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Archive for the ‘Essential Oils’ Category

SPOILER ALERT!!! This post contains information which may jeopardise some people’s surprise on Christmas Day. If you happen to be a close friend or family member I suggest you do the right thing and turn back now. (Yes, that means you Rachel Fleur).

This months’ blog party is kindly hosted by Brigitte over at the lovely and informative My Herb Corner and is on the topic of Herbal Christmas Gifts.

Whilst I’m still struggling to believe that we are approaching the end of November, it certainly is time I started getting organised on the present front. I’m well known for pressing remedies on to my loved ones for their varying ailments, so at Christmas, I like to move away from the medicinal and create some herbal treats that are luxuriant and pampering as well as promoting good health in the winter months.

This year’s line up include some lovely bath and body oils, a deeply moisturising hand and foot cream, some soothing lip balms, a rejuvenating eye gel and some nourishing face cream.

Christmas Bath and Body Oils:

I always like to have some lovely oil blends on hand to add to the bath, use in massage or simply to moisturise my skin. Here are this year’s Christmas themed oil blends which consist of 2% essential oil in 100ml base oil. 2% usually works out as 40-50 drops of essential oil, depending on the size of the dropper. It’s important to blend essential oils in a base oil rather than just dropping them into the bath so as to avoid the possibility of irritating the skin as the essential oils do not always disperse well and can remain in concentrated blobs on top of the water. These oils do not use any emulsifiers therefore they will create an oily film on the water, though as you only need to use a tablespoon per bath, I have never found this a problem. Emulsifiers can be added which will make a more milky bath oil which disperses well in the water but the ones used for this purpose are usually synthetic so I like to avoid them where possible.

Winter Warmer- I created this blend with a couple of family members in mind who suffer from chilblains in the winter months and could use this in a bath or footbath to ease their discomfort. To 100ml of Apricot base oil I added 20 drops Rosemary essential oil, 20 drops Grapefruit and 10 drops Black Pepper. This not only stimulates the circulation and the lymphatic system but also makes a lovely revitalising morning bath for relaxing winter weekends. In fact I’ve just enjoyed one this morning.

Christmas Gifts-  To 50ml of Gold of Pleasure Oil (Camelina sativa) and 50 ml Sweet Almond I added 25 drops Frankincense, 15 drops Sweet Orange Oil, 5 drops Myrrh and 5 drops Clary Sage. This blend feels wonderfully Christmassy and promotes visual dreaming. I like to give it with a bar of Rococo’s Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh Chocolate. Enjoy the chocolate in the bath for ultimate indulgence.

Oh Christmas Tree- This blend was created for my husband who loves the smell of pine and also loves luxuritaing in the bath. To 100ml hazelnut oil I added 15 drops pine essential oil, 15 drops silver fir and 15 drops juniper berry. Earthy, fresh and cleansing this is great for washing away the pollution after a long day Christmas shopping in town or to bring the smell of the forest home with you after a brisk winter walk.

Luxury Hand and Foot Cream:


This was made with my mum and sister in mind, both of whom like to look after their hands and nails. The Comfrey is healing and mineral rich, the Avocado and Shea are deeply moisturising, the beeswax is protective and helps to emulsify the cream and the Horsetail is famous for its silica content which helps to strengthen the nails. The Jasmine makes it sexy and luxurious and the spearmint is reviving and refreshing for tired hands and feet.

40ml Comfrey root infused oil
40ml Avocado oil
40g Shea Butter
80ml Horsetail decoction (simmered 15 mins)
1 tbsp Vegetable Glycerin
15g Beeswax
2ml Vitamin E
10 drops Vitamin A
20 drops Jasmine essential oil
5 drops Spearmint essential oil

Melt the beeswax in a bain marie and add the shea butter and oil when it’s already soft. In a separate container, mix the horsetail infusion and vegetable glycerine. Take the oils off the heat and allow to cool a little. It’s important to get the oils and waters to the same temperature to enable them to mix properly, otherwise your cream will separate, I find I have better results when both parts are still warm but the oil part is staring to set a little. I use a small hand blender to mix them as I’m not making a large enough quantity to use my big blender. Begin to blend the oil mixture and slowly add in the waters, a drizzle at a time. Continue to blend until you have a nice smooth, even, creamy consistency. Stir in the essential oils and vitamins E and A once it is cool and has thickened. Mix well and spoon into jars. This cream will last a couple of months out of the fridge but 6 months in the fridge. It has a lovely thick, green appearance and is incredibly nourishing to dry and hard working hands.

It’s really a myth that you have to use emulsifiers to get a properly mixed cream, it just takes dedication and a bit of practice, I had several disasters before I got the knack and even now I sometimes get it wrong. I do occasionally use emulsifiers to make a face cream as it’s hard to make a very light consistency without them, but I like to use all natural products where possible and the emulsifiers used in cream making, even when derived from natural products, are always highly processed in some way. Ultimately oil and water don’t want to mix but they can and do, only your will must be greater than theirs!

Soothing Lip Balm:

This is a simple and delicious lip balm recipe.

