Thursday, 16 September 2010

Making herbal beauty gifts for Christmas

You may have guessed I like making things. :-) Not just the potion making but also the craft aspect of decorating and packaging the potions, both for myself and for friends and family. It is something I find very relaxing and rewarding, and I suppose is part of a very Cancerian love of the home and homemaking. In also contributes to my enjoyment of making products that I sell through Amiya Natural Beauty - the opportunity to share quality products beautifully packaged.

Ok, so you've also guessed that this is a bit of a plug for Amiya... what I'm so excited about is a herbal beauty gift making workshop that I'm planning to run in October for Amiya. It will be here in my home, in Leamington Spa, and participants will get to make two herbal beauty products which they can then package in some lovely dark red glass containers. I'm going to provide wrapping, ribbons, decorations and labels so that people can put the finishing touches on these really personal gifts.

I think this is going to be a really fun event. If you're interested, or know someone else who might be, you can find out more on the Amiya website.

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Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Making an elderberry elixir

I love that moment when I've just made some new potions. I get to watch over them for the weeks it takes for them to be ready, and then have the anticipation of straining them off and trying them. I share this because I've just made two elderberry potions in readiness for the winter months. The first is simply an elderberry tincture - elderberries in vodka. I've made this for the last couple of years and taken it throughout the winter to help ward off sniffs and snivels, particularly nice in this warming winter tea.

The second is an Elderberry Elixir, which I haven't made before. I went gathering on a early morning walk yesterday (isn't it wicked how the biggest, juiciest elderberries are always at the top of the tree!) Just hearing the list of ingredients gets the taste buds tingling: elderberries, cinnamon, ginger, rosehips, orange peel, brandy and honey. Yum! I've followed a recipe from Sarah Head, which she in turn has based on a recipe from Kiva Rose. You can read the full recipe on Sarah's blog.

I can't wait to taste this as apparently its scrumptious. In terms of how to take it, Sarah writes:
Take 1/4 - 1/2 dropperfull of Elixir every two to three hours at the first sign of illness. You MUST take the Elixir frequently rather than having a bigger dose further apart, it just won't work that way. Use the same dosage if you are actively ill. For a general preventative dose, I suggest 1/3 dropperful every four hours or so.
I wonder why it needs to be taken so frequently to work? I'm making this mainly for my mum as she isn't so keen on tinctures. I like the idea of having this in a dropper bottle as it will make it easy to carry around and take frequently.

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Sunday, 12 September 2010

A spicy and energising chai tea

There was dew on the grass and a certain chill in the air as I went for a walk this morning. Autumn's a-coming and as the days start to draw in a little I've been thinking again about herbs to energise and protect in the coming months. I've been drawn to the recipes in Rosemary Gladstar's book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, and in particular those for "longevity and radiant well-being". I recently made her Brain Tonic Tincture.

I'm trying to drink a bit less coffee so I decided to make the "Longevity Chai", about which Rosemary writes:
"A robust, spicy herbal blend originating in India, Nepal and Tibet, chai comes in literally thousands of varieties. The following chai blend is especially formulated for longevity. Serve it hot or chilled with frothy steamed milk."

I didn't have all the ingredients so I adapted it slightly and made up my own quantities as I went along. My version contains: black ceylon tea, ginger, cinnamon flakes, sliced licorice root, broken up ginseng root, some crushed cardamon pods, some rose petals, cloves, a few crushed black peppercorns, and a little nutmeg. As I was making this as a gift I also had fun decorating the jar:

I tried the tea this morning and its absolutely delicious, very tasty and a nice alternative to a morning coffee. I gently heated about a tablespoon of the mixture in a large-ish mug of water, with the lid on, for about 10-15 minutes. I don't have a milk "frother" so I just added some milk and a little honey to taste. Mmmm! This could become another winter favourite methinks. :-)

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Sunday, 8 August 2010

Rose hip face mask

Its been a very busy few months over at Amiya Natural Beauty, bringing to fruition some new natural hair and skin care products that have been in development for quite a while! It has been especially exciting to launch, and see the positive response to, my herbal face creams and toner. They have some really exquisite ingredients including rose and orange blossom waters, palma rosa, aloe vera, rosewood, macadamia and more! I also enjoyed choosing the names for these products, which are based on old English words.

And now I've had a chance to breath, say hello to the herbs in the garden, and try out a new recipe for Apotheblogary! I'm starting to think of the autumn harvest ahead of us, and in particular the rose hips which will be ripe for picking in October.

