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Archive for the ‘Essential Oils’ Category

Stretch marks are something that many many women are keen to avoid in pregnancy and there are a number of ways we can support the integrity of the skin to minimise their presence. Stretch marks in themselves are not harmful to us and could be seen as a beautiful testament to our journey to motherhood but, for better or for worse, we live in a culture where the archetype of the ‘maiden’ is held up as the ideal of beauty and most of us are not keen to loose it too quickly. Leaving aside such philosophical debate, in this post I hope to share some information with you about what stretch marks are and how we can help to prevent them, as well as sharing some nice recipes for bump balms and oil blends that you can make up at home.

Stretch marks, or striae, occur in somewhere between 50 and 80% of women during pregnancy, depending on which sources you believe, and result from a tearing of the dermis. This is the middle layer of the skin which is made up of connective tissue and contains collagen and elastin fibers which help the skin to stretch and heal. The tears leave scars which appear purple or red to begin with but usually fade to silvery white. Our skin is designed to be able to stretch and if there is adequate support in the dermis then marks will not occur.

Despite youth being on their side, stretch marks are most likely to appear in teenage mums, possibly because of the hormonal changes that are already going on in their bodies. Steroid hormones called glucocorticoids limit the production of collagen and elastin leaving skin more likely to tear as it becomes less elastic. This is why stretch marks can also occur as a side effect of prolonged use of steroid creams.

Many books and websites claim that whether or not you get stretch marks is entirely genetic and no amount of applying creams or oils will make any difference. This is not completely accurate as, though genetics do play an important role, the few studies done have shown that topical application does help to prevent stretch marks occurring. A German study found that one third of women using a specially formulated cream developed stretch marks as opposed to two thirds in the control group and in one review, two studies were compared and both showed beneficial results. The conclusion was, “stretch marks may be prevented in some women by daily massage but it is unclear if any particular ingredients bring special benefits.” You can read the full review here if you so wish.

Luckily there are foods, herbs, base oils and essential oils which all help to prevent stretch marks and aid in keeping skin supple and supported.

Two of the most important herbs used to prevent stretch marks are calendula (Calendula officinalis) and gotu kola (Centella asiatica). These can both be used in massage as herbal infused oils. Antioxidant rich herbs such as hawthorn, elderberry and bilberry are useful in preventing the breakdown of collagen and these can be taken in teas whilst other deeply coloured berries can be enjoyed as part of the diet. Vitamin C is an important co-factor in collagen production and is found in peppers, tomatoes, dark green leafy veg, berries and many other fruits. Anyone pregnant at this time of year is in luck as rosehips are abundant in Vitamin C as well as abundant in the hedgerows right now. Adequate protein intake is also very important.

Calendula

Bump Rub Recipes and Ingredients:

Here are two simple recipes that you can make up with a variety of different ingredients to suit yourself. First I’ll give the basic outline of the recipe and then a list of possible options below. In the past many people have asked me if they can substitute some of the ingredients in a recipe for others so hopefully this will show you some of the many possibilities. Of course there are many more base oils that you could use but these are the ones I have found to be most useful.

Mama’s Bump Rub Massage Oil:

Massaging your abdomen is such a beautiful way to connect with your own body and your growing baby and is the perfect opportunity to send love to you both.

To make 100ml:
40 mls light oil such as jojoba (or substitute any of the light oils listed below)
30 mls macerated oil such as calendula
20 mls rich oil such as rosehip and/ or avocado (or substitute any of the rich oils listed below)
7 ml GLA rich oil – borage or evening primrose
2.5 mls vitamin E Oil
0.5 ml Essential oil – optional. (Usually this works out to be about 15 drops per 100ml though this depends on the size of the dropper in the bottle. It is always wise to measure essential oils in a pipette until you get to know how much your droppers dispense.)

Mix all ingredients together and bottle. Massage onto abdomen hips and breasts once or twice a day.

Mama’s Belly Butter:

22ml light oil such as jojoba (or substitute any of the light oils listed below)
20 ml herbal macerated oil such as calendula
20 ml rich oil such as rosehip and/ or hemp seed (or substitute any of the rich oils listed below)
30 g Shea Butter (or any of the butters listed below)
5 g beeswax or candellia wax
2.5 ml vitamin E oil
0.5 ml Essential oil – optional

This makes for a rich balm so only a small amount is needed but it’s very nourishing and one I really enjoy using.

