Why lemon balm is a must-have for the home apothecary

lemon balm hydro
Above: Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) steam distilled into hydrosol.  Unfortunately, when distilling lemon balm in small batches, you are most likely not going to get a measurable amount of essential oil.  However, the hydrosol is a very useful byproduct of this process.

Growing lemon balm

Lemon balm is not like lavender.  I didn’t have to make multiple attempts to grow it before having success.  I went down to one of the bottom fields in early spring and scattered seeds in a plot.  From there, the lemon balm has taken over.   It didn’t spread so bad that it’s becoming a nuisance, but it did surprise me with its resilience and vigor.

Now I know it depends on the zone you live in, but lemon balm can usually be grown easily in most of North America.  Specifically, in USDA zones 4a through 9b.  The soil you choose to grow it in may make a difference.  Although it will grow in many soil types, it prefers soil that is well-draining and rich in organic matter.  It is also not too picky about whether it is in full sun or partial shade.  The plot where I grow mine is in partial shade, as it is at the wood’s edge.  It does not require fertilizer, which can cause the plant to become less aromatic.  Instead, if you are interested in keeping your lemon balm happy, make sure that it has plenty of organic matter in the soil.

Lemon balm plants are said to require regular watering, but I have to admit that I have never watered mine.  I can’t get water to that area easily, but because it is in the bottoms, the morning dew is heavy on the plants there.  I attribute this fact to why my lemon balm plants are still alive.

Using lemon balm

Do you suffer from anxiety, stress, or a lack of rest?  Lemon balm may be able to help.  She has been used for centuries to help calm the body and mind, as well as to lift the spirits.

Her nervine properties aren’t the only gifts she boasts.  Lemon balm is also very effective when it comes to fighting viral issues.  Specifically, lemon balm can help treat viral lesions like cold sores and shingles.

Because she is a member of the mint family, it is no surprise that she can also be used to help with digestive issues.  Other noteworthy medicinal properties of lemon balm include supporting healthy liver function, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and relieving muscle tension.

Oil infusion or salve

Because not everyone has a still to extract essential oils from plants, a great way to harness the healing power of lemon balm (while capturing some of its precious oil) is to create an oil infusion.  Fill a jar with dried or wilted lemon balm and then cover it with a carrier oil.  Close the lid and give it a good shake every day for about a month.  When the time is right, strain it out.  This can be applied directly to viral lesions, or you can use this infused oil as a base to make a salve.  To make a salve, you would need around one cup of infused oil and one ounce of beeswax.  Melt the beeswax in a double boiler and then remove it from heat and add the lemon balm-infused oil.  You may also choose to add essential oils, depending on what you want to use the salve for.  A salve is nice and thick, making it easy to spread on an affected area and stay put.

Tea

Tea is one of the easiest and tastiest ways to use lemon balm!  Drinking a cup before bedtime can help promote a more restful night’s sleep.  Of course, it can also help melt tension and stress away.  I dry some of my lemon balm and crumble it into a tea tin to use as needed.  I fill up one of my stainless steel tea balls and infuse it into a cup of hot water for several minutes before removing it.  It tastes great on its own, or you can add raw honey to sweeten it a bit.

Tincture

A tincture is one of my favorite ways to use a plant for several reasons.  First, it preserves it so I don’t have to use right away.  Second, it is a bit more concentrated and thus stronger than tea.  A tincture of lemon balm is great for those times when you need relief from tension or anxiety right away.  Just put a dropper-full under your tongue and viola!

A tincture of lemon balm can be created by filling a jar with the chopped (fresh or dry) plant material and then covering it with at least 80 proof alcohol.  Close the lid and store it in a cool, dark place for a month to six weeks.  You may have to top it off again after 24 hours because the plant material soaks up the alcohol and leaves some exposed.  Shake it as often as you can remember and strain it out when it is ready.   Many tinctures last for years, so it will be there when you need it for a long time!

Essential oil and Hydrosol

Lemon balm essential oil is expensive.  This is because it really takes a lot of plant material to get any essential oil.  Although it is expensive, it is well worth the investment.  I highly recommend it for treating shingles and other viral lesions.  It will need to be diluted before application to the affected area.  Try diluting two drops in one teaspoon of carrier oil and see if you notice any progress.  If you do not get the results you would like to see, try upping the amount to three drops.

