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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

chocolate face masque

I have a new facial masque for you to try. Chocolate!
Totally edible, as tends to be the best for our bodies outside as well as inside, this recipe may have you licking your fingers. This masque firms, moisturizes, and fights the appearance of aging. Pretty much everything older skin wants.

Cacao is an antioxidant. With our bodies as with everything else, exposure to oxygen, despite being needed for respiration, is eroding, degrading. Antioxidants are substances which help slow down the decay caused by oxygen. On the face, especially, this seems to be what everyone wants, but while you're at it, masque the backs of your hands, too. Ever notice a woman with a surprisingly well made-up face and yet with hands of a woman 10 years older? Hands are a dead give-away. I'm typically awful at properly caring for mine, but there you go. Give them some chocolate love this time, for a change.

This chocolate face masque also contains ingredients which plump up cells, making the skin over the top appear less wrinkled, and also less prone to wrinkling as quickly. Think baby skin versus leather. The more moisture, the younger skin tends to appear on the whole. Cream or coconut oil can be used, either one, for bringing a deep moisturizing treatment.

Honey is a humectant, which means it draws in moisture to itself from the air around it. You can use honey all by itself as an antioxidant face masque, because yes, it also contains some antioxidant as well as antibacterial properties, but the moisturizing effect of just plain old raw honey is amazing. You must try it sometime. So this masque isn't sweetened just for your licking pleasure. The combination of oil and water is often the most deeply nourishing and long lasting moisturizing to skin, so while the honey draws extra moisture to the skin, the oils added to the masque help to lock it in place.

I also like to add some essential oils to this treatment. Vitamin C is needed for the production of collagen, and so helps keep skin appearing younger. This can be added with 2 drops per Tb of masque of orange or lemon essential oils. Please be sure to complete a C treatment in the evening, however, as exposure to sunlight after using these oils can result in photo-sensitivity, at the very least meaning sun spots, potentially nasty sunburn. Rose hip seed essential oil is also somewhat high in C without the same photo-sensitivity drawbacks, and is rich in fatty acids that help build collagen.

Yields about 1 1/2 Tb:
1 1/2 tsp raw cocoa/cacao powder
1 tsp coconut oil or full fat cream
1 tsp honey

Mix up ingredients to a smooth paste, doubling the recipe if needed. Apply all over face, throat, decolletage, and backs of hands, as thickly as you dare, and leave for 10 to 30 minutes while it works the magic for you. Use a little plain raw honey over the lips at the same time, as a moisturizing, gentle scrub for super smooth kisses. Mix up the batch in cup measurements instead of teaspoonfuls, and plaster it all over your body for a full on messy and gloriously indulgent skin treatment.

There are a few alternate ways you can mix up this recipe. A few ideas to try include:
  • Replace cream/oil with natural live yogurt, for the anti-acne goodness of the cultures.
  • Add a small amount of bentonite clay powder, with a little extra fat, for deeper detox properties. Bentonite clay is fabulous for skin prone to blackheads.
  • Mash 2 Tbs banana or avocado, or 2 ripe strawberries into the masque, reducing the cream/oil as needed. Strawberries contain salicylic acid, which fights acne. Banana and avocado are fatty and antioxidant rich. 
  • Replace 1/2 tsp cocoa powder with finely ground oatmeal flour, for reducing red tones in the skin surface. 
  • Replace cream/oil with 1 tsp espresso or strong green tea, as a remedy for puffiness. Don't get too close to the delicate eye area, though. It's best not to resort to this one as a puffy eye cure after a rough night of sleep as the fragile eye skin needs all the moisture it can get. 
  • Add buttermilk powder to the cream for extra thickness and skin nourishing fats. 

How else do you use chocolate or cacao on your body? What other variations can you think of for creating a nourishing facial masque with chocolate? 

Friday, May 23, 2014

essential lip balm / lotion bars

Lip Balm is really easy to make. Commercial stuff is almost always made of a petroleum base, which isn't all that great for the skin, and right by the mouth where it gets licked off and ingested... Well. There are healthier alternatives!