40ml Calendula infused oil
30ml Macadamia nut oil
15g Cocoa Butter
15g Beeswax
1ml Vitamin E
10 drops Vanilla Essential Oil

Melt the cocoa butter and beeswax in a bain marie, adding in the macadamia and calendula and stirring well until everything is dissolved. remove from the heat, add the Vitamin E and Vanilla, stir again and pot in 6 15ml jars. Leave on the side to cool. A good trick it to almost fill the pots, wait a few minutes, then top them up. This ensures an even surface on top of the balm, otherwise you can get a dent in the middle as it settles.

Rejuvenating Rose Hip Eye Gel:

This eye gel is also simple to make and is based on antioxidant rich rose hip.

80ml Rose hip infusion (1 tsp rose hips simmered in 100ml spring water)
5ml Witch Hazel distillate
1/2 tsp Xanthan Gum
1/2 tsp Vegetable Glycerine
1/2 tsp Eyebright tincture
I tsp Aloe Vera gel
2ml Rosehip seed oil
10 drops each Vitamins E and A

Whisk all ingredients lightly together except the xanthan gum – I actually use a stick blender in the little measuring jug that came with it to make this recipe which works well but there isn’t enough volume to use a large blender. Sprinkle  the gum slowly and finely into the mixture whisking all the time until a gel begins to form, whisk until there are no lumps in it. There is no preservative in this formula except the vitamins and tincture so I suggest it is kept in the fridge where it should last about three months. You need such a tiny amount of this gel that I recommend only using small jars so it does not get wasted.

Unfortunately I ran out of time this week to make the face cream but i will be sure to post the recipe when I get round to it.

Good luck with your Christmas shopping and making!

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Essential Oils are the volatile aromatic compounds extracted from whole plant material. There are many theories about how they are used by the plants themselves; some say they are just metabolic waste products, others believe they are used to attract pollinators with their enticing aromas but many believe that one of their major functions is in protection of the plant from bacteria, viruses, harmful insects and fungi.
One of the primary uses for essential oils in humans is also in adding the immune system. As each plant experiences slightly different environmental conditions every year, the exact chemical make up of an essential oil will always vary slightly which ensures that viruses and bacteria do not become resistant to it. Like us, plants are dynamic living beings who are quick to react to their environment and modify their responses accordingly.
Essential oils are easily absorbed into the human body and therefore can be powerful allies in keeping us strong and healthy. To be able to use these oils in our own healing is a great gift from the plants. They are highly concentrated and as a result must always be diluted for topical use. A 2.5% blend of essential oil to base oil (such as sweet almond, apricot or olive) is a rough guide, though for children 1% is more appropriate or 0.5% for those under 2 years old.
Oils that are particularly nice at this time of year include lavender, thyme, eucalyptus, black pepper, ginger, lemon, rosemary, ravensara and myrtle.

Thyme is a lovely herb and essential oil for supporting the immune and respiratory systems

Here are some ideas of ways you can use the oils to support you in the colder season:
  • Footbaths: A few drops each of frankincense, lavender and thyme diluted in a tablespoon of base oil and added to a hot footbath is a lovely treatment to de-stress and support the immune and respiratory systems all at the same time.
  • Shower rub: Make a 2.5% blend of your favourite immune suppoting oils in a carrier oil, such as almond, and rub it vigourously all over the body before getting into a hot shower or bath. The steam will open the pores and help you absorb the oils better. 20 drops each of bergamot and lavender and 10 of black pepper in 100ml jojoba would make a lovely shower rub.
  • Chest salve:. A chest salve makes an effective immune and respiratory supporting treatment that is great for adults and children alike, though care must be taken with the oils chosen and the strength of the blend for children, I would recommend a blend of herbal infused oils rather than essential oils for very young children.

A very simple chest rub can be be made with the following ingredients:

  • 90 ml sunflower oil
  • 10 ml beeswax
  • 50 drops essential oil –  for example; 25 each of thyme linalol and eucalyptus radiata

Melt the beeswax in a bain marie and add the sunflower oil, mixing well. Remove from the heat and pour into a 100ml jar. Allow to cool slightly (but not set) and stir in the essential oils. Allow to set properly before using by rubbing a generous amount over the chest area and upper back. Breathe deeply.

  • Diffuser: Most essential oils will have a cleansing and anti-microbial effect when burnt in a diffuser or oil burner. Cinnamon and frankincense; bergamot and clove; niaouli, lemon and lavender  or black pepper and ravensara all make great combinations depending on the specific effect you are looking for. A little diffuser on your desk if you work in an office is particularly useful to purify the air around you.
  • Inhalation: Steaming your face over a bowl of hot water containing a few drops of tea tree, eucalyptus or lavender can be a lovely way to clear the sinuses and support the immune system. Chamomile is a great choice where tissues feel sore and inflamed.
  • Gargle: Dilute one drop of organic lavender or tea tree in a bottle containing 250ml filtered or spring water. Cap it and shake vigorously to disperse the oil. Use this as a gargle at the first sign of a cold or when you get that warning tickle at the back of your throat.

These simple remedies are enjoyable to use and can help keep you immune system healthy during the winter months.

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Spice up your life!

