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Introducing Our New School!

I've been double checking and triple checking this blog post for awhile now to make sure that it's just right because I've been so nervous-excited to share it with you! It feels like such a big deal because it's about one of those things that we've worked so hard on for so long and to know that it's finally being birthed into the world as something real feels more like it's still a dream than a reality. Have you ever felt that way about something? It's a hard feeling to explain. Nevertheless...

Jon and I are thrilled to announce that our online school is now open!

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I can't believe it! It seems so surreal to know that it's finally up and that in just a few short days, we'll be opening our very first online workshop for enrollment!

It fills us with so much hope to think that we might be able to share what we know to help inspire and help you as you continue to learn more about plants and sustainability and living in harmony with the earth and all of the living beings that dwell on it.

 

So let's talk a little bit about what you can expect...

 

Aromaculture + the magazine

First, we want to assure you that the magazine will still continue to live here at AromaCulture.com. It's not moving over to the new school's website. This means that everything magazine-related will still be right here where you're used to seeing it. The site is staying the same, so you'll still be able to find the magazine issues (past and present) here in the shop.

 

the BLOG

Because I really want to focus on making sure that I'm only putting out high quality content for you, I've decided to continue writing only one blog post each week (which is what I do right now). Instead of trying to write one post for AromaCulture and one post for Floranella each week, I'm going to continue to write one post a week and, from now on, the blog posts will be published each week on Floranella.com.

The only reason I'm moving the blog over to the new website is that it makes sense for me to keep the majority of the educational content I'm writing in one place and since the school is going to be the online home for that, it's the best place for the blog to live from now on.

If you already get an email letter from me every Tuesday, you'll still receive a link to the blog post each week, but the link to it will take you to the blog post on Floranella instead of AromaCulture.

 

the podcast

The podcast will continue to live here at AromaCulture, at least for now.

 

weekly emails from me

To keep things simple so I can focus on quality over quantity and avoid sending duplicate content to people, I'm going to continue to have just one email letter list instead of having two separate lists. So whether you sign up for our insiders list here at AromaCulture or Floranella, the email sent out each week will be the same (you'll only receive one, not one per brand, so you don't need to sign up again at Floranella if you already get letters from me on Tuesdays). The emails will look a lot like the ones you're already used to seeing from me, with a link to the week's blog post, podcast episode, etc., but they will say that they're from Erin Stewart instead of saying that they're from one of the brands - AromaCulture or Floranella - since each email is essentially a weekly letter from me anyway.

 

the insiders group on facebook

Our online Facebook community for our Insiders group will be shared by AromaCulture insiders and Floranella insiders. If you're already a member of our Insiders Facebook community, you don't need to join again through Floranella (it's the same group).

 

social media

I'll be updating my social media handles in the next few days so that I can continue to maintain just one account per platform where I can post about all things Floranella + AromaCulture in one place (instead of having separate accounts for each that look a lot alike). The content won't be changing; just the username. I'll update links accordingly.

 

Hopefully all that makes sense. =)

 

here's a look at what's coming at floranella...

In just a few days, we'll be opening enrollment for our Summer Foraging workshop. In it, you'll learn how to properly identify, forage for, and harvest + use 12 common edible and medicinal plants in a way that is sustainable, ethical, and that helps rather than harms the local ecology. Jon has really done an excellent job with these seasonal foraging workshops and we're both really excited to share them with you throughout the year. We'll release a seasonal foraging workshop each quarter until all of the seasons have been covered.

You can learn more about the Summer Foraging workshop by clicking here.

 

In the fall, I'll be opening my Herbal Aromatherapy™ Level One course, which will be a more lengthy course teaching you how to sustainably and effectively use about 25 medicinal plants in all of their forms: herb (and herbal preparations), hydrosol, essential oil, etc. so that you can be fully equipped to make use of them in your own apothecary. It's really been a labor of love putting it together and I can't wait until it's completely ready to share it with you. (You can find brief previews from it here and here.) There are quite a few things about this course that make it really unique, but I'll share more about those things in the coming months. =)

Before you go, I've recorded a quick video here for you to just chat with you about some of these things...

I can't thank you all enough for your support as we've been working to get these things ready to share with you. We really have the best community, I think, and I am so excited to continue learning with you all.

Much love,
Erin

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The Art of Herbal Hand + Foot Baths

When I first started really learning about herbs, I kept hearing a couple of my herbal teachers speak of an herbalist, Maurice Mességué, who was famous for using herbal hand and foot baths to address his clients’ concerns. I found the method intriguing because at the time, I hadn't heard much about using foot baths therapeutically, so I picked up a couple of Maurice's books. His autobiography is one of the most entertaining books I have ever read, and it really gave me an interest in using herbs this way. I immediately started experimenting with herbal hand and foot baths myself and they have since become one of my absolute favorite ways to use herbs. Today I’m sharing my go-to herbal foot bath recipe for when I’m feeling a bit yucky – a headache coming on, a touch of queasiness, or that overtired and overwhelmed feeling that sometimes hits at the end of a long day.

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my go-to base recipe is equal parts:

  • organic Calendula flowers
  • organic Lavender buds
  • organic Rose petals
  • organic Nettles
  • organic Chamomile flowers
  • organic Rosemary leaves

This blend is relaxing, refreshing, skin nourishing, and looks absolutely beautiful in the foot bath. Depending on what else I'm dealing with, I'll also add some mix-ins.

