Every year I can't wait for summer to arrive. Life gets taken out side, put on the road, in the garden or the swimming pool. Longer sunny days bring with them a sense of freedom and holiday. Nature is in her stride, exploding in colour everywhere! So much beauty, bloom and buzz in the air.
Yes. Buzz. Of the bug variety.
Bug bites are definitely uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. So of course we want to repel those bugs, right? But how? By using chemicals or natural ingredients? Which direction to go in?
EWG, (Environmental Working Group) surprisingly, leans heavily towards the use of chemicals over natural ingredients. When I first read this, I had to give my head a shake. What?!? Then I read a little closer, between the lines. They focus on an increase of tick-born diseases since 2004 as the basis of their recommendations. As such, they are erring on the side of blanket-blasting all ticks and bugs with everything in the arsenal. This feels like a panicked overkill to me, given the research on DEET being potentially damaging to brain function.
Bug repellents in Canada are regulated by Health Canada. They recommend everything from DEET (in concentrations ranging from 10%-30%, depending on the age of the user) to blends of specific essential oils. Their approach seems more evenhanded, taking into account safety considerations and individual preferences--allowing something for everyone. How Canadian, eh? I just love that!
My preference is to go natural, as much as possible. I also want to empower you to DIY. So here are a couple of recipes that can bring and your family some relief.
1. Natural Ant Killer
My son, Javid is no fan of the creepy or the crawly. So when the neighbourhood ants started conducting long parading visits through the house, something had to be done. Our research took us to WikiHow, where we found the recipe that did the trick.
Its a simple but effective blend of three ingredients--Borax, sugar and water. The sugar attracts the ants, the ants ingest it. The borax interferes slowly with ant digestive systems, giving enough time for an ant to get back to its colony and share it with its fellow ants. Once shared, the borax can take out the whole colony. Most humans don't have major reactions to this small an amount of Borax. That being said, handle the Borax carefully and follow the cautionary advice on the Borax box.
What you'll need
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 tablespoon Borax
1-1/2 cups warm water
A Jar for mixing
Stir stick or chopstick
Cotton balls or pads
Shallow dishes or Yogurt container lids
Pour the sugar and the borax into the jar. Cap the Jar and shake, shake, shake the sugar and borax together. Uncap the bottle and pour in warm water. Use stir stick or chopstick to stir water until borax and sugar are completely dissolved. Place cotton ball or pad on container lids. Pour ant killer liquid onto cotton ball or pad until it's saturated. Place the container in a high ant traffic zone indoors. Give it a few days, and then buh-bye ants!
2. Natural Mosquito Spray
This recipe is from Scratch Mommy. It's a simple, four ingredient blend that relies mostly on the wonderful properties of Tea Tree and Geranium Oil. I've adjusted the amounts of essential oils in the formula to reflect Health Canada safety standards and metric volumes.
Tea Tree or Melaleuca has been used for centuries by Aboriginal peoples in Australia. It's really a superpowered plant, known for its antimicrobial, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. It helps human wounds heal, and it is toxic to many insects, including mosquitoes. Its some pretty stong stuff, so Health Canada recommends that it make up only 1% of your total formula.
Geranium Oil has some of the same properties as Tea Tree Oil (anti-bacterial, wound healing). It's also known for its ability to keep mosquitoes away. Health Canada recommends between 1-5% of the total formula.
Vegetable Glycerin helps hold the essential oils to your skin.
Combine the following ingredients in a 113ml spray bottle.
Glass or metal is best. I get some of my supplies from here.
• 1.5 ml (22 drops) Tea Tree Essential Oil
• 0.5ml (8 drops) - 5ml (110 drops) Geranium Essential Oil
(Scratch Mommy recommends only 0.5ml. Health Canada says you can go up to 5ml. My recommendation is somewhere in the middle--2.5ml (55 drops). The choice is yours, depending on your skin and scent sensitivities.)
• 15 ml (1tablespoon) Vegetable glycerin
Fill the rest of the bottle with distilled water and shake until well mixed. Spray on as required and reapply as needed.
In case you don't feel like making it yourself...
