Nearly all plants produce mucilage – a thick gluey substance formed by large polysaccharides (sugars). Mucilage in plants plays a role in the storage of water and food, seed germination, and thickening membranes. In water mucilage forms a slimy semi-soluble viscous fiber. The most common mucilage plant is aloe vera.
When applied to the skin (epidermis), mucilage herbs act as emollients – non-cosmetic moisturizers that improve hydration, which keeps the skin soft and flexible.
For hair, mucilage provides the much needed slip for manageable detangling. Water enables the transport of mucilage in between the hair fibers where the slimy consistency makes the strands slippery. By getting in between the strands, mucilage temporary weakens strand cohesion. Without strand cohesion the strands glide past each other easily; allowing for easier separation and removal of shed hair. Aside from mucilage, herbs also come with a plethora of water-soluble minerals and vitamins all of which nourish the hair and sooth the scalp while detangling.
Any herb containing at least 15% in mucilaginous compounds is classified as a mucilage herb but by their very nature most plants have mucilage. This is the ideal percentage if the goal is to create a detangling mix. However if you are only looking to make a moisturizer, there are a lot of herbs that are below 15% in mucilage but they will work just as well. Below are my top 5 herbs (I’m yet to explore slippery elm and Irish moss fully) used primarily for detangling and moisturizing:
Click on the links below to see different ways I have used the herbs above:
- Moisturizing (water-based) leave-in conditioner (features flaxseeds, fenugreek and marshmallow)
- Moisturizing hair cream – This is my primary hair moisturizer (features flaxseeds, fenugreek and marshmallow)
- Detangling spray – Normally I would make a decoction but from research, I decided to just add the slippery elm to hot water. It released mucilage but I would like more in my detangler so I will return to my good old decoction method.
Below are other high mucilage herbs that are also high mucilage but I haven’t used them:
- Chia seeds
- Licorice root
- Kelp (and most seaweed)
- Psyllium seed husk
- Sweet violet leaf
Comfrey leaf, hibiscus and coltsfoot are considered relatively high in mucilage but none are above 15% in mucilaginous compounds so they didn’t make the cut. Did I miss any others?
I found some affordable Irish Moss on amazon.com (1lb for $10.99). Compared to herb stores, this is a bargain. If you are interested in trying out Irish moss, find the product link on the side bar.
UPDATE 7/23/14 Vendor raised Irish moss price to $18. Moneterey Bay spice company has the same amount of Irish moss (1lb) for $13 but their shipping is hefty so it’s not really worth it unless you are purchasing other herbs. If anyone finds an affordable alternative please leave a comment below.