A Fennel Orange Salad

from my Cookbook

'Naturally Vegetarian'

At Ophelia’s Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Girolle Mushroom Sauce

GIVEAWAY NOTICE!!

As you might know, my cookbook, Naturally Vegetarian, will be available on November 7th! and there is a chance for 10 of you who preorder it to win a beautiful print from the book!

HOW IT WORKS 

The giveaway will run from today to November 3rd. To enter, preorder your copy on any of the websites where it is available, which you can find here.
then submit your preorder code via this form.
Hope you get it and love it!
—–

We stepped on a sun-bathed mix of overgrown fresh herbs and flowers, standing strong against impending mid-October, and crispy reddish-golden leaves, surrendered to the season, as we approached the flaky wooden door. Marco spotted a few more mushrooms between the leaves and kneeled to pick them and add them to his basket, where black-to-brown-to-orange-to-yellow hues of mushrooms were snugly grouped together.
‘here’, said Eugenia as she turned the key into the door. ‘This is Ophelia’s home. It’s all dusty – watch your steps.’

At Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom SauceAt Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom SauceAt Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce

The chiaroscuro of lights in the corridor was dazzling. In these old homes, light filters in through the semi-closed windows and holes in the walls as if it was elbowing its way violently through, as chiaroscuro is a fight between the light crashing through obstacles that turn its path pitch black, and every centimeter of space becomes a ring for this sparring of cutting through space and blocking hits. It is a dance of celebration and mourning; of dawn and dusk, round every corner and every piece of furniture.
It is such a fitting mood for abandoned places and for abandoned hearts.
A dusty green table was sitting on a corner, topped by an old scale and flecks of dust. In the old kitchen, a stunning traditional Friulan brick and cast iron stove sat in a corner. Dark green wooden chairs were scattered all around the house – one still hosting a newspaper with tattered, yellowing pages, as if waiting for someone to return.
Ophelia’s ghost seemed to be there still, sitting next to the window on that azure floral cushion, hit by the early afternoon Fall sunlight.
‘Who’s Ophelia?’ I asked.
‘She was a cousin of ours,’ Eugenia replied. ‘This house has been empty since the seventies. It is falling to pieces, which is too bad. It is such a beautiful house.’
So I started wondering about all the chairs that are left empty, and about the feeling that these 100-year old buildings carry with them: presences can be felt. There are places that still hold souls within. Once you start visiting these buildings, you can clearly tell the difference between walking into a new apartment, or any abandoned building. They sit, like an elderly person left alone, dead without notice: they will always carry the nostalgia of those who took care of them and saw them grow old and weary.

At Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom SauceAt Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom SauceAt Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom SauceAt Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce

I did not ask what life Ophelia led, but I imagined it as I climbed the crackly wooden stairs and stepped on those still beautiful worn floorboards, and touched the light, tattered floral curtains, filtering the light through the dust.
I wondered wether she waited for someone, gazing out the window from her kitchen, where the stove was lit and warmed the room along with the sun rays. I wondered wether she had a lost boyfriend, in those mountains in Friuli where both wars were so ferocious, and she waited to hear footsteps on the crackling golden leaves, on the snow, on the grass, on burnt nettles.
I wondered wether she lay awake at night, thinking what she would cook on that stove, after gathering the wood to light it up, and wether her chairs would fill up, and with who. I wondered wether there was an empty chair she wished could have a host.
I wondered wether she braided her hair or she kept it short, and wether she tied it with flowers and fresh aromatics in the spring. Ophelia, the drowning damsel of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, princess of nothing but her own dreams.
I wondered who her footsteps could wake up in late evenings, when the house was cold and floorboards are too noisy when walked on, embers still faintly burn in the stove, and a can of fresh, unpasteurized cow’s milk sat outside in the cold, starry night. There are no lights in Faedis, tiny her village, except for those of her home.

But, most of all, I wondered what Ophelia cooked in that stove of hers. With butter and cheese that they made at home, and mushrooms they picked from their garden, and buckwheat and corn flour, what could her favorite dish be?
Could it be a soft, creamy polenta, topped with a fondue of latteria or malga cheese – a dish called suf in Friuli? Or could it be polenta with morchia – corn flour stir-fried in butter? Could it be cjalsons – ravioli stuffed with herbs and cheese and dressed with butter and cinnamon? Or foraged mountain herbs, like nettles, silene, mint and mallow, cooked in a frittata from her hens?

