Saturday, March 30, 2013

Skunk Spray? Here You Go.

It's hard to believe, but when I started thinking about telling this story, it suddenly hit me that it's almost 20 years old.  It seems like only a couple of years ago, but then I remember that good old Tiny has been gone for 5 or 6 years now.
The story starts with a 3 year old Molly hiding behind a chair crying inconsolably.  When I could finally calm her down enough to tell me what was wrong, she told me that Daddy had been telling her for a while that if she was a good girl she could have a puppy.  Since she'd been trying to be a good girl and there wasn't a puppy, it had to mean she was a bad girl.
So that very late September afternoon Daddy was sent out with orders not to come home without a puppy.  That's how Tiny came to be a part of our family.  She was supposed to be a medium sized dog, but turned out to be mostly German Shepherd.  She was a terrific dog with a huge heart, and protected Molly fiercely on more than one occasion, for which we were thankful.

Tiny was also very clear about the boundaries of our property, and ran loose without our worrying.  I'm not sure if she was still under a year old or if it was the following year, but one night she wound up on the back porch whimpering and scratching at the door.  We could smell her before we heard her.
Fortunately, my sister had been through the same thing before and gave us this simple recipe:

1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide
it usually comes in pint bottles - so 2 of them
1/4 cup baking soda
1 tsp liquid soap
it seems that scent HAS to be oil based by the way it sticks
so we have always used Dawn for that reason 

Keep these ingredients on hand at all times because it needs to be mixed at the time of use to work.
It works on contact.  We took Tiny outside under the back porch light and scrubbed her down, very carefully around her face (where she took the brunt of it) and then hosed her off good.  Poor thing.
Now you'd think that would have taught her to stay away from skunks, but that was not to be.  Over the next 3 weeks she did it twice more.
After that she perfected her technique of sneaking up on them and was never sprayed again. 
This time of year, if you have a dog that runs loose at all, you need to keep this recipe VERY handy.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Handcrafted Recipe #6 - Whipped Body Frosting

This is the final recipe to be shared from the purloined batch :-)  It's been a lot of fun to post them, so we'll continue to come up with others, as well as some from back issues of the magazine.  We're always experimenting with something around here, so keep an eye on us!

Twisted Sisters' Body Frosting
Tina Sams & Maryanne Schwartz

Melt oils gently over low heat. Remove from heat and add cornstarch.
Place in mixing bowl and begin blending. Slowly at first.
When mixture is no longer transparent, place in refrigerator for about 5 minutes.
Add any fragrance – preferably essentials because of the emu – at this time (we used spearmint).
Return to mixer, increasing speed.
Continue cooling and beating until butter begins to hold its shape.
When it looks like frosting in a jar but is still pourable, place into jars.

1 T. Vegetable Oil *
2 T. Coconut Oil, Fractionated
0.3 oz. Beeswax Beads
0.3 oz. Lanolin, Anhydrous
20 drops Lavender EO 5 drops Tea Tree EO
6.5 oz. Mango Butter
1 oz. Emu Oil
6.5 oz. Shea Butter
1 tsp. Cornstarch
2 oz. Passion Fruit Oil
2 ml fragrance of your choice


First, I would explain this a bit more thoroughly.  Second, I notice that Lavender and Tea Tree eo's are listed as ingredients and at the bottom of the list fragrance is listed again.  In the instructions, we mention using spearmint (which we do, and it is great), but we do often mix lavender and tea tree in our products.  Don't know what happened there...
I have no idea why there is an asterisk beside vegetable oil - except that there was probably a list of suggested oils with the original recipe we sent OR we gave the ingredients and percentages of the blend we use here consistently.  It could be any oil - olive, apricot kernal, avocado, nut oils, there are lots of choices, including infused oils.  The Passion Fruit Oil is actually in that same classification, as it is a base oil rather than an essential oil.  That can also be subbed out with a more easily obtainable liquid oil. 
Here's how I'd do it now...

butters and wax:
0.3 oz. Beeswax Beads
6.5 oz. Mango Butter
6.5 oz. Shea Butter

liquid or soft oil:
1 T. Vegetable Oil * 
2 T. Coconut Oil, Fractionated
1 oz. Emu Oil
2 oz. Passion Fruit Oil

0.3 oz anhydrous lanolin
1 t cornstarch
30 drops essential oil

so to further simplify this - 

        13 oz (by weight) of butters
       4 1/2 oz (volume) of liquid oils
       .3 oz (weight) beeswax
       30 drops scent (essential or fragrance)
       1 t cornstarch
whew - much better! 

