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Tea Tree Oil

Yesterday afternoon I noticed the beginning of a big nasty cold sore at the corner of my mouth.

Last night I dabbed a drop of tea tree oil on it.

This morning I have no cold sore.

Get thee to the store, if you don’t already have some, and buy some tea tree oil.  This is amazing stuff.  It’s available all over the place now; I get mine from Trader Joe’s.  It’s antifungal, antibacterial, anti-zit, and clearly anti-cold-sore.

It’s also a good addition to diaper balms, homemade hand sanitizers,anti-acne  toners, and other concoctions; despite its very astringent smell, it’s pretty gentle on the skin.

Good stuff.


Wheezy moldy books…

A few days ago it was Ernie and the rubber ducks; today it’s Arnold Van Gennep and Les Rites du Passage.

Still studying for my comprehensive exams, still poring through old book after old book.  Since discovering the local public library…wait, hang on, must give small commercial:

Public Libraries ROCK!!!  You can get almost anything, they are wonderfully helpful, your tax dollars are already paying for it, if more people don’t use them they will get funding cut more and more, they can even usually get books from outside the system, they ABSOLUTELY IN ALL WAYS ROCK DA HOUSE!!!

There.  Couldn’t stop myself.  Where was I?

Ah yes–had my library seek out this one book I needed to study from.  There was only one copy in the entire system, and I suspect I might have been the only person to crack it open in maybe a decade or two.  And within 2 minutes of my cracking it open, my skin started to itch, my eyes to water, and my lungs to wheeze.

Mold attack.

I got onto the internet to see if there was any advice, and unfortunately most of it was of the “throw it away and get a new book” variety, which is less than helpful.  (Frustrating enough with rubber ducks, right? But books?) So I did an experiment.  In a gallon ziploc bag I put a cotton ball with a few drops of tea tree oil (great mold killer!) and poor moldy old Arnold. Whiffled the pages a little bit to “aerate” them.  Closed the bag, let it sit overnight. (Okay, in the end I think it was more like 48 hours, because I didn’t get back to it…)

VERDICT: Well, it’s hard to tell because I already have a cold and cough, but I’ve been sitting here with the book for about half an hour and I don’t feel any worse than I did when I started; maybe a little snooflier, but nothing like the first time when I picked it up.

This method may have merit…if anyone else tries it, please let me know if it works for you!

Insect repellent: What’s Picaridin?

The heavy duty commercial insect repellents this summer seem to have a newish active ingredient: Picaridin.  Thing is, it’s hard to find too much solid information on it, aside from here:

(Excerpted) (from a CDC press conference in 2005)

This morning we’d like to emphasize that Americans now have more options than ever to use in protecting themselves from mosquito bites, which remains a mainstay of protection against West Nile Virus and other mosquito-borne diseases. Today, the CDC is releasing new guidance about effective mosquito repellents now available in the United States. This updated guidance includes addition of two active ingredients, the Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus, which have been shown to offer long-lasting protection against mosquito bites.

Repellents containing DEET, may I emphasize, these repellents containing DEET continue to be a highly effective repellent option and are also included in the CDC guidelines.

DEET, actually, we have the most experience with over the years and it’s been shown to be an extremely safe and effective repellent and remains a very important option for consumers.

Picaridin, which is one of the ones we’re now adding to our list of recommendations as far as effective repellents, is also known as KBR 3023, and this is an active ingredient that has been available in Europe, Australia, Latin America and Asia for some time.

Evidence indicates that it works very well, often comparable with DEET, and with Picaridin there’s been, as I emphasize, there’s been a long-standing experience in other parts of the world which have shown it to be safe and effective.

One product containing 7 percent Picaridin is being distributed in the U.S. this year, and I’m confident that other products containing Picaridin will be on the market also shortly.

The other ingredient that we’re adding to our list of recommendations is oil of lemon eucalyptus, also known as P-menthane diol, or PMD, for short. PMD is a plant-based repellent that gave protection time similar to low concentrations of DEET products in two recent studies, and is available in a variety of formulations throughout the United States.

CDC says Picaridin is safe.  That’s good.  But they also say DEET is safe.  Which doesn’t exactly encourage me. 

