Sunday, June 20, 2010

July blog party: Adventures in herbalism

This month's blog party is on 'Adventures in Herbalism" and is hosted by Darcy Blue @ Gaia's Gifts.
What a great topic. We love our plants. We are constantly scanning the fields and roadsides for identifiable plants. It's like we are looking for old friends, even if we have never met. When we do meet. . . watch out! From walking into grass taller than your waist just to see if you can even reach the berries of an elder, to harvesting burdock seed for the first time and enduring the thin white hairs that embed themselves into your skin, or to inadvertently inhaling cayenne during the grinding for oil... the insides of your nose burning intensely for more than a few unbearable minutes- we will go to great lengths to talk to, to see, or to harvest and process them. We love our friends though, and a it's a relationship that endures.

It has been said more than once that plants have something to teach us. They have ways of making ( or helping ) us to listen. The first year I discovered elder in our area ( I had thought they grew only on the west coast ), I began to see the flowers everywhere. I worked across the street from a couple of beautiful bushes. I had noticed them along the mountain roads of W.Va., and later discovered a friend had one on his property. In my newly discovered excitement of a wonderful food plant, high in bioflavonoids that protect us during the winter months from the infamous flu and cold bugs, I went searching. . . with the intent to harvest. The elders along side the road just wouldn't do, it's the ones I could spot off in the distance of a field that looked safe and harvest-able. I politely drove up to one house and asked if it was ok if I could harvest some berries from the tree in their field. At first, they didn't know what tree I was talking about. When I pointed toward the field at the tree, I got a prompt 'no'. It is probably unsafe and they don't want to be held liable. I offered to sign a waiver... THAT was funny. They looked at me like I was crazy. I thanked them anyway, understanding and leaving them alone. As I was on my way out the winding road, I noticed a large elder in the distance. I turned around and headed back. Thinking I could pull off to the side of the road and walk the distance to see and hopefully harvest, I pulled off. Big mistake. There was no roadside. Only tall weeds to fool me into thinking the road had a shoulder.

It was a hot June day with my two toddlers in the car that was now teetering on it's axle. Getting out of the car was a trick, but we managed it easily enough. The grass was knee deep on the no-road-side. I felt horrible. I looked at the elder in the distance and realized this wasn't a relationship I could take with a grain of salt. She had something to tell me. She has powerful ways to be heard. The Elda-mor, a powerful feminine goddess, is said to live in this tree. There are many myths and magic lore surrounding it. A great goddess to petition in sickness, especially in children, but watch out if you plan on burning or cutting it's wood. Hauntings and even death are said to ensue.

So here I am, on the side of a residential road with my two toddlers, hot and sleepy (and maybe a bit worried or scared, too). The only place to rest or wait was under a great pine in a bed of poison ivy. Can you hear my sigh from there? I still can. Thank goodness for family, always there when you need them, whether they are working or not. While we waited for my brother-in-law to come to our rescue, I looked in the distance at the elder. I no longer cared about harvest, I wanted words with the tree. I just wanted to get close enough to see, touch, and listen. Without a car for the girls to sit in, though, and no chance of my walking a hundred yards away while they waited by the roadside (in poison ivy!) I couldn't just go tramping off. I lug each one onto my hips (they are barefooted, go figure) and I started off into the grass. A couple steps in and the grass was up to my waist (there's that sigh again, hear it?). I was a bit chicken to go the distance, so I took my place back on the poison ivy.

Help arrived and the chains were of no use, I needed a tow truck. A chunk of money and my more-than grumpy children later, the ordeal was over and the lesson learned. I had ten times the respect for elder than I had had that morning. The whole thing was sort of laughable. At home I made a buttermilk and vinegar bath for the girls, hoping to wash away any poison residues that may irritate them later. I believe I was successful for the most part: they got poison ivy and they got it bad, but it was just bad, though, and not really bad. I had fun concocting a lotion to aid in it's demise, and I was successful. A little less than a week later, it was all just a memory.

