A beeswax-and-lavender butter and a pear-and-black-grape delight

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The frost fairies left their sparkle on cars and rooftops every morning this week. On Saturday there was plenty of crisp sunshine to continue winter checks on the bees.

Afterwards I went home to warm up in the kitchen. It’s been so chilly that my skin was feeling chapped and dry. I’m also trying to be healthier, which means eating as much fruit as I do cake. So I made a couple of recipes that are fun and easy to do: a comforting beeswax-and-lavender butter for winter skin, and a delicious poached pear with black grapes and honey for cake-filled beekeepers.

Beeswax-and-lavender butter
Lavender is an old friend. I have used the herb and the essential oil since I was a teenager for homemade lotions and potions. My grandmother would make buckets of lavender water from the bushes in our garden. She taught me to pick the lavender when the bees were feeding, because they knew when the plant was at its best.

bumble and honeybee on lavender

Lavender is one of the most popularly used oils in aromatherapy, it is well balanced and remarkably versatile in its actions. There are several different types and I tend to use that known as true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). You can read more about living with lavender in my essential oil profile, from folklore to chemistry, here.

Lavender stands out in skin care for its moisturising and healing properties for almost all skin types from dry and oily to problem and sensitive. I love using this butter in my bathroom after a shower to deeply nourish dry skin and to relieve aching muscles. I also find the fragrance is calming and uplifting.

When I make aromatherapy recipes I do so instinctively, because they are familiar to me. A cup of olive oil, five or six teaspoons of beeswax, two or three teaspoons of distilled water or herbal tea, and drops of essential oil until it smells right… That’s not very helpful though, this time I’ve measured the recipe as I made it.

Ingredients
• 30g beeswax
• 100ml olive oil
• 3 tsp distilled water
• 15–25 drops of lavender essential oil

Method
1. Put the beeswax and oil in a heat-resistant glass bowl. Then place the bowl in a saucepan of shallow water. This is a make-do Bain Marie method.

oilbeeswaxmix

2. Slowly melt the beeswax in the oil over a low heat as you stir.

3. Once the beeswax is melted into the oil, remove the bowl from the heat. The oil-and-wax mixture will take some time to start to set, stir steadily and be patient.

4. Stir until the mixture feels it is ‘trying to resist’, then add distilled water a drop at a time, using a hand whisk to blend in completely.

bodybuttermix

5. Pour into a jar before the butter starts to cool and stiffen. Add the drops of lavender essential oil and use a chopstick to stir in.

6. Leave to cool before placing the lid on the jar to avoid condensation gathering under the lid and on the surface of the butter.

7. Label the jar including the date. The beeswax-and-lavender butter should be stored in a cool dry place out of direct sunlight.

bodybutter

The beeswax-and-lavender butter usually lasts a week in my cupboard, it is a winter treat. Only a very small amount is needed to rub on parts of your body, or a tiny dab as a rich moisturiser for hands and feet. I make smaller quantities of recipes with added water, because, without preservatives, the water attracts bacteria and makes homemade cosmetics go off faster. I also prefer my cosmetics to have a subtle delicate fragrance and find 15 drops of lavender oil is enough, but you can add up to 25 drops.

I always add a safety note to my recipes with essential oils (leaning towards over-caution when giving a recipe online) and here it is advised not to use the lavender oil in the first three months of pregnancy, and thereafter at a lower dilution of essential oil (perhaps 10 drops) with advice from your GP or midwife.

Pear-and-black-grape delight
This recipe is really easy. Core a pear and replace the cored flesh with chopped grapes and runny honey. Steam lightly for 20 minutes and enjoy a healthy dessert or snack. I’ve used medjool dates instead of black grapes for this recipe in the past, which is yummy.

pearandgrape

I was disappointed this weekend to miss Harrow Beekeepers wax workshop, particularly as I’ve kept beeswax in my kitchen cupboard to make homemade products for years. Harrow runs many excellent courses, which I hope to go to in future.

Something else I learned this week that’s quite interesting, shared here as an aside, is the difference between frost and frozen dew. This is frost – it is feathery and white in appearance with crystal formations, while frozen dew looks like droplets of frozen water. How does this happen?

Dew is formed at ‘dewpoint’ when the ground is cold and the moisture in the air goes from gas to liquid. If it is cold enough, the liquid dew freezes to become a solid – frozen dew. Frost occurs at ‘frost point’ when it is below freezing and the moisture in the air goes from gas to solid. You probably already know this, but I found it fascinating.

frostfairies

Nature magic or nature science? Both are beautiful.

