Homemade Lavender and Peppermint Salt Scrub

lavender and peppermint epsom salt scrub

Ah, nothing says it’s festive season time quite like peppermint. Except maybe cinnamon. Or that unique smell of pine trees. Or even woodstove fire smell! They’re all pretty awesome too and I guess that means actually a great number of things say that it’s festive time. For today, though, let’s just talk about peppermint. And lavender.

I’ve made scrubs before (oatmeal sugar scrub)  and I’ve used peppermint before (body butter, anyone?), but this is my first foray into a peppermint scrub. I’ve seen a few different scrub recipes out there, and I thought it was a lovely idea to use epsom salts (provided you can find a particle size you like) as the scrub base.

lavender and peppermint epsom salt scrub

For one, salt has antiseptic/antibacterial qualities (salt water rinses for colds and sore throats are a wonderful use of salt), making it great for areas like, say, your bikini line where you want to both exfoliate and keep the area free from infection or other inflammation after a wax (IMMEDIATELY post-wax a salt scrub might sting, though, so perhaps hold off there).

As a second benefit, epsom salts are mineral compounds that contain high levels of magnesium – apparently epsom salt is a combination of magnesium and sulfate. (I’m not shilling for any specific brand, but this website has a nice list of the benefits of epsom salts). Magnesium is great for your body as a muscle relaxer, which is why people use it in baths – magnesium helps alleviate muscle cramps and pain. Epsom salts are also supposed to have detoxification capabilities, helping to draw wastes and flush toxins from the body.

Now, while I recognize that your body won’t take in as many of the benefits of epsom salts from this external, brief use (compared to say, bathing in an epsom salt solution), it’s a nice potential fringe benefit. And of course, another coarse quality sea salt will do too, if that’s what you have in supply.

lavender and peppermint epsom salt scrub

Another benefit? Peppermint and lavender essential oils are stress-relieving and help you avoid the use of chemical or synthetic fragrances, found in so many other conventional skin-care products.

So scrub on! I love using this scrub in the shower. It smells wonderful and the warm water in the shower swirls the peppermint smell around. The lavender buds are optional – they look pretty, but quite frankly they mostly just make a mess in the shower before bee-lining straight down the drain. So, your option.

Happy pepperminting. Let this scrub help you be merry and bright!

Homemade Lavender and Peppermint Salt Scrub

  • Author: Backyard Owl
  • Recipe Notes: gluten-free, depending on your choice of oils and salts; delicious-smelling


  • 3/4 -1 cup epsom salts, or a mix of coarse and fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup skincare oil, like sweet almond, apricot kernel, jojoba
  • 4-6 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 6-8 drops lavender essential oil


  1. Mix salt and oil together in a small bowl until all salt is well incorporated and appears wet and sand-like.
  2. Add essential oils.
  3. Scoop into your favourite little mason jars or other containers. I like glass jars best – most sanitary and also you can see your scrub through the jar.
  4. NOTE: Unlike with sugar scrubs, I find the oil kind of sinks to the bottom after a while of sitting in the jar. So, after a few uses you might notice you’re able to add a bit more salt to equalize the salt-to-oil ratio.

© Backyard Owl


An Introduction to Balcony Gardening – Part Three: 9 Tips for Success

sweet potato vine coleus containerPart 3 in the Adventures in Gardening Series.

We’ve reached the final post in Backyard Owl’s Adventures in Gardening – Container Gardening series. We’ve talked about the advantages of container gardening, and which plants are easy to grow in containers. Now, it’s time to review some tips for success – the things I’ve learned through my planting experiences that I think will set you up best for a verdant and productive balcony/container garden. Coaxing life out little seeds and seedlings isn’t always the most straightforward process; luckily Mother Nature does a lot to help you and your plants out. Because really that’s what gardening is all about: figuring out the optimal conditions to make your plants thrive, helping out and correcting conditions when required, and letting Mother Nature do the rest.

