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One of my favorite new hobbies is preserving food by lacto-fermentation.  The process is similar to pickling and like pickling, typically combines salt and acid to keep food free from harmful bacteria.  “Grocery-store” pickles are preserved with acetic acid (vinegar) and have a long shelf-life but little nutritional value. Fermented foods are filled with pro-biotic bacteria that release lactic acid.  In a sort of controlled-rotting way, this process reduces the pH of the food and preserves it.  This process also breaks down nutrients, making them easier for the body to absorb.  Many foods can be fermented, my next project will be preserving peaches as chutney instead of canning them – more nutritious, less sugar and MUCH less work.  Keep in mind that fruits ferment faster than vegetables, here are some general guidelines, health benefits and additional recipes from another website. Below is a recipe and procedure for a simple salsa, one of the easiest and yummiest fermented recipes.

Step 1:  Gather Ingredients

3 lb tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, minced

Juice from 1 lemon

Juice from 1 lime

1 cup chopped, fresh cilantro (or less, I like a lot)

1/2 quart plain yogurt (used to make 1/2 cup whey in step 2)

2 tablespoons sea salt

Cheesecloth and string

Step 2: Separate whey from yogurt

First spread a square of cheesecloth across a bowl, then dump half of the quart into the cheesecloth-lined bowl.

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Then gather the edges of cheesecloth, tie them together with string and suspend the yogurt above a bowl.  The whey will drip into the bowl and can be stored for a few days in the refrigerator if you want to prep this ahead of time. Alternatively, you could use a fermentation “starter,” sold in homesteading and some natural food stores.

Step 3:  Chop the tomatoes and onions.  Mince the garlic and cilantro.

As I’m chopping, the whey is dripping from the yogurt there is enough ready by the time I’m done chopping.

Step 4:  Combine chopped ingredients, salt and whey in a crock or large bowl and mix gently

If you are using a crock, submerge ingredients under liquid by pushing down on the salsa with weights (or small plate).  Cover with a crock lid or large plate.

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ImageYou can also ferment salsa in mason jars.  A small-mouth lid can be used to keep salsa submerged in liquid (fermentation is an anaerobic process, so it’s important to keep the food submerged and thus not exposed to air or it will rot in a bad way instead of a good way).

Step 5:  Let ferment in a room-temperature room for 2 days

The fermentation process releases carbon dioxide so “burp” the jar after a day.

Step 6:  Store in the refrigerator

Fermented foods will last many months in cold storage.

For more information, check out one of these books on fermenting foods:

Wild Fermentation 

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods

The Art of Fermentation 

 

Here is an easy way to make a creamy moisturizer without the hassle of emulsifiers or preservatives (Note, there is no water in this recipe,  so no need to worry about it growing bacteria).  The recipe comes from Life at Cobble Hill Farm, I have simply modified it slightly to hasten the process and added some guiding information.  

Step 1:  Gather the ingredients.

6 oz shea butter (or avocado butter, mango butter, etc.)  Note:  Not all “butters” are true butters, check the ingredients.  Products like “blueberry butter,” “pistachio butter” and “coffee butter” are actually made from hydrogenated vegetable oil. 

1 oz cocoa butter

2.5 oz unrefined coconut oil

2 capsules vitamin E oil (optional, delays rancidity)

1/2 tspn Essential oil of choice (choose essential oils over synthetic fragrance oils)

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Step 2:  Melt ingredients on low setting in a crockpot or in a microwave on 50% power for 2-3 minutes. This time may vary, make sure that the cocoa butter is completely melted or the final product can be gritty.

Step 3:  Add essential oil and vitamin E from capsules (optional), mix combined ingredients with a hand mixer.

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Step 4:  Refrigerate until the mixture hardens.  Alternatively you can cool the mixture over an ice water bath and mix as you go, but I found that refrigerating the mixture and then microwaving it briefly was much faster.

Step 5: Microwave for 10 seconds to soften.

Step 6:  Mix until stiff peaks form and spoon into jars.  Voila! Convenient, ultra-healing moisture without any broad-spectrum preservatives found in conventional creams.

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Bath salts are easy and affordable to make at home.  I prefer to keep the recipe simple and use epsom salt, although you may also mix in sea salt.  Epsom salt is composed of magnesium sulfate (MgSO4) and dissolves in water to release magnesium and sulfate ions.  Both ions are small enough to absorb through the skin.  Magnesium is essential for the function of various enzymes and also supports muscle and nerve function; it is calming and mildly sedative.  Magnesium deficiency is common and linked to various medical issues such as hyperactivity and hypertension.  Sulfate helps to flush toxins out of the body, including residual radioactive particles after getting an x-ray or undergoing radiation therapy.  So…bath salts are not only a relaxing addition to your bath, they are also medically beneficial!

