Archive for the ‘Essential Oils’ Category

With Valentine’s Day around the corner I thought it was about time I posted a suitably romantic recipe for these quick and easy, yet delightfully decadent massage bars. Whatever your feelings about this particular festival, a massage bar makes a lovely gift for anyone and can be used to pamper yourself too as it makes a delicious body moisturiser after the shower or bath

50g Cocoa Butter
15g Shea Butter
15g Coconut Oil
10g Mango butter (or just use 25g Coconut and omit the mango)
10 ml Base oil
2ml Vitamin E Oil
20 drops essential oils of choice

Add the solid oils to the base oil of your choice (any relatively thin oil like apricot, hazelnut, jojoba or sunflower would do nicely) and melt over a low heat in a bain marie. Remove from the heat and stir in the vitamin E and essential oils of choice. Pour into massage bar moulds (I actually just used large chocolate moulds) and set in the fridge or freezer. That’s it.

If you live in a warm climate you’ll want to increase the amount of solid oil you use or possibly add a little beeswax or candelilla wax to make it more heat stable as these are designed to melt easily on contact with the skin. Alternatively you can keep them in the fridge. Also beware of using nut oils like almond for people with allergies.

Some ideas for essential oils you could use include the following:
Romantic and floral blend – Rose 5 drops, Ylang Ylang 8 drops, Sweet Orange 7 drops.
Relaxing and uplifting blend – Lavender 7 drops, Neroli 8 drops and Green Mandarin 5 drops.
Earthy and sexy blend- Sandalwood 10 drops, Jasmine 5 drops, Black Pepper 5 drops.
Beautifully balancing blend – Geranium 10 drops, Bergamot 5 drops, Lavender 5 drops.

I used the earthy and sexy blend and it turned out deliciously though you have to take into account your personal taste in oils and the effect you wish to achieve. I recommend consulting a good aromatherapy text to get a clearer idea of which oils will suit your purpose.

And incase you’re still not in the mood for love, here is a selection of my favourite love poems to win your heart.

The Innocence of any Flesh Sleeping – Brian Patten

Sleeping beside you I dreamt
I woke beside you;
Waking beside you
I thought I was dreaming.

Have you ever slept beside an ocean?
Well yes,
It is like this.

The whole motion of landscapes, of oceans
Is within her.
She is
The innocence of any flesh sleeping,
So vulnerable
No protection is needed.

In such times
The heart opens,
Contains all there is,
There being no more than her.

In what country she is
I cannot tell.
But knowing – because there is love
And it blots out all demons –
She is safe,
I can turn,
Sleep well beside her.

Waking beside her I am dreaming.
Dreaming of such wakings
I am to all love’s senses woken.

Untitled – Rumi

Love swells and surges the ocean
and on your robe of storm cloud
sews rain designs.

Love is lightning,
and also the ahhh
we respond with.

Untitled – Simon Armitage

Let me put it this way:
if you came to lay

your sleeping head
against my arm or sleeve,

and if my arm went dead,
or if I had to take my leave

at midnight, I should rather
cleave it from the joint or seam

than make a scene
or bring you round.

how does that sound?

Love – Pablo Neruda

So many days, oh so many days
seeing you so tangible and so close
how do I pay, with what do I pay?

The bloodthirsty spring
has awakened in the woods.
The foxes start from their earths,
the serpents drink the dew,
and I go with you in the leaves
between the pines and the silence,
asking myself how and when
I will have to pay for my luck.

Of everything I have seen,
it’s you I want to go on seeing:
of everything I’ve touched,
it’s your flesh I want to go on touching.
I love your orange laughter.
I am moved by the sight of you sleeping.

What am I to do, love, loved one?
I don’t know how others love
or how people loved in the past.
I live, watching you, loving you.
Being in love is my nature.

You please me more each afternoon.

Where is she? I keep on asking
if your eyes disappear.
How long she’s taking! I think, and I’m hurt.
I feel poor, foolish and sad,
and you arrive and you are lightning
glancing off the peach trees.

