you to cut out beauty products yet, you might enjoy Caudalie’s line, which is free of parabens, phenoxyethanol, sodium laureth sulfate, and other things you don’t want seeping into your precious pores.

Forage for Skin and Hair Care Ingredients

Foraged Horsetail 

Foraged horsetail. Photo by Sarah Hart Morgan

Last month, I shared my top 5 plants in my skincare garden but many of the plants I use have been foraged for around my property. I’m a big believer in eating locally grown food and that extends into the plants I use in my skin and hair care routines. The same reason I prefer to eat locally sourced honey, I believe nature provides most of what we need to our local regions.  I’ll be sharing with you what plants I forage for in my zone: 6b, and how I incorporate them into my hair and skincare routines.

Horsetail

Horsetail can be found in wet areas along creeks, streams, and rivers. I am lucky enough to have this plant growing along the side of my road for easy harvesting. Horsetail can improve circulation in the hair follicles which can promote hair growth, therefore, I like to incorporate this plant into all of my hair growth products combined with Rosemary.  After harvesting, let the reeds dry, you can dry them in a dark place hanging upside down, on a drying rack, or in a dehydrator. The reeds will then separate easily for storage. I like to infuse horsetail along with rosemary in spring water to be used as a hair growth spray. Add a bit of witch hazel into a 1oz spray bottle and use twice a day. Keep the mixture in the fridge for preservation. I also infuse in a mixture of oils to use as a hair serum/deep conditioner treatment. 

Wild Rose + Rosehips

Wild Roses Grow Along the Creek

Wild roses grow along the creek. Photo by Sarah Hart Morgan

Wild Rosehips foraged in the Fall/Winter Months

 Wild Rosehips foraged in the Fall. Photo by Sarah Hart Morgan

Wild rose and rosehips are much smaller than the cultivated variety but I LOVE foraging for wild roses along our creek. For me, it may be more of a mindful practice then anything else and it is one of my favorite summer activities.  The petals dry quickly and easily for storage.  I like to grind them up to be used in bath salts, infused in oils along with Chamomile in my face serum, and used in wrinkle cream.  Rosehips can be found in the fall/winter months and are best harvested after the first frost. Just be sure to leave plenty for birds and other wildlife to eat during the colder months.

Yarrow

Yarrow Found in a Field

Yarrow found in a field. Photo by Sarah Hart Morgan

In skincare, yarrow is wonderful with wound healing and for this reason, I incorporate it in my Herbal Soothing Salve, infusing the plant in oils along with other skin loving plants and herbs for at least 6 weeks.  I also incorporate it in my Muscle Rub as it is said to help improve circulation. It is easy to harvest and easy to dry by hanging it upside down in a dark room.

Wild Violet

Wild Violet

Wild violet. Photo by Sarah Hart Morgan

This flower may be small but when it’s blooming it’s easy to spot. The dark purple flowers stand out against the green grass. The flowers can come in shades of purple into white. The flowers are good for dry, chapped skin. They are cooling, soothing, and anti-inflammatory. They can be infused in witch hazel (you may even get a purple color!) to be used as a facial toner or to help relieve the itch from insect bites. You can infuse them in oils for all your skincare needs. It can be time consuming harvesting these beautiful little flowers so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the process!

Elderflower

Elderflower found in a Field

Elderflower found in a field. Photo by Sarah Hart Morgan

Preparing Elderflower for Drying

Preparing Elderflower for drying. Photo by Sarah Hart Morgan

Elderflowers are the flowers that come before the Elderberries. I personally love the berries more than the flowers so I try to only harvest what I need of the flowers and leave the rest to turn into berries.  The flowers have anti-aging qualities, are said to improve skin elasticity and are firming. They are full of vitamins and improve skin complexion. I harvest just enough to last a year and use it in my wrinkle cream and body oil. 

What do you forage for in your area? Are any of these plants available to you? I’d love to know what local plants you harvest and how you use them, please share in the comment section!

Sarah Hart Morgan is a designer, photographer and author of Forrest + Thyme Apothecary: simple skin care formulas you can make uniquely your own. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley, where she works with foraged plants in her skincare and apothecary products, camera-less photography, using plants as a developing agent in film photography, and creating natural inks for painting. Connect with Sarah on her website, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. 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.

