Let's face it, our world has turned topsy-turvy. Global, life-changing events which many of us thought only happened in books and imaginations, have happened for real, and are still happening. Often, those of us who have been quietly living our lives feel helpless in the face of so many huge upheavals. We have altered our perceptions from a sense of certainty and relative security to an “I’m not so sure” perspective. We wonder “How can I survive if there are future global catastrophes?”. Some folks will say “This was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.” while others think ‘Maybe I’d better make some preparations – just in case.’. The question becomes "What can I do?" and the logical answer is pray, plan, and prepare.
I would like to note here that I have never been a survivalist. I never thought it would ever be necessary. I am now researching survivalist skills and recommendations because my perspective has changed. What I'm suggesting below is what seems logical to me. This is a small fraction of what would be required if the world goes haywire again. Such a thing may never happen, but I'm not so sure anymore.
First, Pray. Pray often. Pray from your heart. Pray now. Pray always.
Prayer is the one thing of which I am certain.
Second, Plan. Plan what you'll do, and, if needed, where you'll go. Put your plan in writing. Discuss your plan with family members and/or neighbors. Plan for different types of events. What will you do if EVERYTHING gets shut down for weeks, months, years, or forever? What will you do in case of a lengthy power failure? What will you do if a huge storm batters your area? What will you do if rioters take over your neighborhood? What will you do if you or your family members get sick, but doctors and hospitals aren't available? What will you do if all transportation by motor vehicle is halted? What will you do if you are unable to survive in your current location? What will you do if there's war?
I know this sounds extreme - it's something I would never have imagined even thinking a year ago, but I'm not so sure about anything anymore. There are groups of people who have understood this concept for a long time though - they're often referred to as survivalists or preppers. They are the experts we need to seek now.
Third, Prepare. Make a list of reasonable items you need to have on hand in case of emergency, then take the time to gather them and store them safely. Certain things are "must haves" - food, water, shelter, serviceable clothing, soap, some basic medical supplies, survival skills, skills to build what you need, and a way to protect yourself. Let's look a little at each category I've mentioned above.
It's time to do some research. I'm going to recommend physical prepper books in addition to online prepper websites. Obviously, online is the quickest way to get the information you need, and you can print out what you need, but the books are more durable and will be there if everything goes dark. Read and learn it now, then keep the books for reference. You may never need these skills, but it will never hurt you to have them. Go to the experts because what I say below is just a short introduction to the survivalist concept.
Soap and water will be your best defense against infection from wounds and against spreading illnesses. Each time you shop, pick up one extra bar of soap until you have a stockpile. Soap doesn't go bad. By buying one extra bar at a time, you don't overwhelm the existing supply. You could also learn how to make soap and/or how to make the ingredients you'll need to make soap.
Once a month, buy one durable outfit. You need:
* Shoes & socks that can handle a lot of walking and rough terrain and that are durable. Make sure they're comfortable and fit well.
* Pants and shirts for all weather situations. They also need to be durable and comfortable. They need to allow room for heavy physical activity (and for growth if for children).
* Climate appropriate outer wear. If you live in Michigan, you'll need heavy coats, hats, gloves, boots, etc, but if you live in south Texas, light coats may be all you need for winter. If you live near water sources, some kind of mosquito netting may be necessary.
If you live near a water source, you'll probably be okay, but you may need to fetch the water and be able to boil it before drinking. You'll need buckets and a large pan. A rain barrel or a water conservation system would work in areas with sufficient rain (or to store water from a nearby water source). A wagon might make it easier to transport the water. Those who live in dry/desert areas need far more than that - though they could build a large conservation system and fill it with water from a hose before a potential disaster. After that, collect what comes in the form of precipitation. In many areas, digging a well could be an option.
This one may get a bit more complicated. Do you live in a place that will adequately shelter you and allow you access to basic needs in case of long-term outages? Will you be able to stay warm enough in the winter and cool enough in the summer in your shelter? Those who live in houses in suburbs or in more rural areas will likely have more adequate shelter because they have some land to grow food and can set up a way to heat their homes in the winter. Those living in apartments may have a more difficult time - especially if they live in a large city. Unless your apartment has a working fireplace, and you have access to a source of wood to burn, it could get very difficult to keep warm enough. Is your shelter defendable? If your shelter won't meet your needs, you may have to find a way to move to a place that will.
