Decorating your home with natural materials brings elements of Mother Nature indoors and lends an earthy, contemporary tone to a room. There is a wide range of natural flooring materials available, but when choosing products for use in a natural home it’s important to remember that natural doesn’t always mean sustainable. Learning more about each natural product you’re considering will help you make wise decisions about the effect your home has on the earth.
Not all natural materials are good choices for floors because some weather better than others. Look for materials that are both durable and long-lasting. Flooring in high-traffic areas should be hard and resistant to long-term wear. Floors in kitchens and bathrooms, where moisture is an issue, should be non-porous and have acid-resistant sealers applied to help prevent stains.
While some types of natural flooring tend to be harder on the earth than others, each individual product is harvested and manufactured differently. A closer look each product’s origins reveals that some manufacturers take extra steps to create a more earth-friendly material, whether it’s by using less-invasive harvesting processes or renewable energy during fabrication.
With our remodeling projects in San Jose, we’re seeing an increase in homeowners interested in both traditional natural flooring materials, such as natural stone and hardwood, and trendy, sustainable flooring materials like cork and bamboo. As you’ll see, each one has its pros and cons as a flooring option, including its benefits and drawbacks for the planet.
Hardwood floors. While wood flooring can make a room look very earthy and natural, it’s not always the most environmentally-friendly option. Wood has remained popular as a flooring material for centuries because it’s long-lasting and adaptable to a wide range of spaces and interior styles. Wood is arguably a renewable resource, but it takes decades, and sometimes centuries, to replenish itself.
Earth-conscious homeowners who want the look of wood floors in their homes can seek out wood planks that were locally harvested and manufactured or sustainably harvested from managed forests. Reclaimed wood is gaining great popularity, and locally reclaimed wood may be available in your area. While not a true hardwood, pine is one of the most plentiful types of reclaimed wood because it was traditionally low-cost and commonly used in old barns and industrial buildings around the country.
Bamboo. Although usually categorized as a wood when it comes to flooring surfaces, bamboo is really just a fibrous plant. Its ability to rapidly replenish itself makes it very popular as a renewable building material, but bamboo also carries some hidden environmental costs. Bamboo floor planks must be manufactured, a process that uses water and energy. Bamboo also requires a lot of water to grow. While its production in the United States is on the rise, bamboo flooring and other home products are mostly manufactured overseas, bearing the added environmental cost of transportation.
Yet bamboo flooring is still a more sustainable choice than most other options. And well-made bamboo planks are just as hard, durable, and long-lasting as oak, making them an excellent alternative to hardwood floors at a comparable price. Beware of inexpensive bamboo flooring, as the cheaper products tend to be softer, easily damaged, and a poor choice for floors.
Cork. Cork has been used in commercial interior design for more than a century but has been on the upswing in homes over the last decade because of its reputation as an earth-friendly product. Cork floors are a good choice for the eco-centric homeowner, as cork is a rapidly renewing resource that’s harvested under strict regulations. Cork comes from the bark of cork trees and can be harvested every few years without hurting the rest of the tree as it continues to grow for centuries.
A majority of the world’s cork is grown and manufactured in Southern Europe and Northern Africa, with Portugal producing more than 50 percent of all cork—so most cork products come with the negative effect of overseas transportation on the environment. Cork is unique from other flooring products as it’s soft underfoot but still fairly durable, naturally stain- and dirt-resistant, and low-maintenance.
Natural stone. Natural stone is one of the oldest flooring materials around and its beauty is unmatched, but it is not considered a renewable resource. It also has a reputation for being high-maintenance, easily damaged, and one of the more expensive flooring choices. Engineered stone is increasing in popularity as it looks more and more like real stone but remains highly durable and low-maintenance. While the manufacturing process requires extra energy, it also uses up waste scraps from natural stone tile and slab production.
If you’re one of many homeowners who want to integrate the look of natural stone into an environmentally-friendly home, consider using reclaimed tiles so your home doesn’t add demand to the industry. You can also choose a product from a quarry and/or manufacturer that reduces its carbon footprint by using renewable energy sources for harvesting and production.
