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Herbal Aromatherapy Care for Poison Oak / Poison Ivy

While the best option when it comes to dealing with poison oak / poison ivy is obviously to avoid coming into contact with it at all, there are times when we realize we're standing in a patch of it just a few seconds too late. Let's talk about some of the ways we can use herbs and essential oils to aid recovery and ease symptoms.

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PREVENTION

Learn to identify poison oak and poison ivy (or poison sumac, if that's what grows in your area). Practice identifying it and being aware of it when you're outside in an area where it grows. Wear long sleeves, long pants, and closed-toed shoes. If there's a possibility that you're going to be touching wild plants while you're out, it's a good idea to have a pair of gloves with you too.

UPON FIRST REALIZATION OF CONTACT

Sometimes people will never develop the irritating rash, but many do, so it's important to watch for developing symptoms over the next few days so you can deal with them as soon as they arise.

Wash your skin as soon as possible with cool water and soap (one that is not oil based). It's a good idea to have a soap made specifically for poison oak exposure on hand so that it's there when you need it. Wash clothing as well.

Apply Jewelweed to the affected area as soon as possible. The leaves can be juiced, blended, made into a strong tea, or pounded and applied as a poultice. It's a good idea to tincture some when you find it and keep the tincture on hand so you have it when you need it, since the tincture can also be used. Alternatively, you can brew it as a strong, double or triple infused tea and freeze that instead. Store the Jewelweed ice cubes in an airtight container in the freezer until needed.

ONCE THE RASH DEVELOPS

Once you have a rash, your main objective will be to soothe the itching and irritation while you wait for it to run its course. Fresh Plantain leaves (Plantago spp.) that have been crushed between your fingers or whole Burdock leaves that have been boiled and pounded can be applied as a poultice or be juiced / blended and applied as a compress or wash. Fresh chickweed and cleavers are options as well. Alternatively, you can prepare a strong tea with the same herbs, perhaps adding in skin-soothing herbs like Calendula, Lavender, Marshmallow, and Chamomile, and use the tea for a compress. Aloe vera gel may help soothe and cool the area and some folks claim that adding Apple Cider Vinegar (raw) to an herbal wash or even a cool oatmeal / baking soda bath is helpful. When the itching is severe, a clay poultice can be helpful.

Support your body internally with alterative herbs like Burdock and Dandelion. They can be taken as teas or in tincture form. Stick to bland foods for meals and snacks, as acidic and spicy foods will make symptoms worse.

Keeping yourself distracted as much as possible will help you get through the worst of it without losing your sanity. Try to incorporate herbs that help you relax, like Valerian or Kava, into your day (or night).

LATE STAGES OF THE RASH

During the last stages of the rash, when it's more dry, you can start to incorporate essential oils into your topical applications. Diluted Lavender, Helichrysum, and Chamomile essential oils can all soothe irritation while helping the skin recover. It's best to still avoid oil-based carriers during this stage, so continue to use other options until the rash is entirely gone. (Oil spreads the irritating compounds and, thus, the rash.)

SAFETY NOTE

If you exhibit any symptoms of an allergic reaction, fever, or of the poison entering your bloodstream, seek medical care right away.

Do you have any other tips for managing a rash caused by poison oak? Leave them in the comments below.

Much love,
Erin


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7 Ways to Preserve Your Herb Harvest

When your herb garden is flourishing so much that you have more herbs than you know what to do with and you have extra herbs even after you’ve shared some with friends and family and folks in need, what do you do with the surplus? Let's talk about ways to preserve your herbs so you can use them throughout the year.

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Tincturing

A tincture is a liquid herbal extract that, when properly executed, can effectively preserve your herbs for months or even years. Tincturing is one of the simplest, most traditional ways to preserve herbs for medicinal use. The two most common menstruums for preparing tinctures are alcohol and apple cider vinegar. If you choose to use alcohol, you’ll want to use something that is at least 40 proof. If you have liver problems or prefer not to use alcohol, raw, organic apple cider vinegar can also be used for tincture making. The shelf life of vinegar-based tinctures is shorter (usually 6 months to a year or so, if properly stored), while an alcohol tincture could last several years. The menstruum you choose may impact which constituents are drawn out of your herb into the carrier, so if you’re interested in a specific action or component of the herb you’re using, you may want to choose your menstruum accordingly.

The Simpler’s Method of Tincturing: Fill a jar with your freshly harvested herb (or dried herb, if it’s one of the plants that prefers to be tinctured when dry) and pour your menstruum over the herb until the jar is full of the liquid. Tightly secure a lid on the jar, give it a good shake, infuse your remedy with intention, and leave it to macerate for 4-6 weeks, shaking it daily. At the end of that period, strain out the herb and bottle your finished tincture in a sterilized, labeled jar.

Note: Glycerin is also sometimes used to make tinctures (glycerites) and is a suitable option for preparations meant for use with children, folks who prefer not to take alcohol-based remedies, and animals. Glycerites can be effective, but are far less potent than either of the other two options.

Drying

Many herbs can easily be air dried. Harvest your herb, remove the bottom leaves from the stem, tie several stems together, and hang the bundle upside down for a couple of weeks. You can also use clothespins to hold individual stems upside down while they’re drying. Alternatively, lay your herbs out on a drying screen in a single layer and allow them to rest there until completely dried.

For thicker herbs that take longer to dry and may dry inconsistently, you might prefer to use a dehydrator to dry your herbs. Spread them out in a single layer on your dehydrator tray and dry until they no longer have any moisture left in them.

Freezing

Preserving herbs via freezer can be one convenient way to preserve them for cooking. There are a few different methods that you can try.