If you don't feel up to making it yourself, I'm happy to do that for you. My Shoo Fly! formula has a number of extra goodies that make it useful for keeping more than just mosquitoes away. It also has soothing ingredients that can help in after-bite care.
So here's some anecdotal evidence about Shoo Fly! and its efficacy. Free Lion Body Care was at the Mission Folk Festival, enjoying both sunshine, music and meeting people who were trying out our products. Along came a little guy with a sad face.
"Why so glum, chum?" I asked. he told me he had been stung by a wasp. He showed me a huge, angry red welt on his forearm. His mum asked if I had anything for that.
"Try our Shoo Fly!" I suggested. I told her more about the formula. In a nutshell, Shoo Fly has witch hazel and aloe vera in it to help soothe the itchy feeling and speed up healing. There's Tea Tree, Geranium and Peppermint essential oils to help heal and cool the wound. These, plus the rest of the essential and carrier oils in it, work together to help keep other bugs away.
So Mum sprayed some Shoo Fly! on his red, swollen sting and off they went. The next day they came back. The little guy was smiling and eager to show me his wound. It had almost disappeared! Thank you, said Mom. She bought a bottle for the rest of the summer. And I had the satisfaction of a job well done.
Sherazad Jamal, Free Lion Team
Do you have a favourite natural way of keeping the summer bugs away? Please share it with us.
It's Rose Petal Time! My friend PJ and her lovely, precocious 4 year old granddaughter, Londyn, and I went urban foraging the other day. PJ has been doing so for years, incorporating her finds into her beautiful gourmet creations. I'm going to tell you right now that her Rose Petal Jelly is to die for, closely followed by her candied ginger.
Out we went into the wilds of Vancouver, bags and snips in hand, on a slow, rambling walk, in search of rose and lavender flowers. PJ taught Londyn to look for flowers that were in their full bloom and scent, just at the edge of making that turn into flower death. After a tearful encounter with some thorns, we looked for ones at her height that she could pick easily and thorn-free. She quickly caught on, saying "Londyn height" before harvesting each rose, while we harvested ones from taller locations. The three of us stopped and smelled the roses, literally, watched the geese and tug boats and made sure one of us wasn't too close to the water for danger of falling in. Mimi (PJ) and Auntie Lion (me) are terrible swimmers!
Now off to the kitchen! Here are four beautiful things that can be done with these incredible, fragrant gifts from Nature.
1. Drying Flower Petals
Gather roses that are in their full bloom and have not been sprayed with pesticides. To dry the rose petals, simply spread newspaper, parchment or kraft paper (I used kraft) on a flat surface. Gently separate the petals from the stems. Make sure there are no stems or bugs in your petals. Spread the petals evenly across your paper and let them air dry. They should be ready in a few days. Store them in an airtight container once they're dried.
If you don't have days to wait, place the petals in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake the petals for 10 minutes at 170°F or until the petals are crisp and break easily (like potato chips). If your petals are still soft, bake for a couple of more minutes, remove, and recheck the crispy factor. Cool the petals completely and store them in an airtight container.
2. Rose Petal Raita
Raita is a fairly usual happening in our house. It's essentially a yogurt based condiment that can be used as a dip, a dressing or a way to cool down a spicy hot curry. And it's a fabulous way to get your acidophilus quotient in. I made this one using the rose petals we foraged. The chives and coriander are fresh from my garden.
500g Greek or Balkan Yogurt (you could use lower fat yogurt, it'll just taste less creamy)
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped coriander
1/3 cup chopped chives
1/4 cup dried or fresh rose petals
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
Salt and Pepper to taste.
Pour yogurt into a bowl. Add the rest of ingredients except salt and pepper. Stir in. Taste. Now add the salt and pepper according to your taste. Serve garnished with coriander leaves and rose petals.
3. Flower Petal Salad
It's BBQ season! What better way to enjoy the gifts from the grill with a lovely flower petal salad? This recipe uses Chive flowers, those beautiful purple, round flowers that top chives, they have a subtle onion flavour. Rose petals give the salad some sweetness. Both a complemented beautifully by a light vinaigrette.
4 cups greens of your choice. You could use kale, baby spinach, arugula...the possibilities are endless!
