Simple Essential Oils – Part One: Introduction

(January 2015 edit: along with this series, please make sure to read my follow-up post with more info about essential oil suppliers and practices.)

I’ve shared before about my slow journey into using natural remedies.  While doing things the natural way has always been something I’ve preferred, for a long time I was intimidated and paralyzed by the sheer amount of information out there. A couple years ago I finally realized that I just needed to get over my fear, start with the little knowledge I had, and build from there. One of the areas I decided to explore was essential oils.

In this busy season of my life, I wanted to focus on remedies that didn’t require a lot of extensive prep on my part.  I know that, for me, I would be more likely not to use a remedy if I had to do a lot with it to get it ready.  I mean, when you’re not feeling well, you don’t really want to spend a lot of time fussing around…you just want relief.  So, essential oils fit the bill perfectly.  Also, due to the fact they’re so concentrated, having so many possibilities in just a few little bottles really appealed to my minimalistic side.

After talking it over with Aaron, I ordered some essential oils from Beeyoutiful, a natural health and remedies company that I trust and buy quite a few things from (like Miracle Salve, which we use daily on pretty much everything!).  Along with my order from Beeyoutiful, I also bought The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy by Valerie Ann Worwood.

And so it began.  Since then, my few bottles of essential oils have expanded to a small collection that I use regularly in many different ways.  I still feel very much like a beginner in learning about all of this and am always trying learn more.  But even with my limited knowledge, I have seen how beneficial and versatile even a few oils are and am so thankful for this natural “medicine” that the Lord has provided for us.  Many of my friends have asked me about what I’ve learned on this subject over the past couple years and I decided the easiest way to share it all would be through a blog series.  So here we are!

However, as I share in this series what I’ve learned, please remember: I am not a licensed health professional and anything I say is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.  I am just a mama sharing what has worked for her.  As with anything, please do your own research.

Coming tomorrow: my thoughts and what I’ve learned regarding the different brands of essential oils available and their quality.

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An overdue announcement and a diaper cream recipe

Nothing like coming back from a several month-long blogging silence to post a diaper cream recipe, eh?!  Can you tell what is a big part of my life?  In a way, it’s rather fitting since the main reason for the blog silence is very closely related to diapers (hint, hint)…

A couple months ago we found out some exciting news — we’re expecting another little one!  Due around mid-May, this pregnancy is putting me almost exactly two weeks behind where I was two years ago when I was pregnant with Genoa.  We’re obviously very excited about the coming addition to our little family, and the baby has already been making his or her presence clearly known by making Mommy feel rather not-so-good.  Thankfully, the “morning sickness” this time around has been somewhat lighter than with my other pregnancies, but there still has definitely been a good bit of constant nausea, exhaustion, etc.  That, combined with the added dimension of taking care of two very rambunctious and strong-willed toddlers has used up pretty much all my energy in the last couple months, leaving no brainpower for blogging.  However, I’m out of the first trimester now and things are getting much better in the nausea and exhaustion department, thus finally posting about this!

And now for the second segment of this post: the diaper cream recipe (so exciting, I know!)!   About a week ago, out of the blue, Genoa came down with the worst diaper rash she’s ever had.  I couldn’t pinpoint any food-related causes and unfortunately, all of my normal diaper rash remedies weren’t working, including our beloved Tailfeathers Zinc Cream!  I knew I had to figure out something else and wanted to try making a bentonite clay-based diaper cream, but I wasn’t really sure where to start with it.  So I paged through a couple of my herbal remedy books and came across almost exactly what I was looking for in Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Remedies for Children’s Health.  I modified the recipe some, adding certain things I wanted in it, and taking away those that I didn’t have on hand and/or didn’t want in it…and then mixed up a batch.  And I have been majorly impressed!  While I can tell this rash is going to take awhile to heal, I can tell it is actually healing now, as opposed looking worse every single time I changed Genoa’s diaper.  I don’t foresee using this diaper cream exclusively now, as I haven’t yet figured out a way to store it ready-to-use for a long period of time and the Tailfeathers Zinc Cream still works very well for normal diaper rashes.  However, I already have a jar of the dry mix prepared and ready for when I need to pull out the big guns to help my babies’ bottoms heal.  But…enough rambling…time for the recipe!