Melt the butters in a bain marie then add the liquid oils in a slow drizzle until fully incorporated. Let cool a little but not enough to begin setting then add the vitamin E oil and essential oils. Mix well, pour into jars and allow to set fully before using.

Variations:

One tip when choosing base oils is to check for the smell as some high quality oils will have a strong smell of nuts or seeds. If so make sure to mix small quantities with other oils that don’t smell so strongly otherwise you will mask the aroma of the essential oils as they are in a low dilution. Be aware that no oil should ever smell off or rancid however.

Rich Oils: These oils are particularly nourishing and high in nutrients that can literally work to feed the skin. They have a thick texture however which is why I always recommend mixing them with lighter oils. Rich oils that would be particularly nice in a bump rub include avocado, rosehip, macadamia nut, hemp seed and wheatgerm.

GLA rich oils: Evening primrose or borage both contain high levels of GLAs and are a useful addition to a bump rub in small quantities. Make sure you buy these oils very fresh as they have a shelf life of only six months. It is always wise to store them in the fridge before use.

Light Oils: Jojoba, apricot, almond, hazelnut or grapeseed (refined) would all work well as lighter oils to make your finished product easier to apply. They also contain many nutrients of their own.

Macerated Oils: herbal infused oils such as calendula or gotu kola are the obvious ones to go for but chamomile, lavender or rose would also be lovely choices here.

Butters: Coconut, cacao, shea or mango butter are all lovely on the skin. Choose coconut or mango if you want something lighter, cacao for a firmer texture and shea for a creamy feel.

Essential Oils: Many essential oils are best avoided during pregnancy until the birth itself when they can play an important role. However there are several that are very safe and fine to use from your second trimester on in low percentages like in this recipe. For these rubs I would stick to one or a combination of the following oils; mandarin, neroli, tangerine, lavender and ylang ylang. If you want something refreshing I would use mandarin and tangerine or something more relaxing for the evening could perhaps contain lavender and neroli. Ylang ylang gives a beautiful floral and exotic smell. Neroli is a very expensive essential oil but it is prized for it’s regenerative abilities so is ideal in preventing stretch marks.

Do leave a comment below if you have any queries or anything I have said is unclear.

Happy bump massaging!

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With the weather staying mild so late this year, Christmas has snuck up on me before I am ready for it and I realise now, with just three weeks to go, that it’s time to get into action.

Since beginning this blog, the topic I have been questioned about more than any other is how to make creams. Unlike simple salves and balms  cream making can be notoriously tricky as it requires mixing together oils and waters which naturally want to separate. There are a number of ways to achieve a nice cream with a good consistency and, over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting the main recipes I have used, hopefully in time for you to make some for your own Christmas presents too.

In this post I want to introduce some of the ingredients which can be used in cream making to enable you to adapt the recipes more to your own specifications. There are so many different base oils, herbs, essential oils etc. that its impossible to cover them all here, but I’ll include the main ones I have found useful after much experimentation. If you have any questions or want anything clarifying then do ask in the comments section and I will try to answer if I am able.

The three recipes I will post are:
A simple cream involving no emulsifier – my own variation on Rosemary Gladstar’s classic.
A cream using emulsifying wax – as seems to be most popular in herbal recipe books.
A cream with VE and MF emulsifiers – as used by many UK herbalists and popularised by Aromatic in their courses.

In my experience, different recipes work better for different people. I’m a firm fan of the first but others I have met prefer to use emulsifying wax. It’s all down to personal preference as some like a richer cream whilst others like something lighter with a higher water content. If your cream is for therapeutic use then you need to consider whether the condition you are treating is dry, flaky and in need of protection, in which case a richer cream with a higher oil content is preferable, or whether it is red, itchy, weeping  and hot, in which case a lighter cream with a higher water content and cooling, astringent oils will have better results.

