Of course, I am talking about ye good auld handkerchiefs! Since I’m a bit of a germaphobe and herbaphile, I decided to adapt them to my liking and (hopefully) make them cool again.
First of all, cotton handkerchiefs are very easy to clean. After removing any stains, I soak the cloth in a strong salt solution (2 tablespoons of salt per liter of water). Concentrated salt dehydrates cells, including bacterial and fungal cells. After an hour or more of soaking, I rinse the handkerchief with water and hang it up to air-dry or, even better, lay them on a wool blanket to dry.
After air-drying, the handkerchief is ready to be put in the Tissue Box. I simply reuse a polystyrene (PS) box that had previously stored chocolates. I place a peppermint tea bag (in wrapper) at the bottom, lay dampened folded handkerchiefs on top of it and close the lid. Over time, the handkerchiefs become infused with cooling, calming sinus-clearing menthol, with the help of the humidity inside the box. To dampen the tissues, I use a spritz of rose, chamomile or orange flower hydrosol (whatever I have the most of, because I distill them myself in small batches). The flower water also makes the cloth softer and more skin-friendly. A spritz of plain water or adding the handkerchiefs while they are still damp also works. Cotton with some moisture is easier on the nose, too.
That’s all there is to it! I want to add that I like the kids’ handkerchiefs from an Aldi promotion. They are smaller and have a cute pattern on one side, so I can tell which side I blew my nose on.
My method for removing dust and invisible pests from floors and rugs:
Obtain normal cooking/table salt.
Pour salt into mortar (of mortar and pestle), add one dropof bergamot essential oil and grind salt into a fine powder. Keep away from skin. Make sure there is enough salt to cover all rugs.
Sprinkle powdered, scented salt onto rugs.* Let sit for at least a few hours but preferably for a few days.
Sweep up resulting salt-dust patches. Breathe easier.
*If using essential oils, make sure pets, especially cats, are not in the vicinity. To avoid inhaling the powder, fill a salt shaker and sprinkle close to the floor.
I haven’t confirmed (with a microscope and experience) that this method is effective in getting rid of dust mites after an infestation. A real infestation would require more work, like laundering, steam cleaning and fumigating. I use this method instead of my previous washing soda/baking soda method to get a more thorough floor and rug cleaning, so it is a (fun) weekly routine that I follow to prevent an infestation and the sickness that comes with one. In the summer, the hot and humid weather can encourage an infestation, and in the winter, the heating, darkness and reduced air circulation also favor dust mite growth.
I got the main idea for this procedure from a patent for killing dust mites with various salts (US5271947 A). I’m not sure that table salt (sodium chloride) alone is a powerful acaracide (mite killer), but I believe that it is very effective when powdered and mixed with bergamot oil.
Sodium chloride is a well-known dessicant, so it could dry out the mites. Grinding the salt into a powder makes it more effective, because the newly exposed surfaces can absorb more moisture from the air, cloths and insects. The powder can also travel deeper into rugs than regular salt crystals from the box. The real danger of dust mites are the chronic allergic reactions that can occur in response to their feces and dead body parts. The salt can help grab these allergens (through electrostatic interactions), so that the allergens can be swept up along with the salt.
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) oil is a somewhat well-known antibacterial, fungicidal and insecticidal agent. It contains furocoumarins, in particular bergamottin and bergapten. Grapefruit also has these compounds and effects, and the ‘grapefruit juice effect‘ (interaction with many medications) is due to certain furocoumarins. The furocoumarins are also toxic to insects and mammals that come into contact with them and are exposed to sunlight (phototoxic). Raw bergamot/grapefruit oil should not be applied to the skin (without proper medical instruction).
I love the calming, other-worldly smell of bergamot from the salt (also in Earl Greytea) and haven’t had any reaction after walking on the scented salt barefoot, but I am still cautious with the concentrated chemicals. I only use one drop each time and don’t go out in the sun right away. The salt is used to absorb/release, dilute and disperse the essential oil throughout the area.
