At this time of year it is appropriate to reflect that herbs are the most generous of plants, with a cornucopia for gifts for the gardener.
Plant a herb garden and you have at your fingertips plants that flavour food, heal common ailments, lift the spirits, help dull hair to shine, keep pets happy, perfume the home and even inspire us to make our own Christmas gifts.
Yet another gift, that may be overlooked is how herbs can keep the home clean and fragrant in an eco-friendly way.
Concern about the chemicals in household cleaners and their effect on our health, has seen a swing to natural, herbal alternatives. Using herbs along with other natural or less toxic products is inexpensive, effective, and safer for you and your family, your home and the environment.
Here are some simple herbal home care recipes for freshening up the home before you put out the welcome mat for friends and family during the holidays.
Herbs used in cleaning preparations or as air fresheners are the strongly aromatic herbs like lavender, rosemary, thyme, tea tree, lemon grass, lemon verbena, rose scented geranium, the various mints, and chamomile. Most have antiseptic and anti-bacterial properties besides their pleasant or clean fragrance.
Herb garden tips
Add two or more plants per variety, to ensure a steady supply of leaves. Household cleaners are generally made weekly and used fresh, so a lot more herb foliage is used.
When picking the herbs, leave at least two growing nodes on each stem so that growth can re-sprout quickly.
For good healthy growth, these herbs require full sun, regular but not over watering and a diluted liquid feed once a month.
Lavender may need to be replaced every two to three years as it can become woody. By December the spring flowering lavenders (Stoechas and Dentata) should be trimmed down by a third. ‘Margaret Roberts’ lavender flowers continually and can be trimmed between flushes to keep the bush size manageable.
A good addition to the herb garden is a lemon tree. Plant it in a pot and use it as a feature in the garden. Water well once a week and let the soil dry out a bit before watering again. Feed with Multifeed P once a month.
All you need to make a multipurpose scrub, surface cleaner, carpet freshener, and window cleaner is a strong infusion of fresh herbs, or a few drops of essential oil, with one or other common household products like white vinegar, baking soda, borax, liquid dishwashing soap, or salt.
Most of these products are already stored under the kitchen sink or are easily available and affordable.
Besides the products, buy some plastic spray bottles, sponges and a few labels to identify your cleaner. Some of these products, such as the spray bottles, can be reused and recycled.
Making a strong herbal infusion
To make a strong infusion, use double the amount of herb material that you would normally use for making herbal tea. The proportions are 50-50 herb material to water. .
Bring the required amount of water to the boil, take it off the heat and then add the herb. Cover the pot and leave it to steep for about 15 minutes and then strain. It is the amount of herb used and not the length of steeping time that produces the strong infusion.
Keep the container covered at all times to contain the steam and volatile oils.
An infusion can be refrigerated for up to 48 hours.
All purpose surface cleaners
Recipe 1: A mix of 1 part vinegar and 9 parts water will kill germs and clean just about any surface. Substitute a strong herbal infusion for the nine parts water and you have a very effective and fragrant cleaner.
1 cup liquid dishwashing soap
6 cups water
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup strong infusion of thyme, lavender, tea tree, mint/peppermint or lemon verbena.
Mix ingredients together in a cleaning bucket, and use with mop or cloths.
1 cup baking soda
1 tablespoon salt
¼ cup rose geranium leaves or other fragrant leafy herb
Chop up the ingredients using a blender. Sprinkle on area to be scoured, wet slightly, and scrub. Baking soda raises the pH of the cleanser and it can help stop corrosion of taps etc.
Aromatic Carpet Freshener
Sprinkle this mix onto the carpet, leave overnight to absorb odors and dirt and then vacuum.
¾ cup baking soda
¼ cup cornflour
¼ cup lavender flowers or, rosemary leaves stripped off the stems.
Sparkling window/glass cleaner
Combine these ingredients in a spray bottle, spritz onto mirrors and windows and wipe dry.
2 cups lemongrass tea
½ cup vinegar
1 tablespoon cream of tartar (optional)
Quick Pot pourri: fill pretty bowls with any combination of petals, dried leaves, seeds, bark, and citrus peels. Add a fixative (like orris or vetiver root), to hold the scent.
Spritzer: Fill a spray bottle with a strong infusion of your favourite herb and revitalize a room with a quick spritz. Peppermint, chamomile, and lavender work well.
Good to know
- When using a homemade cleaning product, first test it in an inconspicuous area to make sure it won’t stain, fade, or otherwise affect your carpet, upholstery etc.
- To prevent your sprayer from clogging dissolve ingredients like baking soda, etc in hot water before adding to the sprayer.