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Herbalism

The Art of Herbal Hand + Foot Baths

When I first started really learning about herbs, I kept hearing a couple of my herbal teachers speak of an herbalist, Maurice Mességué, who was famous for using herbal hand and foot baths to address his clients’ concerns. I found the method intriguing because at the time, I hadn't heard much about using foot baths therapeutically, so I picked up a couple of Maurice's books. His autobiography is one of the most entertaining books I have ever read, and it really gave me an interest in using herbs this way. I immediately started experimenting with herbal hand and foot baths myself and they have since become one of my absolute favorite ways to use herbs. Today I’m sharing my go-to herbal foot bath recipe for when I’m feeling a bit yucky – a headache coming on, a touch of queasiness, or that overtired and overwhelmed feeling that sometimes hits at the end of a long day.

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my go-to base recipe is equal parts:

  • organic Calendula flowers
  • organic Lavender buds
  • organic Rose petals
  • organic Nettles
  • organic Chamomile flowers
  • organic Rosemary leaves

This blend is relaxing, refreshing, skin nourishing, and looks absolutely beautiful in the foot bath. Depending on what else I'm dealing with, I'll also add some mix-ins.

Mix-in options:

  • organic Lavender hydrosol
  • organic Feverfew leaf + flower (headache)
  • organic Skullcap leaf + flower (headache)
  • organic Passionflower leaf + flower (tension)
  • organic Yarrow leaf + flower (feeling sick)
  • organic Peppermint leaf (feeling nauseated)
  • organic Honeysuckle (dealing with an infection)
  • organic Eucalyptus leaves (dealing with an infection)
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preparation

I start by putting the kettle on the stove so the water can get to a boil while I'm blending together the herbs I want to use. Use a large bowl so that the herb blend fills it only about 1/3 to halfway so the dried herbs have plenty of room to expand once they're rehydrated.

Pour freshly boiled water into the heat-safe bowl until all of the plant material is covered, then cover the bowl with a plate to seal in the steam and let it steep this way for 10-15 minutes.

Pour the entire mixture into your foot bath basin (or whatever vessel you're using - hand bath bowl or bathtub, etc.), then add in any hydrosols or other ingredients you plan to use.

Fill the remainder of the basin with enough hot water to cover your ankles once you've submerged your feet (or your wrists, if you're bathing your hands).

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your foot bath

Place a towel on the floor before you set your basin down, just in case of spills and drips, then relax in a comfy chair. Soak your feet (or hands) in the foot bath for at least 8-10 minutes. I like to keep a small towel nearby so I can easily dry my feet when I’m through soaking them. (Tea stains, so use a dark colored towel or something that you won’t mind being stained by the infusion.)

Follow up the bath with an application of foot cream and a pair of cozy socks.

Have you ever experimented with herbal foot baths?

They’ve really become one of our favorite ways to enjoy herbs.

Much love,
Erin

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Top 5 Rosaceae Family Carrier Oils

This article has been adapted from an article I first published in the February 2017 issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

There are many generous plant families. The Lamiaceae and Asteraceae families, for example, each give us dozens, if not hundreds, of medicinal and edible plants that we can use in the apothecary. But one of my favorite plant families is the Rosaceae family. There's something extra special about the plants that come from it and I think that special-ness carries over into the carrier oils that are derived from Rose-family plants. While they are recognizably beneficial and nourishing to the skin, I believe they also carry that special energetic signature of the Rose family and can help us to further layer therapeutic effects into our apothecary blends. These 5 carrier oils are some of my favorites to use when blending salves, creams, massage oils, aromatherapy blends, and other oil-based products.

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Rose Hip Seed Oil

Rosehip seed oil is made when the seeds inside the hips of the roses are cold pressed. The unrefined oil is usually a vibrant, golden-orange or orange-red color and has a light aroma that noticeably changes when the oil has spoiled. It has a relatively short shelf life (6-12 months), so should be stored in the refrigerator in a dark, airtight container. When the oil is unrefined, it will often take on a waxy consistency when chilled and must be brought back to room temperature for use in recipes. Some suppliers refine their Rosehip seed oil or ‘winterize’ it (so it doesn’t become waxy in the fridge) and their oils may be much lighter in color than the vibrant tones you may be accustomed to in an unrefined oil. Adulteration of Rosehip seed oil is common, especially now that the oil is in shorter supply with a higher demand for it, so you’ll want to purchase yours from a trusted source, as local as possible. I've come across adulterated Rosehip seed oil from several of the larger, popular distributors, so you'll want to closely examine your product as soon as it arrives to make sure it is pure.

Rosehip seed oil is a drier-feeling oil that soaks into the skin immediately and is very hydrating. It does not leave a greasy feeling or an oily residue and can be used for all skin types, but is especially suited to dry, sensitive, or mature skin. It is gentle enough to be used undiluted, but because of its higher price, it is usually used in combination with other carrier oils and is often included as an ingredient in luxurious skin care recipes and creams, facial serums, and body lotions and oils. I like to include it in face creams and scar-fading blends.

Incredibly skin nourishing, Rosehip seed oil is rich in essential fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins that benefit the skin. Linoleic, Linolenic, Oleic and Palmitic acids are present, as well as Vitamins A and C (the latter in higher amounts than are found in oranges!) and Lycopene. The Vitamin C content contributes to the oil’s skin rejuvenating properties and works alongside the Lycopene and other nutrients to restore elasticity to the skin, promote collagen production and assist with repairing, restoring vibrancy to, and protecting the surface of the skin. Some studies show that it can help to reduce the appearance of scars when consistently applied over time and the oil has also been used to help rebalance, restore, and regenerate the skin in cases of eczema, wounds, burns, damaged skin, broken veins, fine lines and wrinkles, acne and other skin issues.

Trans-retinoic acid is also present in Rosehip seed oil. Chilean studies found that this component is an effective tissue regenerator and helps to tone the skin, minimize premature aging and wrinkles, and reduce scar tissue.[1]

Sweet Almond Oil

True Sweet Almond oil is a light, cold pressed oil that is produced from the Almond nut and easily penetrates the skin. It’s often used in skin care blends and body oil products, but is also sometimes used in the kitchen. The refined oil tolerates higher temperatures because of its high smoke point and can be used in general cooking while the unrefined oil is better suited as a dressing or finishing oil or in cooking that involves medium temperatures.

Sweet Almond oil is commonly used by soap makers because it is a nutrient-dense, stable oil that produces a nice lather. The oil is rich in fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin K, and B vitamins 1, 2, and 6 and is moisturizing and nourishing for both the skin and the hair. It is well suited for use in skin care products for all skin types, but especially for those with normal, combination, or dry skin, and does not clog pores. It helps to increase circulation while its anti-inflammatory properties work on soothing irritated and inflamed areas, thus regenerating and restoring the skin. It is sometimes employed in blends for use with eczema and other skin conditions because it can help to relieve the itching and irritation associated with them. It is sometimes included in blends used to help reduce the appearance of scars.

Heat will shorten the shelf life of this oil, but properly stored away from light and heat, the unrefined oil should keep for 12-15 months. Since it is a nut-derived oil, you should probably avoid using it if you have a nut allergy.

Apricot Kernel Oil

Apricot kernel oil is another light, mild oil that is also cold pressed, this time from the kernel inside the pit of the apricot fruit. It is somewhat like Sweet Almond oil and is often used in its place when it is not available. It makes a lovely base for massage oils and is well suited as a natural baby oil that can be used to soothe and moisturize the skin of little ones.

Apricot kernel oil can be used in blends formulated for all skin types, but is especially suited to mature and sensitive skin. It is absorbed quickly and doesn’t leave behind an oily residue. Its anti-inflammatory properties lend themselves well to soothing irritated skin, so the oil is often used in blends for addressing inflamed, itchy skin issues.