I've seen many recommendations for people to stock up on medications they need and on basic medical supplies. It's probably a good idea to have enough for a year or two. Each time you shop, pick up one each of the supplies you'll use. Example: 1 box band-aids, 1 package of gauze, 1 package of tape, etc. Getting just one at a time allows you to stock up without causing local supply problems. OTC medicines may (or may not) be something you’ll want on-hand. It’s important to realize that there's really no way to stockpile enough medicines and first aid supplies to last a lifetime because medicines will lose potency. IMHO, knowing which local flora can be used as medicine and how to positively identify and forage it would be a better idea. Fabric scraps from the remnant bin in a store's craft section would make useful, inexpensive, and reusable bandages. Plants and herbs will make a huge difference in your medicine chest. Knowing your local plants (like Comfrey), how to forage them responsibly, and how to store and use them appropriately would increase your chances of survival and increase your comfort level in a worst-case scenario. To go along with this, learning first-aid skills will be critically important.
It may be time to throw away the notion that we should all have neatly mowed grass lawns. Instead, it may be time to let the "weeds" grow wild in our yards, for those weeds can provide food, nutrition, and medicine for our families.
Along with medicine, we would all need a source of food. There are places that sell survivalist packages of food. Add water and eat. You might get enough to last several months or a year, but eventually, this supply would run out. A good idea is to buy enough food packets to let the weeds take over your yard so you would have food when the packets were all used up. (You could also buy enough to use during the first few winters only and forage during spring, summer, and fall.)
Those fortunate enough to have a yard and/or to live near farms will have a better chance of obtaining food if they learn the skills to raise crops and/or animals. Learning the skills now would be a good idea. Check with local farmers to see if you can get seeds. Convert your floral garden into a food garden. The one precaution is to try and grow the edibles in areas that haven't been treated with chemical pesticides/herbicides if possible. As with herbal medicines, knowing what plants grow wild in your area and knowing how to forage them responsibly may make the difference between survival and starvation. For example, dandelions are nutritious and full of vitamins and minerals. Chickweed, nettles, purslane, clover, plantain, curly dock, mallow, Queen Anne's Lace, sheep's sorrel, etc. are all nutritious weeds you can eat to survive. With training, you can also learn how to preserve your harvests so they last through the winter.
If you live in an apartment and have no yard, there are windowsill planters you could use to plant some foods - though it may not be enough for a whole year. Research how to grow plants indoors year-round in this case.
The final subject of this blog is how to protect yourself in a world-wide disaster situation. Family dogs make a good first line of defense if you can have one (or more) and take care of it/them. In 2020, 39.7 million people in the US decided that having at least one firearm was necessary for self-protection. This was an increase of more than 11 million from 2019 (and I’m only citing applications for legal purchases here). Staying as physically fit as possible, taking self-defense classes, learning about different types of self-defense then choosing what is right for your situation is the best thing I can recommend.
I’ll finish this blog by saying that I pray hard that none of us will ever see a time when such preparations need to be used. The year 2020 has taught me though that the wiser choice is to be prepared for a disaster which never comes rather than be unprepared for one that does.
As much as it felt like the world stopped turning for much of this year, it also felt like our world was rapidly spinning out of control. Viral and political upheaval have forced isolation and high levels of stress on everyone across the planet. Many have been separated from loved ones, many are seriously afraid.
We are coming to the end of what was perhaps the craziest year in human history. Yet, as 2020 draws to a close, we have seen a symbol of hope. I would like to encourage everyone who reads this blog to walk in nature every day. Whether you sit in your garden, walk in the woods, look out over a lake, or go to a park, while you're there, pray from your heart for healing, peace, and love to enter the soul of every living person on Earth. Pray that those in positions of political power gain the courage and wisdom to reject evil and to fight for what is good, moral, and holy.
I was recently asked about adding essential oils to vinegar to make a more effective cleaning solution. My response was that it's not a good idea to add essential oils to vinegar, and that the vinegar by itself is enough. Then I began to wonder about adding herbs to the vinegar - would they enhance the antibacterial/antiviral properties of vinegar? Let's find out. We'll start with why it's not a good idea to add EOs to vinegar, discuss just how good vinegar is for cleaning, and finally discover the effects of infusing herbs into vinegar.
