Mary Helen Leonard, author of The Natural Beauty Solution and professionally trained culinary instructor, shares recipes, projects, tips, and stories about living a more natural, handmade, and creative life with her family in Austin, Texas.
Believe it or not, these ethereal clusters of amethyst are actually made from soap! The first time I saw this technique being used was in a DIY video on Youtube. I was totally mesmerized, and knew that I was going to have to try it out.
By the way, these soaps have been a big hit with everyone I have gifted them to. They make excellent holiday or birthday presents, and making them in six bar batches makes them super easy to stock up on.
While this project can be a tad time consuming, the method is surprisingly easy, and very forgiving! The crystals actually look better when they are cut a little differently every time so you don't have to worry too much about keeping your technique consistent. You can just slice away - happily embracing any imperfections.
If you are able to work with a double-boiler instead of the microwave, that inexpensive piece of equipment will make this project a whole lot easier. Because this is a layered soap, the melted soap you are working with may harden between steps. The double boiler makes keeping the melted soap warm a breeze, and allows you to reheat it gently. Microwaves can also make soap feel dry and brittle - especially when the same base is melted over and over.
Dice 1 1/2 pounds soap base and melt in double boiler on stove top or in microwave using short, 30-second bursts.
Remove soap from heat, let stand 30 seconds, then add essential oil. Stir slowly until oil has combined.
Fill six soap molds about 1/3 of the way up with soap. Spritz soap with alcohol then let stand for 2-4 minutes, or until the top has formed a thick skin.
Pour about 1/2 the remaining melted soap base in a heatproof measuring cup. Add small pinch of purple mica and small pinch silver mica. Stir well to blend. Pour the mixture between the soap molds - leaving about 1/3 of space. Spritz soap with alcohol then let stand for 2-4 minutes, or until the top has formed a thick skin.
Add about 1/8 teaspoon purple mica and 1/8 teaspoon silver mica to remaining melted soap base. Stir well, then pour into molds - topping them off. Spritz soap with alcohol then let stand for 2-4 minutes, or until the top has formed a thick skin. Transfer to refrigerator and chill soap for 30 minutes or until completely hardened.
Turn hardened soaps out onto a clean cutting board and use a sharp knife to slice the bars into 1/2 to 1 inch rectangles. Make sure to cut so that each rectangle shows 3 layers of color.
Slice the tops of each rectangle at random angles to give them a faceted and pointed shape. This forms the crystals. Reserve the shreds of soap cut from the and mince them into gem dust.
Clean out the double boiler, chop remaining soap base and add it to the pot to melt. Once melted, add the remaining essential oil and silver mica and stir well.
Pour melted soap base into six soap molds. Spritz with alcohol, then immediately begin stuffing the molds with soap crystals and gem dust. Fill each mold as much as you can. The more crystals each soap contains the more sturdy the finished soap will be.
Allow the soaps to cool and harden completely before removing them from their molds. After they are removed, wrap them in airtight cello bags or saran wrap to keep them from sweating.
When the spider bites. When the bee stings. When you're feeling bad.
The practice of using poultices to draw out toxins and cleanse wounds is age-old. This is pretty much medieval medicine we're talking about here.
While great advances have been made since people started slopping mud onto insect stings, there is still some virtue to be found in the original idea.
Bentonite Clay, most well known under the Aztec Clay brand, is extremely effective at pulling out nasties from deep under the skin. This makes it a great first-aid treatment for bug bites, bee stings, or spider bites.
You can mix this with plain water to make the most simple of treatments, but I like brewing a cup of chamomile tea instead. The soothing anti-inflamatory properties of the tea can help take the edge off any itchiness and discomfort you may be dealing with.
The addition of honey is totally optional as well. Manuka honey is the best choice. It is a bit pricey, but the only variety of honey that has been documented to have real medicinal and antibacterial properties. (You can geek out about that over here.) All honey, however, is known to have humectant properties. That means that it can help draw moisture and keep things well hydrated. That's a helpful quality to have in a poultice too. Also keep in mind that honey may not be safe for kids under one year old.
Reality Check: Just in case this doesn't go without saying, this is a home remedy - on par with gargling salt water to treat a sore throat. It's lovely and all, but no replacement for modern medicine. If you have a serious injury, an allergic reaction, or a gnarly festering wound, get thee to a doctor! Post. Haste.
Honey & Chamomile Clay Poultice Makes about 1/2 cup
Hubby and I were both endowed with very thick heads of hair. For the most part, I'd say that my dense tresses are a blessing. After working in the natural beauty industry for over a decade I have met enough people on the opposite end of the spectrum to know that having too much hair is a much easier problem to solve than having too little. So I'm grateful, and I know my husband is grateful, for all of this crazy hair we have between us.
