Vinegar is acidic and a little drying, which makes it a great astringent. Apple cider vinegar is often the vinegar of choice for herbal body care, as its fermented goodness is full of life and enzymes. Sage-steeped apple cider vinegar (doubly astringent!) is a wonderfully toning deodorant splash or spray.
The hair cuticle is like a bunch of overlapping scales. According to a cosmetologist friend, alkaline hair products cause the cuticle of the hair to be coated, which makes cuticle stand up and feel think, coarse, or sticky. Because of this, hair products are slightly acidic to keep the hair smooth.
Some years ago I switched to natural and organic shampoos and conditioners, about the last time I cut my hair really short. As it grew, I expected my hair to be healthier than ever, with the positive diet changes I had made, decreased washing (daily washing can strip hair of its natural, protective oils) and of course the use of natural shampoos. As time went on, it was clear that my hair was not healthier, indeed it was in its worst state ever. It was full of split ends, dull, limp, and growing slowly.
Another cosmetologist friend looked at the ingredients of the shampoos I was using and explained that some of the ‘natural’ ingredients are wax-derived and can accumulate on the hair shaft, weakening and weighing it down and may even lead the hair shaft to break. How do you know if this is the case for your hair? Tightly and tautly grab a chunk of semi damp hair, run a sharp and clean scissor blade down the length of the hair and check the blade for any residue. Be careful and use common sense–I don’t recommend this for really curly hair.
This is where vinegar rinses come in handy! An herbal-infused vinegar rinse is incredibly helpful in treating residue-laden hair; they leave your hair softer, cleaner and invigorated. It is incredibly simple to make a herb-infused vinegar: cover dried or fresh herbs with apple cider vinegar and cap. Label, shake occasionally, and steep for four weeks. Strain, re-bottle, and use!
The vinegar should be diluted for use; a tablespoon to one cup water. Pour the vinegar-water solution through the hair, massage into scalp, then rinse with clean water. Another method is to dip your hair in a bowl of the vinegar-water solution (make sure the water is warm-unless you like cold rinses!), following with a plain water rinse.
Dina Falconi has a ‘Garden Blend Vinegar’ (60) recipe that is for all hair colors and is a great place to start.
- 1 tablespoon nettle
- 1 tablespoon comfrey root
- 1 tablespoon basil
- 6 ounces organic apple cider vinegar
Steep for four weeks or so, strain, and enjoy. Makes 4 1/2 ounces. For any herbal vinegar, if you wish to add essential oils, do so in a small amount (start with three drops) after it has been strained. I am not exactly sure how often one should do a rinse, but I find that once a week to once a month can make a difference.
Nettles are high in minerals that lend themselves to promoting hair and skin health, comfrey root (and to a lesser extent the leaves) is soothing and moistening with lots of mucilage, while basil is aromatic, cleansing and invigorating. Use your senses to find what herbs would be best suited for your vinegar rinse; chamomile for blond hair, black walnut husks for dark hair, rosemary for hair growth stimulation, oregano or thyme for anti-microbial action.
One of my favorite hair rinses is simply dipping my head in a bowl of a strongly steeped tea of nettle, rosemary, comfrey and birch leaves. This is less defunking and more conditioning than the vinegar rinses, and it does not need to be followed with a clear water rinse. Use the leftover tea to water plants. I was prompted to add the birch leaves after reading Matthew Wood’s entry of birch (139):
“While in Australia a woman brought her fourteen-year-old daughter to see me about something or other. I commented that she had some of the healthiest,thickest hair I had ever seen. The mother commented that her daughter’s hair was originally spindly and thin. For several years they rinsed it in nettles and birch”
Falconi, Dina. Earthly Bodies and Heavenly Hair.
Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal (Old World).