THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON VINTAGE AMANDA.
What was life like before pharmacies and grocery stores in every town? So many simple things we take for granted – like handsoap. Or bandaids. Or ibuprofen. Or even shampoo!
For most of human history, you just couldn’t go buy this stuff. It didn’t exist. There was nowhere to buy it. And once there were places to buy it – for many people, it was just too expensive. But did everyone walk around smelly and with dirty hair? No! (Except perhaps in Medieval Europe when people believed bathing was bad and doused themselves with perfume instead! Yikes.) Our great-grandmothers were resourceful. When they walked out their front doors, they saw a huge bounty of ingredients, just waiting to be used for health and beauty. (Guess what, many of those ingredients are still there in plain sight, we just don’t recognize them – or worse, call them ‘weeds’ and kill them!)
This was true no matter where your great grandmother lived in the world. Europe, America, Thailand, Vietnam, Morocco, India, Ghana … everyone used the natural bounty that was around them to make the products they needed.
So when I travel, I love re-discovering these traditional uses of the weeds around us. It’s a connection not only to the land and plants, but also to the culture, and to our ancestors. And anyway, it’s just fun!
I was recently back in Chiang Mai, Thailand, studying with a traditional Thai herbalist named Homprang. She grew up in a small village where her grandmother was the local healer, so until she was 18 she was completely immersed in herbal healing. In fact, it just seemed normal. There wasn’t any other way. Of course they cooked with wild plants, and used them for health and healing too – what else would they use? So when she told me that she’d never used bottled shampoo until she moved away from the village, I was intrigued.
In 2010, when I was just getting started exploring natural health and beauty, I did a year-long beauty detox where I made all of my own products! (Yes, it was a bit crazy. I jump into things full-on!) The big winners from that year were homemade deodorant, facial cleansing oil and a facial oil/serum, three products I still use today! But the biggest struggle from that experiment? Shampoo. (If you’ve ever switched to natural shampoo you know how tricky that can be … and trying to make your own is just a whole other level of pain!)
This shampoo was simple and fresh. Two ingredients, picked from the wild plants nearby. Combined in a bowl with water until sudsy, then used immediately to wash your hair. Ok so this isn’t going to be a super thick creamy lather (no natural shampoo is), and it doesn’t leave your hair ‘squeaky clean’ because it maintains the natural oils in your hair – but it’s gentle and effective, and traditionally known to strengthen and darken the hair.
The key ingredient? Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea) You’ll find this plant all over Thailand. It’s really popular not only for shampoos and beauty products, but as a regular drinking tea across Thailand. I’ve even seen it included in specialty ‘bubble teas’ here in Hong Kong for its incredible blue color.