Archive for the ‘Natural Beauty’ Category



It’s been a strange winter this year. Mild and wet for the most part with a with a few bright, crisp, days in-between the drear.

Sitting by the fire has kept us feeling warm and nourished and I have become convinced that gazing at a wood fire is one of the best ways to avoid seasonal depression or the winter blues.


Bringing evergreens into the house can have a similarly uplifting effect and is a midwinter tradition that stretches back into our deep pre-Christian past and is common to nearly all Northern European cultures.

Conifers, Mistletoe, Holly and Ivy have been considered symbols of eternal life and immortality due to the fact that they stay green and lush amidst the barren winter landscape. In folklore it was believed that they offered a place for the faeries to dwell when it was too cold to be out of doors. They certainly offer shelter to birds outside of the house during the winter months as well as a valuable source of food. The berries of holly, ivy and mistletoe are toxic to humans and should be avoided but the leaves have been used medicinally for many centuries.


The fresh young leaves of ivy were harvested and used to treat congested lungs, catarrh and coughs. Modern research has validated these traditional uses showing the ivy is anti-spasmodic and rich in saponins, soap like constituents which help to thin and remove stuck mucus in the body. They also help to reduce swelling in the respiratory tract. Some people are allergic to ivy so care must be taken, though reactions are rare.


Holly was also used for coughs as well as for colds and flus. A few leaves were drunk in hot water as a general seasonal tonic and it was also considered cleansing, being used for arthritis and fluid retention as a diuretic. It’s astringent properties help to tone the mucus membranes and balance mucus production.


The magical mistletoe is a parasitic evergreen that roots into its host tree and derives nourishment from it, enabling it to grow high up in the branches and without any access to soil. It is famous for being revered by the Druids. According to the Roman writer Pliny The Elder it was gathered with great ceremony including the sacrifice of two white bulls “A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak.”


Aside from its important purpose in facilitating kisses, it is also a valuable herbal medicine for treating a number of conditions. The leaves and twigs are the parts used and are most commonly made into a tea or tincture. The berries are fairly toxic but have been used externally in treating frostbite.


It used to be used as a specific for epilepsy but today it is most popular for treating high blood pressure. It is useful for balancing menstrual flow and can be an important remedy during the menopause for anxiety, heart palpitations and flooding. Some people can find it quite heating though so beware if you are already a hot person and it is also one to avoid in pregnancy.
Mistletoe is also popular as a complementary cancer treatment, especially in Germany and Switzerland.


These honey mushrooms, Armillaria mellea, are past their best now but in their prime they are both edible and medicinal. They have a history of use to treat neurological conditions such as vertigo and neurasthenia. Modern research has shown them to have anti-convulsive effects. Like all medicinal mushrooms they are also rich in polysaccharides and help to support proper functioning of the immune system.


Similarly named but visually very different is the honey waxcap mushroom, above. The waxcaps have the most beautiful gills, as seen below with the equally beautiful butter waxcap.


Winter beauty for me is all about the underlying forms and patterns of things. Whether that is branches stark against the sky, leaf veins illuminated by the low sun or the juxtaposition of hard edged rock and velvet moss.





Next weekend is the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch so don’t forget to stock up your feeders and spend an hour jotting down any feathered visitors you spot.


Cold weather usually results in dry skin so I have been making this lovely whipped body butter recipe recently. As I wanted to give it away to some pregnant friends I have kept the recipe simple and free from essential oils but if you get a good quality cacao butter then the chocolatey aroma is just perfect by itself.


Whipped body butters are popular at the moment with good reason. Beating in the air makes them lighter and easier to absorb than a regular balm but without the fuss of adding water to make a cream so the end product is both simple to achieve and lovely to use. During winter I seem to think a lot about food so it’s no surprise that this recipe ended up being nutty, chocolatey and scrumptious smelling.

Nutty Chocolate Whipped Body Butter:
Makes 8 60g jars or 4 120g jars. Half the recipe if just for personal use.

120g Cacao butter
120g Coconut oil
120g Shea Butter
60ml Macadamia nut oil
60ml Hazelnut oil
5ml Vitamin E

Melt all the ingredients except the vitamin E in a bain marie or double boiler making sure the pan underneath doesn’t run out of water. Stir regularly to ensure they are well mixed.

Once all the butters are melted, remove the bowl from the heat, allow to cool a little, add the vitamin E and stir well, then place in the fridge for about an hour giving it a stir every now and then. It is good to keep an eye on it as different fridges will have slightly different temperatures so yours may be ready after 40 mins. You will know it is good to go as they butters will still be semi-liquid but will have gone completely opaque. If they are too solid you won’t be able to whisk them so do keep checking.

When ready remove from fridge and start whisking. This will be a lot easier if you have an electric whisk, if not be prepared for aching arms! Soon it will start to look like thick buttercream icing. From here you can either spoon it into jars or pipe it in using a small plastic bag with the corner cut off.



Read Full Post »

Stretch marks are something that many many women are keen to avoid in pregnancy and there are a number of ways we can support the integrity of the skin to minimise their presence. Stretch marks in themselves are not harmful to us and could be seen as a beautiful testament to our journey to motherhood but, for better or for worse, we live in a culture where the archetype of the ‘maiden’ is held up as the ideal of beauty and most of us are not keen to loose it too quickly. Leaving aside such philosophical debate, in this post I hope to share some information with you about what stretch marks are and how we can help to prevent them, as well as sharing some nice recipes for bump balms and oil blends that you can make up at home.

