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Hawthorn and Cardiovascular Health: An Herbal Monograph

If I were to ask you which herb is most effective for supporting the health of the cardiovascular system, most of you would immediately think of Hawthorn. This strong, yet gentle, protective plant is one of my long-term herbal buddies. Our February issue of AromaCulture Magazine is centered around the theme of herbs and essential oils that support the cardiovascular system, so covering Hawthorn this week is quite timely.

Many species of Hawthorn grow native here in the United States, while others have been introduced from Europe and other temperate regions. The shrubs/trees vary in height by species and their leaf shapes also vary quite a bit. They are members of the Rose family and boast the signature 5-petaled white flowers that are typical of plants in this family. In the past, it was thought that there could have been up to 1000 different Hawthorn species. I’ve seen people claim anywhere between 100 to 300 recently, but as of my last count, there are at least 350-410 accepted species (I counted around 420, but some are accepted only with a low confidence level, so my number is conservative).

Hawthorn is slow growing, but easy to cultivate if you choose a plant that does well in your area’s growing conditions. It can tolerate many soil conditions, but prefers nice, rich soil. Growing from seed is especially slow-going as the seeds can take up to a year (or even more) to germinate. Scarification, stratification, and fermentation have all been utilized to process seeds and to try to hasten germination. Two of my Hawthorn plants (the first ones I ever purchased) are still fairly young and were purchased as seedlings, but I was recently able to find a couple of more mature trees (7-8' tall for only $7 each!) at a native plant nursery and I'm excited to see how well they do this year. Hawthorns hybridize readily and older plants will happily produce little saplings that can be potted up and gifted to friends and family or spread throughout the garden. Berries can be harvested in the fall when they're ripe and flowers and leaves can be gathered in the spring. (Leave plenty of flowers behind if you want berries, though.)

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Traditional Uses and Preparations

Most herbalists today use the flower, leaves, twigs and berries medicinally, but native peoples also used the bark, sap, and the root of the Hawthorn for various medicinal purposes. A tea made from the twigs was used by native peoples to relieve pain in the side and to improve bladder function. The roots were decocted and used for general weakness, diarrhea (Hawthorn is astringent), and other complaints. A berry decoction was used as a laxative and for stomach issues. Hawthorn leaves were used as a poultice to reduce swelling. In most areas, Hawthorn was considered to be a good tonic herb that was useful for sickness and overall health.

Many native tribes would gather Hawthorn berries, dry them, and then mash them and dry them in discs to form crackers or cookies that could be eaten during the winter months when food was scarce. These cakes could also be rehydrated and used to make sauces. Other tribes would grind the Hawthorn berries and make bread with them (click here for my hawthorn berry pumpkin bread recipe) and still other peoples would chew the inner bark like gum.

Hawthorn trees are also known for their long thorns which have historically been used as sewing needles, pins, and fish hooks and for their use in medicine bag making.

In western herbalism, Hawthorn has traditionally been used to improve circulation and keep fluids and energy moving efficiently through the body. Its reputation for its beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system is long-standing. It has been extensively tested in clinical trials and studies and is commonly taken in tincture, tea, and capsule form, and is often included in jellies, jams and other food recipes as well.

Therapeutic Effects

Hawthorn has been found to be a gentle cardiotonic herb with anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, astringent, calming, diuretic and antioxidant properties. It helps to balance blood pressure, tone and strengthen the heart, and improve circulation so the heart can function more efficiently. (See the test results section for references.) Many herbalists have reported success with using Hawthorn to regulate heartbeat, balance cholesterol levels, and improve overall heart health when taken over time.

Energetically, Hawthorn helps us to feel calmer, more uplifted and happier in spirit. It has an affinity for helping us with the pain of deep loss or feelings of grief or sadness. When we start to turn inward to try to protect ourselves from having our hearts hurt, Hawthorn helps us to keep our hearts open and love energy flowing.

Because it is so effective at keeping both physical and emotional energy moving, Hawthorn is also useful in cases where there is stagnation in the digestive system and its historical use indicates that it has been commonly used for this purpose. Where there is damage in the connective tissues, Hawthorn can help assist with collagen production and repair of the damaged tissues.

Hawthorn is often paired with Rose, Hibiscus, Linden and/or Yarrow in traditional preparations and is commonly used in combination with other relaxing nervine herbs.

Constituents

Hawthorn’s constituents include antioxidants, vitamins B and C, saponins, tannins, bioflavonoids and procyanidins, among others.

Test Results

For Dogs

Hawthorn berry powder can be sprinkled into your pup’s food to help prevent and support heart issues and to support the cardiovascular system and circulation in general. Breeds that are especially prone to heart issues may benefit from a consistent addition of Hawthorn to their diets. Jon and I want to train Cavalier King Charles Spaniels as therapy and service dogs someday when we have our land and they can sometimes be prone to heart issues, so Hawthorn is one herb that we'll definitely be including in their diets regularly. Fresh berries (de-seeded) can also be used as pup treats when they’re in season and if your pup usually eats dry kibble, you can use a bit of Hawthorn tea to moisten it. (Just make sure it cools before giving it to them.)