In Water: Chop your herbs into the size you like them to be when you use them for cooking. Place the chopped herbs in the wells of an ice cube tray (fill ‘em up!) and pour filtered water over the herbs. Place the tray in the freezer and let sit until frozen, then remove the herbal ice cubes and store them in an airtight container for future use.

In Oil: This method offers two options. The first is to follow the same steps listed above for freezing chopped herbs in water (just substitute olive oil for the water) via an ice cube tray. The second is to blend your herbs with olive oil and freeze the pesto-like paste in ice cube tray wells or silicon molds.

On Their Own: Lay the dry herbs out in a single layer on a cookie sheet or tray and freeze. Once the leaves are frozen, move them all into an airtight container and store in the freezer until needed.

Herbal Infusions

Herb infused oils are one of my favorite tools for my apothecary. Many of them can be used in the kitchen to add flavors to dishes, while even more are wonderful for use in herbal products meant for use on the skin.

You can read more about infusing herbs into oil here. Infusing an herb into honey is another great option too.

Canning

Some herbs can be used to make syrups or jams / preserves that can then be canned to extend shelf life. Think Hawthorn berry jam, Elderberry preserves, Violet flower syrup… all valuable medicinally and able to be easily preserved via canning.

Butters

Making herbal butters is another traditional method of preserving herbs for use in the kitchen. Chop your herbs, fold them into butter, and freeze the butter for future use. You can either place the herbal butter into silicon molds to create pretty shapes, freeze, then store in an airtight container in the freezer, or you can spread the herbed butter out on a sheet of freezer/parchment paper, shape the butter into a cylinder (like a log), and freeze that for future use.

How to you like to preserve your herbs? Let me know in the comments below.

Much love,
Erin


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Ask the Panel: How Do You Choose An Essential Oil Brand to Purchase From?

We’re beginning a Question of the Month blog series today. Every few weeks, I’ll be featuring a reader-submitted question here on the blog along with several answers to the question from a panel of professionals in the herbal / aromatherapy industries. If you have a question you’d like to submit for this series, please stick around until the end of the post for instructions.

Our first question posed to our panel of qualified professionals is:

What are the top two things you look for when choosing a brand from which to purchase an essential oil?

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1. I always appreciate when an essential oil company imports their oils directly from distillers who extract their oils from plants grown without pesticides and herbicides. 2. I admire companies that test their essential oils, batch specific, with GC/MS technology and do not standardize or adjust their oils once they arrive from the distiller. Andrea Butje

 

As a supplier I guess this is a different answer to someone who is a therapist looking for a brand! For me, it is visiting the farmers and cooperatives that I have known and trusted over the years, who will pick and distill at the times I want for my company. This is the first thing as when the oil is picked does determine which chemicals are present in the finished oil. The second thing would be the trust I mentioned. I would never buy from someone I did not trust to supply me with the therapeutic quality I am seeking. Most 'traveling salesmen' are selling leftovers from the perfume trade, who use fractionated and adulterated essential oils, not oils specific to aromatherapeutic use. If I were to guide therapists, I would say that firstly you need to trust the company you buy from - do they give advice for every oil and the clinical uses for the oils in your situation? Do they give the right paperwork (although that is not always an indication of quality), do you feel comfortable with your supplier? I would also say, do not go by the smell. Unless you are an established aromatherapy expert with many years experience, you probably wont know if that lavender is 42:42 or not! Be aware of copies and don't buy from folk you don't know. Hope this helps you :) – Penny Price

 

Availability (Do they have the correct oil that I need? i.e. chemotype/form) and purity [of the oil]. – Sylla Sheppard-Hanger

 

The organoleptic qualities of the oils and the straightforwardness of the proprietors of the brand. I read about the organoleptic qualities on my blog.– Jeanne Rose

 

Knowledge and experience of the brand. Do they employ a certified aromatherapist on staff/consult? How long have they been in business? What is their reputation within the industry? Can they answer my questions and make suggestions about the essential oil use? All of these questions give me information about their knowledge (not just their training, but their actual knowledge of each essential oil) and experience within the industry and use of essential oils in practice. If a brand has both knowledge and experience of essential oils, the other important stuff (such as quality/extraction methods/sourcing of the essential oils) should automatically follow through/be answered within those two points. Sharon Falsetto

 

Good moral code about aromatherapy and essential oils and the price! – Elizabeth Ashley

 

I check for GC/MS reports to see if the oils are pure and I evaluate the company’s reputation. – Robin B. Kessler, CA

 

Reputation & longevity of the company, and testing documents – Ken Miller

 

I don't necessarily think in terms of "brands" when I purchase essential oils. I'm more interested in the oils than the brand, and for that reason I focus on how a supplier represents and maintains their relationship with the oils they offer, their customers, and the distillers they work with. There are many ways I evaluate that, some factual and some nuanced. To turn the question around a bit, if I had to choose two deal breakers, I'd say that if I couldn't get batch-specific GC/MS reports, and if I saw spurious therapeutic claims or extreme usage suggestions on the supplier's website, I would absolutely look elsewhere. GC/MS reports, ideally from an independent third party, identify the chemical composition of that specific batch of essential oil. I need this information to verify the therapeutic properties, safety, and efficacy of my blends. Strongly curative or prescriptive language on a brand's website or literature, as well as suggestions for frequent neat (undiluted) use or ingestion, are all red flags to me. By contrast, when a supplier speaks in more neutral language including proper dilution guidelines and other safety information, they exhibit a better understanding of essential oils and aromatherapy. They are also more likely to provide other useful information such as when the oil was distilled, its shelf life, its full Latin name (genus, species, and chemotype where appropriate), and its geographic origin, all of which impact my purchasing decisions.Michelle Gilbert

 