1 part cocoa butter
1 part shea butter
1 part beeswax
optional essential oils, 20 drops per 1/2 cup melted base

Pop your butters and wax into a double boiler and melt gently. Add the essential oils a few minutes after taking the liquid off the heat, to avoid undue evaporation. Lipbalm tubes vary a little in size from company to company, but I find that a general guideline without doing math is a 10 tube yield for 1/4 cup of base.

We love peppermint essential oil best, as it leaves a lovely tingle on the lips for a good 5 minutes, and it smells like an after dinner chocolate mint with the cocoa butter. Lavender is also lovely, as is rosemary. Rose hip seed oil helps smooth fine lines by rebuilding collagen. Be sure to choose a food safe essential oil.

Alternatively, you can use the same basic formula of butters and wax in a larger batch to make lotion bars. Lotion bars, or massage bars, are brilliant moisturizers while traveling, as they clearly are not counted as a liquid and last a long while. To use for massage, cup in the palm of the hand while massaging over skin and into muscles to provide lubrication without the slickness of oil. I always keep a lotion bar in a little salve tin in my busy bag, what was once the diaper bag but has been renamed now we are out of diapers, as my fingertips tend to crack with dryness and I have found this solid lotion is the best thick protection for them. If you prefer a slightly softer massage bar than the lipbalm base, add 1 part oil to the basic recipe. This could be coconut or a liquid oil.

Use the same method to melt down in a double boiler, add essentials as desired off the heat, and pour into a muffin tin or small soap molds, about 1 inch deep. There is no need for special non stick stuff or liners or silicone. If you want to use a regular old metal muffin tin, let the bars cool to solid and then chill in the freezer for 15 minutes. They pop out quite easily from chilled or frozen metal.

Lotion bars that are not for facial or lip use can have more essential oils added to them. Make a massage bar with warming essentials like ginger, cinnamon and black pepper, calming lemongrass and chamomile, or cooling oils of eucalyptus, raventsara, mint and pine. Start with fewer drops than you think you need at first, and test the mixture on your inner arm before setting the bars to cool. You can add more much more easily than you can take oils out.

making herbal lotion in the blender

I love blender lotion. It is quick and easy to make, soothes drym itching skin like nothing else, and costs very little to make.

Well, I lied. It does cost time, mostly. So it's not completely quick. Sorry.
You need to begin by infusing a base oil with herbs, using either my 3 day heated method, or the longer 2-4 weeks of cupboard time for cold infusions.

Then, you need to make a salve from the herbal oil by melting beeswax into it. Read here for making salves.
For this reason, I like to make up herbal salves that store in my apothecary for months in advance, even years although my salves are somehow always used sooner than that, so that I can grab the jar, scoop and go.

Once you have your salve, you need a good blender, and a liquid base. The liquid can be plain distilled water, a hydrosol like rosewater, oat water (soak 1/2 c rough oats in 1/2 c water overnight, then strain), aloe vera juice, herbal tea. Many options. Be sure to have both the salve and the water at room temperature, though.

Now, pop it into the blender and emulsify on high speed. Okay, this is easier than making homemade mayonnaise! I can not seem to get the hang of mayo, much as I've tried, but this blender lotion is nigh fail-proof. It works. Every time.

Quantities are approximate. About 2 parts (by volume) of oil base salve to one part of water base liquid is for me the perfect amount. You can add as much water as you like, until the oil stops absorbing it. If you add too much water, it won't ruin. Simply pour it off and rub into your skin, so nothing is wasted. The rest of the blender lotion will be smooth, creamy, and glide onto your skin oh, so gently once properly emulsified.

You can make this blender lotion any type of herbal thing you like. Skin safe herbs are best, for obvious reasons! But beyond that, let your creativity take flight. If you are truly pressed for time and have no herbal oil already infused, make a salve with plain oil and beeswax, and add essential oils to the blender instead. Add vitamin E or primrose oil for extra soothing to the skin. If made with a light oil such as jojoba, this blender lotion whips up to form a fabulous cream for the face, even under makeup. Made heavier, this is great for summer feet and busy mama hands that are prone to chapping. In general, blender lotion works superbly on skin because it contains both water and oil, giving skin a needed drink while sealing against evaporation.

