Fresh Hip, Honey and Yoghurt Face Mask (Rosa canina)

Heavy rain has arrived here, but it's still very warm for the time of the year. A few days ago while walking I came across a group of Wild Rose bushes. They were a tangled mess of branches and fruit with bolting offshoots reaching for the afternoon sun.

Rosehips are rarely harvested here in Italy. A few people  make jam or a type of paste, but I've rarely
 come across it, in this region at least.
I think it's more common to use them in England.

My parents still remember picking bagfuls of rosehips during the the Second World War.
Due to rationing and lack of fresh fruit and vegetables the British government paid a few pennies to children to collect rosehips. The children also competed for badges for the best collectors. The hips were collected at schools and health centres and sent off to Newcastle to be made into syrup to be given to babies and young children.

 When collecting rosehips it's a good idea to have a pair of work gloves or some garden snips. Rosehips don't come off easily and if you pull to hard the branches catapult backwards. The thorns can be very irritating. Look at my poor thumb!! I only collected a pocketful as I didn't have anything with me or even a bag.

I was lucky to spot one bush with both a flower and rosehips. It must have been a bit confused due to the warm weather.

Rosehips are packed full of goodness, fatty acids and have  a really high vitamin C content. As the hips were quite soft I  decided to make a fresh rosehip facemask with honey and yoghurt.

I got the idea from an old magazine "Le erbe" printed in the 1970's. I love thrift shops and really miss UK charity shops, but there are a few good second hand shops here where I often pick up old herb, cookery or gardening books for next to nothing. The magazines  I found have lots of recipes for herbal remedies. Listed under "Cosmetic Uses" it says that fresh blended rosehips are a very effective way to brighten, smooth and tone the skin.

Fresh Hip Mask
Handful of Hips(Rosa Canina)
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons plain yoghurt
2 tablespoons green clay(for oily skins)

for mature skins
Cut the hips in half.
Remove the hairs and seeds
Wash carefully to remove any remaining hairs
Dry on a paper towel
Blend with honey and yoghurt
Apply to skin and leave for 10-15 mins
(Try not to eat it)

for young skins
Add the clay to the above mixture
Apply for 5-10mins

Keep remaining mask in the fridge for up to a week only

We all tried it and had a laugh. It also definitely brightened our pallid Autumn complexions a little.

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Wish Jar and Gratitude Jar

 I hope all of you who celebrated Thanksgiving had fun yesterday.
I think it's a lovely celebration, getting together with close ones to give thanks and teaching kids to recognise and be grateful for what they have in life.

When my daughter was  younger I made her a "Wish Jar" from an old jam jar. Luckily I found a square one which was perfect for adding photos. Actually, I photocopied some photos of her dressed as a fairy when she was small and added them to the jar. I put a slit in the lid and covered it with red paper and put a few sparkly sequins inside. I hot-glued the lid so it couldn't be opened and tied a ribbon around. She loved it and it's now full of rolled up pieces of paper. Who knows how many wishes have come true?

Today I came across another jar that was the same and decided to make her another gift. I've been thinking of a "thanks jar" for a while. Teenagers are pretty much wired to be quite selfish and at the centre of the(their) universe. It's to do with their brains growing too quckly for the rest of the body, or something like that. I  wanted to make it similar to the first one, but I used recent photos, glued to the inside of the jar with Modge Podge/paper glue.  I also wrote a "thanks" quote  on the outside of the jar with a permanent marker and put it in the oven to set for 30mins at 180°C. I  searched the web for ages looking for a suitable literary quote, but ended up with an Oprah Winfry one. It summed up what I wanted to say and divided into four parts nicely;

 Be thankful for what you have
you'll end up having more.
 If you concentrate on what you don't have,
 you will never, ever have enough.

I would have loved my Mum to have hand-made such a gift for me when I was a teen. It will also be  a lovely little "time-capsule" to open up at a future  date.

Other ideas for such jars  could be "positive thoughts", "quotes",  "memories", "secrets", "blessings", "dreams"....
Have you got any other ideas?