It can also be added to carrier oil and beeswax to create a lip balm.  (This recipe, as well as more recipes that include lemon balm essential oil, are detailed in my book, Organic Aromatherapy & Essential Oils: The Modern Guide to All-Natural Health and Wellness which can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1646114027)

I am able to make my own hydrosol and I love how it smells.  It does not smell like you think it would.  Hydrosols seldom do.  It smells rich, deep, and lemony but with a pungent base note.  It works great for spraying on skin rashes and lesions It can even be drank (in small amounts) for the treatment of viral infections.

Go for it!

If you haven’t yet, try growing some lemon balm this spring/summer. You may be surprised at the results, even if you don’t have a “green thumb.”  Whether you need it for viruses, digestive issues, or to help relieve stress, lemon balm is up to the challenge!

To learn more about how to distill your own essential oils and hydrosols, enroll in our School of Aromatic Distillation!  If you’re interested in learning more about other medicinal plants, as well as how to create your own herbal remedies, enroll in The Bitter Herb Academy today: https://thebitterherb.com/

 

 

Learning from Lavender

lav sun

If you listen closely, you can glean wisdom from the plants you cultivate.  Lavender taught me some valuable lessons, and has come in handy for a wide variety of issues in my household.  She is one of my favorite plants to grow, but it wasn’t always that way.  It took some trial and error before I came to discover her likes and dislikes.

Careful cultivation…and disappointment

A few years ago, I purchased lavender seeds (Lavendula angustifolia) and took it upon myself to gather all the necessary tools for lavender cultivation.  I carefully planted the seeds in my greenhouse and watched in excitement as they sprouted rather rapidly.  I researched how to grow lavender, and took care to water them regularly.  When they were sturdy enough, I transplanted them to my little raised bed where they promptly died.

The next year, I tried growing it again.  This time, I tilled up a field in full sun (because I read that lavender likes full sun) and simply sowed seeds in spring.  They began to sprout, but alas, they did not survive.  I live in zone 6a, according to the United Stated Department of Agriculture.  From my research, lavender will grow in USDA zones 5-9.  I was stumped.  I planted them in soil I thought they would like, I watered them (not too much and not too little) and I put them in an area with full sun.  I decided that the next attempt would be growing it in pots.

Finally success!

When the next spring arrived, I planted lavender (this time a variety of English lavender called hidcote lavender) and watched it sprout in the greenhouse. When it was sturdy enough, I put two decent-sized plants in an old water trough my grandpa had used for his cattle when he had this farm.  The water trough was full of dirt my husband dumped in with his tractor a few days earlier.  It was nothing special, no organic matter or fertilizer.  However, it turns out that lavender doesn’t need much fertilizer or organic matter in its soil to thrive.   In addition, alkaline or chalky soil is usually preferred by lavender and it actually enhances its fragrance.

The trough was in mostly full sun in my yard.  It didn’t take long before the plants were sprouting flowers. I was elated!  I didn’t water it near as much as I had watered the other lavender plants, and it thrived.  Lavender is native to the Mediterranean region, so it is very drought-resistant.  Today, my trough is full of lavender bushes.  It has come back every year for at least three years now.

How I use my lavender

The uplifting, herbaceous scent of lavender is an instant mood-booster.  It is lightly floral, but not too strong.  It has an after note that is almost medicinal.  Not only do the buds smell amazing, the whole plant smells amazing.  I have used lavender in several ways:

Tincture for stress and anxiety

Lavender can be infused in alcohol or vegetable glycerin to make a type of extract.  This is an excellent way to benefit from its stress-relieving properties.  Fill a jar with lavender (I use all aerial parts, but especially the buds), and cover the plant material with 80 proof alcohol or vegetable glycerin.  Let this sit and infuse in a cool, dark place for at least one month (shake daily if you can remember) and then strain everything out.  I take one to two droppers full under the tongue as needed for stress and anxiety relief.

Oil infusion

You may not grow enough lavender to make lavender essential oil, but you may still be able to create a lovely oil infusion with lavender.  This can be used in much the same way you would use lavender essential oil.  You can massage it into the pulse points to help promote rest and calmness. It has even been shown to help reduce blood pressure.  We also use a lavender oil infusion to treat rashes.  It is great for helping to calm the skin.  To create this, you must fill a jar with dried or wilted lavender.  Next, cover the plant material with a carrier oil.  Try to pick an oil that doesn’t have a strong scent.  A great oil to use for this is jojoba oil. I find that it does not have a strong fragrance.  It is also great for the skin.  Place a lid on your jar and store it out of direct sunlight for four to six weeks, making sure to shake it daily to further promote infusion.  Some people like to make sun infusions, and sometimes I do this by placing my jar in a brown paper bag and sitting it out in the sun daily to let it gently warm.  I personally don’t like exposing my infusion to direct sunlight, so the paper bag helps to lessen the damaging UV rays.

