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Easy, Homemade 'Spa' Gifts

Shower friends and family with garden-inspired bath and body treats using fragrant essential oils

Packaging homemade gifts

These homemade gifts are surprisingly simple — and fun — to make. Photos: Suzanne DeJohn

By Susan Romanoff, Peggy Geier and Suzanne DeJohn

Recipients are sure to appreciate the care and thoughtfulness that goes into making one-of-a-kind gifts like these. They're fast and easy, too. I made them with colleagues on the Gardener's Supply creative team — Peggy Geier and Susan Romanoff — in just one morning! Consider doubling the recipes so you'll have some to keep for yourself.

Bath Bombs

Sometimes called bath fizzies, these effervescent bath-time treats are as simple to make as they are fun to use. Drop one in your bathwater and it will bubble and fizz and lend luxury and cheer to an evening soak. Herbs and essential oils make them soothing.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups baking soda
  • 1 cup citric acid
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 10 drops Lavender Essential Oil
  • witch hazel in spritzer bottle

Citric acid is a naturally occurring acid derived from fruit that comes in the form of a fine white powder. It's available in the bulk herb section at some natural food stores. It's also used in canning, so stores that sell canning supplies might sell it or you can order it online. Coconut oil is available at natural foods stores as well as some supermarkets. Instead of lavender flowers and oil, try other combinations of dried flowers and essential oils, such as rose petals and rose essential oil, or calendula petals and grapefruit essential oil.

Gather your ingredients. Combine the dry ingredients. Add the coconut oil. Almost ready to mix. Add essential oil. Use a spray bottle filled with witch hazel to moisten the mix (it may fizz a little) and stir. Add witch hazel a little at at time until the material comes together, like homemade pie dough. Form into balls 1-1/2" to 2" in diameter. Let the bath bombs air dry. Then, wrap them individually in small bags.

Using Essential Oils

Essential oils are highly concentrated and a few cautions apply:

  • Although essential oils smell wonderful, don't ingest them. Store oils out of the reach of young children and pets.
  • Before applying them to skin, dilute all essential oils with a "carrier oil," such as sweet almond oil.
  • If you are pregnant or have a health condition, consult an aromatherapist before using essential oils for therapeutic purposes.

 

Herbal Bath Salts

Natural salts and soothing herbs combine to calm, stimulate, rejuvenate and relax. Adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup of salts to bathwater can help stimulate blood circulation, relieve joint stiffness, soothe muscle cramps and soften skin.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of coarse sea salt
  • 1 cup Epsom salt
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 10 drops of essential oil (we used rose and lavender)
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
  • a few dried rose petals

Sea salt is made from evaporated seawater or mined from ancient underground seabeds and contains a range of minerals. Epsom salt is a naturally occurring mineral compound containing magnesium and sulfate.

Pour the sea salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the Epsom salts. And the baking soda. Sprinkle in the lavender flowers. Tear a few rose petals into small pieces and add them for color. Add the essential oil and mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into pretty glass containers.

Essential Oils vs. Fragrance Oils

There's a big difference between essential oils and fragrance oils. Essential oils are extracted from plants and carefully processed to retain the "essence" of the plants. Fragrance oils, on the other hand, usually contain a blend of synthetic components that combine to mimic the desired scent.

If you're using scents for therapeutic purposes, such as in aromatherapy, stick with essential oils. Although fragrance oils may smell similar, they don't contain the same natural molecular structure that gives essential oils their therapeutic properties.

Soothing Salve

Use this soothing salve on dry skin, bug bites and chapped lips.

Ingredients

Calendula is noted for its soothing effects. If you have calendula growing in your garden, it's easy to infuse some oil. If not, you can use plain olive oil or sweet almond oil. You can find beeswax at many natural food stores and some craft supply stores, usually in the candle-making section.

Use a disposable, heatproof container when making the salve, because beeswax is difficult to remove from surfaces. Or set aside a dedicated, reusable container. Once you see how easy it is make salve, you'll want to make more.

Harvest calendula flowers and let them dry in a warm, dry place for a few days. Fill a jar about half full with the dried calendula petals, then add enough olive oil to cover them. Place some cheesecloth or wax paper over the top and use a rubber band or jar ring to secure it. Place the jar in a sunny window and let it sit for a week or two, swirling occasionally to keep the petals submerged. When the calendula-infused oil is ready, gather your ingredients. Melt the beeswax in the microwave in 30-second bursts. Heat until it's just melted; don't overheat. Add the infused oil. If the wax starts to congeal, microwave the mixture for another 30 seconds or so, until it's all melted. Add the essential oil and mix well. Pour the mixture into small tins or glass jars. You can often find small jars and tins at natural foods stores, sometimes located near the bulk herbs. You can also order them online. Allow the salve to cool thoroughly before capping. You can modify the hardness of the salve by altering the ratio of beeswax to oil. The more beeswax you use, the firmer the resulting balm or salve.

Wellness & Comfort

Enhance your homemade gifts with products that promote relaxation and rejuvenation.

Room/Linen Spritzers

Use these spritzers to freshen the air in your home, office and car or to add a fresh scent to blankets, sheets, pillowcases and towels.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup distilled water
  • 1 teaspoon vodka or witch hazel
  • 5 to 6 drops of Essential Oil

The scents of peppermint and grapefruit are invigorating, so they're great for energizing room spritzers. Lavender promotes relaxation and rose is calming, making them ideal for misting on bed linens.

The vodka or witch hazel acts as a preservative. Vodka is best for room sprays because it doesn't irritate the eyes. It's also odorless, unlike witch hazel.

Gather your ingredients. Measure the distilled water into a measuring cup, preferably one with a pouring spout. Add the vodka (or witch hazel). Add the essential oil and mix well. Pour into clean glass spritzer bottles. Enjoy!

Melt-and-Pour Soap

This is such a simple process, and recipients always appreciate the results.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. melt-and-pour soap base
  • 1/4 cup oatmeal, ground fine in a blender or old coffee grinder
  • 10 drops of Essential Oil
  • rubbing alcohol (optional)

You can buy melt-and-pour soap at craft stores or order it online. Ground oatmeal is soothing and gently exfoliates the skin. Choose your favorite essential oil. Tea tree has antiseptic properties. Peppermint creates an invigorating lather. Rose is probably the most popular scent for soap.

If you want fancy soap shapes, you can purchase soap molds. Otherwise, use any small, clean containers, such as tuna cans or yogurt containers. If you have trouble removing the soap from the mold, place it in the refrigerator for a little while.

Gather your ingredients. Melt the soap in a covered bowl in the microwave or over a double boiler until it's just melted; don't overheat. Add essential oil. Stir in the oatmeal. Allow the mixture to cool slightly (otherwise the oats will sink to the bottom of the bars.) Pour into soap molds or containers. You can spritz the surface with rubbing alcohol to break the bubbles. Allow the soaps to cool and harden, then remove them from the mold. Let the soaps dry for a few days, and then package them individually in small plastic bags.

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