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot grated
Flower Petals from 2 roses
Flower petals from 2 chive flowers
For The Vinaigrette
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp raw honey or maple syrup
1/4 cup olive oil extra virgin
sea salt and ground pepper to taste
Tear or cut greens into bite-sized pieces. Combine remaining salad ingredients in a bowl. In separate bowl, mix together the white wine vinegar and honey (or maple syrup). Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette. Enjoy!
4. Rose Marzipan Tea
One of my favourite teas from the Granville Island Tea Company is their Rose Marzipan, a delicately flavoured rose and almond black tea. Black tea, one of the most consumed beverages in the world, has a number of health benefits. So here we go, with some of its super powers.
Black tea contains:
• polyphenols which have antioxidant properties. Consuming antioxidants may help decrease the risk of chronic disease and improve your overall health.
• flavonoids, which are beneficial for heart health. Studies have found that regularly drinking black tea may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
• LDL is a ipoproteins that carries cholesterol throughout the body. Too much LDL in the body can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Studies have found that black tea may help reduce LDL levels.
• Polyphenols and antimicrobial properties found in black tea may help improve gut health and immunity.
High in Vitamin C, A and E Rose petals have been used for centuries to boost the immune system, improve digestion, relieve menstrual cramps and reduce stress and anxiety. The added bonus is that Rose tea has skin benefits. It can help hydrate and tighten the skin, reduce the appearance of wrinkles and dark circles as well as support the production of collagen which is vital for the health of your skin and hair.
Almond extract is full of proteins, vitamin E and b-6 and essential minerals. It, like roses, also improves digestion, and is beneficial to the immune system, hair and skin.
So when life gets to you, keep calm and have a cuppa!
2/3 cup of Black Tea leaves
6 teaspoons pure almond extract, food grade
2 cup of dried rose petals
Place your tea leaves in a bowl and add the almond extract. Mix it well into the leaves using a spoon or your very, very clean and sanitized fingers. Add the rose petals and, with that trusty spoon, mix the petals in, making sure they are evenly distributed. Put into an air tight bottle and allow the flavours to infuse the tea leaves.
In ancient Egypt, Aloe Vera was known as the “plant of immortality.” Mother Nature sure knows how to pack a healing punch in her creations, and Aloe Vera is no exception. It has been used for centuries to heal wounds, hydrate and repair skin and keep people regular. Ya. No lie on that one.
In last week’s blog, the Raw Chef walked us through extracting gel from Aloe Vera leaves. Click the link, in case you need a refresher. It’s a pretty straightforward process. Just make sure your knives and peelers are sharp to easily slice through that aloe leaf skin.
So now you’ve extracted your aloe gel from an aloe leaf. What’s next? Making awesome skin soothing concoctions, of course! Here are a few simple recipes you can try that don’t require you to have a full apothecary shelf or years of making knowledge.
Aloe Vera Skin Soother
This spritz-on blend is made of skin soothing, healing ingredients. It can be helpful for sunburn, bug bites, rashes, dry skin, minor cuts and scrapes. If you are running low on our Hydrating Tonic for Normal Skin this is a good stopgap.
Aloe Vera Gel acts as a protective, moisturizing antioxidant that helps skin heal quicker.
Calendula Tea has skin-healing, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties; powerful yet gentle and soothing. Click here to our blog on how to make Calendula tea
Rose water has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce the redness of irritated skin
Gently Blend together:
2 parts Aloe Vera Gel
1 part Calendula Tea
1 part Rose Water
Pour into small spray or spritz bottle. Store in refrigerator for up to 6 weeks. Shake gently before use. Spray affected skin area. Sigh with relief!
Daily Digestive Aloe Vera Smoothie
This delicious smoothie recipe packs a powerful combination of natural ingredients proven to be effective in aiding digestion and overall wellness. Our all star ingredients:
Aloe Vera is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It ontains everything from digestive enzymes to vitamins and minerals that promote healthy digestion.
Kefir or Yogurt is extremely rich in probiotics, helping to promote the growth of good bacteria.
Berries pack immune-boosting antioxidants and very rich in vitamin C.
Bananas are packed with a number of vitamins for general wellness: potassium, B6, manganese, and fiber.