As I looked out the windows and into the stove, I imagined all these things.
‘What if someone like Ophelia added mushrooms to polenta gnocchi?’ I asked Marco, who was teaching me so much about Friuli cuisine.
‘Well, I’d say she either went out and foraged some or that she was quite wealthy,’ he laughed. ‘They’re in season now, but they aren’t an everyday occurrence.’

At Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom SauceAt Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom SauceAt Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom SauceAt Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom SauceAt Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce

When we exited the house we all hiccuped back to reality. It is what happens when you exit places with souls trapped within: you wonder wether you have really been inside, and wether the past ten minutes really happen at all. Then you look back at the closed door and wonder wether someone actually whispered all those thoughts in your ears or if it was all a product of your imagination.
When we got back to Eugenia’s house, there were three grandmas in aprons making butter. Their stove was hot and a kettle was boiling on top of it. A sturdy woman was shaking milk solids in a large jar, and another one was preparing the ice.
‘See? we’ll add the ice to the jar, and the butter will get solid. Then we’ll shape it.’
Another woman brought in a bucketful of freshly squeezed milk.
‘It’s the right time to go and forage herbs,’ said one of the women. ‘We could make frittata. We should also start the water for polenta…
Here, in this house, all the chairs around the table were sat on, except one.
Marco started the polenta – a coarse, delicious polenta from Socchieve, full of black specks – and cooked the mushrooms in what I thought was too much butter. He is one of those extraordinary people who can cook in a shirt and dress pants and not get a single bit of food on himself.
I poured the tea.
‘Who is the extra cup from?’ they asked.
I accidentally poured one too many. I must have though Ophelia was there, gazing outside the window at her  own home from the empty chair.
‘I’ll have two,’ I said.

At Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom SauceAt Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom SauceAt Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce

Polenta ‘gnocchi’ are a dish, as said above, born to use leftover polenta. Polenta is one of the most common ingredients in Friuli, where wheat is almost nonexistent but there are several varieties of delicious ancient corn. Recipes from Friuli are simple, as, back in the early 1900s, it was one of the poorest regions in Italy. But its food, which varies from the earthy and fresh mountain flavors and down to the seaside, is some of the most interesting of the country and uses cinnamon and an immense array of cheeses widely.
This dish makes for a delicious veganizable (and gluten-free!) main course if you substitute olive oil for butter, and, since the mushrooms are so umami-rich, it will taste amazing without the cheese as well.
If using cheese and have no access to Montasio or Latteria, use Parmigiano or Grana to finish the dish, or any seasoned cheese you like and you have access to.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce
 
Author:
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
FOR THE GNOCCHI
  • 400g (14 oz) leftover polenta
  • 3 tbsps butter (for a vegan version, use olive oil)
  • Coarse salt for the water
FOR THE MUSHROOMS
  • About 450g (1 lb) Galletti mushrooms, or a mix of your favorite mushrooms
  • 4-5 fresh small porcini*
  • 4 tbsps butter (for a vegan version, sub with olive oil)
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
  • A scant half cup (about 100 ml) dry white wine
  • A couple sprigs of thyme, OR 5-6 sage leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated cheese to finish, preferably seasoned Latteria or Montasio (skip if vegan)**
Instructions
FOR THE MUSHROOM SAUCE
  1. Clean the girolles and porcini, or any mushroom you are using, with a cloth and a brush, so that you get rid of all the residue of soil. Mine were very fresh and quite dirty, so I also rinsed them under cold running water and dried them with a tea towel. Cut the mushroom in slices or smaller pieces.
  2. Add the butter, olive oil, herbs and garlic to the pan and turn on the heat on medium. When the butter melts and starts to sizzle, turn the heat to medium-high, and let the butter sizzle for a few seconds more. Add the mushrooms and turn the heat to high. Sauté them (or stir) to coat them in fat. Deglaze with the wine, and sauté a few seconds more. Let the wine evaporate completely. Add about ¼ cup water, salt and pepper to taste, and cover. Cook for 5 minutes. At this point, the mushrooms should have released their water. If they did, continue cooking, covered, for 5 more minutes, then uncover and cook, stirring every now and then, for 5 more minutes.
  3. If you used a kind of mushroom that releases less water, cook them on medium, turning down the heat to medium-low, rather than on high.
  4. When done, remove the garlic cloves and herbs.
FOR THE POLENTA GNOCCHI
  1. Prepare a pot of water, bring it to a boil and lightly salt it with coarse salt.
  2. Cut the leftover polenta into ½ inch cubes, and dump them into the boiling water. Once they float, drain them. It should take about 3 minutes.
  3. Melt the butter or oil in a pan and, once it sizzles, add the polenta gnocchi. Stir-fry, tossing every now and then, and let each side get golden. Once ready, drain them from excess fat and toss them with the mushrooms.
  4. Serve hot, with a grating of cheese on top.

