Becky grew up on a farm in Central New Jersey. After getting her BS in plant and soil science from University of Vermont, her Master’s in Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State, she moved to Asheville, where she currently lives. She has been exploring the bioregions there and she teaches primitive skills in classes like spoon carving, which I think is incredibly cool! I’d like to go to Asheville just to take your class–it sounds amazing!
She is the founder of the Sassafras School of Appalachian Plant Craft and she’s also an instructor at Wild Abundance Farm (which is actually how I found Becky and was really excited to start learning from her.) We’re just so honored and happy to have you join us.
Rebecca Beyer (Becky):
Thank you. I’m so excited to join you all. I apprenticed with Natalie at Wild Abundance when I was in my early twenties and now that I’m in my early thirties, it’s fun to teach for her. It’s kind of a nice full circle experience.
We’re going to talk today about tinctures and salves. I think there are a lot of ways to make medicine, but these are the two most common that we are going to see. Tea making is, of course, the easiest way to make medicine. You literally put plants in hot water, strain them and enjoy them. Sometimes, thinking about science actually helps us decide what way we are going to make medicine from plants.
Plants are just like anything else. They contain lots of organic compounds and chemicals and things like that. The word “chemical” has become a bad word but I think it is a simple way to describe a substance. These chemicals are amazing. They’re really powerful. They can nourish us, they can kill us and they can cause great change in the human body and animal bodies. So it is really important to know about the ways that we are choosing to make medicine.
This is a tincture in this little jar. This is an oregano tincture I brought to show and I’m going to tell you how to make this and it’s really easy. Oregano is a plant some of us already know. If you live in North Carolina, you can grow it in abundance very easily in your garden, in a pot, or in your house. It’s just super fun.
This is a pine salve that a friend of mine made which I’ll show in a little bit and we’ll talk about each of these and why is this a tincture and why is this a salve. I’ll start with tinctures.
When people say tinctures, I think it is confusing. What is tincture? A tincture is just an alcohol extract of a plant. That’s all it is. A tea is a water extract of a plant. A salve or an oil is a fat extract of a plant. We also have glycerites which are a glycerine extract of a plant. And a vinegar, which is a vinegar extract of a plant.
So, those are our basic menstruums or liquids that extract plant chemicals that we are then going to be able to utilize for medicine. We are just going to talk about tinctures first.
Here is our beautiful tincture. All you need to make a tincture is a jar or a container of any kind that’s not plastic (and we’ll talk about why), alcohol and plant matter. You can tincture almost any plant for medicine which is one reason tinctures are so popular. Not every plant is suitable for every liquid extraction. Some plants will have no chemicals that are soluble in fats, so they’re not going to make a good oil or salve. Some plants are not going to make a great tea because they are too oily, and they would actually make a better salve.
It’s interesting, each plant we get to know by doing it plant by plant. It’s much easier to know what medicines to make from those things, rather than saying you can make teas from all of these things. It’s just easier to know plant by plant. So, I encourage you to think about what plants call to you, what are you interested in, really dig deep and read everything you can about that plant. We are going to talk about oregano today.
Oregano is really good for upper respiratory infections, which is a really hot topic right now. I will say, I am not a doctor and I have no training in medicine other than in folk medicine. My practice is Appalachian Folk Medicine and biochemistry from a soil science perspective, so that’s where I have gained my knowledge from. I share this as an offering and not as a definitive expert in medicine. Please take what you will and leave what you don’t want, and always ask your doctor before you try any new herbs especially if you are breastfeeding or pregnant.
Oregano is safe in small doses while you are pregnant or breastfeeding, which is super nice. I am not a mom, so I speak to that from experience with my beloved mother friends who have shared that with me.
Oregano is great as a tincture for bronchial issues, coughing and phlegmy, nasty colds, flues, viruses and bacteria. It’s great — you can even use it as a hand sanitizer! — It’s pretty amazing. It also smells nice, which is also great!
To start off, to make a tincture, the basic process is raw plant material, plus alcohol, plus time equals tincture. How do we get to this [shows jar of tincture] final product? This is not strained out yet, I don’t know if you can see this, there’s lots of plants in there floating around. I tend to leave my plants a lot longer than you are “supposed” to but it doesn’t really matter.