Porcelain and ceramic tiles. Porcelain and ceramics aren’t considered natural products because they require manufacturing, but they’re engineered from natural clay and silt, making them a good choice for a home that wants to integrate earth-based products. Clay and silt are somewhat renewable resources, but the harvesting process can be invasive and the manufacturing process uses energy. As with natural stone products, eco-conscious homeowners can choose certain producers over others or seek out reclaimed materials.
Recent innovations in porcelain and ceramic tile production have given them increased durability, making them great a product for floors. Limitless format and color options make porcelain and ceramic tiles perfect for unique, custom designs, while their no-maintenance qualities make them an excellent alternative for homeowners worried about the upkeep of natural stone.
Jim Kabel is the owner and general manager of Case Design/Remodeling in San Jose, a full-service home repair and remodeling contractor dedicated to earth-friendly design.
Becki Garza is a community herbalist in Tucson, Arizona. She grew up in a south Texas border town on the Gulf of Mexico, and is a former biology teacher. She is a wife and mom to two grown-up children. Her online business, La Yerberia Herbals, takes its name from the tiny yerberias of the lower Rio Grande Valley.
In the border town where I grew up, standard selections at a restaurant were sweet tea, Coca-cola and aguas frescas. Literally translated as “fresh waters,” aguas frescas are actually herbal teas sweetened with sugar. Each state in Mexico has their own traditional flavor. In the United States the three common flavors are Horchata (cinnamon rice water), Tamarindo (a tea of Tamarind pods), and Jamaica (pronounced Ha-my-kah, a tea of hibiscus calyces—the collective sepals of a Hibiscus sabdariffa).
Aguas frescas originated as household refreshments often made as a way to use up ripe fruit. They are served by street vendors in Mexico and at most taquerias in the southwestern United States. Mexican grocers in the U.S. sell the dried calyces by the pound in open bins alongside the beans and rice.
Imagine my delight when I stumbled across an article discussing the healing properties of hibiscus. The article talked about research in which an infusion of H. sabdariffa lowered blood pressure in patients with mild hypertension. My curiosity peaked, I began to read more about this household herb.
I learned that researchers are studying water extracts (or teas) of the H. sabdariffa calyx as prevention for kidney stones, for protecting the liver from toxins, to reduce insulin resistance in type 2 diabetics and to lower triglyceride levels.
Many studies attribute the activity of H. sabdariffa to its anthocyanins, the pigments that give the calyx its red color. Calling it “red sunscreen,” one researcher described how these compounds absorb the sun’s energy and vibrate (even hum!) to protect sensitive plant tissue from damage. In humans, this protective effect can help in many different organ systems. For example in one study an extract of hibiscus proved to elevate glutathione levels (a compound necessary for detoxification by the liver) and in another study the same plant is shown to protect cells of the immune system.
Although nutraceuticals and functional foods containing H. sabdariffa are surely in the works, it is lucky for us that its tea is both delicious and easy to prepare. I like to add a bit of honey to tame its tart edge (1/8 cup herb to 2 quarts hot water plus 2 tablespoons honey). Hibiscus syrup is also delicious when added to seltzer water on ice. For holiday meals, add 1 calyx per glass of sparkling wine. The bubbles stream off the calyx making a beautiful presentation.
Hibiscus Calyces in Syrup
MAKES 4 1/2 pints
• 2 cups whole hibiscus calyces
• 5 cups water
• 5 cups sugar
• Canning jars and lids, sterilized
1. Sort through your dried hibiscus selection, choosing whole calyces.
2. Place in a pot, add water, and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
3. Using a slotted spoon or strainer, remove hibiscus calyces. Set aside and add sugar to the liquid, 1 cup at a time, stirring to dissolve sugar between cups.
4. Mix hibiscus calyces into the syrup and simmer gently 5 minutes.
5. Distribute the hibiscus calyces equally into hot jars (this recipe will fill 9 half-pint jars), then cover with syrup leaving a 1/2-inch headspace if preserving in a water bath. Refrigerate or preserve by the hot-water-canning method for 10 minutes.
Check out Becki’s products at her Poppy Swap online shop, La Yerberia Herbals. Use the promotional code YERBAS for 15 PERCENT OFF your next purchase!
