Thursday, December 4, 2014

Learn How to Make a Calendula Lavender Salve

Calendula is an herb of our dreams when it comes to healing.  It is antiseptic, detoxifying, and cleansing.  It has properties that can help your body to heal both topically and internally.  It can help with cuts and wounds, burns and sunburn, insect bites and stings, rashes (including diaper rash), cradle cap, and even hemorrhoids and varicose veins.  When taken internally, it can help with a number of issues, including digestive problems, cramps, and cleansing and nourishing the lymphatic system.  Good stuff!  And, calendula is edible too: Some edible uses of this herb include adding the flowers to stews and soups, salads, and decorating baked goods with it.

Calendula has cheery bright small orange and yellow-colored blooms, and they bring nice color to the garden.  The bees seem to really like them, and they continue to bloom for several months once established.  When harvesting the blooms, all one needs to do is snip them off with scissors or pinch them off with your fingers.   And, the more you harvest the flowers, the more they will keep growing.  The high resin content feels somewhat sticky upon harvesting.

Calendula is an annual herb that produces many seeds, so once you have planted it, you will have plenty of seeds for future years.  It has been reported that calendula can self sow its seeds, but I have planted it by seed both years that I have grown it.

Admittedly, until recently, I had not actually used any of the calendula that I have grown in my garden over the past two growing seasons.  I had very good intentions for using it, but had just not gotten around to taking any action.   Then, I became increasingly interested in learning how to make all sorts of herbal remedies, got on an herbal remedy making kick, and I made my first homemade herbal salve, a comfrey one

While the comfrey salve is truly awesome and healing, you cannot use it on any open wounds because it will cause them to close up far too quickly before they adequately heal.  So, I do love that salve, but I needed an herbal alternative to the conventional triple antibiotic ointment that I have used in the past for cuts and open wounds.  Enter calendula, which is absolutely safe to use on such “owies.”  And, I also wanted to add lavender to the salve, since it is one of my favorite herbs (I adore the way lavender smells!), and it also has antiseptic and disinfectant properties in its own right.

The process of making the calendula lavender salve was pretty much the same as when I made the comfrey salve.  

First, I infused 1 1/2 cups of extra virgin olive oil with enough dried calendula flowers and dried lavender flowers (I admit that I didn’t measure them exactly.  Try adding 1/4 cup of each herb at a time to see if you have enough) to cover the herbs in the pot with 1-2 inches of oil.  I used a double boiler technique to keep the oil from getting too hot.  According to the famous herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, 95-100 degrees F is a perfect temperature range to make an herbal oil infusion, but do the best you can with keeping the temperature as close to this as possible.  

I let the oil infuse on my stovetop for approximately four hours (3-5 hours is a good amount of time), and then I strained the herbs from the finished oil.    For more information on this process, please refer to my post on making a comfrey salve.

All of the ingredients needed to make the salve: extra virgin olive oil, lavender, calendula, lavender essential oil, and beeswax beads.

The dried calendula and lavender flowers after adding the olive oil, but just prior to infusing the herbs in the oil for about four hours.  Please refer to the post that I wrote on making the comfrey salve, as I used this pot inside another pot as a makeshift double boiler.

The calendula and lavender infused olive oil after the herbs were strained out.
You can either use this oil right away to make your salve, or you can set the infused oil aside for another time to work on this project.  You don’t have to do it all at once!

2.) To make the salve, I followed the recipe for making a calendula salve in Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide.  Therefore, I give credit to her for this information, but here are the basic ingredients:
  • 1 cup of your infused oil 
  • 1/4 cup grated beeswax or beeswax beads
  • 4-6 drops lavender essential oil
  • A pinch of tumeric root powder (optional, for color)
  1. Warm the oil (you can warm the oil in a pint mason jar within a pot holding a few inches of water and then add and combine all of your ingredients within the jar).

2. Add and stir in most of the beeswax and melt the beeswax within the oil.  This can take awhile for all of the beeswax to melt, but everything should look clear once it has fully melted.  

Rosemary suggests in her book that when making the salve, you should reserve one tablespoon of the beeswax, and then add more if desired after testing for consistency.  Check for consistency by putting some of the ointment on a spoon, set on a plate, and then set in your freezer for a minute or two.  Add the remaining beeswax if you desire a thicker ointment, and add a little more oil if you desire a thinner ointment.  

3.  When the salve is at your desired consistency, add the essential oil, and then add the optional tumeric powder for color.

4.  Pour the ointment into jars or tins and let cool.  Store in a cool dark location (such as a refrigerator), and it should keep for at least a year.

