12 Problem-Solving Spices | Reader's Digest

12 Problem-Solving Spices

Your spice cabinet is full of simple solutions.

from Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Things

Make a hair tonic

You can spice up your hair care regimen with a homemade tonic that will enhance your natural color and impart shine. For dark hair, use 1 tablespoon crumbled sage or 1 sprig chopped fresh rosemary or a mixture of 1 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves. For blond hair, use 1 tablespoon chamomile. Pour 1 cup boiling water over the herb or spice mix, let it steep for 30 minutes, strain it through a coffee filter, and let it cool. Pour it repeatedly over your hair (use a dishpan to catch the runoff) as a final rinse after shampooing.

Treat minor cuts

If you nick your finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, you may not even need to leave the kitchen for first aid. Alum, the old-fashioned pickling salt at the back of your spice cupboard, is an astringent. In a pinch, sprinkle some on a minor cut to stanch the flow of blood.

Keep feet smelling sweet

If you use sage only to stuff turkeys, then you’ve been missing out. Sage is great for preventing foot odor because it kills the odor-causing bacteria that grow on your feet in the warm, moist environment inside your shoes. Just crumble a leaf or two into your shoes before you put them on. At the end of the day, just shake the remains into the trash.

Deodorize bottles for reuse

You’d like to reuse those wonderful wide-mouthed pickle jars, but simply washing them with soap and water doesn’t get rid of the pickle smell. What to do? Add 1 teaspoon dry mustard to 1 quart (1 liter) water, fill the jar, and let it soak overnight. It’ll smell fresh by morning. This solution banishes the odor of tomatoes, garlic, and other foods with strong scents.

Keep your thermos fresh

You just uncapped the thermos bottle you haven’t used for six months, and the inside smells musty. To keep it from happening the next time, place a whole clove inside the thermos before capping it. A teaspoon of salt works too. Be sure to empty and rinse the thermos before using it.

Scent your home

What could be more welcoming than the smell of something good cooking? Instead of using commercial air fresheners, simply toss a handful of whole cloves or a cinnamon stick in a pot of water and keep it simmering on the stove for half an hour. Or place a teaspoon or two of the ground spices on a cookie sheet and place it in a 200°F (93°C) oven with the door ajar for 30 minutes. Either way, your house will naturally smell spicy good.

Keep woolens whole

Woolen clothing can last a lifetime — if you keep moths away. If you don’t have a cedar-lined chest or closet, preserve your cold-weather clothing using clove sachets. Purchase some small drawstring muslin bags at a tea shop or health food store, and fill each one with a handful of whole cloves. To prevent any transfer of oils or color to clothes and to contain any spills, put the sachet in a small plastic bag, but don’t seal it. Attach it to a hanger in your closet or tuck one in your sweater chest for woolens without holes.

Keep ants at bay

Flour, sugar, and paprika can all fall prey to ants. Keep these cooking essentials safe by slipping a bay leaf inside your storage containers. If you’re concerned about the flour or sugar picking up a bay leaf flavor, tape the leaf to the inside of the canister lid. This trick works inside cabinets, too, where sachets of sage, bay, stick cinnamon, or whole cloves will smell pleasant while discouraging ants.

Stamp out silverfish

These pesky critters frequent places with lots of moisture, such as kitchens, baths, and laundry rooms. Hang an aromatic sachet containing apple pie spices, sage, or bay leaves on a hook in your bathroom vanity and behind the washer, or keep a few in decorative baskets along baseboards.

Control insects in the garden

You don’t have to use harsh pesticides to control small-insect infestation outdoors. If ants are swarming on your garden path, add 1 tablespoon ground black pepper (or another strong-smelling ground spice, such as ground cloves or dry mustard) to 1 cup sifted white flour and sprinkle the mixture on and around the pests. They’ll vanish within the hour. Sweep the dry mix into the garden or yard instead of trying to hose it off; water will just make it gooey.

Deter plant-eating animals

Everyone knows that hot peppers make your mouth burn. So if rodents are attacking your ornamental plants, the solution may be to make them too “hot” for the critters. In fact, hot peppers are the basis for many commercial rodent repellents. Chop up the hottest pepper you can find (habañero is best) and combine it with 1 tablespoon ground cayenne pepper and 1/2 gallon (2 liters) water. Boil the mix for 15-20 minutes, then let it cool. Strain it through cheesecloth, add 1 tablespoon dishwashing liquid, and pour it into a spray bottle. Spray vulnerable plants liberally every five days or so. The spray works best for rabbits, chipmunks, and woodchucks, but may also deter deer, especially if used
in combination with commercial products.

Shield your vegetable garden

For centuries, gardeners have used companion planting to repel insect pests. Aromatic plants such as basil, tansy, marigolds, and sage are all reputed to send a signal to bugs to go elsewhere, so try planting some near your prized vegetables. Mint, thyme, dill, and sage are old-time favorites near cabbage family plants (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts) for their supposed ability to fend off cabbage moths. Best of all, you can eat the savory herbs!