Spring Cleaning With Herbs

Home-made household cleaners using herbs and other natural products are safer, inexpensive and better for the environment than chemically-based cleaning products.

Lavender (Lavandula spp)
Lavender derives its name from lavare, which means ‘to wash’ in Latin, and its earliest uses included cleaning clothes, furniture and the human body! The leaves also have anti-bacterial properties.

Growing tips: All lavenders grow in full sun to partial shade, in soil that drains well. In gardens with poor drainage or clay soil, rather grow lavender in pots. Prime planting season is spring and summer. Water well until established. Plants in pots should be watered more frequently. Trim spring flowering lavenders (Stoechas and Dentata) in December and Lavandula intermediavar ‘Margaret Roberts’ after each flush. Harvest leaves throughout the year and flowers when their colour is most intense.

Great for cleaning: carpets, tiled floors, windows, kitchen and bathroom surfaces.

How to use it: To make an all-purpose surface cleaner mix 1 part vinegar with 9 parts strong infusion of lavender. This combination will kill germs and clean almost any surface, including windows.

Box: How to make a strong herbal infusion
Use equal portions of herb and water i.e. 1 cup herbs to 1 cup water.
In a pot, boil the required amount of water. Remove from heat and add the herb
Cover, leave for 15 minutes and strain.
Keep the container covered to contain the steam and volatile oils.
An infusion can be refrigerated for up to 48 hours.

 Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary was probably our first air freshener. In Medieval times, branches were laid on the floor or burnt to mask bad odours. This hardy perennial shrub is an all purpose herb; used in cooking, for healing, and as a hair tonic and rinse.

Growing tips: Rosemary grows in full sun, tolerates nutrient poor soil and drought. It can also be grown in containers. It is evergreen and can be clipped as topiary. It flowers in spring and autumn. The volatile oil is most concentrated in the leaves which can be harvested throughout the year.

Great for cleaning: carpets, floors, windows, kitchen counters and baths. Use interchangeably with lavender in the all purpose surface cleaner recipe.

How to use it: To make an aromatic carpet freshener sprinkle the following mix onto the carpet, leave overnight to absorb odors and dirt and then vacuum.

¾ cup baking soda
¼ cup cornflour
¼ cup rosemary leaves or, lavender flowers stripped off the stems.

Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla)
Lemon has always been favoured as a cleaning agent, and lemon verbena leaves have the strongest lemon fragrance of all the lemony herbs. It grows into a large, attractive shrub with fronds of white/ mauve flowers in summer.

Growing tips: Verbena grows best in full sun, likes a well composted but light soil that drains well and should be watered regularly. It is sensitive to cold and prefers a sheltered position if grown in areas that receive frost. It loses its leaves in winter and should be cut back in spring to encourage strong, new growth. Harvest the leaves in summer.

Great for cleaning: wood and tile floors, counter-tops, walls, porcelain, bathroom fixtures, sealed natural and synthetic stone.

How to use it: try this recipe for a multi-purpose surface cleaner:
1 cup liquid dishwashing soap
6 cups water
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup strong infusion of lemon verbena (can also use thyme, lavender, tea tree, mint/peppermint)
Mix ingredients together in a cleaning bucket, and use with mop or cloths.

Rose scented geranium (Pelargoniumgraveolens)
The sweet rose fragrance released when crushing the deep green leaves is unsurpassed. It produces small pink flowers and grows into a compact, drought resistant shrub

Growing tips: Plants prefer full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Weekly watering is required and good drainage is essential. Cut back at the end of the growing season to prevent straggly growth. Is susceptible to frost. Pick fresh leaves and flowers throughout the year.

Good for cleaning: Both leaves and flowers can be used in household cleaners. Add a few leaves to the vacuum cleaner bag and tie a few leaves in old pantyhose and put in the tumble drier to scent clothes.

How to use it: Make a rose-scented scrub with 1 cup baking soda, 1 tablespoon salt and ¼ cup rose geranium leaves or other fragrant leafy herb. Chop up the ingredients using a blender. Sprinkle on area to be scoured, wet slightly, and scrub.

Mint (Mentha spp)
The huge range of different mints includes common spearmint, peppermint, apple, ginger, eau de cologne and more, all with distinctive fragrances that will perfume the home.

Growing tips: All mint needs rich, moist soil and partial sun. Most mints are creeping and will spread quickly. Because of their invasive nature they are best grown in pots. Clip off the runners as they appear. Water regularly so that they don’t dry out. Cut back the plant if it suffers from rust. Growth dies down in winter but sprouts in spring. For new plants, use rooted runners.

Good for cleaning: floors, surfaces, and acting as an air freshener.
How to use it: As a treatment for wooden floors, mix ½ cup white vinegar and ½ cup strained peppermint tea (or other mint) to about 8 litres of warm water in a bucket. Wash, not soak, the floors. No need to rinse.

Tips for using home made herbal cleaners
Before using a homemade product, test it in an inconspicuous area to make sure it won’t stain, or fade your carpet or other surfaces.
Dissolve ingredients like baking soda in hot water before adding to your sprayer. This prevents clogging.
Excess herbal cleaning products can be stored for a few days in the refrigerator.
If you run out of fresh herbs use a few drops of essential oil.
Feed herbs twice a month to encourage re-growth.

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