Our Natural Home: A Slow Living Guide
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
Always sleeping with the windows open in our stone cottage, I awake at first light in a haze of fog, with damp, crackling breathes of wind gently lifting the tendrils of my hair. This is my season. A time when I take up some of my most beloved slow rituals, like gathering the last plush leaves and reedy stalks of Common Mullein Flower from our centuries-old garden bed that sits alongside an ancient cobblestone wall, tenderly drying and saving the seeds for next season. I will go around our home and collect the remnants of candle nubbins that sit abandoned in window sills, slowly heating and straining the nectar-sweet beeswax in a pot over the stove as I prepare to dip lengths of buttery-soft cotton in the liquid gold to create fresh candles for darker days to come.
In the mornings, you’ll often find me sitting in our cozy window seat, a steaming cup of fresh tulsi and clover blossom tea served in a pottery mug thrown by my hand, streaks of sun spilling onto the pages of a cloth-bound journal on my lap, as I slowly draw out little ideas, record thoughtful moments, and write out recipes and formulations for future herbal musings. After which I’ll begin the day by cleansing my workspace with a natural bristled wooden brush, strong vinegar, grey sea salt, natural oils and, fresh lemon until it shines like a new penny.
My life ethos in a nutshell: Seek to nurture treasured, natural, earth-minded, non-toxic practices rooted in slowness and simplicity.
This way of living simply was born many moons ago. I grew up in a 200-year-old farmhouse. A beautiful powder blue-hued homestead overlooking sun-drenched rolling hills, with a steep embankment leading down to a placid creek filled with tadpoles and small fish. My dad, being a bit of a purist and naturalist at heart, was always demonstrating ways in which we might be more environmentally mindful. From an early age, I was taught to be thoughtful about the consumption of our resources, particularly since our household water was provided by a cistern which lay underneath our wrap-around porch, one with panoramic views of our ancient willow tree, and the crackled paint of our old barn, and was filled infrequently at best by a truck that drove in from the town bordering our small hamlet.
With the preservation of our precious water in mind, we took short showers and baths and collected rainwater from the roof of our barn by funneling it into an old barrel. We would plunge a green watering can into the dark, swirling, and often algae-laden water and use it for tending gardens, flushing toilets, and the like. I took a few gleeful plunges into that barrel myself when I was still small enough to fit inside. We grew organic herbs, flowers, berries, and vegetables in our garden, and bartered for fresh bottles of still-warm goats milk from the small Mennonite farm next door. I didn’t understand at the time, but these simple and tender childhood experiences rooted my approach to slow living and laid the groundwork for how I guide my little family decades later. My early connection and devotion to nature, as well as my Pagan faith also set the stage for my commitment to earth stewardship.
(If you’re curious, my parents still live on our farm property, and my dad continues to collect rainwater in that old barrel, although I definitely cannot fit inside anymore!)
Looking back, I realize that I’ve been living green since my earliest days, and well before it was the status quo. I remember having to explain to friends in my teenage years, why I always carried around a stainless steel water bottle in place of the popular on-brand Evian or Dasani bottles of the time, my reasoning behind my unwavering position on the consumption of organic foods, and use of natural cosmetics, the tattered woven cotton grocery bag I carried everywhere, and my closet full of thrift clothing and preloved shoes. I would get strange looks when I spoke passionately about ethical beekeeping, natural dyeing, and if you can believe it…herbalism.
After years of living on our family farm, I moved to downtown Toronto, where I spent the next 10 years trying to convert my little apartments into spaces that felt farmhouse-inspired, and eco-friendly, all the while studying herbalism and folk medicine. I became a devoted patron, and then vendor at city farmers markets, and eventually opened up an apothecary and natural wellness shop. Finally, after I'd had my fill of metropolitan life, I moved with my husband to a centuries-old stone cottage and converted crofters barn in Wellington County, where I now run our herbcraft studio full time.
Recently, it has become de rigueur to be ‘green and sustainable’, and we hear a lot about ‘Slow Living’. The idea of living minimally and consciously, while nurturing thoughtful connection to the earth, reviving old methods of craft, and committing to the use of ethically and environmentally considerate objects.
While I normally stay clear of virtually everything that is considered ‘on trend’, this is one modern-day movement that delights me beyond measure, and one that I dearly hope is here to stay. Those who know me well will tell you that I was born in the wrong century. That I’m best situated in slowness, and to the daily rituals of old-world craft and routine, a simpler, more natural way of living. In this time of global overwork and overwhelm, I dig deep and find that slowness within myself, seeking out practices that offer not only environmental renewal but spiritual revival as well. I am my truest self when I live naturally, sustainably, and minimally, and I believe that we are all our best, and healthiest selves when we slow down, simplify our lives, and get back to our roots.
