medicinal herbs

sweetgrass braids

About a month ago I was with my sister in Fort Erie, tagging along with her when she went to pick up her CSA share at a local farm. While we were there I was treated to a tour of the medicine garden they had on the property, which was fascinating to me. It was divided into quadrants North, South, East, and West, with each quadrant planted according to its direction on the compass. Sweetgrass was the main plant in one of them – I believe it was the North, but I may be wrong – and I was gifted a bunch of it in order to make myself a sweetgrass braid.

sweetgrass

Lucky for me, my bunch also included lots of seeds! I’ll be trying them out in the spring, so let me know if you’re interested in growing your own as well. Sweetgrass braids are burned, which produces a lot of sweet-smelling smoke since they really just smolder. The smoke is said to be purifying in the traditional medicine of our aboriginal people. But even if the braids are not burned, they do have a lovely scent and can be enjoyed as they are.

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My instructions were to hang up the sweetgrass to dry, then soak it and braid it. Which I did, after first taking out all the seeds and saving them for later.

sweetgrass soaking

I didn’t keep track of the soaking time, but it needs to be pliable enough to braid.

sweetgrass braid

My braid is now dry, and still intact. It’s enhancing the smell of my office. I want to enjoy it a bit more before I burn it.

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calendula lip balm

What I wanted to make was calendula salve, for minor skin irritations, since it’s a soothing, healing type herb.

calendula oils

I started with two batches of calendula oil. The one on the left was made using only the petals, and the one on the right was made using the whole flower heads, chopped with a knife.

filtering calendula oil

After straining out the flower bits, I filtered it with a clean old t-shirt.

calendula oil

Can you see the two tones of oil here? The lighter coloured was from the batch with only petals in it, and the darker orange is from the batch of chopped up whole flowers. I think next time I will definitely include all the flower parts, not just the petals!

melting beeswax

I weighed the oil. I think it was about 3.6 oz. Rule of thumb for salves is to add 1 oz of beeswax for every 4-5 oz of oil. So I just threw in the whole ounce of beeswax and began melting it down over low heat. This is where I should have been more careful. I now have very hard salve. So for now I’ll call it lip balm.

salve/balm in jars

The only problem is, I put it in these jars that are too big for balm. So…. I might be re-melting and either adding more oil, or putting it in smaller lip-balm style containers. Maybe with a bit of essential oil of something nice added as well, to counteract that olive oil odour. Live and learn…

calendula salve

There is a lot of Calendula planted in my garden. I love the beautiful orange daisy-like flower, for decoration and for its usefulness. It’s edible; you can sprinkle petals on salads or cook them with rice to colour the rice like you might use saffron. (Some have actually called it ‘poor man’s saffron’ for this reason.)

Yesterday, though, I picked the flowers I had on hand and am currently in the process of creating a calendula oil to use in making salve.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

calendula flowers

Picked the flowers.

calendula petals

About a quarter cup, if you smoosh it down. Looks like it took 7 flowers.

petals in mason jar

Petals in a glass jar.

oil in jar with calendula

Half a cup of olive oil added to calendula petals.

stir oil and calendula

Stirring it up.

label and date

Label and date.

oil and calendula in a jar on a windowsill

Now it’s in a sunny window, where it will stay for a week or two until the oil has absorbed the colour and nutrition from the calendula petals.

After the oil is strained, it will be used to make a salve for dry skin.