Safety Considerations

Hawthorn is a nourishing, tonic herb, so best results will be seen when taken consistently over time. It is gentle enough that it can usually be taken with medications, but please do check with your doctor prior to adding Hawthorn to your repertoire if you are on any kind of heart medication.

Hawthorn is indicated for almost every kind of heart-related condition or ailment.

The hydrosol

Hawthorn hydrosol has been traditionally taken internally when physical or emotional healing of the heart is needed. It is rarely found nowadays unless you happen to know someone who distills it or you are able to distill it yourself, but there are a select few artisan distillers who still produce it. I’ll be distilling my own later on this year and will let you know how it goes.

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Resources

Is Hawthorn a part of your daily repertoire? If not, have you ever tried it?

Much love,
Erin


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Herbs and Essential Oils I Always Keep On Hand

I recently shared a post all about where I source my herbs and herbal products (essential oils, tinctures, flower essences, seeds, etc.) and one of the follow-up questions I received after publishing it was, “So, which products do you recommend always keeping on hand?” I thought this was a great question so I’m sharing my apothecary staples with you here today.

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Herbs

When it comes to herbs, I would recommend the following as staples that are always a part of my apothecary. I find that I use them more than any other herbs and they are all so versatile that they can be used in the absence of many other plants. I have a few skin herbs, a few digestive herbs, some immune supporters and a few specifics in this list, so most minor issues will be able to be addressed with just this simple list. They aren’t the only herbs I use (and I'm expanding the selection in my herb garden this year, so I'm sure I'll be adding to this list in the near future), but they’re the ones I would choose to keep around if I could only keep a few and they’re also the ones I’d be most likely to travel with.

Burdock, Calendula, German Chamomile, Echinacea, Elder, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Hawthorn, Lavender, Marshmallow, Peppermint, Plantain, Rose, Rosemary, Thyme, Tulsi, Violet, Yarrow

Essential Oils

As an aromatherapist, it can be hard to narrow down my “core” group of essential oils because I just love all of them, but these are the ones that I would most recommend if you could only keep a few in your kit. I use them more than any other essential oils and, again, each one of them is extremely versatile so even if your kit was limited to these oils, you could still address most complaints (both physical and energetic) with them.

Some of these are pricey essential oils, but the more expensive oils are usually used 1 drop at a time in a blend and are so potent and effective that I find them valuable additions to this list.

Black Spruce, Cedarwood, German Chamomile, Rose Geranium, Helichrysum, Lavender, Lemon, Sweet Marjoram, Neroli, Sweet Orange, Peppermint, Rose, Siberian Fir, Vetiver

Hydrosols

I use hydrosols far more often than I use essential oils, so deciding on my favorites for the purpose of this post was even more difficult. This list includes my must-haves that I either use on a daily basis or consider invaluable in my kit.

Calendula, Chamomile, Douglas Fir, Helichrysum, Lavender, Rose, Sweetgrass, Yarrow

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I’m curious to know what you consider a must-have part of your apothecary. Let me know what you’d include in this list in the comment section below.

Much love,
Erin


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Turmeric's Therapeutic Effects

Turmeric (Curcuma longa, C. domestica) is an herb with a reputation. Even people who don’t use herbs for anything beyond flavoring their favorite dishes often know that Turmeric can be used to help reduce chronic inflammation, relieve pain, and help to improve overall health and well-being. I have one friend who is very involved with western medicine and loves to use Turmeric for her gut health, and another who uses it alongside her normal medications to help reduce the severity of painful symptoms related to her chronic medical condition. Turmeric is a user-friendly food herb that people easily recognize. It’s also immensely valuable in the apothecary.

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Turmeric is an invigorating, warming herb that contains a wide variety of constituents, including the well-known curcumin, yields an essential oil that contains turmerone and zingiberene, among other constituents, and also contains sugars, protein, bitters, resins, and even vitamins A, B, C, E and K, flavonoids, and minerals like calcium, iron, potassium and zinc. The rhizome is the part of the plant that is most often used in cooking and in the apothecary. I grew Turmeric in my garden this year and it grew happily alongside my Ginger plants throughout our warmer months.

Therapeutic Properties

Turmeric boasts a wide variety of therapeutic effects, including the following: analgesic, antibacterial, anticarcinogenic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antimutagenic, antioxidant, antispasmodic, antiviral, astringent, blood moving, carminative, cholagogue, emmenagogue, hemostatic, hepatoprotective and vulnerary. As you can see, it’s quite a versatile herb.

For the Digestive System

Turmeric’s doctrine of signatures accurately points to its value as a liver supportive and liver protective herb. One veterinarian who uses Turmeric in his practice says that Turmeric stimulates the flow of bile and can increase its output by as much as 100% whilst also increasing its solubility.(1) Turmeric is commonly indicated for a wide variety of liver ailments as well as gastrointestinal issues and a plethora of other digestive complaints. It supports the digestive process, helps us to better absorb and use the nutrients in our food and helps improve gut flora. Its carminative effect is valuable for alleviating gas and associated  discomfort as well.