For cooking, I prefer to use oils/greases with a high concentration of saturated fatty acids (not omega-x fatty acids and especially not trans fats) to avoid unwanted chemical reactions during cooking (conversion of cis double bonds to trans, generation of free radicals, etc.), so for hot meals, we use butter, Schmalz (rendered animal fat) or coconut oil. For cold meals, like salad, we use cold-pressed vegetable oils, mainly extra-virgin olive oil (unrancid) in Mediterranean-themed salads.
Through other bloggers and some experimentation, I have discovered that there are a lot more possible applications for oils other than cooking. The following are the uses that I recommend to get the most of your precious plant oils and to use them up before they go bad.
Like many other people who are unhappy with standard toothpastes, I use coconut oil for oil pulling. Coconut oil is high in lauric acid, a fatty acid with antibacterial and antifungal properties. Unlike sunflower and sesame oil, which are traditionally used in oil pulling, coconut oil does not stain teeth yellow; it actually makes them look whiter (without bleaching). I actually did extensive research on oil pulling for a research project proposal and was convinced that oil pulling with coconut oil can at least (1) greatly reduce the chance of mass colonization by Candida albicans (a pathogenic yeast) and Streptococcus mutans (a pathogenic bacterium) and (2), after reacting/combining with saliva, act as a ‘soap’ that can access small gaps in and between teeth. If you have healthy teeth, oil pulling once or twice a day is probably enough, but I’ve been needing to also thoroughly brush mine with a salt mixture, since I have recently had very rough, demineralized teeth and am working on remineralizing them.
Coconut oil is touted to have many other ‘alternative’ benefits (Dr. Axe), especially when virgin (minimally-processed). I’ve tried using coconut oil on my skin, but it made my skin smell bad and felt like it was clogging my pores, which makes sense when considering that long fat molecules were coating my skin. The experience may be different for different skin types and climates.
I also use coconut oil to remove the dust from candles. This basically replaces the dust layer with an oil layer, which helps prevent further dust collection. I have a lot of real-wax LED candles that often need ‘dusting’. Coconut oil is as safe to burn as waxes, and coconut oil is even used in combination with wax to make candles. I haven’t tried this, because I don’t burn candles anymore.
This is my skin conditioner, especially after a shower. My skin, especially dry flaky parts, absorb this oil very well. Because it’s made from a thistle (hardy, fast-maturing plant), it’s also rather inexpensive.
I use an oil squirt dispenser to make application easy and quick. I feel oily at first but end up with (surprisingly) super-smooth, healthier-looking skin an hour or so later. I started out using sunflower oil on my skin, since I saw that it is in a lot of baby skincare products, but I found the oil to be greasy. It also made my skin ‘sparkly’, which I didn’t like, but other people might. Safflower oil and sunflower oil both have a high content of linoleic acid (about 75% and 66%, respectively), an unsaturated essential fatty acid that can be converted by skin cells to other compounds that benefit the skin and therefore the body. The oil might also help the skin absorb and store oxygen molecules, which are nonpolar and dissolve well in the nonpolar oil compounds.
Since it is so soothing to my skin, I also use safflower oil as a shaving oil and aftershave to get a close shave without razor burn.
Rosemary infused Rapeseed Oil:
Rant-like side note: That’s right, I use rapeseed oil. Couldn’t they come up with a better name? Well, it’s basically canola oil, which is made from the rapeseed plant, but canola oil is, by definition, low in erucic acid, and many canola oils in the USA are derived from genetically modified plants. The concern was that erucic acid might cause heart disease, based on animal studies and the toxicity of Lorenzo’s oil, a pharmaceutical containing erucic acid, even though there haven’t been reports of toxicity from dietary rapeseed oil (wikipedia). Nevertheless, rapeseed has been bred naturally, on both sides of the ocean, to have lower EA concentrations. Now, since everyone-and-their-mom uses canola oil, the canola plant is being genetically modified to have other qualities such as herbicide resistance to make ‘weeding’ easier. This may sound like a good thing, but I’ve learned to ask, ‘Good for whom?’. This issue requires more attention and another blog post, since choosing organic foods or not is now an everyday thing.