Whenever you are going to make a tincture, a lot of our Italian and Mediterranean culinary herbs, like oregano, make great tinctures. If you want to start with oregano, sage, rosemary or thyme as your first tincture, I would highly recommend it. They are all fantastic. You can get them at the grocery store, or if you have the farmers’ markets open again in your area, you could try them. All of these culinary herbs are excellent anti-bacterials. Also, all of them are safe for children except peppermint in strong doses. It’s really nice to have them on hand, and as teas they are much gentler than tinctures.
If you want to make a tincture of oregano, you just get raw, fresh oregano and chop it up. If you want to start with a small amount of tincture, this jar that I showed previously will make enough to last you for a long time. You want to grab a pint or a quart jar, stuff it full of the chopped fresh plant materials. Fresh as possible is best in my opinion, cover it completely to the rim-line (which is the line where the rim ends) with alcohol.
I like to use brandy. Brandy is a lower alcohol, but it’s high enough to preserve your tincture for up to 5 or 10 years. So it’s a really great way to make medicine you can use for a long time. You can use your favorite type of brandy. I like the apple brandy because it’s grain-free, so if your grain free, gluten free or concerned about grains (a lot of folks believe that they are more inflammatory) go ahead and treat yourself to some apple brandy or Carriage House apple brandy and fill that up to the rim.
As Appalachian Folk Medicine practitioners, everybody comes from a really different spiritual background. Whatever you believe, the moon is a very powerful and wonderful thing that we can all see and interact with. It can affect our bodies directly. If it can move the ocean, it definitely moves the water in our bodies, if you think about it from a scientific perspective. So leave your tincture to rest and macerate, and let it soak for one month, one moon cycle.
If you want to get more involved in moon stuff, from any perspective that feels good for you, you can make it on a full moon and then you know the following full moon it’s time to strain it and press it out and it’s all done. It’s kind of a special practice.
If you are raising your children to be more in touch with cycles of the earth, it’s really fun to say, “We’re going to make a special medicine on the full moon and next full moon we’re going to strain it.” You can talk about the way the planets move, and you can even use it as a lesson, which is really fun. Or you can do it on a dark moon. Either one is fine.
Generally speaking if you are interested in lunar lore from the Appalachian historical perspective, we are going to make medicines to take away illness on the decrease of the moon, because then it is big and it’s getting little — big disease getting smaller. It’s kind of a simple way to think about it. If you are excited to add that little extra fun to your medicine you can, but you absolutely don’t have to. It will still be really good and work.
Oregano, sage, thyme, and rosemary all contain chemicals like thymal or rosmarinic acid which are powerful antiseptics and can actually kill staph, streptococcus bacteria, and even MRSA, which is kind of amazing!
You can use these topically watered down as wound washes, which I love having the tinctures on hand for that. It’s also safe for your animals. You can use them on your dogs and your cats on wounds, itching, and fungal infections on their skin. You can water it down so it doesn’t sting too much, and just use a little cotton ball and dab it on to those areas. You can use it on yourself as well. It’s great on your skin, very nice.
It’s as easy as that: Chop the plant, put it in a jar, cover it with alcohol, let it sit a month, and when a month is up, you are going to open it up, get a strainer. A nice metal one, not a plastic one. Don’t use plastic on any part of your tincturing process because alcohol pulls nasty stuff out of plastic, like estrogen, phytoestrogens and stuff like that. Squeeze the plant matter. A lot of good stuff is gooped up in there. Squeeze it through the strainer into a new clean jar and then you can bottle it and always label it with what it is, what type of alcohol you used and the date so you know later how old it is. I write “oregano,” and I wrote “Lammas” because I made it on August 1st which is called Lammas in Ireland. It’s a special holiday. [I wrote] “Everclear” and I put the date, “August 1, 2019.” So I know how old it is.
If you forget and leave your herbs in, it is totally ok as long as they’re covered by the alcohol, it’s kind of like a way to preserve them forever. It’s totally ok to forget. So that’s how you basically make a folk tincture.