A stocking filler from the bees

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Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year in the UK. For a moment the Earth tilts furthest away from the sun in the northern hemisphere, before it turns back towards the light.

My pagan friends celebrate the winter solstice, Yule, by lighting candles to mark the sun’s rebirth. While it is a long time till spring from this point on we can all welcome back the lengthening of days.

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I’m not pagan, well maybe a tiny bit…

In beekeeping traditions the darkest day of winter is a point of stillness inside the hive. The queen has stopped laying and the workers cluster around her in a broodless nest. A perfect time to give the bees a solstice stocking filler of warmed oxalic acid in syrup.

Yesterday was bright, cold and dry at the apiary. The beekeepers were feeling festive as they ate mince pies and drank home-brewed beer. Everyone was soon very merry!

Andy Pedley was amused that I had decorated our hives a few weeks ago with pine cones and berries to look Christmassy, he tweeted:

andys tweet

There also had been exciting news from Andy during the week, he wrote: “This might justify a special email?” He and John Chapple had been interviewed for Alan Titchmarsh’s The Queen’s Garden, which airs on Christmas Day at 3.10pm on ITV. Wow, beekeeping royalty to follow the Queen’s speech. I can’t wait till Christmas! (You can see John Chapple looking like Father Christmas in his red coat and white beard above.)

Elsa helped us to warm the oxalic acid that we were giving to the bees by standing the bottles in an upturned lid of a teapot. As we marvelled at her practicality, she said in her gentle Australian accent, “I wasn’t a Girl Scout, but I was raised in the bush”.

The sun was dropping fast through the trees and the mince pies had all been eaten. It was time to give the bees their stocking filler.

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I’ve blogged about giving the bees oxalic acid before, this year two beginners gave it to the hives. They will make excellent beekeepers. The oxalic acid is meant to burn the mouths and feet of varroa mites feeding on adult bees, so they drop off. It is given in midwinter when the colony is thought to be almost broodless and the varroa mites have fewer places to hide.

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Some beekeepers now check their hives for brood a few days before giving the oxalic acid following last year’s findings by Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI), which caused something of a stir among beekeepers. The research suggests any time between 10th December and Christmas is a good time for oxalic acid treatment and that you check for sealed brood, and destroy it, around two days before. I hadn’t forgotten the advice but we didn’t do this. I could tell by looking at the way the bees were moving around and over the frames that there is likely to be sealed brood inside the hives. Perhaps it is a knock-on effect of a longer brooding season due to a milder autumn and winter? What effect that will have on the oxalic acid treatment, I don’t know.

Even so, all’s looking well inside the four hives. Chili’s bees were playful, Melissa’s bees were peaceful, Chamomile’s were curious (a good sign) and Pepper’s were spirited!

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Merry Christmas lovely bees!

This is my last post of the year as I take a break for Christmas. So, as an aromatherapy beekeeper, I’ll leave you with a picture of the apiary on the darkest day in winter and a stocking filler from the bees – a home-made honey-and-lavender lip balm that you can make quite easily. The recipe is in the Postnotes below, along with more details about The Queen’s Garden.

All that remains to be said is a Very Happy Christmas bees, humans and everyone!

goodnight apiary

See you all in the New Year xx

Postnotes

Home-made honey-and-lavender lip balm

Ingredients:

  • 40 ml olive oil
  • 10 g beeswax
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 10 drops lavender essential oil

Method:

  1. Heat the oil gently in a saucepan over a low heat.
  2. Add the beeswax, stirring till completely melted.
  3. Mix in the honey then pour into a warmed bowl.
  4. Add the lavender essential oil and stir quickly before the balm starts to set.
  5. Pour the warm balm into small pots and leave to set, then lid and label your honey-and-lavender lip balm.

Of course, the lip balm is meant as a gift – you can’t sell home-made cosmetics without special safety requirements. As an added precaution too, skip the lavender oil if you are pregnant. Aromatherapy texts differ on which essential oils to use in pregnancy and at which stage of pregnancy, and the proper advice is actually a lot more involved than this. I’m not going into that now, so skip the lavender to be on the safe side – the balm really is as nice just as honey and beeswax.