Essential oil and hydrosol

I love making lavender essential oil and hydrosol! I steam distill the aerial parts to create this potent aromatic treat.  The hydrosol is underrated, but so amazing!  It is gentle, yet effective.  It works wonderfully for treating minor cuts and scrapes, as well as for de-germing surfaces (because lavender is highly antimicrobial).  The essential oil is always a good choice for diffusing at bedtime when we want a restful night’s sleep.  It pairs wonderfully with cedarwood and chamomile.  Together, these oils help to calm, relax, and promote a more tranquil environment.  Another great thing about lavender is that it is often one of the safest choices for use with children.  It can be diluted in a carrier oil and applied to the skin to treat rashes, burns, and minor skin irritations.

lav neck

Above: I made a charm with the lavender growing in my re-purposed water trough.  It serves as a reminder to appreciate beauty and simplicity.  It also reminds me to have patience through trials.

Lesson learned

It took me a while to learn how to properly grow lavender.  This taught me patience.  However, once I was able to successfully cultivate it, I learned that it is truly a blessing to keep at something until you succeed.  The benefits my family and I obtain from this amazing plant are totally worth all the trial, error, and disappointment I experienced while trying to grow it.  Another valuable lesson I learned from lavender is that sometimes it doesn’t take a lot of expensive fertilizers and potting soils to grow something.  Simplicity is key with lavender.  In keeping things simple, I was able to discover the surprising truth about this plant that eluded me for so long. Stop over-complicating things.  Listen to what lavender is trying to teach you.  Her wisdom is calling.

For more recipes and remedies using lavender essential oil, purchase my book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1646114027

To learn more about the plants you can use to heal mentally, emotionally, and physically, enroll in one of our four courses today! https://thebitterherb.com/

 

 

 

The many powers of peppermint

peppermint

Did you know that the peppermint we know today is actually a hybrid cross between watermint and spearmint?  Together, these two species created something lovely and oh so aromatic!

The compounds behind the aroma

I have to say that of all the essential oils I have distilled, peppermint packs the biggest punch when it comes to fragrance.  The house will smell like peppermint for days, if not weeks.  This is because peppermint contains several strong constituents, including menthol, menthone, menthyl acetate, 1,8-cineole, limonene, beta-pinene and beta-caryophyllene.

Menthol is a constituent that comes in very handy for relieving joint and muscle pain.  It is also effective at combating congestion and calming a cough.  1,8-cineole is another compound in peppermint that can be very therapeutic.  It is antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic (may help to relieve pain), antiviral, antibacterial, hypotensive (can lower blood pressure), and mucolytic (helps to clear mucus from the airways).

1,8-cineole and safety

Although essential oils that contain 1,8-cineole can be effective for a variety of issues, that doesn’t always mean they are completely safe to use on everyone.  Some oils that contain higher amounts of this compound are not recommended to be used on children.  Eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils also contain 1,8-cineole, but in higher amounts than peppermint.  This is why many aromatherapists (including myself) recommend avoiding rosemary and eucalyptus on children under ten years old.  Because peppermint doesn’t has as much 1,8-cineole, it may be used on children over the age of six.  The reason this compound may be unsafe is due to the fact that it may actually worsen respiratory issues for children, which is the exact opposite of why most people use it.  If you are looking for oils to safely use on children during times of congestion, try using tea tree, cedarwood, pine, spruce, or fir.  These can all help tremendously with congestion and coughing!

How I use peppermint

There are several ways I use peppermint here on the homestead.  I planted it in my raised bed and it keeps coming back every year.  It multiplies and continues to provide me with enough medicine to create all kinds of remedies.  One way I use it has already been mentioned, but I take a large amount and steam distill it to create essential oil and hydrosol.

Headaches and heat

The essential oil is great for taking care of my headaches!  Add one or two drops to a teaspoon of carrier oil and gently massage a small amount into the back of the neck and the temples when you feel a headache coming on.  This usually helps take care of headaches caused by tension.   The hydrosol comes in handy during those hot summer days when you feel like the heat is too much.  Simply spray it on your arms, legs, or anywhere else you want to cool down.  This would also be very useful if you suffer from hot flashes!  The hydrosol can also be used to help reduce fevers.  Being gently cooling, it can be applied to a compress and put on the back of the neck to bring down a fever.