 

MORE THINGS USING POLENTA & GIROLLES MUSHROOMS

– This Girolle Mushroom Risotto by the ever-amazing Valeria Necchio (and her book Veneto, which is so so good and a must-have);
Polenta Crostini with Mushrooms by Emiko Davies, who I had the privilege to taste and that are absolutely delicious (again, from her book Acquacotta which is so so good and a must-have);
– These beautiful Mushroom and Ricotta Tortellini by Twigg Studios, along with some stunning photos from Tuscany;
– The Mushroom Tagliatelle Betty Liu & I made together in Boston!!
– This (vegan) Pasta Bake with Mushrooms by The Blue Bride *insert heart-eyed emoticon* !!

At Ophelia's Home: Polenta Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce

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Crostata & Mini Tarts with Custard Cream and Wild Plum Jam

Listening to: Sogna Fiore Mio – Ancient Southern Italy song by L’Arpeggiata

Crostata & Mini Tarts with Custard Cream and Wild Plum Jam | Hortus Natural Cooking

I am a firm believer in saying your dreams out loud.
Speak up to the universe, and you will set in motion enough energy for the Universe to provide for you.

Zaira, who entered my life one quiet, foggy day in January in Venice, is proof of this.
She, too, is a firm believer that all you want you should pray for to the Universe, and have faith that what is yours will eventually be given to you – or better, given back, as wishes were just things that have always belonged to us and that need be given back at the right time in our lives. Just ask, she says, and have faith, without demanding or expecting anything, for each wish has its right time that we are not to know beforehand. This kind of quiet firmness shines through her eyes and glows through her soul, and turns her to a sort of ethereal goddess to my eyes.
Sometimes you have to wait. Sometimes it’s quicker. But many times it’s about that patient, calm waiting game. That’s why the ‘no expectation’ factor is so important.

I have spent a good chunk of my life feeling a laggard. I was the last one to kiss a boy amongst those my age. I was the last one to date someone. It took me a whole 24 years to find one real girl friend, and nearly 26 to find a guy who actually does not think what I do is weird. Now, the moments are treasure most are the moments I spend with them, moments I can’t resist the urge to capture with my camera.

I realize that we all spend a good chunk of life feeling like this, and forgetting our achievements. I was the first to learn to read and write (I taught myself), I was the first to learn english fluently (I taught myself), an I was the first one to establish a business. I am now 26 and have learned that there is a right time for everything. And another time has come for me.

Crostata & Mini Tarts with Custard Cream and Wild Plum Jam | Hortus Natural CookingCrostata & Mini Tarts with Custard Cream and Wild Plum Jam | Hortus Natural Cooking

Having been driven by wanderlust my whole life, my sudden urge to nest has taken me by surprise. I guess my wanderlust time is slowly but surely starting to transition to a will to just stay get some piece and quiet in a place I can call home. It took me 25 years to feel at home in this little corner of the world, and now that I do I can’t wait to leave more of a mark of my own here. Of course, I’m thinking of things that had never touched my mind before, like kids and marriage. It’s the kind of thing you never believe when they tell you when you’re 16.

But, most of all, I am feeling the urge to make Hortus get a little larger. I want to find a place a new home, one where I will be able to host workshop, wine tastings, foraging trips, pasta classes. One with a wood fired oven. I don’t only want to host the crazy expensive photography workshops, I also want to host retreats on all themes, about Italian food, vegetarian food, local herbs, edible flowers, wine. An all-round experience. I am restyling the website (this time for good I hope), making it prettier and faster, and preparing a few downloadables too.
I am saving and working hard, so that I might have my own place within a couple years. I want to make videos, collabs, have people over, have little gatherings, and set up a proper B&B other than the AirBnB I am running now here in Gradara. Of course, it might take much longer. But I am saying it out lout, as a sort of good luck wish.
In the meantime, the only thing I can do currently to make more of a home around myself is cook. The cooking that will happen in my own home will inevitably be different from my mom and grandma’s (my grandma still makes her tomato sauce with pancetta and calls it healthy), but some staples will remain. I like to dream of a future where my children will hide under the table and steal strozzapreti when (they think) I’m not seeing, just like we did as kids.