When Debs over at Herbaholics Herbarium announced the theme for this months blog party I didn’t know how I’d ever choose what to write about. The world of spices has always captivated people’s imagination and, in times gone by, some were worth more than gold. Here in Western Europe, where we have few local spices but can so benefit from their warming actions, the Spice Trade has been big business since Ancient times. Spices are the only non-local plant medicines I would never want to manage without, especially at this time of year when all I want is to settle down by the fire with a book, a cat and a cup of fresh ginger tea with a splash of elderberry syrup. Initially I wasn’t sure whether to take a more general look at spices and their uses as medicine and share some of my favourite recipes or whether to focus on one in particular and, if so, which one. My decision boiled down to black pepper or cardamom, both of which I use regularly in food, medicine and aromatherapy. In the end cardamom won the day, though don’t be surprised if a black pepper post pops up here too sometime over the colder months!

I have already written about cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) and it’s natural affinity with rose in this post and in my chocolate recipe here. They both resonate with the heart and are famed for their aphrodisiac properties. Even though many spices are considered aphrodisiacs, for me, cardamom is the true spice of love.This is because it has a very balanced effect, being slightly stimulating- as are all spices to some extent- but also calming and centring. In Ayurvedic medicine cardamom has been used to enhance meditation for this very reason- whilst helping to pacify the mind it also aids in restoring focus and preventing you from dropping off to sleep on your meditation cushion! By increasing vitality, calming the spirits and improving concentration it is a great tonic for our busy 21st Century minds. In Asia it’s also been used in the treatment of depression.

Though it is native to India and South East Asia,  Guatamala and Mexico are now also large exporters, though the Indian cardamom is said to be highest in quality. Part of the ginger family, Zingerberaceae, it is a perennial herb with large leaves and fleshy underground rhizomes. The part we use medicinally is the pale green seed pods containing the small dark seeds which are rich in volatile oils.

Cardamom is best known in herbal medicine as a digestive remedy, especially when the problems are caused, or made worse by nervous tension. It has proved useful particularly for gas, bloating and nausea and can help calm vomiting. It is helpful to chew or drink as a tea after a heavy or rich meal or when one has the sense of having overeaten. The Ancient Egyptians are said to have used it in this way to sweeten their breath. It has also been found useful for headaches which are caused by indigestion. It is a helpful remedy for stimulating the appetite and some have used it with success in cases of anorexia. It’s ability to stimulate digestive secretions combined with its mood lifting properties would certainly make it a remedy worthy of consideration in such cases. As one of the safest digestives it is also suitable for children.

In my experience, Cardamom is a wonderful medicine for those constitutions who have a tendency to nervousness, over-thinking, anxiety and poor digestion. They can be prone to muscle contractions, stiffness, fatigue, low libido and poor concentration. This makes it beneficial for the Ayurvedic Vata types, or in Western energetic terms, those with a constricted tissue state. This is the person who never seems quite relaxed, who feels the cold and tends to worry, both of which may result in a stiff or contracted body posture.

In Ayurvedic medicine, cardamom is used as a remedy for clearing phlegm from the GI tract and the respiratory system. It helps drain damp and mucus from nose and sinuses and is warming and drying but not excessively so, therefore it is considered tridoshic, meaning it can be used with all constitutions, though in my small experience it’s true affinity is for those with a Vata constitution. To find out more about the Ayurvedic constitutions, or doshas,  and take a quiz to help you determine which one you are, have a look at this website here. Of course you really need to see a practitioner to get a true assessment!

Cardamom is also thought helpful for genito-urinary complaints. Anne McIntyre writes that it can help strengthen a weak bladder and according to some writers, it can help ease symptoms of PMT, though I have no expeience of using it in this way.

Here are some of my favourite Cardamon teas blends. Always crush the pods a little in a mortar and pestle to release the volatile oil containing seeds:

  • Cardamom and Rose – (of course.) To lift the mood, pacify the mind and instil feelings of love and wellbeing.
  • Cardamom, Chamomile and Peppermint – As the perfect after dinner beverage to settle the stomach, improve digestion and relieve gas.
  • Cardamom, Orange Peel and Elderberry – Make as a decoction for a warming and immune supporting winter tea.
  • Cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, black pepper and rooibos – A delicious chai enjoyed with a little almond milk and honey.

Cardamom pods

Cardamom can also be taken in tincture form and a little is a great addition to many formulas where digestion is a factor. It’s also lovely infused in honey or in a mixed spice vinegar or you can make a delicious electuary with ground cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, a little nutmeg and a little clove mixed with honey.

Cardamom as an essential oil is warming, invigorating, antiseptic, anti-spasmodic and aphrodisiac. It can be used in blends to massage the stomach to improve digestion or to ease muscle fatigue and it can be smelt straight from the bottle to alleviate nausea.

I love a few drops, mixed with a tablespoon of base oil, and added to the bath. Some of my favourite blends include – you guessed it – cardamom and rose; cardamom, black pepper and juniper; and cardamom, chamomile and mandarin, a blend which is also suitable for children in very small amounts.

Cardamom is of course also wonderful in foods. I use it to flavour rice and in curries and I also buy the ground cardamom to flavour cookies, smoothies, chocolates and cakes. Delicious.

I hope you get chance to enjoy this delightful, gentle and warming spice this autumn.

References:
The Complete Herbal Tutor – Anne McIntyre
The Yoga of Herbs – Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad
Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine – Thomas Bartram
The Directory of Essential Oils – Wanda Sellar
Picture of botanical illustration of cardamom curtesy of wikipedia.com.

