It’s been a while since I posted, have I mentioned spring is a busy time?  The local Farmer’s Market opened in Boonville a few weeks ago, and while the cold spring has put a damper on my early garden, I have still been bringing my jams and body care products, which have all been well received by customers who are just as anxious for an excuse to get out into the spring sunshine as me!  My favorite thing to do this time of year is go for a wildflower walk, here is some of what I’ve found lately:  

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Dutchman’s Breeches, adorable!

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Spring Beauty, I’m lovin’ those pink stamens

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Erythronium albidum

 

The final flower in the series, white fawn lily, was a new find for me last year.  Someone contacted me after seeing a photo I took on Flick’r, asking me to send them a specimen as they are doing research on the species.  I haven’t found enough of them to feel comfortable digging one up however, so I think I will leave them in peace.  

Here’s hoping you are all out making the most of and enjoying the spring!

April Showers

Rainbow!

Rainbow!

Okay, this photo was actually taken in March, but it still applies today as I listen to the hail pounding on our roof. These are no gentle spring rains we’re having now, the creeks are churning and swollen with debris. We showed 2 inches in our rain gauge this morning, but I’m sure we had more than that as the wind probably blew the gauge around a bit.  Storm totals in our area are  rumored to be 4-6 inches, and tornadoes were reported south of us.  The Midwest might not always be at the bleeding edge of culture (and living on a country road as I do only exacerbates matters), but the weather is never dull out here! They have a saying that really is true here in Missouri: If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes and it’ll change.  From one year to the next, conditions are very different too.  Notice how brown the land is in the above picture.  Soil temps are only in the 50’s.  Last year was a whole different story.  I’m a little concerned about the seeds I sowed last week.  Have they been washed away by the torrent?  Time will tell, I may have to re-sow the whole bed of greens and radishes.  If I were really on top of things I would have mulched immediately, but nobody’s perfect, right?

 

Unscented cream

Unscented cream

I was approached by someone on Etsy a few days ago with my first custom order request!  She had dry sensitive skin and wanted me to make her an unscented cream. As a woman who lives in a world of scent (admittedly both pleasant botanical scents, and unpleasant animal and kid related scents), I was mystified at first, why would you NOT want scent?   Once I held the cream in my hands, I was won over by its simplicity and purity.  Here, after all, is a gentle nourishing balm for any number of sensitive individuals: anyone whose nerves are fried and overwhelmed by our hectic and often overstimulating world.  Consider it a blank slate upon which you may do whatever you wish:  use it as a primer for use under makeup, or as an unassuming-yet-fortifying overnight moisturizer at day’s end.  Because it includes elasticizing cocoa butter, it would even be suitable to use as a balm for the pregnant belly, and would be gentle enough for baby as well with the inclusion of healing calendula oil.  It would work as well for men who don’t want to smell like a French whore OR like that nasty smelling stuff with the awful misogynistic commercials we’ve probably all seen (so…hot women are inexorably drawn to smells that could strip the paint off a wall, dull lackluster attitudes, and painstakingly messy hair does?  Mmmmkay), but would still like something to smooth on after shaving.  So versatile, a quality which I value more and more with the unpredictability of life!

Revival

After the long silence of a brutally cold winter, the cacophony of this spring is outrageously wonderful. Even the nights are conspicuously noisy with the peeping of frogs and the peenting of woodcocks (also known by the adorable name of “timberdoodle”) These unusual birds have such a comical look, with long bills and tubby bodies held up on stubby legs. Each evening a small group of them has been overnighting in my garden, probably drawn to the earthworms, their favorite food.  Bluebirds have returned to our area too, with the brightly colored males sweetly declaring ownership of their chosen perch. They have been showing interest in the birdhouse that my children made with a little help from their papa as well! My chickens have taken notice of the changing seasons too, and we are finally finding eggs in the nesting boxes again after a long hiatus. I am always taken aback by the differences when I crack open the first home grown egg of the year after a long winter of store bought eggs. The shells are thicker, the yolks are dark gold rather than pale yellow, the flavor is rich and delicious with just a little salt and a few drops of Sriracha. Would you like to see a demonstration? Of course you would:

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Store bought egg is on the left, home grown egg is on the right.

