THE HERBAL WORKSHOP
Techniques and Tools
Now that you’ve got the lowdown on the benefits and ease of at-home herbal medicine, it’s time to get your space stocked and set up for some simple preparations. While it’s tempting to go full-on DIY, that’s not practical—or necessary. You can get a lot of bang for little buck by starting simple, investing in the right equipment, and using minimal ingredients that are as versatile as they are healthy.
STARTING AN INDOOR MEDICINAL HERB GARDEN
No need to go crazy with high-tech greenhouse lighting, innovative irrigation systems, or expensive seeds, soil, or containers. Remember, this is low-maintenance gardening for the easy-going DIYer who doesn’t want to break the bank. Planting can be done in 3 super simple steps…ready, set, grow!
1. Choose your container. Unless you’re a seasoned crafter and want to build your own, stop by a gardening store and buy something that fits into your style and décor. Must haves? The pot should stand at least 6 to 8 inches tall, have drainage at the bottom, and come with a tray to prevent water leakage from damaging your sill or furniture.
2. Pick your soil. The better the dirt, the better your garden will grow. Look for fast-draining varieties that you can mix with your favorite secret fertilizing weapon: sand, coffee grounds, lime peels—whatever you use to nourish your house plants will work here, too (except chemical sprays, of course).
3. Plant your herbs. Start with just three to four herbs (remember, you’re not farming, you’re prepping a simple indoor garden) and shoot for the most versatile types, like basil, mint, ginger, thyme, sage, garlic, or echinacea. While you may be tempted to use seeds, which are inexpensive, they can take two to three weeks to grow, whereas seedlings or full-on plants will be ready much sooner.
The fastest, easiest way to begin is with a small garden, whether it’s in your yard or on a countertop. Doing so connects you to the source of your healing and empowers you to take as much care of your herbs as you do your mind, body, and spirit. If you’ve already got a garden, life just got even easier. Medicinal herbs are a cinch to incorporate into plots or planters you’ve already got growing.
Next you’ll need to identify the types of herbal preparations that appeal to you, anything from tinctures to teas and everything in between. This book will help you choose the right herbs for yourself and the best ways to prepare them for your needs and lifestyle.
No worries if you’re not a master chef or have a love-hate relationship with your kitchen. Making herbal remedies doesn’t require any specific skills or talents, rather a genuine interest in your health and a little time. The good news is that you really can’t mess it up as long as you follow the simple instructions.
This chapter is your step-by-step guide to understanding the tools and techniques you need to create a one-of-a-kind “pharmacy.” By the end, you’ll be ready to make lotions, shampoos, teas, salves, tinctures, baths, syrups, home-cleaning products, and more (see Part 3). Beginners, fear not. This is as much fun as it is easy!
After growing or purchasing the herbs that appeal to you, you’ll be ready to begin making preparations. Each preparation has its own function and targets specific issues and concerns, but is not plant-specific, meaning you can mix and match your concoctions with different methods.
On the following pages, you’ll find preparations divided into two sections: Preparations for Health and Wellness and Preparations for Cosmetic Care. Each section aims to educate you about the herbal approach, and includes application methods, the kitchen equipment you’ll need to create them, and the storage containers you’ll want to have on hand. Preceding the section on cosmetic care preparations is a Know Your Skin guide to help you determine which treatments will work best with your skin type.
Herbal tea is a bit of a misnomer because it’s not technically a tea. A tea by definition is a drink made by steeping the cured leaves of the specific tea plant (Camellia sinensis) in hot water and includes varieties such as oolong, black, white, yellow, and green. Herbal tea on the other hand is a blend of herbs, spices, and just about anything else you’d get from a plant steeped in hot or boiling water. You can use roots, bark, flowers, peels, fruit, chunks of lemon or ginger—add to your own list. Red tea, aka rooibos, also falls into the herbal category despite its name. One way to think about it is that herbal teas are made from most anything you’d find in the garden, like chamomile, mint, and echinacea.
While most of the world is fairly particular about drinking only the “true” teas, the United States is obsessed with herbal teas (thanks to their antioxidant levels, medicinal uses, and lack of caffeine) and doesn’t seem to mind the misnomer. Keeping this in mind, this book uses the term, tea, generically.
Once you understand the difference between herbal and non-herbal teas, the next thing to know is that there are two types of herbal teas: infusions and decoctions.
An infusion is a tea made by pouring boiling water over delicate parts of the plant—like fruits, leaves, dried flowers, berries, or buds—and then steeping the liquid so the nutrients are imparted into the drink. This practice is different from cooking the tea in a pot over heat, which destroys nutrients and enzymes. Instead, you’ll gently let the steeping tea “free float” in a jar to maximize extraction. This method allows you to get both the flavors and the nutrients from the herbs. You can use dried herbs, as well as fresh ones. Just be sure that the dried herbs haven’t passed their shelf life, which diminishes their healing power and potency. Once the herbs are strained off, your infusion is ready to drink. A French press is a handy way to create infusions.
Tea infusions are used for their flavor or medicinal purposes or both. They’re a great way to incorporate herbs on an everyday basis.
Application method: Aromatic / internal / topical (poultice or compress)
Kitchen equipment: Pan, lidded jars, French press (optional)
Storage equipment: Lidded jars or tins (for extra herb blend); lidded jars or pitchers to store extra infusions
While infusions are made from the most delicate parts of plants, decoctions are high-powered herbal teas made from the heartiest parts of plants, such as fibrous stems, thick bark, seeds, nuts, or roots. Because these components tend to be on the rougher, denser side, it takes a slow heat to extract all their minerals and healing elements. In other words, simply steeping them in boiling water isn’t enough to release the potent nutrients and the richer flavors inside these heartier, tougher mixtures.
Decoctions require that you combine all of your herbs into a non-aluminum pot with cold water and slowly bring the mixture to a boil. (Avoid aluminum because it might cause a chemical reaction with some herbs.) There’s no set time limit on how long to simmer or boil. Instead, wait until the water reduces by two-thirds of its original amount, leaving an extraordinarily concentrated medicinal drink. Strain off the herb mixture before you drink the remaining decoction.
Application method: Aromatic / internal / topical (poultice or compress)
Kitchen equipment: Pan, strainer
Storage equipment: Lidded jars or tins (for extra herb blend); lidded jars or pitchers to store extra decoction
If you’ve made salad dressing or chili oil for bread dipping, then you’ve basically made an herbal oil. The only difference with the method described here is you’ll heat the oil and use herbs designed to target specific health issues. While there’s a recent explosion of herbal oils in the marketplace—such as rosemary for hair and scalp, and calendula for skin ailments—they’re not a new thing. In fact, they’ve been used for centuries to impart the healing nutrients of plants into the skin. The types you’ll use in this book aren’t any different than the ones you’ll find in a high-end spa treatment room or on department store shelves, except the price tag is much lower.
Olive oil is the go-to oil for herbal medicine because it’s chock full of healthy fatty acids. Its viscosity makes it perfect for massaging into skin and prepping salves, too. Because it has a faint olive smell, you may not love it for bath oils, but it does the trick in terms of nourishing and moisturizing your skin.
Regardless of which herbal remedies you prepare, start with a carrier oil. Carrier oils are used to dilute highly concentrated essential oils before they’re applied to your body.
Application method: Aromatic, internal, topical
Kitchen equipment: Double boiler or a saucepan with a stainless steel bowl atop, stainless steel strainer, cheesecloth
Storage equipment: Glass jars, labels
SALVES AND BALMS
Salves and balms are ointments designed to heal, protect, or soothe the skin. The basic ingredient is generally a carrier oil, an essential oil or infused oil, (carrier oil spiked with healing herbs), beeswax, or some combo of oils and waxes as their foundation. From here, choose your ingredients based on the issues you’re trying to treat, such as rashes, acne, dry skin, chapped lips, bug bites, allergies, sunburn, and more. Most of the herbs you’ll need are easily found in your backyard or on your windowsill and are teeming with skin-fixing nutrients and essential oils. Or, skip a step and start with infused oils so you have less doctoring up to do.
Most herbalists, naturopaths, aromatherapists, and alternative medicine experts use the terms “salve” and “balm” interchangeably. Both preparations can vary in thickness and ratio of oils to wax based on your personal preference and application needs. However, they should contain zero waters or fats, both of which are reserved for preparing lotions and creams. Salves and balms are designed to be placed topically on the skin as a vehicle for imparting healing components into your body.
Application method: Aromatic, topical
Kitchen equipment: Double boiler or a saucepan with a stainless steel bowl atop, stainless steel strainer, cheesecloth.
Storage equipment: Glass jars or tins, labels
TINCTURES AND LINIMENTS
A tincture is the concentrated liquid form of an herb that is taken orally or used as an external remedy. Tinctures are made by soaking herbs in a solvent—basically, a substance that dissolves other substances to form a solution. Alcohols such as vodka and gin are the most common solvents used in tinctures, though apple cider vinegar is another option that is growing in popularity. The solvent works by extracting the essential compounds from the herb. The mixture is then strained and transferred to a dark bottle.
Alcohols used in tinctures should be in the 80- to 100-proof range for maximum extraction of herbal nutrients, essential oils, and other healing plant juices. Eighty to 90-proof alcohols also work if you’re using non-juicy or dried herbs in your tincture. Many herbalists believe that if the concentration is made with anything other than alcohol, it’s not a tincture, rather an extract.
A liniment is a type of tincture that is applied topically, not internally. This book does not include any remedies, other than teas, for oral ingestion.
Application method: Internal, topical
Kitchen equipment: Knife, cutting board, alcohol, glass jar with lid
Storage equipment: Dark glass bottle with a dropper
Baths are like herbal teas for your body. Depending on the types of herbs you use and the temperature of your water, your preparation can stimulate your senses or relax them. For example, herbs like chamomile or rosemary are perfect for nighttime relaxation, while peppermint and green tea make for amazing morning pick-me-ups. Herbal baths can produce great healing results. They increase circulation, soothe aching muscles, lower stress, stave off colds and flu, relieve inflammation, boost the mood, tone the skin, and promote cell repair. Basically, herbal baths are limited only by their specific therapeutic healing powers. You may be surprised to know how beneficial bathing can be with simply the herbs you’ve got stashed in your refrigerator’s crisper.
How do these herbs work in the bath? Like steam in a facial, bath water opens pores in your skin, which allows the healing compounds you’re soaking in to seep into your body. Your herbal body tea is more than enough to provide ample healing. However, you can take the experience up a notch by dimming the lights and adding candles.
Application method: Aromatic, topical
Kitchen equipment: Cheesecloth, or strainer (a handkerchief or nylon stocking will also work)
Storage equipment: Jar with lid
POULTICES AND COMPRESSES
A poultice is fresh or dried plant parts, usually warmed, and placed in a piece of cloth to be used like a bandage. Poultices are applied to wounds and inflammation to stop pain, swelling, and soreness.
A compress is a piece of cloth that is soaked in herbs and then applied damp to the affected part of the body. It can be any temperature depending on how it’s used.
Compresses and poultices have been used in various forms as antiseptics and anti-inflammatories. At their heart, both techniques involve placing wet or moist herbs over a physical problem area so the skin tissue absorbs the herbal therapies. They’ve been in play since the early days of China, Egypt, and Greece.
Poultices are simply a combination of moist herbs, clay, or other absorbent substances applied directly to the skin or affected areas. You choose the herb or herbal blend based on your particular ailment, while the herbs or clay act as an absorbent, rather than a nutrient, so use whatever you have available. This warm paste-like remedy is then placed over your wound and kept warm with a heating pad or towel to reduce inflammation and draw out infection if there is any. Generally, poultices are left on until the clay dries out, or until the poultice is cooled and the ailment reevaluated.
If you’ve got burns, bites, rashes, achy muscles, pimples or blemishes, tumors, cysts, swollen glands, sprains, or similar conditions in which you need to draw out impurities, boost circulation to an area, or soothe irritation, this is your go-to treatment.
Application method: Aromatic, topical
Kitchen equipment: Cotton fabrics (optional)
Storage equipment: n/a
A compress is similar to a poultice in that you’re drawing out impurities and increasing circulation to a problem area. However, unlike a poultice, this remedy is simply about applying a hot or cold liquid onto your skin via a towel (rather than a paste made entirely of herbs).
Where do the herbs come into play? Instead of a traditional compress of water, you’ll use an herbal tea or essential oil in water as your liquid.
Compresses are typically easier to make and prepare compared to poultices. This is particularly the case if you’re already brewing a pot of herbal tea. The only real downside to both these preparations is that they can be messy to create and use, which limits their portability and functionality.
To reduce swelling and inflammation, use cold compresses for 45 to 60 minutes at a time throughout the day. Cold compresses are good for treating bruises, swollen glands, sunburns, sprains, aches and pains, digestive issues, skin issues, respiratory problems, constipation, and even irritable bowel syndrome.
Hot compresses move blood to your skin’s surface which helps get impurities out of your system. For example, they can help alleviate the discomfort of congestion. Simply place the treated towel on your face to receive some relief.
Application method: Aromatic, topical
Kitchen equipment: Soft cotton fabric towels
Storage equipment: n/a
KNOW YOUR SKIN
Connect your skin type to the appropriate care to kick-start home-based treatments that’ll have your skin glowing.
You wouldn’t buy facial moisturizers or cleansers without knowing your skin type. Same thing goes for herbal medicine. Before you can effectively treat your body with plant-based creams and soaps, it’s important to know which of these five characteristics best describes your skin:
Normal or Balanced Oily Dry Combination Sensitive
This knowledge allows you to manage the ingredients that go into your preparations, and their ratios, for optimal efficacy. Plus, it’s the key to flawless-looking skin. Check out this breakdown and be sure to reassess your skin’s condition every few months as it changes with seasons, hormones, weather, and stress levels:
Normal or Balanced
Normal, or balanced, skin is exactly like the name implies: neither too oily nor too dry. It’s got few to zero imperfections or blemishes, barely visible pores, little to no sensitivity, and a beautifully glowing radiance. Yep, you guessed it…this is the skin people strive for. The only issues you may experience are the occasional blackheads in the T zone (chin, nose, forehead) or upper back, along with head-to-toe dehydration in the winter—nothing that drinking water and applying lotion can’t fix.
CARE: Opt for gentle, water-based soaps, lotion-like cleansers, cleansing oils or oat-, nut-, or seed-based milk or clay blends for both face and body. For post-cleansing, mist tea- or herbal vinegar–based toner over skin—for example, rose, calendula, chamomile, rosemary, or lavender—followed by a lightweight moisturizer to lock-in hydration.
If you’ve got medium to large pores in your T zone, back, chest, neck, or shoulders, you’re likely oily. This type of skin is often shiny again just an hour post-cleansing, and makeup tends to vanish quickly after application. While you might be acne-prone, the upside is that well-hydrated skin tends to have zero fine lines and very few wrinkles.
CARE: Twice daily, use a gentle, moisturizing soap, gel, or cleanser. It should be water-, milk-, or clay-based and can include finely ground nuts, seeds, and oats to aid in hydration. It sounds counterintuitive but dehydrated skin makes oil worse, because lack of moisture triggers the skin glands to produce a fatty secretion (called sebum) to compensate, which results in oilier skin. Follow your soap or cleanser with hydrating mist, lightweight herbal moisturizers, and twice-weekly scrubs or masks to keep oil at bay.
While dry skin has small pores, it lacks the moisture necessary to create a flawless, radiant glow. Signs you’ve got dryness? Flakiness, red irritated patches, fine lines, wrinkles, and a tight feeling, especially after cleansing.
CARE: Avoid dehydrating skin further by swapping out soap for creamy, moisturizing lotions or oil-based cleansers as your face wash. Soothe irritation and dial-up moisture with a toner or splash made with herbal teas. Lemon balm, fennel, neroli, lavender, marshmallow root, or calendula are some good candidates. Hydrate head to toe with an ultra-lush moisturizer designed to heal, repair, and nourish skin.
Combination skin gets its name for a reason: You’ve got a combination of multiple skin types, say oily in the T zone with dryness in the cheeks. This means you’re likely prone to flakiness in certain areas and break outs in others, and as a general rule, skin is sensitive.
CARE: This type needs extra love! Cleanse head to toe with products designed to treat oily skin (gentle, moisturizing cleansing lotions, oils, or lathers). Tone face with a mild herb-infused apple cider vinegar (try rose, comfrey, lavender, or chamomile). The same herb blend can be used to create a tea-based body wash for post-shower. Hydrate with a light- or medium-weight moisturizer or add a few drops of herbal tincture to your favorite lotions.
Sensitive skin reacts strongly to external conditions, such as weather, temperature, skin care products or ingredients, foods, and more. If you’re the type that burns easily in the sun, gets rashes or irritation when exposed to particular elements, or experiences redness when air is too hot, cold, dry, or humid, this skin type might be yours.
CARE: Treat delicate skin like you would oily skin with the exception of cleansing tools. Never use harsh brushes, thick or knobby towels, loofahs, sponges, or exfoliating tools on a sensitive face.
Facial cleansers are made by melting solids, such as shea butter, cocoa butter, or beeswax so they’re better able to mix with essential or infused oils. The type of butter or wax you use depends on whether you want a creamier, thicker, or firmer consistency. There’s no magic thickness or right texture—it’s simply a matter of your personal preference. You can store your end products in the bathroom with your other skincare and they’ll last 30 days or so. Remember, they’ve got no preservatives! To stretch the shelf life, keep your cleanser unopened in the refrigerator and it will stay fresh for up to six months.
Skin type: All
Kitchen equipment: Double boiler or a saucepan with a stainless steel bowl atop
Storage equipment: Plastic or glass jars or bottles
TONERS AND ASTRINGENTS
A toner is a lotion or wash designed to brighten and refresh sensitive, dry, or normal skin types. They can be used to cleanse the skin and shrink the appearance of pores, and are usually used on the face.
Astringents are more powerful forms of toners, particularly commercial varieties, which are often made with isopropyl alcohol or acetone (yeah, that same stuff that’s in your nail polish), so you can imagine how drying and harsh it is to skin. The bonus of herbal astringents is that they’re soothing and gentle, but still effective.
The main purpose of astringents and toners is to wipe skin of residual cleansers, dirt, or oil. They also prep skin for moisturizer and balance pH levels while also tightening tissue, reducing swelling, and easing inflammation. Most astringents and toners in the recipes in Part 3 contain alcohol-free witch hazel extract, a powerful but simple ingredient for pulling impurities from the skin.
While astringents and toners do not have to be refrigerated, applying them cold shrinks tissues more effectively than at room temperature, plus it feels great on a hot day. Guarantee freshness by storing them in tightly lidded glass bottles, spritzers, or jars. Make sure you’ve got cotton squares on hand to apply the solution on the face and neck in upward, outward strokes.
Skin type: Astringents: Combination, Normal, Oily; Toners: Dry, Normal, Sensitive
Kitchen equipment: n/a
Storage equipment: storage containers, bottles or jars with lids, or spray bottles
A mask is simply a skin treatment used for detoxing, deep cleaning, and purifying skin, head to toe. Masks are one of the oldest beauty secrets (you can thank the ancient Egyptians for this one). While masks used to be primarily made of clay, modern DIYers are also using grains, fruit or vegetable mashes, aloe vera, and more to get flawless, radiant, deep-clean skin.
The beauty behind this treatment is that you can customize your mask to your particular skin needs to do far more than sweep pores of dirt and grime. Depending on the herbs you blend, today’s “high-tech” all-natural preparation can soothe irritation, rid your system of toxins, amp up circulation, calm inflammation, tighten pores, replenish moisture, and brighten your look. Not bad for something that takes minutes to prep with stuff you find in your garden or crisper.
See individual recipes for specific application and preparation guidelines. For the most part, you can make masks easily and quickly. Simply whisk ingredients into a paste in a bowl before applying to your face or other part of the body. Then relax while the mask does its thing. Post-cleanse with your fingertips. Recipes tend to be gentle enough for weekly or semiweekly use, but you know your skin, so you be the judge.
Skin type: All
Kitchen equipment: Bowls, whisk, spoon
Storage equipment: Most masks are intended for a single treatment but dry ingredients can be stored in a plastic or glass jar, zip-seal plastic bag, or a tin.
A moisturizer is a preparation that hydrates your cells. It acts like a protective shield that separates your skin from the harsh elements including weather, seasonal changes, pollutants, dirt, and more. These formulas can be made in different weights (light to thick), using oil or water bases, so you can customize them according to whether you need more or less hydration. Generally speaking, you’ll apply ½ to 1 teaspoon over your entire face after cleansing, toning, or applying a scrub or mask.
You’ll see that some of the recipes in this book require cooking the ingredients in a double boiler over low heat, to melt solids like beeswax or cocoa butter, and others require no more than whisking ingredients in a bowl. The common thread in all of the recipes? You’ll see amazing results in a very short time with minimal effort, certainly no more than making a quick stovetop meal.
These beauties have a shelf life of about one month. Moisturizers need no refrigeration, making them perfect to store along with your other skincare products. If you refrigerate in a tightly sealed, unopened container in the fridge, the formulas can last up to six months.
Skin type: All
Kitchen equipment: Double boiler or a saucepan with a stainless steel bowl atop, small bowl, whisk
Storage equipment: Glass jar
Scrubs are designed to slough off dead, dry cells from your skin’s surface leaving it softer, smoother, and more radiant. Used daily or weekly, over time you’ll speed cell turnover, smooth complexion, even skin tone, and brighten your glow—all the same promises you get from a $200 jar of luxury skincare without the chemicals and high price tag.
If you’re a connoisseur of commercial brands, you’re likely familiar with their rough granular texture and harsh ingredients. The recipes in this book are softer and gentler so you’re guaranteed smoother, more nourishing results. In fact, unlike chemical- and preservative-laden store brands, these blends don’t strip skin of its natural oils so you can safely use this as your daily face wash, especially if you wear little to no makeup.
The key with scrubs is that you’re letting the product do the “scrubbing,” not your hands. The skin on your face and neck is far too gentle for you to rub in the product or exfoliate it the way you would elbows, knees, and feet. Instead, slather on gently—avoiding the ultrasensitive eye area—and let it go to work. Leave on 15 to 20 minutes before rinsing.
Skin type: All skin types except ones currently experiencing acne, broken veins, sensitivity, inflammation, irritation, sunburn, windburn, or rosacea
Kitchen equipment: Double boiler or a saucepan with a stainless steel bowl atop, bowl, whisk
Storage equipment: Plastic or glass jars, zip-seal plastic bags. Dry ingredients can be stored in those same containers as well as tins.
SHOPPING FOR INGREDIENTS
You’re now in the know about what you need to prepare so it’s time to shop! Most of the items you’ll need can be found at your neighborhood home goods, hardware, or general merchandise stores. Alternatively, they’re readily available online with the click of a few buttons. Nothing on these pages is extravagant, gourmet, or impossible to source.
Basic Kitchen Tools
Find these basics and you’re on track for creating a DIY herbal medicine workshop in a snap:
•double-meshed strainer, stainless steel
•double boiler, or a medium saucepan and a slightly larger stainless steel bowl to perch on top
•glass jars with tight-fitting lids (such as Mason jars) and with spray tops, 4 ounce and 8 ounce
•dark glass bottle with a dropper for serum, 2 ounce, for toner (optional)
•tin containers with lids for salves and balms, 4 ounce and 8 ounce
•glass bowls in small, medium, and large
•measuring cups and spoons
•grater (for beeswax and spices)
•labels to note a remedy and date
•a coffee grinder (or mini food processor in a pinch) that has been thoroughly cleaned, or is purchased expressly for your herbal preparations
JUST LIKE US
THE HERBS: Greens, Chinese herbs, medicinal mushrooms
THE USES: Migraines, exhaustion, and seasonal affective disorder
AS A SUPERMODEL and actress, Elle Macpherson is in a world of her own, in many regards. But Elle’s choices for staying healthy and balanced are ones we can make for ourselves too: exercising regularly, observing a meat-free diet, and (here’s the toughie) swearing off alcohol and aspirin. Elle has commented that, as an Australian, she’s long been open to alternative medicines and homeopathic treatments for health and beauty. Her herbal regimen involves drinking blends of super greens, digestive enzymes, immune-boosting mushrooms, and Chinese herbs. With the goal of balancing stress, boosting skin radiance, and building immunity, Elle’s herbal approach seems equally suited for supermodels, supermoms, and superwomen of any age.
No matter how you slice it, you’ll be using some combination of the following ingredients: carrier oils, essential oils, and dried herbs. Read on to find out what you need to know about shopping for each.
Also known as “fixed” or “natural base” oils, the sole purpose of carrier oils in your herbal medicine lab is to dilute or stretch essential oils. They’re made from seeds, nuts, and vegetables, and if you’ve ever gotten a professional massage, you’ve probably come into contact with one (or more). Or, if you’ve ever made a salad or pasta at home, you’ve got one or two in your pantry. The most common carrier oils for herbal preparations include the following:
•aloe vera oil
•grape seed oil
Carrier oils also make fantastic vehicles for aromatherapy blends and hydrating beauty treatments as well as treating particular skin conditions, such as callouses, fungal infections, and even diaper rash. Because they’re also rich in their own nutrients, vitamins, fatty acids, and minerals, each nourishes the skin in its own very specific way while imparting it with the healing compounds of the essential oils you blend with them.