But when everything seems impossible and faithless, I learned that, as Zaira says, all you have to do is ask. Ask for your wishes, ask for whatever you need, have tons of faith, work hard, but do not obsess. Ask, if anything, just in case. It won’t go through 9 times out of 10. But if you ask 100 times you’ll have gotten it 10 times, and that’s all the times you need.

Crostata & Mini Tarts with Custard Cream and Wild Plum Jam | Hortus Natural CookingCrostata & Mini Tarts with Custard Cream and Wild Plum Jam | Hortus Natural CookingCrostata & Mini Tarts with Custard Cream and Wild Plum Jam | Hortus Natural CookingCrostata & Mini Tarts with Custard Cream and Wild Plum Jam | Hortus Natural CookingCrostata & Mini Tarts with Custard Cream and Wild Plum Jam | Hortus Natural Cooking

This is one of the oldest, most common recipes in our household. ‘Crostata’, a kind of Italian tart, has been constantly present for breakfasts, parties, birthdays and any other time in which jams and eggs needed to be used up. It is one of those treats we confidently serve to our AirBnB guests and always a winner. There is a version of this in my book as well! It is usually stuffed with jam and fruit, but this one is stuffed with jam and custard!! I also made mini ‘crostatine’ versions, which was a super popular snack at school when we were kids, or after playing in the park in the afternoon. This one is stuffed with a jam I made out of rustichelle plums, a kind of wild, small purple plums I found on wild trees all around the countryside. I love to go crazy and decorate a good crostata with lattice tops and flowers, which is a real novelty for a classic Italian countryside home where a grandma still visits. Crostatas have the sole purpose of being large and satisfying, therefore requiring zero need to be pretty at all. But I remember, when I was a kid, me and grandma would make crostata together, and we would put great care in rolling the strips to arrange on top of the crostata by hand, and arranging them to form a diamond pattern. It is one of my dearest childhood memories, and here I present it to you to sort of wish myself the same chance to give these memories to others. I want my dreams to be as poised and elegant and Zaira, and as earthy, fragrant and grounded as these memories – as this crostata.

NOTE: You can flavor the custard with various flowers or syrups, like rose, lavender, elderflower. If using syrup, substitute half the weight of the sugar with the syrup. If using flowers, add the (dried) petals into the milk when you’re warming it, and let it infuse for about an hour or so, then warm it again to make the custard.