Stretch marks, or striae, occur in somewhere between 50 and 80% of women during pregnancy, depending on which sources you believe, and result from a tearing of the dermis. This is the middle layer of the skin which is made up of connective tissue and contains collagen and elastin fibers which help the skin to stretch and heal. The tears leave scars which appear purple or red to begin with but usually fade to silvery white. Our skin is designed to be able to stretch and if there is adequate support in the dermis then marks will not occur.

Despite youth being on their side, stretch marks are most likely to appear in teenage mums, possibly because of the hormonal changes that are already going on in their bodies. Steroid hormones called glucocorticoids limit the production of collagen and elastin leaving skin more likely to tear as it becomes less elastic. This is why stretch marks can also occur as a side effect of prolonged use of steroid creams.

Many books and websites claim that whether or not you get stretch marks is entirely genetic and no amount of applying creams or oils will make any difference. This is not completely accurate as, though genetics do play an important role, the few studies done have shown that topical application does help to prevent stretch marks occurring. A German study found that one third of women using a specially formulated cream developed stretch marks as opposed to two thirds in the control group and in one review, two studies were compared and both showed beneficial results. The conclusion was, “stretch marks may be prevented in some women by daily massage but it is unclear if any particular ingredients bring special benefits.” You can read the full review here if you so wish.

Luckily there are foods, herbs, base oils and essential oils which all help to prevent stretch marks and aid in keeping skin supple and supported.

Two of the most important herbs used to prevent stretch marks are calendula (Calendula officinalis) and gotu kola (Centella asiatica). These can both be used in massage as herbal infused oils. Antioxidant rich herbs such as hawthorn, elderberry and bilberry are useful in preventing the breakdown of collagen and these can be taken in teas whilst other deeply coloured berries can be enjoyed as part of the diet. Vitamin C is an important co-factor in collagen production and is found in peppers, tomatoes, dark green leafy veg, berries and many other fruits. Anyone pregnant at this time of year is in luck as rosehips are abundant in Vitamin C as well as abundant in the hedgerows right now. Adequate protein intake is also very important.


Bump Rub Recipes and Ingredients:

Here are two simple recipes that you can make up with a variety of different ingredients to suit yourself. First I’ll give the basic outline of the recipe and then a list of possible options below. In the past many people have asked me if they can substitute some of the ingredients in a recipe for others so hopefully this will show you some of the many possibilities. Of course there are many more base oils that you could use but these are the ones I have found to be most useful.

Mama’s Bump Rub Massage Oil:

Massaging your abdomen is such a beautiful way to connect with your own body and your growing baby and is the perfect opportunity to send love to you both.

To make 100ml:
40 mls light oil such as jojoba (or substitute any of the light oils listed below)
30 mls macerated oil such as calendula
20 mls rich oil such as rosehip and/ or avocado (or substitute any of the rich oils listed below)
7 ml GLA rich oil – borage or evening primrose
2.5 mls vitamin E Oil
0.5 ml Essential oil – optional. (Usually this works out to be about 15 drops per 100ml though this depends on the size of the dropper in the bottle. It is always wise to measure essential oils in a pipette until you get to know how much your droppers dispense.)

Mix all ingredients together and bottle. Massage onto abdomen hips and breasts once or twice a day.

Mama’s Belly Butter:

22ml light oil such as jojoba (or substitute any of the light oils listed below)
20 ml herbal macerated oil such as calendula
20 ml rich oil such as rosehip and/ or hemp seed (or substitute any of the rich oils listed below)
30 g Shea Butter (or any of the butters listed below)
5 g beeswax or candellia wax
2.5 ml vitamin E oil
0.5 ml Essential oil – optional

This makes for a rich balm so only a small amount is needed but it’s very nourishing and one I really enjoy using.

Melt the butters in a bain marie then add the liquid oils in a slow drizzle until fully incorporated. Let cool a little but not enough to begin setting then add the vitamin E oil and essential oils. Mix well, pour into jars and allow to set fully before using.


One tip when choosing base oils is to check for the smell as some high quality oils will have a strong smell of nuts or seeds. If so make sure to mix small quantities with other oils that don’t smell so strongly otherwise you will mask the aroma of the essential oils as they are in a low dilution. Be aware that no oil should ever smell off or rancid however.

Rich Oils: These oils are particularly nourishing and high in nutrients that can literally work to feed the skin. They have a thick texture however which is why I always recommend mixing them with lighter oils. Rich oils that would be particularly nice in a bump rub include avocado, rosehip, macadamia nut, hemp seed and wheatgerm.

GLA rich oils: Evening primrose or borage both contain high levels of GLAs and are a useful addition to a bump rub in small quantities. Make sure you buy these oils very fresh as they have a shelf life of only six months. It is always wise to store them in the fridge before use.

Light Oils: Jojoba, apricot, almond, hazelnut or grapeseed (refined) would all work well as lighter oils to make your finished product easier to apply. They also contain many nutrients of their own.

Macerated Oils: herbal infused oils such as calendula or gotu kola are the obvious ones to go for but chamomile, lavender or rose would also be lovely choices here.

Butters: Coconut, cacao, shea or mango butter are all lovely on the skin. Choose coconut or mango if you want something lighter, cacao for a firmer texture and shea for a creamy feel.

Essential Oils: Many essential oils are best avoided during pregnancy until the birth itself when they can play an important role. However there are several that are very safe and fine to use from your second trimester on in low percentages like in this recipe. For these rubs I would stick to one or a combination of the following oils; mandarin, neroli, tangerine, lavender and ylang ylang. If you want something refreshing I would use mandarin and tangerine or something more relaxing for the evening could perhaps contain lavender and neroli. Ylang ylang gives a beautiful floral and exotic smell. Neroli is a very expensive essential oil but it is prized for it’s regenerative abilities so is ideal in preventing stretch marks.

