Foraging adventures

by Cari Balbo


Herbalists and foragers in the western part of the US are often writing about picking cottonwood buds for infusing in oil for a fragrant, healing salve also known as balm of gilead. We don't have those exact cottonwood trees in Maine but we have poplar trees which come from the same family as cottonwood: populus. I wanted to try making an infused oil from the buds of one of our native poplars. We have what we're pretty sure are quaking aspens (populus tremuloides) along the road on the southern edge of our property. Last Saturday I took a mason jar and snowshoed over to the trees.

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The buds weren't that large and I didn't want to pick too many off any one branch on the trees. In all I probably picked just over a 1/4 cup.

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I found the scent really light and pleasing, like the scent of woods and nature and late winter. Mike thought it smelled terrible.

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I decided to use grapeseed oil to soak the buds in. I typically use olive oil but wanted the quaking aspen buds' fragrance (or stink, if you're Mike) to stand out and the olive oil I use for Ridge Pond Herbals has an assertive presence on its own. Grapeseed is an excellent oil for moisturizing. Its one drawback is that it has a slightly shorter shelf life compared to olive oil but it will still last a good year+ in a salve with naturally preserving beeswax (even longer if I use a bit of vitamin e). I left the buds to soak on the counter for a few days, then moved the jar into a water bath in the crockpot on low for a couple days to accelerate the infusing process and extract the goodness before the fresh buds started seriously fermenting. The finished oil is bottled up and waiting for use in salve. I should order a western herbalist's cottonwood salve and see if the smell is at all similar when I'm finished.

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- Cari


Herbal experiments

by Cari Balbo


Over the past couple weeks I've been playing around with new products, new ways of putting ingredients together. Thought I'd share a few of my putterings for anyone interested.

This sunny pot of goodness below is a frankincense salve, made with a high ratio of frankincense essential oil. There's more risk of skin irritation at this level but the benefits are higher if your skin can tolerate it. I'm using it for a wrist issue and keep it next to the bed for a fragrant nighttime application. It also makes a really nice massage cream. 

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This elixir below is made from infusing brandy with dried medicinal fruits, herbs, and spices: elderberry, elderflower, schisandra and hawthorn berries, rosehips, hibiscus, cinnamon, cloves, ginger root, and orange peel. Along with a generous glug of honey, it sat for 6 weeks on a shelf, where I shook it once in a while. It's pretty intense, even at a small dose like 2 Tablespoons. I prefer mixing it with water and sometimes elderberry tincture for more palatablity and more elderberry. Next time I would be much lighter handed with the spices. 

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The color is gorgeous but not easy to capture with my camera. A delicious way to add beneficial herbs to everyday life.

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Sweet smelling rose salve. Made with rose-infused olive oil and beeswax. The beeswax I use is highly fragrant so I like to call this Roses and Honey salve. The petals are just for the pretty.

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Roses taking an oil bath.  

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One more rose picture, because roses.

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I love the color green. This gorgeous stuff is my Green Monster salve (for when your skin feels a little scary). The base is a Greek extra virgin olive oil that feels phenomenal on the skin and smells the way the color green would if it had a smell. I infuse the olive oil with dried comfrey leaf and root. Comfrey is just amazing stuff. I'll write more about it another time but enough to say that its healing properties, particularly for the skin, are no joke. Mike has skin issues on his hands and he uses comfrey daily to keep his skin healthy. Having some of this around is never a bad idea. Plus, it's so green!

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Comfrey leaf and root in Messiniako olive oil. 

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These pretties below are made from tallow infused with roses, chickweed, and lavender, combined with comfrey oil and lavender essential oil. After whipping in the mixer, they get poured into these tins to cool and I love the pattern on their surfaces. I have a lot (understatement!) to say about tallow but I'll wait for a separate post. Every ingredient in this cream is beneficial for your skin and the aromatherapy benefit can't be overlooked. Deep inhale...

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- Cari