If you've ever made an oil and vinegar salad dressing, you know that oils separate from vinegar. The two do not stay mixed. The same thing happens when you mix essential oils and vinegar. The EOs are not diluted by the vinegar, so surfaces sprayed with such a mix would get undiluted oils on them. Often, DIY recipes that recommend using EOs in this way suggest using oils like oregano, sage, and basil. These are great disinfecting EOs, but they're very harsh on the skin (they actually damage skin cells) - both yours and your pets. To dilute the EOs sufficiently, you would need to mix them in a liquid soap (like Dawn) first, then add that to the vinegar. But, in that case, why not just use the soap? Soap is great at killing germs.
Vinegar, by itself, is pretty good at killing germs too. It kills about 80 - 83% of viruses and about 90% of bacteria. If you spray the vinegar, wash it off with a clean, wet cloth, then spray with 70% isopropyl alcohol and allow the surface to air dry, you will have killed nearly all of the germs. There are a couple of difficulties with this right now. Lots of people are cleaning surfaces frequently throughout the day because of COVID-19 -- this makes rubbing alcohol hard to find in the stores, and breathing in too much rubbing alcohol can damage our lungs. Well, what is a simple, safe way (other than soap and water) to disinfect surfaces? Will vinegar be more effective if it's been infused with herbs?
It turns out that the answer is yes. So, instead of adding harsh essential oils, you can infuse herbs into vinegar. Thyme, oregano, peels from citrus fruits, lavender, rosemary, and sage are all great herbs to infuse into vinegar. Once infused, the vinegar is augmented with the antibacterial and antiviral properties of the herb(s) used! An herb-infused vinegar, imho, makes a great household cleaner!
Next week, under 'Monthly Tidbits', I'll give directions and a video tutorial for making your own herb-infused vinegar.
It's Spring in the northern hemisphere, and plants are reviving everywhere. What you see pictured above are three of the earliest plants to start blooming. Many consider them to be pesky weeds and do everything in their power to get rid of them. Yet, they are highly nutritious and provide us with a free source of food.
The first picture is one that most people recognize easily - Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). The second is not nearly as famous, though it's just as nutritious - Chickweed (Stellaria media). The third is a Dandelion look-alike called Sow Thistle (Soncha oleraceus). All three plants are growing in my yard right now. All three are plants I will harvest responsibly from my front yard (which hasn't been treated with toxic chemicals) and use for food in the coming months. I'll enjoy the sweet leaves and flowers in salads while the plants are still young. By Summer, those leaves will become too bitter to eat fresh, so I'll dry them and store them for use in Autumn and Winter. The roots of the cousin plants - the Dandelion and the Sow Thistle - can be dried and made into tea. They are bitter, but full of vitamins and minerals.
The best part of all of this is that over the Spring, Summer, and Fall, a variety of different "weeds" will grow where I can harvest them, then use them in meals and in my home emergency kit.
If your yard hasn't been treated with harsh pesticides and/or herbicides, you may be able to harvest your own plants. Before you do though, make certain to identify those herbs - there are lots of look-alike plants, and some are toxic. To help you with identifying plants in your yard, there are several plant id apps and many books you can use. Wild Edible Plants of Texas and Medicinal Plants of the American Southwest by Charles W. Kane, Southwest Foraging by John Slattery, Botany in a Day, an Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families of North America by Thomas Elpel, and Backyard Medicine Second Edition by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal are books that I find very helpful. In addition, renowned herbalist Rosalee de la Forêt has a new book, Wild Remedies, coming in April. It can be pre-ordered now on Amazon. She also has a FB page you can join once you order the book. On that page, she offers special previews of what's coming in the book, and you can ask all kinds of questions about the plants you encounter in your own yard.
Our immune systems are designed to "remember" pathogens and how to fight them after we encounter them for the first time. This 'memory' is why we become immune to certain diseases once we've had them or been vaccinated against them. Then, why do we catch certain illnesses multiple times? Likewise, why do we need to repeat some vaccinations? Unfortunately for us, some of these invaders survive by mutating. These mutations are the reason we can get the same illness over and over again. Let's take a more detailed look at how this works in regards to the flu.
