"The medicines in herbs are derived from the cosmic forces of sunlight, moonlight, and starlight; from rain and dew and the minerals of the earth's soil layers, as well as the hereditary properties. Any herb can have its medicinal properties analyzed to a certain extent; only the cosmic and the hereditary cannot as yet be measured, which is most unfortunate, for it is in this "streaming spirit" of the herb that most of the healing powers are contained."
~Juliette De Bairacli Levy
Prunus persica - Peach
A direct route to healing, through pleasure medicine and simplicity
The scent of forest in your lungs, the lingering of a lover's skin, the immediate feeling of home from a pot of steaming soup. They can take us back, forward, or deeply within.
Aroma is a primal function of memory, instinct, seduction, warning, and a biological agent of healing. Aromatic herbs are a valuable - and pleasurable - part of the home apothecary.
Sassafras albidum - Sassafras tree
An aromatic herb is, in it's most general sense, an herb that you can smell. Aromas range a huge spectrum; from sweet or spicy, to rank and putrid.
What we are smelling is the release of essential oils - oils which are (according to wikepedia) "a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. Essential oils are also known as volatile oils, ethereal oils or aetherolea, or simply as the "oil of" the plant from which they were extracted, such as oil of clove. An oil is "essential" in the sense that it carries a distinctive scent, or essence, of the plant. Essential oils do not form a distinctive category for any medical, pharmacological, or culinary purpose." (I'll have to disagree with the very last statement.)
Any part of a plant may contain volatile oils, including tree sap and resin.
These are not fixed oils or fats like olive oil or coconut, although fixed oils often carry their own aroma. And while essential oils that are distilled and concentrated have an entire body of therapeutics to their credit, we can easily and safely work with aromatics from whole plant materials.
In our previous newsletters we've worked with an herbal steam and with making teas. These are both staples of health and easy ways to use aromatic herbs whether fresh or dried.
Important notes to remember about aromatics or volatile oils in general is that they are all, to a greater or lesser degree, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral. This varies greatly from plant to plant and oil to oil, but is something to keep in mind. This is one of the reasons essential oils range so greatly in their appropriate dilution quantities and safety measurements. Volatile oils are also hydrophobic as mentioned above - meaning they will not dissolve in water (though they are released by hot water vapor). The exception for this is the minutely sized molecules rendered through essential oil distillation which remain suspended in the water bi-product we know as hydrosol.
Working with whole aromatic plants has the advantage of being already properly diluted simply by not being separated in the first place, and by the wondrous quality of plants being so often balanced in their own chemistry, that we get the naturally occurring buffers and constituents that are meant to work synergistically.
Aromatic herbs, in addition to their amazing ability to trigger memory and emotion, have very real effects on the body's tissues, which are again acting in concert with other characteristics of the plant.
When tasting or applying an aromatic herb, take note of any succession of effects. Is it tingly smelling and tightening? Is it spicy smelling and heating to the skin?
So while aromatic herbs impart a smell, they also have specific actions. You may have noticed this in your herb books; descriptions like aromatic, bitter, astringent, diaphoretic, all under one plant - meaning fragrant, bitter to the taste, tightening to the tissues, and assisting the body in moving fluid/heat towards the periphery through circulation, respectively. It can be confusing but it doesn't have to be with a little de-construction of meanings and some relevant experiments.
Try steeping an aromatic herb a little too long in a tea - and noting how the flavor changes and how long it takes for the aroma to fade. Chamomile and sage are good choices. Then try applying it to your skin and seeing how that feels as well.
Here are a couple more of my favorite preparations of aromatic plants to try out......
Peppermint - Sage Elixir
An easy and effective garden remedy for all things "ick".
In other words: achy, snotty, coughy, germy, stomach-buggy, head-blocked, give-me-a-day-at-home-with-chicken-soup type icks.
Harvest enough fresh peppermint to fill a jar 3/4 of the way, and enough fresh sage to fill the jar the rest of the way. It's important that the plants are not wet - a dry sunny day is best for picking.
Fill your jar of herbs 3/4 of the way with brandy, and the rest of the way with good quality local/organic raw if possible, honey.
Cap and label. Wait 4-6 weeks, strain and use!
Easy and delicious!! Use it straight by the teaspoon or add to tea.
This also makes wonderful gifts, and is excellent to have on hand for the coming sugary and overeating holidays.
Peppermint - Sage Infused oil
Harvest a few hand fulls of mint and sage. Organic store-bought herbs will also do.
Set them out on a paper bag, basket, or screen, away from light, in a single layer. Let them wilt there for 24-36 hours, depending on your local humidity. This allows the plant to remain fresh but devoid of too much excess water content which can upset the oil infusion.
Next, put your herbs in a jar, and cover with a reliable oil like olive, coconut, or jojoba. Make sure the herbs are submerged in the oil. Cap and label.
Leave to infuse for one moon cycle. Strain and enjoy! Your oil is good for daily skin healing, toning, or everyday use salves. If you've made it in an edible oil, you can use it in food as well.
Enjoy your simple home aromatics!
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