The recipe is also posted on the Ealing and District Beekeepers’ website which I run, as a news item along with a link to the recent Bee Craft live episode on using hive products.

The Queen’s Garden
Don’t forget to watch The Queen’s Garden on Christmas Day! Elsa is sure from a preview that you’ll at least see John Chapple, the Queen’s Beekeeper, pull a frame from a hive!

The Queen’s Garden
Thursday 25th December at 3:10pm on ITV
Queen’s Garden, Episode 1: The first of two programmes in which Alan Titchmarsh gets exclusive access to the royal gardens at Buckingham Palace for a whole year. He watches the garden change over the four seasons and reveals its hidden treasures that have evolved over five centuries. In the first part, he arrives along with 8,000 others to attend the Queen’s summer garden party, but unlike the other guests, he has a different itinerary. He begins by venturing into the garden’s wilder spaces where nature has been left to rule. He meets the Queen’s bee keeper John Chapple, delves into the history of the garden and finds its oldest tree. Late summer is the ideal time to visit the rose garden with its 18th-century summer house. Later, as Christmas arrives, Alan helps royal florist Sharon Gaddes-Croasdale bring in plants to decorate the palace.

Download a free ebook stocking filler here, a Christmas gift from me and the bees.

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A chemistry class in perfume-making at Homemade London

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There was a strange light as I walked around the corner from Marble Arch to Seymour Place. I was on my way to an Introduction to perfume-making workshop at Homemade London, and shafts of sunlight were streaking through darkened clouds that threatened to burst at any moment.

Like a rainbow in the storm, Homemade London is a sanctuary in the busy heart of London where you can stop, be still and get creative. I had visited a few years ago for a beauty workshop: The secrets of beauty masks at Homemade London and after three wedding weekends in a row, I had decided to treat myself to a perfume-making class before getting back to the bees.

Nicola, our teacher, likes to keep the evening workshops small and cosy – there were only four of us. This promised to be an intimate and intense journey through scent, with drinks and nibbles. ‘Sugar revives the sense of smell,’ said Nicola wryly, as she served rose lemonade and offered mini cupcakes.

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During the two-and-a-half hour workshop we would learn what goes into making a perfume and takeaway our own signature scent. Working with a range of organic, or wild, ethically sourced essential oils, rather than synthetic scents, we would tune into our likes and dislikes to find out what suited our skin and personality.

As a relapsed aromatherapist, smelling and identifying the essential oils felt like being reacquainted with old friends. Mandarin, petitgrain, ylang ylang, clary sage and frankincense – my aromatherapy had been put on the shelf for the past couple of years, because of those demanding little bees, but this was the perfect way to revive my interest in scent.

Although, all that smelling did require a mini cupcake or two.

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The art of blending for perfumery was quite different to blending for aromatherapy, I was to discover. Nicola passed around paper testing strips so we could give each scent a mark out of 10 on how much we liked or disliked the smell. I had to forcibly remove my likes and dislikes from aromatherapy bias of what I knew were the therapeutic actions of an essential oil, and focus only on how the fragrance made me feel and would work on my skin.

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‘You’re probably familiar with top, middle and base notes,’ said Nicola, ‘But I’m going to introduce you.’ She gave a delightful description of the notes of perfume as the pub goers across the road stole curious glances in our direction:

Top notes are light and sparkly, they are what you notice first in a blend, although they bubble off the top quickly. They are usually citrusy, though some are woody and spicy.

Middle notes, or heart notes, are the heart of the blend and bring everything together. They are floral, green and woody or warm and spicy.

Base notes are what lingers. They are the remains of a perfume when you can still smell it on your scarf a few days later. They are often dark, woody and foresty.

There was such a range of essential oils to smell and choose that after a while my nose couldn’t tell the difference between citrus, floral, wood and spice. Nicola had a great tip for ‘clearing the palette’ and told us to inhale the coffee grounds placed on the table. This cleared my nose ready to start smelling again.

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‘If you like a smell then it will probably work well on your skin,’ though Nicola admitted this wasn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Perfumes are fickle creatures and randomly choose people they like or don’t like. Chanel No.5 smells fantastic on my mother, but stinks on me. But Nicola’s rule seemed a good place to start, so I wrote down my marks for the smells I liked best in the notebooks provided.

My choice of perfume friends were grapefruit, bergamot, neroli, jasmine, rose, benzoin, cedarwood and vetiver.