Mix-in options:

  • organic Lavender hydrosol
  • organic Feverfew leaf + flower (headache)
  • organic Skullcap leaf + flower (headache)
  • organic Passionflower leaf + flower (tension)
  • organic Yarrow leaf + flower (feeling sick)
  • organic Peppermint leaf (feeling nauseated)
  • organic Honeysuckle (dealing with an infection)
  • organic Eucalyptus leaves (dealing with an infection)
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preparation

I start by putting the kettle on the stove so the water can get to a boil while I'm blending together the herbs I want to use. Use a large bowl so that the herb blend fills it only about 1/3 to halfway so the dried herbs have plenty of room to expand once they're rehydrated.

Pour freshly boiled water into the heat-safe bowl until all of the plant material is covered, then cover the bowl with a plate to seal in the steam and let it steep this way for 10-15 minutes.

Pour the entire mixture into your foot bath basin (or whatever vessel you're using - hand bath bowl or bathtub, etc.), then add in any hydrosols or other ingredients you plan to use.

Fill the remainder of the basin with enough hot water to cover your ankles once you've submerged your feet (or your wrists, if you're bathing your hands).

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your foot bath

Place a towel on the floor before you set your basin down, just in case of spills and drips, then relax in a comfy chair. Soak your feet (or hands) in the foot bath for at least 8-10 minutes. I like to keep a small towel nearby so I can easily dry my feet when I’m through soaking them. (Tea stains, so use a dark colored towel or something that you won’t mind being stained by the infusion.)

Follow up the bath with an application of foot cream and a pair of cozy socks.

Have you ever experimented with herbal foot baths?

They’ve really become one of our favorite ways to enjoy herbs.

Much love,
Erin

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Top 5 Rosaceae Family Carrier Oils

This article has been adapted from an article I first published in the February 2017 issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

There are many generous plant families. The Lamiaceae and Asteraceae families, for example, each give us dozens, if not hundreds, of medicinal and edible plants that we can use in the apothecary. But one of my favorite plant families is the Rosaceae family. There's something extra special about the plants that come from it and I think that special-ness carries over into the carrier oils that are derived from Rose-family plants. While they are recognizably beneficial and nourishing to the skin, I believe they also carry that special energetic signature of the Rose family and can help us to further layer therapeutic effects into our apothecary blends. These 5 carrier oils are some of my favorites to use when blending salves, creams, massage oils, aromatherapy blends, and other oil-based products.

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Rose Hip Seed Oil

Rosehip seed oil is made when the seeds inside the hips of the roses are cold pressed. The unrefined oil is usually a vibrant, golden-orange or orange-red color and has a light aroma that noticeably changes when the oil has spoiled. It has a relatively short shelf life (6-12 months), so should be stored in the refrigerator in a dark, airtight container. When the oil is unrefined, it will often take on a waxy consistency when chilled and must be brought back to room temperature for use in recipes. Some suppliers refine their Rosehip seed oil or ‘winterize’ it (so it doesn’t become waxy in the fridge) and their oils may be much lighter in color than the vibrant tones you may be accustomed to in an unrefined oil. Adulteration of Rosehip seed oil is common, especially now that the oil is in shorter supply with a higher demand for it, so you’ll want to purchase yours from a trusted source, as local as possible. I've come across adulterated Rosehip seed oil from several of the larger, popular distributors, so you'll want to closely examine your product as soon as it arrives to make sure it is pure.

Rosehip seed oil is a drier-feeling oil that soaks into the skin immediately and is very hydrating. It does not leave a greasy feeling or an oily residue and can be used for all skin types, but is especially suited to dry, sensitive, or mature skin. It is gentle enough to be used undiluted, but because of its higher price, it is usually used in combination with other carrier oils and is often included as an ingredient in luxurious skin care recipes and creams, facial serums, and body lotions and oils. I like to include it in face creams and scar-fading blends.

Incredibly skin nourishing, Rosehip seed oil is rich in essential fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins that benefit the skin. Linoleic, Linolenic, Oleic and Palmitic acids are present, as well as Vitamins A and C (the latter in higher amounts than are found in oranges!) and Lycopene. The Vitamin C content contributes to the oil’s skin rejuvenating properties and works alongside the Lycopene and other nutrients to restore elasticity to the skin, promote collagen production and assist with repairing, restoring vibrancy to, and protecting the surface of the skin. Some studies show that it can help to reduce the appearance of scars when consistently applied over time and the oil has also been used to help rebalance, restore, and regenerate the skin in cases of eczema, wounds, burns, damaged skin, broken veins, fine lines and wrinkles, acne and other skin issues.

Trans-retinoic acid is also present in Rosehip seed oil. Chilean studies found that this component is an effective tissue regenerator and helps to tone the skin, minimize premature aging and wrinkles, and reduce scar tissue.[1]

Sweet Almond Oil

True Sweet Almond oil is a light, cold pressed oil that is produced from the Almond nut and easily penetrates the skin. It’s often used in skin care blends and body oil products, but is also sometimes used in the kitchen. The refined oil tolerates higher temperatures because of its high smoke point and can be used in general cooking while the unrefined oil is better suited as a dressing or finishing oil or in cooking that involves medium temperatures.