For the Respiratory System

While many may not think of Turmeric as the first herb to turn to when dealing with a respiratory issue, it is an excellent immune supportive, antiviral(2,3) herb to use when facing a cough or cold and flu symptoms. It is one of the ingredients in the famous Fire Cider remedy. Golden Milk, which features Turmeric as its main herbal ingredient is another traditional remedy that is often taken when the first sign of symptoms appears. Taking Turmeric in a formula that also includes black or white pepper is thought to increase its overall effectiveness.

Turmeric's Other Talents

Turmeric is also used to support the health of cardiovascular system, reduce anxiety levels
(especially in people who tend toward a cold constitution), support healthy menstruation, and is used in a variety of skin care applications. Its antifungal properties are employed in formulas meant to address skin issues such as athlete’s foot, eczema, psoriasis and ringworm and its anti-inflammatory properties are sometimes considered when formulating daily-use skin care products. Topical use blends that are used to help aid recovery after injury or trauma also make use of Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Blends that are formulated for topical use on wounds, insect bites and stings and scrapes and bruises often include Turmeric as an ingredient.

Rosemary Gladstar says that Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effect is accomplished by sensitizing the body’s cortisol receptor sites and speaks of studies that have revealed Turmeric as being stronger acting than hydrocortisone without its harmful side effects.(6)

Its cardiovascular effects include improved circulation and cholesterol levels, anticoagulant properties and protection against heart disease.

Turmeric's Test Results

One trial showed that Turmeric improves the memory of people who had early signs of prediabetes and Alzheimer’s.(5)

Multiple studies have found that Turmeric (and curcumin) has an anti-cancer effect, inducing apoptosis in cancer cells and helping to protect the body’s healthy cells. Pancreatic cancer,(7) head and neck cancers,(8) ovarian cancer,(9) breast cancer,(10,11,12,13,14,15) colon cancer,(16,17) prostate cancer,(18,19) skin cancer(20) and esophageal cancer(21) have all been examined in these studies.

One study found that the anti-inflammatory properties of Turmeric compare with the anti-inflammatory effects of hydrocortisone acetate and phenylbutazone (an NSAID drug used in the treatment of animals).(4)

Turmeric’s herbal extract was found to be as effective as ibuprofen for the treatment of knee arthritis.(23)

When combined with white pepper, Turmeric was found to be able to decrease inflammation.(24)

The essential oil shows promise as a mosquito repellent, especially in combination with a few other essential oils.(25)

Curcuma oil protected mice with hepatic injury from inflammatory and oxidative stress and inhibited hepatoma cell growth in vivo and in vitro.(26) Turmeric’s extract inhibits gastric acid secretion by blocking H(2) histamine receptors.(2)7 It also inhibits entry of all hepatitis C virus genotypes from entering liver cells.(28)
Turmeric’s antiviral effects have been demonstrated in studies involving Zika(29) and other viruses, HIV,(30) and the Herpes simplex virus,(31) among others.

Turmeric also shows promise for use in a number of eye conditions.(32)

Applications and Uses

I love incorporating Turmeric into my skin care routine. I use the hydrosol as a facial toner and I often include the powdered herb in an exfoliating face powder recipe with powdered Rose petals. I also like to combine it with a bit of honey, Turmeric hydrosol, and clay to make a face mask that can be painted onto the skin and left for a few minutes (don’t let it dry out) before rinsing off.

Turmeric is famously used as an herbal dye that produces a vibrant yellow color. It’s no secret that Turmeric likes to stain everything it touches! Because it is so effective at sharing its color with everything around it, it’s often employed as a substitute for saffron in dishes where that brilliant color is desired. It makes fried rice and stir fry dishes beautifully colorful and can make for a fun addition to bread making.

When used for its flavor, Turmeric is perhaps the most noticeable ingredient in curry spice blends. Curried peas and curried roasted cauliflower are favorites in our home. I also love to include a bit of it when making fermented veggies!

Turmeric can be brewed alone as a tea, but is more effective when a bit of black or white pepper is added to the brew. It’s especially tasty when prepared as Golden Milk with a few more pungent, warming spices and bit of honey. I also like to include it in smoothies or use the fresh juice combined with the juice of carrots and lemon in the mornings.

The leaves of the Turmeric plant are used to wrap and steam-cook fish. The rhizome is beautiful in soups and is one of the ingredients in Fire Cider, a traditional herbal remedy. The powdered herb can be used to season grilled meats and add color to a variety of dishes, including potato salad (yum!).

Turmeric is most effective when used steadily over time, so try incorporating it into a variety of dishes to discover how you like it best.

Turmeric for Dogs

Turmeric is also a useful herb to use when caring for animals, especially dogs. It can be sprinkled into their food to assist with / help prevent liver, digestive and cardiovascular ailments. It can also be used topically (infused into a carrier oil or Aloe or used as a hydrosol) for wounds, eczema, and other skin-related issues.

One of my pup’s favorite treats is a scrambled egg cooked with a pinch of Turmeric powder sprinkled into it. I’ll sometimes add Turmeric to her food when I’m cooking up the rice that I include in some of her meals. It turns the rice a brilliant yellow color and adds a bit of flavor as well.

