A warm bath is an excellent way to absorb the goodness of herbs. It is a particularly easy way to treat children and babies. You can either gather the herbs in a square of muslin, tie it with a string and hang it on from the hot tap as you fill your bath, or simply add a herbal infusion to the bathwater.
By bathing in the herbal water the plant constituents are readily absorbed through the skin as the pores open in the hot water. The volatile oils from the plant will be inhaled as they rise from the waters.
For a totally relaxing and soothing bath try lavender or camomile. To add some stimulation, and to also relax stiff muscles, try rosemary. Lemon verbena makes a delicious scented bath, and lemon balm is uplifting. You could try experimenting with a mixture of herbs.
A hand or foot bath is another way to absorb the benefits of the herbs. Our sensitive hands and feet are blessed with numerous nerve endings so despite the thickening of the skin they provide an immediate passage for the herbal constituents into the bloodstream. This is another good way to treat children or babies as they need only keep still for a few minutes night and morning while you bathe them.
A cream is lighter than an ointment and sinks more easily into the skin. (An ointment will leave a protective layer on the skin.) It is a mixture of oil and water and so can be slightly more tricky to make than an ointment since oil and water don’t readily mix.
Emusifying wax helps to get the oil and water to mix into a smooth cream. Beeswax can also be used and adds its own natural properties but is not as fail safe to use as emulsifying wax.
7.5g Beeswax or emulsifying wax
7.5g Cocoa Butter or shea butter
30ml Base Oil or Infused Oil
30ml Herb Infusion in Water or a herbal tincture
Essential oil – up to 10 – 30 drops
This will make 80g of cream.
The waxes and oils should be melted together and the water infusion should be added very slowly, stirring with a hand held blender. This stage is critical since it is easy for the emulsion to break and the oil/water components to separate. A teaspoon of glycerine can be added which makes the texture of the cream smoother. Once the cream has cooled slightly stir in any essential oil you would like to add essential oil. If you are using tincture, this can be used in addition/in place of the water infusion.
Vitamin E drops or capsules can be added to help preserve the cream. As soon as the cream starts to cool it should be poured into jars. All creams should be kept in the fridge, and preferably spooned out, since any bacteria from hands may shorten their life.
SUGGESTIONS FOR CREAMS:
Calendula cream – classic skin healing cream, for burns, cuts and inflamed skin. Use marigold (calendula) infused oil and marigold or chamomile infused water or tincture. You could add lavender essential oil,
Anti-wrinkle cream. – use a lavender or calendula base with Frankincense essential oil. Wheat germ or avocado oil could be added by about 10% to make the cream more nourishing.
Lavender cream- use lavender infused oil and water and you could add additional essential oil. Or use chamomile water instead of lavender. This will make a lovely hand cream.
Eczema cream – chickweed, which is common garden weed, is a specific for dry itchy eczema. Use chickweed and chamomile either as an infused water or an essential oil for a cooling anti-inflammatory cream.
Antiseptic cream - both thyme and rosemary are antimicrobial. An infused oil with one of these mixed with marigold tea and tea tree or thyme essential oil would be good.
You can use either fresh or dried herbs to make an infused oil, however St.John’s Wort and Lemon Balm in particular are better used fresh.
Various base oils are suitable and easily available in health food shops.
Almond Oil is excellent for massage as it is light and easily absorbed by the skin. Grapeseed oil is also light and favoured by masseurs. It is less expensive than Almond.
Sunflower oil is the most easily available and can be used with any herb.
Avocado and Wheatgerm Oil are both good for a dry skin but they are also both heavy and should be mixed with a lighter oil. They are rich in Vitamin E and are good for skin healing.
Olive oil can be used but is heavy and strongly scented.
There are two methods of making a herbal oil. If you are using a fresh herb you should first dry the herb slightly for an hour or two to reduce the water content.
Method one. Cover the herb with oil in a container such as the tiffin tin supplied by us and place it in a saucepan of boiling water for up to two hours. Do not allow the saucepan to boil dry. Strain the oil through some muslin and repeat the process if you want a stronger oil.
Store the oil in a darkened jar.
Method two. Fill an air tight container with the herb and cover with the oil right up to the top. Leave on a sunny shelf for 3 weeks. Any air bubbles should be released by tapping the container before sealing it, and you must shake it every other day. After the three weeks are up strain the oil through muslin and store in a darkened glass jar.
To extend the life of the oil remove as much plant material as possible and add a few drops of Vitamin E oil before it sets. Store in a cool place.
