DIY: Fragrant oils to condition and nourish your hair

May 4, 2010

Herbal Hair Oil Over the years, when I would hear about a hair oil or see a recipe for one, the association was usually with a hair treatment oil that would be used for a deep conditioning application for dry or damaged hair. This kind of hair oil treatment can be a great benefit to hair, because the oils penetrate and revitalize extra dry locks to great effect. Because my hair is on the oily side to begin with, I knew that a hair oil treatment of this kind is not something I would necessarily need. Plenty of lubrication there! I prefer using herbal hair rinses to reduce oil production and increase lustre and shine.

That said, when perusing Colleen Dodt’s Essential Oils Book a few years ago, I came across what was, for me, a novel concept. Dodt advocated the use of a blend of fragrant essential oils in a carrier oil base that are put in a dropper bottle, applied to a wooden comb, rubbed into the wood, and then combed into the hair.

The result? Hair that smells really, really beautifully — delicately scented, aromatic, and provides a halo of natural fragrance wherever you go. She likes to use it to banish smoke when leaving a smokey environment and carries a tiny bottle in her purse at all times. I just love the concept and often apply it to dry hair in the morning or evening before going out. My hair is actually on the oilier side, and this kind of application needn’t aggravate oily hair at all. You are basically just –very lightly — applying a nourishing hair conditioner that contains essential oils actually beneficial to the hair itself.  There are definitely hair oil treatments that can be applied for deep conditioning for drier hair types, but this fragrant application does not fit into that category.

Aromatic Hair Care Oil

Start with 1/2  oz. of base carrier oil, such as jojoba oil. Be sure to use only pure essential oils, not synthetic fragrance oils. You can add to a comb or brush as described below and comb into dry hair OR you can add a few drops to your scalp, especially if you have a dry scalp, when hair is wet and allow essential oils to add conditioning fragrance to your hair as it dries.

Try any of the following blends, as your needs dictate:

Soothing Scalp Refreshment Blend: 2 drops rosemary, 2 drops lavender, 2 drops clary sage, 2 drops jasmine absolute
Fragrant Garden Blend: 2 drops lavender, 2 drops rose geranium, 2 drops ylang ylang, 2 drops patchouli
Conditioning Blend: 2 drops Roman chamomile, 2 drops lavender, 2 drops sandalwood, 1 drop jasmine absolute
Earth Blend: 2 drops rose absolute, 2 drops patchouli, 2 drops sandalwood, 2 drops lavender
Healing Scalp (anti-dandruff) Blend: 2 drops cedarwood, 2 drops lavender, 2 drops rosemary, 2 drops tea tree.

Directions:
1. Fill a 1/2 oz. dark glass dropper bottle with the carrier oil and essential oils.
2. Add 2-3 drops of hair care oils directly onto a hair brush or comb before using. If you have a wooden comb, the oil can be rubbed directly onto the comb. The oil conditions the hair as you brush or comb.
REF: Colleen K. Dodt, The Essential Oils Book: Creating Personal Blends for Mind & Body, MA: Storey Publishing, 1996.

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Keep yourself warmed with Herb & Tea infused Milk

March 11, 2010

Warm milk While the cool weather lingers, here in the early months of Spring, out comes the milk pot. I adore my Swiss-made red-enameled milk pot. To me, it means steaming hot frothy milky beverages that when poured, will not result in a milky mess all over the stove top or counter. To my daughter Maeve, Mr. Milk Pot means “vanilla milk”, “cinnamon milk”, “honey milk”, or “hot chockie”. To me, it means any number of milky beverages. Let me give you an example. Back in January, I made a fresh batch of organic lavender infused organic honey for ecoknits, a wonderful etsian who makes the most adorable little hats. Anyway, at the end of the process, I was left with a mass of organic lavender buds soaked in the most lovely clover honey you’ve ever tasted. My thought? Mmmm..this would be good in warm milk. I thought, why not throw in some organic fair trade earl grey tea while I’m at it? So I did. I let the milk come up to a near-boil (but not), called “scalded milk”. You can tell when it’s right because you see this hint of frothiness around the edges of the pot and the milk has not yet come to a simmer/boil.

Masala Chai Tea Some tea shops, such as Infusion, an independent coffee shop in Mt. Airy (Philadelphia) has been making tea-infused milk drinks, called cambrics, for years. Other places have more recently introduced the tea latte, an infusion of tea in water, made extra strong and topped with lots of steamed milk (i.e. frothiness at its best). I love steamed milk. (I’m a steamed milk nazi because I worked at a coffee shop in Dublin for three months and was forced to master the skill, but that’s another story. I digress.)  The ones who own the origin of the true tea latte are the ancient Indians, I guess, as milk is considered to be a perfect food in India. “Masala Chai tea“, or what I think of as “yogi tea” is a blend of black tea and energetically warming, aromatic spices such as cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ginger root, and pepper traditionally infused (via heating to a near simmer or simmer) in milk and water for a warming, soothing drink. Other possible additions include saffron, nutmeg, and even rose petals, depending on the region of India. That said, you can experiment with this concept. Lavender and black tea or earl grey (bergamot-flavored) tea are sublime with milk, as is black currant flavored tea. One of my favorite tea blends is my “Sunrise Sunset“, which includes red rooibos ‘tea’ (an herb, really), rose petals, hibsicus, cloves, cinnamon, and a touch of orange peel, an herbal tisane which is superb when prepared with warm milk and honey. I also love herbal root blends prepared with a mixture of water and milk, such as my Ishtar tea (shatavari root, ashwaghanda root, dandelion root, burdock root, and cinnamon bark), or even just a mixture of Shatavari root and cinnamon bark. It is a nourishing, vata-clearing tonic that is so very nourishing to the spirit as well.