Growing Turmeric

Growing Turmeric in the garden is so easy and so enjoyable. The plants are happy growing next to my Ginger and Plantain and I can’t believe how vibrant Turmeric is when I use it just after digging it up. There’s something special about using an herb therapeutically when it was a living plant just a few moments ago.

Growing: Turmeric can be grown outdoors in partial shade or partial sun during the warmer months and potted up and brought indoors to go dormant for the cooler months (if your growing zone is below 7 or 8; otherwise it can overwinter outdoors in areas where you ground doesn’t freeze). It prefers a moist soil and a humid environment, but I’ve heard reports that it will even grow in dry soil. To plant it, lay the rhizome flat on top of the soil and top-sprinkle with a bit more soil (bits of the rhizome should still be visible). Don’t bury it completely or it could rot. The plant is very easy to grow; I highly recommend planting some in your own garden, greenhouse or sunroom.

Harvesting: Turmeric can be harvested in the fall with other fall-harvested roots, after the leaves have started to lose their color and lushness. The rhizomes can be stored in the fridge for a few months and enjoyed while fresh, but for longer storage, you’ll want to dry them.

Safety Considerations

Turmeric has the potential to exacerbate signs of excess heat in the body, so if you already tend toward a hot constitution, you’ll want to avoid overusing it. Therapeutic doses should generally be avoided when pregnant or while taking blood thinning medications, but use as a food herb in reasonable amounts is generally regarded as safe.

Essential Oil and Hydrosol

Turmeric essential oil is rich in turmerone and zingiberene, among other constituents. Its therapeutic properties include: analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, aphrodisiac, cholagogue, digestive, restorative, stimulant, stomachic and tonic. It is commonly used to support healthy digestion, relieve muscular cramps, spasms and aches and pains, and to soothe skin ailments with symptoms of excess heat. It is contraindicated for small children and women who are pregnant and may irritate sensitive skin, so use it at a proper dilution and after testing it on a small area before widespread application.

The hydrosol is used topically for skin ailments and in digestive support preparations and is sometimes used internally (in cooking or otherwise) to help support healthy digestion.

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How about you? Have you made friends with Turmeric yet? What stands out to you about it?

Much love,
Erin

References

  1. Dr. Kidd’s Guide to Herbal Dog Care by Randy Kidd, D.V.M., Ph.D
  2. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166354216307483
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25600522
  4. http://www.mccormickscienceinstitute.com/public/msi/assets/Aggarwal_book.pdf
  5. http://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/APJCN/23/4/581.pdf
  6. Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs, a Beginner’s Guide by Rosemary Gladstar
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25071333
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22583425
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25429431
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24864107
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22772921
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23140290
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23448448
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25031701
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24365254
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25238234
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24550143
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25594891
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23875250
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22080352
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22253518
  22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26396311
  23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24672232
  24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24260564
  25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25817806
  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24270742
  27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16327153
  28. gut.bmj.com/content/63/7/1137.long
  29. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166354216307483
  30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2608099/pdf/jnma00383-0007.pdf
  31. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0042682207007982
  32. https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/html/10.1055/s-0033-1351074

 


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How to Use Spicy Essential Oils Safely

This article was first published in the November issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

One of the trickiest groups of essential oils to use safely is the group derived from spices. Many of the essential oils in this family contain chemical constituents that come with contraindications and can be irritating to the skin, so it’s important to know how to use them properly to avoid adverse reactions. Before I started studying essential oils, I used an essential oil derived from Cinnamon in a hair rinse in the shower and came out of the shower looking like I had streaks of radiation burns all over my body. They eventually went away completely, but the irritation that oil caused could have easily been avoided had I known more about how to use it correctly. Let’s take a look at some of the spicy oils and talk about how to use them most effectively.

You will find that some of the essential oils in the spicy group are not altogether user-friendly. When that is the case, I have included a list of suggested substitutions for them at the end of this article. Best to leave those ones to the professionally trained aromatherapists (who also tend to rarely use them) and to choose safer options whenever possible. They are rarely necessary.

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Allspice – Pimenta dioica (also called Pimento berry oil)

Allspice essential oil is produced by steam distilling the berry of the Pimenta dioica plant (also called the Pimento berry). While this essential oil has been used in the past for its analgesic and carminative properties and for its effect as a rubefacient, it can be very irritating to the mucous membranes and the skin and should be used at a very low dilution to avoid adverse reactions (less than 1% per Tisserand & Young). It also comes with several safety contraindications due to its high eugenol and methyleugenol content. Since there are many other essential oils with similar therapeutic properties, but without the safety risks presented by this essential oil, it is recommended to look to safer options rather than reaching for this one. Suggested substitutions for other essential oils with analgesic and carminative properties can be found at the end of this article.

*This oil should not be taken internally.

Anise – Pimpinella anisum

The seeds of the Pimpinella anisum plant are steam distilled to produce this essential oil. It is sometimes called Aniseed essential oil but it is important to know that Anise (or Aniseed) essential oil is not the same as Star Anise, which comes from a different plant and has different safety considerations. Anise essential oil is primarily used to support the digestive and respiratory systems due to its antispasmodic, antitussive, expectorant, and carminative properties.