Sweet Almond oil is commonly used by soap makers because it is a nutrient-dense, stable oil that produces a nice lather. The oil is rich in fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin K, and B vitamins 1, 2, and 6 and is moisturizing and nourishing for both the skin and the hair. It is well suited for use in skin care products for all skin types, but especially for those with normal, combination, or dry skin, and does not clog pores. It helps to increase circulation while its anti-inflammatory properties work on soothing irritated and inflamed areas, thus regenerating and restoring the skin. It is sometimes employed in blends for use with eczema and other skin conditions because it can help to relieve the itching and irritation associated with them. It is sometimes included in blends used to help reduce the appearance of scars.

Heat will shorten the shelf life of this oil, but properly stored away from light and heat, the unrefined oil should keep for 12-15 months. Since it is a nut-derived oil, you should probably avoid using it if you have a nut allergy.

Apricot Kernel Oil

Apricot kernel oil is another light, mild oil that is also cold pressed, this time from the kernel inside the pit of the apricot fruit. It is somewhat like Sweet Almond oil and is often used in its place when it is not available. It makes a lovely base for massage oils and is well suited as a natural baby oil that can be used to soothe and moisturize the skin of little ones.

Apricot kernel oil can be used in blends formulated for all skin types, but is especially suited to mature and sensitive skin. It is absorbed quickly and doesn’t leave behind an oily residue. Its anti-inflammatory properties lend themselves well to soothing irritated skin, so the oil is often used in blends for addressing inflamed, itchy skin issues.

The unrefined oil is the best option for use on the skin because it retains more of its nutrient profile than the refined, expeller pressed oil does. The unrefined oil is extremely rich in essential fatty acids and vitamin A, vitamins B 1, 2, 6, and 17 (B 17 content is the highest of any plant), and vitamin E. The oil’s high antioxidant and vitamin E content contribute to the oil’s protective, purifying nature. It’s restorative and soothing, contains anti-aging properties, helps to prevent the fine lines and wrinkles that are accompanied by premature aging, and helps to improve the elasticity and texture of the skin. I love to use it in body lotion recipes.

This oil should be stored away from sunlight and heat in a cool, dry place. The refrigerator is probably best. Stored properly, this oil can keep well for about a year.

 

Raspberry Seed Oil

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of tiny, cold pressed raspberry seeds to produce this precious, nutrient-dense carrier oil. It’s an incredible anti-inflammatory oil that is used to soothe irritated and inflamed skin. It also has a special affinity for oral health care.

This oil is often used in skin and hair care products. It’s lovely when included in facial serums and massaged into the skin. Since it is high in antioxidants, it partners well with the skin to help protect and nourish it. It’s rich in essential fatty acids (about 83%) and vitamins A and E. The oil is also being studied for its potential as an oil that helps to protect the skin from UV-A and UV-B rays. While there isn’t yet enough research to use it as a replacement for sunscreen, it does show some promise in this area.

The cold pressed oil is the best option for use. Stored properly, it should keep well for about 2 years.

 

Peach Kernel Oil

Peach kernel oil is a light, slightly astringent oil that is rich in essential fatty acids and vitamins A, B and E. It is moisturizing, skin nourishing, and helps to improve the elasticity of the skin whilst soothing inflammation and irritated areas. It’s well suited to all skin types and is useful in anti-aging formulas and in blends used to address eczema and other skin conditions.

It’s similar to the other light oils like Sweet Almond and Apricot kernel oil, but it isn’t produced as abundantly and is thus much more expensive and can be harder to find. Less information is available about this particular oil, but we do know that it is a valuable carrier. Culpeper (1616-1684) said that the oil would bring rest and sleep when applied to the forehead.[2]

There are other carrier oils available from this beautiful plant family. Blackberry seed oil and Cherry pit oil are two of them. They are not as easy to find on the market, but if you ever come across them, they are worth studying and experimenting with. These five oils are some of the easier ones to find. I hope you’ll give them a try if you haven’t already!

Do you have a favorite carrier oil that comes from the Rose family? Tell me about it in the comments section below.

[1,2] - Aromatherapy for Health Professionals by Len and Shirley Price

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Distilling Hydrosols at Home with a Copper Still

One of the things you write in to ask me about most often is distilling hydrosols and essential oils at home, so when I sat down to start writing my first course for you this past winter (I'll include more info about it at the end of the post - I have a question for you regarding it), I knew I wanted to include a whole module about distillation. Inspiring you to become more involved in your use of plant products by growing and harvesting and distilling them at home and supporting your local farmers is one of my main goals because if more of us were doing that, we'd collectively be taking a huge step in the realm of plant-use sustainability. Plus, gardening and distilling plants are both really fun and there's no better way to really foster a deeper connection to your homemade medicine than to be completely involved in the entire process yourself.

Now that our garden is flourishing in the sunshine-filled days, my drying racks are constantly full (I think I need to ask Jon to build more), and my refrigerator is filling up with fresh hydrosols and essential oils. I recently distilled one of my favorite garden darlings, Calendula, so I thought I'd give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the distillation process today.

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Distillation is not difficult. It's a very simple process and as long as you have a few tools and enough plant material to fill your still, you can very easily distill hydrosols and essential oils at home.

I have two different stills right now and, for this post, I'll be showing you the smaller still. It’s a gorgeous 3 liter flip-top column copper alembic that I purchased from Copper Brothers. (You can see the exact still I purchased - the one pictured in the photos in this article - if you click here; not an affiliate link.) Copper Brothers is a company in Portugal that makes handmade artisan stills that are lead-free and I’ve fallen in love with the craftsmanship of their products and their great customer service. Their stills are affordable and the shipping is reasonable and quick (mine arrived in 3-4 business days - I couldn't believe how fast it was!).

