Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Herbal Gifts

I am way behind with my contribution towards the UK November blog party on making gifts with herbs. This was the theme of my November workshop and the Mercian Herb Group meeting, so I am posting some recipes we used then, with many thanks to Debs Cook for her contributions and tutelage.

Even though the ice and snow are upon us, if you have a store of dried herbs or access to another source, you can still make herbal gifts. Here are a few suggestions.


Salt scrub
1/2 cup oil.(118ml or 4fl oz) Use sweet almond, grapeseed or another light-textured massage oil such as an angelica, dandelion or rosemary infused oil . Don't use simple cooking oil from your larder.
1 cup fine sea salt. Baleine is a good choice. Don't use simple iodized table salt -- it's too harsh. If you have sensitive skin you can substitute sugar, which is gentler.
5-15 drops high quality essential oils. The essential oil you choose for your salt scrub depends on the result you want. Lavender is relaxing, lemongrass is refreshing and rosemary is stimulating. You can experiment and do your own blend.
Put the salt (or sugar) in a small bowl.
Add the oil, mixing well with a spoon or wooden stick. The texture should be moist enough to hold together, but not overly oily. You can adjust the amount of oil to achieve that texture.
Gently tap in the drops of essential oil and combine well. So now you're ready to use your home-made salt scrub -- once a week is plenty. This recipe should get you through three salt scrubs.

Rose Water (Gail Faith Edwards)
Pick blossoms on a sunny day when their scent is at its peak or use an amount of dried, scented rose petals or buds. Put into a stainless steel or enamel pot and cover with fresh spring or distilled water. Cover and slowly heat to just below a simmer. Turn the heat as low as it will go and continue heating for about ten minutes tightly covered. Turn off the heat and allow all to sit, covered, overnight. In the morning, strain the fragrant rose water off. Add a quarter of the volume in alcohol as a preservative. Bottle and keep in a cool dark place. Rose water can be splashed all over the body to tone and refresh. As a wash, it can help heal acne.

This recipe can also be made with dried or fresh elderflowers

Rose Petal Cleanser (Tammy Herring)
Fill a glass jar with dried or fresh rose petals and cover with distilled witchhazel (available from the chemist). Use a chopstick to stir the mixture to remove any air bubbles, then refill the jar so all petals are covered. If you leave the petals uncovered they will go brown within a couple of hours.

Seal the glass jar with a screwtop lid, label and date. Leave the jar to infuse in a cool, dark place for a couple of weeks. Strain and pour back into the original dark glass witchhazel bottles. You may find the scent from fresh rose petals is not strong or even non existent, so it might be worth adding some dried rose petals and re-infusing for two further weeks after you have strained the fresh rose petals. Apply to your face with soaked cotton wool pads.

This recipe can also be made with dried or fresh elderflowers

Herbal soap (Anna Kruger)
170g/6oz grated, unscented, uncoloured, very mild soap
120g/4oz dried or 4 handfuls of fresh herb (see below for skin type) simmered in 375ml (1-1.5cups) water in a covered pan and left overnight
1tsp essential oil
Put grated soap in the top of a double boiler saucepan (or a large bowl with a saucepan of boiling water underneath) and stir in herbal tea. Whisk vigorously until all soap has melted. Add essential oils. Pour into small, greased moulds or waxed paper cake cases and leave to cool Place these in a warm place for 6-8 weeks until dry. If making soap for sensitive skin replace 3oz soap with honey and add to mixture as soap is beginning to melt.

Herbs for different skin types
Normal to dry: chamomile, violet leaves, elderflower, parsley, borage, marshmallow leaves and root.
Oily: Lavender, marigold, yarrow, horsetail
To improve circulation: rosemary, nettle, fennel

Massage Oil
Make a double infused oil from suitable herbs
Deep muscle pain – goldenrod
Light muscle pain and breast tissue issues – dandelion
Sciatica – rosemary and St John’s wort
Arthritis – meadowsweet, ginger, solomon’s seal, plantain
Nerve pain – St John’s wort

The term, “double infused” means that you use the same amount of oil for two separate amounts of herb. This usually means dividing your herb harvest into two piles which you add to the oil at different times, the first amount being added at the beginning and the oil then being strained and the first portion removed at the end of the required time, then the strained oil is poured over the second portion which is subsequently heated.

If you are intending to use the infused oil as a massage oil or salve for children or frail elders, you may wish to undertake a single infusion for some highly aromatic herbs e.g. rosemary.

Moisturising salve
To make a simple salve, grate up some beeswax and add it to the hot infused oil, stirring continuously until it melts. (About 1oz beeswax to 8 fluid ozs of oil) Test on the back of a wooden spoon to see whether it is of a suitable consistency, then pour into small jars and seal. If you are not confident to do the spoon test, an easier way of checking is to drop a very small amount of oil plus melted wax into cold water in a small bowl or mug. The salve will immediately cool and you can rub it between your fingers to check the desired thickness.

