Sunday, 9 May 2010

Soothing bath bag how-to

If, like me, you've reached the age where lots of friends have started to have babies, you too may have become intimately acquainted with the newborn ranges on offer on the high street. However, if also like me, you like your presents to be meaningful, charming and sustainable, you might like this how-to on making an all-natural bath bag. I got the concept from another great book - A Slice of Organic Life - but have taken it a step further in the gift presentation.

There are only two main ingredients: oats and dried herbs. You can use any herbs depending on whether you want your bath bag to be relaxing or invigorating, but I used chamomile here for its soothing properties. The oats contain a range of useful elements, including saponins and polysaccharides to produce both a creamy, soapy lather and a protective layer on the skin to prevent drying.

What you will need
  • A jar
  • Oats (rolled oats or oatmeal work equally well - don't use instant porridge oats though!); I used 250g, but it will depend on the size of your jar.
  • Dried herbs - the best source for dried chamomile is actually herbal tea bags. Again, the amount you need will depend on your jar, but I got through 18 tea bags.
  • A rectangle of muslin
  • A needle, thread and some pins
  • Materials for decorating your gift and for making a label

1. Fill your clean, dry jar with the oats and the dried herbs in alternating layers. Easy!

2. Now for the sewing-part!

3. Fold the two shorter sides of your muslin rectangle over to form a narrow hem (about 1 cm), pin and sew.

4. Fold the material in half, bringing your two, short, hemmed sides together (wrong side out): these will form the top of your bag, and if you want to, you could thread some raffia, ribbon or string through these hems to create a drawstring. Now pin and sew the two open edges.

5. Remove all the pins and turn your finished bag the right way out.

6. Finally, attach your bag to your filled jar, decorate as required and make a label with instructions for use.

Instructions for use: Half fill the bag with a mixture of oats and herbs. Close tightly with ribbon or string, leaving some space at the top to allow the contents to move around. Use in the bath or the shower. When wet, the bag will produce a lovely, creamy lather for washing sensitive skins.

Only use the contents for one wash, then empty the bag (you can compost the remains!) and stick it in the washing machine with a 60 degree load.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010


2010 definitely appears to be the year of GYO (that's 'growing your own' to the uninitiated). It feels as though you can't turn around at the moment without a celebrity book or TV series telling you how it's never been easier to start your own veg patch. There are organisations encouraging us to commit to the challenge: Garden Organic has a one pot pledge and the RHS has a veg pledge. Magazines of all kinds are filled with inspirational stories of people filling market stalls with produce from the balcony of their high rise, or how they wore down their local council until they were granted some scabby wasteland that, 'with everyone mucking in together' became a model allotment.

The thing is, I don't necessarily always agree that growing your own fruit and vegetables is satisfying, or cheap, or can be done if you have little time available. Yes, all things want to live and judging by the weeds in my garden, the vast majority of them will seed, grow, reproduce and die without any interference from me. But once you've planted something, you start to invest in its success or failure. Every green shoot is exclaimed over and quickly becomes the source of endless anxiety - too much water, too little, too warm, too cold, too dark, too light! Yes, it is satisfying when it goes to plan and your endeavours can be celebrated in a wonderful meal with home-grown ingredients, but it can be really quite depressing when it goes wrong and all your hard work gets eaten by the local snail population. Equally, it's possible to spend an absolute fortune on 'stuff', from trowels to heated propagators, from special seed boxes to engraved stone plant labels. Some of these things you need and some you really don't. Surely at some point it just becomes another way for us to consume, whilst kidding ourselves that we're doing something 'good', for our health and for the environment? Indeed, most of the gadgets on offer in the garden centre and marketed as time-saving. No time to water your plants twice a day? Buy this handy irrigation system with timer. Too busy to grow from scratch? How about some mini-plants, or even a garden in a box?

I mentioned before the RHS veg pledge: 28,912 people have now signed-up (you can see where they all are on a map, along with the veg that they're going to be growing). And I'm one of them. Because in spite of everything I've just said, growing your own food is a great thing. It brings a sense of magic and wonder to the everyday, as well as reinforcing just how fragile life can be. You start to really understand the food chain and become much more aware of the animals and insects around you. Growing your own connects you with your food in a way that shopping really doesn't: I *know* exactly what went in to the growing of my potatoes, meaning all that guilt about food miles, pesticides, local v organic, just isn't relevant. And finally, it's been proven that gardening stimulates the mind whilst combating stress - a powerful combination that we should definitely all find time for. Even if it's just by growing a pot of herbs, or ordering that ready-made garden in a box. There isn't a 'right' or a 'wrong' way to grow fruit and veg - the challenge is in finding out what works best for you, in your garden, with the plants that you want to grow.