Our Favorite Things: The Writers Weigh In on Wellness & Beauty

Comfrey is great for permaculture, compost, and also makes for a powerful medicinal cream. (Illustration: Symphytum officinale, or common comfrey, English School)

For years, I’ve had this Oprah-esque fantasy of assembling a lavish gift basket filled with all of my Favorite Things to share with the people I love: out-of-the-way finds, unexpected remedies, and food that inspires involuntary noises. The price tag on this ultimate basket of awesomeness really starts to add up, so I keep filing the idea away for when I make it big. Insert laughter here.

We probably all have one of those—a product we love so much we want to push it on everyone we meet. Dahling, you’ve just got to try it.

As the lucky reader of this article, you are about to be barraged with a list of our favorite things when it comes to health and beauty—an eclectic assemblage of testimonials from the regular Iowa Source writers. None of us are getting paid to promote these products. We just really like them.

The Comfrey Cure

from Meredith Siemsen

About ten years ago, this little spot emerged on my décolletage (the fancy word for the upper-torso, lower-neck area). After several years of stewing about it, hiding it with makeup, and watching it grow to the width of my thumb print, I noticed the blob was raising its ugly head. It was cracked, bubbly, and brown. Ew.

I made an appointment. It was time to biopsy the sucker—or just get it burned right off. But a miracle happened. I broke my baby toe.

Knowing there was nothing a doctor could do for my littlest piggy, a friend recommended applying a topical cream made from the comfrey plant. “Sometimes called knitbone,” my friend told me, “Comfrey heals broken bones by growing them back together.” I grabbed a tube of Traumaplant comfrey cream at my local whole foods grocery.

One morning as I was applying the pleasant-smelling remedy to my foot, I caught sight of that ugly brown blob above my collarbone and instinctively dabbed some comfrey cream on it. The next day I swear it looked lighter. Probably just my imagination, I thought, but I dabbed on some more. I got into the habit of dressing my toe, then my neck, every day. I tell you, in a few weeks’ time the spot had both flattened and faded. I cancelled my appointment with the dermatologist; there was nothing left to show her. My flesh, where the offending precancerous something-or-other had been, remains indistinguishable from the rest of my skin to this day.

Comfrey is not recommended for internal use, particularly if you destroyed your liver in college. I’m not saying I did. But I covet my little tube of topical cream. I have used it on a million things, including on sunburns that seem to heal overnight. The stuff isn’t cheap, but it’s worth every penny.

Indian clubs have helped Jim keep repetitive stress injuries at bay.

Repetitive Stress Buster

from Jim Karpen

The life of a writer entails hours a day at a computer—and that, in turn, often leads to repetitive stress injury. Twenty years ago my neck and shoulders had tightened up, causing pain. The solution turned out to be Indian clubs.

These are wooden clubs shaped like slender bowling pins that I swing for about five to ten minutes every day. Holding one in each hand, I swing my arms in large circles beside and in front of me, as well as straight above and straight out to the side. I also swing in a circular motion with just my wrists. This has helped keep my muscles and joints loose, with the happy result being I haven’t had any repetitive stress issues in years. Plus, it contributes to my overall fitness.

Heated-Razor Heaven

from John Raines

Gillette Labs offers a high-tech heated razor that takes about three seconds to heat to a comfortably hot temperature, resulting in a smooth, very close shave. I have been using the heated razor for four months. Each individual blade cartridge holds five well-positioned blades for an ultra-close, nick-free shaving experience. The cost? $189 on Amazon. Expensive? Maybe. But I find that each cartridge lasts about two months before I notice any degradation (i.e., a little more drag, not quite as close). Ten replacement cartridges cost $59. Putting the math to it, after your initial investment, it costs about 10 cents per shave, and the heated sensation is hard to beat.

Humble But Mighty Clay

from Claudia Mueller

Living in an agricultural area and watching the crop dusters fly overhead each summer, I always have detoxing in the back of my mind. A few years ago, I found this stuff called Sacred Clay. It’s not your everyday grocery-store clay but a special substance harvested near Crater Lake, Oregon, by a company called Vitality Herbs. Native Americans considered Crater Lake to be a sacred healing site, and they took advantage of the clay’s detoxing properties with regular mud baths.

