Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
March, 2010
Regional Report

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Herbalist Jeannine Vannais mixes lemon juice with corn starch as the first step in making Lemon-Mint Window Wash.

Cleaning Green Makes Good Scents

Imagine opening your fridge and spinning your spice rack for natural, effective ingredients to clean and disinfect. Well, "Cleaning Green" is as easy as squeezing a lemon and measuring and mixing essential oils- with expert guidance, of course.

Lemon, lime, lavender, cloves, and cinnamon are absolutely fragrant and delicious. Better yet, their juices and oils are scientifically proven germ fighters, explained herbalist Jeannine Vannais, Plant Stewardship Coordinator at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope, PA.

"The way we go into the garden and work with plants, we can bring that into our homes," Vannais recently told a group in a Bowman's Natural Cleaning Workshop.

The good news is that many essential herb and spice oils, and the acidic juices of lemons and limes are documented antibacterials. They inhibit certain microbial growth, which is why they're effective preservatives. It's chemistry at the cellular level- lipids (in the oils) disrupt bacterial cell structure. Essential oils from cinnamon, lime, geranium, rosemary, orange, lemon, lavender and clove are among the most highly effective.

Essential oils, also known as volatile oils, are in plant flowers, leaves, seeds, twigs, bark, buds, wood, fruits and roots. They can be removed through distillation, extraction or fermentation and used in various ways, such in cooking, medicines and for fragrance.

In this workshop, we measured and mixed essential oils and common foods to make Lemon-Mint Window Wash, Citrus Vinegar Cleaner, and Aloe Tea Tree Disinfectant Spray for skin.

Vannais, a well-respected educator, is dissuasive about commercially made household cleaning products. In general, they likely have chemicals or amounts of chemicals that could be harmful to us and our families, she said. She cited hard-hitting statistics and reference materials to support her assertions, many from Women's Voices for the Earth, a national organization that engages women to advocate for the right to live in a healthy environment.

Okay to Eat, Okay to Clean With
"If you use things to clean with that you can drink, you don't have to worry that they'll harm you and your family," she advises. "We're not meant to be separate from the natural processes around us. We can clean in different ways that makes us feel good about ourselves."

We workshop participants are eager to try the recipes. While concocting, we smile, laugh and sniff- unusual accompaniments to anything related to housecleaning. There's also "fizzling." That happens when we add club soda to the lemon juice-peppermint oil-cornstarch paste we made and screw on the spray top too quickly. Liquid bubbles and spurts like a science experiment.

Vannais walks to the window, sprays, and swiftly wipes with a paper towel. The scent is refreshing; the window is shiny clean. She reminds us to list the ingredients and include the date on the bottle label.

Chris Setzer, a Bowman's volunteer, is impressed with the safety, ease, and effectiveness of using natural ingredients. "It was an awakening," she says, leaving with her three "green" concoctions and a sachet of potpourri. "You can do little bits and little bits. It's so easy to incorporate into your life."

Writing this puts me in the mood for a lemon-peppermint lift. Aahh- excellent opportunity to wash the office window.

Sniff, sniff. Wipe. Sigh.

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