It’s All Cool

Time has flown in more ways than one. Here we are halfway through summer, and today is the one year anniversary of this blog! I haven’t been able to write much in the last few weeks, and I know I’ve missed a lot. Things have been happening – things I needed to take care of – but now they’re done, and it’s all cool.

A major project has been revitalizing my Etsy shop. I chose a fresh new name, thereby uniting my shop, blog and Facebook page with a single identity. After careful consideration, I finally settled on Gillyflower Faire, which resonates with me on multiple levels: it’s a little bit archaic, a term for a marketplace, a nod to the Wee Folk, and a description (hopefully) of my handmade baubles. So, I said a fond farewell to Wood So Wild, and set about the many tasks necessary to incorporate this change.

I’ve added many new listings to the shop, including a line of beaded jewellery. The beaded pieces feature genuine gemstones – each chosen for a specific meaning – or wood or glass seed beads, accented with sterling silver and other metals. The styles are sleek and uncomplicated – the type of jewellery I like to wear. And I enjoy working in themes, so I’ve done a few chakra/rainbow pieces, evil eye talismans, and even some using Canadian gems to celebrate this country’s 150th birthday! Here you see just a few examples; there are many more to come.

This flurry of change and activity, combined with the sultry summer heat and the lack of air conditioning at home and in my now-defunct car, has left me in a sweat. My internal temperature control has been broken for years, and now, at this stage of life, it takes very little (stress, or any ambient temperature above 0° C) to turn me into a raging inferno. My friends and co-workers, being kind souls, tell me that when I’m in the grips of a hot flash, I don’t actually show it – aside from my frantic fanning of any item within reach – but I don’t see, or feel, how that can possibly be. You ladies of a certain age know precisely what I mean.

I’ve written before about a few items I keep handy to combat those uncomfortable moments. I continue to use arrowroot powder, either as-is or scented with a few drops of essential oils, as a herbal body powder. Arrowroot powder, also known as arrowroot flour or starch, is made from the powdered rhizomes of several types of tropical plants, notably Maranta arundinacea. It was once used to treat poison arrow wounds, hence the name, and is used as a food thickener as well as in cosmetics. Natural and safe, lightweight and silky, it’s the perfect alternative to cornstarch or talc. Arrowroot powder is inexpensive and found at bulk food and grocery stores.

The batch I made this summer has a fresh, invigorating herbal fragrance and uses essential oils known for their antiseptic properties (lavender, thyme) to combat nasty, sweat-loving bacteria, as well as ones reputed to relieve menopausal symptoms (clary sage, grapefruit). If you can get the shaker top off and on again, go ahead and reuse an empty baby powder bottle. I found 4 oz. plastic shakers at one of my favourite suppliers, Voyageur Soap & Candle Co. Here’s my recipe:

Talc-free Herbal Body Powder

  • small container with shaker lid
  • arrowroot powder
  • essential oils of lavender, Roman chamomile, clary sage, white thyme and pink grapefruit, or use your own favourite combination

Fill container halfway with arrowroot powder. Add 5 to 6 drops of each essential oil. Cover top of container and shake to combine. Fill the bottle with more arrowroot and snap on the lid. Shake thoroughly. Use as a body powder, avoiding eyes.

Another way to beat the heat is a cooling body mist. I found this recipe on Pinterest and dressed up my bottle with snowflake stickers. This lovely-smelling mixture contains soothing, skin-loving witch hazel, which constricts blood vessels to create a cooling sensation that lasts for several minutes on the skin. It’s especially good on hot, tired feet. You can keep the mist at room temperature or in the refrigerator for an extra icy blast.

Peppermint Mist Cooling Spray

  • 2 oz. glass spray bottle
  • 2 tbsp distilled water
  • 2 tbsp witch hazel
  • 4 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 4 drops lavender essential oil

Combine water, witch hazel and essential oils in bottle, add cap and shake thoroughly before each use. Do not use on the face.

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Blessed Beltane!

Today marks Beltane, or May Day – the ancient Celtic fire festival of fertility and new life, health and love, prosperity, abundance and protection.

In the old days, farm animals were driven through the smoke of two purifying bonfires to ensure health and fertility for the coming year. Folk would dance around maypoles, weaving ribbons as a symbol of unity and interconnectedness – the joining of male and female. Wise women would pretend to ride a broom around fields, jumping as high as they could to “teach” the crops how to grow. And couples would take themselves into the woods or hills for a night of passion. Afterwards, they might stay together for a period of trial “marriage”; at the end of it, if mutually agreeable, they would undergo a handfasting ceremony later on in the summer.

