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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Safer Alternatives in Skin & Beauty Care

Walk into a beauty salon, cosmetic section, or skin care line aisle and it is easy to get enveloped in the wonderful smells and appealing promises of slick packaging and advertising. You may wonder what the big deal is with the ingredients. I mean, you would think if there was something potentially harmful in these products they wouldn't be on the shelves in the first place. But it all comes down to what is most cost effective for the company and to satisfy the customer. Visual appeal, scent and the feel upon application are all factors in consumer choice. Additives are there for a purpose and as long as they are legal within limits they will continue to be in our products.

Our health is our own responsibility, therefore it is up to us to be willing to educate ourselves and search and check the labels on these products. The skin is our body's largest organ, and anything we apply to ourselves enters through the layers of skin into the bloodstream. The cosmetic industry claims the amount of these ingredients are not high enough to pose a threat, but the problem lies in the fact that we use these products day in and day out.  Our kidneys and liver do their best to eliminate toxins but what about those that over time have been stored within the fatty tissues of the skin. The long term effects are a concern. The body reacts by way of allergic and inflammatory reactions, the havoc played on the the endocrine system is not always fully understood and the source of the problems are often hard to pinpoint.

It was very surprising for me to learn how vague the labeling laws are in the perfume and cosmetics industry. Unlike the food industry, there are no legal standards for organic or natural personal care products sold in the United States.
A very eye opening documentary, titled Stink, of the cosmetics industry, reveals just how dangerous chemicals are in our every day products.

The Campaign For Safe Cosmetics has a cartoon video which is a real eye opener.

The ingredients of skin care and cosmetic containers can seem like a foreign language to understand but below is a list of the "ten most wanted" put out by the Organic Consumers Association. 
Try to become familiar with these terms so that you will recognize them when you do check labels.

1.  Imidazolidinyl Urea and Diazolidinyl Urea
Commonly used preservatives after the parabens. Trade names are Germall II and Germal 115. The American Academy of Dermatology have established them as a cause of contact dermatitis.

Used in deodorants, nail polish, shampoo, shaving cream as a disinfectant and preservative.
Health concerns include problems with the immune system, skin toxicant and carcinogen

2.  Methyl and Propyl and Butyl and Ethyl Paraben
Widely used for microbial growth inhibitors to extend the shelf life of products. Are known to be contributors for allergic reactions and skin rashes. Parabens are used extensively as preservatives due to their low cost. They mimic human estrogen and though there isn't conclusive proof to date for its link to breast cancer, it is advisable to avoid them if possible.

3.  Petrolatum
Paraffin or Mineral Oil is a by-product of the distillation of gasoline from crude oil. It is used as an inexpensive form if skin softener and barrier that adds shine and doesn't spoil. Petroleum based products have been implicated in cases of eczema and may disrupt hormonal activity.

4.  Propylene Glycol
Used as humectants which are a means of helping the skin retain moisture. If this term sounds familiar it is because it is used in anti-freeze and brake fluid. When used on the skin it may cause irritation as well as kidney and liver problems.

5.  PVP/VA Copolymer
Petroleum-derived chemical used in hairsprays. Particles may aggravate the lungs of sensitive people.

6.  Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Sulphates are foaming agents commonly used in shampoos and soaps. They deplete the natural oils from skin and hair and build up within the heart, liver and brain. Another human estrogen mimic.

7.  Stearalkonium Chloride
A chemical developed as a fabric softener, it is used in hair conditioners and creams. Considered toxic, it is used because it is cheap.

8. Synthetic Colors
Consumers want their products to look pretty therefore companies give their products visual appeal by way of FD&C or D&C additives. These synthetic colors are believed to be cancer-causing agents.

9.  Synthetic Fragrances
There is no way to know what ingredients are used since the label only has to say "fragrance". There are up to 200 possible ingredients for various scents, any of which can cause headaches, dizziness or rash.

