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   May 29

Pick and mix for natural beauty

On a farm in Devon, Jini Reddy learns how to make skin cream and fragrances from natural ingredients

I’m crouching low in a grassy meadow, inspecting plantain, nettles, cleavers and ivy with forensic intensity, but I’m not here to hunt for food or medicine – I am foraging in the name of beauty. The herbs are ingredients for recipes I’ll be concocting on a one-day introduction to natural skincare and perfumery.

Taking place on the 300- acre organic Trill Farm, on the Devon-Dorset border, the farm’s owner is Romy Fraser, the founder of Neal’s Yard Remedies – a woman who clearly knows a thing or two about natural ingredients.

Though she leaves the skincare course in the hands of natural beauty practitioner Amanda Cook, Fraser is very much the guiding force behind it. When she sold Neal’s Yard in 2006 she bought the farm to focus on showing others how to live sustainably.

Alongside offerings to the public on herbal medicine, carpentry, bee-keeping and nutrition, she also helps others to run horticulture and livestock businesses on the farm.

So where does skincare fit into all of this? “It works because we’re using the resources of the land,” says Fraser. “It’s easy to make skincare and hair products for ourselves using ingredients from the kitchen and garden in the same way that we enjoy cooking and knowing what our body best thrives on.”

Back in the meadow, American-born Cook tells us she has been a beauty-product junkie her whole life, but was put off by conventional shop-bought cosmetics. “Once I started experimenting with making my own I was amazed at how easy it was. It really made me question what I was buying. Not only are store-bought products often filled with chemicals and overpriced, but most of the marketing is focused on making you feel bad about yourself,” she says. “I want to teach people to do what our great-grandmothers did. When you look back at old recipe books, they are full of local ingredients that kept the family feeling and looking good.”

Our group of six fills Cook’s cloth bag with herb booty: the thin, ribbed anti-inflammatory plantain leaves; cleansing and detoxifying cleavers, which, unlike their clunky name, are slight and delicate-looking; furred, prickly nettles for “toning, tightening and nourishing”; and sturdy forest-green ivy, which is meant to be good for improving the appearance of cellulite (cue a bout of energetic ivy-plucking).

“When you’re making a product you need to ask yourself a few questions,” says Cook, when we’ve adjourned to the workshop. “Who are you making it for? How old is the person? What kind of skin do they have? What climate do they live in? The answers will impact on what ingredients you use.”

We’ll be making a cleansing balm, facial toner, facial oil, skin cream and fragrance. The ingredients are a combination of store-cupboard and herbal staples, among them olive and sunflower oil, essential oils, beeswax for blending and setting, the foraged leaves and, in the case of our perfume, vodka.

As for those who worry about the shelf life of natural beauty products, it is a trade-off. “Because you’re not using all the preservatives, the products won’t last as long,” says Cook. “Any product with water in it will have a shorter shelf life. If you want long-lasting products, stick to oil-based recipes like facial oils, balms, oil cleansers, bath oils and bath salts. These will last for at least a year or maybe longer.”

We set about making a hot cloth cleanser to rival a popular commercial one at a fraction of the cost. “Making a cleansing balm is really about combining oil and beeswax,” she says. “You can choose oils according to your skin type, but make sure you substitute ones with the same general thickness.’

We first macerate the plantain leaves in sunflower oil and strain it – it smells unbelievably fantastic, like Sunday roasted vegetables (but don’t worry, your skin won’t smell like that). Then we mix this macerated oil with castor oil (thick but drawing and drying), shea butter (vitamin-rich and good for skin damaged by pollution) and beeswax, and gently heat the lot over a bain-marie, before pouring it into individual jars.

Next we add minute quantities of essential oils – I choose jasmine, geranium and lavender for their aroma and because they’re meant to soothe mature and dry-to-normal skin.

It’s entrancing watching the little jars harden up and become a hotshot product. Before long, we’ve moved on to a stress-relief body cream. This looks deceptively easy but it requires a bit of patience – to blend water and oil mixtures (including an ivy infusion and macerated nettle oil) smoothly. “The trick is to ensure they’re both at the same temperature,” says Cook.
The alchemical moment when the concoction turns a creamy white is magical. With the addition of essential oils, I have a lotion that is rich, creamy, deliciously scented – and every bit as alluring as the expensive organic shop products.

