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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Nature magic or nature science? Both are beautiful.

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The London Honey Show 2014

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Autumn brings lots of good things like misty mornings, crispy days, bonfires and fireworks – and the annual honey shows.

The London Honey Show at the Lancaster Hotel celebrates the end of one beekeeping season and the start of the next.

For a small fee of £1, donated to Bees for Development, you’ll enter a room filled with bee paraphernalia – honey, mead, honey beer, honey cakes, bee art, wax candles, wax flowers, cook books, bee books, cosmetics, jewellery, exotic hives… and lots of beekeepers, quite a few from Ealing.

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What I enjoy most about The London Honey Show are the talks. They are not too long or too many to stop you from walking around and sampling the stalls, but they leave you sparkling with bee knowledge. It’s like the Ted Talks of beekeeping, so here’s a bonus post for this week on the three speakers.

Products of the hive and what to do with them by urban beekeeper Judy Earl gave us new ideas for old ingredients: honey, propolis and beeswax. A beekeeper for 10 years, Judy has spent hours experimenting in her kitchen. Skipping over pollen and royal jelly (she had rarely met a beekeeper in the UK who uses these) Judy explored medicinal, cosmetic, decorative, culinary, and other uses of the hive.

While New Zealand’s Manuka honey is widely acclaimed for its antimicrobial properties, propolis has long been a medicinal component used for skin ointments and tinctures for sore throats. “Although reading some sources would seem to make propolis a cure-all,” said Judy.

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From honey-and-slippery-elm tablets to beeswax-and-chili plasters, Judy has tried every remedy including a garlic-and-beeswax chest rub which was so pungent the judges refused to try it at the national honey shows.

There are a wide range of do-it-yourself cosmetics from soaps and yoghurt-and-honey face masks to lipsticks and mascaras. “The easiest to make is lip balm,” said Judy, which can be blended with other lovely ingredients such as avocado oil. “Be sure to use the cleaner white wax cappings when making products for the lips and face.”

Foods like honey and mead are just the beginning we discovered as Judy described delicious recipes for flavoured vodkas and honey liqueurs. She gave an easy shopping list for blackberry vinegar made with 600ml white wine vinegar, 450g sugar, 450g blackberries, and 225g honey.

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From dipped and moulded beeswax candles, the hive has a cornucopia of practical and decorative uses. Mixing 100g beeswax and 250ml turpentine is the “easiest thing” to make beeswax polish, while “wax crayons is quite a labour of love”. Judy showed the nice things we could do with decorative wax confectionary and flowers. Her take-home message: “Anything that comes out of your hive can be used, don’t burn it use it!”

Saving our bumble bees by Professor Dave Goulson, author of A Sting in the Tale and A Buzz in the Meadow, pointed out that honeybees are nice but they’re not everything. “There are around 26 species of bumble bees in the UK, the numbers keep changing, and around 220 species worldwide,” said Dave, a bit miffed.

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A plate of different bumble bee species from Collins Beekeeper’s Bible.

As an academic at Sussex University, Dave has spent around 30 years studying bumble bees, although his first foray at age seven into bumble bee conservation didn’t start well:

“On one occasion, after a heavy summer rainstorm, I found a number of bedraggled bumblebees clinging to my buddleia, and decided to dry them out. Unfortunately for the bees I was, perhaps, a bit too young to have a good grasp of the practicalities. With hindsight, finding my mum’s hairdryer and giving them a gentle blow-dry might have been the most sensible option. Instead, I laid the torpid bees on the hotplate of the electric cooker, covered them in a layer of tissue paper, and turned the hot plate on to low. Being young I got bored of waiting for them to warm up and wandered off to feed my vicious little gerbils. Sadly, my attention did not return to the bees until I noticed the smoke. The tissue paper had caught fire and the poor bees had been frazzled. I felt terrible. My first foray into bumblebee conservation was a catastrophic disaster.”
A sting in the tale, Dave Goulson

Luckily it got better.

Bumble bee colonies are annual, said Dave. They start again each year with late summer queens who have mated and leave their nests to bury in the ground over winter. In spring, hungry bumble bee queens emerge to feast on flowers and search for an uninhabited mouse or vole nest in a lawn. Then satisfied, the bumble bee queen lays her eggs and sits on them like a bird, pressing her stomach and shivering to keep them warm.

