Wild Edible: Bermuda Buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae )

Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Photo by MathKnight

It’s Bermuda buttercup season in Los Angeles. Burmuda buttercup, also known as sourgrass, soursop, African wood-sorrel and  many other names, is a member of the wood-sorrel family. It originated in the Cape region of South Africa and is now found all over California, parts of Australia and probably other places as well. Here, it comes with the rain and vanishes with the heat.

It’s a “weed” (Wikipedia describes it as a noxious weed and an invasive species) so if you look it up on the internet you’ll mostly find information on how to eradicate it. It’s true, it’s terribly persistent, because it spreads through underground bulbs. But I think its attractive–usually more attractive than whatever neglected patch of landscaping it has colonized. More importantly, it’s super tasty.

It packs a potent, lemony punch, like true sorrel, which makes it an excellent salad green, and that’s how I use it–raw, in salads. The leaves, stems and flowers are all tasty, but for salads I just use the flowers and leaves. They provide a bright, lemony note which is just wonderfully fresh and tasty with tender new lettuce–springtime in a bowl.

As its true name, Oxalis, indicates, it is high in oxalic acid (as are many more common greens, like spinach), and (mandatory warning) oxalic acid should not be consumed in enormous quantities or if your physician has warned against it for some reason. But its sour nature makes it unlikely that you could stomach enough to hurt you.

Give it a try if you haven’t yet. If this form of oxalis doesn’t grow near you, other edible wood sorrels– or naturalized true sorrel–might. Have a look around.

Note the structure: 3 hearts joined at the center, and the distinctive brown freckles on the leaves.

Oxalis pes-caprae has another use–as a dye. I’m experimenting with that this week, and will talk about the results in a future post.

Indigo 101

Graham stirs the vat with his “witchy stick” –which is tinted many beautiful shades of blue.

One of the primary lessons of gleaned from my Shibori Challenge is that cotton is difficult to dye with natural dyes, whereas wool and silk take these colors beautifully. Know your materials!

Building on that, I’ve also figured out that the reason indigo dye is the favored dye for shibori techniques is because indigo gets along very well with cotton (and other plant fibers) and the dyeing characteristics of indigo are ideal for shibori. In fact, the idiosyncrasies of indigo probably led to the development of shibori, way back in the mists of time. So, if I want to make shibori patterned cotton cocktail napkins, as was my challenge to myself, I may as well fall in with thousands of years of tradition and dye with indigo.

Book reading and Internet surfing are all well and good for gathering knowledge, but to learn an unfamiliar process, nothing works better than to find someone who knows what they’re doing and go watch them. That way, you learn via a pleasant form of osmosis, rather than by frowning at at a glowing screen.

Our friend Graham Keegan dyes with indigo and sells his beautiful canvas and leather creations in his own Etsy shop. He kindly invited me to come to his studio and watch him dye some test swatches yesterday.

Continue reading…

The Whip: A Homemade Moisturizer How-To from Making It


This 2011 post has been edited on 7/8/14, also to include new tips and new pictures. Most important of these are directions on keeping the lotion fresh.

Confession: I can’t live without my homemade moisturizer.

This recipe appears in Making It as Olive Oil Whip. It’s my everyday body lotion/face cream and I figured it was about time to share it with you. It only has three ingredients. It’s safe and wholesome and very effective. It’s so basic and natural that you could eat it!

You might find it heavier than what you’re used to, because it doesn’t contain all the chemicals that the store-bought stuff employs to make it absorb fast into your skin (see the Skin Deep database for the scoop on what’s in your favorite moisturizer). But I promise you that if you use it for a couple of days you’ll get used to the difference–and then you’ll get hooked on the results. My skin has never been so happy as it has since I started using this stuff, and I’m saving tons of money. I will never go back. I don’t even like the way commercial moisturizers feel on my skin anymore.

