Regardless of your age – your skin is only about 30 days old…

I enjoy chatting with customers and often ask what they want me to blog about next. “Skin, how skin works, how skincare works” have been popular answers in the last couple of weeks. Because this is such a large and extensive topic, in order to do it justice I’m going to break this into segments and make it a series.

Skin has a lot of jobs. It is the front line barrier to foreign invaders (bacteria, viruses, fungi, toxins) and the environment, helps regulate our body temperature, and contains a complex system for allowing us to interact with our environment-permitting us to experience touch, pain, pressure, heat, cold, and irritation. Skin controls water loss and prevents nutrients from being washed from the skin.

On average a person has about twenty square feet of skin, making it the largest and heaviest of the body’s organs. Skin accounts for about 1/7 of a person’s body weight. Each square inch of skin contains approximately 20 blood vessels, more than 1000 nerve endings, and over 600 sweat glands. All this and it is only a few millimeters thick.

Skin is made of 3 layers: Epidermis, Dermis, Subcutaneous

The Epidermis is the outermost layer and the one we are the most acquainted with because it’s what we see every day. The epidermis is a waterproof barrier that gives skin its color, protects us from the external environment and creates new cells. The epidermis itself is about 0.3 mm thick, though on heavily used parts of the body (soles and palms) it can be up to 4 mm thick including calluses. The epidermis consists of 4 or 5 distinct layers, each with a different job.

Histological cut showing Epidermal layers magnified about 1500x

The Stratum corneum is the top layer of the epidermis and consists of 20-30 layers of cells. This layer consists of dead keratinocytes. This tough horny layer makes our skin tougher and able to form thick calluses. It also seals the skin off from the outside environment; however, there are connective structions called dermal papillae that connect the dermis and epidermis allowing for oxygen, nutrients and waste to pass between the layers so it is not an impermeable layer.

Calluses are formed in response to pressure or rubbing. This causes the epidermis to grow faster and results in a hardened layer of skin on the surface. Only the cells directly beneath the pressure respond. This is why guitar players form calluses where their fingers are in contact with the strings, and a callus forms on the back of heels when wearing shoes that rub.

The layer Stratum lucidum is directly beneath the Stratum corneum in thick skin (soles & palms) only. This is a thin transparent layer consisting of two to three layers of cells.

Stratum granulosum is three to five layers of cells thick and contains lipid rich granules.

The Stratum spinosum is eight to ten layer of cells thick. The cells in this layer of epidermis are irregular in shape and look a little like spines.

Stratum basale is the deepest layer of the epidermis and is constantly producing new skin cells. This layer contains the skin pigment cells, melanocytes and also helps protect the skin from sun damage.

As the cells are constantly produced in the Stratum basale, they push the layers of cells above them. Each cell then passes through the different layers of epidermis and this takes about a month. So each cell you can see is only about 30 days old! You continually have opportunity to start treating your skin gently and make a difference in its life – and yours!

Histological cut of the skin layer magnified about 1500x

The middle layer of skin is the Dermis and it’s purpose is to protect the body from stress and strain. The dermis houses the hair follicles, lymphatic and blood vessels in addition to sweat glands, sebaceous glands, and receptors for pressure, pain and heat. This layer of skin makes sweat and oil, provides sensation recognition, and grows hair.

The dermis consists of two layers. The papillary region which has finger-like projections that push into the epidermis giving it a lumpy surface. These projections are responsible for fingertip patterns. The reticular region is the is the rest of the dermis and is made up of collagen, a tough elastic network of fibers that allow skin a stretch response. However, if skin is stretched a lot the dermis can tear and this is seen as light lines just below the surface. We know these as stretch marks. The dermis is approximately as thick as a sheet of paper, making it three times thicker than the epidermis.

The deepest layer of skin is called the Subcutaneous layer, hypodermis, or subcutis. It’s made up mostly of fat, connective tissue, and an elastic protein called elastin that help tissue return to their shape after stretching. The dermis also bulges into this layer and creates folds of tiny cavities that are filled with a tissue of fat and water. The fat behaves as a shock absorber and insulation. Many hormones and Vitamin D are produced inn the fat cells of the subcutis.

Throughout a person’s lifetime skin undergoes a great deal of change. It becomes thinner and more easily damaged, the insulating and shock absorbing capacities lessen, and the amount of collagen (and therefore the elasticity) decreases. Additionally, exposure to UV rays, hormonal changes, environmental, and genetic factors can add to premature aging.

There are measures we can take to keep our skin in the best condition possible. While we cannot permanently stave off aging there is a difference between aging and aging gracefully. I’m all about the aging gracefully and I think for today this is a pretty good foundation and place to stop. Next week we’ll take a look at the science of cleansers, and acne – Good stuff! Thanks for hanging out with me. 🙂

Discover #greenbeauty #cleanbeauty skincare at Cats Paw Farm.

Salt Scrub & Sugar Scrub Recipes & Tips

Salt Scrubs and Sugar Scrubs are both popular and beneficial products in skin care routines. Did you know you do not have to spend tons of money to buy them?! They are so easy, so economical, and so very good for your skin that I prefer to show and tell how to make these than to sell them to you.

