Thursday, August 29, 2013

Do-It-Yourself Hydrosols - Making and Using Flower Waters for Community Health and Self-Care

Herbal Hydrosols (aka Flower Water) 

The process of distilling volatile oils out of herbs and flower in order to make essential oils creates hydrosols, or flower water.  This can be done in fancy copper stills, or we can use supplies that most us already have, or can borrow from friends/family/neighbors, to make our own simple setup.  Hydrosols can be used in homemade herbal concoctions - from cosmetic to medicinal - as well as in community health settings.  We don’t need to buy Rosewater, Lavender Water, or Orange Blossom Water, which may contain sketchy fragrances and pesticides, be produced by companies that treat their workers inhumanely or that harm the planet in their harvesting and overall business practices, etc.  We can make our own hydrosols!    

A note on essential oils:  Many recipes for do-it-yourself Rosewater, Lavender water, and other hydrosols/sprays contain essential oils.  Even organic, 100% pure essential oils can be harvested in unethical ways, may deplete a community's resources of a particular medicinal and culturally important plant, and have other negative impacts that are difficult to know about due to the long chain of many middle-(hu)mans from harvest through production and sale.  {If you are purchasing essential oils, you can seek out and visit distilleries, such as Bleu Lavande in Quebec, or seek sources that you trust who do their research and care about their suppliers and the plants.}  By making hydrosols we can capture the volatile oils of local and abundant plants which we can harvest ourselves, and we are better able to ensure that the plants (and people!) involved are treated with respect. 

Uses for Hydrosols (aka Flower Water) 

*I have included homemade 
Lavender and/or Rose water in my  herbal first aid kit to use as a cooling spray at marches, rallies, and other events on sunny days.  It’s also great after-care for hot days out in the garden, working in the fields, and at the beach, as well as for hot flashes (aka power surges).  You can add Lavender essential oil to this for its calming effect, as well as flower essences.  I like to add Yarrow flower essence for energetic protection and clear boundaries, especially if this spray is going to be used at events that can be particularly overwhelming. Corn flower essence is also grounding for these situations.  

(I've also carried sunscreen and water in a sports bottle - so it can be squeezed directly into folks' mouths without getting germs on the container - in my Street Medic pack to prevent overheating and protect from the sun.  Prevention is best.  Hydrosols aren't going to prevent a sunburn, but can provide soothing, cooling relief to overheated skin after the fact.  More here: Arnica drops and Lavender Spray: Creating Herbal/Emotional Support at Marches and Demonstrations.)

*If you’ve got a sunburn, you can mix the Lavender and/or Rose water with Aloe juice or gel and/or Lavender essential oil.  I use real aloe that needs to be refrigerated, not the "100%" aloe that often contains sketchy preservatives and colorings.  

*You can use homemade hydrosols in recipes that call for distilled water.  I personally don’t want to give a cent to water-commodifying corporations like Poland Springs/Nestle, and I definitely don't want to use their water in the remedies that I make for my loved ones, my communities, and myself.  By making our own flower water, we encourage self/community-sufficiency and we are also capturing some of the healing properties and fragrance of the plants.

I add Lavender and/or Rose water to: Bath Fizzies (bath fizzy recipe in The People’s Spa: Reclaiming Relaxation and Cultivating Collective-Care), Honey Rose Facial Cleanser, or use straight as a facial toner or body spray.  Hydrosols of soothing, gentle plants can be used in place of distilled water in recipes to make your own baby wipes as well.

*Hydrosols can be used as a spray to help cleanse and move energy in your home*space, workplace, gathering spots, and other collective areas.  This can be a great way to bring in the healing, moving qualities of plants, especially when you aren't able to burn herbs and resins, candles, or incense sticks.  Also, it leaves less of a scent for those with sensitivities.

