The China Bayles Herbal Mysteries

An Unthymely Death: Crafts

Ruby's Herbal Incense

  • 2 parts powdered makko
  • ½ part powdered sandalwood
  • ½ powdered cinnamon
  • ½ part powdered cloves
  • ½ part powdered star anise
  • ½ part powdered frankincense

Add enough warm water to make a pliant dough. Knead thoroughly. Shape into small cones and let dry for a day or so, at room temperature.

Makko, the powdered bark of a small evergreen tree, acts as a binder and a burning agent, making the use of charcoal unnecessary. You can purchase it at herb or craft shops.

Rose Potpourri

  • 2 c dried rose petals
  • 1 c dried lavender
  • ½ c rosemary leaves
  • 3 bay leaves, broken
  • 1 tblsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tsp powdered cloves
  • 2 tblsp orris root powder (to serve as a fixative)
  • 6-8 drops rose oil
  • dried rosebuds for decoration

Mix dried ingredients together and toss with rose oil. Place in a covered container for 6 weeks, stirring or shaking daily, to blend the fragrances. Display potpourri in a pretty bowl or basket, and renew scent with rose oil when necessary.

Chili Pepper Ristra

  • 4 dozen fresh, unblemished red chili peppers, with stems
  • cotton string cut in 2-foot lengths
  • an untwisted coat hanger
  • a pair of rubber gloves

Ristras are fun and easy to make. To create a small one, you'll need about 4 dozen fresh, unblemished red chili peppers, with stems; cotton string cut in 2-foot lengths, an untwisted coat hanger, and a pair of rubber gloves. Don't use green (unripe) peppers, or peppers with soft spots. And peppers can burn, so be sure to wear the gloves and work in a place with good ventilation.

You will be tying five clusters of three peppers on each string. To assemble the clusters, hold three peppers by their stems and wrap the string around the stems twice. Pull the string upward between two of the peppers and pull it tight. Make a half-hitch with the string, loop it over all three stems, and pull it snug. Make the next cluster above this one. Continue making clusters about every three inches on the string, until you have made five. Then make two additional strings.

Suspend the untwisted coat hanger from the back of a chair. Form a large loop in the bottom end to keep the peppers from sliding off. Then twist or "braid" the pepper strings around the wire, pushing them down toward the loop. You will be working from bottom to top, layering trios of peppers on top of trios of peppers. Distribute the peppers for a balanced effect, and continue twisting until you've used all the peppers. Don't worry about the loops of string between the clusters-they'll be hidden in the center of the ristra. Cut off the excess wire at the top, make a loop for hanging, and decorate your ristra with a raffia bow.

Hang your ristra outside in the sun to dry, and bring it indoors if the weather is wet. (You don't want those peppers to mold.) As they dry, the peppers will lose most of their weight. When dry, you can remove them from the ristra as you need them for cooking.

Rose Beads

  • 1 qt fresh, finely-minced rose petals
  • 1 c water
  • a few drops of rose oil to enhance the scent
  • a handful of rusty nails

In a cast-iron cooking container, place a quart of fresh, finely-minced rose petals, a cup of water, a few drops of rose oil to enhance the scent, and a handful of rusty nails. Simmer for one hour. Remove from heat, stir well with a wooden spoon, and let it stand overnight. Repeat the next day, and the next, adding water if necessary, until the doughy mixture has darkened. Then set aside until it dries to a clay-like consistency that can be easily molded. Wet your hands and roll into balls a little larger than a marble. (They will shrink about 50 percent as they dry.) Place on paper towels. When partly dry, thread a large needle with dental floss, string the beads, and hang them to dry. Turn them regularly so that they don't stick to the floss. In a week, your rose beads are ready for their final stringing, alternating them with small, pretty beads used as spacers. Add a clasp and store in an air-tight container to preserve the scent. For more about the way roses were used in earlier centuries, read Rose Recipes from Olden Times, by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde.

Lavender-Scented Candles

  • 1 lb paraffin
  • ½ lb beeswax
  • 4 tblsp stearic powder (wax hardener, also called stearin, to make your candles burn longer)
  • lavender color chips (enough to color 1½ lbs of wax)
  • essential oil of lavender (about 60 drops for four candles)
  • wooden chopstick (to stir the wax)
  • molds (plastic candle molds, or clean cardboard or plastic cartons)
  • candlewick
  • wooden sticks (to secure the wick at the top of the mold)
  • duct tape or electrical tape (to secure the wick at the bottom of the mold)
  • 4 16-ounce aluminum cans, washed, for melting wax
  • pan, large enough to hold all four cans

Cut the paraffin and beeswax into 1-inch chunks, using a knife and exerting a strong downward pressure. If you work on a dishtowel, you'll be able to scoop up the pieces more easily.

