One of the more gratifying aspects of volunteer work is the response you receive from your clients. I was especially looking forward to a recent horticultural session at Ann’s Place as we had nearly filled up the class with 13 pre-registrants. This class focused on creating sachets and mulling spice packets. So I got to the facility early to ensure everything was in place. Chairs for everyone plus a few possible drop ins, everything laid out on the table for sachet making, pens to decorate the sachets, a coffee urn cleaned out to make mulled cider, an ironing board and iron to seal the tea bags that would be used for the mulling spices, etc.
With 20 minutes to spare everything was ready for the crowd.
And with 10 minutes to spare everything was ready for the crowd.
And with no minutes to spare my first client shows up. And that was it.
After we made some small talk, she looked rather embarrassed saying, “I was really looking forward to this. Perhaps I should call my husband.” I told her no that we would have a session between the two of us. She didn’t want to put me to any trouble, but I said that since we were both here we should just go on. She turned up a little smile and we started.
While my last session focused on Tussie-Mussies and the language of flowers, this one dealt with more of the smells and tastes that can be derived through the mixing of herbs and flowers. “What is your favorite smell?” I asked.
She replied, “Lavender. It reminds me when I was young,” I added that my mother’s favorite was lilac because her mother had lilac bushes in her yard as a child. She smiled and agreed that it was a wonderful smell. I told her that one of my favorite smells was that of pickles (which are predominated with dill, bay leaves and vinegar as the dominant flavorings) as it reminded me of when I used to eat lunch outside with my father during the summer.
“So one of the things we need to consider when making a sachet is how and where it will be used. For example, if you wanted to create a sachet that would be used in the kitchen or bathroom, it would probably have very different scents than one for a drawer where you kept your fine scarfs.” My client looked at me and said she had never thought of it that way and started taking notes.
“One of the things you need to consider is how to combine different scents.” I had collected 12 different botanicals and 7 different oils that could be used in a sachet. “But you have to be careful how you combine them, because certain things sit better together.”
“There are four category of scents: sweet, sour, vegetable, and animal.” I then described each one and told her that she needed to choose what she wanted to be her fundamental scent and then surround it with related scents.
“Well I think I will pick nutmeg,” she said after sniffing many of the different spices and herbs available. To unlock more of the nutmeg's scent, she started to grind it with a pestle. “Oh my,” she said after a few grinds released the essence of the nutmeg. She then looked over other scents. She took a bit of cinnamon, some chamomile and another spice or two.
As she mixed them she was amazed at the complexity and complementary nature of the smells as they combined in her bowl. And with each turn of the spoon and new scent came a different story and memory of her past. As the scents were being liberated, old and pleasant memories were being unlocked. But now we needed to come to a decision of what type of essential oil to add to the mix. “How about peppermint?,” I suggested. “It is very complementary to what you have put together and it will bind well with the oak moss we need to use as a fixative. We will place it in a separate bowl so you can smell it as well as your mixture together.”
She agreed. After mixing the oak moss and pepermint, she held her emulsion along with her mix up to her nose. “This is incredible. It’s nothing like I thought it would be. Thank you.” I smiled telling her that I didn’t want to give canned recipes to clients but rather let them explore and discover how smells could be blended.
As we finished making the kitchen sachet we then moved on to mulling spices, which are different parts of cinnamon, clove, allspice, orange rind and lemon rind. We sipped some mulled cider I had made up and I asked her to reflect on the flavors she sensed and to consider which ones she enjoyed more than others.I showed her the mix and then I gave her four tea bags to be filled with spices and suggested that she experiment with different proportions to decide what type of mix she would ultimately enjoy more than others.
More stories and memories emerged while she blended the different spices. We were chatting about her experiences as well as mine. Before you knew it, it was time to clean up and she was looking forward to experience her mixings later in the week. As I was picking up I realized that I didn’t miss the dozen potential clients who didn’t show up. And in fact more than a little part of me was happy they did not.