Backyard Owl’s 9 Tips for Container Growing Success

Really, the key things to consider are light, drainage, soil quality, and water. Here are some tips that will help you figure out how best to set up your garden:

  • purchase soil specific to container growing. Crops in containers need better drainage and lighter soil, so purchasing a specific “potting soil” mix is important.
  • purchase an organic soil or vegan soil if you can. I think we can be kind to the environment, even when we are purchasing soil. And remember, you are going to be eating some of these plants, so makes sense to choose a healthy soil foundation, and you might not be keen to use soil that contains the manure of factory-farmed animals. You can look for soil that is OMRI-certified, which is an organic certification for soils. It’s a good first step.
  • amend your soil with quality (animal-free) soil amendments, like sea kelp powder or worm castings compost/worm compost tea. You can purchase great amendments at many online or more unique garden stores, like Urban Harvest.
  • become a container gardening guru by reading “Grow Great Grub” by Gayla Trail. This is, hands-down, the best book you can find to introduce you to the world of container gardening. If you go in armed with nothing else with this book, you will succeed.
  • note which plants need full sun and which prefer shade/part-shade. The beauty of growing in containers is that you can move things about to suit plant needs and follow the sun.
  • be prepared to create some animal-friendly/plant-protecting tools. For example, one year I fashioned “cloches” out of chicken-wire to deter interested squirrels. Squirels think that fresh soil means a potential nut-fest, and they will rip out plants with abandon, even once the little plant has begun growing. Covering the container with a little chicken-wire cage can help beans (or any plant you are growing from seed) get the growing start they need. Squirrels seem to lose interest once a certain stage of growth has been reached.
  • make sure your containers have good drainage. Most plants like plenty of water, but they don’t like to sit in that water. Ensure that the containers you’ve purchased have holes in the bottom to allow the water to run through, or have a built-in plant saucer or other mechanism for letting water out. You can also put gravel or small rocks at the very bottom of your pot to help create a good drainage system.
  • water regularly and deeply. Containers are often on the smaller side and dry out more quickly than regular soil. Be sure to water your plants daily, or perhaps even twice daily, and water deeply enough to encourage the roots to grow down into the container for a healthy and strong root system. If you water too lightly, the water doesn’t penetrate the soil and the roots have no incentive to grow down beyond the surface. I often water until water runs out the bottom of the pot. Then I know the soil has been fully saturated with water. And because I have good drainage and the right potting soil, I don’t worry that the water will just bog down the pot.


  • beautiful zinniaRemember that plants just want to grow. Seriously. In my experience, even in poor conditions, plants just really want to spread their leaves and reach for the sun. You’ll be amazed how fast they grow, and how much beautiful green awesome-ness you can enjoy from what was previously a tiny little seed sitting in your hand.

Enjoyed this post? Take a look at the previous series here: Part 1: Why Grow Crops in Pots? and Part 2: Easy Plants to Grow.

© 2014 Backyard Owl

15 Tips for Reducing Food Packaging Waste

pking wasteLet’s talk about reducing food packaging and food packaging waste. But first, let’s talk about stress and energy. I had a stressful week. One of my beautiful, lovely, (and I thought: safe) indoor cats had a fluke accident, needed surgery, experienced some complications from the surgery, and had to stay at the vet’s for several days of additional care. Hopefully I get to pick him up and take him home tomorrow.  This, needless to say, was stressful. And also costly. Looking at pet insurance is now on my to-do list. But the point is, I don’t know about you, but when I get stressed, my energy levels drop into my boots. Going to work and coming home seem about the most I can manage, and cooking meals, writing blog entries, tending to my community garden plot, and going biking all seem to take a lot more energy than they did before. So when I was thinking about these tips for reducing food packaging, I wanted them to be easy enough and manageable enough that they could be attempted even during a stressful week, even when energy is low, and even when there are so many other things vying for our attention.

At its heart, reducing food packaging waste is really about two things: good intentions and planning. Together, good intentions and planning help you forge new habits and awareness when it comes to food packaging. Before you know it, you’ll be wondering why it is that you haven’t had to empty your garbage or your recycling in weeks, because they are just so darn empty. And you’ll feel a hop in your step, because your impact on the planet is lighter and you know yourself to be a conscious consumer.