1. I look for companies that provide GC/MS reports of each batch. Knowing the percentages of chemical components is an integral aspect of my blending process. I look at it like each bottle is its own character. While some batches may be similar, they are not always the same. Knowing what makes them "tick" helps me to know their therapeutic value. 2. I look at the ethics of the company. Do they provide safe usage advice? Do they fully disclose information when a person inquires about their essential oils ? Do they focus on education and not just sales? Does the owner of the company have professional training, years of experience, and relationships with the distillers? Utilizing a company whose core foundation lies on integrity and kindness is paramount. – Amy Emnett

 

Integrity (company provides quality product for ethically obtained oils) and proper documentation (batch-specific GC/MS & other testing, proper Latin name on label, MSDS sheets). – Lora Cantele

 

Transparency in a company is very important not only to myself but my fellow colleagues. A company that provides the GC/MS (Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry) test of their oils is important. This test can detect adulteration of essential oils. An essential oil is adulterated when it is extended with ethyl alcohol, surfactants, emulsifiers, or another cheaper, similar smelling oil. Beyond providing a GC/MS, some companies use certain trademarks in an attempt to set their essential oils apart and allude to them being superior, or held to a higher standard than other companies. While these essential oils may be good quality, there are others available that are of equally good quality offered at a more affordable price. Buzz words such as: Therapeutic Grade, 100% Pure, [etc.] are used in the industry. Now I am not clearly stating that these oils are of good quality or not, but these buzz words in marketing can be deceiving to the home user. Look for companies that state they use wild-crafted, unsprayed, and/or ethically harvested plants. There are many artisan distillers whose oils are of superior quality, and a number of essential oil companies that have your best interests in mind. - Leslie Moldenauer

 

I hope these valuable answers from this panel of professional aromatherapists and aromatherapy educations have been a help to you. Feel free to pin this post for later use or share it with friends who might also find it valuable.

Much love,
Erin


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The Differences Between Lavender Essential Oils

This article has been excerpted from The Lavender Guide, a new book by Erin Stewart, scheduled to be released in 2017. It has been adapted for use here and was also featured in the August issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

I've never met a Lavender plant I didn't love. When they pop up in garden shops around here, they are quickly snatched up by adoring plant-tenders and whisked away to their new homes where they're lovingly planted up and made a part of the family. My German Shepherd even loves them. There was a house on our block in CA that had a large, vibrant, seemingly ever-blooming Lavender plant in the front yard and it spilled over the picket fence into the sidewalk. Every day on our walk, my pup had to stop and stick her nose into that Lavender plant and just breathe it in for a moment before we continued on our way. Every time. It's rather adorable, really. She's a smart one.

Lavender is a flowering shrub in the Lamiaceae (mint) family and boasts over 40 known species with an ever growing count of over 400 cultivated varieties. While it's native to areas near the Mediterranean, Lavender is now grown all over the world and the various species provide us with several different essential oils. While they are all "Lavender" essential oils, the different species (and varieties) yield essential oils with slightly differing chemical compositions that might make one more suitable for certain issues than the others. Let's focus in on some of the differences between some of the most commonly available Lavender oils.

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TRUE LAVENDER

Botanical name: Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula officinalis

The main Lavender used for therapeutic purposes in both herbalism and aromatherapy is Lavandula angustifolia. There are many cultivars of L. angustifolia, with flowers ranging in color from light purple to dark purple, white, and even pink. This Lavender is sometimes referred to as English Lavender. I have also heard some people call it French Lavender, but since that term has also been applied to Lavandin (L. x intermedia) and to L. dentata, it is best to refer to it via its botanical name, L. angustifolia, to avoid confusion.

 
 

L. angustifolia plants produce less essential oil than the hybrid Lavandin plants do. A friend who distills Lavender daily has found that 6 to 8 plants' worth of L. angustifolia flowering stalks will fill the basket of a 15 gallon copper alembic still and will yield about 70ml of essential oil per distillation.

While not considered ideal for florists and designers because of their shorter stems, the angustifolias have a sweeter, softer aroma than other Lavender varieties and are considered superior for therapeutic use. The plants themselves are much shorter and smaller than Lavandin varieties.

My favorite L. angustifolia cultivars include: 'Bowles Early,' 'Buena Vista,' 'Hidcote,' 'Loddon Blue,' 'Miss Katherine,' 'Opal Rain,' 'Royal Velvet,' and 'Sachet.'

The essential oil of L. angustifolia plants is rich in linalol and linalyl acetate, among many other constituents (possibly as many as 450 or more) and is considered the choice Lavender oil for use in aromatherapy. Professional aromatherapists will rarely use a Lavender oil produced from another Lavender variety, except, perhaps, for Spike Lavender (L. latifolia / spica) in cases where 1,8-Cineole and Camphor are preferred constituents for application. The different varieties of L. angustifolia produce similar, but still subtly different essential oils. ('Buena Vista' and 'Hidcote Pink' are two of my current favorites.) A discerning nose will be able to notice slight differences in aroma between the different oils, but in general, L. angustifolia essential oil is not sold with the variety name included unless it is being purchased directly from a small farm that distills their own Lavender on site. Most larger distillers, even if they grow several varieties of L. angustifolia, will co-distill the different varieties together and sell the finished product labeled simply as 'Lavender - Lavandula angustifolia' essential oil.

I have found that L. angustifolia essential oils consistently boast the following therapeutic properties (among others): analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anxiolytic, antispasmodic, carminative, cicatrisant, diuretic, emmenagogue, nervine, sedative, and uplifting. They are generally useful for any kind of skin ailment, nervous tension, anxiety, lack of restful sleep, aches, pains, and spasms, and a variety of more serious complaints [covered more thoroughly in the full chapter found in the book].

