As a follow up to my recent post on Botanical Infused Hair Oil for Long Strong Locks, I wanted to layer in the second half of what contributes to strong, healthy hair and that includes good nutrition and optimized digestion. It's often more convenient to rely on only topical products to enhance the way our hair looks and feels, and some good quality hair products are beneficial for scalp health and to strengthen and nourish damaged hair strands (botanical oils work really well for that!). But my foundational practice for long strong locks is what I'm putting in my body everyday and I focus heavily on nutrition and digestive support to make sure that, 1) I'm getting in all of the essential nutrients, vitamins, healthy fats and minerals that I need to maintain healthy organ systems, detoxification pathways and energy levels and, 2) I'm able to actually absorb all of the things I'm eating. It's a common saying, "You are what you eat", but it's more accurate to say, "You are what you absorb", and if we have impaired or compromised digestion, this can dramatically affect how our hair, skin and nails show up. 

As part of my foundational routine, I always incorporate whole, fresh foods into my diet every day with a variety of color and proteins (both plant based and animal) along with nutrient rich whole grains, legumes and healthy fats. As soon as my digestion starts to get a little out of whack, I notice it in the texture of my hair (and also my nails) and this is a sign that I'm not absorbing the nutrients I need. Your body speaks to you in little whispers like subtle hair and nail changes, and those little whispers are always telling you something that you should be paying attention to. Also, keep in mind that nutrition and digestive health are not the be-all-end-all solution for healthy hair. Sometimes other health considerations need to be addressed too such as hormone balance, stress, and immune system support. Everyone may require something different, physiologically. Here are a few recommendations to maintain long strong locks from a nutritional and herbal medicine perspective:

Essential Nutrition -----

Healthy Fats: I can't stress enough how important healthy fats and essential fatty acids are for hair health (and for so many other things, too!). When we have dry, damaged or brittle hair, that is a classically dry and deficient condition. Healthy fats are not only feeding and structurally supporting our cellular membranes but they're providing that much needed moisture into our bodies to help balance out those dry conditions. Fats are one of  our three dietary macronutrients (along with carbohydrates and proteins) and are essential for us to absorb our fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K. Avocado's, coconut oil, olive oil, walnuts, almonds, salmon, flax seed, chia seeds and hemp seeds are all great sources of healthy fats and a variety of these should be consumed daily. I often eat at least 1/2 an avocado or 1 tbsp freshly ground flax in a summer morning smoothie just to start off the day. A handful of walnuts and coconut butter also find their way into my snacks on the regular. Of course, everything in moderation. The amount of fats you should consume daily is different for each person and lifestyle, and your nutritionist or dietitian can help figure that out for you.

Essential minerals zinc, magnesium, potassium and selenium. If you're eating a moderate portion of at least 5 different colors every day of whole foods, fruits and vegetables, you're probably getting what you need in terms of essential minerals. All of these minerals are abundant in spinach, rainbow chard, carrots, nuts and seeds, legumes (especially lentils!), broccoli, sweet potatoes, black beans, whole grains (like quinoa, amaranth, wild rice), tomatoes, blueberries, bananas, sunflower seeds, peppers and mushrooms. Focus on COLOR, fresh vegetables and fruits and variety for each and every meal. Even a small amount consistently adds up over time!

Biotin - biotin is one of the most beneficial nutrients for healthy hair, and it's abundant in so many whole foods including walnuts, eggs, almonds, sunflower seeds, bananas and avocado's. As you'll notice, all of these biotin rich foods cross over into other categories for healthy hair like minerals, healthy fats and also proteins (hence why we should never pigeon hole foods - they're supportive in such comprehensive ways). 

Protein: proteins provide all of the amino acids we need to build strong muscles, organs and hormones so that we can function optimally and with adequate energy. Variety is key when it comes to proteins, as many protein rich foods are so abundant in nutrients that we also need for hair health. Some of my favorite proteins that pack a powerful nutrient punch include lentils, quinoa, walnuts, Brazil nuts, eggs, organic yogurts, organic turkey and chicken, salmon and black beans. Personally, I also eat organic red meats about two or three times per month for the extra iron. 

And, obviously, WATER! As a general rule of thumb, take your body weight, divide by 2, and that's the minimum amount of ounces you should drink daily. (Ex, if you're 120lbs = 60 ounces of water at minimum). Herbal tea counts towards this too, as long as it's not a tannin rich tea like black tea. 

