We have some pretty great conversations on the chat list for The Essential Herbal Magazine. A couple of weeks ago, Brenda asked if anyone knew anything about "herb bowls", and the topic meandered in the background. Until yesterday. Yesterday I woke up with the burning desire to try making them.
Over the years I've made tons of incense cones and herb beads using clays made with herbs as the main ingredient, and have put together books and kits for those items. It suddenly hit me that a similar clay could be used to create bowls. And so it began.
Since the purpose of the bowls is primarily fragrance, powdered cardamom came to mind. I mixed about 1/2 cup of the cardamom with about a tablespoon* of gum tragacanth. It was probably way more tragacanth than was needed. To that, I added water gradually until a nice clay consistency was reached.Lining a bowl with cling wrap, I formed a bowl inside, and then decorated it with cardamom pods (more on that later*).Next, I made a little coiled clay pot. Both of these were made from that 1/2 cup of powder.As they were drying, Kathleen Setzer (Historic Herbals writer for TEH) suggested that they would make wonderful votive holders, with the heat from a candle releasing the scent of the herb. Hmmm.
And then I pulled out the frankincense!
For this, I used about 3 tablespoons of powdered frankincense, and 2 teaspoons of gum tragacanth - again, way more than necessary and added water slowly to form the dough, and used a custard cup covered with cling wrap as a mold. The dough was exceedingly tacky, but after about 10 minutes on the mold, it started to calm down. At that point, I started inserting pieces of Copal, a sunny, yellow resin, thinking they would create tiny windows in the bowl.*Gum tragacanth is a very strong binder for working with herbs, that adds no scent of its own. A teaspoonful would have been more than sufficient in either of the mixes described above. It absorbs a great deal of water, and using so much means that I will probably have some cracks to deal with as the clay dries and shrinks. I'll make a slurry and patch them when the cracks show up later. An ounce of the gum would be plenty for 5 or 6 cups of powdered herb.
*Adding the cardamom pods along the top of the first bowl didn't really work. Many of them did stick, but as the dough shrunk, several dropped off, and got a dab of glue.*Another thing I discovered was that cling wrap on the outside of the custard cup held fast to the glass, making it very difficult to remove. The inside of the clay bowl remains moist because air doesn't reach it, so it has to come off to dry. To do that, I used a darning needle and blew hard into the space it created between the cling wrap and the glass. Not sure what to suggest in its place just yet, though... Just keep that in mind when molding.
*All things considered, so far I really like them. The coiled one was the simplest, the frankincense the most difficult.
*Less finely powdered herbs are on my to-do list, as the tragacanth will hold it nicely.
*These bowls cannot be washed, however I'd like to mention that I've submerged beads made with tragacanth in water for 5 minutes to test them, and while they do get slightly gummy on the surface, they do not dissolve in that length of time, and dry well to their original appearance.
*Grind the herbs in a coffee grinder or blender to get a nice consistency, or order them in powder form from one of our advertisers listed in the sidebar >>> :-)
The possibilities are endless. Offering bowls, tiny bowls for the Yule tree (be sure to make a hole or handle in that case), votive holders... and the herbs!!! Rosemary, lavender, rose, anise, spicy cinnamon, clove, or nutmeg, sandalwood, cedar... ah -I am in trouble now. I might add some orris root to the next batch just to help fix the scents.