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Wild marjoram is a beautiful herb which grows throughout Europe, though it is native to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia. Just to confuse you, wild marjoram, Origanum vulgare, is actually oregano and is different, though closely related to pot or sweet marjoram, Origanum majorana. Part of the mint family, or Lamiaceae, it has oppposite leaves and lovely purple flowers which grow in terminal clusters throughout July and August.

Wild Marjoram on the Downs

Oregano is generally considered a culinary herb but, in fact, it has a long history of medicinal use as well. In A Modern Herbal, Mrs Grieves tells us, “Marjoram has a very ancient medical reputation. The Greeks used it extensively, both internally and externally for fomentations. It was a remedy for narcotic poisons, convulsions and dropsy. Among the Greeks, if Marjoram grew on a grave, it augured the happiness of the departed, and among both the Greeks and Romans, it was the custom to crown young couples with Marjoram.”

High in flavonoids, oregano is prized as an antioxidant and is therefore useful to include in the diet on a regular basis. It is also highly antimicrobial and it was used primarily as an antiseptic by Hippocrates who employed it in the treatment of sore throats, respiratory ailments and digestive upsets. In more recent years it has been found to be active against MRSA, having more impressive results than many of the commonly used drugs. The essential oil is particularly useful and nurses and doctors could benefit from adding it to handwashes instead of the antibacterial soaps commonly used which actually cause the creation of further resistant strains of bacteria. A strong infusion can be used to help disinfect wounds or as a mouthwash, helping to heal ulcers and keep gums healthy.

Its beautiful flowers are loved by butterflies and bees

It is high in thymol, also found in thyme, which has expectorant properties making an infusion of oregano a useful remedy for respiratory problems such as unproductive coughs or congestion when used as a tea or steam inhalation. It is also a useful digestive remedy – being highly aromatic it helps to dispel gas and soothe intestinal spasm.

Like sweet marjoram, it’s also useful for aches and pains. The leaves can be mashed with a little hot water to make a poultice which is then laid on the problem area and secured with bandages, or alternatively, use a compress made from a cloth soaked in the infusion. The infusion can also be added to the bath to ease rheumatic pains and muscular stiffness. I harvested enough of this lovely wild marjoram to make an infused oil which I did using the heat method. It smelt so yummy I kept half for use in salad dressings and the other half will be used in infused oil muscle rubs and salves for achy joints.
Wild marjoram is a joy to see growing. It is vibrant, healthful and vital and it helps us to be so too.

The beauty of wild flowers

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Elderflowers

The Elder tree has been held as sacred in various folkloric traditions, as has the Elder Mother who presides over it. Any lady whose age numbers in the thousands has learnt a thing or two about natural beauty and, luckily for us, the Elder Mother shares some of her secrets in the creamy white elderflowers that adorn her trees in May and June. Elderflowers have long been used in skincare recipes for their softening, anti-inflammatory and beautifying properties and infusions have been used to even the skin tone, ease sunburn and prevent wrinkles.

I love elderflower infused oils for use in face and body care recipes so this year I decided to experiment with a few different base oils to see how they captured the fragrance and nourishing properties of the elderflowers. With the resulting products I made a face oil, a day cream and a body butter, the recipes for which are included here.

Along with my usual sweet almond oil infusion, I chose to try safflower oil and macadamia oil as well as a couple of solid oils- coconut and mango butter. Safflower oil is popular in cosmetics because it is high in essential fatty acids. Like sweet almond, it is a light oil with little odour so I thought it would work well for capturing the scent of the elderflowers. Macadamia is a rich, fatty oil that it particularly beneficial for dry or mature skins and has a deep nutty aroma. Coconut oil has a lovely light consistency which is perfect for cream making though its strong smell can detract from the elderflowers, so I also tried the mango butter which has a similar, though slightly creamier consistency, with hardly any smell. Coconut oil is considered cooling and elderflowers have been recommended for sunburn so I thought this would make a nice aftersun if blended with some aloe vera and lavender water.

It’s important to use only organic, cold pressed oils to retain all the therapeutic benefits and ensure there are no traces of harmful chemicals in your products and, of course, make sure you only harvest elderflowers from areas you’re sure haven’t been sprayed.

Fresh Elderflowers give up their scent and beautifying properties quite quickly and will go off if left to infuse too long. I chose to sun infuse my oils for about 10 hours on a bright windowsill which was plenty of time for them to absorb all the goodness without getting that ‘cat’s pee’ smell that can accompany over done elderflowers! With the coconut and mango butters I melted them in a bain marie before pouring them over the elderflowers and allowing to infuse for a day before re-warming and straining. You can use the heat method but the oils can quickly degrade at high temperatures so I prefer to sun infuse where appropriate. For a detailed explanation of how to infuse an oil see my previous post here.

Elderflower Oils

As elderflowers have very fine pollen I chose to strain the liquid oils through a coffee filter to ensure as much of the plant material as possible was removed and prolong the life of the finished oil. The melted butters went quite happily through a muslin cloth however. I was really happy with all the different infusions, especially the mango butter and safflower which, I thought, retained the best smell. The macadamia oil has a really decadent feel but would be too heavy to use alone so I decided to mix equal parts of the three liquid infused oils to make a delicious face oil. By mixing all three you get the benefits of them all with a really nice consistency. Don’t feel you have to use the same oils as me, feel free to use any that you fancy and you can also just use one rather than a combination for ease and practicality.