There is another method of tincture called the weight-to-volume ratio method which if you all are open to it, I have a hand-out about. It has a work-sheet that if you’d like to make a scientific tincture that uses exact weights and measures, you can guess the strength of it more. With culinary herbs like oregano, sage and thyme you don’t need to worry about making the medicine too strong. If anything, it could be too weak. That’s why I use 100% alcohol over the herbs. Some people add water to their tinctures. I don’t do that if I’m just using fresh herbs because there is already water in the plant so you don’t have to add water to get those water soluble chemicals out.
So that being said, those are the two methods of tincture making.
The folk way: which is to throw crap in a jar, throw alcohol in it, and wait a month, and then there is the scientific way: which is to measure everything, weigh everything and then you’ll know the exact strength of your medicines.
If you are just getting started with tincturing, like I said, I would meet your favorite culinary herbs and read about them. Some of my favorite resources are: “Herbal Academy” has a little thing you can join. It’s their herbal library and they have monographs. A monograph is a detailed explanation of the uses of a plant, its history, its phytochemistry and you can learn a lot about common easy to find herbs and its really beautifully made. It’s $40 to have access to all of their literature. To me, it’s like thousands of dollars of books for $40, that you can look at online. If you want to read the monograph of oregano, rosemary, sage or thyme, those are great places to check that out. Also there’s tons of free resources.
As with anything dealing with herbs, always check who is saying what about these herbs, what do they stand to gain from it. Check your sources, because sometimes people will make really broad claims about herbs that are not true. It’s a bummer, because it turns people away from herbal medicine and to me, as a folk practitioner, herbal medicine is accessible, it’s often free, it’s easy, it’s safe, and it’s abundant. I think it’s important that we are accurate in what we claim about herbs, and also free with how we share information about herbs. So once you’ve made your successful first tincture, please teach your friends about it. It’s really fun and easy!
If you’re going to take your tincture, let’s say I am suffering from a cold or a flu, how am I going to decide how much oregano tincture to take? With oregano tincture or any of the easy culinary Mediterranean herbs, you can take one to three dropperfuls. You see those cute little tincture bottles? Those little brown bottles with the black squeezy nipple on top, that’s one dropper full. If you squeeze it, let go, it’s going to look like it’s half full–that’s what we call one dropper. You can take three of those. I would take it in some hot tea or a little bit of water or juice. You can take that up to three times a day if you are suffering from an acute respiratory illness. As far as contraindications go, always double check if you are on medications, especially blood thinners, certain kinds of birth control, and heart medications, to make sure it’s safe to take alcohol or tinctures with your medication.
If you can’t do alcohol, a lot of people are sober, or pregnant, or not choosing to do alcohol for a variety of reasons and there are some other awesome options for medicines like glycerites, vinegars and teas that might be acceptable, or powders, powdered herbs for you. So don’t be sad if you can’t have a tincture, you can probably find the same herb in a different form to meet the needs for your body.
That’s really all you need to know about making a tincture. It’s very easy. People complicate it a lot, but as long as you are not working with toxic herbs that have the propensity to cause damage, you can really learn tincturing by doing it. I would just take it one herb at a time.
A really fun way to start in herbal medicine is to choose one plant for a month. Read everything you can about it. Try the tea everyday from it. How does it make you feel? Do you feel different when you take it? What called you about it; why do you feel drawn to it? And you can really learn a lot by experiencing a plant. So obviously a safe plant, like dandelion, or cleavers, or chickweed, these really safe, gentle herbs, are perfect gateways, so you can be comfortable and safe. If you want to know more, I’ll share that hand-out and it gives more details.
So that’s alcohol tinctures, alcohol extracts, let’s talk about fat extracts, oil extracts or salves. So, salves (as a kid, I was like why is there an “l” in this, and some older folks where I live do say Salves [pronouncing the L], which I kind of love. Either way you want to say it is fine). These are basically ointments, lotions, creams or plant oils. You don’t have to have to make them solid if you don’t want to.
This example I’m showing is a pine one, that smells absolutely heavenly. I wish you could smell it through the camera. Pine is a great first salve to make. If you are Appalachian or southern by birth, there is a long history of using pine resin salves to get out splinters (I wonder if anyone’s nana, grandma, or mamaw put this on splinters, or bad cuts or burns or bruises). I have a really bad cut on my thumb, so I’ve been putting this actual salve on myself constantly.
