Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bathe yourself in roses

Roses as herbal medicine
It's easy to fall in love with roses. They offer us beauty and can be an effective source of herbal medicine. This article looks at the many ways we can use roses for our health and beauty. From wild rose salad dressing to decadent facial cream to wild rose petal mead... read on! 

The exotic beauty and alluring smell of roses has enthralled humans for thousands of years. Roses have been found entombed with the ancient Egyptian pharaohs and were highly prized by the Greeks and Romans. 

The Chinese started cultivating roses around 5,000 years ago and in the late 18th century these roses spread to Europe where they were further hybridized.

Josephine, Napoleon's wife, adored roses and strived to grow every known rose species in her gardens outside of Paris. Many credit her for the popularity of roses today. In the late 18th century Europe the rose was so highly valued it was used as a type of currency.

Wild rose petals about to be infused with honey.
A special treat that is also wonderful for sore throats. 

Roses as medicine

Simply the scent and beauty of roses are medicine within themselves, however, the entire plant offers us a wide range of medicinal uses. 

Roses excel at cooling and soothing. I’ve personally seen it work wonders on muscle pain, wounds, sunburn and bug bites.

I generally add a small amount of rose petals to formulas for healing the intestines for people with leaky gut or an inflammatory bowel condition such as IBS or Crohn's. 

Rose petals are also a frequent part of formulas for a variety of women's health complaints from menstrual cramps to menopause complaints. 

When using roses for medicine I like to use all the parts. When the wild roses are blooming I harvest the petals, the rose buds, leaves and twigs. All of these can be dried or extracted into alcohol. 

You can also buy high quality organic roses from Mountain Rose Herbs

The Wild Rose is my most important plant ally, and one that I am continually amazed by. If there is a single plant who has provided me with the most healing, it is this one. My relationship with this thorny beauty deepens each year, and every season the briar teaches me more about boundaries, vulnerability and self-expression. This plant teaches raw, wide open love complete with scars, thorns and an abiding sense of self-knowledge. She teaches that beauty is a bone deep quality, one that we hold in every cell regardless of the pain we’ve lived through or the battles we’ve weathered. In hard years, her petals unfurl skewed and wrinkled but this doesn’t mar her attractiveness. Rather, they add to an already complex character and give her more of the strongly scented medicine she’s known for.

Kiva Rose, herbalist

Roses as food
The most common way that roses are used as food is by eating the fruit of the rose often called the rose hip. The hips are high in a multitude of nutrients, most famously vitamin C. 

Rose petals are also a fun way to eat roses. Like rose hips they are high in nutrients and especially high in polyphenols, an important antioxidant. Fresh rose petals can be made into jams, wines, honeys, vinegars, sprinkled on salads, and enjoyed in tea.

Now I know at this point some of you are wondering, “But if I don’t have wild roses, can I use the roses in my front yard?”

You certainly can use domesticated roses. First, you want to be sure that they haven’t been sprayed with harmful chemicals. Secondly, your best bet is to use roses that are aromatic. Roses that have no smell may not be as good for medicine or food, so use your nose to find the best roses.

And if possible search out your local wild rose. They like to live in moist habitats and usually grow in dense thickets. This can be along rivers, irrigation ditches, and riparian areas.

Using roses

When the wild roses bloom in June I harvest gallons of rose petals and then spend hours in the kitchen making luxurious herbal medicine. 

Some of these petals are made into a tincture. I use brandy or vodka as the menstruum. Adding a bit of honey turns this into a yummy elixir. 

Rose Petal Honey

Some of the petals are infused into honey - this is something I commonly give as a gift. 

Some are dried for teas. I love adding a large handful of rose petals to my daily nourishing infusion. 

Here's one of my favorite tea blends. I often give this as gifts. 

Tea for the Heart
one part rose petals
one part hawthorne leaves and flowers
one part linden leaves and flowers
one part lemon balm
stevia to taste

Blend together (I often make this in large batches). 
Steep two teaspoons in 8 ounces of water for 15 minutes. Strain
Add honey to taste. 


