Growing & Enjoying the Benefits of Lavender for Beginners

lavender

Lavender. Who doesn’t love a row of perfectly curved bushes surrounded by that glorious purple haze of flowers and the even more incredible aroma? I love the look of lavender and I love the scent.

While I did appreciate the glories of lavender, I really didn’t know how to use it. Looking on Pinterest, I’ve found a lot of great ideas to use lavender for decorating and making crafts and some about growing it, but not so much about actually using it medicinally. Side note, I may have to do another post of my favorite Pinterest ideas to keep me busy once I have more lavender to play with! There also seemed to be a lot, and I mean a LOT on using lavender essential oil, but not so much on using lavender right off your bush.

So while essential oils are great and many of the benefits of lavender can be reaped using the oil, I want to talk about lavender in general and share how to make a lavender infusion.

Benefits of Lavender

Lavender is aromatic, fights gas, is antibacterial and antiseptic, is an expectorant, and is considered an antispasmodic. The use of Lavender dates back to ancient Egypt and China. Lavender has been used to soothe headaches, toothaches, sore muscles, and coughs , ease anxiety, and eliminate digestive issues. (Doctor’s Health Press)

Lavender for Calming

Lavender is probably most well known for its calming, sedative properties. Studies have shown that breathing in the scent of lavender can promote deeper, more restorative sleep. In fact, I found one study done in a nursing home that found that residents slept just as long and even more soundly when they used lavender aromatherapy as when they used a sleep inducing drug. (Prescription for Herbal Healing) Wow, that is impressive. I know I have reached for the lavender at night when my first daughter was awake screaming for hours at a time and it seems to have helped. It either soothed her, soothed me, or just made me feel better because I was actually able to do something for her. I’m not sure & wouldn’t be able to tell scientifically, but when you’re a mama up in the middle of the night, you want results, not science.

Lavender for the Heart

Interestingly, Lavender is also good for the heart. It slows the cardiovascular system , which allows it to release constricted blood vessels. (Doctor’s Health Press) Lavender been shown to decrease blood pressure and improve blood circulation.

Lavender for the Lungs

Lavender has been used to treat respiratory issues including asthma. As an expectorant, it can be useful when you have a cold or a cough by clearing mucus. (dherbs.com) According to Prescription for Herbal Healing the American varieties of Lavender have been shown to reduce the severity of bronchitis symptoms by acting as an antihistamine. This is definitely one tidbit I’ll be keeping in mind as we enter cold & flu season this year.

Lavender for the Skin

This beautiful purple plant has many uses for the skin as well. Lavender water (just an infusion of lavender) spritzed on the face or irritated skin can be soothing. Because Lavender is an antimicrobial, Lavender oil can be used to treat acne. It balances out overactive sebum production, which the bacteria grows on. (Eden’s Garden)

Speaking of skin, you can also protect your skin with Lavender by using it as a mosquito repellent. Simply make a very potent Lavender infusion using 4 cups of water to 4 tbsp of Lavender.

Using Lavender in an Infusion

How do you make an infusion, which is really just another work for a stronger tea? Check out my post here for more details or read on for a brief summary.

Simply boil 4 cups of water then, once it reaches boiling, pull it off the heat. Add 2 tablespoons of Lavender, either loose or in a tea ball, and allow it to steep for at least 15 minutes. I would do much longer then this because one, I would forget about it and two, I would want it very strong. To learn more about storing your infusions, check out my blog post on the subject.

Growing Lavender at Home

Knowing the benefits of Lavender and how to use it is all well & fine, but you need to know how to grow it so you have some to work with! As I have learned more while writing this, I have realized that my poor little Lavender plant has not been taken care of all that well . . . Oh well, live and learn.

To begin with, Lavender is a perennial native to the Mediterranean region. The “four necessities” of Lavender are heat, air, drainage, and dryness.

It loves sun and warmth; Plant in full sun or grow in a south facing window indoors. Many people even suggest planting it against a stone wall/foundation to give your plant extra radiant heat.

The next three needs all have to do with dryness. Give your plant plenty of space so that it has sufficient air circulation and does not stay wet. I found suggestions to give it as much space around as it will grow tall; they seem to grow in a pretty ball shape when given ideal conditions.

