.sqs-featured-posts-gallery {display: none ! important;}

Herbalism

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. It 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.)

HOW-TO-HERBAL-INFUSED-OILS-AROMACULTURE-CALENDULA.png

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).

photo by Erin Stewart wm-45.jpg

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.

photo by Erin Stewart -38.jpg

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

how to make herbal infused oils featuring calendula aromaculture.jpg

MORE BLOG POSTS

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!

how to make lilac flower infused honey aromaculture.jpg

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.

photo by Erin Stewart wm-98.jpg

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.

photo by Erin Stewart -22.jpg

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

how to make lilac flower infused honey aromaculture.jpg

MORE BLOG POSTS

7 Things to Make with Calendula Flower Heads

Calendula might be the sunniest little flower in the garden (well, maybe apart from Sunflowers). When it starts blooming, that vibrant, eye-catching color is noticeable from the next street over and the pollinators love it. My plants are always buzzing with happy little critters flitting about and spinning webs. The Calendula bed is a lively, cheerful spot to spend a morning reading or just breathing in the spring air.

When my Calendula starts blooming, it goes to town quickly. Have your harvesting baskets ready, because you’ll probably be able to gather quite a few flowers each day while still leaving enough to feed the pollinators. When your drying racks are full of flowers and you’re wondering what to do with some of them, here are some ideas.

7-THINGS-TO-MAKE-WITH-CALENDULA-FLOWER-HEADS.png

Infused oils

Calendula infused oil is one of the most versatile carriers to keep in your apothecary. It’s great for virtually every kind of skin issue and is wonderful in moisturizing recipes during those gray wintery days and the dry heat of the summer. Use it to make salves, balms, lotions and creams, serums and body oils. If I had to choose only 5 oils to keep for my apothecary each year, Calendula infused oil would be at the top of the list.

photo by Erin Stewart wm-38.jpg

Hydrosol

You don’t have to have a fancy still to make hydrosol. You can make it with just a stock pot, a large bowl (or even a wok), a steaming rack, a Pyrex measuring bowl, and some plant material. There are plenty of tutorials available online, but let me just say that the process is simple, non-intimidating, and easy and by the time you’re finished, you’ll have some beautiful Calendula hydrosol that you can use as a facial toner or as an ingredient in lotions and creams!

Steam Blends

I love to add Calendula to my facial steam blends. I pair it with other herbs based on what my skin needs at the moment, but one popular mixture I use a lot includes Rose petals, Lavender buds, Chamomile flowers and Rosemary leaves. Steep the herb mixture, covered, in a bowl as a strong tea, then allow the steam from the bowl to open your pores. Your skin will thank you!

Hand and Foot Baths

We like hand and foot baths around here. Maurice Messegue’s books were some of the first herbal books that I ever read and ever since then, I’ve been in love with this herbal application method. It’s so relaxing, but I also get to reap the benefits of all the beautiful herbs that I use. Calendula almost always makes it into my hand and foot bath recipes. Steep the herbs you choose as a strong tea, then pour the whole bowl into a basin or tub large enough to cover your hands or feet past the ankle/wrist joints. Add enough hot/warm water to the basin to cover your ankles/wrists, then sit back and relax for at least 8-10 minutes. I like to keep a hand towel near me, so I can easily dry off when I’m done. A bottle of moisturizing lotion and a pair of cozy socks turn it into a luxurious skin treatment as well.

Lip Balm

Calendula lip balm is perfect for soothing chapped or irritated lips. Infuse your carrier oil of choice with the dried flowers for 4-6 weeks, then add a bit of beeswax and Cocoa butter, pour into tins or tubes, and you have a skin-nourishing balm ready to apply.

Tip: Use wider tubes to make an easy-to-apply version for other skin irritation issues like bites and stings.

After-Sun Spray

When I know I’m going to be spending the day in the sun, I like to whip up a 0.5 to 1 ounce spray bottle of skin-soothing spray to take with me. I usually use Aloe vera juice or gel (the kind you get from the nutrition section of the store that is meant for internal use) as my base and allow dried Calendula flowers to infuse in the Aloe while I’m getting ready. Strain, pour into a spray bottle, and take it with you on your day trip to have a ready-to-use after sun spray.

Note: Because this is an Aloe-based product, it has a very short shelf life. It may last 2 or 3 days in the fridge, but shouldn’t used after that. It’s best to make a fresh batch whenever you need it.