Scrubs are a mechanical exfoliant that slough the built-up dead skin cells on skin’s surface that create a dulling of the complexion and a rough texture. Removing this build up regularly allows your skin to absorb your subsequent products better and can help you achieve a bright even complexion. Let’s take a look at the difference between Salt & Sugar Scrubs and what these 2 kitchen pantry ingredients mean to your skin…

Salt (usually) has a larger particles that are more abrasive. Salt is perfect for exfoliating the majority of the body, including heels and the soles of the foot. Salt is very beneficial to skin as it is a natural deodorizer, balances pH, helps retain hydration, and has both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Sea Salt contains calcium, potassium, and magnesium and these are all great for your skin, fighting off bacteria, minor infections, and increasing healing rates. Grandma always had a container of salt in the car when we went on day trips, along with a canteen of water…just in case someone needed a wound cleaned out (yes, it hurts like the old adage says, but it’s better than getting an infection.) Salt water can be used as a facial rinse in between cleansing and toning, too.

*Tip: Salt is also a great anti-dandruff scalp treatment. Part your hair and sprinkle a bit of salt onto your scalp then use wet fingers to massage the scalp gently for about 10 minutes. Bonus points to you if you can get someone else to do this for you because scalp massages are a-maz-ing! When you’re done massaging wash and condition as usual. The results will most likely astound you!

It’s okay to use a Salt Scrub 2-3 times a week, though if your skin is dry or very sensitive then once a week should be plenty of exfoliation. Please note that you do not have to use special salt to benefit. Table salt works just fine for scrubs. If you happen to have a dead sea salt or Himalayan salt then yes that’s better due to the mineral boost your skin will receive, but they are absolutely not necessary.

*Tip: Beach Hair – there are a lot of expensive Beach Hair Sprays. You do not need to buy those to get that look because the active ingredients are water (purified if you want to store it out of the fridge), the conditioner you currently use, and salt. That’s it! So grab a spray bottle and mix 1/2 cup warm water with 1/2 tablespoon of sea salt and stir until the salt is dissolved. Add 1 teaspoon of your hair conditioner (Cats Paw Farm Detangling Hair Conditioner is perfect for this) and shake it all together. Spray onto towel dried hair and scrunch your hair with your hands. Enjoy your beachy hair!

Ok, on to Sugar and Sugar Scrubs….so what does sugar do for your skin? Plenty (and I think you’ll really love this)! Sugar is a natural source of glycolic acid. Glycolic acid is one of the alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), is a humectant (reduces the loss of moisture in skin), helps fade hyperpigmentation, increases luminosity, helps treat sun-damage, encourages cell turn-over, and exfoliates.

There are three types of sugar that are suitable for scrubs and each has its own features and benefits. You most likely have 2 of them and possibly all 3! Brown Sugar is ultra fine and the least abrasive of sugars used in scrubs. Brown sugar is perfect for sensitive skin and for facial scrubs. You can use a brown sugar scrub every other day.

Cane Sugar (unrefined white is best and is probably already in your pantry) is a good all purpose scrub and works for body scrub and for facial scrub. Leave 2 days in between treatments.

Turbinado Sugar may also be in your pantry, and is a coarse granule sugar and is best for body scrubs. Because it is the least processed of the 3 sugars and so has the most minerals contained within. Turbinado scrubs can be used twice a week (or leave 3 days in between treatments.)

Let’s chat about oil for a minute, too. You probably already have 2 or 3 oils in your pantry that are perfect for making scrubs. Coconut Oil is moisturizing and is becoming very well known for its antibacterial properties. It’s also a great hair moisturizer and scalp conditioner (I’ll blog about coconut oil in the future, too.) Avocado Oil (I use this in salad dressings) is supportive of skin elasticity, and it is great for mature skin! The third pantry oil is Olive Oil. Olive Oil is perfect for very dry skin. It is also a humectant and is very good for soothing itchy skin. I love an Olive Oil Salt Scrub in the winter – wonderful for the seasonal itchies! If you have Vitamin E capsules in the cupboard, puncture one end with a pin and squeeze it into your scrub recipe if you’d like. Vitamin E is a natural anti-oxidant and it is great for your skin.

*Tip: Use your Scrub at the end of your shower or bath. This will soften the outer layer of skin (& that dead stuff you want to slough off that’s all dried out!)
Apply the scrub to your entire body in small circular motions. Lean over the sink if you’re just having a facial scrub. Massage for a minute or two. Don’t rub too hard, you don’t have to – let the scrub do the work.
Rinse and enjoy your beautiful, soft, supple, glowing skin.

Basic Salt Scrub Recipe

Salt 1 cup
Oil 1/2 cup

In a small bowl, combine the 2 ingredients and mix well to coat the granules with oil. If you wish to use essential keep it light – a couple of drops goes a long way with essentials.

Store in a glass jar and use within a month.

I don’t personally recommend flower buds and petals in any scrub. They look nice but they are a mess to clean out of your tub, are not going to store well and will eventually mold. If you use these recipes for someone as a gift maybe consider dressing up the outside of the container instead of adding flower bits to the inside.

Basic Sugar Scrub Recipe

Sugar of choice 1 cup
Oil of choice (3-5 tablespoons) added 1 tablespoon at a time until the consistency is sandy, but not soupy.

Optionally you can add a couple drop of essential, or a few drops of fresh lemon juice if desired. If the mixture gets soupy the sugar will dissolve in a few day, just add more sugar if that happens. Soupy won’t exfoliate well, but you can still reap the moisturizing benefits of the mixture by using it as a mask.

Store in a glass jar and use within a month.

Feeling adventurous? Try this one….

Basic Coffee Scrub Recipe

Finely ground coffee beans 1/2 cup
Brown Sugar 1/2 cup
Oil of choice about 1/4 cup, added slowly until consistency is sandy

Coffee is not only a wonderful exfoliant, but our skin can absorb caffeine so this is a wonderful wake-up scrub. (This is also why Cats Paw Espresso Bar soap is so popular! There’s a pot of coffee in every loaf of soap.) Coffee is also an anti-inflammatory.

