Rekindle your creativity . . . . Reconnect to the natural world

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The Natural Choice: Why You Should Make a Herbal Balm.

make your own herbal salve

We live in a fast paced world where multi national companies dictate our behaviour.  Most of the lotions, potions, balms and salves that we put on our skin are synthetic, produced in factories, marketed stoutly at our insecurities.

Yet one of the most effective things that we can put on our skin is a simple herbal balm - a straightforward mix of herbs, oil and beeswax - that has been proven over millennia of use. 

Here is why I think that everyone should have a go at making their own herbal balm. 

There's nothing better than nature's healing touch:

Herbal balms are crafted from plant-based ingredients known for their therapeutic properties. From calendula and rose to comfrey and chamomile, plants have been used for thousands of years, in various cultures, to address a wide range of health concerns, handed down from generation to generation. What else has that kind of pedigree. 


The best way to make a herbal balm is to take your time, to soak the plants in the oil for weeks before straining them out and mixing the oil with wax. During those weeks you gently tend the mixture, stirring it, checking it every few days.  It is a slow though very simple process that makes you pay attention.

Gentle and safe:

Unlike many synthetic products, herbal balms are kind to your skin. They contain no harsh chemicals, artificial fragrances, or preservatives that can irritate or harm your skin. Balms made from gentle plants like calendula are suitable for all skin types, even babies.

You can customise your balm:

Herbal balms are really versatile. Obviously you can change about the plants you are using for different benefits but, if you make your own balms you can also vary the consistency by changing ratio of wax to oil. Technically a balm is quite thick - think lip balm - and a salve (from the Old English sealf) is thinner, like an ointment. You can decide exactly what kind of texture you would like. Balms can be used to soothe chapped skin, treat insect bites, bumps and bruises; salves are useful for massaging sore muscles and moisturising skin. You can also play about with the oils - something like jojoba oil has fine particles and can be used on your face, almond oil is a lovely neutral base, olive oil feels much more medicinal as though it must be doing you good!

Sustainable and Eco-Friendly:

Homemade herbal balms are really sustainable, there are only three ingredients and they can be made in the kitchen, reusing existing packaging.  You can make whatever quantity you need, you can tweak it if it doesn't come out the way you wanted, and any left overs can be stored to make a new batch.

Revolution and Resistance:

Learning to make your own balms from plants is a kick against consumerism, especially in the world of skincare, wellbeing and cosmetics.  Building skills, reconnecting to traditional methods, pausing to make something, rather than simply clicking BUY NOW.

I have a tutorial about how to make balm here 


make your own balm craft kit

If you would prefer to have a kit with all the supplies you need, along with a written guide and video instructions you can buy that here.



Dyeing a silk camisole with fresh indigo leaves

Last month, heading clockwise around Killearn's Open Gardens I met a friend who was going anti-clockwise.  

We stood and chatted on the pavement, about gardens and textiles and how she had grown indigo last year but hadn't done anything with it.  It seemed complicated to build a vat and, by the time she had done the reading and got all the bits together, the frost had come and her indigo plants were mushed and spoiled.  

She had decided to give it a miss this year.

I have a lot of indigo growing in the garden and poly tunnel - it was much easier than I had anticipated and all the seedlings germinated and grew happily.

I know that if I decide to process them into a vat I will dither and lose time and then head off on holiday knowing that there is a high chance of frost while we are away.

So instead I have been buying up pre-loved silk camisoles, scarves and blouses and using the salt rub method to turn them into clothes fit for a mermaid.

vintage silk camisole drying

I'm sharing a step by step tutorial here on how to dye a silk camisole with fresh leaf indigo.  

I took a lot of what I do here from this video of a Japanese woman dyeing a silk scarf with indigo.

Other excellent online resources are produced by Liz Spencer The Dogwood Dyer.


Harvesting dyer's chamomile from the dye garden

butterfly on dyer's chamomile flowers

As I walk down to the Studio in the morning the grass is wet, the sweet scent of damp earth hovers between the hedges, small orange brackets fungi sprout from the sides of the raised beds.