While Lavender is safe for even neat use on the skin, some clinical aromatherapists now recommend using it undiluted only for acute ailments (like a bee sting). When used regularly over time, it may be best to dilute even the friendly Lavender essential oil in a carrier.  

True Lavender essential oil is costly to produce and is often adulterated with isolated (or synthetic) linalol or linalyl acetate, synthetic Lavender oil, and even Lavandin essential oil. Know your source well to be sure you're purchasing a true, 100% L. angustifolia essential oil.

 
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LAVANDIN

Botanical name: Lavandula x intermedia, Lavandula hybrida, Lavandula x burnati

Lavandin (L. x intermedia) is a Lavender species that is cherished by growers and distillers around the world. Lavandin plants are created when a Lavandula angustifolia and a Lavandula latifolia plant are cross-pollinated. The resulting hybrid is a much larger plant than the L. angustifolia varieties and yields a great deal more essential oil. Lavandins make beautiful garden hedges because of their impressive size and color. They bloom later in the season than L. angustifolia varieties, so adding Lavandin to your Lavender garden is an easy way to extend your blooming season.

A few of my personal favorite Lavandin varieties for the garden include, 'Fred Boutin,' 'Grosso,' 'Impress Purple,' 'Jaubert,' and 'Lullingstone Castle.'

Like the L. angustifolia essential oil varieties, Lavandin essential oil is usually offered as simply 'Lavandin - L. x intermedia' or 'Lavender - L. x intermedia' essential oil, though you may be able to find specific varieties like 'Grosso' and 'Super' labeled individually, especially if purchasing directly from a farm that distills onsite. Lavandin essential oil is not commonly used in the aromatherapy industry, but it is produced worldwide for the fragrance industry. It is a common ingredient in soaps, laundry detergents, skin care, perfumes, and cleaning products. It's far less chemically complex than L. angustifolia essential oil and is considered to be inferior therapeutically, so not many professional aromatherapists use it. Still, the aroma is lovely - a bit sharper than an angustifolia, due to its higher Camphor and 1,8-Cineole content. Some people prefer its aroma because it's more similar to the traditional Lavender smell they're used to while others, who think they don't like the smell of Lavender until they smell a true L. angustifolia, shy away from the Lavandin scent.

Therapeutically, Lavandin essential oil is used for its antibacterial properties and to support the respiratory system. [Further therapeutic uses are covered in the full chapter in the book.] However, it is not commonly used since it should be used topically at a very low dilution and comes with a few safety contraindications.

 
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LAVANDULA STOECHAS

Botanical name(s): Lavandula stoechas

L. stoechas is sometimes called Spanish Lavender, but since that term is also applied to L. dentata and L. stoechas is also called French Lavender (a term also applied to L. angustifolias and L. x intermedia varieties), it is best to just refer to it by its botanical name: L. stoechas.

L. Stoechas makes a stunning compact hedge in the garden and tends to bloom continuously beginning in late spring. My absolute favorite variety is 'Kew Red,' but I also love 'Cottage Rose,' 'Otto Quast,' and 'James Compton.'

The essential oil is not as easily found, but it can be sourced. Generally speaking, it is not well suited for use with little ones and comes with a few safety contraindications. It is rich in Camphor (even more than Spike Lavender), 1,8-Cineole, and Fenchone, and has an affinity for the respiratory system. Since it is so rich in ketones and oxides, it should be used with caution. [Further therapeutic information covered in the full chapter in the book.]

 

SPIKE LAVENDER

Botanical name(s): Lavandula latifolia, Lavandula spica, Lavandula spicata

Spike Lavender grows at a lower elevation than the L. angustifolia plants and is sometimes called Aspic. The essential oil has a sharper, more camphoraceous aroma than the essential oil from Lavandula angustifolia, with a camphor content that can vary based on where the plant was grown, sometimes reaching concentrations up to about 35%. It also contains higher amounts of 1,8-Cineole. Its aroma hints at its antiseptic qualities and smells quite medicinal. It is often utilized in respiratory support blends and is especially useful when you're feeling a bit stuffy. It can be helpful for pain and inflammation. While not nearly as calming as a True Lavender oil, it does stimulate circulation and effectively gets stagnant energy moving through the body again.

Because of the camphor content, it is recommended that this oil be avoided when pregnant.

Therapeutically, Spike Lavender essential oil is analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, antispasmodic, circulatory, and expectorant. It is sometimes used in skin care preparations and is often included in blends that support skin ailments, cramps and spasms, headaches, and minor wounds. [Covered in more detail in the full chapter of the book.]

 
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CONCLUSION

There are many other Lavender species and varieties that are grown around the world. Our personal collection has many beautiful varieties. Some of my favorites that aren't listed in this particular article include L. multifida and L. x christiana (pictured above).

There's just something so special about Lavender. Once you've spent some time with it, you can't help but want to be around it all the time. Plant one or two varieties in your own garden. Before long, you'll probably be growing your collection too!

Are you growing any Lavender in your garden? Which varieties? Let me know in the comments below. =)

Much love,
Erin

 

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How to Make Herbal Bird Feeders

When we lived in southern California, we had a neighbor who absolutely loved bird feeders. He had several dozen of them hanging in the trees just outside the boundary of his patio and he would sit on his porch and watch the birds flit between them. We would pass by his apartment each day during our evening walk and the trees in that part of the community were always filled with birds. When we moved to the PNW, I began to miss having that large colony of birds nearby and started looking into bird feeders. My husband, Jon, made me a wooden one that I just love, but I also wanted to experiment with some handmade, herbal versions. This one has become my favorite.

