Welcome to Hill Country Herbalist

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Herb Babies Are Here!

While walking the property outside, I thought I'd take a close look of the ground and see what was springing up. To my delight, I noted baby cleavers growing, baby mullein growing and lots of verbena growing. How exciting - I've been looking forward to the cleavers coming since saying goodbye to it last summer. I can hardly wait to drink a cleavers infusion and make fresh cleavers lotion!

Here's a little information on Cleavers, Mullein and Verbena:

Cleavers (Galium aparine): Grows in part sun part shady areas with lots lose soil and organic matter on the ground. Mine grows just under the rose gardens amongst all the fallen rose petals and leaves. The soil is very rich in decaying organic matter. It loves to grow close to the ground and when you touch it the leaves feel as if they touch you back...they feel a bit sticky due to tiny little hooked hairs on the slender juicy pinnate leaves. It is not a native, but it is abundant and invasive to some. Europeans originally used it every Spring to cleanse their blood and help stimulate glandular and liver function. Now, people all over the world like to make a tea out of this yummy herb and drink it for the same purpose.

Cleavers is easy to harvest. It appears as if it is well rooted, but quite the contrary. It is barley rooted to the ground and just grows and climbs along. When you pick up one leaf, you are able to practically pick up the entire plant!

Cleavers can be infused in oils and made into salves and lotions. It can be made into tincture and infused into a tea. It can be cooked in soups and used much like a vegetable. It has an earthy fresh flavor. It can be juiced in a juicer and drank as a super green morning drink to get you revved up in the mornings. A shot or small amount is all you need, since it is a cleanser - you may get loose stools if you consume too much at one time. I like to drink a cup of Cleavers infused tea once a day in the Spring time. It seems to help clean the system of impurities and clear the face of blemishes. To make an infusion, boil a couple of cups of water and once it comes to a boil, take it off the heat and add a handful of the herb into the pot. Infuse for about 15 minutes, strain, and then drink the infusion. It is very light green and is pleasant to the pallet.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus): Mullein is a medicinal herb often used to ease inflammation in the respiratory tract and with alleviating mucousy coughs. People infuse mullein with hot water to make a tea and consume it to ease irritation and inflammation. I have infused dried mullein leaves in extra virgin olive oil to make an oil infusion which is good for relieving ear aches in children and adults. Just a couple of drops of the oil is what people use to help ease the discomfort; however it is not for eardrums that have broken - it is simply for basic ear aches.

The oil also has anti-microbial properties. I have made salves and lotions with mullein infused oils. It is very soothing to the skin.

I just love walking along and finding mullein on my path. It is so soft and velvety. I find it very inviting and as I look down into the plant, the leaves seem to draw me in.

Vervain (Verbena glandularia):

Vervain covers the field where I live....in the Spring the ground is covered with its blue/purple flowers. A tincture can be made of Vervain by harvesting the aerial parts. It is best to harvest the aerial parts before the flowers open. It is a nervine tonic used to strengthen the central nervous system. It's actions are sedative, anti-spasmodic, & diaphoretic. Simpler's method is the easiest, in which you fill a jar full of plant material and pack it in tight. Then pour vodka into the jar; ensuring all the plant matter is submerged. Cover the jar and store in a cool/dark location and shake each day. After a couple weeks, strain the mestrum (exhausted and depleted plant material) and the plant free liquid that is left is your new tincture!

People take drops of the tincture as it is regarded to aid with sleep, digestion and inflammation of muscles. Most people, who use the tincture, use it to rest easier and ease away tension and anxiety. They use it as a sleep aid. I recently read that people use it when muscles are spasming or inflamed. As a diaphoretic, it has been used with fevers. People have also turned to Vervain to help reduce inflammation of the gall bladder. It has also been used as a mouthwash to assist with gum inflammation.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Today in the Herbal Garden: Growing Medicinal Herbs in the Greenhouse

Just because it's winter doesn't mean the herbal adventures go dormant. Not with this Hill Country herbalist! With a greenhouse, I can winterize my herbs and keep them warm and happy all winter long. Along with herbs, I have heirloom tomatoes I'm growing from seed, a rather large Meyer lemon tree, a lime tree, many hibiscus plants and of course herbs herbs herbs! Here are a few herbs I have growing in the greenhouse this month:

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)I just love each and every plant in the mint family or Lamiaceae family. They are so easy to grow, even for gardeners just starting off. I'm harvesting nearly each day from this Thyme plant to help me ward off colds and flu. Anytime I run into someone suffering from a cold or flu I inform them of the benefits of Thyme. It doesn't hardly matter how one ingests it, just so it gets in the system to help the body get well. The active ingredient in Thyme is Thymol and its actions are anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-spasmodic, and expectorant. It can be gargled with once it's been steeped in warm water to help fight sore throats. Since it's anti-spasmodic, people turn to Thyme relax the gastrointestinal tract. I simply use it in most of my meals so I get a good boost each time I eat. It's great in soups and sauces. Try it, you'll love it.

Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris)is doing quite well being potted up in the greenhouse. I grow these plants for their wonderful healing leaves. People have used the leaves for their antiseptic, astringent, and anti-spasmodic actions. The leaves can be used fresh or dried in tincture, can be made into tea,or infused in oils to make salves and lotions. Many see the leaves as "tongue like" leading one to associate the benefits of this herb with being beneficial for the mouth and throat. I like to use it very much like it sounds, to help heal the skin and aid with bruises and rashes. It can be steeped in warm water and the infused water can be used to clean cuts and wounds. Internally, it is a bitter helping the digestive tract. This herb is also in the Lamiaceae (mint) family.

Wood Betony (Stachys coccinea)Another healer in the Lamiaceae family! What a joy this plant brings when it blooms scarlet red throaty flowers in late summer. The leaves have such a wonderful texture. They are rather thick, fuzzy, and very bright green. The leaves of this plant have been used by infusing them in water and sipped to aid with rattled nervous energy. It's also a bitter. It is said to strengthen and feed our central nervous system and also has a calming action. It can also be used in poultice form to assist with healing wounds. I grow all my herbs for topical uses but I enjoy reading and researching how ancient and modern day people have used these plants internally.

St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum)This is a lovely herb. The leaves are smooth, soft, and light green. It is sort of fern like in it's pattern. The fresh leaves can be used to make an oil infusion and the infused oil can be used topically for bruises, burns, and wounds. I have not used my herb this way; however, I have read care must be taken as the infusion can cause skin irritation in some people so if someone were to try it it would need to be tried in a small area of the skin to determine level of sensitivity. It can be made into a lotion and people have used it to aid in wound healing and in with rheumatic pain. The oil, when fully infused, will turn red in color. The flowers are a cheerful yellow. I have had my plant since late fall so it has not bloomed just yet. I am looking forward to seeing the first flowers appear next year.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) Last on this post, but certainly not least, is the lovely and cheerful Calendula. I harvest the petals and air dry them and store them in a container. When I make rice, I add the petals as it simmers and it brings a delightful element to the dish. The fresh petals can be used in salad dressings. I frequently have dried blooms infusing in olive oil on the windowsill in the herbal kitchen. It is a staple in my serums and lotions. The healing properties of this plant make it an herbal favorite. The petals can also be steeped in water and the cooled infusion can be used as an eyewash. The infusion can also be used as a wonderful hair rinse, mouth rinse, and toner. It has anti-inflammatory properties, as well as anti fungal, antiseptic, astringent, and antispasmodic.

Making Serums with Infused & Essential Oils

Serums are liquid treatments high in concentrated ingredients to address our skin's needs. They are a wonderful beauty treatment and people rely on them to address problems such as redness, wrinkles, discolorations, and marks. I love using serums under the eyes, as they are great in targeting dry areas. Since the skin just underneath our eyes lacks sweat glands, it tends to be very delicate and can become dry.

Serums are absorbed very quickly by the skin and our skin can absorb the serum into it's deepest dermal layers.

I recently made a serum designed as an acne/mature skin serum. I am one of those lucky ladies who is battling the signs of aging while still getting blemishes like a hormone ridden teen! As if aging skin is not dreadful enough - try complicating things with blemishes, too!

Serums can be made with special infused oils. I like to use a calendula infused oil since calendula is so well regarded for collagen and cell renewal. I also like using macadamia nut oil and jojoba oils as these oils tend not to aggravate acne. Macadamia nut oil is used to moisten older dryer skin, while jojoba oil is used to prevent dehydration and help with blemished skin.

Here's my favorite ingredient list for acne/mature skin serum. I call it "Smooth as Silk Serum for Acne and Mature Skin":

- calendula infused oil
- macadamia nut oil
- jojoba oil
- neem oil
- evening primrose oil
- essential oils of lemon, frankincense, ylang ylang and geranium.

It's so soft and silky when you put it on, it feels so good. The skin under my eyes just loves it!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Making Infused Oils

One of the basic components in making natural homemade products that are good for you and nutrient rich is infused oils. Infused oils can be any one of your favorite carrier oils, i.e., extra virgin olive oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil, etc. I typically use extra virgin olive oil for it's long shelf life, but many people rely on grapeseed oil for its light texture and affordability. Mindy Green recommends olive oil and coconut oil for a longer shelf life and I agree.

So, what's an infused oil? An infused oil involves taking herbs/plant matter that you've identified as having certain desirable properties (such as soothing to skin)and infusing it in the carrier oil over a period of time so that the essence of the plant gets transferred into the oil - much like the process of making a delicious cup of tea. The plant gets drawn into the oil leaving you with a wonderful product that can be used either by directly rubbing it on the skin via massage or made into body products such as balms, salves and lotions. Most of the infused oils I make go into making lip balms, healing salves and delectable lotions!

Here's a simple process you can follow so you can make wonderful infused oils at home. You can even make delicious infused oils for cooking! Think about using your summer basil and infusing it into olive oil for a delicious drizzling oil to set your dish apart from the everyday hum drum dinner...Yum!

Making Infused Oils:
- harvest or purchase herb of choice from garden or market
- air dry herb 75% so much of the water content has left the herb
- chop or lightly grind herb and place in mason jar
- top with carrier oil (I prefer extra virgin olive oil)
for every cup of herb use 3 cups oil or cover to ensure all plant matter is in the oil.
- leave in a sunny windowsill for two weeks, shaking/rocking the jar daily.
- after two weeks, strain the spent herb matter through a cheesecloth (otherwise known as the "marc") and compost/discard
- bottle up your liquid goodness!
- add 400 iu of vitamin E to extend the shelf life and prolong it from turning rancid- store in a cool dark location clearly labeled and it's ready to use!