The unrefined oil is the best option for use on the skin because it retains more of its nutrient profile than the refined, expeller pressed oil does. The unrefined oil is extremely rich in essential fatty acids and vitamin A, vitamins B 1, 2, 6, and 17 (B 17 content is the highest of any plant), and vitamin E. The oil’s high antioxidant and vitamin E content contribute to the oil’s protective, purifying nature. It’s restorative and soothing, contains anti-aging properties, helps to prevent the fine lines and wrinkles that are accompanied by premature aging, and helps to improve the elasticity and texture of the skin. I love to use it in body lotion recipes.

This oil should be stored away from sunlight and heat in a cool, dry place. The refrigerator is probably best. Stored properly, this oil can keep well for about a year.

 

Raspberry Seed Oil

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of tiny, cold pressed raspberry seeds to produce this precious, nutrient-dense carrier oil. It’s an incredible anti-inflammatory oil that is used to soothe irritated and inflamed skin. It also has a special affinity for oral health care.

This oil is often used in skin and hair care products. It’s lovely when included in facial serums and massaged into the skin. Since it is high in antioxidants, it partners well with the skin to help protect and nourish it. It’s rich in essential fatty acids (about 83%) and vitamins A and E. The oil is also being studied for its potential as an oil that helps to protect the skin from UV-A and UV-B rays. While there isn’t yet enough research to use it as a replacement for sunscreen, it does show some promise in this area.

The cold pressed oil is the best option for use. Stored properly, it should keep well for about 2 years.

 

Peach Kernel Oil

Peach kernel oil is a light, slightly astringent oil that is rich in essential fatty acids and vitamins A, B and E. It is moisturizing, skin nourishing, and helps to improve the elasticity of the skin whilst soothing inflammation and irritated areas. It’s well suited to all skin types and is useful in anti-aging formulas and in blends used to address eczema and other skin conditions.

It’s similar to the other light oils like Sweet Almond and Apricot kernel oil, but it isn’t produced as abundantly and is thus much more expensive and can be harder to find. Less information is available about this particular oil, but we do know that it is a valuable carrier. Culpeper (1616-1684) said that the oil would bring rest and sleep when applied to the forehead.[2]

There are other carrier oils available from this beautiful plant family. Blackberry seed oil and Cherry pit oil are two of them. They are not as easy to find on the market, but if you ever come across them, they are worth studying and experimenting with. These five oils are some of the easier ones to find. I hope you’ll give them a try if you haven’t already!

Do you have a favorite carrier oil that comes from the Rose family? Tell me about it in the comments section below.

[1,2] - Aromatherapy for Health Professionals by Len and Shirley Price

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Guide to Growing, Foraging, and Using St. John's Wort

You know that speechlessness that takes over your brain when someone asks you what your favorite herb is? That, "Umm, how could I possibly ever choose one? I have no idea how to answer that question!" So you scramble to think of one that you like more than the others and about a dozen different plants pop into your head and you're still standing there like, "Hmmmm...uh..." Yeah, I know the feeling.

But there are a couple of plants that are just so incredibly special to me that I could definitely call them my favorites. Lavender is one, as you know. Hawthorn. Calendula. Roses. Tulsi. (Okay, I guess my list is kind of long, but thank goodness you understand because that means you're probably not surprised.)

There is one plant, though, that I don't talk about nearly enough that is definitely in my top 10 favorites list and it's St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum).

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Those of you who live where St. John's Wort grows abundantly might not believe this, but when we lived in California, I never saw living St. John's Wort plants. We lived in such a densely populated, concrete-covered, manicured area that weedy species were actually hard to find and I never came across Hypericum, even when I was out in the wilderness areas!

St. John's Wort is also on the noxious weed list there, so I couldn't really grow it myself and seed companies wouldn't even ship seed to California. I would always order in freshly harvested St. John's Wort when it was in season and have it shipped overnight to me so I could still work with it in my apothecary.

When we moved to the PNW - a place where St. John's Wort grows abundantly alongside the roads - I was ecstatic.

I've spent a lot of time with this plant this year because it's one of my favorites and because it's one of the plants that we work with a lot in my Herbal Aromatherapy™ courses. (They'll be launching online later this year.)

I thought I'd share part of the St. John's Wort lesson from the Herbal Aromatherapy™ Level One course with you today because it's the perfect time for you to find and work with this plant! It's in full bloom here in the PNW and in other places around the country, so if it grows where you live, chances are that you'll be able to find it right now or very soon.

(If you live outside the US, I'm curious to know if it grows where you are and when it blooms. Let me know in the comments section below this post.)


Identifying St. John's Wort

St. John's Wort is an herbaceous perennial that likes to grow in poor soils that have been disturbed. Because of this, you'll often see it growing on the side of the road where the soil is rocky or packed down, on the side of a cliff, especially one that has been cut away to make room for a road, or in a field that's been sitting fallow. While it does grow in these poor conditions, it'll also do nicely in cultivation and it makes a beautiful garden plant. It likes sunny areas but can also grow in partial shade, especially when you see it up in the mountainous regions. I usually see it growing between 12" (younger plants) and 24-30" in the wild, but it can grow taller in better soil, and while I might see a plant on its own here and there, it tends to grow in clumps. It starts flowering in most areas in June, but you may be able to find flowers throughout the summer as well.

The flowers grow in clusters at the end of the upright stems. They have five bright yellow petals with many yellow stamens and the petals have little black dots near their edges. The photo below shows the flower and the "perforated" leaves, but please note that it doesn't well represent the upright stems, since the plant in this photo was leaning over a little bit. Normally when you find this plant, it'll be reaching up toward the sky, tall and cheery.

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St. John's Wort has branching stems with opposite, oblong leaves that feel smooth and have smooth, non-toothy edges. Usually the flowers are found on the top half of the plant and the bottom half has leaves and stems. It can be a little leggy looking, since it grows tall instead of being bushy or wide. When you find it in clumps, it'll look a lot fuller.

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There are different varieties of Hypericum. To tell if you have H. perforatum, hold a leaf up to the sunlight. If it's H. perforatum, you'll be able to see the little holes from which it gets part of its name - perforatum. You can see what they look like in the photo below.

Memory Tip: "Perforated" leaves = H. perforatum.

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You can find further photos and descriptors to use for identifying purposes here.

GROWING St. John's Wort

If you're able to grow St. John's Wort in your garden, it can be easily started from seed in late fall or early spring. Sow the seeds on the surface of the soil, water in, and then keep the soil moist and in a partially sunny area until the seeds sprout. They need light to germinate, so it's best not to keep them on a shelf below another shelf or hidden away in a dark space.

Once the plants are old enough, you can plant them out into the garden in well-draining soil with full sun. They will flower for you in the second year.

Because St. John's Wort does well in poor soils, it can be grown in almost any garden (add a bit of sand and organic matter to heavy clay soils to improve its texture) and doesn't need much fuss. It does seem to like a little bit of liquid seaweed concentrate now and again, but it would probably do just as well if allowed to do its own thing.

HARVESTING St. John's Wort

When harvesting St. John's Wort for medicinal purposes, there is a specific time frame during which the plant is at its prime. To see if your plants are ready to be harvested, roll one of the buds between your thumb and forefinger. If the bud leaves a reddish-purple stain on your finger (see the photo below), then the plant is ready to be harvested.

If the plant has buds, but they do not produce a stain, you're a bit too early to harvest. Check back daily and harvest when you see this stain on your fingers.

If the plant has open flowers or petal-less flowers and does not produce a stain, you're a little bit too late to harvest in that particular area. Check nearby plants to see if there are others that are ready or head to a higher elevation to find plants that are just coming into their prime harvesting stage.