Tummy troubles

For tummy issues, I make a glycerite with peppermint leaves, chamomile (sometimes pineapple weed if I don’t have any chamomile), fennel seeds, and ginger.  I add equal amounts of each of these to a jar and then cover them with non GMO vegetable glycerin and a bit of water.  I shake this mixture daily for about a month and then strain it out.  For an upset stomach or nausea, we take 5-10 ml.  It really helps to settle things down quite rapidly.  It is especially useful when there is a stomach bug in the house!

Energy and uplifting

If you want energy, peppermint is good for that!  Diffuse peppermint essential oil when you are feeling sluggish or tired.  It can help provide a refreshing boost of energy and vitality, as well as boost your mood.  It pairs really well with grapefruit and other citrus essential oils, so try combining 4 drops of a citrus essential oil and 4 drops of peppermint in the diffuser to help get you going in the mornings, or put you in a good mood to start the day.

Congestion and sinus infection

As I previously stated, peppermint contains compounds that help open up the airways and relieve congestion.  If you are suffering from congestion, a cough, or have a cold, try diffusing peppermint.  It combines nicely with eucalyptus and rosemary for this purpose.  For a sinus infection, try diffusing peppermint with tea tree to kill bacteria and open the sinuses.

What NOT to do with peppermint

Years ago as a new essential oil enthusiast, I tried putting peppermint essential oil in my bath. I just added with without a carrier to the water and then sat down to soak.  Let’s just say, that was a short-lived bath!  Peppermint can have a cooling effect on the skin.  This is the menthol doing its job. However, a little peppermint goes a LONG way.  Having said that, I will advise not to use peppermint on “sensitive” areas or near mucus membranes.  I would personally not add it to a bath, but if you must, try adding a few drops to a tablespoon of carrier oil or unscented liquid castile soap, then adding that to a cup of Epsom salts.  Stir this together and add to a bath.  This will help break it down so you are not sitting in undiluted oil.

Don’t apply peppermint essential oil to the skin undiluted. Not only is that unnecessary, but it can cause some major irritation.  A safe dilution for peppermint would be starting with one or two drops per teaspoon of carrier oil and massaging this into the skin.  If you have sensitive skin, you may have to cut this dilution down to one drop per two teaspoons before applying.

These are just a few ways I have incorporated peppermint into our lives to help with the issues we face.  Whether it is a hydrosol, essential oil, or extract, peppermint can help treat a variety of ailments, while leaving you feeling refreshed!  For more great remedies using peppermint essential oil, you can purchase my book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1646114027

To learn more about how to create herbal remedies or essential oil with peppermint, as well as a variety of other medicinal plants, enroll in one of our four courses today! https://thebitterherb.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Tea Tree: Why this Essential Oil made my Top Five List and How I Use It

tea tree cubes

Above: Tea tree chest and throat rub cubes.  I have included the recipe below!

Tea tree essential oil is often one of the first oils people purchase when they first start looking into essential oils.  This powerful oil can be found in almost every starter kit you buy.  There are many reasons why this oil is so popular, and they range from versatility to safety and effectiveness.

Tea tree essential oil is often made by steam distilling the leaves of the tea tree, Latin name Melaleuca alternifolia.  This tree can be found in various regions of Australia.  As far as scent goes, the essential oil smells herbaceous, camphorous, and medicinal.  I personally love the aroma, which I believe strongly hints to its wonderful therapeutic properties.

Why I love tea tree

One of the biggest reasons this essential oil made my top five list is due to safety.  This is one essential oil that I have always been more confident working with because it usually doesn’t cause skin reactions (when diluted properly).  For this reason, it is my go-to when I need something effective for my children.  I recommend starting with a one percent dilution, which equals one drop of essential oil to one teaspoon of carrier oil.

Another reason tea tree is my go-to oil is due to its strong antiseptic properties.  Although it is strong and effective, it is simultaneously gentle.  Because it can fight bacteria so well, I use it in a lot of remedies for sinus infections, fungal infections, and acne.

The fact that tea tree oil has SO MANY uses makes it a no-brainer when deciding what oils to purchase, which is another big reason it is one of my favorites.  This single oil can be used to repel lice, treat infections (both fungal and bacterial), sanitize, cleanse the skin, and aid in congestion.  Talk about getting more for your money!

Tea tree chest rub cube recipe

The white cubes in the photo at the top of the page are one way I harness tea tree’s medicinal properties for my children.  These are very simple cubes made with organic coconut oil, tea tree, and pine essential oils.  They work incredibly well when rubbed onto the chest for congestion.  I also massage some into my youngest son’s throat nightly when he has a sore throat and I suspect strep.  Another great use for these cubes is for fever, as tea tree may help naturally reduce a high fever.  Avoid using them near the eyes though.

