Give the Gift of Spa, Straight From the Garden

Megan Van Schaick

lavenderYou may have read my post on lazy gardening, in which I talk about over-planting. I usually do that to both fill out my garden and crowd out weeds. But there’s an added benefit: I have tons of everything, including my favorite herbs, with which to make gifts for the holidays (or sometimes just because).

I love to make little gift baskets for friends and family -- one of those is a spa set. While I sometimes get ambitious and put together a scented sleep mask, sachets, or rice-filled neck warmer, I most often include herbal bath tea, bath salts, salt or sugar scrubs, and infused bath oil.

Can I interest you in a lavender salt scrub?

I know we don’t all grow the same things, so I’ll be making a spa sets using what I grow the most -- but use your imagination! There is no right or wrong way to do it  -- well, except putting sugar in your bath salts, because that leads to all kinds of ugliness. And, if there's an herb that you really would love to use but don’t have on hand, check health food stores and look online because they are all readily available. Just be sure that whatever you use is dried; otherwise, you run the risk of mold and the herbs losing their scent.

Flowering plants that I keep on hand and typically use for spa sets are: lavender, chamomile, anise hyssop, jasmine, rose petals, and catmint (which smells a little like cinnamon).

Others that I typically use include mint, basil, fennel, eucalyptus, rosemary, patchouli, and one of William Faulkner’s favorites: lemon verbena.

How you combine these plants is totally up to you: Experiment and see which combos you like. I like to make a special cold relief blend using eucalyptus, lavender, and lemon verbena. A relaxation blend could include lavender, chamomile, and rose. A stimulating blend might have catmint, mint, patchouli, and rosemary.

Making the actual products is ridiculously easy ... (So I hope no one I know is reading, because they are always dazzled when presented with a basket full.)

tea tinBath Tea -- Put all the herbs in your particular blend into a little tin, and label accordingly: Cold Comfort, Relaxation, etc. There are all kinds of printable labels on the web that are really pretty. Package them together with a mesh tea infuser -- it’s especially nice if you find one with a chain that could actually hang around the bath spot.

Bath Salts -- I like to mix sea salt with Epsom salts, and I also add a bit of baking soda to the mix: This softens the water and acts as a skin conditioner. I usually mix my everything in a 1:3:1/2 ration -- so, one cup sea salt, three cups Epsom salts, a half cup baking soda. To this I add my herb combinations, just like for the tea. And this I do by sense: When it looks and smells good, it’s done. Many people add a few drops of essential oil (rose, for example) to amp up the scent of the salts. Again, I put them in a tin and label them, but there are many many options out there for storage -- one of my favorite resources is Mountain Rose Herbs

sugar scrubSalt and Sugar Scrubs -- Second verse, same as the first -- almost. Pick your herb blend and combine it with either kosher salt plus Epsom salts or turbinado sugar -- the coarse ground stuff you find at natural foods stores. Then you’ll add just enough jojoba or sweet almond oil to make it pasty, seal it in a pretty package and let it go! I advise against using olive oil for this because it can go rancid -- and sometimes has a pretty strong smell of its own.

Infused Bath Oils -- These can double as massage oils or even deep conditioning oil for hair, which can be great given as a set all on their own. I use the hot method for this. There is a cold method, but it can take up to eight weeks to complete the infusion process. I like to use my slow cooker to make my oils because it provides a long heating time, versus heating on the stove-top (which you can still do, as long as you use a non-reactive pot). Cover the herbs completely with the oil (again, go with sweet almond or jojoba) and add two inches. Sloooooooowly heat the mixture -- ideally the oil would heat for close to three hours. Overheating will destroy the oils you are trying to extract, so use the gentlest method you have. Let the oil cool and then strain into containers and seal.

That's all there is to it. See? I told you, it's ridiculously easy. Find or make pretty packaging and you've got a knock-out gift every time -- and one that you grew yourself.


Images (from top to bottom) via Swami Stream/Flickr,, Kurki15/Flickr

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