If you celebrate May Day – or if you don’t, but the budding, flowering, lush greening of the Earth is getting your sap rising – you may want to incorporate some of the following, all associated with Beltane, into your day or the next few weeks:

Colours: green (fertility, life) • pink (love) • red (blood, fire) • white (the Moon)

Symbols: besom/broom • cauldron or chalice (female) • daisy chains, flower garlands and wreaths • eggs (life, fertility) • fire • Maypole (male) • ribbons

Plants, Herbs & Spices: bluebell • clover • coriander • daffodil • dandelion • dogwood • fern • flax(seed) • hawthorn • marjoram • mint • paprika • radish • rose • saffron • violet

Food: dairy products • eggs • green salads • honey • mushrooms • oatmeal

Animals: cat • goat • honeybee • rabbit • swallow

Crystals: bloodstone (courage & protection) • carnelian (the Sun, blood, life force) • emerald (success & abundance) • fluorite (protection, stability) • malachite (loyalty, faithfulness & harmony) • rose quartz (love) • ruby (healing) • tourmaline (cleansing, release from worry)

Oils & Incense: frankincense • jasmine • lilac • musk • neroli • passion flower • rose • sandalwood • vanilla • ylang ylang

Clockwise from far left: Emerald, carnelian, rose quartz heart and Emma egg, fluorite, bloodstone, pink tourmaline in lepidolite matrix, ruby, pink tourmaline

Beltane Activities
Bring fresh flowers or herbs into the houseWear the colours of Spring
Burn candles or incenseEat a light springtime mealTake a walk in the woods

Beltane Blessings Blend
Frankincense to honour ancient ways, night-blooming jasmine for the cycles of the Moon, grapefruit for freshness and hope, rose for love, and sandalwood for protection.

This is a lovely combination to use in your diffuser (number of drops indicated below), or add a few drops of each to a small spray bottle of distilled water for a fresh and romantic body mist.

3 frankincense • 2 jasmine • 1 pink grapefruit • 1 rose • 2 sandalwood

6-drop Diffuser Blends for Spring

Fresh and floral, clean and fruity, relaxing or invigorating – try these essential oil recipes in your diffuser to clarify and refresh the air in your home.

These are blends I’ve formulated and tested in my ceramic tealight diffuser, which holds about 2 tablespoons of tap water. If you own a different type, please follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

To Use: Add water to the bowl of your diffuser and drop in the essential oils. (Adjust amounts as desired.) Light the candle and enjoy! Caution: Never leave open flame unattended, and check the water level frequently.Sunrise:  2 lemon • 2 sweet orange • 2 peppermint

En Plein Air:  1 lavender • 2 cedarwood • 3 tangerine

 Raindrops:  1 vetiver • 2 peppermint • 3 lemon

Spring Cleaning:  1 rose geranium • 2 lime • 3 pink grapefruit

Herb Garden:  1 lavender • 1 rose geranium • 2 chamomile • 2 bergamot

Fresh Citrus:  1 lemon • 1 tangerine • 2 pink grapefruit • 2 lime

Springtime in Paris:  2 rose • 2 sweet orange • 2 sandalwood

Gillyflower:  3 clove • 3 lemon

Orange Grove:  2 sweet orange • 2 lime • 2 frankincense

And my absolute favourite:

Like a May Morning:  1 jasmine • 2 pink grapefruit • 3 bergamot

Parfumerie the Natural Way

Making a “natural” perfume is easy: simply combine essential oils with a carrier oil in a glass container, shake, and you’re done, right?

Well, sort of. There are some challenges: figuring out which scents work together, how much of each to use, and how to give your perfectly-blended perfume staying power. The following are some perfume-making basics I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, as I’ve blended, stirred, sniffed and blended again in the apothecary lab (okay, my kitchen):

Choose Your Oils
Use the scents you love, and stick with a small number – from a single note up to four, plus a fixative. Test combinations by dispensing a drop of each oil into your bottle, onto a cotton ball or makeup remover pad, or try out in a diffuser first.

Here’s a variety of essential oils suitable for making a fresh springtime or summer scent: (top, middle and base notes are indicated – see Get Blending, below)

Citrus: bergamot (t) • lemon (t) • lime (t) • Litsea cubeba (t) • mandarin (t) • sweet orange (t) • tangerine (t) • verbena (t)
Floral: geranium (m) • jasmine (m) • lavender (m) • neroli (m) • Roman chamomile (m) • rose (m) • rosewood (m) • ylang ylang (m)*
Herbaceous: German chamomile (m) • clary sage (m) • petitgrain (t-m) • rosemary (m)
Earthy/Woodsy: cedarwood (b) • cypress (m) • lemongrass (t-m) • patchouli (b) • sandalwood (b) • vetiver (b)
Refreshing: ginger (m-b) • grapefruit (t) • peppermint (t) • spearmint (t)

* I hate ylang ylang with a passion, so you’ll never see it in any of my formulations!