The next need is drainage; again this is important so the roots do not stay wet and rot, especially in a pot. You can line the bottom of the hole or pot with gravel to increase drainage.

The last need IS dryness. I included this because you need to specifically make sure not to overwater your plant. Water only when the planting soil has dried out an inch deep. Also make sure, if growing in a pot, not to use a container that has a tray under it to retain water. I would water the plant in the sink or tub, let it drain, then return it to its window so it doesn’t drip everywhere.

Lavender plants like an alkaline soil. You can supplement your soil with oyster shells or add lime to increase alkalinity.

When to prune or harvest your lavender plant? To slow woody growth, I found suggestions to prune after flowering and before winter. Harvesting is pretty straight-forward cut it above the woody line and allow it to dry for two weeks before storing. You can bundle it & hang it, tie it into a wreath, or put it in a vase to do double duty as a decoration while it dries too!

If you live in the south and don’t experience very chilly winters, your Lavender plant should do great outside all year round. However, if you live in the north and have to deal with cold, wet winters, either growing your Lavender in a pot or potting it to bring it inside in the winter is probably your best option. I left my lavender outside last winter, but will be potting it to bring it inside this year. (Though it is 85 degrees today and doesn’t really feel like winter is coming yet!) As a side note for potting your lavender, find a pot around the same size as the root ball of your plant because they like to have their roots more tightly compacted in the pot.

So there you have it . . . a crash course on the benefits of lavender, how to make a lavender infusion, and how to grow lavender in your home garden. Please share if you found this helpful and click on the photo below to pin it to Pinterest!

lavender

Storing Your Herbal Infusions

What’s easier? Grabbing the bottle of Ibuprofen/tube of diaper rash cream/oragel to suppress symptoms or just researching what the problem is, finding the appropriate herb, making an infusion, waaaaaaiting for it to infuse, filtering it, and using it? Obviously the second option, right? Not really, especially when you are sick, in pain, holding a screaming baby etc.

storing infusions

However it CAN be just as easy to grab the herb as it is to grab the pain medicine or diaper cream. All you need to do is plan ahead (which I know can feel overwhelming.) Just follow my blog 😉 I’ll do the planning and sharing and you do the prep work.

Today I want to share some thoughts on storing infusions so they are ready to go when you or a loved one needs one! What is important to consider when stockpiling your finished herbal infusions for the future?

First, they need to be easy to access.

Sometimes even running downstairs to my basement freezer seems like too much effort, so I keep a small sample of ready herbs upstairs in my kitchen.

Store The Right Size.

Next, you need to be able to store them in the appropriate sized amounts. If you need a spritz of diaper rash spray, having a mason jar in your fridge isn’t going to help you very much. On the other hand, if you need to drink a cup of raspberry tea each day during your pregnancy, storing little bottles is not going to go very far. Think about how you will be using this herb and plan accordingly.

Make Sure They Don’t Mold

Why worry about it & not just make a TON while you’re at it (my usual approach to anything . . . bigger is better) Because big batches of things WILL go bad when you don’t take care of them properly and things do get forgotten in the back of the fridge, pantry, etc. So be smart & store your herbal infusions so they don’t mold or attract bugs. For example, making a gallon of elderberry syrup then realizing you don’t have the lid for the container, or leaving it out on the counter because there is no space in the fridge is not the best idea (ask me how I know.) It will attract fruit flies & ruin the whole batch. Even in the fridge, a whole gallon will likely go bad before you can use it if you have a little family like ours.

Stash a variety of herbs in smaller amounts

Another good reason for not keeping huge batches, unless you use huge amounts, is that you don’t want one infusion taking up too much storage space. As you learn more & get more prepared, you will want a wider variety of remedies at your fingertips. I would rather have four quart jars in my fridge of Elderberry syrup, anti-nausea tea, gripe water, and rash spray rather than one giant gallon of gripe water. So consider keeping a smaller amount of a wider variety of herbs easily accessible and storing the rest elsewhere like the basement, chest freezers, etc.

Label Everything

Another quick note; You will want to be able to label your infusions. Again, ask me how I know! A lot of herbs look very very similar once they are all packaged in jars and smell a lot more similar when frozen.

