Gold, frankincense and myrrh – how wise were the wise men…?

From the top: The three wise men, or Magi. Gold, frankincense and myrrh as we usually portray them in nativity plays. A frankincense tree, and myrrh resin.As a child, I was always fascinated by the three wise men and their gifts. I could see the logic in gold, but what on earth were frankincense and myrrh, and wouldn’t it have been a lot more sensible if they had brought blankets, soap and a nice pot of stew instead? Well, after looking into saffron for a recent blog, I decided to find out the facts about these two strange sounding gifts…

People in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula have produced frankincense and myrrh for over 5,000 years. For much of this time, these aromatic resins were the region’s most important commodity, with a trade network that reached across Africa, Asia and Europe.

Derived from tree sap, or gum resin, both frankincense and myrrh were highly prized for personal, religious and medicinal use. In a time before people washed every day, they would use the sweet smoke from the resins to make themselves smell better. Egyptian women used the ash of frankincense to make their eyeliner – think of all those amazing mummies with their dramatically black–lined eyes! 

Frankincense and myrrh also had medicinal uses and both resins were recommended for the treatment of wounds. Other ailments they were reputed to cure included hemlock poisoning, leprosy, worms, snakebites, diarrhoea, plague, scurvy and even baldness!

The high demand for frankincense and myrrh created a booming trade in the Middle East lasting several hundred years. In the first century, around the height of the trade, it is recorded that Arabia produced approximately 1,680 tons of frankincense and around 448 tons of myrrh each year.

So frankincense and myrrh were widely available when the three wise men visited the baby Jesus and would have been considered practical gifts with many uses. The expensive resins were symbolic as well. Frankincense, which was often burned, symbolized prayer rising to the heavens like smoke, while myrrh, which was often used for burials, symbolized death.

Frankincense and myrrh may not be as popular as they once were, but they’re still used today in products and in ways that might surprise you. They’re common ingredients in modern perfumes and cosmetics, continuing a tradition that has lasted thousands of years. Scientists are finding new uses for the substances as well and recent studies suggest that frankincense may be beneficial to sufferers of asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, osteoarthritis and collagenous colitis. Researchers have also discovered possible benefits of myrrh in the treatment of gastric ulcers, tumours and parasites.

So, three very wise men indeed…

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Dramatic Couture!

How about a really over the top card for a fashion loving friend or family member? These images come from the CD featuring Janet Kruskamp – the collection. Janet has the most amazingly diverse range of things she paints and sketches and these are something wonderfully different.

This is a particularly large card measuring about 11.5” x 8” – but obviously you could take this idea and create something much smaller if you didn’t want to be quite so dramatic!

The corners can be achieved several ways – you could use something as easy as a punch, a die – even good old peeloffs. So mat your backing paper onto some black card. Add the corners and then mount all of that onto an antique gold card blank. This size of card blank would be something you would do yourself and is easiest with A3 card.

Then arrange the toppers with different couture designs, decoupage the outfits to add height to the card and then add a wonderfully grand ribbon bow. The hat pins are then tucked into the bow and glued in place with glue gel.

Have fun!


A personal ‘spring clean’

After all the dreadful rain we’ve recently had some days of gorgeous winter sunshine and, although I know I am a bit early, I am already looking forward to spring! As well as spring cleaning the house and tackling the jobs in the garden, I have also been thinking about little old me – how can I give myself a bit of a ‘pep up’ and a spring clean?

As you will know, I’ve always been keen on natural health and beauty remedies, so I’ve had a look through my files and come up with some easy and effective natural beauty ideas for you.

Leftover Rice Mask
Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous, but stay with me… This mask feeds the skin and leaves it really soft and satiny.

  • 2 tablespoons of cooked rice
  • 15ml (I tablespoon) sunflower oil
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 5ml (1 teaspoon) runny honey
  • 4ml (1 scant teaspoon) lemon juice

Mix all the ingredients together and apply to your face – this looks pretty fearsome, so you might want to pre-warn your loved ones! Leave on for 15 minutes while you relax, a quick snooze, a bath or perhaps read a chapter or two of my novel! Wash off well with warm water.

