Herbal Apothecary: Conditioning Vinegar Rinse

Remember when I made my own shampoo? Well, now I have some conditioner to go along with it. It's an herbal vinegar rinse, and it's really easy to make — as long as you're not in a hurry.

Mine is based on Rosemary Gladstar's recipes for vinegar rinses from her book Herbs for Natural Beautybut you can also check out an adaptation of that basic recipe here. All you need are enough herbs to fill a quart jar half way up, then enough cider vinegar to fill it to the top. Easy.

The herbs I chose were sage and rosemary, and a bit of comfrey, which are the same ones I used in my homemade shampoo. The comfrey is for conditioning; the sage and rosemary for scent and for brunette hair. You could also try chamomile and calendula for conditioning blonde hair, which I may try in the summer for a seasonal change of pace when my hair gets more sun-bleached.

It's a little hard to tell in the photo above, but I came up with a simple system for keeping the herbs submerged in the vinegar. Dried herbs especially will tend to float to the top, and they'll often poke out of the liquid you're trying to infuse. To keep them under the vinegar — and therefore to keep them from spoiling, which is what ended up happening with last summer's attempt at mint extract — I used a wide-mouth jar with a reusable plastic cap. The trick is that the cap is standard size, which is slightly smaller. I used it upside down, pressing it into the mouth of the jar to create a seal. It turns out it fits perfectly, and the flat part of the lid keeps all the herbs under the liquid. Sure, some vinegar squeezed out the top, but once that was cleaned up, this was a great system to keep the herbs out of the air. I put another wide-mouth lid over top as normal so I could give it a shake every few days without worrying about slopping any out, and this worked like a charm while the vinegar infused.

And that part takes a few weeks — I think I let it stand for about a month on a cool, dark closet shelf. Once in a while — when I remembered — I swirled it around. After the sit-around-and-wait part, I strained the liquid and composted the spent herbs, and was left with a nice herbal vinegar: 

The big jar is the "raw" herbal vinegar, and the little jar is the vinegar diluted in water (this is about 4:1 water to vinegar). I also added a couple drops of bergamot essential oil to the diluted rinse, to make it smell sweeter (and match the scent of my shampoo and lotion). 

So how does it work? Well, like the homemade shampoo, it takes a little getting used to, because it functions differently. A commercial conditioner adds some oil back to your hair after you strip it all away with a commercial shampoo. My homemade shampoo doesn't strip nearly as much oil away, so it makes sense to use this conditioner, which doesn't add any more oil back. The vinegar is more like a pH balancer for you hair. It cuts any oil and/or castille residue building up from the shampoo, and gives it a nice shine.

It's easy to use: Wash and rinse your hair, then pour some of the vinegar rinse over your hair and rinse again with water. That's all there is to it!

I only use the rinse about once a week, because I have short hair and therefore limited conditioning needs. If my hair were longer, I'd probably do the ends more often. I'll probably even dilute the vinegar to a 5:1 next time, because my hair is really fine, and too much softening makes it hard to style — though on balance, it's much easier to style now that I gave up harsher store-bought shampoos). It might take a little experimentation to get the exact mix and frequency of use perfected, but overall I like it.


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