Ginger is probiotic and carminative (removes excess gas from the intestines). Ginger is also known to aid in relieving nausea and heartburn.
Parsely removes excess gas from the intestines and improves digestion of proteins and fats.
Spinach or kale helps support digestion
¼ cup Aloe Vera gel
½ cup kefir or plain Yogurt
1 cup berries
½ cup banana
1 cup Greens (Parsely, Spinach or Kale)
¼ inch slice of fresh ginger
½ cup distilled water or coconut water
Throw all the ingredients into a blender and blend on high speed until smooth. Drink immediately, it's best fresh. Smile broadly. You've just engaged in an act of Radical Self Care!
All Natural Mouth Wash
As I’m aging, I’m beginning to appreciate the value of a good mouthwash, mostly because there are nooks and crannies in your mouth that you can’t always get to with brushing. This recipe is simple, made from 5 common ingredients. It’s best stored in the fridge.
Baking Soda is not just for making quick breads, cookies, and muffins. In oral care, baking soda can help neutralize acids, take care of odors (bye-bye, bad breath!), and fight germs. Added Bonus: baking soda may help fight stains on teeth.
Aloe Vera Juice serves so many purposes, including dental health. According to a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Aloe Vera is extremely helpful in the treatment of gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis. It reduces bleeding, inflammation and swelling of the gums. It is a powerful antiseptic in pockets where normal cleaning is difficult, and its antifungal properties help greatly in the problem of mouth ulcers, and cracked, split corners..
Essential Oils Peppermint and Tea Tree are both used in this recipe. Peppermint gives a cooling, minty flavor to the mouthwash. Tea tree provides beneficial cleaning and antibacterial properties.
1/2 cup aloe vera gel
1/2 cup distilled water
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
2-5 drops Peppermint Essential Oil
1-3 drops Tea Tree Essential Oil
In a bottle, add all the ingredients. Cap the bottle and gently shake to combine the ingredients until the baking soda is fully dissolved. Store your mouthwash in the fridge. To use your mouthwash, gently shake the bottle and pour a mouthful into a cup. Swish it in your mouth for several seconds, pulling it through your teeth. Spit, don't swallow, especially if you feel essential oils are not safe to ingest.
Aloe Vera Gel Hair Mask for Dry Hair and Itchy Scalp
Your hair and scalp need replenishing from the daily toxins met out there in the world and in what you may eat. A hair mask, done once or twice a week, can help. Here's one you can concoct at home, using that Aloe Vera Gel that you so expertly harvested!
Aloe Vera Gel's hydrating properties make it an excellent moisturizer for dry hair. Bonus: it makes your hair SHINY!. Its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties can provide some relief from an itchy scalp, while its enzymes can help to promote the creation of healthy new scalp skin cells. It can also help with repairing split ends.
Coconut oil is moisturizing and can help nourish hair dryness. Its antibacterial properties also help with that itchy scalp issue.
Banana is rich of in vitamins, calcium, potassium, carbohydrates and natural oils that help the overall nourishment of the hair. It promotes shiny, silky hair with great elasticity and control. A simple banana mask can help with frizziness, dandruff and hair fall.
Tea Trea Essential Oil is antibacterial and skin repairing. Great for your scalp.
Lavender Essential Oil is also anitbacterial and stress relieving. Why? Because Bad Hair Day! 'Nuf said.
Hair Mask Ingredients
1/2 cup aloe vera gel
2 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 cup of full fat coconut milk
1 ripe banana (2 if you have long hair)
4 drops Tea Tree Essential Oil
4 drops Lavender Essential Oil
Throw all the ingredients but the essential oils into a blender and hit the high speed button. If the ingredients have trouble blending, add a little more coconut milk. Once you have a gorgeous, creamy liquid in the blender jug, add the essential oils and blend again.
Pour your creamy mix into a bowl and apply it to your head and scalp using a paint brush. You don't have to use the paint brush but it does help get the mask all over your hair without making a huge, gloopy mess.
Once you've finished applying your mask, throw on a shower cap and make your self a snack, soak in a relaxing bath, listen to some soothing music, grab a book, or turn on Netflix (ok, I admit it, the last two are my favourite go-tos! Like my namesake, I love a good story). Let the mask sit on your hair for at least 20-30 minutes.