~You can use any blend of butters and any blend of liquid oils, but keep them to these total quantities.  Cocoa butter is harder than the others, so you could probably skip beeswax altogether if that is the butter you choose.
~We almost never use lanolin.  Skipping it in this recipe will not affect the finished product.
~The purpose of the cornstarch is to decrease the greasy feel of the finished product, and it does.
~If you choose to use Emu oil, stick with essential oil rather than synthetic fragrance because the Emu is thought to penetrate skin more easily/deeply and take along other oils.  It is often used in healing balms because of that trait.
~Heating the solids and then adding the liquids helps to lower the temperature of the mixture more quickly.  We always do that with salves, any kind of balm, and all of our soaps.

to make it:

Melt butters and wax gently over low heat.  Start with the beeswax and an equal amount of butter, and when that is melted, gradually add the rest of the butters
Remove from heat and add liquid oils (except fragrance) and cornstarch.
Place in mixing bowl and begin blending. Slowly at first.
When mixture is no longer transparent, place in refrigerator for about 5 minutes.
Add any fragrance at this time.
Return to mixer, increasing speed.
Continue cooling and beating until whipped body frosting begins to hold its shape.
When it looks like frosting but is still pourable, place into jars.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Handcrafted Recipe #5 - Shower Scrubby Bag

The Bathing Pool by Hubert Robert - Metropolitan Museum of Art

Next in the line-up of recipes we're sharing:

Shower Scrubby Bag

Fill a 3 x 4" muslin bag with about 1/3 Cup of one or more herbs from this list:
Peppermint for a refreshing wake-up
Chamomile for an apple-scented soothe
Calendula for healing
Lavender for scent and soothing
Patchouli for a 60's scent!
Rose petals for scent and romance..
Adding some Irish moss will cause the baggy, when wet, to become soft and gelatinous, and give it a
soothing feel. 
 Wipe it all over your skin while you shower. It will soothe and scent your skin. 
To use as Bath Herbs: Use the scrubby above as a "tea bag" and brew up a heavenly scented "tea" to add to your bath, or simply hang the bag over the water spout, allowing the water to flow through the herbs as the tub fills.

For the most part, I wouldn't change a thing.  
The part about hanging the bag over the spout while the tub fills is an oft repeated instruction, but to be honest it sounds great but doesn't work very well.  My favorite way to prepare tub tea is to fill a large pitcher (and in the bathroom, rigid plastic is the way to go) with very hot water and allow the tea to steep.  That is then added to the tub of water.
Otherwise, I might add some milk powder or oatmeal, or any variety of herbs that might be called for depending on what my skin is doing.  Sunburn, I might add aloe slices.  Unknown eruptions might call for echinacea.  Fighting a cold or sinus issues could benefit from some deeply aromatic herbs like eucalyptus, thyme, and lavender.  This type of crafting is very versatile.  Having some muslin bags on hand is great, or some thin washclothes whose corners can be tied up around the herb bundle.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Handcrafted Recipe #4 - Melt & Pour Remedy Soap

 I'm pretty happy to be sharing this recipe because even though we make a stupendous cold-processed soap that includes these botanicals, the day may come when those who do NOT have a warehouse full of soap at their disposal need this right now - today.  Watching a rash spread while waiting for a package to arrive is no fun.  We made this for a few years in the 90's before perfecting our use of these herbs in cold-process soap. Since this recipe/instruction was purloined ("To steal, often in a violation of trust.") and published elsewhere, that gives me the perfect opportunity to give it to you here and even tell you a little story about this stuff.
Jewelweed prior to blooming.

