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Be Your Own Herbal Expert
In our first session we learned how to "listen" to the messages of plant's tastes. In session two we learned about simples and how to make effective water-based herbal remedies. The third session helped us distinguish safe nourishing and tonifying herbs from the more dangerous stimulating and sedating herbs. Our fourth session focused on poisons in herbs and entered the herbal pharmacy to herbal tinctures, which we collected into an Herbal Medicine Chest. Our fifth session found us still in the pharmacy, learning how to make and use herbal vinegars for strong bones and healthy hearts.
In this, our sixth session, we remain in the herbal pharmacy and turn our attention to herbs in fat bases. We'll explore fresh infused oils, ointments, salves, and lip balms, essential oils, and even herbal pestos.
I make and use many infused herbal oils. I use little or no essential oils. Why?
Infused herbal oils use a small amount of plant material; essential oils require tons of plant material. Infused herbal oils are safe to use internally or externally; essential oils are poisonous internally and problematic externally. Infused herbal oils are good for the skin; essential oils can cause rashes, burns, and other skin reactions. Infused oils are used full strength; essential oils are diluted before use. Infused herbal oils have subtle scents; essential oils have powerful scents.
The scent of an essential oil can kill gut flora just like antibiotics do, according to Paul Bergner, director of the clinical studies program at the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies. He told me that breathing the oils puts them into the blood stream very quickly and can be a major disturber of intestinal health and contributor to poor immune functioning.
Massage therapists are embracing Natural Scent Therapies such as growing live aromatic plants in their treatment rooms and using pillows of dried aromatic herbs instead of essential oils. Their skin and their immune systems are thanking them for the switch.
To make an infused herbal oil you will need the following supplies:
• Fresh plant material
Coarsely chop the roots, leaves, or flowers of your chosen plant. Fill your jar completely full of the chopped plant material. Add olive oil until the jar is completely full. (Patience and a chopstick are useful tools at this point.)
Tightly lid the jar. Label it. Put it in a small bowl (to collect seepage and over-runs). Your infused oil is ready to use in six weeks.
Fresh Plants That I Use to Make Infused Oils
Arnica flowers (Arnica montana)
I use my infused herbal oils to heal and ease the pain of wounds, bruises, scrapes, sprains, burns, rashes, sore muscles, insect bites, and aching joints. I make my infused oils into ointments, salves, and lip balms. I use my infused oils in rituals, to anoint. I use my infused oils after bathing, to moisturize. I use my infused oils as stunning salad dressings. I use my infused oils as sexual lubricants. I use my infused oils to nourish my scalp and hair.
I apply my infused herbal oils directly to the body. I rarely take infused herbal oils as internal medicines although it would be safe to do so. I use my infused oils to make salves, ointments, and lip balms.
MAKING SALVES, OINTMENTS AND LIP BALMS
When herbs are infused into animal fat, they form a natural salve, without need of thickening. But herbs infused into oils are drippy and leaky and messy. They need a little beeswax melted into them to make them solid. The more beeswax added, the firmer the oil will be. A little beeswax will make a soft salve. A medium amount will make a firm ointment. And a lot will make a stiff lip balm.
• Pour one or more ounces of infused herbal oil into
a saucepan or double boiler.
- Too soft? Add more beeswax, a little at a time.
• Pour your finished salve or ointment into wide-mouthed
The simplest pesto is green leaves pounded with salt and garlic. I don't put cheese or nuts into my pestos when I make them, as these ingredients spoil rapidly.
I use a mini-size food prep machine for the "pounding". A blender will work too, but watch that you don't burn out the motor.
The oil in a pesto both preserves the antioxidant vitamins in the fresh green herbs and also softens the cell walls so minerals become more available. With the added health-benefits of garlic, herbal pestos are great medicine as well as superb eating.
Basic Herbal Pesto
Stays good for up to two years in a cool refrigerator; up to five years in the freezer.
• Start with half a cup of extra virgin olive oil.
Green Herbs for Pesto
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
In our next sessions we will learn how to make herbal honeys and syrups, how to apply the three traditions of healing, and how to take charge of our own health care with the six steps of healing.
EXPERIMENT NUMBER ONE
Make three or more infused herbal oils from different plant parts, such as leaves, roots, and flowering tops. (See list for suggestions of plants to use.)
EXPERIMENT NUMBER TWO
Make several infused oils from the same plant at the same time using at least three different kinds of oils and animal fats, including ghee. Label carefully. After six weeks, decant and compare.
EXPERIMENT NUMBER THREE
EXPERIMENT NUMBER FOUR
Make an herbal pesto. (See list for suggestions.)
1. Buy a small bottle of essential oil. Also buy the plant the oil is made from. Lavender and mint are good choices for this experiment. Smell the plant, then smell the essential oil. How do you feel afterwards? Taste the plant, then taste a drop of the essential oil? What do you perceive? Put a drop of the essential oil on your skin; rub the plant vigorously on your skin. Are there differences?
Extra credit: Make an infused oil of the same plant and repeat this experiment using your infused oil in addition to the essential oil and the plant.
2. Use organic animal fat to make an herbal preparation. Keep the fat barely warm - in the sun or by a pilot light - until it is infused. No need to add beeswax. The fat will solidify at room temperature.
• Read about the production of essential oils.
• How is a hydrosol different from an essential oil?
• Can you make a hydrosol? (Jeanne Rose is a good resource on this.
Reprint Authorization Information- The following 8 articles are provided by Susan S. Weed © 2002 (Link: http://www.susunweed.com/An_Article_Weed_Self-help1.htm) These articles are designed as lessons for my students in herbal medicine and are not intended for any use other than learning and personal use. To contact Susan S. Weed for reprint authorization contact her at the following email address: email@example.com.