I use this Housewarming present (not Gift, which translates to ‘poison’ in German) of rosemary infused rapeseed oil (the rosemary was likely pressed along with the seeds to make the oil) to clean and condition my bamboo cutting boards. Many people think that bamboo boards are not sanitary and are difficult to maintain. I live in a damp and generally overcast area and have not had issues with mold on bamboo boards or utensils.
Bamboo is easy to sanitize by spraying and wiping with vinegar or citric acid/lemon juice spray, rinsing when necessary. I do not use baking soda or detergent, because they remove the oils, leaving more holes behind for microbes to populate. To condition the cutting board, I squirt a few drops onto the board and wipe with a paper towel to remove any stubborn fat particles. I then squirt several more drops and use the palm of my hand to spread the oil into a thin layer and let this absorb overnight. I’m sure that other rosemary infused cooking oils, like olive oil, would work. Rapeseed/canola oil is fairly balanced in short and long chain fatty acids, so I think that it is suitable for reaching deep into the wood AND forming a waterproof layer at the surface. The rosemary scent is due to the ‘essential oil’ compounds, which hopefully we all now know are small molecules with therapeutic and antimicrobial properties. The pressing method also captures the hydrosol (volatile, water-soluble) compounds and anti-oxidants (notably carnosic acid), which help preserve the essential oil compounds and may also prevent microbial growth. Since I want to destroy and displace, not trap, bacteria and yeast in the wood pores, I prefer to use the herb infused oil instead of plain rapeseed oil.
Also called ‘linseed oil’, flaxseed oil is relatively high in omega-3 fatty acids, namely alpha-linolenic acid (about 47%). The one that I use was cold-pressed with vitamin E and stored in a dark amber bottle, both important to prevent oxidation of the α-linolenic acid. I did a test of the oil after reading this helpful article on SFGate (How to know when flax is rancid). It passed the appearance (golden yellow, not cloudy) and aroma test (nutty, grassy), but the taste, although green and nutty, was also bitter. The bitter taste could be from the extra vitamin E. Flaxseed/linseed oil is used for many non-culinary uses, such as treating wood (after processing). Although I planned on using it regularly as a vitamin supplement, I only think about it when I have a bad stomach ache or constipation.
Edible makeup! I am working on mixing oil with fruits and flowers to create skin-supporting makeup that is shelf-stable and safe to eat.
I haven’t blogged in a while, and it’s not because I don’t have a lot to share. I just didn’t feel up to it. During this hiatus, however, I did became closer to my red wine vinegar. I say ‘my’, because I cultivated it myself, from grape juice.
At the drink store, I found a great direct-pressed Merlot juice, too sweet for drinking but clearly rich in tannins and other good stuff from the skins. I poured the juice into an emptied (but not cleaned) wine bottle (Cabernet Sauvignon), diluted it with 1/3 the volume of water and corked it (cork had small hole for air exchange). After about a month, I cleaned out my projects (many went badly) and discovered that the grape juice had developed into a delicious vinegar, which I then pasteurized (briefly) by boiling and strained into an empty grappa bottle. The bottle has a rubber cork, which is better than a metal screw-top, since the acids in vinegar react with the metal (as I unintentionally confirmed). A hard non-reactive plastic screw-top also works.
Some things that I use red wine vinegar for are
Stopping a bloody nose: This vinegar really helps speed up the blood clotting when I have a bloody nose. I pour some onto a sheet of toilet paper and shove this up the affected nostril, and then I replace the vinegar-paper while placing the used one in the toilet to be flushed, repeating until the bleeding stops. This usually only takes a few minutes (vs. up to 20 mins of using tissues alone). I think that drinking some of the vinegar also helps. The ability of the vinegar to tighten the skin, clot the blood and close the wound is due to the organic acids and tannins. Red wine vinegar is usually higher in tannins than white wine vinegar.
