Easy, Edible Easter-Egg Dye

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Okay, so you might not want to actually EAT this easter-egg dye, but it is natural and non-toxic. And, as you can see from the snapshot above, it is actually effective!

I experimented with homemade Easter-egg dyes for the first time last year after reading this post from Mommypotamus. Having two toddlers who love to put everything in their mouths, it seemed like a no-brainer to give it a go. I was pleasantly surprised by most of the results. When I compared our eggs to my sister-in-law’s eggs, I couldn’t tell the difference between our yellow and pink eggs and the ones she and her kids had made using store-bought dyes. The blue turned out a different hue than theirs, but it was just as deep and striking.

For pink, I simmered a sliced beet in white vinegar. For the life of me, I don’t know how Mommypotamus succeeded in getting such vibrantly colored eggs (click on the link above and take a look at her images)–perhaps my beet was defective? In any case, I tried her method of boiling a sliced beet in water then adding a tablespoon of vinegar before dying, but I could barely decipher the pink. When I boiled the slices in straight vinegar, I secured the result you can see in the photo above. Not stellar, but not bad.

For yellow, I boiled chamomile (two tea bags + a handful of fresh flowers) in water and added one tablespoon of white vinegar before dying. Mommypotamus recommends using turmeric for yellow, which I advise if you have it on hand; I was out of my supply at the time, but knowing how thoroughly turmeric stains my wooden stirring spoon, I have no doubt it would make for very vibrant Easter eggs! I plan to use it this year.

For blue, I simmered a handful of frozen blueberries in straight white vinegar. As with the beets, boiling the blueberries in water and adding vinegar before dying wasn’t as effective (note the paler blue egg to the left of the other blue eggs). Shredded purple cabbage is another option for blue according to Mommypotamus.

For orange, I boiled the petals and anthers of several tiger lilies in water and added one tablespoon of vinegar. Mommypotamus and other sites recommend using yellow onion peels for orange, but I happened to have a bouquet of tiger lilies on hand and they worked well enough.

When my girls are older, I plan to turn our Easter-egg dying into a science lesson on plant pigmentation and the ways in which past generations used plants and other natural materials to make paints and dyes. The Green Education Foundation is a resource you can check out if your children are at an age where they are ready to appreciate such information.

 

Super Simple Toothpaste

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No, that is not a jar of some sort of weird white ketchup–it is a jar of my homemade toothpaste, which uses four simple, non-toxic ingredients that you likely already have in your pantry, especially if you’ve tried out my no-bake mint chocolate pie.

Most commercial brand toothpastes contain questionable ingredients such as fluoride, which is a particular concern for those with children, who often swallow a certain amount of toothpaste when learning to brush. For a fascinating–and disturbing–article on the transformation of fluoride from a toxic-waste problem to a health boon, check out this article put out by the Weston A. Price Foundation. It’s a tale of industry and academic collusion to find a productive use for fluoride, a by-product of aluminum processing.

Even fluoride-free toothpastes can contain flavorings and dies that aren’t sufficiently tested for safety. So-called natural toothpastes such as Earthpaste and Uncle Tom’s of Maine are better options than standard commercial brands, but they are quite expensive.

My personal solution to the toothpaste issue is to make my own using the following four ingredients:

  • Aluminum-free baking soda
  • Celtic sea salt (or another higher-end salt)
  • Filtered water
  • Peppermint extract

Simply combine 4 parts baking soda with 1 part salt, add just enough water to turn pasty while stirring up the mixture, then add a few drops of peppermint extract and stir one more time to distribute the flavor. A drop or two of essential oil (peppermint or lemon work well) can be used in place of the peppermint extract, you’ll just have to be more careful about not swallowing the toothpaste since most essential oils are not intended for ingestion.

The reason I use a higher-end salt for my toothpaste (and for flavoring my food) is because the cheaper sea salts are often harvested from more polluted parts of the ocean, meaning they can contain trace amounts of toxins in them–or so I’ve read. Since salt doesn’t get used up very quickly, I don’t mind spending a higher price for higher quality.