Green eggs!

Green eggs!

Notice the green shells of my Ameracauna eggs. This breed is one of my favorites, in fact if I could keep only one breed this would be it! The coloring of the hens is varied, their personalities are friendly, and they are hardy and low maintenance.  And they have the cutest fluffy cheek patches!  It gives them a charming salty-sea-dog sort of look.  Yaaaarrrrrr!   I also have Barred Rocks, New Hampshire Reds, and Cuckoo Marans.  Soon I will be getting more chicks, and maybe I will discover a new favorite breed, but until then these girls are hard to beat!

Ameracauna pullet, Miss Gingersnaps

Ameracauna pullet, Miss Gingersnaps

Perking away…

I have already shared a little bit of my tincturing process with you.  In a nutshell, you take something medicinal or fragrant, soak it in alcohol for a few weeks to a month, then strain it out until you’re left with a potent brew.  But what if you, like me, are short on that most virtuous of virtues, PATIENCE?  Day after day, you wander by those tantalizing bottles with sinister floating bits of whatever material you’re just itching to work with.  You shake them. You open the lid, take a smell.  Hmph, day after day all you smell is booze.  When will this torture END????  Well luckily for us, there is another way:  percolation!
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If you’re thinking that word sounds a bit like the way coffee is made, you’re right.  It’s the same principle, only with alcohol instead of water being used to dissolve the active components and wash them through into the solution.  Percolation was originally a pharmacist’s trick.  I won’t lie to you, it isn’t exactly a beginner’s method and takes a bit of dexterity, and not all herbs will percolate well.  It also won’t work well with small amounts of herb, say less than 2 ounces, since the percolation cone won’t be full enough to provide a uniform column.  But I swear, when it works it’s like MAGIC.  Which is why we all started working with herbs in the first place, so that we could play green witch/magician/alchemist what have you, right?  No?  I digress…

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Love potion!

My first batch was a damiana love potion, which is a story in and of itself.  You can find it for sale here through Poppyswap, a fun website with an emphasis on herbs.  Valentines day was coming up, and I wanted something really special to share with my sweetie, who as I have said is the one who first taught me how to make tinctures.  It would need to be tasty, fun, effective, and safe (which it is, and I am hearing reports back from others who agree!)  I spent days poring over my herbal books, looking up articles, and knitting my brow until finally I came up with the recipe.  And I was running out of time!  Somewhere in my travels I came across this very helpful (but rather long, be forewarned) video and worksheet from Wintergreen Botanicals and the pieces started falling into place.  If you’re short on time, I’ll summarize:

Large perc cone

Materials:

Dry, powdered herb, at least 2 oz for a small percolation cone, at least 4 oz for a large cone

Percolation cone, which can be made if you have steady hands (thanks hubby!) by cutting the base off of a Perrier bottle, large or small.  You will also want to grind the sharp edges off with a dremel or glass appropriate sandpaper.  Save the cap, you’ll need it.

Regular mouth canning jar

2 coffee filters

So to begin, since I suck at math (it’s the only thing Barbie and I see eye to eye on), I will refer you to the above worksheet to work out all you genius calculations so you know how much menstruum (alcohol) you will need and such.  Moisten your herbs with a small amount of alcohol until it is the texture of damp sand, and let it sit overnight.  The next day, you take your damp herb and pack it into the cone, which you have lined with a small cone of coffee filter paper to keep it from rushing out the bottom.  Divide the herb into three additions, packing gently at first, then more firmly, and the final packing fairly firmly with a tamper of some kind, a tincture bottle works nicely.  You want to be sure that the level of the herb is even and flat.  Once it’s all packed you top it off with another piece of filter paper, and top it off with a clean flat stone or something to keep the alcohol from pushing aside your carefully packed herb.  Take the cap off the cone, carefully pour some alcohol over the top, and place the perc cone in the mouth of the canning jar.  If you’ve done it right, eventually the alcohol will come out the bottom, now you put the cap back on.  It might take a minute or two to start dripping.  You should be able to see the fluid descending in an even, uniform band through the herb.  Adjust the tightness of the cap until your drip rate matches the tempo of “Stars and Stripes Forever” (according to the brilliant Michael Moore, one of my favorite herbalists and the man many credit with reviving the lost art of percolation)  Now you wait for a matter of hours, NOT  weeks or months!  Unless it doesn’t work, in which case you just dump the whole mess into a jar and do your tincture the old fashioned way, maceration 🙂
Keep checking back on my Poppyswap page, where I will be adding new tinctures in the upcoming weeks!