I am sure my readers will come up with all kinds of beautifully creative ways to infuse milk and create lovely winter treats for both themselves and their children. I want to hear about them! In the meantime, you can start with my lavender and black tea milk (and keep in mind that you can infuse the milk you use to make chocolate pudding, cream of wheat, oatmeal…you name it!). If you use tea leaves or herbs in your milk, you will need to use a fine mesh strainer to strain out the organic material from the milk as you pour into your mug. In the photos for this post, I just used cinnamon sticks and honey in the milk, so a strainer wasn’t really necessary.

cinnamon added to milk over the stove

honey added to warm milk

warm milk being poured into a mug

RECIPE: Lavender & Black Tea Infused Milk
1 tsp lavender blossoms
1 Tbsp. black tea (darjeeling, english breakfast, earl grey)
1.5 cups whole milk

Put all of the above in a milk pot or small saucepan and starting at medium heat, bring slowly to warmth, removing from heat before boiling/simmering. You will see a softening, frothiness around the edge of the milk, and a gentle steam will be rising from the milk. Add honey if desired!
Want to know more about my thoughts on milk nutritionally? Read on. If not, stick to the recipe above and enjoy!

Myth: Saturated fat clogs arteries (i.e., “whole milk is bad”)
Truth: the fatty acids found in artery clogs are mostly unsaturated (74%) of which 41% are polyunsaturated (Lancet 1994 344:1195)

Sally Fallon is an important figure in the Weston Price Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates the nutritional (dare I say, evidenced-based) philosophy of Weston A. Price, who wrote a fabulous book called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, which chronicalled his research among various cultural groups in the 1930’s whose diets were still ‘untainted’ by modern foods such as jams, jellies, white (refined) flours and sugars. He discovered that the facial (skeletal) structures, dentition, physical health remained superior generation and generation only when individuals consume nutrient-dense whole foods and fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats. Physical degeneration would appear in only one generation once modern foods were introduced to a cultural group. Sally Fallon,  the president of the foundation, wrote a wonderful cookbook called Nourishing Traditions, which outlines much of the nutritional basis of what the Weston Price Foundation advocates for through research, education, and activism. Much of the nutrional ‘message’ is quite opposite to what most dieticians preach, though much of this (peer-reviewed, scientific) research is beginning to gain ground in the public eye. Namely, that saturated fats and cholesterol rich foods are not at all the enemies they are made out to be, and are, in fact, vital to a healthy diet. All of this is to say…sigh…that whole milk is good. (P.S. And FYI …soy milk…not so good.)

tea strainerRaw Milk Warmer Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions
(2 cups)
1 1/2 cups raw milk
2 Tbsp carob powder
2-4 Tbsp maple syrup OR 1/4 tsp stevia powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp chocolate extract
1-2 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes

Place all ingredients in a glass container and mix well with a wire whisk. Place in a pan of simmering water and stir occasionally until the mixture becomes warm. Do not overheat!

Raw milk is another story, as is the story of cultured milk products and their benefits to one’s health. What are your thoughts about milk?


Herbally Infused Liquors for a Delightful Summer Treat

May 19, 2009

infused_vinegar_alcohol_2I’m a lucky gal – in my ‘real job’, I am about to take on a new research assistant, and lo and behold, she’s a top class bartender by night! We got to discussing the special world of mixology and she mentioned a local bar known for their use of herbal tinctures and infusions in fine vodkas and other drinkable liquors. What a great idea! I did make a wee visit to said establishment and had to chuckle when I saw a mention of an herbal ‘liniment’ on their drink list (a liniment is used topically for various conditions, rather than internally as a medicinal extract). That said, my local mixologists are not the only herbal cocktails gaining attention. Savvy bartenders nationwide are experimenting in the herb garden for new, unusual, and often delightful new cocktails.

Happily, we don’t have to depend on fancy bars for fun herbally-infused beverages. We can all have herbal mixology fun in our own kitchens. Much like making a simple herbal vinegar, herbally-infused alcohol is a simple process.

Step 1: Choose your beverage and the desired herbs. Vodka is a good choice because it has clean, smooth finish that allows the herb to shine through. Gin provides an interesting dimension, and brandy, the choice of many herbalists, is an often-used vehicle for medicinal herbs. Aromatic, flavorful herbs are the best to begin your experiments: ginger root, dill, basil, cardamom, lavender, rosemary, bay leaf, and elderberries would all be fun choices. Use only one herb per infusion so that you don’t muddle the flavor and so you are able to experiment with each new flavor independently.

Step 2: Wash your herbs and pat dry to remove excess water. Roughly chop the herbs and place in clean, glass container. Pour alcohol over herbs and allow to steep in a cool, dark place for 1-4 weeks. Strain the herbs out and replace with a fresh sprig for a nice visual effect, especially if giving as a gift. A container with a rubber, sealed top is a great choice for storing your new herbal extract.

Step 3: Experiment away! Try adding the froth of whipped egg white, a hint of berry or ginger juice for an extra splash of flavor and color, or a touch of citrus for a lovely fresh finish. There are plenty of drink recipes out there in culinary land to get your started. Just be sure that in whatever herbal coctail you concoct, you allow the qualities of your chosen herbs to shine through and make themselves (and all their loveliness) known!

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