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Herbal First Aid

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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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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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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Using Pine Therapeutically + a Couple of Recipes (How to Make Pine Pitch Salve + Pine Needle Serum)

When my husband and I first moved to the PNW, we immediately began to explore the vast wilderness areas around us so we could get to know our native plants here. One of the first things we started noticing about the trees in one particular area was that they had been drilled by woodpeckers and the resulting holes were full of gorgeous, aromatic resin. Those fragrant little pockets of sticky medicine are still one of the first things we point out to visitors who come to see us and want to know about some of our local plants. Pines are plentiful here.

Pine trees have been partnered with to support health and healing for many generations. Traditionally, they are symbols of wisdom, peace and longevity. The pitch, bark, needles, hydrosol and essential oil of many varieties of Pine are used medicinally. Note: There are a few varieties of Pine whose needles are toxic, so be sure you know how to identify the species prior to wildcrafting or ingesting needles.

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Pine Pitch

Pine pitch is sometimes referred to as resin or sap. It is often used in survival situations to start fires and in first aid situations to help keep a wound clean and protected until it can be addressed more thoroughly (another herbal bandage, so to speak). It is often melted down into carrier oil and made into Pine pitch salve or ointment, which are common first aid preparations used to address minor cuts, scrapes, and wounds. The pitch is also a drawing substance, so it can be used to help pull splinters out of the skin.

If you’ve ever collected a bit of Pine pitch, you know that it’s incredibly sticky. It’s often referred to as nature’s glue and can be used as a type of natural glue when living off the land. It’s often melted down and applied to baskets, boats and shoes to give them a waterproof coating as well.

Pine resins can be mindfully harvested and used to formulate infused oils, salves, lotions and butters that can be valuable additions to your home apothecary. Native Americans used Pine resin in poultices and salves to help draw out splinters and other toxins, seal and protect [clean] wounds, and increase circulation to injured areas of the body. It is still used in first aid applications for these same purposes today. It's not uncommon to see Pine drawing salves even in conventional stores. Pine resin possesses antibacterial and possibly even anti-inflammatory properties, but is quite warming, so it can sometimes increase irritation if the area where it is applied is already red and inflamed. Use discernment when choosing which herb is best for your case, but generally speaking, Pine resin salve can be a wonderful ally for your first aid kit.

Traditional uses of Pine Resin Infused Oil:

  • in a chest rub when feeling congested
  • in a warming salve for achy muscles, joints, and areas where increased circulation is needed
  • as a base for herbal / aromatic perfumes and colognes
  • in drawing salves, sometimes combined with activated charcoal and Plantain (great for splinters, etc.)
  • in lotions and creams for skin issues and skin care (in low dilution for skin care products), usually with Violet leaves or Comfrey leaves also infused into the oil to help soften its effect
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INGREDIENTS FOR MY PINE PITCH SALVE RECIPE

  • 2 ounces of mindfully harvested Pine resin
  • 4 ounces of organic olive oil that has been infused with Violet leaves, Plantain leaves, and Comfrey leaves
  • 1/2 ounce of organic beeswax
  • organic essential oils (optional)
    SUGGESTIONS:
    For chest rub applications - Cedarwood, Rosalina, Black Spruce or Siberian Fir
    For skin care or first aid applications - Lavender, Helichrysum, Vetiver, or Rose
    For warming, circulatory applications - Ginger, Lavender, Chamomile, or Black Pepper

To make your own Pine pitch salve, place 2 ounces of Pine pitch in a quart sized mason jar and set the jar into a saucepan of water over low heat on the stove (double boiler method). Add 4 ounces of herb infused carrier oil - I’ve used Violet leaf, Comfrey leaf and Plantain leaf infused oil as my carriers for this particular batch. It will take a little while for the pitch to melt into the carrier oil. Stir it occasionally and make sure the heat is kept very low. 1/2 ounce of beeswax melted into the mixture will help the salve to solidify once cooled. Once everything has been incorporated, strain the mixture through a coffee filter, a piece of muslin cloth, or a fine mesh sieve, pour it into a jar and let it sit until cool.

