Burnt Snow, my first novel, was released in 2010 by Pan MacMillan Australia. White Rain, the sequel, is due soon. As part of a trilogy about witches, earth magic, curses, love and revenge, this blog archives my research into the world of the witches - as well as my own magical saga as a new author.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Earthly Paradise in Covent Garden

Good morning, London! And aren't you absolutely freezing today? Now I remember why every British person I meet stares at me blankly whenever I mention I'm just back from Australia. But why? they ask. "Oh, you know," says Van "Boy Next Door, girls of the Chelsea Triad, Tate Modern, Royal Court, West End, Waterstone's, Eurostar..." And they look, and they tighten their scarves around their necks, and they shiver.
It's good to be home, but it needs to be said that I'm sitting at the computer wearing 6 layers of clothing, a dressing-gown and a blanket. Gladly, I am on such good terms with Fortune now that I have devoted myself to seasonal life that I am stocked up with enough tea to last until the end of the year.
And, did you know, that ginger tea actually warms you up from the inside?
My interest in all things herbal is now bordering on the obsessional. Since my last blog, I've consumed at least 8 more litres of mint tea, made my own hair conditioner, summoned a plum cordial, flavoured my moisturiser, bottled some massage oil and added a herbal stock to wild rice so delicious that I'm craving it as I write.
What has made this explosion of activity possible? Why, I made a little visit (in the chilling cold) to Neal's Yard in Covent Garden.
I mean, not only is there a vegetarian restaurant that does a take-away pizza-of-yum for £3.50... but there's a full-on, hands-down apothecary fantastique which sells, like, everything I could ever want, ever. Here is a picture of Neal's Yard.

So I ordered my pizza and wandered across the court into the apothecary and politely inquired if they had any orris root, so I could exploit a recipe in Titania's Love Potions for a bottle of hair-awesome.
My charming retail assistant, Julie - as fresh-faced and redhaired as only girls who work in apothecaries can be - looked at me with a polite smile. Of course they sell orris root.
"And... erm..." I thought hard for something I knew was difficult to get "... damiana?"
Another polite smile, plus a nod. "We're Neal's Yard," Julie said, "how much would you like?"
Orris root, herb fans, is the ground root of the iris flower. It smells like heaven and is used as a base note in lots of perfumes. You can eat it and it's often an ingredient in gin. Blended with various other goodies, it makes a fabulous body powder, and in folklore it's a common ingredient of love potions and spell-breaking powders. Damiana is a naughtier treat - it's a Mexican herb that's renowned for its, ahem, stimulation of the reproductive system as well as having a reputation for encouraging lucid dreaming if you make it as a tea. It is perfectly legal, of course - and often used as a flavouring in South American liqueurs and in triple sec. Of course, given its folkloric association with the male libido, it is another popular ingredient in passion elixirs (our Titania is most fond). Some people smoke it - but, of course, some people will smoke anything.
I walked out of Neal's Yard not only with packets of orris root and damiana (I couldn't help myself), but lavender buds, and cumin seeds, dried rosebuds and lemon verbena leaves. I also picked up a swag of essential oils: orange, cinnamon and geranium (for massage oil), peppermint and mandarin (for moisturiser). Turning the corner to Pages in Shaftesbury Avenue to buy all the jars and funnels I could ever need, I've since been mixing and blending up a storm.
And do these things work? Certainly, I met the Chelsea Triad last night for our regular girl-gang tea-party and was emphatically told that my hair - newly sprayed with awesome - looked shiny and pretty. The Boy Next Door has developed a real liking for plum-and-damiana cordial - oh, my!
To stir you in to soft dreams, you may wish to try the following: Ras el hanout is the name for any mixture of Arabic spices thought by the seller to be "the best in the shop"... and some of the mixtures are deliciously romantic.

  • Ras el hanout Romance Juice (with thanks to Titania for guidance): Pour 500mls of red grape juice into a saucepan and heat gently. While the grape juice heats, get a dry frypan. In it, mix some saffron threads, 1/2 tsp of cumin seeds, a couple of pinches of ground ginger and 2 tbs of dried rosebuds. Heat this mixture on the hob, but only for a few seconds (it can burn very quickly, be vigilant). Turn off all the hobs, drop the herb mixture into the red grape juice and stir until the juice is at a pleasant temperature. Strain into a jug, drink from red wine glasses. Garnish with rosepetals, if some are available.

Sweet dreams...


hsg said...

I'm still cross with Neal's Yard about their homeopathic malaria sugar pills, but their courtyard really is delightful. And that photo makes it look like a Sesame Street set! I'll have to stroll down there this week.

Van Badham said...

Homeopathic malaria sugar pills? WHAT?

Please don't destroy my herbal fantasies of Neal's Yard. Their orange flower water is the best toner my skin has ever known and the pizza... the pizza...!

hsg said...

More info on the crazy malaria controversy here. and last year's strange PR FAIL incident on the Guardian website wasn't great either.

But yes, their skin products are lovely, and their shops always smell delicious! Never tried the pizza, though...