Energy and blood circulation: Coffee makes me sweat but doesn’t energize me very much. I think that this is related to my poor blood circulation (cold hands, cold feet). After drinking vinegar, I can feel my body warming and energy rising. As an astringent, vinegar constricts blood vessels, temporarily causing Thinning of the Blood (caution!) and redistribution of blood within the vessels. Since undistilled vinegar contains yeasts and their metabolic products, this vinegar probably also contains some B vitamins, which also boost energy.
Healing itchy broken skin: I had a weird itchy rash near my ankle that may have been from chiggers. Anyway, it was itchy enough that I couldn’t sleep. I rubbed this vinegar over the area, had instant temporary relief and, after a few re-applications, had complete relief the next day. Vinegar kills many microbes, both bacterial and fungal, and, as already stated, helps close wounds and heal skin.
Hemorrhoids: I saved the best for last! The vinegar works the same way that it does for other kinds of bleeding/broken skin: stops irritation temporarily and speeds up healing.
NOT for swelling: I had hoped that red wine vinegar was a panacea for all of my problems, but it was not. It was not very effective in quelling my swollen lip (from strong sun exposure) or swollen mosquito and fly bites. I found instead that fresh aloe vera gel was good for soothing the skin and reducing the swelling.
Unfortunately, for about a week now and still counting, the municipal water for most of the state of Hessen has been deemed contaminated with E. coli [Hessenschau]. The cause is unknown, but there was an outbreak of pathogenic E. coli in 2011 [Eurosurveillance]. To combat this problem, the state is further contaminating the water with chlorine bleach.
Fortunately, this situation forced me to think about when and how much water we use carelessly or unnecessarily. It also inspired me to think of solutions for people who have similar water contamination problems, temporarily or chronically.
My advice for action after finding out that your water is contaminated with dangerous microbes:
Don’t panic! The body has many lines of defense, including the skin, mucous-lined airways, stomach acid, pancreatic and bile secretions and inflammatory responses, against pathogenic bacteria, yeasts and viruses [Merck Manual]. Support your body with healthy thoughts and a sufficient amount of nutrients.
Get clean drinking water. Germany has an abundance of natural springs, so bottled spring water is very cheap (literally cheaper than dirt), possibly more so than tap water, and all bottled water is highly regulated [EFBW]. If you have use for clean tap water, it needs to be freshly sanitized through boiling at a rolling boil for 1 to 3 minutes, depending on elevation/boiling point, to kill bacteria [CDC]. I’ve been using tap water boiled in an electric kettle to make tea, cook grains (for couscous – just add boiling water), blanche vegetables and (after cooling) water houseplants. Distilled water is also an option but may not be necessary for a microbial contamination. Caution: Drinking too much DW too fast can cause bodily distress and even death [How Stuff Works].
Use coldest setting of tap water. Since tap water can only reach up to 60 deg C (for skin safety and material protection), and since microbes only start to be killed at 70 deg C, using hot tap water to ‘sanitize’ is not justified. Hot water can remove protective oils and denature structural and functional proteins in your skin, leaving you open to infection. Hot water also causes pores in the skin to open. Cold water is astringent, meaning it causes your pores to close. You can feel this as your skin tightening. This is good for preventing microbes and toxins from entering your body through your skin.
Shower wisely. Take a short, cold shower if needed. Avoid getting water on cuts and body openings. Consider a sponge bath. I actually enjoy an oatmeal sponge bath and hair wash: 1) Fill sock with oats and knot it. 2) Soak it in warm sanitized water until the oats are softened. 3) Rub over skin. 4) Rinse hair with resulting oat-water (looks milky). 5) Dry/Rub off residue with a towel and apply moisturizer. This is very soothing for itchy skin.