The thing I really love about this still (I've named it Mozart) is that it's the perfect size for stove-top distillations, which are quick, easy, and require very minimal cleanup compared to runs with the larger stills. It also doesn't require a massive amount of plant material to produce a quart of hydrosol, as you'll see. So I love it because it makes distillation easy, quick, and accessible for people who may not have a massive garden, space to grow a lot of one crop, or a larger budget for a still.


If you ever purchase a still from Copper Brothers, let me know in the comments section below. I'd love to hear about which still you chose! =)


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When distilling, it's very important to use a clean still and sterile utensils and such. The first thing I like to do after making sure everything's clean for a fresh run is fill the base of the still about 2/3 with pure water and get it on the stove before I go out to harvest the plant. This way, by the time I come back in, the water's already boiling and the still is ready to go.

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Whilst the water is heating (uncovered), I'll head out to the garden to harvest. Most plants should be harvested early in the day, especially aromatic flowers, which means that you'll probably be distilling early in the day as well, but Calendula is one of the plants that can be harvested later in the day too.

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I quickly filled up my dish with Calendula blossoms and that was plenty enough to fill the base of Mozart the baby still with cheery little blooms. So as you can see, when distilling for hydrosols, especially, you can get a good amount of exceptional product without needing to have a massive amount of plant material.

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Once the water started boiling, I placed my freshly harvested blooms into the still with the water and used a wooden spatula to make sure all of the plant material was covered. Then I secured the hat (sometimes called the onion - the top of the still) to the base and connected the condenser (the unit shown to the right of the still in the picture below).

For this run, you'll see below that I hydro-distilled the Calendula without the column. I like distilling this way when I'm mainly after hydrosols. My still doesn't have any steam-leaks when I distill without the column (many do), so I love that I don't have to seal it with rye flour! It makes for an even quicker cleanup process.

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The water shown flowing into the condenser in this photo never touches the hydrosol or the essential oil. It's kept separate in its own contained space and it's used to keep the condensing unit cool. The steam that carries the essential oil and hydrosol up out of the still and into the condenser is very hot and needs to cool and condense back down into a liquid, so cool water is pumped through the condenser to help facilitate the process. The hydrosol and essential oil travel through the coil inside the condenser and cool down before exiting the still through the spout shown below.

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People use different methods to keep their condenser water flowing, but one of the most common is to use a little pond pump like this one. For my smaller still, I fill up a leak-proof bucket with cool water and use this pond pump to keep the water cool throughout the distillation process. It's so efficient, helps save water because a continuous source of water isn't needed when you use this method, and the water in the bucket can be used in the garden when I'm finished. It's a great setup!

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My small still usually gives me a yield of about one quart of hydrosol in under an hour, which is a terrific yield for a quick run with a small batch of plant material like this. Cleanup is quick and easy once the still has cooled and the plant material from inside the still can be added to the compost.

Have you ever tried distilling plants for essential oil or hydrosol? Have you been looking for a good option for an at-home still? I'd love to hear about your experience with (or interest in) distillation. Leave me a comment below and we can discuss it more. =)

If you've been hoping to learn more about distillation, make sure you're signed up for our email newsletter list because I'll be sending out an update when the course containing the distillation module opens for enrollment. I go into a lot more detail inside the distillation module of the course and I cover distillation with the larger stills as part of the course series as well.


A question for you

I recently completed writing the rough draft of the course series I started working on for you this past winter (it's longer than a book!) and as I sit down to rewrite and edit everything and get it looking pretty and ready to share with you, it's really important to me that I make sure I've included information about the things that you feel you need most right now to take your skill to the next level.

I've made sure to include lots of information about the things many of you write in to ask me about most often, but I also wanted to check in with you personally to make sure I didn't miss anything. If you could take a couple of minutes to answer the questions I've uploaded here, I would really appreciate it!

Much love,
Erin


What is the first thing you want to distill when you are able to add a still to your apothecary toolbox?

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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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Top 10 Herbs for the Cardiovascular System

We’re covering a lot of heart-healthy herbs and essential oils this month here on the blog and in the February issue of the magazine, which revolves around herbs and essential oils for the cardiovascular system. These 10 botanicals are my absolute favorites for heart-health blends, both physical and emotional. You’ll find some of them in the heart tonic shrub recipe I shared last week as well! Let’s dig in, shall we? My top 10 herbs for heart health and the cardiovascular system are…

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1. Hawthorn

I recently published a full article all about Hawthorn, its therapeutic effects and its test results, so I’ll let you read more about it there, but I will say here that Hawthorn is the primary heart health herb for good reason. It’s indicated for almost every kind of heart-related ailment, helps improve circulation, balances blood pressure, regulates cholesterol and heartbeat, and generally strengthens and tones the heart. It’s wonderful for any kind of emotional or energetic issues that are being manifested in pain or sadness carried in the chest area as well. Read more about it (and find the references for all of these statements) here.

2. Motherwort

Motherwort is a Mint family herb that contains heart-healthy flavonoids and glycosides. It can be a bit bitter, so it’s usually taken as a tincture made from the aerial parts of the plant. Motherwort helps to improve circulation and regulate the heartbeat. It works very well for people who tend toward nervousness and carry a lot of tension in the body.

Caution: Motherwort is an emmenagogue, so it should be avoided by pregnant women.