There are thousands of variations of flu viruses! These variations are broken down into four types - A, B, C, and D. Type A affects human beings and animals; types B and C affect humans only; and type D affects only cattle and pigs. Let's look at each type of human flu individually.
We'll start with, type C, which causes only mild respiratory symptoms like stuffy nose, coughing, headache, congestion, etc. Scientists do not believe it's responsible for seasonal epidemics, and, because it tends to be rare and mild, flu vaccines are not designed to protect against it.
Type B flu is usually mild, but can get severe. It is one of the strains responsible for seasonal epidemics and is included in flu vaccines. Type B flu is divided into two 'lineages' then into smaller groups and finally into subgroups.
Type A is the most dangerous of the flu viruses. It affects humans and a variety of animals, and is responsible for both epidemics and pandemics (worldwide epidemics). This category of flu is divided into subtypes of both hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, which are surface proteins, and is further broken down into groups and subgroups. While there are nearly 200 possible subtype combinations for Type A flu, only two are seen on a regular basis - A(H1N1) and A(H3N2), and they are included in the annual flu vaccine. Because type A can jump from species to species, it has the potential to mutate much more drastically than types B or C. This is why type A is the only type of flu that creates pandemics.
[A(H1N1) refers to Influenza Virus A hemagglutinin 1, neuraminidase 1. You might remember H1N1 from 2009 - it was referred to as 'Swine Flu'. This particular strain of flu started out infecting pigs. It mutated and jumped to humans. Since it had never infected humans before, it became pandemic fairly quickly because human immune systems had to learn how to defeat it. It's full designation is H1N1 pdm09. Interestingly, and tragically, the flu pandemic of 1918 was an avian version - also an H1N1 flu that jumped from birds to humans.]
The thing about flu is that each new generation of viruses being produced in your epithelial cells has mutated from its parent virus because it has added small bits of your cellular genetic information to its own! Your immune system has to keep adapting to each new generation in order to effectively fight it. In addition, if you cough or sneeze near someone, the virus particles you spread to that person are slightly different from the virus particles that initially made you sick. If a mutation is similar enough to a strain you've had before or been vaccinated against, your immune system is likely able to recognize it and is better able to fight it before it can become severe. Larger mutations, on the other hand, (like the ones that jump species) create a greater chance of causing severe illness and spreading more widely.
The constant mutations occurring among the various types of flu make it impossible for scientists to 'cure' the flu. The best they can do is look at historical patterns of infection and try to predict what next year's version(s) will be. The pharmaceutical companies create their vaccines based on these predictions. The vaccines contain weakened or dead virions from Types A(H1N1), A(H3N2), and one of the two Type B lineages. If they predict correctly, your Flu Vaccine helps you avoid the flu; however, if the prediction is wrong, or if the mutation(s) are too great, you may still catch it.
We can take the information we now know about the flu and extend it to a virus that is causing new, global concern: Corona Virus. Next week's Monthly Tidbits blog will look at what scientists know about the new Corona Virus.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; How the Flu Virus Can Change: “Drift” and “Shift”, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Page last reviewed: October 15, 2019, Accessed February 12, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/viruses/change.htm
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Influenza Virus Genome Sequencing and Genetic Characterization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Page last reviewed: October 15, 2019, Accessed February 12, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/viruses/change.htm
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Types of Influenza Viruses, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Page last reviewed: November 18, 2019, Accessed February 12, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/viruses/change.htm
4. Butje, Andrea, Viruses and the Immune System: Influenza, Aroma Institute School of Essential Oil Studies, Accessed February 12, 2020, https://www.aromahead.com/online-course/viruses-and-the-immune-system/reference/general-reference/influenza
5. WebMD, Types of Flu, WebMD LLC. , © 2005 - 2020, Accessed February 12, 2020, https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/advanced-reading-types-of-flu-viruses#1
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; How Influenze (Flu) Vaccines are Made, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Page last reviewed: December 12, 2019, Accessed February 17, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/how-fluvaccine-made.htm
7. Ana Mosterín Höpping, Judith M. Fonville, Colin A. Russell, Sarah James, Derek J. Smith, Influenza B vaccine lineage selection—An optimized trivalent vaccine
Vaccine. 2016 Mar 18; 34(13): 1617–1622. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2016.01.042
PMCID: PMC4793086, Accessed February 17, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4793086/
Before you read this, I need to give a warning that there are graphic pictures at the end of the blog.
