Chaos On Serenity

Diary Of An Off-Grid Homesteader

Category: Handmade How-To’s

Bewitching Witch Hazel: Ten Enchanting Uses

Hey there friends! Today we are going to talk about my favorite natural skin care product of all time, the remarkably versatile yet always humble, witch hazel. Witch hazel is the number one staple in my all natural skin care routine as an all-in-one cleanser, toner and moisturizer. It’s soothing, tightening, toning and cooling abilities make it perfect for skin irritations of all kinds. It is also thought to be the best natural treatment for acne.

Witch hazel is absolutely perfect for low-maintenance homesteader-types as well as anyone looking for an affordable natural skin care cleanser and toner and all-around natural beauty care product.

For anyone wanting to start making their own all natural skin care products, witch hazel should be one of the first items you stock up on as it makes the perfect base for custom toners, insect repellents, refreshing face sprays and more!

Famed for it’s astringent, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties due to its high tannin content, witch hazel has so many great medicinal and natural cosmetic uses, it really is a must-have item for any homestead or natural skin care routine.

Even the government has been bewitched as witch hazel is one of the few herbal remedies to win approval by the FDA (oooh).

Honestly, it wasn’t until I moved out here to no-man’s-land and realized washing my face without a faucet really sucked that I woke up to the magical powers of witch hazel. Since trying it, I have been completely under it’s spell and I think you will be too!

What Is Witch Hazel?

Witch hazel extract is made from the bark, leaves, and twigs of the witch hazel shrub (Hamamelis virgiania), a plant that has been used medicinally and cosmetically by Native Americans for centuries.

Witch hazel is also known as ‘winterbloom’ in honor of it’s yellow tassel-like flowers that bloom in the fall and winter and shoot off the tree in early December like a winter fireworks display (so witchy!).

Witch hazel is even purported to have real live supernatural abilities. It’s Y-shaped branches have been used for centuries as a dowsing rod or divining rod to help locate underground water sources. It is said the witch hazel rod will dip down when is held over a place water can be found, Unfortunately (or rather fortunately I suppose), I did not know about witch-hazel-as-divining-rod when we dug our well, or else I may have insisted we try it. Thankfully Maverick is pretty witchy himself and divined the perfect spot to dig our well without the aid of a dowsing tool.

Witch hazel is also easy to grow and easy to process into so many awesome concoctions! I am planting a few this fall and I will keep you guys posted 🙂

Ten Enchanting Uses For Witch Hazel:

​1. Brothers Grime Removal

I fell in love with witch hazel after it become the solution to one of my first off-grid delimmas: How to wash my face conveniently and regularly without running water.

See, our first year here on Serenity we had no indoor plumbing or even a well to pump water from. We had to carry all of our water in (often uphill by foot) and heat it on a stove or fire (or the sun!) to warm it up. Needless to say I turned into an old water-miser, carefully measuring out every single drop.

That’s when I began getting creative and reached for the witch hazel. I just poured some witch hazel onto a cotton pad, swiped it over my face and was instantly impressed and disgusted. Impressed because it worked so well, disgusted because it worked so well, judging by the very dirty cotton pad.

Even after we became water-rich with our own well and hot water set-up (woo hoo!), I still use witch hazel to clean my face. It’s just sooo much less of a hassle than soaping up and rinsing off and bumbling around looking for a clean, dry washrag, (something akin to a unicorn in my house) to dry my face off with.

Anyway, I usually use a couple of cotton pads for a good face cleansing, and I wipe all under my chin and neck too, but be careful around your eyes as witch hazel can sting a bit. That’s all there is to it. No sudsing, no rinsing. No blindly searching for a clean towel that doesn’t exist. Totally water-less face washing routine. An off-grid miracle.

​2. Pores No More (All Natural Toner)

Witch hazel isn’t just a gentle yet effective natural face cleanser, it is a natural toner as well. Thanks to all those tannins, it has wonderfully astringent properties. Witch hazel helps dissolve oil and dirt clogging pores while tightening and soothing skin.

It can be used by itself or, if you want to get a lil’ fancy and wet those homesteading toes, you can use it as a base in a custom toner. Just add a few drops of an essential oil or two that you and your skin love into a bottle of witch hazel and there you have it, a custom mixed toner. That’s all there is to it.

If are ready to up your homesteading game, check out this tutorial on how to make your very own witch hazel extract from raw material with a recipe for a lavender and frankinscence witch hazel and apple cider vinegar toner (yum!).

​3. Puff Be-Gone! (Under Eye Magic)

Witch hazel makes a great natural treatment for puffy eyes (something I quite prone to these days). It’s anti-inflammatory and astringent properties help reduce puffiness and swelling as well as redness and dark circles.

To use, just pour a little witch hazel onto two cotton balls and set the cotton ball under your eyes for a few minutes (or even longer if sleep is what caused that puffiness in the first place!), while relaxing and breathing deeply. Again, be careful not to get witch hazel directly in your eyes, as it does sting.