Later that June, I went to a friend's farm. Lo and behold- he has a beautiful elder laden with not ripe berries. He doesn't even use them, I could come back and get some!
I said my thanks to her that day. Later I came back for her berries. In the fall I was gifted again. A woman who works on said friend's farm had many elders on her property. She dug up six babies for me. I did quite the happy dance! I felt like the Elda-mor was approving of me now.
A whole year later and two of the six baby trees are laden with berries and a few flowers still. The other four are quite happy and growing with the season. The elder is truly an ally now.

Adventures in herbalism. I can't wait to hear the stories from the other folks this blog party. We all have them. It's part of the art, most of the fun, and definitely part of the journey in wisdom gained.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

plantago major, first aid in your front yard

Plantain (the weed, not the little banana) is a wonderful first aid plant. This plant is everywhere, hence the name 'white man's foot-steps'. It's an ovate or lance-leaved weed growing in a low rosette. Plantain has five ribs on each leaf coming off a thick channeled footstalk. If there are no broad-leaved plantain around, then I may see the lance-leaved plantain (plantago lancolata). While the broad leaved is deemed better, I have not hesitated to use lance-leaved in a pinch.

Plantain is famous for it's use on insect bites and stings. A chewed leaf applied directly to the bite or sting will relieve itching and help quell inflammation. It is the first thing I reach for when someone has been stung by a bee. Many people refer to plantain as the band-aid plant, it gets this name honestly. I have seen it stop bleeding and relieve pain of many cuts and scrapes, and it's easily accessible!
An infused oil of plantain is pretty amazing as well. I have seen it clear up diaper rashes the doctor's antibiotics failed in. I add it to any salve specific for healing irritated skin. When the kids get into the nettle by accident, we grab the plantain to neutralize the sting. It even aids in what ails my pets: I have seen it work like magic on my dog's skin allergies and his cough.

These are all great abilities for a plant to possess, especially a plant so easily found anywhere. We all get bit, stung, or itchy more often than not. For these reasons alone it's worth it to go identify some today, but even more incredible to me, and less read about by many, is plantain's usefulness in afflictions of the urinary tract and lungs.

It is approved by the German Commission E (a German sort of FDA) for internal use for easing coughs and mucus membrane irritation, but details on it's use in this way seem to be shoved under the rug. I have read that plantain is used for hay fever and asthma, even though it's use in this manner is never expanded upon. Nobody talks about it!

Plantain has become one of my allies, possibly the most important herb in my first aid cabinet. I have seen such dramatic effects that I am surprised it's not one on the top of the list of most well-known herbs of all time: right up there with ginseng and goldenseal.
Having suffered from allergy induced asthma all my life, I have relied on pharmaceuticals to aid in my breathing since age three. I had a terrible run-in with mold a few years back that prompted me to try plantain. I was a sneezing, eye-watering mess. Breathing was difficult and I found I was using the inhaler way to much. Having just read about a succus (juice), I juiced some plantain. What a thick, green juice it was! One dropper full and my eyes stopped itching and watering, the sneezing disappeared, and in ten minutes my breathing was easier. What a relief! What a quick relief! Why isn't this so spoken about as I believe it should be? Are there not millions of Americans suffering allergies every year? How household of a name is Claritin now? I was floored. I ended up using plantain all summer in place of my inhaler. By November, I remember having to take 2 dropperfuls of tincture to get the effects I desired, and they were a bit shorter lasting than earlier in the year. I was worried that the plant would lose it's efficacy with me. I went back to using the inhaler on an as-needed basis, which was much less and back to normal from much earlier that year. The next allergy season rolled around and I tried plantain once again. In ten minutes I felt better. For a few hours I was unaffected. No efficacy problems there. The opening and almost relaxing effects on the lungs is just amazing. I would say it is a bronchodilator. Herbalist Jim Mcdonald once told me he would recommend plantain for carpenters. These guys breathe some nasty dust, and with plantain's expectorant actions it makes total sense. It's soothing to the tissues while aiding in the expulsion of foreign materials. I would also recommend this to folks who keep birds. It has anti fungal activities which could be an aid in protecting the lungs from some forms of fungal diseases common among bird owners.

Another wonderful first aid use for plantain is in the urinary tract. Some people are just prone to these imbalances, and they can be discomforting to say the least. For the burning or the pressure sensation, plantain is a great aid. Plantain is demulcent, which means it produces a sort of soothing coating to the mucus membranes. This diuretic, anti inflammatory, anti bacterial herb is a wonderful choice in treating cystis and urinary tract infections. If there is bleeding, what better than it's astringent actions as well??

