Saturday, July 18, 2009

Making Herbal Oils, Salves and Tinctures

We've had several workshops here at the farm over the past weeks. Last Saturday we had an herbal workshop, where participants learned about making herbal infused oils, salves and tinctures. As it's peak herb harvesting season (for flowers and leaves, not roots or bark) it was an ideal time to offer instruction on how to harvest, dry and store herbs, as well as how to preserve their healing qualities by infusing them in oils, adding beeswax to create healing salves, and tincturing them in alcohol/water or other menstruums.

We had fun preparing an "all purpose salve" that is good for cuts, burns and bruises, including common herbs like St. Johns Wort, calendula, marshmallow, lavender, and comfrey, that can either be wildcrafted or are easy to grow in your garden. We talked about ethical and sustainable wildharvesting techniques, such as not to overharvest, to properly identify the plants using a good botanical guide book, and harvesting from areas that are unsprayed! First an herbal oil is prepared, either by solar infusion (4-6 weeks steeping in the sun), or by stove top or crockpot method (low simmering the herbs in oil for several hours). This oil is then strained, and beeswax, cocoa butter, or other additives such as essential oils are added to make a rich solid salve. We also prepared a rosehip tincture, made of crushed wildcrafted rosehips steeped in grain alcohol at a ratio of about 5:1. This will be let to steep for 4-6 weeks, or longer, then strained and stored in dark glass bottles. Rosehip is high in vitamin C, so an excellent tincture for fighting off winter colds and flu. Participants took home a very special tincture made of violet blossoms, known as a grounding herb that calms, soothes, aids anxiety, helps insomnia, and wards of negative emotion. Sounds like a tincture we could all use in our herbal first aid kit.

A final note on what is called the "simplers" or traditional herbalists method - it is more valuable to learn a dozen herbs thoroughly and know many uses for them, rather than knowing many herbs but few uses. Work on building a relationship with these plants. Know them well! Seems especially insightful for city herb gardeners who may be limited in space in their herb garden patches.

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