Store in a glass jar and use within a month.

Need a skin healing boost? Salt & Honey Scrub is really luxurious as well…combine the exfoliation properties of salt with the moisturizing and skin protecting properties of raw honey and this is basically a high end spa treatment at home. I’ve seen this sell for $70 for an 8 ounce jar. You can make it for about $2.

Salt & Honey Scrub Recipe

Salt 1 cup
Raw Honey 1/3 cup
Oil of choice 1/2 cup

Mix the honey and oil together and then mix in the salt. Add a few drops of essential if you wish, but the honey smells amazing all by itself.

Store in a glass jar and use within a month.

I hope you enjoy these recipes and this post. Check out Cats Paw Farm Mercantile for great #cleanbeauty skin care. You can also find us on Facebook, and Instagram, too.

What’s the Deal with Phthalates?

We have been ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing phthalates since 1920. Phthalates, aka phthalate esters, are esters of phthalic acid. There are over 50 different phthalates. They have a lengthy history of use as plasticizers. Phthalates are used in the plastics industry to increase durability, flexibility and transparency. Most people’s first introduction to their existence was when either a mommy-blogger or celebrity (I hear it both ways) got them excited about all fragrances being bad. Phthalates are used in fragrance. Compared to how long they have been in our other products their use in fragrances is pretty recent and their usefulness in the fragrance industry seems to have been somewhat incidental to the discovery that phthalates increase scent throw and longevity. Fragrance accounts for a very small amount of the phthalate an individual is exposed to even though fragrance does seem to get a great deal of attention.

Much of the decision to remove phthalates in manufacturing processes stemmed from research into endocrine disruption. Phthalates are something that everyone in civilized society has been exposed to. The CDC discovered in 2009 that the majority of Americans who were tested had metabolites of up to 13 different phthalates in their urine.

Phthalates in everyday consumer goods

Phthalates are found in the coatings of pharmaceutical pills and supplements, adhesives, caulk, paint, plastic packaging, printing ink, children’s toys, jelly rubber products (shoes, fishing lures, caulk, sex toys), IV drip bags & tubing, carpeting, non-natural fabrics, wire & cable coating, all of the plastic parts in our automobiles, food cling film, eye shadow, nail polish, liquid soap, laundry detergent, and hair spray…to shorten a list of thousands of items down to but a few highlights. They have been in our products for a very long time and basically they’re everywhere. Phthalates have been found in dairy products, fish, oils, meat, baked goods, infant formula, processed food, and fast food. They have an affinity for and are eventually put into long term storage within the fat cells of the body.

Phthalates in fragrance have been the subject of warning via social media for nearly a decade while nearly all of the other phthalate containing items slipped notice for the most part. Up until around 2010 the market was dominated by high-phthalate plasticizers. Social consciousness, growing environmental awareness, and a movement against the increasing use of synthetics in healthcare and medical devices, cosmetic products, and ingestibles began creating an environment demanding that we (meaning our government) do something to create a focused effort to remove phthalates from manufacturing. Just the other day I saw a post telling people to stay away from anything that had the ingredient “perfume” or “fragrance”. It’s worth noting that the fragrance industry has provided phthalate free fragrances since before 2010 (yes, since before social media outrage demanded it.) Not every maker uses phthalate-free options as they are more expensive, but they’ve been available for over a decade now. I actually haven’t seen a non-phthalate-free fragrance for sale from anyone in my supply chain for about 5 years, but that could be indicative of sourcing quality ingredients from ethical suppliers, too.

I promise not to bore you with the chemistry in this post (even though it’s fascinating to me), but I will say this: because phthalates are not chemically bonded to the host plastic they are readily released by very gentle means. Heating (microwaving counts) and organic solvents (acetic acid, acetone, benzene, etc) remove phthalates readily. What this means to you is that food heated in a plastic container that contains phthalate is tainted with the released phthalate. Using a plastic bowl to marinate meat with vinegar…same thing. Removing phthalate containing nail polish with acetone releases the phthalate for inhalation and possible absorption into the skin (if for example there was a break in the cuticle).

Scaring isn’t my intent. Education is. The government has been working for over a decade now to remove phthalates from those things that we are exposed to in an intimate manner. Many nail polish companies are 10-free, 8-free, etc (meaning they do not use the top 10 or top 8 known to be harmful ingredients.) Plastic manufacturers are sourcing alternatives to do what phthalates were doing. Unfortunately it also means there are a great deal of un-recyclable plastics that were created for about 50 years that are not eligible for recycling and those items are now in landfills and oceans. Because they are so easily dissociated from their host plastics phthalates in general do not persist on the item. This volatility does make the presence of phthalate more prevalent in the air in urban areas than in rural. Thus most of the residual exposure is now through inhalation rather than consumption. Plastic containing phthalates is being controlled in Canada, the U.S., and the European Union and makes up for 36% of the manufactured plastic in the world. The other 64% of plastic manufacturing takes place in countries with no restrictions. The U.S. has banned just 3 phthalates of those known and used.

But what does it all mean to the individual, and what does phthalate do in the body? Being a low molecular weight compound phthalates enter the bloodstream and disrupt hormone production in adults and jump start it in children. Phthalates mimic estrogen (female hormone), which in turn inhibits the production of testosterone (male hormone). This is how they’ve gotten to become classified as endocrine disruptors. Remember when I mentioned children’s toys, and cosmetics earlier? These were one of the first indicators of phthalate endocrine disruption. Researchers found that phthalate exposure by everyday personal care products and toys led to precocious puberty in children. In some parts of the world where phthalates are still uncontrolled this precociousness is counted in years. Males experience phthalate endocrine disruption with both precocious puberty, and then with a decrease in sperm count, motility and viability. Females experience precocious puberty and then in adulthood can experience premature ovarian failure and anovulation. Remember when puberty started in the teens? Puberty now starts before a child reaches double digits in some areas. Research has also found a link between PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) pathogenesis and environmental phthalate exposure.