If you want to use coconut oil, still make a salve as the beeswax adds stability to the lotion against temperature changes, but use 1/2 to 3/4 the amount of wax. You can use butters -- cocoa, avocado, shea, mango -- instead of salve, but you may have to melt and add a little oil to the butters to ensure you start with a good salve density. Cocoa butter is typically too hard alone. Shea is close to perfect 

I recommend only making a small amount, say 1/2 a cup, of lotion at a time, and use within 2 months. I have never yet had a blender lotion turn funky on me, but I've also not kept one for longer than two months so cannot attest to a longer shelf life. Generally, once oil and water mix they don't keep for as long and are more prone to molding. If you should notice any weird slime building up anywhere in the lotion, discard the entire batch and refill the jar only after it has been cleaned hot and soapy.

Herbs to consider using in your homemade blender lotion:

rose hips and petals -- adds vitamin C, for collagen rebuilding
calendula flowers -- skin soothing for all conditions
plantain -- heals acne, bug bites, sunburn, general rashes from play or plants or post-shaving 
lavender flowers -- smells good, add soothing for sunburn and irritations
arnica -- heals soreness and bruising, although not suitable for use on any broken skin
comfrey -- for post workout soreness, makes fabulous Lovely Legs blender lotion
green tea
lemon and orange rind -- not for use before exposure to sunlight, but high in vitamin C
Rapha Salve mix for sunburned skin, with black tea or aloe as water base
chamomile flowers

making herbal oils without heat

I've already shown you how to infuse oils with herbs using gentle heat in the crock pot. Heat is generally best applied to hard herbs -- ones which are woody, like rosemary, pine, and green tea; seeds, like fennel and coffee; bark and roots, like cinnamon, ginger root, echinacea root; orange and lemon rinds; dried rose hips. Especially once dried, hard herbs seem to do better with a little heat applied to force out their goodness. That said, you can make cold infused oil with hard herbs, too, using this same method.

Softer herbs are one that literally are soft, fragile. Catnip and mints, arnica flowers, plantain, rose petals, for example. Too great a heat applied to these will fry the herbs, losing the properties and yielding a funky smelling oil that isn't so powerfully healing. With care, a very controlled heat can be applied to soft herbs for making infused oils, just as you can make a hot catnip tea infusion without destroying the catnip's healing properties. But it's easier to take a different route. A cold route.

The process for making herbal oils without heat is much the same as that for making an alcoholic or vinegar tincture. I hope you are starting to see the patterns here. Heat infused oils, cold infused oils, tinctures, and glycerites (post coming!) all follow the same basic formula of herb to menstruum.

Find your herb of choice. When new to this process, choose a dried herb. (Post coming soon for using fresh plant material.) Measure 1 ounce by weight for each pint. As you can see in the pics, one ounce of fluffy calendula flowers almost fills the jar, whereas one ounce of green tea takes up only about 1/3rd space at the bottom of the jar. This will mean that generally you will yield less oil per pint jar of fluffier herbs, but trust the measurements. It works best like this.

Pour a liquid oil over the herbs. Olive, apricot kernel, almond, jojoba, whatever. It can be lighter or heavier. Olive oil tends to lend its own scent to the final product so for delicate scents, such as dried rose petals, it may be best to choose a lighter oil. Olive is my standard go-to for most herbs, however.

I don't recommend using coconut oil for cold infusions as it's higher melting point makes it solid or semi-solid at room temperature. Think about it. Butter is not going to take on as much flavor as melted butter or a liquid oil. Similarly with coconut.

Once you have your jars filled with herbs and oil, pop on lids securely, clearly label the jars with contents and date, and stick them somewhere room temperature (65-75 F) and dark. A kitchen cupboard is usually a good place.