We're very familiar with rose (Rosa Canina) as a classic ingredient in beauty treatments, but this usually relates to the use of rose petals. Rose hips remain rather forgotten for their use in beauty products, although Rose hip oil is becoming increasingly popular in the repair of damaged skin, reduction of large pores, and rebalancing of oily or acne prone skin. The oil is extracted from the seeds and although Rosa Canina can be used, it is usually the seeds of Rosa Rubiginosa that are used in skin care. The recipe I've tried today is for a rose hip face mask.

  • 1 tablespoon white clay
  • 3 teaspoons of strong rose hip infusion
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 4 drops rose geranium
Make a strong infusion of rose hips - I used a couple of tablespoons of dried rose hips and poured over a mug of boiling water. Leave this to cool before making the mask (I left it overnight so that it was really strong). Mix together all the ingredients.

Apply to the skin and leave on for 10-15 minutes and rinse away with warm water. While you are waiting, enjoy drinking the refreshing rose hip infusion you have left over! Rose hip tea is an excellent source of Vitamin C, and also helps the body to maintain healthy collagen (ref. Bartram's Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine).

This makes enough to share with a friend, or use again with a week if kept in the fridge.

I found this to be a gently drawing face mask which would be ideal if you have sensitive skin. Here are some suggestions on how you could vary the recipe:
  • Replace either the honey or some of the water content with a small amount of rose hip oil (perhaps 1/2 a teaspoon)
  • You could use a different essential oil: frankinscense, rosewood, lavender, rose, palmarosa would all be good alternatives
  • Use green or yellow clay for more oily skin
Related posts:

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Saturday, 22 May 2010

Using Heartsease for skin conditions

The Viola species of plants gives us the delights of violets and pansies. In the last couple of months, tiny violets (Viola Odorata) popped up in the most unlikely places in my garden, and I also saw them growing at the side of paths.

Now the violets are gone, but have I have the pleasure of their rather showier looking cousin, the Wild Pansy (Viola Tricolor), also known as Heartsease. It has many names and is apparently still known in Warwickshire by the name, Love in Idleness. This has not popped up as a surprise, but rather is one that I planted on purpose.

Even before growing Heartsease, I was already using it in its dried form (both leaves and roots) in some of my skin preparations. This lead me to want to grow and explore this herb a bit more.

I've read a number of stories about the folklore around this herb:
  • It was said that an infusion of Heartsease would help to mend a broken heart.
  • That wearing Heartsease could make a lover think of you.
  • That picking Wild Pansies on a fine day or while they have dew on them would result in the death of a loved one - or rain.
In the "language of flowers" it is related to "thought", indeed the root of the word "pansy" is from the French word "pensée" and Wild Pansy is similarly referred to as Pensamiento in Spanish and Pensiero in Italian. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ophelia says "There's pansies, that's for thoughts". And in Midsummer Night's Dream, Heartsease is used to make Titania fall in love with Bottom!

In herbalism, Heartease has long been used both internally and externally. According to Wikipedia "It has been recommended, among other uses, as a treatment for epilepsy, asthma, skin diseases and eczema. It has expectorant properties, and so has been used in the treatment of chest complaints such as bronchitis and whooping cough. It is also a diuretic, leading to its use in treating rheumatism and cystitis."

In skin care treatments, an infusion or tincture of Heartsease is used to help with skin problems such as acne, eczema and psoriasis, as well as for rough skin. I used it as an infusion (along with Comfrey and Plantain) in my Herb Gardener's Hand Lotion. In hair care products it can help to soothe the scalp (I will soon be launching a herbal hair conditioner that includes Heartsease).

I haven't yet tried using the tincture, and as the Heartsease in the garden is in full bloom I have picked both flowers and leaves and covered in vodka to make a tincture. If the plant was better established I would also include some roots, as these apparently contain the highest saponin content.
This is sitting in a cool dark place for 2-3 weeks before I strain it off. I plan to use it in creams and salves for some of the skin issues described above. A nice strong infusion of Heartsease added to a bath ought to have a calming and cleansing effect on the skin.
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Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Bottles for tinctures

One of my early posts on this blog was about painting lots of jam jars to keep all my herbs in. As I've been making more tinctures recently I'm turning all the empty vodka bottles to good use to for storing tinctures and vinegars. I just had a painting session...