You could also add 1 - 2 cups of this mixture to a quart of just boiled water, let steep for 4-8 hours,  and strain. This extended brewing time offers more medicinal benefits. 

Wild Rose Facial Cream

I love infusing wild roses into oil to turn into a luxurious facial cream. You can see my recipe for wild rose facial cream here. 

Rose petal powder is a great toothpaste!  

Rose petal toothpaste

Each year I also infused rose petals into apple cider vinegar. This can be diluted to use on sunburns (thanks to Kiva Rose for that tip!), or it can simply be used as a decadent and delicious salad dressing. 

One year I made rose petal mead. The resulting brew was absolutely priceless, such a delicate taste of wild roses. 

Rose Petal Mead

If you are unable to work with fresh rose petals you can buy rose buds and powdered roses at

The powdered roses from Mountain Rose Herbs are great for making pastilles for sore throats or you can use it in a variety of cosmetic products like facial scrub. I love dried rose petals and rose buds in my tea.

Botanically speaking...

Wild roses have five petals, five sepals, and multiple stamens.

Roses are famous for their prickly thorns but technically they aren’t thorns but prickles. True thorns are modified stems that always originate at a node. Prickles are growths on the epidermis or the outer layer of the stem. 

All wild roses have prickles and sometimes the placement of them can lead to identification of a particular species. As for me, I’ll probably keep referring to rose thorns, something about the word prickles just isn’t the same.

The leaves form leaflets that have an opposite growth pattern and serrated edges.


Wild roses are found growing north of the equator. There are an estimated 35 indigenous species in North America and historical records show they have been used for food, medicine, and tools by the first peoples of North America. The Okanogan of the inland Cascades in WA state ate the flower buds but not the hips and used the thorns for fish hooks. The Athabascan reportedly placed the thorns in the center of warts, which were said to disappear within a few days. All interior Salish used the baldhip rose species widely for medicinal and spiritual purposes.

In the modern world there are books and even whole social organizations dedicated to roses. They are grown all over the world and given as gifts as a sign of love and friendship. If they only offered us beauty it would be enough but these tenacious plants offer us food and medicine as well as lessons on protection and boundaries.

Wild Rose

Botanical name: Rosa spp.

Family: Rosaceae (Rose)

Parts used: petals, inner bark, leaves, fruit

Properties: cool/dry, astringent, anodyne, nervine, aphrodisiac, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, mood elevator

Used for: wounds, sunburns, love, broken heart, hot flashes, gum health, bug bites, food, rashes, pelvic decongestant (cramps and PMS), post partum sitz baths

Plant Preparations: Tea, vinegar, tincture, elixir, tooth powder, glycerite, rose water, honey, mead

Here's a video showing how to make your own rose petal water.

This article was written for

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Make your own herbal shampoo: Mountain Rose Herbs Blog Contest

Caring for your hair, inside and out

Ingredients for homemade shampoo

One of my favorite aspects of being an herbalist is to incorporate herbs into every facet of my life. Besides using herbs for our health we can use herbs to clean our kitchens, to cook nutritious foods, and to decorate our homes.

This article looks at another aspect of incorporating herbs into our lives – washing our hair.

Walking down the personal hygiene aisle of a grocery store you can easily get overwhelmed at the amazing amount of choices. You can also easily get overwhelmed at the amazingly high prices!

Besides being pricy, conventional shampoos can contain many harmful chemicals.
One example is parabens. These chemicals are a common ingredient in hair care products and have been linked to cancer. Surprisingly, shampoos claiming to be more “natural” can also contain harmful ingredients.

In today’s recipe we’ll make affordable organic shampoo with herbs!

But first a word about healthy hair.

Our hair (like our skin and nails) is a reflection of what is going on inside our bodies. Healthy hair comes from within. A diet rich in nutrients will do more for keeping your hair healthy than any fancy shampoo.

Many of us wash our hair daily but this can actually dry out and further damage hair. I have gone through periods of my life when I never washed my hair. Instead I rinsed it vigorously with water while bathing. You might think that I had oily unhealthy looking hair, but I frequently got compliments on my curly locks.

