Archive for the ‘Rosemary’ Category

Rosemary is one of the first herbs I grew to love as a child as well as one of the first herbs I grew as a plant as an adult. My parents had a magnificent rosemary bush outside their bedroom window and though at that time I only knew it as a culinary herb, I always admired its vitality and endurance, qualities which this beautiful plant lends us in abundance when we start to work with her regularly. Despite being native to the Mediterranean it grows well here, given a sunny, freely draining soil and it particularly enjoys coastal areas, the first word of its botanical, Rosmarinus officinalis, means dew of the sea.

Beautiful Rosemary

In my mind rosemary is primarily a rejuvenating herb. It is famous for stimulating memory and concentration, it promotes hair growth when used internally or externally, it contains powerful antioxidants which protect the whole body from ageing, it strengthens capillaries, improves digestion and is thought to ignite the passions. According to Bankes, ‘Even to smell the scent of the leaves keeps one youngly.’

Best known as a warming circulatory stimulant, rosemary’s diffusive nature is lovely for getting the blood moving to the peripheries and hence is great for those with cold hands and feet like myself. It can be used internally as tincture or tea for this purpose or externally as an infused oil, bath or footbath herb or an essential oil rub. It can also be of benefit for those suffering from headaches where the cause is constriction in the muscles or the blood vessels supplying the head. Its ability to stimulate blood flow make it first rate in the treatment and prevention of chilblains, I especially like it combined with black pepper for this purpose.

It is helpful for the digestion in several ways. Being aromatic it helps to stimulate the appetite and its warming nature helps stoke the digestive fires, known as the ‘Agni’ in Ayurveda, helping people who suffer with poor assimilation, bloating, gas and undigested food in their stools. Being slightly bitter it’s also beneficial for the liver, a property more closely associated with cooling rather than warming herbs, however rosemary’s warmth helps move stuck energy, particularly in patterns where there is ‘heat’ in the liver but within a cold constitution and where there is also poor digestion.

Rosemary is also useful as a wash for minor wounds as it contains antimicrobial volatile oils and tannins, which help check bleeding.  According to Anne McIntyre, nurses used to brew rosemary tea as an antiseptic to sterilise instruments, clean the delivery room and protect both mother and child from infections.

Most will be able to tolerate it well as a tea in the winter months but care must be taken in summer or in tincture form for those with a hot constitution. It is lovely for those floaty, ungrounded, thin, cold and anxious types but a little care must also be taken where these qualities manifest in a person who also suffers from dryness (dry skin, dry cough, constipation etc) as rosemary is both warming and drying in its action. In these cases I would usually teem it with something more moistening. It is equally fabulous for people who are cold, damp, stodgy and overweight and who need a bit of a kick to get moving. It benefits many cold, damp conditions like a phlegmy cough, catarrh and blocked sinuses too.

For those hotter people it combines beautifully with lemon balm, especially where depression or low moods are a factor. Being a stimulating, solar herb rosemary can lift the spirits and encourage motivation and joie de vivre and being strengthening and grounding it helps dispel stress and anxiety.

Rosemary helps us fully embody who we are, lends us strength and endurance, both emotionally and physically, and helps us attain a clarity of mind and lightness of heart which many could benefit from in these stressful times.

A quick sketch and some dried rosemary from the garden.

I love rosemary in teas, my favourite being the rosemary and lemon balm combination which I drink regularly at this time of year and in early spring before the days have started warming and when my spirits need a lift. In the coldest months of winter I like my rosemary with orange peel and ginger and at the end of a long day I enjoy it with either chamomile or lemon verbena which makes a beautiful relaxing yet clarifying blend.

Rosemary infused oil is one of my favourites for tired aching muscles or joints. I make a lovely massage oil of rosemary, chamomile and St. John’s wort infused oils for back aches.

