Books and Botanicals (and beauty)

Books and Botanicals (and beauty)

You know I sometimes like to use an Insta hashtag for blog post titles…

Anyway, a little bit of scene-setting to begin: I’m sitting at the kitchen table. It’s a wild island morning and the wind’s howling around the house. The boughs of the cherry tree in the garden are being blown this way and that, and beyond the stream the big spruce is waving and swaying. The little steep staircase behind me which leads to ‘the maid’s room’ (no pretensions on my part, it’s how a local described it to me) has a skylight at the top and the driving rain sounds like someone’s tipping handfuls of marbles onto the glass.

There are one or two new additions to my plant collection: an unusual geranium with slightly oval-shaped leaves which I’m told turn bronze in autumn, and an evening primrose. The latter was offered to me following a conversation about the ‘Plants with Purpose’ area of the walled garden at the castle. Both were free; surplus stock from their polytunnel (I did the Snowdrop Walk last week and they give bulbs and pots of growing things to those willing to brave the February weather) and I’ve been assured that should I want any more geranium cuttings I should just go along and ask. I’ve also moved my jasmine - again, gifted from the castle but this one came home with me a year ago - into a hanging ceramic pot which is suspended by the window.

I know I’ve mentioned writing a post about natural skincare and beauty products. I try to use them as much as possible - and to avoid chemical-laden items when I can - for a number of reasons. Firstly, I really don’t like synthetic scents. I couldn’t buy one of those plug-in air fresheners you see advertised on TV; a childhood memory of those traffic light car air fresheners (‘Feu Orange’?) making me feel decidedly travel sick always returns when I smell artificially-scented things.

Secondly, I’d prefer to use products which haven’t been tested on animals. That goes for all the ingredients too. Thirdly, anything we use on our skin is absorbed into our skin. I’d rather use botanical-based items which are a) less harmful and b) actively beneficial. I do have allergies and I’ve mentioned autoimmune issues a few times in the past. Autoimmunity is a very complicated condition: the causes, the symptoms, the treatment. One illness often leads to more. It isn’t curable but it can be managed and even put into remission but this requires an incredibly restrictive diet as well as lifestyle changes (gentle exercise, management of stress) and careful supplementation. You’re often alone unless you can afford to see (and travel to) a functional practitioner on a regular basis. Flare-ups happen. Figuring out what triggers them is a matter of deduction and is often baffling as you start getting into the realms of cross-reactions and of seemingly harmless things suddenly becoming problematic once combined with other usually tolerated foods or chemicals. But that’s a whole other blog post which I’ve got no intention of writing. Because living with autoimmunity - dealing with it, reading about it, trying to somehow fix it - is enough. It’s a lot.

So, returning to all things floral and indulgent: what do I like to use? Well, I’ve always been a soap and water kind of girl. And it’s very easy to get hold of natural soaps with glycerine and oatmeal and all kinds of natural good stuff inside. Exfoliating, moisturising, calming, invigorating… Lots of people make their own, and sometimes sell at craft fairs and the like. Here on Skye we have a lovely shop in Portree and they sell so many beautifully-scented soaps, sliced from long blocks and prettily packaged. And if, like me, you have a bit of a thing for soap and treat yourself when you get a sniff of a particularly irresistible one, just keep them in your clothes drawers until you’re ready to use them in the bath.

Speaking of baths, I like to add a handful or two of magnesium salts (beneficial, as they’re absorbed into the body and are great for improving sleep) along with a sprinkling of essential oil. My favourites are geranium, rose, lavender and grapefruit. There are very few bad days that a hot bath with salts and aromatherapy oils can’t fix.

Jay bought me some shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, and a pack of soaps at Christmas time, all from Faith in Nature. Most health food shops stock this brand and they smell lovely. They’re not prohibitively expensive as many natural brands can be; the higher-end producers make some truly lovely cosmetics and toiletries but not everyone can afford to stock up exclusively in the beauty halls of department stores (or even that glossy posh bit of M&S with the French perfumes and ‘iconic’ miracle creams. I do like to loiter but usually come away feeling a bit inadequate and, well, poor. Have I somehow failed in life that I can’t justify purchasing a £22 lip liner?)

Moving on… Other brands I like and, more importantly, actually use:

Burt’s Bees (hand cream and lip balms)

Earth Mother Soul Sister (Joanna and Rachel’s beautiful shop is in Ramsbottom, my old stomping ground: their own-brand moisturisers are especially effective and smell heavenly - and last for ages)

Magic Organic Apothecary (facial oil, cleansing balm, bath oil)

Tisserand (perfume, essential oils)

Aqua Oleum (essential oils).

There is, of course, a big discount shop which sells lots of branded items and they stock many organic and vegan lotions and potions; well worth exploring next time you’re in a big town.

I do aspire to make my own beauty products too. Calendula balm has always appealed, and I’d like to fill muslin bags with fresh herbs for tying under running bathwater. Hopefully as the year progresses I’ll have a go.

Which brings me to the ‘Books’ part of this post.

I love to read about plants and flowers; identifying them, discovering historical names for them, reading about habitats and, of course, uses. I’m particularly partial to secondhand books. There’s a charity shop in Inverness with a wonderful selection of 1970s and early 1980s plant guides which look right at home in our Tom and Barbara-style kitchen (woodchip wallpaper, pine dresser, stoneware pots, wellies strewn about in the general direction of the door).

But I also enjoy discovering books at the library, particularly when they’ve been rotating titles with other branches. They’ve got lots of lovely hardback reads all about natural beauty products of the make-your-own variety, complete with dreamily-styled photography and stockist lists for the ingredients. I like reading about natural household and cleaning products too. But unlike the cursed autoimmunity, that is a future blog post.

So. The wind’s still howling. I’m feeling cold. It’s time to get the kettle on and retreat to another room with the laptop and a notebook. I have a lot coming up over the next few weeks: workshops to teach, more to plan as I’ll be running some from a local gallery, and sessions to put together for the upcoming school Eco Day. Yes, I’ll be teaching my own child the art of nature journalling. It’ll be interesting. He says he’ll call me ‘Miss Mummy’.

On the subject of journals, I also want to do some more printmaking for covers as my handmade ones are selling out and I’d like to experiment with different colours. But not today. The workroom is not the place to be on a windy day. The windows are draughty and face north and west. Secondary glazing is going to be an absolute necessity next winter. I just keep looking out at the green shoots - the snowdrops, the daffodils and tulips to follow, and telling myself that spring is on its way.

P.S. In case you’re wondering: I only add links to companies whose products I use, and whose philosophy fits with my own. I don’t receive anything in return. Nothing ‘sponsored’ here :)