Archive for October, 2011

It’s easy to complicate things.  Life, relationships, skincare formulas . . . It’s much harder to stick to what’s essential and cut out the extras, especially in a culture that demands you oversize and get more for your money.  Frugality and economizing are values that have gotten lost in the shuffle.  Perhaps the silver lining to our economic cloud is a return to simplicity.  That’s not such a bad thing.

I start each day with a simple meal.  Lately my autumn breakfast trend has consisted of a spread for sourdough toast made with 1 tsp coconut butter, 1 tsp tahini, and 1/2 tsp honey (all organic and raw). For years I have been mixing tahini and honey as a “Persian halvah” substitute on half my toast and coconut oil and honey on the other.  Then one day I combined the two halves and Bam!, something “simply” delicious was born.

Sesame tahini is a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine providing an abundant source of omega-6 linoleic acid and amino acids.  According to my Nourishing Traditions cookbook, it’s best to add flax to balance the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, so I add a teaspoon whenever I grind some seeds (don’t let ground flax sit around because the oils go rancid quickly).

The benefits of whole coconut products (i.e. not processed) are too numerous to cover in this post, but suffice it to say that coconut butter is a good source of lauric acid that “enhances the immune system and protects against viruses, yeasts, parasites and other pathogens in the gut” (Nourishing Traditions, p. 160).  That should be reason enough to consume coconut oil on a daily basis!  Coconut is a healthy fat that helps nourish skin cell regeneration from the inside.

Raw honey is the third element in this trifecta of health.  Teeming with enzymes that help with digestion, raw honey is a living entity.  It also has antimicrobial properties that help with immune support and the sugars don’t cause dramatic spikes.  I go to great lengths to find locally produced raw honey.  Pollen from the plants around us help boost our immunity to our environment.

This blend of tahini, coconut butter and honey is also delicious on steel cut oatmeal and helps sustain blood sugar levels throughout the morning.  Sometimes I’ll substitute honey with a drizzle of blackstrap molasses for a “black and tan” version.  I also like to add bee pollen, real cinnamon (not cassia) turmeric and coconut milk.  Run, don’t walk to the breakfast table!

As if it weren’t enough to simply eat this stuff, make a little extra to use in the shower as a hydrating facial.  Add some mochi rice flour (it’s ground very fine) to gently exfoliate.  The directions are simple.  Scoop some into your palm and add a bit of water to get it started.  Rub your palms together and gently spread the paste onto your face.  Allow the masque to remain the duration of your shower, then gently massage and rinse off.  The combination of oils and honey will draw moisture into your skin.  I like to coat my face, neck, shoulders, decollete and hands with this paste.  And don’t forget your lips if you can keep yourself from licking it off!

If you shower everyday consider making the basic recipe a part of your routine.  The antimicrobial action of coconut and honey are sufficient to balance the microflora on your skin so you don’t need soap which is drying.  Exfoliate weekly with the rice flour version of the masque.  As a variation, add turmeric to the blend.  It is a potent anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-aging (are there any more “anti”s left?) weapon, thanks to the main phytonutrient, curcumin.

There you have it, a simple recipe with multiple benefits, inside and out.

This post is part of the Fight Back Friday series on Food Renegade:


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As the autumn days get shorter a new crop of calendula grows slowly into it’s fourth year of reseeding.  Plants have their own seasons in our Southern California climate and these young shoots will be ready to bloom in winter.

Young calendula plants

If the blossoms are picked continuously, each plant will bloom into late autumn rewarding us with color, fresh scent and healing properties.  From our 4’x6’ plot of amended soil we have been able to collect enough blossoms to use in our Autumn Gold products.  The flowers are either air dried and infused in safflower oil for our cleanser/body oil or tinctured fresh for our moisturizers.