Herbs for digestive support + nutrient absorption -----

Aloe vera - Aloe leaf, when taken internally, helps to increase the absorption of nutrients by almost 20x and provides a soothing, cooling and mucilaginous effect throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract. This helps to calm inflammation and irritated or inflamed tissues and promote daily bowel movements to eliminate toxins and maintain a thriving probiotic/saccharomyces balance in the large intestines and colon. Aloe vera itself is packed with nutrients and minerals that you also absorb, making it a powerful ally for both digestive health + nutritional intake. When there is any sign or indication where malabsorption is an issue, aloe is one of my first recommendations. 

Chamomile: Matricaria recutita is one of my personal favorite digestive modulators, being a calming and slightly cooling herbal remedy for irritated or over-active digestive states. Often if folks have a rapid digestion (i.e frequent diarrhea) or volatile and reactive GI tracts, chamomile helps to calm the spasms of the gut, allowing more time for nutrients to be absorbed via the small and large intestines, and offering an energetically cooling quality to an otherwise hot (overactive) gut. 

Nettle - literally jam packed with nutrients, Urtica dioica is like a multi-vitamin in herb form that is incredibly easy for folks with compromised digestion to absorb. It is also high in kidney nourishing minerals potassium, sodium, zinc and magnesium. Adding in a nettle tea to your daily routine is such a nourishing and easy way to add essential nutrients into your diet that's also herby delicious, affordable and easy and quick to do. 

Slippery Elm - similar to aloe, Ulmus rubra adds in some much needed digestive support with it's soothing and mucilaginous quality for irritated or inflamed digestion. Slippery elm itself is (not surprisingly) also packed with nutrients including polysaccharides and fiber and I treat this herb much like a food. I add this to teas and also use the powders in nut butter balls for a quick protein rich, healthy fat + nutrient dense snack. 

Of course, you don't have to eat every single one of these foods every day to maintain healthy hair. Think of the big picture within your weekly diet and also within your daily diet, get in as much variety as possible if these foods are affordable and available to you. I'm always a proponent of getting in nutrients via food before supplements, however high quality, food based, organic supplements can also be a good option to increase some of the minerals and nutrients on a daily basis. It may also be beneficial to have your nutritionist, dietitian or PCP do a mineral or vitamin panel before beginning to supplement so that you know exactly which nutrients and foods you need to focus on the most. Remember, foods and herbs serve as allies in your health journey and each one of us may require something a little different. 

Photography by Renee Byrd

I've kept my hair long for about 18 years now, with the occasional drastic chop and donation. When I was 12 years old, the movie Practical Magic came out and since the moment I first saw it, Nicole Kidman gave me forever hair goals (and I still to this day am desperate to get her epic layered haircut, but alas, have never found someone who can do it just right). Other than the subtle witchy vibe, keeping my hair long gave me a sense of individuality, of femininity...of inner elfishness like I just stepped out of Lothlorien treehouse heaven. It's my bit of consistent style and whimsey in a totally fleeting fashion-fad absorbed world. My hair grows like a weed, and the upkeep can sometimes feel tedious. A long time ago I committed to only using minimal, botanical based products and the least amount of effort and styling tools possible. Eventually I learned that the less I do to my hair, the better it feels and healthier it stays. Botanical infused hair oils (and good nutrition - more on that here!) are my not so secret allies for maintaining long, strong locks. 

I started using botanical infused hair oils years ago and it was hard to find ones that didn't have sketchy ingredients in them. My long time go-to was Banyan Botanicals Hair Oil and over the past three or four years I've been making and using my own hair oil at least twice a week as I've been growing my hair longer and longer. I also use a lot of hair keeping it inexpensive to make was important. Herbal goodness doesn't just stop with the internal application of teas and tinctures. Herbal and botanical body care items are absolute magic for harnessing the power of herbs topically. This botanical infused hair oil is what I would consider 1/2 of what contributes to long, strong locks. The other half is good nutrition, and I'll cover that in another post. And, obviously, there's the genetic factor (thanks, mom and dad). I slather my hair and massage my scalp with this oil twice a week, sleep with it in overnight, then wash my hair in the morning (and I only wash my hair about twice a week). I let my hair air dry as much as possible and rarely ever use any product in it after I wash it. Humidity, however, is a gross and unrelenting hair adversary. In the summer, I'll give my hair a spritz of sea salt spray or use my aloe sun soothing spray on the ends...but that's about it. Humidity generally always wins. 

Herbs and Hair Health: My go-to herbal allies for hair are Nettle (shocker), rosemary, aloe and coconut + jojoba oil. 

