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infused oils

Herbal Aromatherapy™ Care + Recipes for Cold Sores

Over the years, I've had a few friends request blends and protocols to help them deal with their cold sores. It took a little bit of time to perfect my go-to recipe, but now that I've tested a variety of blends and found one that really works for the majority of people who have tried it, I thought I'd share the recipe and its variation options (along with a few other tips) with you today.

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STEP ONE: HERBAL OIL

The first thing you'll need to do to make an herbal aromatherapy oil for cold sores is infuse a carrier oil with herbs. I have a whole article written about the different ways you can do this (click here to read it). The herbs you'll need are St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), and Calendula (Calendula officinalis).

St. John's Wort

Infuse the fresh flowering tops into your carrier oil using one of the methods described in this article. You must use fresh flowering tops, not dried, in order to extract the analgesic (pain relieving) hypericin from the plant material.

St. John's Wort has analgesic and antiviral effects that will help to both reduce the pain caused by the cold sore and combat the virus causing the cold sore.

Calendula

Calendula flowers will need to be dried before infusing into your carrier oil and since I use Calendula infused oil in so many preparations, I recommend infusing them in a separate jar than your other carriers. Calendula oil benefits from a short application of heat before straining. You can do this over a double broiler on the stove (low heat) or you can leave the jar outside for a couple of hours on a sunny, summer day to allow the sun to do the work for you. The heat will help extract even more of those skin-healing resinous compounds from the Calendula.

Calendula is going to add a layer of skin-repairing, soothing properties to the herbal oil base of the blend. It has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm can be infused into its carrier after it has been freshly dried. You want to use plant material that has been harvested within the last month or two for the best effects, since dried Lemon Balm loses many of its aromatic components quickly.

Lemon Balm is a specific herb for the virus that causes cold sores and is a potent antiviral that will help to both treat and prevent the cold sore.

Which oil to use?

You can use whichever carrier oil you have on hand. I prefer Sunflower seed oil because it's a nice, lightweight oil that isn't too greasy-feeling on the skin, but olive oil, jojoba, coconut oil, etc. would all work just as well.

Blending the base recipe

Once your herbal oils have finished infusing and have been strained, create your base recipe by combining them as follows:

  • 3 parts St. John's Wort infused carrier oil
  • 3 parts Lemon Balm infused carrier oil
  • 2 parts Calendula infused carrier oil

This is your finished base recipe. You can use it as-is if you are sensitive to stronger plant products like essential oils, or you can continue to Step Two.

STEP TWO: ESSENTIAL OILS

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Lavender essential oil will help to reduce inflammation and pain caused by the cold sore and will also soothe and nourish the skin.

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm essential oil is often sold as Melissa essential oil and will contribute its powerful antiviral effects to the blend in an added layer of therapeutics.

If you don't have this essential oil on hand, feel free to leave it out of the recipe, as it is one of the pricier essential oils available. The herbal oil base will have a small amount of essential oil in it. You can also use Lemon Balm hydrosol, separately, instead.

Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)

Tulsi essential oil is both analgesic and antiviral and will contribute those therapeutic effects to the finished product.

Adding the essential oils

Add your essential oils to your base oil blend in the following proportions:

  • Lavender essential oil: 12 drops per ounce of carrier oil (2% dilution)
  • Lemon Balm essential oil: 3 drops per ounce of carrier oil (0.5% dilution)
  • Tulsi essential oil: 1 drop per ounce of carrier oil (<0.5% dilution)

Total essential oil dilution: ~3%

Do not store this blend in a roller bottle because you'll risk contaminating the product.

Step Three (optional): Salve or Lip Balm

If you prefer to use a more solid product, you can add a little bit of beeswax (and/or cocoa butter) to your base oil blend before adding your essential oils. To do so, melt the beeswax over low heat in a double broiler, then stir in your base oil until thoroughly combined. I like to use a 5:1 or 6:1 oil:beeswax ratio for my products, but if you prefer a harder consistency, try a 4:1. Remove from the heat, stir in your essential oil blend, then pour into tins or jars and leave to cool.

I don't recommend storing this recipe in lip balm tubes. Tins or jars are preferred to avoid direct-application contamination. Always use a clean finger when you dip your finger into the product and do not double-dip with the same finger.

Protocol Tips

  • Apply often, at the first sign that a cold sore might be coming on, and then for several days after it has gone away.
     
  • Lemon Balm and Tulsi tea can be taken regularly to help prevent the onset of a cold sore. Check for contraindications before consuming.
     
  • In a pinch, a tincture of Lemon Balm, St. John's Wort, or even Tulsi can be applied instead of this recipe.

How about you? Do you have a recipe that you like to use for cold sores?