Crostata & Mini Tarts with Custard Cream and Wild Plum Jam
 
Makes a big -inch crostata or 8 - inch crostatine
Ingredients
FOR THE DOUGH
  • 200g stone-milled flour (I used Italian 1 type)
  • 20g rice flour
  • 30g almond flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 egg + 1 yolk
  • 80g butter, softened
  • 4 tablespoons rum, or other flavorful alcohol you like (the actual alcohol will evaporate with the heat. you can sub the alcohol with any milk if you prefer)
  • Scraped seeds from half a vanilla bean, or 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Zest from ½ a lemon
  • Pinch salt
FOR THE CUSTARD
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 100g zucchero
  • 40g potato or rice starch
  • 400 ml whole milk (plant milk, especially almond, works equally well)
  • Half a vanilla bean
  • Zest from ½ lemon, peeled in one long stripe
ASSEMBLY
  • Plum jam (preferably wild plum, but if you can't find it, sub any fruit jam you like)
  • 1 egg yolk, to brush the top
  • Almond slivers
  • Powdered sugar to finish
Instructions
MAKE THE DOUGH
  1. Just combine all ingredients together and knead until combined, either with a stand mixer or by hand. The dough should be quite limp and slightly sticky. If it seems too dry, add a tablespoon or two more liquid and combine. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 20 - 30 minutes.
MAKE THE CUSTARD
  1. To make the custard, warm the milk until slightly smoking.
  2. Add the egg yolks, sugar and starch to a pot and whisk well, vigorously, until you obtain a smooth mixture. Scrape the vanilla bean seeds and add them to the mixture, then throw in the bean and lemon peel as well (scrape off the white part if it's on the peel). Add the warm milk little by little, whisking constantly.
  3. Turn on the burner to medium heat under the pot. Whisk constantly while the custard cooks, and always keep an eye on it. Once it gets close to boiling, It will go from liquid to solid in just a few seconds, at which point you will have to whisk faster. Once it has thickened to a pourable consistency, turn off the burner and keep whisking for another minute. Let cool, and remove the lemon peel and vanilla bean. You can sprinkle some caster sugar on top to avoid the thin film forming. Store in the fridge until ready to use.
ASSEMBLE & bake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F˚ / 180 C˚.
  2. At this point, you have two options: bake the shells and add the custard and jam later, or bake the cream and jam as well. Baking all the ingredients together is what we always did in my family, and cooking the custard a second time makes the crostata last a little longer (though I have yet to see a crostata lasting longer than a day and a half).
  3. For the 1st option: Roll out the dough between two pieces baking sheet, slightly dusted with flour, to about ⅛ inch / 4 mm thickness. Line the tart pan (or the small ones if making crostatine with the rolled out dough.
  4. Line the shells with baking paper and add some beans or baking beans to avoid it growing too much, and bake until golden, about 15 minutes. When cool, fill with a layer of jam, one of custard, and another spoonful of jam, spreading it evenly. top with almond slivers and fresh fruit slices if you wish.
  5. For the 2nd option: reserve ⅓ dough for the decorations. Line the tart pan(s) just as above, but, instead of baking alone, fill with a layer of jam, one of custard, one of jam, and spread evenly. Decorate the top with leftover dough strips, or cut off shapes like leaves and flowers, and decorate as you prefer. I love making lattices and adding almond slicers all round the edge of the tarts!
  6. Brush the top/exposed dough with the egg yolk.
  7. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until brown gold on top and cooked through. If the dough looks too pale, leave it a few minutes more. This largely depends from your oven.
  8. When ready, let cool before slicing. Keep the crostata refrigerated.

Crostata & Mini Tarts with Custard Cream and Wild Plum Jam | Hortus Natural Cooking

Basic Herbal Beeswax Balm Recipe for Multiple Uses + Balm Post-Mosquito Bites

Balm agains Mosquito Bites | Hortus Natural CookingIt was June 24th.
I was biking back home after a late afternoon, post-work gym session. The scenery, ever changing throughout the seasons week after week, is astounding here. I bike through sunflower fields, vegetable gardens, and an overgrowth of alfalfa – so, so wonderfully perfumed if let flower – equisetum, and lemon balm.  There is even a little water stream in the trench below that did not succumb to this season’s blistering heat, and gargles joyful, adding its voice to that of cicadas and sparrows.
A little bush of gold catches my attention as I quickly ride past it. I turn back, hunch over it, and can hardly believe my eyes.
A tiny, tiny bouquet of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) timidly sat, half-hidden, to the edge of the road.
I had looked for it through and through around the surrounding fields, only to find a good bunch of nothing. And now that little cluster of golden flowers was there, looking at me, all cute and bright.
I didn’t even have time to snap a photo of it. I picked it, making sure not to damage the roots, brought it home and immediately infused it in some olive oil.
Now that fresh herbs are so vastly available, I re-stocked my pantry with all sorts of herbal infusions (including jams and liquors you might have seen through my Instagram stories). Recently I got back to using essential oils and making concoctions of all sorts, and all the beekepers around here have fresh honey and beeswax, now that the bees are restlessly swarming on all sorts of flowers.  So I got back to making balms – including an extremely useful one against mosquito bites – using my newly infused herbal oils. I shared a face mask on this blog before and it was successful, so here is my natural beauty section opening again!

Depending on the kind of ingredients used, this balm has several uses:

  • alleviates mosquitoes stings (see recipe below!);
  • deeply nourishes the skin (try it on dry hands, or sensitive areas like elbows and heels – do not use on face!);
  • relieves pain from light bruises and burns, especially if made with soothing herbal oils like arnica, marigold or chamomile and maybe a few drops of mint or eucalyptus oil;
  • As a lip balm, if only made with beeswax (or, even BETTER, cacao butter!!) + oil (herbal or neutral) and maybe just a very few drops of essential oils you love to lightly perfume it.