It’s encouraging that lemon eucalyptus oil is getting some mainstream press–until they say this:

Now I must emphasize that oil of lemon eucalyptus, although it appears to have a efficacy similar to low concentrations of DEET, the experience with oil of lemon eucalyptus is less than the many years of experience that we’ve had with DEET over the years, but it does appear to be a good alternative to DEET.

We have less experience with lemon eucalyptus. Because it’s plant-based and no one has bothered to study it, because no one can make the kind of money on it they can on something synthetic. So they’re carefully implying that this aeons-old long-established natural remedy doesn’t have the safety track record of things like DEET and Picaridin.  Nice.

Then there’s this (Picaridin fact sheet)

Unfortunately, I don’t really understand any of it.  But that’s a good website; I’ve bookmarked it, and it has info regarding a whole mess of different pesticides.

Does anyone in the whole green movement know anything at all about this stuff, what it means, how it works, and what its danger level is?


Natural deodorants

For the past few years I have tried to avoid using conventional deodorants, the ones with aluminum chlorohydrate and other such compounds in them.  There are concerns in some quarters about those compounds being absorbed into the skin and not being properly flushed out, with possible links to breast cancer (hey, it makes sense when you consider the proximity of breasts to newly-shaved armpits!) and/or Alzheimers.

I tend to also be very leery of marketing, especially of natural products. (Like the whole “multigrain bread” thing–all they have to do is put a couple of grains of oat flour into their bleached white stuff and suddenly it’s multi-grain. Harumph.)  So when I can find actual chemistry to support something, it makes me feel a little more confident.

On the other hand, my own knowledge of chemistry pretty much comes from tenth grade and two parents who are chemistry teachers. (My mom sometimes reads this blog…maybe she’ll comment?)  So if they are blowing chem-talk up my smelly armpits, I won’t necessarily know.  However, the below does sound fairly sensible:

(copied from )
Alum or Aluminum – What’s in your Deodorant?

Deodorant stones are made of potassium alum. It is a pure product made without the addition of chemicals, fragrances, oils or alcohol. The chemical formula for potassium alum is K2SO4Al2(SO4)324H20. Potassium alum is a colorless substance that forms octahedral or cubic crystals.

Bauxite is the ore from which alum is drawn. It is formed by the rapid weathering of granitic rocks in warm, humid climates and can be purified and converted directly into alum.

Potassium alum is soluble in seven times its weight of water at room temperature and is very soluble in hot water. When crystalline potassium alum is heated, some of the water of hydration becomes chemically separated, and the partly dehydrated salt dissolves in this water, so that the alum appears to melt at about 90 degrees C. (approximately 392 degrees F.), potassium alum swells up, loses all water, and becomes a basic salt called burn alum. Potassium alum has a density of 1.725.

Alum’s are used for a variety of uses including as a powerful astringent.

If an aluminum compound, such as aluminum chlorohydrate or aluminum zirconium, which is very soluble, is used as an antiperspirant, that compound is readily absorbed. Once in the body, the aluminum portion of the molecule ionizes, forming free or radical aluminum (Al+++). This passes freely across cell membranes, and forms a physical plug, that when dissolved is selectively absorbed by the liver, kidney, brain, cartilage and bone marrow. It is this concentration of aluminum that has been the source of concern in the medical community and has prompted the research being done on alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer victims. Potassium alum molecules have a negative ionic charge, making it unable to pass through the cell wall. They are not absorbed. This is why our deodorants are safe to use and will not cause high levels of aluminum in your system. Alum and aluminum are two different substances, with distinct chemical signatures. They possess different chemical properties which create different chemical attributes.”


(notice how they slip the words “free” and “radical” in there in the same sentence? Not sure if that’s hype or mere accuracy…)

I just bought two new deodorants, since my crystal one seems to have sort of bit the dust after about 4 years. (That, I tell you, was $7.99 well-spent.)  One is made by “Kiss my face” and has potassium alum as its main ingredient.  It’s a roll-on, which means it will run out and need replacing (unlike the stones), but it seems to do the job very well.   (ETA: after a couple of weeks of use, this is my new favorite deodorant; it does the job to the extent where at the end of a steamy June day my pits still are basically odorless. This is a good thing.)