Clay and Herbs Diaper Cream

2 parts bentonite clay
2 parts arrowroot powder
1/4 part slippery elm powder
1/8 part goldenseal leaf powder
1/8 part myrrh powder
For every 1/4 cup of the first two ingredients combined, add four drops each Roman chamomile essential oil and lavender essential oil.

Measure all ingredients into a glass jar, cap tightly and shake until thoroughly combined (making sure there are no unmixed clumps from the moisture of the essential oils).  Store dry and when needed, measure out enough of the mixture for a couple days (I found 1/4 cup or so of the dry mix will make a good amount for a couple days of generous application at every diaper change) into a shallow, wide-mouthed glass container with lid and add enough pure water to make a creamy paste.  You can use it immediately at this point, though it will be rather lumpy, but after several hours it will even out into a very nice cream.

Note regarding cloth diapers: due to the fact that this doesn’t contain any moisture barriers like zinc-based creams, I’m not sure if using this directly against a cloth diaper would cause the diaper to need stripping…but I’m not planning on experimenting with my diapers to find out!  As such, I still use a cloth liner between the diaper cream and the prefold just in case.

And please remember: I am not a licensed health professional and anything I say is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.  I am just a mama sharing what has worked for her.  As with anything, please do your own research regarding what herbs, etc. you feel would be beneficial to your family’s health.  Thank you!

A letter to myself of ten years ago

Dear Me,

Oh, sweet sixteen.  I see you there, all aglitter at finally feeling grown-up and secretly delighted that you’re actually to the age where you can sing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” and supposedly mean it.  Except in your mind, there needs to be a dashing young man there to sing it with…and there’s definitely no one like that in sight.  You think he’ll probably show up sometime soon, because you really want to get married, and think it should happen by the time you’re eighteen.  Oh me, you’ve got much to learn…

These next years will be hard.  Despite loving ballet so much and enjoying the bits of musical theatre you have a chance to do, you and I both know that more than anything, you just want to be married.  No more “ambitions” than to be a wife and mother, and you’re not really sure what you’ll do after you graduate high school in a few short years…thus the married-by-eighteen plan seems to be perfect.  Well, dear one, you won’t be married by eighteen.  Or nineteen.  Or even twenty.  You won’t say “I do” until a month before your 23rd birthday (you’ll actually only be a day older than the age your mom was when she got married!), and though most of your peers won’t understand why, those years between sixteen and then will sometimes seem to drag on and on.

They won’t drag on for lack of things to do though.  After you graduate, you’ll travel the world (literally!) and it will change you so much.  I’m excited for you!  So many of those fears that you’ve struggled with in the last years, the Father will gently bring to light and will continually be working in your heart.   You’ll discover the details as you walk along this journey, but the main lessons seem to be trust and grace. They’ll show up again and again and again, and you’ll still be learning them all the more ten years from now.

You especially need to learn to trust the Father with this desire to be married.  Believe me, I know just how hard it is for you…but if you learn now to rest in His timing and trust that He’ll bring you two together in His perfect time, it will save you a lot of tears and grief over the next years.  I know you’re starting to despair (and will do so even more in the coming years) that there are no “real men” you know that you would even consider marrying.  No young men who are serious about wanting to be married and no young men who are strong enough to pursue you.  Oh, but dear one…just you wait.  When it’s time, he’ll want to be married just as much as you do and he’ll pursue you around the world and across oceans.  And you’ll be utterly blown away by our Father’s goodness.

And while we’re on the subject of young men…you know all those courtship books you love to read?  Just stop.  As you’ll see in about six years, real life is nothing like the courtship books.   You and I both know well the tendencies of having a rather extreme personality and over the next years, what you read in all those books will cause you to subconsciously build a little box of what a proper, Godly relationship should look like.  And let me tell you right now…God is going to totally explode that little box.  From beginning a “courtship” after communicating online for two weeks with a man you had never heard of before, to starting to fall in love with this man before you’ve even met him in person.  From across-the-Pacific plane rides, and hundreds of chats and emails, to finally marrying each other seven months and two days after first even hearing of each other’s existence.  It’s going to be a wild and crazy ride, and it’s not going to be like anything you’ve ever imagined.  But dear one, don’t let that keep you from one of the most amazing gifts your Father has ever given you.  His hand will be so apparent through it all, so just stay under His mercy and He will lead you both.