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To create a bespoke perfume from our selection of scents we needed to mix the top, middle and base notes to smell how well they worked together and in which quantities. This was a careful and precise process of ‘layering’. We wrote our choice of oils in a table and with Nicola’s guidance added one or two drops at a time to our blends. Nicola gave our measures based on how highly we had scored each oil and used our individual likes and dislikes to make those the focus of each fragrance. As I hadn’t liked the smell of vetiver very much, but still found it interesting, Nicola provided cocktail sticks to add the oil at a quarter of a drop.

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My blend was taking shape as I tested the perfume on places that I would wear it, my inner wrist and elbow (not behind the ears which is an old wives’ tale, said Nicola). However, it smelt (to me) dangerously close to an aromatherapy blend and what I wanted was a dark, smoky and green forest-like perfume. Nicola helped rescue my recipe by adding some black pepper, geranium and vanilla, and adjusting the measures of the other oils in my final two ‘layers’. The fragrance was left to ‘marinade’ on my wrist until we were both satisfied that the perfume smelt more ‘interesting’ and less ‘therapeutic’.

I finally had my first signature scent and I was impressed by how much more complicated it was to blend for perfumery than aromatherapy. But I wasn’t put off, in fact, it made me want to explore it further.

Nicola provided labels and gift-wrapped our perfumes in tissue paper. As it had been raining today and I now had a fresh green smelling perfume with a slight smokiness, I called it ‘AfterRain’.

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If you’re curious about what my perfume smells like, here’s the recipe so you can try it yourself:

Top notes

  • Bergamot 3 drops
  • Grapefruit 2 drops
  • Black pepper 1 drop

Middle notes

  • Neroli 11 drops
  • Jasmine 3 drops
  • Rose 3 drops
  • Geranium 1 drop

Base notes

  • Cedarwood 4 drops
  • Benzoin 2 drops
  • Vetiver 3 quarter drops
  • Vanilla 1 drop

The essential oils were blended in a base of coconut oil, around 20-30 ml.

I would highly recommend Homemade London’s Introduction to perfume-making and any of the other workshops that they run for much-needed time out and a burst of creativity for weary Londoners!

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The wonderfully talented Amber Tenzin-Dolma

Working from her Hobbit House studio in Bath Spa, Somerset, Amber Tenzin-Dolma creates vibrant and imaginative artwork inspired by nature and science. This talented young artist blends watercolours and oils, tempera and gold leaf, mixed media and graphic design to form ethereal illustrations and intricate geometric fractals.

I have been friends with Amber’s mother, Lisa Tenzin-Dolma, since my days as commissioning editor on the partwork magazine, Enhancing Your Mind Body Spirit. Lisa is a writer, artist, musician, canine psychologist – and Amber has inherited her mother’s creative energy, artistic skills and passion for the natural world.

On a visit to Bath this year, I was warmly welcomed into the charming Hobbit House set among the pretty countryside of Somerset. Amber’s beautiful paintings reflect her surroundings from Bath’s classical Roman and Georgian heritage to the wide fields and wild woodlands.

A sphinx of classical mythology sits beneath blue skies and sunlit clouds.

A woodpecker painted on the door leads the way into Amber’s art studio.

Early on Sunday morning I sat in Lisa’s sweet-smelling herb garden as a hot air balloon passed overhead and watched a fat bumblebee exploring the lavender and thyme. I remember thinking that the bumble’s bright colours, fuzzy fur and symmetrically patterned wings would make a good study for Amber’s art…

A bumblebee of Bath plants the seed of an idea…

Some time passed since I returned to London after a fun weekend spent catching up with my friend and walking the dogs in the woods, but the thought was never lost. I eventually contacted Amber to ask if she was interested in a brief for my blog: a watercolour inspired by the magical alchemy between flowers, bees and honey, and taking flowers used to obtain essential oils such as myrtle, rose, lavender, thyme, rosemary and violets.

Amber was thrilled at the idea and almost immediately sent back some initial sketches, which were exactly what I had in mind.

A sketch of the banner artwork. Amber used rosemary, violets and a rose overlaid on a photo of our mischievous bees when Emily and me had caught them making brace honeycomb last year.

For the background art, Amber used myrtle, rose, lavender, thyme and violets with three hungry bees and, of course, honeycomb. The flowers were chosen from my favourite essential oils with creative license to make myrtle my favourite colour – pink!