Here's a picture of the "marc" - basically depleated of it's plant powers and ready for composing.

As you know, I grow lots of yummy herbs in the garden and here are some of the infused oils I've made just from what I've grown:

marjoram infused oil (great for gardener's lotions and salves)
basil infused oil (delicious when drizzled over pasta and pesto)
chickweed infused oil (wonderful for salves and lotions)
wild lettuce infused oil
cleavers infused oil
evening primrose infused oil
bee balm infused oil
henbit infused oil

Although I don't grow enough Calendula to harvest all I would need to make an infusion, I do buy it organically from Mountain Rose Herbs and let me tell you.. I just love using this infusion in most if not all my products! It's a goody!


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Today in the Garden: Havesting Mixed Lettuce and Tomatoes

It's a wonderful day when you can step outside, smell the fresh air of fall, and harvest goodies from the garden. I love farmer's markets, but there's nothing better than to "shop" around your very own garden and harvest fresh from the plant.

About a month a ago, I planted buttercrunch, red leaf, and oak leaf lettuce. When grown and harvested yourself, the lettuce takes on more flavor and bite. It's a bit more bitter and has better presence in salads. It's fun to toss with basil and dill(also growing in the garden) to really add dimension and character to a lettuce mix. Since lettuce grown in the garden is a bit more bitter than store bought lettuce, it should help kick up our digestive juices helping our digestion that much more.

The tomatoes I'm harvesting come from the Juliette heirloom tomato planted this past Spring. It seems the fruit coming off this plant is larger and more impressive than the fruit offered in Spring. I'm completely amazed how generous this plant is in offering its fruit. It is quite impressive! Please don't overlook next time you are shopping around for a tomato plant for your garden - if you see Juliette...grab it!

In this picture you can see the fury of blooms this plant has. It's ready to go at it, all over again, with yet another round of tomatoes. Incredible!

Try this simple recipe to spice up salads, sandwiches, or wraps:

Hill Country Salad Mix:
- a dozen Juliette tomatoes (quartered)
- 6 basil leaves
- 3 buttercrunch lettuce leaves
- 1/4 thinly sliced onion
- 1/4 cup fresh dill
- juice from one lime
- drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
- salt & pepper to taste

Ribbon cut basil leaves and lettuce. Rough chop dill. Thinly slice 1/4 of an onion. Toss with quartered tomatoes and add the juice of one lime - salt and pepper to taste. Excellent on top of wraps or served as a salad with fresh crumbled cheese.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Today in the Herbal Kitchen: Lotions!

I love bees wax. I attribute the success of my lotions to this magical wax. I'm almost through one of the first blocks I purchased earlier this spring. The act of shaving it and storing it is therapeutic. It gives me time to appreciate and respect our bee friends, for without them - our existence would be threatened.

Today, I made a cocoa rose body butter. The base scent is chocolate with hints of rose and tangerine. I think this is a very special lotion and look forward to hearing the feedback I'll be getting on this one.

I also made a calendula and raspberry leaf lotion featuring eyebright extract and neem oil. This lotion specifically targets the sensitive skin under our eyes, throat and chest. This is my favorite anti-aging cream.

I know it's been a while since I blogged - I've been quite busy in the herbal kitchen and garden coming up with new recipes to feed our bodies through our skin. I'll leave you with a picture of Basil - seen here smelling the leaves from the herb Texas Betony (Stachys coccinea).

Stachys is perennial herb that loves full sun and attracts hummingbirds and butterflies with it's vibrant red throated flowers. It is a great herb to sip in teas, mostly used to calm our central nervous system. It is said to feed our central nervous system while having a calming action. It's associated with helping people with nervous tension.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Home Remedies for Acne Using Herbs

It can be very satisfying to make herbal remedies using plants you have growing on your land or backyard. With just a few pantry staples, you can create toners, baths, and sugar scrubs - all designed to keep your skin healthy and smooth.

Acne can be very worrisome - whether experienced by a teen or a person in the 20's, 30's, 40's or older. Here are some remedies that help me heal my skin and prevent additional breakouts.

Lavender, Citrus Peel, Oatmeal Sugar Scrub
- I love this scrub! I recommend it for anyone with oily skin, breakouts or not. It is an amazing product -

2 cups organic sugar
1/4 cup castile liquid soap
1/4 cup sweet almond oil
1 tablespoon ground lavender flowers
1 tablespoon ground organic citrus peel (I mostly use peels from oranges and grapefruits)
1 tablespoon ground instant oatmeal
10 drops of your favorite essential oil

In a grinder, place lavender flowers, peel and oatmeal and grind until powdered. Add the powdered herbs into a bowl along with 2 cups sugar.
Add 10 drops essential oil. In another container, mix castile soap and sweet almond oil. Slowly drizzle the mixture into the sugar mixture and mix. Package and enjoy! I use each morning and I just love the way my skin feels!