I should mention it's use as a laxative as well. I personally have never tried out this aspect of plantain's medicine, but I hear that Metamucil is a psyllium product (you'll have to copy and paste):
made from plantago ovata, a Chinese variant. This is a multi-billion dollar industry. Think about all the resources in production and shipping we could be saving by using what grows right out our back doors!
Psyllium, you ask? Psyllium is the seed from the plantago species. You can read more about it here:

It is an easy one to harvest, just slide the ripe seeds (usually in the fall) from the tall flower stalk into a paper bag. The seeds are placed in water and drank to bulk up the stool. I have heard that while harvesting you do want to be careful not to breathe in any psyllium dust. This has been known to be a cause of asthma and breathing problems, and allergic reactions in a very few.

Some notable constituents found in plantain are allantion, mucilage, apigenin, aucubin, oleanic acid, sorbitol, tannin, and some silica. Together these constituents lend plantain it's anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, diuretic, astringent, and expectorant actions. Acubin has been proven to be a powerful anti-toxin. Allantion promotes wound healing, speeds up cell regeneration, and has skin-softening effects. Plantain is not associated with any common side effects, other than those few that are allergic to it's pollen. It is safe for general use and the leaves lend themselves well to a decoction. Used alone or in combination, plantain is a steadfast friend. It tops the list of my top ten first aid herbs.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

cold /flu season

It is upon us, the cold season. Many are just looking for the magic pill or preparation that will protect or cure them. That is just silly.
Everyone gets sick, it is just the severity of the illness we want to protect against. Getting ill isn't a bad thing, it builds our resistance in the long run. Building our health is the key to winter protection from illness. Proper nutrition and diet, exercise....we can all do this, even if it seems challenging in the beginning. Eating a variety of foods, whole foods- as free as possible from additives- is the first and best place to start. I was surprised to see 'modified corn starch' in the ingredients listing of a can of beans I opened last night. Those sneaky corn products are everywhere.... corn, one of THE most genetically modified crops out there, is in everything we can buy in a box or can. So it is challenging to know what we are eating, but with some effort and fore thought we can definitely do better for our bodies.

Here, our winter diet consists of a lot of whole chicken which is high in zinc and b vitamins. From the chicken meal, we get more meals out of the bone broth. We fill a pot with vegetables, the chicken carcass, and some vinegar (just a dash, which aids in pulling the minerals out of the vegetables and bones, so they are readily available in the broth). Most times we'll add burdock root (a local weed high in many vitamins and minerals), cayenne (yet more vitamin a and c and b's), or astragalus root (another nutritive medicinal great for the immune resistance). We will simmer our bone broth for at least 24 hours. Soup is so nutritional if made yourself.
We'll use the broth to make rice, beans, and pasta sauces.... a cost effective way to take charge of your nutrition.

Another winter habit I am hoping people take up- herbal teas.
One of the main reasons I believe in 'herbal medicine' is because I know that herbs are full of vitamins and minerals that directly nourish the body systems, optimizing it's functions. Herbal medicine is more of a lifestyle of nourishment and support, not a quick fix or magic pill. Drinking a daily tea- knowing it's nourishing the body with vitamins and minerals, supporting functions such as digestion and metabolism- has an immense affect on our immune system.
We eat, the body breaks this down and absorbs nutrients and delivers these to the cells, then removes waste from the cells and then, the body. Many beginnings of dis-ease stem from this process of the body getting mucked up with metabolic wastes. This in turn inhibits the assimilation of nutrients which has an effect on the systems and their functions through lack of nutrition. If the lymphatics are burdened with metabolic wastes, the white blood cells struggle to perform their job, opening us up to infection.