That’s why I love you and yet not why.
There are so many reasons, and yet so few,
for love has to be so,
involving and general,
particular and terrifying,
joyful and grieving,
flowering like the stars,
and measureless as a kiss.

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Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) is a wonderful spice with a rich history and many uses in the kitchen and in the medicine chest. In Sanskrit it is known as Marich, one of the names for the sun, as it is thought to be filled with solar energy. It is currently the world’s most widely traded spice appearing on the tables of cafes and restaurants everywhere.

Native to India and Sri Lanka, I saw a black pepper plant in the flesh for the first time when I visited Kew Gardens last year, it was incredibly lush and attractive. In Ayurvedic medicine it’s actually the long pepper or pippali (Piper longum) that is most often used medicinally but we still see black pepper being used in remedies since antiquity. Black peppercorns are the dried fruit of the plant whereas white peppercorns, which have a milder flavour, are it’s seed.

Black Pepper in the glasshouse at Kew Gardens in London.

Stimulating to the digestion, pepper is seen primarily as a remedy for indigestion, bloating, gas and malabsorption. Studies have shown that it not only increases the appetite and production of hydrochloric acid but improves digestion of many key nutrients such as the B vitamins, beta-carotene and selenium and various phytochemicals from other spices and green tea. This is primarily due to the piperine content which is also anti-carcinogenic, due both to this ability to increase absorption of other beneficial compounds and partly in its own right as it’s anti-oxidant and inhibits pro-inflammatory cytokines that are produced by tumour cells.

The taste is pungent and stimulating with heating and somewhat drying properties. As such it’s been used for treating colds and flus either as a decoction or as a powder mixed with a bit of honey or ghee. It is mucolytic and expectorant so helps break up congestion in the chest and sinuses. It’s a warming diaphoretic so best used when there is fever but without a productive sweat and with cold extremities. It boosts circulation throughout the system but is especially nice for people with cold hands and feet. It’s also thermogenic, increasing fat metabolism and helping weight loss.

Pepper is analgesic and has a history of traditional use for toothache where the powder is applied to the sore tooth. I sometimes like to add a little of the tincture to mouthwashes for its antibacterial effects and its ability to protect against tooth decay.

A decoction drunk several times a day is also thought to help with constipation though it would be best suited to chilly types whose constipation is not caused by constitutional dryness but by lax muscles, poor assimilation or low digestive ‘fire’.

Lovely botanical illustration of Black Pepper courtesy of good ol' Wikipedia.

In large quantities it can be irritating to the mucus membranes so I always stick to low doses; a few peppercorns in tea, a pinch of powder in honey or a good sprinkling on food. Because of this it’s contraindicated in very hot people or in conditions where there is a lot of inflammation in the GI tract, though externally it’s nice for inflamed joints or muscles.

The essential oil, in small amounts, is surprisingly gentle considering the nature of the plant. I tend to avoid many of the spice oils externally such as clove, nutmeg and cinnamon as they’re very potent, though I do enjoy them in my oil burner. Black Pepper, ginger and cardamon however are all lovely in salves and baths and pepper is especially nice for sore muscles, aches and pains, arthritis and pre or post sports rubs.  It can be used with cardamon and chamomile diluted in a carrier oil to make a lovely stomach rub for indigestion, gas and bloating and to improve peristalsis. It’s also a lovely detoxing oil due to its stimulating and metabolism boosting properties, I like it with juniper and grapefruit oils for a detoxifying bath mixed with some epsom salts and a little carrier oil before being added to the water.

Pretty, pungent and peppery.


Here are some of the other ways I use black pepper:

Decoctions and Infusions- I always add some peppercorns to my chai spices either in decoction or infusion.  I also like a few brewed with rose petals as an infusion. If I’m infusing rather than decocting the peppercorns I always grind them up in a pestle and mortar first to release the volatile oils and aid extraction of the other medicinal compounds.

Vinegars – A few peppercorns make a luscious addition to a fruit vinegar such as blackberry, raspberry, rosehip or hawthorn berry lending it just a little pungent kick.

Elixirs and Syrups- Again adding a few peppercorns to a winter elixir such as elderberry, hawthorn or sloe gives it a lovely warming boost and pepper in elderberry syrup is one of my all time favourite additions.

