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Good old baking soda. I’ve always had a box open in the fridge, but never really given much thought or consideration to the versatile dust until a few years ago when i jettisoned most of the chemical base cleaners in my house.  Since investing more time on learning alternatives to chemicals and modern goops to clean my home and treat my fire ant stings, i’ve discovered some great uses for baking soda.  Here are some of the ways i’ve been using my baking soda in the last year:

  • Insect sting relief: When i get a fire ant or hornet bite, i score the bite with a sterilized razor blade and apply a poultice of baking soda on top. Sometimes i also add essential oils or mashed borage leaves when i have them. The baking soda helps suck the poison out and prevents the massive swelling i tend to get from those nasty bites.
  • Drain cleaner: Pour boiling water into your drain. Once drained, sprinkle some baking soda into a clogged drain and follow with some vinegar and cover it up. A little explosion will happen in the drain and force the nasties down. Follow with some more boiling hot water to help further dislodge things and repeat as neccessary. (It helps to scrape out the nasty hair first, if applicable)
  • Cleaning the garbage disposal: Same steps as above. Freshens the gunky smell and gets the grime off.
  • All purpose cleaner: The grittyness of baking soda works well to clean just about anything. Combine with Borax and you have a super hero team of scrubbing power.
  • Biscuits. Yum.
  • Add a scoop of baking soda or borax to a load of laundry for cleaner, softer clothes.
  • Sprinkle some baking soda or borax in the compost pail or trash basket in the kitchen to keep those funky smells less funky.

I love to use baking soda in my carpet powder concoctions. I use an old parmesan cheese canister to sprinkle my mixture of essential oils, baking soda and diatonaceous earth to freshen the carpet and kill any nasty critters crawling about the house via puppy feet.

As you probably know, i also make my own tooth powder that heavily features baking soda, along with salt, clay and essential oils.

Arm and Hammer has a neat little website feature that discloses all sorts of ‘secret uses’ for baking soda. Check it out. Some of their tips include:

  • Clean walls or furniture with a paste of baking soda – acts like that magic eraser
  • Adding baking soda to the rinse cycle specifically helps freshen up those sheets even more
  • All purpose deodorizer – that’s what that open box in the fridge is for (even though i still bake with that one, gross) and sprinkling it about in the form of a carpet freshener is great all over the place including on pet bedding or anywhere else.
  • Pamper that bod: add to shampoo to get your locks cleaner and shinier, soak your feet, scrub your body, relieve an acid stomach, add to a bath to neutralize the ph and get you cleaner/fresher, use as deoderant….
  • Clean off car batteries
  • Clean up oily spills
  • Bring it camping and use it for everything: washing hands, clothes, dishes, teeth, hair, fire extinguishing, EVERYTHING
  • You can safely clean just about ANYTHING with baking soda, right down to vegetables, the dog herself or baby’s favorite chew toy

Wow. That was intense. I never knew the true power of baking soda. I can’t wait to whip up my carpet freshener and use it EVERYWHERE on EVERYTHING, not just carpets. So put away those nasty chemicals and stock up on some baking soda. It’ll cure what ails ya, or your dirty floor, or toilet, or teeth, or hair, or dog, or…………

How do you use baking soda?

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Foraging doesn’t have to be in the woods or even in a wild place… one can find GREAT foraging in your own driveway or along a neighbor’s fence. (Be sure it’s a friendly neighbor, or that the produce you’re foraging is, in fact, not being harvested by them).

Earlier this Spring my husband came in all excited that he had discovered a cherry tree tucked along a fence between our apartment complex and a neighbor’s house. I watched the fruit as it developed through the Summer and picked the first one the other day. They’re dark red fruits, the size of a very LARGE cherry and are not tart but not too sweet either. They taste more like: plums! But is that what they are? Here are some photos of the fruit and foliage. I’d love to pick a whole mess of these guys and make some honey sweetened jam or compote…. but it might be nice to know what fruit i’m actually dealing with!

What’s your vote: Cherry? Plum? Something else?

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I’ve been hearing a lot about probiotic and fermented food in the news lately. I’m a long time proponent for eating fermented food. I believe that ferments aid with digestion, improve the health of my gut and are a great way of preserving the harvest while also making things delicious! Fermentation has been around for about as long as we have been eating food, and are a healthy part of a traditional and “real” diet. In my opinion, at least.I’ve recently heard some rumors in the news that probiotics aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. I blame the overall disconnection between the average citizen and real food.

