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Our Newsletter

Living Naturally

To The Waters and the Wild

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

--William Butler Yeats

This week I’ve been browsing through my organic seed magazines, with post-its by my side, red marker in my hand. My fireplace is warm and it gives me a bit of a false sense of the winter temperatures not being so cold. “Almost time to clean out my cold frames (miniature greenhouses),” I think, even as I know this is premature.

Yet it isn’t too early to dream, and it isn’t too early to plan. One page of my recycled paper pad contains my growing list of vegetables and fruits I want to plant: tomatoes, potatoes, turnips, swiss chard, purple bush beans, an assortment of lettuce and squash, popcorn (yes, it really pops!), cabbage and the all-important kale, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, apples, cherries and plums.

The next page to it lists the seeds and plants that many people would wonder why I want to grow these strange creatures with uncommon names; this is my list of botanicals. And, although the may seem “foreign” to many, they have probably been growing here in this climate zone for longer than modern man/woman has been in residence. This less common list includes: borage, lovage, soapwort, feverfew, St. John’s wort, melissa, bergamot, burdock (cockle burr) elecampane, horsetail, comfrey and yarrow. And then there are the trees: pines, juniper, linden, and chestnut.

And there’s a list on page three: my fragrant’s: from florals such as heirloom roses, irises, lily of the valley, salvia, clary sage, lavender, hyssop, coneflower, and rose geranium… to the culinary herbs: basil (over five of my favorite kinds), thyme, oregano, dill, peppermint, tarragon, rosemary and marjoram.

My three-stage compost bin still sleeps under a thin layer of snow, but I am excited that my worm compost bin just arrived yesterday! My worms won’t arrive for three more weeks, and I have to get their bedding ready before then. This is a project that all five of my grandchildren will help me with (well, at least four, my oldest granddaughter probably wouldn’t feel so excited about putting the worms into rotten food); a science project at Gamama’s home!

The winter hasn’t stopped me from appreciating the bounty of the garden. I’ve had plenty of dried petals and stems, many treasures to play with, and what I don’t have I can get from my network of natural wild-crafters, soap-makers, and aromatherapists across the country.

You see, nature’s harvest isn’t just for the dining room table. It’s uses are many. I bathe in them, I breathe them in, I put them on my face and condition my body with them. I heal myself and my family with many concoctions, decoctions, tinctures, hydrosols and essential oils. I make scrubs, compresses, diffuser oils to put in humidifiers and in the heater vents to boost immune systems.

I have connections as far away as the villages in West Africa, where I purchase (fair trade) shea butter from the village women. I buy mango butter and raw turbinado sugar from Hawaii. My essential oils come from all over the world. And the goat milk my daughter and I use in our soaps comes from down the road. Buying local is a priority, and when we purchase globally, we do it in bulk so as to conserve fossil fuels from multiple shipping orders of smaller amounts.

And then, of course, there is the wild-crafting! The sacred practice of harvesting plant life from the wild, following a strict code of ethics that not only gives us incredible ingredients to work with, and protects the environment, but honors the Earth and its natural gifts in a reverent way.

“How does all this organic gardening and ‘wildcrafting’ information relate to Health and Beauty?,” one might ask. By using the simple products that are created without synthetic ingredients and petrochemicals, your body will:

  • respond with its natural defenses intact;
  • be more free from accumulating what is called the “toxic body burden,” a build up of carcinogenic and hormonal disrupting agents in your liver and cells;
  • benefit from natural ingredients that were created on our Earth, side by side, symbiotically, with humans and the animal kingdom.

But just because a personal care product label contains those wonderful buzz words “natural” or “organic” doesn’t mean that the product meets any specified standards. A newly released study, commissioned by the Organic Consumers Association, revealed the presence of the undisclosed carcinogenic contaminant 1,4-Dioxane in leading shampoos, body washes, lotions and other personal care and household cleaning products claiming to be “natural” or “organic.”