Elderflower Face Oil:
This recipe makes three 30ml bottles
30ml elderflower infused in safflower
30ml elderflower infused in sweet almond
30ml elderflower infused in macadamia
3ml vitamin E Oil

I use just 3 or 4 drops of this oil massaged into damp skin at night and it feels so soft in the morning.

I also made a face cream for use in the day.

Elderflower and Rose Moisturiser:
50 ml rosewater
25ml aloe vera gel
1/2 tbsp vegetable glycerine
10g beeswax
50ml elderflower infused oil (I did 20 safflower, 20 almond and 10 macadamia)
20ml elderflower infused mango butter (or coconut butter. Use plain if you have none infused)
5ml Vitamin E
5 drops Vitamin A
10 drops Rose Otto essential oil

This makes a really lovely, rich cream so a little goes a long way. Melt the beeswax in a bain marie and add the mango butter and oil when it’s already soft. In a separate container, mix the aloe vera, rosewater and vegetable glycerine. Take the oils off the heat and allow to cool slightly before adding the vitamins A and E. Whilst this is cooling you can warm the waters mixture by placing the container in the pan of hot water the oils were melting over. It’s important to get the oils and waters to roughly the same temperature to enable them to mix properly, otherwise your cream will separate. For more detailed instructions see my cream making post here. I use a small hand blender to mix them as I’m not making a large enough quantity to use my big blender. You could also use an electric or hand whisk. Begin to blend/ whisk the water mixture and slowly add in the oils, a drizzle at a time. Continue to blend until you have a nice smooth, even, creamy consistency. Spoon into a jar or jars and stir in the essential oils. Pop in the fridge for a short while to cool. This cream will last a couple of months out of the fridge but 6 months in the fridge.

Elderflower Softening Cream

I’m currently making a toner to go with this by infusing elderflowers in witch hazel distillate. For normal or combination skin mix 25ml of the resulting liquid with 75ml of rosewater and place in a spray bottle to spritz on after cleansing or to refresh the skin throughout the day. For dry skin, drop the witch hazel to 10ml and up the rosewater to 90ml and for oily skin you can increase the witch hazel to 40ml and use 60ml of lavender water instead of rose.

Finally I made a really simple body butter with the following ingredients;
60 ml elderflower infused in sweet almond
30ml elderflower infused mango butter
30ml shea butter
Melt all the ingredients together in a bain marie/ double boiler, mix well and pour into a 120ml jar. Allow to set in the fridge before using liberally.

Do patch tests first to ensure you aren’t sensitive to any of the ingredients in these recipes.

And last but not least, don’t forget to thank the Elder Mother! ;)

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Almonds are one of my favourite nuts (along with walnuts), not only because they’re so delicious but because there are so many things you can do with them. I have been making almond milk to drink every day for a couple of years but only recently have I been even more decadent and enjoyed almond milk baths. As I hate to waste, I try to use up the pulp left over from the almond milk in a variety of ways, including making face and body scrubs like the one below.

Almonds are the most nutritious of all nuts containing calcium, magnesium, iron, Vitamin E, trace minerals and fatty acids. Using the milk in the bath helps soothe tired, dry, rough or dehydrated skin.

Almond Milk Bath:

1/2 cup almonds soaked for a few hours
1 litre of water or herbal infusion of your choice, lavender or rose are beautiful for bath milk
4 drops essential oils if desired, again you can’t go wrong with lavender, chamomile or sandalwood for soothing skin and helping you unwind

Blend the almonds and water/infusion in a fairly powerful blender and strain through a jelly sieve or muslin cloth. Save the almond pulp that’s left over for making the scrub below. Stir in the essential oils and pour into a hot bath just before getting in. Let the day’s troubles float away.

Almond Pulp Body Scrub:

1 cup almond pulp
1 tablespoon finely ground sea or crystal salt
A teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon honey
4 tablespoons sweet almond oil or other base oil
1 tablespoon ground lavender flowers
4-5 drops essential oils of your choice

Mix all ingredients together and store in the fridge before taking into the shower with you and scrubbing your cares away.

Ground almonds have been used in natural cosmetics for centuries for their beautifying and nutritious properties and the pulp from almond milk has many similar benefits though some of the fats and nutrients have already been extracted into the milk. It is also softer than normal ground almond after being blended with the water. The salt is cleansing, both physically and energetically as salt can help absorb any negative energies we have picked up throughout the day. The pepper will boost the circulation, the lavender and honey are soothing, healing and antiseptic and the oil helps trap moisture in, leaving you silky and smooth.

You can always save a cup of the milk to sip whilst you recline in the tub, it’s nice warmed with some cinnamon and a touch of honey.
Enjoy.

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We had a lovely evening at last week’s Potions group in which I taught about how to make your own herbal infused oils.

We made a soothing calendula oil and some salve with comfrey infused oil.

Here are some of the group straining, pouring and bottling their oils.

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Here are the notes I wrote for the class for those of you who are new to herbal infused oils, including two simple methods and some basic recipes.