The apples on the feral apple trees that surround The Studio are red and ripening. 

These trees, carefully chosen heritage varieties, were  planted the month we moved in and immediately eaten to the ground by the deer who live by the river. Then, a decade later, they rose out of the sprawling brambles, mature trees nursemaided back to health by prickly stems that kept the deer away. 

Yet another example of how the natural world works so much better without my interference.

The flowers in the dye garden catch the tune of harvest time and all open at once - dyer's chamomile, french marigolds, sulphur cosmos, dahlias, tansy - every day there are new flowers to pick and preserve.  


How to create colour with fresh leaf indigo

dyeing with fresh leaf indigo

This year I have been growing indigo in my garden and in an upcycled polystyrene fish box in the greenhouse.  

Indigo refers to a number of plants and the actual variety that I am growing  is called Persicaria tinctorial or Japanese indigo.  It is a tender perennial and will not survive the frost.  Here in the middle of Scotland we have frosts up until the middle of May so I am growing indigo as a half hardy annual - exactly the same way that I grow amaranthus or cosmos.

I started by sowing seeds in February and March - using a heated mat to germinate them and then growing them on in the greenhouse, covering them with fleece on cold nights.  They went out into the garden in May and I began cropping last week.

The amount of indigo that I am growing is relatively small and a lot of leaves are needed to create pigment, so, rather than make a vat, I have decided to use the fresh leaves, along with salt, to colour fabric.

You can see how I get on and learn more about the technique in this Studio Vlog

Make a knitted loop scarf from your stash

free knitting pattern striped loop scarf

This year I am intending to be much more intentional about my winter wardrobe.

Last year, despite the fact that I was often layered up to the point of immobility, I kept getting cold in The Studio where the only heat is a small wood burner. It was rather miserable and I ended up working in the house a lot of the time. I think that the problem was that I simply didn't have enough really cosy clothes and that once I was cold it was really difficult to get warm again.

So this year I am building up a good pile of woolly socks, mitts, hats and scarves.

This is my favourite kind of scarf - a soft mobius loop that twists in two and stays on. No trailing ends, no falling off into the dye pot. I used scraps from my stash - it is a very flexible pattern so you can tailor it to what you have.

Snapdragon social

A few people have asked for a list of the restaurants in Hvar that we loved best. To be honest we didn’t have a single bad meal - the food is beautifully sourced and cooked, informal, seasonal delicious. But there were a few places that were particularly good. 

First if you are flying into Zadar airport and have time to spend in the town then @konobastomoricazadar is worth a visit. The cuttlefish and chickpea soup/stew was the best thing I’ve eaten this year. 

In Hvar itself @konobamenego is a cosy restaurant with a great menu of traditional food, including vegetarian options, we shared a plate of marinated fish (eel I think) and then I had courgettes and aubergines in a sweet and sour sauce prepared to a family recipe. Go early as once they are full that’s  it, there is no squashing in extra sittings, the kitchen staff need time off. I loved this. 

Our nearest town was Stari Grad and we lived @antikastarigrad - tables set outside so we could people watch, great food. Celery and smoked mussel soup with pine nuts 👌🏻

The dog is the photo was snapped at #konobahumac - a deserted hilltop village which featured in last week’s Friday film. There is a small restaurant with a wood fired kitchen - you can either order 24 hours in advance for traditional dishes cooked under a dome or have simple grilled meats and salads. Simplicity is wonderful. 

I’ll continue this in the comments.
Back from holiday, looking a little less frazzled than my pre-holiday photo and I'm trying to keep it like that (which is why Instagram posts are now in the afternoon - I'm reading in the morning).
In this week's Friday film I talk about the difficulty that I've always had in not working while on holiday and why that is a great mistake and what changed this year.
For me getting proper rest is important for living my best life.  It isn't a sneaky productivity trick - I don't want to rest on holiday so that I can work more efficiently when I get home.  I want to rest so that I can feel more alive, stand taller, be more vibrant.
I've also added in a film of the sea, a courtyard garden and a deserted hilltop village to show you why Hvar is one of the best places to go if you need a little relaxation.  The link is in stories.