Use probiotics. Your gut lining needs microbes, including non-pathogenic E. coli, to properly function. Antibiotics, synthetic or natural, destroy microbes and open up real estate, which should then be populated with beneficial microbes. Good sources of probiotics are easy to make yourself, such as fermented fruit juice (ex: hard cider), kombucha, unpasteurized vinegar (super easy), sauerkraut and kefir (sour, not spoiled, milk). You can also clean broken skin, fruits/vegetables and surfaces with strong vinegar.
Go medieval on your food. Wash your food down with mead, wine or (real) beer. These are probiotic detoxifying digestive aids. Load raw or difficult-to-sanitize foods (fish, meats, especially chicken) with antibiotic digestive aids, like citrus zest and herbs [learn about medieval herbs on gardeningknowhow]. Traditional Medicine, both Western and Eastern, focuses a lot more on increasing bile secretions and moving fluids through the body than Modern Medicine. Stretching and exercise are also needed to keep the lymphatic (infection-fighting) system working properly.
Disclaimer: This post and blog fall under the heading ‘Personal Experiences’ and is meant to interest, educate and inspire. All information and instruction is given without the intent to harm or control the reader in any way.
It may seem strange to be healing with a plant that can hurt you, but the #1 dried herbal in my First Aid kit is stinging/burning nettle (Urtica dioica). Stinging nettle tea is in my medicine cabinet and portable First Aid kit. Even though the well-known weed grows everywhere, I use commercially made ready-to-go stinging nettle tea bags (which also contain fennel and blackberry leaves) wrapped in paper envelopes [Lord Nelson]. If you factor in the work involved in (carefully) collecting, drying, wrapping, labeling and packaging the raw herb, commercial tea bags are a good deal. Commercial tea bags are also travel friendly, since they are less likely to attract suspicion than loose herbs.
Iuse stinging nettle tea for:
Cuts & Scrapes: Moisten and press against wound (or let moisture from wound activate tea) as a compress. Dried stinging nettle leaves are astringent/promote wound closing (due to tannins), antiseptic/prevent infection (tannins/phenols, organic acids, zinc ions) and promote skin healing (tannins, vitamins A, C & E, zinc ions).
Insect Bites: Moisten and hold against bite. For me, it was relieving while pressed against the skin, but the itch quickly came back after removing the ‘poultice‘. Spraying a tincture of fresh nettle leaves in grain alcohol (vodka) or vinegar might be more effective, since ethanol and acetic acid extract both water-soluble (ex: vitamin C, ions) and water-insoluble (ex: vitamin A) compounds from herbs and helps them penetrate deeper into the skin, which is mainly water-impermeable. This can also help relieve the pain and raised bumps due to stings from stinging nettle.
Nosebleeds: Moisten and gently plug up nostril. I sometimes have long-duration nosebleeds that need to be stopped before I lose a lot of blood. I tried other teas (chamomile, pomegranate), but stinging nettle was the most effective. Since fruit and flower teas are also astringent, this difference is probably due to the high vitamin and mineral content of stinging nettles. For external wound healing, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc ions are commonly applied, as well as the amino acid lysine, and these are all found in stinging nettle leaves (less vitamin C in dried leaves). I also drink nettle tea to promote blood clotting (see below).
Excessive Blood Loss: Drink tea from leaves steeped in (preferably) hot or carbonated water. The tea has a very mild, uncharacteristic (green?) taste, and it is very diuretic. Stinging nettles have a high vitamin K1 content. Vitamin K1 (Phylloquinone, Koagulationsvitamin) is an essential vitamin found in leafy greens (chlorophyll) that is used by the body to create coagulation factors. The leaves also have a considerable amount of iron (14% DV/100 g), so stinging nettle tea is used for blood building. In fact, stinging nettles can and have been used as food, basically as a substitute for spinach, since they provide many nutrients. For example, 100 grams can supply 90%–100% of the daily value of vitamin A and significant amounts of calcium, iron, and protein [Int. J. of Food Science, Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 857120]. Vitamin A works with iron to prevent anemia [Mayo Clinic]. *Warfarin (Coumadin(R)), dicoumarol (sweet clover) and related anticoagulants competitively inhibit vitamin K activity, so stinging nettle may interfere with these medications. Other possible interactions of stinging nettle are those with blood pressure medications and water pills [University of Maryland Medical Center].
