Make your own Herbal Wines

July 18, 2011

herb Infused wine
Herbal wines
date back thousands of years. Egyptian wine jars have been found with residues of herbs and resins. It makes sense, as we now know that alcohol breaks down the medicinal constituents of plants, making it more bio-available to the body. That’s why we make alcohol extracts as herbal tinctures to deliver botanical chemicals to our body. The famous 12th century German mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, recommended herbal wines such as lungwort wine for emphysema, honey-parsley wine for heart pain, and unsweetened lavender wine for congested liver.

Bitters infused in alcohol have been used in Europe for several hundred years. They usually contain bitter herbs that help with digestion by stimulating bile juices. Bitters have also been traditioanlly added to beer for the same reason.  Angostura Bitters are a famous member of this category and are well-used in hundres of cocktails for a splash of complexity, and to this day only 5 people in the world know the well-kept secret of the herbs used in this special recipe. Though this mexture was hoped to help soldiers in WWI suffering from severe fevers and digestive disorders, it now serves to enliven many of our most special happy hour drinks today. Bitters are usually made with alcohols other than wines, but it might be fun to experiment with bitter herbs when making a more medicinal wine.

There are lots of super tastey concoctions that can be made in your own kitchen. I often make herbal simple syrups to add to gin or vodka drinks for something herbaceous, but it’s really fun to go directly to the source and create an alcoholic beverage that is lively and compex all on its own! This is why going the herbal wine route is worthwhile. Most people can afford a decent white or red wine to start with.

Making Herbal Wines

1. Place Herbs in a bottle (1 oz herbs to 1 pint wine)
2. Pour wine over herbs to fill the bottle (generally a ‘sweeter’ wine w/ about 12% alcohol)
3. Cap tightly and shake well
4. Store in a cool, dark place
5. Shake well every day for 2 weeks
6. Strain herbs.
7. Add sugar or honey to taste (optional), particularly for liqueurs
8. Some liqueurs need maturation time, in which case you might wait a month or more.
NOTE: herbal wines should last about a year. Herbal liqueurs may last longer.

rose infused vodka Rose Petal Wine
(Medicinal Uses: for headaches, heart disease, stomach pain & fever)
600 g rose petals (Rugosa preferred), dried and unsprayed
10 liters combination grape juice and young wine OR all young wine

1. Tie rose petals in a small bag & place in a container with the liquids
2. Infuse in a dark place (covered) for 3 months
3. Filter, pour into a sterilized bottle or jar and store again.

Ref: adapted from an article in The Herb Quarterly by Barbara MacPherson.


Make your own luscious lip balms

May 25, 2011

lip balm

Making lip balms, or any kind of balm or salve, is often the first step towards making your own skin care products. In my study of herbal medicine, I know I started with making herb-infused oils and then salves. Lip balm is basically the same thing, though you can choose whether or not you want to start with a homemade herb-infused oil or just a neutral oil such as olive oil. Adding essential oils such as peppermint or sweet orange provide a nice scent and in the case of peppermint, a minty tingle. Lavender essential oil is a wonderful addition, as the heavenly fragrance floats from your lips right into your nose! I generally use beeswax in my lip balms, but a vegan alternative is carnuba wax, with which I’ve had good success, though you may need to add a tiny bit more wax. I recently created a vegan lip balm scented with orange and basil – herbacious goodness!

Basic Lip Balm Version 1:
2 tsps neutral oil (jojoba, olive, sunflower, safflower, sweet almond, apricot kernel, etc)
1/2 tsp beeswax beads (or grated beeswax)

Basic Lip Balm Version 2: (if you want a richer balm)
1 tsp neutral oil
1 tsp coconut oil (saturated)
1/2 tsp beeswax beads (or grated beeswax)

Step 1: Use a double boiler to very gently heat ingredients stovetop. Becuase of the small amounts, the wax should melt very quickly.
Step 2: Remove immediately from the heat when melted.

Variations & Additions:
a. a few drops of essential oil (lavender, sweet orange, peppermint, spearmint). Don’t add too much! Try 5 drops.
b. If desired, add a few drops of skin ‘superfood’ such as blueberry seed oil or carrot seed oil.
c. a few drops of Vitamin E oil to protect the balm from rancidity. This is not necessary but suggested, if possible.
d. if you love vanilla, you could add 1/8 tsp vanilla extract for a vanilla taste. As an alcohol extract, however, it may not blend perfectly with the oils.
e. to stain your lips a berry color, try adding 1/8 – 1 tsp beet-root powder to your desired strength. It may not mix perfectly when stirring it in to the melted oils, but it will emulsfiy when cooled.