Ingredients used in Creams include the following:

Base oils and herbal infused oils – Base oils are usually vegetable oils, pressed from nuts, seeds, kernels and other fatty parts of fruits and vegetables. Things to be aware of when choosing base oils include the consistency and smell. Some oils are rich and moisturising and good for drier skins like avocado, hemp, macadamia, argan and rosehip. Often you would only use these in a smaller percentage along with a lighter oil like almond or apricot. Oils like rosehip, hemp and macadamia can have quite a strong aroma, especially if they’re high quality and unrefined so factor this into your recipe and don’t use too much. Lighter oils that are good for oiler skins include hazelnut, grapeseed and jojoba. Sensitive skins respond well to apricot oil. As this topic is something of a vast one, I will dedicate a post to exploring some different base oils in further detail soon. Be aware that some wonderfully nutritious skin oils like borage and evening primrose have a very short shelf life, around 6 months, so ensure you get them from a good supplier and store them in the fridge. Never buy oils that smell rancid and be aware of using nut oils on those with allergies. Herbal infused oils are simply vegetable oils infused with herbs. You can read my post on how to make them here.

Solid oils and butters – These include cacao butter, coconut oil, avocado butter, mango butter and shea butter and they are rich and moisturising as well as adding body to a cream. For a lighter effect which sinks in to the skin easily use coconut, or for a rich, nourishing hand cream opt for shea. Cacao is nice in both body and face creams and, if you get it food grade, it lends a delicious chocolatey aroma to your finished product.  Somewhere between a liquid oil and beeswax or plant waxes in consistency, fats will partly absorb into the skin but will leave something of a protective film behind.

Beeswax and plant waxes – These thicken and add body to creams and also help a little with emulsification. They are not well absorbed into the skin creating a protective barrier that helps it maintain its own moisture and keeps it hydrated, especially during these wintery months with their high winds.

Waters – These include spring water, floral waters, herbal teas and aloe vera. You can vary them endlessly to suit your purpose. If you are making a plain base cream try using just spring water or if it’s a luxury face cream then use rose floral water. If you want a soothing cream with anti-inflammatory properties then try a strong tea of chamomile and calendula.

Vegetable Glycerine – Glycerine is a sweet, syrupy, clear liquid that helps draw moisture to the surface of the skin. In very dry climates it can apparently take the moisture from deeper layers of skin so best to avoid using it, but if you live in the damp UK, it can be a nice addition and improve the consistency of your creams.

Tinctures – A small proportion of a suitable herbal tincture will add therapeutic value as well as helping to preserve your cream. Try calendula in a soothing cream, comfrey in a bruise healing cream or yarrow in an anti-inflammatory cream. Do beware though that alcohol can irritate sensitive skins.

Essential Oils – The volatile oil content of the plant is distilled, pressed or extracted with solvents leaving a highly concentrated and powerfully aromatic liquid that can be used for strong therapeutic benefits or simply to make the product smell delicious.

Emulsifiers – These help the water and oil parts of a cream to mix and leave a homogenous finish. Common ones include emulsifying wax, vegetal and VE/MF emulsifiers all derived from vegetable sources, albeit after some intense processing! Another commonly used and readily available emulsifier is borax, though I have heard mixed reports of its safety and prefer not to use it myself.

Vitamins and minerals – These can be added to creams and usually come as a powder or in liquid form. Vitamins A, C and E are the ones most commonly used as they are good anti-oxidants and can help prevent oils going rancid.  Sometimes minerals like zinc are added to sun creams to create a barrier against the suns rays.

Natural preservatives – These include rosemary extract and grapeseed extract. Both are powerful anti-oxidants that can increase the shelf life of creams. They also have some anti-bacterial action but many say it is not powerful enough for products sold commercially. Grapefruit seed extract is more powerfully anti-microbial but there is much evidence out there that suggests it is quite problematic so I suggest reading the research yourself before using it.

Synthetic preservatives - If you are only making creams for friends and family you have no need to go down this route but if you are making creams to sell you may need to add a synthetic preservative which will protect against moulds, yeasts, bacteria etc. Though there is conflicting evidence as to whether all types are carcinogenic, I would avoid parabens altogether myself. The safest ones seem to be Preservative 12 and Preservative Eco, both sold by Aromantic. I often avoid using these where possible but for creams with a high water content they are necessary if you want your product to last longer than a couple of months in the fridge.

