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A Few of My Favorite Things

Holiday times are for sharing and giving. And in recognition of this generous season I thought it fitting to share two of my favorite product recipes. They are simple, tried and true. You can stow them away for a rainy day or produce them in copious amounts to be gifted to the herbal enthusiasts on your holiday list. And don’t forget to make a bit for yourself.

The plant kingdom is a constantly curious world. Most people who enjoy working with plants love the fact that natures playground always offers something new to learn. And with so many plants to choose from, our formulation and product making potential is infinite.

But we herbalists also find resonance and comfort in plants we know well. We enjoy remaking our favorite products, for they are time tested and work up effortlessly. The holidays are an excellent time to share those recipes in the form of gifts for others. They are the gifts that warm the heart and touch the soul.

What follows are two of my own personal favorites. At first glance they may appear simple. But in their simplicity they are highly functional with multiple uses. Make them as stated literally, or switch things around to make it your own recipe. They lend themselves well to that, too.

St. Johns Salve

The first product is rather utilitarian and fits well in the medicine cupboard. It is something I call St. John’s Salve. While it lacks the excitement of some of the home spa recipes, like salt scrubs or bath oils, it is a convenient and multipurpose tool that becomes a popular request after the jar runs empty.
Specific uses of the salve include: bug bites, bee stings, cuts, scraps and general skin irritations and inflammations, rashes, mild burns, puncture wounds, herpes, nerve pain, and mild muscle trauma, bruises.

St. Johns Salve is a simple combination of 3 plants, 2 in the form of infused oils and 1 essential oil. They all serve multiple purposes. Below is a brief account of what each plant brings to the recipe. Keep in mind this is not a complete picture of what the plant can be used for.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis): This infused oil is typically made with fresh flowers, but I have found the dried to be just as effective if they are not older than one year. The oil color is a beautiful yellow, and the scent resinous and salty. The oil is high in resins, lending a warm and emollient (a.k.a. softening and soothing) affect . The emollient nature of this plant is balanced by its ability as an anti-inflammatory and astringent, toning the inflamed injury through a warming and stimulating action, decreasing irritation and smoothing immune function to speed healing.

Calendula has an affinity for the nerves and lymphatic system, helping to anesthetize pain and pool the forces of the immune system. It is also anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.

St. Johns Wort infused oil: St. Johns Wort infused oil must be made from the fresh flowering tops. So if you don’t have any on hand, you’ll have to wait until summer or borrow some from a friend. The oil is an amazing blood red color, and has a sweet and slightly acrid scent. Like Calendula, St. Johns Wort is an amazing analgesic. I have seen and experienced it anesthetize prickly and shooting nerve pain on contact. It works well in this arena on everything from puncture wounds to burns.

The anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic elements help heal bruising, sprains and swellings associated with trauma. It should also be mentioned that St. Johns can also act as a very mild haemostatic, slowing bleeding that is excessive.

Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia): Lavender is another plant that we associate with the nerves. It is analgesic, decreasing nerve pain of external injury. While lavender decreases pain via nerves, it also soothes the emotional agitation which accompanies trauma and injury. The anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and nervine qualities make lavender effective for headaches and mild muscle aches and pains.

Topically, lavender is anti-bacterial and cell regenerating to speed healing. It is effective at simple wound healing and can be safely used on burns, like St. Johns Wort, from sunburns, burns from touching something hot, chemical burns or burns from radiation therapy.

Ingredients List and How to Make a Salve
Ingredients needed to make 9 ounces of St. Johns Salve.
· 2 ounces of jojoba oil
· 4 ounces of St. Johns Wort infused oil
· 2 ounces of Calendula infused oil
· 40-50 drops of lavender pure essential oil
· 1 ounce of beeswax

Other supplies you will need: a kitchen scale, a double boiler, small glass containers to pour the salve into once complete, something to stir the mixture, and labels.
I use a stainless steel measuring cup in a saucepan with water for a double boiler when preparing small batches. To stir, I use wooden chopsticks; the kind you get a Whole Foods or the Willy Street Co-op in the sushi section.

Jars and containers for salves come in glass or plastic, and an array of sizes. It is nice to make them in 2 or 4 ounce sizes, but smaller ones are nice as well for they are portable. Decide what is most appropriate for your gift.

Many people ask me why I always use jojoba oil in my salves. My answer is simple. It acts as a natural preservative. Jojoba oil is a wax distilled from a bean. It has an oily consistency. Add 15-20% jojoba oil to a recipe for this effect.