Store the herbal oil for 4 weeks. You can go with less time, but my general rule is a full lunar month for full saturation. Give the jars a good hard shake every day or so, to stir things up. You will start to see the base oil change color, especially with darker herbs like green tea, rose hips, or St. John's wort which turns a beautiful red. Fragrant herbs should by this time have released a lovely bouquet into the oil. Lavender flowers hide the natural scent of olive oil quite well, and paired with lavender's many uses makes a great herb to add to oil blends for this reason.

At the end of the infusing time, line a sieve over a bowl with layers of cheesecloth, and strain the herbs from the oil as you would for the heat infused method. Be sure to use quite dry tools every time, as water in the oil will lend to molding and a ruined oil during storage. Kept properly, cool, dark and dry, your infused oils should last a good three years. You can use oils as they are, or for cooking, or proceed to making a salve, and then use the salves for blender lotions or other products. Again, be sure to label the final product properly, with ingredients and the final date you strained the oil.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

healthy chocolate herbal smoothie

Home from playing at the park this afternoon, my son is ready for a snack before I make dinner. Smoothies are a quick and easy snack, and most kids like chocolate milk. But don't buy it. Make it! Healthier, and so very quick and easy.

Healthy Chocolate Herbal Smoothie
  1. 1/2 cup milk of choice -- we used rice, but coconut, cow, etc are all good
  2. 1 1/2 level tsp raw honey OR 1/2 tsp raw honey and 2 pitted dates 
  3. 1 Tb unsweetened cocoa powder OR raw cacao
  4.  optional 1-2 Tbs cream -- cow or coconut -- OR coconut manna 
  5. optional 1/2 tsp elderberry glycerite or elderberry powder, for immune boosting, OR powdered herbs of red raspberry leaf, oatstraw, nettles and alfalfa for herbal vitamins 
  6. optional 2-4 ice cubes or frozen strawberries, or 1/4 frozen banana, for a thicker chilled drink

Pop everything into a blender and whiz smooth. Lovely!

Friday, May 16, 2014

homemade natural live yogurt

Ever made your own natural live yogurt at home? I love it! Not only am I saving money (over 50%) by making it myself, but I know that there are no preservatives, gelatins or setting agents, no sugars or food colorings, nor anything else artificially added to my yogurt, and it is full of good natural enzymes for my body. To give you an idea for cost comparisons, one gallon of whole milk yields one gallon (4 US quarts) of yogurt, or half a gallon of thick Greek yogurt, easily qualifying this for the frugality stamp. This is a pretty easy method, so read on and let me know if you give it a try.

First batch of yogurt, made in May 2012. Instantly converted! I have continued to make my own NLY for the past two years, and am updating the original post with new tips and photos.

1) Heat a desired amount of whole milk on the stove to 180 F. Don't let burn, so keep stirring especially once the milk starts to produce foam. Keep your thermometer in the milk the whole time as the last 10 degrees heat up rather quickly.

2) Cool milk to 110 F by placing saucepan in a sink full of iced water. Keep stirring.

3) Add your yogurt or starter. You need to add about 6-8 oz of natural live yogurt, or an appropriate freeze dried yogurt starter, to every 6-8 cups of warm milk. Stir in well to break up lumps and clumps.

4) Ladle milk into canning jars. I prefer pint sized, and I make generally about 6 pints of yogurt at a time in my large crock. Place jars in crock pot on "keep warm" setting, with warm water in the crock brought up to the level of the jar necks, keeping the whole body of the yogurt at the same temperature. Keep thermometer in crock.

5) Keep jars at 110-115F for about 6 hours.

You will see set curds set throughout the jar once done. I use a small gravy ladle to skim off extra whey by pressing gently against the set yogurt and letting the spoon fill with the watery stuff, dump the whey on my roses, stir the yogurt to smooth out the curds, and then it sits overnight at the back of the fridge. You can leave the whey and stir it all in, but the yogurt will set less firmly and it may have a slightly more tart flavor. You must allow the yogurt to set in the cold overnight.

Regular yogurt on the left, thick Greek yogurt on the right. 