Infused oil- Pepper infused oil is gentler than the essential oil so is lovely used liberally over large areas such as in a sports massage oil or salve.

Tincture- I only make small quantities of tincture, using the folk method of infusing the peppercorns in vodka, as I don’t use it that often. I do like to add a small amount to people’s formulas on occasion and add it to my mouthwash as I mentioned above. It also makes a lovely liniment for achy muscles mixed with some rosemary infused oil and rubbed vigorously over the body. Perfect for grey January days when you feel a bit under the weather.

Hope you all had a lovely weekend!

The Yoga of Herbs – Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad
The Directory of Essential Oils- Wanda Sellar

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‘Tis the season to be jolly, though it can be a challenge to bear this in mind when trailing round the shops, delirious from the sensory overload and fluorescent lighting and sore from having your feet run over by stressed out mums with hi-tech, double-decker buggies balancing 10 shopping bags off each handle. Sometimes it’s hard to remember quite what you’re supposed to be doing, or even your own name. I have mostly managed to avoid this particular stressor by making all my presents or buying them on line but still this time of year is inevitably hectic. So it was a wise choice by Brigitte to give this month’s blog party the title of “No Time For Stress.’ Everyone’s submissions will be posted on her blog on the 20th so do make sure you take a few moments to make yourself a cup of relaxing herbal tea and peruse the pearls of wisdom that my fellow herby bloggers will undoubtedly share.

Stress can be defined as the body’s response to the demands life places on us. It can be both positive or negative as any heightened emotional state from euphoria to despair can cause stress to the body and mind. This time of year can include a lot of potential stressors, from the excitement of social gatherings and seeing relatives, to many people’s increased intake of alcohol and sugary or rich foods, to the pressure of buying presents and creating the perfect atmosphere or the increased stress placed on the immune system by cold weather and germs.

I wanted to share a few of the ways that I find plant medicine helpful in calming stress and anxiety, at any time of year, and bringing balance to the over-adrenalised jittery feeling that results when my to-do list begins to extend too far down the page.

Calming Tea Blends:

Danielle has written a list of some lovely relaxing herbs for teas in her post for the blog party which you can read here and, like her, making a nice cuppa is my default response to anything even remotely stressful. I thought I’d share some of my favourite tea blends with you here, some of which I have also made up as little extra presents for people.

Many herbs that help to relax us are considered cooling in nature. This doesn’t necessarily mean they make you feel cold but that they calm and cool body processes rather than exciting them. Still it can be useful to add some more warmth to our teas at this time of year so each of these blend contains at least one warming herb or spice to balance the cooler ones.

Lavender, Vanilla and Oatstraw – This my evening time tea of choice at the moment and my husband is also a big fan. It’s calming, comforting, restorative and helps to pacify the restless mind. I add a teaspoon each of oatstraw and lavender to the pot along with half a vanilla bean, finely chopped.

Chamomile, Rose and Vanilla – This makes a lovely soothing after dinner tea and is delightfully fragrant and aromatic helping to disperse tension and anxiety.

Tilia, Oatsraw, Rose and Cinnamon – A little more spicy, this tea is great at work or during a busy afternoon as the calming herbs are somewhat balanced by the warmth and revitalising action of the cinnamon.

Orange peel, Cardamom and Rose – Another lovely balancing brew, I adore this combination of flavours which is like a big loving hug.

Lemon Balm and Rosemary –  A perfect balance of heart lifting herbs, I have written about this tea before… more than once me thinks!

Chamomile, Tilia and Oatsraw –  A very gentle tea to aid a peaceful nights sleep. More powerful herbs can be useful if insomnia is a problem but generally these would need to be selected with the individual’s constitution in mind.