They are so easy to create!  Simply melt the coconut oil (I do this by sitting the jar in warm water for a bit) and measure out three ounces.  Add 10 drops of tea tree essential oil and 6 drops of pine essential oil to the melted oil and pour into an ice cube tray.  You can leave it sitting out to harden or place it in the fridge, where it should harden much faster.  Although they will usually maintain their shape if left out, I prefer keeping my cubes in the fridge for storage when I have popped them out of molds.   I store them in a glass jar and grab them as I need them.

Diffusion

You can usually diffuse tea tree safely around children and adults alike.  For this reason, I like to fill my ultrasonic diffuser and add 6 drops of tea tree essential oil during times when we are feeling under the weather.  I have found that diffusing tea tree essential oil comes in especially handy when I have a sinus infection.  Tea tree essential oil may generally be safe for humans, but it is not safe to use around pets.  Please be mindful of any pets in your house if you choose to diffuse this oil.

Keep pests at bay

If you have kids in school, you may have had to deal with head lice.  When lice is going around, I like to add three drops of tea tree essential oil to one tablespoon of a natural hair gel and blend this together to use in my son’s hair.  Not only do they look stylish, but their hair becomes a less-than-appetizing home for lice.  For girls with long hair, this method may not be ideal.  You can opt for tea tree hydrosol and lightly mist it into their hair to help repel lice.  Lice aren’t the only pests that are said to be repelled by tea tree.  Try adding a drop or two to cotton balls and placing them in areas of your home where insects gather, especially door frames.  Just make sure to keep them away from children and pets.

So many more uses!

There are many other ways to use this amazing oil.  I have added several of my favorite (and most effective) tea tree oil recipes to my book, Organic Aromatherapy & Essential Oils: The Modern Guide to All-Natural Health and Wellness.  If you are interested in learning more about what you can do with tea tree oil, check it out: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1646114027

 

 

 

 

 

Ode to Oregano: A Valuable Asset for Winter Wellness

ore oil

Above: Freshly distilled oregano essential oil floating on top of hydrosol.  I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of essential oil collected during this distillation last summer.  I had only collected a brown paper bag full of oregano from my mother’s raised bed and I was able to get a dram of pure essential oil, as well as over a pint of precious hydrosol.

Most know oregano as a common culinary herb, but there is much more to oregano than just a flavorful addition to cooking!  This herb has been utilized for centuries by those who understand its true potential.  The famous Greek physician Hippocrates was said to have used this herb as an antiseptic, in addition to a respiratory and digestive aid.  With today’s technology, these uses are justified further by the discovery of several integral constituents that make up this plant.

Medicinal Compounds in Oregano

Thymol is a constituent in oregano that possesses antiseptic properties.  This compound is named after another popular culinary herb, thyme, because it also contains high amounts of thymol.  Thymol is often credited with giving oregano and thyme their strong flavors.  Another useful compound in oregano is carvacrol.  This compound has been shown to kill many types of bacteria, even salmonella.  In addition, carvacrol is antifungal, making oregano a great remedy to beat fungal infections like ringworm and athlete’s foot.  Carvacrol may also help fight inflammation.  Cymene is another compound found in oregano.  It is antimicrobial, antifungal, and may even help relieve pain.  Other compounds found in oregano include borneol, terpinene, pinene, linalyl acetate, bisabolene, linalool, caryophyllene and geranyl acetate.  Together, these compounds give oregano its antimicrobial, antiviral, antioxidant, digestive, anti-inflammatory, and immunostimulant properties.

 

How to Use Oregano

The great thing about oregano, at least where I live in the Missouri Ozarks, is that once you plant it, it won’t likely go away.  My mom has to call me each summer to come get oregano out of her raised garden bed because it is taking over.  I pull up a bunch, as well as trim some back, but it still persists in its attempts to choke out her other plants!  This is a good thing for me, because I can take as much as I want and get to experiment with many different preparations to see what works best!  I use oregano in several ways, depending on the issues I am trying to tackle.

Oil of Oregano

One relatively simple way to use it is to create oil of oregano.  This is not the same as oregano essential oil.  Oil of oregano is made by filing a glass jar with dried oregano and then covering it with olive oil.  Let this sit and infuse for 4-6 weeks, shaking daily.  Some people like to make sun infusions, but I tend to lean toward protecting my herbs from direct sunlight.  Because of this, I put my jars of oil and herb in a brown paper bag and leave them in a warm place outside during the infusion period.  When the time is ready, simply strain out your oil and bottle it for use.  Store your infused oil in a cool, dark place in between uses to promote optimal shelf-life.  A great way to use this is around the ear to treat ear infections.  The addition of garlic and mullein flower-infused oil is also an effective treatment for this issue.  Oil of oregano makes a much safer alternative to oregano essential oil, which is very strong and can cause skin irritation (especially if you have sensitive skin).

