Fire Cider for the Cold and Flu Season

Fire Cider for the Cold and Flu Season

Fire Cider Vinegar November 2021

Fire Cider Vinegar November 2021

It’s cold and flu season and lots of people swear by fire cider vinegar for getting themselves and their families and friends through the sniffly time.

You can buy fire cider vinegar at the farmers market or some stores, but if you are so inclined, you can make your won and customize it your taste or what you have available (though I think with its heat flavor isn’t as much of a consideration). Making your own is also much cheaper if costs are a consideration. and ingredients can be purchased with SNAP benefits!

Fire cider (often with “vinegar” left off the name) is an old way of infusing cold-and-flu-bug-busting herbs and making them palatable and easy to take. It was named over Fire Cider Vinegar over 30 years ago by Rosemary Gladstar, who began sharing her version of the recipe; it now has almost as many variation as people who make it.

You can take fire cider vinegar to help your immune system fight off what’s around, at the start of cold or flu symptoms (and sometimes it seems to stop them, though no guarantees), or it seems to lessen the severity of the cold or flu, though again no promises.

 How to take Fire Cider Vinegar (FCV): Most people don’t take it straight, but diluted in some way. Take a tablespoon or two (or a glug or two from the bottle is it in) and put it in a glass of water, juice, or a cup of tea–you decide how much it needs to be diluted. You can take it every couple of hours, or, when you are feeling better, a 2 or 3 times a day.

You can also use FCV in a mixed drink, or use it in salad dressing–for some or all of the vinegar portion.

Below are two recipes, one from my friend Charles Garcia (, a wonderful Hispanic herbalist, and one from me with interesting choices and no particular measurements.

Fire Cider Recipe from Charles Garcia

Ingredients (makes about 2 quarts):
2 glass quart jars
1 heaping teaspoon of black pepper for each jar
1 lemon in 4 slices (2 for each jar)
3 small slices of apple
1/2 diced red onions
16 garlic cloves (8 for each jar)
Approximately 2 ounces sliced fresh ginger
Approximately 2 1/4 ounces horse radish in 1 inch chunks
1 Anaheim or Serrano pepper sliced into 1/4 inch slices,
separate them into equal amounts for each jar
20 Allspice seeds split evenly for each jar
2 heaping Tablespoons of honey for each jar

Pack everything tightly in each jar. Fill with apple cider vinegar. Allow bubbles to escape and add more vinegar.

Seal and shake. Keep in fridge. Shake every day. After three weeks remove all solid material and keep the liquid in the jars and use as needed.

Fire Cider Vinegar ingredients, waiting for vinegar

Fire Cider Vinegar ingredients, waiting for vinegar

A Recipe for Fire Cider Vinegar by Iris Weaver

Take some garlic, onions, hot peppers, horseradish or garlic mustard root, any herbs that are anti-microbial or anti-inflammatory, etc., that are in your garden or cupboard, whatever else appeals to you. Use whatever amounts you like or have on hand. Warning: go easy with the horse radish; from experience too much makes the fire cider tooo firey!

Chop the herbs, put in a jar, top with ACV (organic and local if possible) and let sit at least 6 weeks. When you strain it out, add local raw honey if you like (some people add honey in with the vinegar while it is steeping). To me this is easy–no fussy measuring or worrying about having just the “right” herbs! Oh, and if you have someone who can’t do alliums, just eliminate the garlic and onions.

The usual herbs that seem to be the base of any fire cider recipe are garlic, horseradish, ginger, and hot peppers. But, again, use what you’ve got.

Dose: 1 to 3 teaspoons in water, juice, tea, several times a day. This is also great added to soups, stir-fries, and salad dressings (but be careful how much you use–hot, hot, hot!).

Suggested herbs and other ingredients (fresh or dried; organic if possible):

  • Hot peppers/chilis
  • Ginger
  • Horseradish, or wasabi radish, or garlic mustard roots
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Astragalus root
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Lemon Balm
  • Bee Balm
  • Peppermint/Spearmint
  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Lemons
  • Oranges
  • Turmeric
  • Organic, raw Apple Cider Vinegar

Decide whether you want to make a quart, a half-gallon, or a gallon, and have appropriately sized jars, or use what you have!

Use organic citrus and ginger, and herbs if you buy them. Chop up your fresh herbs, onions, garlic, horse radish, etc. and slice your citrus if using (don’t worry about peeling it).

Fill your jar between 1/4 to 3/4 full with chopped ingredients, and then fill with apple cider vinegar to bottom of where lid sits. You can also add a bit of honey, you decide how much, in place of the vinegar and let it all infuse together. Put on lid and let infuse.

Make note of what herbs and ingredients you used and the date, Helpful for labeling and if anyone wants to know what’s in there.

Let it sit for 6 weeks or longer and then strain out the solids and bottle and use. Enjoy!

Making an Herbal Tincture with the Folkloric Method

hand-made herbal products

Tinctures and other herbal goodies.

Making your own tinctures is very simple and a considerable savings over buying them. They are really useful in a number of situations, such as traveling, emergencies, taking an herb over a long period of time, and more. Some tinctures can also be used externally, in which case they are known as liniments.

The way I learned to make tinctures was to use fresh plant material, and this is what I do most often. There are times, though, when I do use dry plant material, and I will give instructions for that further down.

With the folkloric method there is no figuring out ratios or measuring out proportions of alcohol to water to quantity of herb. One puts together plant material and alcohol in a simple mix and lets it soak (macerate) for a few weeks or longer.