I love rosemary essential  oil too and use it in my aches and pains balm and in the bath with other suitable oils. I’m making some lovely bath oils for christmas presents this year which contain rosemary essential oil among other things. Pop back in a few days when I’ll be sharing the recipe in another post on herbal christmas presents for the November blog party hosted by Brigitte.

The Complete Floral Healer – Anne McIntyre
The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism – Matthew Wood
Medical Herbalism – David Hoffman

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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.


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:
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:
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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I’m very happy to be joining in the UK Herbarium’s monthly blog party, the topic of which is ‘emerging from winter with herbs’.

This immediately makes me think of fresh spring growth to tonify and cleanse the system after the stagnancy of winter months. However it’s still a wee bit early for harvesting nettles for soups, cleavers for green juices and chickweed and young dandelions for strengthening salads. So I decided to think about this topic practically instead of intellectually. What am I actually taking at the moment?

It’s still cold outside, though the first glimmers of spring are tantalisingly close, whispering of new shoots and green buds and the gentle stirrings of our own awakening senses. As a constitutionally chilly being I’m still loving my warming herbs but have been drinking less spicy teas and can’t seem to get enough of one of my favourite all time brews, Rosemary and Melissa. Rosemary is a wonderful warming herb and Melissa is also said to improve the circulation and the two together have a lovely, balancing effect on the emotions. Rosemary is a herb of the Sun and Melissa of Jupiter, so they are both joyful and cheering on a gloomy day when we are beginning to wonder if winter will ever end. I often team them up as essential oils too, for use in the bath and massage blends. Together they smell divine!

The other thing I’m having a lot of at the moment is the adaptogenic herbs, especially the Ayurvedic herbs Tulsi, Shatavari, Ashwaganda and Gotu Kola. Though the latter is not always classified as an adaptogen, it has many of the same properties and is classed as a rejuvenating herb, or rasayana, in India. Though I primarily use western herbs that I can grow or forage myself, I do have a somewhat guilty love of Ayurvedic plants, probably born of many happy months spent in India. I had a somewhat unsuccessful attempt at growing Ashwaganda last year but my Gotu Kola has done well so far and, as all my gardening currently takes place in pots, I shall be sure to try again when I have a more suitable situation. Adaptogens are so great during these strange ‘inbetween’ times, neither winter nor quite yet spring, when energies are starting to move in us and runny noses and colds can result from the body ridding itself of the congestion of winter. Inbetween times have a special magic all of their own, like twilight or those strange, still moments during a break in a long journey. Adaptogens are great to strengthen and support the system during times of change as they help us cope with mental, physical and environmental stresses as well as being wonderful for our immune systems.

As one of our feline companions, and soon to be guest blogger, goes by the name of Tulsi, I thought I’d say a little more about this beautiful herb.

The first time I saw Tulsi, often referred to as Sacred or Holy Basil, (Ocimum sanctum, Ocimum gratissimum) it was growing plentifully in a temple in India. Revered as the holiest of plants it is seen by some as the physical incarnation of the Goddess, reborn on Earth for the benefit of mankind. A leaf held in the mouth at the time of death is said to ensure passage to the heavenly realms and watering the plants is thought to purify one of many sins.

Tulsi is antiviral and antibacterial which, along with its immunomodulating properties and high levels of antioxidants, make it protective and strengthening. Energetically it’s classed as pungent, sweet and warm, perfect for this time of year and it has been shown to help rid the body of mucus, aid in the treatment of bronchitis and lower fevers. It’s also antidepressant, so good for banishing those winter blues. Add into the mix its hepatoprotective (liver protecting) qualities and its ability to balance blood sugar and you can start to see why it’s valued as one of the most important herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. Ancient writings also speak of its efficacy in treating kidney disease, arthritis and skin disorders and its use in purifying polluted air and as an antidote to insect and snake bits.

David Winston and Steven Maimes write in their book on adaptogens that Tulsi is “capable of bringing on goodness, virtue and joy in humans.” I have certainly found this true for both the varieties of Tulsi pictured below. 🙂

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