The first class of herbs I studied were the Alteratives. Alteratives help restore health and vitality to the body by helping it assimilate nutrients, eliminate metabolic wastes, and restore proper function. Many imbalances, common ailments, and factors associated with aging can be alleviated, improved, or prevented with the added support of these herbs. Some of my favorite alteratives for daily teas are: Raspberry leaf, Nettles, Burdock, Red clover, Dandelion.
Once you get into a tea habit, it is hard to stop. Winter, with it's cold, is a great time to get in the habit. With herbs like calendula (which also supports the lymph), chamomile (nerves and belly), sage (night sweats, veinous health)... it is easy to spread the tea habit around to other uses such as hair rinses, wound washes, sitz baths, and herbal steams for congestion (thyme tea has become one of my favorite of late).
Even the healthiest of us will get ill at some point. Then we call in the care.
Rest. Soup. Liquids.

Really, rest. We are such a fast paced society, slowing down is hard for some. When we are ill, we really need to just sit back and let our body do it's thing. Rest. We eat soup and broths so the body isn't burdened with spending energy on digestion...we drink lots of fluids to help flush wastes... we just let the body do its thing, letting our things go until we are better.
Most illness come with a fever, and most people think of Tylenol or Motrin at the mere mention of the word 'fever'. A fever is the immune system at work. It isn't a bad thing, even when it is higher. The activity of the white blood cells is optimized at 102-103 degrees. Think of a shooting star entering earth's burns up, right? Our bodies sort of react the same way when there is an intruding bacteria or virus. We should support this action, not suppress it.
Taking a hot bath, drinking hot teas, and wrapping up in blankets- will all get our sweat on.
As far as herbs go, there are many that help the body through a fever. These are the diaphoretic herbs. These will open the pores, increase peripheral circulation, and help one sweat...
These are best taken as hot teas, as the hot water has it's own diaphoretic actions. In a pinch, a tincture in hot water could be effective as well. My go-to herb in fever has always been yarrow, then yarrow and bee balm - drank in 1/4 cup doses every 20-30 minutes have proved wonderful for relief. Peppermint, catnip, and lemon balm are diaphoretics as well, and usually welcomed by children. These are wonderful for the stomach ills and for their mucous reducing abilities. For the achy, long flues- elder flower and boneset together as a combination, has been proven many times over for it's supporting actions, and relief of the aches.
When a person starts looking at the different actions and abilities of each plant, we learn there are many instances they offer support. Lemon balm (melissa officinalis) has anti-viral properties, relaxant properties (to the nerves, reproductive, kidney and urinary), enhances digestion and absorption of nutrients, and aids in fevers, to name a few of it's actions. Catnip (nepeta cataria) aids in fevers, has calming, relaxing, sedative properties, soothes digestive upsets, is relaxing to the lungs and is invaluable in respiratory infections and (what used to be) common childhood illness like chicken pox and measles. It's volatile oils make it useful to breathe in as a steam for excess mucus and sinus congestion. Elder (sambucus nigra , s. canadensis) here, the flowers are the sweat inducing fever aid, and great for reducing mucus and congestion. The berries are anti-viral, and high in so many of those immune supporting vitamins, the berries are mildly diaphoretic, and directly called for in cases of the flu. So maybe you see my point, people write volumes on this stuff.

Worry about a fever when it's recurring, otherwise, help it along at the beginning signs of infection. Get your fluids, and teas often. Remember your nutrition, and look at the whole foods that supply the highest amount of the vitamins and minerals vs. taking a supplement. Remember common-sense hygiene, like hand washing and coughing or sneezing into your elbow.
Go about this season with a new look at your immune system, trust in it and nourish it. Support it, don't suppress it. The cold season is here, be well.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

september blog party: herbs don't read books

It is September 1, and I am attempting the blog party last minute! This month's blog party is hosted by Henriette Kress, lots of useful information on her wonderful site! Check it out, and to see the many wonderful blog party posts as well. Our topic: Herbs don't read books.