Blossoms resting

The process begins with picking fully opened blossoms which are allowed to rest (so that insects can crawl out) before they are washed and spun dry.  The blossoms intended for standardized tincture are left to wilt over a day.  This reduces the moisture content of the plant material so that the alcohol is not diluted during the extraction process.  It also reduces the likelihood of mold.

Preparing petals for oil infusion

The blossoms intended for oil infusion are air dried completely, until the flowers are like straw.  This takes several days up to a week.  Both infusions and tinctures take five or six weeks to mature.

Calendula is one of four plants grown in our garden for use in our products.  We also grow rosemary, lavender and rose.  Each plant is picked not only for its season of bloom, but also for its properties.  Calendula is used for its ability to soothe inflammation.  Its golden color comes from carotenoids present in the flowers, leaves and stems.  But it is the saponins whose surfactant action enhance the penetration of plant nutrients.  Calendula is healing and soothing at the same time.

I had a chance to test the efficacy of calendula when my baby had a terrible diaper rash (possibly the result of teething) that burned red and then blistered.  I tried fresh aloe which had worked for a friends baby, but made matters worse with mine.  When aloe dries, it tightens the skin and can make the “burn” worse.  What I needed was something emollient and healing which would act as a temporary moisture barrier.  I reached for an old sample packet of Extra-Strength Desitin and left it on overnight.  In the morning the rash was still inflamed with open sores.  It finally occurred to me to use my calendula infusion.  So I whipped up a light balm with candelilla wax.  I chose candelilla over beeswax because I did not want to introduce another potential allergen to an already sensitive area.  It worked like a charm.  Within a couple of hours the redness was reduced and the weeping sores were scabbing.  In two days, the rash was history.

Compost ready to "cook"

I attribute the potency of my calendula infusion to its freshness and to the fact that I’m an organic gardener who uses biodynamic methods.  Based on a “stellar” calendar I alternate preparations for roots or leaves that act like homeopathic remedies for my garden.  I also innoculate my compost with an herbal tea which helps enrich the enzymatic activity of the microorganisms.  I recognize the difference biodynamics have made, but I also love the connection it has given me to my garden.  The preparations are made either an hour before sunrise or sunset and involve stirring a substance into water so that a vortex is created.  Once the perfect cone has been achieved the stirring goes in the opposite direction creating chaos in between.  This is done continuously and is not unlike the homeopathic method of succusion.  The water is then sprayed onto the plants or the ground using a broom head or bushy branch.

Finally, calendula, like the other plants we grow for extraction, is edible.  The flower petals can be used in salads and impart color, nutrition and flavor.  The flowers make a nice herbal tea and I’ve even baked with the petals.  In fact, calendula petals were used as decoration on my wedding cake 11 years ago!  This plant has so many uses, from repelling pests in the garden to healing a baby’s bum; truly, calendula lives up to its common name marigold or Mary (Merry) Gold which defines our Autumn Gold products.

This post is part of the Fight Back Friday on the Food Renegade blog:


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Single Ingredient Products

How many products consist of a single ingredient? Not many. Check those labels and see how many ingredients can be stuffed into a 2 oz jar of moisturizer. Now ponder the effectiveness of these ingredients at such low concentrations. Why include so many extracts, oils and “actives” in a moisturizer, for example?

Marketing. Including trendy ingredients allows a company to jump on the bandwagon of the latest fad, like hyaluronic acid, antioxidants, vitamins or botanical extracts to name a few.  Many of these ingredients have recommended usage levels, of say between 0.5-3%.  Most likely any given product will have the minimum amount crammed in just to satisfy a marketing claim.

Money. It’s expensive to make products with fewer ingredients. A pure argan oil is not as profitable as a serum that includes 20 other fillers, because the main ingredient costs the most. But guess which is more effective? The simpler one, of course. Admittedly, it’s easy to get carried away when formulating a product. You start with a key ingredient and want to add things to support it and make it more effective, but often the opposite happens. It’s harder to exercise restraint when formulating simple and effective products.

