Sunday, September 19, 2010

Labeling Jars/Bottles.

When I was a rather young witch I got a few of the "essential" herbs and some jars. My first mistake was putting adhesive labels on the jars, my second mistake was hand-writing the names on them. My writing is... downright awful.

About a year down the line I wanted to re-use the jars, and it took several hours of scrubbing in hot water to get the adhesive off of them, because stacking labels has annoyed me deeply since the days of yore. I got rid of the adhesive label.

First: Wash and dry your jars. I suggest the "sanitize" cycle on a dishwasher for most jars, but some are too delicate or weirdly made. For those, HOTHOTHOT water in a sink with a good dish soap. For tinctures, or any other liquid (or for things you're going to ingest a lot of) I strongly suggest you use canning jars. Best to not risk poisoning yourself off of an antique Strychnine bottle, no matter how cool it looks. Ensure all lids, caps and corks fit properly. I've had jars that didn't quite "seal", and had a bunch of beetles infest my herbs, ruining them and costing me a pretty penny.

I also suggest not hand-writing the labels, unless your handwriting is very regular, very readable, and very bold. Personally, I design mine on the computer in photoshop (or gimp), and print them on various artisan papers to get unique looks out of 'em. My reason for the aesthetics? They take up a lot of space, I want 'em to look pretty while they do it.

The Process

PhotobucketHere's one of my old bottles. That label annoys me. The design is a faded, water-maked, Celtic knot-work, which is nice but - not so fancy, and lacked information. I lettered it with an ink pen that appears to fade incredibly fast. In the poor light of the temple-room (I hate ceiling lights with a passion due to chronic migraines) I can't read the label and may accidentally grab the identical Gum Arabic bottle when aiming for the copal.

Next I get a bowl of warm water and a sponge. I get the sponge soaking wet and apply it right over the label. This saturates it and re-hydrates the glue, making it release from both the label and jar. If I'm cleaning out old jars to re-use, rather than just re-labeling something, the whole lot goes into the kitchen sink or bath tub with some soap. Once the labels are off, they go into the dish washer (if it's safe).

PhotobucketWow, this label was thirsty. It turned completely translucent in a couple of seconds and peeled off easily.
You can also see a potential downfall of hand-lettering with a fine pen - moisture just destroys the lettering.

Nearly every commercial jar I've messed with will work the same. Most labels will peel off dry, but a few are glued over the entire label, and have to be soaked. I save all of the jars from pasta sauce, pickles, etc. and re-use them for herbs and tinctures.

PhotobucketAHH! The secret weapon. A craft glue-stick. These things are so damned useful (brand names aside). I've repaired tarot cards, used one to plaster a (temporary) letter of annoyance on a bad neighbor's car, and oh yes, to glue my herb labels on.

I apply this over the entire back of the label, and it gives me enough time to get the label even, centered and smoothed out before setting up completely.

Here's the completed bottle. The label tells me what the herb is, what the latin name is (I think the "spp." may be an error on my part. I don't know what type of Copaifera it is, and I was always taught "spp." is the appropriate abbreviation for "species" but I don't much care if it is wrong). It also tells me that this is an incense material, given the swirly incense burner bit on the label.

Some are marked with a skull (poisonous), or a teacup (teas/edible herbs), others are marked with a pentacle (non-incense-able herbs for witchy purposes that do not fit into another category).

In the eventual temple I'll be switching over to larger jars for almost everything, and will also include planetary, elemental and "used for" type info to act as a handy reminder for myself and others.

For reference, this label uses Caslon Antique as it's font (packaged as "tsp adore 10") . I used it because it's highly readable with a corroded, antique, look. Many fonts similar to this are both readable and whimsical enough to be a sound addition to any font-o-phile's library. I've had a local store show high interest in getting a set of customized labels for their jars, which would be a delightfully fun project!

Well, that's one container down and an absurdly large number left to go!


  1. Wow, the bottles look wonderful!

    For reference, spp. is indeed short for "species", but is used in the sense that "I have no idea which species exactly". Since Copal comes from the sap of a variety of trees in the Copaifera genus (several species), you can only label it down to that level.

    A good example is "true" cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) vs cassia (Cinnamomum aromaticum). Arguably two different products for magical purposes, but one could label either (or a mixture) "Cinnamomum spp." if you didn't know the precise origin.

