Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Soothing Sachets

As someone with sensitive eyes and poor sleeping habits, I know what it’s like to suffer from painful and frustrating headaches. When headaches become part of my weekly routine, however, I hesitate to pop pills for every minor complaint. Maybe it’s just me, but I really don’t like the idea of swallowing a bunch of chemicals each time my head hurts—and I like the idea of becoming dependent on those chemicals even less. So as of late, I’ve tried exploring more natural headache remedies: drinking water, a cool washcloth on the forehead, lying down in a dark, cool room. Each of these remedies helps ease minor headaches, so I can save the pills for the rare but potent ones.

One of my new favorite headache remedies is an herbal pillow. Certain herbs can have a soothing effect when you inhale them or rub the oils on your skin—and Carla Emery knows just which ones to use. Whether it is for curing a nagging headache or keeping your closet smelling fresh, Carla Emery has fantastic tips for making your own sachet or herb pillow.

What is a sachet?

Basically, these are cloth “pillows” made to hold dried, crushed herbs and flowers. Sachets are tiny bags for scenting clothing, sheets and pillowcases, or stationery—one usually places them in a drawer or closet to transfer a pleasant fragrance to the other items in the enclosed space. Herb pillows are several times larger and are traditionally used to overcome a sickroom smell and soothe nerves.

What herbs should I use?

You can experiment to get your favorite scent. Lavender is traditional, but don’t be afraid to try other mixtures. Lilac, rose petals, sweet peas, mint, rosemary, and thyme are all suitable. Or use lavender, sage, peppermint, and lemon balm in some combination, or sage, peppermint, and lemon balm without lavender. If you are making sachets intended to keep moths away, try a mixture of the insect-repellent herbs: cotton lavender, mint, rosemary, rue, southernwood, tansy, and wormwood.

The scent, whatever its source, will not last. To renew scent, every couple weeks or so, crush the sachet bag a little between your fingers to break some herbs and expose a new supply of their fragrant oil for scent. The aromatics will eventually run out; sachets need to be refilled at least every year.

Preparing the Contents

Choose a dry morning to collect the herbs and flowers, after the dew has dried. Pick blossoms that have just fully opened early in the day. Avoid roses that have already been fully open for several days or have been in a vase for a week—most of their fragrant oils will be gone.

Collect about four times as much as you expect to need, because the leaves and petals will shrink in drying. Use the petals and buds of flowers only. Pull them carefully from the rest of the flower, which you discard. Dry them away from light, spread them out in a shallow layer on clean paper or cloth, and stir a couple of times a day. Dry to a papery state.

Once your planned ingredients are harvested and dried, mix them and grind to a powder in your spice mill, mortar, or blender/food processor. Add a fixative like orrisroot. If you are making a large quantity of powder at once (more than you need to fill your sachets or pillows) store in a small tightly-lidded bottle in a cool place and protect from the light.

Making the Sachet

Pack the powder into “pillowcases” of cotton, and sew up the open side. You can make a large herb pillow by sewing together two men’s handkerchiefs. You can cover the inner pillow with velvet, gingham, percale, ribbon-trimmed lace, or any other scrap material you have. To hang or pin in place, sew a loop of ribbon or bias tape into one corner as the fourth side is sewn. Just make sure the material and the seams are tight enough so that dust from the contents doesn’t leak out.

Headache Pillow: A Midwestern pioneer recipe. Mix together ½ oz. cloves and 2 oz. each of lavender, marjoram, rose petals, and betony rose leaf. Proceed as above. Sniff to cure your headache.

Herb Sachet: Mix 1 part each dried sweet basil, dried thyme, dried marjoram, and dried rosemary leaves. With this one you don’t need any fixative.

To Ease Melancholy and Put You To Sleep Pillow: Mix 2 oz. rose petals, 1 oz. mint, and ¼ crushed clove for pillow.

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