Most people will tell you to harvest the top 4-6" of the plant when harvesting St. John's Wort. I tend to be a little bit more conservative because the bees love this plant so much and I want to make sure that there are plenty of flowers leftover for both the pollinators and for the plant to produce seed.

I'll harvest the top 4-6" from the main stem only, not the branching stems, being sure to leave the flowers on the branching stems behind.

I also like to harvest no more than 1 in 7 plants (it's usually more like 1 in 12+) so that when I leave, it doesn't look like I've harvested anything at all.

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DRYING St. John's Wort

If you're going to dry your freshly harvested St. John's Wort, spread it out in a single layer on a screen or drying rack and allow to dry out of the sunlight until the leaves, flowers and stems are crispy. You can leave the flowers and leaves on the stems or strip them from the stem and store in an airtight jar away from light and heat.

Making St. John's Wort Oil

My full guide to making herb-infused oils can be found here. When making St. John's Wort infused oil, it's traditional to use olive oil as the base, but you can use any fatty carrier oil that you like. I prefer Sunflower seed oil (organic, unrefined) because it has a lighter texture and because I think the energetic pairing of the sunny St. John's Wort with the sunflower is perfectly complementary.

After your freshly harvested St. John's Wort has wilted (out of the sunlight) for a couple of hours and all of the little hitchhiking critters have made their escape, strip the flowers and leaves from the stems. Fill your jar about 2/3 full with the flowers and leaves, then pour your carrier oil of choice over the plant material until it's completely covered. The plants will spread out a bit in the oil and make your jar look even more full.

Secure the jar's lid and leave the jar in a sunny windowsill or a sheltered spot in the garden to infuse for 4-6 weeks. Keep an eye on it and check it often to make sure no mold is forming and, if you do see mold, use a sterile spoon to scoop it out of the jar before recapping. Wilting your plant material beforehand helps prevent mold from forming.

Note: Do not wash your St. John's Wort prior to infusing it in the oil. This is a sure way to spoil the entire batch. Harvest from a clean area away from pollution and such so that rinsing it is unnecessary.

As the oil infuses, the hypericin in the St. John's Wort will be extracted into the oil and will turn the oil a deep red color. It's quite fascinating, really! Have you ever had a cup of St. John's Wort tea made from the fresh flowers? If so, you'll recognize the color.

Strain completely and store in airtight jars away from light and heat. Storage in the fridge will prolong the oil's shelf life.

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St. John's Wort infused oil makes a wonderful base oil for massage oils, aromatherapy oils, salves, balms, ointments, lotions and creams, and other oil-based applications. It has analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-inflammatory effects, so lends itself well to formulas meant to help relieve pain and reduce swelling. It's also exceptional (and has been traditionally used) for soothing nerve-related pain.

I once sat down to work with a large batch of St. John's Wort and when I began, I was in quite a bit of pain. By the time I was finished, I had no pain to speak of and the pain didn't come back! Just being around St. John's Wort now feels therapeutic for me.

Here's a photo of a finished batch of infused oil from a couple of years ago. I'll update in a few weeks with a fresh pic from my current batch once it's finished.

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DISTILLING ST. JOHN'S WORT

St. John's Wort is one of my favorite plants to distill at home because it's so generous in its yields and the hydrosol and essential oil are both quite lovely. With my stovetop still (click here for a behind-the-scenes look into the process of using it), I can get about a quart of hydrosol and a little bit of essential oil in about 45 minutes - enough to make several batches of lotions and creams, facial toners, etc. that will last me for most of the year!

When distilling St. John's Wort with a smaller, at-home still, I like to distill via a combined hydro-distillation and steam distillation approach. I've found that this helps me to increase my yield a little bit. It's always a joy to be able to get that little bit of essential oil from even the smallest amount of plant material and, of course, the hydrosol is worth the distillation alone.

the hydrosol

The hydrosol smells lovely - a little bit buttery and green with a hint of pungent spice and the essential oil has a sweetness to it that is just wonderful. It contributes its antimicrobial, antispasmodic, and anti-inflammatory effects to products that include it as an ingredient.

St. John's Wort hydrosol contains a constituent called Terpinen-4-ol, which is also one of the main components found in Tea Tree and Marjoram essential oils. Terpinen-4-ol has demonstrated antibacterial and antitumoral effects in scientific research and is also found in smaller amounts in Lavender (angustifolia) essential oil and Juniper berry essential oil.

the essential oil

I find St. John's Wort essential oil to be both emotionally and physically centering. It helps to balance the pain response to both physical and emotional stimuli and bring us back into a state of existing harmoniously with different causes of pain.

It feels sunny and uplifting energetically, like an encouraging friend who says just the right thing in just the right moment to help us feel better about life. While it may not remove every ounce of pain from how we're feeling, physically or emotionally, it helps to soften the way we feel about the pain and thus, to relieve it in an interesting way. It doesn't deaden, but rather lifts the spirit away from it a little bit so we can handle the pain better, relax the tension we feel from holding on to it, and perhaps even let go of it.

That said, St. John's Wort essential oil does have a pronounced anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect on the physical body, so it's commonly employed for painful, swollen issues of the body, skin, and mind. 

I've also found it useful when working with people who are prone to feeling like they're at their wit's end; the type with frazzled nerves from being overworked and under-rested - if you add just one more thing to their plate, they're going to drop everything on the floor. It's also helpful for the kind of person who has so many things going on at once that they're starting to become a little bit numb to it all; one too many distractions; one too many painful experiences; one too many things that feel like little needles constantly jabbing holes into their mental and emotional health.

The herb itself is known for its ability to help repair our physical nerves, so it makes sense that the essential oil would have this kind of emotional effect.

St. John's Wort essential oil contains alpha-pinene which is helpful for both the skin and the respiratory and immune systems. Beta-caryophyllene is another of its main constituents. It's known for its ability to support the skin and our pain response, but especially for its unique ability to bind to our CB2 receptors, which help us to maintain normal immune and nervous system functions.

Balsam Copaiba (Copaifera officinalis) is one of the oft-studied essential oils that is also known for its rich beta-caryophyllene content.

The physical effects of St. John's Wort on our body help us to better understand the effects it has on our emotional being. Physically, it supports the skin, immune, respiratory and nervous systems, and our pain response. Emotionally, it strengthens our response to external stimuli, allowing us to breathe through different circumstances whilst building our resiliency and maintaining our center. It helps strengthen our protective barriers and fill in the cracks where the barrier has been compromised whilst still allowing light to shine through those cracks. It helps us to keep our head up, focused on the good things so we can better deal with the hard things. It's a great ally in the Herbal Aromatherapist's™ toolbox!


An example:

Imagine that you have so many things going on that you're starting to lose your focus and you can feel your energy seeping away from you. You're feeling less inspired and you don't have any time to focus on things that fuel your creativity because everything else is constantly demanding your attention.

You're feeling frazzled at home because you don't have time to take care of everything you need to. You're feeling like you're under-performing at work because you just don't have the mental energy to invest in it.

And then something awful happens. You get sick or you suffer a loss or something else occurs that just completely leaves you feeling like you can't deal with all of the things anymore.

You just want to sit on the couch in last night's pajamas with a warm blanket and some fuzzy socks so you can binge-watch your favorite show on Netflix whilst eating all of the chocolate ice cream you have in the freezer.

And in that moment, one of your best friends calls and talks to you about the situation and, after hearing about everything that's going on, she comes over to help you. She watches a movie with you, then tells you to go take a shower and get dressed. She works alongside you to get the house clean, takes you out for lunch and shopping for a new outfit, and then watches the kids for you so you and your spouse can go have a weekend away from everything to recharge.

