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!
Aromatherapy has been practiced for hundreds of years, without the benefit of the fancy name. Generation after generation of homemakers prided themselves in creating the most fragrant and visually appealing decor to beautify their homes and provide relief for minor ailments, from headache and anxiety to insomnia and soothing cranky babies.
I will present just a few wonderful herbal home recipes. They are very easy to make and use things you probably already have around the house (ok, maybe not the orris root – the mix will do just fine without it, but the fragrance will not last as long). Treat yourself to these very affordable indulgences, after all, it’s the little things…
May they bring you comfort and relaxation, restful sleep and relief from bad dreams, worrisome thoughts and evil memories.
The herbal pillow (or dream pillow, as some call it)
In olden times, entire mattresses were made from aromatic herbs to induce peaceful sleep and keep away bugs and critters. The herbal pillows also served a medicinal purpose: they doubled as an air freshener and mild antiseptic to provide relief to people recovering from long illnesses. Nowadays the much reduced version of the herbal pillow is small enough to slip in the back of your pillow case (typically around 5″x8″ in size). It is usually made from cotton or muslin fabric and it should be smooth and flat.
Besides the fabric you will need:
– aromatic herbs of your choice (rose petals, lavender, hops, and chamomile are usually soothing and soporific)
– a few drops of essential oil to enhance the fragrances
– a fixative (usually orris root, it keeps the fragrance longer)
– filler (buckwheat, hops or plain cotton)
The proportion of filler to herbs is 2/1. Mix everything together well in a bowl, not forgetting to add a few drops of essential oil. Fill the pillowcase and sew the fourth seam. If you would like to know what is in my bowl – mint, basil, calendula, chamomile, goji berries and mint oil.
Place the dream pillow in a plastic baggie for 24 hours to give the scents some time to blend together. Enjoy.
If you replace the muslin with terry cloth (any colorful towel will do) and the filler with sponge, the mix makes for a wonderful bath pillow.
Place the herb mix and rolled oats in a cheesecloth baggie and drop it in the bathtub for an delightful bath tea. (Aromatic oils are a plus!)
The dried herb fragrant sachet
Featured above, it can be hung in your closet, slipped between linen sheets or placed in the drier (which fills the whole house with delightful aroma on laundry day).
What to mix is up to your preferences and available items, but classic sachets generally include rose, violet, verbena, jasmine, lavender and mint.
For a spicy twist try dried citrus peel, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, and cloves. The little baggie above is filled with apple cinnamon potpourri: dried apple, pear and strawberry slices, cinnamon sticks, cloves, vanilla, and dried crab apples. It’s a very welcoming scent for the upcoming holidays.
The eye pillow
Pretty much the same as the dream pillow, only smaller and using oats, hops or buckwheat as a filler. The weight of the pillow, combined with the aromatic oil, usually lavender, provides relief from insomnia and headaches.
For the little ones
A tiny sachet filled with lavender, chamomile and dill somewhere in proximity of the baby’s crib will help the little one fall asleep easier. The name “dill” is derived from a word that actually means “to lull to sleep”.
The clove apple
Choose a hard fragrant red winter apple; starting at the blossom end, stick cloves in it until the whole surface is covered, with the exception of the equator, where the ribbon will go. Roll it in a mixture of half orris root, half cinnamon, with a pinch of clove. Wrap it in tissue paper and set it in a warm place to dry for 10 days. After ten days it should have shrunk and dried. Tie the ribbon around it and place it in your kitchen, bathroom or closet, or offer as a gift.
And last but not least, don’t forget that any mixture that contains cedar chips or lavender will repel moths and keep your favorite cashmere sweaters free of holes.
– hard fragrant apples, pears and strawberries, sliced paper thin
– cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, vanilla beans
– a cup of crab apples
– dried mint and basil
– infused mint oil
Dip the apple, pear and strawberry slices in a bowl of salted lemon water for 15 minutes, so that they do not oxidize and fall apart when dried. After 15 minutes, strain them, pat them dry and place them on a cookie sheet in the oven at 150-170 degrees, until the peel starts curling up and the consistency is dry and leathery. Keep the oven door slightly ajar to ensure good air circulation.
I kept the crab apples in the oven the same time until they shrunk and became hard and completely dry.
Mix the fruit with crushed cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, cut up vanilla beans, and dry herbs. Ad a few drops of infused oil, to keep the aroma longer.
Place in a bowl and rustle occasionally to release the scent.
The purple cone flower (echinacea) is largely known to boost immunity. All parts of the plant can be dried and used medicinally. The tea brewed from purple cone flowers will relieve colds, mumps and arthritis, or any afflictions of the respiratory system (the plant is good for easing congestion). Echinacea will provide light pain relief for stings, cuts or burns, eczema, toothaches and minor skin irritations.
