Question: Any idea how to make your own toothpaste? I'd like to avoid the fluoride, artificial sweeteners, sodium lauryl sulfate and weird (unlisted) inert ingredients in name-brand toothpastes. -- Judy Dean, McCall, Idaho
Mary Jane: There are several precautions you can take to ensure the purity of what you use on a daily basis to clean your teeth and gums. Making your own tooth powder is a good start. The following recipe will leave your mouth feeling clean and refreshed.
Mix together 1/2 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup fine sea salt, 1 teaspoon myrrh gum powder, and 5 to 10 drops peppermint essential oil. Or try clove, rosemary, cinnamon or tea tree oil. Myrrh powder and essential oils are sold in most health food stores.
Baking soda whitens your teeth while sea salt polishes them and promotes healthy gums. Myrrh fights the germs that wreck havoc on your gums and peppermint oil leaves your mouth feeling clean and fresh.
After you've mixed everything together, store your tooth powder in a small airtight container. Even so, the peppermint oil dissipates over time; when that happens, just add a few more drops.
To use, put about a teaspoon full into a shallow dish. Wet your toothbrush and dip it into the powder.
Next on your list for a healthy mouth should be dental floss. Rather than use dental floss coated with petrochemical-wax, try GentleFloss made by a company named ECO-DENT. Their floss is treated with essential oils and natural anti-bacterial enzymes. Equally unique is their cardboard packaging with 100 yards of floss in each container. Go to www.eco-dent.com (888-326-3368).
While you're at it, consider buying a toothbrush with a replaceable head. Since it makes sense to replace your toothbrush every month or so, replaceable heads keep millions of plastic handles from ending up in our landfills. After all, when was the last time the handle on your toothbrush wore out?
ECO-DENT makes a replaceable head toothbrush and so does Fuchs, a European-brand toothbrush which makes one called Ekotec. Visit www.internatural.com and do a search for toothbrushes (800-643-4221).
For toothpaste in a tube without harmful ingredients, try Burt's Bees good tasting pure lavender mint toothpaste (www.burtsbees.com).
While you have the baking soda for the tooth powder handy, dissolve one cup in three cups boiling water and pour the mixture down your sink or bathtub drain. If you do this once a week, you won't need products like Drano, which release toxic fumes. If you already have a slow drain, pour the baking soda brew into your drain every day for a week or so until it clears.
Another method that works is to pour 1/2 cup baking soda down your drain followed by 1/2 cup white vinegar. Let it sit for an hour or so and then flush the drain with hot water. And believe it or not, baking soda makes a good fabric softener. Add 1/4 cup to your washing machine during the final rinse.
Question: What's your favorite way to dry summer flowers for display next winter? -- Carol Hill, Moscow, Idaho
Mary Jane: Hang-drying is my favorite for a whole range of flowers, grasses and other plants. Long-stemmed hang-dried flowers can decorate an entire room. Twine can be strung from one wall to another, covering an entire ceiling with roses, lavender, wheat, grasses, plant pods from the iris, poppy, radish and tulip, rose hips, herbs, yarrow and straw flowers. The scape of certain hardneck varieties of garlic, serpent-like and elegant, is beautiful when hang-dried.
The timing of harvest is important when air- drying flowers and other plants. A good rule of thumb is to harvest anything with a bloom when it is about half open. It's also good to clip off most of the leaves down to the stem. If you're working with a plant that has a brittle stem, try harvesting it after it has been recently watered. Use different colored ribbons to tie your bundles or old-fashioned wooden clothespins.
For something fun and different, capture the essence of summer by freezing your favorite flowers in ice and serving them in iced teas. Place single flowers (such as pansies) or single fruits (such as raspberries) in ice cube trays filled with distilled water rather than tap water. The minerals in tap water might make your ice molds cloudy. Since most flowers float to the surface of the water, you'll need to push the plants down deeper into the water once they have become partially frozen. Use a toothpick to position them. If serving iced drinks to children, make sure to use edible varieties of flowers in the ice cubes.