From The Essential Herbal Magazine
Jewelweed and Plantain are wonderful to use in the summer for rashes and insect bites. Making these
into a melt and pour soap preserves them so that they are always at the ready.
Gather and puree on cup of a combination of the two plants. Half and half is a good proportion of them. Use all aerial part of the plants.
Melt four cups of glycerin soap base. Add the pureed herbs.
You might also add 20 drops each of lavender and tea tree oils.
Stir gently until the soap begins to set.
Break out this soap at the first sign of poison ivy or oak, nettle stings, or insect bites.

Plantain with a seed stalk waving in the air.  I like to gather before it sends up stalks.


The recipe stands, but I would like to add some information.

When it comes to harvesting jewelweed, it's possible that we do it a little differently than some.  As children, we were taught to split the juicy stems and gently rub the inside of the stem on whatever rash or sting required it.  As the season progresses and the jewelweed prepares to flower that stem hardens and at that point leaves and flowers are crushed for the same purpose, but there is none of that juiciness.  Because of that, we harvest a lot of the early plants and process it to use in our soaps all year long.  For a home crafter using Melt and Pour soap base, I would recommend making a 4 to 6 bar batch (the above recipe) in the beginning of summer.  That should be plenty.
Some herbalists prefer the leaves and flowers gathered in August or September, so that is an option too.

Over a decade ago, I went on a misguided adventure that landed me briefly on a 250 acre organic farm.  One of the brightest spots in the melange of memories would have to be one of the field hands Sig and his girlfriend Jessica.
He was a fascinating guy.  Sometime before arriving on the farm he'd decided that he wanted to learn to surf.  To him, that meant heading to Hawaii and living on the beaches for a year.  He was so much fun and each school day, he's drive the tractor out the long driveway and gather up Molly from the bus.  Together they'd sing at the top of their lungs, hoop and holler, or just pretend she was standing at the bow of the Titanic instead of a tractor.
One day Jessica had a day off work and decided to come over and work out in the field with Sig.  Far from a bathroom, she wound up making use of the wide hedgerow beside the field.  She did not know what poison ivy looked like.
A weekend passed, and Sig arrives on the farm obviously in pain when walking...  I'm sure with a wee bit of imagination you can figure out what happened there.  The hot weather, sweating, and having to walk and walk and walk while planting seed made the day look like an impossibility to him.
I took one look at the poor boy and rushed down to the creek, where the jewelweed was thick and lush.  After cutting some thick stems I returned to the house gathering plantain along the way.

Into the blender went all of the rinsed plant matter, and I blended until there were a couple cups of emerald green mush.  I made the recipe above within about 15 minutes using one cup of the jewelweed/plantain and put the other cup of mush in the freezer (along with the soap, to set it up quickly).  Sig was sent to the shower as soon as the soap was ready, and felt a lot of immediate relief, but he still suffered.  He then worked most of the day. 
Before he left, I gave him a couple of bar of the soap AND the frozen mush.  He shared them both with Jessica.  By the next day (having used both extensively) the once weeping, oozing rash was dry and starting to scab over.  Jewelweed and plantain made his agony last one day rather than a week.

Calamine lotion can be added directly to the soap.
We once followed a recipe that recommended adding slippery elm powder and balsam of Peru.  Mixing those two together, I realized that they were the main ingredients in an amazing salve called Dr. Burnett's Butt Balm that a formulating pharmacy made up via prescription when my daughter had a stubborn diaper rash years ago.

That's the cool thing about melt and pour soap bases.  Some people create pure works of art with it, but to us it is an amazing, nearly immediate remedy carrier.  Once you start playing around, packing it full of skin-loving herbs, it's hard to stop.

You may want to check and for another recipe or 10.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Handcrafted Recipe - Incense Cones

 The following recipe appears (unauthorized) in an e-book.  The recipe is at least 8 years old, and needs some polishing.  We'll do that after the original:

From The Essential Herbal Magazine

2 parts powdered frankincense
2 parts powdered myrrh
5 parts powdered sandalwood (or pine, makko*, santal, cedar...)
1 part powdered orrisroot
1 part salt petre
1 part gum tragacanth OR 2 parts gum arabic powder

* if you use makko, you can skip or cut way back on the salt petre and tragacanth.

