Guest blog by Emma Hewlett.
I really enjoy the autumn. It’s a great time to get outdoors and observe the changing seasons. I’m a novice forager, and autumn brings with it chestnuts, mushrooms, rosehips and … conkers. Hold it! Before you start creating recipes, conkers are definitely poisonous to eat. However, they could become your newest household item to reduce environmental impact.
COP26 is all over the news this month, and we urgently need to start thinking differently about how we source our daily items if the big businesses aren’t going to make changes quickly enough. In this post, I’ll introduce you to the wonders of conkers and how they can reduce your environmental impact.
You must be Conkers!
You may have heard of soap nuts? They can generally be bought from eco-friendly shops and refill stores. They’re soapberries from a shrub that originates in India, and for centuries they have been used by Indian communities to clean laundry. I’ve tried soap nuts and I really rate them as an alternative to laundry liquid. They can be re-used a number of times and produce water that’s safe enough to water your veggies with. So also nice and safe for the planet.
But did you know that conkers also have natural soap – saponin – in them? Consider them your local soap nuts. They can be used to wash your hands, dishes and laundry. Apparently, they’re also great for bad circulation if made into a balm!
Conkers can Help Reduce your Environmental Impact
I don’t want to ignore the efforts people are making to reduce chemicals and packaging at home. If you buy soap nuts, you’re already thinking about what you’re buying and your impact on the planet. We’re all on our own journeys. But we do need to start thinking more creatively about what we can source locally. We need to be able to provide for ourselves in a way that is sustainable, and turning to nature is a great place to start.
Perhaps it also needs to be said that buying organic, plastic-free and eco-friendly alternatives isn’t an option for all of us. It’s expensive. We need to find an option that’s available to everyone.
Importing soap nuts from across the globe has an obvious environmental impact in terms of how it is shipped or flown in. Another factor that I hadn’t considered, though, was that buying these soap nuts also impacts the communities in India. Due to the demands of countries like the UK who are becoming more environmentally conscious, the price of soap nuts in India has increased. So much so that the locals are now forced to buy cheaper alternatives – chemicals!
In trying to make our habits more sustainable and healthier for the planet, it seems that we’ve pushed the problem onto someone else (sound familiar?).
So I decided to give conkers a go. They’re free, readily available, chemical-free and supposedly do the same job as soap nuts. I’m up for anything that helps to reduce my environmental impact.
Conker Laundry Liquid – Yes, Really!
There are several recipes online, so do a search for the one that works best for you. I’m not known for my patience, so I went for the quickest option. I collected a small bag of conkers a few weeks ago from one of my favourite trees (another reason to visit and pay my thanks), making sure to leave plenty for the wildlife.
Once home, I blitzed them in the processor and dried them in the oven until they were crunchy. I think mine were more baked than dried, but I didn’t want to run the risk of mouldy conkers.
Over the weekend I planned ahead a bit. I soaked about 40g of the dried conkers in boiled water for half an hour and used the strained juice in my washing machine. I then re-soaked the same conkers in boiled water and stuck the strained liquid in the fridge for the next load a few days later (apparently it can keep for up to a week). When we washed our clothes, later on, we washed at 30° for 2 hours.
Boom! Nice clean, fresh-smelling laundry. Don’t expect the big hit of floral or earthy aromas that you’d get from using chemicals. But, if you’re used to organic, chemical-free laundry liquid, you won’t be disappointed. Even my husband was impressed and he never notices that stuff.
Nature Provides; we just need to Open our Eyes and our Minds
If we’re going to tackle this climate crisis and reduce our environmental impact, we need to start opening our eyes and minds to doing things differently. Each time you start to buy something ask yourself whether you could instead make it, borrow it, swap it or find it in nature.
Over the decades and centuries, we have found ourselves increasingly disconnected from the natural world. We’ve forgotten that people survived without all these chemicals and global imports. Let’s take inspiration from those who have nature wisdom and connection on their sides – for instance, the people in India who found berries that could clean their clothes!
Learn more about nature and how it can provide for us at different times of the year. But please be respectful. The reason we’ve got ourselves into this climate crisis is because we’ve taken more than the planet can offer. We’re not the only ones here, so thoughtful foraging is key: only take what you need and always leave plenty for the wildlife.
So now nature has blown your mind, I would love to know what natural remedies you swear by.
About Emma Hewlett
Emma is a proofreader for businesses that make a difference. She helps them fall in love with their writing again and sends them away confident that their messages will make a positive impact.
She is a forager, a lover of trees and the co-host of the Green Pea Podcast – inspiring people to become green and ethical in business.
Connect to Nature with Adore Your Outdoors
Sonya is a qualified Forest Bathing (or Shinrin-Yoku) and Mindfulness Guide. She left her corporate life in early 2019 and now dedicates her time to helping small groups of humans rewild themselves with nature therapy.
Through guided meditations and calm invitations, she pilots them to play, experiment, photograph and explore their surroundings with a child-like fascination
She loves trees and moss with a passion and she’s proud of it. Despite not even owning a pair of wellies as a kid, she has overcome SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and even fallen in love with winter as an adult.
When she knew she was about to become a mother, she knew the best gift she could ever give her child was a love for all seasons – even winter.
Now she lives her dream. Spending more time outdoors, connecting with her too-often-side-lined creative side, and helping others reap the many health benefits of nature therapy.
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