With the salve, just like a tincture, we are going to soak plant matter in a substance for a month. Some people make salves quickly, which I will tell you the cheating way to make in three hours (laughing).
Let’s say you want to make a pine salve. The pine salve is antiseptic, pine is very antibacterial. It’s safe for all humans. It’s a very safe medicine. If it’s accidentally ingested, it’s totally ok. If a kid or a dog eats the salve, it won’t hurt them.
You can get pine resin in a lot of ways. What I do, because I am always gathering stuff, anywhere I go, you can forage anywhere. I’m that person, I always have jars in my car. I have bags in my bags. I keep some cloth reusable bags. I keep a jar with a little bit of olive oil in it and a butter knife in the car for gathering pine sap. If you go through a neighborhood where they’ve just cut pine trees or pruned them, you’ll notice them exuding that white-looking sticky sap. You can take the butter knife, oil it up a little bit and then the sap won’t stick to the knife (this is a pro-tip). Scrape it into the jar and you can gather a bunch of resin that way. You’re going to take it home and get yourself some really nice olive oil, avocado oil, jojoba oil, almond oil, or whatever oil for your skin that you are really excited about. Those are my favorites. Almond does go rancid kind of quickly, I must say, but it’s one of my favorites. I use it on my face every day and I really like it.
I made my most recent pine salve with olive oil. It does have a little bit of a smell, but the pine is so strong that it cancels it out, which is nice. You can also use castor oil if you want. Some people are really into that, but it’s really gooey.
Take your olive oil. I would start with the same sized jar [as the tincture]. It’s a great way to make medicine and it doesn’t make so much that you can’t deal with it, but it’s enough to be worth your time. Fill your jar with olive oil, then put your pine resin, however much you are able to get, into the olive oil. Just scrape it right in there. Then what you are going to do is get a double boiler out, which is basically a pot of water, and heat it up. I will often put a washcloth in the pot of water. Make sure it is totally covered by water to keep my jar from bouncing up and down on the bottom of the pot. You can gently heat the oil very gently in hot water and it will melt the resin. Occasionally take it out with a hot mitt and just swirl it around, or you can leave it open and stir it with a spoon. Just make sure you don’t dump it into the hot water. Once your pine resin is totally melted in the oil, you have a pine infused oil. You can use this for cuts, bruises, scrapes, bee stings, bug bites. It helps with itching, smells nice, you can even use it as a perfume, if you want to.
You can also take beeswax and make it into a proper salve. I always accidentally add too much beeswax. Don’t get too wild with it. So another pro-tip is take the hot oil that you’ve just warmed up with that resin melted into it, and you’re going to start putting little shaved pieces of it [beeswax] in. You can use a cheese grater. I’ve actually used a hammer to smash this into little pieces, but it’s hard on the shoulder (laughing), a cheese grater is much easier. You want to add beeswax by the tablespoon and melt it into the oil.
When it’s warm it is going to be a liquid, so some people add too much beeswax and then when the salve cools, it is almost like a rock. It’s very hard, like the beeswax. So what I do is I add two to four tablespoons of beeswax to about a pint of oil and I’ll stick my spoon into it, put it on a paper plate and put it in the freezer. If it sits in the freezer for a few minutes, it will solid up and I can actually test what the salve feels like. If it is too wet, you can add more beeswax and if it is too hard you can just pour a little more olive oil in your salve. When it’s done, you can get little salve tins [like this-shows tin] or you can use metal ones. Just don’t put it in plastic. It’s very hot and I don’t like putting hot things in plastic. It does have a plastic lid, but I put that on after. Pour it into your container, and it’s going to firm up across the top. This example I’m showing doesn’t have a lot of beeswax in it, you can see it is still pretty translucent.
It’s really heavily resin and it just smells like honey and pine. It’s such a beautiful smell. This one is Pinyon pine from out west, so it’s a little stronger, but you can use any pine resin for medicine. It doesn’t matter what type. Anything that smells like pine is good for medicine. It’s awesome! Not everything is like that in herbal medicine.