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Horsechestnut Varicose/Spider Vein Gel

 If you have visited this blog before, you may have realised that I have a bit of a soft spot for horsechestnuts or conkers as they are known in the UK or buckeyes in the US. I have an old horsechestnut tree outside of my kitchen window and love to watch it changing through the seasons.
I like it a bit less in Autumn when I have to pick up all its leaves and seeds, although I'm still facinated by them. Look how the shells are pre-programmed to split into three. Most of the conkers actually drop off at the same time in a matter of days, maybe a week. It's not a good idea to stand under the tree during these days!

I'm not sure if the horsechestnut tree got its name from the fact that it was used as a medicine for horses or that the leaf scars on the branches look like horse shoes, maybe both.

 Horse chestnuts contain aescin which tones  and strengthens the walls of  veins and capillaries , so promoting better blood circulation, and preventing  the seepage of fluid from the veins that can cause swellings in the legs. For this reason it's often used in herbal varicose vein  treatments.
 Luckily I don't suffer from varicose veins, but I do have a couple of spider veins on one leg which appeared after my second pregnancy.
OK, they've been there a long time now!

My son also has some spider veins on the back of  his leg after an injury and I'm hoping this simple remedy might help to strengthen our weak veins...
I came across this recipe and bookmarked it ages ago (before pinterest) and then forgot about it. It was featured on a TV programme called "Grow your own drugs"  aired in 2010 in the UK.
I've still got lots of conkers (buckseyes) left and after making, viking soap moth-deterrents and holiday decorations, I was pleased to find another use for them.

Horsechestnut Tincture(not to be consumed)
10 conkers/buckeyes
250ml vodka

Soak the conkers in the vodka in a sterilised, sealable jar, when they have softened blend them.
If they are too hard you could smash them in a plastic bag with a rolling pin.
Leave in a dark place for 10 days, lightly shaking now and then.
Strain/Filter-the tincture will keep for at least a year.

Varicose/Spider Vein Gel
1 sachet vegetable gelatine(12g)
75ml filtered cold water
75ml of above tincture
3 drops lavender oil

I halved the ingredients for the recipe. I only used one sachet, but it was enough to give a thick gel consistency. Add the vegetable gelatine to  the cold water in a pan and whisk until dissolved. Heat for about 2 minutes, whisking constantly. When it starts to thicken, slowly pour in the Horse Chestnut Tincture a little at a time. Add the lavender oil.  Pour into small sterilized jars and keep in the fridge (for up to 3 months). Try it on a small area first, as some people can have a reaction horsechestnuts.
Apply the cooling gel and allow to dry. You may want to wash it off later as it's rather sticky...


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Natural Upcycled Holiday Decorations

I've always made holiday decorations with my kids, especially for Halloween, Easter and Christmas. When they were younger their friends came round aswell.  I love creating and making a mess. Now that they are teenagers they are not interested anymore,  well not if anything more exciting is happening, which there always is....

So, it's down to me this year, that means I can make what I want. I've been collecting natural bits and bobs  for a while now.
I'm making some of these natural garlands for Christmas, but they would also be ideal for Thanksgiving;

It's very easy, if a little time consuming, but I love the finished results.

Collect lots of natural seeds, berries, twigs, corks  etc. Push or drill holes in them. Thread onto string/wire and decorate.

I used string with wire inside which holds the form you give it.
I collected rosehips, conkers or buckeyes, acorns, pine cones and wine corks.
I pushed the soft seeds onto skewers and allowed them to dry a little.
I sliced the corks with a kitchen knife and pushed holes into them.
I broke off the petals off the pine cone and drilled holes in them.

When you have threaded your garlands be creative;
Use them to decorate the fireplace, to twist around columns/ furniture, as curtain ties, as candleholders or  twist them into wreaths.
 I'm sure you can come up with other ideas?