My finished calendula lavender ointment (the dark spot is just from some of the herbal material that had not been strained out of the oil, which is not a big deal).

Apply this ointment topically as needed to skin rashes, wounds, cuts, and to infant skin issues such as cradle cap or diaper rash.  Now, I don’t know about you, but if I had any children, I would much rather use something like this on their tender skin than a conventional product containing who knows what chemicals.  As always, if you are unsure if this remedy is appropriate to use in a particular situation, or if the condition is very serious, such as a very serious wound, please seek the help of a qualified medical professional.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

We’ve Got the Beet (Beet Kvass, That is)!

My Dear Readers, I have been really into fermentation lately.  I have been fermenting my own sauerkraut for several years now, and I have been brewing my own kombucha on an almost constant basis for over a year.  I have even dabbled in making kimchi once, but lately, I have been very busy experimenting with several fermentation projects that I had never tried before.  These new delights include gluten-free sourdough bread, water kefir, making my own mead, and also beet kvass, which I will discuss shortly.

Why I am a Huge Advocate for Fermented Foods
I originally started making my own fermented foods and beverages when I was focused on learning all that I could to recover my own health for a number of years.  While the cause of my ill health turned out to have multiple factors, one major aspect of my struggles was an extreme gut flora imbalance.  For a very long time, I focused primarily on “fighting the bad” microbes.  While this approach would usually help temporarily, if I transgressed in the diet that I was eating in any way, it would throw my whole body off for at least a week and I felt absolutely horrible.  This approach was extremely frustrating to say the least, and I wondered if I would ever be free from such a horrible condition.

Thankfully, I began to learn about eating traditional foods, and began to incorporate the dietary wisdom of our ancestors.  While I was already aware of the importance that probiotic cultures play in our health, I learned that traditional cultured foods were pretty much absent from our modern diets and that I could start making them myself.  In our era of extreme cleanliness and sanitation, we had forgotten about the importance of including cultured foods and beverages for our health and longevity as generations before us had done as a daily dietary practice.  This loss of the regular consumption of cultured foods in our diets, in addition to the overuse and abuse of antibiotics in our food and medical system has lead to a complete disruption of our biology for many of us and the normal 10:1 ratio of microbial cells to our own human cells in our bodies.  This especially impacts our immune systems negatively. 

What are all of the implications of decimating our natural and healthy microbial balance?    We don’t yet know all of the consequences, but it appears that we are starting to get a clue, given the increase in many immune system and digestive health conditions that are developing among the general population, including allergies and asthma.  These conditions may have a number of contributing factors, but we simply cannot ignore that the balance (or lack thereof) of the flora in our bodies play a huge role in our health.

It is most certainly true that being sanitary plays an important role in many aspects of our lives.  Who would want to undergo surgery or a dental procedure without sterile equipment, for instance?  However, the point here is that we have gone to an extreme in our culture and believe that simply everything must be sparkling clean.   

Needless to say, my personal health was not fairing too well several years ago, given the imbalance that I had in my gut.  Once I started making my own sauerkraut, which was the first ferment that I ever made, my digestive health and immune system health began to improve dramatically.  I had tried taking probiotics before, even fairly expensive ones, but even they fell short of the benefits that fermented foods gave me. 

Making my own cultured foods was not only cheaper than buying a probiotic supplement, but it was also really fun to make such creations.  Each new time that I make a new ferment, it is like a fun science experiment to me, and these foods are literally alive, with real living organisms in them.  By their very nature, they help to bring you to a much healthier place of balance, and infuse your body with life-giving nourishment.  All that you are essentially doing is creating the ideal environment where your organism “friends” will thrive.  In doing so, you will probably begin to thrive more too. 

I know that incorporating homemade probiotic foods and beverages into my diet has been an absolutely critical part of my journey back toward health and vibrancy.   If you have been struggling with any health issue, especially anything related to your immune system, I would encourage you to give some of these foods and beverages a try and see how they might help you.  If your body is really out of balance, start with just a little bit at a time and slowly work up to greater and greater amounts that you can tolerate.  Since I have milk allergies, it was really nice to discover that there are many options for cultured foods that don’t involve milk products.  The world of fermentation is so much bigger than yogurt and milk-based kefir, and many of these foods are extremely easy to make yourself at home. 

Try a variety of them until you find at least one that you like.  Once your body gets used to more of a healthy balance, you may find that you can tolerate and may even learn to enjoy a variety of other ferments.

The resources that have been the most helpful to me are the books Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, and The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz.  All three of these books are excellent additions to any homesteader’s home reference library.

