garden apothecary

posted in: diy projects | 17

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This time of year my hands are especially prone to becoming rough and dry – constantly in the dirt planting, weeding and digging. I rub them daily with lotion, to restore lost moisture and smooth any roughness (this and this have been my all time favorites for years).

Last week I finally decided to try my hand at making my own lotion with herbs we grow here in our gardens… Let’s just say, it is a little bit ridiculous how excited I am at the outcome. I don’t know why, but I didn’t think I would achieve such an amazing final product. It’s pretty much everything I could hope for in a nourishing cream – save for a super minor tweak here and there. I’m psyched. Totally!

I did some research to get a sense of the process. I started with, “A Complete Book of Herbs – A practical guide to growing and using herbs,” by Lesley Bremness. I also found a few online resources. I knew I wanted to use lavender,  and we have an abundance of the notoriously skin-supportive calendula blooming right now. I have also been learning about the healing properties of elder flowers, which are blooming right now, so they felt like a natural addition as well.

With a general feel for the ratio differences between salves and lotions, a sense for what I wanted as my outcome, the help of this site for the process and quantities,  and then with what I had on hand, my recipe ended up something like this:

Approximately 1/2 cup of a mixture of calendula flower petals, elderflower and dried lavender

then fill to 3/4 cup with olive oil

.4 ounce beeswax

1/2 ounce witch hazel

3 1/2 ounces calendula infused water

15 drops lavender essential oil

(ounces are by weight)

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A little bit about the herbs I chose:

Calendula – Reduces inflammation and soothes the skin. It’s a wonderful herb for the general care of skin irritations of all kinds. “Calendula has been used for centuries to heal wounds and skin irritations. Calendula has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, astringent, antifungal, antiviral, and immunostimulant properties making it useful for disinfecting and treating minor wounds, conjunctivitis, cuts, scrapes, chapped or chafed  skin, bruises, burns, athlete’s foot, acne, yeast infections, bee stings, diaper rashes, and other minor irritations and infections of the skin.” (mountain rose herbs – http://mountainroseblog.com/healing-calendula/).

Elderflower – Soothes dry skin and has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. It is a supportive tonic for all skin types, particularly mature skin. Reputed to soften skin and smooth wrinkles, fade freckles and soothe sunburn.

Lavender – Has antiseptic, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and is soothing and stimulating. It’s a healing and gentle cleanser and tonic for all skin types. Aroma-therapeutic as well, it acts as an uplifting nerve tonic.

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I measured a generous 1/2 cup of calendula petals, dried lavender flowers and elder flowers (separated from the stems), and then covered this combination with organic olive oil until I had a total quantity of about 3/4 cup.

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I poured the mixture into a double boiler, covered it, and slowly warmed it, letting it set at a very low heat for about 3 hours.

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I weighed out nearly 1/2 ounce of beeswax

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and made an infusion of calendula petals and purified water.

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When the oil and herbs were steeped to my satisfaction, I strained them into a jar,

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squeezing any excess oil out with clean hands.

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The oil infusion was then placed back in a warm pot of water and gently heated with the beeswax, until the beeswax was fully incorporated.

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Once incorporated, I set the jar on the counter to cool to room temperature, blending periodically with an immersion blender. Then I measured out my witch hazel, calendula infusion and essential oil.

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All the ingredients were gradually blended until I reached my desired consistency.

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The final step of blending was the most exciting, as the whole mixture gradually transformed into something beautiful and creamy.

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The cream is smooth and silky, and not too heavy or oily – particularly when applied to freshly washed skin. Steven is appreciating it as well, for dry elbows and knees, and areas that have been exposed to a lot of sun recently.

Next time I will try different, more deliberately chosen oils, and will explore some other herbs with properties specific to my skin and it’s particular needs at the time. My skin is loving this combination though, and my hands haven’t felt so soft in quite some time!

17 Responses

  1. Catharina

    Very inviting, I might try the same… 🙂
    and I will start drying elderberry flowers for a good winter tea, in our homemade dehydrator (will post an image soon)

    • abby

      Hey Catharina, Yes, I’d love to see your homemade dehydrator. You guys are always up to such productive things.

  2. Denise

    I read this earlier thinking where is calendula in bloom right now and would I recognize it? Then I went on a walk at work and there it was out on the trail!! I am so thinking about trying this but that Etsy site is also so tempting. I skin craves lotion. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • abby

      How awesome! I love when things like that happen. And you will not regret a purchase from Flying Bird Botanicals. She makes most beautiful products, worth every penny.

  3. Olga

    Never tought to made natural creme for myself, but now I’m anxious to do it.

    I live in Europe, so we don’t have the same products. Could you tell me more about witch hazel, please? Did you make it by yourself (what flowers did you use and how you made it), or you bought it somewhere?

    Thank you, for this tutorial and fantastic photos!

    • abby

      Hi Olga, Thank you. If you can’t find witch hazel you could substitute a little bit of water, or more herb infused water. Witch hazel is an extract from the leaves and bark of the witch hazel plant. Here in the US it’s available bottled and ready to use. It’s used for all kinds of skin irritations and for general skin care. It’s tonifying and soothing. But, it’s definitely not necessary to make a nice batch of lotion 🙂

    • abby

      Hi, We find them at antique stores. They’re kind of hard to come by these days, but they’re still out there if you look for them!

  4. Olivia

    Oh wow, this looks divine! Do you think I could substitute cocoa butter or shea butter for the beeswax? x

    • abby

      Hi Olivia, I have made a batch with cocoa butter (in addition to the beeswax). I really liked it, even if it sometimes felt a little rich for daily use (I think I just need to tweak the ratios). It would be worth giving a substitution a try. The texture will probably differ, but I don’t think it would hurt! They are both such amazing oils for the skin.

  5. deniseon9

    Thanks for sharing this, Abby. I am curious if I use dried elderberry flowers and maybe calendula essential oil, what my quantities might be? Just until the calendula flowers are in bloom… 🙂

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