Notes

  • Preferred species of Pine for use of the resin include White Pine (P. strobus) and Pinyon Pine (P. edulis), but all of the Pines will produce usable resin. Some of them are stronger than others.
  • Mindful, respectful harvesting of resins is paramount. The tree produces resin to protect itself from infection when it has been injured or compromised. Be mindful of the size of the wound you're collecting from. Does the tree need the resin to stay there in order to protect itself in that area? Harvest elsewhere if needed. Don't harvest large pieces.
  • Pine resin is super sticky. You can use olive oil to remove it from your hands if needed. I prefer to keep a separate jar and utensils just for working with resins. You may want to adopt this practice as well.
  • Don't ever leave resins unattended while they are heating. Always use a double boiler method.
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Pine Needles

Pine needles are commonly used to make baskets and were traditionally used to stuff cushions and mattresses as well. They can be used to create a sort of soft bed on the forest floor and provide a great mulch for the garden.

In herbal medicine, they are mainly used to support the respiratory and immune systems. Coughs, congestion, sore throats, lung ailments, etc. are all situations for which Pine needles could be used. The needles are often used to make cough syrups and teas and are rich in vitamins A and C, among many other nutrients.

To make a Pine needle serum that can be used topically, infuse dried Pine needles into a lightweight carrier oil for 4 to 6 weeks, then mix that carrier oil with a skin-rejuvenating essential oil (optional) at a 0.5 to 1% dilution. This serum can be used as a facial serum and as a body or massage oil (2% dilution).

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Pine Cones

Pine cones can be used to start fires and yield seeds that we know as Pine nuts, which are a valuable wild food for humans and wildlife. Nuts can be harvested in late fall.

Pine Pollen

Pine pollen can be gathered in the spring and is a nutrient dense super-food that has long been considered a sacred medicinal by native peoples. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, is rich in flavonoids and essential fatty acids, and is a potent androgen. It can be tinctured (1:5) or sprinkled into food.

Pine Hydrosol

Pine hydrosols are incredible skin tonics. I like to use them as facial toners and incorporate them into my herbal skin care regimen. I also use them when I'm making back lotions and creams for sore muscles. They're perfectly suited for that purpose and leave the formulas smelling forested and fresh.

Pine Essential Oil

Pine essential oils are mainly used to support the respiratory system and the musculoskeletal system. They have analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic, circulatory and expectorant properties and smell uplifting and refreshing, like walking through a pine forest and stopping to take a few deep breaths. Energetically, Pine essential oils are balancing and help us to feel like we are grounded deep into the earth with a clear, focused mind. 

Pine’s Test Results

Pine extracts and products have been tested in various trials in recent years and are starting to become more popular as the test results continue to show promise. Here are a few noteworthy examples of Pine's test results.

Have you ever used Pine in your apothecary?

Much love,
Erin


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Herbal First Aid Recipe Roundup

We're celebrating our one-year anniversary of AromaCulture this month! Our very first issue was first released in November of 2016 and our extra spicy Anniversary issue is now available! I'm so excited to hit the one year mark and I'm immensity grateful for your support.

I thought I would spread a little bit of herbal love today with a recipe roundup post. Basically, a mashup of outstanding blog posts from other authors that I think you might enjoy. =) (With a couple of our own thrown in too.) The focus for this roundup is first aid remedies that incorporate herbs / essential oils and that you can make at home. You'll find the links to each person's original blog post with instructions for making their remedy below each group of 4 photos.

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Top row, left to right, then bottom row, left to right:

Fire Cider  |  Pine Resin Salve via TheHerbalAcademy  |  ElderBerry SyrupCalendula Comfrey Salve via Mother Earth Living

Happy remedy-making!

Much love,
Erin


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How to Choose the Right Herb for the Person + Situation (& an exciting announcement!)

