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St. John's Wort

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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MORE BLOG POSTS

Top 11 Herbs and Essential Oils for the Skin

Walking down the skincare aisle at the drugstore is sort of amusing to me. Shelves and shelves of products with pretty packaging, clinical claims, and long lists of synthetic, chemical-laden ingredients...they don't appeal to me at all anymore, but they do cause me to ponder the reasons our culture tends to so easily buy into their marketing. Before I transitioned to a chemical-free lifestyle, I tried so many different storebought products to try to force my skin into looking vibrant and glowy and clear, but none of them worked long-term and many of them even caused irritation or damage to my sensitive skin. When I started using homemade, botanical products instead of the options offered to me at the local Nordstrom, Target, or CVS, I saw such a drastic improvement in my skin (and my health) that it's hard for me to even fathom picking up a toxin-laden, though prettily packaged, product again.

Since June is Skin Healing month here at AromaCulture, I decided to reserve some blog space to talk about my favorite herbs and essential oils for the skin. All of the botanicals in this post are well suited to a wide variety of skincare and first aid applications and can be used for every skin type. They're perfect ingredients to include in your own skincare formulations. Ready to see what made my Top 11 list?

1. DANDELION

So much of the skin's health depends on what is actually happening on the inside of your body. If your liver and kidneys are not functioning well or your digestive system and circulation are a bit stagnant or your gut health is not quite where it should be, you'll start to notice changes in your skin. Acne, blackheads, irritation, inflammation, dull skin...these are all outward manifestations of an inner imbalance that needs to be addressed. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)  is one of the best herbs for this. It supports the health of the digestive organs, especially the liver (which is directly related to the health of your skin), and helps the body to purify the blood and flush out the yuck that doesn't belong. Any time I start to notice little spots popping up on my face, I know it's time to bring out the Dandelion. My skin thanks me every time.

Dandelion can be utilized for the skin via digestive bitters, herbal hand and foot baths, or through the diet. The whole plant is edible. Flowers can be added to salads, roots can be added to soups, and the greens can be cooked down with something sweet and eaten like any other edible green. (The younger leaves are better tasting than older ones.) Generally, the leaves are used as a diuretic (think stagnant issues, like cellulite) and the root is used to stimulate digestion and the production of bile, supporting the liver (and, therefore, the skin). The root can be roasted and brewed as a coffee substitute and is often included in homemade root beer formulas.

If you have a latex allergy, you will probably want to avoid Dandelion. That milky white sap that you see when you pick a Dandelion is latex.

 
 

2. BURDOCK

Burdock (Arctium lappa) is another liver-supportive herb that will indirectly improve and support the health of the skin. It works to correct the internal imbalances that manifest themselves outwardly via issues with the skin (i.e. dandruff, eczema, psoriasis, dry skin, etc.) and is also valuable when used externally for scalp health, wounds, rashes, and inflamed areas. It's great at getting the lymph moving, too, so is again indicated where there is stagnation. My favorite herbal shampoo includes Burdock root as a main ingredient. It can be infused into a carrier oil and included in first aid preparations and skin care formulas or can be decocted and used as a wash. Burdock can also be taken internally as a tincture or as a food. The root is often cooked and eaten as a dish called Gobo and it can also be brewed into a tea and included in homemade root beer soda blends.

Burdock is a weedy plant, so it's extremely easy to grow yourself. Start a little patch of it (it'll do well in just about any kind of soil) and harvest the root in early fall. There are no known safety issues for Burdock.

3. CALENDULA

Ah, Calendula. Possibly the herb supreme for skincare formulas. This sunny little bloom is chock-full of flavanoids and carotenoids that help to heal the skin. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is indicated for everything from acne to wounds and helps to reduce inflammation and promote cell repair. It's one of the easiest herbs to grow in the garden and will start blooming in early spring and last until well after the first frost if you keep cutting the stems throughout the growing season. Harvest seeds in the fall or winter to save for the next year's growth.