Compared to $3-4 per tube for natural commercial toothpastes, this toothpaste costs just pennies to make and can be mixed up in a matter of minutes. I prepare a new batch about once each month and have never had a problem with bacterial growth even though I dip my toothbrush straight into the jar. A salt and baking soda mixture isn’t exactly the sort of environment in which microorganisms thrive 🙂

Note that this toothpaste is not going to be the smooth, gelled toothpaste you’re used to from commercial manufacturers. It will be grittier and grainier but it’s SO incredibly cheap and easy that I’ve never minded. The mangy munchkin loves it, and although I’m trying to teach her to spit it out rather than swallow it, if she does ingest a small amount–even if she ingests the whole kernel-sized amount I put on her brush–I have nothing to worry about!

 

The Many Uses of Melaleuca Oil

Homemade wipes

Essential oils have become all the rage among natural mamas. While I do not believe that they are a magic bullet by any means, I do find that keeping a bottle of melaleuca oil around the house can be quite handy. Here are several uses I’ve found for melaleuca oil, commonly referred to as tea tree oil:

  1. Homemade wipes for dirty hands and bums
  2. Diaper rash ointment
  3. Acne cream
  4. Mastitis treatment
  5. Laundry disinfectant
  6. Freshening spray

With two toddlers, homemade wipes are a must in our household. When our washing machine broke down last month and I was forced to use disposable diapers and wipes, I realized that without homemade wipes I would go through an entire package of 60 wipes every week. Not only does that cost a lot of money but it also generates a lot of waste. Even for mamas who don’t use cloth diapers, cloth wipes can be incorporated into the diapering routine by limiting their use to cleaning non-poopy bums, in which case the wipes can be thrown in with the regular laundry; doing so cuts down on at least a little bit of the waste associated with disposable diapering without adding much work. It takes me about five minutes once a week to prepare and apply a solution to my set of cloth wipes, which I purchased on Etsy.

To make a wipes solution, add one drop of melaleuca oil to a tablespoon of witch hazel in an 8-ounce squeeze bottle (I use the peri bottles I received in the hospital when I gave birth to my daughters) then fill the remainder of the bottle with water and shake to distribute the melaleuca oil, which will act as an antimicrobial agent to keep bacteria from growing in your wipes once you dampen them with the solution. You can store your wipes in a standard wipe warmer or in a wet bag, which makes them portable (just keep an extra wet bag with you for dirty wipes).

The antimicrobial properties of melaleuca oil also make it great for use in homemade diaper rash ointments, acne creams, and mastitis treatments. For all of these uses, I dilute several drops of melaleuca oil in several teaspoonfuls of virgin coconut oil (one drop of melaleuca oil for every teaspoonful of coconut oil). Simply melt your coconut oil over low heat on the stove and blend in the melaleuca oil, then pour the mixture into a small glass container for storage. Apply to diaper rashes underneath an application of moisture-blocking ointment (we use Boudreaux’s Butt Paste) to help prevent infection and hasten healing.

For acne, apply a dab of the melaleuca/coconut oil mixture to the pimple.

For mastitis, rub the mixture into your skin over the sore/reddened area, avoiding the area around the areola where your baby nurses (melaleuca oil is not safe for ingestion). Note that mastitis is a serious infection that should not be allowed to progress; if your homemade treatment does not seem to be improving the infection within 24 hours, see a doctor. The homemade treatment is best used if you catch mastitis early, when the infected tissue is just beginning to become painful. If it has already progressed to the point of serious pain and inflammation, skip the homemade treatment and go straight to the doctor. I was able to avoid the use of antibiotics by catching my mastitis early enough and applying my homemade treatment four times over a 24-hour period.

Melaleuca oil can also be added to your wash cycle to freshen and disinfect your laundry and washing machine; simply add several drops to liquid detergent when you pour it into your machine. If you use cloth diapers, this is a great way to keep your diapers smelling fresh during the winter months when they can’t be disinfected in the sun. The melaleuca oil won’t remove stains but it will keep stinky microbes from settling in.

Finally, melaleuca oil can be used in a freshening spray for your home. I add about 20 drops of melaleuca oil to a 20-ounce spray bottle full of water that I store along with my cleaning supplies. When the mangy munchkin has an accident (she’s currently potty training), I spray the area with my solution after cleaning it up. I also use it when the trash can gets stinky and when one of my daughters spills milk on the couch, which will take on a sour smell without a few spritzes of my melaleuca solution.

You can find additional uses for melaleuca oil on WebMD and on Dr. Mercola’s website. The MayoClinic offers some cautionary advice for those considering its use, including a warning that frequent use of melaleuca oil on prepubescent boys may cause a rare condition called prepubertal gynecomastia. A study discussed in the New England Journal of Medicine found an association between this condition and the use of melaleuca oil in young boys; fortunately, once the use of melaleuca (and also lavender) oil was discontinued, the condition disappeared.