Using 1 teaspoon as "a part" works well, and will yield about 3 dozen cones.
Mix the salt petre with a few tablespoons of warm water and mix well. Blend all of the other ingredients and add the water/saltpetre mixture. Mix well.
Continue adding plain water until a firm, pliable dough is formed. If it becomes too wet it will still be alright, but take longer to dry.
Take very small bits (1/4 tsp) of the dough and form into cones. Place on waxed paper and allow to dry for several days.
Turn daily. When completely dry, light with a match and burn in a fireproof dish or incense burner.

And it just so happens that we do carry all of these ingredients (except Sandalwood) on our website.

Gnomes? Oh Yeah, I've Got 'Em

Each year when the butter-yellow crocuses bloom out front, the vision sets into motion a chain of thoughts.  It takes place in about 3 seconds altogether, and leaves me smiling and shaking my head.

It starts with the warm thoughts of love when I see the flowers and think of my mom planting them with my sister.  And then I glance at the gnome.  I'm really not a garden gnome "type" but if gnomes played basketball, we'd have a team in the gardens.  My mom had a year while that was her thing; painting greenware gnomes.  Whether I like it or not, 8 years later I still can't bring myself to take them out of the gardens here.  They might move to a new garden or make room for a new planting, but they remain.  They are such a funny reminder of one of her quirks.
Back when we were all little and there was no money, she learned to make do.  Lots of people do that, but it was a fairly dire situation and making do meant developing a kind of tunnel vision that let her only see what was okay while ignoring everything else until we could get to that.  It meant that she almost always settled for less than she wanted or needed.
Later, when things got easier, this manifested in a way that we children didn't understand until she was gone.  We just teased her about it without understanding.
One year tiny televisions hit the market.  She wanted one.  It's hard to explain these things to people who grew up with Igadgets, but these little tvs were a huge deal.  The smaller the better, and they ranged from about 5 x 8 to the size of a business card.  You couldn't actually see anything on them, and they worked with mirrors, but they were hot at the time. So began Mom's quest to get the perfect mini-tv.  Or as we liked to call it, the year of, "Mom!  What are you doing with all these little televisions?"  Years of settling meant that she would see one almost like what she wanted, and buy it.  Then she'd see another that was closer to what she wanted, and buy it.  Ad nauseum.  The thought of returning any of them never dawned on her.
About the time the telephone monopoly broke up, telephone design became a big thing.  Up until then, the telephone company typically provided customers with telephones for a very minimal monthly fee and people pretty much contented themselves with being able to choose between a few colors in one or two styles (Princess phone, anyone?).  Well.  This was another year-long fixation for Mom.  It got to the point that we'd go home to visit and Mom would say, "Couldn't you use another phone at your house?"
Her final extravaganza, and one we had a lot of tender laughs over after she died, were the wrap-around black sunglasses one acquires after cataract surgery.  I swear, the woman bought them by the gross.  A pair will still pop up from time to time, and at a recent eye appointment when my pupils were dilated, I took a pair along and drove my sister (who took me) crazy by keeping them on in the grocery store afterwards.  We both bear a strong resemblance to Mom.
So this is why I keep the gnome colony around.  They are such a humorous reminder of her and who she was.  She took our ribbing well for a long time, but towards the end took it as criticism.  I'll bet she'd never have thought the gnomes would still be around.  Now if I could just get a tiny pair of black wraparounds and a teeny tiny television and phone - it would be perfect.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

handcrafted recipes - #2 Whipped Body Butter

 Years ago when this recipe was created, shea butter was pretty new on the market and there weren't a lot of options.  It was that or cocoa butter, and the two of them are vastly different in hardness.  Shea butter has an unfortunate characteristic to the home crafter in that it becomes grainy with the changes of temperature in creating this product and just in everyday life.  I tend to avoid it now because that aspect defeats the purpose in my opinion.
Here is how we made whipped body butter 10 years ago.