Now that I live in a drier climate I’ve found that I need to wash my hair, but no more than a couple of times a week. If you currently wash your hair daily and would like to experience the benefits of fewer washings I recommend slowly cutting back to every other day, then every two days, etc. You might find your hair to be oily during these transition periods, but once your hair regains its natural balance you’ll notice this less and less.

Another thing to take note of is that the squeaky clean feeling we are used to experiencing with conventional shampoos is actually signaling that we are stripping the hair of its natural and beneficial oils.

The following recipe works well for people with more oily hair. Please see below for variations for different hair types.

To make this shampoo recipe you’ll need:

8 oz distilled water
2 teaspoons of dried rosemary
2 teaspoons of dried rose petals
3 ounces liquid castile soap
3 Tablespoon aloe vera gel
¼ teaspoon of jojoba oil
30 drops of pure rosemary essential oil

Place the rosemary and rose petals into a jar.

Fill the jar with boiling water and immediately place a lid over the jar.

Let this mixture steep for a minimum of 30 minutes. Sometimes I just let the mixture stand until cool.

Strain the herbs. Let the remaining liquid cool to room temperature.

Place the liquid into a shampoo bottle. (You can buy a new shampoo-like bottle or simply store it in an old shampoo bottle that has been washed out. If wanting new bottles Mountain Rose Herbs also carries them.)

Add the castile soap to the container

Then add the jojoba oil and rosemary essential oil.

And finally add the aloe vera gel.

Shake well and voila! You have your own handmade herbal shampoo. You’ll want to shake this mixture each time before you use it.

This shampoo should last for several weeks. If it will take you longer than that to use the whole content you may consider keeping a portion of it in the fridge to prolong the shelf life.

If you don’t have distilled water (you can buy it at any grocery store), you can use regular water – but this may lead to a shorter shelf life. The distilled water ensures that you aren’t adding any bacteria to the mix.

(Feel free to mix and match herbs. This recipe uses about 3 teaspoons of dried herbal material.)

If you have blond or lightly colored hair you might use chamomile and calendula in your herbal mix.

For a dark blend you can mix nettle, sage, and black walnut hulls.

For dry hair try violet leaf and marshmallow root and possibly add more oil to your recipe.

To strengthen your hair, simmer horsetail, oatstraw, and nettle for twenty minutes. Strain and cool. Use this as your herbal base.

Besides rosemary essential oil you might also enjoy chamomile, lavender, and sage essential oils. If you have an itchy scalp and/or dandruff you might try adding tea tree oil to the mix.

Besides jojoba oil you can try almond oil, sesame oil, or even olive oil. Note that olive oil will leave more of a greasy feeling than jojoba or sesame oil. If you have really dry hair you can add a bit more oil to your recipe. If you have really oily hair stick to the jojoba oil and possibly add less to your recipe.

Enjoy your herbal shampoo!

This has been a post as part of the Mountain Rose Herbs Blog Contest.

Ode to Ginger

Botanical name: Zingiberis officinalis

Family: Zingiberaceae (Ginger)

Parts used: rhizome

Properties: warm/dry, stimulating diaphoretic, carminative, circulatory stimulant, emmenagogue, expectorant, antispasmodic, antimicrobial

Used for: colds, flu, poor circulation, cramps, spasms, motion sickness, nausea, gas, mucus congestion, stomach aches, late menses, vomiting, headaches, pain, arthritis

Plant preparations: tea, decoction, poultice, tincture, food, syrup

I have been relying so heavily on ginger lately for my own well-being that I was inspired to write my own little ode to ginger. Ginger is one of those spices that does everything. Rather than seeing it as a jack of all trades without ever truly performing well in one area, I see it as a renaissance spice. Doing it all and doing it extremely well.

Ginger originally comes to us from Asia. Most of the ginger found in North America is grown in Jamaica. Although I do have a preference for local herbs, this is certainly one I would never want to be without.

Is fresh ginger or dried ginger best? 
Fresh ginger is warming, while dried ginger is hot. Because of this we use them for different purposes, with more caution being used with dried ginger, as it is more heating.