1,4 Dioxane is considered a chemical known to cause cancer, and is also suspected as a kidney toxicant, neurological toxicant, and respiratory toxicant, among others, according to the California EPA. You won’t see 1,4-dioxane listed on products ingredient labels if you look, because it is considered a ‘contaminant’ or ‘by-product’ of the ethoxylation process, rather than an ingredient (ethoxylation is a cheap short-cut that companies use to provide mildness to harsh ingredients). Instead, look on for ingredients with the following in their names to avoid products containing 1,4 Dioxane: myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth, and any other “eth,” PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, or oxynol. In general avoid products with unpronounceable ingredients to be sure to avoid synthetic toxins and carcinogens.

Some of the leading brands that have been found to contain 1,4-Dioxane include: Jason Pure Natural & Organic; Giovanni Organic Cosmetics; Kiss My Face; and Nature’s Gate Organics.
Some of the leading brands found not to contain 1,4-Dioxane include: Dr. Bronner’s; Sensibility Soaps; Terressenitals; and Aubrey Organics.1

Beware of any product that lists the word “fragrance” among its ingredients, as this indicates without doubt that the scent is synthetic. One of the chemicals found in fragrances is known as “phthalates” and is used to add flexibility and help dissolve other ingredients. Phthalates are being added to popular cosmetics and beauty aids, from Poison Perfume to Arrid Extra Dry Deodorant. Phthalates have been shown to damage the lungs, liver and kidneys, and to harm developing testes of offspring, as well as causing other birth defects.2

In a report by The National Academy of Sciences, it is stated that “95 percent of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum. They include benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and many other known toxins and sensitizers, which are capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions.”

A common fragrance ingredient is Musk Ambrette, whose chemical name is 2,6-dinitro-3-methoxy-4-tert-butyltoluene. It is a fixative ingredient that is added to fragrances in order to slow their evaporation, thereby making them more attractive to the consumer. It is found within most fragrances at a level of 1 to 3.5%. The neurotoxic properties (damaging to the central nervous system)of Musk Ambrette are well established by the Fragrance and Chemical Sensitivity Group.

“Fragrances (musks) are ubiquitous, persistent, bioaccumulative pollutants that are sometimes highly toxic; amino musk transformation products are toxicologically significant.” In addition there are “environmental concerns as fragranced products add to both air and water pollution.”3

Use of Musk xylene, the most common industrial fragrance, was prohibited in Japan several years ago after traces of the compound were found in human body fat, breast milk and blood. Germany has placed a voluntary ban on musk xylene, although it is still widely used in the United States, except in lipsticks and other products that are applied orally. And musks are just one example of harmful fragrance ingredients: personal care products consist of thousands of different chemicals. “One of the assumptions about these chemicals is that they are regarded as environmentally low risk compared to pesticides and oil products. But these personal care products in water do have an effect, even in low concentrations. Our results indicate that the effects on the first line of defense might be irreversible or continue long after the event.”4

To get a more extensive list of body care products and what they contain, you can go to: www.organicconsumers.org/bodycare and www.naturalingredients.org.

Now… back to the waters and the wild:

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

Do we have to go away to the waters and the wild? Is it truly too much to understand? What can we do to protect ourselves from harmful ingredients? We can become educated, informed consumers -- on what we buy, what we put on our bodies and spray into the air, what we dump into the waters where the fish will either thrive or die, and we will either drink, clear or toxin-laced.

We don’t have to live in a faery world (although I love faeries!). Become informed. Better yet, buy locally from a source you trust. There are many small companies with products that don’t carry the “fda-certified organic” logo. Many of them are more organic than those who do. It’s all in the marketing, the financial ability to go through the testing processes, and -- more importantly -- in the company’s integrity.

Support personal care product lines that you trust, investigate before applying, and reap the benefits of nature’s non-synthetic donations to your life. It will show on your face, in your sense of well-being, and in the future of Mother Earth.

~ Caryn Summers, R.N.