Bingo. Fresh, natural, homemade yogurt, full of live cultures. Add anything you like to it. Makes brilliant smoothies and curries and delicious frozen treats. Even facials. The first photo, dished up into the green bowl, is from my first ever try at making yogurt. I used a freeze-dried starter from my local health food store. Since then, I've often used a little leftover yogurt from the previous batch to provide my yogurt culture, and I've also discovered the trick of ladling off the whey. The first bowl was yummy and totally converted me, but my results now are even thicker, and sweeter!

Want to make gorgeously thick Greek yogurt? Read on!

For "Greek" yogurt, start by making regular yogurt. Once your regular batch of homemade yogurt is set and chilled, the next day, pour a jar or two into a sieve lined thickly with cheesecloth or old, clean t-shirt fabric and place it over a bowl in the fridge for 8 to 12 hours. It will halve itself and whey will drain into the bowl. You may be surprised how much whey can drain out of what seems to be already thick yogurt! Dump the whey, or give it to the dog or the garden, and your extra thick yogurt will be just like that expensive, lovely, creamy, smooth, mild Greek yogurt in the store. Except, once again, without preservatives or stabilizers or additives, et cetera, et cetera, and far cheaper. And chock full of probiotics. Your cheesecloth may be used again and again, by the way, after a very thorough wash by hand in the sink, so keep it for next time and don't discard right away.

Use Greek live yogurt as a dessert, a mayonnaise or sour cream gut-healthy replacement, or make up delicious savory dips with raw garlic, sun dried tomatoes, olives and fresh herbs.

Monday, May 12, 2014


"Digestivi-Tea" - or if you're less punny, Tummy Tea

Here is a herbal tea that I believe everyone should have in the house, or at least know how to put together. Really simple. Works fast.

Catnip settles the stomach, and also soothes the nervous system. It is a widely favored herb for cold and flu preparations for children, and reliably brings down fevers. I find this grows easily so I like to keep it in my garden and harvest fresh throughout the growing season, harvesting a few times at the end of spring and summer so that I have enough dried herb to last throughout the winter months, too. If neighboring cats like to roll in your catnip, pop a wire tomato cage over the top.

Lemon balm is another herb that soothes the nervous system, but without causing drowsiness. The flavor is light and mild, slightly lemony astringent but not overpowering.

Peppermint is a classic cure for any indigestion problem as it is anti-inflammatory in its coolness. Other mint varieties taste good -- chocolate mint, sweet mint, among many others -- but peppermint is supposed to be the highest in volatile oils, and so is grown apart from my sweet mint patch and used medicinally, whereas my sweet mint is more for lemonade and flavoring, and in place of the weeds which would grow there instead.

Make this tea by infusion only -- cover with boiling water, off the heat, and let steep with a lid over it until infused -- as catnip is especially delicate and a decoction will destroy much of the goodness. But you can either make the tea with fresh herbs, or from dried and ready mixed.

Fresh Digestivi-Tea:
2 catnip
2 lemon balm
1 peppermint

Gather equal parts of catnip and lemon balm, and half a part of peppermint. Rinse clean. Strip the leaves into a glass or stainless steel pot, or directly into a mug, pour boiling water over it and let steep for 10 minutes. Drink warm for indigestion or flu-like symptoms.

If you do not have fresh herbs readily available, use dried. Here, red raspberry leaf and fennel seeds are optional extras you may include. Fennel is fabulous for gastrointestinal trouble, including acid stomach or heartburn, and painful trapped gas, and lends a sweetness to the tea that children often like. Red raspberry leaf provides relief from nausea and acid. This 5 ingredient Tummy Tea is fabulous for relieving morning sickness during pregnancy.

Measure the dried herbs in Simpler's Form, in parts measured by volume. The fennel seeds do not need to be crushed but you may get more out of them in an infusion if they are not whole.

