I'm not a 'girlie' girl. I don't buy cosmetics or beauty products beyond what I need - shampoo, soap, toothpaste - and I try to avoid anything containing parabens or sodium laureth sulphate, choosing organic products which haven't been tested on animals.
Knowing this, my sister bought me a couple of books full of recipes for making natural beauty products at home. I got really excited about the possibilities. What if I could not only make my own shampoo from herbs, but grow the herbs for it myself? And what about toothpaste or moisturiser?
Some of the recipes involved buying a natural shampoo base and scenting it with essential oils, but the ones that interested me most showed how to make a 'shampoo' entirely from plants. For my first attempt one of the ingredients I used was dried irish moss (as per the recipe) which produces a gelatinous base when re-hydrated, but found the texture and stickiness of the shampoo unpleasant, so I changed the recipe and used an alternative.
The herbs I used were:
2 parts dried marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) instead of the irish moss
2 parts dried soapwort root
1 part mixed dried herbs according to hair type (I used chamomile, lemon zest and rosemary)
I got my herbs from an online retailer called Luminescents.
The marshmallow gives the mixture a glutinous (but not sticky) base and the soapwort root contains saponins which produce a very gentle foam when rubbed in water. Chamomile and lemon zest are good herbs to use with fair hair (as mine is), and I added rosemary as I've read that it is also good for hair.
I mixed a small quantity of the dried herbs together (enough for one wash - probably about 50g total) and added enough hot water to cover them. I gave it all a stir and left it to cool, stirring again occasionally.
I then pushed the mixture against a fine sieve with the back of a spoon, giving me a small amount of yellowy-brown gloop (with most of the herb material left in the sieve).
The resulting 'shampoo' didn't smell too appealing, certainly not by conventional shampoo standards. It was just rather earthy and green smelling. When I washed my hair with it, I concentrated on rubbing it into my scalp, including the rest of my hair (which is long) as best I could. I then rinsed it out and finished with a rinse of cold water. I let my hair dry naturally as I usually do.
I used the herb shampoo for three days in a row. Normally I shampoo my hair every other day, but the look and feel of my hair while using the herbs made me want to wash it more often. I would say the results were mixed.
Immediately after washing I found it much easier to comb out my hair after using the herb shampoo. My hair was largely free from tangles and felt quite smooth. Once dried, my hair felt very soft and was very manageable - I could have styled it very easily had I felt the need to. However, being used to the feel of my hair after using shampoo (even a natural one without harsh chemicals), I felt as though my hair was a bit on the greasy side and didn't feel that confident with it, although it didn't feel as greasy as it would have done if I hadn't washed it at all. The main problem was the inconvenience of having to soak and then sieve the herbs in advance of washing my hair, but I could probably do a batch at a time to last the week to make things easier.
I've read a few articles recently about going shampoo free and letting my scalp's oils regain their balance for ultimately better hair. I'm certainly tempted to try it. A herb shampoo like this one could be a good way to wean myself off bought shampoo, especially combined with some other home-made hair care products. There are some lovely recipes in the books for conditioners and also hair rinses using cider vinegar and herbs.
In the spring I'm planning to start growing some soapwort and marshmallow, plus some other hair herbs, and hopefully I'll be able to use them to make my own herbal hair-wash. In the meantime I'll keep using the herbs I've got and maybe try going shampoo-free. The experiment continues!