After a delicious farm-fresh lunch prepared by Trill’s chef, the award-winning nutritionist Daphne Lambert, Fraser joins us for a spell of fragrance-making. But is it really possible to make a perfume to rival the seductive, swoony scents that we find so irresistible?

Absolutely, she says: “First you decide what mood or season or feeling you’d like to evoke and then you think about what oils you want in it. It helps to build up a memory of smells – it’s a way of creating a vocabulary for making fragrance.”

Robbie Price, the lone male in our group, jokes that he’d like a “man scent” that reminds him of a good beer. I want something fresh and citrusy, though I’m slightly worried I’ll end up smelling of kitchen cleaner.

It’s a tricky process – we test various blends by tipping them onto paper sticks, sniffing, taking notes, adding or subtracting drops and retesting, all the while recording ratios of oils. Before long I feel a desperate urge for fresh air but then I get my second wind and, several drops of vodka, grapefruit, lime and Litsea essentials oils later, I am dabbing away enthusiastically on my wrist.

“For my skin I’ve always followed the well-trodden path of ‘the more expensive, the better the product’,” says Jessica Williamson, a human resources manager from Kent, “but I’m now a complete convert to home-made products.” As are we all.


Soothing hot cloth cleanser (makes 100g)
25g castor oil (less if you have very dry skin)
25g sunflower oil
30g shea butter
20g beeswax
7 drops rosemary essential oil
7 drops eucalyptus essential oil
6 drops lavender essential oil
Handful of fresh plantain leaves
Little jars to package the cleanser

Make the plantain-infused oil : Put the plantain leaves in a bain-marie, and cover with sunflower oil. Heat gently for at least 30 minutes (up to one hour), and then strain off the oil and reserve. Make sure to squeeze out the leaves, since a lot of oil will remain in the leaves.

Make the balm : In a bain-marie, combine castor oil, 25g of the plantain-infused sunflower oil, shea butter, and beeswax. Stir until beeswax and shea butter are melted. Remove from the heat.
Stir in essential oils. Pour into jars. Let cool. Then close with a lid, and label (product name, ingredients and date) Each jar of cleanser should last for one year.

How to use : Scoop out some cleanser and rub it between your fingers to melt. Massage into face and remove with a warm washcloth.
Spring detox body cream (Makes about 500ml)
250ml of distilled water
1 tsp vegetable glycerine
175ml sunflower oil
75g coconut oil
25g beeswax
Handful of fresh nettles
Handful of fresh ivy leaves
30 drops juniper essential oil
10 drops lemon essential oil
2 drops black pepper essential oil
Stick/immersion blender (or strong arms and a whisk)
A container to store your finished body cream

Make the nettle oil : Put the olive oil and nettles in a bain-marie, and heat gently for at least 30 minutes. Strain off the oil and reserve for use in the recipe. Squeeze out the nettles to get all of the oil.

Make the ivy infusion : In a heat-proof jug, pour just-boiled distilled water over the ivy leaves, cover, and let infuse for 10 minutes. Strain and reserve the liquid for use in the recipe.
In a bain-marie combine the nettles-infused olive oil, coconut oil and beeswax and heat gently until melted.
Remove the oils from heat and let cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, combine the ivy infusion and glycerine in a glass measuring jug.
The goal is to make the oil and water the same temperature. You can use a thermometer, or you can just estimate it by dipping your finger into each container. I usually wait until both oil and water are at room temperature.
Note: the oil will go white and semi-solid as it cools, this is good.
When the oil and water are at the same temperature, it’s time to make cream. The process is like making mayonnaise. Start blending with the stick blender or whisk. Drizzle in the water slowly while you’re blending. You’ll notice the mixture becoming thick and white as it turns into cream. Add all of the water and make sure to blend it all in. You may want to stop and scrape down the bowl or blender container halfway through.
Once all the water is incorporated and you have a cream, you can add the drops of essential oil and stir them through. The cream will thicken as it cools.
Pour the cream into your container(s). It will thicken as it sets. Label the container with the name of product and the date.
Store your cream in the refrigerator. Cream should last up to two months. As with food, if the smell or appearance changes, throw it out and make fresh.
These and more skincare recipes can be found on vintageamanda.com

Source: The Telegraph

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