Making Gifts From The Garden

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Solstice lanterns light up the night

Garden Alchemy

During the pandemic, my local library has been offering a delightful program called Book Bundles. Library staff create little collections of books on specific themes for everyone from toddlers to seniors. Some cater to specific interests, perhaps Cozy Mysteries or Intriguing recipe books, Speculative Fiction or Distopian Sci/Fi, and so forth. There’s also an option to ask staff to make a Book Bundle to suit your current fascinations or fill a developing need (crafts for kids is currently very popular). Because I’ve been involved with the library as staff, on the Board, and as a volunteer for over 20 years, my interests are pretty well known, and last week I brought home an intriguing personalized collection that included a new book called Garden Alchemy by Stephanie Rose. 

This useful little volume includes some 80 recipes developed by Rose, whose Garden Therapy blog offers many similar tips and recipes to this one. A devoted organic gardener, Rose has created recipes for everything from organic potting soil and willow water rooting hormone (a favorite of mine) to bee baths and yeasty slug bait. There’s lots more on her blog:

Garden Therapy Blog

Crafting Garden Gifts

As the holidays draw near, my grandkids have asked for help in making gifts for their family and friends. We decided that solstice lanterns would be a perfect gift for pretty much everyone, so we asked neighbors to divert glass jars from the recycling bin to our project and have gathered bagfuls to play with. We used sponge brushes to paint the jars with a pearly version of Mod Podge (special crafting glue), then collaged them by sticking on torn pieces of tissue paper in bright, light colors (it turns out that it’s hard to see the candle light through dark tissue paper). We then glued on sprigs of cedar and fir as well as confetti (made with a hole punch and brightly colored leaves) and dried flower petals. We added a tea light and a stick of dry spaghetti (which makes an excellent long “match”) and tied a ribbon around each jar neck. They look lovely lined on a windowsill or porch railing, brightening the long night with soft, flickering flame.

I’ve also been making batches of various soothing lotions and healing potions to use and to share. Among my favorites are various kinds of shampoos, all chemical-free and revitalizing for those of us whose hair gets stiff and dry from weather exposure (and perhaps age has a little something to do with it). I’ve been making variations of the simple shampoo recipe below for many years, and it’s a useful gift for those with thinning, dry or damaged hair. It’s especially helpful for chemo patients and anyone whose scalp has become uncomfortably sensitized to commercial shampoos.

The Gentlest Shampoo

This gentle shampoo does wonders for dry hair, eliminating dandruff and itchy scalps. It also adds body to thin hair and is especially helpful during and after chemo treatments. It makes a pleasant body wash, leaving dry skin feeling soft and supple. If you like a little fragrance, use a scented form of Dr. B’s (I often combine some Dr. B’s Rose with Hemp Citrus or Lavender).

Simply Natural Shampoo

1 cup plain or scented liquid castile soap
(such as Dr. Bronner’s)
1 tablespoon organic cider vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
1/3 cup water *

Combine in a bottle with a flip-top or squirt nozzle. Shake gently, apply 1-2 teaspoons to wet hair and work in well; mixture will be rich and very lathery. Rinse thoroughly while massaging scalp. Hair will not be “squeaky clean” because the natural oils will not be stripped out (so you may not need to use conditioner as often). Don’t worry; when toweled dry, hair feels soft and is not at all sticky.

*Instead of plain water, try using rosemary-infused water, which is especially good for hair.

Rosemary Water

1 cup water
1/4 cup rosemary sprigs

Bring water to a simmer, add rosemary, cover pan, remove from heat and let steep for 15-20 minutes. Strain into a jar and refrigerate for up to a month. Makes about 1 cup. Nice in tea, lemonade, fizzy water, broth, soup and sauces as well as hair care.

Naturally Fragrant Conditioners

Between indoor heating and chilly winds outside, winter is hard on hair. Once a month or so, have a mini-spa day and devote a few hours to self care, with special attention to your hair. I’ve come to prefer organic avocado oil for hair conditioners, finding it less sticky and almost unscented, but you can certainly substitute olive oil or grape seed oil if you prefer. These mild, lightly fragrant conditioners leave your hair soft and shiny but it’s wise to use a dedicated towel as some oils will stain cotton fabric a bit.

Avocado Oil and Honey Conditioning Rub

2 tablespoons organic avocado oil
2 tablespoons honey

Combine ingredients in a glass bowl and warm gently over hot water, stirring well to blend. Drape shoulders with a towel, then work mixture into and through damp hair while gently massaging your scalp. Wrap your head with the towel or wear a shower cap while you relax or take a bath for 20-30 minutes. Wash with gentle shampoo and rinse well, then brush gently and let hair air dry.

Lavender and Rosemary Conditioner

2 tablespoons rosemary, snipped
2 tablespoons lavender (fresh or dried)
1 cup organic avocado oil

In a saucepan, bring 1/2 cup water to a simmer. Add rosemary and lavender, cover pan, remove from heat and steep for 15-20 minutes. Strain liquid and combine with oil in a bowl and use an immersion blender to emulsify (or put in a food processor or blender with olive oil and blend well). To use, shake mixture well, then put 1/4 cup of it in a glass bowl over hot water and warm to wrist temperature. Drape shoulders with a towel, then work mixture into and through damp hair while gently massaging your scalp. Wrap your head with the towel or wear a shower cap and relax for 20-30 minutes. Wash hair with gentle shampoo and rinse well, then brush gently and let hair air dry.

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