Individual states are stepping up to ban phthalates (Washington, Vermont, Maine, California.) The FDA says phthalates are safe. They have a whole page on their website dedicated to convincing readers they’re not in danger. They list a very small selection of products from 2010 that they tested and didn’t find any in. They also say that their role as an agency is to subject color additives to scrutiny, and that if they have dependable scientific evidence showing an ingredient, that’s not a color, is unsafe then they’ll look into it. Ok, that’s all I’m going to say about that…

As far as being able to phase out phthalates goes it’s interesting to take a look at another plastics component, Bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA was invented in 1891, was discovered to be toxic in the 1930’s and was recognized as an artificial estrogen. Still in use despite it’s toxic designation, BPA was discovered to be instrumental to developing hard plastic (polycarbonate) in the 1940’s, and was used in baby bottles and bicycle helmets (as well as many other items.) The government stated in 1982 that BPA toxicity held no regulatory weight. In other words, it’s really useful stuff so we’re going to ignore that it’s toxic…

In 1988 the EPA countered rising discontent with BPA being used in manufacturing with a safety standard for BPA that was 25 times higher than levels presented to be harmful to humans. The FDA assessed in 1996 that infant exposure was measurable at risks deemed safe while independent labs countered with conflicting studies. Studies went back and forth on both sides for nearly 10 more years before the U.S. Congress launched an investigation of governmental conflict of interest on BPA. People were fired, advisory panels created and disbanded, more people were fired, and in 2008 the government decided that BPA poses risks to humans deeming it a “dangerous substance.” I guess those studies from 80 years prior weren’t wrong all of a sudden?

BPA was banned in making baby bottles and manufacturers had to “promise” not to use it as of 2011. In 2012 the FDA decided not to ban BPA from food and beverage packaging. Some major corporations stepped up and chose independently to remove BPA from their packaging (thank you Campbells, Seneca Foods, and Libby’s). Other food companies are still using BPA in food packaging that is on shelves today. As of today the Facts about BPA website state “the USFDA recently reconfirmed the question “Is BPA Safe?” “Yes.”” BPA is still being used today. Manufacturers of food storage plastics began creating and marketing BPA-free items in 2011 and it became a major marketing push around 2016 for food storage items. There is an article on NCBI titled The Politics of Plastics: The Making and Unmaking of Bisphenol A “Safety” that is an interesting read for anyone so inclined.

My three-paragraph aside here is to example that we most likely will not have consensus on phthalates within our lifetimes. This is a battle that our children and perhaps theirs will continue to wage. Fortunately the phthalate industry hasn’t organized to the point of political lobbyists and a pretty website.

Glass & Metal Packaging at Cats Paw Farm Mercantile

While large corporations are being the most resistant to making the change to discontinue phthalate use and switch to albeit more expensive non-phthalate options, there are a lot of small, independent, reputable makers who only source non-phthalate and non-toxin containing fragrances, and who do not use plastic packaging. Cats Paw Farm is proud to be one of them. The list of things I won’t put in our products is far lengthier than those that I will. Our skincare, haircare, home, bath & body, soap, and culinary products are all free of phthalates, palm products, sulfates, petroleum products, and our packaging is 95% glass and metal. The plastic I use for pumps, sprayers and lip balm tubes are certified bpa and known phthalate free, btw. I’m still testing out paperboard and metal containers as alternatives to the lip balm tubes to cut down further on the plastic.

Some of our products come with a bit of seed paper that can grow a variety of wildflowers that are attractive to bees and butterflies. Not that they have anything to do with phthalates, but they’re in danger of disappearing and that’s a subject for a whole other post.

Shrub Syrup Concentrate

Shrubs? – What are they?
Shrub, often referred to as drinking vinegar or sipping vinegar is a cordial concoction that showcases both the flavor of the fruit and botanicals, and the vinegar. It is an acidic syrup which adds depth and complexity to a variety of drinks and culinary dishes.

If you’ve never had a shrub before, they are about the most refreshing thing you can drink, especially in the summertime! They are packed with electrolytes from the vinegar and vitamins from the fruits. This is why we often liken them to “Old-Timey (insert name brand electrolyte drink here)”

Nearly always, the first thing people wish to know about Shrubs is why are they called Shrubs. The word shrub is derived from the Arabic word sharab which means “to drink.” Shrubs were brought to Europe by traders from the exotic Middle East in the 15th century as medicinal elixirs.

