|Sandalwood, Cedar, and Spice: A Canadian
Tradition of Crafting
“Recipes would be exchanged over a cup of herbal
tea and people who could cut a fine quill for writing were much in
- Dorothy Banks
With summer’s labours over, in autumn Canadian
settlers looked forward to craft-making, when they finally had a
little time to take pleasure in the fragrant leaves and petals which
they had so carefully collected from their gardens and
Crafting with herbs and spices has long been a
tradition of cultures around the world - one with both decorative
and practical uses, but little is recorded about pot pourri
and pomander-making by early Canadian settlers. However,
thanks to the writings of folklorists such as the late Dorothy
Banks, we do know that they took pleasure in these crafts each
autumn when the hanging bunches of roses, peonies, and oregano were
crispy-dry and the muslin drying trays of chamomile and calendula
blossoms were almost overflowing in the attic.
Dorothy Banks, of Peterborough, Ontario, compiled
many of these recipes and traditions into a booklet series, Love
Spoon, published in 1979 for the nearby Lang Pioneer Village, which
still uses this valuable and seemingly timeless information for
educating visitors. This series of hand-written booklets
contains information on haybox cookery, making a rabbit stew,
cleaning a straw bonnet, natural skin care, herbal teas from the
wild, and how to build a proper mud oven, alongside Banks’
traditional fragrance crafting ideas for pot pourri and
The Bryde Spoon Ladled Knowledge from One
Generation Down to the Next
Each Love Spoon booklet
opens with this introduction from the author, “Once upon a time, a
Viking girl was given a Bryde spoon, or Love spoon when she
married. This was not only a love gift, but a sign of
authority and knowledge of all things needed for the well being of a
household, whether it was castle or cottage.” This knowledge
is handed down once more within these booklets which are hand
illustrated by the author in a similar fashion to the original
recipes. The drawings were necessary, “since few people
could read or write well,” as Banks explains.
The passages on pot pourri and pomanders, which are
reproduced below, come from information collected by Banks from
notes her grandmother kept in a family book in the stillroom, along
with letters that also contained precious tidbits of
information. Banks tells us, “There is a sense of continuity
in using it today ... reaching across the Atlantic and with a few
alterations due to differences in herbal and animal life, the basics
still hold good.”
Much of the information (in particular the
following recipes) is far older than the period of 1820 to 1900
which is portrayed by the village, as Banks tells her readers.
Many of the recipes and much of the knowledge that Banks has
recorded in her informal memoirs have been passed down through the
ages, now preserved through the existing copies of this
Dorothy Banks drew pleasure from recording these
time-honoured recipes. This autumn, why not bring these
history-steeped recipes back to life as you enjoy anew the Canadian
tradition of fragrance-crafting?
Pot Pourri and
Pot pourri often recalls
only roses and lavender. Ideally, one should collect
material all summer,storing each variety by itself.
Later blend and mix to your taste for floral, oriental or
fresh woodsy perfume. The mixture must look attractive,
too, so petals and small whole blossoms must be included for
colour and texture, as well as scent. Covered jars or
bowls keep the finished pot pourri from fading too quickly and
glass displays the beauty of the colours.
To about 4 cups of assorted petals add 1
tablespoon spices, 1 tablespoon or more of a fixative. A
drop or two of essential oil is good. Stir gently with a
That is the basic recipe. The fun
part is in mixing and sniffing and coming up with a fragrance
based on your own taste. This is good for sachets,
A fixative is usually orris powder, but
can be benzoin, calamus, clary, frankincense, musk, myrrh or
the lichen from oak trees. Calamus is the sweet sedge
and the root is ground.
This is a very good
Take 4 oz. rosebuds, 2 oz. cornflowers, 2
oz. calendulas, 1 oz. orange blossoms or mock orange,1 oz.
oregano, 1 oz. lemon balm, 1 oz. bay leaves broken, 1 oz.
peppermint leaves, 1 oz orris or calamus. Add jasmine
flowers if possible.
It was taken for granted by ladies
exchanging recipes that the amounts were for dried flowers.
Heliotrope was another favourite and the Clipper ships would
often bring patchouli as well as the
cargo of tea.
“Pomander” comes from the old French words
pomme d’ambre, meaning “Apple of Amber.” Originally,
cloves were stuck into an apple and it was rolled in ambergris
to preserve the scent.