I have known Nettle (Urtica Dioica) to be revered in the herbalist and wild food communities for it's nutrient density and powerful actions since I first started reading about herbs. It never was a plant (or entry in the beginning) I paid much attention to, or devoted any time to learning it's actions first hand. I feel like each season has a 'new' teacher to offer.... a new plant that stands out to us, everywhere we go, demanding our attention. In the past years, Nettle has not been one of them.
I love walking outside and relishing that I am surrounded by so many nutritious and medicinal plants. It is my goal to plant as many useful, native plants on my little farm as I can muster the right conditions for. Each year I try to get one or two good patches of medicinal natives established, this year I thought I would try nettle. We have a mucky wet spot in the wooded area along a cow field. It is right at the bottom of a hill and stays wet with spring rains flowing down the hill. Already there was a nice patch of Jewel weed established. I thought Nettle would love it there. Unfortunately, the plants stayed tiny and then were stunted by insect damage. Only a few plants remained by summer's end.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered a couple of plants under the cherry tree, on top of the hill. It is not particularly moist there. I hadn't noticed them while tending the cherry tree, picking the greens near there, or watching the Comfrey grow?? Nettle got my attention. Then, a day or so later, I lean on the railing of my porch and look down (something I will do often) and I see SEVEN big, healthy plants, spreading nicely already, just THERE. 'Well', I said to Nettle, 'I guess you and I will be friends'. So, I am paying attention.
I have watched it grow, branch out and flower. I have watched the flower turn to seeds, and the seeds in all of their various stages of change. I am excited to experience this plant first hand in all it's many uses. I cannot wait to see it emerge from it's 'chosen' spots as one of the first spring greens.
With that said, this summer my husband came down with that odd summer flu (summer flu? was it swine?). It started off with vomiting and high fever, chills. I had given him peppermint after it seemed the vomiting and nausea wouldn't stop. The peppermint was wonderful, it stopped the vomiting almost immediately. However, then it progressed to diarrhea. A lot of diarrhea. During the illness he had many teas and a few tinctures, staying with in the realm of a few specific herbs, but the diarrhea wouldn't cease. I ran to the herb cabinet after the third day and made a dedoction of nettle root (I had purchased from mountain rose two years ago, man, that stuff was old). I hadn't even tried it yet, and couldn't remember why I had it around. I figured it would be nutrient heavy for his depleted system if anything, and I hoped, would help his system flush excess waste from the war going on inside. I had read it has astringent properties, usually called for in bleeding...I gave it a try. Much to my husband's surprise and relief, it worked. He could drink and eat, and rest.

I have tinctures that have been macerating for over a year. I have used with success old herb in support and relief of conditions. I have planted 'by the book' with sad results. With herbs, by the book isn't always the case, herbs don't read books. Herbs speak to you, and in magical ways, offer their help and support... even when that is contraindicated in texts. Herbs require your full attention, it has something to teach you, something the book won't offer.

Friday, August 28, 2009

canning season

I always want to share how easy and rewarding canning can be.
This is a 'down year' for us... we took time off the garden and markets for the family. Usually, we would put up 100 or more quarts and pints of tomato product. This year we basically ripped up the tomato patch. We were still surprised we did. However, it feels great supporting my friends and local farmers this way too. My food is local. By canning, I know what I am eating. It is suited to my family's taste as well.
We came home from market with our first bushel of tomatoes. During the process I go back and forth between: 'geez, this takes all day' and, 'wow! we are going to need at least three more bushels just for our specialty sauces'.
The thought of the prices of the Indian sauces, the lack of good salsas and Mexican sauces, and the thought of the additives and sneaky corn products.... canning wins.

So there are a few things I have learned in my experiences with canning tomatoes:

It is messy. Mostly because I am not the most organized kitchen person, but tomatoes are a juicy, pulpy fruit. Mess will be inevitable with 20 + pounds.

It is time consuming. This one always gets me. But really, it is worth it to know what we are eating.

So, with these things in mind....
Always gather knives, pots, colanders, etc before starting. I like to have ready
a cutting board
a knife to core the tomatoes and my chopping knife
a large sauce pot filled with water on to boil
a large sauce pot filled with cold water on the counter
two or three large colanders
a large bowl for the skins
and the compost bucket

What I am getting at here is this: it is easier, faster, cleaner, and better to skin the tomatoes.

To do this -
Boil the water in the one pot, keep it hot
Core your tomatoes and slice an 'x' in the bottom. Put in a few at a time. Keep them in the pot for up to a minute. Transfer them to the cold water using a slotted spoon, trying not to carry over to much hot water to the cold.
The skins slip right off.