*You can use your homemade hydrosols as a natural alternative to sprays with toxic ingredients to use in the home:  room spray, bathroom air freshener, linen spray, and whatever area needs some freshening up, such as the car.  Even "natural" store-bought sprays may contain dodgy fragrances and other chemicals.  

*You can create a bedtime hydrosol spray with relaxing herbs to help unwind before sleeping and/or welcome in more vivid dreams and remember them more easily.

*You can use Rose water to soothe pink eye so that you don't have to touch your eyes and possibly share your germs (transmitting it to the other eye if it's only in one, or to another person).  Simply close your eyes and mist them with rose water kept in a spray bottle.  (I've also used moist chamomile tea bags and yarrow compresses for pink eye/conjunctivitis)

*Use as freshening up spray for when traveling, camping, or have other limited access to regular bathing.  This is part of community health because if we're so ripe that other folks don't want to be close to us, it makes collaboration difficult, right?!

*If you have a plant ally that's aromatic, making a hydrosol is another way to connect with the plant.  If there's a plant you're drawn to, a particular one that's caught your attention that you want to learn more from and share time with, making a hydrosol is one of the many ways you can get to know the plant and make medicine with it.  You can also just sit with the plant ~ to listen, notice, take photos, draw, taste (if it edible - check with trusted sources to be sure!), see who else is enjoying it/ pollinating it, sleep by it, etc.  By making a hydrosol, you can capture the plant's vital energy and scent, and preserve it to have with you throughout the year.

*Making hydrosols is a great way preserve some of the properties of aromatic plants that you're cutting back in the autumn and/or if you have fragrant plants that are still very vital, but maybe a bit chewed up by bugs or turning yellow, etc.   If you have an abundance of a certain herb and you've harvested what you'd like for tinctures, teas, infused oils, etc., you can create a hydrosol as another form of medicine.

Directions for Making Hydrosols (aka Flower Water) 
Thank you to Kami McBride whose writing Healing Power of Aroma was helpful in the creation of these instructions.

1. Put a large, clean enamel or stainless steel pot on the stove and put a clean brick or flat stone in the bottom of the pot.

2. Pour enough water into the pot so that the water comes to just below the top of the brick or rock, but you don't want to completely submerge the brick in the water.

3. Add six handfuls of fresh aromatic herbs, or 3 handfuls of dried aromatic herbs, to the water. You can use one single herb or a blend of several. Some aromatic herbs that you can make hydrosols from are: Lavender stem, leaf and flower, Rose petals, White Pine needle, and the leaf and flower of: Tulsi (Holy Basil/Sacred Basil), Lemon Balm, Peppermint, and Catnip. All of these plants can be used in either fresh or dried form. 

4. Put a clean stainless steel metal bowl or glass Pyrex measuring cup on top of the brick inside the pot.

5. Put the lid on the pot upside down so that the lid is pointing down into the inside of the pot.  This part is important.  Also, if you are making your hydrosol with dried herbs and you have the time, you can let the herbs re-hydrate for an hour or two.

6. Fill the top of the inverted lid with ice cubes.  You can also make one large ice cube by freezing water in a yogurt or another wide-mouth plastic container.  (Remove the ice cube from the plastic container - you only want the ice on top of the lid!)  This larger ice cube melts much slower than many smaller ones. 

7. Turn the heat on and once the water has reached a gentle simmer, turn it to low for 20-30 minutes.  The steam that rises to the top of pot and meets the icy-cold lid contains the essential oils of the plant.   The steam condenses and drips down into the bowl and that's your hydrosol/flower water!  Be sure to keep the heat down - you want the water to be hot enough to create steam, but you don't want it to boil and get plant matter and un-distilled water into your bowl.  
Be sure that lid is on straight too, so that steam (and those good volatile oils) aren’t escaping.