Beet Kvass, Then…
My favorite ferment so far is still kombucha (although I really did enjoy the homemade mead that I recently made, with help from my husband and brother-in-law), but I am really enjoying the new flavors, variety, and health benefits of other ferments as I make them. 

Beet kvass is special in and of itself.  It is a powerful medicinal and detoxifying tonic for the body.  According to Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions, “This drink is valuable for its medicinal qualities and as a digestive aid.  Beets are just loaded with nutrients.  One 4-ounce glass, morning and night, is an excellent blood tonic, cleanses the liver and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other ailments.  Beet kvass may also be used in place of vinegar in salad dressings and as an addition to soups.”  Intriguing, is it not?

After making beet kvass for the first time a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that it has a strong flavor, although I don’t consider it to be unpleasant.  It could take you a few servings to get used to the flavor.   It’s not bad, just different.  And very, very healthy.  Your body will thank you for it.     

And, believe me when I say that a little goes a long way.  One four-ounce serving is really all that you will need at a time. 

Like most ferments, beet kvass is fairly easy to make.  All that you really need is 2-3 beets, some good quality sea salt, and some water.  It is also helpful to have a starter such as whey (not the whey protein powders from a health food store, but the natural live culture that is created during the culturing of dairy products), or you can use some of the juice from a previous batch of cultured vegetables that you have on hand.  Fortunately, I had some sauerkraut already sitting in my fridge, so I was able to squeeze enough juice from it to use as my beet kvass starter culture.

Beet Kvass
Makes one quart of beet kvass

*3 medium or two large organic beets.  Peel and coarsely chop these up.  Do not shred them, as so many small pieces will push fermentation to occur too quickly and will tend to produce alcohol instead of the healthy lactic acid that you want.

*¼ cup whey or ¼ cup of the juice from homemade lacto-fermented sauerkraut or other cultured vegetables.  This will serve as the “starter” for your beet kvass.
*1 tablespoon of sea salt.  This should be a good quality sea salt with plenty of minerals.  This should not be “iodized” sea salt, as this may negatively affect your culture.   Like many other areas of food preparation, quality really counts here.  Celtic sea salt is excellent, as is “Real Salt,” which I use for a lot of my own food preparation.  I would imagine that Himalayan sea salt would also be excellent.  The point here is to use good salt!  Trust me: do not go cheap on this!

Place your beets, whey or sauerkraut juice, and salt into a quart size glass jar.  Add enough water to fill up the jar, stir well, and cover securely with a lid. 

Let your jar sit at room temperature for approximately two days.  After the two days, taste the kvass to determine if it is to the point of your preferred level of sourness.   When the kvass is finished, it should have a very deep, dark red color.  In warmer weather, the fermentation will progress more rapidly, so be sure to check up on it regularly, at least once a day in this case to ensure that too much pressure doesn’t build up within your jar.

When your kvass has fermented to your point of preference, strain off the beets, and transfer to your refrigerator.  For subsequent batches, you can use ¼ cup of your existing kvass as your starter culture. 

I hope that you will try and enjoy some beet kvass.  It may just be the healthy tonic that your body needs after all of the rich and heavy holiday foods that you’ll probably be consuming over the next month or so!

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving this week!  For everyone everywhere, let us all have gratitude for the blessings in our lives.  Let us also pray for those in need around the world too, especially our brothers and sisters struggling through the Ebola epidemic in Africa right now.  They need our thoughts, prayers, and support!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Watch the Global Premiere of Origins the Movie

Watch the Global Premiere of Origins the Movie: From November 13th through November 22nd, watch the feature-length movie Origins for FREE from filmmaker Pedram Shojai. #OriginsFilm @Well_Org

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Homemade Body Care Products Episode 1: Lotion Bars and Deodorant

My Dear Readers, I have really caught the bug of domesticity over the last week or so.  If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, then you know that I am a huge advocate of do-it-yourself projects.   However, I have really put on my homemaker shoes lately by making a ton of fermented things (which I will likely discuss in future posts), as well as to start making my very own homemade body care products.

I have wanted to start making my own body care products since becoming more and more disheartened by all of the chemicals that are in commercial products.  The truth is that there are all sorts of “trade secret” ingredients that manufacturers aren’t even required to put on the labels that consist of who knows what chemicals.  Even the “all natural” and “organic” products, while generally better than the conventional kind, tend to be rather costly or it can still be difficult to identify all of the ingredients that they contain. 

I keep hearing about all of the scary ingredients in the commercial body care products that are carcinogenic or cause X, Y, and Z health problems, and it just makes you want to take a step back and start making your own stuff.   Just like the food we eat.  I guess that the rule with these products goes, “If it has any ingredients in it that we don’t recognize the name of, or in many cases, if we wouldn’t be willing to eat it, don’t put it on or in your body.” 