I will post the first recipe in the next couple of days so check back soon.

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I love to make up blends of herbal oils and often give the people I see a little bottle of something to use externally alongside taking their herbal tinctures or teas. It could be a neck and shoulder rub, a stomach massage oil, a foot massage oil or something for helping to heal scar tissue. I believe that taking some time to massage a part of your body that needs some love and attention is a wonderful technique for healing as it brings our awareness to the places that need it and encourages an attitude of self care and nurturing. The blend I have given out more than any other is my breast massage oil so I thought I would share the recipe with you here.

Before I started to see clients I don’t think I was really aware of how many women suffer from sore or tender breasts, often with lumps and swellings, which can vary a lot with hormonal fluctuations throughout their cycle. The breasts are made up of glandular tissue (which includes lymph nodes and milk producing lobes), fatty tissue and fibrous or connective tissue. The lymphatic system does not contain its own pump so it relies on the movement of muscles to keep it flowing nicely around the body. As there are no actual muscles within the breasts themselves, massage becomes even more important for healthy breasts and lymphatics.

You can use any nice base oils to perform the massage but herbal infused oils add extra therapeutic value alongside that special something which I like to think of as the plant’s own consciousness. The base of my breast massage oil is violet (Viola odorata) infused in sweet almond oil, though a good quality, organic sunflower oil could also be used quite happily.

If you don’t have any violet infused oil (and now is of course the wrong time to be making it from fresh) you can use dried plant material infused into the oil using the heat method which I outlined in this post. I personally prefer the fresh oil because the flowers impart a delightfully gentle aroma but using the dried leaf will still be effective.

Calendula oil, which can be found in many health food shops, makes a lovely substitution, especially when mixed 50/50 with lavender infused oil which can be made from dried flowers all year round. A small amount of yarrow or chamomile infused oil makes a useful addition if there is inflammation. Rosemary infused oil can be added at about 25% if there is a need to increase circulation and many people also recommend dandelion flower infused oil. Rose infused oil is another delightful addition, though I tend to stick with a few drops of the essential oil as it has a stronger aroma which resonates so much with the heart and with feelings of self-love. You can also add castor oil which is useful for removing congestion but, as it’s ridiculously sticky, I’d keep it to around 5%.

If you really want to keep things simple then stick with a plain almond, apricot or coconut oil, all of which have wonderful healing properties of their own.

The recipe I use as an all purpose breast massage oil is as follows:

28ml Violet infused oil
2ml vitamin E oil
2 drops each geranium and rose essential oils
Combine all the ingredients in a 30ml bottle and use to massage the breasts regularly.

Geranium essential oil is one of the best oils for balancing the endocrine system so is lovely for sore breasts due to fluctuating hormone levels. It also has a very balancing effect on the mind and emotions too.

When massaging the breasts I like to do a combination of circular movements with gentle kneading and a sort of pulsing action which is great at getting the lymph flowing. There is a good video here which outlines some techniques for this lymphatic pumping action.

Another great tip for getting the lymphatics flowing well in the breast area is to splash them with cold water after a hot bath or shower. Alternatively you can alternate a few splashes of hot water (though not unbearable of course) with cold water for a few minutes.

Finally, (in something of an aside) while we are on the subject of lovely ladies with voluptuous breasts, regular readers of this blog may remember the rescue hens we adopted during the summer. One of them, the delightful Primrose, has shot to stardom and is appearing in the British Hen Welfare Trust’s 2012 calendar, having fought off hundreds of other hopefuls to become Miss June.

This is how Primrose looked when we first got her:

And this is her calendar girl shot, only a couple of months later.

All the money from the sale of the calendars goes to support the charity, so if you or someone you know is a hen lover, you can pick up a copy here!

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I finally managed to get out onto the top of the Downs last week to collect my harvest of yarrow. It was the prefect day for it, with bright sunshine to dry off the dew without being so hot that the volatile oils were too quick to evaporate. Now the tincture is steeping away and the flowers are dried for teas so it seems like the perfect time to share a few words about this most valuable of healing remedies.

Yarrow atop the South Downs.