This tutorial was first published in the July Issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

  • either Orange slices or halved Orange peels
  • Sunflower seed butter
  • bird seed mix
  • dried, bird-safe herbs (I'm using Calendula petals, Cornflower petals, and German Chamomile flowers. The birds here also like my Lavender after the flowers have dried.)
  • string
  • bamboo skewer

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Choose whether you'd like to work with Orange halves or slices. If you want to work with slices, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and lay out the Orange slices on it. Dry the slices in the oven at a low temperature until they hold their shape. If working with Orange halves, scoop out the fruit and dry the Orange peel in the oven as you would dry the slices.
     
  2. Use a bamboo skewer to poke a hole in the top of each dried Orange slice (or 2-3 holes per Orange half) and thread your string through the hole(s) so you'll be able to hang your bird feeder when you're finished with it.
     
  3. Dip the Orange slice in Sunflower seed butter, then dip the slice in a bowl of bird seed mixed with your herbs of choice. For this project, I chose to work with Calendula petals, Cornflower petals, and German Chamomile flowers. You could also use Lavender buds,  Coriander, or a variety of other culinary, bird-safe herbs.

    Tip: Don't use too much Sunflower seed butter or it will drip off the Orange slice. Use just enough to get your seeds to stick to the feeder.
     
  4. If using Orange halves, mix a little bit of Sunflower seed butter with your bird seed/herb mix and fill the Orange half with this blend.
     
  5. Hang the bird feeder in your garden near a place where the birds will be able to perch while they enjoy the goodies you've left them.

Enjoy! Much love,
Erin

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How to Make An All-Purpose Cleaning Spray

When we first started to transition to a chemical-free, sustainable lifestyle [circa 2010/11 or so], I had a hard time finding cleaning products that really were natural and organic. Even the 'natural' brands that were available at the time had ingredients that I didn't want to use in my environment. I wanted something that would better align with our values, so I started making my own cleaning products. This all-purpose cleaning spray fast become one of my favorite recipes and it's so easy to make (and less expensive than the most popular grocery store brands)!

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

  • distilled white vinegar (less than $2.00 per gallon at Target or just about anywhere else)
  • citrus peels (I used Lemons and Limes this time)
  • citrus, conifer, or Lavender essential oil (optional)
  • a mason jar
  • a clean spray bottle

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. After you've enjoyed your herbal lemonade, pop, or limeade from this months' issue of AC Magazine (or any other homemade, citrusy drink; or even just a piece of citrus fruit), pop your citrus peels into a clean mason jar.
  2. Pour distilled white vinegar over the peels until they are completely covered.
  3. Set in a cool place and allow the citrus to infuse in the vinegar for 2-4 weeks.
  4. Use a fine mesh strainer and a piece of clean muslin or cheesecloth to separate the peels and pulp from the vinegar and pour the clean vinegar into your spray bottle.
  5. Optional: Add a few drops of citrus, conifer, or Lavender essential oil. If you do choose to add essential oil, shake the bottle well before each use and avoid using on hard wood floors or around babies or pets.

Enjoy! Much love,
Erin

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It's Lavender Season! A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse at Lavender Farms

When you ask an herbalist or an aromatherapist to choose a favorite herb or essential oil, most of them preface their response with a statement somewhat like, "What!? How could you ask me that!? I could never choose just one!" I'm the same way. But if you were to ask me what my favorite herb to grow is, I would say Lavender, without hesitation. Walking out into the garden and seeing her happy, purple-topped stalks makes me feel so at home and so peaceful and so joyous that I would choose her first for my garden every time. I always come home with a batch of new varieties when I visit our local Lavender experts (I just can't help myself!) and Jon and I dream of planting at least an acre of it after we purchase our land. Since I'm fairly certain that I'm not the only one who feels this way about this special plant, I thought I would set aside a day to take you on a relaxing, behind-the-scenes stroll through some of our local Lavender farms here in the PNW. Here are a few of the photos I've been taking at some of our dreamy, purple hot spots this season.

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If you're ever able to visit the PNW during Lavender season, try to visit near the end of June or the beginning of July. We have Lavender festivals and events most weekends during that time frame throughout both Oregon and Washington!

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I could get lost in these rows for hours and be quite content. I recently told a friend that if I were a mouse or a fairy, I would want to live in a Lavender garden.

Every plant in a Lavender garden is alive with pollinators. Thousands of them flit about throughout the fields, happily working the day away. Wouldn't you like to have their job?

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One last photo, from my own garden. It's not a field of blooms, but I just love this dark variety. <3

I'm currently knee-deep working with lavender spikes and with some of these beautiful dreamland locations to bring you some extra special Lavender surprises very soon, so stay tuned! If you love Lavender too, make sure you're on our email list so you'll be amongst the first to know when we're ready to share more info. <3

Much love and wishes for Lavender-filled days,
Erin

Teaching Children About Herbs + Essential Oils - A Sneak Peek Inside Our New Summer Fun Kids Pack!

The July issue of AromaCulture Magazine was just released this morning and I'm so excited about it that I wanted to take a moment to tell you a little bit more about something new we included in this month's issue. School is out for the summer here in the US and a lot of our readers are mommas (and Grans and dads and aunties...) who now have some extra time to spend with their kiddos while they are home all day, so I wanted to include something extra special for them in this citrusy, summery issue. At the end of the magazine, after all of the grown up articles, you'll find our new Summer Fun Kids Pack!

I've put together a fun, colorful Kids Pack that corresponds with the citrus theme of this month's issue of AromaCulture Magazine. It includes an exciting, kid-friendly lesson about citrus fruits and their essential oils, some activity sheets that will help to reinforce what the kids learn throughout the lesson, and some coloring sheets that feature the fruits and plant parts discussed in the lesson. (It was fun to put some of my artwork to use in the magazine!) Everything is laid out so you can easily print out the Kids Pack pages and go through the lesson and activities with your kids (or grandkids). There's also a quick, kid-friendly blending activity that you can do together during the lesson if you'd like!

