Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Frankincense and Myrrh

In my imagination, things were going to slow down once the shop finally got finished and open. Yes, I can hear you chuckling, and as the wholesale orders rolled in on Monday and yesterday, I realized the folly of my plan. The days are getting away from me, and now I'm thinking, "as soon as the next issue goes out....". That probably won't happen either, but I like to pretend. In the meantime, I'll post this snippet on these familiar yet exotic resins.

Frankincense and Myrrh

The two fragrant resins are often referred to, but rarely do we see them in use. Many people have never seen them or smelled their exotic perfume. Others who attend churches rich in ritual are much more accustomed to censors pouring forth the smoke of frankincense.

During the holidays, these are two of the famed gifts of the Magi from the Bible, given along with gold to the baby Jesus, and are found sometimes in small quantities packaged for gift giving.

They are both resins, or saps from plants. Frankincense comes from the plant Boswellia carteri, and is grown mainly in Ethiopia. The scent is sunny and piney. It comes in different sizes, tear, pearl, and powder and is a warm variety of yellows. It is also available in essential oil, a form that is easiest to use in winter. In aromatherapy, frankincense is used to calm and release tension. It is also said to assist in meditation. When blending fragrances, frankincense oil is very valuable, because it quickly grounds blends that are too heady or lightens blends that are too base.

Myrrh is from a plant native to northern Africa. It is Commiphora myrrha. It comes in shades of red, amber, and brown and can be found in chunks, granules, or powder. The fragrance of myrrh is dark and mysterious. It is perfectly balanced by the brighter frankincense. Myrrh is rarely used in aromatherapy blends, but is found in mouthwashes and toothpastes (often along with goldenseal) to heal gums and keep them healthy. It does NOT taste good. It was also used in mummification.

In the summer with windows open, these may be smoldered on charcoal blocks to release their fragrant full bodied scents. In the winter, that isn’t possible. Instead, try adding some to a simmering pot. It takes a little while, but the hot water releases the scent. They can go into the fireplace in small quantities, or set in a dish on a heat source. They will however ruin the dish, so keep that in mind. The small pea-sized pieces may also be strung using a heated needle and worn about the neck. Body heat will slowly release the fragrance and surround you with mystery.

Monday, November 28, 2005

opening weekend

We opened our little shop doors on Friday. It was a fun weekend, even if I'd forgotten what hard work retail can be. The weather turned cold last week, so it was perfect to get folks into a holiday mood. Bob spent his days going up and down the hill with the frogmobile and wagon, hauling down trees. Although I'd like to whine about being on my feet and any other little things that were uncomfortable - at least I was warm inside the shop!
Yesterday I finally wised up and took along some things so I could work on a couple articles for the next issue. The deadline is only 2 days away and the schedule is very tight this year.
At some point this week we need to make some more product for the shelves. The whipped shea butter, the salt soap bars, and the soap stones were bigger hits than we'd anticipated.