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Autumn Wild Salad Leaves

It's been raining heavily the last few days, but it's still warmer than normal for Autumn. In between showers there is time to gather a few leaves to add to our daily salad, mixed with cultivated salad leaves and plenty of  Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar or Elderberry Vinegar.  This is what was added today (only a few of each, chopped );
Mallow     (Malva sylvestris)         bland taste
Yarrow     (Achillea Millelium)       slightly bitter/aromatic
Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) bitter
Chicory    (Cichorium Intybus)      bitter
Plantain     (Plantago Major)         acidic
Chickweed(Stellaria Media)         slightly acidic

Mallow is quite bland and the other leaves  are bitter or acidic to more or lesser degrees. They are not too strong tasting at the moment as they are young leaves. They blend together to make a very healthy, nutritious tasty salad.

Wild Chicory (Cicorietta) was actually on sale at Bologna market yesterday from 6  to 9 euros per kilo.


Mallow Risotto (Malva sylvestris)

 After a few days of very cool  temperatures  the thermometer has crept up again. This afternoon it read 22°C. Common Mallow is flowering again, actually quite a lot of plants are in flower again. Today I  even saw lavender.


 I dried some mallow in the summer. It's good for thickening stews and soups. It also makes a soothing tea, especially for a sore throat. I  was pleased to pick some more fresh leaves today so that I could try a recipe that I saw on an Italian cooking blog  a while ago, La Casa di Artù. Artù has produced an amazing number of posts and recipes in a relatively short time. The blog also has a page of wild food recipes. The Mallow recipe which caught my attention is called  Risotto Cremoso alla Malva e Traminer  (Creamy Risotto with Mallow and Traminer).
Malva sylvestris grows on waste and rough ground, by roads, railways and country lanes  throughout lowland England  and Wales. It's very common  in most of Europe and  the Mediterranean and  it has been introduced to and has become naturalised  in eastern Australia, in the United States, Canada and Mexico probably escaped from cultivation.
It's a member of the malvaceae  family which includes Hollyhocks, Hibiscus and Okra. Here in Italy there aren't any poisonous lookalikes. The only leaves which I have seen in the wild,which are similar are hollyhock.They become much larger very quickly. It has a thick round stem. The leaves are lobed (here 5 or 7 lobes) tooth-edged  with a pinkish/purple centre. If you rub a leaf between your fingers it feels slimy. The whole plant is edible,
including the pink/purple flowers.

When collecting mallow leaves, check for parasites and fungal infections such as "rust". A few holes don't matter, but avoid leaves like this;

Avoid mallow growing in areas near pollution or with high nitrate concentrations in soil (ie near roads and fertilized fields etc).

Further reading 

Mallow Risotto - Adapted Recipe (serves 4)

 1/2 a red onion
handful of dried mallow
150-200g fresh mallow
350g rice (organic risotto if possible)
1 stock cube (veg or chicken)
1 large glass dry white wine ( Artù used "traminer aromatico")
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Chop the onion finely.
Crumble the dried mallow.
Wash,dry and chop the fresh mallow finely.
Boil a pan of water and add the stock cube, keep it hot.
Pour a little oil into a frying pan and cook the onion gently for a few minutes until transparent.
Add the rice and coat with oil.
Add the wine and allow to evaporate, stirring the rice frequently.
Add the mallow.
Add a ladle of stock. When it has absorbed add another. Keep adding  stock until the rice is cooked. Don't let it become too soft, it should be "al dente". The mallow and liquid will form a creamy sauce. Don't allow it to become too dry. Artù added a square of cheese at the final stage, I didn't as I don't like it.
Sprinkle with a few mallow flowers if possible.
Serve with grated parmesan and a glass of white wine.

I haven't stated cooking times or liquid quantities as it depends on the type of rice that is used.
Artù didn't state quantities of leaves. I used a large handful of dried and two of fresh.
Experiment. Everyone has different tastes.

This recipe was a success. It had a very delicate,  but pleasing  taste and was quite filling . It was very easy to make and  I will make it again. Infact, my son said;
 "Dovresti farlo più spesso" (You should make it more often).
  I didn't risk putting any flowers on his plate however.


Mallow Risotto on Punk Domestics
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