Herbal Infused Oils

Oils infused with herbs are a lovely way to utilise the healing properties of plants which contain volatile oils and fats. Unlike essential oils they are easy to make at home and usually very gentle on the skin. You can use them to make massage oils, to heal skin problems, or to make lovely subtly scented balms and creams.

Plants containing volatile oils are generally those commonly used in aromatherapy. Aromatic plants such as lavender, rosemary, thyme and sage make lovely infused oils, as do peppermint, melissa, chamomile, rose, yarrow, juniper and pine. You can experiment with any plants that you know have a high volatile oil content.

Also plants that have a high level of other fat soluble components; including fat soluble vitamins, antioxidants, resins and saponins, can be extracted by macerating in oil. Calendula is a good example. When you pick calendula flowers you can feel how resinous and sticky they are, a good sign they will work well in oil. Other suitable plants include comfrey, St John’s wort, viola, plantain and mullein.

You can use a variety of different oils as the base, or menstrum, for the infusion. Olive is classic for the leafy herbs, sunflower is lovely for calendula, sweet almond or apricot make a great base for creams and jojoba is light and well absorbed.

How to Make Infused Oils:

The Sun Method-

  • You can generally use dried or fresh plant material when available, though some herbs, such as calendula work better as dried and others, such as comfrey, are better from fresh.
  • If using fresh herbs, pick them on a dry day after the sun has dried the morning dew.
  • Make sure you pick clean plant material from an area you can be sure has not been sprayed with chemical fertilisers. This is particularly important as you are not going to wash the plant material, you want it to be as dry as possible to prevent spoilage, though you can bush off any dirt with a soft bristled brush.
  • If using leaves such as comfrey or plantain, it’s good to let them wilt overnight to reduce some of the water content but flowers are best used fresh.
  • Chop fresh leafy herbs finely and lightly fill a completely dry jar with the material. Its important to cut the herb first as it exposes more of the plant to the oil, making for a better infusion. Flowers can be put in whole and dried herbs will most likely come already cut.
  • If using fresh herbs you can pour the oil of your choice straight on but if using dried, its nice to warm the oil first in a bain marie to get things going. Fill the jar almost to the brim with oil as an air gap will promote oxidation and spoilage.
  • Stir the contents with a wooden chopstick or glass stirring rod until all the bubbles have dispersed and cap with a lid or a piece of kitchen roll held in place with a rubber band. This works well for fresh plant material as it allows moisture to escape.
  • You can leave it to infuse on a bright sunny windowsill or in a nice warm spot such as beside the boiler or in an airing cupboard. I like doing calendula in the sun but it’s best to leave it somewhere that is consistently warm and windowsills can get cold at night which encourages condensation.
  • Stir every day for the first two weeks then leave to infuse for another two to four, that’s four to six weeks in total. Calendula and some other oils are nice to double infuse- leave for 3 weeks, strain, then fill the jar with fresh flowers and pour the partially infused oil back on top and repeat the process.
  • Don’t forget to label your jars so you remember when to strain them. Strain through a sieve covered in cheesecloth or a jelly bag. If you used fresh material it is wise to let it stand for a week and check if any water has settled in the bottom of the jar. If so pour off the oil and discard the water.
  • Bottle the resulting oil and label and date.

The Heat Infusion Method:

This is a quicker method if you need to prepare your oil for immediate use.

  • Use about 50-75g of dried herb, or 75-100g fresh herb per 300ml base oil. This is an approximate amount as some herbs are bigger and fluffier than others! Basicially you want the oil to just cover the dried herb.
  • Place the oil and herbs in a double boiler or bain marie with a tightly fitting lid over a pan of gently boiling water.
  • Allow to infuse at a continuous heat for 2 hours making sure the water does not boil away! Stir every half hour or so and check the progress of your oil.
  • Strain and bottle or repeat the process if you desire a stronger, double infused oil.
  • Always remember to label and date your products.
You can also heat infuse your oils as above in an oven on the lowest possible temperature.

Some Simple Recipes for infused Oils:

Comfrey Salve:
Ingredients:
70ml Comfrey macerated oil
25g Grated cocoa butter
5g Beeswax

  • Melt the cocoa butter and beeswax in a double boiler or bain marie over a pan of boiling water.
  • Add the comfrey oil and stir slowly until completely dissolved. Don’t allow the oil to start to bubble, turn the heat down immediately if this happens.
  • If you would like to add an essential oil then do so now, mix well and pour into jars. Leave to set in the fridge for a few hours before using liberally.

Comfrey has a long history of traditional use for healing damaged tissues such as strains, sprains, broken bones and slow healing wounds. Its common name was ‘knitbone’ and it possesses profound healing capabilities which enable it to aid in the ‘knitting’ together of tissues. It may also be helpful for inflammation and rashes. Comfrey oil is not recommended for internal use or use on broken skin but you can use this salve freely for bruising or any injury of the muscles or bones. Even if you have to wear a cast you can rub the slave into the skin at the top and bottom to help the bones heal strong and healthy.