15 Tips for Reducing Food Packaging and Food Packaging Waste

  1. Get inspired and get educated. Read about people who have taken it to the next level and ignite your own passion for kicking excess packaging to the curb. I like My Plastic-Free Life as an example.
  2. Bring your own grocery bags. Leave reusable bags in your car, or get a tiny one that folds up and keep it in your purse. You’ll almost always need a bag at the grocery store, so why not reduce the packaging you need to carry your other packaging home?
  3. Bring your own produce bags or skip them altogether. You know those people who pull plastic bags off the rollers at the grocery store like they’re pulling toilet paper off the roll and/or starting a lawnmower? Don’t be one of those people. Either bring a few small bags along, skip the bags altogether (you’re going to peel and/or wash the food first, right? and I’m assuming there isn’t any contaminating meat in your cart) or purchase a set of washable, reusable mesh produce bags. I have four such bags and they are worth their weight in gold. There is a whole world of reusable bags out there. Check out all these fun options.
  4. Shop at the bulk store and bring your own bulk bags. This one can be tricky, because buying six chocolate almonds and putting them in a fresh bag each week might not be the best way to reduce food packaging. My secret? Keep the bags! When I get home, I pour the grains/flours/chocolate chips I’ve purchased into jars, and then I fold up the bags and store them in the pantry. Next time you might be going to the bulk store, just toss ’em in your reusable shopping bag, and use them for your next purchase. Now, some bulk stores have more stringent rules around health and safety, so just be prepared that if you accidentally scoop four pounds of the wrong kind of cashew into your bag from home, there are no put backs. You scoop it, you bought it.
  5. Shop at your local farmers’ market and bring your own bags. You know we couldn’t get through this list without a good farmers’ market reference. Mushrooms, dried tomatoes, olives, fresh fruit and vegetables, hummus, sauces, bulk foods, the list goes on and on. Most markets have an indoor and/or an outdoor part, and between the two, they cover most things you might need, and, frequently, without any packaging. Plus, farmers’ markets will often let you use your own bags, and the money goes directly to the farmer or farm stand, without supporting (I’m going to get a little political on you here) the pseudo-corporate advertising and processed food playground that is often the large chain supermarket.
  6. Shop at your local co-op or independent grocery store (and yes, bring your own bags). Again, same reasons apply. Most foods come from closer by, you can use your own bags, you can form a relationship with the store and its employees, and you will generally have more options for local, organic, unpackaged foods.
  7. Develop a collection of bags for different purposes and keep them organized. You might notice a bit of a ‘bring your own bags’ refrain here. I think of my pantry bag selection as just being part of my overall storage collection. I have glass storage containers, mason jars, shopping bags, produce bags, bulk item bags, paper bags, etc. Then, when I review my grocery list, I just decide what bags I might need, pop them into the reusable bag, and off I go.
  8. Don’t buy packaged produce. This one is pretty straightforward. Avoid buying foods that come packaged in styrofoam containers, or wrapped in foil, or in a non-recyclable bag, especially if there are unpackaged versions sitting right beside hoping to get your attention.
  9. Bring your own travel mug. I admit, I wouldn’t initially have thought of this because I so infrequently purchase drinks. I don’t say that to be ‘rah rah Emily’ – I’m just being honest (I have other vices, don’t worry). However, if you are an avid coffee or beverage purchaser, you can make a significant dent in your personal waste footprint by bringing your own mug.
  10. Bring your own doggie bag container. This one involves a certain amount of pre-planning, it’s true. But if you can pull it off, hats off to you. If you know are you are going out for dinner, bring along an extra glass tupperware container. I almost never manage to eat my entire meal, and that means even your restaurant meal ends up with food packaging waste in the form of styrofoam containers. Put the second half of your black bean burrito in your own container, and the magic happens. A second meal with no packaging waste.
  11. Avoid purchasing individually packaged items. Throwing out a little package every time you want a snack isn’t really a great way to go, and plus, those stupid 100 calorie treat things are never satisfying anyways.
  12. Make it yourself. Homemade foods are fresher, healthier, and (almost always) better tasting. Making your own muffins, cookies, breads, pizza crusts, almond milk, hummus, spice blends, and so on really reduces packaging, especially if the ingredients were bought at the bulk store in bags you brought from home.
  13. Buy it in season and freeze/preserve/dry/sauce it. I canned for the first time last year – not nearly as scary as I thought, and not a single incident of botulism. Buy a few extra containers of tomatoes or strawberries or rhubarb each time you shop at the market and freeze it. That might save a few plastic bags down the line in January when you want some strawberries and the only ones for sale are from New Zealand or come frozen in a non-recyclable plastic bag.
  14. Try glass straws. This one seems kind of random, maybe, but if you are a serial smoothie drinker, you know what I’m talking about. Glass straws are washable, reusable, and especially handy if you want something to protect your teeth while drinking your morning lemon and water.  I have this straw from Upaya Naturals and I love it. It’s strawsome (I did not come up with that).
  15. If you have to purchase something in a package, look for something recyclable, like glass, BPA-free cans, or recyclable plastic, or something you know you can use again. For cereals, try to buy the kind that just come in a recyclable bag, not a non-recyclable bag inside a box. Buy soups in mason jars and keep the jars for storage. Wash out bulk bags and use them again. Keep twist ties and rubber bands. You get the idea.