At this point you could let the skinned tomatoes sit in the colander over the sink, to let the excess water and juice run a bit while you clear some space. On to the chopping and preparing the sauce!

The first recipe I want to share is a salsa. It is one that uses a good amount of garden bounty. It comes out thick and is a slightly sweet-hot salsa. I love to look at it on the shelf, just beautiful.

8 pints-
20lbs large, ripe tomatoes (peeled) and cut in 1/2 in dice
6 medium onions, chopped
12 tomatillos, husked, cored, rinsed and cut in 1/2 in dice
(I sub part cucumbers )
1 c seeded, chopped chili peppers (a good variation)
4 garlic cloves
4tbs pickling or kosher salt
1c cider vinegar
3/4 c olive oil
1/2 cup chopped basil
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped parsley

Mix tomatoes, tomatillos, chilies, and garlic in a large colander. Toss with the salt and let drain for a few hours (2-3).
Stir the mixture well, then transfer to a large stainless steel or enamel pot. Stir in the vinegar, oil, basil, cilantro, and parsley. Cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally. Bring just to a boil.
Boiling water bath for 20 minutes. If you can wait a few weeks for the flavor to meld before you enjoy it, it is worth it!

A boiling water bath:

A large canning kettle with a lid and canning rack (the thing in the bottom that keeps the jars off the heat of the bottom of the pot)
Sterilized canning jars, we usually just boil some water with the jars in it. This sterilizes and keeps the jars hot.
Lids and bands (the lids must be new, and the bands have no rust)
A canning funnel and plastic wand

To soften the seal on the lids, we put them in a bowl and top off with hot water.
Using a canning funnel, fill the hot jars with the hot (in this case) salsa. Leave 1/4 inch head space in the jar. Use a plastic wand or chop stick to poke around the sides and expel any air bubbles.
Using a clean towel with the corner dipped in hot water, clean off the rim of the jar. Place the lid on and screw on the band (not so tight).
The jar is ready to go in the canner. When all the jars are in, make sure there is at least an inch of water over the submerged jars.
Bring the canner to a boil and maintain a rolling boil for the entire processing period.
Remove the jars, setting them on a dry towel or cutting board to cool. Allow the jars to cool naturally before checking for a seal, 12-24 hours.

The next recipe, a marinara pizza sauce. This makes 5 pints.

5-6 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 purple or red sweet peppers, chopped
1 cayenne chile or 1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c fresh oregano
3tbs salt
5 cloves garlic, chopped

Combine all ingredients in a large sauce pan over medium-low heat 35-45 minutes, or until bubbly. As the mixture thickens, stir it to prevent sticking.
When it has reached the desired thickness, pour into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space.
Process 20 minutes in the boiling water bath.

And then last, Indian tomato gravy. We eat this with peas and paneer or vegetable dumplings.
I always hope to can a lot of extra, but usually end up running out of spices. Sigh. One recipe is a quart, and I have found no problems with doubling for more.

2c finely chopped onions
1tsp garlic
2tbs finely chopped ginger
2tsp ground coriander
1tsp turmeric
1/4-1/2 tsp each black and red pepper
1 tsp paprika
2c pureed tomatoes with juice
2 tsp kosher salt
2tsp garam masala
4 tbs fresh cilantro
(i added a piece of cinnamon stick, and a dash of cumin)

Fry the onions for five or so minutes, till they turn light brown. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for two more minutes. Add the corriander, tumeric, paprika and peppers (and cumin and cinnamon stick ) ...stir rapidly then add the tomatoes.
cook until the mixture thickens and the fat begins to separate, stir often.
Add 2 and half c of water, bring to a boil and simmer, covered for 20 minutes.
Cool and then puree.
Add the salt (and peas and cheese if you are making panner)
Cook through about 15 minutes.
Rest the dish for at least an hour before serving.
Heat to serve, add the garam marsala and cilantro

When I make this to can, I process in the pressure canner for 20 minutes at 6 pounds- but I would highly recommend just having this for dinner tonight :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

sweet medicine, creams for the love of skin

Kiva Rose @ The Medicine Woman’s Roots is hosting this month's blog party. It is all about sweet medicine and the many delicious ways of preserving herbs from cordials to honeys, wines and meads.... Recipes, explorations, ramblings, photojournal entries were welcomed. Here's my ramblings on some sweet medicine, although not of the edible kind :)