Ambergris is a secretion of the Sperm whale and is
highly valued as a fixative of perfume.
There are evidences that the ancient
Egyptians used pomanders and there are references in the Bible
to balls of scent. They were worn as ornaments in the
Middle Ages and Henry VIII gave one to his daughter Mary; it
was encased in gold and jewels. Oranges have since
replaced apples and orris-root powder the ambergris but the
sensuous fragrance is much the same.
Orris root may be purchased from the
chemists. It is the root of Iris florentina which likes
Take a ripe healthy fruit. Small
oranges and apples are usual but lemons and limes can be used
if available. Stick the fruit full of cloves, using
approximately 2 oz. per fruit. This is a preservative so
do not stint. Roll in a mixture of orris powder and
spices. Coat well and hang up to dry. When
completely dried, tie with a ribbon. The traditional
coating mix is orris, allspice, cinnamon and cardamon.
Orris, anise, ginger, fennel, cinnamon and sassafras bark and
a mix that was used
by the Canadian settlers.
A very lovely recipe came from one of my
ancestral aunts who came to England to escape the French
Revolution. She used sandalwood, cedar and musk together
with ambergris. My grandmother altered the recipe to
These pomanders make excellent gifts and
their fragrance is long lasting.
- Dorothy Banks Love Spoon 1979
(Reproduced with the permission of Lang Pioneer
Village, Peterborough, Ontario)
Dorothy Banks dedicated these booklets to her
friends at Lang Pioneer Village, which was established in 1967 by
the County of Peterborough to commemorate the centennial of the
Confederation of Canada, established in 1867. Many of the
recipes contained in Love Spoon are used in demonstrations at this
From the archives of The Gilded Herb Magazine Vol 3
|Gin in the
Gordon’s Gin and the National Trust for
England have together recreated the original juniper walk at Ham
House in Surrey as part of an ongoing project to replicate the
seventeenth century gardens using original drawings. This unlikely
partnership of distillery and heritage preserving organization is
planning to plant more of the berry-producing strain of juniper
rather than the current non-berry producing plants; in this way,
visitors can then enjoy the fragrance of juniper berries on the bush
and not berries placed in pots, as at present.
Gin is distilled from grain and then
re-distilled with or over juniper berries, citrus peels, cassia
bark, angelica root, coriander seeds, and other botanicals which
give it its distinctive fragrance. First used as a medicine
in Europe of the 1500's, gin (and tonic)
is now one of Britain’s favourite beverages, having overcome its
notorious image as the sinful balm to the gin-soaked,
poverty-stricken residents (including children) of London’s slums
during the industrial revolution.
At Ham House, the juniper walk of the 1700's
was reserved for the privileged aristocracy only, and as such was
the site of intrigue and seduction. It is said that Lady Dysart,
mistress of Ham House, not only acted as a double-agent for Charles
II but actually seduced Oliver Cromwell among the scented juniper
Reprinted from Vol. 1 Issue
Today the practice of soapmaking
is more closely associated with the "herbally-attuned" crafter than with
the home-making pioneer woman of the past. But handcrafted soaps have an
old-fashioned appeal that reflects a simpler time and perhaps this is the
secret which makes them a modern-day pleasure and
Unlike the prosaic bars of the
past, today’s soaps are colourful with hues derived from the addition of
herbs and spices: gold from turmeric, spicy orange from paprika, earth
brown from cinnamon, or perhaps green from dill. The textures and scents
of handmade soap are the imaginative and innovative creations of the
experienced saponifier who has perfected the art and science of blending
fats with an alkali and then taken the process one step further. The
modern marriage of the practical methods of our pioneer foremothers with
the addition of botanical embellishments gives us our handmade soaps of
Soapmaking now has moved away from
its past association with ‘lye’ from hardwood ashes and the rural industry
of producing ‘potash’ from the brush and trees felled to clear the land.
Potash was produced by the barrelfull and sold to factories for the
commercialized soap producers and glass manufacturers. On average, one
acre of good elm produced two barrels of potash that in Ontario in 1859
would have fetched twenty-five dollars. Unfortunately for the labourers, this
price fell and by 1874 the price on the market in Montreal was quoted at
$5.72 to $7.10.