Traces of vinegar have been found throughout civilization. Egyptian urns dated to 3000 B.C. contain traces of vinegar, and documentation in Babylonian scrolls record the use of date palm fruit to make vinegar dating to around 5000 B.C. It has been known as “poor man’s wine”, and we’ve all probably had that bottle of wine in the back of the fridge that we poured out because it became “vinegary.” Well, the French word vinaigre means “sour wine”. Vinegar is a sour liquid that is produced from the fermentation of diluted alcohol products, so that makes perfect sense. During the first step of a two step process, vinegar is derived from fermentation of a sugar containing source such as grapes or grains. Sugars break down in the absense of oxygen by yeast and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. Come on, you knew there’d be chemistry in here somewhere, at least if you know me even a little. In the second step the addition of oxygen enables bacteria (good bacteria!) to produce amino acids, water, and some other compounds. Over time and around the world a wide variety of vinegars have been created. In all probability, the creation of vinegar was a complete and fortuitous failure to produce alcohol

We know back as far as 2000 B.C. Babylonians were using vinegar to heal wounds and this was a practice continued through World War I. Hippocrates (the father of modern medicine) prescribed apple cider vinegar mixed with honey for coughs, colds, and other ills. Ancient Greeks utilized vinegar for preservation and the Romans used it as a drink, and sometimes partially converted wines on purpose to use for preservation of foods for storage and travel. There is documentation of the flavored vinegar brines of fish being carried by Roman soldiers, and ketchup originated as an oriental fish vinegar brine that had sugar added to it to create the predecessor of the condiment we now know. Because there was a spectacular increase in the types of foods available because of expanding trade routes, Europeans of the time were creating a vast number of clever recipes using vinegar.

Thanks to research by historians such as Tim Oakley, Bill Toland, Jessica Gelt, and Katie Loeb (thanks guys!) we know some pretty interesting things about Shrubs: the most interesting to me being that early versions of the drink as we know it were being developed parallel with flavored alcoholic counterparts, but for very different reasons. During the late 17th century, smugglers used to sink barrels of spirits offshore to avoid paying import taxes. To mask the taste of sea water that inevitably fouled the alcohol, fruit was put into the barrels. This also helped weight the barrels so they sank faster. This fun fact alone makes me wonder if smugglers were somewhat responsible for some of the fruity vodka flavors we enjoy today. An early recipe in 1864’s The English and Australian Cookery Book (which is considered the first Austrlian Cookbook and was penned for the upper eschelon of society) specified nuts, spices, and oranges infused into rum. This indicates to me that not only did the smugglers do a good job with their flavoring (enough to encourage experimentation,) but that flavoring alcohol eventually became a standard practice across all social classes.

Ok, back to vinegar…What we now know as Shrub was derived from the “pour off” of preserved barrels of fruits and as our ancestors were a thrifty lot, this liquid became a commodity in its own right. It was prized for its restorative qualities. The practice of drinking vinegars carried over into colonial America. While not intentionally created as was the fruited alcohol, both mechanisms do bear a striking resemblance to each other in their ability to preserve and to be flavored.

Shrubs went in and out of fashion for nearly 400 years. They were sold in public houses alongside alcoholic beverages. All social classes partook of Shrubs, though due to basically being the world’s first energy drink they found favor with those who worked hard and required constant hydration. During the Temperance Movement of the 19th century Shrubs were considered acceptable alternatives to spirits. It became trendy during this time to find historical and biblical refereces to imbibing drinking vinegars which lent additional legitimacy to the beverage. The drink that started its American presence as a thirst quenching drink for field laborers is now enjoying a resurgence as a flavoring for water, cocktails, meat marinades, sauces, and salad vinaigrettes.

Shrub vs Switchel
You might hear the word Switchel in conjunction with Shrubs. Shrubs (aka Drinking Vinegar) and Switchels (aka Swizzle or Haymaker’s Punch) have both some similarities and differences. Both have history as a way to preserve fruits with vinegar. Shrubs rely on the fruit and sugar for their flavor while Switchels rely on the vinegar combined with ginger and molasses for their flavor. Shrubs are fruity while Switchels are closer in taste to flat ginger beer. Switchels are meant to be consummed as a stand alone drink while Shrubs are a syrup which can flavor a variety of liquids or be used in a culinary capacity.

Shrub Syrup Concentrate makes a very refreshing, thirst-quenching drink when combined with water, seltzer/sparkling water, and iced tea. It’s also useful and yummy used as the vinegar portion of BBQ sauce and meat marinade. Salad dressing really showcases the flavors of Shrup Syrup Concentrate in a simple oil and vinegar preparation. I especially love an oil/shrub dressing on fresh spring mix greens with a little feta.

Benefits of Drinking Shrub
The benefits of drinking apple cider vinegar are many! Studies show that daily consumption of acv leads to regulation of blood sugar levels and reduced cholesterol. By preventing your body from fully digesting starch, acv lowers the body’s glycemic resonse to the starch ingested thus keeping blood sugar levels in check. There is chat about its weight loss benefits and this is thought to be because of the satiety conferred between meals. Scientists are studying links between tumor size/growth rate and consumption of apple cider vinegar, as well as cancer risk and acv consumption. Research is also being done into the effects and potential benefits for diabetics. That’s research – not conclusions yet, so if you fall into one of those health scenarios then discuss with your physician and make your choices.

You may have heard about all the ways energy drinks are bad for those who consume them? If you are looking for a natural and healthy energy boost then Shrubs are a great answer. ACV contains enzymes and potassium that counter fatigue and also which have alkalizing effects in the body. ACV nutrients can help buffer acidity and restore an alkaline pH, protecting against oxidation and cellular damage. Ascetic acid as well as acv’s other acids (malic and ascorbic) have been shown to improve the body’s nonheme iron uptake and that’s even more important for vegetarians and vegans that do not get heme iron from consuming animal products. Ascorbic acid in acv also enhances copper absorption, and copper helps the body absorb iron. Iron is needed to transport oxygen between muscle cells, which helps produce energy. This is why many people who are iron deficient suffer from fatigue.

ACV helps lower high blood pressure because it helps reduce sodium levels. Potassium works with sodium to maintain blood pressure levels, but when there’s too much sodium in the body blood pressure goes up. Adding extra potassium via acv can help balance the sodium in the blood and reduces high blood pressure. Shrubs are a great alternative to those seeking to move away from the empty calories and sugar overload of soft drinks.