Friday, November 25, 2005

The shop and stuff

Well first, I thought I'd share an image of Thanksgiving
at my sister's house yesterday. Her dining room and kitchen are open and there is a spread of appetizers behind the siblings and kids. Maryanne is in the background working on the gravy. This year my brothers, sister and I stepped into the role of oldsters, as we are in the position of being without any older relatives. It seems lucky to me that there just aren't enough kids to really gang up on us and tell us that we aren't making sense, or all the things kids do to make you feel out of touch. I figure we can go on thinking that we're "with it" forever if we can just keep the kids quiet.
So today (as I mentioned earlier) was the first official day of business for the shop at the tree farm. Here is a picture of the front of the shop where Maryanne generally does all of her torch work and soaping. At those times, it is her studio but for the next month it is known as the shop. To the right there is a large bay where her husband Bob makes pine roping and wreaths while the customers are up on the hill searching for the perfect tree. When Rob is home from college, he helps his dad. The studio is warm and cozy, and the bay where Bob works has a woodstove that takes some of the chill off. The family sheltie "Rudy" also helps out by making sure the kids all get a chance to pet him. He's a herding dog, so none of the kids get too far away from their parents, and he really gets tuckered out by the end of the day.
One of the things we've been working hard on for the last few days is gift baskets. We learned at our old herb shop that they make great gifts, and we really enjoy putting them together. Lavender and Wise Woman blend were always the most popular, so they were first. But first that required making up lotions, milk baths, and whipped shea butter, oh, and a really great sugar scrub that isn't greasy - it's creamy! All the new products require labels and tags.
Then there is a fragrance called Ginger Essence that we both fell in love with. The spritz is delicious, and we made a pile of different items in that scent for baskets. We also made some gorgeous soaps using a red mica... oh they are so nice!
We used a coffee scent for another group of baskets - something more unisex. That one includes a coffee flavored lip balm in addition to the other body care products.
Lastly is a small basket called "Scents of Christmas" with a balsam sachet, some frankincense and myrrh,and a great forest scented candle - all tied up with a spice clay ornament.
When Maryanne isn't making soap or fixing an incredible spread for the holidays, she's working on her torchwork beads and vessels. Lately she's been making some pendants that are fairies, mermaids, goddesses, and angels. It's pretty amazing stuff. I'm hoping at some point to get a few lessons in, although I can't imagine ever having the patience to get the kind of detail she gets in her pieces. I'm thinking my work would be more "organic". And just in case all the soaps, toiletries, books, jewelry, don't hit the spot, we put together a few holiday treats. Whew! We're finally ready.

Black Friday.... and they're off!!!

We've spent the last couple of months whipping up all sorts of goodies to put in the shop along with our books, jewelry, and soaps. Today is the official start of business at Frog Hollow Christmas Tree farm, and aside from a little bit of labeling and pricing, we are all set to go. The best part of this is that we've had recipes for spa-type items that we've been dying to try and this gave us the incentive to put them together. No matter how the shop goes, we've had a blast using exotic ingredients, making obscenely extravagant packaging (considering that we're cigar band packaging gals), and just playing to our heart's content.
I'll be back later on with pictures.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Design your own postage!

Ok, this is totally off topic, but I saw the coolest thing ever today! At you can make real postage stamps with the photo of your choice. It is quite a bit more expensive than regular postage - I think $17 for 20 37-cent stamps... but for a special gift, or some very special mailing, it just seems like such a great idea. It was on the Today show this morning, and I just had to check it out. They were suggesting them for holiday gifts for the person who has everything. Personally, I think I'll wait until the postage goes up next year.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

product review heaven

There are a lot of pros and cons to editing a magazine. One of the cons is trying to be fair. Here at The Essential Herbal, there are times when we receive books and/or products for review, and that's fun - but it makes me worry that our regular advertisers or readers don't get the same break. So after much thought, we've come up with a "reader's showcase".

The plan is to to do this twice a year - January and May. Anything that is sent between those issues will be saved for a large article to be put together. The January article was posted to the Yahoo list, and the May article will be noted in the magazine for readers who may not be on-line - or any subscriber who missed this opportunity. We'll check out all the products and write about them. There are several books, and all the products above - plus 3 or 4 that are on the way. This will be a lot of fun for me, and there won't be any of that nagging feeling of concern that anyone was left out.

It's hard to make out the products on the picture here... we'll do better for the article. I'm enjoying some lipbalm from The Green Spiral as I write, and baked up a Bread and Spread from Herbs by Sarah the other night. Many other companies sent products, including Laurel Country Herbs, Planet Earth Remedies, Herbal Momma, Herbs from the Labyrinth, and Prairieland Herbs. There were even some items just perfect for Molly to try out, and she really enjoys doing product reviews, and its handy to have her point of view.

We only have another week or so to get the magazine pulled together for the printer, so we'd better get busy slathering. Perfect timing, too, as the weather has turned chilly and dry.

