Archive for May, 2012

Review: Willowherb Soap

Willowherb soap – ‘Spice Island’

I bought this soap on the Isle of Wight (£4.95 for 110g).

What I like about this soap:

🙂 It is handmade on the Isle of Wight, so buying it supports the local economy
🙂 Since it is made in Britain, I can be confident that sweatshop labour was not involved, and that the producer was paid fairly
🙂 It’s not tested on animals
🙂 The ingredients are vegan
🙂 It smells lovely
🙂 It’s ingredients are excellent & safe

There is room for improvement however, since not all of the ingredients were organic. In particular, it is important that essential oils are organic, because they are highly concentrated, and any pesticides/insecticides/herbicides that were used to grow the plant will have been concentrated as well. In addition, the soap was packaged in plastic (cellophane). I am not a fan of plastic, particularly plastic that can’t be recycled. I learned all about the problems associated with plastic and how to live as plastic-free as possible from this blog. The author lists 95 steps to reducing your plastic consumption.

Ingredients of Willowherb Soap (As quoted on the packet)

  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Organic responsibly sourced palm oil – it is important to ensure that palm oil is from responsible sources, since currently tropical rainforests and peatlands in South East Asia are being destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations.
  • IW (Isle of Wight) rapeseed oil – local 🙂
  • Organic shea butter (from the nut of the African shea tree)
  • Castor oil (from the castor bean)
  • IW (Isle of Wight) spring water
  • Sodium hydroxide – otherwise known as lye. This reacts with the oils to produce the soap, in a process known as saponification. Lye is corrosive, but after this process it is neutralised.
  • Turmeric (a spice)
  • Ginger
  • Essential oils: patchouli, orange, lime & ginger
Currently, I use Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, whose ingredients are:
Water, Organic Coconut Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Organic Olive Oil, Tea Tree Extract, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Citric Acid, Tocopherol (vitamin E)
However, Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap is packaged in plastic. It is also a little expensive. Ideally I would like to make my own soap – I even have a recipe that calls for water, olive oil, lye, coconut oil, sunflower oil and essential oils.

What soap do you use? Do you read the ingredients list on your soap? I like to know exactly what each ingredient is and what it is doing in my soap, as well as if it is environmentally friendly. This also applies to shampoos, moisturizers, toothpastes, cosmetics… anything really! 


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For quite a while now I have been suffering from chronic nasal congestion, i.e. my nose seemed to be chronically blocked. Not severely blocked, but blocked enough so that my sense of smell had been dulled, which was extremely annoying. No amount of nose blowing seemed to shift whatever was clogging my nasal system, since my nose wasn’t runny. In fact, it seemed as if the congestion was at the back of my nasal passages, in an area otherwise known as the nasopharynx. The nasopharynx is illustrated in the diagram of the nasal passages below.

Diagram of the Nasal Cavity

Diagram of the Nasal Passages: The nasopharynx is shown to the right of the diagram

Since the nasopharynx is at the back of the nasal cavity, it is difficult to shift the blockage. Isn’t it interesting to see how large the nasal passages are? You wouldn’t expect it, since you lose the sensation of where the air is going when you inhale. To the left of the diagram you can see where the front teeth are (in white) and the nostrils mark the entrance to the ‘nasal vestibule’.

I couldn’t understand why my nose was constantly blocked. It seemed unaffected by seasonality, implying that it wasn’t hay fever. It couldn’t be an allergy to dairy or dairy products, since I gave those up approximately 3 years ago. It couldn’t be a chronic bacterial/viral infection because the mucus wasn’t thick or runny. For a while I thought it might be a wheat allergy. Although it isn’t impossible to be vegan and not eat wheat, it is not an easy task (I also think it wouldn’t be easy for a non-vegan, since wheat is ubiquitous). However, eliminating wheat didn’t seem to be particularly effective at ‘de-congesting’ my nasal system.

So I went to my local GP. I wasn’t too optimistic, since, in my experience, GPs tend to be a little dismissive. I explained to my GP that I wasn’t interested in taking any medication. I asked my GP if she could arrange for me to meet an ear, nose and throat specialist. She asked me if I had heard of nasal irrigation and said that ENT specialists recommended it to their patients. I said I’d try it and see how I got on.

Nasal irrigation is a practice that involves washing out the nasal passages with a saline solution to flush out excess mucus and environmental irritants (such as pollen, dust, smog etc). It can be performed using a nasal spray or a neti pot. I think nasal sprays are uncomfortable to use, so I bought a neti pot.  A neti pot is made of ceramic and looks ‘like a cross between a small teapot and Aladdin’s magic lamp’. The practice of using a neti pot to alleviate congestion is centuries old, originating from yoga medical tradition. Using a neti pot does look a little undignified, but I found that it really helped alleviate my nasal congestion. I also found the experience comfortable (once you get used to it).