Y'all know I love spreading some herbal love and today one of my favorite herbalism teachers is preparing to open up one of her information-packed herbal courses for enrollment. You may know Rosalee as the author of Alchemy of Herbs, a beautiful herbal book that was published earlier this year. Today she is bringing back the Taste of Herbs course through LearningHerbs and...I'm going to be blogging my way through the course with you and hosting a course-a-long in our AromaCulture Facebook group! This particular course is all about learning how to choose the right herb for an individual person based on their particular situation. We all know that choosing the right herb for something can seem like a complicated ordeal at times, but Rosalee, ever the outstanding teacher, makes learning this skill so easy. I think you're going to love this course!

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What you need to know

Rosalee and John (from LearningHerbs) have made the first part of this online training free so that all of you can participate in it before the actual course opens for enrollment. This online training segment is such a helpful resource and, if you're on the fence about the actual course, will help you to see if the teaching style and course are right for you at this point. The free training segment also gives you access to the Taste of Herbs Flavor Wheel, which is an incredible tool that covers the 5 tastes of herbs that will be covered throughout the course. You can access the online training segment and the Taste of Herbs Flavor Wheel by clicking here. It's completely free - all you have to do is enter your email address to gain access. After we've all gone through the training video together, those of you who decide to enroll in the full course will be able to do so and then the fun part begins.

more about the extra fun part...

Something I've wanted to start doing here on the AC blog is share more of my thoughts with you as I actually make my way through courses. I'm always working on completing courses from different herbalism and aromatherapy teachers so that I can continue to grow in my own education and I want to start sharing my experience with them with you! I'm going to start doing that through this course by hosting a course-a-long. In addition to blogging periodically about my thoughts about the course here, I'm going to be posting weekly in our AC Facebook group about it. Those of you who are also going through the course will be able to jump into the conversation there in the Facebook group with me. We can encourage each other as we work through our homework assignments, share our "aha!" moments, and support each other as we all make progress through the course material. I'm really looking forward to it - I think it's going to be a lot of fun! =) I'll be posting a video about this particular course-a-long over in the Facebook group sometime today, so be on the lookout for that!

The First STep

The first portion of this course is generously being made available to all of you at no cost, so we all get to participate in this part of the training together. To get started, CLICK HERE, enter your email address, and you'll automatically be sent access to the first training segment and the Taste of Herbs Flavor Wheel. Once you've done that, check in to the Facebook group. I'll see you over there! =)

I'll be checking in with you with a course update in about a week. Happy learning!

Much love,
Erin


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Disclaimer: I am an affiliate for Taste of Herbs. All opinions are my own.

Herbal Aromatherapy for Chiggers

I had never even heard of chiggers until my husband and I moved to Texas about a year after we were married. (We don’t live there anymore. We decided the West Coast better suited our lifestyle after a tornado hit our street, the whole year’s weather was altogether yuck, and we realized that the farmer’s markets…weren’t. No offense, but Texas just wasn't the favorite.) I was working part-time as a portrait photographer at the time and my work was focused on natural light and dreamy, outdoor settings. I spent one particular session sitting in the grass photographing a client and came home that evening wondering why my legs were so itchy. (I’m not allergic to grass.) I was thus introduced to chiggers. Nasty little things. At that time, the traditional remedy that was presented to me was to paint my skin with clear nail polish (which didn’t work). Fortunately, I don’t live in a place where I have to deal with chiggers any more, but if you do, here are some botanical remedies that may help you get through their assault on your skin and sanity.