How Much?
If you don’t have a recipe, experiment, and be prepared for some failures* before you settle on the perfume you want. For a 5 mL bottle, I use a total of about 40 to 60 drops essential oils (taking up about ¼ of the bottle) diluted in a carrier oil. Start with a minimum number of drops per oil, keeping in mind that the mixture develops over hours and days, and strong-smelling oils tend to get stronger. Citrus oils are the most volatile, so use up to twice as much relative to your other ingredients. Don’t forget to record the amount of each oil used, including any adjustments, so that you have a final recipe that can be reproduced at the end of your labours – and the end of your bottle!

* Use up not-quite-perfect rejects in a diffuser, make into a foaming hand soap, add to bathwater, sprinkle on bedlinens, etc.

As you work, don’t forget to write down your formula!

Get Blending
Try to include top, middle and base notes so that you have a balanced formula that performs well and gives each scent element its fair due.

The “note” is the role each oil plays within a blend. Top notes (citrus, mints, delicate florals, soft herbals) provide an initial burst of fragrance which fades first, so you can usually use more of these compared to middle and bottom notes. Top notes give way to middle notes (more intense florals and herbs such as lavender, rose and jasmine); these are the heart of the fragrance. The anchoring bottom notes (rich, woodsy, earthy or resinous) support the others, add depth and are the longest-lasting components. Generally, the richer and stronger the smell of an oil, the more likely it is to be a middle or base note.

Set It So You Won’t Forget It
For a fragrance to last longer once applied, it’s important to include a fixative, an essential oil that is usually also a base note. Keep in mind that an essential oil perfume is never going to have the punch and staying power of a commercial perfume which contains a host of synthetic chemicals. Natural fragrances tend to be more subdued and wear close to the skin, which means you won’t give yourself a headache or knock over a room – a very good thing for you and everyone around you!

Some of the fixatives listed below, which are on the lighter side and suitable for spring and summer perfumes, can be harder to find in stores. You’ll probably have to buy them online, but they’re a worthwhile investment; I’ve found they make all the difference in the longevity of my blends. Since they’re less familiar than, say, lavender or peppermint, I’ve included their scent profiles for quick reference. How much to use? 5 to 8 drops of a fixative in your blend ought to be enough, especially if you’re using other base notes.

Benzoin (Styrax benzoin): (b) Warm, sweet, soft, vanilla-like, powdery • Possibly the most effective of the fixatives listed here, benzoin blends well with black pepper, copaiba balsam, coriander, cypress, frankincense, ginger, jasmine, juniper, lemon, myrrh, rose, sandalwood • Caution: Too much benzoin can lend a medicinal smell, so don’t go overboard. Also, it’s a sticky resin that may be difficult to dispense from the bottle.

Cistus (Cistus ladaniferus): (b) Sweet, woody, warm, resinous, with evergreen notes • Blends well with bergamot, chamomile, clary sage, cypress, frankincense, juniper, lavender, oakmoss, patchouli, pine, sandalwood, vetiver

Copaiba Balsam (Copaifera officinalis): (b) Mild, sweet, balsamic, vanilla-like • Blends well with cedarwood, citrus, clary sage, jasmine, rose, vanilla, ylang ylang

Frankincense, aka olibanum, boswellia (Boswellia carterii): (b) Woodsy, earthy, balsamic, spicy-sweet with slight lemony note • Blends well with bergamot, black pepper, cinnamon, cypress, geranium, grapefruit, lavender, lemon, mandarin, neroli, orange, palmarosa, patchouli, pine, rose, sandalwood, vetiver, ylang ylang

Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha): (b) Warm, earthy, balsamic, resinous, dry, sometimes bitter • Blends well with bergamot, chamomile, clove, cypress, lemon eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium, grapefruit, jasmine, juniper, lavender, lemon, neroli, palmarosa, patchouli, pine, rose, rosemary, sandalwood, tea tree, vetiver, ylang ylang

Peru Balsam, aka Balsam of Peru (Myroxylon pereira): (b) Soft, sweet, balsamic, mainly resinous with floral and vanilla undertones • Blends well with black pepper, ginger, jasmine, lavender, patchouli, petitgrain, rose, sandalwood, ylang ylang

Sandalwood (Santalum album or S. spicatum): (b) Mild, soft, woody, dry, sweet, somewhat balsamic • Blends well with benzoin, black pepper, chamomile, cistus, clary sage, clove, geranium, grapefruit, frankincense, jasmine, lavender, lemon, mandarin, myrrh, neroli, oakmoss, orange, palmarosa, patchouli, rose, rosewood, vetiver, ylang ylang

Happy blending!