Dried Digestivi-Tea:
2 catnip
2 lemon balm
1 peppermint
1 red raspberry leaf
1/2 fennel seeds, crushed

My husband came home from work today feeling rotten. Since I don't know if this might be a virus to blame or simply yesterday's slight nutritional indulgence taking revenge, this tea is my first grab. While waiting for it to cool, I will be giving him 30 drops of elderberry tincture, to help ward off possible virus. Elderberry may also be added directly to the tea and tastes lovely, once again a flavor that goes over well with children. I also applied an essential oil blend by Native American Nutritionals, called "Tummy Rub", which contains several of the same herbs plus others and works very effectively. This way, my man's gut gets a double whammy of relief from inside and out.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

soy ginger chicken stir fry

Soy Ginger Chicken Stir Fry is a pretty basic Asian stir fry dish, but for those of us eating The Harcombe Diet way (and which I highly recommend for anyone who suffers from hypoglycemia), a few modifications yields a delightful and THD friendly meal.

Begin by marinating 2 chicken breasts, diced, in about 1/2 c natural soy sauce. No sugar in the sauce, please. You'd be surprised how many soy sauces are made with sugar.

Chop up 5 cloves of garlic, and about the same amount of ginger root, and mix those in the marinade as well.

This is the easiest way to peel garlic. Separate the cloves, flatten with a knife, and the papers fall right off.

To avoid garlic hands, chop garlic first, then follow up with the fresh ginger root. I learned this trick happily and by mistake.

Let the chicken marinate for 2-8 hours.

30 minutes before dinner, drain off the extra juice from the meat and reserve. Heat up a pan that has a matching lid, pop in several Tbs of coconut oil, and follow with one onion, each half cut into four chunks, and the drained chicken.

Brown the chicken on hot.

Add 1/4 cabbage cubed, 1 small head of broccoli in florets, and 1 carrot chopped into thin slices. Stir in and immediately pop the lid on the pan. Let cook in it's own juice for about 10 minutes, stirring and checking occasionally as you feel the need.

Once the veg is mostly softened but not quite cooked, add one tomato sliced into wedges, and the reserved soy marinade (about 1/4 cup) with 2 Tbs arrowroot powder stirred in. Since THD doesn't allow for grains to mix with fats, cornstarch for thickening is out. Arrowroot, however, is not a grain at all, and is a gluten free option for thickening all kinds of sauces and gravies. It works much like cornstarch. Use the same way.

Once thickened and cooked through, serve over cauliflower rice (steamed and mashed cauliflower). This recipe is also really yummy with chilis and beef, or shrimp and snap peas, and you can change out the veg as desired.

For those not on THD, you can make this a sugar-free sweet and sour stir fry by adding 1 diced pineapple and 2 more tomatoes in the tomato step, and a little extra arrowroot/cornstarch.

building a household first aid kit the herbal way

No matter where in the world you live, if an accident or emergency happens, certain equipment and medicines are always essential.

Your household First Aid Kit is an important tool.

Here is a starting point that you can use to build your own household first aid kit.

  • clean, sharp scissors for cutting bandages 
  • tweezers 
  • digital thermometer with a memory
  • gauze pads of more than one size, individually wrapped
  • rolled gauze 
  • sports tape for wrapping gauze in place safely 
  • bandaids of various sizes 
  • stretchy tape wrap, the elastic rubbery type that sticks to itself but not to skin, for clean and easy wrapping of bandages over broken skin, or for wrapping a thumb bandaid in place on a toddler's hand
    (speaks from experience? why, yes!) 
  • sports wraps, the cloth type for wrapping sprains and strains 
  • activated charcoal, for drawing out poisons from snake, spider, scorpion or other insect bites
    (even if you are going right to the hospital with a rattlesnake bite wound, it's a good idea to shake on activated charcoal to start absorbing the poison as well as tightly wrap the limb above the wound to stop blood flow while you're traveling) 
  • comfrey leaf, the knitting herb, for poulticing nasty bruises and bone fractures that don't require setting 
  • plantain, for poulticing bites or sunburn, and to help dull pain
  • echinacea purpurea tops, for adding to any other herbs to speed white blood count to the wounded area and help dull pain
  • clean cheesecloth or other gentle fabric, stored in a plastic bag to keep clean, for use with herbs in a poultice, or for simply pressing to staunch a wound.
  • Rapha Salve, clearly labeled with all ingredients and uses, for antiseptic antibiotic use on all broken skin wounds
  • Arnica Salve, clearly labeled with all ingredients and uses, for anti-inflammatory use on bumps and bruises but not broken skin
    (use plastic or metal containers for all salves, to avoid another crisis in case of a broken glass salve jar)
  • a small bottle of children's acetaminophen (paracetemol) chewables, with a child safe lid, for quick use after nasty knocks etc.
  • a sturdy plastic cup for any type of use needed, even if just to give the upset child a distracting drink of water while cleaning a wound