These will get baked in the oven tomorrow and then be "potion ready"! :-) A few candidates waiting for/ or nearly ready for bottling: nettle and apricot iron tonic; nettle vinegar; and cinnamon tincture.
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Sunday, 18 April 2010

Sweet Marjoram for aches and pains

This post is part of the UK Herbarium April blog party being hosted by Sarah Head on Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife. Sarah writes:
"A recent posting on the Herb Society Forum started me thinking about all the new aches and pains we gather as we start back working in the garden, or generally exercise more because of the lengthening days and hopefully more clement weather. What are your favourite herbs to use at these times? Is it a salve or oil to massage in to the aching area, or do you opt for a herbal liqueur to savour as you take your ease?"
I've been getting to know Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana), and it was one of the herbs I planted in my mum's new herb garden last year. The name of marjoram, from Greek, means "joy of the mountain". It is related to oregano, but is often preferred for its taste and sweet smell.

It has a long history of use and although best known as a culinary herb, it is also used both internally and externally for its medicinal properties. These uses include aiding digestion, promoting menstrual flow, for coughs and colds (ref. Bartram's Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine). Historically, it was used as a strewing herb to help scent rooms, and was also used in marital wreaths as its sweet smell was thought to bring happiness.

A few quotes about sweet marjoram for external use:
  • "The oil is warm and comforting to the joints that are stiff" ~ Culpeper
  • "Externally, it is used to treat muscular pain, bronchial complaints, arthritis, sprains and stiff joints" ~ Plants for a Future
  • "An ointment made with marjoram eases aching and stiff muscles" ~ Marjoram Fact Sheet, Herb Society
My first stop if I'm feeling achey is a nice long bath, and I love using marjoram essential oil (5-6 drops in a little milk) mixed in. It has a lovely subtle, calming scent and blends well with vetiver, chamomile or lavender, to mention a few. I also recently used it in a herbal bath bag, using both dried marjoram and the essential oil, along with some other herbs and epsom salts. This was a real favourite! Another option is to make a strong infusion of marjoram and add this to the bath.

The essential oil of marjoram is recommended to ease aches, soothe headaches, aid menstrual flow, and calm the mind. I used it as a key ingredient in the Ultra Heal and Deep Relax massage oils that I make for Amiya Natural Beauty:
  • In Ultra Heal, I blend it with lavender, thyme and chamomile essential oils (on a base of jojoba and olive oils, with added macerated comfrey and arnica oils). Some very special herbal ingredients, and lovely after a sweet marjoram bath.
  • In Deep Relax, I blend it with vetiver, patchouli, and a little bit of orange. The marjoram soothes, while the vetiver and patchouli ground and balance.
As I've been writing this post, I have a blend of sweet marjoram, lavender and a little ylang ylang in my oil burner... ah, lovely! :-)
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Sunday, 4 April 2010

Horsechestnut salve for varicose veins

Never did I imagine as a child that the conkers I gleefully threaded with string and prepared for the seasonal fun of playing conkers would later be ingredients that I would heat, brew and infuse into therapeutic products!

Horse chestnut (Aesculus hipposcastanum) bark and seeds are used both internally and externally in tinctures and salves to treat varicose veins and piles. They contain a saponin called aescin which has apparently been shown to promote circulation and tone the vein walls.

I'm a bit out of season you might say for talking about conkers, and its true, but I needed to make a horse chestnut salve and wanted to explore how I could make it as potent as possible. This lead me to making a double-infused horse chestnut oil using fallen twigs and a few dried conkers donated by a neighbour (later in the year you can bet I'll be out there, along with the children and other herby types, collecting conkers).

There is an excellent post on how to make the double-infused oil by Sarah Head on the Herb Society website, so I won't repeat what is already there. I used a combination of olive and safflower oils, plus about 0.5% Vitamin E oil to act as an anti-oxidant so that the oil will keep without going rancid for longer (added at the end of the process). In the second infusion I also added some Butcher's Broom (Ruscus Aculeatus) bark, which is a veinous tonic.

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to make this salve as effective as possible, so as well as using the horse chestnut oil I also added horse chestnut tincture when making the salve. This makes the salve a bit softer, which I think is better for application, especially if the skin is sore. The tincture can make up about 5% of the total salve mixture. So I used:
  • 15g beeswax
  • 80ml horse chestnut oil
  • 5ml horse chestnut tincture
  • 5-10 drops lavender essential oil (optional)
Make sure you have the pots you will use for the salve ready before you start, as there won't be so much time at the end as the mixture is cooling down. The horse chestnut tincture and essential oil are added as late as possible to retain as much as possible of their properties.

Heat the beeswax and horse chestnut oil in a bain-marie (bowl over hot water) until the beeswax has fully melted. Take the mixture off the heat (out of the bain marie) and whisk as it cools - you need to be a bit patient at this stage. Once the mixture is starting to go cloudy (but still liquid) add the tincture and whisk quickly. Then add the essential oil and whisk in then pour the mixture straight into your pots. If you have any residue in the bowl you can place it back in the bain-marie briefly to soften the mixture so that none is wasted.