The skin is actually the largest organ in the body, and it essentially absorbs whatever we put on it into the bloodstream.  Then, whatever compounds we have absorbed into our body travels around and can get stored in our organs and other places if they don’t get used or excreted out somehow.  This should give us pause to think about all of the things that we put on our bodies.  Knowledge of this fact has transformed my choices concerning the products that I use, and I try to choose the most natural products as I can given what I can personally afford (which admittedly isn’t a lot). 

I am not a very “girly” gal, and so I prefer the basics when it comes to the personal care products that I use.   I am also not one to sit in front of the mirror every day primping for hours.  While I don’t want to look like a hairy, disheveled, and stinky monster, I have much better things to do with my time than to primp my life away.  I do, however, believe that beauty starts from the inside, not just from our souls and what sort of person that we are, but also from whatever we are eating.  If we are eating a healthy diet with lots of antioxidant-rich foods and other healthy whole foods, we will have much healthier complexions and bodies, and these foods help to keep our bodies looking younger.  Conversely, if we are eating poorly, our skin and the rest of our appearance will be affected negatively.  It amazes me how many people, especially many women, focus so much on buying expensive beauty treatments and cosmetics, but they often completely overlook what they are putting into their bodies from the food and the beverages that they are consuming, which quite often is the basis of beauty (and health) in the first place.   I believe that beauty really must start from the inside first.  

For a moisturizer on my face every morning and evening, I use unrefined virgin coconut oil, and it works like a dream.  While it may seem greasy at first, the oil quickly gets absorbed into your skin and you will benefit from the many healthy properties of coconut oil, which include tons of antioxidants and antimicrobial elements.  I have also recently gotten back into doing oil pulling using coconut oil, which has seemed to clear up my skin quite a bit.  I recommend the book Oil Pulling Therapy written by Dr. Bruce Fife if you would like to learn more about this simple and inexpensive natural health practice.

My First Homemade Body Care Products
Due to my interest in the healthy properties of coconut oil and the fact that I always have a steady supply of it my kitchen to use as my primary cooking oil, I was excited to discover several recipes for making some of your own body care products using it.  The ones that I have tried so far are for making coconut oil deodorant and coconut oil lotion bars.  

Since we have plunged into temperatures below freezing over the last week and now have snow where I live, we have to keep our skin from getting chapped and dry.  Fortunately, coconut oil works well for this purpose, and I decided to give the lotion bars a try by using this recipe.  

While the lotion bars are more reminiscent of an ointment in consistency, and it takes a bit of work to get it spread and absorbed into the skin, it seems to keep my skin well moisturized.  The bars were fairly easy to make: just take equal portions of both coconut oil and beeswax, mix them together and melt them, and then add your choice of essential oils.  I poured the hot liquid into a muffin tin (you could use molds or other containers instead), let them completely cool, and presto, there were lotion bars!  Since I made them myself, I was able to add whatever essential oils I wanted to.  I, of course, started with one of my most favorite scents in the entire world: lavender.  I was excited that I didn’t need to go out and buy any commercial lotion that day.  I am hoping to make some actual homemade lotion soon as well, but since I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand to do so, the lotion bars still saved the day as well as my dry skin.

I also made some coconut oil deodorant using this recipe.  Fortunately, I had all of the ingredients on hand: coconut oil, baking soda, GMO-free cornstarch (I prefer GMO-free corn products), optional essential oils (I chose lavender again on this one), and arrowroot powder (this ingredient will likely sound familiar to my gluten-free comrades out there, but for those of you who aren’t gluten-free, you should be able to find some in the gluten-free baking ingredients area of a natural food store or hopefully your local grocery store).   I did find that I had to add a little more coconut oil than the original recipe called for to equal a frosting-like consistency.  My advice would be to add one additional tablespoon of coconut oil at a time until the mixture reaches your desired consistency.

I wasn’t sure how well this deodorant would actually work, but so far so good, as it has kept my underarms dry and non-stinky all day long.  I did decide to try this on a weekend, since I’m not sure how well it would work during a typical workday during the week.  My plan is to try it out and keep my regular Tom’s of Maine brand deodorant with me just in case.  I had to apply it with my hands like a lotion instead of using a “stick” like your typical commercial deodorant.  This is now being stored in a jar in my bathroom cupboard.

Here are some pictures of my body care product making adventures this weekend.  I hope that they are helpful to you and will encourage you to start making some of your own homemade body care products as well.  They are natural and healthy alternatives, easy to make, and you will be able to identify all of the ingredients that you are putting on your body.  Score!

