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We have been cooped up in the house as each one of my family members has taken a turn with the nasty flu. When well enough to resume normal life, we have been cooped up at school or the office. Everything feels stuffy and stale and in need of freshening and disinfecting. I don't want to use artificial fragrances or cleaners that have potentially toxic ingredients. Any suggestions?

Until you can open all your windows and let in the clean air of spring, there are lots of wonderful ways you can dispel the dreary doldrums and stale air of winter by using herbs to refresh yourself and your living spaces. Several herbs are particularly good for this.

Tea tree is tops for disinfecting. It does not have the most appealing fragrance, but does the job well, as do all the citrus family members. That's why we see so many lemon and orange scented cleansers on the market. Grapefruit seed extract also has disinfecting properties,along with eucalyptus, rosemary, bergamot, juniper, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, pine, lavender, peppermint and sage.

Most of us do not always have these plants available. The essential oils of the plants deliver the potency to get the job done. However, if you have a cup or two of last summer's harvest of lavender flowers, oregano, rosemary, or eucalyptus leaves or several lemons or oranges (use peels only, cut into small slivers) you can try this economical recipe. Bring water to a simmer. Add herb or peel. Bring back to simmer, turn off heat and cover the pot. Strain when cool and use to wipe and disinfect surfaces. Add a drop or two of dishwashing detergent to help remove grease. Store the mixture in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to a week.

This basic recipe for using essential oils is easy to prepare when needed:

Mix 6 drops of essential oil with 2 quarts warm water and one teaspoon isopropyl alcohol. This mixture can be pumped from a spray bottle; use a glass bottle if possible.

Essential oils can be blended to create useful preparations with pleasant fragrances. If you don't know which ones to mix, you can refer to numerous books to help you. I like any book by Valerie Ann Worwood; "The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy" is a good place to start.

Worwood recommends these two bathroom blends. She suggests diffusing the fragrance by applying a few drops to the inside of the toilet paper roll. Dilute the blend with an ample amount of water to wipe down changing tables and diaper or garbage receptacles.

Feel free to halve or double the recipe to suit your needs. Always store essential oils in dark bottles, out of direct light, and keep out of reach of children. Laundry used to be draped over lavender or rosemary shrubs to dry so it would take on the scent. You can freshen your laundry by tossing a small, clean cloth with three drops of lavender or lemongrass oil in the dryer when the load is almost dry. Heat causes the essential oil to dissipate quickly, so the more heat, the faster the scent disappears. If your laundry room smells great but your laundry does not, it stayed in the dryer too long.

To clean windows without ammonia, firmly wipe them down with a damp cloth. Then wipe again with a bunched-up sheet of newspaper containing a drop or two of citrus (lemon, orange, lime or grapefruit) essential oil to remove streaks.

Use caution when making this recipe for homemade furniture polish. Do not use an open flame because the turpentine is extremely flammable. Warm it gently over a very low heat. In a double boiler, slowly melt the beeswax. Carefully add room temperature turpentine and stir until it becomes liquid again. Remove from heat. In a separate pot, bring water to a boil, add soap flakes, and stir until dissolved. When both mixtures are cool, combine them and add the essential oil. Blend thoroughly and pour into a wide mouth container that has a lid.

It can be pleasing, satisfying and economical to concoct your own botanical cleaning supplies. They offer a great way to avoid the physical aversion so many of us feel to chemical cleaners and artificial fragrances.

Merry Harrison is a clinical herbalist, teacher, author and wildcrafter.
For class schedule and to ask questions: www.millcreekherbs.com

Reprinted with permission: Catalyst Magazine

Other articles for the home...

Herbs for Mother's Day  •  Sacred Herbs  •  In Case of Emergency  •  Holiday Herbs  •  Potpourri
More about Smudge  •  Simple Gifts  •  Honoring the Elements

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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