Once you’ve poured it into your little tin while the oil is still liquid, don’t disturb them. Let them rest, and they’ll solid up with a really smooth top. Then I’ll put the lid on and store them somewhere dry and cool and away from direct sunlight and label them with the date. They’ll last about a year if you keep them out of the heat.
Pine is a preservative, so that one lasts as a salve longer than any. If you want to get fancy,and you like essential oil, you can add three or four drops of lavender oil to your salve or you could add a Balsam Fir oil, it’s one of my favorites. Or tea tree oil if you want to use one on fungal stuff, like diaper rash or yeast infections. When you get yeast infections, sometimes you scratch your skin a little, especially in your vulva area and it gets really irritated, this is a great little ointment. You could add some calendula in [the salve] and apply directly to that torn up skin. It’s going to help prevent yeast infection, secondary infections and little cuts in hard to reach places. I really love this salve as a lady. It’s really nice.
That’s honestly how easy it is to make a salve. If you want to make a calendula salve, a flower based salve like a rose salve, you always want to put dry herbs in your oil. Why? Because if you put wet herbs, the water can go rancid and cause the salve to not last long. I learned that the hard way when I was first starting herbalism. I made all this expensive oil like a nasty pond-scum mess, because I put raw fresh comfrey leaves into olive oil and just let it sit. It became a nightmare. I was so sad to waste it all, but I learned you have to use dry herbs.
You can leave them to just soak in oil for two to four weeks (a whole month) or just two weeks and then squeeze them out of the oil into a cold infusion. Then warm it up gently, add your beeswax using the same process to make a salve.
Or, you can cheat and put your herbs and your oil in your double boiler and heat it up for about three hours on super low heat and infuse it right away and make a salve in a day. So you can do either one.
Some of my favorite herbs for salves are plantain leaf, calendula flower, lavender flower, pine resin (that plant’s my absolute favorite. I use it all the time). Like I said before because you can use it on animals, it is endlessly helpful.
Some of my other favorites are rose, which is great for your skin as a moisturizer on your face, around your eyes, it’s really good for fine lines, which I appreciate. I used to smoke cigarettes, unfortunately, and I have a lot of fine line damage. I use a castor salve that I made with roses and calendula that I use on my face and it’s actually really helping. I love it! Salve making is just as easy as tincture making. It’s just the extra step of adding the beeswax to the oil to solidify it.
Those are super abbreviated ways to make a tincture and a salve but I hope it makes you feel more comfortable, dabbling your feet in the water of herbalism. Just remember if you want to take a class with me, if you are ever in the Asheville area, I’m totally available for private classes and things like that. My website is bloodandspicebush.com. I’m Rebecca Beyer, you can call me Becky. So thank you guys for having me today.
Thank you Becky! I have a couple of questions. Are you ok with taking some of them?
I love to take questions, yeah.
Well, I’ll ask one of my questions and then I’ll let other people jump in if they have some. I wanted to ask you about using it as a topical. Do you have to change the type of alcohol you use? You mentioned brandy was your favorite alcohol to use. Do you need to change the type of alcohol you are using, whether you are using it topically or for oral ingestion?
You don’t have to. If you want to make an oregano tincture, I’ll just use oregano as an example, if you want to make a tincture for a wound wash specifically, you could make with rubbing alcohol and label it “never ingest this,” but I don’t do that because I live with twelve people and I’m always afraid they are going to get in my mess and take something, so I always use either Everclear, vodka, or brandy. That way if someone did ingest it, the worst thing that would happen to them is they would become intoxicated. The alcohol (brandy) is totally fine for your skin. You will get more antibacterial action from a higher proof alcohol, so I would make an Everclear oregano tincture specifically for external use, but you could also use it internally. It’s just going to be more powerful than the brandy tincture, so you can use less of it.
I’m thinking not only oral, but on my my dog for fungal infections and what not. So perhaps if I use brandy or a stronger type of alcohol, that would be even better?
For pets, I would totally go the Everclear route. You know sometimes they have that stubborn, you know, the hair, a lot of fur, and it’s hard to get medicine into the skin for them sometimes. Also for pets, specifically fungal issues, black walnut is one of my most favorite things. The hull of the nut, this is a very common thing you can get in the health food stores now. Very shortly, if you look at the black walnut trees by your house, they are growing everywhere. They have these little green nuts on them now. They look about this big [visual description with thumb to index finger]. Grab those right now, throw them in a jar of vodka and they will turn black, it’s wild! That liquid is an incredible antifungal for humans as well as animals and it works great on dogs. I love it. It does dye their skin a little bit for a day or two, but if you wash it off (laughing).