I had to throw some more science in here. It’s awesome info! I know, I’m a nerd. You’re welcome. lol

Shelf Life
One of the main reasons Shrubs fell out of style the last time was due to the advent of home refrigeration. I see this as precisely why they have become of interest again. Our society is becoming more in tune with our past, and we are looking for alternatives to food storage and preparation – just in case. Shrub Syrup Concentrates can wait patiently in the pantry for several years unopened, and for about a year in the refrigerator after opening.

Cats Paw Farm Shrub Syrup Concentrates
I seasonally create several flavors of Shrub Syrup Concentrate.
Currently in stock are:
Apple Sage
Apricot Cacao
Blackberry Lemonbalm
Cherry Thyme
Huckleberry Wild Rose
Peach Cinnamon
Pear Rosemary
Raspberry Mint
Strawberry Chamomile
Plum Basil will be back soon, the plums are nearly ripe for this year’s batch.
All flavors are available in 6oz bottles, and most are also available in 14oz bottles. 6oz bottles are available on our website. Currently the 14oz bottles are only available through our physical storefront. I’m working on finding a box appropriately sized for shipping them.

Here’s a Basic Shrub Salad Dressing
1/2 cup Shrub Syrup Concentrate of your choice (I like Blackberry Lemon)
1/2 cup olive or avocado oil
2-3 tbsp pure maple syrup or raw honey
1 clove minced garlic (optional)
salt of your choice (I like himalayan pink salt) and pepper
Whisk it all together and drizzle over your salad. Yummy!! This lasts well in the fridge for about a week

“French” Dressing
1/2 cup Shrub Syrup Concentrate of your choice (I like Strawberry Chamomile)
1/2 cup olive or coconut oil
1 tsp tomato paste (or 1/3 cup ketchup)
2-3 tbsp pure maple syrup or raw honey
1 tsp paprika
salt of your choice (I like himalayan pink salt) and pepper
Whisk it all together and drizzle over your salad. Yummy!! This lasts well in the fridge for about a week

Basic Marinade (chicken, pork, steak, salmon, veggies…)
ACV weakens the colagen and protein in meat so will soften a tough steak as well as flavor it. Limit veggie marination to 30 minutes; fish, pork, chicken, and any kabob meat to 2 hours max, and steak to 6-8 hours.

1 cup oil of your choice (olive is good, it helps seal in the juiciness)
1/2 cup Shrub Syrup Concentrate
1/3 cup tamari, soy sauce, or coconut aminos
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tbsp mustard (Honey Dijon is good or Peach Mustard for pork)
optional as desired
1 small onion minced if not blending
2 cloves garlic if not blending
thyme leaves and/or rosemary leaves as desired (no stems)

You can either 1) whisk all of this together or 2) add it to a food processor and blend it
Add the meat to a bag or a bowl and add the marinade. Cover tightly if you use a bowl. Place in refrigerator for the desired time according to your meat or veggie type and turn the food a couple of times so it gets evenly exposed to the marinade.

Not-Really-Recipes, but More Ideas on how I use Shrubs in Cooking
I cook a lot without a recipe. Shrubbed Chicken is a favorite for me. I cook on the stovetop in a skillet. Pat the chicken down with olive oil and sprinkle a little salt, pepper, and basil over the meat. Brown the meat and then add a few tablespoons of Shrub Syrup Concentrate (Pear Rosemary is good) to the pan and let it steam to finish cooking. The flavor and texture is great! You can also do this with pork and salmon.

Shrub Seltzer
Simply choose your favorite flavor of Shrub Concentrate and pour a little into seltzer over crushed ice. The Shrub Syrup Concentrate lends a festive splash of color and a refreshing tangy twist. We all need to drink water, why not make it fun?

Sober Mule
Add Apple Sage Shrub Concentrate to ginger ale and garnish with a slice of lime.

Ginger Pear-fection
1 part Pear Rosemary Shrub Syrup
1 part Ginger Liqueur
2 parts whiskey
.5 part fresh lemon juice
splash of seltzer water
Stir the first 4 ingredients together with ice and strain into a lowball glass full of ice. Top it with seltzer water and garnish with lemon peel.

Berry Shrub Cocktail
1 part Raspberry Lemonbalm Shrub Syrup
1 part Vodka, Gin, or Tequila – your choice
splash of seltzer water
Add Shrub Syrup and alcohol to a glass of ice and garnish with raspberries (or other seasonal fruit)
This one can be made with any Shrub Syrup just switch out the garnish for something appropriate

Peach Out
1 part Peach Cinnamon Shrub Syrup
2 parts Vodka
.5 parts fresh lemon juice
drizzle of honey
just a dash of bitters
Shake all of this together and train into a glass over ice. Top it with seltzer water and garnish with a cinnamon stir stick.

I’m always cooking up something, and lately my thoughts have turned to a fruity Shrub Salsa. I’m thinking peaches, onion, maybe a little jalapeno and some Huckleberry Wild Rose Shrub Syrup.

Thanks to my beautiful sister Katie for suggesting that I write this blog article so she has all my info & trivia about Shrubs in one place!

Homemade Laundry Soap + Recipe

Homemade Laundry Soap is simple to make, cost effective, and great for families with members having sensitive skin, who want to get away from toxins and synthetics, and who like to know what is in their cleaning products. The ingredients can be found in your local grocery store. If you do not have extra handcrafted soap to shred, we sell 100% olive oil Castile which has been aged for at least 4 months (most for over a year) which is perfect for this project. We specify handcrafted soap because it is natural and does not contain synthetic detergents like commercial bars. Whatever your reason for making laundry soap it would be counterproductive to start off with a detergent bar, yes?