On a personal note, I read Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins this week. The book is largely set in New Orleans and discusses the blending of perfume (and the afterlife, immortality, love, morality, good vs. evil...). The narration about life in New Orleans made me even sadder to think that may never be seen again. The storyline was rich and full, and much more thought provoking than I'd expected. Some passages made me stop reading for a while, just to think. I loved the book.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Why Blog? ... and some shop shots

The other day I was talking to a friend who started a blog, but can't get into it. The conversation made me think about how much fun this is - and why!
The area I live in is so beautiful that it has long been a tourist destination. The farms, the rolling hills, the countryside, and the different people make it very interesting. The diversity of the plant life is staggering. Add to that some of the fun projects that come my way and my natural propensity for chatter, and we're in business.
But there's so much more. This was started in the early spring, and since that time I've realized how much more I "see" because of this exercise in writing and reporting those visual delights around me. The most mundane of daily images become much more, because I am looking at them differently. Thinking about the things that might be interesting to someone else makes me aware of those little details in everyday life that are miraculous - but taken for granted.
I worried as the leaves started to fall that it would be hard to find interesting subjects. There are always good articles from magazines, great recipes and crafts... so that was in the back of my mind. After the talk with my friend, and the ensuing thought, it became clear that there will always be wonderful little tidbits. They happen to all of us everyday, and I feel extremely fortunate to have found this - another way to go hunting in the wilderness - to show me the little jewels that are everyday moments.
The shop is coming along nicely. We've been having fun with packaging and display. It's been a while, and it seems to be taking us forever to get it all pulled together.
As we tend to do, we took on a bunch of projects all at one time. My sister and I each have our own businesses and families, so those are our first priorities, and the shop and the new products to fill it fell between the cracks for a while. The tree farm is now getting busier every day, and this past weekend saw many families out choosing trees, so the deadline is gonging loudly.
We only have a few more products on our official list of things to do, and then we'll just continue until it is the end of the season. There are several shops that carry product locally, so nothing we do will go to waste.

In case you're wondering, yes there is already a list of things that will begin after the holidays. It must be a sickness...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Meeting Mary Ellen and the Juniper story

The other day we headed up to The Rosemary House again, this time because one of our regular writers, Mary Ellen Wilcox (left) of SouthRidge Treasures was going to be visiting and it was a good place to meet - familiar to us both. We even got a little visit in with Susanna, who needed to scoot to get her daughter off to a riding lesson.
It was great to finally meet. We've corresponded for years, and Mary Ellen has contributed very generously to The Essential Herbal magazine with wonderful recipes and crafts. She is quite a talented woman who knows her herbs. Her husband Skip and cousin Karen were along as well. We all managed to get a little shopping in to, and I continued working on the list of holiday stuff (which I cannot, unfortunately, disclose). It's one of my favorite things to be able to shop at small, independently owned businesses at this time of year. I was also very happy to receive one of Mary Ellen's cookbooks!
On the way there we noticed the sun shining on juniper boughs laden with brilliant blue berries. This year they are just loaded! My great-aunt Mary always chose cedar or junipers for the tree she brought in for Christmas. They have a very Victorian look, and every time I see them I think of her house. They are rarely used for that purpose anymore. Wonder why....
Anyhow, we decid
ed that we'd stop for a picture on the way home. Check this out!
It got us to giggling about one of our earlier adventures. Now this is naughty, you aren't supposed to do this...

We were gearing up for one of our shops, either at the tree farm or The Herb Basket - we're not quite sure. We were out along the highway for some reason, and we spotted these trees growing everywhere along the road. That year they were covered with the blue berries too.
If you've been paying attention, you'll know that I hardly leave the house without my clippers. That day was no exception. The vehicle at the time was a van with a side door. So we sidled up to one of these beauties, opened the side door, and I just started cutting away at some of the berried boughs, chucking them over my shoulder while Maryanne laughed uncontrollably, making up headlines that might appear in the paper the next day (she does that A LOT). Not wanting to harm any single plant, we edged the car up a bit to the next tree, and continued until we had enough for a few wreaths.
Now that isn't really the funny part to us. What really gets us is the way we took off like bank robbers, got off at the next exit, and doubled back to escape surveillance.
These days I go "hunting" with my camera, and wildcraft on property of friends or family with permission - 99% of the time :-).