The salve will thicken on cooling, usually from the bottom upwards if you pour into cold jars. It will usually be a paler colour than the original oil.

To make a moisturising salve use oils which have an affinity with the skin such as calendula and add violet leaf or marshmallow oil to add moisture. If you want the salve to have a strong scent, add 1-4 drops of your favourite essential oil per fluid oz of oil, but do not do this if the salve may be used by a young child.

You can experiment with adding honey or lanolin to your salve to give it extra softness.

Lip Balm
The easiest way to make a lip balm is to infuse dried calendula petals with 2/3rds cocoa butter melted with 1/3 sunflower oil. When poured into cold jars, the balm will keep solid at room temperature.

Rosebud Lips Balm
225ml (9floz) Calendua Oil
3 Tablespoons Jojoba Oil
45g (1½ oz) Dried Alkanet Root
30g (1oz) Beeswax
12 Drops Rose Essential Oil (optional)
Method - Gently heat both oils in the top of a double boiler for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the alkanet root and steep for around 30 minutes, to extract the colour from the root.
Strain the root from the oils through a muslin cloth. Return the oils to the double boiler with the beeswax. Once this has melted, remove from the heat and add the rose essential oil drop by drop. Pour into small sterilised pots or jars. Allow to cool thoroughly before putting the lids on.

We first made this lip balm last February following inspiration from The Victorian Farm. Debs found the recipe and it has been really useful. I prefer to make the lip balm without essential oil because it makes my lips tingle. This time we used a combination of calendula and dandelion flower oil which made a lovely rich infusion.

Creams and ointments are made by emulsifying a mixture of infused oil and water. You can also make a cream by adding your own tincture and oil to a commercially prepared cream or ointment. Christopher Hedley’s basic recipe for a cream is
1oz base cream (eg Aqueous cream)
1 tsp infused oil (e.g. marigold or St John's wort)
2 tsp tincture (e.g. rose petal or comfrey)
4 drops of essential oil (e.g. lavender)
First add the infused oil to the base cream and stir until it is all absorbed. Then add the tincture and stir again, then add the drops of essential oil and stir again. Spoon into small jars with screw top lid and use.


Moths do not like cloves, so pomanders are the perfect, sweet-smelling preservative for drawers and wardrobes. Choose which citrus fruit you would like to make into a pomander – lime, lemon or orange. Put in a warm place to dry for 2-3 days. Place sticky tape around the centre of the fruit - one circle for lemon or lime, two for an orange. Using a thick darning or knitting needle, make a hole in the skin of the fruit and insert a whole clove. Make sure you cover the whole surface of the fruit. Remove sticky tape then cover the pomander with a mixture of equal portions of nutmeg, cinnamon and orris root powder. Place somewhere warm and dry for 2-3 weeks. The fruit will shrink so you may have to reinsert any cloves which have fallen out. Shake off excess powder and tie a ribbon around the fruit in the space left by the sticky tape.

Sleep pillows
Gather equal portions of dried lavender, hops and rosemary. Grind the rosemary to release scent. Place inside a small muslin bag and secure firmly. You can add a few drops of lavender essential oil if you wish before securing the bag. The muslin bag can be placed inside a cotton case if desired. Place this sleep bag either on or under the pillow to aid sleep. It can also be used when travelling to aid sleep in a strange bed.

Scent bags
Fill a small muslin or organza bag with your herb of choice – lavender (soothing), rose petals (uplifting), lemon balm and marjoram (soothing), mugwort (to aid dreaming), pennyroyal (to deter insects).


Comfrey Cottages said...

Wonderful array of gift ideas Sarah:) Most inspiring! thank you for sharing xx

Herbaholic said...

Lovely recipes Sarah thanks for sharing them and joining the blog party, the more the merrier! The workshop was an absolute delight, full of wonderful aromas and lovely people, I'm already really looking forward to helping you with the 2011 herbal gifts workshop.

Love & hugs - Debs xxx

Brigitte said...

Oh my what lovely recipes!!!
I added your post to our November blog party.
Thanks a lot!

Rachel said...

swallow's nest in an edible gel form is supposed be good for the skin too. it gives that clear and pasty skin that we all love.

it's mad expensive. my brother and i bought some for my mom for her birthday. it was like 400 bucks for like a 6-8 oz jar. Luckily we finally found the one of popular brand online ( and

dad said it's really popular in indonesia. that a guy has to climb a high mountain to get the nest. that's why it's so expensive.

i mean why doesn't the dude just look for the fabled korean swallow king, capture it and let it lay eggs full of gold! then, he wouldn't have to work so hard and climb them high mountains.