This is a recipe I came up with in the early 2000’s because I’ve had a detergent sensitivity since I was a child (much to the dismay of my Mom who really wanted her daughter to wash dishes!) It was less of a challenge to create an effective laundry soap recipe than to find a commercial product that didn’t leave me with patches of dermatitis wherever my clothing touched my skin.

Ingredients you’ll need:

  • 3 cups of shredded handcrafted soap
  • 2 cups Washing Soda
  • 1/2 cup citric acid
  • 3 mL lemongrass or lavender essential oil (optional)

You’ll also need

  • disposable plastic pipets for measuring the essential oil
  • grater
  • measuring cups
  • a 1/2 gallon sized bowl
  • either 2 gallon zip seal bags, or an air tight container/lid combination
  • a permanent marker for labeling your laundry soap bag/bowl
  • nitrile gloves (optional)
Grated soap

How to:

  1. Wear gloves if desired.
  2. Grate the handcrafted soap until you have 3 cups. Once grated, continue to crumble the soap shreds until they are as small as possible.
  3. In the bowl, combine shredded, crumbled soap with the washing soda and citric acid.
  4. Mix, mix, mix, mix, mix.
  5. Add essential oil if desired.
  6. Mix, mix, mix, mix, mix. Voila! Homemade Laundry Soap!!
  7. If using zip seal bags, put one bag inside the other. Yes, use 2…you’ll thank me when they don’t burst like a single bag most likely will. 😉
  8. Put the laundry soap into the bags, or into an air tight container.
  9. Label your Laundry soap.
  10. Use it and enjoy your amazing Laundry Soap!
Finished Laundry Soap

You can utilize your Homemade Laundry Soap in HE machines. We use about 1 tablespoon per load in ours. It is appropriate for hand washables, too. If you need a bit more of a boost for extra greasy, dirty laundry try scrubbing it into the stain with a brush and hot water and possibly adding a bit more washing soda directly to the stain and scrubbing. Let it sit for awhile (but not so long the wetted area dries out), and then launder as usual. Check the stain prior to drying.

Thanks for reading! If you want a hard copy of this recipe just let me know. I have them printed on glossy stock here at Cats Paw Mercantile. They’re the perfect size for affixing to the tub you make your soap in or filing for future reference. I’ll send you one.

The Cats of Cats Paw Farm

I grew up with a plethora of officially unnamed felines that had lived outside in barns and outbuildings and while they had a very important job around the property (keeping the mice down) they were never considered part of the family proper. They were fed and watered as were the livestock and considered crucial and valued according to an unwritten list of skills they possessed. Good Mouser. Good Mother. Good Tom. That worked just fine for a lot of years for the people and the cats and then a tow headed girl child entered the picture with a single mission: to befriend all the kitties…

Yes that child was me and I apparently had a knack for it, which was a good thing. Even at a young age I thought like a cat. It didn’t dawn on me to be any other way. I could walk into a shed and immediately knew where mama kittie’s nest was, even when she moved it. I just pictured where I’d want to hide if I was a cat. I remember sitting in my grandpa’s home mechanic shop with a litter of wild kittens in my lap while mama lounged in a sliver of sunlight a few feet away assessing my worth to her. The mamas would leave me with babysitting duty once they deemed me fit for the job and I’d spend hours with a wriggling mass of kittens until she returned with a fat mouse to eat at the mouth of the shop and then come to gather her little ones and secrete them back into the corner nest she’d built amidst engine parts and boxes of who knows what. Outbuildings tend to collect a lot of things that simply become part of an indoor landscape.

I loved visiting friends and family’s homes and again made it a personal mission to befriend their cat, preferably all of their cats. Inside, outside, it didn’t matter. You could find me where the cats were. There were times I’d be warned to the effect that “that big Tom is mean and hates everyone so stay clear of him,” and by the end of the visit said Tom was sprawled on my lap in the grass in the backyard getting his “kitten” on.

And so it continued through my teens and into adulthood. Of course by then I’d learned the social moirés that ignoring the host for the cats was bad, but chances were there was a cat on my lap during our visit.

Currently we share our home with six kitties inside, and one outside. Joy came into our life about six years ago in the middle of the worst winter we’d had in years. We don’t know her backstory. She has a feral ear clip and had been spayed though it was fairy fresh when we noticed a small black cat in one of the loafing sheds. Upon further investigation I discovered she was making a culvert by the road her safe zone. I started taking food out to her and waited patiently as she developed trust and I learned her language. By the end of winter I’d gotten her to move to the hay shed and had set up an insulated box for her. Over the next year we worked on moving to the back patio and she was starting to brush against my leg when my back was turned.

Cats of Cats Paw Farm-Joy
Cats of Cats Paw Farm-Joy

Joy still has the original insulated box, though now it is built into a heavy wooden frame with a balcony on the top with a squishy kitty bed. She greets me every morning and has even been inside the house to get to know the rest of the pride though she does not want to stay in. She blesses me freely with rubs, and headbutts my hand when I put her food dish down in the morning. She only allows me to pet her back, from shoulder to tail. No touching her head, and no reaching out towards her, petting is allowed if she initiates them. I imagine that hands reaching toward her probably triggers memories of the feral vet trip from before she found us.

Her besties inside are Bling and Bubba. These two are brother and sister Tabbies that have been with us for nine years. Their mama was a barn stray who happened into a pretty cushy life with a friend in another county. We met them when their eyes were still closed and have had them since they were weaned. They do not know a stranger and demand attention from everyone who walks through our doors. Both of them drool, and both of them want to sleep under the covers. They are large and in charge and think they are still kittens. We can’t have a holiday tree because Bubba climbs them and when a 22 pound cat tries to climb a six foot tree it doesn’t stay upright, even when bungee corded to a table!