I'm currently giving samples of this scrub out so if interested send me an email - it's a goody.

Herbal Vinegar
Vinegars help tone your skin and remove excess soap buildup from our hair and skin. Try this herbal vinegar directly on the skin to restore, tone, and prevent infection.
- apple cider or white wine vinegar
- purified water
- fresh or dried mint leaves

Fill a jar with mint leaves and stems, packing it full. Pour in the vinegar, covering all the leaves. Place lid and store for 3-5 days in a cool and dark location, shaking it at least once a day. Strain the infused vinegar, discard/compost the spent mint leaves and stems. Dilute the vinegar infusion with purified water (about 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water for a strong toner 1:6 or 1:8 for a lighter toner).

Apple cider vinegar is underused, in my opinion. It has great toning qualities and helps balance and nourish the skin. If the smell is too strong for you, try diluting the finished product with rose water.

Super Body Salt Soak - 3 cups Epsom salt (magnesium is the super star in this salt)
- 1/2 cup baking soda
- 20 drops of your favorite essential oil
- 2 pinches chamomile flowers
- 2 pinches lavender flowers

This salt soak helps draw out impurities from our skin and also helps feed the skin magnesium. I read that bathing in magnesium/Epsom salts is an excellent way for the body to absorb magnesium and that taken internally isn't as effective as bathing. I love the drawing out action this soak has along with it's feeding/nourishing action.

I grow my own lavender flowers and harvest them, dry them and store them whole. When I'm ready to use them, I'll grind them to preserve their freshness. I purchase chamomile flowers organically from a very reputable source. These flowers I purchase are whole and vibrant - the yellow is crisp and the petals are still in tact.

In a grinder, combine the flowers and lightly grind. In a bowl, combine the salt, baking soda, lightly ground flowers and essential oil. Mix together and package in recycled glass jars. Stores beautifully and is very fragrant. The chamomile flowers are very sweet smelling.

This soak is excellent for irritated skin. I gave a jar of this to a friend of mine who needed to offer help to a friend of hers. He was covered from head to toe in hives and rashes. The salt soak drew out the impurities and cleared up his skin. I was elated to hear of his results and happy I was able to help him.

I think this would be a great soak for someone with body acne, as well.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Great Way to use Prickly Pears and Be Healthy, too!

Prickly pear cactus represent about a dozen species of the Opuntia genus (Family Cactaceae). In the Texas Hill Country, we see many of these species along road sides, in country landscapes, and is considered the local signature in any pasture, farm, park or field. The cactus blooms in Spring and sets fruit in mid-late summer. We've had this cactus bearing fruit for the last six weeks. For the last three weeks, the color has become richer and darker.

Prickly pear, or tuna, can be juiced and made into several different drink recipes. Today, herbhusband decided he couldn't resist the beckoning call of the deep purple prickly pear any longer - he was determined to make a Prickly Pear Margarita! So... off we went into the back portion of the property where we harvested the beautiful fruit.

Pictured here is the cactus earlier this Spring and also the set fruit earlier today.

Prickly pear is said to keep blood sugar stable, making it an ideal plant friend for people with diabetes. It is also rich in Vitamin C and a good source of carbohydrates - but one must be extremely careful when handling and juicing the fruit to be sure all the spines and tiny pricky hairs are removed. Prickly Pear Nectar is made when you juice the pulp from the fruit and strain out the seeds.

We successfully removed all the tiny spines on the fruit by singeing the outside with a propane torch while holding the fruit with a skewer. Once the outer skin was gently torched, all the harmful tiny spines were gone.

Enjoy this delicious recipe we created today and start taking advantage of the native fruit:

Hill Country Prickly Pear Margaritas
(makes 2 margaritas)

- 8 Prickly Pears
- 4 small limes
- 2 shots tequila
- 1 tablespoon honey

Carefully harvest 8 Prickly Pears using tongs. Place harvested Prickly Pears into a bowl. Being careful not to touch the fruit, insert a skewer where the fruit once attached to the cactus pad. Using a propane torch, gently torch all sides of the fruit (holding the torch about 6 inches away - singeing the tiny hairs/spines). (This just takes a brief moment - you do not have to burn the pear to singe the hairs/spines).

On a cutting board, slice the fruit length wise. Squeeze the pulp out into a muslin or cheese cloth. Over a bowl, squeeze the fruit through the cloth straining the pulp - juicing all the liquid into a bowl. Once you've sqeezed all the juice - discard any remaining pulp and tiny seeds.

Pour the juice into a tumbler. Juice 4 small limes. (We have a lime tree growing on our back porch so we were in luck, there). Add the lime juice to the prickly pear juice. Add two shots of your favorite tequila. Stir in 1 tablespoon honey. Pour over two margaita glasses filled with ice and ENJOY! ;)

Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference: Abiquiu New Mexico

Just got back from Abiquiu, New Mexico and settling into my typical routine. I attended the Traditions in Western Herbalism conference held at Ghost Ranch - an enchanting part of the earth famous for inspiring Georgia O'Keefe to create breathtaking paintings of the heart stopping landscape. This land sings through your body as if communicating you have entered the heart and soul of mother earth. Sounds kind of goofy, I know...but that land does impact you once you are there, I'll tell you that much. The bright blue sky radiates as it touches the orange red earthy hills...ahhhh.

