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Garden of body delights: Grow herbs for an at-home spa

Spa. Even saying the word relaxes you a little bit.

Until you see the bill.

Garden designer Sue Goetz has the cure for both the stresses of life and keeping your credit card bills in check. She’s just come out with “The Herb Lover’s Spa Book.”

Now you can turn your basil leaves into pesto and a face cleanser.

“It’s for a gardener who wants to explore something new and different,” she said.

The book merges the benefits of growing and using herbs to create your own home spa. It offers cultivation tips as well as specific information on 19 common plants that can be used to create spa treatments. It also has over 50 spa product recipes that use herbs along with references and other resources.

Goetz wrote the book for several reasons. Chief among them was that herbs are the number one subject that people are interested in when she gives her frequent garden design talks. The other was her growing frustration at seeing so many beauty and wellness products labeled as “spa” when they’re just ordinary shampoo or soap.

A spa, Goetz said, is a place of relaxation. A label on a bottle isn’t going to magically give you that.

“That’s not what a spa is. It’s a lifestyle of wellness,” she said. And because wellness begins at home so should a spa.

“Who said you have to go somewhere to have that,” she asks.

Unlike a commercial spa, the home environment is familiar and under your control. And if you have a garden, and are willing to make your own spa products, that control extends to them.

“I just want people to recognize how they can get (the spa lifestyle) at home and have their garden give it to them,” she said.

WHAT IS AN HERB?

From a botanical viewpoint an herb is anything that isn’t a shrub or tree. But Goetz, like most people, uses a looser definition — one that defines herbs as plants (annuals to trees) that are used for culinary, aromatic and wellness purposes.

Most plants in the typical garden are ornamental. Goetz wants her garden to give more than aesthetic pleasure. “I call it selfish gardening,” she said.

Goetz harvests a year-round supply of herbs. Knowledge is key, she said, to the safe and effective use of herbs. Some plants could turn your day at the spa into a day in the emergency room. Even the parts of a plant can vary wildly in their safety. While the stalks of rhubarb make delicious pie, its leaves are poisonous.

Depending on the herb, the desirable part might be its seeds, leaves, roots, bark or flowers.

“You really need to know what you’re harvesting for,” Goetz said. She noted that calendulas are sometimes called pot marigolds and are often mistaken for true marigolds. But it’s the calendulas that have skin healing properties. Marigolds are a skin irritant.

Goetz makes no bold health claims in her book. She disregarded dubious claims and included wellness information only when it was well researched and documented.

“It was very important to me that these were well-tested qualities,” Goetz said.

GROWING HERBS

Accessibility is key to making herbs easy to harvest and use, Goetz said. Plant them close to the house or path ways. “Just not out at the back 40,” she said.

It’s hard to generalize about the growth needs of herbs but almost all prefer full sun and well drained, often lean soil. Bonus: they’re mostly low maintenance.

Goetz designs herb-only gardens for clients, but the plants can be tucked in anywhere among ornamentals or vegetables. “You don’t have to set aside a place,” she said.

While it’s too early now to plant annuals such as basil, it is a good time to set out perennials like lavender or shrubs like rosemary.

And indoor herb garden can be planted year-round but herbs all have differing growth habits. Start small and experiment near a sunny window.

HARVEST AND PRODUCT MAKING

Harvest time depends on the herb and what you’re doing with it, Goetz said. The herb can be used fresh, dried or frozen for future use. When using herbs with fragrance, pick the strongest smelling.

Recipes in Goetz’s book range from simple rose petal water to scrubs using salt and essential oils.

“When you get to make your own you are the quality control expert,” Goetz said.

If you’re missing a key ingredient you can substitute an essential oil. “Essential” does not refer to any sort of need but instead the distillation of an herb’s essence. The industry is unregulated and care must be taken to make sure you are actually purchasing an essential oil and not a perfume masquerading as one, Goetz said.

Store-bought “spa” products are rarely cheap. A 13-ounce bottle of herbal spa lavender-scented bath salts was selling for $18.29 at Marlene’s Market and Deli in Federal Way last week.

“You can make these for pennies,” Goetz said of her book’s recipes.

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