I also wanted to make sure that all of the recipes I wrote for this issue of the magazine were kid-friendly so that you can make and enjoy them with your kids while they're home for the summer. I didn't want you to feel like you couldn't carve out any time to make yourself a fancy face cream instead of treasuring this extra time with your littles. It's way more fun to be able to spend time making recipes that the whole family can enjoy! =) Here's a little preview of some of the recipes included in this month's issue:

To learn more about this month's issue of the magazine or to pick up your own copy, click here.

I hope you enjoy this month's issue! If you have a chance to go through the Fun Pack with your kids or grandkids this month, I would love to hear what you think about. Feel free to let me know in the comments section below or to send me an email. If you want to share your finished coloring sheets with me, share them on social media with the hashtag #aromaculturemagazine. I may repost some of my favorites!

Much love,
Erin

How to Address Burns with Herbs and Essential Oils: Herbal First Aid

I have a bit of a sunburn at the moment. This past weekend, my husband and I attended an outdoor service and stopped at a local Lavender farm on our way home. We spent some time out in the Lavender fields harvesting delightful purple stems and chatting with the farmers and I came home feeling contentedly sun-soaked and Lavender-calm. It wasn't until I looked in the mirror that evening that I noticed I had turned a bit pink! I had already planned on sharing my go-to remedies for burn recovery with you today, so I had a bit of a chuckle at my ironic timing. If you've ever wondered about the best way to support your skin when you're recovering from a burn or a sunburn, you're in the right place!

Note: The salve and spray recipes featured in this article were originally published in June's Skin Healing Edition of AromaCulture Magazine. You can find out more about the issue here.

When you're dealing with burns, you have to be able to discern the severity of the burn before you can effectively treat it. If you're looking at second or third degree burns or if the subject is experiencing other symptoms besides mild discomfort, you should consult your medical team. Home remedies are not sufficient in all cases. But when you're dealing with a mild burn or sunburn, there are many things you can do at home to help support the skin as it recovers and to help relieve the discomfort that comes with that dreaded burning sensation.

How to Support Skin When Recovering from a Burn

1. Hydrosols

One of the first things I reach for when I'm dealing with a burn is a hydrosol. Lavender and Peppermint tend to be the ones I use most often, but I've also used Calendula, St. John's Wort, and Yarrow hydrosols for the same purpose. Hydrosols help to cool the area where the skin has been damaged (I keep mine in the fridge, which also helps with this) and can also help to soothe inflammation and pain. Each one also contributes its own layer of therapeutic effects.

2. Aloe Vera Infusion

True Aloe vera (not the green junk from the sunscreen section at the store) can be wonderful for burns. It's soothing, cooling, anti-inflammatory, and helps aid the skin as it begins to repair itself. You can either pat a bit of pure Aloe vera gel into the skin where the burn is (don't rub - it will increase the irritation and the heated sensation) or you can pour some Aloe vera juice into a small spray bottle and use it to mist the area as needed. Store the spray bottle in the fridge to keep it cool and extend its shelf life. It's recommended to avoid using Aloe if there is blistering or a raw, open wound, but for minor burns and sunburns, it can be a great ally.

I like to take a couple of extra moments to infuse my Aloe with some skin-healing herbs before use. Calendula, Comfrey leaf, and Plantain are all suitable options. The spray in this photo features all three, along with a bit of St. John's Wort.

3. Herbal Salve

You can also use these same herbs: Calendula, Comfrey leaf, Plantain, and St. John's Wort to make a skin-healing salve that can help reduce the pain and inflammation caused by the burn and support the skin as it goes through the recovery process. I infuse the herbs individually into carrier oil throughout the year and keep a jar of each in my apothecary so I can use them as needed. To make my go-to burn recovery salve, follow the recipe below. It also makes a great all-purpose first aid salve and can even be used as an herbal moisturizing treatment. It's full of skin-loving herbs!

Burn Recovery Salve Recipe

  • 1 part organic beeswax
  • 1 part Calendula (Calendula officinalis) infused carrier oil
  • 1 part Comfrey leaf (Symphytum uplandicum) infused carrier oil
  • 1 part Plantain (Plantago sp.) leaf infused carrier oil
  • 2 parts St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) infused carrier oil
  • Lavender essential oil (at a 3 to 10% dilution)

Instructions

Melt the beeswax over low heat in a double boiler, then stir in the carrier oils until everything is well incorporated. Remove the blend from the heat and add your essential oil. To achieve a lighter consistency like that in the photo (instead of the typical, harder salve consistency), let the mixture cool a bit, then blend it with an immersion blender to add a bit of fluffiness to its texture. Pour the finished blend into sterilized tins or jars and keep one, labeled, in your herbal first aid kit.

Some folks love to use salve right away on burns and others prefer to wait until the initial burning sensation has eased. You'll be able to discern which option works best for you as you tune into your own remedy and give each method a try.

How about you? What do you turn to when you're dealing with a burn? Let me know in the comments below.

Much love,
Erin

More Blog Posts

Top 11 Herbs and Essential Oils for the Skin

Walking down the skincare aisle at the drugstore is sort of amusing to me. Shelves and shelves of products with pretty packaging, clinical claims, and long lists of synthetic, chemical-laden ingredients...they don't appeal to me at all anymore, but they do cause me to ponder the reasons our culture tends to so easily buy into their marketing. Before I transitioned to a chemical-free lifestyle, I tried so many different storebought products to try to force my skin into looking vibrant and glowy and clear, but none of them worked long-term and many of them even caused irritation or damage to my sensitive skin. When I started using homemade, botanical products instead of the options offered to me at the local Nordstrom, Target, or CVS, I saw such a drastic improvement in my skin (and my health) that it's hard for me to even fathom picking up a toxin-laden, though prettily packaged, product again.

