Find comfort in these DIY self-care projects straight from the garden
It’s the season for hosting parties, traveling to see family, and making sure each relative receives the perfect present. Between all the indulgent feasts, air miles, and rolls of wrapping paper, it’s easy to stop looking after yourself. Seriously, who has the time? Not Stefani Bittner and Kylie Flanagan of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Homestead Design Collective. When days are hectic at the landscape design firm or there’s just too much going on at home, they pluck ingredients from their backyards and whip up simple tonics and salves bursting with vitamins and healing properties.
“The winter garden can be really beautiful and abundant in nutrient-rich plants,” says Bittner, who points to calendula, citrus, parsley, and radicchio as some of her favorites. She often shares what she reaps either as-is, at the table, or incorporated into a simple restorative blend she’s developed with Flanagan.
Try these yourself, using the DIY guide that follows. A light and refreshing salad with dark leafy greens may calm cravings for sweets. A tart and tangy apple cider–based tonic packs immunity-boosting ingredients (bottoms up!). A scented beeswax-based skin soother goes on silky smooth and makes a buzzworthy stocking stuffer for gardeners and non-gardeners alike. For the feet, a good hot soak of citrus, coconut milk, and fragrant herbs awaits weary soles with the promise of utter relaxation. Wrap them up and give them as gifts—and set aside a little something for yourself.
Soothe Your Toes
Our feet do a lot in a day, so take a load off with this relaxing and revitalizing soak. Allow all the colorful and fragrant ingredients—including citrus zest, coconut milk powder, Epsom salts, ginger, and a combination of winter herbs—to work their magic. “When this mixture hits the water, it releases all these scents,” says Bittner. “It’s lovely and soothing.” And it isn’t just for achy arches—feel free to mix into a full tub to steep your entire body. Adding to its versatility, the concoction triples as a gentle exfoliating scrub in the shower. Bittner assures us that it’s easy on sensitive skin, but test it with a small amount first.
Pick enough grapefruits, lemons, limes, oranges, or tangerines to cover a cookie sheet with slices. Clean and thinly slice the fruit.
Place slices on a cookie sheet in the oven at 170°, and bake until they are fully dehydrated. Let them cool, then break them up in a coffee grinder or food processor until they resemble a fine dust. (A few chunks are okay.) To speed up the process, you can also order dried citrus wheels online (see “Front-Door Delivery,” at right), or just add fresh slices of citrus to the bath.
In a large bowl, combine 1⁄4 cup of the citrus dust with 1 cup of powdered coconut milk, 2 cups of Epsom salt, 1⁄2 cup of dried calendula petals, 1⁄4 cup each of dried oregano and sage (both finely crushed with your fingers), and 2 teaspoons of powdered ginger. Store dry mixture in an airtight glass jar.
Pour 1⁄4 cup of the bath blend into a basin of hot water. Step in, take a deep breath, and enjoy!
Missing something or can’t find what you’re looking for at your local grocery store or farmers’ market? Purchase dried and fresh ingredients online at Mountain Rose Herbs (mountainroseherbs.com) and BellaViva Orchards (bellaviva.com).
Winter is synonymous with cold and flu season. You can be armed and ready with a trusty fire-cider elixir to ease your symptoms. “It sounds intimidating, but it’s the easiest thing to make,” says Bittner. “You simply chop or slice all the ingredients and then let Mother Nature do the infusing.” Each ingredient brings something healthy to the table. For instance, raw local honey helps tame a sore throat, studies indicate turmeric has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities that are good for runny noses, and ginger has been used in Chinese medicinal practices for thousands of years for everything from soothing an upset stomach to suppressing a nasty cough. And, of course, horseradish is quick to clear the sinuses. Drink as a shot at the first sign of sickness, or tame this zesty brew by mixing a couple spoonfuls into a cup of hot water, tea, or juice.