Oregano Tincture or Glycerite

I really like using oregano tincture for treating or preventing sore throats, especially in the case of chronic strep.  Because oregano is so strongly antimicrobial, it is no wonder it can help fight the bacteria responsible for strep.  I can attest to its prevention power because I have been using it to help prevent strep in my youngest son, who had previously been getting strep almost every month.  Since I started having him gargle oregano tincture in a decoction of Echinacea, he has not had strep.   You can make a tincture by filling a glass jar with oregano (chopped well) and completely covering the herb with at least 80 proof vodka.  Let this sit for 4-6 weeks in a cool, dark place, making sure to shake daily (or as much as you can remember).  Strain out and bottle the liquid at the end of the infusion period.  It should be noted that the particular tincture I made was actually a glycerite, which made it easier on my son as far as taste goes.  A glycerite is made in much the same way as a tincture, only you use non GMO vegetable glycerin instead of alcohol.  You may choose to add some water to this to make it less thick.  Try to make sure your glycerite contains at least 55 percent vegetable glycerin. For strep prevention, I give my son a dropper-full in 10 ml of strong Echinacea decoction twice a day to gargle and spit out.  Oregano tincture/glycerite is also useful for digestive issues, immune health, and candida.

ore tinc

Above: Oregano glycerite I made for my son.  I add a dropper full of this extract to a decoction of Echinacea (aerial parts and roots) to gargle twice daily for strep prevention.

Oregano Essential Oil

Of course, I cannot talk about oregano without mentioning oregano essential oil. This is certainly the strongest of the oregano preparations.  I create my own via steam distillation.  When I make oregano essential oil, my whole house smells like an Italian restaurant.  That’s really the best way to describe it!

My favorite way to use the precious oregano essential oil I collect is diluted (around 1 drop per 1-2 tablespoons of carrier oil) and applied topically to kill bacteria and fungal infections.  I also like to add four drops of oregano essential oil to my ultrasonic diffuser to fight airborne germs during cold and flu season.  Other great essential oils to use in combination with oregano to kill pathogens include clove, cinnamon, thyme, melissa, and tea tree.

Because this is a strong oil, a little goes a long way.  Be mindful of using oregano on open wounds or on those with sensitive skin.  Oregano essential oil can interact with certain medications, especially blood thinners.  Avoid oregano essential oil if you have a bleeding disorder, as well as before and after any surgery.  Like many essential oils, this oil should not be used around pets.  It is also best to avoid using oregano essential oil around children under the age of at least two.

Inhalation of this essential oil in an aromatherapy inhaler is one of the safest ways to utilize it in the treatment of sinus infections, colds, and other respiratory issues.  This way, you are not needlessly exposing anyone else, especially children and pets, to this strong therapeutic oil.  In addition, you are not risking any topical sensitization issues.

Hydrosol

With my oregano essential oil comes oregano hydrosol.  Never underestimate the usefulness of hydrosol!  My favorite way to use hydrosol is with my children.  It is a much safer alternative to essential oils when dealing with children.  In addition, it is just as effective.  I spray it on minor wounds to help cleanse and kill bacteria.  I even spray it on some household surfaces to inhibit the growth of bacteria.  Because it is much gentler than most preparations, we even take 5 ml internally as needed for immune health.

More Oregano Uses

For even more information on the power of oregano essential oil, as well as a detailed profile and highly therapeutic recipes, check out my book, Organic Aromatherapy & Essential Oils: The Modern Guide to All-Natural Health and Wellness. I chose oregano as one of the top ten essential oils for this book!  You can order it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1646114027

Interested in learning how to distill your own oregano essential oil, or what other herbs complement this powerhouse plant?  Enroll in one of our courses today! https://thebitterherb.com/

 

 

 

Elder Wisdom

grandma hands

Above: My grandmother showing me one of her favorite greens.  She calls it “nardock.”

Although she is 81 years old, you are not likely to find my grandma Doris sitting around being idle.  If you drive by her humble home during the cooler months, you are more likely to see her bringing in firewood from her front porch.

Not too long ago, we came to visit and she was down in her spring (this is how she gets water to her house) with a hatchet trying to get brush and small trees out of the way so they will quit clogging her plumbing.  There isn’t much this amazing woman can’t do!