Use Calendula for the skin by infusing the dried blooms into carrier oils for skincare formulations. It can also be brewed as a tea and used as a compress, wash, or poultice (or taken internally). The hydrosol is lovely on its own or included as an ingredient in cream formulas. The tincture can also be used in some cases, though it may be drying when used externally. Calendula also produces a lovely CO2 extract which can be incorporated into topical blends.

 
 

4. COMFREY

Comfrey (Symphytum uplandica or Symphytum officinale) seems such a happy plant to me. It contentendly pops its first little leaves out of the soil in early spring and sets right to work filling its plot with cheerful green. It may be one of the fastest growing, most resilient plants in my herb garden. Comfrey is one of those botanicals that herbalists just love. It has an incredible affinity for healing the skin and has such pronounced wound healing properties that it's earned the nickname "knitbone" because it is said to 'knit' wounded tissues back together. Rich in the skin-healing and protective component, allantoin, it's often included in first aid formulas and skin care preparations. Infuse the leaves into carrier oil or Aloe to use in blends or use an infusion / tea as a wash. Comfrey can also be utilized as a compress or poultice.

5. LAVENDER

No list of skin-healing herbs would be complete without Lavender. There are many varieties of Lavender products available on the market, but you'll want to look for Lavandula angustifolia for skin-healing purposes. The herb, essential oil, hydrosol, and infused carrier oils are all useful for skin preparations. Most folks who are even the slightest bit interested in herbs and essential oils are familiar with Lavender, so I won't expound too thoroughly on it here, but do know that it can be included in just about every herbal / aromatherapeutic product you ever make for the skin without seeming out of place. Aside from its own contribution to the therapeutic effects of the blend, it seems to marry together all of the other ingredients you choose to include to create a more potent synergy.

Lavender is another easy-to-grow herb that will do fine in well drained soils to a zone 5. In cooler areas, it can be grown in a pot and brought in during the colder months. We're growing about a dozen varieties this year and it hasn't taken me long to decide that it's my favorite herb to grow. There's nothing quite so lovely and delightful as this sweet plant!

Infuse Lavender buds into carrier oils, Aloes, and honeys. Use the tea as a wash. The herb can be used as a compress or poultice. The hydrosol is lovely on its own as a facial toner or body spray or as an ingredient in creams. The essential oil can be added to most any skin care or first aid formula.

 
 

6. ST. JOHN'S WORT

Who doesn't love this sunny little plant? The St. John's Wort used for skincare is Hypericum perforatum, which can be easily identified by the little "holes" in its leaves. When you hold a leaf up to the sunlight, you'll see little dark specks (or perforations) on it. The top 4-6" of the blooming plant is used. The plant is ready to harvest when the buds produce a reddish-purple stain on your fingers when you press them. If you don't see this stain, you're either too early or too late. Watch your patch closely when the weather starts to turn toward summery temperatures near the end of June - the perfect harvesting window is short! Some will be ready and some won't. If you're unable to gather enough in one harvesting session, check back every day or two for the next week to see if more flowers are ready to be collected.

St. John's Wort can be infused into carrier oil (it will turn a bright, deep red color as the flowers release their medicinal properties into the oil) that can be used in both first aid and skin care blends. It's useful for external wounds, burns, cuts, bruises, areas of trauma, and inflammatory complaints and helps to speed recovery. Some folks include it in preparations for shingles or herpes. It's excellent for helping to relieve pain as well, so it's often used in massage oils for sore muscles or injuries.

Some people experience photosensitivity when using St. John's Wort, so be aware of any areas of your skin that will be exposed to direct sunlight after applying. If you experience any sort of rash or discomfort, stop using it.

7. HELICHRYSUM

Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) is probably most known for its lovely, skin-healing, anti-aging essential oil. It's pricey, but oh so lovely and effective. It helps to speed recovery of wounds and is often used in first aid applications. It's also excellent in anti-aging skincare products and posh facial creams. One well-known brand uses it in their fancy hand creams and another in their makeup products.

The hydrosol is wonderful for use as a facial toner or body spray and can also be used in herbal creams. A teaspoon of it can be added to a luxurious bath (or hand or foot bath).

The herb itself can be infused into carrier oils or brewed as a tea for use as a wash. It's beneficial for a wide variety of skin ailments, including acne and eczema.