There are just so many ways to incorporate our medicine into our daily lives.
While I am eagerly awaiting elecampane (inula helenium) harvest for a wonderful winter honey that supports my family's lungs, lately I have been playing with creams. Some may not consider this a medicine, or even a way of preserving our herbs as you would in vinegar or honey. I definitely feel it is a medicine in it's own right. Our skin is the largest organ and plays an important role in elimination and protection. The skin is also an organ of sense. It can reflect our inner state on both physical and emotional levels. So why not care for it with our own sweet medicine? A far better choice than store bought preparations that include harsh and harmful ingredients. Rosemary Gladstar states that "beauty seduces and induces people back to wellness, back to the that place of balance and harmony that is the soul of of life". I agree whole-heartedly. Beauty and magnificence in the outdoors, and beauty with in ourselves. We should embrace it all, and enjoy our own.

My first experience with cream started last year. I am a farmer and outside a lot. I forget to slather sunscreen as much as I should, and don't generally purchase skin care preparations. I am getting older, and my face was screaming for some loving care. So I started thinking on sun protection, wrinkles, and general moisture. I infused some lavender in sesame oil, as they both offer protection from harmful uv. I used a bit of coconut oil and added some patchouli e.o., a great equalizer when it comes to oily/dry skin and along with lavender, is great for wrinkles or damaged skin. I was expecting some trials and major mishaps...especially since i was using cucumber juice and rose water as my waters. My 'rose water' was really just a rose liniment, as it was steeped in witch hazel. I feel like this helped with the preservation. I was surprised that it came out perfect, with no separation or mold. It lasted well into May of this year unrefrigerated and mold-free.

My next experiences with cream are more medicine oriented. When dealing with a bad case of poison ivy in my four year old, I got onto making a salve. I used 2 parts jewelweed oil, 1 part chamomile oil, and 1 part echinacea oil. The chamomile and echinacea is great for inflammation, and helping work against the allergic response. The chamomile and jewelweed great for soothing the itching. When I took the oils off the stove I added some licorice tincture for that hydrocortizone effect, and black walnut tincture to help with echinacea against infection. I started thinking how much nicer a cream would be in this case. I incorporated some jewelweed dedoction into my original recipe and found it lovely. It was soothing for many hours, and aided in quick resolvement of the poison. I am excited to try it on all sorts of itching problems.

My mother is dealing with skin cancer. Here is where a loving medicine can bring us back to a place of balance and harmony within. Having had two 'spots' removed from her nose, she was told to stay out of the sun completely. This is hard to do in Florida. I used what was on-hand. I kept it simple. Violet, with it's high salicylic acid content, is a wonderful ally in cancers and especially when dealing with external cancers. It is also high in vitamin A, as an added bonus for the skin. I infused the violet in olive oil and then some lavender in sesame oil. I do love that combination for added protection against uv and for generally helping the skin look and feel younger. For the waters I could have used red clover infusion, but didn't get to picking that day. So I infused some calendula and rose for a few hours, added the vitamin e and completed the cream.
I am having fun experimenting with the many different combinations and possibilities.

So far, I am finding the creams easy and very open to play. I stick with a basic guide :
3/4c fixed oil
1c waters (distilled, tap can introduce bacteria and encourage the growth of mold)
1/2oz beeswax

I gently heat the oils and beeswax until they are just melted and combined, then put them in the blender. I wait for the oils to cool, leaving a thin rim of hardening wax around the edges. When this happens, I turn the blender on high speed. In a slow and even stream, I add the waters until the cream forms. At this point it is necessary to skim the edges of the blender with a chopstick or rubber spatula while adding the last of the waters. Be careful not to over-blend.

Even this basic recipe can be chopped up and amended, it is just important to keep the oil/water ratio even. Aloe vera can be included as a portion of waters and a shea or another butter could be included in the oils... I am finding limitless possibilities.

Creams have so many uses, from the face to the feet. Something about lathering oneself with a lotion boosts a little something inside ourselves. Whether it is esteem or knowing you are caring for your body, it feels good.