So how do you store your herbal products?

My first suggestion is to freeze your infusions in ice cube trays. Use a tablespoon to measure how much will fit into your specific tray because I have found that they vary greatly, then write it in permanent marker on the side of the tray so you don’t forget. After your infusion is ready, just fill your trays and set them in the freezer until solid. I then pop them out and stash them in a zippered plastic bag in my freezer until I need to thaw them.

To thaw I put them directly in the container or, if they don’t fit, I put them in a covered bowl on the counter until they thaw. Of course, if you need them quickly you could melt them in a saucepan on the stove too. Just please don’t zap them with the microwave.

Another excellent option for things that you use topically is to fill little spray bottles. I have a stash of spray bottles from some homeopathic medicine I was taking, but you can buy them in bulk relatively inexpensively too. This is great for treating babies & little kids especially because they can’t spill them and the bottles are easy to use while your hands are full.

For things you use in larger servings, you could also freeze cup-sized servings of infusions in muffin trays, yogurt containers, or even fill cups, freeze them, and store the infusion blocks in plastic bags. Imagine how convenient it would be to wake up to a vomiting toddler and be able to quickly run to your fridge and pull out a few servings of stomach soothing infusion? Or grab a cube of elderberry syrup when you are so congested you can’t think straight? Or just thaw the ready-made gripe water when your head is echoing from a baby screaming?

One way I have made life much easier for us is by freezing ice-cube sized blocks of diaper rash spray that fit perfectly in a little spray bottle when thawed. When I see one of my children is getting red, or if a rash pops up overnight, I quickly thaw my infusion and am ready to go in a matter of minutes, compared to at least overnight when making the diaper spray from scratch. This saves us a whole day of my baby being miserable & me having to deal with a cranky baby. It also keeps the rash from progressing and becoming more difficult to treat.

I encourage you to joining me in thinking ahead to problems you & your family may encounter and preparing your treatments ahead of time. You will be a blessing to your family/friends and make serving them more convenient for yourself!

 

Magic Spray for a Happy Hairdo

Something you may not have considered; herbs do not have to be used strictly for your health. They can also be used for your sanity.

Like I did as a child (and still do), my 2 year old toddler has rather unruly hair. If ignored for more than a day, especially if she has gotten it wet, it turns into a hazy honey-colored halo of what are supposed to be curls. Also like me as a child, she HATES to get her hair combed. I tried to escape the inevitable torture by telling my mom that I did not want to brush it because my hair had feelings. It didn’t work which, with hair long enough to sit on, was a good thing (thanks, Mom!)

When my daughter’s hair finally started growing and needing to be brushed, I determined to help her enjoy it so it wouldn’t have to be a battle every morning.

Thus I am proud to introduce . . . our Magic Spray!

The magic ingredient . . .  Psychology. I filled a little spray bottle with water, added some lavender infusion, and tada, we were ready to tackle those tangles! She loves starting off our brushing session with a few yummy smelling sprays of lavender and mini head massage while I disperse it evenly through her curls. She will even sit relatively patiently while I work through her couple snarls and “style” the front by brushing it out of her eyes. Even better, if Daddy is home then she has the added enjoyment of hearing from him how pretty she looks and how sweet she smells!

While Magic Spray works by letting your child think it is doing something & giving you enough time to work through their tangles, most actual detanglers work by either coating the hair strands to make them slippery or smoothing the individual hair cuticles. Unfortunately store-bought sprays are often made up of chemicals. The kind of chemicals I am trying to get OUT of my house, not blindly spray on my children’s heads. I found some recipes online for detangler that include heavier ingredients like conditioner or aloe vera gel. While these may help for my coarse, horse hair texture, I did not see them being a good thing for my 2 year old’s baby fine hair. I also chose to avoid any type of oil. We used coconut oil to work the cradle cap off her scalp a few weeks ago and my goodness, that was an experience I hope I never have to repeat with a toddler. Between the screaming during the event and the multiple baths it took to get the oil out, it was quite a production. Thus, I’m not going to risk making her hair too oily and will be sticking with herbs until her hair gets thicker and she needs more intensive ingredients.