 
 

8. PLANTAIN

Plantain (Plantago spp.) is another weed-like plant that grows along the trodden path; it likes to follow human footsteps and spring up right where it is most likely to be needed. It's a skin-soothing herb that's especially great for skin irritations like bug bites and stings. Just the other day, I was planting out some new herb transplants into my garden and something decided to bite me. The swelling, itching, and burning reaction didn't seem too bad at first so I carried on with what I was doing, but within a few minutes, the bite had turned into quite a painful welt. I walked over to my bed of Plantain, picked one of the leaves, crushed it with my fingers and rubbed it over the area. I then used a fresh leaf, also crushed, to lay over the area as an herbal bandaid (it will stick on its own if you've crushed it). Within a few minutes, the itching and burning had stopped and when the leaf naturally fell off 15 or 20 minutes later, the Plantain had completed its job. I couldn't even tell where the bite had been.

 
 

Plantain can be used in a carrier oil or Aloe for first aid and skin care preparations to soothe and reduce inflammation and irritation and can also be taken internally as a tea (or used externally as a wash) for other issues.

 
 

9. ROSE

Rose (Rosa spp.) can be utilized in its every form for delightful, luxurious skin formulas. More ideas for ways to do that here and here. They contain anti-inflammatory and antibacterial compounds (which suit acne-prone skin), are rich in anti-aging properties, and are known to nourish, hydrate, and even help tone and rejuvenate the skin

Rose petals, Rose hydrosol, Rosehip seed oil, Rose flower essence, and precious Rose essential oil are all derived from this one generous plant. I like to incorporate her into every step of my own skincare routine.

Rose essential oil is also beneficial for wounds when there has been trauma. It will not only help with speeding the recovery of the skin, but will also comfort the heart and mind and work to bring stability back to the person affected.

 
 

10. CARROT SEED

Carrot Seed (Daucus carota) is available both as an essential oil and as a CO2 and an infused carrier oil. All are beneficial for the skin. It's one of those plants that's also beneficial for the liver and is helpful for releasing blocked energy, so we know it's going to be amazing for our skin! Include it in topical blends for a variety of skin ailments, including eczema, psoriasis, acne, and other inflammatory, irritated conditions. It's also useful for anti-aging skincare products and can be used in carrier oils, creams, and facial steams.

Avoid use when pregnant.

11. MARSHMALLOW

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) leaf and root are both used for skin and hair formulas (root is more commonly used, but the leaf can also be used). It's rich in flavanoids, polysaccharides, and beta-carotene and is mucilaginous, making it skin-soothing and anti-inflammatory. You can infuse the root into a carrier oil or Aloe to use in a blend or you can prepare a decoction and use it as a poultice or wash. It blends well with Chamomile tea for this purpose as well. It's effective for a variety of ailments, including eczema, burns, and wounds, and will help to moisten dry skin. Powdered root can be included in homemade baby powder blends.

12. YARROW

I couldn't choose just 11 after all! Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is so useful in the herbal first aid kit that I felt it had to be included in this list. The leaves are styptic and antiseptic and can be powdered and used in styptic powder recipes or used fresh when needed. All of the aerial parts of the plant can be used to help speed healing of wounds, burns, and other skin ailments. The foliage is light and feathery and the flowers are lovely; it's easy to grow from seed (perennial) and the pollinators love it. Look for the white or pink flowering varieties if you want to use the herb medicinally. The yellow flowering varieties are ornamental. Use the herb in hand and foot baths, washes, and compresses to help reduce inflammation and speed healing.

I've used Yarrow hydrosol as a styptic in a pinch and it seems to be just as effective as the herb itself, at least for minor cases. It can also be used as a facial toner or as an ingredient in creams. The essential oil is antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic. Include it in blends for your first aid kit to help with the pain and swelling associated with injury. For skin-care, it can be a useful ingredient for irritated, inflamed skin complaints.
 

WHICH HERBS AND/OR ESSENTIAL OILS WOULD YOU ADD TO THIS LIST?
LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.

Much love,
Erin

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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