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Another fascinating fact about bumble bees is that these furry insects are like us – warm blooded. Bumble bees are thought to have originated 30 million years ago in the eastern parts of the Himalayas, where around 60 different species of bumbles still live. But being big furry insects adapted to live in colder climes, bumble bees have enormous energy requirements. “A bumble bee beats its wings 200 times per second to stay up in the air.” To maintain body warmth and function they must eat a lot and often. “A bumble bee with a full stomach has 40 minutes before starving to death.”

While Dave promised the talk wouldn’t be all gloom and doom, he couldn’t tell us these bumble bee delights without sharing a cautionary note for the future. Bumble bees are important pollinators, “While your honeybees are shivering inside in early spring, bumbles are out and about pollinating tomatoes. Honeybees are rubbish at pollinating tomatoes,” Dave told the room full of beekeepers. “Tomatoes require buzz pollination which honeybees haven’t worked out how to do, but bumble bees have.” In fact, every tomato that we eat in the UK has been pollinated by a bumble bee, which could mean fewer generous helpings of tomato sauce if these insects decline.

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Three British species of bumble bee have become extinct in the past 100 years and many other species are declining. Why? Changes to farming, exposure to foreign diseases and pesticides like neonicotinoids are all contributing factors, Dave explained. “About a quarter of British bumble bees suffer from an Asian honeybee disease, nosema ceranae, which is very sad.”

We were shown a table of agrochemical applications on an oilseed rape field in Sussex, which had 20 different types of chemicals thrown on a single crop. Wild bees, honeybees and other pollinators are bombarded by different pressures, toxins and loss of natural habitat. We need to learn how to look after them better.

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How fast are bumble bees declining? That’s hard to say, Dave admitted, because we have an idea of honeybee losses from the number of hives, but bumble bee nests are small holes in the ground that are difficult to find. This is where the army are called in to help! A specially trained sniffer dog, Toby, sniffed out nest holes so that researchers could set up cameras and learn interesting things about bumble bees.

One thing they learnt is that great tits are a predator of bumble bees. We watched a clip of grainy footage as a great tit sat outside a bumble bee nest waiting to pick off the workers. From the piles of bodies, Dave’s team found out that each bird had a favourite way of eating its snacks: biting the thorax and chewing on the wing muscles, or chopping off the bottom and scooping out the innards.

Badgers are also a predator of bumble bees, digging up their nests to eat, particularly during hot dry summers.

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A picture of pretty bee art to offset the doom and gloom. A lovely project by Hallfield School Year 3.

So it seems bumble bees face a lot of challenges, what can we do to help? Dave outlined an action plan:

• Make people aware about the plight of bumble bees, not just honeybees
• Working with children – kids love beasties so keep them engaged and interested about insects
• Join a citizen science scheme, there are lots in the UK finding out how bees are doing
• Promote wildlife friendly gardens using traditional cottage plants not intensively bred flowers – “You may as well have plastic plants than hideous bedding” said Dave
• Badger councils to stop mowing verges of roads and roundabouts to leave them for wild flowers, bees, hoverflies and butterflies.

Go to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust for lots more information about bumble bees, including how to identify them, and follow Dave Goulson on Twitter @DaveGoulson.

A short Q&A followed Dave’s talk. I asked what is his favourite bumble bee? “Shrill carder,” said Dave “It makes a shrill sound up in the air.”

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Our grocery shopping would look very different without pollinators.

Dave reminded us that three-quarters of life on earth is made up of insects and that life would be very different without them. These small creatures not only pollinate our world but fulfil many important tasks like recycling, waste disposal and are part of the food chain of larger animals.

However, Dave’s talk did have a sting in its tail, “All bees have a common ancestor around 120 million years ago – wasps that lived in the age of dinosaurs.” These wasp ancestors kept burrows in the ground filled with paralysed insects. It’s thought that they began to collect pollen, and eventually collected more and more pollen and fewer paralysed insects until they became vegetarian wasps – or bees.

The final talk on Spoonfuls of Honey by food writer Hattie Ellis was a warm hug on a cold dark autumnal evening. Though Emily, Jonesy and I had all sampled the honey beer, mead and cocktails, so we were feeling particularly warm already.

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Hattie took us on a sensual culinary journey of cooking with honey, illustrated by using small amounts of honey to make simple food wonderful. Her colourful descriptions of mango honey from Jamaica and quince honey from Kew filling a whole room with fragrance made my imagination run wild. This was a great talk for a beekeeper and an aromatherapist. “How do you evolve a language of the flavour of honey?” asked Hattie. You cook with it. A sumptuous display of delicious dishes ensued from borage or orange blossom honey spooned over buttery Madeleines to chestnut honey drizzled over chocolate ice cream.