So between worry about pesticides in the air and a growing stiffness in my joints, I bought some. After a week of bathtub soaks with Sacred Clay, the stiffness disappeared, never to return. The company’s website says this clay removes heavy metals from the body, among many other fantastic properties. You can eat it (it’s full of micronutrients), use it as a mask or poultice, or add it to your bath. It’s safe for pets and livestock, and it doesn’t gum up your plumbing.

It’s also shockingly good for bee stings and insect bites—it quickly pulls out the toxins. Almost as soon as you apply a clay poultice, the pain dissolves. That alone should make it a medicine cabinet staple.

A Skin Cream Thousands of Years in the Making

from Linda Egenes

My mother was never one for powders or pancake makeup, relying on red lipstick to accent her petite features and ward off the gloom of aging. My grandmother swore by night creams in addition to the trademark Henderson-family fire-engine-red lipstick.

Like my mother and grandmother, for me less makeup is more. As I age (“gracefully,” I hope—isn’t that word eternally coupled with “aging” these days?) I am leaning more on creams than lipstick, especially because when you go out during a pandemic no one can see your mouth, and all lip color does is mess up your mask.

For 25 years now I’ve been using Youthful Skin Cream by Maharishi Ayurveda, and it never fails to make me feel all glowy. I love that it’s herbal and natural, and years ago I had the privilege of interviewing Ramakant Mishra, who formulated this face cream based on his 5000-year-old lineage of Ayurvedic practitioners. I use it before bed and in the morning after bathing, when I add a thin layer of tinted sunscreen, and I’m good to go.

The Ocean Bottle is made with recycled plastic and reminds you to stay hydrated.

Hydrate for a Cause

from Drew Schoenfeld

Drinking water is just not as much fun as drinking coffee. However, there’s one product that’s helped me tremendously with my water-drinking habits. The Ocean Bottle is a sleek, reusable, and sustainable way to stay hydrated throughout the day. Every bottle sold funds the collection of 1,000 used plastic water bottles, preventing them from entering our oceans—hence the name Ocean Bottle.

The bottle’s interior is stainless steel, it uses vacuum insulation, and it keeps beverages cold for 18 hours and hot for 9. It comes with a carrying loop and a lid that doubles as a cup, making it perfect for hikes and camping. One of the coolest parts, in my opinion, is that the bottle exterior is partly made from recycled plastic bottles, and the bottle’s parts can be recycled if you need to upgrade.

This bottle has helped me make hydration a habit—while saving our precious oceans!

4711: Beyond Aromatherapy

from Steve Horowitz

My Hungarian mother used to tell me a story about life during the Second World War. When things were at their worst, she became numb to her surroundings and all that was happening around her. It wasn’t until a Nazi soldier slapped her with his glove that she woke up to her circumstances. It wasn’t the blow that caught her attention, but a familiar smell. The soldier’s glove had been soaked in cologne, the one she wore before the war—the German-made 4711. The fragrance shocked her back into reality.

The sense of smell is a powerful thing. I have always associated the scent of 4711 with my mother (who wore it every day) and the story she told. I buy the original cologne, but the company makes a variety of soaps and other products.

My mother has been dead for more than 25 years, but one spritz of 4711 in the morning and she’s right there with me. In spirit, at least.

Wellness? Moi?

When asked for his input about products for fitness, wellness, health, or beauty, Rob Cline’s response was my favorite.

“Oh, heavens, Meredith,” he wrote. “I’m not fit or well or healthy or beautiful!” I am tempted to send him some Indian clubs and a pot of clay. Then again, a heated razor might be just the thing for that chin dimple.


This article has inspired many of our readers to share their “favorite things” with us! If you have ideas for Our Favorite Things, Part II, now in the works, please send a few paragraphs about the product or practice you just can’t do without. Email Meredith at: SourceOffice@lisco.com. Stay tuned!

Meredith Siemsen

Meredith, an Iowa native, was baffled when she earned her high school's writing award in 1993. It wasn't until twenty years later that she discovered she actually enjoyed wordcraft. (Too bad she's still a two-fingered typist.) Thanks for reading, friends!