There were so many well known and published herbalists there, I hardly know how to begin featuring each one. I'll simply start in sequential order of my favorite classes attended.

Paul Berger: North American Institute of Medical Herbalism and webmaster of medherb.com
"Diet, sleep, activity...these are the horses that carry the chariot of vitality!"~ Paul Bergner. I just love Paul's energy and view on vitalist principles of herbal medicine. He and I have something in common, we both healed our bodies through careful study of food intolerance and sensitivities. He once suffered from food intolerance leading to immune system disturbances and diabetes. Today, he is symptom free and medical doctors agree he does not present with any signs of having diabetes. He had been so ill, it affected his eyesight and was once considered legally blind. That is certainly not the case now.

Paul's classes focused on vitalism. The "vitalist regimen" prescribes to knowing our bodies have the power and ability to heal themselves. Just as our bodies went astray into the path of disorders and disease - given the right nutrition and support plan it is believed that with time and study the body can correct itself and begin the path towards healing and wellness. Food is a large part of providing basic nutrition for endemic deficiencies. The thought here is one I've believed for some time - food can be building; however, if you do not tolerate a certain food, it can work against your body systems...weakening them... and in time, lead to illness. We all have intolerance to some degree - and with patience and discipline, cutting out the foods that lead to feeling poorly (mental fog, indigestion, sluggishness) can help your body focus on staying healthy. Poor sleeping can lead to health disorders, as well - Paul's studies show we need about 8.5 hours of sleep for optimal wellness. Also, 60-90 minutes of activity per day is essential for our health.

Paul's clinical experience shows his clients are routinely cured by eliminating food intolerance. He has had success relieving people from autoimmune disorders, chronic URI, GERD, chronic lower bowl diseases - all by helping his clients eliminate problem foods. If you know me, you know this hits home - having cured myself of GERD and Gastritis and bowel disorders all by eliminating certain foods.

Howie Brounstein: the Columbine's School of Botanical Studies

"I love herbs - I want to slather them all over my body" ~ Howie Brounstein. He had me at "slather" - as an herbal body care maker, I had to laugh when he said this during his GI Protocol discussion. Howie is a very entertaining herbalist/teacher. Here are a few talking points from his class:

- the GI tract can be inflamed and disrupted by veganism and extreme food habits. The key here is to remove, replace, repair, reinoculate, and restore the gut.
- Remove: all foods that irritate you; you know the ones. We all have them.
- Replace: those foods with nutritive foods you tolerate well - keeping a well balanced diet...ensuring you are getting magnesium - since magnesium deficiency is prominent in most people today. Take in bitter foods we have lost in western diet. Try dandelion leaves in your salad, aromatic mints, basil. Tasting bitter greens before a meal stimulates digestion and gets you systems flowing.
- Repair: Demulcents and astringents are needed. Demulcents (slippery elm, marshmallow root) sooth and coat irritated tissue while astringents (plantain) tighten, contract, and tone tissue.
- Reinoculate: get probiotics, keifer, fermented foods in your belly to help build up the "good guys" and keep the overgrown bad bacteria in check.
- Restore: keep up all of the above to a better feeling better functioning GI tract.

7 Song: Northeast School of Botanical Medicine

What a wonderful way to end the conference! A scenic and informative herb hike in the hills of Ghost Ranch with herbalist 7Song (seen here holding avena sativa or wild oats). Here are just some of the many plants he featured:

- Cotton Wood: deltoid shaped leaves with 10 or more teeth per side gives you a good indication you are looking at a cotton wood tree. The bark is "blocky". A tea can be made of the inner bark then soak in it for pain relief. Willow is stronger; however cotton wood bark is good enough when you are in the woods and need immediate pain relief. The medicine also resides in the buds of the tree - the sticky resin is considered the medicine and can also be a deterrent for insects. the inner bark medium is rich with solicilates - which has anti-inflammatory properties.

- Oats - Avena Sativa: good nervine to feed the central nervous system. Calming effects. Harvest in milky stage. (I personally love this plant and take a few drops of tincture each day and have really noted the difference).

- Blue Spruce: related to the pines; resins good for first aid bandages while out in the woods. Collect the resins and heat them over a fire then cover wound with it to create a seal "nature's band-aid". It is antimicrobial and nontoxic. Applying it on while hot also draws out cactus spines. You can also make a tea from the needles but it does cause a heating/drying effect so if your constitution is hot/dry avoid this tea.

- Lavender: tincture is said to be good for belly aches related to stress (taken in very small amounts).

- Ragweed: counterintuitive, but it can be very helpful as an antihistamine herb when made into tincture before flowering.

In another blog entry, I'll cover Mathew Wood's discussion on the muscular skeletal system and which herbs are helpful as well as other helpful tips I picked up along the way.

In the meantime, please enjoy these beautiful pictures of Abiquiu's Ghost Ranch:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Orange Blossom: The daily lotion

...Thought I'd update you on my hand, today. The lotion feels good when putting it on and does feel like a comfy blanket for my big swollen hand - but let's get serious - wasp stings are vicious and this lovely lotion isn't a remedy for the toxic venom inserted by the stinger of a hornet/wasp.

