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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

how to powder herbs & herbal hair mask

I gave myself a herbal hair mask today! Oh, it works wonders, that stuff. For the last few years, I have bought Beautiful Hair Blonde (henna-free) from The Bulk Herb Store, and it was trying out their mix that got me hooked on herbal hair masks in the first place. They also sell mixes for darker shades that contain natural henna, by the way, but as a blonde -- both naturally a dirty dark blonde and currently chemically lightened to a paler blonde -- I like to stick to the plain ol' herbs that don't interfere with color. If you have dyed hair, greying hair, fragile hair, or pretty much any kind of hair, this regular no-henna herbal hair mask will be wonderfully suited for you.

However. I highly recommend buying the powdered mix from The Bulk Herb Store, or if you favor a different company you can buy pre-powdered herbs and mix them yourself. But I didn't have that option today. I was all out of my Beautiful Hair mix! Gasp! Since I currently live in England, I could buy from The BHS and they do ship to the UK, but I'm likely to be tagged with an importation tax upon the delivery of a package with a business marking. Sigh. That usually makes it just not worth it.

How to powder herbs

So I made my own. Let me point out now, fellow and aspiring home herbalists: this really only works for soft herbs. Hard herbs, ie. roots and seeds and bark and dried berries, are usually too tough for a regular kitchen appliance. You'd best scout out a reliable herb company and buy powdered hard herbs through them. But lucky you, this hair mask recipe only requires soft herbs. Easy peasy.

For about 1 cup of powdered herbs mix, you will need:
  • 1/2 cup dried nettles 
  • 1/2 cup dried shavegrass 
  • 1/2 cup oatstraw 
  • 1/2 cup dried chamomile flowers 
  • a Magic Bullet blender OR an immersion wand blender plus container with high sides 
  • a kitchen sieve OR a tea strainer that is not too fine a mesh
pre-sifted ground herbs

Start blending. Powder up the herbs until they don't seem to be powderable anymore. It only take a few minutes. Keep shaking up the herbs, let them cool every 60 seconds or so, and blast them again until you get as good a powder as your appliance allows.

Then, sift. You don't absolutely have to do this, but if you're going to be using your powdered herbs for a herbal hair mask that washes down the shower drain...well, powdered drains better than even small bits. Plus, it will stay put on your hair better.

Reserve your finely powdered herbs. The above recipe will yield about 2-3 treatments, which you can perform on your head as often as every 2-4 weeks or whenever you like. Use the powder within 6 months, preferably, or max a year. Powdered herbs have a much shorter shelf life than whole or crushed herbs. The other stuff? That makes a lovely cup of nourishing tea. Why not treat your hair well from the inside as well as the out?

Here's what these herbs do. Chamomile soothes the scalp, increases blood flow to the scalp which in turn can help with healthy hair growth, can help give subtle highlights to paler hair, and just all around smells good. Shavegrass is extremely high in silica, which is necessary for healthy skin, nails, and hair. The silica in a shavegrass hair mask can actually help to fill in damaged areas of the hair cuticle, strengthening and preventing split ends. Oatstraw contains a much lesser amount than shavegrass but still a decent quantity of silica, plus it is also good for calcium and magnesium which help with healthy hair growth. Nettle is great all-round as a nutritionally dense herb, also contains calcium, magnesium, and silica (noticing a trend yet?), and is reported in various traditional medicine sources as being good for hair, both from the inside and the outside.

Herbal Hair Mask

Here's what you do. To make up the Herbal Hair Mask, you need the following:

(this recipe is for medium length hair -- for shorter than shoulders, halve the recipe, and for mid-back length or longer add 50% or 100% of the quantities again)
  • 1/2 cup beautiful hair powdered herbs (for silica and minerals)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup lemon juice or apple cider vinegar -- lemon is better for paler blondes 
  • 2 eggs, beaten (for protein)
  • 2 Tbs olive oil or warmed coconut oil (for conditioning)
  • stainless steel or non-reactive pot 
  • wooden spoon 
  • plastic disposable bag, such as a grocery bag, or use cling film/saran wrap
  • optional shower cap as well 
 Begin by mixing together the herb powder and the lemon juice in a pot. It shouldn't be a paste, it should be fairly runny. Over a LOW heat (don't fry the herbs!), gently warm and "cook" the herb mixture for 3-5 minutes. It will thicken a little as the herbs absorb the liquid.

Remove from the heat. While still warm, add the eggs and oil. Immediately mix in well. Now, the idea is not to apply scrambled egg to your head, so do take me seriously about that low heat.

Somewhere you don't mind cleaning up later, change into an old shirt and start applying the paste to your hair. Concentrate on ends and lengths, and any parts of the scalp which are thinning or fragile. The very top of the crown of my head seems to always produce the most splits, who knows why, so I make sure to soak the scalp as well as length in that area. Use all the messy mixture that your head will possibly absorb. This is good stuff.

Keep your head warm. After piling your goopy, saturated hair on top of your head, wrap it all up with plastic. I use old cheapie plastic shopping bags that would otherwise be recycled or used as bathroom trash liners. I press all the air out against my head and tie the handles together. I also like to pop my stylin' animal print Mother Hubbard shower cap over the top of this as well. It helps to keep my hair warm. You need to keep your hair warm as much as possible while the mask is on to help with penetration into the hair cuticle. An extra cap over my head also help with the inevitable drips that make their way down my neck and ears after a while.

Oh yes, I should warn you. This herbal hair mask needs to be kept on your head for at least 45 minutes, and you can leave it on up to 2 hours. The longer, the better. Trust me. While it's on, you will probably start leaking slime from under your plastic cap that will look as if you sweat green like an alien. It's hilarious if you have kids. Or a husband. Or brothers. Or roommates. Ha! It's just hilarious. And the last thing you should know is you can't wash your hair until tomorrow.

Yep, you heard me. Keep this mask on for an hour or two. And then, yes, you can shower. Rinse it out most thoroughly. If you need to, you can very gently smooth out matting from long hair with a wide tooth comb directly under running water. Usual advice is not to brush hair much when wet because it wet hair can stretch and break more easily, just like a cashmere sweater is more fragile when we, but the running water will help greatly in pulling the strands smooth without requiring so much pulling. After your shower, towel dry but do not apply heat for at least 12 hours. Shampoo and condition your hair tomorrow, but not today. It won't be super greasy but you might like to throw up your hair into a messy bun or a cute braid until you wash it, as it won't feel quite like its usual texture.

What's that? Of course! This herbal hair mask will not stain your bathroom and will not color your hair or skin. It shouldn't stain your clothes, either, but do wear an old shirt during the process because the mask is messy.

Yes, this is absolutely safe on children. Now, I can't think of any 8 year old kids who would endure this whole procedure, but if your preteen is showing more interest in caring for his or her hair, they absolutely can use this treatment. One caution: perform the allergy test if you are not certain you or your child is fine with all the herbs used.


Blondes: use chamomile flowers and lemon juice

Strawberry blondes: use chamomile flowers or calendula flowers, and apple cider vinegar

Brunettes: replace chamomile flowers with more of the other herbs if desired, and use apple cider vinegar or apple cider vinegar with a shot of espresso

Greying: either replace chamomile flowers with sage or just add sage to the herbs

Fragrance: I think the hair mask has a lovely, herbal, clean scent, like a meadow. But if you want, you can add lavender, rose petals, or a few drops of your favorite essential oil to the mask.

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