The end salve is beautiful and soft, and packed full of horse chestnut goodness!
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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

'Tis the season to pick nettles!

The young nettles springing up at the moment are perfect for picking and, true to the versatility of this plant, making a whole range of recipes. Spring nettle mania struck here in Leamington Spa at the weekend. Here's what I made:
  • Nettle vinegar - simply cover the young leaves in apple cider vinegar and store somewhere warm for a few weeks. This vinegar will be high in minerals.
  • Nettle tincture - cover the leaves in vodka (or brandy) and store somewhere dark and cool for about four weeks, giving it a gentle shake daily. According to a handout on nettles from Sarah Head this is good for adrenal support in stress remedies.
  • Nettle and apricot iron tonic - this is a recipe I saw suggested by Sarah Head recently. I covered a mixture of nettle leaves, organic apricots, plus peel of one orange with red wine. This is also stored away in a cool dark place for four weeks. This will be a remedy for iron deficiency.

More nettle posts:

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Monday, 22 March 2010

Making herbal bath bags

I recently wrote an article for the Herb Society on making herbal bath bags (Herb Society members can read the full article in the member's area). I enjoyed trying out different combinations of herbs and other ingredients such as oats, epsom salts and sea salt. One of the blends was as follows:
Lavender and oatmeal
  • ½ cup dried lavender
  • ½ cup oats
  • A few drops of lavender essential oil
This is a lovely simple bag for a relaxing bath. When wet the oats give a slightly slimy feel to the bag (and the bath) but leave the skin feeling really soft. You can even use it as a gentle body scrub.
I wrapped the mixture up in a piece of muslin (about a dinner plate sized piece) and tied it with a ribbon.

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Thursday, 18 March 2010

Rosemary wine for boosting memory

I've just decanted a bottle of rosemary wine that has been infusing for the last couple of weeks. This was inspired by my research into herbs to help concentration. I got the idea from James Wong's 'Grow Your Own Drugs' (though I'm sure its been made in many households going way back!). James writes: "Rosemary is called the 'herb of remembrance' and has traditionally been used to improve the memory and help with dementia."

It certainly packs a punch - both the smell and taste are strong, much more so than I've experienced with rosemary tea or cooking with rosemary. As well as sipping this from time to time as a stimulating drink I can certainly see it going into a salad dressing or sauce.

I don't have great circulation so this ought to be a good drink for me as rosemary boosts the circulation (I've also gone back to sprinkling a little cayenne pepper on my vegetables!). Now there's a thought... rosemary and cayenne wine, yee hah!

Rosemary is such an amazing herb that has so many uses. I just did a quick search on my blog to remind myself of some of the recipes I've used it in.

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Sunday, 14 March 2010

Honey and rose bath melts

I've been trying out some herbal bath recipes recently. I wanted to make something with honey to support the Herb Society's Bee Aware campaign to raise awareness of the decline of the honey bee. You can find out about bee-friendly herbs you can grow in an article by Debs Cook on the Herb Society web site.

This recipe makes a really luxurious, moisturising bath melt, although I've kept them in the fridge as the honey makes them a bit sticky.

The recipe I've used is adapted from one I found on the Natural Skin Care Made Easy website:

85g cocoa butter
5g oatmeal
1 tablespoon honey
rose petals
rosewood, geranium and ylang ylang essential oils (about 20 drops)

Melt the cocoa butter in a bain-marie, stir it pretty much continuously as it cools. Wait as long as possible before adding the other ingredients. As soon as you've added them pour them into a mold and put them in the fridge to solidify.
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Thursday, 4 March 2010

Herbs for hard working hands

Who better than the herb gardener to suggest herbs to use for hard working hands? That was a question in my mind last year after a good day's digging at Springfield Sanctuary. In the post I wrote after that day I asked for suggestions from my herby friends on the herbs they would choose for a hand cream.

A year later and I have developed my Herb Gardener's Hand Lotion for Amiya Natural Beauty. I feel a bit like a proud mum because it is such a lovely product, and in fact the best selling product in my current range! It includes a strong decoction of comfrey roots, plus a strong infusion of comfrey leaves, plantain and wild pansy - you can find out more on my website where I just wrote an article about the herbal ingredients.

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Wednesday, 3 March 2010

A herbal tonic to aid concentration?

