There’s been a lot of talk about “green” and “organic” these days. Apparently unnatural chemicals are very bad for you, but I fully maintain that without caffeine the entire world might cease to function. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, there is an easy way to get your entire household squeaky clean in a perfectly green way. No, this is not a reference to the stuff that’s growing in your shower! What I’m talking about is natural cleaners, including some you might be able to grow in your own garden.
Vinegar is a plant derivative that is great for organic cleaning. I’ve even consulted with the geniuses who write for Wikipedia and it seems that vinegar can be made from any fruit. So, hypothetically, you could make this useful product from strawberries, apples, blueberries, and so on. Vinegar can also be made from any fermented liquid that contains alcohol. Yet one may need to exercise caution. Making homemade vinegar is a time consuming process, after all, and it involves something called “The Mother”. Perhaps its a job best left to professionals. Then again, it doesn’t involve a substance called “The Mother-in-Law”, so perhaps its alright to go ahead and try your luck.
It’s hard to clean organically with no scrubbing brushes and that’s where loofahs (Luffa species) come in. These plants basically look like very long cucumbers and can be grown under similar conditions but, just like some humans, they take forever to reach maturity. Loofahs also magically turn into sponges with a little help from their friends. All you have to do is peel them, scrape out the seeds with a spoon, and hang them out to dry. Loofahs make great back, feet, floor, and dish scrubbers. Just not all at the same time, of course.
These plants seem to benefit from enormous containers if growing them in the ground is otherwise impossible. I have to confess that my incredibly talented cousin has supplied all our loofahs for some years because it’s amazing the number of mistakes I’ve made with these gourds. I even get epic fail points for trying to grow loofahs in the shade in teensy pots, which I incidentally don’t recommend. Oh, and like most members of the cucurbit family, these garden vegetables don’t transplant well once they get to be a certain size. Don’t ask me how I know this.
So if you are otherwise incapable of growing loofahs, there has to be some hope for you, right? Actually yes! It’s a member of the ginger family. Not those kind of gingers. I’m not talking about Weaselys here. Anyway, shampoo ginger (Zingiber zerumbet) is a relative of culinary ginger, cardamom, and turmeric. It’s long stalks contain juices that can be used to wash hair, hence its common name. Like all plant gingers, this one needs light shade, moist soil, and temperatures that are above freezing. It also goes dormant in the winter (so no, you probably haven’t killed it when it shrivels up to nothing). Shampoo gingers are also resistant to humidity and most pests.
This makes them ideal for my lovely South Georgia garden because er…let’s not talk about what happened two days after I just finished composing an article on “How to get Caterpillars out of the Garden”. Suffice to say the future butterflies on my poor fennel plant were so numerous they were playing bumper cars (more like bumper butts) on the pitiful few remaining stalks. As Pintel from the Pirates franchise would say, “That’s what you call…ironic!”
Another fun plant for household cleaning is soapwort (Saponaria officinalis), also known as bouncing bet and not to be confused with German landmines known as Bouncing Betties. This plant is used to make a nice lather that’s safe for cleaning even museum quality fabrics (HomeFixated’s legal team advises extreme caution with your museum quality fabrics please). It can also be used as laundry detergent or shampoo, as long as you’re careful not to get it in your eyes. However, it’s not as popular the aforementioned cleaners, probably because I’ve read that it may cause contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals. This explains my reluctance to add it to my yard. I already had enough fun with mysterious rashes the year I discovered my severe jalapeno pepper allergy. Tragic yes, but life does go on.