Despite being one of the most important medicines in my healing repertoire, I have been avoiding posting about yarrow for quite sometime. This is for the simple reason that it is useful for many things it’s hard to know where to start, yarrow really requires an entire book to itself! For simplicity’s sake I will stick to the basics here but I will revisit this wonder herb with more specific information in the future.

Yarrow is a common weed native to the Northern hemisphere that grows freely in grassland, chalk land, roadsides and other sites with well draining ground. It is instantly recognisable due to its feathery leaves, strong stems and broad white flower heads made up of many small individual flowers.

Yarrow as a Wound Healer:
This is perhaps yarrow’s most famous and most ancient use. Yarrow was found amongst other medicinal herbs in the Neanderthal burial site in Iraq which dates from around 60,000 BC and has become famous in herbal medicine as one of the earliest indications of human’s use of medicinal plants.  Myth tells us it was given to Achilles by the centaur Chiron so he could use it on the battlefield and its Latin name, Achillea millefollium, still reflects this tale. Its common names too included Soldier’s herb, herba militaris, Knight’s milfoil, carpenter’s grass and nosebleed. Yarrow is one of the most useful wound herbs we have as it staunches bleeding and is antimicrobial and pain relieving too.

Yarrow for Colds and Fevers:
It’s next greatest claim to fame is it’s ability to make us sweat. When fever is building, drinking hot teas of yarrow can help it to break by relaxing the circulation and the pores of the skin, allowing us to sweat freely and ridding the body of infection. Dr Christopher once wrote, “Yarrow, when administered hot and copiously, will raise the heat of the body, equalise the circulation and produce perspiration.” It may seem inadvisable to raise the body heat in cases of fever but by using yarrow we are supporting the body in responding to infection naturally. The classic formula for colds and flus is yarrow, peppermint and elderflower which should be drunk as a hot tea as soon as possible. The the patient should then wrap up warmly, keeping a hot water bottle at their feet and wait to sweat. When there is a high body temperature but no sweating, this formula is especially useful to help release the heat via the skin. Now is the time to get these herbs in stock before the cold and flu season strikes.

Yarrow for the Circulation:
Yarrow’s affinity for the blood and circulation can be seen internally as well as externally. It tones the blood vessels at the same time as dilating capillaries and moving the blood, thus giving it a wide range of applications. It has been used to treat high blood pressure, often in combination with Hawthorn and Lime blossom and it has a reputation for being able to prevent blood clots. It’s tonifying action makes it particularly useful for treating varicose veins and haemorrhoids. Yarrow really is a great equaliser, it moves where necessary and tones where needed. This dual action is what has given it is reputation for being able to both cure and cause nosebleeds!

Yarrow for the Digestion:
Being bitter, pungent and aromatic means that yarrow is particularly useful for stimulating the digestion and getting the bile and pancreatic juices flowing. Because of it’s affinity to the circulation as well it can help move congested blood in the portal vein which, in turn, helps the liver. Matthew Wood talks about using it for colitis and diverticulitis because of it’s ability to tone and heal the mucus membranes of the digestive tract. It was also an old traditional remedy for bloody diarrhoea and dysentery.

Yarrow for the Reproductive and Urinary Systems:
Maria Treben considers yarrow “first and foremost… a herb for women” and quotes Abbe Kneipp in saying “women could be spared many troubles if they just took yarrow tea from time to time.” It is such a wonderful herb for the reproductive systems because it can both staunch heavy bleeding and stimulate scanty bleeding. It is also wonderful when there is congestion resulting in dark clotted blood and period pains. It is useful for vaginal infections or irregular discharge as well as spotting between periods.

Yarrow is a good urinary anti-septic and, when drunk as a warm or cool (rather than hot) infusion, the diuretic properties are emphasised making it a useful remedy for cystitis and urinary tract infections. It has also been praised for helping cases of urinary incontinence. Culpepper informs us that it “helps such as cannot hold their water.”