The Whip


1/2 cup (125 ml) olive oil

2 tablespoons (.5 oz / 14 g)  of cosmetic grade beeswax, either in bead form or grated and packed into the spoons. (You can use vegan waxes instead)

1 cup (250 ml) of 90°F (32°C) water, distilled is best.

Essential oil of your choice for scent, about 10-20 drops, optional

(Notes on ingredients at the end)


You need a double boiler. An improvised double boiler would be a heatproof bowl balanced over a saucepan. I settle a Pyrex (i.e. heat proof) measuring cup in a small saucepan, which is more like a pseudo double boiler, but works for this. If you don’t have a Pyrex cup, you could also put a canning jar in the saucepan.

You will also need a stick blender. It is possible to do this with a countertop blender, but the stick blender works better and cleans up faster. And in case you’re wondering, no, you cannot make this recipe by stirring really fast. So when the zombies come and the power goes out, we’ll have to beat back our wrinkles with salves–most likely salves rendered from raccoon fat.

A kitchen thermometer. I did not use a thermometer when I started making this lotion, but I’ve been much more successful at it since I started using one regularly.

Very clean, preferably sterilized, jars to store your lotion in. This recipe makes anywhere from 1 to 1 1/2 cups. I recommend storing your lotion in several small jars instead of one big one, and we’ll talk about that later on.


This recipe is verbose, but the actual making of the lotion takes all of 10 minutes. It’s really very simple once you have the details down: melt wax into oil, blend oil with water, pour into jars.


The Procedure

I am going to describe my method for making this. It’s not the only way–you can tinker around to make it work for the equipment you have. I like to do everything in one vessel–in this case, a 2 cup, heat-proof liquid measuring cup.

Melt the wax:

Put all the olive oil into the 2 cup Pyrex (or in the top of your double boiler setup) and add the wax. Place the measuring cup in a small saucepan about half full of water. Heat over gently simmering water, stirring occasionally. until the wax melts and vanishes into the oil. Beeswax melts at about 160°F (71°C).


Pay attention to temperature:

Temperature is very important for the success of this recipe: the temperature of the water, and the temperature of the oil and wax mixture. The wax melts into the oil at about 160°F, as I said. Anywhere between 160°F and 170°F is a good place to be before you go on to the next step.

If you don’t have a thermometer, you know that you’ve hit 160°F when the wax melts, so if you start blending as soon as that happens, you will be at the right temperature. Just don’t super-heat the mix, or let it cool.

Prepare the water:

While the wax is melting, get your water ready to go. I always put my 1 cup of water into a liquid measuring cup, for ease of pouring.

The water needs to be at about 90°F (32°C). I bring the water to this temperature by adding a splash of boiling water to most of a cup of room temperature water, then checking the temp, adding hot or cold water as necessary to get into the 90° range.  90°, 92°, 95° — somewhere in there. It doesn’t have to be exactly 90°

If you don’t have a thermometer, you will have to guess. The water should not feel warm, but it should not feel cold, either. You’re shooting for tepid. This is hard, because how “tepid” feels to you is going to have a lot to do with the temperature of the air, and how cold your hands are… I’ll just say a thermometer is a handy little piece of kitchen equipment.


Get your other stuff together:

If you’re going to use essential oils to add scent to your lotion, make sure you’ve got them on hand in your work area.

Also put your clean jars in the work area.

Prepare the blender:

Get your stick blender ready to go. It helps clean-up if you preheat the head of the stick blender in a cup of hot water before you use it. If you use it cold, the wax in the oil mixture solidifies prematurely when the cold head touches it. It’s not a disaster, just a little harder to clean up.

If you are going to use a countertop blender, put a cup or two of very hot water in the blender as well, to preheat the jar and the blades so similar sticking doesn’t happen. In this case, it’s an essential step, because there’s so much cold surface area to the blender, you can end up with lots of little chunks of wax in your lotion.