Step 1:  Gather the ingredients:  2 cups epsom salt + 1 tspn essential oil of choice (avoid synthetic fragrance oils) + flower buds (optional).  Here are a few essential oils that have  therapeutic properties, although “I like the smell” is also a perfectly good reason to choose an essential oil, so be creative!

Lavender:  Relaxing, antiseptic.

Eucalyptus: Anti-asthmatic, decongestant.

Ginger:  Detoxifying.

Orange:  Anti-depressant, invigorating.

Chamomile:  Relaxing.

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Step 2:  Mix ingredients in a bowl, break up any chunks of salt.

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Step 3:  Pour mixture into a flat pan and let dry for about 2 hours so that salts don’t clump in their container.

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Step 4:  Pour into a container with an airtight lid.

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Use 1-2 cups per bath.

Oats are incredibly nutritious for our bodies and our skin.  Filled with vitamins, minerals, and a high concentration of colloidal and anti-inflammatory compounds, oats are well-known for treating eczema, acne, and other skin irritations.  Colloids in the oats act as a very mild surfactant to wash dirt away gently. For people with particularly sensitive skin, this extra-mild face wash is for you!

Step 1:  Pour dry oats into a small container.

ImageStep 2:  Wet oats with warm water.

ImageStep 3:  Let oats sit for about 3 minutes.

Step 4:  Squeeze and collect “oat milk” from oats.

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Step 5:  Apply oat milk in circular motions and rinse with warm water.  Oats can also be used as an exfoliant.

Step 6:  Pat dry and apply a preservative-free moisturizer (sunflower seed oil, olive oil, or face oil).

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Melt and Pour Soap (aka Glycerin Soap)

If you’ve searched for handmade soap on crafty websites such as Etsy, you have probably come across melt and pour (MP) soap.  Etsy is filled with beautiful, brightly colored, sometimes translucent soaps in any array of interesting shapes, colors and sizes, also referred to  as “glycerin soap.”  MP soap is actually a blend of true soap ingredients (natural oils and lye) plus glycerin and synthetic ingredients ranging from alcohol-based emulfsifiers like sorbitol and sorbitan oleate to solvents like propylene glycol.  These chemicals allow the soap to melt (true soap doesn’t melt), giving the crafter a product that they can melt and form into any shape desired.  MP bases may also contain synthetic foamers such as sodium lauryl sulfate (also a detergent) and some are part soap/part detergents such as triethanolamine (one of the first ingredients in those clear Neutrogena bars, FYI).  Since MP soap is a less natural product to begin with, it’s also more likely that synthetic fragrances may be  used instead of true essential oils.

clear soap with duck

Another tell-tale sign of MP soap is that glycerin is in the ingredient list.  MP soap bases are  more drying (in soap-maker jargon, they are not “super-fatted”) so glycerin is added to keep the soap from being too harsh for skin while still allowing the product to be translucent (though not all MP soap is translucent and many MP soap bars actually look exactly the same as soap made from scratch).  In comparison, true handmade soap (made from scratch) has glycerin too, but it is part of the natural soap-making process and not added to the recipe.

On the bright side, MP soap bases can be purchased at local craft stores and are safe to use around children.  MP soap is made with lye, just like true soap, this step is just done for you beforehand (do not add lye to a MP base, you can make a soap that will burn you!). MP soap base is easy to work with and can be poured even into thin plastic molds and removed easily.  Depending on the recipe, it can even be remelted (alcohol-based MP bases are often a one-shot product, while bases with propylene glycol can be melted repeatedly).

If you are looking into making soap for the experience of the craft – coloring, using fun shapes or making attractive gifts, or you are afraid of working with lye, making MP soap is a nice alternative.  If you are looking to learn the skill of making true soap from scratch the way our ancestors did, or want to make the most natural and mild soap possible or suffer from chemical sensitivities, buying soap made from scratch or making soap from scratch yourself may be the best route for you.  Click here for our class schedule.  MP soap  may not be suitable for sensitive skin since it will some of the following synthetic ingredients:

Sorbitol:  Alcohol-based emulsifier & skin-softener.  Helps soap to melt.

Sorbitan oleate: Emulsfier.

Sodium lauryl sulfate:  Foamer.

Propylene glycol:  Solvent. Allows soap to melt.

Triethanolamine:  Petroleum-based detergent.

EDTA:  Chelating agent.

Fragrance OilFragrance Oils

One of the most common sources of chemical sensitivities are synthetic fragrances.  An ingredient  called “fragrance” or followed by FO (Fragrance Oil) tells you that the fragrance is synthetic. There is an enormous variety of synthetic fragrance oils and they can be tough to spot – some “sound plausible” like lilac, gardenia or blueberry, while others are easier to spot, like “baby powder.”  The key is whether it says FRAGRANCE or ESSENTIAL OIL. In comparison,  essential oils are highly concentrated and often medicinal plant essences.  They are also much more expensive than synthetic fragrance oils.