Whipped Body Butter - From The Essential Herbal Magazine
1 cup unrefined Shea Butter
1/8 cup Apricot Kernel oil
1/8 cup jojoba oil
20 drops essential oil (rose geranium is great)
Soften the butter in the microwave for 15 seconds. Using a mixer, begin whipping, while slowly adding the liquid oils. Add any fragrance while whipping.

If you've ever made whipped body butter, you'll know that the "using a mixer, begin whipping..." part there is actually pretty humorous.  A stand mixer is just about a necessity for this recipe and it may take upwards of 15 minutes or more before the liquid oils and the butter blend perfectly to a whipped confection.  
I would also add that the butter is heated only to soften.  If it is liquefied, the whipping will take forever.

How my thoughts on this recipe have changed...

There are a lot of new butters on the market.  Some of them include Aloe, Avocado, Coffee Bean, Hemp, Mango, Pistachio, and Almond.  One of my favorites is mango butter because it is much creamier and isn't prone to that grainy feeling.  Because it isn't quite as hard as shea butter, the liquid oils could be decreased by a tablespoon or so.
I haven't tried this yet, but I would like to use cocoa butter.  Cocoa butter is very hard at room temperature, so that means the liquid oils would be increased - perhaps by as much as 100%, so that the combined liquid oils would total 1/2 cup.  The cocoa butter would also need to be liquified, blended with the liquid oils, and allowed to cool thoroughly before whipping.

Although this is a very time consuming and somewhat messy project, it is well worth it.  A nice whipped butter is sheer luxury.

Don't forget to visit and 
for more updated recipes!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

handcrafted recipes - first in a series

If you're looking for a lot of great handcrafted spa, bath, body, and medicinal recipes and instructions, I can guarantee you that our two volume compilation from the first five years, "By the Hearth" and "Under the Sun" will give you far, far more properly credited and truly original creations than you'll ever need.   
And now, today's recipe from The Essential Herbal Magazine:

Oats ‘N Honey Facial Scrub 

This is a very simple recipe and you can use some or all of the ingredients given.
Oatmeal is a must, but the rest is up to the individual. Into the food processor , throw the following dried ingredients – by the handful (I would change that now to "by the Tablespoon"):
Irish moss
Rose petals
Soap powder (handmade cold process, of course…)

Process until all the ingredients are a coarse mealy texture.
Package in jars and label.

To use, moisten about a teaspoon of the mix in the palm of your hand with an equal amount of honey.
Using the fingers, vigorously scrub the skin. This is a great mix for teens with oily skin. Make it a little more effective by blending several drops of lavender and tea tree essential oils into the process.

NOTE: Years later now, I would add that for mature skin the addition of yogurt (or powdered milks or yogurt) and some rose hydrosol to make the paste, and suggest a milder scrubbing.  I would also swap out some of the herbs for calendula and chamomile.

Stay tuned.  We'll be here all week!
Becky's Blog - Birdworms

Sunday, March 03, 2013

TEH Wants to Travel this Year!

We would love to get around to all the herb conferences, soap gatherings, herb study groups and wherever herbies and soapers get together to share their knowledge and skills. 
Of course that's not going to happen.  The two of us here are pretty busy just getting the The Essential Herbal Magazine out and into the hands of subscribers.
Instead, we've put together a special Mini-mag filled with 11 full articles, and info on how to subscribe, contribute, or advertise in the real thing.  The smaller sample means that we can more easily afford to ship them out to share.  For years we've sent full sized magazines when possible, and shipping is a killer - not to mention lugging around those heavy boxes.  Event coordinators don't need to be lugging them either. 
Small, but filled with valuable information that will be kept and reviewed over and over.
So if you'd like to invite us to your group, contact me at  Tell me about your group/gathering/conference and hopefully we'll be able to send some mini-mags in our stead and manage to travel all around the US this summer.  So far we've sent out 1000 and still have 7500 to go.  Drop us a line!