Plant a Skin Care Garden with These Plants for Natural Recipes

Lavender in the garden 

Lavender 

Photos by author

You’ve heard of a vegetable garden, a pollinator garden, and a flower garden; but have you ever heard of a skincare garden?  I’ll be sharing with you my top 5 plants for my own skincare garden where I live which is Zone 6b. Many of these plants are readily available to most gardeners and zones and you may even have them growing in your garden now!

Lavender 

What’s not to love about lavender? It’s my go-to herb for most of the skincare products I make and highlight in my bookForrest + Thyme Apothecary: simple skincare formulas you can make uniquely your own.  The scent is light and by just inhaling its flowers is calming to the nervous system.  It helps to soothe and calm irritated, inflamed, or sunburned skin; can help clear up acne thanks to its antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. It can aid in just about any skin issue you may have from eczema, psoriasis, dry skin, aging skin, or acne prone skin. Many believe it helps to speed up the healing of the skin, which is why I use it in my Herbal Soothing Salve. Lavender also contains antioxidants which could also help slow down the aging process by blocking free radicals from your skin, which is one of the causes of fine lines and wrinkles. I personally infuse lavender in my oils for my face serum as well as my wrinkle cream.

Chamomile 

Chamomile in the Garden

Chamomile isn’t just great for tea but great for your skin too! It is a powerhouse of an herb from being anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antibacterial, antiseptic, hypoallergenic, as well as containing antioxidants. It helps reduce free radicals in the skin much like lavender and I love infusing Chamomile with Rose in a blend for a face serum. Not only does it work wonders on your skin but it smells fantastic too! I like to grind dried flowers and add them to my charcoal mask, infuse the flowers into oil to then be made into body oil, lip balm, wrinkle cream, face serum. You can infuse fresh petals into witch hazel for a facial toner as well. The possibilities really are endless. 

Rose + Rosehips

Roses in the Garden

If I had to guess, rose is probably the oldest ingredient in skincare. It is superb for dry and aging skin due to it’s variety of  A, C, D, and E vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. But the flower and it’s seeds are also great for acne, redness, and irritation due to its astringent qualities.  Any variety of rose will work in your skincare routine. The rosehips come after the flowers have fallen off and I like to harvest my rosehips after the first frost, just be sure to allow them to fully dry before storing them. I love using rose in bath salts, in a body oil, and in my face serum along with Chamomile.

Rosemary

Fresh Cut Rosemary

Rosemary isn’t just used in baking and cooking! It can help increase circulation, is anti-inflammatory, and is used in many haircare products to promote hair growth. Due to this reason alone, I add Rosemary to all of my homemade hair care products. Infuse the herb in spring water and spray it on the roots of your hair twice a day to help regrow hair. I also infuse the rosemary in oils for a nourishing hair serum/deep conditioner, concentrating on the roots. I use it as an eyelash and brow boosting serum too (infused oils only, no essential oils so close to the eye!) 

Calendula

Calendula in the Garden

I’m probably late to the party on this one as I just discovered last year that Marigold is the same plant as Calendula. I’ve been growing this magical plant in my garden for years but mainly used as a deterrent of pests in the garden and to enjoy the sunshine color it provides among a sea of green. This past summer I studied it’s properties more and even though I’ve never used this flower in my skincare products before I’m adding it to the list now because that will all change this year!  Calendula is great for inflammation and muscle spasms so I will be adding it to my Herbal Soothing Salve as well as into my Muscle Rub.  It can also sooth skin ailments like eczema and psoriasis so it will be going into my next batch of body oil. The flower may also help fade dark spots so I’ll be adding it to my batch of face serum as well this year.

Bonus: Chili Pepper

I’m throwing the chili pepper into this list as an added bonus as it is the secret ingredient (well, it’s really not THAT secret) in my muscle rub. Infusing the dried peppers into oil along with a few other ingredients is one of the warming agents in the rub.  It penetrates deep into the muscle to help sooth after a long day working in the garden. 

Do you have any of these plants growing in your garden now? Have you ever used them in your skincare routines? Next month, I'll be sharing my Top 5 foraged plants that I use in my skincare routine just in time for this years foraging season!


Sarah Hart Morgan is a designer, photographer and author of Forrest + Thyme Apothecary: simple skin care formulas you can make uniquely your own. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley, where she works with foraged plants in her skincare and apothecary products, camera-less photography, using plants as a developing agent in film photography, and creating natural inks for painting. Connect with Sarah on her website, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. 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.







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