In early October 2019, I had a spot (that looked like a mosquito bite) come up on my right arm. I didn't pay any attention to it until about two weeks later when I realized that it hadn't gone away, and it had gotten bigger. So I looked at it more closely. This was no bug bite. It was red and white with brown spots - and looked like a small paw print. My regular doctor check up was scheduled for a couple of days later, so I asked him about it then. He thought it was sun damage and referred me to a dermatologist for a whole-body check because I have so many keratosis spots. Image 1 below is the spot on my right arm taken on November 2.
I started taking pictures because the earliest appointment I could get with a dermatologist was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. In the meantime, I decided to make a skin serum and apply it to whatever this was. If my serum helped, I wanted to be able to show the doctor what it looked like before I got in to see her. Long story short, this lesion turned out to be a Lichenoid keratosis. Because my serum helped, there wasn't much for the doctor to see - my pics allowed her to make a clear diagnosis without biopsy. Image 2 shows what this one looks like now.
That was the good news. During the whole-body check, the doctor did find two other spots of concern - one was a small, hard bump on the back of my leg and the other was a red area on my upper left arm. In the 90s, that patch of skin on my arm had turned pure white - no freckles or pigment at all. In the last two to three years, it turned pinkish-red and a little scaly.
The doctor took a biopsy from each spot and told me that, because of the holiday, it might take up to two weeks before the results came back. When she called the following Monday, I knew it was a bad sign. The spot on my leg was fine. The spot on my upper left arm was melanoma -- the more dangerous kind of skin cancer. Melanoma is not something to try and cure with food, herbs, or essential oils. It needs a surgeon. (Part of my "Hierarchy of Treatment" philosophy.) Image 3 shows the melanoma after the biopsy. The scab in the middle is from the biopsy. The red skin surrounding the scab is the cancer. There is still a white (no pigment) area around the outside edge of the melanoma.
I am extremely fortunate that this was very slow growing and only Stage 1 because cutting it out is a 100% cure. Surgery was December 16, and I am considered cured. Had this progressed to stage 2 or higher, much more treatment would have been required, and the chances of cure would have been lower.
With melanoma, there is a special type of surgery called "Moh's Procedure". The surgeon removes the lesion and sends it for immediate biopsy. The incision is bandaged and the patient waits for results. If there isn't enough margin of clear skin, (biopsy results will specify the edge that isn't clear) the bandage is removed and the surgeon excises more from the indicated area(s). This is repeated until the proper margin of normal skin cells is achieved. Once it is attained, the surgeon has to cut more skin out to be able to close and stitch the incision. (A round or oval excision can't just be stitched together - darts have to be cut at opposite sides to allow it to be closed and stitched.) Image 4 below shows the open incision before the darts were cut (the purple marker indicates the darts (triangle shapes) he cut right after the picture was taken), and Image 5 shows the final stitching.
The open incision may look gross to some, but it's also interesting, and pertinent to visualize why oils absorb into our skin so well. The white, wormy-looking tissue is a layer of fat -- part of the hypodermis. We also have lipid (fat) cells in our skin. Oils and butters are also fats, and fats attract fats.
You may ask "Why didn't you get this spot checked sooner?"
My answer is simple -- I never knew that a patch of pink/red skin was a warning sign. I knew that a mole that changed shape or got darker needed to be checked. I knew that something that looks like a big wart with blood vessels in it needed to be checked. I knew that something that has irregular edges and is multicolor needed to be checked. Even now, when I google 'melanoma images', I find pictures of a lot of things - none of which are a patch of red skin that looks like what I had on my arm. And this is why I'm sharing my experience and my pictures with you. If you, or someone you know, develop an area of unusual pink or red skin, go get it checked. Melanoma is a skin cancer that can spread to the lymph system and to internal organs. It can be deadly.
My journey with melanoma was short -- just a few weeks from diagnosis to cure. Follow-up will take longer. I'll have skin checks every three months for two years, then every six months for two or three years, then annually for the rest of my life. I will also need to take a few precautions like keeping my skin covered when I'm out in the sun.
Because of this experience, I've made some new goals for this website for 2020: I'll research the various types of skin cancer and keratosis lesions in depth and share what I learn through my blogs. I'll also experiment with all natural skin serums and butters to support my skin health and to try to minimize development and appearance of my keratosis spots.