Cats of Cats Paw Farm-Joy

Yoda and Rosie are brothers who are as opposite as can be. Both are long haired Gingers, Rosie is polydactyl with nearly double paws (7 toes on each front foot) while Yoda has no extra toes. They are six years old this year. Rosie runs and hides under the covers of our bed if he even thinks someone is coming to the house while Yoda runs to the front door with Bubba and Bling.

Cats of Cats Paw Farm-Yoda
Cats of Cats Paw Farm-Rosie

Our babies are now five! Rosalie and Juliette were named for characters on Grimm. They are long haired black and orange calico and both are polydactyl. These two girlies are also polar opposites in size (Julie is very svelt and Rosalie is an Amazon) and temperament. They both hide inside chairs when people come to the house, so it makes it a little awkward to have to tell those who don’t know about them, “No, don’t sit in that chair! There’s a kitty inside of it.” Julie will eventually come out though and as her fur is amazingly silky she immediately becomes the darling of the visit. Her personality is soft and loving, even though she has vampire-fangs. Rosalie on the other hand…well, she is the reason we now take all of the polys to the vet for nail clips. She channels her inner warrior princess and will pretty much try to take your face off when she sees nail clippers. The vet doesn’t believe us and makes a point of telling us what a good girl she is – there.

Cats of Cats Paw Farm-Juliette

I’ve shared my life with a multitude of furry friends. There are so many more who have touched me in ways I never dreamed any living being could touch another. Each one who is missing from the family still weighs heavily on my heart. The cats we share our lives with are so much more than simply cats to me.

Oh! So why Cats Paw Farm then? I get a lot of people stopping by that think we’re a pet store, so here’s the story…when I left my job to manage the farm and take my formulations into full blown business mode it took a leap of faith. A big one. Cats are fabled to land on their feet and so Cats Paw Farm felt very appropriate.

Hey if you’re still reading, thanks for hanging out and enjoying a cup of coffee and a kitty story with me this morning (or whatever time it is for you)! I’d love to hear about your kitties, too so feel free to leave me a comment.

Hey – Hi – Hello!

I have a shirt that says that and I just feel so amazingly cheery when I wear it. People see it a lot at vendor events because of that. It feels like the right tone for my first post...

I’m R’Chel. My husband and I run a small farm. Cats Paw Farm. I left a ridiculously well paying job in healthcare to come manage our little farm and go back to doing what I’m passionate about: helping people one on one with solutions to skin care, hair care, natural remedies and more.

I spent a lot of years letting corporations make money off my knowledge, and they still did it with ingredients and procedures I just couldn’t ethically continue to support. So here I am, in my little corner of the world, on my little farm, with about 45 years of knowledge and experience and a little store on the property that I share all of my products through.

Why this blog and why this blog now? It’s been my intention for years to blog about the farm, and products, and life. Our website has a built in blog and it’s very cumbersome. It became a chore I simply ignored instead of a creative outlet I was excited to share through. I have another WP blog (My Inky Paws) and love that the WP setup is really intuitive, so I spent this morning setting up this one then interfacing it back to the Cats Paw Farm online store. And so here I am.

I’ve never been one to keep a personal journal. The things I want to share shouldn’t be kept in a closed book anyhow. I already know my own thoughts and stories so to keep them in a book hasn’t ever really appealed to me. Plus, I learned a lot of things from grandparents that are still relevant, perhaps more so now even than they were when they were the only way to do things. Those are the things I want to share. Then there is the simple fact that I don’t get to spend much time with people in a social setting any longer. Extroverted introvert is a thing. I love being social. I just need to recharge when I am. The farm and my creations give me the perfect backdrop for the recharge. Big box social media is practically a necessity anymore, but it’s noisy there. This feels like sitting down one on one with a friend (whether I know you or not really isn’t the point) and just having a heart to heart or expressing my day. I already feel the difference in tone between what is posted there vs what is here in the blogscape.

I tend to free associate, and take side trips when I think, write, and especially when I chat. There’s not enough time on other social platforms for that. Everything needs to be concise and abridged. So I promise I’ll get back to the main topic of the post here, but I may take a few asides (they’ll be fun) while I’m getting there!

Our farm was established as a property that my husband and I could have our horses on. The horses are with 4-H kids now so that they can become their best equine selves, and I built a store in their pasture which is my primary retail outlet for all of the Cats Paw Farm products I create here. There are about 800 of them:

Mama/Baby care
Men’s Skincare
Lotion & Lip Balm
Bath Products
Plantcrafted Remedies
Handcrafted Goat Milk Soap in over 250 varieties
Hand Knits
Pygora Spinning Fiber
Hand Dyed Yarn
Handcrafted Journals
Herbal Tea/Tisanes & Accessories
Gourmet Mustard
Shrub Syrup Concentrates
Jams & Fruit Butters
Raw Local Honey
Jars & Bottles
Fresh Farm Eggs (Chicken, Duck, Turkey, Goose)
Meat Chickens
Meat Turkeys

to list a few…..

My days are long. My days are varied. Oftentimes what I think I’m doing today gets superceded for a completely different task. It’s all about juggling priorities and serving the animals and gardens. Things are crazy. Things get weird. They’re often dirty and sometimes downright disgusting. And, at the end of the day they’re rewarding, and satisfying, and beautiful.

Welcome to Cats Paw Farm…I hope you’ll pull up a chair and settle in to join us.