The second one I couldn’t resist–it’s by Avalon Botanicals, and its main ingredients are exactly what I put in my own deodorant blend when I made it myself, and coincidentally are also exactly the ingredients in my anti-postpartum-depression blend: clary sage, lemon, and lavender.  This also has a little standard sage (a really good odor-controller) and orange.  It’s a spray rather than a roll-on, and so far it’s doing me very well!

Another note about the deodorant thing: when I first stopped using commercial deodorants, I went througha week or two of really appalling (to me) odor–serious skunkpits.  It was sort of gross.  Nothing seemed to quite cover it up or make it go away.  But oddly enough after that, it was like my system settled down into a new routine, and the natural deodorants have done really well for me since then.  Some better than others.  And the alum ones definitely better than the plain essential oil ones, though I’m still just a little leery of them. 

For what it’s worth. 

Stomach flu is the pits

I have the flu. This time it’s my stomach, and my equilibrium–dizzy spells every so often, for no apparent reason.

So it seems like a good day to share my favorite natural tummy remedy.

**note: only very rarely do I take any essential oils internally. They are extremely concentrated and can be harmful or sometimes fatal in too-large doses; most should never be taken internally at all.  Do your homework. And keep out of reach of your kids. **

Yucky Tummy Potion
Heat up a mug of water in the microwave

While it’s heating, drizzle a little honey onto a spoon.

Onto the honey drop one drop each ginger essential oil and sweet fennel essential oil. (ONE drop each. Two max.)

Drizzle more honey over that. (This helps the eo dissolve a little; it is still very volatile and most will just escape into the air.

Stir mug of hot water with the honeyed spoon.

At this point you should have a lovely fragrant steaming beverage; inhaling the fumes is honestly about as helpful as actually drinking it, IMO, but it tastes lovely anyway.

And now I’m going to go make some more.

I think that I shall never see a bug annoying as a FLEA! (Alternative flea prevention tactics)

A friend of mine just got a new puppy, and she is floundering in a sea of way too much conflicting advice about how to deal with fleas, ticks, and other bug problems. So, being a good friend, I’ve agreed to give her even more advice, probably even more conflicting than what she’s already heard. (What are friends for?)

(Standard disclaimer: Not only has the FDA not approved any part of what I say, the FDA would laugh until they wet their pants if I even came near them. I’m a muscian with no medical training of any kind, I just read a lot and pay attention.  Follow any advice I give with a grain of salt, do your own homework, and please do not hold me responsible for any negative results.  I’m a musician.)


Her dilemma: to give monthly “preventative” medication or not? Obviously, me being me, I do not choose to give it to my pets. As I discussed in a previous post , the meds don’t actually prevent fleas, they keep a constant very small level of insecticide in the pet’s system so that the fleas die before they can reproduce. Which is very efficient, but I still do not choose to go that route, because my own belief is that it has a negative effect on the overall health of the animal.


I think the question for anyone would have to be something like, “How much would I freak out if I found living fleas on my animal?” Because once they are there, there’s a pretty lengthy and commitment-required regimen, if you don’t want to go the flea bomb route, for getting rid of them. (Discussed in part II of this post) (And by the way, they do sometimes appear on animals being treated in other ways! That’s another reason given for abandoning chemical flea treatment; many believe that the fleas are getting stronger and developing resistance to those meds anyhow.) 


Because the fact is that every animal is different, and while I can say loftily that I’ve had pets for 16 years and experienced only 2 flea outbreaks, I could have been just plain lucky. However, given that that’s all I actually did have in all that time, in hindsight, it’s fairly clear that giving the prevention would have been way more expensive and way harder on the pet than it was worth for those two weeks out of 16 years when fleas actually were a problem.


  Read the rest of this entry

Melt and pour soap adventures

This is the last week of school, and I’m suddenly realizing I have no idea what to have the kids give their teachers as an end-of-year little gift. (There’s actually a “class gift” that everyone contributes to, which is nice–they’re building a butterfly garden outside the school, and each child paints a stone that becomes part of the environment–very cool.)