Add Fresh Petals to Food

Nothing looks quite as sunny on your salad, shortbread or biscuits as fresh Calendula petals! Sprinkle them in generously to enjoy their peppery flavor.

How do you like to use your Calendula flowers?

Much love,
Erin

7 THINGS TO MAKE WITH CALENDULA FLOWER HEADS.jpg

MORE BLOG POSTS

Puppy Paws Foot Pad Salve

Are you a dog person? A cat person? An all-around animal lover (that's me)? One of the many great things about being an herbalist is that my pup gets to enjoy all of the yumminess of dog-appropriate homegrown, health supportive herbs along with us. Since this month’s issue of AromaCulture Magazine is focusing on the subject of herbal / aromatic care for our furry friends, I thought it would only be fitting to include an article or two about using herbs with pups here on the blog!

This recipe is my go-to when our German Shepherd steps on a thorn or scuffs the pads of her feet somehow. It very rarely happens, but for those moments that it does, it’s a handy recipe to keep on hand for her. I like to keep it in my bag when we're out hiking and foraging just in case it's needed. It's people-friendly too, so it's a great multi-purpose recipe for your first aid kit.

This recipe is excerpted from the May 2018 Issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

HOW-TO-make-puppy-paws-foot-pad-salve-for-dogs-aromaculture.png

Ingredients:

  • 4 parts Calendula infused oil
  • 2 parts Plantain leaf infused oil (Plantago major)
  • 1 part beeswax

To Make:

Melt the beeswax over low heat using the double boiler method, then stir in the herb-infused oils. Remove from the heat, pour into tins or jars, add your label, and stash a jar in your pup first aid kit or apothecary so you’ll have it available when it’s needed.

Tips for Use:

Spray the pads of your pup’s feet with diluted Lavender or Yarrow hydrosol before gently massaging a small amount of the salve into the pads of the foot.

I like to leave essential oils out of this recipe, especially for puppies. The essential oils aren’t needed to make the salve effective and since dogs will naturally lick their feet, especially if they’re bothering them, it’s just a good idea to leave them out.

What else do you keep in your pup’s first aid kit?

Much love,
Erin

HOW TO MAKE PUPPY PAWS FOOT PAD SALVE AROMACULTURE.jpg

MORE BLOG POSTS

DIY Muscle Rub Recipe with Herbs + Essential Oils

The first muscle rub product I ever blended was for a friend who wanted a post-workout product to help relax her sore muscles and help her to feel uplifted after her intense workouts. Since then, I’ve further experimented with different recipes to test their effectiveness and this one has turned out to be my favorite. It’s great for post-workout care, but it’s also incredible when you’re just feeling sore, are experiencing muscles aches and pains, have some pesky knots in your back (or neck), or when you’re just carrying a bit more tension than normal in your muscles and want to relax.

HOW-TO-MAKE-HERBAL-AROMATHERAPY-MUSCLE-RUB-AROMACULTURE.png

Ingredients:

  • 3 parts St. John’s Wort infused carrier oil (I usually use olive or sunflower oil)
  • 1 part Arnica infused carrier oil
  • 2 parts Rose infused carrier oil
  • 1 part beeswax
  • Organic essential oils of Lavender (angustifolia), Ginger, Peppermint and Rosemary (1 drop each of Ginger and Peppermint per ounce of carrier + 5 drops of Rosemary per ounce of carrier + 10 drops of Lavender per ounce of carrier)

Instructions

Melt your beeswax in a double boiler over low heat. Once it’s thoroughly melted, stir in your carrier oils until they are mixed well with the beeswax. Remove the blend from the heat and stir in your essential oils. This formula uses a 3% dilution of essential oils. If the product isn’t for daily use and is going to be used for more acute muscle pain, you can increase the amount of essential oils to a 5% dilution.

Additional tip: Spray Douglas Fir hydrosol onto the skin prior to applying the ointment. The product will spread better and feel less greasy, you’ll be sealing a little extra moisture into your skin, and you’ll receive the added benefits the hydrosol brings as well!

I hope you enjoy this recipe. What are your favorite post-workout herbs and essential oils?