My mum is currently studying to be a counsellor. Now into her 3rd year of study, the work is getting pretty intense with lots of reading, journalling, and live practice sessions. I've been thinking about what herbal support I can give her especially in maintaining concentration and alertness during all-day courses or long study sessions.

Whatever I make for her, I want it to be simple to take so as not to add any extra hassle - so I'm thinking of a tincture that she could drop into a glass of water (and easily carry with her), rather than a tea that takes more time to make.

My research so far has lead me to look at the following herbs:
  • Gingko (gingko biloba) is well known as a memory enhancing herb that apparently increases blood flow to the brain, strengthens brain cells and increasing neurotransmission. On a completely different note, I met a lovely gingko tree a couple of years ago at Emerson College, and also learnt that there are male and female gingko trees!
  • Gotu kola (centella asiatica) is an adaptogenic herb that is highly valued in Ayurvedic medicine. Research has apparently shown that it can help enhance memory and overcome tiredness. I've used it previously in a tea with limeflower and nettle.
  • Ginseng (eleutherococcus senticosus) is another adaptogen well known for helping the body to cope with stress. It seems to appear quite often in combination with gingko and gotu kola.
  • Rosemary (rosemarinus officinalis) is a herb traditionally used to help boost the memory. It is also known as "the herb of remembrance". In Grow Your Own Drugs, James Wong makes a rosemary wine as a memory booster.
  • Rhodiola (rhodiola rosea) is again an adaptogen. Its not a herb I've come across much before, except for one experience of a friend taking rhodiola pills to help with stress and finding it a bit over stimulating (for him). It is said to enhance mood and improve physical and mental performance.
I came across one recipe for a brain tonic tincture that includes gotu kola, gingko, peppermint, sage, and rosemary. I'm currently thinking along similar lines but with: gingko, gotu kola, ginseng, rosemary and a little ginger.

I'd really appreciate any suggestions from my herby friends...
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Saturday, 20 February 2010

UK Herbarium Blog Party February 2010 - Emerging from winter with herbs

As I write the sun is shining and the last remnants of snow quickly melting away - spring really is coming! I feel inspired after reading everyone's posts about emerging from spring with herbs - different insights, approaches and ideas come together in an uplifting whole! I hope you'll will enjoy reading them as much as I have.

Sarah has written a thoughtful post on Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife on the process we go through - physically, emotionally and mentally - as we make the transition from winter to spring. She weaves in how herbs such as goldenrod, St. John's wort, and yarrow can help us on this journey. Sarah writes: "However you emerge from winter into spring, it will be easier if you spend some time in planning and preparation. As with everything, it is not just our physical bodies that are involved, but our minds and spirits too. Whatever you plan, herbs will be there to guide and support you if asked."

There's nothing like getting outside in the garden or, if the snow's still on the ground, dreaming about it. Debs at Herbal Haven shares her sense of excitement in her post about the new plans she is making for her herb garden. "I get a buzz and a feeling of excitement and anticipation at this time of year. I take time to look back at the previous year, reviewing what herbs I came across that I don’t currently grow. Herbs that we can benefit from here in the home, for food, medicine and a myriad of other uses. Then the planning, adapting and changing the garden begins, so that I can include new found treasures".

Madeleine from Mad About Herbs shared some of her favourite ways for emerging from spring with herbs in her post: from planning the herb garden through to making up some new recipes. She also includes some links to useful resources to help in planning your herb garden. She writes " was good to see my first snowdrop and a couple of early daffodils a week ago. They are one of the first signs of Spring and this fills me with hope and the excitement that soon I can get out into the herb garden, sow seeds, prune and just enjoy pottering around every now and then."

Reading Brigitte's lovely post on My Herb Corner felt like being whisked away on a magical herbal journey to spring! :-) From foraging for chickweed, through scents of pot pourri and drops of lemon balm tincture, to a recipe for 'uplifing cookies'. She goes on to share some herbs and recipes for spring cleaning our bodies: "I can guarantee you that a gentle bodily spring cleaning will give you a lift out of the winter-blue and makes you fit for spring".

Lucinda on Whispering Earth has posted about the herbs that she is using to emerge from winter, including a tasty sounding tea of rosemary and lemon balm. She also writes about adaptogens: "Adaptogens are so great during these strange ‘inbetween’ times, neither winter nor quite yet spring, when energies are starting to move in us and runny noses and colds can result from the body ridding itself of the congestion of winter."

Many of us mentioned our joy at seeing the first snow drops, and Claire at Hedgerow Hippy explores the significance of snow drops as flowers representing hope and consolation, as well as a couple of traditional uses.

