DIY… Creating Recipes for Herbal Remedies

Question #3 is…

“Do you invent your own recipes, or use other recipes, or is it a bit of both?”

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My first herbal-remedy project was a salve-making kit, complete with dried herbs, metal tins, and instructions on how to safely turn the ingredients into a product. After that I bought some ingredients and set off on an adventure…  🙂

To be quite honest, I’ve never been very good at following recipes… I am thinking of at least a dozen embarrassing kitchen stories that resulted in… oh my! But now I can laugh about them 🙂 and the truth is, they are the stories that have shaped my ability to come up with something new. Creativity is good… even if it sometimes starts out as catastrophe. 😉

I mean, who wants to use just 1 onion when there are 2 needing to be used in a hurry… and who in the world measures their spices (note to self – species are always under-measured in recipes) when you could just dump some in???! Besides, if I make enough changes I can take all of my favorite components from various cakes and pies (density of this one, sweetness of that one, flavor, texture, size, filling, etc.) and create an “I’m thinking of this…” recipe. LOL! Why not?! {See… you do this too?! I’m not the only one 😉 … }

Now, as easy as it is sometimes to throw in a little of this and a little of that, there was a time (not-so-long-ago!) when I never bothered to write down what I did do! And when (if) something really good lands on the kitchen table for dinner, mama still sometimes asks, “Did you write down what you did…???” Thankfully, yes.

Here’s a basic summary of what happens when I want to create a new product for the shop… 

1. Address the problem & identify the needs

What need(s) do I want to meet? What is the crisis or health issue that I’m dealing with? And what key factors are involved that need to be addressed here?

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For example, if I’m wanting something that will bring quick healing to cuts and wounds, I’m going to need to address a few different issues here – bleeding, pain, bruising (maybe not right away) and broken skin (there’s a binding up that needs to take place soon, in addition to addressing the present more urgent symptoms). I may also want to consider something to cleanse the wound or fight against infection.

2. Determine what to make

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The next question is, what form do I want this remedy to be in? If I’m dealing with aching muscles or sore joints I’m inclined to go for some type of lotion or salve – something that rubs in and feels soothing. An herbal tea or tincture might be helpful to address a bad cold or respiratory problems. And how about an essential oil blend for seasonal allergies? There are other options as well… a compress, or paste (such as a clay rub for skin), or some sort of liquid spray (bug bite relief, skin spray, etc).

You can easily find a “how-to” for most of these different types of products online. When I first started out, I found articles from the Bulk Herb Store to be very informative, educational, and helpful to me! This was where I first discovered how to make an herbal salve (including tips like how much wax to add to your salve for the right consistency), and tinctures.

3. Get together a list of ingredients

A simple online search for “Herbs that stop bleeding” or “Herbs that relieve pain” will help me identify some of the top favorites, or most lav1popular herbs for these different factors. I do this for other ingredients as well – “Carrier oils that absorb quickly”, and “Essential Oils that fight infection” … and the list goes on. I like to search by topic, and then follow up by specific ingredient search – for example, “Does Lavender help soothe pain”… “Will Yarrow stop bleeding”… “Does Coconut Oil help wounds heal quickly”…  Depending on how much I already know, and what I’ve used in the past  (that I may or may not have a pretty good understanding of) this might take me quite a while.  It’s good to have more than one source to back my findings up against. I’ll list my options out in front of me, to compare later.

This is a great reason to constantly be building a list of trusted resources. I do most of my work online, so I’m always bookmarking, following, and saving the links to websites/blogs that I find very helpful and informative. Later on when I need more information pertaining to something specific, or want a trusted source (or someone who seems to “know their stuff” and care about me as a person), I’ll have these on hand to quickly access again…

In the process of creating essential oil blends and salves, I’ve literally had pages of paper filled with lists of ingredients and hand-scribbled notes… sorting through it all to figure out which couple of herbs I want in my salve, and which essential oils will make a good addition can be challenging. But it’s important to have a list of ingredients that address all of my “factors” – bleeding, pain, bruising, broken skin, etc… so that I can then compare them.

4. Narrow down the options

As I continue to find information and read from new sources, I’ll find that some stand out much more than others. A few may be listed again and again, whereas others are only listed a couple of times. I often use stars to mark the seemingly “more important” ones in my notes. That way when I’m ready to put together my recipe, I’ll remember that those ones with several stars should come first, or be in larger quantity than some of the others. Obviously, the more variety, the less quantity per type. For example, if I’m going to put 15 different herbs into one salve, I’m getting less benefit from each specific herb, than if I had 8 only herbs (in greater quantity).