Wine cork crafts are very popular right now. From homemade trivets and coasters to fancy art installations, wine corks seem to be blowing up Pinterest these days. Like the look? Pop a couple of bottles and invite some friends to help you start collecting corks. If you’re tackling a bigger project, we suggest teaming up with a local wine bar or restaurant to help you collect.
DIY Bulletin Board
Any instance in which you normally see cork is a great place to substitute in wine corks—like bulletin boards, for instance. You could buy a standard cork bulletin board from any store, or you could make your own bulletin board by upcycling old wine corks. This DIY Bulletin Board project takes just old corks, glue and ribbon to create, but you could also build your cork bulletin board in an old frame. Just use your creativity!
Wine Cork Trivet
Photos Courtesy Whole Living and Sweet Paul
Keep your countertops cool by making your own trivets out of old wine corks. You can stand them all on end in a circle to create a taller trivet, like this hose clamp-bound Cork Trivet from Whole Living (left) or this glued cork trivet from the blog Sweet Paul (right). Once on end, you can arrange the corks into any shape you want: circle, hexagon, square. Or you can lay the corks on their side and glue or bind together. Either way, it’s important to make sure all the corks are the same height so you can create a flat surface for a hot dish.
Wine Cork Coasters
Photo By Mayi Carles/Courtesy Heartmade
Using the same concept as the trivets, you can create your own coasters to keep your tables clean and ring-free. Or try a different look with these DIY Wine Cork Coasters from the blog Heartmade.
Cork Bath Mat
Photo By Monica Ewing/Courtesy Crafty Nest
Cork is soft, absorbent and naturally resistant to mold and mildew—all great reasons to make a bath mat out of wine corks. It’s surprisingly easy, and your feet will thank you. Just check out these how-to instructions from the Crafty Nest.
DIY Cork Flooring
Photo Courtesy The Phoenix Commotion
If you love the feel of cork underfoot but don’t love the cost of cork flooring, consider creating your own. This DIY project is more labor-intensive (both in terms of collecting and laying down the corks), but the result will be a truly unique but comfortable floor. Check out our article “Fab Floors” for instructions on how to lay your own wine cork floor.
Madelyn Morris is the owner of Mickelberry Gardens in Portland, Oregon. Visit her Poppy Swap online shop.
Honey, beeswax and propolis are the honeybee’s gifts and are precious medicines that work in symphony with plant-based remedies. Bee products can enhance the effectiveness, flavor, consistency and longevity of many herbal preparations.
Herbalists can benefit greatly from tending a backyard beehive in their garden. Every herbalist should consider backyard beekeeping!
Here are the products from the beehive that belong in every herbalist’s toolkit:
+ Raw honey. It is made from the nectar of millions of flowers. Raw honey benefits include astounding healing properties for many conditions, from internal GI conditions to topical burns and wounds.
+ Beeswax. This is the bee’s structural masterpiece, and it lends an incomparable quality to preparations for the skin.
+ Propolis. It is the bee’s own herbal remedy, assembled from plant resins. It is uniquely designed to keep fungal and bacterial outbreaks at bay.
Here are the other benefits that come with keeping bees:
+ Pollination. A beehive placed in the herbalist’s garden will improve the pollination for many plants.
+ Enjoyment. The bee’s dance of interconnection with the plants and the sun are ripe sources for inspiration and information. Herbalists can enhance their craft by looking deeply into the relationship between bees, flowers, and themselves.
+ Wellness. With a beehive, the luxury of tasting a bit of raw local honey on your tongue every day is possible and may create a feeling of deeper connection to your surroundings—while also soothing your digestive and respiratory tracts.
For my husband and I, building a sustainable livelihood in partnership with our honeybees stemmed from keeping bees in our backyard and making medicines from our harvest. We learned to keep bees organically on our urban permaculture farm, influenced by biodynamic beekeeping techniques and the mentorship of an experienced beekeeper. My interest in plants, gardening and self-care inspired me to develop folk herbal remedies, so we began to carefully collect raw honey, beeswax and propolis and incorporate them into hand-crafted, raw, honey-based herbal syrups, beeswax salves, raw honey skin treatments, and propolis tinctures. We now offer honeybee-infused plant-based remedies at our community farmer’s markets, retail shops, naturopathic clinics, and online.
