When Harry Potter first visited Diagon Alley, I must admit I was mildly jealous of the fictional boy. It seemed so much more romantic to visit shops with "botanical ingredients" as opposed to your local light-rock-playing Rite Aid, where hermetically sealed bottles of chemicals abound. I was given the first Harry Potter book for my birthday, which falls in December, and thereby associated Diagon Alley with Christmas, a frustrating time when I rack my brains for original gift ideas. If only there were a Diagon Alley, the perfect place to go holiday shopping, where I could be inspired by the perfect gift.
My green-eyed monster was, fortunately, tamed by a recent trip to the Dandelion Botanical Company in Fremont (708 North 34th St., 206-545-8892), our very own version of Diagon Alley, where thoughtful gift ideas blossom off the shelves of apothecary jars and bottles of aromatherapy oils. There are hundreds of empty containers and lip balm receptacles to be filled with your homemade ingredients. And the husband-and-wife ownership team of Mary and Richard are so friendly and helpful, they're an excellent resource for gift ideas and other questions of the botanical nature.
Massage oil makes for a sensual and aromatic gift. Using jojoba oil as your base ($7 for 6 ounces), add several drops of lavender ($6 for 15 milliliters) and sandalwood ($13.50 for 15 milliliters) to make a soothing demulcent for your loved one. An empty bottle costs $1.75. Decorate it with ribbons and give it a label with your own personalized name like "Millicent's Magic Massage Oil."
Winter brings on dry skin. What better time to give hand lotion? Using unscented cream ($5 for 8 ounces), add rosewood oil ($9.50 for 15 milliliters) and/or rosemary ($6 for 15 milliliters). This will help with circulation and moisturizing. You can also use the same unscented base for a foot lotion; instead add peppermint ($6 for 15 milliliters) to help keep stinky feet at bay. Empty plastic containers are only 45 cents and can be easily dressed up with stickers and homemade labels.
Mary gave me a recipe for bath fizzies, those lovely concoctions that dissolve like Alka-Seltzer in your tub and leave your skin as soft as cashmere. Mix the following in a bowl: 2 tablespoons citric acid, 1/4 cup baking soda, 2/3 tablespoon of almond oil ($6 for 8 ounces), and 10-30 drops of your favorite aromatherapy oil, such as mandarin ($11.25 for 15 milliliters) or lavender. Storing it in a tin or pot with your own instructions labeled on the back (e.g., "Add a cup to your bath for pampering and your leisure") makes for a lovely present for your best friend or stressed-out aunt who never slows down. Also try making bath teas: Using muslin tea bags (25 cents each), add dried rosebuds ($1.95 per ounce) and calendula flowers ($2.50 per ounce).
My favorite gift idea was the dream pillow, a sachet of ingredients to be placed under the recipient's pillow. In a doubled muslin tea bag, put the following: mugwort ($1.40 per ounce), lavender ($1.25 per ounce), and wood betony ($1.60 per ounce)ingredients that prevent too deep of a sleep, so the recipient may remember his/her dreams. Perhaps give an empty journal with each pillow and call it a "dream kit."
There are lots of other gift ideas, like facial spritzers, sugar scrubs, and clay masks. Visit the Dandelion Botanical Company store or its Web site, www.dandelionbotanical.com, for more ideas.
Dandelion Botanical Company is open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon., Thurs., and Fri.; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tues., Wed., Sat., and Sun.