Even though it felt good after I put it on yesterday...and the swelling went down a little, my hand is still very swollen. Wasp stings are serious, that's for sure. My hand looks like a catcher's mitt :( Later in the night the swelling increased so even though it helped temporarily, it was no match for this sting.

The Orange Blossom lotion I created is a lovely daily lotion that feeds the skin what it needs to have a healthy glow. This lotion features olive oil, calendula, cleavers, and aloe vera. Olive oil is the second most absorbent oil and this lotion may feel "oily" but it's actually absorbing into your dermal layers. It's a humectant so it will continue to draw moisture to your skin keeping it moisturized long after you've put it on. The smell is fresh and clean - and the smell comes from orange blossoms that have been distilled and their fragrance has been captured in the steam (hydrosol). I also use sweet orange, lavender and chamomile essential oil to add to the yumminess of this lotion.

I'm currently giving out this sample so if interested please email me and let me know. I have about a dozen samples I'm getting ready to ship to my herbaunt so she can give out to her co-workers and friends.

(Oranges and orange blossoms photo by Ellen Levy Finch)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Wasp Sting & Orange Blossom lotion

Yesterday, I was stung by a wasp between my pinkie and ring finger. I was sitting outside visiting with my neighbor and noted a few wasps darting about. For the most part I was vigilant about their whereabouts, but as I rested the top of my hand on my lap I got zapped. Ouch!!! I panicked since I already have a tendency to overly puff up to ant and mosquito bites. I tend to be hyperactive in terms of creating histamine. So, I was wondering how I would react to sting of a wasp - a first for me. Things fared okay - no increase in heart rate or temperature....so I'm very pleased my body is strong when it comes to wasp stings. Whew!!

Today, I woke up to it throbbing, aching, and itching. I can't see my last two knuckles and I found it hard to open and close my hand all the way. I decided to read and refresh myself on which herbs work well with inflammation and itching.

Popular anti-inflammatory, soothing, and itch relieving herbs include: plantain, aloe, chamomile, cleavers, lavender, yarrow. As I read this, I thought to myself Orange Blossom has all but two of these herbs. Then I remembered my Uncle Herb reporting this past Spring that when he was stung by an asp, Orange Blossom helped sooth his inflammation and helped relieve some of the itching...hmmm...I decided to try it.

I am quite surprised. When I applied the lotion it felt cool and soothing. After about 10 minutes I noticed I was closing my hand and opening my hand more than I was able to. I started to see my ring finger knuckle, too! The itching subsided - I am amazed. Even as I type I can tell I'm able to use my pinkie finger more than I was able to before putting on the lotion. It's still quite swollen, but it's not as uncomfortable as it was.

Orange Blossom has aloe, chamomile, cleavers, lavender, calendula and other goodies. I guess for my Uncle Herb and I - this lotion is handy for ouchy itchy stings.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New Products with New Label

Introducing my new logo! ivita botanicals - vitamins for your skin. I've been busy in the herbal kitchen whipping up nutritive lotions, scrubs, facial elixirs, lip balms, salt soaks - all packed with vitamins and organic herbs that feed our skin what it needs to stay happy and healthy (not the bad stuff - synthetic preservatives, toxins and chemicals). With the philosophy of we should be as discriminating with what we apply on our skin as we are about what we ingest in our bodies - I've been careful to create a toxin-free line that our skin craves.

One of my newer products is an under eye elixir that helps with puffy weary eyes. Made with organic cucumber, aloe vera gel, and vitamins for the skin this lovely "rejuvenator" feels cool and soothing when applied to the delicate skin under our eyes. A little goes a long way, too. I've been using it happily for the last few days (I've also enjoyed applying it on skin beyond under the eye with great results!). This elixir works well when applied on freshly cleansed skin and followed with my Cell Rejuvenator lotion featuring jojoba oil, aloe vera, calendula and vitamins for the skin.

My lovely and talented herbsister in-law is a marketing genius. She and I met for lunch some time back and she designed my new logo! I just love it, don't you? Tell me what you think..... ;)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Updates & Feedback

...so, a friend of a friend had a head to toe rash from heat, working with pets at an animal shelter (SARA), and various other reasons. I gave my friend a large jar full of the salt soak I made with chamomile and lavender flowers and she reported that all of the rash went away with the exception of a small area on his back. That's wonderful! I will definitely be making more herbal salt soaks.

I've also been receiving great feedback from my calendula lip balm sticks. I wear this balm each day - I love the way it feels - not greasy or heavy - just soft nurtured lips...ahhh.

Still getting great reviews on my Orange Blossom lotion - this is such a wonderful lotion that feeds the skin and keeps it healthy. I've heard this lotion helping people with really dry, irritated and even sun damaged skin. I love the way my hands look after just a few uses - the skin looks smoother and more vibrant.

I'm loving the Raspberry Calendula under eye cream I made about a month ago. I've noted the skin under my eye area looking brighter and smoother. I'm definitely making more of this lotion in the next few days.

I'm surprised both men and women are loving my patchouli sugar scrub - it's a wonderful scrub with almond oil and essential oils for mature or blemished skin. I have both of these so I use daily! I'm getting requests for this one and I have to say - I wasn't expecting that. It's a great surprise.