And as a little aside to the whole courtship thing — just stop writing your “list” of things you want in a husband.  You can keep the first one (“a strong believer”), but anything after that, especially #2 (“taller than me”), just toss out the window.  I’m serious.  Because I’m going to let you in on a little secret…your incredibly good-looking future husband is shorter than you.  By at least two whole inches.  And you know what?  It doesn’t matter.  Because there’s so many other amazing things about him that a couple inches is hardly worth even thinking about.

Well, sixteen-year-old me, I know how much you love reading, but this letter is getting quite long and I need still get some stuff done while the littles nap (yes, your children are more beautiful than you ever dreamed), but I wanted to quickly touch on the grace I mentioned earlier that our Father will keep teaching you.

You don’t really see it now, but that legalism that Dad and Mom warn you about having tendencies toward?  Well, they’re right (and over the next ten years, you’ll see they’re right about a lot of other things too).  Our extreme personality so loves rules and doing things all the way, but dear one, that will become a bondage for you.  But the amazing thing about our God — He sets the captives free.  And over the next years, you’ll be set free from that and slowly, slowly, learn to walk in grace.  It’s going to be hard, and believe me, you’ll stumble and fall…but again, there’s grace.  So keep clinging to that, dear one, and know that in ten years, you’ll still be learning and you’ll feel like you aren’t any closer to being like Jesus than before.  But that’s when we need to keep remembering that Scripture from the beginning of Philippians that you have memorized and underlined.  That “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day the day of Jesus Christ”.

And He will.  Because if there’s anything I’ve learned in these last ten years, it’s that the goodness of our Father surpasses anything we could ever imagine and that we can trust Him with it all.

So just keep your eyes on Jesus, me-at-sixteen.  And that will be enough.

~Jessica

(The blogosphere is full of letters to our teenage selves this week, in celebration of Emily Freeman’s new book Graceful. Care to join us? What would you like to be able to tell your teenage self?)

How to get your husband to like curry

I’m not a big menu planner at all.  My personality is such that if I made a menu plan, I’d want to stick to it for the most part, but I’m too much of an experimental cook to want to be constrained to a plan. (If that sentence made no sense to you, that’s okay.  Just smile and nod.)  I’m doing really good if in the morning I have a general idea of what I’m making for supper that evening…but there’s no guarantee that is what we’ll actually have.

Example: yesterday, around three in the afternoon, I decided that we would have baked fish, baked potatoes and salad for supper.  Simple and easy since yesterday was supposed to be a rest day for me.  I started to defrost the fish and was struck by a major curry craving.   As in, “I MUST MAKE CURRY TONIGHT”.    And since curry must be served with basmati rice, I nixed the baked potato idea and sprinkled the fish with some garlic powder and curry powder before sticking it in the oven.  I sometimes have a bottle of Trader Joe’s curry sauce on hand for quick curry fixes, but I didn’t this time so I came up with my own version of it.  And this one was so good that I’ll probably stop buying the other stuff.   Homemade is good.

Quick Basic Curry 

Finely chop a head of garlic, and saute in about a half stick of butter for several minutes. Add a bunch of curry powder (I use Trader Joe’s brand) and saute that in the butter/garlic mixture until it just starts to smoke. Dump in a can of coconut milk (I like Native Forest brand — super creamy and supposedly that’s the only one in a BPA-free can) and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Salt generously.  Mix a large spoonful of arrowroot powder with some cold water and whisk into the simmering sauce. Once thickened, remove from heat. Stir in baked fish or chicken and serve over basmati rice. We love our curry topped with a tomato/avocado/red onion/cilantro mixture (lightly dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper)…SO yummy!