(laughing) I’ll have a stripe across her back.
But you can also use it as a tea wash if you want, as well.
Becky, I had two quick questions for you. One is about beeswax. Are there any certain things you should be aware of when buying beeswax? Is there a quality, words that I need to look for, and where would I get it? My second question, you mentioned not mixing two different herbs when making a tincture. I’m just interested in why. I have some adaptogens that I just got and my favorite ones are the blends. I just like the idea of blending things to make life easy. I’m just interested in the reasoning for that.
I don’t mix plants because sometimes it is so funny, I would think I know about all allergies, because I deal with so many of them with folks. Having what we call simples, or single plant tinctures makes you able to create your own blends. It’s nice, because if, say, I want more rosemary in this blend and less sage, if I’d made them altogether, I can’t ever change them. I’m committed to that blend. But if I make one rosemary, one sage and one oregano tincture, I can make whatever combos I want of those things. Or if someone says, “I’m allergic to sage, but I’m not allergic to rosemary,” I can still share medicine with them, and not be committed.
You can mix, if it is just for home use, you can make what I would call the “kitchen witches tincture mix,” or like Mediterranean grandma medicine, throw it all in one jar and just write what you put in there. It will work great. It’s totally fine. You can do that.
Becky, right now, we’re experiencing an increase in individuals that are having depression and anxiety who may be on antidepressants or [other] medications. You had mentioned briefly about contraindications on certain herbs. Can you talk a little bit about herbs that might help with anxiety and depression and if it will have some sort of contraindication with any medication you might be on.
That’s a super great question. The main herb that has issues with antidepressants and birth control medications and other medications is St. John’s Wort, unfortunately. So some people will choose St John’s Wort for antidepressant, but I honestly don’t love it for that. I honestly like it better topically in a salve for pain, nerve pain is great. I think that is its best use, personally, but that’s my unpopular opinion.
My favorite nervines that are very safe, that do not have contraindications are tulsi, tulsi basil is very popular right now. It’s from India originally. It’s a sacred plant. You can grow it, though, extremely easily in your garden. And it smells and tastes incredible. It’s safe for children. It’s wonderful . I drink a tea of it everynight before bed.
I also love lemon balm. Lemon balm is contraindicated if you have thyroid issues. So be careful. You’d have to drink a very large amount for it to cause an issue, but just so you know to do more research before taking that. And milky oats. They’re a food. It’s the T of the top of the young oat when they still produce a liquid they call the milk. They are sweet and lovely and nourishing and also safe for children and they are very, very helpful for stress and nerve issues like nervousness. I have panic disorder, so for me, sudden adrenaline release has been a big issue. Honestly, I was surprised drinking lemon balm for a week, there was a marked difference in my reaction to adrenaline releasing moments and it’s just such a cheap, easy abundant herb you can grow very easily.
So lemon balm, milky oats, tulsi, and passion flower. It is another safe, readily available native plant. It is passa flora incarnata, one of our traditional medicines. It also makes a really tasty fruit and gorgeous flowers you can grow yourself. So those are my top four easy, not super reactive, nourishing nerve tonics.
Are these also safe for children?
I would give teas to children. It’s really cool, you can make popsicles, tea popsicles. Make a strong infusion, add a little bit of honey or add whatever may flavor it. Even milk or coconut milk, and then freeze it and you can make a tea pop, like a nerve calming nervine tea popsicle for children.
A lot of children have ADD or ADHD. Anything you’d recommend? We have a lot of moms listening to this.
Totally. I have less experience with that, but with focus and I think that being calm gives us a good groundwork to be our best and focus and show up as humans. So focusing on the gentle nervines, like oat straw or milky oat, tusi, rose. Some children love the flavor of rose too, so it’s really nice to have. Those are all really gentle things. Also, catnip is actually really amazing and traditionally was used to help fussy babies for hundreds of years in our mountains. It’s really special to connect with that medicine and it’s very safe. It can even be drunk as a tea by a nursing mom and shared with baby through breast milk which is super sweet. A lot of women would drink catnip tea to help calm fussy babies with colic, specifically, and tummy issues. Those are some nice ways. Catnip popsicles are also really yummy.
