Old Ways Herbal: Juliette Abigail Carr, RH (AHG)

Women & Children's Herbal Clinic, Vermont Herb School, & Ramblings on Family Herbal Wisdom

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The Home Medicine Maker, Home Herbalist, and Medicinal Gardener Courses start in May.  As of today, there are 8 spots left in the Home Medicine Maker Course, and 9 in each of the others; these courses are open enrollment.

The Traditional Apprenticeship starts at the end of April, and the High Summer Apprenticeship starts in July.  These competitive programs are by application only.

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Infused Herbal Oils

Infused Herbal Oils

Uses & Sample Formulas

Muscle rub & massage oil: warm oil before using.

Willow, arnica, Solomon’s seal, cayenne for pain; rose & damiana for love.

Decongestant: add to a bath or to boiling water as a steam.

Eucalyptus, cayenne, goldenrod, yarrow, thyme.

Skin soother: for chronic conditions like eczema and psoriasis, or acute itchiness like poison ivy or heat rash. Add to bath water; do not apply directly to skin, as oil clogs pores.

Oat, calendula, comfrey, plantain.

Beauty masks & scrubs: blend with clay, sugar, or corn meal.

Chamomile, calendula, rose, thyme.

Aromatherapy: much better for the environment than essential oils and should replace them in the medicine chests of conscientious people.

Lavender, rose, eucalyptus, thyme.

General Tips

  • Do not consume infused oils unless the herbs are safe to eat.
  • Oils mold! Check them regularly and prepare them well. The main reasons oils mold are that the jars or tools were wet, the plants were too fresh, or the marc stuck up out of the menstruum.
  • Oils go rancid if they’re not stored properly. Smell them, and discard if they smell like onion rings.
  • Keep records of when you start your oils so you know when to press them. The sooner you press them, the less likely they are to mold or go rancid.
  • In a pinch, you can heat the oil and herbs in a double boiler on low heat for 4-6 hours, then put it in a jar for a few days before making a salve. I don’t recommend this because many constituents are not heat stable, and oil oxidizes when you heat it and doesn’t last nearly as long.

Oil Selection

Choose an oil that is nice on your skin and doesn’t smell strongly. I usually use olive oil, but sometimes I’ll blend olive & jojoba (actually a wax). Some people use safflower or almond oil, too. Generally, the fancier oils oxidize at lower temperatures.

Plant Selection

Choose plants that are useful externally, for skin, mucous membranes, aromatherapy, etc.

Generally, plants that are sticky (calendula) extract best, followed by plants that are gooey (comfrey).

Make oils when the plants are ready, since oil maintains its integrity longer than fresh plants.

Plant Prep: mold is the enemy

Fresh: Some plants can be put straight into the oil from the garden, like St Johns Wort or mullein flower, but many plants will mold.

Wilting: This prevents mold for almost all plants. Instead of putting the marc straight in the oil, lay it in the sun for a few hours—not long enough to dry it, but long enough to wilt it.

Partial Drying: Some very mucilaginous plants need to be dried for several days, like comfrey root or mullein leaf. Prepare your marc and dry it in a dark, cool place for 3-4 days. If the weather is humid, wilt it first and finish the drying inside.

Dried: If you need to, you can use fully dried herbs, but fresh is stronger. Adjust the amount of oil so that it will be more concentrated, since many of the constituents have evaporated with the water.

Infused Oil Recipe

  1. Pick your herbs & prep them (fresh, wilt, partial dry, dry). The fresher they are, the stronger the oil.
  2. Jar and all tools must be bone dry or you risk mold. Each oil simple gets its own jar; you can blend them later if you want to. This lessens the chance of mold & increases usefulness.
  3. When the marc (prepped herbs) is ready, put it in the bottom of the jar and cover it with oil until there is at least an inch of oil over the top of the marc. If you want a replicable recipe, weigh the marc and measure the oil first—the ratio is often something like 1:8 or 1:10.
  4. Put wax paper under the lid. Label the jar and cover the label with packing tape. Make sure to include the date. Write yourself a note on your calendar to check it in 4 weeks.  Store the oil in a cool, dark, temperature-stable place. You don’t need to shake it.
  5. Marc (prepped herbs) will usually soak up a lot of oil, so check it for the first 24 hours and add oil if necessary to keep the marc completely submerged.
  6. After 4 weeks, check your oil. It should smell like herbs and have changed color. If the herb is safe to eat, you can taste it too, but be careful not to taste anything potentially toxic. If it’s not ready, check it weekly until it is.
  7. When your oil is ready, strain. Press strained herbs in a potato ricer to extract the last of the oil.
  8. If you want to store your oil more than 2-3 months, add a preservative, like:
    • A few drops of vitamin e oil
    • About ¼ volume of your oil of an infused oil with a lot of antioxidants and antimicrobial activity, like lavender or eucalyptus
    • A few drops of essential oil of an herb with a lot of antioxidants and antimicrobial activity, but these are environmentally unethical
  9. If you’re planning to blend your oil, this is a good time. I recommend adding each oil as either 1 part or 2 parts of formula (2 oz comfrey, 2 oz plantain, 4 oz calendula) to keep them effective.


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Herbal Ice Pops for Sick Kids

Herbal ice pops are a great variation on the infused ice cube theme, specifically helpful with the cranky toddler and kid crowd.

This is a great anti-dehydration remedy, as well as a tasty, fun treat that makes it easier to get herbs into sick kids.