Of salt

After we got settled in our new house, I did a photo tour of our home that I posted to Facebook.  One of the pictures showed my lovely IKEA spice rack that houses some of my different salts and my most-used spices. Then a couple days ago, I got an email from a friend asking about my “salt collection”…what different kinds of salts I had and what I used them for.  It was such a fun email to answer!  Yes, it’s rather silly, but I love talking foodie stuff like different salts.  And when I asked on Facebook to see if there were other salt geeks out there, I got a couple requests to share what was in the email…so I decided to make a blog post about it.  And here we are!

My Salt Collection

Celtic Grey Sea Salt: I love this salt and it’s definitely the one that I use most often. I buy the five pound bag from our co-op, Azure Standard (though I’ve seen it on Amazon as well), and then keep a wide-mouth pint jar of it by my stove so I can easily add it to things as I need it. I use it in most of my cooking from scrambling eggs to sauteing veggies, in some baking, in making most salad dressings, etc. It’s a coarser-grained salt so there’s a bit of a learning curve in regards to how much to use if you’re used to finer-grained salts, but it’s totally worth the trial and error. (Supposedly, if you generally measure your salt, there are certain ratios you can use to figure out how much you need of a coarse-grain salt as compared to a fine-grain salt, but I never actually measure my salt so I don’t know what those are.)

Himalayan Coarse Crystal Salt: This I also get from Azure and it’s what I use to fill my salt grinder for at-the-table use. Therefore, it usually gets used to salt oil-and-vinegar dressed salads or if someone wants their food saltier than it already is. This a very large-grained salt so I would really only recommend it if you have a salt grinder. Otherwise you could end up with big globs of salt in your food!

Fine Sea Salt: I get this at Trader Joe’s and it comes in tall blue and red/pink container. I don’t use it super often since it’s kind of boring and is very white which usually means that there aren’t as many trace minerals in it (one of the big reasons I like using other salts is because they’re a good source of trace minerals). However, the fine grains do come in handy sometimes when I need the salt to dissolve quickly so I use it mostly for making certain salad dressings, for making saline solutions when they’re needed and in this amazing homemade calamine lotion recipe.

Vignalta Sea Salt with Herbs: This was a gift from my mother-in-law and I’m so glad she introduced me to it. It’s a sea salt mixed with rosemary, sage, black pepper and garlic…so good! I’ve used it in many things…herb and butter rubs for roast chickens, on foccacia, etc. My latest use for it is when I want a quick salty and savoury pick-me-up…I toast some sprouted bread, slather it with butter and then sprinkle this stuff on…YUM!

Black Lava Salt: This is the latest addition to my salt collection and I’m excited to try it out. I was ordering some other stuff from Mountain Rose Herbs and wanted to try one of their culinary salts and this was the one I chose…though it was a very hard decision since they have so many fun-looking ones! Since it’s new, I haven’t used it much yet…but from its description on the website, it sounds like it would work great as a finishing salt for pretty much anything.

Smoked Sea Salt: This I also got from Trader Joe’s and I’ve loved it to use as a natural way to add smokiness to a dish. However, I haven’t seen it around TJ’s recently and I’m wondering if they’ve discontinued it. If that’s the case, when I use mine up, I’ll just use their South African Smoke seasoning. That one isn’t just salt (it has some paprika, garlic and basil in it too), but it’s still totally natural and works great for adding smokiness.

Kosher Salt: This is just your basic Morton’s Kosher salt.  I don’t use it much in cooking since it’s still pretty refined and therefore lacks many trace minerals, but I still like to have it on hand for things like salting eggplants, making brines, etc…basically anything that uses a lot of salt, but will be mostly rinsed off or thrown out (that way I don’t have to waste my good salts on that stuff).

I also have a little jelly jar half full of some salt that Aaron’s parents brought me back from Salzburg, Austria. It’s a fine grain mineral salt and since I’m pretty sure I won’t ever get some again (unless I go to Salzburg myself…which would be so much fun!), it’s my “special” salt and so gets randomly thrown in dishes whenever I feel like it.

And that’s it.  Nothing super fancy, but still fun to cook with and add a little variety!