Since June is Skin Healing month here at AromaCulture, I decided to reserve some blog space to talk about my favorite herbs and essential oils for the skin. All of the botanicals in this post are well suited to a wide variety of skincare and first aid applications and can be used for every skin type. They're perfect ingredients to include in your own skincare formulations. Ready to see what made my Top 11 list?

1. DANDELION

So much of the skin's health depends on what is actually happening on the inside of your body. If your liver and kidneys are not functioning well or your digestive system and circulation are a bit stagnant or your gut health is not quite where it should be, you'll start to notice changes in your skin. Acne, blackheads, irritation, inflammation, dull skin...these are all outward manifestations of an inner imbalance that needs to be addressed. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)  is one of the best herbs for this. It supports the health of the digestive organs, especially the liver (which is directly related to the health of your skin), and helps the body to purify the blood and flush out the yuck that doesn't belong. Any time I start to notice little spots popping up on my face, I know it's time to bring out the Dandelion. My skin thanks me every time.

Dandelion can be utilized for the skin via digestive bitters, herbal hand and foot baths, or through the diet. The whole plant is edible. Flowers can be added to salads, roots can be added to soups, and the greens can be cooked down with something sweet and eaten like any other edible green. (The younger leaves are better tasting than older ones.) Generally, the leaves are used as a diuretic (think stagnant issues, like cellulite) and the root is used to stimulate digestion and the production of bile, supporting the liver (and, therefore, the skin). The root can be roasted and brewed as a coffee substitute and is often included in homemade root beer formulas.

If you have a latex allergy, you will probably want to avoid Dandelion. That milky white sap that you see when you pick a Dandelion is latex.

 
 

2. BURDOCK

Burdock (Arctium lappa) is another liver-supportive herb that will indirectly improve and support the health of the skin. It works to correct the internal imbalances that manifest themselves outwardly via issues with the skin (i.e. dandruff, eczema, psoriasis, dry skin, etc.) and is also valuable when used externally for scalp health, wounds, rashes, and inflamed areas. It's great at getting the lymph moving, too, so is again indicated where there is stagnation. My favorite herbal shampoo includes Burdock root as a main ingredient. It can be infused into a carrier oil and included in first aid preparations and skin care formulas or can be decocted and used as a wash. Burdock can also be taken internally as a tincture or as a food. The root is often cooked and eaten as a dish called Gobo and it can also be brewed into a tea and included in homemade root beer soda blends.

Burdock is a weedy plant, so it's extremely easy to grow yourself. Start a little patch of it (it'll do well in just about any kind of soil) and harvest the root in early fall. There are no known safety issues for Burdock.

3. CALENDULA

Ah, Calendula. Possibly the herb supreme for skincare formulas. This sunny little bloom is chock-full of flavanoids and carotenoids that help to heal the skin. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is indicated for everything from acne to wounds and helps to reduce inflammation and promote cell repair. It's one of the easiest herbs to grow in the garden and will start blooming in early spring and last until well after the first frost if you keep cutting the stems throughout the growing season. Harvest seeds in the fall or winter to save for the next year's growth.

Use Calendula for the skin by infusing the dried blooms into carrier oils for skincare formulations. It can also be brewed as a tea and used as a compress, wash, or poultice (or taken internally). The hydrosol is lovely on its own or included as an ingredient in cream formulas. The tincture can also be used in some cases, though it may be drying when used externally. Calendula also produces a lovely CO2 extract which can be incorporated into topical blends.

 
 

4. COMFREY

Comfrey (Symphytum uplandica or Symphytum officinale) seems such a happy plant to me. It contentendly pops its first little leaves out of the soil in early spring and sets right to work filling its plot with cheerful green. It may be one of the fastest growing, most resilient plants in my herb garden. Comfrey is one of those botanicals that herbalists just love. It has an incredible affinity for healing the skin and has such pronounced wound healing properties that it's earned the nickname "knitbone" because it is said to 'knit' wounded tissues back together. Rich in the skin-healing and protective component, allantoin, it's often included in first aid formulas and skin care preparations. Infuse the leaves into carrier oil or Aloe to use in blends or use an infusion / tea as a wash. Comfrey can also be utilized as a compress or poultice.

5. LAVENDER

No list of skin-healing herbs would be complete without Lavender. There are many varieties of Lavender products available on the market, but you'll want to look for Lavandula angustifolia for skin-healing purposes. The herb, essential oil, hydrosol, and infused carrier oils are all useful for skin preparations. Most folks who are even the slightest bit interested in herbs and essential oils are familiar with Lavender, so I won't expound too thoroughly on it here, but do know that it can be included in just about every herbal / aromatherapeutic product you ever make for the skin without seeming out of place. Aside from its own contribution to the therapeutic effects of the blend, it seems to marry together all of the other ingredients you choose to include to create a more potent synergy.

Lavender is another easy-to-grow herb that will do fine in well drained soils to a zone 5. In cooler areas, it can be grown in a pot and brought in during the colder months. We're growing about a dozen varieties this year and it hasn't taken me long to decide that it's my favorite herb to grow. There's nothing quite so lovely and delightful as this sweet plant!

Infuse Lavender buds into carrier oils, Aloes, and honeys. Use the tea as a wash. The herb can be used as a compress or poultice. The hydrosol is lovely on its own as a facial toner or body spray or as an ingredient in creams. The essential oil can be added to most any skin care or first aid formula.