3. Turmeric

Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory herb that helps to prevent heart ailments and supports the body when dealing with them. It helps with improved circulation and cholesterol levels, boasts anticoagulant properties and has been shown to protect against heart disease.  Read my full profile on Turmeric here.

4. Hibiscus

I like to add Hibiscus flowers to my Hawthorn tea and they are an ingredient in my heart tonic herbal shrub recipe. They are rich in heart-protective antioxidants and have been shown in studies to balance blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels.

5. Rose

Studies show that fresh Rose flowers help us to feel calmer and more comfortable. They’re traditionally given to express love for someone and to send comfort and love to someone who is hurting because they are so deeply heart-nourishing energetically. Tinctures made from Rose can have an analgesic, anti-inflammatory effect and are especially useful when we are feeling physical pain caused by an emotional wound. Rose extracts also show potential for their ACE-inhibiting action and potential for blood pressure regulation.

Rose essential oil has been widely used in aromatherapy to help comfort and uplift the hurting heart and to bring a sense of calm when one is feeling nervous or ungrounded. The essential oil and the hydrosol have anti-inflammatory effects which indicate that, energetically, they can be used to help us let go of the things that are inflamed (causing pain) in our hearts. Rose’s antispasmodic activity further helps us to let go of the tension associated with the pain. Rose is an exemplary emotional healer for issues of the heart.

6. Garlic

Garlic helps promote healthy circulation and may help regulate blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It is said to have a blood-thinning effect and has traditionally been used to help prevent heart ailments.

7. Ginger

I have a full profile on Ginger here. While typically thought of as a digestive herb, Ginger has been found to be able to reduce blood sugar, triglycerides, cholesterol levels and to have an anti-inflammatory effect. It’s especially efficient at keeping energy flowing and increasing circulation.

8. Rosemary

Rosemary has been found to be effective for use when dealing with heart ailments. It has a pronounced anti-inflammatory effect and posses antioxidant properties that help protect the heart as well. It has been found to reduce oxidative stress and regulate cholesterol levels.

9. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a yummy, spicy herb that is commonly used to flavor food, but it can also help protect against heart diseases and has abundant anti-inflammatory constituents. It also shows promise for balancing blood pressure and cholesterol and boasts antioxidant protection.

10. Nettles

Nettles are incredibly rich in minerals that are necessary for the heart to function properly. Furthermore, it shows antioxidant activity, anti-inflammatory effects combined with cholesterol regulation and a decreased risk of heart issues in certain cases. Nettles have traditionally been used to help balance blood pressure as well.

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Which herbs would you add to this list?

Much love,
Erin


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How to Use Spicy Essential Oils Safely

This article was first published in the November issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

One of the trickiest groups of essential oils to use safely is the group derived from spices. Many of the essential oils in this family contain chemical constituents that come with contraindications and can be irritating to the skin, so it’s important to know how to use them properly to avoid adverse reactions. Before I started studying essential oils, I used an essential oil derived from Cinnamon in a hair rinse in the shower and came out of the shower looking like I had streaks of radiation burns all over my body. They eventually went away completely, but the irritation that oil caused could have easily been avoided had I known more about how to use it correctly. Let’s take a look at some of the spicy oils and talk about how to use them most effectively.

You will find that some of the essential oils in the spicy group are not altogether user-friendly. When that is the case, I have included a list of suggested substitutions for them at the end of this article. Best to leave those ones to the professionally trained aromatherapists (who also tend to rarely use them) and to choose safer options whenever possible. They are rarely necessary.

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Allspice – Pimenta dioica (also called Pimento berry oil)

Allspice essential oil is produced by steam distilling the berry of the Pimenta dioica plant (also called the Pimento berry). While this essential oil has been used in the past for its analgesic and carminative properties and for its effect as a rubefacient, it can be very irritating to the mucous membranes and the skin and should be used at a very low dilution to avoid adverse reactions (less than 1% per Tisserand & Young). It also comes with several safety contraindications due to its high eugenol and methyleugenol content. Since there are many other essential oils with similar therapeutic properties, but without the safety risks presented by this essential oil, it is recommended to look to safer options rather than reaching for this one. Suggested substitutions for other essential oils with analgesic and carminative properties can be found at the end of this article.

*This oil should not be taken internally.

Anise – Pimpinella anisum

The seeds of the Pimpinella anisum plant are steam distilled to produce this essential oil. It is sometimes called Aniseed essential oil but it is important to know that Anise (or Aniseed) essential oil is not the same as Star Anise, which comes from a different plant and has different safety considerations. Anise essential oil is primarily used to support the digestive and respiratory systems due to its antispasmodic, antitussive, expectorant, and carminative properties.

Anise essential oil contains a constituent called estragole which can be irritating to the skin, especially for people whose skin is quite sensitive. If you must use it, restrict its dilution to 1-3% and check your Essential Oil Safety manual by Tisserand & Young for specific contraindications prior to use. It’s best to test it (diluted) on a small area of the skin before a wider application if you plan to use it topically.

This essential oil comes with many contraindications (see resources list at the end of this article), including:

  • Avoid use when pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Avoid use if you’re dealing with estrogen-dominance, estrogen-related cancers, and/or endometriosis.
  • Avoid use if you are prone to allergies.
  • Do not use if you are dealing with inflammatory skin conditions.
  • Not suitable for use with children under 5.
  • It is possible that Anise essential oil may inhibit blood clotting (Tisserand & Young).
  • Anise comes with further cautions for different routes of application, so refer to your Essential Oil Safety manual prior to use.