Much love,
Erin

how to make a soothing muscle rub ointment for postworkout with herbs and essential oils aromaculture.jpg

MORE BLOG POSTS

The Complete Seed Starting Guide for Herbs & Edibles

When we begin to approach our last frost date, I start to get all kinds of excited because it means that, soon, I'll be able to start harvesting things from my garden again. Spring is beautiful here. The crocuses and daffodils and hyacinths have flowered and now the tulips and pansies are filling the neighborhood landscapes with color. Flowering trees are filled with blooms and fresh new leaves. Hardy plants are happily growing in the garden and the perennials have started to wake up. Everything starts to look like it’s hopeful again, ready to see the sun, prepared to send its energy back out into the world. Seed trays have been sown and are incubating in our mini greenhouses. This was my first full winter in an area where things look drastically different in the wintertime, and, while I enjoyed spending a restful season inside, away from the chilly temperatures, I also really anticipated the days I could start getting plants in the ground again. Since many of you are now entering prime seed-starting season, I thought I'd put together a comprehensive mini guide to starting seeds for you.

COMPLETE-SEED-STARTING-GUIDE-FOR-HERBS-AND-EDIBLES-AROMACULTURE.png

Starting Seeds 101

The first thing you need to figure out when you sit down to dream about your garden for the year is what you want to grow in the space you have available. Which veggies would you love to pick fresh right from your garden? Which herbs would you like to have on hand for your kitchen? Are there any medicinal herbs you’d like to grow this year? Once you know what you want to grow, you can determine which varieties will do best in your growing zone, purchase seeds, and schedule out your optimal planting dates. These are things I like to do during the months of December and January, when things are a bit quieter in the garden, but you still have time if you haven't had a chance to do your planning yet.

I like to map out my growing space and decide how much of each plant I'm going to grow and where I'm going to plant it. Having a master plan helps me to plan crop rotations, to not to over-fill my beds and to use my space efficiently. Knowing what I'm going to plant ahead of time allows me to create my planting schedule for the year so I don't fall behind on seed sowing, plant feeding, succession sowing, etc..

Starting Seeds Indoors vs. Outdoors

If you live in an area with a shorter growing season, you can get a head start with your seeds by starting them indoors 4-8 weeks (sometimes up to 12 weeks, depending on the plant) earlier than you would be able to get them going outside. Things like tomatoes and peppers and warm weather loving herbs like Basil can all be started indoors and then planted out after your area has finished its frosty season. If you're starting seeds in the house or garage, make sure you have a good daylight balanced bulb or a bright spot near a big window to give seedlings the light they need to get going. Plenty of light will keep them from getting leggy.

If you’re blessed with a warm growing zone and a long growing season, you can still start seeds indoors and then successively sow more seeds outdoors a month or two later to take advantage of that long season, or you can start your seeds directly outdoors once the nighttime and soil temperatures have warmed up a bit.

When we lived in southern California, I started all my seeds outdoors, but because we live much farther north now, I like to start most of them indoors or in our mini greenhouses to extend my growing season.

Seed Starting Containers

I used to use 72-cell propagating trays to start my seeds. They were super convenient and efficient. I could easily label each row of seeds and each tray was automatically watered through the flat tray that would sit beneath it. Since we started to transition away from plastic, though, I’ve come to love handmade wooden seed starting boxes even more. They’re tall enough to give my plants enough room to develop a really healthy root system right from the start and the plants seem to like them a lot better.

I also use biodegradable seed starting pots on occasion. They're usually made from coco coir or peat and are especially useful for plants that don’t like to be transplanted (think Borage, squashes, etc.) because they can be planted directly into the ground after gently removing the bottom of the pot without disturbing the roots of the plant.

Special SEED Treatments

Stratification

Some seeds need to experience a cold season before they can properly germinate. If you live in an area where you already have a cold season, you can probably plant most of these seeds out in late fall, directly in the garden. But if you’re wanting to plant in spring, you can simulate the cold season by placing the seeds in a labeled container in the fridge with some barely moist soil or sand and allow them to chill there for a month (or two, or three, depending on what the plant needs) before planting the seeds outside in early spring.

Scarification

Some seeds have a super protective seed coat that keeps the seed from germinating for a while. If you want those seeds to germinate quickly and more consistently, you can nick that seed coat with a piece of sandpaper or the edge of a blade to help the seed wake up. This can be difficult with seeds that are very small and hard to keep a grip on, but if you are patient and stick with it, scarification will improve your germination rate. Certain seeds can/should be scarified with freshly boiled water, but most will need to be treated with a blade or sandpaper.