Citrus Neck Oil
It is impossible to ignore your face as you are constantly confronted by it in the mirror, but what about your neck? It’s probably been hidden with scarves and high collars all winter and, as we ladies know, it is often the part of you that ages fastest, so give your neck some TLC.

  • 5ml (1 teaspoon) avocado oil
  • 5ml (1 teaspoon) grapeseed oil
  • 6 drops geranium essential oil
  • 3 drops lemon essential oil
  • 3 drops orange essential oil
  • 2 drops clary sage essential oil

Mix the ingredients well and massage a small amount into your neck at night. If you feel you’ve overdone it, just blot off the excess with tissue.


Looking good in winter…

Animals have got it right when it comes to winter – curl up and hibernate for a few months (having gorged yourself first!) or keep nice and warm in your snug-fitting fur coat. Sadly for us poor old humans, we just have to brave the elements. So we end up with chapped lips, dry skin, dull hair and numerous other problems. But don’t despair, with a little bit of ingenuity we can perk ourselves up no end.

Making a rich moisturiser out of natural ingredients is a great way to give your skin a treat.

Devon Cider Apple Cream

  • 500g (1lb) white vegetable fat
  • 500g (1lb) apples (weight after being peeled and cored)
  • 120ml rose water
  • A few drops of alcoholic tincture of benzoin (preservative)

This is not a particularly sophisticated cream but, believe me, it works excellently. It also makes a good hand cream.

Melt the vegetable fat in a pan over a low heat. Put the prepared apples in a food processor or blender and purée totally Add the apple juice and pulp to the fat and stir together well. Remove from the heat and add the rose water and benzoin. Strain immediately, put into screw-top jars and keep in the fridge. Massage the cream into face and neck – and give you hands a treat at the same time!

Sunflower & Sea Salt Body Rub

  • Small amount of sunflower oil
  • Sea salt

This is ideal for tired winter skin. It also works well if you substitute granulated sugar for the sea salt.

Treat your body in sections. First, apply a little sunflower oil to soften and dampen the skin, then take a handful of sea salt and rub well into the area you have prepared. This will slough off any dead skin cells and leave your skin glowing and awake. Wash off the oil and salt mix with warm water – the easiest way is in the shower.



Now, it’s time to relax!

Happy Christmas! I hope you are having a lovely day and that Santa has brought you everything you wished for!

By the end of Christmas day or Boxing day, when the relatives have gone and the tidying up is complete, I think most of us will be longing for some rest and relaxation and I can’t think of anything that fits the bill better than a relaxing bath.

There are many real and apocryphal tales of famous ladies bathing in assorted substances. Cleopatra in her asses milk, for example, while others choose champagne and water from famous spas. All of these indicate one thing – that baths of any kind are good for the spirit! However, I think bathing in asses milk is right out (unless you have a pet ass of course) but milk baths can work just as well with a limited amount of milk and not necessarily from a donkey!

Here is a selection of my favourite soaks for you to try, so lie back and relax… and prepare yourself for the New Year celebrations that are just around the corner!

Smiles, Joanna

Cleopatra’s Milk Bath

1.5 cups of powdered milk or 1 litre/2 pint of fresh milk

This will help relax and soften your skin.

While the bath is running add the powdered milk under the fast-running tap. Fresh milk is also nice in a bath but the convenience of powdered milk is that you can keep it in the bathroom with a scoop or cup, ready for the moment when you feel the need of an Egyptian-style bath!

Lavender bath

A simple recipe for a wonderful, aromatic and relaxing bath is to add 6-8 drops of lavender essential oil under the fast-running hot tap as you fill your bath.

Salt Bath

This could not be easier. Salt baths help to relieve tired and aching muscles and make your skin feel wonderful. Run a warm bath and pour 1-2 cups of sea salt under the fast-running tap. Then enjoy!

Floral Soda Bath

Baking soda can be used on its own to make a bath cooling and reviving, especially if you have been ill. However, it is much more enjoyable as a floral bath. This isn’t an ‘immediate’ bath time treat, but is well worth the wait…

Fill a large glass jar (approximately 750ml or 1.5 pint) with bicarbonate of soda to just short of the top. Then, add a teaspoon of jasmine, ylang-ylang or neroli essential oil. Shake the jar well and leave on the side for a week or two, shaking it every time you pass.

Use about a half to one cup for a wonderfully aromatic bath.