Category Archives: Natural Home

Beeswax Melts

My sister gave me one of those candle warmers for last year and it is SO cute. I really wanted to use it but  the scented melts you buy have a lot of artificial fragrances.  So I decided to make my own. And I thought I would offer it up as my first really quick gift idea.

Grate some beeswax, or soy wax, and melt it in a double boiler. This is also a good use for old candle stubs you might have saved.  After it has all melted add some essential oils. I like to use bitter almond, cinnamon and cloves to complement the sweet smell of the beeswax.

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Pour the melted beeswax into molds. You can use any decorative ice cube mold.  I lucked across these silicone molds on an IKEA trip along time ago but you can find
similar molds on Amazon.  Let them set up until they have cooled.  I usually pop them in the fridge.
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Pop them out of the molds.  They can be used for decorations. They look pretty nestled on some greenery.  Or you can look for one of those candle warmers at a thrift store and make up a bag of these to go with it.  The beeswax melts look really cute tied up in some burlap but I haven’t gotten that far, yet.

 

Homemade Irish Creme

irish cremeFor the next little bit I am going to focus on  holiday recipes and traditions around our home.  We celebrate all of the seasons in our home and we hit up the Winter Solstice season in a way that sometimes confuses people who know us. Regardless of our current spiritual leanings. both my husband and I grew up in families that were pretty big on the holidays. He enjoys the decorating and baking and concocting as much as I do, so it was something we wanted to recreate for our kids. I am pretty happy to see that my oldest daughter who is off on her own, is following suit for her own little one.

This first recipe I am sharing is my homemade recipe for Irish Cream with fairly-traded, organic ingredients. I start by making my own sweetened condensed milk, which is a nice trick to know for holiday baking,  so I will toss that recipe on at the end of the post.  You will also want to have some really strong, hot coffee on hand.

This tastes better than anything you will find at the store  It is an older recipe – really heavy on the eggs which makes sense because Irish Creme is really just a  type of nog.

My Homemade Irish Cream

8 oz Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 pint cream
4 oz of hot, strong coffee
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
6 eggs
1 tsp almond extract
1 750 ml bottle Irish Whiskey

You can use a blender to mix this, or a whisk. I use my immersion blender. First dissolve the cocoa powder in the hot coffee. Then stir in the sweetened condensed milk and the cream. Then whip up the eggs a bit and stir them into the cream mixture. After you have whipped this all together for awhile slowly pour in the whiskey and almond extract. Store this in a glass jar in the refrigerator to be safe. I’ve seen people insist it doesn’t have to be kept cool but I don’t like to take chances.

Sweetened Condensed Milk

6 cups organic whole milk
1 stick butter
4 1/2 cups organic evaporated cane juice
1 vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon  Vanilla Extract

Melt the stick of butter in a 3 quart sauce pan.   Add milk, sugar and vanilla.   Bring to a boil and simmer for at 1 hour; stirring frequently.  This thickens as  it cools, so don’t worry if it isn’t as thick when it is hot.

Medieval Herbal Advice for Today’s Homes

It is time to turn to the fall maintenance of our beloved herb gardens , which provided so generously for us over the summer.  We herbalists are all organizing our overflowing apothecaries and trying to fit in our new harvest of plant allies which often involves displacing last year’s harvest.    I generally won’t harvest perennials past the end of October,  so I am closing in on the end of the season and  trimming back herbaceous perennials for the winter.

If you, like me, are a frugal sort, you are probably questioning what to do with these leftovers as often they still taste and smell very potent.  Juliette De Bairacli Levy recommends tossing old herbs into the compost or directly on your garden, but I think they still serve a purpose in our preventative care measures; guarding our home against  disease carrying pests,   pathogens and other unwanted visitors <—nod to the esoteric uses of protective herbs as Samhain approaches.

Really, what better use is there for herbs that aren’t spent, but aren’t at their peak of freshness?   The real experts on using herbs for household maintenance were those folk who had no alternatives and so much useful knowledge can be gleaned from medieval housekeeping texts.

Strewing Herbs jpg.Strewing Herbs – Strewing Herbs were commonly tossed about to sweeten the air in a room and ward off pests. These were the predecessor to potpourri but more utilitarian in nature.   Thomas Tusser made these recommendations about which herbs to use for strewing h in his 500 Points of Good Husbandrie,  published in 1557. For want of explanation Baulm generally refers to lemon balm, not the monarda spp.  Maudeline  is Tanacetum balsamita ; the camphor plant.

In Medieval Days the herbs were likely strewn around on the floor and crushed by people walking on them or shoved in mattresses.   I still use them under  rugs, appliances,  the boy’s mattresses and between our mattress and box spring, but you don’t often find them just lying around on the floors except in  garage underneath our bulk food storage bins.

I’ve posted this modernized version for carpet cleaning on the blog before.  This is really the only time I use borax and salt in strewing herbs.

Strewing Herb Powder For Carpets and Rugs

1 cup borax
½ cup salt
½ cup powdered mint
½ cup powdered rosemary
½ cup powdered mugwort
anti-microbial or aromatic essential oils of your choice*

Mix the dry ingredients together and stir in 10-15 drops of essential oils in any combination you desire. Sprinkle the mixture on your carpets or rugs in the evening and vacuum them in the morning.

DSC04276Sachets  –Often referred to in Medieval texts as “sweet bags” Sachet are made by crushing herbs and sewing them up in linen or silk bags.  They were then  hung amongst the clothing to ward off pests.  I have also adopted this practice to protect the bulk dried goods I keep on a shelf in my garage and in other areas where I would simply like to ward off noxious odors.