 
 

6. ST. JOHN'S WORT

Who doesn't love this sunny little plant? The St. John's Wort used for skincare is Hypericum perforatum, which can be easily identified by the little "holes" in its leaves. When you hold a leaf up to the sunlight, you'll see little dark specks (or perforations) on it. The top 4-6" of the blooming plant is used. The plant is ready to harvest when the buds produce a reddish-purple stain on your fingers when you press them. If you don't see this stain, you're either too early or too late. Watch your patch closely when the weather starts to turn toward summery temperatures near the end of June - the perfect harvesting window is short! Some will be ready and some won't. If you're unable to gather enough in one harvesting session, check back every day or two for the next week to see if more flowers are ready to be collected.

St. John's Wort can be infused into carrier oil (it will turn a bright, deep red color as the flowers release their medicinal properties into the oil) that can be used in both first aid and skin care blends. It's useful for external wounds, burns, cuts, bruises, areas of trauma, and inflammatory complaints and helps to speed recovery. Some folks include it in preparations for shingles or herpes. It's excellent for helping to relieve pain as well, so it's often used in massage oils for sore muscles or injuries.

Some people experience photosensitivity when using St. John's Wort, so be aware of any areas of your skin that will be exposed to direct sunlight after applying. If you experience any sort of rash or discomfort, stop using it.

7. HELICHRYSUM

Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) is probably most known for its lovely, skin-healing, anti-aging essential oil. It's pricey, but oh so lovely and effective. It helps to speed recovery of wounds and is often used in first aid applications. It's also excellent in anti-aging skincare products and posh facial creams. One well-known brand uses it in their fancy hand creams and another in their makeup products.

The hydrosol is wonderful for use as a facial toner or body spray and can also be used in herbal creams. A teaspoon of it can be added to a luxurious bath (or hand or foot bath).

The herb itself can be infused into carrier oils or brewed as a tea for use as a wash. It's beneficial for a wide variety of skin ailments, including acne and eczema.

 
 

8. PLANTAIN

Plantain (Plantago spp.) is another weed-like plant that grows along the trodden path; it likes to follow human footsteps and spring up right where it is most likely to be needed. It's a skin-soothing herb that's especially great for skin irritations like bug bites and stings. Just the other day, I was planting out some new herb transplants into my garden and something decided to bite me. The swelling, itching, and burning reaction didn't seem too bad at first so I carried on with what I was doing, but within a few minutes, the bite had turned into quite a painful welt. I walked over to my bed of Plantain, picked one of the leaves, crushed it with my fingers and rubbed it over the area. I then used a fresh leaf, also crushed, to lay over the area as an herbal bandaid (it will stick on its own if you've crushed it). Within a few minutes, the itching and burning had stopped and when the leaf naturally fell off 15 or 20 minutes later, the Plantain had completed its job. I couldn't even tell where the bite had been.

 
 

Plantain can be used in a carrier oil or Aloe for first aid and skin care preparations to soothe and reduce inflammation and irritation and can also be taken internally as a tea (or used externally as a wash) for other issues.

 
 

9. ROSE

Rose (Rosa spp.) can be utilized in its every form for delightful, luxurious skin formulas. More ideas for ways to do that here and here. They contain anti-inflammatory and antibacterial compounds (which suit acne-prone skin), are rich in anti-aging properties, and are known to nourish, hydrate, and even help tone and rejuvenate the skin

Rose petals, Rose hydrosol, Rosehip seed oil, Rose flower essence, and precious Rose essential oil are all derived from this one generous plant. I like to incorporate her into every step of my own skincare routine.

Rose essential oil is also beneficial for wounds when there has been trauma. It will not only help with speeding the recovery of the skin, but will also comfort the heart and mind and work to bring stability back to the person affected.

 
 

10. CARROT SEED

Carrot Seed (Daucus carota) is available both as an essential oil and as a CO2 and an infused carrier oil. All are beneficial for the skin. It's one of those plants that's also beneficial for the liver and is helpful for releasing blocked energy, so we know it's going to be amazing for our skin! Include it in topical blends for a variety of skin ailments, including eczema, psoriasis, acne, and other inflammatory, irritated conditions. It's also useful for anti-aging skincare products and can be used in carrier oils, creams, and facial steams.

Avoid use when pregnant.

11. MARSHMALLOW

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) leaf and root are both used for skin and hair formulas (root is more commonly used, but the leaf can also be used). It's rich in flavanoids, polysaccharides, and beta-carotene and is mucilaginous, making it skin-soothing and anti-inflammatory. You can infuse the root into a carrier oil or Aloe to use in a blend or you can prepare a decoction and use it as a poultice or wash. It blends well with Chamomile tea for this purpose as well. It's effective for a variety of ailments, including eczema, burns, and wounds, and will help to moisten dry skin. Powdered root can be included in homemade baby powder blends.

12. YARROW

I couldn't choose just 11 after all! Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is so useful in the herbal first aid kit that I felt it had to be included in this list. The leaves are styptic and antiseptic and can be powdered and used in styptic powder recipes or used fresh when needed. All of the aerial parts of the plant can be used to help speed healing of wounds, burns, and other skin ailments. The foliage is light and feathery and the flowers are lovely; it's easy to grow from seed (perennial) and the pollinators love it. Look for the white or pink flowering varieties if you want to use the herb medicinally. The yellow flowering varieties are ornamental. Use the herb in hand and foot baths, washes, and compresses to help reduce inflammation and speed healing.

I've used Yarrow hydrosol as a styptic in a pinch and it seems to be just as effective as the herb itself, at least for minor cases. It can also be used as a facial toner or as an ingredient in creams. The essential oil is antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic. Include it in blends for your first aid kit to help with the pain and swelling associated with injury. For skin-care, it can be a useful ingredient for irritated, inflamed skin complaints.
 

WHICH HERBS AND/OR ESSENTIAL OILS WOULD YOU ADD TO THIS LIST?
LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.

Much love,
Erin