The oils can be used for massage, applied to skin to heal cuts, burns etc. added to baths or used to make ointments or creams.
Some of the best herbs to use to make a herbal oils are as follows:
Marigold, calendula – this will make an excellent healing oil, and is often used as a base for an ointment. Use it on cuts, grazes, stings, burns, bites, sore nipples, sores and bruises.
Lemon Balm, melissa - can be used as base for an ointment and is good for cold sores. Use fresh.
St. John’s Wort - makes a lovely rich red oil. Use for nerve and muscular pain and for skin healing. St. John’s Wort helps with depression but do not use if taking other anti-depressants. It is good for menopausal depression.
Chamomile – Use on inflamed skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. It will also have a calming effect on the spirit.
Lavender – Makes an excellent massage oil. As with the other oils essential oils could be added. Lavender will enhance the effects of the other oils. It is of course a lovely scented herb and has a calming and relaxing effect that can help with sleep problems. Lavender is excellent on burns and should be applied immediately. Lavendar can also help with nervous headaches.
Yarrow – A wound healer, yarrow will staunch bleeding, reduce inflammation and give pain relief. It is traditionally used for earache.
Mint or peppermint - use the fresh herb to make a warm massage oil to relax muscles.
Ointments are made in the same way as herbal oils method one. For this you need the tiffin tin that we supply to use as a bain marie. You fill the tiffin tin with your herb of choice and cover it with a base oil and beeswax to a ratio of approximately 1 part beeswax 10 parts oil and put in a saucepan of boiling water for 2 or 3 hours. For the base oil an organic sunflower oil is adequate, but there are many others you could use, (see our Herbal Oil sheet). You then strain the hot oil and melted beeswax through a square of muslin, using a funnel, and store it in a glass or porcelain jar. The jar should be sterilised beforehand by placing it in a hot oven. A couple of drops of Vitamin E oil added before it sets will also prolong the shelf life. Essential oils can also be added when the ointment is cooling.
If you have already infused some oil with your herbs, an ointment can be made simply by melting the beeswax in it using the tiffin tin in a pan of boiling water. Add about 25g of beeswax to 300ml of oil. Again remember to sterilise the jar by placing in a hot oven.
Some good ointments can be made from:
Calendula – to speed the healing of cuts, bites and rough skin. To make it antiseptic add thyme oil or tea tree essential oil. To make a drawing ointment add slippery elm powder or powdered marshmallow roots.
St. John’s Wort – another healing ointment that will also act as an analgesic helping with nerve pain. In addition to cuts, bites and grazes St. John’s Wort ointment will help with burns. To increase the analgesic properties add some clove essential oil.
Comfrey - an excellent healing ointment used particularly for sprains and to mend broken bones and fractures.
Rosemary, black pepper and chilli - a good combination to make a hot muscle rub.
Essential oils of thyme, eucalyptus and pine – add 30 drops of each to a 50 g. jar of any of the above ointments to make a chest rub to inhale when your sinuses are blocked.
An infusion or tea is made from the leaves or flowers. Pour one pint of boiling water over a teaspoon of the dried herb or two teaspoons of fresh herb. Leave to infuse for around ten minutes keeping a lid on the receptacle to avoid the oils evaporating away. These quantities are approximate and can be varied according to taste or the herb being used. Honey can be added if the taste is not to your liking. For maximum benefit drink one cup three or four times a day. It is inadvisible to drink any one herb regularly for more than six weeks.
A DECOCTION is made from the hard woody parts of the plant. When using roots, rhizomes, seeds, bark or nuts break the material first into small parts with a pestle and mortar or a coffee grinder. Using the same proportions as for an infusion cover the herb with water, bring to the boil and simmer for ten to fifteen minutes.
Either of these methods is suitable if you are making a solution to be used as a herbal wash or to be added to the bath.
Some of the best teas are made from:
Chamomile – calming and so good for insomnia, also a gentle digestive tonic. Very suitable for children, it will relieve colic and calm hyperactivity, Helps with PMT. Use in the bath or as a final hair rinse, especially for the fair haired.(Flowers)
Elderflower – a lovely tasting tea, the most efficacious for relieving cold symptoms including sinus problems and catarrh. My mother bathed my face with it when I had the measles. (Flowers)
Lemon Balm – for a sense of well-being. Lemon balm is one of the most delicate tasting herbal teas . It was said by 16th century herbalist John Gerard that it ‘quickens the senses’. Recent scientific studies have proved lemon balm aids learning and the storing and retrieving of information. It is also anti-viral. (Leaves)
Lemon Verbena - Similar action to lemon balm. A lovely smelling and tasting plant.