If like me you're a nettle lover then you'll love Karen's post over at Acupuncture and Herbs. Karen explores the uses of nettles, along with some history, recipes and fascinating facts: "Nettles are the quintessential herb for getting over winter in my book... the magnesium in the leaves is especially helpful if you have the winter blues."

The day I wrote my post for the blog party here on Apotheblogary was a resolutely grey February day and so I decided to make something fun and sweet to share with friends and family. The result were 'Spring Zingers' which included one of my favourite winter pick-me-ups: echinacea and ginseng.

It truly has been a privilege to host this month's blog party, and to be part of such a passionate herbal community - thank you everyone for your contributions! You can see more posts on this topic at the US blog party hosted by Karen Vaughan on Acupuncture and Herbs.
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Zinging into Spring with herbal sweets!

This post is part of the UK Herbarium Blog Party, hosted here on Apotheblogary this month, on Emerging from Winter with Herbs.

It's that time of year when I start to feel the longing for the loveliness of spring and long warm days of summer. That my garden is now full of snow drops is helping me along. I chose the theme for this month's party with this in mind, and hoping to get and share inspiration with my fellow herbal bloggers on how herbs can help us in this seasonal transition.

I decided to make a fun recipe and made my first foray into sweet making. With a fairly large helping of beginner's luck, I'm pretty pleased with the result (and the journey was sticky, sweet, herby fun! :)

My recipe is based on a recipe by Kolbjorn Borseth at Aromantic who uses a base mixture of:
  • 100ml water
  • 450g sugar
  • 125g dextrose (which I managed to get from an old-fashioned chemist)
I also liked the ideas in James Wong's echinacea ice lollys (although I wouldn't fancy something cold if I was unwell!). So I replaced the water with cranberry juice, which I had simmered with some ginger and chilli (yes - woohoo!). Kolbjorn gives detailed instructions on making the sweets but in essence you mix the three ingredients together and bring to the boil with the lid on (not stirring). Once its boiling you take the lid off and put the thermometer in (still not stirring) - when it gets to 162 degrees you pour it out onto a greased baking tray. (My thermometer only goes up to 110 degrees so I guessed this bit, which probably isn't recommended).

Earlier, the lady at the cook shop in town recommended I use a Bake-o-glide reusable sheet for sweet making, and I think it would of been much more difficult without this. You can see it below, it allowed me to easily peel the mixture off and keeping folding it in as it cooled.

Once the liquid cools enough to start forming a skin, I added a tablespoon of lemon juice and a tablespoon of echinacea and ginseng (50:50). The original recipe suggested it would be 1-2 minutes after pouring the liquid out, but I found that the mixture cooled more slowly and it was more like 5 minutes. As it cooled I continued folding it in and kneading the mixture, using the sheet to avoid burnt fingers!

Once it formed a dough-like mass I start pulling pieces off and rolling them into balls, and placing them on a greased baking tray to cool. And this is where the race begins to making your sweets before the mixture cools and solidifies! I ended up working on the pull down door of my oven with the temperature on very low. This helped keep it just warm enough to work with.

I've called these sweets "Spring Zingers"! :) It will be fun to do variations with different juices and tinctures - next time I will make the initial infusion even stronger, because by the time its all mixed in the chilli and ginger are only very faint.

The only problem with these sweets is that they do stick together very easily. I rolled them in a little icing sugar and put them in little plastic bags which makes it easier to separate them (I initially put some in a jar which looked great until, a few hours later they had formed one immovable mass!). Any tips from sweet makers out there would be welcome! I wonder if I should have reduced the 100ml of liquid by the 2 tablespoons I later added to the mix...

I enjoyed making these sweets and plan to give them as springtime presents for family and friends. :-)
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Sunday, 14 February 2010

Making your own perfume (my first vlog!)

Welcome to my first vlog (apothevlog?!) where I share the fun I've been having recently making my own old-fashioned perfumes.

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Saturday, 6 February 2010

Seville orange bitters

Ever since I read Sarah's post on Citric Bitters last month, I keep seeing Seville orange everywhere I go. I decided to take the hint and made a batch today which is now brewing away along with it's other little friends in my airing cupboard. :-)

Sarah writes:
Seville Orange bitter (Julie Bruton-seal)
Fill an empty jam jar loosely with the peel of a couple of Seville oranges, a tablespoonful of cardamon pods, and a few fennel or anise seeds. If you wish, add a clove or two - but not too many as they are strong. Add a tablespoon of honey, and top the jar up with vodka (or brandy, whisky or rum if you prefer). Keep in a dark cupboard for a month, shaking occasionally, then strain off and bottle the liquid. Take half a teaspoonful before meals to improve digestion.
Lovely and simple. I look forward to straining them off in a month and trying them!