The next steps happen quickly:

Add the essential oil to the wax/oil mix

Stir in your essential oil(s), if using, 10-20 drops or to taste.  Be quick about it.


Add the water and whirl!

Still moving briskly, take the oil/wax mixture off the stove and move it to where you’re doing your blending. Don’t burn your hand on the Pyrex handle, if you’re using my method.

Put the head of your stick blender into the hot oil and start it whirrrrrring. Soon as its going, pour in all the water in a fast steady stream, and keep blending until the lotion comes together. If you’re using a counter top blender, pour out the preheating water, pour in the oil, start the motor and pour in the water.

You’ll see that lotion-like substance form almost instantly. It’s very thick and shiny, like marshmallow cream, so you’ll have to bounce the stick blender around a bit to make sure it’s all getting mixed. With a countertop blender you’ll have to start and stop it and poke at it with a rubber spatula.

The biggest trick with this stuff is getting the water mixed in. We are not using any chemical emulsifiers, which would bind the water and oil together. We’re sort of uniting them by force of will and our cock-eyed idealism. It doesn’t always go smoothly. Ideally you can get all of that 1 cup of water to incorporate in a few seconds. But sometimes it just doesn’t want to mix in. Don’t overmix the lotion trying to force the issue, or the texture will be off. This is a very fast process.


If after a few seconds you see that you have a lot of stuff which looks like lotion in your jar, but that there’s also pockets of water in there, and the water doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere, just pause and pour the excess water off. Give the lotion another short whirl to bring up any more water that might be lurking at the bottom and pour that off as well, then call it done.

Note: You certainly may make this recipe with 1/2 cup of water instead of 1 cup–intentionally. The result is a thicker, heavier cream which is really good for harsh weather and outdoor sports, or just those times when your skin is extra dry and itchy. It also makes a good make-up remover/cleansing cream. Basically, the more water, the lighter the moisturizer, the less, the heavier. It’s all good. If you use no water at all, you’ve made a salve–and that’s good too!

Scoop the cream into jars:

While the cream is hot, transfer it to your prepared jars.  Let the jars cool a bit, and then cap them.



I have two words for you: baking soda. It’s hard to get this stuff off your tools, and you don’t want wax down your pipes. Rub with lots of baking soda, which will pick up the grease, and dump the baking soda clumps in the trash. Lots of soap and boiling hot water rinses help with the rest of the residue.

I don’t know if this is TMI, but this is the first stage of my clean-up process: I always plan to shower right after I make this, so I can take my lotion-covered cups and spoons into the bathroom and scrape out every last bit of lotion and slather myself from head to toe. Waste not, want not!

A safety note:

This recipe contains no preservatives. Any time you mix oil and water together, you run the risk of bacteria moving in and setting up house. I make this moisturizer because I want a simple product with no fishy ingredients, so I don’t want to add preservatives. I’ve never had any problems at all after years of heavy use of this recipe, nor have my friends or teachers who use it, as well, but technically it’s “unsafe” because it does not have preservatives in it. But you know, driving a car is very unsafe, but I still do it.vWith the lotion, I’ve decided the risk is very low compared to the rewards.

This is my choice–your choice may be different. If you want to use preservatives, Google will lead you to preservatives sold for home crafters. Alternatively, you could look into making skin care products with no water in them, like body butters.

All that said, you can minimize risk through a few simple precautions:

First, prepare the lotion in a clean environment, with clean tools and clean hands. If you have a dishwasher, send all your jars and tools through the sterilize cycle. Wipe down your counter with the strongest disinfectant you are willing to use, be that bleach, alcohol or vinegar, before you start working.

Second, the best way to keep the moisturizer clean is to use it fast, to stay ahead of bacterial growth. I go through a batch a month or less, because I use it all over my body. Think of it as a perishable food product, like a tub of hummus. This might seem strange at first, because we’re used to cosmetics which seem to have an unlimited shelf life. Not so with this cream. Use it up or throw it out within a month.