  • all other pain medication, antibiotics, etc 
  • cinnamon sticks, for another form of child distraction if needed 
  • cough and cold medicines and tinctures 
  • essential oils 
  • sunburn cures 
  • all other types of non-emergency sterile equipment or tools, such as blood pressure machine or ankle brace 
 I keep all my "Essential" kit in one box together, and my "optional" items are stored elsewhere, some in one other easy grab box, and my essential oils live in the kitchen cupboard next to my homemade  tinctures and teas. In the case of a true emergency, however large or small, I have to act efficiently and I only want to dive through a few things before I find what I need. Even small emergencies are so much more urgent and dramatic when a small child is hurt and crying, so parents and guardians especially would be sensible to divide up emergency supplies in this manner.

Yes, I do have a large apothecary. However, while I know I can find what I need relatively quickly in an emergency, my husband would have a harder time digging through, even after being told exactly what to find. The small amount of herbs in the essential First Aid kit are there, and clearly labeled in non-breakable spice tubs, so that finding a cure is made as simple as possible for him. The herbal salves are used just like regular antibiotic ointments or bruise creams, but since the dried herbs require just a little more know-how I have also taped an index card with a few short descriptions of each herb on the inside of the box lid.

What changes or additions would you make to your household essential first aid kit?

rapha salve mix, and instructions for making healing herbal salves

Rapha Salve is a staple in our household. There are similar salves available on the market, and I've seen similar recipes or formulas for homemade herbal salves. I like to make my own, partly so that I always know what goes into it and partly because I like getting into it with my hands. I like the connectedness I feel to nature, to God's creation that He made for us to know and name and use for our benefit.

This salve is pretty simple to make. It contains several hard herbs, so I recommend you follow my instructions for making a herbal heat-infused oil, here. As you can see in the above pic, I mix up a large quantity of the blend to store in my apothecary, and then infuse oils as needed. I get orders from time to time from mama friends, doulas, family members, and I often gift this salve to expectant mothers and dear ones because Rapha is so brilliantly useful everywhere, including baby's diaper rash and postpartum mama's healing needs "down under" or C-section incisions.

Rapha Salve is antiseptic, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and mildly analgesic. It cleans wounds, helps close cuts against bleeding, and helps to prevent the formation of scar tissue. It soothes bruising and soreness, and is wonderful for healing rashes, contact dermatitis, insect bites, and burns, whether from fire or the sun.

Echinacea speeds white blood cells to the wounded area for faster healing. Rosemary, or lavender if desired, is antiseptic and antibiotic. Lavender is soothing and healing to burned skin. Comfrey is the knitting herb, helping to prevent scarring and knit tissues back together. Plantain is especially soothing to all topical irritations, rashes, and insect bites, and numbs pain. Yarrow flower slows bleeding and cleans wounds.

When my son was about 1 1/2 years old, he caught a bee and got his first sting. I'm sure you can imagine the shocked cries that ensued. After removing the stinger, I quickly dunked his swelling finger into a tub of Rapha to coat the area liberally, and watched the swelling shrink back to normal within mere minutes. By the time 5 minutes had passed, there was barely any trace of the hurt on his little hand and he promptly forgot about it as it didn't hurt anymore.

I gifted my grandfather with a little pot of Rapha a couple of years ago. He reported a while later, after having undergone a minor surgery, that he faithfully used my salve on the wound and had no scar. He was able to show me a few months later, and it was indeed quite difficult to see where the incision had been, which healing for an elderly man is even more remarkable than that of a young child. Children bounce back and regenerate more quickly.

My mother used Rapha on her dog, after the poor sweet animal was attacked and got a nasty tooth cut on her head and ear. Happy healed quickly and seemed to like the salve.