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Sunday, 31 January 2010

UK Herbarium Blog Party: Emerging from winter with herbs

The next UK Herbarium Blog Party is on 20th February and is being hosted here on Apotheblogary. The topic for this month is 'Emerging from winter with herbs', herbal recipes to help us shake off the winter blues and put the 'spring' in our step!

I love the winter months for the hibernation and snuggling away by the fire. But now its that time of year when I start longing for spring, and even though I'm encouraged by having seen some snow drops pushing up last week, the warmer seasons still feel a long way off.

We often hear about herbal recipes to help you get through the winter - elderberry, rosehip, sage and more - but not so much about herbal pick-me-ups to help us emerge from winter. At the moment I'm drinking Nettle, St. John's Wort and Rosemary tea as my 'elevensies' herbal cuppa (approx 1 teaspoon each of Nettle & St. John's Wort, and 1/2 teaspoon Rosemary). Perhaps you'd like to join me across cyberspace for a cup while you're writing (or reading) about your favourite herbs and herbal recipes for shaking off the winter cold and grey days?
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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Apotheblogary gets a fresh coat of paint!

It's getting to that time of year where I really start longing for spring, and beyond it to warm, summer days. Ah... So to help get through the grey days I've brightened up Apotheblogary with a new fresh look using lots of the photos of the herbal potions and treats I've made over the years. Yes even a picture of me snuck in there. ;-)

It was fun to look back through the photos and reminded me that Apotheblogary is now in its fourth year - wow! One moment you have a shiny new blog and the next moment its full of wonderful stories and discoveries that you got to share with both old and new friends. Debs at Herbaholic's Herbarium has just opened a UK Herbarium website and is encouraging herb lovers in the UK to get blogging, which I very much support.

I hope you enjoy the new design here on Apotheblogary and I look forward to more herbal journeys in the year ahead!
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Saturday, 16 January 2010

7 interesting things to know about bitter herbs

This post is part of the UK Herbarium Blog Party on My Favourite Bitter herb.

I first met bitter herbs through Swedish Bitters, which were recommended by a friend a few years back. I made copious amounts of the stuff at home (my first tincture making experience as well!), blogged about it, and even made a Swedish Bitters cream!

Since then I've given it less attention, but the usefulness of bitter herbs has stayed with me. Most typically I take a little Swedish Bitters in water if I've eaten a bit more than I should or my stomach just feels out of sorts. The taste still has me making weird faces, but it certainly is good stuff and works for me.

Here are seven useful bits and pieces I've collected about bitter herbs along the way:
  1. We have five kinds of taste buds: salty, savoury, sweet, sour and bitter. Now take a wild guess at which one we tend to avoid in our modern diet. Yes, bitters. So what are we missing out on by doing so?
  2. Bitter herbs, or the "bitter principle" in herbs, work by stimulating the "bitter taste buds in the mouth that reflexly initiate secretion of a special hormone into the blood stream increasing production of stomach and pancreatic juices and impelling the liver to release bile into the duodenum. Bitters increase acid production and are given about half an hour before meals". This is the description from Bartum's Encyclopaedia of Herbal Medicine. To me and you, they get the digestive system going. So they may taste, well, bitter... but there's no way round it I'm afraid as "to sweeten them is to nullify their effect".
  3. Bitter tonics should not be taken continuously, but only from time-to-time as needed.
  4. Apparently bitterness is rated relative to quinine (found in tonic water) although I couldn't find Bitterness Index ratings for herbs. At an extreme of bitterness is a substance called denatonium which is added to toxic substances to deter ingestion (I'm sure it works!)
  5. Chatting with Jo Batacanin at Neal's Yard last week, it seems that Wormwood (Artemisia absinthum), Centaury (Centaurium Erythraea) and Gentian (Gentiana Lutea) are the most commonly used bitter herbs, and then in tincture form (which I guess gets it over with relatively quickly at least!). At the milder end are herbs such as chamomile and yarrow, which are palatable in a herb tea.
  6. In my experience, there seems to be more use of bitter (and other) herbs in Europe than in the UK, one form being in alcoholic drinks or "digestifs" in French, which says it all really. Here in the UK the best known bitter drink is angostura, which apparently includes gentian, and a good glug or two of this in a gin and tonic is about reaching my preferred bitter level. :-) Other well known bitter drinks include Jagermeister, Peychaud's and Campari. Ok, so I'm crossing the line between remedies and something rather nice on the rocks... but hey. ;-)
  7. And on that theme, I've been told that a little Swedish Bitters can help one sober up after a drink too many (not that I'd know of course)
I'm getting that "time to try out a new herby recipe" feeling - so I've earmarked a few recipes that look interesting:

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Friday, 8 January 2010

Winter hair blues? Give your hair a herbal treat

If your hair and scalp are suffering from the winter winds and chill, here is a 3-step herbal treat for you. Most of it you can make at home with simple ingredients such as olive oil, rosemary and apple cider vinegar.