Kodama

Kodama solid perfume

Today I’ll be talking about the first scent blend I conceived. I had been studying and using essential oils for several years already at the time, but hadn’t really strayed beyond mixing two or three oils at a time. Which is nice, as far as it will take you. Sometimes what you have to say can’t be compressed into a tidy little soundbite however. Spending time in nature has always been an important source of inspiration for me, right from early childhood when my parents would take me on camping trips along the Oregon coast in our musty wall tent. The sights, sounds and smells of those excursions are with me still, the dazzling sunlight glinting off the waves on a rare sunny day, the silken mist wrapping itself around me on a more common foggy day, the crash of the surf, the cascading song of the wood thrush, the luxurious cushion of moss covering nearly every surface of the forest floor.

The wonderfully wild Oregon coast

After moving away from my beloved coastal forests, I was filled with longing for those craggy, misty wild places I had wandered through. I wanted to create an immersive experience, a scent picture that I could dive into whenever I wished, regardless of whether or not I had the time to go on a long, lazy hike through the woods. To do this I would have to think in a new way, and pull out all the stops, reaching into some new corners of my repertoire.

Guidepost tree

Guidepost tree

I started with one of my favorite aspects of the woods, moss, which was represented by lichenous oakmoss. The absolute is incredibly potent, deep, and dark. To represent the fragrant moist soil, patchouli makes a fine base. I was once repulsed by the smell of patchouli, until I smelled a bottle of beautifully aged high quality oil. It was a far cry from the rough edgy stuff that many people associate with the hippie era. Or perhaps it was me,and not the oil that had changed, and matured somehow. Powdery, earthy, soft, and bitter in a pleasant way. Next the trees themselves would need to be taken into account. For this I chose brightly scented black spruce and rosemary. To bring out the scent of sun warmed tree bark, I used warm scented vetiver. Often when you are in the woods, you will smell intriguing scents which are impossible to pinpoint. Perhaps a hidden wildflower is in bloom, or a tree is seeping with resinous sap where a woodpecker has been prospecting. To bring these into the picture, I turned to clary sage and some cheerful citrus oils.

Kodama scent roller

For my recent reformulation, in a base of jojoba and almond oil, I have added the complex and difficult to classify oil of spikenard. It has been used in Ayurvedic medicine primarily for its sedative properties, and is mentioned in the Bible in the Song of Solomon. I also added the clean, herbal tea tree oil. The oil base has the advantage of showing its top notes with more ease than the solid perfume, which seems a bit more persistent but also heavier.

Shimenawa

The name of this blend is from Shinto folklore, the ancient native religion of Japan. The Kodama are tree spirits, similar to the Dryads of Greek mythology. They are said to inhabit certain trees, and to be able to wander though out the mountains at will. Cutting down such a tree is thought to be a cause of misfortune, and thus these trees are marked with a rope known as shimenawa.

Year of the Horse

il_570xN.566147618_f67j I was never the kind of little girl to play house, with Barbies, or baby dolls so much. Rather I was most definitely a “horse girl.” You know the type, going all starry eyed at the thought of a nice long trail ride off to destinations unknown, just me and my cayuse. Gazing longingly at all the pretty horses scattered in the fields on a country drive. Unable to walk by one who may be standing with their head leaned over a rickety fence, without pausing to offer it a handful of grass from “the greener side”, and stroke its velvety coat.  Please forgive my nostalgic tendencies!

