Pieces of April

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April 2, 2015 by Judith Liebaert

The climate in my northern realm usually puts us about a month behind the adage, April showers bring May flowers, but every so often we’re blessed with a good year; this year is holding promise to be just that. The snow melted away nearly a month ago and the frost has worked it’s way out of the ground. Green shoots are poking up in the flower beds.

violets and lilly of the valleyI spent the morning in my gardens, picking windblown leaves from around emerging daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, rhubarb, wild strawberries and mint. I can barely wait to pick my first bunches of violets and fragrant lilly-of-the-valley to fashion into fairy bouquets, though their bloom time is a good six weeks away.

It felt good to be scratching in the soil again after a long winter. By noon, I kicked off my shoes and socks to reacquaint my feet with mother earth—Gaia’s spirit and mine connecting. Barefoot, I padded around my little acre checking for signs of green life.

April is a month of transition, a wild woman changing her moods with capricious will. Rain turns to sleet, then to fluffy flakes and back again to rain—all in a matter of minutes. Sun and sixty degrees mid-morning gives way to a cold chill on the wind and thunderstorms rolling in by late afternoon. A late season blizzard can bring two feet or more of snow; with the only consolation knowing that it will melt away in a day or two.

Geranium leafNo matter the unpredictable weather, April holds the promise of summer ahead. I found that promise in the bright green leaves of my wild geranium, rocketing up from the soil in a sunny southwest corner of the garden. They were pungent with the spicy, concentrated sap of spring. I plucked a handful of the leaves to whip up a batch of my Gardener’s Hand Scrub.

I’m co-teaching a class on using garden variety flowers, herbs and plants in home remedies. Though technically not a remedy, making a scrub is entry level herbalism. I want to bring samples for the students, so the little handful of wild geranium leaves was a happy surprise; they’ll add a clean, refreshing scent to my Gardener’s Hand Scrub.

I keep a jar of hand scrub by my kitchen sink all year round, but I especially appreciate it when I’ve given my hands a good workout in the yard or garden (I don’t wear gloves as often as I should). The grit of the sugar or salt powers off the grime, exfoliates my hands and cleans up my cuticles, while the oils condition my skin and nails. I just scoop out about a teaspoon full and work it into my dry hands, scrubbing and massaging, especially around my cuticles, then thoroughly rise with warm water and pat dry with a soft towel.

Basic Sugar or Salt Scrub

  • 1 cup of sugar, sea salt or Epsom salt.
  • Approximately 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon vitamin E oil
  • 1 or more Tbs of aromatic herbs of choice, chopped.

Pour about 1/4 cup of sugar or salt in food processor, add herbs and pulse until herbs are finely chopped. This will result in super fine sugar or salt, and depending on the moisture content of the plant material it may become  pasty. Remove mixture from processor and add to remaining salt or sugar, stirring to incorporate. Add vitamin E oil. Add olive oil (start with about half the amount) and stir all together. Continue adding oil until the mixture reaches consistency of thick paste. Place in a clean jar or other container with tight lid. If it seems too dry, add more oil. Too loose, add more sugar or salt.

It isn’t necessary to use a processor; you can make your scrub by simply mixing the sugar or salt, oils and aromatic herbs in a bowl. I like the method above for breaking down the plant matter and releasing the volatile oils.

So what’s the difference between salt and sugar in a scrub? Sugar is a more gentle exfoliant because the shape of the grains are more rounded, less sharp that salt. The glycolic acid in sugar moisturizes and conditions skin. Sugar scrubs are also stickier than salt scrubs. Salt not only offers a more vigorous exfoliation, it also contains beneficial minerals; salt has long been used for purification and healing, though it can be more drying than sugar. Can’t decide which one to use? Mix it up with a half of each.

You might also try putting all of the sugar and/or salt into the processor. The superfine consistency results in a very gentle scrub. Your scrub should keep for 4 to 6 weeks (the more plant material in the scrub, the shorter the shelf life; check your scrub often to be sure it isn’t spoiling). Keep it by your sink and use it every day! Try these common herbs and plants in your scrubs:

  • Mint leaves
  • Marigold petals
  • Rose petals
  • Lemon balm
  • Citrus zest (may shorten shelf life)
  • Lavender (buds or leaves)
  • Cedar

Try combining two or three for your own, custom aromatic blend.

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