If you do decide to go ahead and purchase a bottle of melaleuca oil for home use, make sure to test yourself for sensitivity first by applying a drop to the inside of your (or your child’s) wrist and watching for any rashes to occur within a 24-hour period. No one in my family has ever exhibited any sensitivity to the oil but its best to check first to avoid complicating any situations that you are trying to correct (you certainly wouldn’t want to use melaleuca oil in a diaper rash ointment if your child is sensitive to it, for example).

By keeping a bottle of melaleuca oil in your home, you can avoid the use of many potentially toxic products by replacing them with your own melaleuca-based concoctions. You’ll also save some money and cut down on quite a bit of waste!

Decidedly Easy Deodorant

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Here is the DIY tip that prompted so many of my friends to encourage me to start a blog.  When I posted this picture of my homemade deodorant on Facebook back in April, almost as many friends “liked” it as they do when I post photos of my kids.  If you have your own kids and have experienced the flood of “likes” you get when you post a cute picture of them, then you have an idea of how popular this post was!  Since I received a lot of follow-up questions via private messaging when I posted the picture and accompanying recipe, I thought it might be beneficial to dedicate a full post to the process of making your own deodorant at home.

For several years, I had searched for a natural, aluminum-free deodorant that worked, without any luck.  Reluctantly, I purchased a small jar of Primal Pit Paste despite the $8.95 price tag because I’d read rave reviews about it on The Healthy Home Economist, a blog I follow.  Sure enough, it worked amazingly well.

Not wanting to have to spend so much money on deodorant, I thought I’d try to replicate the pit paste at home.  The ingredients listed on the label were simple: shea butter, arrowroot powder, coconut oil, and baking soda.  The exact amounts weren’t listed (no for-profit company is going to give away it’s secret recipe!) but the descending order meant that shea butter was the greatest ingredient by volume and baking soda the least.  So I purchased all four ingredients at my local food coop/health food store and experimented in my kitchen until I came up with a recipe that worked (below).

Decidedly easy deodorant recipe:

  • 4 tablespoons shea butter
  • 3 tablespoons arrowroot powder or starch (or cornstarch)
  • 2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons aluminum-free baking soda
  • 1 drop tea tree (melaleuca) essential oil

To make it, simply melt the shea butter and coconut oil over low heat in a stainless steel saucepan then stir in the remaining ingredients. Pour the mixture into a small glass container (I purchased mine from Target), refrigerate for an hour or so to re-solidify, then move to your bathroom for regular use!

I added a drop of tea-tree oil to my recipe after coming across Mommypotamus’s recipe for homemade deodorant.  If you don’t have air-conditioning, I strongly recommend against relying solely on coconut oil as your base like she does in her recipe because it turns liquid at 75 degrees Fahrenheit (the shea butter will stay solid); but I definitely like her idea of adding a drop or two of essential oil to each batch.

Once I figured out a recipe that works, it now takes me less than 10 minutes to prepare a batch every four to five months (yes, that little 4-ounce jar lasts that long!).  You only need a pea-sized amount under each armpit; apply it with your fingers and rub it into your skin (I scoop it out with the back of my fingernail).  Based on the prices I paid for my ingredients, the cost works out to about $2.50 per 4-ounce jar, and I will be able to make several jars before I need to purchase more ingredients.  Mommypotamus claims that this type of deodorant also works for her husband, so you may be able to cover your entire family’s needs in just 10 minutes every few months!  I’m thinking rosemary or bergamot essential oils would make good “man” smelling deodorant.

One caveat is that you may need to adjust the recipe slightly to suit your own skin (or your partner’s), using more or less baking soda (the deodorizer) or arrowroot starch (the moisture absorber).  The nice thing about this deodorant is that if it doesn’t quite work for you, you can simply scrape it back into a saucepan, melt, and add a little bit more of this or that until you have a formula that works.  Just make sure to write down what you did so that you remember it for next time!

I will admit that even this deodorant doesn’t work on the first two days of my period.  For whatever reason (hormones?), I just stink those two days of the month no matter what I try.  But for regular, everyday use (even during hot summer months without any air conditioning), this deodorant works, and works well.