I discovered melt-and-pour soaps last Christmas at teacher gift time; there was a bit of a learning curve, but we’re much better at it now, so I feel okay about doing it again. (Actually, only three out of the six got soap at Christmas, and they were tiny little bars.) Since then I’ve bought soap molds and experienced a lot of trial and error, and I have something like six pounds of unmelted soap block sitting in the closet.  It’s a great project for kids, as long as the adult does the melting, because they can pour and stir and color and blend themselves.

So…off we go. 

Below is a really good site for basic instructions; if I’d had this in December, I probably would have screwed up a little less:

Melt and pour soap base is available in a lot of places, but if you get it from, say, Michaels, it is a lot more expensive. (I’m still glad I did that for my first pound–it was a good way to ease into the process.) I think I paid about $10 for a pound-size soap block, which makes maybe 4 bars of soap depending on the size you use, which isn’t that much less than buying nice glycerin soap somewhere else. 

I honestly can’t remember where I bought the 6 lbs I have in my closet, but any internet search for “melt and pour soap” will give more hits than anyone can possibly need. has some good-looking prices and products; I’ll probably try them next. 

Just a few hints, after one has read the basic falling-off-a-log instructions:

Color: I bought three little bottles of soap coloring from Michaels, in the three primary colors, and I’ve managed to work within that palette so far.  One would think there’s a whole lot of variety to be found from mixing red, blue, and yellow, but somehow in practice…not so much. Probably with better colors I could get better results, but our first few bars of soap looked a bit like radioactive waste…

This batch, for 12 ounces of soap, we used 3 drops of red and 4 drops of yellow, which gave a fairly nice coral-pink.  The next batch Bear wants to be green, which unfortunately was the hue we never managed last time and wound up with the radioactive waste look, but we’ll give it a try…

Fragrance: Some websites have suggested about 1.5 tsp of essential oil per pound of soap, but in reality that’s going to depend a lot on what oils you use.  Peppermint overpowers almost anything, as does Tea tree…Lavender blends too quickly into the background, as does Clary, but Geranium Rose leaps to the forefront. They seem, to me, to be behaving differently in soaps than they do in ordinary aromatherapy blends, but that could be just my own impression.   Also, as nice as the spices and citruses may smell, it’s not a good idea to use them in skin care products, because they are sensitizing. (Sweet Orange in small amounts I admit i do use…but I also want to be clear when I say that that I know I’m going against other advice, and no way would I advise anyone else in that direction.)

For this batch, I went the easy route and am trying to use up some of a much too old bottle of “Peace and Calming” from Young Living Oils. (Note: the Young Living company has been at the center of a lot of controversy in the aromatherapy community, regarding questionable business practices and irresponsible medical advice that flies in the face of the research of the aromatherapy community at large–advice which, incidentally, involves the use of way larger amounts of the oils than is widely deemed safe. Every shopper must make his or her own choice, but I have chosen not to continue purchasing their oils and once what I have is gone I won’t be buying any more.)  I don’t know about its theraputic value, but this blend does smell very nice and ought to make a lovely soap.

Molds: Pretty much anywhere you can get soap base, you can probably also get molds.  but molds aren’t absolutely necessary, especially if you want to really go for the “natural handmade” look.  A loaf pan or square baking dish can work just as well, although you’ll want to test out quantity to make sure you have the right container for whatever amount of soap you’re using. (If you melt your soap in a Pyrex measuring container, you can then use a different cup to measure that same amount of water into the container you want to use and find out exactly how high your soap will come and thus how thick your bars will be.)

I swear by silicone baking dishes, and using silicone for soap molds is just as easy and wonderful.  Sometimes in hard containers the soap gets stuck and is hard to unmold (though usually a quick immersion of the mold part into hot water loosens it enough to get it out), but silicone is really easy.

Additives: One word; beware.  I had this lovely idea of bars of soap with lavender blossoms scattered through it, or oatmeal, or whatever…but unless one gets the soap base that’s designed to suspend things in it, it all falls to the bottom of the mold.  Which, actually, gives a very nice exfoliating thing on one side, but not the effect I was looking for. 

So…we’ll see how it goes!

