Yarrow and Calendula Healing Cream

A new batch of precious Yarrow and Calendula Healing Cream has been hatched at http://www.herbalistscotland.com!  Healing raw skin, scratches and grazes with antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, skin-healing herbs and added Frankincense.

Herbalist Scotland Healing Cream

There is something wonderful about using creams and salves that have been made from beautiful organic ingredients and a minimum of preservatives.  The Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) comes from our garden and was made – fresh – into a fragrant hydrolat using the Alembic still.  Yarrow is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, and used for wounds and raw skin.  Organic Calendula petals were steeped in safflower oil for two weeks to extract their skin-healing constituents.

Shea butter and rosehip oil make this a soft, luxurious cream that sinks in and feels wonderful.


Rich and light skin cream


Herbalist Scotland rich and light skin cream

Rich and light Rosemary and Orange skin cream from Herbalist Scotland

Everyone can do with some delicious skin nurturing from time to time.  This rich and light skin cream  from Herbalist Scotland is made from Rosemary infused safflower oil with rose hip oil, shea butter, and vitamin E.  Essential oil of bitter orange lends a heavenly scent.  Made in very small batches, it is moussy and yet rich at the same time, and disappears into the skin without leaving a greasy residue. Wonderful as moisturising body cream, or as face cream for mature skins.  £9 for a 60g jar.  Why not get in touch to order your jar from the next batch we make.

Fragrant body cream

Fragrant body cream

Fragrant body cream

I’ve made variations on this many times before, always searching for the ideal cream, and this is my favourite to date.  It is light enough for a rich face cream, but nourishing and luxurious.  This version seems to be absorbed very quickly and leaves no residue on the skin.  When I rubbed it in (straight from the mixing jar!), it was all gone within a few seconds.  A tiny amount goes a very long way.  I shall use this daily.

This time I made it using a hand held stick blender rather than a coffee frother, which seems to be producing rather frothy creams… not entirely surprising.  The blender, on the other hand, works well, as long as I keep it on low, or low-to-medium as the cream thickens.  I could have added more rose absolute, but I don’t like my creams too fragrant. Adapt for any other fragrance, maybe lavender, frankincense or rosemary, instead of rose.  Here is the recipe:




Making creams

I’ve been making creams again – a very light Rose face cream with Jojoba oil and Safflower oil;  and a Rose body cream, slightly heavier with Rose Hip oil and Shea Butter, to go with it.  I use an established recipe, the same one every time, just changing the aqueous content occasionally although I do usually use a Rose infusion.  Lavender is also delightful.

What foxes me is that every single time I make a cream, it turns out differently.  They are all lovely, and all have roughly the same weight and absorbency as the previous time, but they are decidedly different.  This time the ‘heavier’ cream turned out more mousse-like and the face cream more like a lotion.  How the former could be more aerated than usual, and the latter less, I don’t know.  The kitchen is the same temperature, give or take a degree or two, and I have done exactly the same things as before, used exactly the same ingredients, same batches, same method, same timing.  Bizarre.  Good thing I am not selling them.  Maybe I’m not drinking enough wine to help the process along 😉

Hand cream recipe

Despite all the previous talk about aqua-free hand moisturisers, my daughter asked for some more traditional hand cream – here it is in the making.

Oil phase:  10g cocoa butter, 5g shea butter, 10g almond oil, 6g emulsifier (I use olivem 2000).

Water phase:  60g rose water or lavender water (just make an infusion from dried rose or lavender petals using bottled spring water);  I used orange blossom water, 5g glycerin.

Cooling phase:  20 drops vitamin E, 20 drops preservative, 20 drops essential oils for frangrancing.  I used tangerine and sandalwood.

Heat both the oil and water phases in separate bain maries to 75 – 80 degrees celsius.  Keep the oil phase on the low heat and add the water phase stirring with a metal spoon for two minutes.  Turn off the heat but leave the glass bowl in the pan of water.  Change to a coffee frother and froth for a further five minutes, then take the bowl out of the pan and allow to cool in its own time, not in a pan of cold water, as is often recommended for other emulsifiers.  Keep frothing until the frother froths no more – too thick, and allow to cool completely.  Then add the cooling phase ingredients.  Spoon into sterilised jars.  Makes nearly but no more than 100g.