Third, keep it clean. Each time you reach into your lotion jar, you leave some bacteria behind to breed. If you keep all of your lotion in one jar, all of your lotion is available for contamination. This is why I recommend splitting the batch into a few jars, and only using one a time, leaving the others pristine. And of course, wash your hands before you reach in there-or even use a little spoon if you want to get all Howard Hughes-y.

Fourth, those extra jars should be kept in the fridge until you need them. The cream doesn’t spread well when chilled, but will be fine again as soon as it warms up.

Finally, use common sense. It is not a sterile product. Don’t put it on sores or wounds.

Rosemary essential oil has good antibacterial properties, so if you like you can add some –it can’t hurt, but I wouldn’t rely on it alone, I’d still follow the above advice. Vitamin E oil is often mentioned as a preservative, but it is actually good for keeping oil from going rancid, not for inhibiting bacteria.

Note that changing this recipe so that you replace the water with novel liquids–such as green tea or aloe–will make a product spoil even more quickly. I do not recommend it. If you insist on trying this, use it fast–as in, over a home spa weekend–and keep it in the fridge.

Whenever you use a homemade product, use your nose and your other senses. If the cream goes off you might notice a change in odor, texture or color.


As I’ve already mentioned, the water doesn’t always incorporate well. The very best batches absorb the full cup of water and come together nicely and stay together. What makes them work seems to be a magical combination of temperature, timing and the blessings of the lotion fairies.

You may find a little water sitting in the jar now and then. This is not unusual, certainly not a sign of failure. Just pour it off.

In the not so good batches the amount of water that appears is epic as it comes unbound from the oil day by day. Just pour it off. The texture will be off, but the stuff still works, and is fine to use. It’s just not as nice. Try again. You’ll get the hang of it.

Notes on ingredients:

Olive oil:  There’s a lot of debate about what kind of olive oil to use. Some people wouldn’t hear of using anything but the best organic extra virgin olive oil in any body product. I don’t think it’s all that bad to use a lesser olive oil. More processed olive oil doesn’t smell as much like olive oil, which has its advantages. It’s up to you, really.

What I do like to do is use olive oil which I’ve infused with herbs, especially Calendula, which helps heal the skin

Beeswax: I use the beeswax pastilles sold by Mountain Rose Herbs. Yes, it’s a pain to have to mail order them, but it’s so worth it.  A 1 lb bag will make 30 batches of lotion. I use it to make salves and lip balm, too. It’s very handy.


Salvia Means Salvation: White Sage

Salvia apiana, photo by Stan Shebs

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Today I was lucky enough to be able to take part one of a two part class taught by Cecilia Garcia and James Adams, Jr., authors of Healing with Western Plants at the Theodore Payne Foundation. I’ve blogged about their book before, and was thrilled to be able to see them in person.

Cecilia is a Chumash healer. James is a professor of pharmacology and a botanist. In both the book and in person they do a wonderful tag-team act, delivering both the Chumash message and the Western scientific take on various plants. Not that they’re doing a Scully and Mulder. James is very taken with the gentleness and efficacy of these plants and repeatedly said he wished western medicine would reconsider their value.

I thought I’d give you a taste of today’s lessons by telling you a bit of what I learned about white sage, Salivia apiana, we’wey (waykway) in Chumash. The most fragrant and beautiful of all Salvias.

Flower of Salvia apiana, photo by Stan Shebs

White sage is a native Californian plant which is grown in many places, as long as it can grown in dry conditions (overwatering will kill it quick) and the winter temps aren’t too cold. See Plants for a Future Database for details. It has beautiful soft silvery foliage and white to pale purple flowers that bees adore. We’ve got two planted and are looking forward to having our own homegrown supply. After today, I want to find a place for another plant.