“Honey’s best friends are things the bees like,” said Hattie, “Like apricots with thyme, and elderflowers fritters.” Her talk was driving me crazy! “Cheese and honey are a marriage made in heaven,” she continued to describe dipping walnut bread and honey in baked Camembert.

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For the carnivores there was also honey-glazed lamb and sweetened tamarind ribs. Hattie recommended using cheaper honeys to cook and saving speciality honeys to drizzle. The fructose in honey tastes sweeter than the sucrose in sugar, so less can be used if baking, say, a Drambuie-soaked fruit cake.

Take care to use a lower temperature when cooking with honey, warned Hattie, as it burns more easily.

As we salivated over a picture of a fig-and-honey tart, Hattie led us from sweet to savoury dishes like leeks scattered with toasted bread crumbs and pollen, and pollen-flavoured shortbreads. It was too much.

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Hattie finished with a rather sexy description of how to savour the taste of honey slowly on the tongue – it would make a bee blush.

You can read more about Spoonfuls of Honey on Hattie’s website.

The night ended with announcements for best honeys and Beekeeper of the Year. We didn’t win the honey prize, so instead floated between stalls like aimless drones before flying home. I can’t wait till next year’s London Honey Show!

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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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Beautiful skin rituals – teatime toners

I love the scent of sweet apple-like chamomile tea in the morning, so soothing and delicious with a spoonful of honey. The uplifting aroma of Moroccan mint tea in the afternoon clears my mind, and the enchanting fragrance of jasmine tea helps me to unwind in the evening.

My daily tea rituals are good for my skin, because tea is not only healthy to drink but it makes a lovely skin toner too. Good skin care should be simple and natural, and what is more basic than making a cup of tea? After brewing a herbal tea, I pour a little into a small cup or bowl to use as a toner for my face – so easy!

Rain on Saturday meant that Emily and me put off the shook swarm – bees don’t like to be shaken but they dislike wet weather even more – to spend the afternoon spring cleaning last year’s brood boxes with a blow torch. By the evening, I felt in need of doing something more feminine, so I made some recipes for herbal teas to enjoy with mum on Sunday. I used my favourite herbs – chamomile, lavender, peppermint and rose.

Chamomile and honey tea toner

I love the sweet smell of chamomile. It is one of my favourite herbs, so good for drinking and lovely for my skin.

Chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties and is soothing to skin, being particularly useful for irritated skin, rashes, allergic reactions, spots, acne and eczema. By reducing swelling and inflammation, chamomile calms the skin and supports healing. This herb is generally good for promoting healthy skin for all skin types, and can be used as a daily toner even for sensitive skin. Honey is soothing and moisturising, and this time I used manuka honey which is particularly antibacterial.

I like to use a Bodum tea infuser to make pots of herbal tea at home. It is so handy, I can infuse regular or herbal tea bags or loose leaf tea and herbs in any combination. The infuser gradually steeps the herbs and keeps them covered. This is important to make sure that the beneficial chemical constituents in the herbs are not lost through evaporation, and as the steam cools it condenses back into the infusion. That’s the science bit.

This Bodum tea infuser pot is brilliant, I am always using it to make my own fresh herbal teas.

You will need:

  • dried chamomile flowers
  • manuka honey
  • tea pot with infuser

How to make:

  1. Add 3 tsp of dried chamomile to a tea pot with infuser; pour over hot water and cover to steep and cool for 10 minutes.
  2. Pour a little chamomile tea into a measuring cup or bowl, and add 1/2 tsp of manuka honey; stir until the honey has dissolved.
  3. Soak a couple of cotton wool pads in the chamomile and honey tea, then remove and squeeze excess liquid before sweeping across your face.

A little chamomile tea with 1/2 tsp of manuka honey in a small measuring cup to soothe my skin.


Herbal tea toners are meant to be used the day that they are made, because any homemade beauty product that uses water as an ingredient has a short shelf life – and these are mostly water! You could let the tea cool and jar it in the fridge for one or two days, but as I drink a lot of herb tea I prefer to use a fresh batch of toner each day.

Green tea and peppermint toner

I like to add a few herbs to my plain green tea to make it tastier, it goes well with peppermint.

I use green tea bags when I am in a hurry, although I prefer loose leaf green tea because only a sprinkle is needed and it seems to have a more delicate taste. To make green tea from bags more tasty, I’ll add a little peppermint or lavender to my mug using a mesh tea infuser.