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Herbal Applications

Plantain (Plantago sp.) – Plantain is a drawing herb with a reputation for quickly soothing insect bites and stings. It helps to draw out the source of irritation and inflammation quickly bringing relief to that itchy, irritated area. The leaf can be applied directly to the skin as a poultice. Either chew up a leaf, then pack it onto the area that’s itching, or crush the leaf in your fingers until it looks thoroughly wet, then rub it into the area. Follow up with another crushed leaf, spread out over the area. It will stick like an herbal bandage. In my experience, it’ll stay there until it’s no longer needed and then naturally fall off once its job is done, but if you’re especially active at the time, you may need to apply several leaves throughout the day. Plantain leaves can also be brewed into a strong tea (try double or triple infusing for added potency) and applied via a compress. In a pinch, the tincture can be applied topically as well.

Chickweed (Stellaria media) – Chickweed is a cooling herb that is commonly infused into a carrier oil that is then made into a salve for hot, irritated, inflamed skin ailments. It’s soothing and emollient and can also be used as a poultice applied to the affected area. You can make a double or triple infused tea and apply it topically with a compress as well. Tincture made from the fresh plant can be used when you don’t have access to the fresh plant.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – Yarrow is another cooling herb that acts as a disinfectant and can be helpful for cleansing the area. A liniment can be made by infusing the Yarrow leaf and flower in Witch Hazel and this can be applied topically to the affected area. The hydrosol and essential oil can also be utilized in topical applications for their anti-inflammatory, skin-soothing effects. The hydrosol especially helps to soothe the skin and reduce irritation.

Nervine herbs can be taken in teas or tincture form to help your relax through the irritation.

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Aromatherapy Applications

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – The first aid kit of essential oils, Lavender is proven to be anti-inflammatory, skin-soothing, and can help to reduce the irritation and redness caused by the chiggers. It can be applied neat, sparingly, for short-term, acute use, or it can be applied diluted in a carrier.

Rose (Rosa sp.) – Rose essential oil, though pricey, goes a long way and is wonderfully rejuvenating for the skin. Adding it at a very low dilution to your topical aromatherapy blend can help reduce irritation and may even help the skin to recover more quickly.

Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) – The essential oil is incredible for helping the skin to recover from a wide variety of ailments and injuries. Add it to your topical aromatherapy blend in a low dilution to help soothe and support the skin.

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) – Peppermint essential oil applied at a low dilution can help relieve the incessant itching caused by the chiggers.

Valerie Worwood recommends diluting 10 drops of Thyme ct. linalool essential oil in a teaspoon of carrier oil and applying it to the affected area throughout the day, then following up with a few applications of Lavender essential oil over the following days.

Other Applications

Adding a bit of raw apple cider vinegar to a full or local bath is one home remedy that many people swear by, while others prefer adding a bit of sea salt to the bath instead.

Clay packs – Clay is renowned for its drawing ability. You can hydrate it with a hydrosol or Witch Hazel and apply it to the irritated area the same way you would a clay face mask. Wrap the area with a warm towel to keep the clay moist throughout the application and rinse off when finished. Allowing the clay to dry may increase irritation instead of helping to reduce it, so make sure you keep that towel warm and wet (wring it out so it's not dripping).

What do you use to help you deal with the dreaded itch caused by chiggers? Let me know in the comments section below.

Much love,
Erin


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Herbal Aromatherapy™ for Smoke Inhalation

The Pacific Northwest has been covered in smoke for a few weeks now. In our area, we have reports of over a dozen fires burning nearby and we’re also dealing with smoke from fires in other states as well. There’s a mountain very near our home that we can’t even see this morning [at the time of writing this] because of the thickness of the smoke and our area has repeatedly been placed in the “unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality categories over the past few weeks. One of the closest fires is currently being sized at over 182,000 acres, has over 1600 personnel working to contain it, and isn’t expected to be contained until mid-October (it’s currently 5% contained). I saw a news article yesterday that said over 320,000 acres of Oregon are currently on fire [at the time of publishing, this number is closer to the 500,000 range]. When faced with circumstances like this, what can we do to support our health while dealing with the smoke (and stress) produced by such conditions?