Fill a 1.5-liter airtight glass jar with the following gathered, rinsed, and loosely chopped ingredients, layering as you go: 3 to 5 dried arbol chiles, 1 yellow onion, 10 cloves of garlic, 3 to 7 sprigs of fresh rosemary, and one small handful each of fresh thyme and oregano. Next, add 1 sliced lemon, 1 sliced orange (preferably blood orange), 1 grated knob each of ginger and turmeric, and 1⁄2 cup of grated horseradish.
Pour 1 liter of raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar into jar until full to the brim. Seal the jar; place in a cool, dark location; and let sit for three weeks. Check once a week and give the jar a good shake each time.
After three weeks, filter the mixture using a cheesecloth and strainer, and pour liquid into a clean glass jar. Stir in up to 1⁄4 cup of honey (or to taste). Place in the refrigerator where it can be stored for six months to a year.
Turn Over A New Leaf
Bittner likes to think of this salad mix as “a celebration of what’s in season in the garden.” The different textures make it extra inviting, while the splashes of burgundy and red leaves give off a holiday and more-the-merrier vibe. Hardy winter herbs and leafy greens are easy to grow and thrive in cooler temperatures—plus they’re rich in vitamins and minerals. Parsley and chervil in particular are said to be especially good for you, as they may promote a healthy liver and better digestion. “It’s so timely,” says Flanagan. “All the bitter, peppery notes are the perfect antidote to rich, sugary foods. They reset the palate.” This is not an exact recipe by any means; rather, a tasty guideline to tossing together your raised beds’ best and most nutritious greens.
In a large serving bowl, combine cut and washed homegrown leafy greens and herbs. We used baby arugula, chervil, chicory, chives, mustard greens, parsley, pea shoots, and sorrel.
Tear larger leaves, and don’t be afraid to include parsley or chervil stems for crunch and added health benefits.
For a fragrant, lip smacking dressing, break up dried calendula, rose petals, and peppercorns (a coffee grinder or food processor will do the trick). Add kosher salt, then whisk into oregano-infused vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. You can also use your own favorite homemade or store-bought vinaigrette.
Toss the herbs with the dressing, garnish with rosemary flowers, and serve immediately.
Salve Your Problems
Cold temperatures can wreak havoc on skin. So look to this ultra-moisturizing edible flower salve for dry and itchy hands. Calendula—often a key ingredient in baby products—nourishes, hydrates, and soothes. Plus, its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties can speed the healing of minor cuts, scrapes, burns, and insect bites. Fun, easy to prepare, and just plain pretty, this is something everyone can use—whip up a big batch, pour into tins, and offer up as gifts at your next get-together. (But keep one for yourself to have at the ready.) With a long shelf life, there’s no rush to use it up quickly. “It’s the perfect way to take care of winter gardener’s hands,” says Bittner.
Fill a small glass jar (a pint will do) with collected whole dried calendula flower heads and petals.
Fill jar to the top with sweet almond oil—olive, avocado, or jojoba also work well. The level of oil above the flowers should be about an inch since the petals will expand as they soak up the liquid. Seal the jar with a tight-fitting lid, shake, and store near a warm, sunny window for 4 to 6 weeks.
When infusion is complete, filter out the bits of calendula using a cheesecloth and strainer, and pour the oil into a clean glass jar.
Place the jar of infused oil into a double boiler or a stainless steel bowl set over a pot with 1 to 2 inches of water. Bring the water to a simmer to gently heat the oil. For every 1 cup of infused oil, add 1 ounce of beeswax to the jar. More beeswax will result in a harder salve (ideal for summer), less beeswax will create a softer product (best for winter). Stir occasionally until beeswax is fully dissolved.
Carefully pour hot salve into 1⁄2-ounce or 2-ounce tins. Sprinkle dried calendula petals into the salve before it hardens and let cool completely.
For all your beeswax needs, order online from Stakich (from $11 for a 16-oz. block; stakich.com). No matter where you buy, look for a cosmetic-grade variety that’s filtered and free of any additives to avoid the taint of pesticides and impurities.