All my life, she has demonstrated an enthusiasm for foraging.  She loves to go outside on her beautiful property and find greens to make salad.  When she can’t find enough greens, she simply goes down to the spring to collect watercress.  There is always an abundance of watercress for her to enjoy!

She grew up in a large family, being one of nine children.  She didn’t learn to forage for fun – it was mainly for sustenance.  Hunger was no stranger to her growing up.  Her resilient spirit no doubt comes from her childhood experiences.

Last spring, I went on a walk with her around her property.  I feel like I have a decent amount of knowledge when it comes to wild edibles, but a few hours with her showed me that I still have a lot to learn.  Some of the plants she pointed out to me were familiar, but she called them by much different names.  I get the feeling that her names for these plants stem from some sort of Ozarkian slang.  I love it nonetheless.

It is always great to visit with my grandma because she has experienced a lot in her lifetime and has so much love and wisdom to impart.

She also has great stories to tell.  One gives me chills every time I hear it.  I decided that part of the reason I am writing this blog today is to get this down so it can live forever in a sense.  In 1949, when she was 12 years old, she was walking home from somewhere. They walked everywhere because they had no car.  Her older brother (age 16 at the time) was with her and so were both her parents.  They go to a certain spot near an old cemetery and immediately noticed something hovering above the trees not far away.  As she tells it, they all knew what it was.  It was an angel, glowing with a golden-like hue.  She finds it hard to describe with common words, but she says it had a glowing area of gold around the head too, like a halo.  Of course, she wasn’t the only witness, and her parents and brother all were in awe of this celestial visitor.

Upon seeing it, they all got the feeling that something unfortunate had happened. None of them could explain why they had this feeling, but they thought they need to go check on family members who were sick.  It wasn’t long after that one of the nine, her little brother Gerald Lee, passed away.  He was nine years old.  He ended up being buried in that cemetery.  Every time I drive past this place, I tell my sons about their experience and we look above the cedar trees, as if the angel may appear at any moment.

Another interesting fact about my grandma is that she is musically inclined.  She taught herself to play the piano and guitar and plays them quite well.  She bought her first guitar as a young girl by selling pincushions she made.  When I was in college, I would visit her and bring my guitar.  I had her show me some chords and teach me (someone who completely lacks rhythm of any kind) how to strum.  I can now play a mean “C,” “D,” and “G” chord.  Still haven’t figured out how to strum though.  🙂

Today, grandma is likely stoking her fire (her house is probably unbearably hot to most haha) and putting a puzzle together at her kitchen table.  When the weather begins to warm up, I am looking forward to going out with her again and learning more about the wild edibles she has eaten throughout her life.  If you are reading this and your grandparents are still around, consider this a loving nudge to go spend some time with them, let them tell you about their childhood, their life experiences, and all the wisdom that comes with age and experience.  You won’t regret it.

 

Three Things You Need To Know If You’re Considering Learning Essential Oil Distillation

still 1

I’ve been distilling my own essential oils and hydrosols for years.  When I decided to start teaching this craft, I noticed that I was getting a lot of the same questions.  I thought I would dispel some misinformation, as well as provide some encouragement, for those considering learning how to use steam distillation to make their own essential oils and hydrosols.

Number One:

It does not take a ton of plant material to get a measurable amount of essential oil.  That’s the simple answer.  I should say right off the bat that yes, there are plants that have a much lower oil content and do require quite a bit more plant material to get oil, but in my experience, this process CAN be done using what is in a small raised garden bed.   In fact, between what I wildcraft and what I pluck from my raised bed, I have had more than enough to create amazing essential oils and hydrosols with.  I have never had to plant “fields” of crops for distillation purposes, nor order a ton of herbs.

Case and point: last summer I went to visit my mother and she asked me to get some oregano from her little raised bed.  I gathered a few robust handfuls and  took them home, curious how much oil I would actually get.  I was impressed with the yield!  I had a measurable amount of oil – close to 5 ml.  Considering that this oil is very strong and requires sufficient dilution to use, this was enough to last me quite a while!  Another great example is Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa).  Every summer, around mid to late June, it appears all over my farm.  I will collect a medium-sized basket-full of the flowers and take them back to the house to distill.  I get a lot of oil from these amazing flowers!  I can easily fill a 15 ml bottle after two distillations.  Research each plant you distill beforehand, and you will be better prepared for the outcome of the distillation process!  Some plants are just not as oily as others.   Please don’t beat yourself up if your oil yield is low.  I guarantee you were able to obtain hydrosol from the process, and that is just as useful as essential oil!

oils cup

Above: Wild Bergamot oil sitting on top of hydrosol.  This picture was taken only minutes into the distillation process, when hydrosol had just started dripping into the collection container.  Essential oil from this plant is abundant, powerful, and very useful!

