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.

Millefiore melt and pour soap

More fun at Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh today making millefiore soap with the extremely simple ‘melt and pour’ method.  K and I shared a tray, intending to drop in frozen flower heads we had collected at the beginning of term… scroll down a few posts to see what we gathered… and then roll it into a kind of Swiss Roll – a bit like a chocolate log – which we could cut. Very much an experiment as neither of us had worked with melt and pour soap before (K is a very accomplished cold method soap maker) and the rolling idea was … ambitious.

Melt and pour soap is incredibly easy to make.  You buy melt and pour soap – online try the Soap Kitchen for melt and pour and ingredients and equipment for all other methods too.  You melt it in a bain marie, which for me is a glass bowl (pyrex) in a saucepan of water, reaching half way up the glass bowl, simmering gently.  Place the lumps of soap in the bowl and wait until it melts.

The number one hot tip is DO NOT STIR!  It becomes frothy and, yes, scummy.  Not a good look.  We found that out all by ourselves.  Apart from that, it’s a breeze.  Photos?

Well… here’s the soap melting in a bain marie

With some equipment like jug for pouring accurately, tray lined with cling film, individual soap mold etc …

And here some of the botanicals ready to be ‘soaped’ – apologies for the picture quality!

A fennel head, as ‘insurance’ soap as we had no idea whether / how the tray would work out, or even whether it would be usable as soap!

And here, in the shallow bun tins, some more ‘insurance’ soap, just so that we would have some to use however the tray turned out.  Fennel and, er, seaweed!

At last, the tray itself!  It started out looking really promising, but we found that we had created too thick a layer of soap to roll successfully.  It will cut nicely though.  I find soap making from scratch MUCH more satisfying, although melt and pour can produce some lovely results, particularly with fancy silicone baking molds.  It’s also safer for kids!

More picis of soap when it’s out of the tray and cut into rectangles.  It may yet be wonderful!

Spirulina soap

This weekend saw the exciting, momentous creation of truly green soap!  Deeply green in colour, from the addition of wonderful spirulina powder, fragranced with patchouli essential oil.

It cured overnight so we were able to test it for colour leaking – does the green come off on our hands… ? No!  All perfectly safe.  We also made a batch of lavender with lavender essential oil and dried lavender flowers, with extra on top – so pretty!  Here it is on its baking rack under the spirulina, drying.  We shall leave it for 4 weeks or more for it to really harden.  It cured as well overnight (which means that the lye / caustic soda is now incorporated chemically so it is not caustic any more, and therefore safe to use), which means we could test it – and the lavender bits on top are a bit annoying when they come off, but it is sooo pretty!