You come home feeling like you've had a mental reset - like you know exactly what you can let go of in order to make sure that you don't reach this place again and you also feel better equipped to handle all of the other things you have going on in your life.

Your friend sticks by you, checking in on you and making sure you're staying in the right head-space, keeping a positive outlook on things, and constantly adjusting where you need to so that you don't end up feeling the same way again.

As a result, you're better able to keep a positive attitude yourself; you're able to invest in the things that are important to you again and let go of the things that no longer matter as much, all the while feeling like you've been able to find your center so you can take on the world each day as a strong, energetic, cheerful powerhouse.

This is how St. John's Wort works on the emotional plane. It's the cheery, encouraging best friend that meets you where you are and then helps you to focus on the important things, let go of the things that you don't need to be holding on to, and keep walking forward with a greater amount of fortitude and resilience than before you met up on the trail.

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USING St. John's Wort

St. John's Wort can be used therapeutically either fresh or dried. Some of the ways it is commonly prepared include:

  • teas
  • tincture
  • vinegar tincture
  • infused oil
  • glycerites
  • compresses and poultices
  • salves, balms and ointments
  • lotions and creams
  • massage oils
  • aromatherapy roll-on blends
  • smelling salts
  • bath tea blends
  • soaks
  • skin care recipes
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As far as using the herb goes, St. John's Wort definitely has a reputation for uplifting the spirits! Much of its publicity over the past 20 years or so has focused on its antidepressant effects. Whilst it can have a pronounced impact on people who are feeling like they need a little boost of emotional support, it's always a good idea to speak with your doctor if you suspect a deeper issue or if you already know that you suffer from chronic depression.

St. John's Wort is traditionally used to help repair damaged nerves and can be used externally via compress, soak, or infused oil to massage into areas where you're experiencing nerve pain. Since it has antispasmodic and analgesic effects as well, all of these applications can also be employed for muscle and joint aches and pains too.

Note: We'll go into more detail about the specific uses of this herb inside the course module.

safety considerations

St. John's Wort can interact with several different kinds of medications, so please consult your favorite botanical safety reference guides and speak to your doctor before taking St. John's Wort if you are currently on medication. Using the herb topically is considered safe, however.

have you ever worked with st. john's wort?

I'd love to hear about your experience with this special herb! Tell me what you think about it or how you like to use it in the comments section below.


If you'd like to be notified when our course opens for enrollment so you can learn even more about St. John's Wort (and other herbs) and how to use it effectively, click here.


I hope you've enjoyed this brief excerpt from the St. John's Wort lesson of the course! Whilst the course goes into a lot more detail about the specifics, I think this article gives a good, comprehensive overview of the ways you can expect to work with this amazing plant. It's truly one of my favorites! =)

Much love,
Erin

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Herbal Aromatherapy™ Care + Recipes for Cold Sores

Over the years, I've had a few friends request blends and protocols to help them deal with their cold sores. It took a little bit of time to perfect my go-to recipe, but now that I've tested a variety of blends and found one that really works for the majority of people who have tried it, I thought I'd share the recipe and its variation options (along with a few other tips) with you today.

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STEP ONE: HERBAL OIL

The first thing you'll need to do to make an herbal aromatherapy oil for cold sores is infuse a carrier oil with herbs. I have a whole article written about the different ways you can do this (click here to read it). The herbs you'll need are St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), and Calendula (Calendula officinalis).

St. John's Wort

Infuse the fresh flowering tops into your carrier oil using one of the methods described in this article. You must use fresh flowering tops, not dried, in order to extract the analgesic (pain relieving) hypericin from the plant material.

St. John's Wort has analgesic and antiviral effects that will help to both reduce the pain caused by the cold sore and combat the virus causing the cold sore.

Calendula

Calendula flowers will need to be dried before infusing into your carrier oil and since I use Calendula infused oil in so many preparations, I recommend infusing them in a separate jar than your other carriers. Calendula oil benefits from a short application of heat before straining. You can do this over a double broiler on the stove (low heat) or you can leave the jar outside for a couple of hours on a sunny, summer day to allow the sun to do the work for you. The heat will help extract even more of those skin-healing resinous compounds from the Calendula.

Calendula is going to add a layer of skin-repairing, soothing properties to the herbal oil base of the blend. It has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm can be infused into its carrier after it has been freshly dried. You want to use plant material that has been harvested within the last month or two for the best effects, since dried Lemon Balm loses many of its aromatic components quickly.

Lemon Balm is a specific herb for the virus that causes cold sores and is a potent antiviral that will help to both treat and prevent the cold sore.

Which oil to use?

You can use whichever carrier oil you have on hand. I prefer Sunflower seed oil because it's a nice, lightweight oil that isn't too greasy-feeling on the skin, but olive oil, jojoba, coconut oil, etc. would all work just as well.

Blending the base recipe

Once your herbal oils have finished infusing and have been strained, create your base recipe by combining them as follows:

  • 3 parts St. John's Wort infused carrier oil
  • 3 parts Lemon Balm infused carrier oil
  • 2 parts Calendula infused carrier oil

This is your finished base recipe. You can use it as-is if you are sensitive to stronger plant products like essential oils, or you can continue to Step Two.

STEP TWO: ESSENTIAL OILS

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Lavender essential oil will help to reduce inflammation and pain caused by the cold sore and will also soothe and nourish the skin.

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm essential oil is often sold as Melissa essential oil and will contribute its powerful antiviral effects to the blend in an added layer of therapeutics.

If you don't have this essential oil on hand, feel free to leave it out of the recipe, as it is one of the pricier essential oils available. The herbal oil base will have a small amount of essential oil in it. You can also use Lemon Balm hydrosol, separately, instead.

Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)

Tulsi essential oil is both analgesic and antiviral and will contribute those therapeutic effects to the finished product.

Adding the essential oils

Add your essential oils to your base oil blend in the following proportions:

  • Lavender essential oil: 12 drops per ounce of carrier oil (2% dilution)
  • Lemon Balm essential oil: 3 drops per ounce of carrier oil (0.5% dilution)
  • Tulsi essential oil: 1 drop per ounce of carrier oil (<0.5% dilution)

Total essential oil dilution: ~3%

Do not store this blend in a roller bottle because you'll risk contaminating the product.

Step Three (optional): Salve or Lip Balm

If you prefer to use a more solid product, you can add a little bit of beeswax (and/or cocoa butter) to your base oil blend before adding your essential oils. To do so, melt the beeswax over low heat in a double broiler, then stir in your base oil until thoroughly combined. I like to use a 5:1 or 6:1 oil:beeswax ratio for my products, but if you prefer a harder consistency, try a 4:1. Remove from the heat, stir in your essential oil blend, then pour into tins or jars and leave to cool.

I don't recommend storing this recipe in lip balm tubes. Tins or jars are preferred to avoid direct-application contamination. Always use a clean finger when you dip your finger into the product and do not double-dip with the same finger.

Protocol Tips

  • Apply often, at the first sign that a cold sore might be coming on, and then for several days after it has gone away.
     
  • Lemon Balm and Tulsi tea can be taken regularly to help prevent the onset of a cold sore. Check for contraindications before consuming.
     
  • In a pinch, a tincture of Lemon Balm, St. John's Wort, or even Tulsi can be applied instead of this recipe.

How about you? Do you have a recipe that you like to use for cold sores?

