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Summer - And Its Aromatic Bounties

by Barbara Payne(more info)

listed in aromatherapy, originally published in issue 67 - August 2001

Living on the largest housing estate in Europe means that most of the time there is a constant audible clamour of man's activities. The melodies of nature are daily overtaken almost completely early in the morning, and this can cause some stress for nature lovers. In summer I like to get up very early to enjoy the silent, hazy mist and morning's gentle radiance and tweak the leaves of my aromatic plants. Dew is still present, the blackbird sings, and I wander through the herbs in my dressing gown and slippers with a cup of Earl Grey. A good time to plan my day.

Evenings, too, in a summer garden can be glorious as the nights softly draw in. Hot summer days interfuse into warm, dusky twilight, so befitting alfresco dining in the warm glow of scented garden candles or lanterns. The added bounty of good food, wine and the delight of scented flowers such as the lavenders and other herbs all contribute to make occasions of that kind memorable. Delectable herbal treats can be prepared beforehand even though by now quite a lot of herbs have passed their best. All the lavenders are at their finest in full summer and I use them for household cleaning, personal hygiene, decoration and for cooking. It is possible to freeze herbs, chopping them up and putting them into ice cube trays with water, so you don't have to be without earlier maturing ones.

If you decide to dry herbs, they should be picked before midday as their powerful properties are in essential oils in tiny glands on their surfaces. If you delay, the membranes of the oil containers will have ruptured, allowing the precious essential oil to escape and volatilize into the air. This is why rose and lavender gardens are laden with perfume on hot afternoons. Once cut, the herbs need to be cleaned and dried.

Although they look picturesque hung up in the kitchen, they really should be hung upside down in brown paper bags! This keeps them dust free, in the dark (sunlight destroys the essential oils), and the bag stops any mess as small pieces or seeds may drop off as the plant dries. As soon as they are dry they should be broken into small pieces and put into dark, airtight containers. Herbs dried in this way are perfect for putting into home-made cheese-muslin bags for scenting bed and table linen and will keep the moths away. Sleep pillows with relaxing herbs such as lavender are a larger version, and are an old, effective way of dealing with sleep problems.

In an effort to stay cool, I find summer fruits particularly useful. Cantaloupe melon is refreshing with a small amount of warm spearmint-honey drizzled over the top. To make the mint honey prepare half a small jar a few days before with clean, fresh mint such as apple mint Mentha suaveolens or spearmint Mentha spicata chopped up and placed into the honey, stir and leave. If you do not care for honey, the mint can be chopped and placed on the melon fresh. For a more substantial meal I like to prepare a lavender ham roast. I place the ham in the slow cooker on the low setting and baste it with two tablespoons of honey and a very tiny amount (about half a teaspoon) of newly picked lavender Lavandular angustifolia florets. Afternoon tea is enhanced by my lavender and citrus scones made in the usual way with dried fruit and the addition of one teaspoon each of dried or fresh lavender and grated lemon or lime zest.

Before serving, sprinkle with lavender sugar (caster sugar that has had dried lavender added in layers the week before and later sieved). For cold drinks I pick fresh, non-poisonous flowers such as borage flowers Borago officinalis or violas or pretty leaves like mint and coriander Coriandrum sativum and freeze them in ice cubes. This makes the drinks look very attractive and different.

On hot days the desire to keep aromatically serene and collected can be achieved in several ways, apart from sitting in the shade with a glass of chilled elderflower cordial.

Aromatherapy can help us to stay cool via sprays of hydrolat (hydrosol, floral distillate waters), which are readily available from aromatherapists, tepid aromatic baths, (five drops of essential oil per bath), and foot sprays of cooling lotion also make life more comfortable. The hydrolats I prefer for summer are the floral tones such as geranium Pelargonium graviolens, neroli Citrus aurantium armara, lavender Lavandular angustifolia and chamomile Anthemis nobilis. These are extremely invigorating and reduce stress. My cooling foot spray is made by watering a base lotion down by a third and adding seven drops each of the essential oils of lemon Citrus limon and lime Citrus limetta into 50mls of the dilute lotion.

Some people prefer the mix of cypress Cuppressus sempervirens with the lemon, which stops profuse sweating of the feet and keeps them sweet. Shake the blend well and place a spray top on the bottle. It should be used up pretty quickly as the water content weakens any preservative that may be in the lotion and this is why I have suggested making small amounts. If you prefer to make a longer lasting product, grapeseed oil will go through a spray. Grapeseed Vitis vinifera is also excellent for dry skin and will stop the feet and hands from cracking if applied regularly. With the added bonus of lasting longer, grapeseed sprays can be made into larger quantities. This product will make sure that your skin is well oiled and supple and smells delightful.

I hope you find enchantment in your summer and your gardens. Remember, most herbs fare better in pots as they need to be well drained, so if you have not got a garden you can still enjoy the herbs. Dried herbs and floral essential oils can be purchased in many shops now, so don't miss out on having a happy aromatic summer.


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About Barbara Payne

Barbara Payne taught clinical aromatherapy in various hospitals in the North of England, for School of Health, University of Hull, and was principal of an IFA and IFPA accredited college of clinical aromatherapy, for many years. She served as an inspector and examiner and was Chair of Education for the ISPA, (now IFPA). Barbara had regular interviews with BBC radio and appeared on national television occasionally and lectured annually for the RHS. Having contributed to Positive Health over many years, Barbara has now decided to retire from her PH Expert Regular Column after Issue 154 in Jan 2009. She can be reached on Tel: 01482 835358;


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