Detergents

So that I don’t repeat myself, click here for my detailed look at the difference between soaps and detergents.  This review also covers what to look for on a label – to know if you are buying a bar of soap or bar of detergent.  To summarize, detergents are most often petroleum-based (though some are vegetable-based), while true soap is created using vegetable or animal fat.  Petroleum-based detergents lack the nutritional benefits (vitamins, minerals, anti-inflammatory compounds, etc.) that natural vegetable oils are loaded with.  Detergent-based cleansers are less expensive to make than olive oil-based true soap, which is why conventional “super-market” soaps are often more detergent than soap and are so inexpensive.  Labels can be tricky.  Soap-makers may EITHER list individual oils used (olive, coconut, castor, etc.) OR they may list each soap chemical name.  When soap-makers list the oils, the labels are self-explanatory.  If they list the soap’s chemical name, these names are usually two words and start with sodium or potassium.  “Sodium oleate (olive oil), sodium tallowate (beef tallow), sodium cocoate (coconut oil).”  Detergent names are more variable in their number of words.  “Sodium lauryl sulfate, triethanolamine, etc.”

So what?

When it comes to shopping for personal care products, find a brand that you trust and stick with it.  It can be an overwhelming process to always feel like you have to scrutinize and translate every label (though I HIGHLY recommend that people do this at least once or twice – pick a product that you love and look up every ingredient – it’s actually more fun than you might think and VERY enlightening).  As the owner of a company dedicated to using natural ingredients, of course I’d love your business.  But more importantly, I want people to feel informed and confident enough to purchase products that are a good fit for their skin and their conscience.  Know what’s in your products, know WHO is making your products (click here for a great blog on this topic by fellow natural product-maker, Yancy of Five Seed…e.g. Burt’s Bees is owned by Clorox, Aveeno by Johnson & Johnson), don’t be fooled by well-funded advertising or flashy product labels and certainly not by words like “natural” (this is not a regulated word)…the ingredient label is all you need to worry about.

Myth: If you can buy it, it must be safe.

Truth: Everything recalled by the USDA/FDA, etc. is first approved by the USDA/FDA, etc. Many chemicals seem safe at first until years of exposure pass and populations with high rates of cancer or abnormalities present. Chemicals, GMO foods, etc. are not tested on humans (for obvious ethical reasons). We are the test group.

When people refer to genetically modified foods, they aren’t referring to a pear tree and an apple tree being spliced together…the types of genetic engineering that go into GE & GMO crops create much darker problems. And in step with “Big Oil” and “Big Banks,” now “Big Agriculture” (Monsanto) has infiltrated our judicial system, this time putting themselves above the law with HR 933, the rider known as “The Monsanto Protection Act.”  Click “Read More” above for the full article of a historical look at Monsanto.

GMO Awareness

When you take a moment to reflect on the history of product development at Monsanto, what do you find? Here are twelve products that Monsanto has brought to market. See if you can spot the pattern…

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Goat milk contains vitamins, minerals and fats that make it a nutritious and skin-softening additive to soap and a great choice for people with dry skin or eczema. While milk itself has a neutral pH, the final soap is still, like all true soap, mildly alkaline.  It is not only wonderfully mild but is also naturally resistant to bacterial growth and so requires no chemical preservation.

Working with milk can be tricky so I recommend being comfortable with the soap-making process before trying it.  To incorporate it into a recipe, replace a portion of the water in the lye solution (typically replacing 50-100% of the water). Keep a close eye on the temperature (you may opt to monitor with a stainless steel baking thermometer or simply monitor it for steaming & discoloration) and mix it slowly.  If the lye gets too hot it can make very dark soap or worse-yet, the lye may “volcano.” If it gets too cold the soap can fail to saponify completely, leaving free lye in your soap.  Keep the temperature above 90F but below 150F.  If you want perfectly white goat’s milk, keep the temperature around 90-100F by adding the sodium hydroxide very slowly.  I don’t recommend letting the lye’s temperature drop below this range; I feel that the risk of incomplete saponification is too great, especially for beginners.

Here are a few of my tricks for trouble-free goat milk soap, this process replaces 50% off the water in the lye with milk (the higher the fat, the better and it can be pasteurized or not – the lye will kill bacteria).

  • Freeze milk in an ice cube tray (or use fresh, cold milk and chill water too).
  • Weigh out ½ of the distilled water for the lye solution, per the recipe.
  • Add frozen milk cubes until the total liquid weight is reached.
  • Add sodium hydroxide SLOWLY and mix continuously (under a hood or outside).  The lye solution may be yellowish – the slower you mix, the less the color will be altered.  Once dissolved, keep stirring occasionally until you combine it with the oils.
  • Keep the solution between 90F and 150F.
  • Proceed with combining the oils and lye.