The Everyday Lore Project

23 May 2020 – Birthday Present

23 May 2020 – Birthday Present

Today I’ve been combining two traditions, the ancient art of the birthday present and the now depressingly familiar novel practice of handwashing for twenty seconds at every given opportunity: I made hand cream. Well I would have done if I’d read the recipe properly. Instead I made hand balm. Cream unctuous. Balm greasy. In my defence, I had looked at many different recipes and went for this one as it had both honey and lavender in it (extra folklore brownie points), the title was incidental until I started whisking. 

It’s my haggis hunting friend, Susannah’s birthday, and at some point soon I will wash my hands, wipe down the jar containing the hand balm, wash my hands, wrap it in something jolly, leave it for a number of hours, wash my hands, put it in a bag, take my daily exercise via her doorstep, leave her present, play knock down ginger, then jump out from behind a car and sing Happy Birthday when she comes to the door. 

My reason for giving her this present is entirely selfish. My skin doesn’t agree with all this soap and water and at one point when I was still commuting to London, my knuckles were raw and splitting, and I was going through hand cream like I had shares in Superdrug. And while things have calmed down a bit now, my hands still feel like I’ve been washing up for hours. So being such a generous friend, I thought I’d make hand cream for Susannah and siphon off a bit for myself in the process. 

And who knew you could make it in the microwave? This was especially good as I’d spent the last couple of hours making an enormous mushroom and plantain curry and the hob was full of yet to be washed up pans. I was also quite pleased that the recipe wasn’t too strict on quantities as it’s quite difficult to pack down solid oils into small spaces. I could have melted them, but that felt like a double faff. 

All the ingredients, save the lavender oil and the honey went into a bowl and were nuked in the microwave in 30 second bursts, until I got bored when the lentil looking beeswax pellets wouldn’t melt and upped it to minute bursts. After a combined five minutes of stirring and mashing and nuking it looked like a big pool of olive oil. Obviously, like any small child would, I stuck my finger in, and it was like dipping it into the top of a lit candle, except the result was softer and more pliable when I rubbed it on the back of my hand. 

After it had cooled a bit, I whisked in the honey and about 18 drops of lavender oil. The temperature drop caused by the new ingredients made the mixture go off before my eyes, so much so that the funnel I used to decant clogged within a couple of seconds. So I scraped everything down, plunged a skewer through the funnel tunnel, and put the remnants back in the microwave for another 30 seconds. After that I ignored the funnel and managed to pour the rest into the jar for Susannah, with about half a ramekin’s worth left for me.

So why lavender and honey? Well of lavender, Culpeper basically says it cures everything from toothache, to migraines, to trapped wind, the smell especially being good for easing anxiety, while The Complete New Herbal is more specific with the skin saying it works as an antiseptic, a stimulant and a soother. And honey has long been used to help heal wounds, as well as being thought to have anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties. So hopefully any chapped skin resulting from vigorous soapy hygiene will be attended to.

As for the hand balm? It’s greasy. And my fingers were very shiny after application. And no matter how tempted you are, you should never use it as lip balm as the lavender oil tastes rank and you might have to eat some figs to get rid of the taste. But a little goes a very long way and it absorbs really well after a bit. The fragrance is light and despite the honey it’s not in the least bit sticky. I’ve been using it on my heels and it did feel really good going in. So much so, I am slightly regretting giving Susannah such a big pot. Especially as the recipe says it’s also good for conditioning hair.

Spoiler alert for tomorrow: *whispers* there’s spuddage…


Bloom, P. (2016) Old Wives’ Lore; A Book of Old-Fashioned Tips & Remedies, London, Michael O’Mara Books Limited

Culpeper (1995) Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, Ware, Wordsworth Editions Ltd

Mabey, R. (consultant ed.) (1988) The Complete New Herbal, London, Elm Tree Books

Published by Liza Frank

Author of My Celebrity Boyfriend. Obsessed with hula hooping, sons of preachermen and fresh dates, sometimes all at the same time. Curator of Folklore Agony and The Everyday Lore Project.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.