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Leaves and 10,000 Villages

This morning I noticed that the leaves lying on the ground are spectacular this year. Some of them seem to have borders around them of differing shades, and leaves from the same tree have varying intensities and colors. I think that the long summer drought, followed by a good amount of rain just prior to the end of the growing season may have contributed to this. In any case the last two weeks or so have been very colorful.
Its made me think while I drive lately.
So often I've credited my grandfather with my love for nature. Yesterday I was thinking about how my grandmother would exclaim every season, "This is my favorite time of year!", and would then go on to talk about whatever made her feel that way at that particular moment. She would point things out from the car, and then say, "don't you look Fred! You're driving". We kids would sit in the back and laugh, enjoying the view, and the predictable banter. Another thing that Mimi (my grandmother) would often exclaim was, "I just love life." This would come at unexpected moments, and in her 80's and 90's she rarely complained, instead telling us that old age certainly "beat the alternative". Mimi was a difficult, high-strung woman. She was born too soon to fully appreciate her independent nature. Although she's been dead for several years, this is the first time I've understood how much she contributed to my nature.
Today there was no school. Instead of continuing to get the shop ready for the upcoming season, we had a girl's day out. My daughter, sister and I went to a shop in the next town over called 10,000 Villages. The shop itself is run by the Mennonite Central Committee. They travel the world and purchase crafts from tiny villages, paying a fair amount and providing those things to us here. They've been doing this for at least 30 years, and the things in that shop are just fabulous. There is a huge room full of beautiful rugs that kept my sister occupied for quite a while. There are carved wood room dividers and furniture... all sorts of textiles and clothing, accessories, soapstone dinnerware and sculpture, pottery, jewelry, home decor, hand made musical instuments, and the most wonderful tree ornaments imaginable.
Additionally, they have a tea room where they serve authentic foods from a different country or region each week. We don't go often enough, but just love being able to step into another culture for a little while from time to time. The country chosen is represented with special beverages, entrees, side dishes, and desserts. It's really wonderful, and a great way to spend an afternoon when there is no school.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

salt soap recipe

The following article appeared in the July ’05 issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine, written by Maryanne Schwartz. The original idea was posted by Iben on The Soap Dish Forum.
Some people use different oils with good results, but we love the coconut because of the added sudsing action. Although one would expect so much coconut to be somewhat drying, we haven’t found that to be the case (perhaps because of the water softening properties of the soap), and in fact many of our “test subjects” prefer the spa bars to the regular soap. I’ve been reading that others are finding it helpful for eczema, but that is anecdotal information.

Well, as usual, one of us saw a recipe for something different. This time it was Tina. She started talking about this salt soap and even emailed the information to me. It sounded so strange that I was sure, even after seeing the info that it was a melt and pour soap with salt added and we'd tried that before. When she finally got through to me that it was really something different, we just had to try it.

Here's what we did: We call these "Canyon Soaps". The red of the clay and the rough texture that the salt gives the soap made us think of canyon walls.

Mix lye:
4.5 oz. lye
5.5 oz. Distilled Water (Don't even think of discounting, this one goes so fast!)

Melt Oil:
25 oz. Coconut oil

By the time the oil is melted, the lye was cool enough to use and we mixed it, I'm not sure if it was even tracing, just well mixed and we added:

1 oz. Moroccan Red Clay
0.1 oz. ground Irish Moss

Then, we started adding Salt which we stirred in relatively slowly:
9 oz. coarse (pretzel) salt
6 oz. table salt

This traces FAST (you'll see!) and you basically glop it into the mold as soon as you can. It heats up and goes to gel almost at once. We went for a walk in the woods and it was pretty much ready to unmold when we got back... maybe an hour! It was still warm (even somewhat hot) when we sliced it up. It is a bit crumbly around the edges, but hardens up and the soap itself is heavy. If you plan to bevel the edges at all, do it now.We tried it out almost immediately! It has gotten much milder since then (really needed to rest for a while to continue the cure), but the bubbles are almost like lotion, rather than big and fluffy.

After the success of the first soap, we tried a second. We made it almost the same, but added Bentonite clay instead of the red clay and a little Hydrated Chromium Oxide for the green color. This one came out a seafoam green and we decided it would be called “Mermaid's Treasure”.