Once word of advice: Unlike a potpourri, you don’t know want a sweet bag to hold its scent, rather it is the wafting off of the scent that repels insects. I’ve seen directions for sachets which include orris root powder or charcoal. These substances have a habit of absorbing orders thus detracting from their usefulness as repellents.

Distillates

Most often called “sweet waters”, these were used for scenting clothing and linen by brushing them on or “sprinkling with pine sprigs.  I’ve done this because I am a SCA  nerd.
For the most part,  we use  spray bottles set on the mist setting . I use “sweet waters” to mist on bed linens when making the bed and find them to be quite useful for misting the air in a sick room. My daughter,  has been known to take the bottle and spray it directly toward people when they are ill. I must, of course, recommend against this.

Making a distillate for household use doesn’t have require a still. I find this to be an excellent use for fall trimmings. I have experimented with fresh and dried and oddly enough I have found that ground dried herbs tend to make more aromatic distillates. Any aromatic herb known for the its volatile oils is a good candidate for distillation. Mints, roses, lavender, orange peels are some of my favorite choices.   Conifer needles like pine and spruce work so well for this.

Directions for making a distillate:

In a large pot with a tight fitting lid, place a small inverted bowl,I have a glass nesting bowl set that works well for this. Stainless steel works, too.

 Place your choice of aromatic herbs around the inverted bowl and add water until the bowl is just covered.

Set a larger bowl right side up on the inverted bowl . Place the lid to the soup pot on it in an inverted fashion. I like to throw some ice on the top as well.

The steam from the boiling herbs will collect on the underside of the inverted lid and run into the larger bowl.

Bring to a boil and then simmer over low heat, for as long as you like until the water in the pot boils down and most of it is collected in the larger bowl.
Once cooled, this can be bottled and tightly covered. I store mine in our second refrigerator.

 My favorite herbs for strewing or distillates:

The artemisia family are especially known as having strong repellant properties. Artemisia abrotanum (Southernwood ) was once known as “garde robe’. There is an ancient text which talks of boiling together rue and wormwood and then spraying the water on clothes to repel moths. I would hazard a guess that any of the artemisias would be suitable for this purpose.    I tend to use mugwort for the purpose of strewing and sachets.   I think John Gallagher was the first person I heard call mugwort the “white sage of the Northern Europeans”.

Ruta graveolens –  Rue has long been known as a protective herb.   According to M. Grieves “Rue has been regarded from the earliest times as successful in warding off contagion and preventing the attacks of fleas and other noxious insects. It was the custom for judges sitting at assizes to have sprigs of Rue placed on the bench of the dock against the pestilential infection brought into court from gaol by the prisoner.”(Grieves, 1931)   Rue works well  as a sprig for splashing around distillates.

Galium_odoratum – Sweet Woodruff is known to have a high concentration of coumarin, the ingredient in the modern rodent poison warfarin, and was used for strewing and stuffing mattresses to repel disease carrying pests.  I grow it purposely for using in my strewing herbs that go under the stove and in other areas that mite be prone to mice- like under the shelving where I keep my bulk food bins or under the sink behind the bar.

R. Rugosalavendula officinalis , calendula officinalis –  who doesn’t love  flowers?   I tend to put flowers, woodruff and rue in the bags I hang near the clothing and around the beds where I don’t want the stimulating scent of the mints.

Lamiaceae Family –  I pretty open to using any sort of mint due to reading this study about how it repels cockroaches.   Catnip and spearmint are probably more plentiful in my strewing herbs,  but that is because I have so much growing.  I hoard my peppermint as it is just coming back from spraying incident a few years back.

Conifer needles are also often ground up and used in a lot of ways around here.   I am not really fussy about the kind.  I love spruce, pine, cedar, fir.     The kids will tell me if the house starts to smell too much like  a forest.

Tusser, T. (1557). Five hundred points of good husbandry;... (pp. 123-124). Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&id=_epIAAAAMAAJ&dq=five hundred points of good husbandry

Grieves, M. (1931). A Modern Herbal. (Vol. 2, p. 695). New York: Dover.

Make Your Own: Soothing Mouthwash

Soothing Herbal MouthwashI noticed that the dry weather was getting to my tongue the other day. So I decided it was time to whip up a new batch of homemade mouthwash. The base of my mouth wash is a cold infusion of marshmallow root which is good for dry and irritated conditions, specifically for when your tongue starts getting those little horizontal cracks. Some of you won’t know what I am talking about, but if you do, you should give this a try. Even if you don’t suffer from lack of humidity the way I do, swishing this daily may help reduce inflammation of the gums and occurrences of gingivitis. It is so very soothing .

To begin, I put 1/4 cup marshmallow root in a pint of cold water and go to bed. In the morning, I wake up to a nice slimy infusion. I strain this well and add some tinctures. I start with calendula which is broadly anti-microbial and also helps against inflammation. Then I add 1 tsp of sage tincture which is recommended by Matthew Wood in cases of “sore, bleeding, ulcerated, inflamed or receding gums and canker sores”. I also put in 1 tsp of peppermint tincture. Honestly, this is pretty much for taste, you could add a teaspoon of cinnamon tincture if you prefer.

You can also use peppermint extract, from the grocery store, in the place of the tincture. It is the same thing, really, and I will bet mine is cheaper. Once that is all shaken or stirred together, it will keep at room temperature as long as you use it daily. There is more than likely enough alcohol from the tinctures to preserve a larger amount of the infusion, but it is a simple enough process, that it can be made weekly.