From Christina in the chat feature, “What are some of the best…
Anti-itching. That’s a good question. I know a lot about itching. I have a skin autoimmune disease called lichen planus. I don’t know if anyone else has this, similar to lichen sclerosis. There are a lot of herbs that can help with itching.
Some of my favorites to cool areas I’ve been itching for a while, honestly is tea tree, diluted tea tree oil is super helpful for itching. Also peppermint. Peppermint as a tea or as an oil that is diluted is very good. You never want to put undiluted essential oils on your skin. Witch hazel as a spray . You can get really cheap distilled witch hazel at places like CVS. I put it in a little spray bottle and just spray it and let it air dry. That to me is the trick.
Some of my favorite anti-itching homemade sprays are a drop of tea tree, a drop of peppermint in witch hazel and shake it up really well. You can also add lavender if you want. It smells nice and is calming. You can spray that on your skin, just be careful. You might want to try a test spot on your inner wrist first, just to make sure that you are not going to get an allergic reaction to those oils, especially for little humans. We do not want to give them peppermint oil. It’s really bad for a baby’s respiratory system. But, diluted lavender you can put on their skin. [Test it on their wrist] just to make sure they are not going to get a rash from it.
My website is bloodandspicebush.com. If you read my website I read a lot about traditional Appalachian medicine, tonics, folk magic and blood cleansing is a really big deal. So that’s where my name comes from. Spicebush is one of our main blood tonics to clean the blood in the spring.
Can you quickly touch on the difference between oils and tinctures because you’ve mentioned essential oils several times as well?
Sure. An essential oil is a super concentrated extract made by steamed distillation where they basically cook out the oils and they get separated out by getting the steam to go up and the oil to drop down. A tincture is just an herb that has been soaked in alcohol for a long time, like you’re making a strong tea out of alcohol. Does that make sense?
(Looking at the chat box) How did I get started in herbalism? That’s a good question. I got chronically ill when I was 19 and with mononucleosis for a year. Usually it only lasts a month. I was told by doctors that I was allergic to stuff, or I was mentally ill, that I was making it up, and I felt horrible.
I was narcoleptically falling asleep in class all the time. My stomach and my liver were really inflamed. Later on, one of my nurse practitioners at college said, “Honey, I think you have mono.” She tested me and I did. I had a severe mono infection. I’d had it for about a year or two. I’m surprised I didn’t get liver or spleen damage, they told me. I didn’t know that was an issue.
I went to an herbalist because I had been to six doctors and I had a dry hacking cough from the mono that never went away. She gave me three herbs: boneset, goldenseal and thyme, one of those kitchen herbs. Three days later, my cough was gone that I’d had for six months. I said to myself, “That’s it, I’m done, I’m sold. Herbs are not just for fun. They work.” I dove into studying herbalism at 19. I switched my college major from Medieval History to Plant and Soil Science. Then started studying with teachers. That’s how I got into it.
If you ever have a question, you are welcome to email me through my website. I usually check that email once a week. If you have a question about medicine, totally reach out. I am always here to answer questions.
Thank you so much, Becky. I’m really excited to dive into some pine resin.
I’m obsessed. When I get really fancy, you can make your own pine scented incense. It’s so cool. You can burn it on little charcoals, just like frankincense, and it’s locally abundant and sustainable local incense. It smells really nice.
I really love that idea. That’s fantastic.
It’s really fun to make incense. That’s what I am getting into right now. I love it.
Thank you so much, Becky. Bye, everybody.
Becky Beyer received a B.S. in Plant and Soil Science from the University of Vermont where she fell in love with growing food. She then completed a Masters in Appalachian Studies and Sustainability, concentrating in Appalachian Ethnobotany at Appalachian State University. Becky is the founder of the Sassafras School of Appalachian Plant Craft and she’s also an instructor at Wild Abundance Farm. You can get Becky’s take on folk magic, rewilding and local plantlore by visiting her Blood and Spicebush blog.
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