If we think about some of the ways in which yarrow might work we can start to draw together all these different facets of it’s healing ability. When you taste yarrow it is pungent and aromatic with quite a bitter aftertaste. The volatile oils which make it so aromatic and warming are dispersive in nature and therefore are one of the things that gives yarrow this wonderful ability to move congestion and stagnation, equalise the circulation and open up the skin. Volatile oils are also often anti-microbial. The bitterness balances it’s warmth with more cooling qualities and also stimulates the digestion. Though the bitter gets our juices flowing and the aromatic qualities get things moving, you can also tell yarrow is an astringent which is what makes it so helpful for toning blood vessels. It may seem like a plant of contradictions but yarrow is just another example of how wonderfully complex our herbs can be. They demand that we know them, rather than just a list of their actions, and that we let go of linear thinking and delve into the realms of experiential understanding instead.

Preparations are usually made from the areal parts including leaf, flower and some stem, though I usually leave out the toughest bits. They can then be used in a variety of ways:

Tea – Take hot for colds and flus and warm or cool for cystitis. Or use as a wash for grazes or rashes.

Tincture – For chronic congestion in the reproductive system and high blood pressure (teas could also be used here).

Baths – For skin irritations.

Sitz baths – For cystitis, vaginal infections, bleeding fibroids, haemorrhoids, post-partum healing, heavy periods etc.

Footbaths – For chilblains.

Infused Oil – For first aid healing ointments or soothing creams for irritated skins.

Poultice or Compress – Spit poultices for wounds and first aid situations, compresses for larger areas of grazed skin.

Wound powder – Finely powdered dried herb can be sprinkled on minor wounds.

Spray – The tincture or herb infused in witch hazel can be sprayed on to varicose veins to tone and move stagnant blood.

Flower Essence – Said to be protective for those who are overly sensitive to their environments and the emotions of others.

Essential Oil – A wonderful anti-inflammatory for skin conditions.

Please note, yarrow is best avoided during pregnancy.

Yarrow was also considered a sacred herb by many cultures of the world and has lots of interesting folklore attached to it. I’ll save that for another post though!

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For many people anxiety and stress go hand in hand with a tense stomach and disturbed digestion. Whilst stress affects digestion in everyone, some people are particularly prone to experiencing problems.  All digestive issues, from gas to inflammatory bowel conditions are affected by stress, even if there are many other contributing factors.

Our digestion is controlled by the enteric nervous system which is linked to the central nervous system by millions of nerves. When we are stressed we enter the ‘fight or flight’ response which priorities blood flow to the brain and muscles in case we have to run from or outwit a possible danger. This is, of course, useful in situations where there is a real threat but for many of us, our constant deadlines, hectic schedules and million and one expectations lead to a chronic state of stress in which the blood flow to the digestive organs is seriously impaired.  Stress causes everything to contract and constrict and can therefore affect the production of  digestive juices, cause the stomach and or intestines to spasm, create inflammation and encourage infection. When stress becomes chronic, so do digestive problems.

Chamomile

Goethe believed that the gut was the centre of all human emotions. When I used to practice as a massage therapist I would always ask people first if they wanted me to massage their stomach as many people dislike being touched in this area. I can notice this in myself too, if I am feeling anxious at all then my stomach feels far to sensitive to touch. This is because the nerves are all activated, leaving us with sensations such as ‘butterflies in our stomach’ or that awful knot of fear in our solar plexus.

There are many herbs that work on the interface between the nerves and the digestion- Chamomile, Cardamom, Rosemary, Lavender, Lemon Balm and other Mints to name just a few. All these are aromatic, therefore diffuse stuck energy and tension at the same time as stimulating digestion. A calming cup of chamomile tea, taken 2 or 3 times a day, is a great way to gently soothe your nerves and digestion. Specific conditions will need individualised treatment but for those who suffer more general digestive disturbances related to stress these herbs can be very useful.

Catmint

At the moment, everyone I am seeing has some level of stress related digestive disturbance, even if that is not the primary reason they are seeking treatment. Recently I saw someone who was so tense that their appetite had disappeared almost completely, a sure sign that the digestive organs are very constricted. I came up with this tummy rub as a way of not only relaxing the digestive system but also encouraging people to take a few moments in their hectic schedule to be fully present with themselves, take some deep breaths and become mindful of their state of being. It’s easy to gulp down a tincture or tea on your way to work but you have to take a bit of time to massage your stomach and even if you feel like it’s an extra thing to do in the morning, once you have begun you cannot help but calm down a little.