Nettle (Utica dioica) is so nutrient dense, being extremely high in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc - dietarily making it one of the most mineral dense plant foods we can consume. Nettle also has a rich content of two fat soluble vitamins, vitamin A and carotenoids (the pre-cursor to vitamin A), and vitamin K. B vitamins are also tucked away in those nutrient dense stinging leaves too. These are all vitamins and minerals we need in the right proportions in our diet to maintain overall health as well (and I'll dive into that later on). When I utilize herbs for hair health, like nettle, I'm using these vitamins and minerals on my scalp and also on the strands to help repair damage, split ends, and soothe the texture of the strands. Nettle supports both the hair follicles and hair strands. Rosemary I use specifically for the circulatory and oxygenation of hair follicles on the scalp - hence the good scalp massage part of the hair oil ritual. 

Aloe I include for it's soothing and repairing quality on hair strands. Have you ever used aloe topically on your skin? Works just as good in your hair too! Aloe is also super nutrient dense with some of the same nutrients that nettle carries and then some. Rich in Vitamins A, C, B12, niacin and folic acid, the inner gel also packs in calcium, magnesium zinc and iron. The fresh gel is so soothing and moistening for dry scalps, infusing the skin with nutrients and is cooling and soothing for itchy or flaky skin and just coats the hair strands in glycoproteins and nutrients. I absolutely love aloe for almost every single body care need, and I keep an aloe plant in my home constantly. 

Finally - the carrier oils. Coconut and Jojoba are my go-to's for hair health. I tend to have dry skin and dry hair, and personally coconut oil is my ideal oil to use topically due to it's high vitamin E content. The medium chain fatty acid content of coconut oil is what makes it so soothing for topical skin and hair health and it seems maintain that moisture for a long time - it's not something you have to continually re-apply and re-apply. Jojoba is an oil I repeatedly use to help balance oil production via the hair follicles. It's also moisture rich but lighter than coconut oil, not clogging pores or follicles and helps to maintain a perfect oil balance on my scalp. There are ton of other beneficial oils you can use on your scalp and in hair oils - these are just my preferred favorites. They're also excellent herbal extractors. Once I chop and fill my jars with the herbal inputs, I completely cover everything with a mix of these two oils and set it in the hot summer sun...

Solar infusions are my preferred way to let herbs infuse in oil, especially during the summer. Herbal oil infusions are SO luxurious and nourishing to use topically (like this calendula infused apricot kernel oil - a longtime favorite of mine!) when given enough time and moderate heat, most herbs extract beautifully in a carrier oil and have a relatively long shelf life. Once I prep my oil, I set it out in the garden for about two weeks and let the summer suns heat permeate through this formula, in a sense also infusing it with the essence of high summer. 

This is my base formula, always consistent and always effective. I sometime like to add various essential oils depending on what I'm feeling in the moment. Options include more rosemary, lavender, cedar, patchouli or, you know, whatever your favorites are. As always, play with it and make it yours. Try using different base oils if these don't quite work for you. Sesame oil, olive oil and argan oils are also excellent to use too. 

Botanical Infused Hair Oil

1 cup dried nettle leaves, chopped fine
1/2 cup fresh rosemary leaves, finally chopped
2 cups coconut oil
2 cups jojoba oil
1/4 cup aloe gel
essential oils

Chop herbs as fine as possible and add to a large mason jar, Cover completely with the coconut oil and jojoba oil, adding more oil if needed to entirely cover the herbs once it's settled. Scrape the inside of a large aloe leaf to remove all of the gel, between 1/4 - 1/2 cup. You may also use purchased aloe gel, but make sure there are very few added ingredients and no alcohol. Cover with a tight fitted lid and give it a good shake. Let sit in the summer sun for about 3-4 days, shaking daily. After it's solar infused, strain through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth and squeeze out all of the liquid. Adjust the essential oils to your smell preference after it is infused. Store in a glass jar and use weekly. Massage a generous amount into your scalp for about 2-3 minutes, and coat hair strands completely with the oil from root to tips. Comb through and put your hair in a braid. Sleep overnight with the oil in your hair and then wash as normal in the morning. 