Simple St John’s Wort Lip balm for Cold Sores:
Ingredients:
60ml St John’s wort infused oil
15g Cocoa butter
15g Shea butter
10g beeswax
25 drops Melissa Essential Oil
25 drops St John’s wort tincture
25 drops Melissa tincture

  • Melt the cocoa butter, shea butter and beeswax in a bain marie over a low heat and when completely liquid add in the infused oil and mix thoroughly.
  • Add the Melissa oil and the tinctures and whisk lightly with a fork to ensure the tinctures are well mixed with the oils.
  • Pour into small jars and use liberally when you feel the first tingle coming on.

St John’s Wort and Melissa are both anti-viral and therefor helpful for treating the herpes virus that causes cold sores.

Rosemary Warming Massage Oil:

  • Infuse fresh rosemary in oil according to one of the methods detailed above.
  • To 100ml of the oil add 10 drops rosemary essential oil, 5 drops ginger, 5 drops black pepper and 5 drops cardamom.
  • This would be a wonderful oil for promoting circulation and easing sore muscles and joints.

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This months blog party is hosted by Sarah Head over at Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife on the topic of ‘Herbs for Aches and Pains.’

Most of us suffer from aches and pains from time to time and, whether it’s the odd twinge or continuous and debilitating muscle pains, herbs are here to help. Most aches and pains tend to fall into the category of either ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ conditions. A hot condition is likely to be inflamed, red, swollen and sore and could be due to rheumatic problems, strains, sprains or other injuries. Cold conditions might manifest as dull muscular aches that are better for warmth and pressure.
Here are a few of my favourite simple herbal tips for easing you through when these afflictions strike.

Baths- The first port of call for any cold, dull, achy, muscular pains is a good soak in a hot bath. Debs and Elizabeth have already mentioned how great Epsom Salts are for adding to the bath water in their posts and I agree whole heartedly! This is because Epsom salts are rich in magnesium, a vital mineral for aiding muscle relaxation and easing tension. Many of us are deficient in magnesium and stress depletes us further, so its important to make sure we are getting sufficient levels by consuming lots of leafy greens and enjoying nettle nourishing infusions regularly. Here is a great bath blend for driving out the ache;

3 cups epsom salts
1/2 cup mustard powder
3 drops black pepper essential oil
3 drops rosemary essential oil
Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a bowl and add to a full hot bath. Stay soaking for at least half an hour to get maximum benefit.

If you feel achey at the onset of a cold or flu try sipping a nice cup of Linden blossom tea whilst you bathe.

Oils- A good rub down with a herbal infused oil will do wonders for relieving stiffness and soreness and many infused oils are beneficial for aches and pains. If you’re experiencing a cold, dull ache, then oils that are warming and stimulating to the circulation will help ease the pain and tension. My favourite is a combination of Rosemary and Ginger infused oils but Cayenne is also great as, like ginger, it is anti-inflammatory and pain relieving.
If you have joint pains then a simple salve made of comfrey infused oil may be beneficial.
If there is nerve pain St. John’s Wort is the oil of choice, which it is also well suited to back pain.
Lavender and Chamomile infused oils are soothing and pain relieving for tired and aching muscles.

Poultices and Compresses- If the pain is localised, for example in a knee or the lower back, then this is a good way of delivering the healing properties of the herbs directly to the area.
For a cold, tense ache, a fresh ginger poultice can help. Just grate a good inch or two (depending on the size of the area) of fresh ginger root onto a muslin cloth or stretch bandage. Cover well with a couple off layers of the fabric so that the ginger is not in direct contact with the skin. Apply to the area and keep in place with more bandages. Remove immediately if it starts to irritate.
Hot or inflamed joints can benefit from fresh comfrey poultices or a compress of chamomile tea. The difference between a poultice and a compress is that compresses uses a cloth soaked in liquid, usually herbal infusion or tincture in hot water, whilst a poultice uses fresh plant material, moistened, grated or blended with water and laid on the skin, either directly or covered by light cloths. Horsetail infusion also makes a great compress for sore joints and Maria Treben recommends making a Horsetail poultice by steaming the plant material before laying on the problem area.

Teas and Tinctures- A simple chamomile tea can ease tension and sooth mild pain. The tincture of Crampbark, Viburnum opulus is a great muscle relaxant as it works on the smooth muscle found in the intestines and uterus as well as the striated, or skeletal muscle. I love the marshmallowy feeling Crampbark gives me and it seems to help muscle tension and menstrual pains as soon as I swallow it. You can also mix a few drops of Crampbark with a little comfrey salve to have a wonderfully relaxing and soothing topical effect. Wood Betony, Stachys betonica, is also a lovely nervine and pain soother, usually used for headaches and problems associated with the head but useful for aches and pains in general too.

I hope these are ideas prove useful and everyone is enjoying this fine Spring weather :)

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Over the last month or so we’ve been getting a lot of oranges in our organic fruit and veg box. I guess the apples and pears are running low so they’re bulking up the local produce with a few things from further afield. I don’t usually go for oranges but I’ve found myself enjoying them more and more and have been inspired to use the peel in a variety of ways as well as eating the fruit.

Orange peel has many beneficial qualities, being higher in vitamin C, flavanoids and enzymes than the fruit itself. I have been using large strips of it fresh in teas, on its own or with other herbs, and also cutting it into smaller pieces and drying for future use.