At Mickelberry Gardens, building a more balanced partnership between humans, honeybees, and ecosystems is a core company value. Because we keep untreated beehives exclusively on organic farmland, our hive products are very pure. Mickelberry Gardens now collaborates with small organic Oregon growers to provide honeybee crop pollination, and improve bee habitat. Additionally, we teach classes about natural beekeeping methods, gardening for pollinators, the health benefits of honeybee products, and making and using folk remedies. We are also developing pollinator curriculum for school garden programs.
Finding a beekeeper that is willing to teach you how they tend the bees is a valuable initiation into beekeeping. Deepening your relationship with the bees is an awesome learning process. Ask yourself these questions and see if you are interested in keeping a hive of bees!
Do you want to know what nectars the honeybees drink in your region or what crops they pollinate? Do you love raw honey and appreciate the beauty of the honeycomb and its mysterious development? Is there a beekeeper near your home that will let you visit the hives and share his or her skills?
Well, what are you waiting for? Make friends with the bees and their keepers. And be sure to visit us online to discover our wonderful honeybee herbal creations!
Check out Madelyn's Poppy Swap online shop, Mickelberry Gardens, and get 15 PERCENT OFF your first order! Use coupon code “BEES” to take advantage of this discount.
I’m in the process of moving to a new place, and one of the aspects I’m most excited for is infusing my new home with color. Color fascinates me, from the variations between hues to how different colors unconsciously affect our mental state. Color can stimulate, or it can subdue. It can suppress appetite, or it can make you hungry. So which is color is best for the different rooms in our homes? I started by looking at feng shui's approach to color in the home.
The bedroom is the room I’m most excited about working with—and, in my opinion, the most important room to get right. The bedroom is my sanctuary, where I’ll go to relax and rejuvenate, so I don’t want the wrong colors. For bedrooms, feng shui philosophy recommends muted, subdued colors like earth tones and pastels. Colors that stimulate and promote activity, like bright red, orange, purple and pink, are not recommended. Although dark colors like navy, brown, grey and dark green might seem like a good option—a dark environment is well suited for sleeping, right?—these colors can be depressing. Light colors will keep you grounded and promote rest.
My husband will spend a lot of time working in our home office, so this is another room in my book where color choice is important. Unlike the bedroom, stimulating colors are okay for the home office. Feng shui recommends bright colors to promote activity, or white or cream to promote mental clarity. Dark tones should be avoided (and, in my opinion, so should the light and pastel colors that make the bedroom relaxing; I don’t want him falling asleep while working!).
Kitchens are a place of activity, so bright colors are recommended in feng shui. They’re also areas where we need to be focused, as safety can be an issue, so earth tones that make you feel grounded are also good choices. Yellow is most often the “feng shui” color recommended for kitchens.
I spend a fair amount of time in the bathroom getting ready each day (I also find it a relaxing room), so it’s important for my bathroom to reflect the proper energy as well. Balance is important in feng shui; because the bathroom already has so many water elements, feng shui recommends avoiding blues, which add more water, and choosing balancing earthy tones or whites for the bathroom.
Feng shui isn’t the only model to choose from. AFM Safecoat recommends choosing paint colors from its Ayurveda Essence line based on your personal dosha. For Vata types, AFM recommends earthy colors that subdue; for Pitta, complex and cooling colors; and for Kapha; warming, stimulating colors. (To find your personal dosha, take the Chopra Center’s Dosha Quiz.)
Feng shui and Ayurveda aside, personal choice should have just as much sway in choosing color for your home. As author Carol Venolia said in her May/June 2012 Design for Life column,“Free yourself from color trends, fears, myths and manipulation, and reclaim your relationship with color. Throw away what you’ve been told about which colors are good for you, and savor your own personal color experience… Always trust how you feel about a color more than what someone says about it.”