EDIT: We now have 12 lovely bars of soap, with 3 more to be made tomorrow (ran out of time!). My oval mold holds 3 4oz bars, so we made 4 different batches:
1. coral-colored shea butter soap base with “Peace and Calming”
2. green goats-milk soap base (sort of a nice green this time!) with lavender and roman chamomile
3. lavender goats-milk soap base with lavender and just a touch of sweet orange
4. yellow clear glycerin with lemongrass and a teeny bit of lemon and orange (I know, the citrus thing, but I couldn’t resist)
5. (to be made tomorrow) orange clear glycerin with bergamot mint and sweet orange

The kids have 7 teachers, and we’ll give 2 bars to each teacher. These ones came out really nicely.  And we have one additional funny little bar made in tupperware that contains dregs from several of the different batches, that’ll be ours. The kids will get a kick out of it.

Ow. Pain Bad.

Greengrade for today (so far):

–planted 3 echinacea and 2 yarrow in the front of the house, as well as 3 rescued lilies from church. (They always flood the place with hothouse lilies at Easter, and then as soon as they stop blooming they put them out in the hall for anyone who wants to take them. I’ve seldom gotten those lilies to do much, it’s like they are too stressed out from their one Easter’s glory to do anything else, like the kid who’s super-popular in high school but never amounts to anything later in life…hopefully one of these is a closet nerd…)
–fed the kids a very simple dinner. not entirely local but all good and healthy.  Dessert was homemade yogurt with honey and cinnamon on top. (see , my lj entry on how to make homemade yogurt. Surprisingly easy.)
–felt VERY virtuous when I saw the rest of the takeout Chinese in the fridge (I had some for lunch today too) and realized I really didn’t want serious heavy food and instead ate some goat cheese on crackers, orange juice my mom brought and forgot to take with her (so the buying-non-local-tiny-container negative points are hers and not mine), and a bowl of yogurt myself.  I know, eating healthy doesn’t necessarily count as “green,” but being mindful and paying attention and choosing the simple over the complex-processed is a good thing, as I see it.
–ate a banana for “brunch” rather than stopping at McD’s or Dunkin on the way to work this morning and getting something awful

bad: (not including the usual crap I always do, like generating too much garbage, driving more than I need to, etc.)
–put some yard waste trash into the same bag as trash trash rather than separating.  Hopefully I don’t lose too many points here because it was really not much at all…

neutral (good cancels out bad):
–hubby is outside using a gas rototiller to render at least slightly organic and growable the raised bed in our backyard, which is basically a big block of clay.  It’s horrible.  We’ve been trying to work it by hand but we just can’t do it, so we broke down and he’s now in 2 hours doing what would otherwise take us weeks or more likely never get done.  He’s mixing an appalling amount of manure and sand into it to hopefully give us something that veggies will grow in.  The gas part is bad, the growing our own veggies will (hopefully) be good.  If this bed doesn’t pan out in the long run, we’ll hire landscapers or something, or make a higher bed and fill it with our own dirt, because this is insane.

I also hurt my back putting in the lilies.  It’s appalling to me how much clay weighs–a big shovelful lifted Not Quite The Right Way was enough to do me in. Fortunately that was the last lily, and then I was done, but I would have liked to help Al schlep the gajillion bags of amendments back to the bed. (Okay, I didn’t really want to, but I of course would have.  Now–not a chance. The husband points he’s racking up today will take forever to pay back.)

I hope to hell this works. I want veggies. It would suck to have bought a nice house with a nice yard only to discover we can’t grow anything in it.

Today we went to visit The Growing Place in Naperville–a really awesome nursery with scads and scads of plants.  That’s where we found the pussy willow and orange mint before.  Unfortunately, they seem to specialize in carefully bred hybrids and such, pretty ornamental things, and they don’t have Plain Old Anything. No white yarrow, no St. John’s Wort.  We did get some red-leaf lettuce, a peony, and 3 small echinacea.  All but the lettuce are in the ground–that raised bed, ya know? although I’m trying to find a home for the lettuce that’s closer to the kitchen door, so I’ll be able to just sort of step outside (like with my herbs) and pick a salad.  We’ll see.

Now I’m just rambling, so I’ll stop.

Ow. I’m not 25 any more. I’m not 35 either, for that matter, although this would have done my back in then too.

Ow. If I had some St. John’s Wort oil I’d mix it with helicrysum EO and rub it all over my back.  I don’t. Ow.