8.  Carefully remove the lid once it's filled with the melted ice and dump that water into the sink, or pour it into another container to cool and then give the water to your plants, etc.  Take care not to let the melted ice water drip into the bowl.  Replace the lid right away so as not to lose too much of the medicinal properties and fragrance in the steam and the hydrosol/flower water that you've created.  Someone suggested in the comments below to remove the water using a turkey basted, so that you don't have to remove the lid at all and therefore no fragrant steam is lost.  (Thanks for the tip!)

9.  If you feel like the plants still have more essential oils to give, you can put the lid back on (upside down!) and add more ice to continue to the distillation process.  Listen to your intuition - I like to feel like I'm getting all the vital oils from the plant, but I also don't want to dilute the hydrosol by adding steam after the plant has given all its volatile oils.

10.  Once your hydrosol is finished, remove from heat.  Pour the liquid from the metal bowl into a sterilized mason jar or a spray bottle. You now have an herbal hydrosol!
I like to let the hydrosol cool to room temperature with the lid on before pouring it into containers, especially if pouring it into plastic.  Another reason to wait to pour the hydrosol until it is cool is that cold glass can break if liquid that is too hot is poured into it.

Large ice cube made in a yogurt container on top of inverted lid, while
making Calendula-Rose-Marigold hydrosol using a glass Pyrex measuring cup.



Your herbal hydrosol will ideally be stable for six months to one year.   I like to keep mine in the refrigerator.  This helps them keep longer and makes them especially refreshing to spray on in hot weather.  If you have Rose and/or Lavender water, keeping it in the fridge will make it even more cooling if you're using it to cool hot/sunburned skin, hot flashes, and other hot skin conditions.  Also, the cleaner that everything you're using is, the less likely it is that bacterial will enter, causing your hydrosol to go off.  So if possible, sterilize or wash well with hot soapy water your pot, bowl, and what you're pouring your finished hydrosol into.

In general, you use more of an herb when it is fresh than when it is dried, as the moisture has evaporated out of dried herbs, making it more potent.  If you have less or more of the herbs than what's listed above, use what you've got!  There's no need to pack in tons of herbs, but if you have an abundance, feel free to add more.  Likewise, if you have just a wee bit of a special plant, go ahead and use what you've got.  It may be weaker than if you had more, but it will still capture some of the scent and medicine.

When making a hydrosol, it’s good to have lots of ice on hand.  I like to fill a large freezer bag filled with a few batches of ice cubes so I have plenty on hand.  Or make a larger one as written above.

You don't need to go get a special hydrosol-making pot.  You can use a large canning/lobster pot.  Be sure to clean everything well so that you’re capturing the scent and properties of the plants you’re using, rather than the chili/tamales/lobster that have been cooked in the pot!

Calendula-Rose-Marigold hydrosol

Yarrow-Lavender hydrosol

(Post updated 10/15, 9/16, and 4/17)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Honoring ALL Mothers: Mama's Day Our Way

What does Motherhood in a just world look like?

Walking into a store around Mother’s Day, one would think from all the greeting card images that all mothers are white, able-bodied, middle-class, straight, feminine and female-identified women in nuclear families.

This narrow view of who a mother is excludes so many of us - Immigrant women raising their children in bilingual homes, Transgender moms with disabilities, Masculine-identified women raising their nieces and nephews, Incarcerated mother maintaining connection through barbed wire and concrete walls, Indigenous women honoring both their children and Mother Earth in the struggles against colonization and tar sands, Women of color serving in the military and parenting from overseas, Breast-feeding working-class queer mamas, Survivors of sexual violence who are transforming pain and trauma into creating a safe home for their little ones, Mothers working as domestic workers - separated from their own children to raise the children of upper-class families, Mothers of all skin colors and their little ones who may or may not be the same color, Teen mothers taking good care of their babies, Single moms and multi-generational households, Mothers that cross borders and endure separation from their families in order to provide for them, Mothers by blood, adoption, and chosen-mothers.  

This year, let’s honor all mothers! 