Soaking

Many seeds need to be soaked in water overnight (sometimes even longer) to help them germinate. Sweet peas come to mind. During our rainy seasons, I’ll sow them just before I know we’re going to get a few days of good rain and let the showers give them all the moisture they need. I've had success with this method, but if you’re expecting lots of sunny weather or if you're planting large amounts and you're dependent on your crop, it’s best to give them a soak indoors before you want to plant them. Fill a ramekin or a small dish with lukewarm water, drop the seeds in before you eat dinner, and, in most cases, they’ll be ready to plant out by the time you’re ready to head out to the garden the next morning.

Choosing the Best Spot in the Garden

Take heed to what kind of environment your plants like best. Do they prefer full sun? Part shade? Rich soil? Well-draining soil? Wet feet? Choosing the best place you can for the plant will give you the best results when it comes time to harvest. Knowing what conditions each plant prefers will also help you plan out your companion plants and permaculture-style garden layers as well.

Some plants that love full sun:

Tomatoes, peppers, dahlias, poppies, cosmos, Basil, Parsley, Thyme, Lemon Balm, Rosemary, Lavender…

Some plants that can also thrive in part shade:

Peppermints, Turmeric, Ginger, Chives, Cilantro, Oregano, Skullcap, Calendula…

Some plants that can grow in the shade:

Parsley, Cilantro, Chives, Chives, Thyme, Peppermint, Bleeding Hearts…

Many resilient plants can grow in either full sun or part shade. Try experimenting with a plant in each area to see which one does better, then you can plant more in the better-performing spot the next year.

What are you hoping to add to your garden this year?

Much love,
Erin

COMPLETE SEED STARTING GUIDE FOR HERBS AND EDIBLES AROMACULTURE.jpg

MORE BLOG POSTS

7 Things to Make with Dandelion Flower Heads

Would you believe that, when we lived in southern California, I rarely saw a Dandelion? We lived in such a pesticide-laden area that whenever we did see a Dandelion, we would cheer it on and congratulate it for blooming. Our area was so manicured that “weeds” were a rare sight. Many communities are now seeing the incredible value offered to us by the Dandelion and are encouraging people to let them grow, which is great because they tend to grow where they are most needed. I’m hoping this mindset keeps spreading because we still have a long way to go to improve our collective mindset toward this plant (and others that are considered weeds). Dandelions are helpful for us in many ways, but they are also a very important first food for the bees and we all need to be doing our part to help our bees. So, I challenge you to let your Dandelions grow.

7-THINGS-TO-MAKE-WITH-DANDELION-FLOWER-HEADS.png

Did you know?
In other countries, Dandelions are purposely planted in protected areas of the garden because they are so valued!

Every part of the Dandelion plant is edible and useful for medicine. The roots and leaves are used as digestive bitters to help stimulate digestive enzymes and improve digestion. They are both mineral rich and the roots also contain inulin, an important prebiotic substance that helps feed our beneficial gut flora. The leaves are diuretic. The flower heads are also rich in vitamins and have been used as an analgesic (pain reliever) and, overall, the plant has been traditionally used for all kinds of skin and digestive system complaints. Today we’re going to focus on the flowers.

Note: When you’re harvesting Dandelions, make sure you’re harvesting them from a clean area where they haven’t been sprayed.

7 Things to Make with Dandelion Flower heads

Infused Carrier Oil and salves, creams, etc.

Allow the flower heads to wilt in a shady area for at least a couple of hours (up to a day or two) before infusing to allow some of the moisture to evaporate from the flowers. Fill 2/3 of a jar with the flower heads, then pour your carrier oil of choice over them until they’re covered by about an inch or so of oil. Allow the oil to infuse for 4-6 weeks, then strain out the flowers heads. This infused carrier oil can be incorporated into massage oils and other oil-based blends (salves, creams, balms, etc.) for skin complaints/inflammation and pain.

Infused Vinegar

Dandelion vinegar is wonderful in homemade vinaigrette recipes. You can also infuse it in raw apple cider vinegar and use it alone as a drinking vinegar, in herbal shrubs, or as a mild, pre-dinner digestive stimulant.  Give it a try!

april blog pics aromaculture.com wm-33.jpg

Dandelion fritters

Dandelion flowers can be coated in batter and skillet-fried or baked to make tasty little fritters! They’re crispy and yummy and oh so good.