Do leave a comment below if you have any queries or anything I have said is unclear.

Happy bump massaging!

Read Full Post »

At last, here is the final instalment in our cream making series, apologies that it’s over a month late!

Of the three recipes I have shared this one is the most complicated as it requires precise temperatures and the use of not one, but two emulsifiers. Once you have done it a couple of times though it’s fairly straightforward and it is a reliable cream that I have never had any problems with.

This method is taught by Aromantic in their course which I attended a couple of years ago and is very popular amongst herbalists that I have spoken to.

Pros are that it makes a light and professional looking cream with a very good finish. Cons are that it involves processed ingredients like emulsifiers and cetyl alcohol and that it does really need a preservative due to the very high water content. The high water to oil ratio could be a pro or a con depending on what you want to achieve. If your key ingredients are water based, for example a strong infusion or floral water, this would be an ideal recipe to follow but if they are oil based, such as infused calendula or St. John’s Wort, then one of the previous recipes would suit your needs better.


25 ml vegetable oil/ infused oil
4 g cocoa butter
4 g cetyl alcohol
5 g VE emulsifier

140 ml spring water/ herbal infusion/ floral water
4 ml glycerine
9 g MF emulsifier

2 ml Vitamin E
1-2 ml Essential oils
Preservative of choice

VE and MF emulsifiers are both available from Aromantic, see the link above, and are vegetable derived, usually from coconut or palm oil. Preservative 12 and Preservative Eco are also available here.

Begin by melting all the fat based ingredients in a bain marie or double boiler. At the same time heat the water/ infusion in a separate pan or double boiler and then add the other water based ingredients, whisking well to ensure the MF powder is completely dissolved in the liquid and no lumps remain. Continue heating until both mixtures have reached between 75 and 80 C.

When both parts are at temperature, turn them off the heat but leave the water part above the bain marie to ensure it remains hot. Pour the oils in a steady stream into the waters whilst whisking gently from side to side. Don’t beat the cream too vigorously or too much air will be introduced. Continue whisking in this way for five minutes to ensure everything is well mixed then remove from above the hot pan to allow for quicker cooling. At this stage I place the container in a pan of cool water to allow it to set quicker and continue gently whisking until it is cooled to below 30 C and nicely thickened.

At this point I stir in the essential oils, vitamin E and preservative and spoon into jars.

And that my friends is all there is to it. Happy cream making and a very happy Imbolc to all for tomorrow.

Read Full Post »

It’s time for the next instalment of our cream making recipes, this one using emulsifying wax.

Emulsifying wax can be made from either vegetable wax or petroleum wax mixed with a detergent, so do ensure that you know which you are getting. I always use the vegetable derived one which is what most herbal suppliers will be selling. It comes as a flaky white solid which melts at fairly low temperatures and helps to thicken and emulsify fats and waters to make a cream. You will see from the recipe that this cream includes a much higher proportion of water compared to the last one I posted about, enabling you to make a cream that is not quite so rich and sinks in easily.

Here in the UK many herbal suppliers sell emulsifying wax including Baldwins here, Neal’s Yard here, Woodland herbs here and Aromantic here. All these will ship internationally but I’m sure most countries will have their own suppliers.

Pros to this cream include that it is simple and potentially quite cheap to make, it doesn’t involve any special equipment, just a few bowls and a whisk, and it is more stable than the cream without emulsifiers which can tend to sweat when exposed to temperature fluctuations.

Cons are that it is not completely natural and can sometimes tend to leave a slight residue behind when massaged into the skin. With this recipe it’s important to use a preservative because it has a high water content and will potentially go off quite quickly.

This recipe will make about about half the quantity of the last one incase you didn’t want to experiment with quite such a large amount.


200ml of spring water, floral water or herbal tea.

Oils and Waxes:
20g emulsifying wax
10g beeswax
50ml herbal infused oil or plain base oil

2.5ml vitamin E
1 ml essential oils
Preservative of choice according to instructions

First melt the beeswax and emulsifying wax in a bain marie or double boiler adding the oil and waiting until it is all completely melted. Whilst that is happening place the waters in another pan and heat until fairly hot but not boiling. When both are ready turn the oils off the heat and place the waters in a heat proof jug and begin to pour very slowly into the oil mixture whisking vigorously as you go.

Keep pouring and whisking until all the waters are incorporated into the oils. As they are still hot they will have a thin texture, a bit like milk.

Keep whisking until it starts to thicken, then add in your vitamin E, essential oils and preservatives (I use Preservative Eco sold by Aromantic).

Keep stirring, it should end up fairly firm and deliciously creamy, by which time your arms will be ready to fall off!

Spoon into jars, swirl the top and that’s all there is to it!



Read Full Post »

This is my absolute favourite cream recipe. It’s rich, it’s luscious, it leaves my skin silky smooth and it can be adapted in numerous ways. Though it has a higher oil content than creams which use emulsifiers and can therefore feel quite oily when applied, my experience is that it sinks in really well when applied to damp skin and doesn’t leave any residue.

In some ways it is the most simple of the recipes and certainly the most natural as it uses no emulsifiers (though the beeswax can help to bind it) and potentially no synthetic preservatives. In other ways it is the most complicated as it requires waters and oils to mix and can take a few tries to get just right, though if you follow these instructions and use good quality ingredients it should turn out well first time.