Let’s celebrate midwives, doulas, and other birthworkers!  Let’s take this day as an opportunity to learn more about our own birthstory and send some love to uteruses all over the world!  Let’s support motherhood and parenthood as a whole, and create and nourish culture/communities where families are included and valued.

    To all those who help build strong and resilient communities by creating inclusive,     
    multi-generational spaces-  

    To all the mothers and allies working collectively for justice in the realm of  
    motherhood/parenthood and  other aspects of community justice – 

    To all artists who are creating vivid reflections of families in all their vibrant, simple,   
    complicated, and loving manifestations -

Please check out Strong Families -"a home for the 4 out of 5 people living in the US who do not live behind the picket fence—whose lives fall outside outdated notions of family, with a mom at home and a dad at work....We see the trend of families defining themselves beyond the picket fence—across generation, race, gender, immigration status, and sexuality—as a powerful and promising development for the US, and we want to help policy makers catch up.  Our vision is that every family have the rights, recognition and resources it needs to thrive.  We are engaging hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals in our work to get there."

    -and their Mama's Day Our Way  campaign - beautiful and free e-cards here, created by   
    a network of artists and organizations.  Some of their cards are included below.

More resources:
Art of Favianna Rodriguez and Dignidad Rebelde
Radical Doula
The Shodhini Institute
Campaign for Prison Phone Justice  - please sign their Mother's Day petition here.
Brown Boi Project
The Native Youth Sexual Health Network
National Day Laborer Organizing Network

You can click on images below to make them larger.

"My mom would cross 100 borders to give me a better future."

Please sign the petition here.

"Our souls are so much bigger than this"

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

V-Day: One Billion Rising and Man Prayer (Un Billón de Pie y Oración de un Hombre)

One Billion Rising
One In Three Women On The Planet Will Be Raped Or Beaten In Her Lifetime.  One Billion Women Violated Is An Atrocity.  One Billion Women Dancing Is A Revolution.

All over the world people are coming together this Valentine's Day to dance and speak out against violence against women and children.  

While this global effort is truly beautiful and moving, let's not forget that survivors are not always women and perpetrators are not always male.  When talking about violence in intimate partnerships, it's important not to assume all couples are straight or that people's gender identities can be determined through assumptions.  It's important not to erase people's experiences by viewing all women as victims/survivors  and all men as perpetrators.  Physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual trauma can affect any relationship.  In creating the world we want to live in and creating services, projects, and resources to facilitate the healing of trauma, it's important that we are honoring all survivors, not only female-identified cisgender (non-transgender) women in straight relationships.

I am really inspired by the expanding conversations, workshops, and movement-building around healing and preventing sexual violence in our communities.  Movements sometimes shy away from addressing relationship violence and violence within families, as if these are personal issues that don't have very real and hurtful effects on our communities.  I'm really heartened by Keith Smith's 'Boys and Men as Survivors of Sexual Violence' and other similar workshops that focus on masculinity, healing, and how male-identified people are impacted by violence.  I'm inspired by the visionary work of Generation FIVE, looking forward far beyond this lifetime, to end child sexual violence within five generations.

This V-Day Eve Ensler, creatrix of the Vagina Monologues, has sparked One Billion Rising/Un billón de Pie, with flashmobs taking place all over the world this Thursday, Feb 14th.  It's not too late to get involved.  There are at least 11 groups planning flashmobs in Vemont, US alone!  The videos below are of the Break the Chain/Romper Las Cadenas.

You can learn the dance moves through the instructional videos here and here, and once you have the moves down you can practice them straight through here (in a mirror image, so you can move in sync with the other dancers).  If you'd like to download these videos so that you can get together with friends and practice, you can do so here.

Eve Ensler has also written this poem "Man Prayer", filmed by Tony Stroebel.  The words of the poem are included below, with Spanish translation.