I spoke with herbdad today and he told me a sample I had given my aunt in April was really well received by a friend of hers who is inquiring about how to get some more. I love this! I love being able to feed our skin with plants I've either grown or purchased from reputable vendors. If it's organic, I buy it. I buy the best I can buy - extra virgin olive oil, high quality aloe vera, organic plants...you get the picture - only the best for our skin. If we can't eat it, why put it on our skin? Our skin is the largest organ we have and it does "digest" what we apply on it. Anyway - I'm off - much to do in the herbworld....be back with more good news and latest products in a few days....ciao for now!

Sunday, August 1, 2010


I have some dried Arnica flowers in my herbal pantry I hadn't used until today. When I called my neighbor and heard he re-injured his shoulder and was in some pain, I decided to infuse the Arnica in oil to make an anti-inflammatory salve.

Arnica (Arnica montana)is an orange/yellow flower with hairy leaves belonging to the Asteracea family. Other members of the Asteracea family: chamomile, calendula, dandelion, sunflowers....and what do these flowers all have in common? Mostly yellow, disk flowers surrounded by "petals" or ray flowers. That's right! Even the "petals" we often admire in these flowers are each individual flowers capable of producing it's very own seed. Take the sunflower for example, the inner area is made up of many tiny disk flowers and the "petals" are each individual ray flowers. Fascinating...

Arnica has long fibrous hairs that appear fluffy once dried. These fibers are from the flower's hairy pappus or the modified version of this plant's sepals. (I'm smiling as I type "hairy pappus" since my herb teacher often giggled when she would teach us botany and touched on the flowers which demonstrated a hairy pappus. Doesn't it just sound so dirty!?).

Arnica is best used externally for topical use. I have read it can be quite toxic when used internally. It has been used for its anti-inflammatory and vulnerary actions. Topically, it has been used in the form of salves, rubbing oil, or liniments. People have come to rely on Arnica when they are hurting due to sprains or deep bruising; however, it should not be used if the skin is broken.

Arnica seems to work by stimulating and dilating the blood vessels near the surface, improving circulation to the injured area.

It's going to take me a couple weeks before I can make this salve. I sure hope my neighbor is better by then and doesn't need it. I still think it's good to have it around the house for those times I get bumps and bruises - not to mention when herbhusband does a number on himself when he's working around the house.

A bit of caution, Arnica can sometimes irritate the skin and if you are hurt you should seek medical assistance. This blog entry is not meant to diagnose, treat or subsitute professional medical advice.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Today in the Herbal Kitchen: Making Herbal Bath Salts

Today, my cousin is having a birthday party so I decided to bring herbal bath salt as a gift for her and her sister. The bath salt I purchased at the health food store this morning is Genuine Zechstein magnesium chloride flakes. The package states that for millions of years this salt has been protected at 1600-2000 meters deep in the interior of the earth, as part of the ancient Zechstein seabed in Europe. It is said to be easily assimilated by our skin, so I selected this to be the foundation of my herbal bath salt soak product. Not the most economical way to make an herbal bath salt, but I thought - ahhh, what the heck, go for it!

I added my herbal favorites: chamomile flowers, lavender flowers from my garden, and a combination of essential oils that make you smile and exhale with relief when you take a whiff. I used recycled glass jars to package them in. I try and buy food products in glass jars as much as possible. Then, instead of discarding, I sterilize them and store herbs and other herbal products in them.

Many rely on bath salts since it is associated with effecting our muscle and nervous system. Magnesium sulfate in the salt can be readily absorbed by our skin, reducing inflammation. You may note you prune less when bathing in bath salts. Bath salts can also help improve smoothing rough areas on our skin as well as decrease inflammation of irritated skin.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Little BPA Along with Your Change?

A Little BPA Along with Your Change?

Check out this link to the Environmental Working Group's website. If you are like me and try and decrease exposure to BPA - read this quick article.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Minneapolis Adventure

I received "Outstanding Alumni of the Year" award from my graduate school this past weekend in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Upon check in, I heard the front desk person say "You are staying in the executive corner suite" and that's when I thought, who me?? Really??

The room was gorgeous - views and views of downtown Minneapolis. Friday night, I attended the banquet where I said a few words and met the wonderful board and faculty of the university.

Saturday was a free day with university socials going on in the late evening. Herbhusband and I toured the town. We took the light rail to the Mall of America and stayed there for about an hour and a half when we both said let's go! We want to explore the nature scene!

We hopped on a shuttle and found ourselves in lovely park where our herb adventure took us to a more fulfilling place than any mall could offer. . As we began our walk, we could see the downtown sky line through the trees and over the water. The water was so beautiful and the weather was crisp and breezy. On our herb walk we met up with clover growing along the pathways - for a Texan, seeing clover growing so lushly was heaven! We stayed and took many pictures and appreciated a stand of bee balm, yarrow, dandelion and plantain.

