Herbal Treatments for the Hair – Part Four

“What Condition Your Conditioner is In”
Herb-steeped vinegar is a very good final rinse for the hair after shampooing. Even plain ol’ apple cider vinegar will do. You can use it straight, or dilute with water by half. If your hair is very coarse or dry, the following conditioner can be used sparingly, after shampooing but while your hair is still wet, to give it some shine.

To make Almond Oil Hair Conditioner, boil 1 cup of water, add a  pinch each (fresh or dried) rosemary and lavender leaves, remove from heat, then cover and steep for 15 minutes. Strain, then funnel into a bottle and add 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of almond oil. Shake, shake, shake to disperse, then pour a small amount into your hand and gently work into your wet hair, especially the ends. Wrap in a towel until dampened off, then comb your hair with your fingers and let air dry. You might try using a spray bottle for this application, but I think the oil might clog up the nozzle. This conditioner keeps about 1 week, so if more than one person will be using it, the recipe can be easily doubled.

For deep conditioning, you can give your hair and scalp a hot oil treatment. The best oils for this are avocado and almond, although you can use sunflower or jojoba oil, like many of our Native American grandmothers did. Jojoba oil is very similar to our own skin and hair oils, and it has a long tradition in American and Mexican grooming as a hair restorative. Indigenous people of the Pacific Islands and coastal Asia traditionally used fragrant coconut oil on the hair, scalp and skin. You can add a few drops of essential oil such as rosemary or lavender to the oil treatment, or you can plan ahead and make a compound oil, such as for herbal salves, without the beeswax. (You might want to check out my book, The Wild & Weedy Apothecary for more complete instructions on making an herbal oil, or check back into the blog for Mother’s Tummy Rub, for information on how to steep herbs in oil.) 

To prepare the Hot Oil Treatment, take about 4 ounces (1/2 cup) oil, a little more if your hair is longer, and heat gently in a double-boiler fashion; I usually place the oil in a small canning jar inside a small saucepan filled with just enough water so the jar doesn’t float. Slowly heat until warm, remove from heat, and add 2 or 3 drops essential oil if using. Dip your fingers in the oil, then rub into your scalp, a small section at at time. Continue until the whole scalp is treated, then go ahead and do the strands, especially the drier ends. (No oil or contidioner will “repair” split ends, these must be trimmed.) Now for the fun part, and it sounds worse than it is: wrap your hair in a plastic bag and then an old towel, and hope nobody takes your picture! After about 15 minutes, rinse as much as you can with plain warm water, then shampoo with your homemade herbal shampoo. Finish with a vinegar rinse.

Another plant used by Native Americans of the Sonora region is creosote bush (Larrea tridentata). This plant is also known as chapparal and has a very strong aroma. It was effectively used for dry skin, dandruff, and brittle hair. Researchers have uncovered an isolate of this plant that apparently “was found to suppress HIV-1 replication in human cells”. [Krompegel, Karla. “Ethnobotany of Two Contrasting American Ecosystems: Amazonia and the Sonoran Desert”  (www.colostate.edu/Depts/Entomology/courses/en570/papers_2000/Krompegen.html)]

Here are a couple formulas for vinegar-herb rinses that are very refreshing and, might I say in spite of or maybe because of the vinegar, very fragrant as well. The vinegar aroma disappates (mostly!) and some of the other aromas remain. Dilute the vinegar in water by half. These recipes require you to heat the vinegar to near-boiling before using, and be sure to use heat-proof glass for steeping, such a canning jar.

Herb-Vinegar Rinse for Dark Hair
Using 1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried, combine at least 2 of the following herbs, plus a pinch of ground clove, take rosemary, sage (especially good for grey hair), nettles, plantain leaf, red clover, or maybe even a bit of exotic sandalwood or henna powder, place in a 1 pint jar, then cover with hot vinegar. Cover, label and date. Let steep a few days, then strain into a decanting container. To use, simply squirt a little over your cleanly shampooed hair and scalp, and massage in. Rinsing isn’t necessary, although you might want to use a dark colored towel.

Herb-Vinegar Rinse for Light Hair
Follow the same method as above, but instead, use at least two of these herbs for light or reddish hair: calendula petals, chamomile flowers, marigold petals, mullein leaf, rhubarb root, lemon or orange peel. Use the same as for dark hair.

I hope you find these recipes & remedies useful, if not amusing and experimental; there are other herbs you can use, and I will offer a book list at the end of this series of articles for further reading. These are the ways of our grandmothers, making our own cosmetics and body care potions. I realize not everyone has access to, or the desire to use, these kinds ingredients; some are messy, or a bit oily, but they’re real.  If you can meet your most immediate needs with ingredients found in your pantry and garden or the forests and fields around you, you’ll gain a deep inner satisfaction from knowing you can create remedies for common complaints, if not at least a bit of olde-ways glamour to your personal charisma…

Hey, you can make your own shampoo and conditioner! doesn’t that just kick ass?!?

Herbal Hair Treatments – Part Three

How about this sweet slice o’life, my Aunt Carol & Uncle Joe at Gramma Lil’s kitchen sink, late 1950’s, I think.

“Tiny Bubbles”
You can make your own specially formulated herbal shampoo – how cool is that? This shampoo is very simple to prepare (which makes it a good kids-craft), is much gentler on your hair, and the cost is minimal.

Homemade Herbal Shampoo
    Take 1 pint boiling water, toss in a big handful of herbs appropriate to your hair type.
You can refer to Part One of this article for Categories of use.
For example, with my dark and graying hair, I would use rosemary, sage and birch bark .
So, you’ve tossed your chosen herbs into the boiling water,
now reduce the heat to a simmer and let steep for 20 minutes,
adding more hot water to keep it roughly at 1 pint if the liquid evaporates.
After 20 minutes, line a colander with cheesecloth or other cloth, and strain the brew, and cool.
Remove strainer, then stir in 2 ounces grated castile soap or 2 ounces liquid castile soap to the brew, stirring until melted or well blended.    
Now you can pour your shampoo into a dispensing bottle.

When choosing what herbs to use, try to formulate it with something from each category. If you remember from Part One, the categories are Tonics, Growth Stimulant, and Dyes or Colorants.
Dandruff is also one of the categories, but not everyone needs to treat their scalp as such; however, all the herbs in this category are considered tonic and soothing. You may find that a little goes a long way with this natural soap shampoo compared to most commercial brands (which are likened to detergents), and you can dilute it, or bump it up a notch, to suit your lather requirements.

Follow up your herbal shampoo with your own herbal conditioner, which will be discussed in the next blog-post, Herbal Treatments for the Hair – Part Three, “What Condition Your Conditioner Is In”.  

Herbal Treatments for the Hair – Part Two: Conditioning

Part Two of Herbal Treatments for the Hair explains how to make an herbal tea for your hair, and a conditioning pack for deep treatment. The hollyhock flower pictured above is one plant that can be used to treat dandruff and other scalp irritations; the red ones can be used as a colorant, if you’re adventurous!
Herbal Hair Tea
    One of the simplest ways to use herbs on your hair is to make a strong tea or decoction of the appropriate herbs – such as birch leaf and nettles for a general tonic – strain into a wide bowl (put the soggy herbs into the compost), and place the bowl into a deep sink or tub. Lean over the tub so that your head and hair are over the bowl, and pour cupfuls of the warm brew repeatedly over your hair until thoroughly wetted, catching what you pour back into the bowl.
Continue pouring and working it into your hair and scalp until the brew is too cold for comfort. At this point, you can either rinse your hair with lukewarm water, or wrap in a dark towel (to prevent staining), then dry and style.

    To make herbal hair tea, take 1 quart boiling water and add 1 or 2 handfuls of plant material; turn off heat and steep for about 20 minutes. You may need more water and herbs for longer hair. This potion will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 days.
    You can also use herbal hair tea as a scalp treatment by rubbing it into your scalp every day or two, depending on what condition you are dealing with. I think you can overdo it with regular shampooing, especially in the dry cold of winter. While the scalp still needs conditioning, the hair can get dry and brittle.

   Most commercial shampoos are detergents that strip the hair and scalp of any natural oils and acidity it may have had; they may, in fact, overstimulate the scalp into producing more oils. So the herbal hair treatments are a good thing, restoring the scalp and hair follicles with new vigor.

Messy but Fun
    An alternative method of herbal hair treatment is especially for deep and long-lasting results, and one that requires significantly more plant material. You will use dried powdered herbs (use a blender to make your own) to make an herbal pack for the hair and scalp. Hollyhock flower, rose petal and willow bark, for example, can be used to rescue irritating dandruff, mixed with a little apple cider vinegar and applied warm to the scalp. This can also be used as a coloring technique, such as for henna (an exotic, not local, plant); we will discuss dyes and colorants in Part Six.
    Before you begin, tie your hair up, if possible, and rub a schmeer of petroleum jelly on your forehead and neck at the hairline, and the backs of your ears, so your skin doesn’t take on any stain.

    To make an herbal hair pack, you’ll need 4 to 8 ounces of powdered plant material to do this, depending on how long your hair is. Use approximately 1 pint of boiling water to the herbs to make a runny paste, adding more hot water if necessary to keep it easy to work and spread. Once it’s cool enough (you still want it fairly warm), apply to the hair in sections, from scalp to ends, then roll up each section and clip it to keep it out of the way.
    Keep in mind that this is a very messy procedure, so plan accordingly, i.e., newspapers to cover the floor, old towels and grubby clothes, a helpful friend who has sworn not to take your picture with their cell phone, etc… Once the pack is in place, wrap your hair with plastic wrap, put a dark towel around your neck, and just sight tight for about 20 minutes. Keep paper towels handy to wipe up any drips. Then head to the shower to rinse and shampoo thoroughly.

   Whether you choose the herbal hair tea or the hair pack method to treat your hair, you can expect your hair and scalp to feel clean and refreshed. Depending on the herbs you choose, the results will be gradual (except for dyes and colorings) and gentle. As mentioned in Part One, some herbs are used for more than one condition. Rosemary and sage are good herbs to start with for dark hair; chamomile is often used for light hair.