We keep Rapha Salve everywhere. I carry a little 1 ounce tin of the stuff in the mini emergency kit we keep in the toddler bag (diaper bag, except he's out of diapers ;) ), a large pot in the household emergency kit in the cupboard, plus 4 ounce tins in the guest bathroom and in the kitchen cupboard next to my essential oils. Made and stored properly, a herbal salve will last 3 years at strength, possibly longer, so it is not at all foolish to make a decent amount at one time.

Rapha Salve

Infuse a good quality organic olive oil, or other clear oil, with the following mix of dried herbs by weight. If you measure by volume, you will produce a very different ratio of herbs than I have formulated here.

(I don't recommend using coconut oil as your base as its melting point will yield a too-hard salve in winter and a too-soft salve in summer. I have had success with up to 25% coconut oil, but a liquid oil is by far most successful for me.)

Use 1 ounce weight of mixed herbs per pint jar, top with oil, and carry on with the instructions for infused oils.

measure dried herbs by weight, not volume:
2 parts echinacea purpurea tops
1 part echinacea purpurea root
1/2 part rosemary, or lavender flowers**
4 parts comfrey leaf
4 parts plantain leaf
3 parts yarrow

Once the infused oil is strained and ready, place 8 fluid ounces of oil in a glass jar or pyrex jug along with 1 ounce weight of beeswax pastilles. Place that into a pot of warm water on the stove, and heat gently until the wax is melted through. Stir with clean wood, not metal or plastic. This ratio of beeswax to liquid oil yields a soft, reliable texture that is easy to spread over tender wounds. You may melt down over a very gentle heat and add more beeswax if you find you prefer a harder texture.

Add 1 drop each of Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) and vitamin E oil for each fluid ounce of melted salve you now have, if you did not already add them to the herbal infused oil. These are not vital, but do help preserve the salve for shelf longevity.

Pour hot liquid carefully into prepared, spotlessly clean and dry BPA-free plastic tubs or aluminum-free salve tins. Let cool, and store.

Be sure to label the bottom of each tub of salve, as well as the lid, so that you never forget what the salve is in case lids become muddled. Also include on your label the date, at the very least, as well as ingredients and properties (antiseptic, etc) if you think you might forget or if you are gifting the salve to someone else.

Store in a cool place where melting is not a concern. Use common sense and practice clean fingertips when dunking into the salve often.

**We use rosemary in our household Rapha salves. However, I do love the extra anti-inflammatory properties of lavender, so for those who are not mildly allergic to it like my husband, you may prefer lavender. It does also add a wonderfully pleasing, gentle scent.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

little rock aubergine casserole

Little Rock Aubergine Casserole is what my grandfather calls it. He grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. I don't know where the recipe comes from before him, but it seems I can always remember him making this. And apple crumble.

You need:

1 onion, diced
1 aubergine (eggplant), diced
1/2 bunch celery, diced
4-5 medium vine tomatoes, diced
salt and pepper
9 eggs
4 ounces sharp aged cheddar cheese, grated
1 ounce parmesan, grated

Start by adding a glug of olive oil and the onions to a large, hot saucepan. Saute the onions until about half cooked. Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Add the aubergine and celery. Stir through and saute until about half cooked.

Add the tomatoes, along with about 1 Tb fresh cracked black pepper and a couple teaspoons Celtic sea salt. Saute until starting to soften.

Crack the eggs directly into the pan. Stir through, and cook until eggs are more scrambled than wet. Add the cheddar off the heat and mix well.

Tip into a large casserole dish and top with the parmesan. I use a 9x13 inch. If you're feeling fancy, you can fill little ramekins for personal serving to guests. Pop into a preheated oven and bake at 400 F for about 40 minutes, until set and browned. Not all the moisture will evaporate, so don't cook until dry. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving hot, or serve chilled.

This is almost better the following day as the flavors meld and improve in the fridge overnight. Serve as a meal in itself, or as a side to other foods. Aubergine casserole is especially yummy served picnic style, cold, with fried chicken, fruit salad and veggie sticks.