Update: This is a picture of the scar 28 days post op. The red area with the small scabs is where the large area was excised and the skin is still stretching. I've been using a salve I made with carrier oils only plus a lotion with carrier oils and CBD added. The scar is still puckered, but healing nicely. In an effort to help the part of my skin that is still stretching, I apply the salve and the lotion to a wide area of my arm.
I'm back from a two week vacation and feeling refreshed. :)
I'm making a few changes to my blogging. In order to keep up with both the free blogs and the membership informational pages, I'll be writing one free blog per week.
I'll keep to the following schedule:
1st week of the month: Herb of the Month
2nd week of the month: Essential Oil of the Month
3rd week of the month: Karen's Blog
4th week of the month: Monthly Tidbit.
In addition, I'll try to coordinate my blogs as much as possible in order to provide a more in-depth view of individual plant therapeutics. For example, if the herb of the month is Sage, the EO of the month would also be sage. The monthly tidbit would be a little known fact about Sage. On the other hand, Karen's Blog will focus on different topics and/or questions others ask me.
Please feel free to contact me and let me know if you have specific topics you'd like to see covered!
Last week, we were introduced to the concept of affinity between plant parts and human parts and systems. This week, we'll create plant blends based on the parts.
When blending by plant part, we can include just one part - like leaves, or we can include multiple parts - like roots, stems and flowers. The body systems we're trying to support (to bring into balance) will determine the plant parts we choose. We can also make blends that contain every part of a plant.
One Plant Part
Leaves for Respiratory Congestion: Medium - Essential Oils
Diffuser blend, inhaler blend, steam blend, or topical application:
Here, we have essential oils distilled from leaves. Geranium works on respiratory infections and will protect the skin/mucous membranes from the harshness of the Peppermint and Ravintsara. Peppermint with its menthol, and Ravintsara with 1,8-cineole will reduce swelling and open the airways. (This blend is appropriate for ages 10 and older.)
These oils could be added to a carrier oil mix of Castor Oil, Tamanu Oil, and Andiroba Oil to use on the chest and throat. While the carriers add the part of seeds to the blend, they are chosen for therapeutic properties as well -- including anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral. Castor oil will improve absorption of the entire blend.
Multiple Plant Parts
Resin, stems/wood, flowers, and seeds for circulation and blood pressure:
Medium - Essential & Carrier Oils
Cedarwood -- wood
Frankincense -- resin
Myrrh -- resin
Ylang Ylang -- flowers
Hemp Seed Oil -- seeds
Optional: cocoa butter, shea butter, and/or a wax if you prefer this to be a solid rub.
Resins and stems correspond to circulation - both blood and lymph. The flowers correspond to the heart and circulation. All of the essential oils in this blend stimulate circulation and lower blood pressure. Hemp Seed oil reduces inflammation which may also help with increasing circulation. It may also help lower cholesterol.
All plant parts: Medium - Herbs
Whole Body Anti-inflammatory Herbal Tea (also a good tea if you're sick!)
cardamom -- seeds - warming, drying, pungent, sweet, bitter
Ginger -- root - warming, drying. pungent
Cinnamon -- bark/stem - neutral/warming, drying, spicy, sweet
peppermint -- leaves - cooling & warming, drying, pungent
lavender -- flowers - warming, neutral, pungent, bitter
elderberries -- fruit - cooling, drying, sour
Each herb in this tea blend is anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibacterial, and antiviral. Notice the additional notes include more than the plant parts. Every herb has properties that warm you up or cool you down and those that moisten your tissues or dry you out. Of the five flavors, this blend includes all but salty. This is also intentional and will have an impact on the person drinking the tea.
So this is a good tea for someone with arthritis who usually feels cold and damp. It is also an excellent tea to drink in the case of illness when chills and wet, boggy conditions are present. We can use a 'whole plant' approach to address 'whole body' conditions like arthritis or illness. (We can also use this approach to address 'single issues'.)
Now that we've looked at using plant parts to formulate blends you're ready to experiment with this on your own! Try some simple blends at first, then get more adventurous! (Please remember to check for any safety considerations first.) Have fun, and let me know what you come up with!
