“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.” Neil Gaiman, British author
I once had a friend who was a commercial herb grower. Her gardens were immense, of course, and filled with all sorts of interesting things. What fascinated me most about her work, however, was the scent of her home.
One room, a back bedroom really, was an apothecary of sorts. There, she compounded dried herbs in magnificent mortars and pestles, making the botanical backbone of everything from cooking rubs to skincare products.
There was so much ambient essential oil from her work that, any day of the year, her house smelled of earth and woods and, well, magic.
I always think about her faraway home and farm when the weather turns and windows that have been so very open are suddenly shut for the season. With no fresh air to sweep out cooking odors and the presence of people and pets, it doesn’t take long to develop what another friend calls “house-itosis” a pun on the scientific name for bad breath.
Since I do not have literal bushels of herbs to compound, I improvise with a simmering pot to spread a cleansing cloud of scent. What a comfort such a small thing is on a day that is gray and rainy and cold enough for a sweater thick as a blanket.
Such a pot is steaming away right now, in fact, and hints of rosemary and tulsi (holy basil) are drifting toward my lap top. Ah, the garden is not gone. It’s merely asleep.
House-itosis Simmering Pot
For instant gratification, fill a large cooking pot with water, add about a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and place it on a stove burner turned to its lowest setting. Heat for as long as you like, checking occasionally to make sure there is still water in the pot — use a timer if you are forgetful or you will smell smoke at some point.
For the long haul of the season, consider assembling a small herb stash.
Begin with buying some fresh herbs if you haven’t already grown them. Hang them upside down in small bundles by some string in your kitchen and let them dry naturally for the best preservation of their essential oils. (Better and cheaper than what you will find in bottles of pre-dried herbs at the grocery.) When the herbs are dry, place them (one herb at a time) in a large bowl and crumble into small (not powdery) pieces. Store each herb’s crumbles in a separate, airtight jar.
Good fresh herbs to dry for simmering include rosemary, tulsi, lavender, fennel and carraway.
You can also add variety to your herb stash by purchasing herbs that you cannot grow or buy in a fresh state locally. Good herbs to buy this way include cinnamon, cloves, star anise and cardamon pods.
For each simmering pot, pick an herb or two and simply add to the water. Discard herbs after use.
Another easy way to add fragrance to a stale-smelling house is to sprinkle some fragrant dried herbs on the floor before you vacuum. The scent will come through the bag and perk up your whole house.