Minty Fresh Reusable Tissues

Reusable tissues?  Sounds familiar…

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.

How I De-bug my Rugs

My method for removing dust and invisible pests from floors and rugs:

  1. Obtain normal cooking/table salt.
  2. Pour salt into mortar (of mortar and pestle), add one drop of bergamot essential oil and grind salt into a fine powder.  Keep away from skin.  Make sure there is enough salt to cover all rugs.
  3. Sprinkle powdered, scented salt onto rugs.*  Let sit for at least a few hours but preferably for a few days.
  4. 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 bergaptenGrapefruit 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 Grey tea) 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.

My dried herbal First Aid kit: Stinging nettle leaves

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.

Stinging Nettles in local forest

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.

I use 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.

My favorite chemistry gardening hacks

Veggie growing inspiring calendar, hand-drawn and designed by Long Island organic farmer Courtney Pure ( Print-out cheerfully colored, to work in my mostly white kitchen, by me.

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.

Dip cuttings in cinnamon to promote rooting.  Salicylates promote rooting, and natural sources of salicylates can be used as natural rooting hormones [Int. J. Advanced Biological and Biomedical Research, Volume 2, Issue 6, 2014: 1883-1886].  If you have a salicylate intolerance/low tolerance, you already know these sources.  This post on rooting hormones for cuttings from PreparednessMama lists 6 of them: yourself, apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, honey, aspirin and willow extract.  I’ve had success dipping cuttings (like rose stems) or garlic cloves in cinnamon and sticking them in wet sand.

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.

Dustbusting without a vacuum cleaner

I admit that I have never vacuumed this apartment.  To me, dragging a heavy vacuum cleaner across the delicate ceramic tiles is not a good idea and managing the cord and hose settings is exhausting.  Therefore, I developed a simple method for cleaning the floor and carpets using a household ‘dust-grabbing’ powder and a broom:

  1. Sprinkle washing soda* (sodium carbonate) or baking soda* (sodium bicarbonate) over the carpets and into the corners of the room.
  2. Sweep the powder over all flooring, out of all rugs and into a neat dust-powder pile to be disposed of.

[Update: I now simply spray a washing soda and water solution (with a drop of lavender oil) onto the rugs to dampen them, brush them with the broom using a circular motion and then sweep everything.  This method uses a smaller amount of chemicals, is easier and more effective and doesn’t leave visible residue.]

*NFPA Rating: Health-1, Flammability-0, Instability-0

Using washing soda and a broom instead of a vacuum cleaner to clean floor and rug


I believe that this method is as good as using a standard vacuum cleaner (although I haven’t dragged out the vacuum to confirm it), and it requires less time/energy, no electricity and produces no noise (pets will be pleased).  Also, as you can/will see, the dust bunnies clump together nicely instead of fleeing from the broom.

The ‘dust-grabbing’ ability of the carbonate powder can simply be attributed to the many strong intermolecular interactions that it can form with dust particles without reacting with them (i.g. dipole-dipole, ion-dipole and hydrogen bonding interactions), similar interactions to the ones which created the accumulated dust in the first place.

Dust can be fine particles of anything, but the biggest concern are dead skin cells in the form of flakes or hairs, which attract dust mites.  Salt crystals in fine powder form, ‘salt’ being any ionic pair, including sodium chloride and sodium carbonate, can be used to kill dust mites.  Chloride salts cause corrosion of metals, including stainless steel, so I don’t use sodium chloride (table salt).

For your safety, do not inhale large amounts of any powder or handle them with your bare hands.  Use a shaker and sprinkle close to the floor, or dissolve the carbonate salt in water to use in a spray bottle.

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.


Proposal: Chalk grafiti on paved roads would help prevent black ice

Considering the current high-maintenance and inconvenient ice management practices (or lack thereof) on roadways and driveways, it would be nice to have an easy, ecological and fun (?) way of preventing icing of roadways.

This is an easy experiment:

  1. Get sidewalk chalk.  To be most environmentally responsible, it should be mostly calcium carbonate (limestone) or calcium sulfate (plaster of paris, gypsum) and natural dyes.  Calcium carbonate is preferred since calcium sulfate is a minor irritant.  Both are beneficial for natural water sources when they eventually run off.  Crayola currently makes calcium carbonate anti-dust white chalk but their sidewalk chalk is sulfate based, and it is not clear what dyes they use (other than not the allergen Red #40).
  2. You and/or the kids cover the driveway with chalk drawings.
  3. Let it snow (let it snow, let it snow)!
  4. Shovel if you need to.  Sprinkle ground up chalk onto whatever is removed.

Why you shouldn’t get black ice:

a)  Black ice is generally caused by melted snow that seeps into holes in pavement and refreezes to form a smooth transparent layer of water molecules that is difficult to remove without remelting.

b)  The chalk is used to fill in gaps in the driveway before the snow gets a chance.  Unlike most deicers, it is not very soluble in water and should not melt the snow for the most part.  It may, however, react with acidic water to form a soluble salt and become a typical freezing point depressor (ice melter).  In either case, ice/snow should slide right off of the chalk-covered pavement/snow interface, making shoveling easier.

c)  I did an experiment with chalk, ice and a rough surface:


From just a glance at the photos, you can see that the plain ice sample is much more transparent than the chalk-ice sample.  It is very smooth, slippery and compact, whereas the chalk-ice is rough, crystalline and brittle.  While the central part of the plain ice is white due to air bubbles, the high transparency of the main part and slipperiness of the whole qualify it as black ice.  In addition, the plain ice melts much more slowly than the chalk-ice.  After 2 hrs on the counter, the chalk-ice is almost completely melted, reforming a chalk-water suspension, while the plain ice is only a little melted.  This is due to the larger surface area to volume ratio of the crystalline chalk-ice as well as to the freezing point depression phenomenon.

Besides chalk and eggshells, antacids for heartburn also contain calcium carbonate.

Calcium carbonate and calcium sulfate are also better than sand for your flooring, since the quartz in sand is 10 or more times harder than these chalk minerals.

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.