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Massage Oils

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

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


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

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the THREE main TECHNIQUES

The "It Takes Time" Method

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

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

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

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

The "Low and Slow" Method

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

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

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

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

The "I Need It Now" Method

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

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

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

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double and triple infusions

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

SINGLE HERBS OR BLENDS

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

FRESH OR DRIED?

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

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

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

WHICH PLANT PARTS?

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

Which carrier oil?

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

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

to blend or not to blend

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

Sunlight or Darkness

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

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HOW LONG TO INFUSE

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

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

ENERGETIC ENHANCEMENTS

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

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

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

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

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

how to use herbal infused oils

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

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

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

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

Much love,
Erin

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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 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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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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How to Make Chamomile Body Lotion

*Note: This recipe was first published in the April 2017 issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

Whether you like to use natural, homemade products whenever possible or you just want to have skin as soft as a baby's, I think you're going to love this recipe. When I originally set out to create a lotion that I could use everyday in place of my go-to storebought one, I wanted to create something that was gentle enough for a baby, calming, and suitable for long-term everyday use. I adore this result of that formulating day and I'm thrilled to share this recipe with you now.

I have purposely not used any essential oils in this formula. I found that they were unnecessary, especially if I wanted my formula to be suitable for wee ones, and I tend to leave them out of most everyday products anyway. The hydrosol and the Chamomile flower infusion provide just the right amount of dreamy Chamomile scent without the overpowering aroma that Chamomile essential oils can sometimes present. The result is truly lovely.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 ounce of organic Aloe vera juice (the kind fit for internal use, without additives)
  • 1 ounce of German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) hydrosol
  • .75 ounce of organic Sweet Almond oil infused with German Chamomile flowers
  • .75 ounce of organic Sunflower oil
  • .5 ounce of organic Cocoa butter
  • 1/3 ounce of organic, unrefined Shea butter
  • 1/6 ounce of organic beeswax

Note: If you prefer to formulate creams with preservatives, you are welcome to adjust the recipe to include whichever one you wish to use. You will need to follow the manufacturer instructions for the product to do so.

If you prefer not to work with preservatives, you'll want to store this cream in the fridge, access it only with clean hands, and use it up within a week or two (some sources say up to a month).


INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Melt the beeswax in a double boiler over low heat. Once it is melted, add the Cocoa butter.
  2. When both the beeswax and Cocoa butter are melted, remove them from the heat and place the bowl of liquids (Aloe + hydrosol) in the double boiler, with the heat turned off, to warm.
  3. Add the other carrier oils to the beeswax and Cocoa butter and stir until everything is thoroughly incorporated.
  4. Stir in the Shea butter. It will melt as you mix it with the other oils.
  5. Once the oil mix and the 'water' mix have both reached a temperature of 110 degrees F, you are ready to start blending the two together to form your lotion. It's important that both the liquids and the oils be right at 110 degrees, otherwise they may not emulsify correctly.
  6. Using an immersion blender, start blending your carrier oils, which should have started to show a change in their texture by now (this is good). Very slowly, start adding little bits of the liquids into the oils, all the while keeping the immersion blender going. Slowly add more liquids into the oils in small increments until all of the liquids have been added. Continue to blend using the immersion blender for a couple of minutes, until your lotion reaches a consistency that you like.
  7. Pour the mixture into your jars, add labels, and enjoy!

NOTES

  1. Lotions can be tricky and it may take some practice before you perfect your fluffy concoction. If the lotion doesn't come together on your first try, remelt the whole mixture in a double boiler over very low heat until it again reaches 110 degrees F, then try again.
  2. Homemade lotions are best stored in the fridge and made in very small batches.

I hope you enjoy this beautiful, calming lotion! I know we are and I've heard some glowing reports from readers who made this recipe after seeing it in the April issue of our AromaCulture Magazine. =)
Much love,
Erin

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Herbalism 101: Make Skin-Nourishing Salves

Salves are some of my favorite DIY herbal-aromatic remedies. They are so quick and easy to make! They also won't spill in my purse, which makes them a convenient favorite for carrying around with me. (I can't be the only one who has ruined a leather bag as a result of a faulty roll-on lid, right?) I tend to keep a variety of salves on hand because they're so useful and handy - my current favorite is an all purpose Calendula salve that I tend to make fresh every few months. If you've been itching to whip up a few salves for your own kit, you're in the right place!

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All salves are a basic combination of carrier oil and beeswax. To customize them according to what you want to use them for, you can use carrier oils infused with herbs. For example, I use Calendula infused oil in skin healing salves, like diaper rash balms and ointments for scrapes and burns. A St. John's Wort infused oil would be suitable in a salve intended to soothe muscle aches or pain and a Lavender infused oil would be lovely in a calming sleepy time balm. You get the idea, right? Decide on what you want your salve to be best for, then use oils infused with the herbs that correspond with that particular issue.

Most herbalists recommend making salves using a 1:4 ratio - 1 part beeswax to 4 parts oil. An overly simplified example of this would be a recipe made with 1 ounce of beeswax and 4 ounces of Calendula infused oil. I tend to prefer salves that are just a little bit softer than this and usually use a 1:5 ratio.

To make a salve, melt your beeswax in a double boiler over low heat. I tend to use a glass Pyrex measuring jar inside a small saucepan as my double boiler. It works perfectly - the pouring spout on the measuring jar is great for pouring the mixture into containers later. I keep the water level in my saucepan at about 2 inches.