In order to obtain the best immunity booster effects, use echinacea tea for two weeks at most. Continuous use will significantly diminish the medicinal properties.
Purple cone flowers are one of the few cone flower varieties that will come true from seed. When you harvest seed for next year, don’t forget to leave some seed heads for the finches and the cardinals, they absolutely love them.The seed heads won’t look very pretty in winter, but the birds will.
Purple cone flowers are generally considered sun loving plants; mine receive part sun under a pine tree and are thriving. The partly shaded spots keeps the leaves green and healthy and discourages Japanese beetles from attacking the flowers.
Echinacea is native to the eastern part of the United States and will thrive without any help if it finds a good spot. It tends to spread, so be sure to either provide enough space or control the spread.
If you are looking for a good carrier oil for massage or a way to care for sensitive, irritated skin, calendula oil is a perfect choice. It doesn’t have much aroma in itself, so it can be mixed with other infused or essential oil for fragrance.
Due to its high carotenoid and flavonoid content calendula is highly effective for cellular repair; the oil seals and hydrates sores and hard to heal woulds, and its regenerative properties have been documented in multiple studies.
It soothes cracked, dry, irritated and oversensitive skin, and helps with skin ulcers or spider veins; it doesn’t sting and will help heal burns and eczema. It is gentle enough for babies’ delicate skin and can be used to prevent and eliminate diaper rash; will soothe cracked nipples for breastfeeding mothers. (please make sure to ask the doctor’s advice before using for this purpose).
To make infused calendula oil, fill a glass jar with dried flower petals and add enough good quality oil such as grape seed or sweet almond to cover it. Cover the jar with a clean cheesecloth or coffee filter and leave in a sunny window for at least 10 days.
Perfume is made by blending your choice of essential aromatic oils in proportion of 1 to 3 % with a good quality base oil such as grape seed or sweet almond oil. Please make sure not to exceed the recommended dosage of essential oil, since it can be irritating to the skin in higher concentrations.
Every good quality perfume must contain these three basic components:
– the base notes: rich, lingering scents that will last on the skin after the other two components have faded. They are usually given by jasmine, myrrh, or patchouli.
–the middle notes: the perfume’s main fragrance. This will be the fragrance of your choice, and will determine the character of your perfume, light floral, fresh, herbal, or incense.
–the top note: the first burst of fragrance that hits your nostrils when you first come in contact with the perfume. It generates the immediate quality of the perfume and it is usually a fresh, sparlky fragrance, like eucalyptus, lemon or basil.
There are six basic groups of fragrances: woody (cedar wood and pine), herbaceous (rosemary and sage), citrus (bergamot and lemon), floral (geranium and rose), resinous(frankincense), and spicy (cinnamon, ginger).
Some fragrances have mutually enhancing qualities. Generally speaking, fragrances from the same plant family blend together well. Some oils, like rose, jasmine, or lavender, will enhance any other fragrances.
A good perfume generally has a dominant note or a theme. It can be one specific fragrance such as rose, lily of the valley or linden flower, or a more general theme such as herbal, or citrus. A perfume will benefit from unexpected mixtures of fragrances that give it character and contrast each other.
Here are some compatible fragrance blends to try (please don’t forget 1 to 3 % essential oil only for all the fragrances combined). You may of course experiment with any fragrances that appeal to you:
lemon, rose, chamomile, orange blossom
cypress, cedar wood, sage
gardenia, jasmine, tuberose
peppermint, lavender, lemon
nutmeg, orange, geranium
clove, rose, vanilla, bergamot
This is a simple way to make infused oils. As a variation on this process, you can add a whole dried stem of basil or thyme, together with other seasonings, like sea salt and crushed pepper flakes, to a bottle of olive oil to get an aromatic mix that will look great on an open shelf and taste even better on your salad. You can even take this a step further and seal the bottle with colorful wax for a fancier look.
Infused oils can be used in salves, creams, and other topical products. In this case I used mint, but other medicinal dried herbs can be used ( a few examples – calendula, saint john’s wort, basil, thyme, etc.). Make sure that all containers you use are clean and completely dry.
|Pick off only the leaves from the dried up mint stems.||Crush them into a powder.||Pour the content into a clean, dry jar.||Add a good quality oil (I prefer the ones without a strong flavor).|
|After 10 minutes check the jar and add more oil if needed to cover the plant material.||Cover with a coffee filter or clean cheese cloth and leave in a sunny window for at least 10 days.||Strain through a filter or cheesecloth.||Enjoy! Use in home made remedies.|