Lye, the alkali, was produced by
running water through the ‘leach’ barrel containing wood ashes and great
care was taken to ensure a good draw. The run-off from the barrel, lye,
was boiled in an iron kettle until the lye "wrinkled". The methods of
carrying out this task were not always written down and some families
passed on their procedures to the next generation, usually to the
daughter. One family’s test to check the strength of the
lye may have
consisted of floating an egg in the lye solution when boiled down, to see
if it floated on top showing only the size of a dime. This would indicate
that the lye was done. Another family may have given it the feather test
and when a dipped feather came out as a bare quill, it too indicated a
ready lye. Lye is very caustic and an ingredient to be used with caution.
Today lye is purchased as sodium hydroxide in convenient soluble
Soap is created when lye and fat
are mixed together; therefore, the pioneer soapmaker would have saved
tallow, grease, and fat for almost a year until the annual chore of
soapmaking was carried out again. Nothing was overlooked and even the
skins of hogs were used. The soapmaker would have required enough ‘grease’
to produce a barrel of soap, which was the usual quota required to meet
the needs of a family. The grease was added to the kettle of ready lye for further
boiling into soap. This process is known as saponification, the chemical
process of converting fats into soap and is usually accomplished by the
action of alkali (lye).
Today’s soapmakers and consumers
are showing a great interest in soaps, handcrafted from coconut, palm, and
olive oils, possibly with the enriched addition of a small quantity of
calendula infused oil or jojoba oil. Vegetable oils and shortening, now
preferred over lard, create a clean pallet for scenting a batch, whereas
pork lard may retain a scent some may find disagreeable and hard to mask.
Other ingredients added for aesthetic, cosmetic, or health benefits may include rose
petals, lavender, oatmeal, sage, tea tree oil, honey or even ground
pumice. These additions result in the production of various soaps which
are moisturizing, abrasive, antiseptic, or fragrant, etc. In the past,
buttermilk may have been added in the belief that it would wash away
Herbal and fragrant inclusions
would not have been a priority to a hard working pioneer woman, but
rodent-repelling crushed mint leaves may have been added to the batch to
deter mice from enjoying a nibble. Similarly, mint today still has a place
in soaps for use in cottages and cabins, but oatmeal and honey-almond
soaps are best avoided in these locations since mice savour these edible
Soft soap of a semi-liquid
consistency was stored in barrels usually kept in the cellar and in some
households was preferred over bars for laundry, floor-scrubbing, and
shaving. With the addition of salt, a smaller batch of utilitarian hard
soap bars could then be produced for personal use. It quickly became
evident that the more soap aged and cured the better it became, and the
longer a bar would last. The practice of curing bars is
still used today
and can vary among saponifiers anywhere from three to six
Today herbal soaps should not be stored away
but should be displayed in a pottery dish, for example, or other vessel
that complements their character and handmade quality. Let them sit in the
open to scent the air in a discreet and delicate way. Handmade soap should
be used within twelve months, after which discolouration and cracking may
Saponifiers of today should be
respected for their efforts in perfecting their art just as great chefs
are respected for creating a souffle, for example, since for both great
care must be taken and the job never hurried. Despite the fact that
thermometers and other testing methods are now utilized, great care must
still be taken and methods must be precise.
One has only to visit a herb fair
to develop a penchant for handmade soaps; the range of exhibitors who
produce their own blends of soap is wide, for example:
Beekeeper - honey
- goat milk soap
Ginseng Farmer - ginseng soap
Lavender Gardener - lavender
Aromatherapist - patchouli and vanilla
The fragrance of a lathered cake
of soap massaged through the hands is an evocative experience greatly
enhanced by the soothing waves of warm water. Soap that gently lifts away
dirt and leaves the skin refreshed and renewed has been a part of daily
life for generations. Whether relaxing in our modern bath away from
computer glitches and traffic jams, or soaking in the Saturday night tin
bath by the fireside, nothing compares to a good bar of soap.
Janette Oliver-Rodgers enjoys the
intertwining relationship between history and herbs. She interprets the
legends and lore of herbs to visitors at Emily
Creek Herb Farm in Southern Ontario. Oliver-Rodgers has found many
ways to work artistically with herbs, and soapmaking has provided another
medium for creativity.
The Gardens of Black Creek Pioneer
In mid-nineteenth century Ontario,
the household garden played a major role in the daily life of the pioneer.