The peel has long been used in Chinese Medicine, from both the sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) and the bitter (Citrus aurantium) as well as from tangerines (Citrus reticulata). It had several key functions including ‘moving the chi’ to reduce any accumulations, or congestions, whether in the respiratory tract, bowel or liver.

Primarily a digestive aid, orange peel is aromatic, carminative, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic and can help with bloating, wind and constipation. The bitter orange peel is more cooling and than its warmer, sweeter cousin and so has a greater affinity with the liver and gallbladder being both a cholagogue and a choleretic. Sarah Head has written a lovely post on citrus bitters on her blog which you can read here.

Being thermogenic, orange peel can boost the metabolism which makes it helpful for weight loss, as does its ability to aid in digesting fatty foods.

Also high in vitamins A and C, orange peel can be helpful for building a healthy immune system and warding off coughs and colds. It is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and has high levels of antioxidants, making it very suitable as an addition to any immune tonic blends.
Immune tonic tea with orange peel, cinnamon, elderberries, cardamom and ginger.

It also contains d-limonene, as does lemon peel, a substance which has been shown to inhibit tumour growth in some studies and which is currently being more fully researched.

The orange family also gives us a whole host of wonderful essential oils including tangerine and mandarin. The sweet orange oil, which is expressed from the peel of the Citrus sinensis variety, is uplifting, warming, anti-depressant and emotionally balancing, bringing some of the joy of childhood to a gloomy day. Citrus aurantium gives us no less than three precious oils, bitter orange, from the fruit, petitgrain, from the leaves and twigs and neroli, from the blossoms. Neroli is one of my favourite oils so I will be sure to write more on it in the future.

 

Here are three simple ways you can incorporate the health giving properties of orange peel into your life. Always remember to use organic oranges as toxins from pesticide sprays will be stored in the skin.

Orange Peel, Ginger and Cinnamon Infused Honey:
This harnesses the anti-bacterial and warming properties of the orange peel.
Place several long strips of orange peel in the bottom of a glass jar. I use a vegetable peeler to avoid taking too much of the white pith. Add five or six slices of fresh ginger and two cinnamon sticks broken into small pieces. Fill up the jar with good quality, raw honey and stir to release any air bubbles. Leave to infuse for about three weeks, stirring daily for the first few days. Strain the honey and place it in a fresh, clean jar. Use a spoonful in teas or any other way you fancy.

Orange Peel and Cardamom Tea
The combination of orange peel and cardamom enhances the digestive properties of both these herbs and makes a delicious after dinner cuppa.

Orange Peel and Lavender Tea
This tea can be made with fresh or dried herbs and is so lovely for balancing and calming the emotions and inducing a sense of peaceful contentment.

Sweet Orange Oil Footbath
You can’t beat this one for banishing the winter blues and bringing a smile to even the most jaded of lips. Dilute four drops of sweet orange oil in a tablespoon of base oil such as sweet almond and swish into a lovely hot foot bath. It’s always important to dilute essential oils before adding them to the water or they can irritate the skin.

 

All this talk of oranges reminded me of a poem I used to like many years ago. I dug it out and am including it here for your pleasure. To me, it sums up perfectly the generous gifts of joy the orange tree so kindly bestows upon us.

The Stolen Orange by Brian Patten

When I went out I stole an orange
I kept it in my pocket
It felt like a warm planet

Everywhere I went smelt of oranges
Whenever I got into an awkward situation
I’d take out the orange and smell it

And immediately on even dead branches I saw
The lovely and fierce orange blossom
That smells so much of joy

When I went out I stole an orange
It was a safeguard against imagining
There was nothing bright or special in the world.

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After a long day in London studying, there’s nothing like coming home to a hot, steamy bath full of herbal wonders.

Avena, or as we commonly call her Oats, is a lovely choice for such times, when you are both exhausted from the early morning, travel and long hours in a classroom, as well as over stimulated from the bright lights, loud noises and hectic pace of the big city. A classic tonic to the nervous system, Avena can help us deal effectively with periods of stress, anxiety and nervous tension. She can help soothe and protect us when we are suffering from the sensory overload usually induced by spending time in a busy city and enable a deep and restorative nights sleep. Oats are also rich in silicon which helps build the skin, nails and hair.

The classic way to have an oat bath is to tie a handful of rolled oats in a square of muslin cloth and hang it under the taps as you run the bath to release a creamy oat milk which is soothing for sensitive, dry skin.

I like to pack my baths with as much medicinal value as possible as we have the ability to absorb many substances into our bodies through the skin. This oat and chamomile bath takes a bit of pre-planning but is quick to do and captures many of the beautiful healing properties of these two wonderful green allies.

If you know you’ll have time for a bath that evening, make a strong infusion of oatstraw herb and chamomile in the morning and leave on the side for the rest of the day to extract all the goodness from the herbs.
I usually use a large handful of oatstraw, with a large pinch of chamomile, in a jar or cafetiere with pint or so of freshly boiled water.

When your ready for your bath strain the herbal infusion into a blender and add a couple of handfuls of porridge oats.
Blend up into a cream.
Stir in 4 drops Roman Chamomile, 2 drops Lavender and 2 drops Sandalwood, or any of your favourite relaxing essential oils.
Pour into a freshly run, hot bath, get in and feel the days stresses melt away.

Magic.

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