Bee Balm: I just love Bee Balm (Monarda) also known as Horsemint by some. In a previous posting I showed you how to make Bee Balm honey and after using this honey each time my throat feels a little funny I thank my herbal teacher, Nicole Telkes, for turning me on to such an delicious and easy way to ward off sore throats. A poultice can also be used for headaches. You would simply infuse bee balm in hot water and soak a cloth in the infusion and apply directly to the skin. Bee Balm has been used by Native Americans to fight mouth and throat infections - the active agent here being thymol, which has antiseptic and antimicrobial properties.

Clover: This particular clover is Trifolium repens, part of the pea family (Fabaceae). My favorite clover is red clover; however this lower growing clover offers white creamy flowers and is often used as a pasture feed. It can be a wonderful addition to an herb garden, as seen here, since it introduces nitrogen to the soil and can keep out unwanted seedlings/weeds. You want soil rich in nitrogen to keep your soil healthy and able to defend itself against disease. Clover is high in protein and to eat this particular type of clover, you must boil it for at least 5 minutes since it's hard to digest. You could also sauté the leaves and/or roots with other veggies to add more protein in your diet.

Yarrow: I just love the feathery fern like leaves on the Yarrow. Yarrow is quite interesting in that internally, its actions are hypotensive, astringent, diuretic, and antiseptic. It has been used to assist with high blood pressure and has a reputation for being effective in bringing down fevers. It is said that drinking the tea can help decrease menstruation as well as helping expel afterbirth. It has also been used to shrink hemorrhoids. Externally, it is often used to stop bleeding wounds (astringent).

Dandelion: Dandelion has such a bad rap! I can't get over how this healing plant has been labeled the enemy for so many years. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) gets it's name from the tooth like edges on its leaves. In Spanish it can be broken down to Dent de Leon or Tooth of the Lion. All parts of the Dandelion are edible. The fresher newer leaves can be eaten directly in salads or sautéed with a little olive oil and salt and pepper for a wonderful change to your culinary routine. The flowers can be tossed into salads, too. But the roots....ahhh the roots is where the action's at! The roots can be made into tincture and the tincture (a bitter) can be taken just before meals to stimulate bile production and help aid digestion. The roots also have caffeine and can be roasted and substituted for coffee for people who need to back away from coffee for whatever reason. The roots are also said to help with liver detoxification and kidney health. It's a tonic so it's actions are best when used in small doses over long periods of time. There is so much that can be said about our herbal friend dandelion, that I will set aside time and focus a posting featuring dandelion in its full glory.

Plantain: Plantain (Plantago major) can be gathered throughout the summer. The leaves are often used for their healing properties, especially with burns and bites. Plantain can be gently chewed and applied directly to the burn or bite when exploring the outdoors and when there isn't anything else to assit you with your dilemma. Taken internally, it is said to assit with coughing and acts as an expectorant and a soother of inflamed membranes. When I burned my fingers, I quickly turned to Plantain and added it to my healing remedy. (By the way, my fingers did not bliser at all - whew!). On a plant walk with Herbalist Christopher Hobbs, he noted Plantain's soothing actions by stating how it has been used to assist with gut irritations and diahrea. Overall, though - I think most people prize plantain for it's soothing and healing benefits on irritated and inflamed skin.


Cottonwood is a member of the Willow family. The Willow family is known for it's analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and astringent properties. Like aspirin, Cottonwood has been used to reduce fevers, headaches, arthritis and other inflammations. Cottonwood bark can be made into salves, creams and tinctures and it's said to be very helpful in relieving inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. Cottonwoods love to grown near water so if you see one, you know water is very near. Cottonwood is very much like aspirin - in the way it helps the body with pain. All parts of the plant can be used; however, not all parts of the plant can be made into healing remedies the same way. The bark may be pretty difficult to digest and may not settle well when taken internally whereas a tea made with the leaves has been taken internally by some with good results.

After gazing at these magnificent herbs, we crossed the bridge into what is know as "the island" of lush garden homes within the Mississippi River. The bridge was gorgeous; a perfect structure to stop and look at all the wildlife around the area. As we strolled along the bridge we entered the island where the homes were literally picture perfect! I loved seeing homes flanked by echinacea, cosmos, grape vines, leatris, yarrow, phlox, thyme and mints! It simply was heavenly - I only wish I could have gardens like this without fences in Texas - the deer just won't allow.

As we walked around the island - I noted how charming the sidewalks were as small yellow flowers bloomed along the edges as if celebrating each step we took.
We continued to walk then noted how the downtown sky line looked closer to us than if we turned around and went back the way we came - so we made the executive decision to keep walking and find a bridge to take us right into downtown - no shuttle needed here! We were happy to keep on walking!
We found the bridge and saw people gathering alongside the river from one end of the bridge to the other to view the night time fireworks show. We saw many people riding their bicycles, getting toted around by horse and carriage and we even saw a party group peddling on all sides of what seemed to be a retired trolley - they Whoo Whoo'd up and down the bridge and downtown chugging beers and having a great time. The atmosphere was ripe for a great evening! Here you can see folks starting to claim their spots for the show.

After a nice glass of wine and watching the sun go down, we sat outside of a corner gourmet restaurant downtown - then we walked back to the bridge for the fireworks show. Amazing! Proud to be in Minnesota this past weekend and honored to be the recipient of the Outstanding Alumni Award, and so pleased to be able to fit in an herbal adventure to boot!