Other pros include the fact that it is almost edible so fits with that old saying, ‘you shouldn’t put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t put in your mouth.’ The high oil content makes it great for dry skins or skin conditions – it’s the recipe I used to make my calendula and chamomile cream which you can see here and also this wonderfully protective and strengthening hand cream here. You only need to use a tiny amount so it lasts for ages and it has a lovely look and feel to it.

Cons are that it can be more expensive to make than many other creams (which have a high amount of water and only a little infused oil or butters) and it will not last that long if you don’t add a preservative. Also it can be too rich for some people who like very light creams or have oily skins. Finally this recipe requires a fairly decent blender, it doesn’t have to be top of the range but if it’s a very cheap one you may find it hard to keep the motor running for long and have to add small amounts of water at a time, turning the blender off in between which can increase the chances of it separating.

N.B. Being in Europe I do my measurements in grams rather than ounces. I hope that is not a problem for those in the US, there are online conversion charts or if that is confusing let me know and I will attempt to convert it myself for you.

Ingredients: (variations in brackets)

250ml Herbal infusion or floral water (or 200 ml waters with 50ml aloe vera juice)
1 tsp vegetable glycerine

175ml herbal infused oil (or plain base oil)
75g Coconut oil (or a mixture of coconut and cacao)
25g beeswax

5ml vitamin E
2.5ml Essential oil


Melt your beeswax and butters in a bain marie or double boiler, then add the liquid oils and allow to become completely liquified, like so.

Melted oils in a bain marie

Pour these oils into your blender and allow to cool.

Whilst that is happening mix together the waters. You can use just floral water but the glycerine does add an extra silkiness. Aloe vera is great to add for sensitive skins or use herbal tea cooled to room temperature (make it double strength) for additional therapeutic value.

After a short while, depending how warm your room is, the oils should turn from this…

In the bottom of the blender

To this…

Butters and oils starting to cool

Like in the picture below, it will appear to be setting but when you move the jug you see that it is still liquid though much thicker than when you first poured it in. Don’t let it over solidify, though there may be a small amount on the sides that is set. If so just get a small spatula or wooden chopstick and scrape it down – don’t worry if it looks a bit lumpy at this stage.

Opaque but still fluid

Now turn the blender on to a lowish speed and start to pour the waters in in a slow trickle. If the blender gets stuck turn it off, scrap the sides down with a spatula and turn it back on again adding a bit more of the water part at a time till the full amount is incorporated. After which the cream should look like this.

Mix in the vitamin E and essential oils of choice by hand and pour into suitable jars.

Thick but just about pourable!

Spoon the last bits in then use a chopstick to swirl the top so it looks like the icing on a cupcake.

Almost edible!

This recipe contains no preservatives but if you would like it to last longer than a month you will need to add one. As it has a higher oil to water ratio compared to most creams it will last much longer however the inclusion of any water in a recipe makes it susceptible to bacteria. If you live in a warmer climate it would be advisable to store it in the fridge. I have never had mine go off and I’ve kept jars for a few months but I live in a cool climate. Also it is good to be aware that creams can be going off before they show visible signs of doing so.

You would need to add add a synthetic preservative if you wanted to ensure your creams lasted longer or were planning on selling them. (See part I of this series for more information on preservatives.) I would say if you are just making them for gifts, then keep them lovely and all natural but be sure to use them up quickly.

Read Full Post »

With the weather staying mild so late this year, Christmas has snuck up on me before I am ready for it and I realise now, with just three weeks to go, that it’s time to get into action.

Since beginning this blog, the topic I have been questioned about more than any other is how to make creams. Unlike simple salves and balms  cream making can be notoriously tricky as it requires mixing together oils and waters which naturally want to separate. There are a number of ways to achieve a nice cream with a good consistency and, over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting the main recipes I have used, hopefully in time for you to make some for your own Christmas presents too.

In this post I want to introduce some of the ingredients which can be used in cream making to enable you to adapt the recipes more to your own specifications. There are so many different base oils, herbs, essential oils etc. that its impossible to cover them all here, but I’ll include the main ones I have found useful after much experimentation. If you have any questions or want anything clarifying then do ask in the comments section and I will try to answer if I am able.

The three recipes I will post are:
A simple cream involving no emulsifier – my own variation on Rosemary Gladstar’s classic.
A cream using emulsifying wax – as seems to be most popular in herbal recipe books.
A cream with VE and MF emulsifiers – as used by many UK herbalists and popularised by Aromatic in their courses.

In my experience, different recipes work better for different people. I’m a firm fan of the first but others I have met prefer to use emulsifying wax. It’s all down to personal preference as some like a richer cream whilst others like something lighter with a higher water content. If your cream is for therapeutic use then you need to consider whether the condition you are treating is dry, flaky and in need of protection, in which case a richer cream with a higher oil content is preferable, or whether it is red, itchy, weeping  and hot, in which case a lighter cream with a higher water content and cooling, astringent oils will have better results.