Image: Photo By Kevin J. Miyazaki
Camille is a licensed aesthetician and operator of Autumn Moon Aesthetics. Her holistic skin care practice incorporates natural, handmade products, herbal therapy, aromatherapy and energetic bodywork. She encourages individuals to become more connected to their body and the Earth by creating natural products at home. Visit her blog Skin Care For Your Soul.
With the warm weather approaching and garden season heating up, it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day. Jazz up your daily water intake using herbs and fruits!
Herb infused waters are refreshing, hydrating and simple to make.
This water is infused with berries, rose petals and vanilla.
Vanilla bean brings a subtly sweet quality to these three waters, making them a great alternative to sweetened drinks. Combined with refreshing herbs like mint and lemongrass, and sweet fruits like orange and blackberry, you have a healthy and tasty beverage that takes only minutes to make.
Lemongrass, Mint and Vanilla Infused Water
• 1 large stalk lemongrass, chopped coarsely and crushed slightly
• 1/4 cup fresh peppermint, chopped coarsely
• 1/2 large vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise (I used vanilla beans from Mountain Rose Herbs for all of my recipes.)
Cardamom, Orange and Vanilla Infused Water
• 1 large organic orange, sliced
• 1 tablespoon cardamom
• 1/2 large vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise
Blackberry, Rose and Vanilla Infused Water
• 3/4 cup fresh or frozen blackberries and/or raspberries
• 1/4 cup dried pink rose petals (I used petals from Mountain Rose Herbs.)
• 1/2 large vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise
Make flavored water with a pitcher large enough for your social gathering.
Photos by Camille Leinbach
How To Make Flavored Water
1. Place ingredients in a 1/2-gallon pitcher and fill with cold, pure water.
2. Allow the water to sit refrigerated overnight (or longer) to allow the flavors to infuse.
3. Strain the water and return it to the pitcher. Keep the pitcher in the fridge to keep it chilled. Drink within a few days.
You can adjust the amounts to add more or less of a certain flavor. Get creative with ingredients or use what you have on hand. I’d love to hear your creations!
Using salvaged or reclaimed materials around the home is a great way to bring creativity to your interior design while helping out the planet. Some reclaimed materials naturally make sense for the home—salvaged wood, recycled glass, reclaimed metal. Others, not so much. Bottle caps fall into this latter category. These colorful collectibles are easy to toss without a second thought, but they offer so much potential for a spark of color and creativity for the home. Check out these five ideas for ways to bring bottle caps into your home in a stylish manner.
Bottle Cap Pull
Photo Courtesy Natural Home & Garden Archives
This simple project requires a minimal amount of bottle caps, making it a great craft to start with. Stringing together a half dozen or so caps creates a fun, funky lamp pull that will be easy to find and grasp in the dark. It’s fairly simple to make, but check out the article “Try This: Bottle Cap Lamp Pull” if you need a little assistance.
Bottle Cap Tray
Photo Courtesy Sweet Something Designs
Jazz up an otherwise boring breakfast tray by covering the bottom in bottle caps. For this bottle cap tray, Michelle of the blog Sweet Something Designs painted over the caps she was going to use to create a uniform look. For instructions on making your own, check out her post “Bottle Cap Tray.”
Bottle Cap Table
Photo Courtesy Instructables.com
If you like the look of the bottle cap tray, why not take it further and decorate a larger surface—like a coffee table? If the caps are colored to a uniform pallet, a bottle cap table could look snazzy in your living room. You could also try arranging caps by color to create swirls or designs.
Bottle Cap Backsplash
Photo Courtesy Apartment Therapy
Perfect for wet bars or even just an informal kitchen, bottle caps put the “splash” back in “backsplash.” Check out our article “Try This: Mosaic Bathroom Backsplash” for instructions on creating your own unique backsplash.
Bottle Cap Floor
For the avid collector of bottle caps, this DIY floor project is the mother of all bottle cap crafts. Low-cost homebuilders Phoenix Commotion covered the bathroom floor of their eclectic Bone House with bottle caps, treating the materials like mosaic tiles to achieve the look. For info on how to install a bottle cap floor, check out the article “Unique Flooring: 5 Low-Cost DIY Ideas.”
Have other ideas on how to creatively use bottle caps in your home? Share them in the comments section! We always love to hear from our readers.