Flowers. Carrots. Flax seed. Cotton and bare feet… These are the kinds of things the word “natural” tends to bring to mind.
Nightshade. Momma grizzly bears protecting their cubs. Uranium and volcanoes… these are all natural, too.
Natural does not mean life-giving, balanced, or harmonious. Natural means natural. That’s it. It grows on a tree, can be dug out of the ground or is suspended in the water… It can be mined, collected or grown.
But what about distilled? How much of the willow can you strip away in search of the aspirin before you no longer have willow? How much crude oil do you have to strip away to be left with mineral oil or petroleum jelly and has its toxicity been neutralized or are the oil and jelly still really crude?
When you are looking at a bottle of “all-natural” shampoo, take a careful look at the label. See the entry for coconut extracts? That just may be sodium laurel sulphate, a surfactant that can be be distilled from coconuts. It makes nice suds. SLS is added because it helps to give the appearance that the shampoo is cleaning your hair, not because it actually helps clean your hair. And is just as carcinogenic when it is called coconut distillate as when it is called SLS.
I do not mean to malign the many folks out there who really do produce products that aim to be life-giving, balanced, harmonious and completely, 100% safe and/or restorative for every man, woman, child, pet, fish bearing stream and compost pile on this beautiful, natural living planet. They are out there and worth looking for and sharing.
But when you see the word “natural,” read the label a little more carefully. Scrutinize the words a little more carefully. Anybody truly seeking to assist others in finding a restorative, life-supporting path will wait for you to investigate. They will even feel the honour of your custom, should you choose to give it, that much more…
I was at a craft fair a few months ago and one of the ladies who stopped by my table was chiding her daughter (who was asking legitimate questions about the safe use of my products): “But it’s natural,” was, to this good lady, enough to answer her daughter’s queries. I stopped her…
A long time ago, they used to put arsenic in face powder. Luckily, only the rich could afford the special pale powder since it slowly worked its way through the skin, poisoning mind and body with each new application. If they sold that powder today, I have no doubt that it would be packaged in a shiny, recyclable metal compact with engraving (rather than plastic paint) and a green recycled paper card wrap upon which would be emblazoned the words “natural colours.” And they would be right.
But we are part of that natural world. There are plants that will feed us or heal us, sounds and scents that will relax us, others that will alarm us or even harm us.
We just have to know which ones are which.
If you are interested in learning more about the ingredients used in common, everyday household and personal care products, there are several websites and books on the subject. My two favourites: “The Safe Shoppers Bible” (David Steinman, Samuel Epstein. Wiley, 1995. 9780020820857) and the Skin Deep database.