10.  Triethanolamine
Used to adjust the pH for cleansers, it can cause allergic reactions and be a problem if absorbed into the body over a long period of time.
        Diethanolamine (DEA)
Used to adjust the pH in sunscreens, hair color and moisturizers

What to do as a concerned consumer for yourself and your loved ones?
Do your homework and look for natural ingredients in the products you buy. Any product that can sit on a store shelf for months must utilize synthetic additives and preservatives. An alternative is to find a reputable source and shop for products that are made as needed with the intent of being used within a few months.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fluids, Rest, Onions and Garlic

Onions, garlic, chives and leeks are part of the 500 plants belonging to the genius Allium. 

These vegetables have long been regarded as food sources but also highly respected as a form of treatment in health care.
The Egyptians regarded the onion as a symbol of the universe because of its sheaves or layers that encircle the bulb. Garlic is the second oldest medicine (after ephedra)and is even in the world's oldest surviving medical text, the Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian medical papyrus dating to circa 1550 BC.

People tend to avoid these vegetables due to their pungent smell and after taste, but their use in treating and preventing illness is definitely worth this little aggravation. To get rid of garlic breath, try chewing some parsley.
Allicin, a sulfur compound found in these foods is responsible for the resulting garlic and onion breath. When we chop the onion or garlic cloves, the resulting chemical reactions create a very pungent smell.

Containing more than 100 sulfur-containing compounds, the chemistry of the onion is very complex.
Used as a traditional remedy for respiratory ailments, it has been found that these sulfur compounds can prevent the biochemical chain of events that lead to asthma and inflammatory reactions. Onions may help to prevent the inflammatory response that can lead to allergies and asthma. Being potent antioxidants, onions are valuable for the prevention and treatment for colds, congestions, coughs, and bronchitis.
If you dread working with onions because of tearing eyes try rinsing the onions after you cut off the ends. What happens is that when you cut into an onion, vapor from the sulfur hits your eye creating sulfuric acid, which is what makes you cry.

Before the Age of Antibiotics with the discovery of penicillin in 1928 by Alexander Fleming, garlic was relied heavily upon for the treatment of infection. The source ingredient in this wonder herb was discovered in the 1920's when researchers at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in Switzerland isolated alliin. When garlic is chopped or chewed, the alliin comes in contact with a garlic enzyme, allinase, which transforms it into another chemical, allicin, a powerful antibiotic.

According to Dian Dincin Buchman in "Herbal Medicine", if garlic wasn't so cheap we would treasure it as if it were gold. While garlic has only 1 percent of the impact of penicillin, it is more effective with gram negative bacteria than is penicillin. It sweeps through the body in a cleansing fashion without destroying the body's good intestinal flora.

Garlic is safe for children and nursing mothers (unless mom is on a garlic and onion free diet to reduce colic). A great way to get your child to benefit from garlic if he or she refuses to eat it is through an oil to apply topically. Steep three minced cloves in four ounces of olive oil 8 - 12 hours. Rub the oil onto the soles of your child's feet before bedtime and cover with socks. Garlic's healing antiviral properties will be absorbed through the skin and circulate throughout the bloodstream. Keep the bottled oil in the refrigerator. Good for about one year.

Coughs and bronchitis can be relieved with the following homemade cough syrup.  This recipe uses honey so check with your child's physician before using with children under 1 year of age.
Slice an onion into thin slices and place in a small amount of honey.  Let stand for about two hours and you'll have a thick throat-coating syrup even kids can tolerate. Onions attack the germs that bring on the cough as well as help with a sore throat. Take one teaspoon four times a day until the cough is gone.

Below are great therapeutic soups which are not only very tasty, but loaded with the recuperative value of the ingredients.

(What is Miso? Amazing nutrition is what it is)

1/2 cup garlic oil or other oil of choice
4 large onions, quartered and cut in half
2 quarts water or stock
3 tbsp miso
1 tbsp Spike seasoning
Cayenne pepper to taste
1 tbsp vegetable bouillon
2 slices whole grain bread cut into 2" squares
1/4 cup parmesan cheese or your choice
1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Saute onions in oil until transparent but not brown. Set aside.
Heat water or stock in a four-quart pot. Add one cup of this stock to the miso and mix well to break up any lumps.
Add this back to the rest of the stock along with the bouillon, cayenne and Spike seasoning.
Add the sauteed onions that had been set aside.
In a frying pan, mix oil, garlic powder, and 2 tbsp of the cheese. Toss in the bread squares and fry for a minute till lightly browned.
Top the soup with these croutons and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese.


