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From flavorful vinegars to aromatherapeutic room spray, there’s so much you can make with herbs

Heather Arndt Anderson  – November 14, 2019 | Updated January 29, 2020

Whether you’re making gifts, are dabbling in hedgewitchery, or just want to live the good life on a budget, there’s never been a better time to pick up a few recipes for DIY herbal products. These projects are a great way to preserve herbs from your own garden, but even regular store-bought herbs will fill the bill (or the decorative vinegar bottle, as it were). Here are a few tried-and-true favorites—including my very own special herbal tea blend. 

Mason Jar Windowsill Herb Garden

Photo by Heather Arndt Anderson

When it comes to DIY herbal products, one great place to start is with the herbs themselves. Stick cuttings of your favorite herbs in pint-sized Mason jars of water. When they have roots, pour off the water and pot them up right in the same jar. Pretty much anything in the mint family will work well here: basil, rosemary, thyme, savory, oregano, marjoram, lavender, and yes, mint will all sprout roots after a couple weeks. To improve drainage, add some gravel or pebbles to the bottom of the jar and add soil around the cuttings, gently tamping the soil down around the roots. To make it a pretty gift, tie a piece of string around the jar’s rings and add a canning label with the herb’s name.

Herbed Sea Salt 

Photo by E. Spencer Toy

With this very simple technique, you’re not only able to preserve fresh herbs, but you have fragrant salt to sprinkle on everything from grilled vegetables and flatbreads to fish filets and steak; it also makes an outstanding dry brine for poultry and pork. And you can even add a scoop to a hot bath for a spa-like soak. Just finely chop fresh, clean, dry herbs and stir them together with your favorite sea salt; then spoon it into pretty jars for gifts. It keeps for a year in the fridge.

Herbed Vinegar

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This is Baby’s First DIY Herbal Product: just stuff a sprig of your favorite herbs into a decorative bottle and then top it off with vinegar. That is literally all there is to it. Tarragon, chive blossoms, and thyme are nice with wine vinegars, but if you’re feeling like something different, try coconut vinegar with bay leaf and lemongrass for a Filipino-inspired fragrance; rice vinegar with lime leaf and Thai basil for a Southeast Asian twist; or add dill, chervil, and lemon peel to regular white vinegar for a touch of  Nordic. 

Hydrosol (Facial Toner and Air Freshener)

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Of all the DIY herbal products, this is one of the most involved, but it’s still very easy—it basically entails boiling water and catching the nice-smelling dribbles into a bowl. Hydrosol (aka hydrolat) is a plant-infused water, perfect for hydrating your skin or freshening the room with a light herbal scent. It’s a wonderful pick-me-up when you don’t have time for a full face wash, and infinitely customizable to your preferences. Although it was historically made with an alembic-type still, it’s totally possible to make on the stovetop with basic kitchen equipment.

Here’s the recipe:

Equipment:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups chopped fresh herbs (such as rosemary, lavender, mint, lemongrass, or citrus peel)
  • 1 quart water

Instructions:

  1. Place an inverted ramekin or a similar object to the bottom of the pot, and then arrange the herbs on the bottom of the pot around the ramekin. Add the water to the pot. Place heatproof bowl on top of the ramekin (to collect the condensed hydrosol as it drips down). Invert a lid over the top of the pot, with the handle pointing down toward the heat-proof, hydrosol collection bowl. 
  2. Bring the water to a low boil over low heat, and then place ice in a Ziploc bag on top of the lid to cool the steam, which will condense the water droplets to drip into the bowl inside the pot. (Congrats, you’ve made a still!)
  3. You’ll probably have to refill the the ice a few times before all the hydrosol is collected, but keep simmering until most of the water from the pot has vaporized and condensed into hydrosol (when the pot stops steaming and the herbs start to sound like they’re beginning to cook, turn off the stove). 
  4. Allow to cool, then pour the hydrosol into a clean spray bottle. It’ll keep for 8-18 months (the life is extended by fridge storage).

All-Purpose Cleaner

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Sure, you could spend a bunch of money on heavily perfumed cleaning sprays, or you can make a clean-scented all-purpose cleaner that costs next to nothing. Check out our very straightforward recipeand a fresher house is at your fingertips.

Bespoke Herbal Tea Blend: Hedgewitch and the Angry Inch

Photo by Heather Arndt Anderson

When my husband developed a taste for Steven Smith Teamaker’s “Meadow” tea, I blanched at the hefty price tag —blanched!—and set out to make my own version, using flowers and herbs from my garden.  A custom tea blend is one of the most satisfying DIY herbal products; it’s infinitely customizable to your and your friends’ tastes (and/or witchy desires), it smells like a walk in the clouds, and costs far less than $1 a cup. If you go through a lot of tea (or are making a lot for gifting), it’s worth buying the ingredients in bulk from somewhere like Mountain Rose. (You can also grow your own herbal tea garden.)

This recipe includes a few ingredients that I gather in my neighborhood (like fragrant linden blossoms, commonly used in Northern and Eastern Europe as a tea).

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz. rooibos
  • 0.5 oz chamomile 
  • 0.25 oz rose buds
  • 0.1 oz lavender blossoms
  • 0.1 oz lemon balm
  • 0.1 oz yarrow (adds a slight bitterness)
  • 0.1 oz linden blossoms (adds a grassy sweetness)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted dry-popped popcorn, crushed up (optional; adds a subtle, pleasant toastiness)

Blend the ingredients together in a quart Mason jar with a lid.