This is what it looks like after the frother has gone on strike with exhaustion:


Tidying up in the herbology kitchen

This morning, besides tweaking the recipes for the solid hand moisturisers I have become obsessed with, I decided to tidy up the long top of bookshelf on which sit preparations in … preparation.  This happens every month or so, usually when good weather heralds my venturing out to harvest the next batch of in-season botanicals with which to make my year’s supply of tinctures, creams, salves, soaps, dried herb store or useful (fun) artefacts.  Up here in Edinburgh it seems as if we are late with everything this year, and as I look out into our small garden, the dandelions are only just making a serious appearance.  This does now mean that I have to get underway and make next year’s Spring tonic from Taraxacum (dandelion), Galium cleavers) and Stellaria (chickweed).  More about that later.

Before any of that happens, however, there has to be order on the shelf, which was this morning a mass of pots of experimental creams, tinctures lovingly shaken twice daily, macerating oils and vinegars, and two small bottles of rather good gin in orange peel.  Trawling through the tinctures I find some have been there just over a month and need to be filtered, labelled and bottled, others need to push their way to the front as they will be ready in a few days, and the oils and vinegars all need to be filtered as they will otherwise embrace their chilies, ginger, garlic and sea buckthorn (not in the same jars!) in the presence of anything aqueous they can grab from them and make sweet, sweet mould!

I am going to combine a ginger tincture with a chili oil to make joint soothing cream, wonderful for arthritis – not for the first time, but I think the recipe can be improved upon.  It needs to be seriously ‘hot’ enough to draw circulation to the skin, in order to flush through the joint, but not so hot that I end up being hospitalised when I do the ‘I accidentally stuck my finger in my eye’ test.  These two little darlings (ginger and chili) are now sitting side by side on the shelf, filtered and rebottled, waiting to take up their starring roles in the Killer Cream production.  Next time I might try chili tincture and ginger oil…

The vinegars are smelling delicious, despite the fact that they have been there far too long.  Scottish raspberries in red wine vinegar and tarragon, red onion and garlic in organic cider vinegar.  Filtered and rebottled, sitting by the chili and garlic oils (we use enormous amounts of both of those), the shelf is beginning to look not overcrowded, but … smug.

At this point events begin to speed up and my ‘tidying up’ runs away with itself.  It often happens when the words ‘I’ll just do this…’ start flitting across my brain.  This morning ‘I’ll just melt down the soap whilst I’m sterilising the bottles for the gin’ were my downfall.  The sterilising machine hisses and spits, and today Phoebe the cat was observing my tidying from a not very safe distance.  She hissed back in defence and leapt over, or rather into a gin bottle ready for filtering – I couldn’t let go of the soap to catch it, so a good measure of delicious orange gin sprayed out over the kitchen and across the soap.  Gin soaked orange peel everywhere, and the soap beginning to get to its crucial sticky stage…

Ah well.  Things have been worse.  The combined smell of orange gin and lavender soap is strange, but not unpleasant.  The men here to climb about on the roof to give us quotes for the chimneys and balustrade repairs look faintly bemused when they come in, but Phoebe is unharmed (outraged, but unharmed) and I only lost a little gin.  The soap remains, as always, reticent to go fully mushy, so there is another alchemical experiment to be working on in the future.

Moisturisers without water

We were at an outdoor market last week and came across a skincare product stall with a very nice chap purveying hand made ‘natural’ hand moisturising bars without a water content.  We bought one, of course.  They contain a mixture of beeswax, coconut butter and sustainable palm oil, with essential oils as fragrancers.  These bars are interesting beasties, as they have considerable advantages and some crucial drawbacks.

Firstly, in their favour, they do not (well, hardly ever) go off.  Really.  It’s the aqueous content in creams and lotions that can get mouldy and foosty, requiring the use of preservatives if they are not to be used within a month or so, or kept in the fridge.  This is fantastic from a sales point of view as it means they can be made in large batches, sometimes months in advance of shows or fairs, and have a very long shelf life.  It also means that these products can be bought as Christmas or Birthday presents long before the great day.  And a bar is very appealing in its format.  I like the idea – just tip it out of its tin, no lids or squelch!