Put a couple of inches of water in the large pan and begin heating it. Divide the paraffin and beeswax chunks equally among the four cans. Place the cans in the water and bring it to a gentle simmer. As it melts, stir it frequently, using the chopstick. When it is melted, add 1 tablespoon of stearic powder to each can.

To prepare the molds, begin by cutting four wicks to the proper length, long enough to extend through the bottom of your mold about one-half inch, and to tie around the pencil or stick that will rest across the top of your mold. Punch a hole in the bottom of the carton and pull the wick through. When you've pulled a half-inch through, tape it with a piece of duct or electrical tape, securing the wick and covering the hole. Tie the free end of the wick to the pencil or stick, making sure the wick is centered and taut.

When the cans are full and most of the wax is melted, use tongs or a hot pad to remove each can to a non-scorchable surface. Cut the color chip in four pieces and add one to each can. Add 10-15 drops of lavender oil to each can. Stir. Pour the melted wax into the candle mold, reserving a few ounces to fill in the top of the candle when it has set.

When the candles have hardened, check to see if there is a depression around the wick. If so, remelt some wax and fill in the sunken area. Let the candles sit overnight. Then cut the wick below the stick, and remove the candle from the mold. Trim the wick to one-quarter inch. Light, and enjoy the lovely lavender fragrance!

Nature Printing

  • pressed plants
  • newspapers
  • a few sheets of printmaking paper or newsprint
  • a flat glass plate
  • water-soluble ink such as Speedball (it's best to start with one color, say, green)
  • an artist's brush
  • tweezers
  • a few sheets of non-textured paper towel

Nature printing is a lovely way to preserve plant images. To get started, you'll need to collect some garden plants and weeds and press them (a telephone book makes a sturdy plant press). When you're ready to print, assemble the pressed plants (make sure they're clean); some newspapers; a few sheets of printmaking paper or newsprint; a flat glass plate, water-soluble ink such as Speedball (it's best to start with one color, say, green), an artist's brush, tweezers, and a few sheets of non-textured paper towel. Squeeze or scoop a small blob of ink onto the plate and brush it out evenly. Lay the plant material on the inked plate, veined-side up. With the brush paint the ink evenly on the leaf, beginning at the center and working outward. Use the tweezers to gently lift the inked leaf and place it on the printing paper, veined-side down. Place a paper towel over the inked plant and gently press outward from the center. (Don't rub-you'll move the plant and smear the ink.) Remove the paper towel and use the tweezers to lift the plant. Let your print dry, frame it, and hang it where others can admire it. For examples, ideas, and detailed instructions for creating stationery, cards, herbals, and printed fabric, read Nature Printing with Herbs, Fruits, and Flowers, by Laura Donnelly Bethmann (Storey Publishing, 1996).

Hazel Pennyroyal's Rose Soap

  • small molds (try candy molds, which come in all sorts of pretty shapes)
  • non-scented cooking spray or petroleum jelly
  • 2 four-ounce bars castile soap, grated
  • 2 tblsp rose water
  • 12 drops rose oil
  • 2 tblsp red or pink rose petals, chopped

Spray some small molds (try candy molds, which come in all sorts of pretty shapes) with non-scented cooking spray or grease with petroleum jelly. Grate 2 four-ounce bars of castile soap. Put the shavings into an enamel saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons of rose water and 12 drops of rose oil and heat slowly, stirring. When the soap has melted and the mixture looks whipped cream, add 2 tablespoons of chopped red or pink rose petals. Quickly pour a small amount of the mixture into each mold, using your fingers to press the soap firmly into the mold so there are no air bubbles. Allow to harden overnight in the molds. Remove and let air-dry for a few days before wrapping.

Tussie Mussie

  • a single rose or a daisy, or a cluster of violets
  • circlet of small green leaves, such as rosemary, thyme, fern, or laurel
  • a few forget-me-nots, lilies of the valley, violets, and silvery lambs ears
  • rubber band
  • lacy paper doily or silvery tussie-mussie holder

A tussie mussie is a small bouquet of herbs and flowers in a decorative holder. These nosegays were popular personal gifts in Victorian times, and every lady understood the special, secret meaning of each of the flowers. To make one, start with a single rose or a daisy, or a cluster of violets. Surround the center with a circlet of small green leaves, such as rosemary, thyme, fern, or laurel. Tuck in a few forget-me-nots, lilies of the valley, violets, and silvery lambs ears. Other silver-gray sprigs, such as artemisia, add a nice accent, while scented geraniums lend their sweet scent. Secure the stems with a rubber band and pushing them through a slit in a lacy paper doily. For an elegant touch, use a silvery tussie-mussie holder.