Green tea is very beneficial for skin. It is high in antioxidants and often drunk as an anti-aging remedy. Topically, it is astringent and toning, helping to improve skin texture, while also being anti-inflammatory and helpful for irritated or blemished skins. Peppermint is a herb that is both cooling and calming to skin. This toner was very refreshing on my skin.

You will need:

  • green tea bags
  • dried peppermint
  • mesh tea infuser

How to make:

  1. Simply steep the green tea bag in a mug with a scoop of dried peppermint leaves inside a mesh tea infuser.
  2. After about three minutes remove the green tea bag (green tea is not so tasty when it is brewed too long) but let the dried peppermint continue to brew for another seven minutes or so.
  3. Remember to cover the infusion with a saucer or tea cloth, so the chemical properties don’t evaporate.
  4. Pour a little into a small cup and allow to cool. Soak with a cotton wool pad and wipe over your face.

My mesh infuser is great for adding loose herbs to a mug for a quick herbal tea.


Green and mint tea is so refreshing and really wakes me up. I also make rosemary tea like this, because it is a great substitute for coffee and stimulates the mind.


Jasmine, rose and lavender toner

Rose smells heavenly and makes a lovely cup of tea with lavender and jasmine-infused green tea leaves.

This luxurious herbal tea was the one I chose to make for my mum on Sunday. It has the delicate taste of jasmine and smells gorgeous because of the rose and lavender. I prefer to drink it with a spoonful of honey in my cup.

As a toner, this tea has many lovely properties for your skin including all the benefits of green tea. Jasmine is soothing, softening and hydrating; lavender is antiseptic, astringent, anti-inflammatory and also balancing to skin; rose is cleansing, refreshing and hydrating. My skin felt and smelt lovely after I used this!

You will need: 

  • loose leaf green tea with jasmine
  • dried lavender
  • dried rose petals

How to make:

  1. Add 1 tsp of jasmine green tea to a tea infuser pot with 1/2 tsp of dried lavender and 1 tsp of dried rose petals. Pour over just boiled water.
  2. Steep the infusion for 10 minutes and allow to cool for a further few minutes.
  3. Pour the infusion into a small cup and enjoy the scent of jasmine, lavender and rose as you use it on your skin.

My jasmine, rose and lavender tea ready to drink and to pour a little for a pretty skin toner.

Beautiful tea and cake for Mother’s Day

On Sunday there is usually cake for teatime and as today was also Mother’s Day the cakes were especially beautiful!

Smell of roses and cupcakes – heavenly!

With a card perfect for a beekeeping daughter to give to her mother…

Happy Mother's Day, mum! Enjoy your scents of roses!

The perfume is ‘Pure Essence Eau de Parfum No.2 Rose’ from Neal’s Yard. My mum loves it – and I do too!

I’m looking forward to drinking my green tea and peppermint infusion again tomorrow morning – exactly what’s needed for a Monday! With a bit of luck, this week’s forecasted fair weather should bring our shook swarm!

I would like to say a big thanks to Donna of Momma E blog for nominating my blog for a Sunshine Award. It is so lovely to be appreciated and I’ll be sure to pass along my own nominations soon. 

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!

Living with lavender

bumble and honeybee on lavender

Your lavender friend is kind and understanding. She instinctively knows how you feel and she is ready to give a friendly smile and a comforting hug when you need one. 

I became a professional aromatherapist in 2005 after completing my diploma in Aromatherapy and Essential Oil Science with Neal’s Yard Remedies Ltd in Covent Garden, London. I studied hard to learn about the essential oils, carrier oils, anatomy and physiology, massage, beauty treatments, therapeutic relationships, and the history of natural medicine. My studies included profiling over 70 essential oils, such as their chemistry and actions.

My tutor Joyce West was a wonderful aromatherapist who taught us to “live with the essential oils”. Every week we chose an essential oil to wear as a fragrance, to use in skin care and massage, for bathing and other uses around the home. “Live with an essential oil,” said Joyce, “From morning till night, immerse yourself in its aroma and personality.”

This was my first post on my first blog about living with essential oils, which I have now revived here.

An introduction to lavender
Lavender is one of the most commonly used essential oils in aromatherapy. The herb has been popular since ancient times, it is a valued and versatile healer that restores balance to the body and mind. The 17th-century English herbalist, physician and astrologer Nicholas Culpeper (1616–54) described lavender as “being an inhabitant almost in every garden, it is so well known that it needs no description”. He assigned planetary rulership of lavender to the quick-witted messenger of the Roman gods, Mercury, because the herb helped to soothe headaches and aided sleep, yet stimulated the mind. It is lavender’s ability to both revive and calm, to balance most physical and emotional states, which makes it so widely used in aromatherapy.