Perception. Customers may not feel like they’re getting their money’s worth when they buy a simply formulated product. But skincare is not a Las Vegas style buffet! Paring down an ingredient list so that it includes only what is essential is often the best way to go.

Shelf life. Ingredient decks often include a host of materials that help maintain a longer shelf life. Most liquid fats go rancid after six months. Antioxidants must be added to slow down the process of oxidation. There’s no doubt a fresh oil would be better if used within 6 months. But that’s just not feasible in our marketplace. So the customer ends up having to swap ingredient effectiveness for extended product use.

Stability. Preservatives are a necessary evil for emulsions to ensure a product will remain stable for the duration of its shelf life. Preservatives also insure a product won’t grow dangerous pathogens even if a customer is not scrupulously clean.  Unfortunately, natural alternatives are not yet foolproof  and ignoring a preservative system would be irresponsible as flesh eating staph infections are an all too real likelihood . . .

Here are several single ingredient products that I use on a regular basis, even though I make more complex formulas.  For both skin and hair (wow, single ingredients doing double duty), you can’t beat argan oil, virgin coconut oil or sea buckthorn oil. They all moisturize and condition beautifully.

For toning the skin any hydrosol will do, and for facial cleansing pick an organic cold pressed oil. There’s also apple cider vinegar to condition skin and hair by adjusting pH levels. Just make sure it’s diluted before using.

Rice flour mixed with water is an effective skin polisher.  Follow up with a raw honey facial mask.  Honey offers nourishing as well as anti-microbial benefits.

For an envigorating bath try adding 1 cup of sea salt to your water. It draws out toxins, softens skin and relaxes muscles. Scrub your body with a handful and you’ve just exfoliated.

A single ingredient toothpaste is miswak, also known as peelu. The fibers of the wood expand like mini sponges to gently clean plaque and condition gums. Gargling with plain water also helps reduce bacteria (“thanks” to the chlorine in our municipal water systems), so no need to buy mouthwash.

A single ingredient hair dye is henna.

There are several single note perfumes such as aged patchouli, ylang ylang absolute (which dries down in a complex way), jasmine sambac for its indole or a sweet vetiver. Mix those 4 oils together in various ratios and you will end up with a unique perfume.

A great laundry detergent can be made with soapnuts, especially for people with sensitivities (my husband developed a reaction to our fragrance-free commercial detergent which resulted in a severe asthma attack). They’re actually the dried fruit of the Sapindus mukorossi tree and it’s easy to extract their saponins. Simmer 14 “nuts” in 6 cups of water (use a non-reactive pan) until water is reduced to 2 cups. Allow to sit overnight before squeezing out the liquid through a cloth. Use this liquid in the same ratio as a commercial detergent. Refrigerate unused portion.  Compost the spent fruit.

Ok, let’s see what other single ingredient products are out there. I haven’t even touched house cleaning products, but I’ll give you a hint: distilled vinegar. There must be many more!

(Originally published on “The Natural Place” blog)

This post is part of the Fight Back Friday on the Food Renegade blog:


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It is autumn and time to shift how we care for our skin to suit the changes taking place in new season. Temperatures are fluctuating, Indian summer one day and blustery storms the other. Weekly or bi-weekly facials can help your skin make the adjustments it needs.  Here are some recipes for you to try at home:

Ayurvedic Cleanse:

1/4 C. Chickpea flour

1/4 tsp. Turmeric

Mix together and add some water to make a paste that you can spread on your face.  Allow the mask to dry a little before gently rubbing off in the shower.  Turmeric can stain clothing so wear an old t-shirt while the mask is doing its work.

Pumpkin Enzyme Mask/Scrub

Blend on high until smooth:

  • 1 Pumkin wedge with seeds, pulp and skin


  • 1 Tbsp. Maple syrup or sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. Pumpkin pie spices
  • Flax or hemp meal to bind

Leave on for 15 minutes then massage off and rinse.

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