In the past, we've focused on blending essential oils and herbs based on their chemistry. Today, we'll explore a different method of blending - by plant part.
Think of a plant. Think of its parts and what they do.
Roots anchor the plant to the earth and hold it steady through good weather and bad. They absorb nutrients from the soil and send them up to the rest of the plant.
Resin/Gum is the lifeblood of the plant and carries the nutrients to all of its parts.
Stems are the skeleton and blood vessels. As the skeleton, the stem is strong enough to resist breaking so the plant stands upright, yet flexible enough to allow the plant to bend in rough weather The stem also houses conduits to circulate water and nutrients to all parts of the plant.
Leaves breathe and sweat for the plant. They take in carbon dioxide and sunlight, then produce glucose (which gives the plant energy) and exhale oxygen.
Flowers attract insects through color and aroma. This attraction leads to pollination and fertilization, and the flower’s primary duty – reproduction.
Fruits protect and nourish the seed during its early days of germination until the ‘baby’ is able to sustain itself.
Seeds are the plant’s embryos. They drop from the plant and, when conditions are right, grow into new plants.
In aromatherapy and in herbalism, one method of deciding what ingredients to put in a blend is to match a plant part to the body part and function we’re endeavoring to support. Let’s look at how this works.
Someone who is highly stressed or lacks proper nutrition may find grounding and nutritional support from the roots of plants. Angelica, Vetiver, and Valerian are roots with calming, grounding properties. Dandelion, carrots, and radishes provide a plethora of vitamins and minerals we need to survive.
When blood or lymph is stagnant, a person may feel tired, bogged down, or sick. Resins like Frankincense, Myrrh, Copaiba, and Opopanax all have the potential to support healthy blood and lymph circulation. Improved circulation allows the body to heal faster so that person has more energy and feels better.
Often, the stems used in aromatherapy are wooden. Sandalwood, Palo Santo, Cedarwood, and Rosewood are good examples. The oils from these stems have analgesic and relaxant properties that may provide relief from muscle and joint issues and from acute injuries. They support our skeletal system. Like the resins, they also support circulation, encouraging blood flow to an injured area for faster healing.
When there is congestion (sinus or lungs), breathing clearly is the function one wants to bolster. In this case, the best option may be choosing herbs or essential oils that are made from the breathing part of the plant – the leaves. Think of Peppermint, Sage, Eucalyptus, and the evergreen leaves like Pine and Spruce. The aroma alone for all of these can open the airways and promote respiration.
Flowers provide a great deal more than perfume - though their aromas may inspire romance and reproduction in humans. Lavender, Ylang Ylang, Chamomile, and Jasmine, with their incredible fragrances, have the ability to calm and uplift a troubled spirit. They open the heart to peace and love. Those who are angry or tense can benefit from these florals.
As they nourish the seeds, fruits also nourish us. Apples, lemons, oranges, elderberries, and rosehips provide us with vitamins (especially vitamin C) to support and strengthen the immune and skeletal systems. People with demanding schedules and constant exposure to colds and flu may boost their energy and immunity with fruit.
Sunflower seeds, pecans, cashews, and chia seeds provide protein and other nutrients to support growth and maintain health. Oils made from seeds flavor our foods and nourish our bodies and skin. Cooking with the right seed oils provides the body with essential fatty acids that balance the inflammatory process. Using them on the skin may help regenerate skin cells. The seeds and their oils work to rejuvenate damaged cells. Seed butters and oils are good for baby's diaper rash, mature skin, and everything in between the two.
Now that we understand the affinity between plant and human parts, we can begin to design formulations based on them. Some of those blends may include only one part, i.e. leaves, while others may combine different parts for a greater effect. Next week's blog will go into more detail and specific examples of blending by plant part.
We can throw in everything but the kitchen sink, but keeping a blend simple is often a great deal more effective. There's no need to use 15 or 20 different essential oils, carrier oils, or herbs in a blend. In fact, doing so may reduce the efficacy of the blend. Let's look at how this works by creating a moisturizing serum for dry, mature skin with age spots.
First, we make lists of EOs, herbs, and carriers that are moisturizing for the skin. (These lists include ingredients I already have on hand.)