Instructions for Making the Salve

To make the salve base, bring the water in the pan to a boil, and turn the heat down to a simmer. Add your carrier oil. Per cup of oil, add 1 ounce of beeswax, weighed on the scale, into the oil. Let this simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beeswax is melted.

While you wait for the melting to occur, put the drops of essential oil into the glass jars that will hold the salve. When the base is finished, turn off the fire and allow to cool while stirring for one minute. Try not to let it harden. If it does, just turn on a low heat again until fully liquidated. Pour the melted salve into the jars with the essential oils, stir briefly, and then close the lids. Let the salves sit at room temperature until they harden. Apply a label that states the name of your product, the date made, some of its uses, and the ingredients used.

Lavender Lemongrass Epsom Salt Bath

I’m a big fan of healing baths. And salt baths are one of my favorites. Salts are known for their restorative powers. While it’s nice to get fancy and use different combinations of sea salt, dead sea salt, or pink salt, that can get expensive. I’ve found that simple Epsom salts make an excellent carrier for essential oils in the tub. They are easy to find and relatively inexpensive.

This bath formula is one of my favorites, and includes essential oils of lavender and lemongrass in an Epsom salt and almond oil base. It is harmonizing to the heart, nervous and immune system. It has the ability to bring balance allowing one to root into a healing process, or just calm down in the wake of a stressful period. I have found it to also be an excellent bath formula for those recovering from illness.

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus): The scent of lemongrass is a complex balance of earthy, citrusy and herbaceous. It is a mild sedative that has anti-anxiety and hypotensive effects and can be used for mild acute insomnia. It is also anti-infectious and mildly anti-bacterial, therefore supporting immunity while relieving stress. It is also detoxifying to skin cells as it astringes and purges the cell of impurities.
The relaxant effect that lemongrass has on muscles improves fluid transport, increasing circulation and all over body health. When we decrease stress, and tension, we improve health and function over all.

Epsom salts: Epsom salts are magnesium salts. Magnesium is warming and anti-spasmodic, being specifically indicated for cramped muscles and tension. I find Epsom salt baths appropriate for intestinal spasm, menstrual cramps, and tension. They are also drawing, decreasing inflammation where there is topical irritation or infection. Epsom salts also assist cell detoxification. Within that, they are quite safe to bath in even if you don’t suffer from those maladies, making a nice warming addition to a winter bath.

Almond oil: Almond is my general all products oil. It is very stable, and has a long shelf life. Not long enough for retail, though, and I often use it in combination with jojoba oil to preserve my products better. See jojoba oil. Almond oil is high is Essential Fatty Acids, vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium and calcium in trace amounts. It excellent for all skin types.

Ingredients and Preparation
Ingredients:
· 4 cups of Epsom salts or salt of choice
· 1 tablespoon of Lavender pure essential oil
· 1 tablespoon of Lemongrass pure essential oil
· 2 ounces of almond oil

Other supplies: jars (I like to use mason jars), labels, a stainless steel bowel or a ½ gallon mason jar for mixing/shaking, instructions for use (in one bath use about 1/2 cup of salts)

Making this is very simple. Take all the ingredients, put them in the bowel or jar, and mix or shake. Dispense into your containers for gifting or storing, and label. With salts it is best to let them sit in a cool dark place for 3-5 days before using. The essential oils will better infuse the salts. In this case it is not necessary, for the almond oil will help this process.

To make herbal gifts you don’t have to be a professional herbalist. You just have to know your limits. Choose good simple recipes with clear instructions. Be sure to read up on the plants you plan to use, and be sure those plants have few to no contraindications.

Homemade herbal products are an excellent way to show gratitude, love and appreciation. When we gift them, it is pleasurable experience for the giver and receiver. They take pleasure in using our products. We can delight in the fuzzy feeling that comes with connecting plants with people, and the fact that sharing something we made deepens our relationship with those in our lives.
Enjoy your medicine making experience this season. Be sure to share your tried and true favorite recipes with someone special, and Happy Holidays!

For more recipes, past articles and information on Kathy Eich, visit her website at www.redrootmountain.com.

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  • Pam Frydman-Roza

    Kathy,
    Is there an olive oil (bulk buy) you recommend for infusing herbs? I have used some that give the final product a scent of pesto!
    Thanks so much,
    Pam