Step 1 - Make a herbal hot oil
There are many herbs that are classics for the hair, such as nettle, horsetail, calendula, sage and birch leaf. For this recipe we're going to keep it simple and use rosemary, which most people will already have in the house. Rosemary is stimulating for the scalp and can help promote hair growth. A simple hot oil can be made with olive oil - if you have other oils such as almond, jojoba, avocado or coconut oil then you could use a mixture. When the summer months arrive I'm planning to make infused oils the slow way using the sun - but for a winter's day, this hot oil infusion will only take 15 minutes:

Gently warm 1/2 cup of dried rosemary in 1 cup of olive oil in a small saucepan for around 15 minutes (don't boil it!). Allow the oil to cool and strain through a piece of muslin (or a pop sock!) straight into a bottle. And it's ready to use! You could add a little essential oil such as lavender if you want. Dampen the hair or if you have a lot of products such as hairspray in it then give it a quick wash first and towel dry. Massage the oil gently into the hair and scalp - I love this bit, its so relaxing. You can wrap some cling film over the top, and then a towel, and leave it on for at least 20 minutes. And if you don't use it all then bottle up and it should keep for 2-3 months.

Step 2 - Wash out with herbal shampoo
The next step is simply to shampoo the hair twice to wash out all of the oil. We've deeply moisturised the hair in Step 1 and this is a really good intensive treatment once in a while. It's also important to think about the shampoo you use on a regular basis, as many of them (even so-called herbal or natural ones!) contain harsh ingredients that strip the hair of it's natural condition and upset its natural pH balance.

I've been using the herbal shampoos that I make and now sell through Amiya Natural Beauty for nearly three years, and I very rarely need to use a conditioner as well. I've had similar feedback from many of my customers. That's my "plug" for my lovely shampoos which you can buy online, now on to Step 3! :-)

Step 3 - A herb vinegar rinse
When you start making herbal recipes you discover that apple cider vinegar pops up everywhere as an incredibly versatile ingredient! And hair care is no exception. Added to a herbal infusion, or even just mixed with water, it helps to restore the hair's natural pH balance, remove any built up deposits on the hair and also leaves the hair feeling soft (but not smelling like a chip shop or cider keg, I promise!). If you don't have any apple cider vinegar, you can also use white vinegar.

You may want to choose a different herb to make the infusion (which is basically just a cup of herb tea) depending on what you have available. Here are a few ideas:
  • Rosemary is stimulating for the scalp, and can help counteract hair loss and dandruff.
  • Both chamomile and calendula can have a lightening effect on blonde or brown hair, and are also very soothing.
  • Nettles for itchy scalp and dandruff (pick the young shoots in the spring - remember to use twice the amount of fresh to dry herbs)
  • Sage and yarrow are both useful herbs if you have oily hair.
Use a large mug and pour boiling water over about 3 tablespoons of the dried herb. Once its brewed for at least 10 minutes, strain off the liquid and add about half the amount again of apple cider vinegar. This is now ready to use! Pour over the hair and massage gently in and then a quick rinse with warm water (some people prefer not to rinse it at all, and apparently the vinegar smell goes once you dry the hair). If you can stand putting it on your hair once its cold then this is best for the hair, otherwise use it warm!

Finally, enjoy your soft, conditioned hair (and make sure it is fully dry and put a hat on before venturing into the cold....!)

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Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Make your own citrus vinegar for cleaning

I finally got around to making some citrus vinegar over the holidays. A nice simple recipe you just put citrus peel in a jar and cover it with white vinegar! I used lemon, lime and orange peel, which would usually just get thrown away. Plus, of course its anti-bacterial.

It needs to "brew" for a couple of weeks before straining off. I'll put it in a spray bottle to use as a surface cleaner (don't forget to dilute with water, I used about 50:50); and also try some out as fabric softener with the addition of a little essential oil (although I find that with eco-balls my clothes are really soft anyway, so its only for the scent really).

And thank you to Debs at Herbal Haven who passed on this simple recipe at a Mercian Herb Group meeting last year. :-)

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