From our 150-year-old stone cottage in the countryside, and without further ado, I want to share with you some of the simple ways in which we nurture our natural approach to everyday living.
In the Kitchen
The roughly textured walls of our stone cottage kitchen are adorned with antique wooden rolling pics, copper pots, glass jars filled with various wild foraged roots and herbs, and an abundant collection of pottery. It is one of my favourite places in the world. Here are some of the ways we reduce waste, and work thoughtfully in our kitchen:
We filter drinking water using a stainless steel and ceramic filter.
In place of plastic bottles, we always bring water on-the-go in our Klean Kanteen Bottles (Mine is 12 years old!).
We compost food scraps, saving some for the garden, and the rest as treats for our flock of heritage hens.
We tidy and sweep crumbs using a homemade broom corn whisk. Here is a whisk that we love by Canadian Artist and Broomsquire, Amina Haswell.
My favourite ‘milk’ is homemade daily using organic oats, nuts, and seeds.
Organic castile soap is diluted to make hand soap in a reusable glass jar with a pump.
I’m a hobby ceramist and adore handcrafted pottery. My kitchen is filled with an assortment of pieces that I’ve made, and others collected, from earthenware mugs to wide-mouth vases and serving platters. I’m currently swooning over the works of NY-based Turiya Gross, Oregon-based, Sage Cortez, and Canadian Anishnaabe ceramist, Shawna Redskye.
We repurpose wonderful work-horse antique and vintage kitchen tools like metal egg beaters, wooden rolling pins, and copper pots and pans.
I love to store dry goods in Weck Jars or antique mason jars.
A mortar and pestle are essential for grinding herbs and spices!
For cleaning our entire house, we use good old fashioned cleaning vinegar! (Or diluted Castile soap). You can also add a bit of washing soda to the vinegar for extra scrubbing power. Wiping up is done with soft, reusable cloths.
We burn only handmade candles of pure, raw beeswax, gathered kindly by passionate beekeepers who run their small apiaries and focus on the protection and preservation of pollinators and their ecosystems. Here are some beautiful beeswax candles made in the traditional method by our friends in Red Deer, Alberta.
My collection of linen clothing has been growing steadily for years, and one garment that I love in both work and life is a sturdy cross-back linen apron with deep pockets. Perfect for cooking, foraging, and the like. Another sweet option is this canvas apron, hand-stamped with fiddlehead plants!
We buy a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm Share from a local grower, so we have access to delicious, slow-farmed organic vegetables from Spring to late Autumn! We also support our local farmers market each week and pick up the most delicious bee-friendly raw honey, sheep milk yogurt, free-range organic eggs, freshly baked bread, and microgreens!
For bringing groceries home, I’m a huge fan of reusable cloth produce bags!
Homemade Bone Broth
Pink Sea Salt
Organic Grass-Fed Ghee
Fermented Dairy-Free Cheese
Homemade Sauerkraut, Pickles and Ferments
Mixed organic nuts for making fresh Nut Mylk each morning
In the Bedroom
One of my favourite pastimes is reviving preloved furnishings, and you’ll often find me thrifting vintage and antique furniture on the weekends. The majority of our home is adorned with old-world finds like weathered pine blanket boxes, 19th-century lithograph prints, hand-forged wrought iron candlesticks, quirky folk art, and apothecary cabinets. For more intimate home goods like bedding, and linen, I try to source organically from makers who focus on sustainability and avoid the use of flame retardants, dyes, and synthetic chemicals.
For bedding, I have a deep love for pure linen sheets. The flax plant from which Linen is derived does not require much energy or water resources to produce. Linen is also naturally biodegradable and recyclable.
Richly detailed and vibrantly patterned quilts are beloved items to collect, and I often find wonderful examples at local flea markets and thrift stores. They quickly become treasured heirloom pieces, and an old quilt can be easily revived by gentle laundering with a natural fabric wash. Always lay these old beauties flat to dry.
When painting walls or furniture, we always seek paints that are as natural as possible, and free of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). Here is a great article with suggestions for non-toxic and natural paint options!
In the Bathroom
Nothing beats a steaming hot bath and a cup of tea in our generously-sized tub. This is one place where you can make some very impactful changes in moving from disposable to reusable hygiene and personal care items.
We use natural, biodegradable silk dental floss.
Our toothbrushes are bamboo. These are amazing, and feel wonderful!
A wooden hairbrush makes a beautiful scalp massager!
Shaving is done with a metal straight razor. I love our Antique Gold Razor.
Organic cotton Q-tips are wonderful, but reusable swabs are even better!
I’m very fortunate to have a studio filled with herbs and oils in which to make natural skin and body care products. I always have a bottle of simple flower infused oil at the ready to slather on skin.
A Simple Flower-Infused Skin Oil
1 oz of Dried Flowers (Chamomile, Rose, Calendula, Hops Flowers, Lavender, etc.)