​4. Witchy Itch Stopper

My first summer on Serenity I was out collecting moss and ended up collecting a nasty poison ivy rash as well. For a couple of weeks, it took all my willpower not to scratch my flesh clean off my arms. During this trial of mind over matter, witch hazel was an essential tool in my all natural rash management toolbox.

For minor bites and itches, dabbing a little witch hazel on every now and then may be all you need. But if you have a poison ivy rash or poison oak rash, witch hazel may not be hard-hitting or long-acting enough to save your sanity all by itself.

For my poison ivy rash, I used a witch hazel/oatmeal paste combination, which helped significantly to keep me from completely losing it and going claws-in. Thanks to witch hazel’s fast-acting soothing effect, it stops the itch on contact and lasts just long enough to warm up the oatmeal paste and slap that on for a few minutes. Expect to repeat this cycle 535,099,815 times until the rash finally, god-blessedly, goes away.

For an easy homemade itch relief spray, try mixing witch hazel, aloe vera gel, and essential oils in a spray bottle, like this recipe.

Or try this recipe for an all natural handmade anti-itch cream, if you want to earn a few extra notches in your homesteading belt.

​5. Happily Every Aftershave

Witch hazel makes the perfect all natural aftershave, thanks to it’s antiseptic, anti-inflamatory, toning, and astringent qualities. It helps stop bleeding from nicks, soothes inflamed bumps and reduces redness.

​6. Zip Zap Zit

Did you know most commercial acne products contain witch hazel? Did you know they usually contain some pretty gruesome other ingredients as well? Why not just skip the poisons (and the price!) of commercial acne products and start making your own nontoxic all natural handmade acne remedy yourself?

Of course, the best way to treat acne is through diet, but there are ways to help manage breakouts when they do happen. Witch hazel makes a perfect all natural treatment for pimples and blackheads. It can be used as a spot treatment for pimples or, when used as a toner it pulls double duty as an acne treatment.

Try adding a few drops of tea tree essential into the witch hazel for even more pimple-fighting power.

​7. Baby Bum Brew

Due to all it’s aforementioned qualities, which hazel makes a great all natural treatment for diaper rash. It’s cooling properties help soothes baby’s bottom while anti-inflammatory tannins work to reduce pain, swelling, irritation and promote healing. Apply straight from the bottle with cotton pads for immediate rash relief.

For preventative measures, try making your own handmade natural baby wipes with just a few easy-to-find ingredients. It’s a great way to avoid all those scary and unnecessary toxic ingredients found in commercial baby wipes. Plus you will earn some homesteading mama bragging rights at your next play date.

​8. Vanishing Vericose Veins

​Highly respected as an all natural astringent and touted as the best natural topical remedy for varicose veins, witch hazel has a tightening and staunching effect on the blood, and reduces pain and swelling of varicose veins. To use, soak a towel or cotton sheet in a solution of warmed witch hazel and lay over the vein. Keep legs in horizontal position and relax and breath deeply. About a half hour should be enough time for witch hazel to work its magic.

​9. First Aid Fairy (Stops, Bleeding, Swelling and Bruising)

Witch hazel is a powerful vulnerary; that is, it seals off slow leaks in blood vessels, and stimulates the drainage of lymphatic fluid from a bruised area. This is the reason why witch hazel is so effective in reducing the swelling and bleeding from a cut or blunt force.

Witch hazel works best when applied soon after injury happens. It will work very quickly if applied right away, stemming both internal and external bleeding and reducing swelling from sprains etc.

​​​10. Bug Repellent Potion

I use witch hazel as the base liquid for my homemade bug spray. By itself, it won’t do jack to keep gnats and mosquitos at bay, but it makes an affordable and effective carrier in your all natural bug repellent recipe.

To make handmade bug spray, fill up a spray bottle with witch hazel and add as much of your favorite insect repelling essential oils as you ‘safely‘ can. (In the interest of transparency, I don’t personally pay attention to safe use standards for essential oils in my bug spray because I have found I have to make it quite strong for the natural bug spray to work very well and I figure no matter what it’s got be safer than DEET, right?)

Just be smart and test out your homemade bug spray on yourself before you go dousing down the whole family. It’s always a good idea to test sensitivity to any new product you make. Babies are more sensitive to essential oils and there are only a few that are recommended for use on wee ones.

My favorite essential oils to use in a homemade bug spray are lemon eucalyptus essential oil, clove essential oil (be careful of overusing this one!) and rose geranium essential oil.

Pro tip: The two secrets to making an effective homemade natural bug spray is to make it strong and reapply constantly.

So basically to sum it all up, witch hazel is a homesteading essential and if your are dealing with anything skin-related, you should probably use witch hazel. Get yourself a bottle today and maybe even stock up a nice supply. After all, you never know when you just might find yourself extreme homesteading in the woods. 

