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!