Once your beeswax is melted, stir in your carrier oil. Sometimes the cooler temperature of the oil will cause the beeswax to solidify a little bit. If this happens, just keep stirring the mixture until everything is melted again.

After your beeswax and oil are thoroughly combined, turn off the heat and move your jar (or double boiler) away from the stove. If you're adding essential oils to your salve, now is the time to stir them in.

For recipes intended for children, elderly folks, or people with compromised immune systems, sensitivity to smell, etc., use a 1% dilution for your essential oil blend (5-6 drops of essential oil for every ounce of your beeswax/oil mix). For healthy adults, a 2% dilution is perfect (10-12 drops of EO to each ounce of beeswax/oil mix). If you're making a First Aid type balm for occasional adult use in acute situations, you could use a 3% dilution (15-18 drops of EO per ounce of carrier).

Pour your finished balm mix into your sterilized containers and let them sit undisturbed in a safe place until solid. While you're waiting for them to cool you can make some labels for your tins! I like to include all of the ingredients in the recipe, the date I made the batch, and a name for my finished blend on my labels. Label your new salves and use them as needed!

What sorts of salves do you [want to] keep in your home remedy kit?

Much love,
Erin

For educational purposes only. All photos and graphics are copyright Erin Stewart. May not be distributed, copied, or published without express prior written permission from me.

Herbalism 101: Making Herbal Infused Oils (& Using Them In Aromatherapy)

One of my favorite herbs is St. John's Wort - Hypericum perforatum - a sunny, cheery little weed-like wildflower. It's a versatile plant, but can be difficult for me to source fresh. Because it grows so well here in our state, it's made its way onto the noxious weed list so I'm unable to grow it personally and our urban neighborhood is pretty far from areas where I could wildcraft some. I depend on small farms for my fresh plant material and tend to order in the fresh flowering tops once a year - harvested and shipped on ice the same day so they arrive the next morning ready to use. I've just finished processing this year's batch! In honor of this lovely little plant ally, today we're learning how to make herbal infused oils to use in our aromatherapy products.

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After you've sustainably harvested your plant material, you'll want to let it wilt a bit (not in direct sunlight - this can cause protein-rich plants like red clover to rot) so that the moisture in the plant can start evaporating. Too much moisture in your oil can cause it to mold and spoil the whole jar, so taking the time to let your herbs sit first is usually a good idea. It also gives little critters a chance to escape from the plant before you start packing your jars. If you're using dried herb, you can obviously skip this step. Since I'm working with St. John's Wort, which needs to be fresh in order to make a proper infused oil, I let mine sit for just a little while so the moisture from the ice packs it came in could evaporate.

With fresh plant material, you'll want to fill about 1/2 - 2/3 of your jar with the herb. Some herbalists like to give it a bit of a rough chop or snip it with scissors while others prefer to place it into the jar as is. If you're using dried herbs, fill the jar halfway with the herb to give it enough room to expand and still be covered by your menstruum.

Pour the menstruum you've chosen to work with over the herbs until they're completely covered. I like to add an extra inch or so of menstruum to my jars. Use a chopstick or a the handle of a wooden spoon to work any air bubbles in the jar to the surface and top off the jar with more menstruum if needed. I used organic, cold pressed extra virgin Olive oil as my menstruum for this batch. You can use other oils if you'd like - Jojoba and Grapeseed oils are other favorites for infused oils. [Jojoba is a liquid wax and does not spoil, so is sometimes chosen in lieu of other oils with shorter shelf lives.]

If you're working with St. John's Wort, you can choose to include the whole flowering top (usually 4-6" of material), just the top leaves and flowers/buds, or just the buds in your oil. Your choice will influence the final outcome of the product a bit, but no matter which option you choose, your finished oil will be valuable.

Screw your jar's lid on tight and give the mix a good shake to get everything started. With St. John's Wort, you'll want to place your jar in a sunny window, or even outdoors in a place where the jar won't fall and break. [Some herbs are well suited to solar infusions, but others prefer a darker, cooler location - check your favorite herbal books to see what is recommended for the plant you're working with.] Leave the jar to infuse for 4-6 weeks, shaking it each day as you walk by. If you're working with St. John's Wort, you'll find that your oil will gradually turn a rich shade of red! This is supposed to happen. In fact, it is said that the darker and richer the red your oil yields, the higher the quality of it. Label your jar with the herb and menstruum you've chosen, along with the date and the expiration date of your menstruum.

After 4-6 weeks have passed, separate the plant material from the oil. I've found that the best way to do this is to line a potato ricer with a fine muslin cloth and press the oil out of the plant material into a large bowl. You could also line a fine mesh stainless steel strainer with muslin or cheesecloth and use a wooden spoon to work the oil out. Once finished, pour the oil into a fresh, clean jar and re-label it. Include the plant, the menstruum, the date it was infused, the date you strained it, and the expiration date of the menstruum. Once herbal oils have been strained, they are best kept in dark glass bottles in a cool, dark place away from sunlight and heat.

You now have a beautiful batch of herb infused oil to include in your aromatherapy recipes! Infused oils are especially useful in salves, balms, butters and massage oils. I love to include Calendula infused oil in skin nourishing recipes and look forward to using this St. John's Wort infused oil in homemade Trauma Oil and blends for sore muscles. How have you used herb infused oils in your products? If you're just getting started, which oil will you make first?

Much love,
Erin

For educational purposes only. All photos and graphics are copyright Erin Stewart. May not be distributed, copied, or published without express prior written permission from me.

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