But there are times when having thick hair is kind of a pain. Keeping a healthy and happy scalp beneath a head of long, dense hair can be challenging - especially for people like my husband who have over-productive scalps. He has a touch of psoriasis too - which complicates things even further. The battle against dandruff is constant. The danger of build-up and damaged hair is around every corner, and itchy, dry scalp conditions are constantly a problem.
A natural beauty author's husband with serious scalp problems? No, sir. It just won't do. My mission to help soothe his head is not only a labor of love but also a matter of pride. I can't have my loved ones walking around all flaky. What will people think?
So, I invented this recipe to help both of us get our irritated scalps back to their happy place. I started off with a big chunk of manuka honey, a unique variety of raw honey that is believed to contain antibacterial properties. Honey is also a natural moisturizer so it's perfect for soothing cranky scalps.
I blended that marvelous manna with half a banana, a squirt of apple cider vinegar, and a splash of moisturizing apricot oil. These ingredients are meant to soothe, balance, and moisturize. If you're scalp is troubled try giving this recipe a try for a few nights and see if it makes any difference. We both loved it and I hope you will too!
Manuka Honey Scalp Masque Makes about 1/4 cup (enough for one use)
This sweet and sticky scalp masque calls for manuka honey - an exotic variety of honey that is prized in the health food community. If you don't have manuka honey available, just use any variety of honey you have on hand. Apricot oil is a favorite of mine for hair care - but jojoba, avocado oil, or sweet almond oil would also do very well in this recipe.
Skin feeling a little dry or itchy? If you have a stand mixer and about fifteen minutes to spare than you are in luck. Add two simple ingredients and that's all it takes to create this luscious, moisturizing whipped body butter!
Try experimenting with this recipe by swapping out the apricot Oil for something a little more exotic, like tamanu oil (for sensitive skin) or pomegranate oil (for more intensive moisture). You can also kick this recipe up a notch by including a few drops of your favorite skin-safe essential oil. My favorites are ylang ylang, sandalwood, and bergamot.
This recipe doesn't include wax or stabilizers. That makes it super fluffy and absorbent but also prone to melting in warm weather. During the winter this butter should do fine at room temperature, but you may want to keep your stash in the fridge during the summer, lest it flop!
Chop the shea butter into small chunks using a butter knife or spoon. Place it into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk on medium-low for about one minute, then increase the speed to high and whisk for four more minutes.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the apricot oil. Continue to mix on low speed for one minute or until the oil is well dispersed into the butter. Increase the mixer speed to high and whisk for another four minutes.
Stop the mixer. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then start it again at high speed. This is the point when you would add any essential oils you may be using. Whisk for five minutes - or until the butter is light and fluffy. It should look similar to cupcake frosting or whipped cream cheese.
The whipped butter can be spooned into jars or piped into jars with a pastry bag.
Whenever I host a DIY body scrub bar with Make it Good Apothecary people gravitate toward the little bowl of ground coffee. It's always the first ingredient to run out at a big event. More often than not, guests end up telling me how they've made coffee scrubs at home too - or that they received one as a gift from a crafty friend once upon a time.
Long story short - natural beauty fans LOVE coffee! And why not? It's rich aroma is a delicous treat for the senses! Coffee is also a popular spa ingredient for mobilizing cellulite, improving circulation, and amping up exfoliation. In short, it is a pretty much ideal additive for natural scrubs.
This recipe pairs ground coffee with plain sugar and apricot oil to create a simple base. These three ingredients make a fine scrub alone, but I thought it might be fun to add a second layer of scent and benefit by including fragrant virgin coconut oil and toasted coconut. If a regular coffee scrub is yum, than this version is yum yum YUM.
Try not to eat it before you get to the shower.
Toasted Coconut Coffee Scrub Makes a little more than 1/2 cup of scrub
1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
1/4 cup apricot oil
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons ground coffee
1 tablespoon toasted shredded coconut
Melt the virgin coconut oil using either a double boiler, a hot water bath, or by heating it in the microwave in short 15-second bursts.
Combine the melted virgin coconut oil with the apricot oil and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, coffee, and shredded coconut.
Stir in the oil blend and mix until fully combined.
I like to use my body scrubs in the shower where they can be rinsed off easily. Start by rinsing off your skin with warm water.
Now apply the scrub liberally to your arms, legs, and torso in a gentle circular motion - sort of like you are giving yourself a nice massage! If you have a shower buddy ask them to give your back the same treatment. (Pro Tip: Shower buddies make exfoliation SO much easier!)
After you are thoroughly scrubbed simply rinse with warm water. You can follow the scrub with soap as well if you'd like or just leave the residual oil on your skin as a moisturizer.