4 oz. fresh kale, coarsely chop, discarding the thick vein from each leaf
1 large onion, chopped
3 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 tsp. olive oil
3 (14 1/2 oz.) cans vegetable broth or your own version of stock
2 (15 oz) cans white kidney or cannellini beans or soak and cook your own beforehand
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
12 garlic cloves, minced (yes 12, not a mistake!)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Coarsely chop kale and set aside.
In a large saucepan, saute the onion and Italian seasoning in the oil until onion is tender.
Stir in the broth, beans, sweet potatoes and kale. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes.
Stir in the garlic, salt and pepper. Simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
Yields 2 quarts of soup.


1 broiler-fryer chicken (2-3 pounds) cut up
2 quarts water
1 1/2 cups diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup barley
1/2 cup chopped onion
1-2 cloves garlic (more if you wish)
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. dried sage

In a large pot, cook chicken in the water until tender. Cool broth and skim off the fat that will coagulate on the surface.
Bone the chicken and cut into bite-size pieces.
Add the chicken pieces back to the pot of broth along with the rest of the ingredients.
Simmer, covered for at least an hour until vegetables and barley are tender.
Remove the bay leaf before serving
Makes 1 1/2 quarts of soup.

To your good health!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

An Apple a Day Beauty Tips

The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple's a rose,
And the pear is, and so's
The plum, I suppose.
The dear only knows
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose -
But were always a rose.

Autumn is apple season and the time to take advantage of the many varieties, best prices and various ways to enjoy these members of the rose family, Rosaceae. Try to buy from orchards local to your area. No need to purchase apples that were shipped across the country during a time of year when they are abundant locally.

There is much symbolism of beauty and long life associated with the apple. In Chinese culture, apples are a symbol of peace and the blossoms are a symbol of feminine beauty. The apple has long been associated with immortality, as the habit of eating an apple a day is said to bring good health and keep the doctor away.

Apple cider vinegar can be used to fight blemishes, revive a dull complexion, and help eliminate a funky scalp.

Blemish spot treatment
This herbal vinegar contains the healing and nourishing qualities of apple cider vinegar, soothing witch hazel, and various infused herbs such as lavender, chamomile, yarrow, calendula, roses, lemon balm and sage. Just apply to a cotton ball or cotton square and spot treat those blemishes.

Elderflower n' Rose toner
Roses and elder flowers have long been used by women for gentle, effective home skin and beauty care.  This facial toner consists of an apple cider vinegar floral infusion, diluted in distilled water to be a bit more gentle than the above blemish treatment, and added aloe, witch hazel and glycerin, all bring balance to skin pH.

Herbal vinegar hair rinse for light hair
Herbal vinegar hair rinse for darker hair

Both of these hair rinses utilize apple cider vinegar infused with nourishing herbs such as nettles, chamomile, calendula, sage and rosemary. Great for returning shine by eliminating residues from hair products, and to maintain a healthy scalp.

Enjoy your apple a day!


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Air Sprays Germs will Die For

No matter where we go or what we do in a day it is inevitable we'll be touching some thing previously touched by other people. It is unrealistic to avoid coming into contact with germs through daily contact and emotionally unhealthy to get neurotic about it. 

Children learn by checking things out so it is counterproductive to continually scold them for the need to touch. A healthy immune system is designed to deal with the bodily invasion of bad bacteria and viruses. Our bodies need to be exposed to a certain extent in order to develop the antibodies necessary for recognition of intruders.

The best we can do to protect ourselves and our children is to maintain good hygiene habits and keep our work or play areas somewhat sanitized without becoming compulsive about it. A wonderful option is to use the power of essential oils in a room/air or surface spray. These disinfectant sprays can be used aromatically to freshen the air, benefit our immune systems by way of our respiration, and act as an antiseptic by killing germs on surfaces.

