The recipes below are flexible; they are meant to be guidelines. One of the greatest advantages to making herbal hair preparations at home is the opportunity to experiment and find out what works best for your own hair. The list at the end of this article suggests some herbs to try.
Always make and store herbal hair preparations in non-reactive containers; otherwise, you might find your hair turning an unexpected hue. I steep my herbs in an enamel bowl and store leftovers in the refrigerator in a plastic shampoo bottle. Before trying any new herb concoction on your scalp, dab a bit of the preparation on the inside of your elbow and cover it with a plastic bandage. Wait for 24 hours and then check for redness or itching. If you don't see or feel any allergic reaction, the preparation is probably safe to use on your head.
Herbs containing saponins that can be used for shampooing hair include soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) and yucca (Yucca filamentosa, Y. glauca). Soap-bark chips, which come from the Chilean evergreen tree Quillaja saponaria and are available from some suppliers of herb products, are a good choice for oily hair. All have a gentle cleansing action.
Finely chop 2 tablespoons fresh or 1 tablespoon dried soapwort root or leaves and stems, or substitute a similar amount of yucca roots or soap-bark. Add 1 cup warm water and agitate until suds form. If desired, use half the amount of water and add the sudsy solution to an infusion made by steeping, then straining, a handful of other herbs suited to your hair type (see the listing at the end of this article).
Massage the preparation into your scalp, about 1/2 cup for average-length hair; rinse with water and repeat soaping if necessary. The solution, odorless when fresh, may begin to ferment and smell unpleasant in a few days so make only enough to use up in a short time.
Follow this shampoo with an herbal conditioning rinse (see below).
Make an herbal infusion by pouring 4 cups boiling water over 5 tablespoons of the dried herb or herbs of your choice (see listing), or use a couple of big handfuls of fresh herbs. Chamomile flowers are often used for light hair, rosemary or sage for brunettes. Cover and steep for 30 minutes. Strain out solids, add 4 ounces of flaked or liquid castile soap, and stir.
This will make about 1 quart of shampoo, which will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. Follow it with the herbal conditioning rinse below.
Used after first rinsing out your shampoo with plain water, this vinegar solution will neutralize the alkalinity of castile or commercial shampoos, remove any hard-water residue, and leave hair feeling soft. It’s made up fresh for each shampoo.
Choose herbs for the conditioning effects appropriate to your hair type (see the listing below). Infuse 2 tablespoons dried herbs, or a couple of handfuls of fresh ones, in 4 cups boiling water. Cover and steep for 30 minutes, then strain well. Add 1 tablespoon cider vinegar. Other vinegars can be used for the same acidifying effect, but cider vinegar has a pleasant scent.
Pour this solution through hair over a basin or bowl to catch the flow, then repeat the motion about 20 times.
The familiar house plant Aloe vera has a role in the herbal hair salon. The gel from the freshly cut leaf serves as a setting gel; it leaves hair shiny, dries quickly, and tames curly hair. Use the gel as you would any other setting gel, or try it as a mousse, letting the aloe dry on the hair and then brushing as you blow-dry.
In between shampoos, or when you are traveling or ill or in a hurry, try this dry substitute. Part off sections of your hair in rows and sprinkle arrowroot powder on your hair and scalp. Work it in with your fingers. Leave it on for a few minutes to absorb hair oils, then brush hair thoroughly until it shines.
Herbs and your hair: Which do what?
The herbs listed here have been traditionally recommended for use on the hair and scalp. Before using one for the first time, take the time to do a patch test (discussed above). Use the leaves and stems unless otherwise noted.
To condition dry hair: geranium, burdock root, comfrey, elderflowers, march mallow, parsley, sage, stinging nettle.
To condition oily hair: witch hazel, calendula, horsetail, lemon balm, clary sage, yarrow, mints, rosemary, lavender, southernwood.
To give hair body and luster: sage, calendula, parsley, rosemary, watercress, stinging nettle, southernwood, linden flowers, goosegrass, horsetail, basil.
To treat dandruff: eucalyptus, lavender, clary sage, peppermint, rosemary, sage, tea tree, burdock root, stinging nettle, thyme, southernwood.
To relieve scalp irritation: chamomile, catmint leaves and flowers, comfrey.