When I returned from my holiday in Italy, a lovely surprise was waiting in my inbox – the final paintings for my blog with added sparkle. Bees have never looked so pretty.

After experimenting with crops and tiling, Amber’s beautiful artwork went live on my blog yesterday and I couldn’t be happier. As an aromatherapist and beekeeper, the art represents, for me, the special relationship that flowers have with bees – and the close connection between essential oils and bees!

Amber also designs and makes jewellery using semi-precious stones and silver. She really is a talented lady. A few years ago, I commissioned this turquoise, lapis lazuli and amber necklace as a christening present for my niece, Lauren, which many years from now she will receive to wear on her 21st birthday.

An Egyptian-style necklace created by Amber for my niece, Lauren, using the semi-precious stones of her birth sign – turquoise, lapis lazuli and amber!

Looking at the cute honeycomb background for my blog, I wonder how lovely our hives would look with an Amber Tenzin-Dolma design. Maybe next year…

Related links
Amber’s sketchbook and paintings are available on her website, and her jewellery is sold on Etsy at Aether Design.

I shouldn’t forget to mention that Lisa and Amber share their home with a deerhound-greyhound lurcher called Skye, and a 15-year-old Oldies Club collie-husky foster dog, Shep ‘The Shepster’. Lisa’s new book, The heartbeat at your feet, will be published later this year.

Skye and his paws.

Shep ‘The Shepster’

Myrrh, Queen of the Monsoon

A tough little tree grows along the Red Sea and arid regions of Northeast Africa, Libya and Iran. Surviving against the odds, the little tree weeps a bitter red-brown resin with remarkable healing properties. Its name is myrrh.

Like her namesake, Queen Myrrh emerged from her cell into adversity. She arrived as the rains came to the desert bringing plants, trees and flowers back to life, while she waited inside the hive. Myrrh, who inherited a dying colony from her drone-laying mother, Rosemary, was desperate to go out on her mating flight, but every beat of her wings would have been a race against the wind and rain.

In Guide to Bees and Honey, Ted Hooper says, ‘The queen mates on the wing during the first ten to twenty days of her life. Once she has emerged from her queen cell she becomes mature within a couple of days, but by the time she is three weeks to a month old she is no longer capable of mating properly. During her mature period the worker bees become more and more aggressive towards her up to the time she mates. This behaviour has a possible value in driving the queen out for her mating flight before she is too old to accomplish it efficiently.’

A mild spring of sunshine and showers is vital for bees to forage and build-up their stores after winter, and fine days are needed for the mating flights of virgin queens. However, the torrential rain over the past six weeks has trapped bees inside hives and left hungry mouths to feed.

Warm, sunny days are needed for drones to fly out to congregation areas where they swarm about thirty to ninety feet above the ground and wait for virgin queens to fly past. No one knows for certain how drone congregation areas are found by drones and queens, but each spring they make amazing spectacles of life and death.

If the weather had been fine, Myrrh would have flown through the air like a comet with drones forming a comet’s tail behind her. The best and fastest drones would catch the queen and die in the act of mating, falling to the ground below. ‘At the time of mating the drone genitalia enters the queen and literally explodes, separating from the drone, which dies.’ (Ted Hooper)

During the course of three mating flights, the queen would mate with up to 40 drones, filling her abdomen with sperm and allowing her, potentially, to lay fertile eggs for the colony for two to three years. ‘Mating having been accomplished, the queen starts egg-laying within a few days, and is from then on very carefully looked after by the worker bees… now she produces a scent which causes them to turn and face her if she is close, thus forming the ring of workers usually found around the queen, and called her “retinue”.’ (Ted Hooper)

Queen Lavender is surrounded by her retinue – a circle of worker bees – as she walks across the frame. (Sorry the queen’s a little blurry – it’s tricky to hold a frame of bees, spot the queen and take her photo!)

However, the weather was not kind and Myrrh never left the hive. Unable to mate with drones from her own colony because of the risks of inbreeding, she could not lay eggs to replace the workers reaching the end of their life cycle and the drone her mother had laid. The colony had become quite small by the time Emily and me were able to open the hive for an inspection.