Much love,
Erin

 

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Distilling Hydrosols at Home with a Copper Still

One of the things you write in to ask me about most often is distilling hydrosols and essential oils at home, so when I sat down to start writing my first course for you this past winter (I'll include more info about it at the end of the post - I have a question for you regarding it), I knew I wanted to include a whole module about distillation. Inspiring you to become more involved in your use of plant products by growing and harvesting and distilling them at home and supporting your local farmers is one of my main goals because if more of us were doing that, we'd collectively be taking a huge step in the realm of plant-use sustainability. Plus, gardening and distilling plants are both really fun and there's no better way to really foster a deeper connection to your homemade medicine than to be completely involved in the entire process yourself.

Now that our garden is flourishing in the sunshine-filled days, my drying racks are constantly full (I think I need to ask Jon to build more), and my refrigerator is filling up with fresh hydrosols and essential oils. I recently distilled one of my favorite garden darlings, Calendula, so I thought I'd give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the distillation process today.

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Distillation is not difficult. It's a very simple process and as long as you have a few tools and enough plant material to fill your still, you can very easily distill hydrosols and essential oils at home.

I have two different stills right now and, for this post, I'll be showing you the smaller still. It’s a gorgeous 3 liter flip-top column copper alembic that I purchased from Copper Brothers. (You can see the exact still I purchased - the one pictured in the photos in this article - if you click here; not an affiliate link.) Copper Brothers is a company in Portugal that makes handmade artisan stills that are lead-free and I’ve fallen in love with the craftsmanship of their products and their great customer service. Their stills are affordable and the shipping is reasonable and quick (mine arrived in 3-4 business days - I couldn't believe how fast it was!).

The thing I really love about this still (I've named it Mozart) is that it's the perfect size for stove-top distillations, which are quick, easy, and require very minimal cleanup compared to runs with the larger stills. It also doesn't require a massive amount of plant material to produce a quart of hydrosol, as you'll see. So I love it because it makes distillation easy, quick, and accessible for people who may not have a massive garden, space to grow a lot of one crop, or a larger budget for a still.


If you ever purchase a still from Copper Brothers, let me know in the comments section below. I'd love to hear about which still you chose! =)


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When distilling, it's very important to use a clean still and sterile utensils and such. The first thing I like to do after making sure everything's clean for a fresh run is fill the base of the still about 2/3 with pure water and get it on the stove before I go out to harvest the plant. This way, by the time I come back in, the water's already boiling and the still is ready to go.

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Whilst the water is heating (uncovered), I'll head out to the garden to harvest. Most plants should be harvested early in the day, especially aromatic flowers, which means that you'll probably be distilling early in the day as well, but Calendula is one of the plants that can be harvested later in the day too.

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I quickly filled up my dish with Calendula blossoms and that was plenty enough to fill the base of Mozart the baby still with cheery little blooms. So as you can see, when distilling for hydrosols, especially, you can get a good amount of exceptional product without needing to have a massive amount of plant material.

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Once the water started boiling, I placed my freshly harvested blooms into the still with the water and used a wooden spatula to make sure all of the plant material was covered. Then I secured the hat (sometimes called the onion - the top of the still) to the base and connected the condenser (the unit shown to the right of the still in the picture below).

For this run, you'll see below that I hydro-distilled the Calendula without the column. I like distilling this way when I'm mainly after hydrosols. My still doesn't have any steam-leaks when I distill without the column (many do), so I love that I don't have to seal it with rye flour! It makes for an even quicker cleanup process.

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The water shown flowing into the condenser in this photo never touches the hydrosol or the essential oil. It's kept separate in its own contained space and it's used to keep the condensing unit cool. The steam that carries the essential oil and hydrosol up out of the still and into the condenser is very hot and needs to cool and condense back down into a liquid, so cool water is pumped through the condenser to help facilitate the process. The hydrosol and essential oil travel through the coil inside the condenser and cool down before exiting the still through the spout shown below.

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People use different methods to keep their condenser water flowing, but one of the most common is to use a little pond pump like this one. For my smaller still, I fill up a leak-proof bucket with cool water and use this pond pump to keep the water cool throughout the distillation process. It's so efficient, helps save water because a continuous source of water isn't needed when you use this method, and the water in the bucket can be used in the garden when I'm finished. It's a great setup!

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My small still usually gives me a yield of about one quart of hydrosol in under an hour, which is a terrific yield for a quick run with a small batch of plant material like this. Cleanup is quick and easy once the still has cooled and the plant material from inside the still can be added to the compost.

Have you ever tried distilling plants for essential oil or hydrosol? Have you been looking for a good option for an at-home still? I'd love to hear about your experience with (or interest in) distillation. Leave me a comment below and we can discuss it more. =)

If you've been hoping to learn more about distillation, make sure you're signed up for our email newsletter list because I'll be sending out an update when the course containing the distillation module opens for enrollment. I go into a lot more detail inside the distillation module of the course and I cover distillation with the larger stills as part of the course series as well.


A question for you

I recently completed writing the rough draft of the course series I started working on for you this past winter (it's longer than a book!) and as I sit down to rewrite and edit everything and get it looking pretty and ready to share with you, it's really important to me that I make sure I've included information about the things that you feel you need most right now to take your skill to the next level.

I've made sure to include lots of information about the things many of you write in to ask me about most often, but I also wanted to check in with you personally to make sure I didn't miss anything. If you could take a couple of minutes to answer the questions I've uploaded here, I would really appreciate it!

Much love,
Erin


What is the first thing you want to distill when you are able to add a still to your apothecary toolbox?

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How to Make an Herbal Shrub with Roses

Our Roses are happily blooming away in the garden and I've been enjoying being able to use them in all kinds of kitchen and apothecary recipes, including herbal shrubs. A shrub is an herb-infused preparation that is usually made with vinegar, honey and fruit. My husband really inspired me to like shrubs when he fell in love with them before they were even really a popular thing. Since then, I’ve been experimenting with different combinations and this one has become a star in our kitchen. It’s the sort of recipe that you re-make when you’re running low on the last batch because it’s just that good. It’s rich in yummy vitamin C too, so it’s pretty much a win-win!

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Ingredients:

  • organic Rose petals
  • organic Rose hips
  • organic cherries
  • raw, organic apple cider vinegar
  • raw honey
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To make your shrub, fill your jar 1/4 of the way with dried Rosehips, then add cherries until the jar is about 2/3 full. Top off with fresh Rose petals (organically grown; not from a florist). Pour apple cider vinegar over the plant material, secure the jar’s lid, and refrigerate the mixture for a week or two (or four, depending on how strong you like your shrubs). Strain out the herbs and stir in honey until it’s sweet enough for your liking.

An extra tip: Honey infused with Ginger and Cinnamon powders
makes a lovely addition to this recipe!

Shrubs can be added to lemonades, teas, sparkling waters, juices and other beverages and they can also be used in homemade vinaigrette recipes. Have you ever made one? Let me know how it went in the comments section below.

Much love,
Erin

Tell me your favorite herbal shrub recipe in the comments section below.

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Guide to Growing, Harvesting, Drying, and Using Calendula

If I made a list of the top 10 herbs I use the most in my apothecary and in the kitchen, Calendula would be right there near the top of the list. Her sunny little blooms fill the garden with vibrant cheer and I love working with her for both topical and internal applications. The fresh petals have a peppery taste that is delicious in baked goods and fresh salads, sprinkled in mashed potatoes, pressed into butter, and tossed with roasted veggies. The dried blooms are continuously infused into new batches of carrier oil in my apothecary for use in skin care blends and medicinal salves. I’m distilling a lot of Calendula this year so I can use the hydrosol more because it’s lovely as well. The flowers are a staple in my herbal foot bath blends and teas. This versatile plant is so easy to grow yourself, so I highly encourage you to plant out a few packets of seed if you haven’t added it to your garden yet.