Read more: Nutrition & Herbs for Long Strong Locks

Photography by Renee Byrd

This post is sponsored by my friends at Mountain Rose Herbs

Being a fair skinned redhead, I've been chronically susceptible to skin damage and sun burns my entire life. When I was a kid, I was the poor impressionable youngster covered head to toe in baggy peace frog t-shirts, huge hats and solid white sunscreen coated legs tagging awkwardly along behind my beautifully tall, blonde & tanned older sister at the beach. I feel like I get a sun burn just walking out to get my mail everyday. Forever the outdoor, tree-hugging nature devotee, I've worked in public gardens, organic summer camp veggie gardens, community herb gardens and spend most of my free time in the summer hiking and avoiding the sun is something I choose not to do. I do take plenty of precautions though, especially as I've gotten older and my skin has become more sensitive to the long term effects of sun exposure (hello, permanent shoulder freckles). I use high quality non-toxic sunscreens every single day, I cover up with SPF clothes when I'm outdoors for several hours at a time, and I use topical (usually herbal) sprays immediately after I've gotten too much sun. I've been making a soothing after sun skin spray with aloe, lavender and calendula for a couple of years now and it works like a charm to prevent sunburns from getting too bad, and expedites the healing process if I was careless enough to lose track of time under the sun. 

Aloe + Lavender + Calendula = skin soothing magical combo

These three herbal ingredients are some of the absolute best for skin repair and cellular skin health preventatively and acutely and they're always in my herbal arsenal. Aloe has been a topical skin remedy for me for as long as I can remember, and I've kept an aloe plant with me every year since my first college dorm room (his name is Spindle, and I'll feature him in my next blog post because he's just that awesome). The inside of aloe vera leaves are filled with a thick, latex-like gel substance that's produced by the inner parenchymal cells in the center of the leaf. When this gel is diluted, it's referred to as Aloe Vera Gel or sometimes Aloe Juice. Aloe is largely comprised of water, along with polysaccharides and glycoproteins  - both of which have anti-inflammatory properties. The gel also contains lignin, sterols, Vitamin A & E and even B-12 AND salicylic acid - a pain relieving compound also found in white willow. With it's wide array of soothing components, it's no surprise aloe has been used for wound healing for generations with tremendous success. For skin specifically, aloe gel supports the repair of epidermal skin cells and is a lifesaver for sun burnt skin! 

Lavender flowers contain between 1%-3% essential oils, and the compounds differ slightly between species. When used topically, lavender has a mild pain relieving (analgesic) effect and is also anti-inflammatory while being energetically cooling to help combat heat related issues (like sunburns!). I prefer using Lavender angustifolia essential oil in my skin spray for all of these herbal actions PLUS it smells incredibly good! 

Finally, calendula flowers make up the rest of this skin soothing trio. Calendula carries anti-inflammatory power while also contributing to wound healing and skin repair after damage (thought to be be due to the intense metabolism of glycoproteins during tissue regeneration). Calendula flowers have traditionally been used for topical healing and soothing burns, and from my personal experience it's remarkable at helping soothe sunburns and over-heated skin. You can also use calendula flowers in my Calendula Infused Apricot Oil recipe and accompanying Classic Calendula Salve recipe. 

Side note - I use this exact same skin spray on insect bites to help with the inflammation and redness, itchiness and pain and yep - works well on those too. 

I use all three of these herbs in my skin soothing spray and keep a bottle in the refrigerator almost all summer long (because keeping it cold feels SO good on sun kissed skin). This simple recipe is incredibly easy to make and, best of all, it's affordable and effective. I use a ton of this stuff and drench my skin with this spray generously - even when I'm not sun burnt - just to cool and soothe my skin when I'm overheated in the southern summer heat. A spritz on the face is pure heaven on those 90+ degree days. 

Added bonus - Mountain Rose Herbs has their Summer Sale happening now, August 14 - Friday August 27th with 20% some of their herbal goodies including their aloe gel and lavender essential oil

Soothing After Sun Skin Spray

2oz Aloe vera gel

 1/2 cup calendula flowers

 1 cup filtered water

 Lavender essential oil
Makes 4 ounces

Bring 1 cup filtered water to a boil and pour over 1/2 cup calendula flowers to make a strong infusion. Let steep for 15 minutes, then strain. In a 4 ounce glass bottle, fill halfway (2 ounces) with aloe vera gel and fill another 2 ounces with the strong calendula infusion. Top with 10 drops lavender essential oil. Seal with a spritzer top and shake well. Keep refrigerated and use generously and frequently on sun kissed skin. 


This post is sponsored by my friends at Mountain Rose Herbs. All thoughts and opinions are my own. It is my goal to use and recommend only the highest quality herbal products from companies that I wholly trust and fully support. Industry standards including sustainable harvestingquality controlorganic / fair trade standards and responsible sourcing are all things I care deeply about when working with herbs and herbal companies. I have been using Mountain Rose Herbal products for almost a decade, and have always been so impressed with their commitment to environmental stewardship. Thank you for supporting the brands that help to make this blog possible. 

Herbal medicine and nutrition is my expertise. Understanding plants, their properties, and their powers is my passion.


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