5. Consider other beneficial ingredients

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I have discovered (through trial and error…LOL!) that it’s usually a great idea to include a preservative – some Rosemary Essential Oil, Vitamin E, and a little Grapefruit Seed Extract are all wonderful options that will aid in healing, but also contribute to the shelf life of my product. I need to find a way to determine how much is right – but not too much… because (for example) certain “add-in” ingredients may sting or irritate a wound or cut. A couple of drops of essential oil are plenty for several tins of salve… they go a long way.

Maybe I want to include some Aloe or Shea Butter… different ingredients may be added to different products to contribute a little extra “something” to whatever I’m trying to accomplish, or address. I like to add Shea Butter or Cocoa Butter to a product that’s intended to help with dry or irritated skin – because it soothes, softens, and heals the skin. These are all things I am constantly coming across and learning about in my research. Magnesium Oil, Aloe Vera, Honey, Oats, etc… and they often make great additions to a specific product.

6. Determine ratios

Now it’s time to take my list of ingredients and make it into something. I (hopefully) have a good idea of which herbs I want… which oils I want to infuse them into… and which other ingredients I want to add in the end, to make my product better.

Now I need to weigh the importance of each. What do I want to focus on the most? Is it the bleeding? The pain? The binding up? The bruising? Or all of equal importance? Most of the herbs that I chose will have multiple benefits to them – for example, plantain is an incredible pain reliever, but will also reduce/eliminate swelling and inflammation extremely quickly. And if that’s not enough, it is also used to help stop bleeding! So plantain is an excellent herb to put toward the top of my list. I’ll probably choose to put a larger amount of it in, than some of the other herbs.

I can easily find a good source online that will advise me on essential oils. If I’m making this product to be baby-friendly, I’ll want a very small percentage of essential oils. Thinking sensitive skin here! A few drops of Essential Oil per ounce of herbal/carrier oil. On the other hand, if I’m making something like Breathe Balm that is meant to be very strong and effective for someone with respiratory problems (such as a deep chest cold and congestion) I’m counting by tens now, with drops of Essential Oil per ounce. There are great sources online that recommend a good percentage for specific cases, and tell me how many drops per ounce that involves (including minimum and maximum ranges).

7. Make the product and test it

The final result will tell me what I need to know – is this a good product? Are the ratios right? Does it burn, sting, irritate, cause a reaction… or does it soothe, calm, relieve, restore, heal? I can study and research and think up all that I want. But the best way to know if my product is good, is to try it out! And if I’m happy with it, I’ll let others try it! I’ll ask for feedback, that will tell me if my product is effective… or if I need to go back and make modifications (or in some cases, start over from scratch :-/ …).

Be sure to write down exactly what you did – and if you end up making changes later on, write the changes in beside the original recipe. Don’t throw out your first set of information before you check to make sure your “improvements” actually worked!

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8. Persevere until it is right

This is how I started off on my own… and guess what!? It worked incredibly well! I’ve only made a few slight modifications since then… and I’m very happy with the results! Now it is a given that some products will prove to be a little more of a stretcher… such as when I had to try and determine how much of what to put into my Soothing Vapor Rub and Breathe Balm… one involved menthol crystals, and the other a larger quantity of essential oil. It took several tries to get the “spiciness” right (as little brother calls it).

Note: Now that I make a wide variety of products on a regular basis, I find it more helpful to infuse my herbs individually – resulting in jars of individual herbal oils on the shelf, which can be used for many purposes. This way, when I go to mix up a batch of Bug Bite Salve, I grab all the oils I’ll need for my recipe, and measure them right into my bowl. They’re not all infused together into one oil, so I’ll always have extra oils on the shelf to choose from if I need one for a special occasion…  {for example I’m always grabbing Plantain and Comfrey for small cuts or stings, Lavender for burns, and who-knows-what-else for whatever… because the salve jars are tucked away elsewhere}

And guess what!? The very BEST thing you can do is continue to learn all that you can about different ingredients. It pays to know not only WHAT something does (how it affects the body for good), but HOW and WHY! There is a reason that one essential oil has anti-inflammatory properties, and another has anti-bacterial properties. And the fun part is, the more you use the different ingredients (whether individually, or as a whole in a product you make), the easier it will become. It only takes one or two times of personally applying something (whether to self, or to someone else), before it gets “filed away in your brain” for future knowledge  🙂

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