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Remedies

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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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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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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

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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.

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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.)

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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


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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!

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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.

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

Much love,
Erin

 


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Herbal Heart Tonic Shrub Recipe

My husband has always been an apple cider vinegar fan. He was drinking vinegar as a sort of tonic long before drinkable vinegars became popular (it eventually became an “in thing” for awhile when we were living in southern California and, since then, it's seemed to become a lot more common) and long before I ever did. Once I started to really love Fire Cider, though, I began to come around. We now enjoy herbal shrub recipes, which are made of vinegar, honey, fruit and herbs. They’re  pretty versatile, lend themselves to experimentation, and make a great base for salad dressings! Shrubs can also be added to marinades, sorbets, popsicles, and homemade sodas. This particular recipe is for an herbal heart tonic shrub and it uses lots of yummy, heart-supportive herbs.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of Hawthorn berries
  • 1 cup of strawberries
  • ¼ cup of Rose petals
  • ¼ cup of Hibiscus flowers
  • a tablespoon or so of Cardamom pods
  • 1 quart of raw apple cider vinegar
  • Raw honey, to taste

Click here to read more about Hawthorn and how it supports the heart.

Instructions:

Add your Hawthorn berries, Rose petals, Cardamom pods and Hibiscus flowers to a quart sized jar, then fill the rest of the jar with frozen strawberries (or fresh, if you have them available; we're in the middle of winter here, so frozen it is) and pour raw, organic apple cider vinegar over everything until it's all completely covered. I usually just fill the jar to the brim. Cap the jar, give it a good shake, then stick it in the fridge to infuse. I usually let mine go for at least a week or two, but you can infuse it for up to 4 weeks if you’d like your finished recipe to be stronger. My last batch infused for about 4-5 weeks and it turned out super yummy.

Once your recipe has reached the strength of flavor that you want, strain out all of the herbs and fruit and stir honey into your recipe. Some people like to use equal parts honey and vinegar while others like to cut back a little bit on the honey. Add it to taste to achieve the level of sweetness you prefer.

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How to Use It

You can take herbal shrubs the same way you would Fire Cider – a small amount on its own, daily or as needed, or you can mix a small amount of the shrub into sparkling water, ginger ale, fruit juice, or your favorite beverage of choice. They make great salad dressings, too, so feel free to experiment by tossing a bit of shrub with some olive oil and drizzling it over your vibrant bed of greens.

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I hope you enjoy this recipe! Let me know if you decide to make it. I’d love to hear how you like it.

Much love,
Erin


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How to Make Fir Needle Back Massage Serum

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

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

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INGREDIENTS FOR MY FIR NEEDLE BACK MASSAGE SERUM RECIPE

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

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

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

Much love,
Erin


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