  1. Make a strong infusion or decoction (instructions).
  2. Sweeten generously with raw honey for electrolytes, probiotics, and immune-boosting properties, as well as palatability.
  3. Add a taste of lemon or orange juice for vitamin C and electrolytes.
  4. Freeze and store as for the regular infused ice cubes, sticking toothpicks into each ice cube cell as a handle, or use silicone popsicle molds for extra fun.


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Frozen Yogurt Infusions: Toddler Magic

Turn infusions and decoctions into delicious, fun remedies that go down easy!  Frozen yogurt infusions are a fantastic trick to get medicine into kids who don’t eat when things go awry, and they’re especially nice for kids prone to tummy trouble.


  1. Make strong tea out of your choice of herbs, using either the infusion or decoction method (instructions here).  The infusion needs to taste good, so choose herbs accordingly.  Sweeten with ample honey for electrolytes, probiotics, and immune-boosting properties.  Make sure you can taste the honey.  Allow to cool.
  2. The best yogurt is organic, unsweetened, whole milk yogurt, either plain or in a flavor your child likes.  If you’re using flavored yogurt, make sure it won’t be disgusting with the flavor of the tea.
  3. Start with twice as much yogurt as tea.  Combine cool tea and yogurt in a blender until smooth.  Add more tea slowly until you have a consistency about halfway between tea and yogurt.  If the texture is a little liquidy that is okay.
  4. Pour into silicone popsicle molds (ice cube trays also work, but popsicles are more fun).  When frozen, they can be popped out and stored in freezer bags to make space for another batch, or just keep them in the molds.

I mostly use this trick for immune formulas (like elderberry, thyme, and hyssop), and digestive formulas (like ginger, fennel, catnip).

What combinations work for your family?


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Oxymels: Love in the Medicine

Oxymels: Love in the Medicine

Oxymels are one of my absolute favorite remedy forms.  There’s something about the sweet tang of an oxymel that seems to embody the love and heartfelt good wishes of the medicine maker, as well as the complexities of caring for each other.  They are delicious, versatile, high in a wide variety of medicinal constituents, and I can generally get them into any client–from the world’s crankiest toddler to my fussiest “…but it tastes weird” clinical client.  This delicious, nutritious medicine is a mineral-rich digestive aid, in addition to being full honey’s anti-inflammatory, wound healing, probiotic, and immune-boosting properties, as well as the medicinal properties of whatever herbs you used.

Any combination of honey and vinegar medicines is an oxymel, including fire cider and herbal vinaigrette.  There’s no wrong way to do this.  Following is my preferred method after years of puttering and experimenting.  I find that combining gently heated honey and raw vinegar gives me the perfect balance of effectiveness and palatability, but find your own kitchen magic and do what works for you.

I usually use equal parts honey and vinegar if everything tastes good.  If one of the herbs is especially bitter, I may infuse it in the vinegar and use half as much.  Sometimes I’ll use less vinegar if I want less of those particular herbs, as I have a pretty solid stash of both infused honeys and infused vinegars in my apothecary, so I’m often just mixing together existing creations.

My favorite herbs for oxymels are fragrant flowers and herbs, including rose, lemon balm, lilac, bee balm, thyme, and garlic.  I also really like using herbs with primarily water-soluble ingredients (more info here) like borage, as those constituents extract and preserve really well in vinegar.

  1. Infuse half your herbs in honey, instructions here
  2. Turn the other half of your herbs into a folkloric tincture using vinegar, instructions here
  3. Combine honey and vinegar in a glass jar or pretty bottle and shake vigorously
  4. Label with ingredients and date.  Store for years in a cool, dry place.


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Goldenrod: August Medicine Journal

Get ready for goldenrod!  This much maligned plant is a wonderful ally for allergies, sinus issues, urinary tract infections, kidney stones, sore throats, and more.  It is wonderful as a tincture, syrup, honey, or dried for tea.

Allergy syrup is my favorite way to use goldenrod.  I combine it with Tulsi, Nettles, & Schisandra, in raw wildflower honey.

I also love goldenrod as part of a cold & flu syrup, together with Thyme, Bee Balm, Hyssop, & Elder.

Learn to make your own Herbal Allergy Syrup with goldenrod!


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Garden Planning: February Garden Tip

Now is the time to plan!

Spread out on the rug in front of the fire with your gardening notebook, last year’s leftover seeds, your favorite seed catalogs (mine are Fedco, Richters, and Horizon Herbs), and a mug of tea of course.  Ideally, you wrote down what went where and how it did last year, and can now look through those notes and find ways to improve your rotation, soil fertility, use of microclimate, etc.  Eliot Coleman’s books are a useful resource for this.  If you didn’t take notes, turn over a new leaf this season so your skills can build as your garden grows!

Sort your seeds into annuals and perennials, time of year they’re planted, soil needs (rich vs. poor), microclimate needs (sun/shade/wet/dry/wind etc.), transplants vs. direct seeds, etc.  Do you see any promising combinations?  Perhaps your Arnica may like to grow together with St Johns Wort and Bee Balm, instead of in with the Marshmallows.

Make some lists:  What do you have?  What do you need to buy for next season?  What plants will you start indoors, and what will you direct seed?

Draw some diagrams: where was everything last year, and where are you planting each new friend?  How can you rotate your annuals around your perennials?  Some people like to use index cards or scraps of paper to do this so they can move them around easily.  I use a pencil in my notebook, that way I can refer back to my thoughts later.

This year, as you putter and tend and mulch and hoe and coax, draw pictures of your work.  The better your records, the easier it is to find ways to improve your garden’s vitality.

Interested in in-depth study in all of these topics (and much more)?  Check out the Medicinal Gardener Course!

Solstice Sunset