I chose lavender because 1. I like it, 2. I had it on hand, and 3. I thought that it might make the whole experience more calming for everyone involved. Lavender, as well as chamomile, is apparently extra good for dry hair because it stimulates the sebaceous glands to produce oil. If you are dealing with dry hair this could be a benefit.

Another herb to consider adding (which makes total sense, seeing as you use it for soothing throats & making them slippery) is marshmallow root! Simply simmer an 2 Tbsp of marshmallow root in a small pot of water for up to 30 minutes, strain it, let it cool, and add it to your Magic Spray! I am going to try this on my own hair and report back.

Actually, though I started this post as a fun story about getting my daughter to let me brush her hair, with the additional research I have done, I am now realizing that I may benefit from a natural detangler even more than my daughter! I have incredibly thick, coarse, wavy black hair, thanks to my Dad’s Cuban genetics. It is also incredibly long; I just cut it from my hips up to my waist because my husband kept rolling on it & pinning me down by accident in his sleep! Not a good thing when you have a crying baby to feed. It also can take up to 35 or 40 minutes to comb, which leads to me not combing it, which makes it even worse. It is a vicious cycle. I will be experimenting with aloe vera, marshmallow root, maybe a bit of olive oil, and a few other things over the course of a few weeks.

If you would like to learn more about DIY detangler right now, check out this post on Mommypotamus.

In summary, my only caution (aside from making sure your child isn’t allergic to whichever herb you decide to use) is to choose a scent that you like A LOT because you will be smelling it everywhere. If your toddler is anything like mine, she will need to use it while brushing her stuffed animals, on the dog, on your hair if you are taking too long to brush it, on the baby if you are not cautious, on the little fluffy ducks in the bathtub, etc. Let’s just say it is popular around here. And it has saved us both a lot of tears.

Chamomile: Benefits & Uses

chamomile” The finest and safest of all medicinals”

is how Chamomile is described by Rosemary Gladstar. What’s not to love about Chamomile? It’s has beautiful little daisy-like flowers that would look great in any garden, it’s gentle enough even for babies, and it has so many uses! It is “commonly used for

-stomach stress,

-digestive complaints,

– nervous system disorders,

-inflammation in the joints,

-wounds.” (Herbal Healing for Women)

Quite a list isn’t it! As I typed that out, it struck me; that list is a relatively accurate summary of Lyme disease complaints, which might be one reason I’ve enjoyed using it so much!

What makes Chamomile so effective? It’s anti-inflammatory properties and its positive effects on the nervous system and digestive system can apparently be traced in part to Azulene, an active chemical in Chamomile. This blue volatile oil has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anodyne properties. ( Herbal Healing for Women)

Using Chamomile

Chamomile has been used for hundreds of years by cultures across the globe, mainly as a tea, topical treatment for skin issues, and as a tincture. It is safe for pregnant mamas & can be used to treat morning sickness in combination with ginger. Wish I had known that a few months ago! It is also an excellent addition to skincare products; you will likely find it in many if not most natural products on the market. Apparently the flavenoids in Chamomile soak into the skin easily and protect it from free radical sun damage. Over the last few weeks I have experimented with using Chamomile as a relaxing drink while snuggling on the couch with my husband at night, adding it to my cough & cold remedy as we’ve battled sickness, and using it as a diaper rash spray on my toddler. I’ve also started a Chamomile tincture, though that has a few weeks before it will be ready. So far, I have not been disappointed with it! And I am definitely making a prominent spot for it in my garden this summer!

When making Chamomile tea, most sources recommend anywhere from 1-2 tablespoons of herb per cup of boiling water. Chamomile has bitter properties that tones the digestive system; these properties become more pronounces the longer it is steeped, so if you would like a strong , but bitter tea, steep for about 20 minutes. If you are looking for a more mild, relaxing tea, steep for only 5-10 minutes. Of course these numbers are not set in stone, and if you happen to forget about your tea for a long while like I do, I can assure you that it still tastes great and seems to have a positive effect!

While Chamomile has a plethora of uses for stomach issues, digestive issues, and use as an ingredient in skincare, I want to talk a bit about a use very close to my heart;

Using Chamomile for babies & children.