If you have any other tips, please share them below!

And remember, this isn’t about perfection. It isn’t about never buying another container of manufactured almond milk. Remember the stressful week above? I definitely caved and bought some almond milk in a package. I made homemade, too, but it didn’t last the week and I didn’t feel up to making more. The point is to make some strides, however small, towards making your grocery trip an empowered experience: heavy on the delicious healthy foods and light on the packaging and planet. Try one tip for the next month. Or try two. Or lovingly kiss your almond milk tetrapack goodbye and vow to never purchase packaged almond milk again. Choose your level. It’s a cliche, but it’s true: every little bit helps.

Chocolate Chip & Raisin Almond Pulp CookiesAnd now, I’m off to make some more chocolate chip almond pulp cookies. Waste reducing and food upcycling at its finest. Until next time!

© 2014 Backyard Owl


The June Challenge – Reducing Food Packaging Waste

June challengeI got to thinking about food waste after perusing a copy of Meghan Telpner’s UnDiet that I had borrowed from the library. In the book, Meghan talks about how, with respect to waste, “there is no away.” It’s quite a concept, really. When we are finished with something, we usually just throw it “away.” But where it away? In reality, it’s usually a big pit of garbage somewhere outside our city’s limits, where we pile up waste, build a berm around it, and hope not too many people complain about the smell. Out of sight, out of mind is the big theory there. But in reality, our garbage lives on, for years and years and years, likely beyond our lifespans. It sounds almost too ridiculous to be real – and yet it’s the destination, every day, every hour, of the things we throw ‘away.’ I thought then about food packaging, which is in many ways the most frustrating of the packaging conundrums.. Mushrooms in styrofoam containers, carrots in bags, cereal in boxes. It struck me that perhaps it was time to make some more changes. I’ve made lots of them before – vegetarian to vegan, healthy to healthier, packaged foods to whole foods – but despite them all, I hadn’t quite managed to kick food packaging to the curb.

I confess, when I first came up with this personal challenge for June, my plan was to go “zero-packaging” for 30 days. I said, Emily ol’ chum, if you can’t find a non-packaged version, you just won’t buy it. And you’ll make ALL of your own almond milk and crackers and granola and anything else you want that you might ordinarily purchased packaged, and you’ll be off to the races. But then my mind got to thinking, as it sometimes does: what about olive oil and coconut oil? What about things at the farmers’ market that sometimes already come in bags, like lettuce or herbs? What about products I don’t have the time or expertise to make, like miso or tofu?

spring rhubarbSo, I tweaked the plan a little. Instead of no packaging at all, which might end in me stressed and hungrily eyeing tofu in the grocery store, my aim for June instead is to become really food-packaging conscious. It has been some time since I’ve really turned a scrutinous eye to this part of my food process. I hope to find out if there are new ways that I can reduce packaging in my life and then I’ll share those tips and challenges with you in a later post. For now, my plan is thusly:


  • food packaging that is not recyclable
  • packaging from processed foods for which bulk substitutes are available (i.e. breakfast cereal)
  • packaging for food products I can easily make at home, i.e. granola, almond milk
  • packaging for produce (i.e. bags for carrots) or other items that don’t need to come in a package