Anise essential oil contains a constituent called estragole which can be irritating to the skin, especially for people whose skin is quite sensitive. If you must use it, restrict its dilution to 1-3% and check your Essential Oil Safety manual by Tisserand & Young for specific contraindications prior to use. It’s best to test it (diluted) on a small area of the skin before a wider application if you plan to use it topically.

This essential oil comes with many contraindications (see resources list at the end of this article), including:

  • Avoid use when pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Avoid use if you’re dealing with estrogen-dominance, estrogen-related cancers, and/or endometriosis.
  • Avoid use if you are prone to allergies.
  • Do not use if you are dealing with inflammatory skin conditions.
  • Not suitable for use with children under 5.
  • It is possible that Anise essential oil may inhibit blood clotting (Tisserand & Young).
  • Anise comes with further cautions for different routes of application, so refer to your Essential Oil Safety manual prior to use.

In general, it’s probably best to reach for a more user-friendly oil if possible. See the end of this article for substitution recommendations.

Black Pepper – Piper nigrum

Black Pepper berries are steam distilled to produce this essential oil. A CO2 extract is also available, but we’re focusing on the essential oil for the purpose of this article. It can be skin-irritating for a small part of the population, but is generally considered safe for use at a low dilution (1% is typically recommended). Because it can cause skin sensitization when oxidized (Tisserand & Young), however, it should be stored in the fridge and used up within its proper shelf life.

Black Pepper essential oil is often utilized for its antibacterial, analgesic, immunostimulant properties and is also thought to support healthy circulation. It has an affinity for digestive system discomfort and respiratory support.

*This is one of the safer spicy essential oils to use.

Cardamom – Eletarria cardamomum

Cardamom essential oil is produced by steam distilling the seed pods of the plant. An oleoresin and CO2 extract are also available, but we are again focusing on the essential oil here. Cardamom essential oil has a strong affinity for the digestive system and is often used in blends for a wide variety of digestive complaints. Its therapeutic properties include such things as: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, carminative, digestive, nervine, and stomachic. It is non-irritating and non-sensitizing and can be safely used on the skin at standard dilution rates. It does, however, contain a high amount of 1,8-cineole and should therefore be used with caution around young children. At Tisserand & Young’s recommendation, do not apply Cardamom essential oil on or near the face of a baby or a child.

*This is one of the safer spicy essential oils to use.

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Cinnamon Bark & Cinnamon Leaf – Cinnamomum zeylanicum

Cinnamon bark and leaf essential oils both contain significant amounts of cinnamaldehyde and eugenol, which can irritate mucous membranes and cause a burning sensation and/or irritation on the skin. The leaf-derived essential oil also contains safrole, which comes with its own list of safety concerns and contraindications. In general, the bark-derived essential oil should not be used on the skin and the leaf-derived essential oil can be used on the skin up to a dilution of 0.6% (per Tisserand & Young), but it is rarely the best choice for topical use.

Both essential oils may interact with drugs and have the potential to inhibit blood clotting, so refer to Tisserand & Young’s safety manual prior to using to see if either oil is appropriate for use in your situation.

It is recommended to avoid using Cinnamon-derived essential oils with young children or when pregnant or breastfeeding.

Cinnamon-derived essential oils are mainly indicated for tropical infections and are best used by a trained, practicing clinical aromatherapist. In most other cases, a more user-friendly essential oil can be just as effective. I’ll leave suggested substitutions at the end of the article.

Clove bud – Syzygium aromaticum

Sun-dried Clove buds are steam-distilled to produce this eugenol-rich essential oil. It boasts analgesic, antifungal, and carminative therapeutic properties and is usually used to help relieve pain, address fungal imbalances, and support the body when dealing with certain types of infection or parasites.

Clove bud essential oil is best suited to short-term use (it comes with a risk of skin sensitization) and should be limited to 0.5% dilution (per Tisserand & Young) for topical applications. It can irritate skin and mucous membranes, so take care to avoid applying blends containing it to areas where there is broken skin. It should be avoided when pregnant or breastfeeding, and with small children. You may have heard that this is a good oil to use for teething children, but the essential oil is not a good choice for this purpose (herbal preparations may be appropriate when prepared properly, but not the essential oil). It also comes with some potential drug interactions and may inhibit blood clotting, so refer to Tisserand & Young’s safety manual for further information about their research on those issues prior to use. See the end of the article for suggested substitutions.

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Ginger – Zingiber officinale

Ginger essential oil can be produced by steam distilling the leaves (more rarely) or the dried rhizomes (though I do know of two distillers that offer a steam-distilled Ginger from the fresh rhizome, which is my favorite). Ginger yields a warming, carminative, anti-inflammatory, circulatory stimulating essential oil that has an affinity for coldness in the extremities, menstrual ailments, aches and pains, and a variety of inflammatory issues. It’s often utilized for digestive complaints as well. There are no known safety contraindications for Ginger essential oil and it can be used at standard dilution recommendations. It may be best to use it for short-term use. Peter Holmes recommends avoiding internal use of Ginger essential oil if pregnant.