Lime Flower – the flowers from the lime tree. A powerful stress reliever soothing the nervous system. Can be very helpful for insomniacs. Sometimes used by herbalists for individuals with high blood pressure and circulatory problems. In this case advise should be sought from a herbalist.
Peppermint – stimulates the digestion. Can relieve headache and nausea. Use with elderflower for colds and catarrh. Do not use on children under four. (Leaf)
Marigold, calendula – Cleansing and detoxifying. Anti-fungal, antiseptic and antibiotic. Can be used as a wash, compress or foot bath as well as a tea. Not the best tasting tea, a little honey improves it.
Meadowsweet – Nature’s antacid, also good for arthritis and joint pain. Good for stomach ulcers. (Flower)
Nettle – using the fresh tips for a tea this is a traditional spring detoxifying tonic. Herbalists use this for a wide range of conditions including allergies and joint disorders. A good hair rinse.
Raspberry Leaf – specifically for toning the uterus. Helps with heavy menstral bleeding and will help with childbirth if drunk during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy..
Rosemary – “There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance”, said Hamlet to Ophelia. Traditionally rosemary has been used to increase the circulation to the head, relieve pain and assist concentration. Burning a sprig in your room will help with studying. Do not drink more than 3 cups a day, and do not use if you have high blood pressure.(Herb)
Sage – Very useful anti-infective herb. Use as a gargle to relieve sore throat and increase immunity. Sage is used by some herbalists to relieve menopausal symptoms due to its oestrogenic properties. It is a very drying herb. It is supposed to darken grey hair if used as a hair rinse, but will also dry the scalp. Can be used to reduce the flow of breast milk. Do not drink if pregnant. (Leaf)
Thyme – one of the strongest herbal antiseptics. Suitable for ear, nose, throat or chest infections. Use to combat coughs and colds in children. (Herb)
Valarian – a sedative calming herb, good for insomnia. The effect is not always the same with everyone. (Root)
Winter Savory – has some of the properties of Thyme.(Leaf)
Wood Betony – historically highly praised. In Roman times Betony was used for no less than 47 diseases including gout, jaundice, dropsy and bites from mad dogs. Nowadays it is used internally for the relief of headaches by increasing circulation, and working on a sluggish liver. It can also be used to relieve tension, nerve pain such as sciatica and joint pain. It has a decongestant action when taken hot, and helps to throw off head colds. It also lowers blood sugar.
Herbal tinctures are surprisingly easy to make for your own use. The herb is left to macerate (stand) in alcohol for a couple of weeks and the active principles of the herb are absorbed and preserved by the alcohol. This is the best method for extracting all the active principles of the herb:
First fill a jar three-quarters full of the herb (a bottling jar would do). Cover with a high percentage alcohol such as vodka or brandy. Check the next day to see if you need to add more alcohol, the herbs may have expanded. Keep shaking the bottle daily and after two weeks strain off the liquid and store in a sterilised dark bottle. The tincture will keep for 2 years.
A typical dose is one teaspoon three times a day a day in water. If you wish to avoid ingesting the alcohol put a teaspoon of the tincture into hot water before taking it and the alcohol will evaporate. Some herbs such as rosemary can be macerated in cider vinegar to produce a herbal vinegar. For children you could macerate in a solution of equal parts water and glycerol. If you are using dry herbs use 100g of the herb to 500ml of alcohol. In this case the alcohol need only be 25% in strength. Fresh herbs double the quantity of herb and have use a stronger alcohol. A tincture is usual described with a ratio i.e. 1:5 meaning one part herb to 5 parts alcohol. To find out the exact ratio appropriate for the herb you are using Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine is very good. If you want to follow biodynamic principles make on the new moon and press on the full moon.
If you are taking other medicines that might not be compatible or if you feel unconfident about dosages or any other aspect of herbalism there is a herbal advice line on 0906 8020117. They charge by the minute and will tell you their charges if you ring them.
If you would like to learn more there are courses in practical herbalism run by Nathan Hughes BSc PGDip MNIMH HYPERLINK www.herbcourses.org.uk. To find out more about herbalism generally contact the National Institute of Medical Herbalists 01392 4260222 HYPERLINK "http://www.nimh.org.uk" www.nimh.org.ukYou can buy muslin and funnels from us to strain the macerated herb when bottling your tincture. A square of muslin for 50p and funnels either 50p small or 70p large.