This year’s holiday letter for those whose snail mail addresses elude me.
Herbal baths are an ancient practice. Both Dioscorides and Galen prescribed aromatic baths for various disorders and injuries. Medicinal baths are also mentioned frequently in Irish mythology. Diancecht and his children: Miach, Airmid and Octruil, and were regarded as the deities who presided over healing. They are given credit for turning the tide in one battle due to their ability to make “a bath of healing, with every sort of healing plant or herb in it.” (1) Cormac’s glossaries mention the fact that forthrucud (medicinal baths) were used to treat leprosy. (2) Herbal baths are mentioned in curing the wounds or warriors. Cuchulainn was cured of his fits of feverish rage by bathing in Ius Cuchulainn (meadowsweet). Conchobhar’s physician Fingen was said to have mended his wounds by making up a bath of herbs and marrow.
it is a good method of delivering herbal constituents. The heat from the bath helps the herbs absorb through the skin. I think they are particularly useful in cases where digestion may be impaired.
There is a trick to making an herbal bath though that is often overlooked. The herbs have to be immersed in boiling water in order to break down cell walls and release their constituents. Your average bath water is just not hot enough to do the job, effectively.
While essential oils can replace some aromatic herbs, many herbs which do not have aromatic qualities have soothing properties and should be considered when blending bath teas. Valerian root and kava root are two examples that come to mind. Furthermore essential oils are expensive and do not represent the range of constituents present in a particular herb which limits their potential benefits.
I used to make tub tea the same way I make an infusion, but while flowers floating in your tub are pretty it isn’t all that practical. As sealable tea bags have become more widely available, I have taken to making tub tea bags. My husband is a fan because all the loose herbal material isn’t going down the drain and clogging up the pipes. I have added a link to the bags I used to make these to my Amazon store.
To get the most out of your tub tea blend, pour boiling water over them and let them steep in a covered container, for a good long time. The same way you would make a medicinal infusion. The water in the container should take on the color of the herbs like this:
When it is time for a bath, pour the contents of your container into the tub.
Using this method to make an herbal bath, should increase the benefits of whatever herb blend you are using. My tub tea mix includes Epsom salts and various herbs known to have relaxing qualities including lavender, heather and monarda.
1.Gregory, L. (1905). Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha de Danaan . London: John Murray
2. Ellis, P. B. (1995). The Druids. Grand Rapids, Michigan: W.B. Erdmans Publishing Company.
One of the ways to simplify the holidays is by assessing your resources as far as gift giving goes. I am not going to go into the larger debate of the necessity of this custom. It is a long standing tradition dating back to antiquity and it makes me happy. Enough said.
The trick is not to let it stress you out. If you have more money than time, it probably isn’t a good idea to stretch yourself by starting a lot of projects. There are plenty of craft shows and local merchants to support this time of year. I actually plan on listing some things I have for sale locally, here on the blog next week.
That is definitely not the case around here this year. I have next to no budget, but I have time on my hands. I have been Pinterest-ing up a storm, looking for homemade gift ideas that I can make from my herb closet and the piles of neglected craft supplies around here.
Take for example today’s project. I already had the materials kicking around. So for the price of one of these at the store, I can make six. (Honestly, I had the stainless steel straws, too. I planned on doing this last year.) There are a lot of patterns out there for crocheting cozies and sewing the covers, but I wanted to keep it quick, simple and cheap. I have a lot of old wool sweaters saved.
If I were going to give these as gifts, I would tuck them in a basket with a beverage tea blend that would be good cold, although you can use these like insulated mugs for hot beverages, too. Another fun thing to give with these would be a bitters blend and some sparkling water.
I will post a few of my projects on here over the next few weeks. But I have a few ideas on the blog in the Handmade Holidays category. also.
I love orange peels more than I enjoy eating oranges. I use dried orange peels in my tea blends. I even clean with vinegar I’ve infused with orange peels.
Candied orange peels are like a dream come true for me, because I can literally snack on my favorite part of the orange. They replace an after dinner mint as a good digestif, too.
Making this confection doesn’t take as long as you might think.
To begin with you will need to have some sort of simple syrup made up ahead of time to candy orange peels the way I do. Yesterday I made pine syrup because of Kiva’s post the other day. In the past, I have used chocolate syrup and vanilla. Chocolate is probably my favorite, but I have a sentimental attachment to chocolate oranges.
Now you will need some organic oranges. I started with four today. Peel the oranges with a vegetable peeler to get strips that are fairly free of the white pith.
Try to use just the decent size strips. Some will break and peel but don’t worry this pile of pith and bits of peel goes into a chocolate-orange bitters recipe. I tend to run cold, constitutionally, so orange peels are one of my favorite bitters due to their warming qualities.
Once you have your strips of orange peel you are going to want to blanch them. To do this put them in a saucepan of cold water and bring the water to a boil. Strain this water off and blanch them again. This will mitigate some of the bitterness, although honestly I like bitter so I only blanch mine once.
You can use the water you strain off for decocting a beverage. I have a pan with some pine, rosemary and astragalus, simmering on the stove.
Once you have your blanched orange peels you are going to want to put them in a saute pan, cover them with simple syrup and cook them until they become a little more translucent.
This takes some experimentation. If you cook them too long, they start to curl up and are very brittle. You want them to be a little chewy. The rule of thumb is about three minutes, but it really depends on the size of your strips. After they have simmered in the syrup, remove them and roll them in sugar, making sure both sides are coated. Leave them on the rack to dry for a bit, then store in a covered container.