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I'm right in the middle of a Calendula trial right now, so Calendula is definitely at the forefront of my mind. I'm testing over 30 different varieties for vigor, floriferousness (not a word), and medicinal quality for a project that I'm working on, so I'm definitely knee deep in working with this pretty little plant. It's truly one of the most used in my apothecary!

GROWING CALENDULA

Calendula is grown as a hardy annual in most growing zones and as a perennial in a couple of the warmest zones. Back in southern California, I could definitely grow it as a perennial, but even here in the PNW, it kept right on blooming through the frosts and the snow we had over the winter. I've heard reports of it not overwintering well in areas that get a lot more snow (and much colder temps) than we do, but the plants that I left in the ground last fall kept right on flowering and are still going while my new seed-grown batch is just starting to produce more heavily!

Calendula loves to be grown in full sun and will produce the highest yields when planted in the brightest areas of your garden. Well-drained soil is a plus and it seems to thrive when I add lots of compost to the soil before planting and a layer of mulch just after transplanting.

Plant your seeds in seed boxes or propagation trays, covering them with about ¼” of soil and water in well. You can direct sow the seeds, but planting them up in trays first will give you a head start on the growing season so you can start harvesting blooms sooner. It also gives you an opportunity to provide an early food source for the pollinators, which love this plant. Mine are consistently visited by at least 7 different kinds of bees, among other things.

Once your plants have well developed root systems and are ready to be planted out, you can space them about a foot apart throughout the garden. I’ve found that dedicated Calendula beds are strikingly beautiful, but I also plant them throughout my vegetable beds in between plants to draw pollinators to the food plants. If it will overwinter in your area, consider giving the plants even more room in their beds because they'll grow to be quite a bit larger than plants grown as annuals and will need more space. 16-18" would be good.

HARVESTING CALENDULA

Once flowers start opening, you’ll want to harvest at least every 2 to 3 days, but I’ve found myself harvesting daily during its peak blooming time. Pick the flowers the day they are fully open and leave a few for the bees, but make sure that you deadhead the flowers you leave behind before they go to seed to keep your plants happily producing throughout the season.

I like to pull or snip the flower heads right off into my gathering tray and then come back through and trim the stems down on the plant later. Your hands will get sticky from the resins in the involucre of the flower heads (the green bracts on the bottom of the flower head). Most of the time, the sticky residue will wash right off with soap and water once you're finished harvesting, but you can also use a little bit of olive oil (or any fatty oil) if necessary for stubborn bits.

DRYING CALENDULA

Calendula flowers are best dried in a single layer on screens in a warm area away from direct sun with excellent air flow. The blooms are thick (the flower centers, especially), so it’s important to make sure that all of the moisture is gone out of the blossoms before storing them. Make sure you check the flowers after about a week of drying time and if there is any moisture left in the center of the blooms, let them dry longer. Some folks like to use fans in their drying room when they process their Calendula to help speed the process along, but for home-sized batches, I haven’t needed them. If you’re in a humid area, though, fans might be a good idea.

Where I live, Calendula may even take 2-3 weeks to dry completely in the center, so be patient. It's better to wait to get them in your jars than to spoil a whole batch because of leftover moisture in some of the blooms.

USING CALENDULA

Once your blossoms are completely dried, they can be used in:

  • herbal butters
  • herbal vinegars and salad dressings
  • tinctures
  • glycerites
  • syrups
  • compresses and poultices
  • herbal oils
  • salves, balms and ointments
  • lotions and creams
  • kitchen recipes (both sweet and savory)
  • herbal tea blends
  • bath tea blends
  • skin care recipes
  • and more!

Calendula is especially suited to applications for the skin (it's full of skin-healing and skin-protective compounds), mucous membranes, and the digestive tract, so keep that in mind when formulating with it. You can read more about making herbal oils with Calendula flower heads here and I also have a post about some of my favorite ways to use Calendula here.

Once you start growing Calendula, you’ll probably find yourself planting increasingly more of it each year. It’s such an irresistible and usable plant!

How about you? Do you grow Calendula?

Much love,
Erin

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86 Ways to Use Lavender

It’s no secret that I’m a huge Lavender fan. When we purchase our land, I want to plant at least an acre of it and have a varietals garden where I can permanently plant all the varieties I’ve collected throughout the years. Lavender is one of my two absolute favorite herbs and I love including it in my recipes. It’s so versatile and suits almost everyone! June marks the beginning of Lavender season here in the PNW, so this month, we're celebrating this favorite herb of mine with a magazine issue entirely dedicated to Lavender and we're preparing to launch our Lavender documentary film! I can hardly wait to share it with you. So, in honor of this versatile herb, here are 86 things you can do with Lavender.

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WAYS TO USE LAVENDER Buds

1.        Lavender wands

All you need to make Lavender wands is some fresh, long-stemmed Lavender (the L. x intermedia varieties work best) and some ribbon or twine. There are many tutorials on Youtube. They're quick and easy to make and they keep your drawers Lavender-scented for years!

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2.        Lavender wreaths

Made with a wreath form, floral wire, and fresh Lavender stems, these Lavender wreaths dry so beautifully and hold their color for ages. I have one on my wall that's a year old and it's still fragrant! Another, larger wreath came with us from southern California and has kept its scent as well. Many Lavender farms have Lavender wreath-making classes throughout the blooming season. It's a great opportunity to get together with some loved ones and make something lovely.

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3.        Lavender sachets

If you like to sew, you can make Lavender sachets in any shape or size. I like to embroider mine! But if you don't like to sew, you can make sachets with drawstring cloth bags as well.

4.        Lavender eye pillows

Lavender eye pillows are Lavender sachets that are sewn in an eye mask shape. You can lay the pillow over your eyes and lean back to relax while soaking your feet in a Lavender foot bath to help ease headaches and tension after a long day.

5.        In Orange marmalade

Lavender pairs so well with a number of baked goods and orange marmalade is delicious with it as well! Some other places you can use Lavender in the kitchen include:

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6.        In Lemon shortbread cookies

7.        In your favorite scone recipe

8.        In ice creams and sorbets

9.        To make Lavender syrup

10.    Infused in sugar for baking and beverages

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11.    Infused in cream for baking
 

I also really love using Lavender buds in apothecary-style recipes and around the house. Here are some ideas:

12.    In facial steams

13.    In herbal hand and foot baths

14.    To decorate the table for family gatherings (center pieces)

15.    To make herbal flea powder

16.    In bunny treats (some buns love them and others don’t)

17.    Infused in vinegar for a cleaning spray

18.    In herbal milk bath blends

19.    In herbal bath salt blends

20.    In herbal sugar scrubs

21.    Infused in oil for lip balms

22.    Infused in oil for salves, balms, lotions and creams

23.    For soapmaking

24.    In culinary herb blends

25.    In jams and jellies

26.    In chocolates

27.    In herbal tea blends

28.    In candles

29.    In smudge sticks

30.    In herbal incense blends

31.    Infused in honey

32.    Mod-podged onto decorative surfaces

33.    Pressed into an herbarium

34.    In herbal bath fizzies

35.    Infused into popsicles

36.    In curry recipes

37.    Sprinkled over potatoes with Rosemary

38.    In smelling salts

39.    In roll-on blends (dried buds)

40.    As decoration (in bundles)

WAYS TO USE LAVENDER Hydrosol

41.    As a soothing spray for baby’s bum

42.    As a facial toner

43.    As a hydrosol perfume ingredient

44.    To soothe skin irritation

45.    As an ingredient in skin-nourishing lotions and creams

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46.    In herbal lemonades

47.    To soothe sunburns

48.    To calm the mind so you can focus on your work

49.    As a pillow spray before bed

50.    As a linen spray when ironing

51.    As a deodorant spray

WAYS TO USE LAVENDER Essential Oil  

52.   In lip balms

53.   In salves

54.   In lotions and creams

55.   In hair products

56.   In facial toners

57.   In facial moisturizers

58.   In foot and creams

59.   In after-sun care recipes

60.   In smelling salts

61.   In deodorant blends

62.   In bug bite blends

63.    In candles

64.    In soaps

65.    In lotion bars

66.    In body butters

67.    In cleaning scrubs

68.    In cleaning sprays

69.    In personal inhaler blends

70.    In roll-on blends

71.    In aromatic perfumes

72.    In aromatic colognes

73.    In beard oils

74.    In men’s skin care blends

75.    In aromatic carpet powders

76.    In sinus steam blends (1 drop in a bowl of water, inhaled)

77.    In handmade cuticle balms

78.    In massage oils

79.    In handmade vapor rub ointments

80.    In a honey face mask (keep away from eyes)

81.    To scent the room

WAYS TO USE LAVENDER In the garden

82.    To attract pollinators

83.    To feed the pollinators

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84.    To repel unwanted, harmful insects