Off the top of my head, I know that Patchouli, German Chamomile, Roman Chamomile, Lavender, Sandalwood, Frankincense, Myrrh, Geranium, Helichrysum italicum, Hemp, Ylang Ylang, Carrot Seed, and Vetiver are all great skin oils. Could I make a serum that includes all of these?
Certainly, and it would be an example of throwing in everything but the kitchen sink.
Since essential oils in a leave-on product should be limited to about 1%, putting all of these essential oils in would mean each oil would only be 0.07% of the blend. That means there's not enough of any one constituent to make much of a difference.
For a serum, herbs would be infused into carrier oils. On hand right now, I have Helichrysum stoechas, Lavender, Arnica, Calendula, St. John's Wort, Amla berries, Ginger, Comfrey Leaf, Comfrey Root, Plantain Leaf, Aloe, and Greater Galangal herbs infused in different oils -- Safflower, Olive, Castor, and Jojoba. To make our serum, the Helichrysum, Aloe, Lavender, Plantain, Amla, Calendula, and Comfrey are all great herbs for a skin serum. Using all 7, would be the kitchen sink method. We need to pare this list down to one, two, or three herbs.
Our carrier oil list will be huge. Jojoba, Castor, Hemp Seed, Andiroba, Olive, Safflower, Sea Buckthorn Berry, Sacha Inchi, Avocado, Black Currant Seed, Borage, Black Seed (Nigella), Coconut, Cherry Kernal, Cranberry Seed, Evening Primrose, Macadamia Nut, Meadowfoam, Neem, Pumpkin Seed, Red Raspberry Seed, Rosehip and many more. Again, it would be unreasonably complicated (and another kitchen sink example) to use all of these oils in our serum.
Okay, so how do we narrow it all down?
Excellent question. This is when we start looking at chemistry, energetics, and aromas and match them to the person. With essential oils, we have the recipient of the serum smell the different oils, and choose the ones (s)he most loves -- up to 4 to 6 oils (could be less). We then pull out the chemistry and EO datasheets and evaluate the chemical composition. With herbs, we'll choose 1 - 3 and use our herb and chemical datasheets to put next to the EO datasheets. Next, we do the same for the carrier oils. We may choose to use carriers that have already been infused with herbs. or we may decide to infuse our chosen herbs in our chosen carriers.
Now, to formulate. We'll make a 1 oz serum. That means a max of 6 drops of essential oil to keep it at 1%. Even though the essential oils are listed first, we'll start with our carrier oils.
We're choosing Hemp Seed Oil as the base oil because it has a perfect balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6 Fatty Acids. It has the ability to restore moisture and to heal and protect skin cells from damage. It absorbs quickly and easily and has a light, pleasant aroma. The one drawback with this oil is its short shelf life.
Hemp Seed's short shelf life influences the next carrier oil selection. Meadowfoam moisturizes the skin and adds protection from the sun. It has a high percentage of very long-chain Fatty Acids and Vitamin E which means it will help preserve less stable oils in the serum. It will significantly slow the oxidation process of the Hemp Seed Oil and any essential oils.
Finally, we'll add Castor Oil. Castor oil hydrates the skin and can help toughen fragile skin to make it less prone to cuts. It carries the therapeutic properties of all of our ingredients deeply into all the layers of the skin. This oil will be infused with the one herb we're going to use -- Aloe. Aloe is renowned throughout the world for it's moisturizing, skin-healing properties.
After checking therapeutic properties, chemistry, aromas, and energetics, we've decided on 3 essential oils. For this blend, we'll use equal amounts (two drops each) of Frankincense carterii, Myrrh, and Geranium essential oils. Therapeutically, all of these oils have moisturizing, skin healing, and skin-cell regenerating properties.
Now, we look at all seven of our ingredients and decide on quantities of each. We write it as a recipe.
.75 oz (22.5 mL) Hemp Seed Oil
0.1 oz (3 mL) Meadowfoam Oil
0.15 oz (4.5 mL) Castor Oil infused with Aloe Vera
2 drops Frankincense Essential Oil
2 drops Myrrh Essential Oil
2 drops Geranium Essential Oil
This is a simple, elegant formula, and every ingredient is designed to help moisturize and beautify dry, mature skin with age spots. The final step will be to test it and see if the recipient likes it.
Note: The Topical Recipes section of this website has instructions for how to infuse herbs into oils. Become a member and gain access to this and the many other great resources!