Footbaths and Massage:

I’ve been meaning to write about the magic that are footbaths since I first started this blog last winter but I thought they’d be worth a mention here for their wonderful ability to calm and ground the nervous system and promote better circulation and a good night’s sleep. Most of us are far too ‘in our heads’ at this time of year and there’s nothing like payng attention to your feet to bring you back down to earth. I particularly like a strong infusion of Tilia, lavender and chamomile in a footbath. Great for children and adults alike, you absorb the healing qualities of the herbs through the soles of the feet and also get to breathe in the wonderful, calming aromas of these volatile oil rich plants. Followed up with a foot massage of lavender or chamomile infused oil you are almost guaranteed to have forgotten your cares and enjoy a deep and restorative night’s sleep.

Herbal Tinctures:

Tinctures are really best formulated on an individual basis as different herbs will have an affinity with different people. However I do like to make a very general Autumn/Winter Tonic with seasonal plants from my local area. This year it includes elderberry, hawthorn berry, rose hips and nettle seeds, all collected within a few meters of my garden gate. This medicine helps guard against winter stresses by nourishing my immune system, adrenals and cardiovascular system, all of which come under pressure at this time of year. The formula is also packed with antioxidants from the berries which help to protect every cell of the body. It also connects me to the land in which I live, bringing with it the subtle medicine of inter-dependence and belonging.

Flower Remedies;

Flower remedies can be wonderful allies in helping us to regain our sense of centre. Again they are best chosen with an individual in mind  but the following remedies from the Bach system are particularly useful in times of stress.
White Chestnut – When there is excessive mental chatter or preoccupation with certain worries that get in the way of relaxation.
Aspen – For vague, non-specific fears of unknown origin or anxiety with a sense of apprehension or foreboding.
Cherry Plum – For when you’ve reached the end of your tether and fear mental collapse or loss of control.
Elm – For normally capable people who are overwhelmed with responsibility.
Impatiens – For impatience and stress with irritability.
Mimulus – For fear of ‘known things’ such as flying, spiders (or Christmas!).
Olive – For complete exhaustion and when everything becomes an effort.
Red Chestnut – For excessive concern with the well being of others.
Rock Rose – For states of extreme fear and panic attacks.
If in doubt Rescue Remedy, a blend of 5 remedies which is now widely available, is helpful in a huge range of stress related problems.

Essential Oils:

Lovely in baths or massage oils, there is a wide range of relaxing essential oils which can help with stress such as lavender, chamomile, rose, sandalwood, frankincense, bergamot, neroli, patchouli, benzoin, geranium and mandarin. I particularly like making up a 2% blend of my favourite relaxing oils in a carrier such as sweet almond oil and adding to a 10ml rollette bottle that I carry in my bag and roll onto my temples, collar bone, neck and wrists whenever I start feeling stressed. I make a different one each time but a blend of lavender, chamomile and frankincense is a particular favourite.

Hydrolats and Floral Waters:

I love adding a good swig of lavender, neroli, rose or lemon balm hydrolat to my water and sipping throughout the day to calm and centre my nervous system. Neroli is my absolute favourite though nothing feels as decadent as rose. I have been known to have them in a shot glass when the going gets really tough.

Nourishing Infusions:

Susun Weed style nourishing infusions are great at this time of year for adding extra vitamins and minerals to our diets and supporting our nervous systems. We use up many more nutrients in times of stress so it’s important that we replenish them regularly. I love oatstraw best for its affinity with the nerves. Look here for Susun’s instructions on how to make them.

Staying centred in yourself when the pressure is on can be a challenge. Sometimes the hardest thing can be actually taking the time out to have a relaxing foot bath, mix some calming teas or choose a flower remedy. But, as one of my teachers once said, ‘herbal medicine works, you just have to take it.’ Just as stress begets more stress, in ourselves and others, a moment’s relaxation creates the space for a deeper relaxation to occur.

Luckily for me I have a shining example in my three cats, who have made relaxation and comfort into an art form. Take a leaf out of their book and make sure you take time out this Christmas to chill!

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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.

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 until looking opaque. 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 about room temperature or a little warmer. 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 about a month out of the fridge (less if you life in a warm climate). It has a lovely thick, green appearance and is incredibly nourishing to dry and hard working hands.

I have a much more detailed description of cream making here which will be useful if you are new to the process.

Also a description of ingredients including preservatives here.

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 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.

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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