Make Your Own Herb-infused Honey

For a sweet treat, try infusing honey with herbs, edible flowers and even spices! It’s easy to do, and you can experiment with one or more of your favorite flavours. Buy local honey if possible, and use dried, pesticide-free herbs (the water content in fresh herbs can be a source of mold). For this recipe, I opted for Ontario wildflower and clover honey and purchased the rose petals and lavender in bulk from natural food stores. The resulting infusion was a deep golden colour with a light floral hint. Next time, I’ll start with a milder variety of honey to give the herbs more of a starring role, and I’ll make sure to turn over the jar every day to facilitate the infusion.

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Lavender & Rose Petal Honey

 What you’ll need:

  • Clean glass jar with airtight lid
  • Light-flavoured honey
  • Equal parts pesticide-free dried rose petals and lavender flowers, enough to fill about ¼ of the jar
  • Wooden spoon or pestle
  • Fine mesh sieve
  • Large measuring cup with spout

Start concocting!

  • Add the rose petals and lavender to the empty jar. They should take up no more than one quarter of the space to allow for their expansion.
  • Using the end of the spoon or a pestle, lightly press the herbs to help release their oils. Try not to crush them, as the fine bits will be difficult to remove later.
  • Add some honey and stir, making sure all the herbs are covered, then fill the rest of the jar with honey. The herbs will eventually float to the top.
  • Close jar tightly and let sit in a dark place for 1 to 2 weeks. Turn the jar upside down each day to keep the herbs coated and allow the flavours to blend. You may have to open the jar occasionally to check that the expanded herbs are still covered; use this time to test the flavour.
  • When the desired strength is reached, strain out the herbs by setting a fine mesh sieve over a large measuring cup. Carefully empty the honey mixture into the sieve (you may have to do this in stages) and let the liquid drain out for several hours. Press gently on the herbs as they drain to help encourage every bit of goodness.
  • Wash and dry your infusing jar. Decant the honey into it and enjoy!

Lavender and rose petal honey is delicious in tea, baking, yogurt, salad dressing, or as a topping for ice cream. Use within a year.

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Taking the Chill Challenge, Naturally

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Beat the Heat: Create your own Hot Angry Woman summer survival kit!

It’s the dog days of summer, and the mercury won’t come down. It’s really difficult to stay cool and comfortable – I call it the Chill Challenge – especially if you’re a woman “of a certain age”. If, like me, you no longer have a working inner thermometer, are unable or unwilling to take HRT, and feel as radiant as a blast furnace, try some of the simple, drug-free coping devices I put together. Here’s what’s in my Hot Angry Woman survival kit:

  • Small plastic fine mist bottle with tap water. Keep one at home, carry another in your purse and spritz away any time you feel the dreaded Flash coming to call.
  • Cooling essential oil spray (keep ready-chilled in fridge), made from therapeutic-grade essential oils diluted in distilled water. I used a few drops each of peppermint and pink grapefruit (to cool and refresh), chamomile and rose geranium (to calm), and the resulting scent was lightly herbal. Clary sage, if you like the smell, is also supposed to be useful for menopausal symptoms, and lavender is calming – although I find it’s a “warm” scent. Experiment with your own blend!
  • The same oils went into a shaker of arrowroot powder (available at bulk food stores) to make an absorbent body duster. Silky arrowroot is talc- and cornstarch-free, and you only need to add a few drops of each oil – or leave unscented. You can refill a travel-size baby powder bottle (provided you can figure out how to replace the shaker contraption; they can be tricky).
  • A roll-on perfume oil in a light summer scent is a refreshing pick-me-up. I made my own using a fractionated coconut oil base and adding a blend of fruity citrus essential and fragrance oils. The ingredients and bottles can be purchased at health food and natural product stores as well as online. **Caution: citrus oils can cause photosensitivity; make sure perfumed skin is not exposed to direct sunlight.
  • Stay hydrated! I picked up this beautiful purse-sized reusable water bottle, just right for battling the blaze on the go!
  • It also helps to keep a small ice pack-filled cooler or lunch bag and plenty of drinking water with you in your car.

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Still Life: Bottles

Gillyflower

DSC_0914 (3)gil•ly•flow•er \ GHIL ee FLAU er \ n : an Old World pink that is grown for its clove-scented flowers and is the source of garden carnations [by folk etymology from Middle English gilofre “clove”] (Webster’s New Encyclopedic Dictionary)

In the Middle Ages, the gillyflower (Dianthus caryophyllus) was combined with cinnamon in cooking sauces or used to flavour wine and ale and was a common additive to potpourri. Because it could be grown indoors year-round in windowsill pots, it was often used to pay rents.