Furthermore, this means that, from a “What am I putting on my skin?” point of view, there are NO preservatives in it.  I would much rather not have to use these, but I have to use a preservative in face and body cream, when I am giving it as a gift and cannot be sure that it will a) be used immediately or b) be kept in the fridge.  There are several on the market, some less unpleasant than others, and there is a healthy debate ongoing about which ones are preferable.  One I have come across, which seems extremely effective in its killing of all live things, is called ‘Microkill’!  This is not the experimental visual arts and music group, it’s a substance that kills anything live in the product to which it is added, and presumably therefore, also in my skin when I apply it. Good against Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria, as well as yeasts and moulds but not sure I want that on my skin…

Having said all that, how does the moisturising bar feel on my skin?  Well, on the one hand it’s really nice to have a solid bar to rub into my hands, much like a bar of soap.  But, frankly, it’s not quite as good as one of my own creams, mainly because of the limitations imposed on it by its being solid.

The advantages of not having to make hand moisturiser solid are many, and they fall into the camp of having a light, readily absorbed product.  Basically, most of the oils and butters used in a solid bar, not to mention the waxes, leave a film on the skin which takes ages to soak in, if at all.  When I am making a cream, however thick, I have more ingredients at my disposal.  Firstly, I can use a ‘runny’ oil such as safflower which is absorbed very readily by the skin, leaving no greasy film.  I can add a little beeswax – lovely – but not in such large quantities as are required to make a solid bar at room temperature.  Too much beeswax leaves, not surprisingly, quite a waxy feeling on the hands.  Equally, I can use coconut butter (stays solid at room temperature) for its enriching properties, but, again, not so much that it leaves my hands greasy.  Some properties (constituents) of herbs are extracted in water, so I can take advantage of those in my cream if I am not worried about using aqueous ingredients that can go off.

I am going to experiment with solid bars, though – I really appreciate the way they are kept in a tin and (probably) won’t leak into my bag.  But they need to be less… waxy.

Herbology birthday party

Yesterday saw a wonderful birthday party for birthday herbology girl Karoline! Five eager herbal beavers invaded her kitchen with a motley collection of infused oils, thistle, jojoba, olive, almond, vitamin E and essential oils, as well as gum arabic, powdered sea buckthorn, raisins, ground almonds, oats, brown rice powder, rice papers, cinnamon, beeswax, emulsifying wax, rose water, liquorice, slippery elm powder, dried rose petals, dried lavender, and dried calendula flowers, and bags of lovely glass jars for creams, oinkments, lotions and potions.

Barbara arrived with a wonderful basic recipe (classified) for face cream which turned out to be remarkably simple to make, and turned out beautifully smooth and not in the least ‘claggy’ or oily.  Her sample featured frankincense essential oil but we made it with rose water and no EOs at all.  Her masterpiece was to use a hand held milk frother, usually employed by would-be home barristas.  Instead of whisking like mad with a hand whisk and dropping the aqueous (watery) part in to the oily part drop by drop, Barbara just combined the two, both at a similar, fairly hot temperature, stirring with a metal spoon, then whisked for about five minutes with the milk frother.  Amazing results!  Shall try at home – first procure a milk frother – and let you know whether it works for me.

We also made raw fruit and cereal bars, incredibly simply, by weighing out and blitzing raisins, ground almonds, oats, brown rice flour, honey, and – this was the second masterpiece of the day – ground Sea Buckthorn powder, which Karoline ordered online from Finland!  The flavour of Sea Buckthorn is incredibly fruity and made the whole mixture deliciously tangy, when combined and rolled into a bar shape and wrapped in rice paper.

Joolz and Helen made throat lozenges out of gum arabic, slippery elm powder (not enormous amounts!) liquorice and cinnamon, using honey for the binding element.  They certainly did taste like cough sweets or throat lozenges.  Joolz made some beautiful pyramidal shapes which collapsed into little blobs (or ‘rabbit droppings’) after ten minutes. These have to dry for a couple of weeks to harden.

We used the calendula infused oil (calendula grown, harvested and dried by Karoline, then used to infuse the oil on a sunny windowsill for a couple of weeks) for calendula oinkment with EOs – I used lavender, such a favourite.

At the end of the afternoon we made a facial toner from a dried rose petal and elderflower infusion (just a pot of tea infused for ten minutes), with a very small amount of organic cider vinegar – enough, however to produce howls of hysterical laughter from Joolz and Helen when they smelled it!  The cider vinegar makes the rose infusion go pink instead of brown, so very pretty 🙂  After half an hour or so, the vinegary fragrance had already given way to the rose and elderflower, but the hysteria remained, and we had to finish with a bottle of wine (ingested) and call it a very happy day.