We were sad to see Myrrh walking across the frame without her retinue of workers and her small abdomen indicating that she had not mated. We continued to check through the hive to make sure that there were no eggs or larvae – the queen can also look small and slim before swarming when she is starved by the workers to make her fly, but this was unlikely to be the case with Myrrh. A few weeks ago we had put in a frame of larvae from Lavender’s hive, but this was uncapped probably because there are not enough workers to raise brood. We didn’t find new brood.

Worker bees having a chat. Chilly temperatures this spring meant that opening the hives would do more harm than good, leaving nature to decide the fate of Myrrh. We could not introduce a newly mated queen while Myrrh was inside the hive, because the workers would see her as an intruder and kill her.

Emily and me talked over the options because, while there was nothing we could do for Myrrh, there were the surviving bees to consider. It was too late to give the colony another frame of larvae from Lavender’s hive, because there were not enough workers to rear a new queen and her bees. For the same reason, it was too late to introduce one of the mated New Zealand queens recently bought for the apiary.

The dying colony was mostly drone, but could be saved by combining with Lavender’s hive. It was a big decision to finally collapse this colony, so we decided to close the hive for a few days to consult wiser beekeepers than ourselves.

Drones carry the characteristics of their hives to other colonies through mating with the local queens. Emily and me have good-natured, hard-working bees, and we would want our drones to survive and mate with other queens in the area.

Queen Lavender’s hive was a happier picture full of bees, brood and stores. The bees had completed the Bailey comb change by themselves – clever bees! – and the brood in the bottom had hatched and moved up to join the queen. We took away the old brood box and placed the new brood box on the hive floor, removing the dummy board to give them space to expand. The old brood box, with straggler bees shaken out into the queen’s nest, was placed on top with an empty super in-between for the bees to rob the remaining stores.

We saw signs that Lavender’s bees are trying to make queen cells – it is the swarming season – but with more space in the brood box this instinct may be delayed. We will have to watch them carefully over the next few weeks.

I spied a worker waving her abdomen in the air, exposing her Nasonov gland and fanning her wings to spread the scent to guide foraging bees back to the colony. She may have been doing this because we kept Lavender’s hive open longer than usual to complete the Bailey comb change.

Emily and Drew had brought along their friend Owen, who was scouting out the situation about bees for his girlfriend, Fran. So we wandered round the apiary for a while and topped up the sugar syrup in the other hives and nucs. In May we wouldn’t normally feed bees because the supers would be on the hive, which we would like the bees to fill with nectar not sugar. However, the wettest April on record for the past 100 years in the UK has bought famine to many bee colonies and the National Bee Unit has issued a starvation warning to beekeepers to continue feeding their hives.

At the height of summer, a forager bee visits around 2,000 flowers a day to collect enough nectar and pollen to feed around 50,000 hungry bees inside the hive, and new bees are hatching all the time. So if bees can’t fly out and stores are low, they need a lot of sugar!

Drew kindly took some nice shots on my new camera…

Me pouring Ambrosia sugar syrup – food of the gods and of bees. I hope the bumbles and solitary bees found food, warmth and shelter during the rainy spring.  © Drew Scott

Rain is needed to stimulate the nectar flow, but then sunshine is needed to evaporate the water from plants, flowers and trees so bees can forage. Too much rain dilutes nectar and washes away pollen leaving no food for bees. The honeybee relies on the delicate balance of nature for its survival or doom! © Drew Scott

Bees can be a bit forgetful so Emily and me use Pat’s sticky twig trick to remind them of ambrosia in the roof. A twig is soaked in sugar syrup and left inside the feeder hole leaving a trail of gooey sweetness for bees to follow. © Drew Scott

Beekeepers sharing a bee joke – hope the bees enjoyed it. © Drew Scott

Beekeeping done for another Saturday and the sun still shining, Emily, Drew, Owen and me ended the afternoon in the beer garden at The Fox Inn, in Hanwell.

The reign of Queen Myrrh has been painfully short and bitter, but she has inspired an aromatherapy blend.

Warming bath blend

  • 4 drops myrrh
  • 2 drops clove
  • 2 drops ginger
  • 4 teaspoons of olive oil

Run the bath and then sloosh round the blend to disperse the oil as much as possible (you can use full fat milk or cream or an unscented bath gel as a carrier agent, if preferred). Patch test the blend if you have sensitive skin. Do not use if you are pregnant.

This is a dark, smoky and reflective blend. In The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Salvatore Battaglia describes myrrh’s effect on the mind as ‘one of inner stillness and peace, of an awareness free from restlessness and the mundane’. Clove and ginger were added for depth and warmth.