Step 3: pour into a clean, dry container, such as a 1 oz balm tin. You can buy balm tins individually from packaging suppliers. You could also recycle old lipstick tubes or even film canisters (if you still have any around!) When your container is empty, wash it out, dry completely, and make your balm recipe again. Balms usually last quite a while.

If you are looking to make your balm with an herb-infused oil, check out my process for making infused oils in a post for Herb Companion. Some herbs that would be great in a lip balm are as follows:
calendula (healing)
chamomile (anti-inflammatory & aromatic)
lavender (aromatic, anodyne)
plantain leaf (healing)
comfrey leaf or root (healing)
yarrow (healing)
thyme (anti-septic)
violet (soothing; emollient)
marshmallow root (emollient)
rose (aromatic & tonifying)

Share your favorite lip balm combination!
Some of mine are my Lavender & Green Tea Lip Salve and my Mint & Lemon Balm Lip Salve, which has a menthol-induced tingle. I love that :-)


Make your own fresh herb tincture

April 16, 2011

I have long wanted to include some ‘practical’ instruction in my blog for the all important preparations that all herbalists and family healers use on a regular basis. This post will be devoted to a simple alcohol extract of a botanical, called a “tincture”. The extracting can actually be done with cider vinegar or glycerin, alternatively, though alcohol does work best. It is important to note that some herbs are better taken as infusions or decoctions, particularly if the vitamin content is what one is after (i.e. nettles).  It is also important to note that some herbs are absolutely best taken as a *fresh* herb tincture rather than a *dried* herb tincture. This post is for making tinctures from *fresh* herbs. Some examples of herbs that should be tinctured fresh are turmeric rhizome, ginger rhizome, St. John’s wort, Milky oat tops, and skullcap. Other herbs I prefer to tincture fresh are motherwort and tulsi.

Oat Tops in the Milky Stage

Oat Tops in the Milky Stage

Step 1:

Organize the necessary container for tincturing. It should be big enough to hold all the herb you would like to tincture. There should not be a lot of excess room in the jar, however.

Jar and herbs for tincturing

Step 2:

Put the herbs in a glass jar. I have a gallon sized glass jar here and I’m using fresh oat tops in the milky stage, shipped to me from Pacific Botanicals organic farm in Oregon.

pouring grain alcohol onto the herbs

Step 3:

After the herbs are in the jar, pour 95% (190 proof) grain alcohol over the fresh herbs. The percentage of alcohol you use is probably the most important part of tincturing aside from the quality of the herbs used. The percentage of alcohol for fresh herbs shouldn’t dip below 50% or the tincture will probably spoil. Because fresh herbs contain a lot of water already, you can assume that just by using fresh herb, you’ll be diluting the % of alcohol in the preparation. So, if you use (40%) 80 proof vodka, for instance, you may end up with a tincture that is only 20% alcohol, and that tincture would certainly spoil. Many herbalists use 100 proof (50%) vodka and have success, even with fresh herbs. I prefer to use a higher proof for fresh. Using 100 proof (50%) vodka for *dried* herbs is certainly okay, though more complicated formulas are used by professional herbalists.  Keep in mind that some herbs require glycerin at about 10%, including milk thistle seed.

So, you pour the alcohol over the herbs and fill the jar to the top. Leave about 1/2 – 1 inch between the alcohol and the rim of the jar. Try to make sure all of the herbs are under the liquid.

tinctured oat tops
Step 4:

Use a chopstick or spoon to press the herb down and stir in order to release any air bubbles that may be trapped in the jar.

Step 5:

Cap the jar. I often like to put a piece of wax paper between the rim and lid so that the lid doesn’t ‘stick’ to the jar. It’s not that this is really a problem, because you can run it under hot water, but it just makes it easier.

Step 6:

Label the jar with the herb, date, and percentage of alcohol. Store in a cool/dark place and allow to do its tincturing  magic for 4 – 6 weeks. You can really leave it for longer if you don’t get to it in that time frame.  I have left herbs in 180 proof alcohol for a *year* and it doesn’t go bad because of the high alcohol content. Sometimes I do up to 3 gallons at a time, so I don’t always decant everything right away!

Step 7:

When you decant, strain the herbs out and compost them after squeezing the alcohol out of them. You can wring out the herbs with a thin, clean dishcloth or cheesecloth. There are also professional herb presses that are available for just this purpose. The herbs will often become quite dessicated, actually, so sometimes it is incredibly easy to extract as much alcohol as you are going to!

Be sure to label your decanted tinctures with the Date and the Herb, as well as the alcohol used. Keep in mind that the % of alcohol is no longer 95%!!! Though it’s not easy to exactly determine, it’s probably closer to 50%, depending on the herb used.

Resources:

Gladstar, Rosemary, Herbal Healing for Women, 1993.
Weed, Susun, Healing Wise, 1989.
Tierra, Michael, The Way of Herbs 1998
Hoffman, David, Medical Herbalism, 2003.
Tilgner, Sharol, Herbal Medicine, 1999.

Good luck with your first tincture. Feel free to comment below if you have questions!
My tinctures can be found on my Etsy site.


Use fresh mint for perfect skin care

March 8, 2011

mint leaves
It may be March, but I’m already thinking about mints. Fortunately, some of the herbs you may have brought inside for winter (or the herbs that may make early spring appearances) are wonderful for all manner of skin care concoctions. I don’t bring mint inside but as a vigorous perennial, it begins to show its minty face fairly early in the growing season.

Mint (mentha), whether one is referring to peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, pineapple mint, lemon balm, or any other variety, is a stimulating herb that is well known for its internal benefits (as a great digestive tonic and cure for indigestion, for example). But have you yet tried it externally in a skin care ritual?

For identification purposes, you can always recognize a mint by its square stem, though mints such as peppermint and spearmint are best known for their potent volatile, or essential, oils.  Mint’s delightful aroma makes it even more appealing to use as a skin care treatment, because it provides some aromatherapy, stimulating & clearing the mind. In skin care, mint is used as a deodorizer, cleanser, and skin soother. The toner below is particularly grand for oily/acne-prone skin because the citrus peels are marvelously anti-septic and ideal for further astringing the skin.

Rule of thumb: Dried mint 1 Tbsp = 3 Tbsp Fresh.

glass toner bottles

Citrus Mint Toner
3 Tbsp fresh mint leaves (lemon balm would be quite wonderful!)
peel from 1 orange
Peel from 1/2 lemon (Meyer lemons are really lovely)
Peel from 1/3 grapefruit
1 cup boiling water
1 Tbsp witch hazel extract or 1/2 cup witch hazel distillate.

1. Place mint leaves in a bowl and bruise with a spoon in order to release their volatile oils.
2. Add citrus peels.
3. Pour boiling water over leaves and peel and allow to cool completely
4. Strain to remove solids.
5. Add witch hazel extract (tincture) or distillate.
6. Pour into a clean container

*NOTE: as an unpreserved toner, this is essentially a “fresh” product that must be kept refrigerated and used up in a week or so. Don’t store it in your warm bathroom! Also makes a wonderfully refreshing facial mist for a pick-me-up any time of day.


The Healing Power of Herbs: Liniments

November 17, 2010

Oil with herbs Liniments. Hm. Sounds vaguely medicinal, right? I remember once going to a bar that was ‘inspired’, I take it, by herbal formulas. Some drinks (shall I say ‘concoctions’?) boasted the inclusion of herbal tinctures of elderflower, ginger, or lavender. Not a bad thought at all, as we often use more familiar alcohol extracts of vanilla or orange peel in herby libations. However, there was a drink that supposedly included the use of an herbal liniment…..HA HA HA HA. Well, that’s the herb snob in me, I’m a little ashamed to admit. Why? Because liniments are for external treatment, not for cocktails. In fact, many liniments use rubbing alcohol as a base which sounds downright raunchy as an addition to an evening beverage. In truth, a liniment could essentially be made the same way as an extract meant to be taken internally, despite the fact that the definition implies that it is used externally. It can also be made as an infused oil, which, if made with the right kind of oil, can be a fabulous culinary addition! Still, I feel some “nameology” needs to be in order.

Moving on.  A liniment is most often made as an alcohol extract. The purpose is to provide a vehicle for the important chemical compounds in herbs that would be used for external application. I have included a DIY recipe below for a ginger liniment that is made with a neutral oil, and some additional possibilities are olive oil, safflower oil, or sunflower seed oil. Essentially an infused oil, this ginger liniment works great as a massage oil post-exercise to relieve aches & pains. It is also a great treatment to increase circulation. Try on arthritic joints, on sore muscles, and troublesome joint pain. Best used twice a day at least!

gingerDIY RECIPE : Ginger Liniment

3″ piece fresh ginger
1/4 cup almond oil

Grate ginger and combine with oil in a non-reactive (non-aluminum) saucepan. Cover and heat on low heat for one hour. Make sure you have this at the lowest possible temperature to avoid the oil overheating or ‘burning’. Remove from heat and steep for another hour. Strain out ginger. Pour oil into a 4 oz colored glass bottle with a tight-fitting screwtop.