In general, it’s probably best to reach for a more user-friendly oil if possible. See the end of this article for substitution recommendations.

Black Pepper – Piper nigrum

Black Pepper berries are steam distilled to produce this essential oil. A CO2 extract is also available, but we’re focusing on the essential oil for the purpose of this article. It can be skin-irritating for a small part of the population, but is generally considered safe for use at a low dilution (1% is typically recommended). Because it can cause skin sensitization when oxidized (Tisserand & Young), however, it should be stored in the fridge and used up within its proper shelf life.

Black Pepper essential oil is often utilized for its antibacterial, analgesic, immunostimulant properties and is also thought to support healthy circulation. It has an affinity for digestive system discomfort and respiratory support.

*This is one of the safer spicy essential oils to use.

Cardamom – Eletarria cardamomum

Cardamom essential oil is produced by steam distilling the seed pods of the plant. An oleoresin and CO2 extract are also available, but we are again focusing on the essential oil here. Cardamom essential oil has a strong affinity for the digestive system and is often used in blends for a wide variety of digestive complaints. Its therapeutic properties include such things as: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, carminative, digestive, nervine, and stomachic. It is non-irritating and non-sensitizing and can be safely used on the skin at standard dilution rates. It does, however, contain a high amount of 1,8-cineole and should therefore be used with caution around young children. At Tisserand & Young’s recommendation, do not apply Cardamom essential oil on or near the face of a baby or a child.

*This is one of the safer spicy essential oils to use.

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Cinnamon Bark & Cinnamon Leaf – Cinnamomum zeylanicum

Cinnamon bark and leaf essential oils both contain significant amounts of cinnamaldehyde and eugenol, which can irritate mucous membranes and cause a burning sensation and/or irritation on the skin. The leaf-derived essential oil also contains safrole, which comes with its own list of safety concerns and contraindications. In general, the bark-derived essential oil should not be used on the skin and the leaf-derived essential oil can be used on the skin up to a dilution of 0.6% (per Tisserand & Young), but it is rarely the best choice for topical use.

Both essential oils may interact with drugs and have the potential to inhibit blood clotting, so refer to Tisserand & Young’s safety manual prior to using to see if either oil is appropriate for use in your situation.

It is recommended to avoid using Cinnamon-derived essential oils with young children or when pregnant or breastfeeding.

Cinnamon-derived essential oils are mainly indicated for tropical infections and are best used by a trained, practicing clinical aromatherapist. In most other cases, a more user-friendly essential oil can be just as effective. I’ll leave suggested substitutions at the end of the article.

Clove bud – Syzygium aromaticum

Sun-dried Clove buds are steam-distilled to produce this eugenol-rich essential oil. It boasts analgesic, antifungal, and carminative therapeutic properties and is usually used to help relieve pain, address fungal imbalances, and support the body when dealing with certain types of infection or parasites.

Clove bud essential oil is best suited to short-term use (it comes with a risk of skin sensitization) and should be limited to 0.5% dilution (per Tisserand & Young) for topical applications. It can irritate skin and mucous membranes, so take care to avoid applying blends containing it to areas where there is broken skin. It should be avoided when pregnant or breastfeeding, and with small children. You may have heard that this is a good oil to use for teething children, but the essential oil is not a good choice for this purpose (herbal preparations may be appropriate when prepared properly, but not the essential oil). It also comes with some potential drug interactions and may inhibit blood clotting, so refer to Tisserand & Young’s safety manual for further information about their research on those issues prior to use. See the end of the article for suggested substitutions.

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Ginger – Zingiber officinale

Ginger essential oil can be produced by steam distilling the leaves (more rarely) or the dried rhizomes (though I do know of two distillers that offer a steam-distilled Ginger from the fresh rhizome, which is my favorite). Ginger yields a warming, carminative, anti-inflammatory, circulatory stimulating essential oil that has an affinity for coldness in the extremities, menstrual ailments, aches and pains, and a variety of inflammatory issues. It’s often utilized for digestive complaints as well. There are no known safety contraindications for Ginger essential oil and it can be used at standard dilution recommendations. It may be best to use it for short-term use. Peter Holmes recommends avoiding internal use of Ginger essential oil if pregnant.

*This is one of the safer spicy essential oils to use.

Nutmeg – Myristica fragrans

Steam-distilled Nutmeg essential oil boasts therapeutic properties with analgesic, antirheumatic, antispasmodic and carminative qualities. It’s often employed in digestive support formulas and applications for relief of aches and pains. In large doses, it can be problematic and it should not be used when pregnant or breastfeeding. It should generally be limited to topical applications at a 0.8% maximum dilution because of the presence of methyleugenol and safrole (per Tisserand & Young). Several user-friendly essential oils can be substituted for this one. See the list of recommendations at the end of the article.

Plai – Zingiber cassumunar, Z. montanum

Plai is a relative of Ginger and its essential oil is also produced by steam distilling the rhizome of the plant. The essential oil is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antineuralgic, antispasmodic, and carminative. It is most often utilized in pain-relieving blends for aches, pains, and cramps, but can also be utilized in digestive support blends. There are no known safety issues for this essential oil and it can be used at standard dilution rates. However, I have had a client who experiences an allergic reaction to Plai essential oil, so that may be something to watch for when working with it.