Weekend Presents

The women in my family have a tradition of giving each other “weekend presents”:  small, ad hoc, just-because gifts; tokens bestowed for no other reason than to lift each other’s soul. These prezzies are modest and never expensive, perhaps spotted at a local shop or farmer’s market, brought back from a trip, or handcrafted with that special someone in mind.

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Yarrow and thyme

During vacation time at the family cottage, before each member arrives from her own part of the world, we might leave a welcoming bouquet on her bedroom dresser. Nothing fancy; just a small vase chosen from amongst the house’s mishmash of hand-me-downs, and filled with a few sprigs of wildflowers. Our tiny island doesn’t have a lot of flora, so we pick judiciously, filling the arrangement out with bracken and what most people would consider weeds. The gesture is a small one, but it’s lovingly done and always appreciated by the new arrival, whose journey up through heavy traffic has left her frazzled and more than ready for a little R and R.

I was the last one to arrive this time, so I was touched by the sweet little arrangement left in my room by my mother, who, like most moms, always thinks of others before she takes care of herself. Thank you, Mom.

Cauldron Bubble: 7 best books featuring wisewomen, witches and woad

DSC_8657 (3)Fragrant bunches of rosemary and thyme, hung to dry from the beams of a thatched monastery workshop. An old village healer, stirring mandrake into a simmering potion as her lovestruck client looks anxiously on. The nurse with an interest in botany, searching for a rare medicinal plant amongst ancient stones. Girls warding off evil spirits with curses from their Book of Shadows.

Any novel featuring such characters or scenes has me from the faded title on its well-thumbed front cover. An introverted and highly impressionable youngster, I always had my nose buried in a book, often sneaking reads by flashlight long past bedtime. I was entranced by the, er, charms of fantasy and historical fiction, especially if those stories involved herb-growing, mortar and pestle-wielding, spell-casting crones. I longed to be there with them, in that dimly-lit herbarium, grinding exotic cardamom to a fine powder and concocting chilblain-busting salves. My fascination with herbs and, more widely, things mystical and magickal, owes a great deal to these shiveringly evocative tales.

The very same volumes which kindled such sparks within me as a child and young adult still grace my dusty bookshelves today, alongside more recent and equally entertaining efforts. On the parchment below, in no particular order (I cherish them all), I hereby enscribe my seven favorite witchy works:

  1. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Dell, 1958). A wise woman and her young apprentice, both social outcasts, face prejudice, ignorance and accusations of witchcraft in 17th century New England. 1959 Newbery Medal winner for best American children’s literature.
  2. Double Spell by Janet Lunn (Peter Martin Associates, 1968). This spooky mystery involving an antique doll takes place in my native Toronto. Not a lot of witchery here, but … Toronto!
  3. Victoria by Barbara Brooks Wallace (Dell, 1972). A huge influence on my preteen self, this coming-of-age novel makes delicious use of an isolated boarding school, secret societies and a little black book.
  4. Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy, The Crystal Cave / The Hollow Hills / The Last Enchantment (Hodder and Stoughton, 1970 / 1973 / 1979). The Arthurian legend masterfully told from the wizard’s perspective.
  5. Brother Cadfael, a 12th century crusader-turned-healer/monk, steeps herbs and solves murders in The Cadfael Chronicles, Ellis Peters’ prolific series, beginning with A Morbid Taste for Bones (Macmillan, 1977). Perfectly interpreted for 1990s British TV by the great Derek Jacobi.
  6. Thornyhold by Mary Stewart (Hodder and Stoughton, 1988) blends some of the best and most effective ingredients into the brew: plucky, resourceful woman, deserted English cottage, herb-filled stillroom, ghosts and a gall-darned happy ending. A clue to the book’s magickal motif comes from the heroine’s name – Geillis (Gilly) – a traditional moniker for a witch. Reference is made to real-life Geillis Duncane, who was tried for witchcraft in 16th century Edinburgh.
  7. Geillis Duncan appears again, this time alongside time-travelling healer Claire and her Scottish wonder, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, in Diana Gabaldon’s outrageously popular Outlander book and TV series (Delacore Press, 1991). [Haven’t heard enough about Outlander yet? Dinna fash! I may just mention it a wee bit more!]

Welcome!

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As Rosemary is to the Spirit, so Lavender is to the Soul.                                                                                 – Anonymous