Lavender Hearts

  • 2" heart pattern, drawn on cardboard and cut out
  • 4" x 6" sheet of foam, to ½" thick
  • white glue
  • 1 c dried lavender buds
  • small dried flowers and herbs
  • 2 dried rosebuds
  • scrap of lace
  • 1 yard narrow satin ribbon, lavender
  • 2 straight pins

Using the pattern, draw two hearts on the foam. Cut out (an adult may need to help with this). Coat the hearts with glue and cover with dried lavender buds, pressing for better contact. Add a few drops of lavender oil to the heart. Glue a rosebud to the center of each heart and surround with a miniature arrangement of dried flowers and herbs, glued on. Glue on the scrap of lace for a final decorative touch. Fasten the ends of the ribbons in the cleft of each heart with a dab of glue, and secure with a pin. Tie a pretty bow in the center.

China's Herbal Bath Scrubbies

  • c regular oatmeal
  • c dried herbs
  • c grated bar soap (unscented)
  • cotton bags

Mix cup regular oatmeal with cup dried herbs and cup grated bar soap (unscented). Place cup of this mixture in a cotton bag and fold it inside a washcloth. You can use a single herb or mix several together; if you like, you can also add a few drops of essential oil. For a relaxing bath, use lavender, thyme, comfrey, or lemon verbena. For an invigorating bath, use rosemary, yarrow, jasmine, or lemon balm. When you're finished bathing, discard the contents of the bag, rinse and turn it inside out to dry, then refill. (This recipe makes enough for three scrubbies.)

China's Kitchen Simmer Potpourri

  • 2 tblsp orris root (the dried root of the common blue flag, used to absorb and fix fragrance)
  • 6 drops orange oil
  • 4 drops cinnamon oil
  • 3 drops clove oil

Mix orris root and oils. Then add the following herbs and spices and mix well:

  • ½ c broken cinnamon sticks
  • ½ c dried mint
  • ½ c bay leaves
  • c orange peel
  • c cloves
  • 3 tblsp star anise
  • 2 tblsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg

Store in a tightly lidded can or jar. To use, shake the container, then put 2-3 tblsp of the mixture into a pint of water and bring to a slow simmer in a stainless or glass saucepan. Be sure to include bits of all the different herbs, including the ground spices in the bottom of the container. If you'd like more fragrance, add more potpourri. Check the water often and add more as it evaporates.

Bubble Bath

  • 1 bar castille soap, grated
  • 1 qt water
  • 2 oz coconut oil
  • 1 oz glycerine
  • 2-3 drops essential oil of violets

Children love to help you make bubble bath. Grate a bar of castille soap into a quart of warm water. Mix with a whisk until you have a liquid soap solution (don't shake, or you'll end up with a jar of bubbly). Add 2 ounces of coconut oil and an ounce of glycerine (both are known for their skin-softening properties), then stir in 2-3 drops of essential oil of violets, or your favorite sweet scent. Pour into a pretty jar.

Ruby's Rose Potpourri

  • 3 c red rose petals and buds
  • 1 c pink rose petals
  • c carnation petals
  • c red globe amaranth blossoms
  • 4 drops rose essential oil
  • 2 tblsp powdered orris root (as a fixative)

In a large bowl, mix together 3 cups of red rose petals and buds, 1 cup pink rose petals, cup carnation petals, and cup red globe amaranth blossoms. Mix 4 drops rose essential oil with 2 tablespoons powdered orris root (as a fixative), and add to the flowers. Place in a covered container and allow to mellow for 6 weeks, shaking the mixture every few days. If scent fades, renew with rose oil.

China's Dream Pillows

  • 3" x 5" cotton drawstring bag
  • to ½ c dried herbal blend
  • a few drops of oil

Dream pillows date back to the times when herbal fragrances were used to summon sleep, invite pleasant dreams, and fend off nightmares. You can make fancy shapes and fabrics, like the crescent-shaped, satin pillows that Carol makes for China's shop. Or you can do it the easy way, by using a 3" x 5" cotton drawstring bag. Fill it with to ½ cup of a dried herbal blend and add a few drops of oil. At night, place your dream pillow inside your pillowcase; during the day, keep it in a zippered plastic bag. To renew the scent, just add a few more drops of oil. Here are some traditional herbs, in the order of their prominence in the blend:

  • For pleasant dreams: lavender, roses, mugwort, peppermint, rosemary, chamomile, with a few drops of lavender oil
  • For romantic dreams: roses, violets, mugwort, yarrow, catnip, lavender, marjoram, passionflower leaves, with a few drops of rose or violet oil
  • For psychic dreams: mugwort, jasmine flowers, catnip, hops, calendula, rosemary, marjoram, lemongrass, peppermint, fennel seed, cinnamon chips, with a few drops of jasmine oil