*This is one of the safer spicy essential oils to use.

Substitution Recommendations Based on the Desired Therapeutic Effect

Antispasmodic:

Basil ct. linalool, Bergamot,* Black Spruce, Cardamom, Chamomiles, Geranium, Ginger, Helichrysum, Lavender,  Mandarin, Sweet Marjoram, Sweet Orange, Palo Santo, Peppermint, Ponderosa Pine (or Scotch Pine), Rose, Spike Lavender, Tangerine, White Spruce, Xanthoxylum, Yarrow

Carminative / Digestive:

Basil ct. linalool, Bergamot,* Bergamot Mint, Black Pepper, Cardamom, Chamomiles, Sweet Fennel, Ginger, Laurel leaf, Lemon, Mandarin, Sweet Orange, Peppermint, Plai, Spearmint, Yarrow

Analgesic:

Balsam Copaiba, Bergamot Mint, Black Spruce, Chamomiles, Elemi, Eucalyptuses, Firs, Geranium, Ginger, Helichrysum, Laurel leaf, Lavenders, Mandarin, Palo Santo, Peppermint, Pines, Plai, Rosalina, Rosemary ct. verbenone, Spruces

Expectorant:

Balsam Copaiba, Basil ct. linalool, Black Pepper, Cardamom, Cedarwood, Firs, Elemi, Eucalyptuses, Ginger, Helichrysum, Myrtles, Niaouli, Palo Santo, Peppermint, Pines, Ravensara, Ravintsara, Rosemary, Spearmint, Spruces

Circulatory:

Firs, Ginger, Mugwort, Peppermint, Turmeric, Vetiver

Antitussive:

Cistus, Eucalyptuses, Ginger, Niaouli, Ravintsara, Rosemary ct. cineole, Spike Lavender, Thyme ct. linalol

*phototoxic

Resources and references

The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy – Valerie Ann Worwood
Aromatherapy – A Complete Guide to the Healing Art – Kathi Keville and Mindy Green
Aromatica, V. 1 – Peter Holmes
Essential Oil Safety, 2nd Ed. - Tisserand and Young

I hope this was a helpful resource for you!

Much love,
Erin

 


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Two Ways to Prepare Ginger + a Closer Look At the Herb

Note: Portions of this article have been excerpted from an article originally published in November's issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

If you give my husband a jar of candied Ginger, it'll be gone within a couple of days. A 4-pack of his favorite Ginger soda? Three days later all evidence of its existence will have vanished. A jar of Ginger spread in the pantry? He'll pop that thing open and add Ginger to all of the meals for the next week and there will be no remaining trace of it by the next shopping trip. He really loves Ginger. It might be his favorite thing ever. I like to say he has a supercharged cold constitution because he has such an affinity for the hotter herbs. He can brew his Ginger tea twice as strong as I could ever tolerate mine and he’s been known to eat Cayenne peppers fresh off the plant, whole. So, as you can imagine, he was pretty excited when I planted up a bed of Ginger in our garden this year.

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Ginger is a warming herb that stimulates circulation, helps to relieve nausea, and gets stagnant energy flowing again. It contains over 450 different constituents, yields a vibrant essential oil, and is one of the most versatile pungent herbs in the apothecary. I'm going to share two different ways you can preserve it here today: candied Ginger and pickled Ginger, and then I'm going to share some other ways you can use it and a few of Ginger's noteworthy test results.

HOW TO MAKE CANDIED GINGER

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Slice your peeled Ginger rhizome thinly (about 1/8") and as evenly as you can. A mandoline can be set at the proper measurement and used to keep all of your slices the same thickness, but a kitchen knife will do if you don't have a mandoline. Place the Ginger in a saucepan and cover it with water so that the water sits at least an inch or two above the top of the Ginger slices. Place the saucepan over low heat, covered, and simmer for at least 30 to 45 minutes, or until the Ginger has become tender. Strain the Ginger, reserving the liquid decoction. Weigh the Ginger, then place it back into your saucepan with an equal amount of organic sugar by weight, and add about half of the Ginger decoction back to the pan (save the rest). Place it over low heat and stir until the Ginger basically looks like a big sticky mess in the middle of the saucepan. At that point, strain the Ginger again (reserve the liquid) and spread it out on a cooling rack or cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Separate each slice and toss it in sugar, then leave it to dry overnight before storing. The first batch of reserved liquid can be weighed and added to a saucepan with an equal amount of sugar to create Ginger syrup, which can be added to lemonades and sodas (or even drizzled over pancakes) and the second batch of reserved liquid is already a Ginger syrup and can be used the same way.

HOW TO MAKE PICKLED GINGER

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Slice your  peeled Ginger rhizome as thinly as possible, then sprinkle sea salt over it and leave it to set in a bowl while you prepare your pickling liquid. Combine equal parts pure water and vinegar (either rice vinegar, which is traditionally used, or raw apple cider vinegar) and a tablespoon each of organic sugar and sea salt for each cup of water you've used. Bring the liquids to a boil and dissolve the sugar and salt in the mixture. Transfer the Ginger to a heat-safe jar, then pour the freshly boiled vinegar mixture over it into the jar until the Ginger is completely covered. Let it cool, then store it in the fridge for at least 2 to 3 days before eating (it's safe to eat before then, but the flavor won't be fully developed yet). Consume within a month or two and keep refrigerated.