Dandelion jelly

Spread it on some sourdough toast with some dried Dandelion petals (florets) for a flavorful treat.

april blog pics aromaculture.com wm-41.jpg

Dandelion syrup

Dandelion flower syrup makes a tasty addition to your breakfast pastry or pancakes and can also be used to flavor drinks and drizzled on shortbread cookies.

Dandelion cookies / pancakes

The petals of the flowers can be added to your baking mix when you’re making cookies or pancakes. They’ll contribute a bit of color to the recipe and can also be used to decorate the tops!

Dandelion biscuit butter

Use a butter spreader to fold Dandelion flower petals (florets) into some room temperature butter, then stir in just a bit of raw honey. Store the butter in the fridge and use it on your biscuits!

Do you have a favorite Dandelion recipe? Tell me about it in the comments section below!

Much love,
Erin

7 things to make with dandelion flower heads aromaculture.jpg

MORE BLOG POSTS

7 Things to Make with Violet Flowers

When I first joined Instagram (after much coercing on the part of friends and family who knew I would love all the pretty photos despite my aversion to social media), all the herbalists were posting about their Violet flower harvests and sharing their pretty recipes with the world. I was living in a 3rd story studio apartment in the middle of a concrete jungle at the time and had wanted to work with Violets but had never seen Violets growing in my area. My little balcony garden was full, so I couldn’t grow them then, but I knew that at some point, I was going to plant those sweet little blooms. They were the first plant I started looking for when we moved to the PNW last year. We hadn’t even pulled into our new hometown or seen our new home yet when I started telling Jon we needed to go scout out a few Violet patches in the wooded areas around us. Since then, it seems that I scatter Violet seed throughout my garden beds at least twice a year. I think it’s safe to say that I want Violets everywhere. If you like them too, here are a few ideas for ways to use them.

7-THINGS-TO-MAKE-WITH-VIOLET-FLOWERS-BY-AROMACULTURE.COM.png

1 - Make a Violet flower shrub.

I shared the recipe for this shrub on the blog a couple weeks ago. We like to use shrubs in homemade salad dressings, but you can also add them to orange juice or grape juice, Ginger ale, popsicle recipes, etc. They’re super yummy!

violets by erin stewart of aromaculture.com wm-47.jpg

2 - Violet flower syrup

Syrups are so simple to make and this version, made with sweet Violet flowers, looks so lovely that it would make a beautiful gift too! You can use it to dress baked goods, drizzle a bit on toast, or add it to drinks.

Bonus: It looks so pretty while the violet flowers are infusing! See the photo below.

violets by erin stewart of aromaculture.com wm-63.jpg

3 - Violet infused sugar

Infuse sugar with Violet flowers to add a touch of lovely flavor and color. The sugar can then be used to dress sweet recipes or in sugar scrub recipes that could use a dash of color. The sugar also holds the aroma of the Violets, so if its one of your favorites (it's one of mine!), you'll love the way the sugar smells!

violets by erin stewart of aromaculture.com wm-59.jpg

4 - Breast serum

Both Violet flowers and leaves can be infused into carrier oils to make a useful breast massage serum that helps support breast and lymphatic health. It’s a great daily-use product for women!

5 -  Add them to food

They’re gorgeous in salads, on top of shortbread cookies, as edible decoration on fancy desserts…and they taste great!

6 - Make candied Violets

Candying the flowers preserves them so they can be stored for a couple of months and used as pretty garnishes for your favorite dishes (if they last long enough!).

7 - Press them

Press a few Violets and Violet leaves. They can be used to decorate stationery, baked goods or keepsake boxes or added to your herbarium.

What are you making with Violets this year?

Much love,
Erin

7 THINGS TO MAKE WITH VIOLETS AROMACULTURE.jpg

MORE BLOG POSTS

How to Make Violet Flower Breast Serum

Violet’s heart shaped leaves and delicate purple blooms are perfectly suited to women-specific breast health applications. The nourishing herbal infusion made with Violet leaves and / or flowers can be taken internally to help support the health of the breasts and the lymphatic system. Violet can also be applied directly to the breasts as a poultice. For those of us who may not have time to lounge with Violet on our breasts, though, this serum recipe is a happy medium and it also adds the benefits of massage! Keep a pretty dropper bottle of it on your bathroom counter or at your makeup vanity to remind you to use it each day after you bathe.