Emily and me attended the London Beekeepers Association Bee Health Day on Sunday (we were really as busy as bees this weekend!) and listened to very useful talks from our local bee inspectors on how to manage bee diseases and keep happier, healthier bees, which will feature in future posts.

The secrets of beauty masks at Homemade London

I am always looking for ways to combine aromatherapy and beekeeping, so a Beauty Mask Workshop at Homemade London was a perfect evening for an aromatherapy beekeeper! I like to make honey masks with essential oils, but wanted to learn more about using natural mineral clays with my recipes.

Homemade London is a beautiful salon at the heart of the West End that specialises in luxurious and indulgent experiences such as parties and workshops. A visit promises you will work with the highest quality materials, fabrics and ingredients to create objects of desire, beautifully packaged to take home. The classes are also social, so you are treated to a glass of wine and nibbles or afternoon tea while you work.

All the best beauty secrets are locked away in nature and the Beauty Mask Workshop revealed a few gems. The evening was hosted by the owner of Homemade London, Nicola Barron, who welcomed us with sparkly pink fizz and French Fancies while we enjoyed the salon’s pretty window dressing and creative haberdashery.

Handmade tissue paper pom-poms make fabulous window dressing.

A cabinet of haberdashery curiosities for making sparkly arts and crafts.

Nicola started the workshop by introducing the properties of various mineral clays and why they are good for different skin types. The workshop used three clays that possess highly active mineral properties such as deep cleansing, purifying, exfoliating and refining:

  • Rhassoul, or Moroccan beauty clay: a unique clay, sourced from beneath the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, that deep cleanses, detoxifies and exfoliates while also improving skin texture. It is a powerful-acting clay suitable even for sensitive skins.
  • Red argiletz clay: a naturally red-pigmented clay that is beneficial for dry, sensitive and irritated skins.
  • Kaolin, or white china clay: softening and soothing, this clay is suitable for all skin types and it gently balances the stronger drawing properties of red and Rhassoul clays.

Clockwise from top left (black bowl): kaolin white china clay, Moroccan rhassoul clay, and red argiletz clay.

Our homemade beauty masks used other natural ingredients that you might find in your fridge or kitchen cupboard, such as strawberries, bananas and double cream that have active properties good for your skin. For example, both strawberries and cream are mildly exfoliating, while strawberries are toning and cream is nourishing. ‘It is important to use double cream,’ said Nicola. ‘Although you can use Greek yoghurt instead.’

As we mashed bowls of fresh strawberries and banana, Nicola explained how to make our beauty masks: ‘Choose two or three clays with properties that best suit your skin’s needs, then mix about half a teaspoon of each with a little water or small portion of fruit and cream.’ Naturally, we chose fruit and cream because it sounded much more decadent!

Adding berries to a homemade facial mask have a refining and tightening effect on your skin. I was in charge of mashing strawberries.

We each experimented with three different beauty masks, choosing combinations such as red and white clay with banana, and rhassoul, red and white clay with strawberry. My favourite combination was rhassoul and white clay with strawberry and cream, which felt so luxurious on my skin. Using this beauty mask at home could easily recreate the experience of a Moroccan hammam in my bathroom!

Ingredients for a personalised beauty mask using rhassoul and kaolin clays and mashed strawberry; just add a little cream.

Nicola recommended adding a little white clay to every combination, because it both lessens and balances the stronger drawing properties of the red and rhassoul clays. She also warned that the red clay might leave you looking a little orange! We patch tested all our beauty masks on the back of our hands for about five minutes, which is good practice before using any new beauty product, homemade or otherwise.

When at home, Nicola advised using a beauty mask once a week and wearing for just 10 minutes, because it is not good for your skin to let the clay dry out.

As a bonus, we created a homemade lime-and-sugar body scrub using a mixture of brown Demerara and white sugars and olive oil, fragranced with lime essential oil.

Lime-and-sugar body scrub makes you smell good enough to eat!

We got to take home a jar containing a mixture of mineral clays of our choice, which will keep for about 18 months (if stored correctly out of direct heat, light and moisture) and should make about 12–15 applications of beauty masks. The great thing was how versatile it was to make our own masks, ‘We like to empower people to go away with knowledge and a few good ingredients to create for themselves,’ said Nicola. It’s a good philosophy. Nicola buys her clays, including the amazing Moroccan rhassoul beauty clay, from Baldwins in London.

