Did you know that betony was thought to chase away vengeful ghosts, evil enchantments and bad dreams? I’m not acquainted with its alleged magical properties or even the real medicinal ones (apparently it was a prized healing herb in the ancient herbal medicine collection, supposed to provide relief for headaches and gastrointestinal upset), I just love its graceful purple flowers that float above a thick rosette of oblong leaves whose edges look like they have been decorated with a paper crafts crimper. Read more…
Tuberose oil is a staple scent for perfumery, obtained through chemical extraction by means of concretes and absolutes, and it is one of the most expensive natural fragrances available to perfumers.
Because of the flower’s patrician demeanor and its expensive essence I always thought the tuberose was one of those sophisticated plants that require extraneous amounts of care and pampering Read more…
The difference between a cream and a salve is that salves always contain beeswax and they are a lot firmer (think lip balm).
A salve is a blend of oil and beeswax in proportion of five to one more or less. Read more…
There is more to blending perfume than obtaining the actual product. Perfume making is an experience in itself, a trip to fragrance land, if you will, an experiment where every scent opens a new possibility Read more…
When I was a child my grandmother picked walnut leaves and boiled them to use as a hair rinse. I can still feel that spicy fragrance during rainy summer afternoons when heavy drops rap strongly on the roof. Read more…
Goldenrod starts blooming in late August and it is seen as a signal that the season is changing, hence one of its common names “farewell summer”. It is a graceful tall perennial with tiny and fluffy yellow flowers. Read more…
Here is a little project that will make good use of your infused oils and will give a touch of spa to your bathroom decor. You can use whimsy and personalize these little soaps to your heart’s content, play with color, fragrances, shapes and stencils. Read more…
As we were exploring the wild shores of lake Michigan I stumbled upon large clumps of tansy. This bitter plant, despite its rather unpleasant aroma, was so popular during the Middle Ages that dishes were named after it. They used it in practically any recipe, from egg custard to pancakes. As with many old herbs, a lot of medicinal properties were associated with tansy, some real, some mistakenly inferred. It is a mild digestive and becomes quite toxic in large quantities, especially to pregnant women.
The real gift of tansy is that it is a great insect and pest repellant. It can be very successfully used around vegetable beds to eliminate the Colorado beetle and makes a surprisingly effective mosquito repellant. People used to keep dried tansy bunches on the window sill to keep ants and flies away.
Tansy belongs to the asters family and is quite striking with its round yellow flowers aptly called bitter buttons. It can be used to extract orange coloring.
The plants in the picture looked very happy growing in the sun-drenched sand on the lake shore but I’m sure that regular garden soil will do them just fine. If the bitterness doesn’t phase you, try sprinkling a small amount of finely chopped tansy on a beef casserole or in a batch of pancakes and experience the palate pleasers of ages long ago.
If you haven’t cooked with lovage before I can tell you that you missed out on a very flavorful herb. Even though some people like to compare lovage to celery, it is almost like saying that an apricot tastes like a smaller denser peach. Lovage’s flavor is distinct and greatly appreciated by food aficionados, especially those who claim southern European heritage. This perennial herb brings fresh taste to soups, beans, fish, tomato sauces, pickles, etc. You name it, it goes with it. The Greeks and Romans used it regularly, that’s how old it is, and during the middle ages different healing properties have been attributed to lovage, some real, some not so much. It is true that it is mildly diuretic and vasodilator. This latter quality brings with it a warning: increased blood flow encourages bleeding, so it can create problems for pre-menopausal women and in very large quantities can cause miscarriage. I’m just writing this out of an abundance of caution, because in my many years of familiarity with this herb I never heard any story to back up the previous comment.
If you like lamb soups or stews, cook them with lovage once and you will not consider missing it again. Lovage and lamb is one of those never questioned combinations, like peas and carrots, cinnamon and brown sugar, or pickles and dill.
Lovage is one of the few herbs that don’t mind a little shade. Give it enough water and a rich soil and it will live in your garden for many years. It reseeds easily and mature plants will tower over your herb garden, so be careful where you plant it. It will grow over your head in just a few months.
If the previous qualities were not enough, here comes the icing on the cake. Lovage is a magnet for pollinators and makes a great home for the Black Swallowtail butterfly.
Well, I guess that pretty much wraps it up.
If you dried herbs and flowers last summer, here is a good way to use them: just in time for Valentine’s Day, decorative heart shaped floating candles. This project is presented as a Valentine’s Day idea, but you can make decorative candles any time. Experiment with different colors, fragrances and shapes.
You will need:
- 1 large 100% bees wax candle
- rose petals, dried flowers, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, lemon and orange peel, dried apple slices or cranberries, vanilla beans or anything else you might have around the house that seems like a good idea. Get creative on how to mix them.
- 2 heart shaped disposable aluminum foil tins
- oil to grease the tins
- fragrance (rose oil, lemon extract, lavender oil, etc.)
Cut the candle into 1 inch segments and melt the wax in a small pan on the stove, making sure it doesn’t burn. After the wax has melted, remove the 1″ wick segments to reuse for your candles.
Mix in a few cloves or cinnamon stick shards and set aside, allowing the wax to cool down a little, but not solidify.
Grease the tins and place on the bottom and sides any of the elements above that you would like to use. Try not to get anything too close to the wicks, you want the wicks to burn, not the decorations. Dip the end of two or three wicks in the hot wax and stick them to the bottom of the tins. They may need a little adjusting after you pour the wax over.
After the mixture in the pan cooled down significantly, add your fragrance. Mix well and pour in the tins, over the decorative pieces.
Adjust the wicks and let the candles solidify. When they are cold, remove the aluminum foil. Enjoy!