Herbal infusions: Making the most of nature’s gifts
If you're unfamiliar with the concept of an herbal infusion, you can start by picturing a steaming cup of tea. Hot water is poured through the contents of a tea bag or strainer and the essence of the herbs are suddenly transformed into a warm beverage that carries the flavors and nutritional benefits that were packed into the dry tea leaves.
From the calming properties of chamomile to the ultraviolet light absorption abilities of sea buckthorn, plants have a lot to offer us and infusions are great way to harness that kingdom's powers.
Before experimenting with any infusion, I will first consult my Chinese herbal medicine Materia Medica, a large tome I affectionately refer to as my Chinese medicine bible. The book provides a wealth of information on the properties of thousands of plants and is my go-to guide when formulating a new recipe. Then cross reference that information with my essential oil safety book to be sure I’m not stepping into dangerous territory, plants are medicines and you must approach with intelligent caution.
As with all my ingredients, I source my herbs from certified organic growers utilizing fair trade business practices and hold their paperwork on file for 5 years.
After receiving my raw ingredients, I get to work on my tea of sorts. Except, I don't use hot water. Instead, I ever-so-gently warm my oils over the stove top. Then I combine the oil with my herbs. There's no need to rush here, the ingredients will become well acquainted with each other over the course of a month or so.
These infusions work their way into a few of my products. For my herbal facial cream and herbal facial lotion I infuse chamomile, chickweed and sea buckthorn in grape seed oil for a vitamin-rich mixture formulated to smooth, balance and brighten the skin.
I also make an infusion for my psoriasis balm. Here chickweed, comfrey and plantain spend a month or so immersed in hemp oil, then add a dose of qing dai (indigo naturalis). The mixture is combined with a garden variety of good-for-the-skin essential oils and other ingredients to create a nutty-smelling balm that has been shown to do wonders for various skin conditions.
Then there is the calming facial balm, a concoction I whipped up for my own self-preservation after long days in the wind and sun during farmer’s markets started irritating my skin. This one is made from chamomile, chickweed and evening primrose which are infused in a sea buckthorn oil and can really work wonders to reverse the damage from the elements.
The infusions rely on a more complicated and time-consuming project than simply going the extract route. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that process, it is more abrupt. It also relies on alcohol to strip away the plants properties quickly and alcohol can be very drying for the skin.