Making Herbal Oils + Balm agains Mosquito Bites | Hortus Natural CookingBasic Herbal Beeswax Balm Recipe for Multiple Uses + Balm agains Mosquito Bites | Hortus Natural CookingBasic Herbal Beeswax Balm Recipe for Multiple Uses + Balm agains Mosquito Bites | Hortus Natural CookingBasic Herbal Beeswax Balm Recipe for Multiple Uses + Balm agains Mosquito Bites | Hortus Natural Cooking

BASIC FORMULA FOR CREATING A BEESWAX BALM
For a basic balm, you only need two ingredients, plus some add-ons which are not really necessary anyway.

  1. 15% ORGANIC VIRGIN BEESWAX (Cera Alba)
    Beeswax is rich in vitamin A as well as other vitamins, and is known for its nourishing and repairing properties. Make sure it is organic, or residual pesticides might release into the fat the wax will be melted in.
    If you buy it from a beekeeper, the wax might not be virgin and be of a dark brownish color. In this case, melt it very gently on a bain-marie until melted. The dirt will float to the surface. Scoop if off and let cool. The wax should now be much paler. This process is just like making ghee.
    Vegan Subs: shea butter | Cacao butter | coconut oil (see more info below)
  2. 85% OIL or HERBAL OIL 

    Again, use organic, virgin oils. Olive oil, rapeseed, sunflower, and pumpkin seed, almond oils are some of the best oils to use for this kind of preparations.
    By infusing these oils with specific herbs, you can make herbal oils with more medicinal properties. You can buy pre-made herbal oils or you can make your own if you have access to organic fresh herbs.
    All these oils are only intended for external use.
    The best nourishing and healing plants to use for this purpose are those with repairing, antibacterial and antioxidant properties, which are:

    Arnica (Arnica Montana) – the most used against bruises and muscular pains.
    St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) – thus called because its golden flowers reach their balsamic peak during St.John’s day, June 24th. It produces a deep red oil. Do not use if pregnant or if taking medication of any kind.
    Marigold (Calendula Officinalis) & Chamomile (Matricaria Chamomilla) – two plants known for their calming, soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.

    Do not underestimate the power of these herbs. Their properties are strong and extremely effective, so make sure you are not sensitive to any of them. St.John’s Wort is so strong that it is advised against its use if on birth control or other medication. Oils like calendula and chamomile are considered the safest and can be used by mostly anyone.
    See here my tutorial for making infused chamomile vanilla oil!
    The best oils to use, both for infusion and to use as is, are those rich in antioxidants and vitamins, preferably odorless: almond, jojoba, sunflower, pumpkin seed. Olive oil is great too but it has more of a smell. Pick the one that is easiest for you to find or afford (I like sunflower as I can get an odorless version that is quite cheap).

  3. ESSENTIAL OILS  

    Essential oils are wonderful concentrations of nature. They make me think of a game I once played called Legend of Mana, where the ‘Mana’ was the quintessential spirit of plants and beings. Well, essential oils are pretty much the same thing. They are not really ‘oils’, but they are soluble in oil and not in water. Each oil has wonderful properties, but must be used carefully. No E.O should be used directly on your skin, and not all are food grade. Some can be even toxic. But, when diluted in oils or alcohol, they give the best of themselves and can be used for many, many purposes. They are a bit of an investment but once you have them they will last a long time and can be used for balms, perfumes, salves, and even recipes provided they’re food grade (it should be written on the package, otherwise ask when buying them).
    If you have skin sensitivities or take medication, make sure to ask your doctor before using them.
    Now I have about 10 different ones and love using them!

The combination of these 3 elements gives you a great formula for basic balms. If you use less beeswax, you will get a creamier consistency. If you use more, you’ll get a stiffer balm. If using vegan alternatives, I recommend using 50% butters + 50% oil.