Ingredients used in Creams include the following:

Base oils and herbal infused oils – Base oils are usually vegetable oils, pressed from nuts, seeds, kernels and other fatty parts of fruits and vegetables. Things to be aware of when choosing base oils include the consistency and smell. Some oils are rich and moisturising and good for drier skins like avocado, hemp, macadamia, argan and rosehip. Often you would only use these in a smaller percentage along with a lighter oil like almond or apricot. Oils like rosehip, hemp and macadamia can have quite a strong aroma, especially if they’re high quality and unrefined so factor this into your recipe and don’t use too much. Lighter oils that are good for oiler skins include hazelnut, grapeseed and jojoba. Sensitive skins respond well to apricot oil. As this topic is something of a vast one, I will dedicate a post to exploring some different base oils in further detail soon. Be aware that some wonderfully nutritious skin oils like borage and evening primrose have a very short shelf life, around 6 months, so ensure you get them from a good supplier and store them in the fridge. Never buy oils that smell rancid and be aware of using nut oils on those with allergies. Herbal infused oils are simply vegetable oils infused with herbs. You can read my post on how to make them here.

Solid oils and butters – These include cacao butter, coconut oil, avocado butter, mango butter and shea butter and they are rich and moisturising as well as adding body to a cream. For a lighter effect which sinks in to the skin easily use coconut, or for a rich, nourishing hand cream opt for shea. Cacao is nice in both body and face creams and, if you get it food grade, it lends a delicious chocolatey aroma to your finished product.  Somewhere between a liquid oil and beeswax or plant waxes in consistency, fats will partly absorb into the skin but will leave something of a protective film behind.

Beeswax and plant waxes – These thicken and add body to creams and also help a little with emulsification. They are not well absorbed into the skin creating a protective barrier that helps it maintain its own moisture and keeps it hydrated, especially during these wintery months with their high winds.

Waters – These include spring water, floral waters, herbal teas and aloe vera. You can vary them endlessly to suit your purpose. If you are making a plain base cream try using just spring water or if it’s a luxury face cream then use rose floral water. If you want a soothing cream with anti-inflammatory properties then try a strong tea of chamomile and calendula.

Vegetable Glycerine – Glycerine is a sweet, syrupy, clear liquid that helps draw moisture to the surface of the skin. In very dry climates it can apparently take the moisture from deeper layers of skin so best to avoid using it, but if you live in the damp UK, it can be a nice addition and improve the consistency of your creams.

Tinctures – A small proportion of a suitable herbal tincture will add therapeutic value as well as helping to preserve your cream. Try calendula in a soothing cream, comfrey in a bruise healing cream or yarrow in an anti-inflammatory cream. Do beware though that alcohol can irritate sensitive skins.

Essential Oils – The volatile oil content of the plant is distilled, pressed or extracted with solvents leaving a highly concentrated and powerfully aromatic liquid that can be used for strong therapeutic benefits or simply to make the product smell delicious.

Emulsifiers – These help the water and oil parts of a cream to mix and leave a homogenous finish. Common ones include emulsifying wax, vegetal and VE/MF emulsifiers all derived from vegetable sources, albeit after some intense processing! Another commonly used and readily available emulsifier is borax, though I have heard mixed reports of its safety and prefer not to use it myself.

Vitamins and minerals – These can be added to creams and usually come as a powder or in liquid form. Vitamins A, C and E are the ones most commonly used as they are good anti-oxidants and can help prevent oils going rancid.  Sometimes minerals like zinc are added to sun creams to create a barrier against the suns rays.

Natural preservatives – These include rosemary extract and grapeseed extract. Both are powerful anti-oxidants that can increase the shelf life of creams. They have some anti-bacterial action but most agree it is not powerful enough for products sold commercially. Grapefruit seed extract is more powerfully anti-microbial but there is much evidence out there that suggests it is harmful so I suggest reading the research yourself before using it.

Synthetic preservatives – Creams are much like food. If you plan to use them quickly (how quickly will depend on the recipe) and keep them cool then you have no need to go down this route but if you are planning to keep them for longer than a few weeks or if you wish to sell them you will need to add a synthetic preservative which will protect against moulds, yeasts, bacteria etc. Though there is conflicting evidence as to whether all types of parabens are carcinogenic, I personally avoid them altogether. Some of the safest ones seem to be Preservative 12 and Preservative Eco, both sold by Aromantic. I often avoid using these where possible but for creams with a high water content they are always necessary.

I will post the first recipe in the next couple of days so check back soon.

Read Full Post »

After spending this morning sorting out receipts and trying to get my tax return organised I was more than ready to pass a bit of time in the garden and then come indoors to make up some nice nurturing body care recipes.

First up was some face washing grains. Washing grains have a long history of use in various cultures and are essentially a mix of powdered clays often with ground almonds, oats or similar gently exfoliating natural substances. My first encounter with them was when I was a teenager and used The Body Shop’s Japanese Washing Grains (anyone remember them!). Rosemary Gladstar also has a lovely recipe which she calls her ‘Miracle Grains’ which this version is loosely based on.

1/2 tbsp dried chamomile flowers
1/2 tbsp dried lavender
1/2 tbsp dried rose petals
1/2 tbsp dried calendula flowers
2 tbsp porridge oats
2 tbsp ground almonds
2 tbsp green clay
2 tbsp kaolin clay

Grind the herbs and oats in a blender to a fine powder then stir in the clays and ground almonds. You can substitute the herbs for anything you fancy, elderflowers and cowslips are two of my other favourite skin herbs. I made double this quantity so I could store half the powder dried to be mixed up at a later date. The other half I mixed well with the following ingredients.

10ml herbal infused almond oil
4 tbsp vegetable glycerine
2 tbsp honey

This gave me a thick paste which can be easily mixed with a bit of water and massaged onto damp skin, then washed off. Don’t mix your grains with water in the pot unless you plan to use them up within a week as it will encourage spoiling. This way they should last a couple of months as long as they are kept in a cool dry place.

I used them this evening and my skin now feels very smooth! My husband has just tried them too and his verdict was ‘amazing’, which is always good to hear.