What I’m allowing:

  • coconut or olive oil in a recyclable jar (if I need to purchase some)
  • reusable bags that I bring myself to the bulk store
  • some bulk items that come in packages I will re-use for other purchases at a later time
  • packaging for things like multivitamins, B12 supplements, etc.
  • packaging for food for my cats
  • BPA-free canned beans (I know, I know, this is basically a total cheat. Canned beans are so much more expensive and take so much more packaging energy, but in the summer, it’s already hot and humid here in Ontario, and thanks but no thanks I can’t have a steaming pot on the stove in my small apartment turning it into a sauna.)

Ultimately, the goal is to really take a step back and look critically at food packaging – what packaging is necessary? what is recyclable? what is reusable? what can be made at home? are there other places I could be finding alternatives, like the farmer’s market or the bulk store?

June is a good month to test this plan, I think, because most fruits and vegetables are available at the farmer’s market and anything that isn’t available at the market likely isn’t in season anyways.

What will I have to change to accommodate my reduced-packaging plan?

  • store-bought almond milk becomes homemade almond milk
  • cold multi-grain flake processed breakfast cereal becomes raw buckwheat groat porridge OR homemade granola (like this awesome buckwheat granola) OR cereal I have purchased from the bulk store
  • sparkling kombucha becomes water with lemon (until I splurge on some kind of fizzer machine, which, let’s face it, will be never)
  • organic produce will have to be found package-free – this means no baby kale in the plastic tub, and no herbs in prepackaged containers

IMG_0889I acknowledge, though, the varying levels of difficulty in reducing packaging. You may not live near a bulk store. You may not have access to a farmer’s market. You might find that the only produce available to you is packaged, and therefore, it’s eat a carrot and throw away a package or eat no carrots. I’m primarily testing this as a means of seeing what is achievable and what isn’t, for me personally, without undue levels of insanity. I would encourage you to do the same. Your challenge might not look like mine, and it might not look like anybody else’s, but the point is that you are trying.

It can be really easy to get stuck in a grocery plateau – you have the products you normally buy and the stores you normally go to and you just go on auto-pilot in terms of thinking about those products. I know how it goes. Routines create efficiency and it takes time and energy to re-focus on our habits and see if we can make changes. But challenge yourself to try something small: to find one alternative for a packaged item. To wash out and save a bag and reuse it for another purchase later. To shop once at the market and just see what can be found. Every little positive change makes a difference – one less piece of plastic in a landfill, one more person who knows there is no ‘away’.

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.” – African Proverb


© 2014 Backyard Owl




Easy Grapefruit Lavender Sugar Scrub for Smooth, Radiant Skin

Easy Grapefruit Lavender ScrubAh, the first golden glimmerings of spring! They’ve been felt at last. The smell of earth, the kind of moist damp feeling in the air, the lightness in your step when you are no longer weighed down by 10 pound boots and a 10 pound jacket. It’s the kind of weather that makes total strangers laugh giddily together as they point and gawk at a faded green patch of grass, because there is something marvellous in remembering that something else really does lie beneath the three feet of dirty snow that has otherwise been part of the landscape for the past four months. Do I exaggerate? Actually no. That really happened to me. Yesterday, in fact. It was glorious.

But more to the point. Not only does this weather put a hop in your step, it is a gentle reminder that soon you will shed your additional layers and be able to show your pale, Vitamin-D starved skin some golden rays (and I am talking about gentle golden rays here, like delicate morning sun). And when you finally show that skin, it would be nice if it were glowing, smooth, and healthy-looking, no?

Sugar ScrubSo here is a recipe for a very simple sugar scrub that you can whip up in short order, slather on in the shower, and feel pretty virtuous about – no bad chemicals, no dubious fragrances – just simple kitchen ingredients. Sugar is great for your skin (topically, that is) – the glycolic acid it contains is a kind of natural alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), which you would normally pay big bucks for at the store. The granules of sugar also make it a fabulous physical exfoliator. So you have the chemical exfoliant, the physical exfoliant, the moisturizing oil – get excited, because it’s all happening. And if that weren’t enough, golden sugar is just really pretty. And lavender smells good.