Even if you think you don’t know this plant, you do. This is the stuff that New Age types like to burn in their smudge sticks–because it smells good, and has a sort of fuzzy reputation as being sacred or protective or cleansing. This, unfortunately, has led to over-harvesting in the wild to meet the demand. Cecilia had a long, funny rant about smudge sticks. Suffice it to say she does not like them, because, at very least, they are wasteful. They’ve been getting larger and larger, as if bigger = more mojo. All a big smudge stick does is keep more precious white sage leaves unavailable for any purpose other than burning.

She said that if you felt the need for the smoke, you should burn a single leaf, and pray while you do it. She said that white sage should never be burned thoughtlessly, like incense, because it is their most sacred plant.

A better use for white sage is in your water bottle. 

Cecilia recommended that we (the class, aka people with interest in plant healing) drop a single white sage leaf (dry or fresh) into our water bottles and so drink a bit of its essence every day. She uses does this herself and takes it further, keeping a leaf in the 1 gallon bottles she uses for cooking, as well as in her water bottle, so she is ingesting a tiny bit of her most sacred plant on a daily basis.

Why? To keep you calm, to repair your soul.  As she says in the book:

It is our everyday plant. It is a spirit plant. If you don’t have it, everything is going to bother you. You drink it by putting a leaf in cool water every day. You are going to be calm enough to be rational. It will enhance any medicine you take and protect you from the toxicity of medicines. It tickles your spirit, your conscience, and helps you keep your integrity. If you drink it every day, you won’t’ get as many colds.

 Does it work? Well, I’m willing to try it, because I love sages and have a deep affinity for them, and trust my experience with garden sage and colds enough to believe in the medicinal qualities of any Salvia. I’ve been sipping my sage enhanced water bottle all day.  Don’t know if it’s making me calmer, but it does lend a pleasant taste to the water.

As to the mental/spiritual effects, I cannot speak with any authority. James does note that it contains a compound called miltirone which may act like Valium to relieve anxiety. My purpose here is not to convince skeptics, nor to get all “woo-woo” on you, but to present traditional wisdom as it has been told to me.

White sage has a multitude of medicinal uses*, which you can read about in their book, or elsewhere. But I will share with you is Cecilia’s advice on using it as a hot tea, as her instructions were quite specific. White sage is very powerful, so if you wish to brew a hot cup of tea to address a cold or other illness, you should prepare it this way:

Put one leaf in one cup of cold water. Bring the water (and the leaf) to a gentle simmer.

• Do not let it reach a full boil.
• Do not sweeten the tea with anything.
• Only drink this tea at night, before bed, never during the day.
• Do not drink more than one cup a night.

Oh, one last note of interest. She firmly believes that essential oil of white sage is dangerous and discourages its use strongly–not only for internal use, but external use as well, even mixed into massage oil. This is holds for any of the native plants. They are powerful on their own–their properties do not need to be consolidated. As she and James say, for her, the standard dosage is 1 leaf per day. Think about how essential oil is made: a huge armload of foliage (or more) will yield a teeny tiny bottle of oil. Each drop of that stuff equals god knows how many leaves. She made this point many times during the class, so I’m passing it on.


* ETA: After some comments have come in, I’m thinking I should clarify something here. Salvia apiana is very powerful stuff. Many sources say it should not be used medicinally. Obviously the Chumash disagree. But you can see from the very strict guidelines around the tea recipe that Cecilia takes its strength seriously.

All salvias have medicinal qualities. Plain old culinary sage can make fantastic medicine and is much safer to play with, especially if you’re just starting out with herbs. If you have access to white sage, I’d encourage you to try the white sage leaf in the water bottle–just to experience where that sort of relationship with a plant might lead you. But for other purposes I’d recommend you stick to culinary sage, unless you’ve studied this plant, maybe have Cecilia and James’ book, and are clear on what you’re doing.

Here’s a quick overview of the medicinal properties of regular sage from herbalist Susun Weed: http://www.susunweed.com/Article_Sage-the-Savior.htm