Number Two:

You will always produce hydrosol during distillation.  Don’t underestimate the power of hydrosol.  I can’t stress this enough.  Hydrosol is a by-product of the distillation process.  The essential oils are usually floating on top of the hydrosol when the process is over.   The oils are then extracted and what you have left behind is quite a bit of hydrosol.  This is also referred to as “floral water” and has small amounts of the essential oils in it.  It has many of the same medicinal properties as the essential oils that came with it.  The great thing about it is that it is MUCH gentler than the essential oil, it is much more kid safe, it is much less likely to cause skin sensitization (always use caution and good judgement though), and it can be used in many of the ways you are using your essential oils!

I recently distilled yarrow essential oil and hydrosol.  The oil was so sticky and hard to separate from the hydrosol!  I ended up only getting maybe 1.5 ml of yarrow essential oil from that distillation, although I probably had around 3 ml total.  It all decided to stick to the sides of the beaker and be stubborn.  I wasn’t too bummed about it though, because I had around a quart of yarrow hydrosol…

This stuff is amazing.  It has proven to be useful for so many things around our household.  Having two little boys means someone is always getting cuts and scrapes.  I spray yarrow hydrosol on minor cuts and scrapes because it is a great disinfectant, and its astringent properties help clean the wound.  It has proven to be a great skin cleanser/toner as well.  I use it as part of my beauty routine.  It is especially helpful for those with acne-prone skin.  Another use we found for it is an after-sun spray.  I already put all my hydrosols into spray bottles, so it was ready to apply when we all came back from Florida with a little too much sun (and yes, we used sunscreen).  It immediately helped with pain and by the next day, our burns were nonexistent.  And finally, the most awesome thing about yarrow for us is that it has proven helpful as an insect repellent.  Bugs don’t seem to like it very much.  I have even experimented with spraying it on our bottle calf’s back where flies seem to bother him and they left him alone all day!  When we apply it before going outdoors, we do not get bothered by mosquitoes, ticks, or any other creepy crawlies.   And ALL hydrosols are this useful.  This is just one example of how awesome and important hydrosols are in our every day lives!

oils beaker

Above: Yarrow hydrosol and essential oil after distillation. I took what oil I could by using a glass dropper to suck it up.  The essential oil is the blue stuff you see in the picture.  The hydrosol has proven to be just as useful as the essential oil.

Number Three:

You CAN do this.  It is not as hard as it looks, sounds, etc.  I know that when a person first sees a still all hooked up to pumps circulating water through the condenser, bubbling water in a beaker over a hot plate or propane burner, and all these things happening at once, it can look like some sore of crazy science lab.  This can be intimidating for those wanting to learn more about how to create their own essential oils.  I hear it all the time:  “I could never do this. It looks too complicated.”

It is not that complicated.  Steam distillation is simply the process of sending steam through the plant material and then letting it re-condense and turn back to liquid.  Circulating cool water around the condenser coil will help the hot steam re-condense, so this is why you see pumps hooked up to them sometimes.  When it re-condenses after passing through the plant material, it has taken constituents from the plants and is now a highly beneficial substance known as hydrosol and essential oil.  As I stated above, the essential oil is usually floating on top of the hydrosol after it comes out of the condenser and into the collection container.

Once you learn the terms and understand steam distillation a little better, it isn’t as intimidating as it once was.  There are several types of stills (I prefer copper, but I also have a glass still) and several types of distillation, but with slight variations.

Parts of a Still Labeled

Above:  I labeled the parts of my glass still.  As you can see, you heat water under the plant material, it turns to steam that rises up through the plant material, and then goes through what is called a “swan neck”to the condenser (where there is cool water circulating around it).  What comes out of the end of the condenser is hydrosol and essential oil!

I hope that this helps those that were wanting to learn more about the process, but were held back by worries and fears of “not having enough plants” or  the process looking “too hard.”  We all have to start somewhere, so my hope for readers is that you gain enough confidence to at least look further into the process and realize that you can do it!

I offer a course in essential oil distillation that breaks down the process, step-by-step, to make it even less intimidating.  I discuss types of stills, pros and cons with each, types of distillation, more terminology, other materials needed, native plants you can find to use, plants you can grow and use, and so much more.  In addition, I offer discounts on copper stills for students wanting to get a still.  You can check it out here:  https://thebitterherb.com/the-bitter-herb-school-of-aromatic-distillation/

Happy distilling!