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Lifestyle Adjustments

Stay indoors in an air conditioned building as much as possible. Keep your doors and windows shut and reduce your exposure to environmental toxins (cigarette smoke, propane, etc.) as much as you can. Allow yourself to swap vigorous fitness routines for more gentle, relaxing ones on the most smoky days. Limit vigorous outdoor activity or avoid it all together if you are in the sensitive groups category. Listen to your body – if you’re experiencing headaches, fatigue, or respiratory symptoms, take it easy and support your body with home remedies. Seek medical care if you have any cause for concern and, of course, follow your physician’s instructions, especially if you are a heart or lung patient. Allow yourself some extra space for relaxation while you’re dealing with all of the smoke in the air.

Environmental Support

Run air purifiers throughout your home. We were able to purchase a few HEPA allergen filters (we use this one, this one, and this one in our home) at the beginning of our fire season here and they have made such a noticeable difference. Running them at night has been especially helpful. I was waking up in the middle of the night with lots of congestion and discomfort before we started running them, but ever since we’ve had them going, that has virtually gone away. Himalayan salt lamps can also be helpful, but I would not rely on them solely.

Try to limit your exposure to allergens by running the vacuum a little less often (it can stir up dust and allergens), setting aside your smudging ritual for the duration (use Sweetgrass and/or White Sage hydrosols instead), and reducing your exposure to cigarette smoke or the smoke from incense.

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Herbal Support

My main allies throughout this fire season have been Hawthorn and Plantain (Plantago sp.) tincture. A dropperful of Plantain every couple of hours on the worst days has been helping to clear my symptoms quickly and on more mild days, a dropperful in the morning and one in the evening has been sufficient. After we come in from doing our garden chores in the mornings, I take a dropperful in orange juice and it has been tremendously effective for me. You could also consider using Nettle tincture, Mullein, or Marshmallow. The Plantain helps to soothe the mucous membranes and break down the excess mucous that accumulates because of the irritation caused by the smoke and inhaling other particles in the air. There are other herbs that can be used, but I have found that keeping it simple has yielded the best results for me, personally.

Daily herbal steams (or baths) can also be helpful. I usually include herbs like Eucalyptus, Rosemary, Thyme, Calendula, and Lavender in mine (one at a time or combined in a blend). Once the water from the steam application has cooled completely, you can use it to water the plants in your garden and add the spent herbs to your compost pile.

When you need an extra dose of respiratory support, a homemade herbal chest rub can be of great help. The recipe for my favorite formula was featured in March’s issue of AromaCulture Magazine. You can find that here.

Aromatherapy Support

Essential oils that help to open up the sinuses will be beneficial in steam applications, smelling salts, or topical applications like chest rubs. Sometimes using an oil that helps you to feel calm and relaxed will be just as helpful for you as any other remedy. Essential oils for respiratory support throughout fire season can include: Cedarwood, Lemon, Ginger, Eucalyptus globulus or Eucalyptus dives, Siberian Fir, Black Spruce, Norway Pine, Rosemary ct. verbenone, and Peppermint. Use 1 drop in a bowl of freshly boiled water for an aromatherapy steam application, include a blend of your choice in a jar/bottle of smelling salts, or dilute them in a topical application that you can massage into your chest and neck as needed.

ADDITIONALLY...

Pray for our firefighters and for lightning-free rain!

I hope you see smoke-free days very soon. What helps you to feel better when you’re dealing with fires in your area? Let me know in the comments section below.

Much love,
Erin


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Herbal Aromatherapy Care for Poison Oak / Poison Ivy

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

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PREVENTION

Learn to identify poison oak and poison ivy (or poison sumac, if that's what grows in your area). Practice identifying it and being aware of it when you're outside in an area where it grows. Wear clothing and shoes that cover your skin and bring a pair of gloves along if you think there's a possibility that you'll be touching wild plants.

UPON FIRST REALIZATION OF CONTACT

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

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

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

ONCE THE RASH DEVELOPS

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

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

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

LATE STAGES OF THE RASH

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

SAFETY NOTE

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

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

Much love,
Erin


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