By Josette Keelor
At Sunflower Cottage in northern Warren County, owner Billie Clifton uses herbs to spice up a room. She recommends fresh over dried.
The practice of freshening a home with herbs comes from England, she said, where folks would keep potted plants near the doorway so the scent would rub off as they entered the home.
"It was truly air freshening, the first air freshener," Clifton said.
Walk into Judy Newgrauth's Frederick County home, and all you'll smell is soap.
"Everybody does say it," she said.
The soaps she makes through her home-based company Liz Handcrafted Soaps contain herbs and essential oils that Carry the scent of the outdoors. It's enough to neutralize any need for chemical air fresheners like sprays or plugins.
"When you walk in my house, I have bars and bars and bars of wrapped soap," she said.
Newgrauth would remind that soap has a primary objective -- "This is not an air freshener, this is for your body" -- but admitted it can serve that secondary purpose while waiting to be used.
Her soaps are as clean as she can make them, but she assures they are not organic or entirely "natural" -- a word she hates.
"I think many people don't realize what the terms mean," she said. Her soaps contain lye, as all soaps do, but lye is man-made. "It is not organic and it is not natural," she said. "...and you can't make soap without it."
But she knows her soaps are safe enough for her young granddaughter to take one home with her after every visit to Newgrauth's Lake Holiday home.
"I like knowing whatever she picks is going to be safe," she said. "You can pick the color and you can pick the scent. I just make a really good bar of soap."
After awhile, the scent of the oils will wear off since they don't contain preservatives. If using soap in place of other air fresheners, she recommended switching out decorative bars as you use them.
"Essential oils to me, I have a romance with them, and my herbs, I almost have a romance," she said. "I put it in everything."
"Probably the most popular one that I made is rosemary mint, and then I have a rosemary lemongrass," she said. "People really like the rosemary mint this time of year. It's very fresh."
To freshen the house another way, Clifton recommended distilling herbs in essential oils and warming in lamps or diffusers. Lavender will soothe, she said, peppermint energizes and rosemary aids with cognition.
"That's aromatherapy," she said.
The upcoming Virginia Herb Festival, June 14 and 15 at Sunflower Cottage, 150 Ridgemont Road, east of Miiddletown, will include workshops on herbs, like Aroma Therapy 101 with Ruth Egli, owner of Hints for Health; and Crafting with Lavendar, by Kim Labash, owner of Loudoun Valley Herbs.
When Newgrauth started her company, named for several women in her life named Liz, she had all but given up on fragrances. They gave her headaches, and even being around people wearing perfume, she said, "my head would start spinning."
"But those are generally synthetic fragrance," she said. "I'm so glad that God didn't say, well I will make this Earth and I will make sure that it's fragrance free."
Her soaps are free of phthalates and parabens, like benzoate -- hazardous ingredients she said contribute to fragrance sensitivity.
Instead, they're made with olive oil, avocado and organic sustainable palm oil, and they're infused with essential oil.
She recommends knowing what's in the soap you buy.
"I can't legally make claims with soap," she said. "All you can legally say is it will get you clean."
However, "People are realizing they need these products for their skin," she said. "These oils let your skin breathe, they don't clog your pours."
"If it's homemade, it's probably better for your skin."
Liz Handcrafted Soaps are available at the Freight Station Farmers Market from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., second and fourth Tuesdays at 315 W. Boscawen St., Winchester. Contact the company at 540-247-5945 or at lizsoaps.com For information on the Virginia Herb Festival, call 540-869-8482 or visit sunflowercottage.net.