Herbal Hearts & Hand Wash

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Just For You: a pretty heart of dried lavender buds and rose petals. May your day be sweetly-scented and filled with flowers, champagne, chocolate and lots of love!

Here’s a body product I’ve been meaning to make for some time now: organic scented foaming hand cleanser. This easy-to-make soap requires only three main ingredients:  liquid castile soap, distilled water and the essential oils of your choice (omit the fragrance if you wish). If you don’t have any essential oils kicking around, you can purchase the scented varieties of castile soap. If you want to try your own fragrance combinations and aren’t sure which scents work together, try the oils out first, drop by drop, on a cotton ball or makeup remover pad.

A note about Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap: It’s billed as organic, certified fair trade and 100% biodegradable and contains the following ingredients: water, coconut kernel oil, potassium hydroxide, palm kernel oil, olive fruit oil, hemp seed oil, jojoba seed oil, citric acid and tocopherol (Vitamin E). In addition to the unscented variety, it also comes in lavender, peppermint, almond, citrus, tea tree, rose and eucalyptus. Although it’s rather expensive, you only need a small amount for this recipe, and the soap has a multitude of other uses, including facial packs and body rub, for shaving, dish washing and laundry detergent, to mop floors, etc. Keep out of eyes.dsc_5418-3

Scented Foaming Hand Wash

• 500 mL (16 fl. oz.) pump dispenser bottle
• ¼ cup Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Pure Castile Soap in Baby Unscented
• 1 cup distilled water
• 6 to 12 drops essential oils of your choice

Combine ingredients in bottle and shake (with the dispenser cap in closed position) before using. Makes about 250 mL. It’s important to use a larger bottle than the amount you’ll make to allow space for the mixture to foam up without overflowing.

I made my softly-scented Citrus Rose hand wash (shown here) using 4 drops each of rose geranium, rosewood and lemon essential oils, reusing an empty hand soap container.

The Fragrance of Fog

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI adore fog.

Dewy droplets veiling the ghostly shapes of an urban landscape. Drowsy summer meadows waking to a rising mist. Coverlets of cloud over a slow-running river. Dark roads wrapped in a silent shroud.

I love fog’s various names – dew, wisp, brume, murk, vapour, miasma, mist, smoke – and its colours and textures – pearly grey, cotton-white, a bank of slate or a silvery shimmer. I relish the sight of a glassy lake kissed by early-morning swirls, and – although it can be rather perilous – driving in a dense fog. I love how it softens the view and blankets sound and makes me feel as if I’m the only living thing around.

It’s deeply primal, this damp, ephemeral stuff, and whenever it appears, my imagination rises with it in a shiver. Recently, I stepped out the door on a quiet December evening to find the night completely “socked in” by a thick blanket which hung like a pall for miles around. I stood for a while breathing it in, letting the chill air sting my nostrils and enter my lungs in a cool flood. Suddenly, I became aware that this fog had its own peculiar scent.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI inhaled some more, testing the mist on my tongue, trying to parse out its components, and quickly realized that not all of them were what we’d typically call smells or aromas. There was dampness, of course: the scent of rain. There was also an organic hint of earth and evergreen, probably due to the grass and pines growing nearby. And an elusive, moist sharpness that I could only describe as a cool pungency – something along the lines of peppermint. There and then, I resolved to try to capture these atmospheric elements – and the magic of that foggy night – in a perfume.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor the past few months, I’ve been attempting to formulate a series of natural perfumes for my shop, blending essential and fragrance oils with a carrier such as fractionated coconut oil. I know what I want the perfumes to be (I’ve even got labels for the bottles ready to go), but the process isn’t as easy as one might think: top, middle and base notes must be mixed in the correct proportions so that they work together and unfold over time in a pleasing, wearable “story”. They must be strong enough to last, yet not so overpowering as to clear a room or give the wearer – or anyone else – a headache. And, in keeping with the theme of my shop, they need to invoke nature: wood, water, flowers, herbs … and, now, fog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI already had some ideas as to what should go into this misty blend, but I’ve also researched what other people’s interpretations are. (Not to steal their ideas, natch, but just to get a general idea!) I’ve found some products which claim to invoke a London fog or the heathery mist on a Scottish moor, containing such elements as bergamot or Earl Grey tea, ylang-ylang, birch, and even ozone, leather and smoke. I do wish the internet had Smell-o-vision! So far I haven’t quite settled on my own perfect combination, but I’m getting close.

If you could describe mist or fog in a few words – what it looks, feels, tastes or smells like – what would they be?

That’s my last post for 2016. The past six months have been a blast! See you in January, when my theme will be Things that are white. Have a wonderful, safe, healthy and happy New Year!

Works in Progress

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A quiet corner of my worktable, where items for my shop and blog wait patiently for completion by the World’s #1 Procrastinator!