I love that this poem includes voices from so many languages, including sign language.  I was raised as a white, English-speaker in the US.  As a child surrounded by mainstream culture, included limited exposure to mainstream feminism, I was raised to look at other cultures and countries, especially people of color's, as less-than.  I was raised to believe that 'Americans' (read: white, English-speaking US citizens) are smarter, more capable, more beautiful, more worthy, etc. than all others.  Daily, I can see the way this rarely-questioned complex infiltrates the minds and activism of even those of us who consider ourselves leftist/liberal/radical.  It manifests with condescending side comments about 'those poor women in...(fill in the blank of some faraway country).'  It rears it's ugly head when people talk about machismo in Latin American countries, while sweeping US misogyny (women-hating) and domestic abuse under the rug.  

This perspective perpetuates the conquistador/colonizer/missionary mentality where people who believe that their culture and beliefs are superior enter communities they are not a part of in order to teach/convert, ultimately destroying culture through assimilation.  This perspective may not be intentional, or even conscious.  Until we intentionally break this cycle, this learned attitude will continue to affect our personal conversations and infiltrate our workplaces, our homes, our communities, and even our movements of social justice.  

To those of you raised in the US, to those of you raised with privilege (white, male, cisgender (non-transgender), able-bodied, speaking the dominant language, middle-class, and/or straight, etc), this V-Day, this February, this year, please take the opportunity to reflect on the often-unquestioned lessons we've been taught from the media - the magazine's we looked at as youths, the tv shows we watched, the music we listened to, our schooling, in the home, and the experiences that helped shape our view about our place in the world and people from other backgrounds.  

Deep winter is the perfect time for reflecting on, sorting through, and releasing ideas that we know in our hearts are untrue.  It's time to unlearn oppressive ideas we were raised with.  Only once we are liberated from these misperceptions can we join with people from all over the world in true solidarity.

"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." - Lilla Watson, Indigenous Australian visual artist, activist and academic

Man Prayer
May I be a man
whose confidence comes from the depth of my giving
who understands that vulnerability is my greatest strength
who creates space rather than dominates it
who appreciates listening more than knowing
who seeks kindness over control
who cries when the grief is too much
who refuses
the slap,
the gun,
the choke,
the insult,
the punch
may I not be afraid to get lost
may I cherish touch more than performance
and the experience more than getting there
may I move slowly, not abruptly
may I be brave enough to share my fear and shame
and gather other men to do the same
may I stop pretending and open the parts of me that have long been numb
may I cherish, respect and love my mother
may the resonance of that love translate
into loving all women and living things

Oración de Hombre por Eve Ensler

Que sea yo un hombre
cuya confianza proviene de la profundidad de mi dar
quien entienda que la vulnerabilidad es mi mayor fortaleza

que genere espacios en lugar de dominarlos

que aprecie escuchar más que conocer
quien busque amabilidad sobre control

que llore cuando el dolor es demasiado

que niegue la bofetada,
la pistola,
la estrangulación,
el insulto,
el golpe

que no tenga miedo de perderse

que valore más el toque que el rendimiento
y la experiencia más que llegar

que mueva lentamente, no abruptamente

que sea lo suficientemente valiente para compartir mi miedo y vergüenza
y para reunir a otros hombres para hacer lo mismo

que deje de fingir y que abra las partes de mí que llevan mucho tiempo adormecidos
que aprecie, respete y ame a mi madre

que la resonancia de este amor
se traduzca en amor a todas las mujeres y los seres vivos

(Muchas gracias a Hana Tauber
para su ayuda en la traducción de este poema.)

More Valentine's Day-inspired posts (and some others...):

-Love is a Verb: A Valentine's Post
-Valentine's Aphrodisiac Recipes
-Love & Migration: Migration is Beautiful, Natural, and Inevitable. So is 
-So You Want to Learn Spanish?! Hooray! English-only, No Way!
-The People's Spa: Reclaiming Relaxation and Cultivating Collective-Care!

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Love & Migration: Migration is Beautiful & Natural. So is Solidarity.