How to Use a Neti Pot

  • Wash the neti pot with soap & water
  • Fill the neti pot with lukewarm water (i.e. body temperature). I boil the water first and wait for it to cool down
  • Add 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp baking soda to the water and mix with a spoon until dissolved
  • Leaning over a sink or bathtub, tilt your head to the side
  • Put the spout of the neti pot in your nostril
  • Breathe gently through your mouth
  • Tilt the neti pot so that the saline solution will flow through your nasal cavity and out through the other nostril. It’s a strange sensation but it shouldn’t feel uncomfortable if done correctly. The fluid may run into your throat, in which case you can just spit it out
  • Blow your nose. You will definitely need to do this, as the neti pot will have shifted some of your mucus.
  • Repeat on the other side

In summary, I’m happy I gave it a go because I feel much better now!

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St. Catherine’s Oratory on the Isle of Wight, built in the 1300s!

Going on holiday can be a little tricky for vegans. Whenever I go out to a new restaurant, I usually try to look over their menu online beforehand, to ensure that there is a vegan option for me, or if there is a dish that can easily be ‘veganized’ (e.g. by asking for the cheese to be omitted from the dish). However, having to meticulously plan your holiday so that you will always be near a vegan-friendly restaurant can be very tedious, particularly if you like to have a bit of spontaneity in your holiday, like me! The best thing to do is to bring your own snacks and meals, if you have  a cooler. However, I don’t have a cooler (yet), but I probably should get one, so I can make my holidays a bit more frugal too!

Some regions/countries are excellent for vegans e.g. Tuscany in Italy, where you can have Tuscan bean soup (probably one of my favourite foods ever), Tuscan beans on bread and pizzas (no cheese). Other places, such as Norway, are not very good at all, as well as being expensive (one restaurant I went into in Bergen was serving pizza at the  equivalent of £30 – it wasn’t even a posh restaurant! Needless to say I didn’t eat there). In the Scottish highlands I ate lots of bread from the supermarket :S

So, what did I eat on the Isle of Wight?

Day 1

  • Breakfast: leftover homemade rice with avocado, blackeyed beans in a soy sauce, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  • Lunch: pita bread with falafel, tomatoes and salad with sweet potato fries. Annoyingly, it wasn’t a homemade falafel (rather, it was likely that it was bought from a supermarket). Supermarket falafel almost always contain cumin. I don’t like cumin at all, so I was very disappointed with this meal. Also, it’s quite cheeky to serve supermarket food in a cafe, isn’t it? The sweet potato fries were very tasty
  • Dinner: (starter) leek & potato soup – delicious! Main- butternut squash and aubergine masala with pilau rice, pita bread with a vegetable side (roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips & pickled red cabbage). I’m not a fan of butternut squash or aubergine, and the masala had so much cumin in it that I couldn’t eat it. As a rule I don’t eat Indian food unless it is served in an Indian restaurant, otherwise I almost always end up with an unfortunate cumin incident (ditto Mexican food). However, I didn’t have a choice, because the hotel only offered vegans the masala. Sigh. At least I had the roast veggies, which you can’t go wrong with.

Day 2

  • Breakfast: 2 hash browns, baked beans, 2 fried tomatoes, slice of toast with strawberry jam. This is pretty much what I ate at the B&Bs in the Scottish highlands, thought I’d often have fried mushrooms too. However, the hotel that I was staying at said that they fried the mushrooms in butter, so I couldn’t have any. Usually, hotels/B&Bs offer to fry some mushrooms in margarine for me, but this wasn’t the case with this hotel! (to be fair they were quite busy).
  • Lunch: Baked potato with baked beans and salad.
  • Dinner: tofu, vegetables (beansprouts, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, carrots), mushrooms and noodles.

Day 3

  • Breakfast: 2 hash browns, baked beans, 2 fried tomatoes, slice of toast with strawberry jam
  • Lunch: garlic humus, rosemary chiabatta bread, purred beetroot, pickled garlic, green olives, sundried tomatoes and sweet potato chips. Probably the tastiest meal I had on the island (though the garlic hummus had cumin in it, so I didn’t eat it).
  • Dinner: pizza at home!

Do you find it difficult eating out when on holiday? Are there any particular spices or herbs that you hate? I hate cumin a lot, but I don’t feel comfortable asking  waiters if dishes have cumin in them- it probably seems petty and strange! Additionally, I almost always have to ask a waiter if he/she can ask the chef if a certain dish is vegan, or if the chef can omit cheese from a certain dish, so that I wouldn’t want to bombard the waiter and chef questions about cumin!

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The Vegan Society have released a video:

I think that the video is very well made and the music is effective. However, there aren’t many specific arguments for veganism in the video- after all, most people don’t know what veganism is!

In the past, people thought that slavery, the repression of women and the repression of homosexuals (among countless other heinous crimes) were morally sound. In the future, I believe that mankind will ‘evolve’ further, to extend compassion to animals, so that just as today we (in the West at least) do not eat cats and dogs, we will not eat pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, goats, fish etc.

What do you think? Will we be more compassionate in the future towards animals? 

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