Step 1: Make your own herbal hair care products. Step 2: Perfect your slow-motion hair flip.

Herbal DIY shampoo and conditioner

No magic ingredients in this shampoo and conditioning rinse! Just herbs, essential oils, soap, and vinegar.

So, there might have been a period of time in college when, in a fit of asceticism, I washed my hair with nothing but a bar of Dr. Bronner’s soap and rinsed with a capful of plain white vinegar. My friend had advised me that it ought to be a bar of soap, not liquid, because bars come wrapped only in paper — no evil plastic involved. While this was noble, sort of, the method was rather harsh, and I can’t say it had salon-worthy results. I wasn’t exactly a dirty hippie, but neither did I seem destined to be a hippie washed only in the All one! All one! suds of the good “doctor” followed by a pickling rinse. (If you’ve ever been curious about the eccentric text on the packaging of Dr. Bronner’s products, I recommend the documentary Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap Box. TO UNITE ALL MANKIND FREE! It’s no joke.)

As it turns out, I wasn’t really a hippie at all. I eventually went back to whatever mostly natural shampoo and conditioner I could find in the supermarket aisle.

And that was the end of my hair product experimentation until, over a decade later, I found myself at Storey with a copy of Herbs for Natural Beauty by Rosemary Gladstar in my hands. I decided to try out her Make-It-Yourself Herbal Shampoo and her Vinegar Hair Rinse. For the shampoo I turned to Dr. Bronner’s again for liquid castile soap, but Rosemary’s recipe waters it down and adds an herbal blend, along with jojoba and essential oil.

Her vinegar rinse takes a much milder approach as well, with herb-infused apple cider vinegar (sweeter and less harsh than white vinegar), also mixed with water and a few drops of essential oils. It being winter, I lacked fresh herbs but used what dry herbs I had: sage from my own garden, rosemary, and lavender buds. Lacking also a “warm spot” in which to leave the vinegar and herbs (it being winter, still, and the new wood stove not yet installed), I simmered the dry herbs and vinegar for a while to help the process along.

Herbal infusion for natural shampoo

Creating an herbal infusion bound for the shampoo bottle

I stored my homemade shampoo and conditioner in the empty, washed-out bottles of the last set I bought at the store. So far, this gentler, lightly herb-scented shower experience is way better than my primitive bar soap and stinging vinegar routine, and it strips less of the natural oils from my hair than commercial products. I find the apple cider vinegar treatment particularly pleasant and sweet-smelling, and it leaves my hair soft and my scalp soothed. This feels more like indulgence than asceticism, and that’s just fine with me.

Happy herbal indulgence!

Make-It-Yourself Herbal Shampoo

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce herb blend of choice (I used lavender, sage, and rosemary, and Rosemary offers several suggestions in the book.)
  • 8 ounces water
  • 3–4 ounces liquid castile soap
  • ¼ teaspoon jojoba oil (or rosemary essential oil for oily hair)
  • 20–30 drops essential oil of choice (I used sage and lavender)

Directions

  1. Combine the herbs with the water in a pan over low heat, and bring to a low simmer. Simmer for 15–20 minutes, then strain and let cool.
  2. Slowly add the castile soap to the herb infusion, then mix in the jojoba oil and essential oils. Store in a plastic container with a flip-top lid in the shower or bath. Shake well before using.

Vinegar Hair Rinse

Ingredients

  • herb blend of choice
  • apple cider or wine vinegar
  • a few drops of essential oil of choice

Directions

  1. Fill a quart jar halfway with your herbal blend. Add enough vinegar to completely cover the herbs by 3–4 inches. Cap tightly. Place the jar in a warm spot and let sit for 3–4 weeks, shaking daily.
  2. Strain out the herbs, using a large strainer lined with a double layer of cheesecloth. Add the essential oils. For use with oily hair, dilute 1 part vinegar with 4 parts water. For dry hair, dilute 1 part vinegar with 6 parts water. You’ll soon discover what dilution is good for your hair. Store the vinegar rinse in a plastic bottle in the bathtub or shower.
  3. To use, after shampooing and rinsing, pour the vinegar rinse slowly through your hair, massaging it into your scalp. Rinse with warm water and, if you can stand it, a final rinse with cold water!

As for that last instruction, I’m afraid I couldn’t stand it, not this time of year. (See previous references to “winter.”) You, however, may be stronger than I, or live in a balmier clime, like New Jersey.

Shampoo and Hair Rinse recipes excerpted from Herbs for Natural Beauty © 1999, 2014 by Rosemary Gladstar. All rights reserved.

Hannah Fries

Hannah Fries edits Storey books on subjects ranging from building to nature to food. She formerly worked at Orion magazine, where she edited prize-winning essays,… See Bio

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