There are different types of lavender. The essential oil that I lived with, and which is described here, is known as true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). It has a distinctive yet subtle aroma, being sweetly floral and herbaceous. Its lance-shaped leaves with spears of purple flowers are familiar in most gardens. Press the flower head or leaf between your fingers, rub gently and lift your hand to smell the beautiful fragrance.

Lavender is widely known as the oil which started modern aromatherapy. The story of the French chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé (1881–1950) who discovered the oil’s healing properties in a laboratory accident is mentioned in almost every book about aromatherapy. Gattefossé burned his hand and accidentally immersed it in lavender oil, but then found that the oil eased his pain and helped the skin to heal faster without leaving a scar. It is a popular account of the revival of aromatherapy, although I’m not personally saying that burns and scalds are treated other than medically advised.

Still, I always keep a bottle of lavender oil in my cupboard. It is a kitchen staple because of its usefulness in treating so many ailments: spots, acne, eczema, minor skin infections, insect bites, inflammation, aching muscles, and so on. I find that it is a gentle-acting oil, but effective, and so suitable for most people to use.

My lavender diary
Gentle cleansing oil
I used lavender essential oil to care for my skin this week. A blend of 15 drops lavender oil and 15 drops geranium oil to 30ml olive oil in a dark glass bottle to use as a skin cleanser. The blend gently and effectively removed all traces of make up from my face, although, of course, I didn’t use the oil to remove eye make-up.

To use an oil-based cleanser like this, pour a teaspoonful amount onto the palm of your hand and massage on your face for a few minutes. Wipe off using a hot damp cotton cloth, and repeat. The first cleanse lifts off the grime of the day, while the second cleanse removes deep-down dirt and debris clogging up pores.

Adding lavender oil to my evening skin-care ritual helps to relax my mind and brings harmony to my thoughts at the end of a hectic day.

Relaxing and revitalising bath
After a long hard week, I used lavender oil for a comforting bath. While the bath water ran, I blended 10 drops of lavender oil with 10ml full-fat milk; skimmed milk is no good as the essential oil needs to bind with the fat to blend. When my bath was run, I poured in the whole blend and sloshed around thoroughly. I felt like Cleopatra bathing in my creamy lavender bath as the fragrance restored inner peace.

Sweet dreams
Finally, for a good night’s sleep and to awake feeling refreshed, I poured three to four drops of lavender oil on the corner of my pillow to drift naturally into sleep.

Lavender in folklore
I love to read about the myths and legends of plants and flowers, exploring the wisdom traditions in which they were once used. In Ancient Greece, lavender was a herb of Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, and in pagan traditions it belonged to the Willow Moon which shone between 15 April to 12 May.

I remember a herbalist telling me how lavender wine was once drunk to help cure flatulence or colic. The herb was also thought to prevent fainting spells when mixed with fennel, cinnamon, horehound and asparagus root.

This post is dedicated to my grandmother, Antonie Ursula Dees, who introduced me to aromatherapy and a world of fragrances.

Profile of lavender essential oil:
Latin name: Lavandula angustifolia
Plant family: Labiatae or Lamiaceae
Plant type: herb
Perfume note: middle
Botany and origins: evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean, now cultivated worldwide
Extraction: steam distillation
Chemical properties/active components: 45% esters (linalyl acetate, lavandulyl acetate), which are wound healing and anti-inflammatory; rich in alcohols (linalool), which are stimulating, powerful and gentle
Blends with: almost all essential oils
Key actions: antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, cytophylactic (stimulates skin renewal and wound healing, helps prevent scarring), decongestant (mild), sedative or stimulating
Common conditions: anxiety, agitation, depression, frustration, irritability, nervous tension, shock, stress; insomnia, headaches; high blood pressure, muscular aches and pains, rheumatism and arthritis, strains and sprains; colds and ‘flu; cystitis; acne, burns, eczema, inflammation, insect bites, skin infections, spots, sunburn, wounds
Contraindications: lavender is reportedly non-toxic and non-sensitising, but it is advised to avoid during the first three months of pregnancy
Further reading: This profile is based on my diploma studies, knowledge and experience of using this essential oil. Other aromatherapy texts will list a wider range of properties and uses. Some of the most comprehensive essential oil profiles that I have read are published in Salvatore Battaglia’s The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Second Edition, Perfect Potion, 2003, Australia. ISBN:  0-6464-2896-9.