Easy Grapefruit Lavendar Sugar Scrub

  • 1 cup golden turbinado or demerera sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar (or an additional 1/3 cup of the same sugar as above)
  • 2 tbsps grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 cup oil (I used sunflower, but you could try olive oil, jojoba, almond, etc.)
  • 5-15 drops lavender essential oil (or vanilla, lime, bergamot, lemon, orange, cinnamon, lemon – or any combination of the above. Go where your nose leads). The amount depends on the odiferous strength of your particular essential oil.

Mix the ingredients together until paste-like. Scoop into glass jars (I like to use oversized jam jars). When showering or bathing, massage firmly into skin and then rinse well.

Easy Grapefruit Lavender Sugar Scrub

Radiant skin is just a scrub away!

Important Notes: the oil may separate from the rest of your mix – not to worry! Just stir it up and continue on your merry way. Also, because this contains oil, use some caution in the shower. I’d hate to see anyone slip and cause injury all in the name of radiant skin.

Also, as I’ve tried to indicate, you can basically add whatever fragrances, juices, zests, oils, or sugar you like. The key is to make a paste that has a bit of heft, so it won’t just fall off your skin immediately. In addition, the more ‘real foods’ you incorporate, the short the shelf-life. Use these scrubs in a month or less, I’d say. If you don’t add any grapefruit juice, I think you can just use the scrub at your leisure.

Scrub it up!

© 2014 Backyard Owl

Pretty Packages: ideas for eco-friendly gift wrapping

Gift tags made from paint colour chips!

Gift tags made from paint colour chips

Images of the holidays often include a bounty of presents under a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. The gifts are tastefully wrapped, with colour-coordinated festive paper and impeccably-tied ribbons and bows. What the images never show, however, is the gift-opening aftermath: piles of ripped paper, discarded bows, and torn packaging, all used once and then sent to the landfill. Not so ho ho ho. For many years, I’ve encouraged my family to wrap my gifts in newspaper, and I’ll be honest – the pleasure of opening a gift that someone has carefully selected for me has not been dimished by the fact that there aren’t dancing santas on the gift wrap. In fact, if anything, I feel even better about the gift, knowing that it hasn’t brought me joy at the expense of the environment.

That said, most of us don’t want to just throw our gifts in burlap bags and call it a day (though if that works for you, go for it!). Plus, wrapping a gift is its own special activity and is about taking time to prepare something special for someone you love. But if you get creative, I think you’ll be surprised at how you can make your gifts fun, festive, AND eco-friendly. A few tips to get you started on your journey:

  1. First of all, reusable generally trumps recyclable. My mom owns a series of lovely holiday boxes that she uses each year for gifts. The boxes come with a fitted lid, so once you pop the gift in, you really don’t even have to do anything else, unless you want to add a bow. Resusable gift bags are great too.
  2. Try wrapping with newspaper. A neatly wrapped gift is a neatly wrapped gift, and newspaper is nice because you can still do your patented folded edges or twisted bonbon shapes. At the end, the parts not covered with tape can be easily tossed into the recycling bin.
  3. After the gift opening ceremony, collect the bows and ribbons and pop them into a bag for next year. With ribbon, so long as you don’t tie too tightly, the ribbon can be undone and rolled up and saved again for next year.
  4. If you are a crafty sort, sew up some fabric bags from leftover fabric you might have. A quick drawstring bag could hold many a gift for many a holiday season and is easily folded and stored.
  5. This is a very neat idea: make gift labels out of paint chip cards you might have. I went through a phase where I was very into collecting paint chips in beautiful colours, for future home decorating plans. A quick trim and I now have beautiful gift tags.
  6. And also for gift tags: save them! If you usually give to the same people each year, why not just collect the tags and use them again?
  7. Other ideas to help you gift wrap:
  • empty toilet paper rolls
  • terracotta plant pots
  • empty boxes (I keep my boxes from well.ca and use those again)
  • paper and tissue from things you might have ordered online
  • blankets
  • tea towels
  • yarn or string
  • clean glass or plastic jars

Happy Wrapping!