Being a general disliker of dentists, I’ve wanted to make up a herbal mouthwash for a while and finally got round to it this evening.

I used the following tinctures and essential oils which I’ll keep undiluted in the bottle, mixing 2.5 ml with a little water just prior to use. I will then swill for as long as I can manage and spit out.

Herbal Mouthwash Ingredients:
25 ml Calendula tincture
25ml Myrrh tincture
25ml Lavender tincture
25 ml Echinacea root tincture
5 drops each lavender and peppermint or spearmint organic essential oils

This, if used regularly, should keep the gums and teeth in good nick and prevent any unnecessary trips to the evil ones in white coats with their frightening array of torture implements.

I hope you had a good Sunday too.

N.B. Mint essential oils should be avoided by anyone with epilepsy and in pregnancy or with children under 12.

Read Full Post »

For a long time I was confused about the difference between salves, ointments and balms. Some writers use all three terms interchangeably whilst others have separate definitions, many of which contradict those from other sources. In this post I wanted to tell you a little about how I make salves, ointments and balms with the intention of sharing some hopefully useful tips and practical information.

Salves, ointments, unguents, balms, call them what you will, what all these preparations have in common is they are primarily a semi-solid mix of fatty ingredients such as oils and waxes, usually with no water part at all, though they may contain a small amount of herbal tincture or similar. This differentiates them from creams and lotions which contain both fats and waters.

Generally, ointments and salves are considered much the same thing; a healing external preparation made with medicinal substances in a base of oils and waxes. According to the Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health an ointment is “a semisolid preparation for external application to the skin or mucous membranes. Official ointments consist of medicinal substances incorporated in suitable vehicles (bases). Called also salve and unguent.”  All in all the definitions are pretty vague which is probably why we find discrepancies.

Suitable ingredients for a salve include many vegetable oils (such as olive, sunflower, sweet almond, apricot) and beeswax or vegetable wax such as candelilla or carnuba. In older herbals lard or animal fats were often used and these are enjoying something of a comeback amongst some traditional herbalists but, as a vegetarian, they don’t feature on my radar so I won’t be talking about them here. Many herbal books include recipes made with mineral oil byproducts such as petroleum jelly or vaseline but again, as I don’t work with them, I will not be including any information here.

As making salves involves some degree of heat it’s best to use oils that are fairly heat stable, the main ones to avoid are oils like flax seed, evening primrose and borage. If you want to include these then stir them in after the other ingredients have been melted and are beginning to cool.  Coconut oil is the most heat stable vegetable oil but as you will not be heating it very high, oils like olive, sunflower and apricot kernal can be happily used.

Beeswax comes in two varieties, white and yellow but the white is bleached and processed so I never use it, it’s always better to stay as close to nature as possible. Candelilla wax is derived from the leaves of a shrub native to Mexico and is slightly harder than beeswax so you generally want to use a fraction less in a recipe. Carnuba is a similar product derived from a Brazilian Palm. The advantages of these two is that they are vegan so products can be made that are suitable for everyone. The disadvantage is that they come from a very long way away (at least if you live here in Europe!). It’s a tricky choice as some producers of bee products are far from ethical or kind to their bees. I do use beeswax but always try to get it from a local supplier that I know I can trust.

Basic Salve Recipe:

90ml herbal infused oil
10g beeswax

Basic Vegan Salve Recipe:

92 ml infused oil
8g candelilla wax

Medicinal Salve Recipe:

75 – 80ml infused oil
10g beeswax
10ml tincture
2 – 5 ml essential oil


Weigh or measure out the wax (preferably grated or cut into small pieces) and the herbal infused oil and place in a double boiler or bain marie. Heat over a low heat until the wax is fully melted and then stir well. If adding tincture drizzle it in slowly now whilst whisking lightly with a fork. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly but not set. You can test the consistency of the salve by dipping the tip of a teaspoon into it. Such a  small amount will set quickly and will show you how the finished product will be. If you are not happy you can return it to the heat and add a fraction more oil/wax until you get it just right. Whilst the salve is still liquid, stir in the essential oils, pour into glass jars and cap immediately to stop the volatile oils from evaporating. Allow to cool and set completely before using.

You can make salves for use as chest rubs, for treating aches and pains, for protecting and healing dry and sore skin and many other uses. The recipe can be easily adapted according to your preferences or required ingredients. A very simple skin healing salve can be made with calendula infused oil and beeswax or a chest salve with olive oil, wax and 5% suitable essential oils. The possibilities are limitless!

Balms are similar to salves, some people class them as the same thing entirely whilst others make a slight differentiation.  According to James Green who wrote The Herbal Medicine Makers Handbook, “a balm is simply a salve that contains a relatively high amount of volatile oils. Upon application is delivers a notably intense cloud of aromatic vapours.”  My understanding of a balm is that it is a salve that also contains butters such as cacao or shea butter making for a creamier end product. These are just individual definitions though so you can use whichever you prefer.

Cacao is fairly hard at room temperature so makes for a slightly firmer end product where as shea is very creamy and therefore a lovely addition to lip balms or body butters. Mango butter is also delicious and has a lower melt point and a more slippery consistency.

Basic Balm Recipe:

67 ml infused oil
25 g cacao butter
5 g beeswax
2 ml vitamin E
1 ml essential oils of choice

Basic Body Butter Recipe:

57 ml infused oil
20 g shea butter
20 g cacao butter
2 ml vitamin E
1 ml essential oils

These balms can be made as above by melting the oils, butters and wax in a bain marie then adding the essential oils and vitamin E at the last moment so they will not be affected by the heat.

