One of the things I enjoyed most about writing Gifts from the Garden was devising all of the beauty creams, lotions and balms. It made me feel a teeny bit witchy, which I like, but it was also enormously thrifty, which I love.
Most of the projects are made with things from the garden or kitchen cupboards, but some of the ingredients (such as the benzoin tincture used here) required a trip to Baldwins. Even now, with the book deadline a distant memory, I think of excuses to visit. It’s London’s oldest herbalist and has operated on Walworth Road since 1844. Go if you can, to enjoy the sight of shelves filled with jars of dried herbs and flowers and bottles of essential oils. They also have an excellent mail order service if you live further afield and their staff are enormously knowledgeable, patient and helpful. They also stock supplies for soap- and candle-making. I think if I was locked in there for, oh, three or four years, I would be perfectly content.
Fennel & honey face mask
Fennel is a natural astringent. It cleanses the skin and reduces puffiness. In India, gram or chickpea flour is used in many natural beauty treatments as it helps draw impurities out of the skin and is a gentle exfoliant. You can buy it from Asian stores and some supermarkets.
Makes approx. 170g, enough for 4–5 applications.
3 tablespoons fennel seeds, roughly crushed in a pestle and mortar
100g gram or chickpea flour
4 tablespoons runny honey
½ teaspoon benzoin tincture (a natural preservative)
1 jar or pot
Place the fennel seeds in a small pan with 80ml water. Bring to a simmer and immediately remove from the heat. Let the mixture cool and infuse, then strain through a fine sieve. Whisk together with the gram flour, honey and benzoin tincture until you have a thick paste. Spoon into the cold, sterilised jar or pot and seal.
The face mask should be smoothed onto a clean face and neck, left for 15 minutes, rubbed gently into the skin, then wiped off with a facecloth soaked in warm water. Rinse the skin in tepid water and pat dry with a fluffy towel before moisturising.
The face mask will keep in the fridge for 2 weeks.
packaging idea Tuck a soft, pretty facecloth into the package with the jar or pot for a simple, inexpensive but nonetheless thoughtful gift. Include a card with instructions for how to use the face mask too.
Airy fronds of fennel swaying in the breeze are such a pretty sight, and undoubtedly earn Foeniculum vulgare a place in the flower border, let alone the herb bed. Fennel can grow up to 1.5m tall and prefers rich, well-drained soil in a sunny site, though it will tolerate less-than-perfect conditions with fairly good heart. During the summer, keep picking at the fronds to encourage lots of sweet, young leaves. F. v. ‘Purpureum’, or bronze fennel, is less vigorous and has a milder flavour but is equally beautiful. The ripening seeds take on a yellowish shade.
Gifts from the Garden by Debora Robertson (Kyle Books, £16.99) Photography: Yuki Sugiura