You may have heard about the “Activia” scandal of late…. apparently people see commercials that say ‘eat our yogurt and you’ll be “regular”‘ and think that means eating a cup of (very processed and overly packaged) yogurt every once in a while is going to help them. No wonder people aren’t believing in probiotics anymore. These people buy all their food from a store and have no idea how a chicken is grown or even understand how fermentation works. I recently heard a woman being interviewed in NPR who seemed to think eating probiotics really wasn’t all that great. Can a person really eat yogurt three times a day, cuz that’s what you need to get the health benefits, she wondered? No, dummy. Eat fermented food! It’s EASY and delicious to eat fermented foods with every meal, and that same woman might already do that and just not know it.

I recently heard an interview with Sandor Katz on Fresh Air. Sandor is an author and fermentation whiz (whose most recent book, The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World is on my must read list) where he listed some frequently eaten fermented foods we may be less aware of: chocolate and coffee being two of the more surprising foods. I’m partial to pickles and ferment all my pickles. I also make my own yogurt and eat it not only for breakfast but also as the main ingredient in many sauces, dips and curries that always elicit fist pumps from my husband. It really is easy to include probiotics into every meal, and it may also be good for your mood.

A recent RadioLab featured the connection between gut and mind. Good bacteria in your gut isn’t just good for digestion, it also makes you happier. They cited research with mice and other studies including research done on people who have had portions of their gut cut out of them with the goal of weight loss. These people aren’t just cutting fat, they’re cutting out pounds of good bacteria. Pretty fascinating. Go ahead and listen to the episode!

I encourage you to do more research on this topic, and to eat more fermented foods. Make your own, buy quality food and stay far, far away from sugar/tapioca/flavoring laced brand name yogurts. While you’re at it, eat more kale!

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Happy Independence Day

It’s the 4th of July! Many folks have the day off to spend festivating with family and neighbors, fire up the grill and make loud noises with exploding toys. The 4th of July always signified the “real” beginning of Summer when i was growing up in southern Oregon. It seems to be that way here in the valley as well, though i feel sorry for all my southern and eastern friends who have been “enjoying” 90-100+ degree weather for several months now. Hopefully Summer has landed to stay here, as i’m getting slightly tired of getting suited up in my light T and tiny shorts for our 5 mile hike, only to discover cold winds and a drizzle. That’s the valley for you!

Here are some things to remember this day of fireworks, pomp and circumstance:

  • You and the kids may like sparklers and bottle rockets, but your dog probably doesn’t. The days around the 4th of July are some of the busiest for dog shelters and animal control. PLEASE keep your dog inside or close to you at all times today, and be sure he/she is wearing his collar with current tags in case he escapes. This applies to the next few days as well, because many people will continue to play with firecrackers through the weekend.
  • Hot sun and cold beer don’t always mix. Planning on enjoying some day drinking today? Sounds great! Please remember to drink a glass of water between every alcoholic beverage and be sure to wear sunscreen today. That first beer may feel refreshing, but alcohol will dehydrate you quickly and no one wants you passing out at 7 pm. 😉
  • Drive safely. Kids are out playing, dogs are running around scared and adults are enjoying ‘refreshments.’ All of these factors may contribute to hazards on the roadways. Please drive carefully and try not to speed. Also plan ahead for local parades and dn’t have your weekend travel plans interrupted by the 4-H float.

Don’t forget that July also means a SALE here at Nude Soap. Tees and tanks are 15% off all month and can be found on the Swag page, here.

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Ah, chamomile: that sweet little herb commonly used in teas to soothe the nerves and bring on sleepy times. I actually hate chamomile tea for drinking, unless I’m sick, but i do love chamomile for its many other uses. Chamomile is the main herbal ingredient in one of my most popular soaps. Paired with lavender, my Lavender/Chamomile Herbal Soap smells great, is super soothing for most skin types and is lightly exfoliating. I also use chamomile in my husband’s after shave and facial tonic. I like to steep vinegar with fresh herbs to make the vinegar smell great and add the properties of the herb to the vinegar for cosmetic or household cleaning uses. Chamomile is generally great for soothing troubled skin, though i have met folks who get a rash from it, so be sure to use any new herb or essential oil with caution.

