Tips for treating seasonal ailments and beating the winter blues.
If you're a girl, chances are good you've got piles of sweet-smelling body products in your possession. If you're a girl OR boy who likes to make things - and we know you are, Cut Out + Keepers - you just might like to try your hand at making them yourself. This winter I cooked up some plant-based body products for the first time, and I loved how it turned my little kitchen into a warm, perfumey apothecary while outside the cold air pressed against my window.
Before I got cooking, though, I met with a professional herbalist - Maia Toll, who runs her herb shop, The Apothecary Garden, from a beautiful old house in Philadelphia's historic Chestnut Hill neighborhood. To learn her trade Maia spent a year living and studying with the herbalist Gina McGarry in County Westmeath, Ireland, where she and the other students made herbal medicines to treat the people and farm animals in their rural community. "It was an old-fashioned apprenticeship - we chopped wood and carried water," Maia said. Today she consults with clients and makes recommendations on treating everything from sleeplessness to skin ailments.
She also knows how to make some yummy body products. Below are a few recipes and treatments she was kind enough to share with us, along with one quick tip before you begin: When buying herbs look at their color, smell, and taste. Think of this as food shopping - you wouldn't buy fruit or vegetables that look wan or dried, so don't buy herbs that are dusty and colorless. Ask to touch and smell the herbs before you buy them.
TREATMENTS FOR WINTER AILMENTS
* For my own CHRONICALLY DRY, BLOCKED SINUSES
Maia recommended a steam every morning with one drop of thyme oil, which has antimicrobial properties to kill any germies up there, and one drop of lavender oil, which has a calming effect. (These oils can be found at any herb shop and many health food stores.) This treatment is more than just nice smelling; the steam acts as an inhalant to carry the oils into your nasal passages. I've been doing it at home nearly every day in the weeks since meeting Maia and have found it to be very soothing for my sore sinuses. Just boil a kettle of water and pour it into a large mixing bowl, add the oils, drape a towel over your head and breathe deeply. Bonus: thyme boosts the immune system.
* This EXFOLIATING AND SOFTENING BODY SCRUB will soothe DRY SKIN:
- 1 tablespoon colloidal oatmeal
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons ground apricot kernel
- 2 ounces oil (such as jojoba, sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, or olive oil)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 teaspoons aloe or hydrosol
- 10 drops essential oil of your choice
Mix everything together in a bowl, store it in a glass jar, and enjoy!
* To ease the discomfort of a COLD OR FLU, Maia uses an old, old recipe she learned from her mentor called Fire Cider. Put equal parts chili peppers, onion, garlic, ginger and horseradish in apple cider vinegar. Let the concoction sit for one month. Strain, then add honey to taste. Then drink it!
* LIP BALM
- 1 cup oil (olive, apricot, almond, or grapeseed) or shea butter. Any combination of these to equal one cup is also fine. 1/4 cup beeswax
- 1 tablespoon honey
- a few drops of a pure essential oil to taste
Gently heat the oil on the stove. (When I made this recipe I quickly learned that beeswax and oil are very hard to clean out of cooking pots. I used an old coffee can instead and placed it in a pot of water to act as a double boiler.) Add the beeswax and honey to the oil. Make sure the heat is high enough to dissolve the honey completely or else it will separate from the oil. When the beeswax melts take the pot off the flame and add essential oil. (I used peppermint, yum.) Do a taste test to see if you like it. To test the consistency, put a tablespoon of the concoction in the freezer for 5 minutes. If it's too soft add more beeswax; if it's too hard add more oil. Pour the finished balm into containers (this batch filled about 8 small pots) and let it cool before putting the lids on.
The Apothecary Garden is located at 7721 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. The store accepts orders over the phone and will ship overseas. 215-247-2110.