Febuary is here and with it, a month to celebrate Love in it's Many Forms.  While February is sold as the month for romantic love, there is no reason to limit ourselves to this one form.  There's self-love, community-love, family-love (chosen family &/or blood family),  community work/labor-of-love, and global/universal/solidarity-love, to name of few.  These forms of love are not separate and exclusive.  There's overlap.  Our romantic and/or family love can feed our community work/labor-of-love.  Our self-love is vital in order for us to be fully engaged and healthy in that community work.  And that global/universal/solidarity love feeds our day-to-day community activism love.  And there's so many ways to celebrate these all - ie. reflecting upon and appreciating the love in our lives, cultivating more, sending love notes to friends and family near and far, breaking bread together, creating a culture of love.  

I strongly believe in Khalil Gibran's quote "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."  I take great comfort knowing that a broken heart is an open heart.  And a vital way for my heart, in all it's battled and bruised glory, to keep open, and for me to be and feel fully alive, is being part of movements for social justice.

In celebration of Love in it's Many Forms, let's focus on the global, take-action! love.  We're beginning with migrant justice, a movement that's near and dear to my heart.  I am so heartened by the courage and creativity of everyone in this movement that are working not only to change policy, but to liberate our minds from racism, xenophobia, and other divisive forces that create a climate of violence, target communities, separate families, and break hearts.

Favianna Rodriguez is a fierce creatrix of community and art.  She's co-founder of, is a national organization that amplifies the political voice of Latino communities (on Facebook here).  Migration is Beautiful: Voice of Art is a recently-released program that shows how artist-activists are creating a culture of resistance and transforming conversations and perceptions  around (im)migration in the U.S.

 Also, check out Dignidad Rebelde, a graphic arts collaboration between Oakland-based artist-activists Jesus Barraza and Melanie Cervantes, as well as the art of undocumented, queer artivist Julio Salgado.

I love when artists, actors, musicians, politicians and others use their influence to send a powerful message of truth and solidarity.  Wisin & Yandel take a romantic-love song, 'Estoy Enamorado' (In English: I'm in Love), and using powerful images, create a video that's a call to action.  While mainstream US culture often clumps all Latin@ cultures together, I think it's important to note that while the images in the video are most likely of people originally from Mexico and Central and South America, Wisin & Yandel are Puerto Rican.  Mainstream US culture often portrays Puerto Ricans in "those people" terms, and many people don't realize that Puerto Ricans, either living in the US or on the island, are US citizens.  Sometimes Puerto Ricans and other Latin@s with US citizenship/papers are pitted against others who lack documentation, or are perceived to lack documentation.  For this reason, Wisin & Yandel using the video to send a clear message about inhumane immigration law in the US is a blatant refusal of divide and conquer tactics and beautiful act of solidarity!

The message at the end of the video is: 

"Creemos en la protección de los derechos de todo ser humano. La Ley SB1070 representa una violacion de esos derechos y una injusticia contra la integridad de nuestras comunidades. En nuestra unión esta la fuerza. Unámosnos. Recuerda en este mundo TODOS somos iguales!"

In English: "We believe in protecting the rights of every human being. (Arizona) SB 1070 Law represents a violation of those rights and an injustice to the integrity of our communities. In our union there is strength. Unite. Remember, in this world, we are ALL equal!"

Activists and artists are making it so easy and so beautiful to become educated and get involved.  Through this movement, I am continuing to unlearn racism, reclaim my humanity, and know true solidarity.  As a white, English-speaking U.S. citizen, and with respect for my ancestors and their journeys from Ireland, Scotland, and England, I feel so blessed to be on the right side of history and part of such a creative, beautiful, loving, and fierce movement.  

Please see National Day Laborers Organizing Network's arts and culture page for more powerful videos (in English and Spanish).

image by Julio Salgado

Other good resources:

Drop the I-Word
No More Deaths/No Más Muertes
(Im)migration and Lip Balms for Social Justice?! blog post