Better living through nature
Sarah Powell, an herbalist, medical anthropologist and proprietor of the natural bath & body business, Lilith’s Apothecary. Find her shop at www.lilithsapothecary.etsy.com and her blog at www.lilithsapothecary.wordpress.com for more natural body care tips and recipes.
Each year by the end of March, I have run out of my precious oil infusions of fresh plantain leaves, fresh violet leaves and delicate violet blossoms. In early spring, I am nearly chomping at the bit to see the first tender violet leaves poking through the soil in garden or woods, the first wide blades of plantain peaking out absolutely everywhere you look. In my neck of the woods, violet will not be flowering until at least late April, at which time I will begin to prepare my favorite herbal salves. Herbal infused oils, usually olive, grape seed, or sweet almond, are indispensible in the creation of many salves and oils specific to the healing power of vulnerary, or wound-healing, herbs that you use.
Plantain (Plantago major) is one of my favorite vulnerary herbs. Its gentle astringency makes it wonderful for blisters, insect bites, rashes and hemorrhoids. You can pick a leaf of this plant while hiking and put it in your shoe to help with blisters. I find it also to be an absolutely ideal diaper rash treatment and include it in all the baby balms I make to use on my toddler or sell. It’s readily available for wild crafting and a wonderful addition to any infused oil or salve.
Violet leaf (Viola odorata) is highly demulcent, which means that it contains significant amounts of mucilage that help soothe the skin, reducing inflammation, redness, and cooling irritated tissue. Violet is also antiseptic, and this combined with its soothing relief, makes it a wonderful infused oil to have on hand. Susun Weed (Healing Wise, Ash Tree Publishing, 1989) writes about ‘Aunt Violet’ as a wonderful remedy for breast inflammation, mastitis, cancer and cysts, and a water infusion made of fresh or dried violet leaves can soothe inflamed throats during a cold or flu. Violet’s mild taste makes it palatable to children, and indeed, violet leaves and flowers are wonderful when freshly picked and added to a spring salad. A salve made purely of the oils of these two plants combined with some natural beeswax is all I need to combat diaper rash in my household, and there is lots left over for myriad other uses.
Violet leaf (Viola odorata)
When it seems that the world is lush with violets and plantain, it’s time to go wild crafting. It’s best to find a spot, perhaps by a wooded stream, where the leaves are wide and healthy looking, clearly well nourished and relatively free of dirt. Plantain and violet are often found growing near each other, and while you can pick plantain all summer long, I find that I prefer taking advantage of that early spring growth, so full of energy and healing potential.
Using garden scissors, snip the violet leaves where the stem meets the leaf and take the flower tops when you can, being careful not to overharvest the plant in one area. Rather, take a long walk and snip herbs here and there so you never deplete the supply in one place. Thank the plant for providing its bounty to us and take pleasure in the environment in which you discover this plentiful harvest.
Violet and Plantain Infused Oil:
Step 1: Gather approximately 2 cups violet leaves and flowers and plantain leaves (either the narrow or wide leafed varieties).
Step 2: Try to clean off the leaves as much as possible without washing them. If they must be washed, do so, but be sure that the leaves are thoroughly wilted and absent of all moisture before adding the oil. Putting the oven on the lowest possible heat, arrange the herbs on a tray, preferably with the oven door open, and allow the leaves to wilt until you are sure no moisture remains. You are not diminishing the healing power of the herbs but rather, just removing more of the water content.
Step 3: Put the wilted leaves into a clean, very dry glass mason jar, or similar container, and fill to the top if possible. Then add the oil of choice (olive, grape seed, sweet almond, sunflower and safflower all work well) until you have filled the jar. Stir with a long spoon or chopstick until all bubbles have risen to the surface. Add a bit of Rosemary Oil Extract to prevent oil rancidity and further protect the oils. Just remember that water causes mold, so the drier your herbs and containers are, the more protected your oil is. Place some wax paper over the top of the container and then cap with a canning lid. Be aware that the oils may ‘weep’ while it steeps, so you may want to put a cup saucer under the jar.
Step 4: Place jar in a cool, dark place. Occasionally turn the jar upside down and then right side up to move the oil through the herbs and to try to keep all parts of the herbs covered with oil. Feel free to open it up and check on the herbs. If you see leaves poking through where there is some mold growth, remove the leaves and discard. If mold grows throughout the oil, you’ll have to toss the whole batch, as there is no saving the oil, even if it is heated. Steep 2-6 weeks.
Step 5: After 2-6 weeks, strain out the herbs using a cheesecloth and pour the infused oil into a clean, dry jar for storage. A dark glass container is best. You can keep this in the refrigerator for better storage or just store in a cool, dark place.
Violet and Plantain Herbal Salve:
• 1 cup infused oil
• 1 ounce natural beeswax or beeswax beads, grated
• 1 teaspoon vitamin E (to preserve the salve and prevent rancidity)
• 1 teaspoon rosemary oil extract, optional (to further antioxidant protection)
• 20 drops tea tree oil (to add antifungal and antiseptic strength)
• 10 drops lavender essential oil (to offer topical pain relief)
In a double boiler or a saucepan on lowest possible heat, melt the beeswax into the oil. Add the additional vitamin E and rosemary oil extract, if using, and gently stir the oil with a wooden or stainless steel spoon. Remove from heat and add the essential oils. Pour immediately into a cleaned, very dry glass or aluminum container. You can also put this salve in lip balm pots to create a healing travel balm. If looking for a hard salve, test the consistency by putting a spoonful of the melted oils & beeswax into the freezer. If it is not hard enough, add a bit more beeswax until you reach the desired consistency.