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT GINGER

  • Growing Ginger is pretty easy and the plants are vibrant and tenacious. They're always buzzing with beneficial insects and can live outdoors year round in growing zone 10, but in all other growing zones, it can be grown in a large pot and brought indoors during the cooler months. I planted mine in a raised bed this year, left it outside during our hot seasons and potted it up and brought it indoors for the winter.
     
  • Ginger can be used in cooking to add a layer of depth to the flavor of your dishes. I like to use a bit of the fresh rhizome when I cook, removing it from the dish just before serving, because it adds a hint of warmth and spice that leaves people saying, "This is so good! What did you put in here?" It adds some zest and energy to the dish without making everything taste recognizably like Ginger.
     
  • Perhaps most well-known for its ability to help soothe an upset tummy, Ginger stimulates the digestive system (and related organs), helps us to better digest proteins, and can be used to relieve nausea, indigestion, motion sickness, morning sickness, and a wide variety of other digestive complaints. One study found that it significantly reduced the severity of chemotherapy-related nausea symptoms for patients who were undergoing treatment.
     
  • As a stimulating expectorant herb, Ginger is often included in formulas that are useful when dealing with a cold or flu, sinus issues, lung complaints, and sore throats. It also boosts the immune system, which is especially helpful when dealing with symptoms of imbalance or illness. Ginger is often included as a catalyst in cold and flu remedies such as Fire Cider and Elderberry Syrup and I personally enjoy using it in facial steams when I’m feeling a bit stuffy or as if I might be coming down with something.
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GINGER'S TEST RESULTS
(references are linked)

One study of Ginger extract, combined with the extract of Garlic, found that they had an antibacterial effect that shows potential for use against multi-drug resistant pathogens, while another found that Ginger extract was notably antibacterial against two different strains of Streptococcus bacteria.

Ginger capsules were used in a study involving 120 college students who had primary dysmenorrhea and the results indicated that the use of Ginger significantly reduced the severity and duration of painful symptoms.

Widely studied for its possible use in the treatment or prevention of diabetes mellitus and related symptoms, one study found that Ginger could protect against the degeneration of renal cells and reduce the severity of damage caused by certain medications, while another study found that it decreased inflammation in patients with type 2 diabetes. Yet another found that Ginger significantly reduced structural abnormalities in the hearts of diabetic rats. Diabetes patients using Ginger have experienced a significant reduction in blood glucose, triglycerides, total cholesterol, LDL and VLDL cholesterol, while also finding that Ginger helps to protect the liver and kidneys, as well as from other diabetes-related complications.

Additionally, Ginger helps people to feel fuller faster, demonstrates antimicrobial and antifungal effects, effectively decreased sperm DNA fragmentation in infertile men, and, in one study, was found to have a potential anti-addictive effect against the chronic use of morphine. It’s also thought to help improve mental function in middle-aged women.

Ginger is consistently tested for anti-carcinogenic effects and has been studied for possible use to prevent / treat such cancers as colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer and cervical cancer.

Practical Applications and Favorite Uses

Ginger can be taken as a tea when dealing with menstrual cramps that feel better when you apply a heating pad to your abdomen. Many people like to add Chamomile to the tea to make it even more effective. A warm compress dipped in Ginger tea or a poultice can also be applied to lower abdomen for the same purpose. To make Ginger tea, pour freshly boiled water over a piece of Ginger about the size of the tip of your thumb (you can also mince or slice the piece or use a bit of dried Ginger powder or a prepared tea bag), cover the mug, and let it steep for about 10 minutes.

Ginger can be infused into a carrier oil that can be used as a base for warming massage oils (think muscle aches and pains), salves and creams (warming, circulatory applications for cold hands or feet), or even scalp massage oils.

I love to add Ginger to hand and foot baths (or even full body baths), especially during the cooler months, to encourage healthy circulation, warm me up, and provide a little immune system boost.

A variety of smoothie chains offer juiced Ginger (you can make it at home too), which can be taken plain or used in Ginger lemonades and  sodas.

Candied Ginger can be stored in an airtight jar and kept in the pantry or your purse. If you deal with carsickness or food-related nausea, it’s a handy remedy to keep on hand. When you make candied Ginger, you also end up with Ginger syrup, which can be added to lemonades, sodas, apple cider and other drinks, or drizzled on pancakes, cornbread or muffins.

Include a bit of Ginger in herbal formulas as a catalyst that helps to boost the effectiveness of the other herbs in the formula. It’s wonderful for encouraging a quick-acting herbal synergy.

Ginger for Dogs

Sprinkle a tiny bit of powdered Ginger in with your dog’s dinner to help encourage healthy digestion. It also works especially well for dogs that are experiencing pain or symptoms of cold in their limbs. I like to use Ginger in my homemade dog food for our German Shepherd – adding it when I’m cooking up proteins, or even adding a piece to the water when I’m making the rice for her food is an easy way to incorporate Ginger into her meals (remove the chunk of Ginger before serving).

Ginger-infused carrier oil can make a great base for topical salves and creams that are massaged into the skin when dealing with symptoms of pain that are relieved by heat.

Note: If you have a dog that already leans toward a hotter constitution, Ginger may not be the best choice for your pup.

NOTES ABOUT SAFETY

Ginger is generally considered a very safe herb, but some herbalists recommend using it only in small doses when pregnant and others recommend avoiding it when experiencing symptoms of heat in the body or when using blood thinning medications.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you like Ginger? Let me know in the comments section below.

Much love,
Erin


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