85.    To add a relaxing aroma to the garden

86.    To make use of poor soil areas

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING TO MAKE WITH LAVENDER? I'D LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT IT IN THE COMMENTS SECTION BELOW.

Much love,
Erin

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Everything You Need to Know About Infusing Herbal Oils (featuring Calendula)

This article is an excerpt from my course about using herbs and herbal products, including essential oils, in the home or professional apothecary. If you'd like to be notified when the course next opens for enrollment, please sign up for my email newsletter at the end of this post.


If you ask three different herbalists how they each infuse their herbal oils, you'll probably hear about three different processes in response. We all have our own unique way of transforming our plant material into apothecary formulas and compounded recipes and I believe it is so valuable to learn from several different people and then develop our own way of doing things. I am often asked about how I like to infuse my own herbal oils, so I thought I'd share an excerpt from my upcoming course with you today. This excerpt covers everything you could ever need to know about infusing herbs into carrier oils. The techniques I've outlined below can be used for a wide variety of herbs, but I'll be using Calendula as an example and we'll be focusing on herbal oils for topical use. (I've also written about infusing St. John's Wort oil in this post from 2016.)

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the THREE main TECHNIQUES

The "It Takes Time" Method

This is my favorite way to make herbal oils. It takes time and patience, but the result is such a beautiful, happy infused oil (and I'm able to use more delicate and lightweight carriers) that I really prefer it to the quicker methods. To make an infused oil this way, you would fill a sterilized glass vessel 1/2 to 2/3 of the way with the herb of your choice, then pour your  carrier oil of choice (more on carriers further down in the article) over the plant material until it's completely covered, with an inch or so of extra oil to top it off. The herbs will often move around in the oil or float to the surface of the oil. This is fine. Use a chopstick to move through the herbs to release any air bubbles and top off the jar with more carrier oil if needed.

Secure the lid of the jar (standard lids are better than plastic; the plastic lids will leak when making herbal oils) and allow the herbs to infuse in the carrier oil for 4 to 6 weeks. Many herbalists will turn the jar upside down every day or two or give it a little shake, but I've found that it's not necessary and can tend to make more of a mess than anything.

Once your oil has infused for 4 to 6 weeks, you can strain the herbs out of the oil through a couple layers of cheesecloth and a fine mesh sieve, making sure to squeeze all of the extra oil out of the fabric when you're finished pouring the oil through it.

Store the infused oil in a sterilized glass jar with a pretty label containing the name of the carrier oil you used and its expiration date, along with the herb(s) you used and the date you harvested them (or the date they were harvested by the person from whom you purchased them), and the date you strained the oil.

The "Low and Slow" Method

A crockpot / slow cooker can also be used to make herbal infused oils. This method is often employed when the herbal oil is going to be needed sooner than 4 to 6 weeks, but not necessarily that very day, or when the herb is especially resinous and might need a little bit of heat to efficiently extract the resinous compounds. When using the crockpot method, I recommend choosing a carrier oil that does well when exposed to higher temperatures, such as avocado or coconut oil. Place your herb(s) into a clean slow cooker and cover them with the carrier oil. Set the heat to the lowest setting and leave uncovered, stirring occasionally. You don't want the slow cooker to become hot enough to cook the herbs into the oil, but you do want it to be warm enough to infuse the oil with all that herbal goodness fairly quickly.

Some herbs will only take a couple of hours to infuse this way, while others may take one, two, or even three days. Keep an eye on the oil and check it often. As soon as the oil looks and / or smells like it's finished (the color might change; the oil will take on the aroma of aromatic herbs; etc.), turn off the heat and allow the oil to cool completely before handling.

Tip: You can use the "It Takes Time" method to infuse your herbal oil, then after the 4 to 6 week infusion period, you can finish off the oil with an hour or two in a slow cooker (at a low temp) to better extract resinous compounds from resinous herbs.

Once the oil has cooled, strain and store it as described above.

The "I Need It Now" Method

Sometimes you just need an herbal oil right away and even if you prefer to take your time when making them, you might need to make do with what you have available in the moment. In such circumstances, there are often alternatives to herbal oils - could you use a poultice, compress or soak instead or in the meantime? When an herbal oil is the solution, however, you can use this stove-top method to make a quick herbal infused oil.

Set up a double boiler over low heat. Your herbs and carrier oil (use one that will tolerate higher temperatures well) will be placed in the part of the double boiler that does not come into contact with your heat source. Make sure the herbs are covered with the carrier oil. This method may take 30 minutes to a couple of hours and since you're working with oil, you'll want to make sure to stay nearby where you can keep an eye on it. You don't want the oil to become so hot that the herbs start cooking and you need to make sure the water in the double boiler does not run dry. Once you feel that your oil is ready, turn off the heat and allow the oil to cool completely before straining and storing as described above.

I don't personally recommend using the stove-top method regularly. It's best suited for those moments when you really need a specific oil on that day, but you've just run out of your last batch and haven't had time to start a new one yet. In most such cases, though, you'll be able to substitute with a different application method using the same herb, as I mentioned earlier. This method works in a pinch, but yields an inferior (though usable) product. Others may disagree, but my preference is to use the "It Takes Time" method whenever possible; the "Low and Slow" method when I need something right away; and the "I Need It Now" method only when absolutely necessary (and I've very rarely found it absolutely necessary).

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double and triple infusions

Double and triple herbal oils can be made using any of the above-mentioned methods. To make a double or triple infused oil, you would strain out your initial batch of herbs as described, then pour that same batch of oil over a fresh batch of the same herb and then allow that second batch of herbs to infuse in the oil as you did with the first batch. The process can be repeated again a third time to make a triple infused oil. Such infused oils are stronger and more potent than once-infused oils and are often preferred for first aid applications and some skin care remedies / formulas or when an aromatic herb is being used and the formulator wants the infused oil to smell strongly of the herb being used.

SINGLE HERBS OR BLENDS

I'm often asked if it's better to infuse herbs into oil singly or in pre-combined blends (i.e. Lavender and Calendula infusing in the same carrier oil in the same jar at the same time). Honestly, it doesn't make much difference. The best choice is the method that will work best for you. I prefer to infuse my herbal oils individually and mix them later so I have more options when it comes to formulating, but if you have limited space, you may prefer to infuse oils with a combination of herbs at one time. There are one or two blends that I do infuse all together and I believe a nice synergy can be achieved this way, but I think intention makes more of a difference in such cases than does infusing the herbs on their own or together. Try infusing your oils both ways and go with the method that you enjoy most.

FRESH OR DRIED?