Quality fresh ginger is firm and vibrant looking. If ginger at your store is wrinkled or soft, request that fresher ginger be made available. You can peel the papery white sheath that covers the ginger by scraping it with a spoon. Call me lazy but I simply wash the rhizome and leave the skin intact.

Ginger tea is often drunk after meals in India to help with the digestive process. Anytime a meal doesn’t sit right with me, I reach for fresh ginger tea and any digestive disturbances are calmed quickly. It’s the herb of choice for any kind of motion sickness. When making first aid kits for those who often get car sickness I include ginger candy and ginger tincture; both work quickly to quell the nausea.

Ginger is a fabulous herb of choice for when you have a cold and you feel cold. Dried ginger works especially well for this. 

This winter when it was below freezing outside and upon waking only 30 degrees F inside our wood stove-heated cabin, ginger chai tea was a favorite of mine to keep my circulation moving and warming me from the inside out.

Ginger for Pain
Ginger can calm spasms, making it a great ally for women with menstrual cramping. I like making a ginger chai tea with crampbark to ease my menstrual pains. It can also be applied topically as a fomentation or poultice. I often make a large batch of ginger, reserve some for drinking and some for external use. To apply externally I simply place a washcloth in the tea, place it on the affected area and then cover that with a hot water bottle.

Ginger can reduce pain receptors and is often used by those with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis to reduce pain. Herbalist Steven Buhner recommends cooled ginger tea as an external wash for burns. Not only does it prevent infection, it also acts as a pain reliever.

Ginger for Colds and the Flu
Ginger is a powerful antimicrobial, which is why, like garlic, it has been traditionally used in cooking to help preserve foods and keep them safe for eating. We regularly add ginger to our meals, especially those involving meat.

These antimicrobial properties, along with its warming, expectorant and diaphoretic tendencies, indicate a wonderful herb for colds and the flu. The following tea recipe is common for the cold and flu season. I think of it as specific to those people who are cold, congested, foggy headed and with a sore throat.

Ginger TeaGrate a half inch of fresh ginger using a cheese grater, or mince finely with a knife. Place in a mug.
Fill the mug with boiling water and cover. Let stand for 15 – 20 minutes.
Squeeze some fresh lemon juice into the mug, and add honey to taste. I don’t strain off the ginger; instead, I munch on the little pieces.

Fresh Ginger Honey
Another herbal preparation that is great for sore throats is to simply infuse minced or grated ginger in honey. After a few hours this mixture will turn syrupy and will soothe an irritated sore throat instantly.

Other ways to use Ginger
Lately I have been using strong decoctions of dried ginger for a variety of ailments.

Several weeks ago I suddenly had a strange sinus pressure headache. I had no mucous congestion, but all of my sinuses in my head (including my occipital sinuses) felt like they were going to explode. At first nothing helped with the pain. Then I started using hot water bottles and when that provided relief I reached for the strong ginger tea. After days of intense pain the first sips of ginger tea immediately reduced the pain.

When speaking to my mentor Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa about this he eloquently said, "Ginger is great for harmonizing the energies in the head."

More recently I had a rib go out of whack. The pain from this was excruciating with all my muscles seizing up in an effort to protect the vulnerable area. Again, strong ginger decoctions helped to relieve the pain.

One reason that ginger may be such an important ally for me is my tendency towards deficiency and coldness. For those of you not familiar with constitutional analysis this simply means that I often feel cold. Others are in T-shirts while I have my sweater on. Also, I typically always have more blankets at night than my husband. My pulse is generally faint and slow, my energy tends to be slow and my complexion could be described as pale.

Ginger is a warming stimulant. This simply means it stimulates tissues. So it increases circulation, increases digestive secretions and expectorates mucous.

People who tend to run hot or are typically excess may have trouble using copious amounts of ginger.

I frequently add small amounts of ginger to formulas of herbs that are mostly cooling in order to create more balance.

Are there other ginger aficionados out there? I'd love to hear how you are using ginger.