HOW-TO-MAKE-VIOLET-BREAST-SERUM-BY-AROMACULTURE.png

Violets are reputed to help dissolve lumps, reduce inflammation, induce relaxation and uplift the spirits. They are cooling energetically, so are beneficial whenever there are signs of excess heat.

 Ingredients

  • Violet flowers and leaves
  • organic unrefined olive oil
  • organic Jojoba or sunflower seed oil, unrefined
  • organic essential oil of Rose (optional, but if you do use it, make sure you choose the steam distilled essential oil, not the absolute or concrete)

Instructions

Gently harvest your Violet flowers and leaves on a dry spring morning when the flowers are blooming. Take care not to harvest more than 1/3 of the plant at any one time to ensure the health of the plant. Keep the flowers and leaves covered in your gathering basket to protect them from the sun (a tea towel draped over the basket works well). Once you’ve gathered enough to fill your jar, bring them indoors and spread them out on a clean towel or drying rack, in a single layer, to make sure they are clean, dry and critter-free before infusing them. It's a good idea to let the moisture in the plant material evaporate a bit before infusing.

Fill your jar with the leaves and flowers, then pour your carrier oils of choice over the plant material. Olive oil on its own is a bit too heavy and greasy for me for this kind of recipe, so I like to combine it with an oil like Sunflower or Jojoba to improve its texture a bit. Secure the jar’s lid, then leave the oil to macerate for 4-6 weeks. At the end of the infusion period, strain out the plant material. You can transfer the oil to your dropper bottle as needed and add Rose essential oil at a 1-2% dilution (very little is needed; it’s a strong smelling oil).

To use the oil, spray the breasts with Lavender or Rose hydrosol after showering, then seal in the moisture of the hydrosol by massaging a few drops of the Violet serum into the breasts, underarms, and other nearby lymph nodes. Allow the serum to soak in while you brush your teeth before dressing to avoid transferring any oil to your undergarments. (It soaks in pretty quickly and doesn’t leave any greasy residue.)

HOW TO MAKE VIOLET BREAST SERUM.jpg

I hope you enjoy this recipe! Do you already make a variation of this? Tell me about it in the comments section.

Much love,
Erin


MORE BLOG POSTS

How to Make Comfrey Ointment

I first started learning about Comfrey several years ago when I found a couple of videos about it on YouTube. (I found the same videos again for you! This one by Yarrow Willard and this playlist of videos by Susun Weed.) When I first started learning, I didn’t really know what to make of Comfrey because every herbalist who wrote about it or spoke about it would preface whatever they said with a safety disclaimer. Because Comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, there are some groups of people who caution against internal use of Comfrey, especially the root. You’ll have to make your own decision about what seems best for you regarding internal use of this plant, but do know that topical use of Comfrey leaf is safe and is extremely useful for repairing damaged skin. It’s the star of this ointment recipe!

COMFREY-OINYMENT-BY-AROMACULTURE.png

Ingredients:

  • 3 parts Comfrey leaf infused carrier oil
  • 2 parts Calendula infused carrier oil
  • 1 part beeswax
  • Organic essential oils of:
    Lavender (angustifolia) – 8 drops per ounce of carrier
    Helichrysum (italicum) – 8 drops per ounce of carrier (this is a pricier oil, but is unparalleled when it comes to skin-repairing properties; if you don’t have any on hand, use extra Lavender instead)

Instructions:

Melt the beeswax over low heat using a double boiler method, then stir in your carrier oils. Once everything is thoroughly incorporated, remove the blend from the heat and stir in the essential oils until everything is fully mixed. If you want your finished recipe to have a lighter texture as shown in the photo (more of an ointment texture than a harder salve texture), use a fork or stirring rod to mix the blend after it cools about halfway. Pour into sterilized tins or jars, add your label, and enjoy!

Comfrey has earned the nickname ‘knitbone’ because it is rich in a constituent called allantoin which can help repair damaged areas quickly. It’s great for skin wounds (though I wouldn’t use this ointment on a puncture wound or a deep, open wound), scrapes, burns, bites, stings and bruises.

HOW TO MAKE COMFREY OINTMENT BY AROMACULTURE.jpg

Do you keep Comfrey leaf in your apothecary? Let me know in the comments section below.

Much love,
Erin

 


MORE BLOG POSTS