In Elizabethan country houses, located close to the kitchen and the garden, would be found what was known as a ‘still room’. A peaceful space where the mistress of the house would harness the flavours and scents of the countryside using recipes that were passed from mother to daughter. Spring produce would start a cycle of preservation: jams, jellies, pickles and distillations that were essential in the kitchen thoughout the year. As the peace of Elizabeth I’s reign stretched into the second half of the 16th century, gardening (and garden design) truly began to flourish. Not simply elaborate herbaceous borders and practical kitchen gardens, but herbs and flowers planted for their use in beauty preparations, tinctures and household products such as linen sachets, room perfumes, sleep pillows, cleaning materials.
Sustainability, 'green-living', was simply a way of life in pre-modern times, and the use of aromatic herbs and floral scents in the Elizabethan era established their culinary, practical and medicinal use for centuries. Before the commercial products yearned for by time-poor housekeepers, herbs such as penny royal, tansy, sweet woodruff, thyme, sage and rosemary were used as disinfectants, insect repellents and cleansers. Delicate blends of tinctures and what we now call 'essential oils' were used to freshen rooms and clean surfaces. Their fragrance is quintessentially green and clean.
So at this time of year, with the emergence of those first shoots and tiny buds, tentative conversations of spring lift the closed-down feelings of the winter months, windows are flung open on sunny days and the phrase ‘spring-cleaning’ emerges with promise of fresh beginnings. In an age where we have become obsessed with ‘antibacterial products’ we would do well to look to the use of herbs and natural preparations in the home: kind to the environment, easy on the budget and all the while nurturing our well-being. Think ... fresh scented herbs to help concentration; relaxing aromas to reduce stress; warm convivial scents for entertaining. With a little thought and very little time it is not difficult to ensure that you have a stock of safe "green" alternatives in your home. Vinegars make excellent glass cleaners and eliminate limescale in the kitchen and the bathroom; lemon juice is perfect for deodourising your fridge and freshening cutting boards; add a few drops of eucalyptus, rosemary and lavender oil to your lemon juice it will cut through grease while making the kitchen smell glorious.
Unsurprisingly we love thyme, in all its diverse varietals. For centuries this herb has been lauded for its cleansing properties both in the home and in the body, and it is so easy to grow. A pot of common garden thyme, fresh scented lemon thyme or pungent caraway thyme will create a ‘room diffuser’ that will never run dry, simply ruffle the leaves each time you walk past. You do not need a 'still room' to prepare tinctures and distillations, all sorts of preparations and essential oils are widely available; so think about the scents you enjoy, look at their properties and store them in the dark … they will last for months with a vast array of uses. Try this simple recipe for the perfect surface cleaner:
- 100ml pure alcohol such as vodka
- 300ml distilled water
- Juice of a lemon
- 10 drops good quality thyme essential oil
Simply mix together in a plastic spray bottle, use sparingly, one wipe and your work surfaces will be fresh, fragrant and clean. Note: as essential oils erode plastic over time make sure they are stored in glass, but a plastic spray bottle for short term storage of a prepared cleaning product is just fine.
Happy Spring Cleaning!
Why not stay at Thyme? Enjoy the herb gardens and get a little spring-time inspiration ...