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From Herb Companion Magazine:
Fragrant Herbal Beads
By Kate Carter Frederick
There's a primitive satisfaction to making beads from natural materials and forming colorful strands of assorted shapes and textures. Little has changed since our distant ancestors fashioned beads from wood, nutshells, seashells, stone, bone, seeds, clay, and berries.
Beads of all kinds have served people since ancient times as adornment, talismans, symbols of wealth or class, and spiritual identification. The word “bead” can be traced back to the Old English word for “prayer,” but the object itself goes back farther still.
Aromatic beads are nothing new, either; many of our great-grandmothers had rose beads tucked away in a dresser drawer or Sunday purse. Back then, these scented mementos might have been produced in a convent, to which bride would send the roses from their wedding bouquets to be made into rosaries.
Besides rose petals, any fragrant plant material that can be reduced to a fine powder or puree—herbs, flowers, spices—can be fashioned easily into beads. I’ve tried lavender, lemon verbena, sage, lemon balm, peppermint, and rose.
The differences in hue and scent among these materials lend the beads a great deal of earthy charm. Herb beads can be strung alone or in combination with whole spices such as cardamom, star anise, tonka bean, nutmeg, or cinnamon; adding a few drops of essential oil will enhance and prolong their aromatic life.
What You'll Need
Strongly aromatic plants and high-quality essential oils make the best beads.
1/2 cup herb leaves or flowers, fresh or dried
Water (if using dried material)
15 drops essential oil to match or complement the herb
How To Do It
Strip off leaves or petals and discard stems and other coarse or nonaromatic parts. Puree fresh plant material in a food processor, blender, or old-fashioned meat grinder. A food processor breaks down herbs faster than any other method and can be used to finish blending the dough as well. You can finely mince the herbs with a sharp knife instead, but the finished beads will be coarser than those made from a puree or powder.
Process dried herb leaves or flower petals in a blender or spice mill, or rub the leaves across the bottom of a fine-mesh wire sieve until you have a fairly uniform powder.
Unless plant material is processed into a fine powder or smooth pulp, coarse beads will result.
Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of flour to the plant material, and enough water, starting with 1 tablespoon (if using dried herbs) to make a smooth dough. These are approximate amounts; you’ll need more flour if you’re starting with a soupy puree and more water if the herb powder is very dry. When blended, the dough should be the consistency of children’s craft
clay. If it seems too soft, add flour in small amounts to improve it; if too stiff, add a little water; if too coarse or crumbly, try adding both flour and water until the dough is workable.
Don’t add essential oil yet: it evaporates too quickly during blending.
Pinch off bits of dough and roll them into beads between your palms, or roll a long “snake” (this always brings back memories of my childhood) and slice off uniform lengths, then shape them into beads. Work with a light touch and keep your hands clean to prevent the dough from sticking to them.
Essential oil can be added at this point, or after the beads
are dry. When sizing the beads, remember that they will shrink a bit as they dry.
TO MAKE FROM FRESH PETALS:
dark red rose petals
cast iron pot
jewelry elastic or jewelry wire
Tips: Dark red rose petals are recommended because they tend to be more fragrant, although you can use any fresh rose petals that you can acquire. Through the centuries the rose beads have been cooked in black cast iron pots, which give the rose beads a deep and almost black color. If you do not own a cast iron pot or skillet, an enamel pot will work. The enamel pot will make the beads a very deep red color. So you can choose the option that works best for you. Aluminum pots should not be used!
You can use fresh rose petals from your garden or purchase them from a floral shop. You will need approximately, a grocery bag full of rose petals. This is enough to create 60 rose beads, which will make a long necklace. If you don't have access to that many roses or to save money, you can make a shorter necklace or a choker instead. Pluck the rose petals off of the rose as this is the only part you will need. Discard any rose petals that are unhealthy looking.
Place the rose petals into the blender to chop them into small pieces. If you don't have access to a blender you can snip the roses into small pieces (right into the pot) with a pair of garden snips. This will just take a little longer.
Now you will need to add water to the roses. For every cup of rose petals you use, you will need to add 1/4 cup of water. Place the burner on low (just enough to simmer the contents) and simmer for 1 hour. Remove the pot from the heat and let the mixture cool overnight.
The following day, simmer the rose petals for another hour, adding a little more water if needed. Again let the roses cool overnight. On the third day repeat the process one last time. Let the pot of cooked petals sit for two or three days or until they are the consistency of wet clay.
Once the mixture is similar to wet clay, you can begin making the rose beads. Grab a pinch of the rose mixture and roll the mixture in your hands to form the shape of the rose beads. They should be about the size of a marble (as the beads dry, they will shrink to half that size!). Tip:To make your beads the same size every time, use a measuring spoon to measure the amount of mixture you use for each bead.
Set the beads on a tray lined with paper towels and let them dry for a day or two. They should be slightly firm. Now pierce the beads in the center with a tooth pick, all the way through the bead. Push the tooth picks with the beads on them, into a piece of Styrofoam. Allow the beads to dry, making sure to rotate them often. Allow them to dry for at least a week or until thoroughly dry.
Remove the beads and polish each of them with a soft cloth. String the rose beads onto your choice of necklace material.