There are certain herbs that are best when infused into oil fresh. St. John's Wort is a classic example of this. The hypericin (the compound in the herb that turns the oil red) is one of the main constituents you're after when infusing St. John's Wort into oil and you won't be able to extract it if you use dried plant material. (This is why herbal oils made with dried SJW or SJW that was harvested at the improper time don't turn red.)

Most other plants, however, are best infused into oil with dried plant material. Using freshly dried herbs will keep your herbal oil from developing mold and spoiling. If you're working with fairly "dainty" herbs (think lightweight, thin leaves and flowers), you can choose to infuse them fresh, but you'll want to let them wilt in a shady spot for a few hours (up to overnight) before placing them into the oil. Never place freshly washed herbs with residual moisture on them or herbs fresh with dew into a carrier oil.

Thicker plants like Calendula flower heads or Dandelions shouldn't really be infused into oil fresh, since they hold so much moisture in their inner bits that you'll rarely be able to achieve a finished oil without it spoiling. It's best to allow them to dry completely before infusing.

WHICH PLANT PARTS?

The plant part used to make an herbal infused oil depends on the plant you're using. Usually, the plant part(s) that you would use to make an herbal tea, compress, poultice, or essential oil is the part that you'll use when making an herbal oil. The main thing you're after is the plant part that has the constituents / therapeutic effects that are particularly beneficial for the skin.

Which carrier oil?

I'm often asked which carrier oil one should use when making herbal infused oils. Extra virgin olive oil has traditionally been used for salves in the herbalism field, but it's quite heavy and does have a very distinct scent which might not be desirable in your finished product.

Overall, any carrier oil can be used to make an herbal infused oil. Personally, I tend to choose a carrier oil that has similar therapeutic properties to the herb that I'm going to be pairing with it and one that I like to use on my own skin. I look for carrier oils that are organic, fair trade (as local as possible), cold pressed, virgin and unrefined. I don't like to use processed / refined oils in my recipes. The main thing to avoid is mineral oil, which isn't a carrier oil at all; it's a petroleum-based product.

to blend or not to blend

Some herbalists will place their herb into the blender with a bit of carrier oil and give it a rough chop before pouring it into the jar to start infusing. This is optional and can be a nice step for some herbs, like Calendula, but it isn't always necessary. The theory behind blending the herb first is that you're creating more herb surfaces that will come into contact with the oil. Some herbalists swear by this method, but I don't usually do this because...let's be real...cleaning carrier oil out of a blender is kind of a pain. ;)

Sunlight or Darkness

While it's true that sunlight can contribute to oxidation, many traditional and folk herbalists swear by letting their herbal oils infuse in sunlight. St. John's Wort oil is still one of the main herbal oils that is allowed to infuse in the sunlight of bright windowsills around the world. Yet other herbalists insist that herbal oils be sequestered in a dark cabinet and kept away from the light whilst infusing. Which way is better? The way that feels best to you. If you want to infuse your oils in a dark cabinet, go for it. (I especially recommend this when infusing with carriers that tend to have shorter shelf lives or need refrigeration.) If you want to infuse your oils in the sunlight or the moonlight, go for it. I really think it's a matter of personal preference. You will want to store your finished and strained herbal oils away from sunlight, however.

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HOW LONG TO INFUSE

Herbal oils that are made with dried plants can be infused indefinitely, though the standard time is 4 to 6 weeks. The main thing to be aware of is the shelf life of your herbal oil. Oils that are infused longer than 4 to 6 weeks won't necessarily be any better or more potent than oils that are infused for 6 weeks, however, because most of the constituents will already be in the oil by that time.

The main reason people allow their oils to infuse longer than 6 weeks is that they've forgotten to strain them. If that's the case for you, don't worry. Your oil is fine. Just strain it when you have a moment so you can start using it. =)

ENERGETIC ENHANCEMENTS

There are a number of ways you can enhance the subtle effects of your herbal infused oils, but two of my favorites are to infuse them alongside the moon's natural waxing and waning cycle and to nestle the jars in with crystals and minerals. While not appealing to everyone, I find that these two things can really be lovely complements.

Personally, I like to start my herbal oils on the day of the new moon and strain them on the following full moon, which is usually about 6 weeks later, when nature's energy is the most potent and lively.

Some of my favorite stones to use when making infused oils are rose quartz, black tourmaline, amethyst and selenite. The rose quartz brings a vibration of love and an open heart, whilst the black tourmaline and selenite are protective against negative energy and EMF influences (I still recommend keeping your apothecary items away from wifi and electronics, however), and the amethyst is a well-loved all-around healing stone.

Fun Fact: My husband and I have been collecting and selling crystals and other rocks and minerals for many years. One of our favorite together-hobbies is sourcing new pieces and keeping our online crystal shops stocked. =)

As a person of faith, I also like to pray over my herbal oils as they're infusing and thank the Creator for providing the plants whilst asking for the finished product to be blessed for the healing of those who will need it.

how to use herbal infused oils

Once you have an herbal infused oil that's been strained, there are many ways you could use it. Herbal oils can be used alone, without having to be altered or added to anything else. If you want to use them on their own, I recommend applying them when you're fresh out of the shower after toweling dry or after washing and drying your hands. Applying herbal oils to freshly washed skin helps them to soak in quickly and will prevent them from leaving an oily, persistent residue on your skin. It's best to wait until the oil has completely soaked into your skin before putting on clothing items to avoid staining them.

Herbal infused oils make lovely bases for massage oils and can be used on their own or combined with other carrier oils and / or essential oils.

Herbal oils can also be used in recipes for salves, balms, ointments, creams, lotions, and butters wherever a carrier oil is called for as an ingredient. This is one of my favorite ways to layer the therapeutic effects of my ingredients into a product. For example, instead of just using olive oil in a salve that calls for it, use olive oil that's been infused with Calendula, Plantain leaf (Plantago sp.), and Lavender buds to add an extra layer of therapeutic benefits to your finished salve.

which method(s) DO YOU (or would you) LIKE TO INFUSE YOUR OWN HERBAL OILS? I'D LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR OWN PROCESS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!

Much love,
Erin

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How to Make (& Use) Lilac Flower Honey

My father-in-law absolutely loves Lilacs. I think it's safe to say they're his favorite flower. I love them too, and now that I live in an area where there are many, many varieties of them in cultivation, I'm really enjoying getting to work with them. There's nothing quite like their lovely fragrance! One of our Lilac plants decided to flower for us this year, which was an unexpected blessing because I was thinking that it probably wouldn't produce flowers for several more years! I've been painting and pressing its blooms and enjoying them in sweet recipes like this one. I hope you enjoy it!

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Harvest a couple of clusters of Lilac flowers from the plant on a dry, sunny morning and bring them into the kitchen. I like to gently tap them on a tea towel to dislodge the critters that like to take up residence deep inside the flowers, then soak them in a bowl of clean water for just a minute to rinse them out. Lay the flower clusters out on a clean cloth to dry. You can gently towel-dry them if you don't want to wait for them to air dry.

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Once they're free of water droplets and residual moisture, place the flowers into your infusing jar and pour raw honey over them until they're completely covered. They'll all float up to the top of the honey and stick together in a little colony there, so feel free to add more Lilac flowers after you've seen how much room is left in your jar.

Leave the honey to infuse for a couple of days, then strain out the Lilac flowers and store. You can also add another fresh batch of flowers to the honey at this point and repeat the process if you want your honey to be doubly as strong.

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This infused honey can be drizzled on toast or pastries, used in herbal shrubs or sodas, or added to popsicles or sorbets. I hope you give it a try if you have Lilacs blooming in your area! =) Make sure you harvest from clean, unsprayed, unpolluted areas and always ask permission from the owner first if the plants are on private property.

Are the lilacs blooming where you are? Do you have a favorite variety?

Much love,
Erin

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