I hope that was helpful rather than just confusing the issue further! Happy making.

Read Full Post »

With Valentine’s Day around the corner I thought it was about time I posted a suitably romantic recipe for these quick and easy, yet delightfully decadent massage bars. Whatever your feelings about this particular festival, a massage bar makes a lovely gift for anyone and can be used to pamper yourself too as it makes a delicious body moisturiser after the shower or bath

50g Cocoa Butter
15g Shea Butter
15g Coconut Oil
10g Mango butter (or just use 25g Coconut and omit the mango)
10 ml Base oil
2ml Vitamin E Oil
20 drops essential oils of choice

Add the solid oils to the base oil of your choice (any relatively thin oil like apricot, hazelnut, jojoba or sunflower would do nicely) and melt over a low heat in a bain marie. Remove from the heat and stir in the vitamin E and essential oils of choice. Pour into massage bar moulds (I actually just used large chocolate moulds) and set in the fridge or freezer. That’s it.

If you live in a warm climate you’ll want to increase the amount of solid oil you use or possibly add a little beeswax or candelilla wax to make it more heat stable as these are designed to melt easily on contact with the skin. Alternatively you can keep them in the fridge. Also beware of using nut oils like almond for people with allergies.

Some ideas for essential oils you could use include the following:
Romantic and floral blend – Rose 5 drops, Ylang Ylang 8 drops, Sweet Orange 7 drops.
Relaxing and uplifting blend – Lavender 7 drops, Neroli 8 drops and Green Mandarin 5 drops.
Earthy and sexy blend- Sandalwood 10 drops, Jasmine 5 drops, Black Pepper 5 drops.
Beautifully balancing blend – Geranium 10 drops, Bergamot 5 drops, Lavender 5 drops.

I used the earthy and sexy blend and it turned out deliciously though you have to take into account your personal taste in oils and the effect you wish to achieve. I recommend consulting a good aromatherapy text to get a clearer idea of which oils will suit your purpose.

And incase you’re still not in the mood for love, here is a selection of my favourite love poems to win your heart.

The Innocence of any Flesh Sleeping – Brian Patten

Sleeping beside you I dreamt
I woke beside you;
Waking beside you
I thought I was dreaming.

Have you ever slept beside an ocean?
Well yes,
It is like this.

The whole motion of landscapes, of oceans
Is within her.
She is
The innocence of any flesh sleeping,
So vulnerable
No protection is needed.

In such times
The heart opens,
Contains all there is,
There being no more than her.

In what country she is
I cannot tell.
But knowing – because there is love
And it blots out all demons –
She is safe,
I can turn,
Sleep well beside her.

Waking beside her I am dreaming.
Dreaming of such wakings
I am to all love’s senses woken.

Untitled – Rumi

Love swells and surges the ocean
and on your robe of storm cloud
sews rain designs.

Love is lightning,
and also the ahhh
we respond with.

Untitled – Simon Armitage

Let me put it this way:
if you came to lay

your sleeping head
against my arm or sleeve,

and if my arm went dead,
or if I had to take my leave

at midnight, I should rather
cleave it from the joint or seam

than make a scene
or bring you round.

how does that sound?

Love – Pablo Neruda

So many days, oh so many days
seeing you so tangible and so close
how do I pay, with what do I pay?

The bloodthirsty spring
has awakened in the woods.
The foxes start from their earths,
the serpents drink the dew,
and I go with you in the leaves
between the pines and the silence,
asking myself how and when
I will have to pay for my luck.

Of everything I have seen,
it’s you I want to go on seeing:
of everything I’ve touched,
it’s your flesh I want to go on touching.
I love your orange laughter.
I am moved by the sight of you sleeping.

What am I to do, love, loved one?
I don’t know how others love
or how people loved in the past.
I live, watching you, loving you.
Being in love is my nature.

You please me more each afternoon.

Where is she? I keep on asking
if your eyes disappear.
How long she’s taking! I think, and I’m hurt.
I feel poor, foolish and sad,
and you arrive and you are lightning
glancing off the peach trees.

That’s why I love you and yet not why.
There are so many reasons, and yet so few,
for love has to be so,
involving and general,
particular and terrifying,
joyful and grieving,
flowering like the stars,
and measureless as a kiss.

Read Full Post »

SPOILER ALERT!!! This post contains information which may jeopardise some people’s surprise on Christmas Day. If you happen to be a close friend or family member I suggest you do the right thing and turn back now.

This months’ blog party is kindly hosted by Brigitte over at the lovely and informative My Herb Corner and is on the topic of Herbal Christmas Gifts.

Whilst I’m still struggling to believe that we are approaching the end of November, it certainly is time I started getting organised on the present front. I’m well known for pressing remedies on to my loved ones for their varying ailments, so at Christmas, I like to move away from the medicinal and create some herbal treats that are luxuriant and pampering as well as promoting good health in the winter months.

This year’s line up include some lovely bath and body oils, a deeply moisturising hand and foot cream, some soothing lip balms, a rejuvenating eye gel and some nourishing face cream.

Christmas Bath and Body Oils:

I always like to have some lovely oil blends on hand to add to the bath, use in massage or simply to moisturise my skin. Here are this year’s Christmas themed oil blends which consist of 2% essential oil in 100ml base oil. 2% usually works out as 40-50 drops of essential oil, depending on the size of the dropper. It’s important to blend essential oils in a base oil rather than just dropping them into the bath so as to avoid the possibility of irritating the skin as the essential oils do not always disperse well and can remain in concentrated blobs on top of the water. These oils do not use any emulsifiers therefore they will create an oily film on the water, though as you only need to use a tablespoon per bath, I have never found this a problem. Emulsifiers can be added which will make a more milky bath oil which disperses well in the water but the ones used for this purpose are usually synthetic so I like to avoid them where possible.