When massaging the stomach, always move in deep rhythmic movements in a clockwise direction (as if the clock were on your abdomen rather than facing you!) as this is the way the intestines move waste along. Take a moment to breathe deeply and become a little more mindful of yourself and the present moment. This need only take a few minutes but that can be enough to relax the digestion, the nervous system and the mind.

Soothing Tummy Rub:

50ml base oil (almond, sunflower, apricot etc)
10 drops Neroli essential oil
5 drops Roman Chamomile essential oil
5 drops Cardamom essential oil

This makes a blend of approximately 2%, perfect for adults and children over 12. For children between 4 and 12, halve the amount of essential oils and for babies to 4 year olds use 5 drops chamomile only to make a 0.5% blend or stick to chamomile infused oil instead. You could also make it into a salve or balm (see my previous post) if that is your preference.

Chamomile is a fabulous essential oil for calming the nerves and soothing digestion, helping to expel bloating, flatulence and gas. Cardamom is warming, carminative and antispasmodic and also has a relaxing and uplifting effect on the nerves. Neroli is one of the best essential oils for the nervous system being deeply relaxing and uplifting. It’s also good for promoting flow of digestive juices.  All three are considered children’s oils as they are safe, supportive, caring and calming.

I’ve had very positive feedback from those trialling the oil so far and I encourage those of you who also suffer from a tense stomach to give it a go too. The perfect way to soothe, nurture and let go.

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For a long time I was confused about the difference between salves, ointments and balms. Some writers use all three terms interchangeably whilst others have separate definitions, many of which contradict those from other sources. In this post I wanted to tell you a little about how I make salves, ointments and balms with the intention of sharing some hopefully useful tips and practical information.

Salves, ointments, unguents, balms, call them what you will, what all these preparations have in common is they are primarily a semi-solid mix of fatty ingredients such as oils and waxes, usually with no water part at all, though they may contain a small amount of herbal tincture or similar. This differentiates them from creams and lotions which contain both fats and waters.

Generally, ointments and salves are considered much the same thing; a healing external preparation made with medicinal substances in a base of oils and waxes. According to the Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health an ointment is “a semisolid preparation for external application to the skin or mucous membranes. Official ointments consist of medicinal substances incorporated in suitable vehicles (bases). Called also salve and unguent.”  All in all the definitions are pretty vague which is probably why we find discrepancies.

Suitable ingredients for a salve include many vegetable oils (such as olive, sunflower, sweet almond, apricot) and beeswax or vegetable wax such as candelilla or carnuba. In older herbals lard or animal fats were often used and these are enjoying something of a comeback amongst some traditional herbalists but, as a vegetarian, they don’t feature on my radar so I won’t be talking about them here. Many herbal books include recipes made with mineral oil byproducts such as petroleum jelly or vaseline but again, as I don’t work with them, I will not be including any information here.

As making salves involves some degree of heat it’s best to use oils that are fairly heat stable, the main ones to avoid are oils like flax seed, evening primrose and borage. If you want to include these then stir them in after the other ingredients have been melted and are beginning to cool.  Coconut oil is the most heat stable vegetable oil but as you will not be heating it very high, oils like olive, sunflower and apricot kernal can be happily used.

Beeswax comes in two varieties, white and yellow but the white is bleached and processed so I never use it, it’s always better to stay as close to nature as possible. Candelilla wax is derived from the leaves of a shrub native to Mexico and is slightly harder than beeswax so you generally want to use a fraction less in a recipe. Carnuba is a similar product derived from a Brazilian Palm. The advantages of these two is that they are vegan so products can be made that are suitable for everyone. The disadvantage is that they come from a very long way away (at least if you live here in Europe!). It’s a tricky choice as some producers of bee products are far from ethical or kind to their bees. I do use beeswax but always try to get it from a local supplier that I know I can trust.