Rinse off the mask and shampoo as usual, using a gentle shampoo. Conditioner not required. You can use this mask once or twice a week. Enjoy your beautiful hair!
Sherazad Jamal, Free Lion Team
Do you have any favourite Aloe Vera Gel recipes or stories about how Aloe Vera Gel has worked for you? Please share in the comments section.
Breakfast: it's the most important meal of the day! Or at least that's what we were all told as children. I've never been a breakfast person. My first meal of the day is usually a few hours after I wake up, though coffee is essential. My body rejects eating breakfast at its traditional time, causing me to feel ill. For a long time I felt that something must be wrong with me. How could my body not allow me eat the day's most important meal?
As I have been transitioning from a couch-potato lifestyle to a healthier one, I've been doing research on the most effective ways to lose weight. While exercise is crucial, it pales in comparison to the importance of diet. When you think of breakfast which foods come to mind? Pancakes and waffles? Eggs and bacon? Milk and cereal? Seeing a trend? Traditional Canadian breakfast foods are based on the idea that we need to carbo-load to start our day. The Canadian Food Guide, created in 1962, is a dated and inaccurate template for one's diet. The guide breaks nutrition into 4 categories (Vegetables and Fruits, Grain Products, Milk and Alternatives, and Meat and Alternatives), and outlines how many portions of each category are required daily for optimal health. The demonization of fats in favour of carbohydrates is rooted in a set of studies done during the 1950's collectively called the Seven Countries Study. These studies flimsily found a correlation between heart disease and fats based on weak and preliminary results. As more and more studies have come out that refute the claims of the Seven Countries Study we have learned that our bodies don't need lots of empty carbohydrates; we need monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and nutrients, especially at the start of our day. Why? Because good fats jump start your brain.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the 'good fats', trans fats are the 'bad fats', and saturated fats are somewhere in between. The difference between the four types of fats comes down to the amount of hydrogen atoms bonded to the carbon chain, and the length of the chain itself. A quick, easy, and efficient way to start your day on the right foot is to drink a morning smoothie that incorporates monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats instead of eating a traditional carbohydrate heavy breakfast. This realization has been extremely beneficial to me, not just in regards to weight loss but also to the way I feel throughout my day. I feel noticeably happier, my brain functions faster, and I'm more ready to handle whatever life throws at me. Now that I've sang the praises of the morning smoothie...
Let's get into the recipe
You will need:
2/3 cup - Frozen mango cubes
1/3 cup - Plain low fat yogurt
1/4 to 1/2 - 1 Ripe avocado (depends on the size of the avocado)
1 tsp - Ginger paste
1 tsp - Fresh lemon Juice
1/2 tsp or to taste - Cayenne pepper
1 cup - Ice cubes
1/2 cup - Cold water
Add 1 tbsp of coconut oil
Add 1 tbsp of sunflower seed butter
Add 1/2 cup of kale
Add 1/4 cup mint
Combine all ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth or desired consistency. Enjoy!
Why these ingredients?
Mango - High in antioxidants, Lowers cholesterol (vitamin C, fibre, and pectin) clears the skin, improves eye health (vitamin A).
Yogurt - Supports health digestion (pro-biotic rich), excellent source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and vitamin B.
Avocado - Source of monounsaturated fat, vitamin K (essential for bone health), and high levels of folate (improves mood, sleep, and appetite).
Ginger - Anti-inflammatory, lowers risk of heart disease, can help fight infection.
Lemon - Vitamin C, detoxifier.
Cayenne Pepper - Headache remedy, prevents blood clots, anti-irritant, vitamin A.
Coconut Oil - Saturated fat containing medium chain triglycerides, brain food.
Sunflower Seed Butter - Magnesium for bone health, protein source, high in vitamin E for skin health.
Kale - High in iron for proper liver function, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, Vitamin A and C, calcium source for healthy bones.
Mint - Helps digestion, antioxidants.
This is a basic outline for a morning smoothie that works for me. Everyone is different so feel free to experiment and improvise. You know what works best for you.
The Free Lion Team