Winter Warmer- I created this blend with a couple of family members in mind who suffer from chilblains in the winter months and could use this in a bath or footbath to ease their discomfort. To 100ml of Apricot base oil I added 20 drops Rosemary essential oil, 20 drops Grapefruit and 10 drops Black Pepper. This not only stimulates the circulation and the lymphatic system but also makes a lovely revitalising morning bath for relaxing winter weekends. In fact I’ve just enjoyed one this morning.

Christmas Gifts-  To 50ml of Gold of Pleasure Oil (Camelina sativa) and 50 ml Sweet Almond I added 25 drops Frankincense, 15 drops Sweet Orange Oil, 5 drops Myrrh and 5 drops Clary Sage. This blend feels wonderfully Christmassy and promotes visual dreaming. I like to give it with a bar of Rococo’s Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh Chocolate. Enjoy the chocolate in the bath for ultimate indulgence.

Oh Christmas Tree- This blend was created for my husband who loves the smell of pine and also loves luxuritaing in the bath. To 100ml hazelnut oil I added 15 drops pine essential oil, 15 drops silver fir and 15 drops juniper berry. Earthy, fresh and cleansing this is great for washing away the pollution after a long day Christmas shopping in town or to bring the smell of the forest home with you after a brisk winter walk.

Luxury Hand and Foot Cream:

This was made with my mum and sister in mind, both of whom like to look after their hands and nails. The Comfrey is healing and mineral rich, the Avocado and Shea are deeply moisturising, the beeswax is protective and helps to emulsify the cream and the Horsetail is famous for its silica content which helps to strengthen the nails. The Jasmine makes it sexy and luxurious and the spearmint is reviving and refreshing for tired hands and feet.

40ml Comfrey root infused oil
40ml Avocado oil
40g Shea Butter
80ml Horsetail decoction (simmered 15 mins)
1 tbsp Vegetable Glycerin
15g Beeswax
2ml Vitamin E
10 drops Vitamin A
20 drops Jasmine essential oil
5 drops Spearmint essential oil

Melt the beeswax in a bain marie and add the shea butter and oil when it’s already soft.

In a separate container, mix the horsetail infusion and vegetable glycerine.

Take the oils off the heat and allow to cool until looking opaque. It’s important to get the oils and waters to the same temperature to enable them to mix properly, otherwise your cream will separate, I find I have better results when both parts are about room temperature or a little warmer. I use a small hand blender to mix them as I’m not making a large enough quantity to use my big blender. Begin to blend the oil mixture and slowly add in the waters, a drizzle at a time. Continue to blend until you have a nice smooth, even, creamy consistency.

Stir in the essential oils and vitamins E and A once it is cool and has thickened. Mix well and spoon into jars. This cream will last about a month out of the fridge (less if you life in a warm climate). It has a lovely thick, green appearance and is incredibly nourishing to dry and hard working hands.

I have a much more detailed description of cream making here which will be useful if you are new to the process.

Also a description of ingredients including preservatives here.

It’s really a myth that you have to use emulsifiers to get a properly mixed cream, it just takes dedication and a bit of practice, I had several disasters before I got the knack and even now I sometimes get it wrong. I do occasionally use emulsifiers to make a face cream as it’s hard to make a very light consistency without them, but I like to use all natural products where possible and the emulsifiers used in cream making, even when derived from natural products, are always highly processed in some way. Ultimately oil and water don’t want to mix but they can and do, only your will must be greater than theirs!

Soothing Lip Balm:

This is a simple and delicious lip balm recipe.

40ml Calendula infused oil
30ml Macadamia nut oil
15g Cocoa Butter
15g Beeswax
1ml Vitamin E
10 drops Vanilla Essential Oil

Melt the cocoa butter and beeswax in a bain marie, adding in the macadamia and calendula and stirring well until everything is dissolved. remove from the heat, add the Vitamin E and Vanilla, stir again and pot in 6 15ml jars. Leave on the side to cool. A good trick it to almost fill the pots, wait a few minutes, then top them up. This ensures an even surface on top of the balm, otherwise you can get a dent in the middle as it settles.

Rejuvenating Rose Hip Eye Gel:

This eye gel is also simple to make and is based on antioxidant rich rose hip.

80ml Rose hip infusion (1 tsp rose hips simmered in 100ml spring water)
5ml Witch Hazel distillate
1/2 tsp Xanthan Gum
1/2 tsp Vegetable Glycerine
1/2 tsp Eyebright tincture
I tsp Aloe Vera gel
2ml Rosehip seed oil
10 drops each Vitamins E and A

Whisk all ingredients lightly together except the xanthan gum – I actually use a stick blender in the little measuring jug that came with it to make this recipe which works well but there isn’t enough volume to use a large blender. Sprinkle  the gum slowly and finely into the mixture whisking all the time until a gel begins to form, whisk until there are no lumps in it. There is no preservative in this formula except the vitamins and tincture so I suggest it is kept in the fridge where it should last about three months. You need such a tiny amount of this gel that I recommend only using small jars so it does not get wasted.

Unfortunately I ran out of time this week to make the face cream but i will be sure to post the recipe when I get round to it.

Good luck with your Christmas shopping and making!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »