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Recipe: Lavender Rose Bath Fizzies

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Who doesn’t love a bath? A sudsy, fragrant soak is my cure-all for virtually every ailment, from flu to a bad bruise.

Baths have the remarkable ability to be both relaxing and energizing. They are an ancient, world-wide remedy for aches and pains of every sort: the Egyptians enjoyed baths with flowers and essential oils as a luxury and a remedy; the Romans were famous for their public baths; Japanese citizens were (and still are) advised to soak in natural hot springs for good health…and today, still, we acknowledge the healing powers of the bath. In fact, baths are so popular as a natural remedy that there is a word for it: balneology. Cool, right?

There are two features of the bath that lend it its healing properties:

1) Heat

2) Mineral/Herbal/Oil Infusion

While the first may seem obvious, the reason may not be as apparent. Heat, on its own, has remarkable healing properties. Fifteen minutes of heat will increase circulation to an area of tension, allowing the muscles to relax and regain elasticity and flexibility. A hot bath is, therefore, the ideal treatment for tired, sore muscles. Furthermore, heat creates steamSteam opens pores and clears nasal passages. A combination of hot water on the chest and steam inhalation provides exceptional relief for chest colds and congestion.

The mineral/herbal infusion is where the bath becomes a true hero. Already we have seen how plain, hot water has its own healing properties. But there are myriad ways to augment those properties, simply by adding herbs, salts, and oils to the water. The following are just a few ideas of what you can put in your bath for added benefit:

Oils:

1) Lavender-add 10 drops for relaxation
2) Eucalyptus-10 drops for congestion
3) Jasmine-10 drops for anxiety
4) Rose-10 drops for healthy skin
5) Peppermint-10 drops for energy

Minerals:

1) Epsom Salts-add 1 cup to bath for sore muscles and bruising
2) Baking soda-add 1/2 cup to a shallow bath for urinary tract infections
3) Apple cider vinegar-add 1/2 to shallow bath for yeast/fungal infections

Herbs:

1) Calendula petals for yeast infection, eczema, and itching
2) Rose petals/lavender petals for relaxation
3) Rosemary for circulation and sore muscles

You can mix and match any of the above, too! A nice, compact way to get your oils, minerals, and herbs into the bath all in one go is through bath fizzies, which are SUPER easy to make and lots of fun in the bathtub. Most of the ingredients you can easily find at your grocery store. The more obscure stuff, like the rose petals and citric acid, are linked to websites where you can buy them for a good deal. Here is the recipe:

LAVENDER ROSE BATH FIZZIESIMG_0462

Ingredients:
(Makes 6 fizzies)

1/2 cup baking soda
1/4 cup Epsom salt
1/4 cup citric acid
1/4 cup corn starch
1 1/4 tsp coconut oil

1 1/2 tsp to 1 tablespoon water
10 drops lavender oil
2 drops red food coloring
1/2 cup dried red rose petals

Directions:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the baking soda, Epsom salt, citric acid, and corn starch. In a separate bowl (or Pyrex liquid measuring cup for controlled pouring), whisk together coconut oil, water (start with 1.5 tsp), food coloring, and lavender oil. Slowly pour the liquid into the dry ingredients, whisking as you go. Go slowly to avoid reacting all the baking soda. Some bubbling will occur, but don’t let it bubble too much–if you let the chemical reaction complete, you’ll get no fizzing in the bathtub, which is SO sad.

If your ingredients are wet enough, they should clump together in your hand like damp sand. If they don’t, add an additional 1 1/2 tsp of water. That should do the trick.

There are a few options for molding the fizzies. They make special “bath bomb” molds if you want to have the spherical ones. I don’t have one of those, so I use a cupcake pan. I sprinkle the rose petals into the bottom of the tins, then portion out the fizzy mixture into each space until it is nearly full and press it down. I let it dry for 4 hours. They pop out easily enough: just flip over the pan and lightly tap on each space containing the mixture. Or make it even easier on yourself and use paper cupcake liners. They make pretty little ridges on the outside.

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I love to give these as presents. (Walmart sells little gift bags with cardboard disk that fit in the bottom that are perfect for these). You can make all sorts of them too: experiment with different herbs and fragrances. You really can’t go wrong.

Now go enjoy a relaxing, healing bath.

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Recipe: All-Purpose Skin Salve

 

Dried Calendula officinalis from my garden

 

Today is the day for making salve. In my previous post about plantain oil, I mentioned my plans for turning the oil into a salve with calendula. I am sure you have all been waiting with baited breath to see how that turned out!

First, a little bit about calendula. Calendula officinalis is what I like to call a bread-and-butter herb. It is an absolute staple in the natural first aid kit, due to its skin-healing properties. Among other things, the flowerheads and petals of the calendula plant are known to be antimicrobial and vulnerary, meaning wound-healing. (If you like, here is a study evaluating aqueous extracts of calendula and other herbs and their efficacy in treating psoriasis). This makes any ointment containing calendula ideal for:

-minor cuts/scrapes
-minor burns
-insect bites/stings
-bruises
-eczema
-psoriasis
-diaper rash
-chicken pox

The plant is also known as “pot marigold,” but is not actually a marigold, so we will stick to calling it calendula. My lame mnemonic device for remembering that name is “Calendula…a use for every day of the year!” Because it kind of sounds like “calendar.” I grew it in my garden this year with great success. You can purchase seeds or the dried flowerheads here. Anyway, back to the salve.

I’m going to call this salve “All-Purpose” because it really can be used effectively on any minor skin irritation. Of course, if you have a wound that covers a large area or is bleeding a lot, DO see a doctor. But otherwise, for those everyday “ouchies,” this salve is a must. It includes plantain oil and calendula oil. Plantain, you will remember, also contains wound-healing properties. The plantain oil was made using the solar method, while the calendula oil was made using the heat method (see how to do both methods here). Both are effective means of making an infused herbal oil; however, the heat method does require some attention so as not to “cook” the herbs. Without further ado, here is how to make my All-Purpose Skin Salve:

All-Purpose Skin Salve

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Weighing out an ounce of beeswax…looks a bit like sliced cheese

Ingredients

1 oz beeswax (purchase here)
4 oz calendula oil
4 oz plantain oil
10 drops essential oil (I used peppermint
but orange, lavender or rose would be
lovely)
Plastic/glass/tin containers

Directions

Measure out your beeswax. This will come in a solid bar or in pellets. If you have a solid bar of beeswax, it is easy enough to slice off what you need with a sharp knife and a cutting board. You could also try grating it-this is time consuming, but it will melt faster.

Prepare your containers: set them out with lids off for easy and quick pouring.  Place the 1 oz of beeswax, the 4 oz of calendula oil, and the 4 oz of plantain oil over a double boiler until the wax is fully melted. Add in your 10 drops of essential oil and stir. Quickly pour the mixture into your tins. TIP: Transfer the melted mixture into a Pyrex liquid measuring cup with a spout for easy pouring.

Label your containers and store them in a cool, dark place. This recipe makes a lot, so you’ll have plenty to give to family and friends. Also, make sure to stash one in your purse/diaper bag.

 

Voilà! An all-purpose, all-natural, non-toxic skin ointment. The finished product has a green tinge, likely from the plantain oil. Oh, and a special shout-out to my sister-in-law who had the idea to use individual paint pots for the salve. Such a bargain! You can purchase them here, if you want.

Have fun salve-ing, everyone! Here’s to happy skin!

 

 

 

Sleep Tincture Using Colorado Wild Hops

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Hops, a.k.a. Humulus lupulus, found growing wild in Morrison, CO

You are probably familiar with hops. These days (especially in Colorado) you can’t throw a rock without hitting a craft brewer or a home brewer, each of whom has his/her own philosophy regarding how much and what kind of this fragrant flower to use when creating mankind’s favorite alcoholic beverage.

“Hops” is, in other words, synonymous with “beer.” But it may surprise you to know that hops also has an ancient history as an herbal remedy, particularly in the realm of sleep.

Hops, a.k.a. Humulus lupulus, contains valeric acid, a carboxylic acid named after another of its natural sources, valerian. Both plants are known for their sleep-inducing abilities and are extremely effective as a tincture for insomnia. I have been using a store-bought tincture that includes both, but I am anxious to brew my own!

I was lucky enough to find WILD HOPS growing along the same creek where I always seem to find beautiful herbs. They grow in long vines resembling grape vines that drape themselves over every rock and tree stump you can see. The smell is strong and resin-y, similar to another familiar plant in the Cannabinaceae family.

Unlike that other familiar plant, however, a tincture of hops has no mind-altering effects. It is completely safe when used on an as-needed basis and does not have the unpleasant side-effects often associated with over-the-counter sleep aids, such as grogginess/hangover. Here is how to make it:

Hops Tincture

Ingredientshops2

-glass jar with tight-fitting lid

-80 proof grain alcohol, such as Vodka

-Dried hops* (Purchase hops here)

Directions

Fill your sterilized jar halfway with the dried hops. Then fill the jar completely with the grain alcohol. Screw lid on tight. Label with the contents, today’s date and a date six weeks from now. Store in a dark place, shaking at least a few times a week for six weeks. After six weeks, strain your tincture into 2 mL dropper bottles. They will keep for several years!

*You can use fresh hops, but this will make your tincture more susceptible to mold, so
keep an extra eye out.

To use your tincture, put one dropperful into a little water and drink 30 minutes before bed. If your insomnia is stubborn, you could combine this with a second dropperful of Valerian Root tincture (more on that later). I have found the combo to be extremely helpful with my insomnia and restless legs. No strange dreams, no grogginess, just beautiful, restful sleep.

Sweet dreams, everyone.

Agua de Jamaica: Hibiscus Tea

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The dried sepals of Hibiscus sabdariffa, a.k.a. Roselle

I had a BANNER day at Lowe’s Mercado. I was in the market for Elderflowers and I read somewhere that you can often find them at Latin grocers. Well, I did not find any Elderflowers (gonna have to order those from Mountain Rose), but I DID find a wooden bulk-barrel of Hibiscus sabdariffa, also known as West African Hibiscus or Roselle.

There are many claims surrounding the health benefits of consuming Hibiscus flowers. The list includes:

-lowering blood pressure
-lowering cholesterol
-supporting the immune system
-fighting liver disease
-speeding up metabolism/assisting in weightloss
-reducing risk of cancer

I have had a little luck finding clinical studies to support many of the above claims, in particular those related to blood pressure and liver health. A small but significant study on the effect of H. sabdariffa tea “showed an 11.2% lowering of the systolic blood pressure and a 10.7% decrease of diastolic pressure in the experimental group 12 days after beginning the treatment, as compared with the first day” (Faraji et al, 1999). It suggests further study on the subject, however.

A separate study connection between the naturally-occuring red pigments of the flower (Called Hibiscus Anthocyanins, or “HAs” for short) and liver health in lab rats. In mammals, elevated liver enzymes can be an early indication of liver disease. In this particular study, oral administration of the HAs “significantly lowered the serum levels of hepatic enzyme markers” (Wang et al, 2000).  Keep in mind this was in rats, though, not humans.

So it seems the clinical findings are preliminary, but promising. Either way it is a fact that H. sabdariffa is full of vitamins and minerals that have proven health benefits. These include:

-Vitamin C: supports immune health
-Vitamin B12: essential in the formation of your red blood cells
-Calcium: supports bone health
-Magnesium: essential in health nerve and muscle function

In smaller amounts, the flower also contains Iron, Potassium, Vitamin A…you can find the full nutritional value of H. sabdariffa here. Let’s move on to how to really enjoy this beneficial herb.

In Mexico, “Agua de Jamaica” is a popular drink made from the infused petals of dried H. sabdariffa. It is cheap, healthful, refreshing, and EASY TO MAKE. So let’s do it.

Agua de Jamaicahibiscus1

Yields 4 servings

Ingredients:

4 cups of water

1 cup dried hibiscus
3/4 cup white sugar
6 allspice berries (optional)
1/2 cinnamon stick (optional)
1 small star anise pod (optional)

Directions:

In a small saucepan, combine 4 cups water and 3/4 cup sugar. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Stir to ensure sugar has dissolved. Add in the cup of dried hibiscus, 6 allspice berries, 1/2 cinnamon stick, and star anise pod. Cover and let steep for at least twenty minutes, up to an hour for stronger, more tart flavor. When ready to drink, mix one cup of the infused liquid with one cup cold water and pour over ice. Garnish with fresh berries, like strawberries, for added deliciousness.

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Agua de Jamaica served over ice with strawberries. Note the gorgeous red color and my strange photography angle. I need to a few lessons in food photography from my girl over at Cooking Without Limits

While this drink is traditionally served iced, I have no doubt it is delicious served hot as well. Its deep red color and the hints of cinnamon and allspice give it a look and taste reminiscent of mulled wine (minus the alcohol). It would be a warming, fortifying winter drink.

Raising a glass now to your health, everyone!

 

Colorado’s Own Oregano: A Recipe for Bee Balm Mouthwash

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A couple weeks ago, I had an allergic reaction to a toothpaste. I won’t say which toothpaste, because that’s not classy, but I will tell you that it was SUPPOSEDLY for people with sensitive gums. Not these sensitive gums, apparently. I broke out in tiny, painful canker sores all over my mouth. If you get canker sores, then you know even ONE can be an all-encompassing, painful nightmare. Having them in every corner of your mouth leaves one positively LOONY with discomfort.

The usual cavalry for canker sores was, unfortunately, not much help. First of all, most of the over-the-counter remedies are designed for one or two canker sores, not a blanket of them. The number of sores I had would have meant drinking a bottle of Anbesol or Orajel, which you’re not supposed to do. It says so on the label.

For my situation, a mouthwash was in order; but the mere thought of rinsing my poor, poor mouth with something that had alcohol or fluoride in it (and many commercial mouthwashes do) made me so very sad. Plus, I no longer felt like leaving the house in case I had to talk or use my mouth in any way. I needed something I could make at home without any painful, burning stuff in it. In my festering fugue, I thought I remembered reading something about oregano being a good oral antiseptic, so I web-searched it.

It turns out, oregano is an effective remedy for mouth sores, gingivitis, and sore throats. In fact, it’s a useful remedy for a LOT of things due to a high content of an organic compound known as thymol.

The antimicrobial actions of thymol and its isomer, carvacrol, are well-established in the academic realm. Quick chemistry lesson (you can totally skip this part if you want): isomers are compounds with the same molecular formula, but a different chemical structure. The fact that they have the same molecular formula means they have a lot of properties in common, but that different chemical structure gives each its own unique features. Isomers are a bit like fraternal twins: they are biologically similar, but physically distinct. Here is a study that found that thymol and carvacrol isolated from a verbena species “exhibited potent antimicrobial activity against the organisms tested” (Bothelo et al, 2007).

But wait, this post is about Bee Balm. Sorry, allow me to get back on topic. Thymol is not just found in oregano. It is also found in species of thyme (hence the name), eyebright (more on that herb later), verbena, and Bee Balm, the star of this show.

Bee balm is native to North America. It has been used for centuries as a cure-all by Native American Tribes. It is also known as Horsemint and and Wild Bergamot. I was lucky enough to come across some at the beginning of this month. It was growing happily by the creek my son and I like to walk to. Here it is:

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This particular species of Bee Balm is called Monarda fistulosa, and it is a great herb to pluck if you are a novice because it is not only unmistakable appearance-wise, it is unmistakable smell-wise. It absolutely reeks of oregano. There was a lot of it, so I took the liberty of taking a little handful home and hang-drying it. At the time, I was unaware of its potent oral antiseptic properties. I was told it makes a nice tea for chest colds and tasted great in salads (both of which are true, by the way).

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Bee balm hang-drying in my kitchen

After researching oregano and remembering how strongly the Bee Balm smelled of it, I was curious if it contained any amount of thymol. In fact it does. A lot of it. And the isomer carvetrol. HOORAY. I grabbed my little jar of the dried Bee Balm and set about making a mouthwash for my poor, poor mouth.
This stuff was great. It had a clean, warm taste with a slightly numbing sensation (probably from the carvetrol). I used it every day twice a day for one week. By the second day, the sores were already noticeably better and less angry. I have since learned that a mouthwash such as this can be used to prevent mouth ulcers, not just treat them. The antiseptic properties also help keep your breath fresh. Think I’ll just keep some on-hand.

 

I also have plans to make an Oxymel of Bee Balm for the coming winter months. Stay tuned for that posting!

Without further ado, here is the mouthwash recipe:

BEE BALM MOUTHWASH

Ingredients

1/8 oz dried bee balm (about 2-3 tbsp flowers and leaves)

8 oz boiling water

2 tsp salt

Directions

Place dried bee balm and 2 tsp salt into a heat-proof bowl/container. Pour boiling water over the top and allow to steep for twenty minutes. Strain the liquid into a sterilized container with a lid or seal. Let it chill in the fridge for an extra soothing treatment. Use as often as needed or at least twice per day for acute sores.

Feel better!