Basic Salve Recipe:

90ml herbal infused oil
10g beeswax

Basic Vegan Salve Recipe:

92 ml infused oil
8g candelilla wax

Medicinal Salve Recipe:

75 – 80ml infused oil
10g beeswax
10ml tincture
2 – 5 ml essential oil

Method:

Weigh or measure out the wax (preferably grated or cut into small pieces) and the herbal infused oil and place in a double boiler or bain marie. Heat over a low heat until the wax is fully melted and then stir well. If adding tincture drizzle it in slowly now whilst whisking lightly with a fork. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly but not set. You can test the consistency of the salve by dipping the tip of a teaspoon into it. Such a  small amount will set quickly and will show you how the finished product will be. If you are not happy you can return it to the heat and add a fraction more oil/wax until you get it just right. Whilst the salve is still liquid, stir in the essential oils, pour into glass jars and cap immediately to stop the volatile oils from evaporating. Allow to cool and set completely before using.

You can make salves for use as chest rubs, for treating aches and pains, for protecting and healing dry and sore skin and many other uses. The recipe can be easily adapted according to your preferences or required ingredients. A very simple skin healing salve can be made with calendula infused oil and beeswax or a chest salve with olive oil, wax and 5% suitable essential oils. The possibilities are limitless!

Balms are similar to salves, some people class them as the same thing entirely whilst others make a slight differentiation.  According to James Green who wrote The Herbal Medicine Makers Handbook, “a balm is simply a salve that contains a relatively high amount of volatile oils. Upon application is delivers a notably intense cloud of aromatic vapours.”  My understanding of a balm is that it is a salve that also contains butters such as cacao or shea butter making for a creamier end product. These are just individual definitions though so you can use whichever you prefer.

Cacao is fairly hard at room temperature so makes for a slightly firmer end product where as shea is very creamy and therefore a lovely addition to lip balms or body butters. Mango butter is also delicious and has a lower melt point and a more slippery consistency.

Basic Balm Recipe:

67 ml infused oil
25 g cacao butter
5 g beeswax
2 ml vitamin E
1 ml essential oils of choice

Basic Body Butter Recipe:

57 ml infused oil
20 g shea butter
20 g cacao butter
2 ml vitamin E
1 ml essential oils

These balms can be made as above by melting the oils, butters and wax in a bain marie then adding the essential oils and vitamin E at the last moment so they will not be affected by the heat.

I hope that was helpful rather than just confusing the issue further! Happy making.

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It’s been exactly a year since I started writing this blog, a year in which I’ve learnt lots and made some lovely blogging friends, at home and abroad. I thought I’d mark the occasion with a small giveaway and a little retrospective of some of my herbal highlights from the year past.

I mentioned in our last blog party how I like to make up blends of oils in little rollette bottles that can be easily carried around and applied in a moment of need. This month I’ll be giving away one of my favourites, a blend of rose petal and tilia infused oils with 5% organic essential oils of rose otto, geranium and tangerine. You can apply it to your pulse point or rub a little under your collarbone to experience the heart opening and uplifting effects. As it’s a strong blend of essential oils you wouldn’t use it on your face but more as a natural perfume and instant aromatherapy. Also, the rose petals are infused in sweet almond oil so best to avoid this if you’re allergic to nuts.

I wanted to make something small enough to send easily so this is open to everyone, wherever in the world they live. To enter the giveaway just leave a note in the comments with your name. I’ll pull the names out of a hat in 10 days time, that’s Wednesday the 23rd.

Now I shall cast my eye back over the last year of nature gazing and medicine making, just click on the links to read any of the posts that interest you.

Last February I enjoyed getting to know the Yews in our local area.

In March I was picking cleavers and having fun in the kitchen with oranges.

By April my garden was waking and there was an abundance of Ramsons in the woods.

In May I had fun musing on Comfrey, getting to know Speedwell and delighting in Hawthorn.

June rolled around and I was to be found in the company of Horsetail and Linden.

July had me blissed out in fields of Chamomile and discovering Wild Marjoram.

Then in August we finally moved out to the countryside and I had fun harvesting nettle seeds along the track leading to our house.

In September I got carried away writing posts on Elder

Whilst in October I was back spending time with the Hawthorns and warming up with Cardamom.

November brought the first frost and with it the sweeter rose hips and sloes. It also saw me digging Nettle roots and enjoying Rosemary medicine.

The year ended with a thick fall of snow and I stayed warm with Ginger and calm with inspiration from our ‘no time for stress‘ blog party.

Then in January I mused on detox, enjoyed back pepper and listed some of my favourite herbal hugs.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog and continue to do so as we see what 2011 will bring.

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