Having a toddler and a new little girl on the way I am always looking for herbs that are safe and effective for babies. Many sources have strongly recommended using Chamomile to treat colic and digestive issues in little ones. After using gripe water, which contains Chamomile as well as Fennel and Catnip, to treat colic in my daughter Elsie as a baby, I can happily confirm that this worked. It wasn’t a miracle drug by any means, but it definitely calmed her down and it felt so good to be able to do something for her besides nursing nonstop.

Rosemary Gladstar suggests using Chamomile baths, both for adults and children, to relax and sooth. Since Chamomile is so gentle, she even suggests using it in baby’s first bath to make it extra comforting. Now, it took me months and months to work up to being able to give my daughter a bath without having her scream in terror (we did a lot of snuggle-with-mama-while-she-sponges-you-off type of baths) , so this would not have been super helpful for us. However, if you have a baby who enjoys the warm water, this may be just the extra bit of relaxation you both need for those extra cranky days.

Another way to use Chamomile for little ones is as a teething remedy! The blog Growing up Herbal suggests using a Chamomile tincture both topically on the erupting tooth and internally to help sooth teething pain. Something natural and DIY that can effectively treat teething pain? Yes please! I literally did not even finish reading the article before I jumped up and ran into the kitchen to start my Chamomile tincture and am very much looking forward to trying this with my daughters in the future. For your reference, here is blog post I wrote about making tinctures. The average adult dose of Chamomile tincture is 30 drops; here is my post on safely calculating children’s doses based off of adult doses for your convenience.

The last way I have used Chamomile with my daughter is as a diaper rash spray. She was having tummy problems that consequently led to a very red, sore, irritated diaper area that traditional diaper cream and antibiotic ointment were not helping. Instead, I made a strong infusion of Chamomile and Calendula and put it into a little bottle to spray her with after wiping. I also used bentonite clay as a diaper powder to sprinkle on after the diaper spray. They worked wonders! No I didn’t take before & after pictures, and no I’m not sorry because I respect my child’s privacy, but it was incredible. We went from a red painful diaper area to perfectly clear in a day or two. Better yet, she actually LIKES getting her diaper changed now. Instead of a flailing, kicking maniac, she cooperates and even hands me her spray and her “sprinkles” (powder) and laughs while I use them. I call that a success.

I’ll be updating this post with our experience using Chamomile tincture for teething after we try it. In the meantime I want to encourage you to add this wonder herb to your collection and to your garden come spring! I’d love to hear of any other experiences you have had using Chamomile as well; I’m always looking for new ideas!

 

Creating a Herbal Notebook

dsc_1054Creating a Herbal Notebook

I want to share with you an exciting tool I’ve put together to wrangle all the new information we are gathering about herbs; a Herb Notebook! I’ll share the benefits & purposes of an herb notebook, break down each category I have included and give ideas for filling each section, post photos of my own notebook in progress, and

best of all, I have included FREE printables of the beautiful title pages I designed for each section for you to start your own notebook.

Why Maintain a Herb Notebook?

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Fennel: Benefits, Uses, & Concerns

fennelFennel. Delicious, aromatic, soothing, and a Godsend to anyone with a colicky baby.

Fennel seeds have been described as one of the best herbs to use for digestive issues. It is safe enough to use for cranky babies yet gently effective enough to be described as nature’s Pepto Bismal. It is an antacid that neutralizes excessive amounts of acid in the stomach. (Herbs for Children’s Health) The seeds can be ground and made into a tea, infused into an oil to rub on irritated tummies, or taken as a tincture.

What do these little licorice scented seeds do? Prepare to be amazed . . .

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Herbal Tea; Infusions & Decoctions

herbal-tea-infusions-and-decoctionsTeas, Tinctures, Infusions, Decoctions, Oils, Salves, Capsules, etc. The number of different ways to prepare herbs can set your mind spinning! Not to mention the extra ingredients needed such as glycerin or alcohol for tinctures or beeswax for salves.

With so many choices at hand, I decided to stop stalling and begin with the most straightforward; teas.

After all, what could be more simple than putting some crumbly dry herbs in a jar of hot water? Turns out there are many nuances that need to be considered, Continue reading