*This is one of the safer spicy essential oils to use.

Nutmeg – Myristica fragrans

Steam-distilled Nutmeg essential oil boasts therapeutic properties with analgesic, antirheumatic, antispasmodic and carminative qualities. It’s often employed in digestive support formulas and applications for relief of aches and pains. In large doses, it can be problematic and it should not be used when pregnant or breastfeeding. It should generally be limited to topical applications at a 0.8% maximum dilution because of the presence of methyleugenol and safrole (per Tisserand & Young). Several user-friendly essential oils can be substituted for this one. See the list of recommendations at the end of the article.

Plai – Zingiber cassumunar, Z. montanum

Plai is a relative of Ginger and its essential oil is also produced by steam distilling the rhizome of the plant. The essential oil is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antineuralgic, antispasmodic, and carminative. It is most often utilized in pain-relieving blends for aches, pains, and cramps, but can also be utilized in digestive support blends. There are no known safety issues for this essential oil and it can be used at standard dilution rates. However, I have had a client who experiences an allergic reaction to Plai essential oil, so that may be something to watch for when working with it.

*This is one of the safer spicy essential oils to use.

Substitution Recommendations Based on the Desired Therapeutic Effect

Antispasmodic:

Basil ct. linalool, Bergamot,* Black Spruce, Cardamom, Chamomiles, Geranium, Ginger, Helichrysum, Lavender,  Mandarin, Sweet Marjoram, Sweet Orange, Palo Santo, Peppermint, Ponderosa Pine (or Scotch Pine), Rose, Spike Lavender, Tangerine, White Spruce, Xanthoxylum, Yarrow

Carminative / Digestive:

Basil ct. linalool, Bergamot,* Bergamot Mint, Black Pepper, Cardamom, Chamomiles, Sweet Fennel, Ginger, Laurel leaf, Lemon, Mandarin, Sweet Orange, Peppermint, Plai, Spearmint, Yarrow

Analgesic:

Balsam Copaiba, Bergamot Mint, Black Spruce, Chamomiles, Elemi, Eucalyptuses, Firs, Geranium, Ginger, Helichrysum, Laurel leaf, Lavenders, Mandarin, Palo Santo, Peppermint, Pines, Plai, Rosalina, Rosemary ct. verbenone, Spruces

Expectorant:

Balsam Copaiba, Basil ct. linalool, Black Pepper, Cardamom, Cedarwood, Firs, Elemi, Eucalyptuses, Ginger, Helichrysum, Myrtles, Niaouli, Palo Santo, Peppermint, Pines, Ravensara, Ravintsara, Rosemary, Spearmint, Spruces

Circulatory:

Firs, Ginger, Mugwort, Peppermint, Turmeric, Vetiver

Antitussive:

Cistus, Eucalyptuses, Ginger, Niaouli, Ravintsara, Rosemary ct. cineole, Spike Lavender, Thyme ct. linalol

*phototoxic

Resources and references

The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy – Valerie Ann Worwood
Aromatherapy – A Complete Guide to the Healing Art – Kathi Keville and Mindy Green
Aromatica, V. 1 – Peter Holmes
Essential Oil Safety, 2nd Ed. - Tisserand and Young

I hope this was a helpful resource for you!

Much love,
Erin

 


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How to Make Pungent Digestive Bites with Spicy Herbs

I first learned about making herbal “balls” (I usually call them bites) from Rosemary Gladstar several years ago. Since then, I’ve taken to whipping up a batch of them regularly because I just love snacking on them and I enjoy knowing that I’m not just eating a cookie or something (not that I don’t enjoy a cookie now and then) – instead, I’m eating a nutrient-dense little bite packed with herbs. This particular recipe is one of my favorites for after dinner bites. It’s full of pungent carminative herbs that taste delicious and help support the digestive process.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 part organic sunflower seed butter, unsalted and unsweetened
  • 1 part organic raw honey
  • 1 part organic oats
  • ½ part organic chocolate chips (optional)
  • ½ part organic unsweetened toasted coconut flakes
  • ½ part organic Ginger powder
  • ¼ part organic Cinnamon powder
  • Pinch of sea salt

Start by combining equal parts of the nut butter, honey and oats and stir them together well until thoroughly combined. Add in your herb powders and stir, then mix in the chocolate chips  (optional) and coconut flakes. Form the bites into small balls and store them in a bowl in the freezer.

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What do you like to add to your herb bites?

Much love,
Erin


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How to Prepare Horseradish

I first met Horseradish in junior high school. One of the classes I was taking put together a traditional Jewish Seder feast as one of our assignments and we were each assigned to bring one of the elements of the feast to the class so we could all learn more about what happens during a Seder. I’m not Jewish, so the whole experience was new to me then and I found it all quite fascinating. One of the dishes that is still most memorable to me from that day was the prepared Horseradish. I now use Horseradish in a variety of herbal recipes, including a traditional Fire Cider, but sometimes I like to prepare it on its own so I can use it in other dishes.