Basic Herbal Beeswax Balm Recipe for Multiple Uses + Balm agains Mosquito Bites | Hortus Natural CookingBasic Herbal Beeswax Balm Recipe for Multiple Uses + Balm agains Mosquito Bites | Hortus Natural CookingBasic Herbal Beeswax Balm Recipe for Multiple Uses + Balm agains Mosquito Bites | Hortus Natural Cooking

MY BALM POST-MOSQUITO BITES
When last year we gathered for our Gradara Workshops, Betty Liu constantly kept pulling out this wonderful Chinese balm that she’d smother on her mosquitoes stings (sorry for all the Italian mosquitoes, Betty!) that would work magic, and I thought about creating something similar. I clearly remember its strong minty smell, slightly reminiscent of a classic Italian remedy called Olio 31, an oil made out of 31 herbs. This balm uses less than that, but the oils here are perfect for this purpose: lavender is soothing, tea tree has very strong antibacterial properties, mint is refreshing, and bergamot is a great antiseptic, to which you can substitute lemon. Rosemary helps keep insects away and is a good antiseptic (and, IMO, makes this concoction smell fantastic).

Substitutions
If you do not have rosemary EO or do not like it, feel free to omit it.
If you wish, you can sub lavender EO for basil EO.
You can sub Cajeput EO for Tea Tree EO (both have similar functions, but cajeput has less of a strong smell)

VEGAN OPTIONS FOR BEESWAX: if you do not want to use bee products, there can be some alternatives.Two great options are Shea butter and cacao butter, which will get you more of a cream than a balm. I would also say coconut oil, if you’re ok with it being liquid with the heat. In this case, use 45 g coconut oil instead of the wax.
You can also do it in an alcohol solution: make a 85% alcohol solution by combining – with  – water, and add the essential oils mentioned below. Store in a dark bottle away from sunlight, and dab on mosquito bites with some cotton.

This amount makes two small lip balm-like containers, or one larger 40 ml jar. Just double the amounts if making more, but if it’s your first time using these ingredients just make a little and see how your skin reacts. Though this works for me and actually helps against insect stings, it might not be the same for you. But I love it regardless because of the smell!

Balm Post-Mosquito Bites
 
Ingredients
FOR THE HERBAL OIL
  • A 250ml / 1 cup clean jar
  • ½ cup active plant parts (flowers, leaves) of one of the following: chamomile or marigold (flowers only), or St.John's Wort (flowers & leaves)
  • Enough organic virgin oil to cover. Olive oil is great, or choose sunflower, almond or rapeseed for options with less odor.
FOR THE BALM
  • 7 g (about 2 heaping teaspoons) virgin beeswax (See note above for VEGAN alternatives)
  • 30 g (about 2 tablespoons) herbal oil or virgin, organic, odorless oil such as sunflower, rapeseed or almond
  • 20 drops Lavender Essential Oil
  • 20 drops Tea Tree EO
  • 10 drops Mint EO
  • 10 drops Bergamot or Lemon EO
  • 5 drops rosemary EO
  • EXTRA: 5 drops, or a capsule, tocopherol (vitamin E)
Instructions
MAKE THE HERBAL OIL
  1. Add the herbs to the jar and cover with oil. The herbs should take up about half the jar, while the oil should get up to ¾. Store in a cool, dark place for about 30 days, then filter through a muslin cloth into a clean jar. Store in a dark, cool place.
  2. ST.JOHN'S WORT OIL IS THE EXCEPTION: this plant is fully activated by the sun, so leave it to infuse in full sunlight. After a few days, the oil will start to turn red. Once ready, after 30 days, and filtered, store in a dark place.
MAKE THE BALM
  1. melt the beeswax gently over a bain-marie. Make sure you do it this way, or too harsh a heat might ruin its properties.
  2. Once the wax is melted (stir it every now and then), remove from the bain-marie and add the oil. The wax will probably form some lumps but it will smooth off as it cools. Wait for it to get to a slightly creamy consistency, and add the essential oils and extras if using. Transfer to a small glass container (I used a small Weck jar with a clip lid), and let solidify completely.
  3. Store preferably in a dark place (even your bag is fine), and it will keep for quite a long time, especially if you added tocopherol.
MAKE THIS A BALM TO PREVENT MOSQUITO BITES
  1. Add 10 drops geranium oil, and 10 drops citronella oil. Do not skip the lavender!

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USEFUL LINKS
This recipe was possible thanks to these (unsponsored) sources (most info is in Italian!)
Marco Valussi – Oli Essenziali Istruzioni per l’Uso
Eden Style Magazine
Essential oils sources: ZenStore | Erbamea | Puress.Oil

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