Making the Lotion Bars

Equal portions of coconut oil and beeswax beads.  I started out adding ¼ cup at a time of each, and added an additional ¼-1/2 cup of each to increase the total volume. 

Mixing and melting the beeswax and the coconut oil in a pot of boiling water within a pint size mason jar.

After awhile (I estimate that it took about 5-10 minutes), the beeswax and the coconut oil were melted.  The coconut oil melted much more quickly, and it took several additional minutes for all of the beeswax to melt.  Fear not, it will all melt eventually.  Everything will be a clear liquid when this process is complete.    

I added a few drops of lavender oil and pure vanilla extract to the hot liquid.    

After pouring the hot liquid into a muffin tin.

The cooled lotion bars.

All finished!

Making the Deodorant

All of the ingredients…

Whisking together all of the dry ingredients.

After adding the initial 1/3 cup coconut oil and 5-10 drops of lavender essential oil.  I found that it still needed a little additional coconut oil to achieve my desired consistency.    

After adding 1-2 tablespoons more coconut oil.  This resembled the consistency of a thick frosting.

The finished deodorant in a glass jar.

My homemade lavender deodorant on my bathroom cabinet shelf!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

One-Year Blogaversary: Reflections and the Year in Pictures

Day by Day Homesteaders, this week marks the official one-year anniversary of this blog.  As of today, October 29, 2014, it has been exactly one year since I published my first post for this blog.  I have to admit that I was a little scared at first to let my voice be read by the world, but I was driven by a desire to share what I have learned about gardening, homesteading, and becoming more resilient.

Writing this blog has actually been really fun, since I have always enjoyed writing, and it has been a great motivator for me to learn many new homesteading skills.  I enjoy learning these skills, and it is really exciting to learn how to do yet one more thing myself at home.  I hope that you have enjoyed learning new skills from reading this blog, and perhaps you have even begun to see the world a little differently.  I especially hope that you feel more empowered to try some of these projects yourself.  I also hope that you feel a little more connected to the natural world around you and to others around the globe.

In our modern world, many of us have simply never needed to learn how to do or make many of these things ourselves that we do as homesteaders.  For many of us, the convenience of store-bought items is often much more alluring in our busy lives than the effort that it takes to make them ourselves.  However, what have we traded and lost in exchange for our “conveniences”?  Here are just a few thoughts:

We have lost the connection to the resources (e.g., the time, the energy, and the natural resources) that it takes to actually make many of these things. 

We have lost the understanding of the ingredients in our foods, body care products, and many other products that we use everyday. 

We have lost the quality and the nutrition in our food, as well as the sense of community that often goes with the preparation of traditional and nourishing foods and the “breaking of bread” together. 

We have lost the skills necessary to make our own medicines from plants as generations before us have done.

We have lost our sense of place, and are quite often socially isolated from one another.

To me, homesteading activities help us to reclaim some of these things in our lives, even if it is done just one day at a time.   We don’t have to figure all of these things out all at once.  We can implement these steps gradually, as we have time, energy, and resources to do so. Before you know it, you are living a much more resilient lifestyle and are so much more empowered in your own life.  Through homesteading, we increase our resiliency, empowerment, and yes, abundance.  That is what Day by Day Homesteading is all about, my Dear Readers.

I look forward to sharing with you much more resiliency, empowerment, and abundance in the future.  I’m so glad that you have joined me on my Day by Day Homesteading journey, and I hope that you are having your very own Day by Day Homesteading adventures in your own life.

Below are my top twelve favorite pictures from the blog over the past year, one for each month of the very young life of this blog.  These are my favorite pictures that I took myself.  Perhaps I should also write a separate post about my favorite posts over the last year...

Do you have any personal favorites that I didn’t post here?

From "My Permaculture Herb Spiral," November 27, 2013

From "Seeking Peace and Simplicity During the Holidays," December 15, 2013

From "8 Tips for Growing Indoor Herbs in the Winter," January 27, 2014
From "16 Tips for the Seed-Starting Newbie," February 25, 2014
From "Celebrating St. Patrick, All Things Irish, and Cultural Food Traditions," March 17, 2014

From "Why Permaculture is Truly Awesome," April 1, 2014

From "The Fungus Among Us," June 25, 2014

From "When Squirrels Attack," July 8, 2014

From "When Things Don't Grow as Planned," July 1, 2014

From "Garden Video Tour!," August 5, 2014

From "Adventures in Herbal Medicine and the Making of a Comfrey Salve," September 16, 2014

From "Falling Leaves and Colorful Trees," October 8, 2014