Alternative: Use 1/4 cup grain alcohol instead of oil. Infuse for a minimum of 6 weeks (without heat) in a dark place. Apply externally with a cotton pad to relieve aches and pains. Do not apply on broken skin.

NOTE: whenever applying an external remedy, do a test patch first to make sure you are not allergic to any of the ingredients. Apply a small amount on the inside of your arm and wait 24 hours to make sure you won’t have any reaction. Some minor redness can be a natural side effect of a ginger liniment, as increased blood circulation may bring blood flow to the surface of the skin.


Herbal Remedies Tip #10: Tension Headaches

October 28, 2010
Lavender bush

"Lavender": Mooseyscountrygarden.com

Sigh. Tension headaches. I know, I know…in some respects, tension headaches aren’t quite as bad as true migraines (that nausea thing! ugh!), but at the end of the day, if your tension headache is bad enough, it can render you incapacitated. When I was in graduate school, I began to develop severe tension headaches. I ended up in the ER one night (total waste of 9 hours on an icy, snowy, Montreal night) and found that allopathic medicine has just about nothing to offer someone suffering from this condition. The solution for me? Chiropractic medicine. I mean it. Total godsend for me. Now, if you feel a tension headache coming on or you have a mild tension headache that doesn’t necessarily require the re-adjustment of your bones, herbal therapies can help. Think “calming” to begin with. Lavender essential oil (as aromatherapy) can be helpful in getting you to involuntarily relax! Never a bad thing. You can also try the tea below, which has ingredients that can ease tension and pain. Skullcap is an herb of particular import, as it is specific to anxiety, particularly when clenching the muscles, ticks, palsies, or other physical outcomes of anxiety/tension are involved. You can take this herb as a tincture, but be sure the tincture is made from the *fresh* herb and not dried.

Tension-ease Infusion

1 part skullcap
1 part sage
1 part peppermint
1/4 part lavender

Infuse 1 – 2 tsp of the above blend of dried herbs in one cup boiling water for 10-15 minutes minimum. A longer infusion results in a stronger tasting brew with more medicinal effect, but the weaker infusion is perfectly fine & therapeutic. Feel free to add honey and/or lemon to taste!


3 great uses of tea (camellia sinensis) for your skin

August 4, 2010
Black tea

Black Tea from Mountain Rose Herbs

I think most people know about the traditional use of soaked tea bags on the eyes for beauty-care. Why? Because of the astringency of tea, it makes a perfect mild toner for the skin and is especially good for keeping the complexion clean, smooth, and bright. That same astringency also reduces eye puffiness. Tea contains high amounts of polyphenols, which research suggests has protective effects against free radicals and toxins. Applied externally, tea, probably by way of these same compounds, also helps prevent against sun damage by squashing free radicals and reducing inflammation (not by blocking UV rays!). These properties also help prevent signs of aging by reducing the inflammation that can lead to wrinkles. Using green tea, and other tea (Camellia Sinensis) preparations with freshly brewed concoctions, taken internally or used externally, is the best way to receive the benefits from this wonderful plant!

Tea Toner
1/4 cup boiling water
2 tea bags — (green, white, oolong, or black)
1/4 witch hazel distillate

Pour boiling water over tea bags.
Steep at 30 min – 1 hr or longer for a strong infusion.
Combine cooled tea with witch hazel. (the distillate is better to use than commercially prepared witch hazel preparations found in drug stores)

Tub Tea
Large muslin bag or extra-large tea-ball
1/4 cup dried herbs (optional)
1/4 cup dried tea (green, white, oolong or black)
1/4 cup sea salts (optional)

The same properties that make tea so lovely for the face, also make it great for a full-body bathing ritual. Some herbs you can add to the tea blend include rosemary (stimulating), chamomile (relaxing), lavender (relaxing), raspberry leaves (invigorating), mint (stimulating), sage (cleansing, thyme (cleansing), lemon verbena (stimulating, cleansing), and rose (relaxing, comforting).

Sweet Feet Tea
Astringency at its best! Keep your feet smelling fragrant and clean. Soaking feet in black tea helps reduce foot odor and perspiration. How? The tannins in tea actually change the skin’s pH!

2 black tea bags
2 cups boiling water
2 quarts cool water

Make a very strong infusion: steep tea bags in boiling water for 30 min – 1 hour
Fill a large bowl or plastic pan (rectangular plastic dishwashing tubs work great for this) with cool water and mix in tea infusion.
Soak feet for 20-30 min. Repeat treatment daily for a week to achieve a decrease in foot odor.

If you have some favorite tea beauty rituals, share them with me!
If you are a tea lover, you might also like a post I wrote a little while ago on various blends of Indian Chai Tea


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