Since I try to use stinging nettle every day for detox and blood building, I also want to make my own dried leaves and infusions with fresh leaves for the greatest benefits (some vitamins are destroyed with excessive heating, drying, sunlight and time). The stinging hairs are deactivated through drying, heating or soaking.
A very helpful resource on stinging nettle chemical composition and usage was provided in Dr. Christopher’s Legacy: Stinging Nettle by K. Vance.
It’s not too late to start working in the garden if you live in a temperate climate region. In addition to growing herbs and fast-growing vegetables, you can start planning for an Autumn/early Winter harvest. Here are some chemistry-based tricks to boost your confidence and your yield.
Soak seeds in tea or vinegar to promote quick sprouting. Water awakens the dormant plant inside the seed, but it needs to permeate the protective seed coat, which is mainly composed of cellulose, to get there. You can weaken the seed coat by puncturing it, but since you could damage the insides, I prefer soaking seeds in leftover tea or in vinegar overnight. The acid gently breaks up the tight-knit, rigid seed coat structure via acid hydrolysis. For peas, beans and similar ‘seeds’, the protective pod has already been removed and the pea has been preserved by dehydration, so to become active again, the pea only needs to be rehydrated by soaking in water. If conditions are good, you can get fresh peas pods from planting peas in 2 months.
Ferment weeds to make a cheap, organic fertilizer. While you could make a fertilizer from compost tea (taking a clump of composted material from your compost heap and adding water), if you don’t have good composted material at the moment, or if you want a strong, easily absorbed fertilizer, you can take the bounty from intense weeding and ferment it with water in a polypropylene or glass container for a few days or until bubbles stop forming. Strain the liquid into a watering can and apply near roots. Fermentation (digestion by microbes) frees nutrients, like potassium and magnesium ions, from the plant material. This also occurs in soil at a slower rate. Fermented stinging nettles make a rich fertilizer.
Create copper barriers to keep out snails and slugs. There is some controversy over whether this works. However, following the reasoning in this wiki and empirical evidence from this science fair project, I would say that copper barriers do work, but, contrary to the advice given by many popular gardening bloggers, the copper needs to be partially oxidized. A thick copper band or woven fence allows for regions of elemental copper (copper(0) electrode; anode) and regions of cuprous oxide (copper(I) oxide electrode; cathode). The electrolyte-rich fluid from the snail/slug completes the circuit (yikes!), but the current is low, so the snail is not killed. I have copper tape around raised beds, but I have note seen snails/slugs interacting with it. While the copper barrier is not a foolproof system, I still think that it is better than introducing snail poisons, like copper sulfate, into the garden. Once, I found a perfectly intact dead mouse in the garden (part of country life), and I believe that he was poisoned after eating a poisoned snail. On this topic, to naturally reduce the snail population, attract birds and rodents to your garden, but don’t put down poison.
Plant specifically colored flowers to attract bees. I’ve seen bees on all colors of flowers, but their favorites seem to be blue and yellow, and they aren’t attracted to frilly red flowers. Unlike us, bees interpret some ultraviolet wavelengths as color. This is how bees see certain yellow flowers: hidden patterns.
Practice good companion planting to reduce the number of pests. Companion planting is simply planting plants closely together that help each other out, often by repelling pests (for example, releasing chemicals into the air) or by creating a better soil environment (for example, attracting beneficial nitrogen-fixing microbes). A very nice thing is companion planting guides, like this one in Mother Earth News, created from many observations by many people over many years, so you don’t need to know the biochemical basis (only now being studied in many cases) to use this valuable resource. I especially like how the strong scent of my catmint (Nepeta × faasenii) can repel most pests, including aphids, mosquitoes, ticks and mites. It is also very drought tolerant and low maintenance, and the bees love the numerous tiny purple flowers.