10 oz of Carrier Oil (Such as Olive, Almond, Jojoba or Sunflower)
Mix herbs and carrier oil in a sterile glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
Shake the jar and leave in a sunny spot for 4-6 weeks.
Strain herbs through cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer, and pour into a dark glass bottle. Enjoy for up to 12 months stored at room temperature.
My makeup routine is extremely minimal. Most days I forgo cosmetics altogether, but when I want to feel fresh-faced, I try to purchase organic, non-toxic brands that use only clean ingredients. When in doubt, just try and avoid any products containing the Dirty Dozen. Here are a few products that I’m enjoying!
Pure Anada for non-toxic cosmetics. Woman-owned, and crafted in Canada!
I love to apply a few dabs of our Astris Stardust Glowbalm for a healthy and dewy complexion that feels nourished and soft.
My favourite lip tint is our nourishing Améthyste Night Plum Balm.
A few drops of our Diviner Wild Herb Hair Elixir keeps my locks feeling healthy!
Since our daughter was born, I’ve been thrilled to receive many messages from our wonderful community, asking about my recommendations for natural infant care and nurturing a green nursery. We knew from the start that our approach to parenting was going to be as natural as possible. Here are a few of our favourite practices so far!
We have used cloth diapers exclusively since our daughter was born. We decided to choose a brand designed and manufactured in Manitoba, Canada.
To launder the cloth diapers, we use a concentrated wash, Allen’s Naturally.
Cloth Wipes are a beautiful alternative to conventional disposable wipes. They launder magnificently and are great for sensitive skin.
I also make cloth wipes liquid to dampen each wipe before use. (Recipe Below)
We decorated the nursery with antique wooden furniture, nourished with homemade beeswax and organic olive oil polish to restore luster and shine.
Items like pacifiers or teething toys are natural rubber.
Our little one slept in an Elephant Grass bedside basket like this bassinet!
A Simple and Natural Cloth Wipe Solution:
3/4 tsp Organic Castile Soap (Dr. Bronner’s Organic Castile Baby Soap is perfect)
1 tsp Organic Coconut Oil
5 drops Organic Lavender or Tea Tree Essential Oil
Mix with 1 cup of boiling water, stir vigorously until dissolved.
Store in a glass bottle with a pump, shake occasionally, and dispense on dry cloth wipes as needed.
I’m dearly in love with simple, nature-based homesteading crafts. Here are just a few of the seasonal projects that help make our house feel like a home.
Natural Dyeing - I love to gather flowers, roots, herbs, and nuts to create beautiful fabric dyes. This is one of my favorite books on the subject. Perfect for beginners and experts alike. Here is a great tutorial for creating a magnificent soft blush dye with one of the most accessible ingredients out there - avocado pits and skins!
Canning - Preserving food in jars is a great way to enhance your enjoyment of seasonal fruits and veggies, particularly if you have a farm share and can’t use up several pounds of beets in a week. Here are some canning basics to get you started!
Making Beeswax Candles - Traditional paraffin candles (and even soy candles) are often scented with harmful chemicals, known carcinogens, and artificial fragrances. Raw beeswax, when sourced sustainably and ethically is one of my most beloved resources for creating natural, non-toxic candles. The beeswax scent is unlike any other, warm, and sweet like honey from the comb. Here is a great tutorial on how to make dipped candles.
Sourdough Bread - Nothing beats a crunchy, warm, aromatic loaf of beautiful, homemade sourdough bread. It’s remarkably easy once you have a good ‘sourdough starter’, (the essential base required to make this brilliant, hearty bread). I bought my starter from a lovely little farm a few minutes away from our stone cottage. The ‘mother’ batch from which my starter was harvested is over 25 years old and gives such a magnificent depth of flavour. You don’t need a vintage starter to get going, however, and you can easily make your own using these instructions. Fun fact, the oldest sourdough starter on record was estimated to be well over 120 years old!
Here is a book that I highly recommend for anyone beginning their journey to creating a natural home. An absolute staple for homesteaders, crafters, slow living aficionados!
I’ve linked to some of our favourite products at present, but this is by no means an exhaustive list!
This is not a sponsored article, just a list of products and practices that I love and trust.
Whenever possible, we choose to purchase from local and independent shops, black and indigenous-owned businesses, and from Canadian retailers who focus on ethical and sustainable trade.
To keep this guide at an enjoyable length, I’ve chosen not to list every green product and practice that we enlist, but I have plenty of suggestions, recommendations, and ride-or-die recipes that we love! If you’re looking for handcrafted goods, non-toxic and environmentally-friendly household cleaners, natural beauty, sustainable brands, low-waste essentials, herbal alternatives, and so forth, please don’t hesitate to send me an email through our website!
All my love,
Folk Herbalist, and Founder
Imagery courtesy of stock and brand photography.