I have very fond memories of the wise, bombproof old mare named Hollywood who took me by the hand through some very difficult times. She was a chestnut quarter horse mare who in her day had been quite the star in the ring.  By the time I met her she had mellowed considerably, but retained a canniness and a confidence that was very reassuring to an insecure preteen whose home life was in fragments due to family illness.  Lifting myself onto her impossibly high back as she waited patiently, and breathing in her smell was a high point in the day. Yes, manure of course, but also oats, hay, musk, leather,and molasses. I love how a scent, like the fresh cut hay smell of the tonka beans I am working with now, has the ability to speak in the language of memory with such ease. Hollywood deserves her own scent blend, I do believe. This seems to be the perfect time to begin blending, with the recent arrival of the Chinese Year of the Horse. According to the tradition, the Year of the Horse brings with it an impetuous, adventurous, and lively energy. It is a time for decisive action.  Hold on to your hats, folks! Yeehaw! This blend brings together notes of fresh cut hay, herbal sagebrush, and animalic botanical musks. For the musk note, I relied primarily on labdanum, amyris, and patchouli.  Carrot seed  surprised me by how well it contributed to the picture, as I am more accustomed to utilizing it for it’s amazing skincare properties rather than its scent.   Clary sage can have a euphoric effect on some people, and has a sun-warmed dry grass fragrance to my nose.  I added a touch of cheerful clementine and sprightly peppermint to give the blend some “wings.”horse skull Two more ingredients which I was very excited to get a chance to use were my handmade tinctures of tonka bean and cleveland sage. I can’t tell you how much I love both of these totally unique scents! Tonka reminds me of many things: hay, and also notes of fine quality lavender and almond extract, or tart cherries. I used just a touch, so as to make this blend not too sweet and still accessible to the cowboys out there! Salvia clevelandii is native to California, a place I called home for many years. Its scent does bear some resemblance to the garden sage to which it is distantly related, but it is very much it’s own thing.  More resinous, less harsh, fuller and with some the edges rounded off…my favorite of the sage scents, or perhaps tied with salvia apiana, the white ceremonial sage variety.  Oh, and maybe pineapple sage too! Isn’t the salvia family wonderful? I really had a blast in the creation of this blend, and hope you will enjoy it.  It is a fairly masculine fragrance blend, but one I have really enjoyed wearing regardless!  I think anyone who has a thing for wide open spaces, sagebrush, and trusty steeds will as well.  Visit my Etsy shop to check it out!

Valentines Day!

Well I’m not quite sure how to begin, so let’s start with today.  Valentine’s Day. 168093775_325af57b48_o
Not a happy day day for a lot of folks, I know.  But I can’t complain, I have a lot of love coming my way and a lot to be thankful for, not the least of which is my studly husband, and awesome crazy kids.  Love is indeed in the air today on this full moon, as I listen to the sounds of our horny, lovelorn pet dwarf rabbit chasing our poor, confused Maine Coon cat about the kitchen.  But enough of that, let me give you a taste of the raison d’etre for this blog, to familiarize you all with the goings on Bellair Farm.  We are a small, chemical free homestead in Central Missouri.  Right now, in the offseason I am keeping busy by launching a natural bodycare line, you can check it out here: Bellair Apothecary

Today I made a fabulous rose cream
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Is there anything more perfectly fragrant than a rose?  Well, maybe the smell of a newborn’s scalp, but few smells can really compete with the Queen of Flowers.  And she is gentle enough for even the most sensitive skin.  One of the featured ingredients in this blend is rose floral wax.  At first glance it bears a striking resemblance to black tar, but when you lean in the smell it, that unmistakably rosy perfume rises to meet your nose.  Floral wax is composed of natural plant waxes, generally from flowers which are too delicate to be steam distilled such as rose, jasmine, and tuberose, and adds fragrance and body to the final product when blended into creams.   Another notable ingredient is rosehip seed oil.  It has wonderful antioxidant properties, and thus is used in many anti-aging formulas.  And the final rose component is rosewater, an ingredient with timeless appeal which was a great favorite of Cleopatra’s.  Rosewater has its origins in ancient Iran, where its use dates back 2,500 years.

To complement the rose’s natural beauty, I have added essential oils of rosewood, clary sage and geranium, as well as rejuvenating carrot seed oil.  I will go into more detail with these ingredients in a another post, but for now I must sign off and figure out how to post this! Wish me luck!

Here’s hoping your Valentines Day is full of love, in it’s many many forms!