We were given handouts with helpful descriptions of the different properties of each clay and of other natural ingredients such as honey and avocado, so we could continue to experiment with different combinations at home.

Homemade London hold all sorts of arts and craft workshops like sewing and perfumery. I’ll be trying out a few more this summer – bee-patterned cushions, perhaps…

Homemade beauty to go! My personalised mineral clay base mix and a body sugar scrub.

It was a really fun evening and I got to meet two other lovely ladies interested in natural skin care. Check out Francesca’s blog and Kristina’s blog for more homemade ideas and beauty recipes. After we had finished making our masks, there was little to do but chat and eat cake.

Fabulous French Fancies and a couple of chocolate brownies – also good for stuffing your face!

Honey, lavender and geranium clay beauty mask

How do beauty masks combine aromatherapy and beekeeping? Swop strawberry and cream for honey and add a drop or two of essential oils, and you have a beauty mask fit for an aromatherapy beekeeper. When I got home, I tried this combination:

  • 1/2 tsp rhassoul clay
  • 1/2 tsp white clay
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 drop lavender essential oil
  • 1 drop geranium essential oil

Honey has antiseptic properties and is nourishing and softening to skin. I was lucky to use the honey from my hive, which smelt lovely in this recipe. (Thanks to Queen Rosemary and her hardworking ladies!) Lavender and geranium essential oils blended in equal quantities have a wonderfully balancing action on skin sebum, making the mask suitable for all skin types.

After patch testing on the back of my hand, I made a second application for my face and patted onto cleansed, dry skin, leaving for 10 minutes. I rinsed off with warm water, and went to bed with my skin feeling amazingly soft, smooth and rejuvenated. I’ll be surprised if my bees recognise me when we open our hives for the shook swarm next week!

Perfume alchemy for Valentine’s Day

I have loved making fragrances ever since my mother introduced me to the magical world of perfume. One summer she took us to visit a perfumery in Grasse, France, the birthplace of the world’s perfume industry. We took a bus from Cannes and had a long, bumpy ride up the steep hills of southern France. As we got closer the air became thick with perfume and wonderful aromas flew in through the bus windows.

The perfumers showed us the secrets of their trade, and my mum remembers that I was amazed how many petals were needed to make one bottle of perfume. I was transfixed by the whole process. It was alchemy.

I spent every penny in my purse to buy four tiny vials of the most exquisite fragrances that I have ever smelt. The perfumes from Grasse sat on my bedroom windowsill for years, never worn but occasionally opened to enjoy the heavenly scents. Over the years the aromas faded, until one day I returned home from university to find that the precious bottles held only coloured water.

The visit to Grasse sparked an obsession with smell that eventually led to aromatherapy. Floral and citrus oils are my favourite fragrances, although I also love the woods and resins.

Valentine’s Day is full of romance and so also nostalgia. For this Valentine’s I have tried to recreate the fresh, sweet smells of Grasse, which I remember were as beautiful as they were simple.

There are lots of complicated perfume recipes available using various base mixes and perfumer’s alcohol. I prefer to keep things easy. The recipe below uses vodka, which can be substituted for distilled water or flower water (orange or rose) to make an eau de cologne. I chose three of my favourite oils – rose, jasmine and neroli – for a rich floral base, and enhanced with leafy petitgrain and uplifting, citrusy grapefruit.

You will need:

  • 60ml vodka (80% proof)
  • 9 drops rose absolute
  • 2 drops jasmine absolute
  • 4 drops neroli essential oil
  • 2 drops grapefruit essential oil
  • 4 drops petitgrain essential oil

Pour the vodka into a bottle with a spray pump top and add the absolutes and essential oils drop by drop. Fix the bottle top and shake well. The oils will make the vodka cloudy, which is normal. Spray the perfume on neck and wrists, and enjoy.

The fragrance is how I like my perfumes – subtle. If you prefer, increase the strength of the aroma by doubling the amount of drops.

Store the perfume out of direct sunlight or heat and it will keep for a long time or as quickly as you use it!

You can read more about the essentials oils used here: rose, jasmine, neroli, grapefruit and petitgrain.

I buy my essential oils from Neal’s Yard Remedies, where I was trained as an aromatherapist. They also have lots of smelly ideas for Valentine’s Day!