People who are sensitive to the synthetics and perfumes in commercial air sprays or want to avoid aerosol cans for environmental concerns may find essential oil blends an ideal alternative. Commercial air fresheners may contain such chemicals as the organic pesticide, para dichlorobenzene (PDB), which is what is in mothballs. PDB may irritate the respiratory tract. Phthalates, used to carry fragrances and to make plastic products pliable, are questionable because they are potential carcinogens.

Essential oils are complex natural products of plant metabolism.  Very concentrated, it is the true essence of the plant from which it was derived.  An essential oil is a liquid that is generally distilled (most frequently by steam or water) from the leaves, stems, flowers, bark, roots, or other elements of a plant. Citrus essential oils are derived from pressing the peels of the fruit to extract the oil that is contained within, or by steam distillation.

Unique chemical compositions make certain plants very valuable for wide spectrum action against viruses, bacteria and molds. It has been shown that even with repeated use through inhalation there is no danger of accumulating essential oils in the body.

Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spec.):  antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, expectorant and   anti-inflammatory
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris):  antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal
Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia):  antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis):   antifungal, antibacterial, antiseptic
Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia):    antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, sedative
Lemon (Citrus Limon)  disinfecting, antiseptic, antibacterial, antiviral

Below are sources of various combinations of the above broad spectrum antimicrobials.

Use these air or surface sprays as desired for disinfecting the air and surface areas. Being the essential oils will remain suspended rather than actually mix with the water, the bottle needs to be shaken before each use.

Ideal for use on childrens toys, restroom facilities, door knobs, phones, shopping cart handles, steering wheels, restaurant menus, computer keyboards, piano keys, the list goes on.  For electronic equipment it is best to spray on a cloth and the wipe rather than spray directly. 

While using as an air spray, be aware of possible spotting if spray comes into contact with wood furniture.

Avoid contact with the eyes.
If one suffers from ailments such as asthma or epilepsy, please check with your physician before using essential oils.

Eucalyptus, Thyme, Tea Tree oil Spray

Eucalyptus, Lemon Spray

Rosemary, Lavender, Bergamot Spray

Citrus Blend Spray

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Honey, My Sweet

Ask someone knowledgeable in herbal lore what is a favorite, all-around practical gift from mother nature, and he or she just may say the wonders of honey!

Hippocrates' fame is largely due to his use of medicines that are readily produced by the earth and its inhabitants.
As a natural cure, honey, and other substances produced by the honeybee such as pollen and royal jelly is being rediscovered by those interested in effective, natural relief from a wide range of ailments.
Honey is just plain good for you inside and out.

"Eat honey, my child, for it is good."  
   Proverbs 24:13

"The happiness of the bee and the dolphin is to exist. For man it is to know that and to wonder at it."    Jacques Yves Cousteau

1. Honey is an ideal first-aid dressing material.
Great for those wounds that just won't heal.
Unprocessed honey can heal wounds, reduce inflammation, soothe the pain of burns and bee bites, all while keeping a wound sterile. Honey dressings won't stick to wounds, which is great because that means no pain when changing the bandages, and no tearing away of newly formed tissue.

2. Honey is great for our metabolism.
Honey does not have to be digested before it is absorbed because it is already the two simple sugars, fructose and glucose. This means the sugars go directly to the bloodstream and give that much needed energy boost.

3. Honey can help with a hangover.
Honey can speed alcohol metabolism to sober a person up and ease the fatique that goes with it.

4. Honey allergies can be helped with honey.
Eating locally produced honey to where you live can help relieve pollen allergies.

5. Honey can relieve indigestion and heartburn.
Honey enzymes enhance the digestive process to help relieve symptoms of indigestion.
A spoonful can help ease a bout of heartburn.

6. Honey is full of nutrients.
While table sugar has no nutrients at all, honey is an additional source for potassium, B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and calcium.

7. Honey can help with sleep problems.
Honey right off the spoon or in a hot cup of tea can help relax and encourage sleep.

8. Honey can help with weight loss.
Folk remedies for good health and metabolism recommend a daily dose of a TBSP of honey and a TBSP of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water.