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Tip: Horseradish is rich in volatile oils that aren’t altogether pleasant (they’ll burn your nose if you accidentally stand over the Horseradish and inhale it after grating it), so it’s a good idea to prepare Horseradish with a window open. The longer you wait to add the vinegar to the recipe after grating the Horseradish, the stronger and sharper its taste (and aroma) will be.

To prepare Horseradish, peel one fresh root and grate or chop it into more manageable pieces. You can then use a food processor or blender (or a mortar and pestle) to puree the Horseradish.

Add 3 tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar to each cup of Horseradish, along with about half a teaspoon of sea salt. Continue to puree until all of the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

Store the finished Horseradish recipe in an airtight container in the fridge where it should keep for at least one month. I like to add it to smashed potatoes and roasted vegetables, but you could also use it in sour cream as a flavorful dip for fresh veggies.

The Cherokee peoples have traditionally used Horseradish as an antirheumatic and diuretic, as a remedy for colds and to improve digestion. It is used in many herbal traditions as a catalyst herb, much the way Cayenne would be used, and is stimulating and energy-moving. When you first taste it, you might think it is a bit strong and possibly even off-putting, but you’ll probably find that it grows on you pretty quickly. I know it has for me!

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How do you like to enjoy Horseradish?

Much love,
Erin

 


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Herbal Aromatherapy Words to Know

There are a lot of words that you learn when you start studying herbs and essential oils and, at first, sorting out what each of them means can feel a little bit daunting. I’ve put together a list of a lot of the words you’ll need to know here for you so you can reference it as needed when you’re studying.

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herbal aromatherapy words to know

Adaptogenic: brings balance, helps the body to normalize function

Alterative: blood cleanser

Analgesic / anodyne: relieves pain

Anthelmintic: causes expulsion of intestinal worms

Anti-anxiety: calms anxiety

Antibacterial: inhibits or destroys bacteria

Anticatarrhal: calms inflammation of the mucous membrane associated with excess mucus

Anti-emetic: relieves nausea and vomiting

Anti-inflammatory: relieves inflammation and associated discomfort

Antilithic: helps prevent and/or dissolve stones (gall, kidney, etc.)

Antimicrobial: inhibits/destroys the spread or growth of microorganisms

Antipyretic: reduces fever

Antirheumatic: relieves pain associated with rheumatic conditions

Antiseptic: destroys / inhibits spread of bacteria

Antispasmodic: relaxes muscles and muscle spasms

Antitussive: relieves coughing

Antiviral: inhibits/prevents the spread of viruses

Astringent: causes a drying/tightening of the tissues

Carminative: relieves gas / indigestion

CNS sedative: calms the central nervous system

CNS stimulant: stimulates the central nervous system

Cholagogue: stimulates bile flow

Circulatory Stimulant: increases circulation (locally or throughout the body, depending on how it’s used)

Compress: a topical application of an herbal formula, usually applied to the body via a cloth soaked in the formula (most of the time, a strong tea)

Contraindication: a warning indicating that the botanical should not be used in such cases

Cooling: reduces heat in the body/mind

Decoction: a water extraction of a root or woody herb

Decongestant: helps relieve congestion in the upper respiratory tract

Demulcent: soothing, especially to mucous membranes; mucilaginous

Diaphoretic: causes sweating

Diffuse: to disperse aromatic substances into the air, usually via an aromatherapy diffuser, cotton ball or tissue

Diffusive: disperses energy

Distillation: a process used to separate a plant’s essential oils from the plant material

Diuretic: increases urination

Emmenagogue: promotes menstruation

Emollient: softens and soothes the skin

Expectorant: causes mucus / phlegm to be discharged from the respiratory tract

Febrifuge: reduces fever

Galactagogue: increases milk production

Grounding: brings one back down to earth, promotes feelings of calm, clarity and safety

Glycerite: an herbal extract using glycerin as a base

Hemostatic: stops bleeding

Hepatic: assists the liver

Homeostasis: a state of balance in the body, with everything working together as it should

Hypotensive: lowers blood pressure

Laxative: relieves constipation; promotes excretion

Mucilaginous: contains mucilage and is therefore soothing, softening and moistening

Nervine: calms and strengthens the nervous system

Oxymel: a vinegar extraction of an herb combined with honey

Poultice: a topical application of herbs, sometimes covered with a dry, warm cloth

Purgative: causes the bowels to empty

Relaxant: causes relaxation

Rubefacient: increases circulation to an area (topical application)

Salve: an herbal preparation made with a carrier oil infused with herbs, then melted together with beeswax to form a semi-hard product for topical application

Sedative: calming

Shrub: an herbal extract of vinegar and honey

Sialagogue: induces salivation

Stomachic: supports digestion

Suppository: a clinical application of botanical ingredients meant for rectal or vaginal insertion

Tincture: an herbal extract, usually made with alcohol, but sometimes made with vinegar or glycerin

Tisane: herbal tea

Tonic: strengthens and tones the body, bodily system, or organ with which it has an affiliation

Uplifting: lifts the spirits, dispels sadness, hopelessness and grief; instills hopefulness and lightness of mind

Vasodilator: causes vasodilation of blood vessels

Vermifuge: expels parasites and worms from the intestines

Volatile oils: aromatic compounds (essential oils)

Vulnerary: wound healing

Warming: brings heat, enhances circulation and function

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I hope this resource was helpful for you!