#hvar #mudridolac #smallbusiness
This is a woman who is about to head off on holiday but has packed absolutely nothing.

Today’s Friday film is out - I’ll post the link in stories - and it’s all about why I’m deleting social media apps while I’m away, what is the kind of ‘work’ that I find revitalising on holiday and what stops me relaxing. And a tour of what I actually do day to day (minus the boring bits). 

Here till 5pm today and then away for a couple of weeks. 

Knitting is #heirloomquiltcardigan by @katrynseeburger
I seem to have spent this year writing about plants that have turned out to not be what they were meant to be . .  but that I have grown to love more than whatever it was I thought I wanted.

There were meant to be Hopi black dye sunflowers, Tceqa' Qu' Si, (Helianthus annuus macrocarpus). They clearly are not.

I've never actually grown giant sunflowers - and these tower over the sweet pea tunnel, gawky, heads bowed.

I love them.  The birds will love them even more.
I'm not really a person who is very good at theory.  I'm not enthused by swatches.  I was never good at experiments in science class.

I mean I appreciate the science in botanical dyeing, and I really, really appreciate the people whose brains work that way, but it just isn't me.

I love the process but even more I love the result.

I think that the most obvious example of this is the ongoing knitted blanket - three stripes from every plant that I try dyeing with in the garden.  A record of sorts. The best I can do.

At the moment a lot of the dyeing and making and embroidering that I do is centered around clothes - bought second hand and made more beautiful. I'm inspired by @prophet_of_bloom and @thedogwooddyer and they way they wear their creativity.

I've bought this silk camisole from Vinted (it was described as vintage but I refuse to believe that the 1990s are vintage). I've now dyed it with fresh indigo for my younger daughter, a mermaid blue, gently mottled teal.

The photos of the process are up on my blog - last night I gave it another coat of leaves so I am now waiting for it to dry to check the colour before I post it to Katie.

#botanicaldye #naturaldyeing #prelovedclothes
In the early summer this rose - nicknamed the
This week's all about managing my energy - I go on holiday in a week and traditionally I've been terrible at pacing myself in the run up to a break.
Everything seems to get out of hand and pile up on my desk, leaving me exhausted and crabby. 
This year I'm determined not to let that happen so I'm building in plenty of the things that I know buoy me up into my days - rest, creativity, nature.
The rest and the making are being combined in making squares for the Heirloom Quilt Cardigan - a wonderful pattern by @katrynseeburger - which I'm knitting in a linen/bamboo yarn that I botanically dyed a couple of years ago and have been hoarding ever since.
You can see what I'm on about in stories . . . .
Often people tell me that they would love to learn to dye with plants but they don't have a garden, or they worry about foraging for plants or that they run out of time and never get around to it.
I completely get that. I am the same.  Life is busy and unless things are easy I often let the desire slide.
It is why I am spending time each day drying out the dye plants that I grow here and packing them up into sealable envelopes - each decorated with a drawing.
I want to make it easier for people to try out botanical dyeing with a wider range of plants than is generally available.  So far I've been packing up willowherb and dahlia flowers alongside the more traditional marigold and dyer's chamomile.
I'm not completely sure what form this will all eventually take - kits that make everything easy perhaps, possibly a 'workshop in a box' kind of thing.  I'm currently trying to work out all the practicalities while prioritising making sure the flowers and leaves are packaged properly so that they won't spoil while I work out the details.
At some point, if you are on my newsletter list, you will no doubt get an email with some questions in it! 
But in the meantime let me know what you think - what would you value in a botanical dyeing kit? Help me make something that will inspire people to create something beautiful.

#dyersofinstagram #botanicaldye #botanicaldyersofinstagram #tagetesdye

About Snapdragon Life

At Snapdragon Life I help bring the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

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