Chamomile is a neat little herb that can be found in the most unlikely places. It spreads readily via its tiny little seeds, and will spread more if mowed when in bloom. The chamomile near my house isn’t quite in bloom, but since it is showing up almost everywhere i thought it a good time to write about it to help others make the identification. I spot chamomile by its leaves. There are many other ‘daisy like’ flowers out there, but none have the feathery leaf that chamomile has. Here are two little flowers that have similar looking flowers or similar growing habits, but are NOT chamomile:

Note the flat leaves of the first, and the and clover leaves of the second. They’re growing in the same conditions, but are not the plant in which we seek. Chamomile is often found in driveways, along rocky paths, or clinging to dry outcroppings. (For this reason i’m very excited to seed it in my future walk way between stepping stones!) I first spotted wild chamomile at Mary’s River park in Philomath, and later found it on almost every trail in the area. I was surprised, however to find an abundance of it just behind my husband’s workshop… in the driveway!

Once the chamomile is in full bloom, the center mounds will turn yellow and tiny white petals will form a daisy-like bloom. Spot chamomile by looking for low growing feathery foliage and double check your id by crushing a bloom in your fingers: it will smell sweet and just like chamomile tea! More about using chamomile in a later post – for now: get out there and do some foraging, and comment back with your experience.

I will be writing a little more about foraging and using chamomile in my upcoming monthly newsletter. Be sure to sign up to get lots of great articles and discounts on my products.      This post is part of the Simple Lives Thursday blog hop.

Where’s the strangest place you’ve found an herb or mushroom when foraging?

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… all starts with diet. That’s right, folks. When people come up to me and tell me how gorgeous and healthy looking my long hair is, or how my husband’s hair looks much thicker than in the past, i tell them about my herbal hair rinse, and about my diet. As clarification, i mean “diet” as in “the things i eat” not “the things i eat to lose weight.”

I consider myself a bit of a “homesteader.” I think in today’s lexicon a homesteader is someone that makes things from scratch, tries to grow quite a bit of their food, and things of their home as their own cottage industry hub, rather than just a place to do board games or watch tv in. Although currently trapped in an apartment, i still enjoy making things from scratch, and there are a few stock ingredients in my cupboard that will NEVER come from a store: soap, tooth powder and broth.

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Making broth is very easy, and it uses up parts of the animal that would otherwise be wasted. You can boil bones raw, or you can boil bones after roasting for more flavor. Most folks will have most frequent access to chicken and turkey bones, but you can throw any sort of bones in that you’d like, but maybe keep your batches grouped by ‘like’ animal. I’ve been throwing goat bones in with my chicken bones lately, because i had some on hand. Cartilage heavy bones, like pig knuckles and chicken feet, hold the most gelatin and should never be discarded. Not all stock is the same, and making your own is the best way to ensure your stock isn’t full of salt, preservatives, excess water or a large portion vegetable stock. Veggie stock is great and all: but you want gelatin! Gelatin is the key to fast growing hair and nails, happy skin, and strong muscles.

Making your stock is easy: just cover bones with water and cook all day. I like to bring the stock to a boil then simmer all day while i’m at work (i’m daring) but it may be best to save this chore for a day when you’re home and can monitor the water level. It’ll smell great. You can add onions or other veggies, some salt and a bay leaf – or leave it a ‘blank slate’ to be flavored later when you cook with it. After simmering for at least 4 hours, turn off the heat and allow to cool. I put mine in the fridge or in a cold garage over night. In the morning you can skim the fat off the top, strain out the bones, and put the stock back on the stove to further reduce.

By concentrating your stock, you’ll take up less storage space and have really rich gelatin. You know your stock is good and reduced when it has a gelled consistency when cold. At this point: freeze or can (using a pressure canner) and enjoy as a base for all your soups, sauces, healthy sautees and curries.

For more about canning and using stock, visit Pocket Pause where we’ll be discussing the topic in the months ahead OR visit An Austin Homestead for the archives.

This post is part of the Simple Lives Thursday blog hop.

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A fellow blogger posted a link yesterday for natural flea prevention. For some reason, (i’m pretty sure that reason is my intense hatred and fear of fleas, stemming from a house and my-body infestation while living in a shared house back in college) i only supplement our dog Pocket’s flea prevention with natural measures. I drop chemicals on her back every month. Here i taut healthy living, and i slather toxic chemicals all over my fur-baby’s back every month. This seems dumb.

Pocket has some health issues. Because of this, we stopped feeding her processed food (kibble) and switched her to a natural diet (raw meaty bones). Improved diet is the first step to preventing fleas as well as a huge factor on all over health . Her health has improved a LOT from her no longer weepy eyes to her no longer itchy ears, but she still itches. It may be her paw fur, in constant need of trimming, or it may be something more. Either way, i’d like to re-think my monthly application of pesticides to my baby’s spine. I already have a closet full of essential oils and have been doing a lot of research on moth repelling essential oils, so let’s address what essential oils are great for preventing fleas, and how we can use them.