Killing germs…the green way

Mondays are usually my big cleaning days.  I generally don’t clean much over the weekends (except for cloth diaper laundry…that waits for no one!) so that we can spend as much time with Aaron as possible on his days off, and Mondays are the catch-up days.  Cleaning bathrooms, mopping floors, etc.  I’ve blogged about natural cleaning before, but I’ve recently changed my “recipe” for my all-purpose cleaner…and as I was cleaning my bathrooms today and leaving them smelling like a herb garden, I remembered that I wanted to share it.

But first some backstory…  A couple weeks ago I was confronted with a really nasty cleaning job.  Our big upright freezer needed to be cleaned out and by the time I got around to it, a couple days had passed since defrosting it.  And it was gross!  Smelled horrible, some old chicken juice pooled on the floor…very “icky yucky” as Cedar would say.  I knew I wanted something stronger than my basic all-purpose cleaner of soap, water and lemon essential oil, but I also didn’t want to resort to using chlorine bleach.  Then I remembered a post I had recently found on The Mommypotamus (a great site full of good info!) that included a recipe for homemade natural “Lysol”.  Using a simple combination of lavender essential oil and rosemary essential oil added to water, the post stated that: “This mixture was found, in the French state hospital system, to be as effective as standard hospital sanitizer, but in fact longer lasting, because the oils stay on whatever surfaces they land on longer than the alcohol-based sanitizers.”  I decided to use that mixture as my base and add to it to help up its cleaning and disinfecting power.  I liked the mixture so much that I decided to keep it as my all-purpose cleaner.  Totally natural, germ-killing and smells lovely…what’s not to like?!

The basic recipe is: in a large spray bottle, put a small squirt of Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap. (I used to put a large squirt in, but have found that since Dr. Bronner’s is so concentrated, that ended up being too much soap and it either required lots of rinsing to get it all off or it left the surface sticky.  So now I use just enough to completely cover the bottom of the spray bottle and not much more.  For the spray bottle I use, that seems to be a good amount: it adds some sudsing action and serves as an emulsifier to mix the essential oils with the water.  Obviously experiment to see how much you need.)  To the soap add 10-15 drops each of lavender, rosemary and lemon essential oils.  Swirl around a bit to mix together and slowly add hot water.  It should stay pretty well emulsified, but it’s still a good idea to give it a good shake or two before using to make sure all the oils aren’t floating on the top.  Use as you would any cleaner…and enjoy leaving your house naturally clean and smelling like a herb garden!

Finally.

Well, it’s been over a month since my last post and we’ve been in Tennessee for almost four weeks now…I think it’s time to get back to blogging.  I honestly was rather unmotivated to start up again, but I have all these post ideas floating around in my head.  Who knows if they’ll ever get from my head to my blog, but one can hope!

Tennessee has definitely been a change from California — in some good ways, and some bad.  I’m absolutely loving all the green here, though sometimes the trees end up obscuring the horizon…I didn’t realize how much I would miss seeing that.  And I’m discovering that all this green has a price: I made my first acquaintance with chiggers a couple days ago.  The kids and I went blueberry picking with some friends and a couple hours after we returned home, I discovered a large red  itchy ring of bites around both of my calves, right where my capri-ed jeans had ended and my bare legs began.  The bites really are as bad as they say, but thankfully a couple applications of this amazing homemade calamine lotion and regular slathering on of our trusty Miracle Salve has helped a lot.  I’m just incredibly thankful that the chiggers didn’t get the kids (I was wearing Genoa and Cedar had long pants and gum boots on) — I can deal with crazy itchy bites on me, but it would have been really hard on them.

The food culture and situation here in east TN definitely is very different than CA as well.  I miss all the amazing fresh produce we had available almost year round, but here I’ve also been able to find a good source for raw milk…and they deliver only about five minutes away.   And we’re so excited…in about a week, there’s a Trader Joe’s opening up relatively close by…YAY!

So lots of changes to be sure, but we’re slowly adjusting.  And regardless of the hard parts, it’s been confirmed to Aaron and I several times that this definitely is the new path God has for our family.  Being just our little family, in a totally new place, hardly knowing anyone — it certainly has grown us and will continue to, I’m sure.  It’s always exciting to see what our great God has in store.