  2. @Pallas - Aha! So I did have it right. Something managed to stick from my days of shell collection when unsure of just what "Conus" or "Cyprea" I had, I was always told "just write the genus name, then spp."

    On most of the herbs/resins I was limited to the Genus, unfortunately.

    Interesting side note: I'm allergic to either True Cinnamon or Cassia and we have no idea which. I've alternately reacted and not reacted to things containing "cinnamon" or "cassia".

    I'm also allergic to Cayenne peppers, which are so variously and deceptively labeled as to make the infant Christ weep tears which crack open and give issuance to emos with broken ankles. This would be why I insist on having my stuff labeled accurately. A friend might not realize that skullcap is a mint, and if they're allergic to mints... yeah.

  3. Wow, that is a beautiful label! That is a great idea about using an image code for uses. I'm glad you mention the bit about poisons in old bottles, too. I love old poison bottles, but I decided maybe they weren't a very good packaging idea.:)

    I use canning jars too. They're excellent for being airtight, cheap, and sturdy. I have some vintage canning jars I got on ebay for herbs, but I also splurged a couple years ago and bought a case of large frosted apothecary-style candle jars on closeout from an online packaging company. Those are what I use for storing incense while it melds. I use the border of a Renaissance page as the label background. I print those on 2x4 shipping labels and cut them down. Noodler's Ink makes a waterproof black (Eternal Black) that bonds with cellulose which is very nice if you like to write labels with a fontain pen.

  4. @harold - A local antique store used to have a huge wooden traveling wagon out front -filled- with neatly sorted bottles. When they went out of business the bottles started at $1 each and became "Please take the bottles before the city takes them". I ended up with patent medication bottles, old perfume bottles, and an old one with a skull and crossbones that's shaped like a coffin. No ambiguity in that one. I love old bottles, and I use most of them for assorted inks and the odd powder.

    Thanks for the info on waterproof inks. Maybe when/if my penmanship improves I'll try doing that.

  5. @Harry: Did you ever manage to find canning jars that didn't have BPA in the plastic seals? That's really the only thing that keeps me from using them more than I do...

  6. Scylla, you really scored! I love old bottles too.

    Pallas, I have been using vintage glass lids instead. They're usually called Presto lids, but they were made by different brands. I buy them on ebay and buy vintage rubber rings there as well. Unfortunately, no one right now is making rubber rings in the right size for the regular mouth canning jars, so it's vintage or nothing. The glass lids fit new regular-mouth quarts, pints, and half pints, and vintage Ball Perfect quarts. They need either a vintage screw band (regular modern screw bands don't work well with them) or one of the Presto screw band/lid combos. Here's a pic of what I mean:

    I had to play with this some before I got it down, but I have not had any seal failures since I got the hang of it. And they are glass, so they are good forever. Only thing that will need replacing eventually is the rubber rings. But they last longer than the rubber rings for European jars with glass lids. That's the other option. They are very beautiful, but they are way more expensive. I like Weck:

    Third option is bailed jars. Jillions of those antique American bailed jars around for pretty cheap and you can still get the rubber rings new. I still haven't tried those ones yet, although I bought some off ebay. Problem with those is rusted bails. I have used also the European bailed jars from Bormiolli and Le Parfait, both of which seal like champs.

  7. @ Pallas and Harold - These look very promising! BPA free, re-usable, and currently manufactured.

  8. lol Scylla, I bow to your Google-fu. I've been looking for these (on and off) *forever* =)

  9. Oddly enough they came up on a random search for "Canning supplies". I was looking for the average price on canning jars - remarkably affordable.

    I'm probably going to pick some of these (for canning) and some of those "freezer jar" lids (big gnarly white, plastic, lids) for my tinctures.

  10. You know, you people are really fancy. I simply write the names of the herbs/concoctions on the jars using a good-for-the-job pen. I guess i'm still on the stage of "useful first, pretty later".

  11. @Alexandra - Well, these are "useful first, pretty later". My handwriting is almost impossible to read in dim light (especially for people who aren't me), therefore some nice, printed, labels were the way to go.

    If I was going to the trouble of printing them, I figured they might as well look nice. Useful first, pretty later.

  12. And they do look nice. I still wish i could get the hang of it (printers are one my technological arch enemies ;) )

  13. Thanks for the very helpful article, but did you remove the pictures from Photobucket? Can't see 'em at all (no pictures). :(

  14. Er, no... the pictures are still there. I don't remove blog photos from my photobucket for that very reason.