How To Wash Your Dishes Without Running Water: Six Steps To Off-Grid Domestic Success

Ok friends here we have quite possibly one of the most important How To tutorials of your off-grid extreme homesteading life… dishes. Yes, that’s right. More important than solar power, more important than growing food, more important than a composting toilet (ok, now I am exaggerating) is doing your dishes.

After all, dishes make the world go ’round and it is nary a homesteading woman who can live without clean dishes. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to multiply right before your very eyes, popping out dirty creations like the gremlin spawn of a mogwai. And, like a gremlin, they sneer and snarl at you from their crusty perch on the counter, daring you to just try and wash them without running water.

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Fear not, my extreme homesteading friends (or weekend campers), as I have found a pretty decent way to wash your dishes without running water. All you need are the right tools and set up and those evil dishes will no longer have you sleeping with one eye open.

Step 1: Get a Gigantic Pot

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There is one key item to doing your dishes without running water quickly and efficiently and that is the Gigantic Pot. The Gigantic Pot is absolutely essential if you don’t want to spend an entire day heating up small batches of water. And believe me, you don’t. I started off with a Small Pot, and I was not happy. The Gigantic Pot brings me much joy.

Step 2: Get a Long, Crappy Table

Okay so you have your Gigantic Pot. Now you need a long, crappy table. I say crappy table because if you can do your dishes outside on a crappy table, you can slosh water all over the place – which tends to make you feel better about having to do your dishes outside on a crappy table. Get it? I have a nice, crappy eight foot long table that is the perfect length for our size family, or for my lazy housekeeping habits, whichever way you want to look at it. So technically you could use a smaller table and you can also use your actual sink and counter area, but that’s a little boring, don’t you think?

Step 3: Set Up Dish Area.

First, there are a few other things you will need:

  1. Two basins, one for washing and one for rinsing. These are what I currently use. I know they don’t match. Don’t judge me.
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2. A cup with a handle for scooping hot water out of the Gigantic Pot into the wash basin. I use this measuring cup which conveniently hooks right on the handle of my pot when not in use. A match made in heaven.

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3. A jug (or two, depending on your dish load) of clean, cool rinse water next to your rinse basin

4. A sponge or rag to wash dishes and some biodegrable dish soap

5. A drying rack and/or large towel

6. A large bucket to dump dirty dish water into (another option is to just dump directly onto the ground if you are outside and it won’t create a mess.)

7. Compost container to scrape your food scraps into.

Step 4: Heat Up Water

Now we are ready to get to work. I will forewarn you, I like my dish water hot and clean, so I refresh often. I use anywhere from 2-4 gallons of hot water, depending on the dish load. I usually heat up more water than I need, because is saves time and hey I can always take a shower after.

Pour water in your pot and heat it up. One of the many blessings in my extreme homesteading life is my (nearly) full-size propane stove. So heating things up is easy peasy (until we run out of propane right in the middle of making dinner. that is). I just put my Gigantic Pot on the stove, turn two burners on and it heats up quick.

If you don’t have stove yet, you might want to look into getting a portable burner used for camping, if you plan on cooking more than once a week. Of course, if you want to (or need to), you can always go to the maximum extreme and heat your water up over an actual fire (technically the maximum extreme would be rubbing two sticks together to start said fire, but I digress). As romantic as it sounds, however, it’s really a pain in the ass to do everyday. But I have done it and so can you.

However your go about it, the important thing is to get your water HOT. That way it stays nice and hot until the last dirty dish has been hunted down. If your water gets too cool, it is a hassle to reheat and you run the chance of loosing motivation and not finishing the dishes, which does not feel nearly as satisfying as finishing the dishes.

Now scoop your hot water into your wash basin and pour cool water in the rinse basin. If the water is too hot (which it should be if you have been following directions) mix it with a little of the cool water until you get the right temperature. As you work your way down the dirty mountain, the water should cool off to a reasonable temperature. Better hot than not, I say.

Step 5: Wash Your Dishes

Now you wash your dishes. I like to move from the left to right, but to each his own. As your wash basin water cools down and gets dirty, dump it into the waiting receptacle or onto the ground if you prefer and refill with fresh hot water. Same with your rinse water, if it gets too soapy. Finish all the dishes. All of them. It feels good, remember?

Step 6: Call In The Troops

This is about the time I start yelling for Maverick and the girls. Maverick, with his strong shapely arms and equally strong stomach, gets to dump the teeming bucket of dirty dish water. We like to dump it right into the garden beds. depending on the chunks. Yum.

Now its the minions’ turn to help. Remember how we were doing the dishes outside? Well they are the lucky ones that get to haul the clean dishes back inside, put them away all nice and neat and then hang the dish towel on the line to dry until we need it again for a new table-load of dirty dishes, usually about ten minutes later I’d say.

Well there really is no glamorous way to end a dish tutorial, so bye!

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