Much love,
Erin

 

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

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


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

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the THREE main TECHNIQUES

The "It Takes Time" Method

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

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

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

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

The "Low and Slow" Method

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

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

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

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

The "I Need It Now" Method

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

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

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

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double and triple infusions

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

SINGLE HERBS OR BLENDS

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

FRESH OR DRIED?

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

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

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

WHICH PLANT PARTS?

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

Which carrier oil?

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

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

to blend or not to blend

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

Sunlight or Darkness

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

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HOW LONG TO INFUSE

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

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

ENERGETIC ENHANCEMENTS

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

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

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

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

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

how to use herbal infused oils

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

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

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

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

Much love,
Erin

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7 Ways to Preserve Your Herb Harvest

When your herb garden is flourishing so much that you have more herbs than you know what to do with and you have extra herbs even after you’ve shared some with friends and family and folks in need, what do you do with the surplus? Let's talk about ways to preserve your herbs so you can use them throughout the year.

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Tincturing

A tincture is a liquid herbal extract that, when properly executed, can effectively preserve your herbs for months or even years. Tincturing is one of the simplest, most traditional ways to preserve herbs for medicinal use. The two most common menstruums for preparing tinctures are alcohol and apple cider vinegar. If you choose to use alcohol, you’ll want to use something that is at least 40 proof. If you have liver problems or prefer not to use alcohol, raw, organic apple cider vinegar can also be used for tincture making. The shelf life of vinegar-based tinctures is shorter (usually 6 months to a year or so, if properly stored), while an alcohol tincture could last several years. The menstruum you choose may impact which constituents are drawn out of your herb into the carrier, so if you’re interested in a specific action or component of the herb you’re using, you may want to choose your menstruum accordingly.

The Simpler’s Method of Tincturing: Fill a jar with your freshly harvested herb (or dried herb, if it’s one of the plants that prefers to be tinctured when dry) and pour your menstruum over the herb until the jar is full of the liquid. Tightly secure a lid on the jar, give it a good shake, infuse your remedy with intention, and leave it to macerate for 4-6 weeks, shaking it daily. At the end of that period, strain out the herb and bottle your finished tincture in a sterilized, labeled jar.

Note: Glycerin is also sometimes used to make tinctures (glycerites) and is a suitable option for preparations meant for use with children, folks who prefer not to take alcohol-based remedies, and animals. Glycerites can be effective, but are far less potent than either of the other two options.

Drying

Many herbs can easily be air dried. Harvest your herb, remove the bottom leaves from the stem, tie several stems together, and hang the bundle upside down for a couple of weeks. You can also use clothespins to hold individual stems upside down while they’re drying. Alternatively, lay your herbs out on a drying screen in a single layer and allow them to rest there until completely dried.

For thicker herbs that take longer to dry and may dry inconsistently, you might prefer to use a dehydrator to dry your herbs. Spread them out in a single layer on your dehydrator tray and dry until they no longer have any moisture left in them.

Freezing

Preserving herbs via freezer can be one convenient way to preserve them for cooking. There are a few different methods that you can try.

In Water: Chop your herbs into the size you like them to be when you use them for cooking. Place the chopped herbs in the wells of an ice cube tray (fill ‘em up!) and pour filtered water over the herbs. Place the tray in the freezer and let sit until frozen, then remove the herbal ice cubes and store them in an airtight container for future use.

In Oil: This method offers two options. The first is to follow the same steps listed above for freezing chopped herbs in water (just substitute olive oil for the water) via an ice cube tray. The second is to blend your herbs with olive oil and freeze the pesto-like paste in ice cube tray wells or silicon molds.

On Their Own: Lay the dry herbs out in a single layer on a cookie sheet or tray and freeze. Once the leaves are frozen, move them all into an airtight container and store in the freezer until needed.

Herbal Infusions

Herb infused oils are one of my favorite tools for my apothecary. Many of them can be used in the kitchen to add flavors to dishes, while even more are wonderful for use in herbal products meant for use on the skin.

You can read more about infusing herbs into oil here. Infusing an herb into honey is another great option too.

Canning

Some herbs can be used to make syrups or jams / preserves that can then be canned to extend shelf life. Think Hawthorn berry jam, Elderberry preserves, Violet flower syrup… all valuable medicinally and able to be easily preserved via canning.

Butters

Making herbal butters is another traditional method of preserving herbs for use in the kitchen. Chop your herbs, fold them into butter, and freeze the butter for future use. You can either place the herbal butter into silicon molds to create pretty shapes, freeze, then store in an airtight container in the freezer, or you can spread the herbed butter out on a sheet of freezer/parchment paper, shape the butter into a cylinder (like a log), and freeze that for future use.

How to you like to preserve your herbs? Let me know in the comments below.

Much love,
Erin


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Herbalism 101: Make Skin-Nourishing Salves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much love,
Erin

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