First, why switch from those highly effective chemicals you get at Petco or your vet’s office?

The commonly used chemical based products used in over the counter and veterinary prescribed flea and tick collars or spray and even topical drops deterrents have been found to cause breathing problems, tremors, vomiting, skin irritations, permanent nerve damage and in some cases, even death. Some animals will experience hair loss and sores around the neck from flea collars or where the topical drops have been applied, plus the chemical fumes given off by these products can negatively affect you and your family as well.
Did you know that your dog’s liver and kidneys are adversely affected by the use of commercial flea products such as frontline and advantage, chemical de-wormers and even heartworm drugs? The toxic chemicals in these products, often result in renal failure (kidney failure)and/or liver damage to the point of the liver no longer being able to filter the blood and then, complete liver failure. Contaminated blood circulating throughout the body day after day will most definitely contribute to other more complicated health issues, such as diabetes and arthritis to name two of the most common long term side effects of using these toxic chemicals.These toxic drugs can also cause severe skin rashes, loss of hair, epileptic seizures, brain damage. The list of adverse side effects amazingly goes on and on. Still people continue to use these drugs because they don’t know there is a better, simpler, less expensive, safer way.
– http://www.thewholedog.org/EOFleas.html  great article! read the whole thing!

Eep! How can someone like me, who is SO careful about what i feed my dog (no garlic or onions for her!), yet i slather her with nasty goop every month? Fear of fleas. I’m terrified of them. So, perhaps it’s time to not only wash her in some natural flea repelling shampoo (which i will have available at Nude Soap as soon as the pennyroyal blooms!), but to mix up a blend of essential oils, invest in some Diatomaceous Earth to mix up my flea repelling carpet powder and treat Pocket and her house naturally. It’s about time!

There are tons of essential oils out there, and many are good for repelling insects. After my hours of research across many websites and books, i’ve decided these are the best choices to invest in:

  • Cedar: (there are several types of “cedar” essential oil. Read the latin: you want atlas cedar or cedrus, NOT juniperus
  • Lavender: who doesn’t love the floral scent of lavender? Insects. Again, there are a few varieties of lavender essential oil. You want the more camphor smelling types, not the super floral types. Search for the latin: Lavandula angustifolia.
  • Eucalyptus: If you’re in California or Australia, you’ve got this plant all over the place! The essential oils is relatively affordable and smells super fresh.
  • Cloves: found in most health stores and great or your gums, this is a must have essential oil and great for mixing into the flea repellant blend and is also great for repelling moths.
  • Citronella: duh!
  • Peppermint: minty fresh and full of vigor when it comes to repelling nasties.
  • Lemongrass: this one is a real value, though the color will stain your white dog. Lemongrass makes you happy and is one of the most effective herbs for repelling fleas and ticks. If you live in a warm enough climate, plant this delicious and fragrant herb as an ornamental grass that will double as a subtle pest control.

The article referenced above has some great recommendations on how to use these essential oils. You can diffuse them into a mist to spray on your dog, or rub them directly onto your dog. Use caution when handling essential oils and consider diluting them with coconut or jojoba oil. Essential oils can do some crazy things when absorbed through your skin, so wash your hands well after handling. My plan for Pocket is to blend a mixture of these essential oils with some coconut oil in its liquid state. Coconut oil has a fairly long shelf life, so my ‘insect balm’ will keep for quite some time. By rubbing into my hands and working into her fur focusing on the areas i’d normally drop the toxic stuff at the back of the neck, as well as down at her white belly (where i can always find a flea or 9 after visits to Eugene), she should be safely protected from fleas, mosquitoes and ticks for 2 weeks or so. I’m a ‘better safe than covered in ticks” kind of person, so i will treat her every two weeks and wait for baths/swims until after the mixture has dried for at least a full day. Dr. Bronner’s makes a great peppermint flea shampoo to tide you over until my dog shampoo is ready, which will include chamomile and oats for sensitive skin, peppermint, cedar, lemongrass and eucalyptus essential oils, and oils infused with blooming pennyroyal for added flea prevention. Head over to my other blog, Pocket Pause for a recipe and more great ideas on natural pest repellants!

To be honest, i may still treat Pocket with nasty chemicals during the height of flea/tick season, depending on how the population is booming or not where we currently live. Austin treated us bad, but maybe Philomath is infested at more naturally controllable levels.

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