The plants found growing in the gardens, orchards, and fields of Black
Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto, Ontario, are representative of those
grown by the early settlers for food, medicine, and other domestic
While strolling through the
Village, now celebrating forty years of heritage education, visitors will
encounter a wide array of gardens that have been carefully planned to
resemble those of earlier times. The following three historical herb
gardens are of particular interest to the herb
The Doctor’s Medicinal
Many of the trees and plants in
the garden, surrounding the restored Doctor’s home, served as a "natural
pharmacy" from which the nineteenth century doctor could prepare remedies
and cures for the villagers. This authentic garden was developed and
maintained by the Southern Ontario Unit of the Herb Society of America.
The following perennial herbs are typical of those commonly used to stock
a storehouse of remedies.
Old time remedy herb used for compresses applied to
Also known as wild sunflower, this was a very
common cold remedy herb.
As the name implies this herb was used for
Still popular today as horehound
this herb was a common ingredient
Many old time herbs have names
that reflect a use from the past but this herb was
not used exclusively for colts!
This plant was a remedy for colds and bronchitis.
The Weaver’s Shop Dye
Dyes derived from plants such as
those growing in this display garden were used to create the warm and
bright colours in woollen materials. Natural dyes from wild and cultivated
plants provided a rich palette of earthy tones that were incorporated into
blankets, socks, and even woollen undergarments that protected the wearer
against the harsh Canadian winter.
In early Ontario, sheep were among
the most important animals raised by the pioneers, as they provided not
only food but also wool for making clothing and household
Here are some dye plants and the colours that the plant
would yield in the dyeing process.
SunflowerHelianthus annus ~ Yellow
CalendulaCalendula officinalis ~ Yellow to Orange
St. John’s WortHypericum perforatum ~ Yellow
MadderRubia tinctorium ~ Red
verum ~ Red, Yellow and even Brown tones
TansyTanacetum vulgare ~ Green-Grey
WoadIsatis tinctoria ~ Blue
acetosa ~ Green-Yellow
GoldenrodSolidago spp ~ Yellow, Brown
The Pioneer Herb
Many of the plants growing at the
Village could be considered herbs because whether wild plants or garden
flowers, they were useful in a variety of ways in the daily lives of
pioneers. Every plant that could provide a use was valued - whether it
supplied a moth repelling scent or provided healing qualities to a lard
salve or yielded a vivid dye. Pioneer theme gardens can preserve this
knowledge of heritage plants to be shared with school children, Sunday
School classes or even the local boy scout troop.
Because pioneers did not have the
time to invest in fussy and demanding plants, many of these perennial
herbs can be grown with the basic of care, making this an ideal herb
garden for anyone to grow.
This beautiful flowering herb
provided flavouring for
honey and liquors and was also used in
This shrub-like herb was often used to flavour and help preserve
from the leaves was a common remedy for colds and sore
fresh leaf rubbed against teeth helps to remove plaque and freshens the
No Derbyshire-inspired cheese would be without the addition of
sage as a final
This modern day roadside flower was a very
common ingredient in salves made
from lard, and the fresh leaves were chewed to
alleviate a tooth ache.
The fragrant leaves were used in tea and
substituted for black tea when supplies
This scented herb, also known as "Bible Leaf"
is said to have been
often used as a fresh-smelling bookmark for musty family Bibles
that had been packed in traveling trunks and handed down from previous
Costmary was also used for ale- making in much the same way as
This traveling herb was rubbed
into pantry shelves to deter hungry mice and was
also most popular for a
tummy-soothing hot drink.
Not just for felines in those days, this herb
was a popular nightcap tea utilized for its
sedating qualities. Babies were often given
weak catnip tea to calm
the gripe of evening colic.
The pioneers were very
resourceful and the wild growing bedstraw provided a
fragrant stuffing for mattresses
This herb indeed was the ultimate pot herb as
it provided the heartiest of flavour
to simmering stews and soups cooked over an
Lavender had a multitude of uses
in pioneer times much as it does today.
Fragrant lavender kept moths at bay when it
was placed amongst the precious linens and dropsy and fainting spells were
often treated with this multipurpose herb.
Many of the culinary herbs grown
by the pioneers would have been included in the kitchen garden which was
usually close at hand for easy gathering of the vegetables and cooking
To learn more about historical
herbs visit the Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto,