Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Bottles for tinctures

One of my early posts on this blog was about painting lots of jam jars to keep all my herbs in. As I've been making more tinctures recently I'm turning all the empty vodka bottles to good use to for storing tinctures and vinegars. I just had a painting session...

These will get baked in the oven tomorrow and then be "potion ready"! :-) A few candidates waiting for/ or nearly ready for bottling: nettle and apricot iron tonic; nettle vinegar; and cinnamon tincture.
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Sunday, 18 April 2010

Sweet Marjoram for aches and pains

This post is part of the UK Herbarium April blog party being hosted by Sarah Head on Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife. Sarah writes:
"A recent posting on the Herb Society Forum started me thinking about all the new aches and pains we gather as we start back working in the garden, or generally exercise more because of the lengthening days and hopefully more clement weather. What are your favourite herbs to use at these times? Is it a salve or oil to massage in to the aching area, or do you opt for a herbal liqueur to savour as you take your ease?"
I've been getting to know Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana), and it was one of the herbs I planted in my mum's new herb garden last year. The name of marjoram, from Greek, means "joy of the mountain". It is related to oregano, but is often preferred for its taste and sweet smell.

It has a long history of use and although best known as a culinary herb, it is also used both internally and externally for its medicinal properties. These uses include aiding digestion, promoting menstrual flow, for coughs and colds (ref. Bartram's Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine). Historically, it was used as a strewing herb to help scent rooms, and was also used in marital wreaths as its sweet smell was thought to bring happiness.

A few quotes about sweet marjoram for external use:
  • "The oil is warm and comforting to the joints that are stiff" ~ Culpeper
  • "Externally, it is used to treat muscular pain, bronchial complaints, arthritis, sprains and stiff joints" ~ Plants for a Future
  • "An ointment made with marjoram eases aching and stiff muscles" ~ Marjoram Fact Sheet, Herb Society
My first stop if I'm feeling achey is a nice long bath, and I love using marjoram essential oil (5-6 drops in a little milk) mixed in. It has a lovely subtle, calming scent and blends well with vetiver, chamomile or lavender, to mention a few. I also recently used it in a herbal bath bag, using both dried marjoram and the essential oil, along with some other herbs and epsom salts. This was a real favourite! Another option is to make a strong infusion of marjoram and add this to the bath.

The essential oil of marjoram is recommended to ease aches, soothe headaches, aid menstrual flow, and calm the mind. I used it as a key ingredient in the Ultra Heal and Deep Relax massage oils that I make for Amiya Natural Beauty:
  • In Ultra Heal, I blend it with lavender, thyme and chamomile essential oils (on a base of jojoba and olive oils, with added macerated comfrey and arnica oils). Some very special herbal ingredients, and lovely after a sweet marjoram bath.
  • In Deep Relax, I blend it with vetiver, patchouli, and a little bit of orange. The marjoram soothes, while the vetiver and patchouli ground and balance.
As I've been writing this post, I have a blend of sweet marjoram, lavender and a little ylang ylang in my oil burner... ah, lovely! :-)
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Sunday, 4 April 2010

Horsechestnut salve for varicose veins

Never did I imagine as a child that the conkers I gleefully threaded with string and prepared for the seasonal fun of playing conkers would later be ingredients that I would heat, brew and infuse into therapeutic products!

Horse chestnut (Aesculus hipposcastanum) bark and seeds are used both internally and externally in tinctures and salves to treat varicose veins and piles. They contain a saponin called aescin which has apparently been shown to promote circulation and tone the vein walls.

I'm a bit out of season you might say for talking about conkers, and its true, but I needed to make a horse chestnut salve and wanted to explore how I could make it as potent as possible. This lead me to making a double-infused horse chestnut oil using fallen twigs and a few dried conkers donated by a neighbour (later in the year you can bet I'll be out there, along with the children and other herby types, collecting conkers).

There is an excellent post on how to make the double-infused oil by Sarah Head on the Herb Society website, so I won't repeat what is already there. I used a combination of olive and safflower oils, plus about 0.5% Vitamin E oil to act as an anti-oxidant so that the oil will keep without going rancid for longer (added at the end of the process). In the second infusion I also added some Butcher's Broom (Ruscus Aculeatus) bark, which is a veinous tonic.

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to make this salve as effective as possible, so as well as using the horse chestnut oil I also added horse chestnut tincture when making the salve. This makes the salve a bit softer, which I think is better for application, especially if the skin is sore. The tincture can make up about 5% of the total salve mixture. So I used:
  • 15g beeswax
  • 80ml horse chestnut oil
  • 5ml horse chestnut tincture
  • 5-10 drops lavender essential oil (optional)
Make sure you have the pots you will use for the salve ready before you start, as there won't be so much time at the end as the mixture is cooling down. The horse chestnut tincture and essential oil are added as late as possible to retain as much as possible of their properties.

Heat the beeswax and horse chestnut oil in a bain-marie (bowl over hot water) until the beeswax has fully melted. Take the mixture off the heat (out of the bain marie) and whisk as it cools - you need to be a bit patient at this stage. Once the mixture is starting to go cloudy (but still liquid) add the tincture and whisk quickly. Then add the essential oil and whisk in then pour the mixture straight into your pots. If you have any residue in the bowl you can place it back in the bain-marie briefly to soften the mixture so that none is wasted.

The end salve is beautiful and soft, and packed full of horse chestnut goodness!
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