This is really a different kind of soap. Heavy, textured and the speed that it sets up is just fun and amazing. After doing soap in a production mode for so long, it's just such fun to try something with a new twist.

To see more variations, check out The Sibling Group!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

working on the Frog Hollow shop

Today was supposed to be a day filled with lots and lots of productivity. We've gotten thrown off by several things, and finally got the website that my sister and I are doing together live. It's called The Sibling Group, which was what we called the Publishing Co. under which our book about our shop was published. Then there was a furious week of getting packaging and samples in the mail for some new products... and then last week we lost in the hospital.

So anyhow, yes... we're pretty far behind schedule. Our list includes making about 15 or 20 products that have been swimming around in our collective brain and making the labels and packaging that go with them, filling and packing orders for our respective businesses, and setting up the shop at Frog Hollow Tree Farm for the holidays. But you know, today was so gorgeous, and nasty weather was headed our way.....
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Into the woods we went to visit our favorite haunts from spring. Above is the stream we walked down in April to find the tiny jewelweed sprouts, and all the spring blooms. As you can see, it's getting ready for the winter. I wish I could have captured the sounds of the leaves falling, the walnuts clunking, and the wind whistling.... and even the sounds of hunters in the far distance. The dog ran along with us sniffing at every turn in the path.
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I don't forage for mushrooms, but do enjoy finding them. They can be so lovely when they pop out of unexpected places like the one above.

So after our walk, we did get a few things done. A few dozen soap stones, a display, an order got packed, and some special order soaps were started. Tomorrow's another day, and I'm betting it will be a lot more productive!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Still Life... sorta :-)

Today we took our brother home.  He's so much better than he was 2 days ago.  Here he's attempting to look crazed.  That's a hobby of his.  I doubt if I have any photos of him looking like a typical human.  Not his style.  By the time we'd left, his nurse burst into tears over the miracle of his recovery, and he'd made most of the people who'd cared for him in the most difficult hours laugh out loud.  We're so glad to have our brilliant, gifted, talented, funny brother back.
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His home is a cabin in the woods, with the second story built out over a lake.  It is the most gorgeous setting imaginable.  Today was another one of those perfect Autumn days - high 60's, blue sky, and the trees are finally showing some color.  The side yard opens onto a meadow where there were several horses.  As I stood at the fence to take a picture, they all looked up and started to amble towards me.  Not having any carrots or apples, I took the picture and ske-daddled.
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We sat on the dock for a little while looking over the lake and taking in the changing leaves.  We picked up some sycamore seed pods and watched while John's cat Lily made sure that he knew that she wasn't happy that he'd been away.
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One of the trees has leaned across the lake reflecting perfectly onto the water.  The weather has gotten cool enough that the frogs and fish are not near the surface, but the tree is probably a terrific harbor for them in warmer weather.
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I promise to get back to the uses of herbs.  This week and the events it held for us is wrapping up.  Sitting outside and watching the world go by was the perfect end.  Tomorrow is a new beginning.  Look how beautiful it is!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Balsam Fir Sachets and Spice Clay Ornaments

We got a breather today from the trips to watch over our brother, and actually got to play in the studio for a little while. While I jumped on the pumice soapstones (they're still in the molds), Maryanne set to work making up sachets from the incredibly fragrant balsam fir needles we found. I just love the scent of balsam. There's something about it that is so familiar, even though it isn't one of the conifers that are common to this area. Both of these projects have been sitting and waiting for the last week, and we were so eager to get to play with them. The giant pine cone in the background is a yellow pine cone - about 12" long... and we have a project in mind for some of them, too :-).
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We'd also made up some of the spice clay ornaments from the mix that is on The Essential Herbal website. We used very small cutters and got a TON of the ornaments - somewhere around 100. With a typical sized cutter, the yield is more like 25.
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With Halloween over, the shop at Frog Hollow Evergreens will be opening. Folks will be wandering over the hills looking for the perfect tree, and we'll be setting out our creations for their perusal. Maybe we'll see some of you there!