All oils should be stored in cool, dark spaces like pantries and cupboards, and will last anywhere from six months to years. Check the individual label on each of the products you buy to make sure your particular carrier oil is fresh when you use it. In summer months, move carrier oils to the refrigerator if temperatures get too high to ensure safety and freshness. Many of them thicken or become solid like soft butter when chilled. So, remove them 12 hours before using so they thin back out and settle to room temperature.
Note: If you have nut allergies, steer clear of nut-based oils.
Similar to food, skincare, medicine, and other products, ingredient lists are key to knowing if an essential oil lives up to its label’s marketing claims in terms of purity and quality. Check out the Resources (here) for the most reputable essential oil retailers. Before you buy, keep this checklist on hand:
Be a price tags detective. If you’re eyeing a certain brand, look at the cost of the different oils the vendor offers in their product line. Variances reflect the fact that certain extracts will dictate different production costs. If the prices don’t vary, that’s a red flag that the manufacturer may be using inferior product or misrepresenting what’s inside the bottle.
Choose dark bottles. High-quality essential oils are packed in green, violet, amber, blue, or violet bottles, rather than clear, and typically with orifice reducers, not droppers which are often made with a rubber rim that can corrode oil. The dark colors help protect ingredients that are sensitive to light. Essential oils should be stored in a cool, dark place.
TO A STYLISH AROMATHERAPY DIFFUSER
The ultimate desk (and health) accessory, purchasing a dispenser in a style you love ensures you set it out and reminds you to use it. Fill it with essential oils that increase productivity, ease stress, and energize you day in and day out.
Pay attention to marketing lingo. You will see terms like “therapeutic” or “aromatherapy-grade” on essential oil bottles. Essential oil is not regulated by the FDA or any other authoritative body. The important factors for you to take into consideration are:
•Has the product undergone gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) testing? It should have.
•Is the herb’s Latin name on the bottle? It should be.
•Is the price lower than what other brands change for the same oil? That’s a red flag.
•What do real users have to say about the product or brand? Online reviews are excellent sources of information, particularly those posted on blogs. If you live near an independent store that sells essential oils, talk to sales staff. They tend to be extremely knowledgeable about their inventory.
Buy what’s right for you. You know your body and what issues you’re trying to treat. That’s your focus when buying essential oils. Also, steer clear of your personal allergens. (Allergic to ginger? You’re probably allergic to its essential oil.) Lastly, shopping by recipe is a fab way to start and branch out from the ingredient list as you build your medicine cabinet.
Fresh and Dried Herbs
The trick with both fresh and dried herbs is knowing what to buy before you shop. You want herbs that have a wide range of medicinal, fragrant, cleansing, nutritional, and flavoring uses. (In the same way you don’t want to buy a spice cabinet full of expensive hard-to-source brands to make one exotic dish, you want your herbs to serve multiple purposes, too.) Also be sure to understand each herb’s unique storage needs and shelf life so you use them at their peak freshness. Finally, buy organic to ensure the chemicals used in growing the herbs don’t end up in or on your body.
Drying Fresh Herbs. If you’ve got access to a farm, backyard, or windowsill fresh herbs, it’s super simple to dry them on your own before using them.
Pick or purchase herbs as they’re becoming “ripe,” (i.e., buds should be newly opened or just formed). If you’re selecting herbs from outside make sure they are dirt-, chemical-, and moisture-free, and patted dry with a paper towel.
Set out a single layer of herbs in a well-ventilated, dimly lit area between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. You can place them on a countertop, metal or mesh screen or netting, or hang them in 10-stem bundles from the stems. Drying takes three days to three weeks. Note: If you’re drying a bunch of herbs at the same time, separate and label the paper towels because once dried, it will be tough to tell what’s what (plus you don’t want their individual scents to blend).
Once dried, store herbs in metal tins, lidded glass jars, plastic containers, or zip-seal plastic bags. Keep them in a cool spot away from moisture and sunlight to up their shelf life.
For more information on homegrown herbs, check out the individual herbs listed in Part 2 for specific recommendations.