9. Honey can ease coughing and sore throat. 
Honey right off the spoon can get rid of that nagging tickle behind a coughing spell. Homemade honey syrups are very soothing for a sore throat.

10. Honey is the ideal beauty treatment for glowing skin and wrinkles.
Honey softens and moisturizes for an improved complexion. Honey is a natural humectant which means it retains moisture and plumps up skin cells.It helps to rebuild the moisture level in the skin without making it oily. The high sugar, low protein content create an acidic environment with limited availability of water, therefore bacteria cannot thrive. Glucose oxidase is an enzyme that when combined with water produces hydrogen peroxide, a mild antiseptic. By calming down inflammation, honey helps with troubled skin and as a remedy for blackheads and whiteheads.
Apply raw honey as a facial mask or spot treatment. When you wash the honey off your skin, a small amount remains in the pores. As a result, the sugars in the honey attract water from the air, which keeps your skin hydrated.

Be sure to use raw honey, not the pasteurized type found in the grocery store. Raw honey has a different look than pasteurized commercial honey. It has not been heated or filtered therefore it looks a bit cloudy and has flecks of the activities of the hive, such as honeycomb bits and pollen. Having a high anti-oxidant level and being the natural enzymes have not been destroyed by heat, raw honey is a much healthier product.

Check out these products and utilize the wonders of  the perfect skin food and natural remedy:

Orange Blossom Honey Facial Wash
Rose Infused Honey Facial Wash
Lavender Infused Honey Facial Wash
Honey Facial Mask for All Skin Types
Honey Facial Mask for Tired or Oily Skin
Honey Facial Mask for Blemishes

We hear a lot about naturalizing our landscaping.
For honey production you need bees and for bees you need a food source in the form of plants, preferably native plants.

Depending on where you live the idea of leaving an area unmowed may prove difficult due to the rules of your community. Find out about any restrictions, start small and choose your plants according to your region. Wildflower meadows are beautiful and practical but do look a bit messy when the plants go to seed. Mow the area once a year to tidy things up a bit and keep noxious weeds and brambles under control.

 Help your local beekeepers by either planting or just limit the mowing of the many natural plants which attract bees! Two of the most commonly gathered types of honey are wildflower honey and clover honey. Wildflowers do include the many so called weeds that grow along roadsides, fields and meadows. When they flower they attract many beneficial pollinating insects. White clover is a wonderful ground cover and is such an attraction to bees that I often try my best not to mow over them when cutting the grass.

It has been said that weeds are just plants for which a person hasn't a use. Do we really have the right to be the judge and treat a species as though its existence has no purpose just because it doesn't appeal to us? Invasive species are plants no longer in their native habitat, therefore may need to be controlled so as not to take over native plants. That is true, but to spread a toxic substance over a lawn just to control lawn weeds such as dandelion, plantain and violets, may be a temporary fix for the perfect carpet lawn, but an environmental threat in the long run. Dandelions, for example, are not only pollinators, but upon going to seed, are a food source for countless birds such as goldfinches and sparrows.

Please avoid herbicide and pesticide on your lawns and gardens. Too often they destroy as many good guys along with the pests. The beneficial insects help keep the pest population in balance, as do the birds. Remember that many of those caterpillars will become the "flying flowers" we so enjoy fluttering around. A healthy balance of prey and predator keeps things in check without us humans feeling the need to interfere and control.

In case you worry about an increased risk for bee stings, from my experience these types of bees mainly mind their own business and usually only sting if they feel threatened. They just do their thing and I do mine. Familiarize yourself with the common weed called plantain. Should you get stung, gather some of this plant and chew it into a poultice and apply to the bite. You'll be amazed how quickly it can neutralize the pain.

Here is a small list of ideas for your landscape or garden plans:

 Milkweed, Goldenrod, Coltsfoot, Lavender, Thyme, Mints, Melissa, Tansy, Yarrow, Asters, Veronica, Globe thistle


 White and Yellow Clover, Borage, Coriander, Sunflowers, Cornflower


 Wild Rose (Dog Rose), Elderberry, Barberry, Hawthorn, Willows


 Black Locust, Willows, Oaks