Much love,
Erin


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How to Make Fir Needle Back Massage Serum

I hope you've all had a lovely Christmas and a wonderful holiday season with your loved ones! Today I'm sharing one of my quick recipes with you. It's a great serum that you can whip up in just a few minutes once you've got your oil infusions ready to go. One of my favorite nighttime routine recipes is a back massage cream that features Douglas Fir hydrosol as a key ingredient. It helps my back muscles let go of all of the tension they've held on to throughout the day so I can relax before bed. Once in awhile, though, I don't want to spend time in the kitchen whipping up up a batch of cream and I use this Fir needle serum instead. It smells like the forest and leaves me feeling relaxed and clear headed while melting all of those knots and tight spots right out of my back. I sleep like a baby when I use it!

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Fir needles are traditionally used for digestive and respiratory disorders as well as female complaints and skin issues, among other things. Their essential oils are generally anti-inflammatory and are excellent for opening up the airways. They help us to feel grounded, clear-headed, and relaxed so we can breathe deeply and act calmly and with good sense. I love using Fir essential oils and needles in self-care products like this one. I usually ask my husband to massage this serum into my back just before bed, but if you don't have someone to massage it into your back for you, you can give yourself a neck and shoulders massage with it or even massage it into your feet or arms instead.

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INGREDIENTS FOR MY FIR NEEDLE BACK MASSAGE SERUM RECIPE

  • 1 ounce of Fir needle-infused olive oil
  • 1 ounce of Peppermint leaf infused Jojoba oil
  • 12 drops of Siberian Fir essential oil (optional)

To start, you'll want to infuse your carrier oils with your herb. (I have a tutorial for infusing oils here.) Once your oils have been infused for the length of time you prefer, you can strain the oils and then you're ready to make this recipe. All you need to do is place 12 drops of the essential oil in a 2 ounce glass dropper bottle, then pour in the 2 ounces of herb-infused carrier oils. Shake well to incorporate, give the bottle a label so you don't forget what's in your serum (or when you made it) and then store it away from direct sunlight or heat. This product can be used daily.

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Have you ever used Fir needles or fir essential oils in your apothecary? Tell me about how you like to use them in the comments section below.

Much love,
Erin


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DIY Christmas Gift Recipe Roundup (27 Herbal Aromatherapy Gift Ideas for the Holidays)

It's no secret by now that I like to give away handmade herbal aromatherapy goodies. Since I know I'm not alone and 'tis the season for giving, I thought I'd share some of my favorite recipes here for you. I know many of you have already decided what you'll be gifting to your own loved ones this season, but I know there are others who are still making choices, so hopefully the timing of this post will be helpful. =) Each recipe is linked to the blog post or the magazine issue where it can be found in its entirety. Enjoy!

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Weedy Facial Serum     |     Cayenne Warming Salve     |     Herbal Paper

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Wintery Beeswax Candles     |     Ginger Sugar Scrub     |     Herbal Bird Feeders

Many of these recipes come from past issues of AromaCulture Magazine, but still many are from recipes and tutorials that can be found for free on our blog. I hope you enjoy making some of these this holiday season!

Have you ever given handmade gifts during the holiday season? Tell me about one of your favorites in the comments section below.

Much love,
Erin


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How to Make Yellow Rose Lotion Bars by Jan Berry

One of my favorite home herbalists and authors is Jan Berry. Her work is always beautiful and it is with much excitement that I am sharing one of her recipes with you here today.

Jan Berry is the author of 101 Easy Homemade Products and Simple & Natural Soapmaking. She writes about herbal crafting, DIY body care, and natural soapmaking on her website, thenerdyfarmwife.com. Her books are absolutely lovely; filled with inspiring recipes like this one. The books would make perfect presents for the DIY-er on your gift list! These pretty little lotion bars are positively giftable too. I hope you enjoy making them!

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 oz shea or mango butter

  • 0.75 oz beeswax

  • 0.75 oz sunflower oil, infused with rose petals

  • 15 drops sea buckthorn oil, optional

  • 15 drops rose absolute

  • 5 drops lavender essential oil

    *If you don’t own a scale, use around 2 tablespoons each of shea/mango butter, tightly packed beeswax pastilles, and infused sunflower oil.

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INSTRUCTIONS

Melt the beeswax, butter, and infused sunflower oil together in a double boiler over low heat. Once melted, remove the pan from the heat. Add the sea buckthorn oil, if you’d like added color, along with the essential oils. Stir well and pour into small silicone or candy molds. Allow the bars to cool completely before removing from the mold. Yields 2 lotion bars that weigh around 1.25 oz each, or several smaller bars.

Rub lotion bars over your hands, elbows, knees and feet at night to help nourish and soften dry skin.


This recipe was written by and shared with permission from Jan Berry. Photos provided by Jan. I hope you enjoy making a batch of these pretty lotion bars!

Much love,
Erin


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