Generally, 100-proof vodka is used (though some herbalists prefer 80-proof vodka or will use other alcohols, such as brandy). Hundred-proof vodka is used because it has equal amounts of alcohol and water, and this is the mix that is often used for dosages.

The vodka is your menstruum, the liquid in which you are macerating your plant material.

Making the Herbal Tincture with Fresh Plant Material

For making tinctures in the folkloric method, you need only a few materials:
• The plant/s you are going to tincture
• A sharp knife or scissors for chopping plant material
• 100-proof vodka
• A clean jar
• Labels

yarrow tincture macerating

Yarrow leaves and flowers being macerated in 100-proof vodka.

To make a tincture with fresh plant material, you need to gather it from your garden, wildcraft it, or get it from a supplier, such as the farmer at your local farmers market. Coarsely chop or cut up your plant material. It doesn’t have to be really small, but it shouldn’t be really large pieces, either. You want the menstruum to have lots of access to the plant material.

Now lightly pack your plant material into a clean, dry jar just to the bottom of the lid ring. You don’t want to pack it tightly, but you also want more than a few sprigs of herb. The plant matter should be slightly springy.

Then pour in the 100-proof vodka and fill the jar to a little above the top of the plant matter. Screw on the lid.

Label your jar with the date, the herb, and the vodka that you used. Labeling is important because it assures that you know what herb/s and what oil/s you used. Don’t rely on your memory, my experience has proven that it is notoriously forgetful!

Check the jar in 24 hours and top-up the vodka if necessary, because the plants may have absorbed some and the level may have dropped.
Put your jar in a dark place to macerate. Let it sit for at least six weeks, checking it occasionally. Some herbalists say that a few days or couple of weeks are enough, but I believe that six weeks gives lots of time for the menstruum to pull out all of the plant’s constituents, and to really absorb the energy of the plant.

Some herbalists also like to shake the jar every day or every few days, sing to the plants or say prayers, etc.

After six weeks, you can strain out the plant matter. You can leave it longer without any problems. I have sometimes left tinctures macerating for a couple of years (or longer). In Chinese medicine, the medicine of the tincture is considered to be stronger the longer it soaks.

To strain, use a couple layers of cheese cloth or clean muslin, or a fine-meshed strainer or colander. I like to put a couple layers of cheesecloth in a strainer. Don’t use a coffee filter or paper towels, the pores are too fine and will clog up, and then you’ll be waiting all day for your oil to strain.

Squeeze any leftover menstruum from the plant matter with your hands or a spoon. (You can put the spent plant matter in your compost or fireplace or trash.)

Put your tincture into another clean, dry glass jar. Label this jar also with the herb/s, menstruum, and date. Light-protective bottles or jars, such as brown Boston rounds, are preferable to clear glass. If you use clear glass, definitely put your tincture in a dark cupboard protected from light. Light helps break down the tincture and lessens its efficacy.

Boston rounds--small bottles

Boston rounds: 1 oz., 2 oz., 1/2 oz., and 8 oz.

Store you tincture in a cool, dark place. You can put it in 1- or 2-ounce Boston rounds with droppers when you are ready to use it.

Using Dry Plant Material for Your Tincture

I don’t usually use dry plant material, but occasionally I have a need to. According to Susun Weed, dried leaves and flowers break down too much in the drying to make good medicines. Dried roots, seeds, and berries hold up to drying better and can be used for dry plant tinctures.

To make a tincture with dry plant material, use 1 ounce (by weight) of dry plant material to 5 ounces of 100-proof vodka. Let sit for at least 6 weeks before straining.
I have been making tinctures for many years now and have had good results using my home-made tinctures. Let me know what you have tinctured and how you used it, I’d love to know!

Early Spring Musings

evening primrose rosette

Evening primrose rosette.

At the end of this oddly warm winter we are experiencing yo-yo days and nights of wildly fluctuating temperatures, sometimes in the range of 30 degrees in a 24-hour span. It’s great for the maple sugaring folks, but I wonder how the vast community of plants in general is doing.

Since we didn’t have much snow cover this winter I’ve been able to see the wild plants and weeds of lawns and fields that normally are buried in snow. They seem to have withstood the weather just fine, as many of them evolved, I think, to be impervious to a wide range of conditions.

A recent blog post from fellow herbalist Abby Artemisia made me think about what was underfoot as I walk to and from the train, and nose around the small greenhouse that is part of my housing development. The post, available here, mentions two of the plants already showing themselves in the Asheville, NC, area—chickweed and ox-eye daisy (the daisy is just putting out its basal leaf rosette at this point), then gives simple directions for making an easy infused herbal vinegar that can be made with any herb/s or wild plant/s of your choice. (A clarifying note: I generally use equal amounts of vinegar and fresh plant material, and less dry plant matter than vinegar with dry herbs.)

I have been seeing dandelion leaves and an occasional flower, mullein leave rosettes, garlic mustard, evening primrose basal rosettes, and many other plants popping up. With the high winds that have been sweeping through in recent weeks, there are large numbers of fallen twigs and branches of white pine, the needles of which make a great infused vinegar. Though chickweed is a cool-weather plant that you can even sometimes find outdoor in January, the only place I have seen it recently is the greenhouse. I also have a mullein plant that settled itself in the pot where my passionflower lives.

Even though it’s not yet officially spring, there are plenty of robust, hardy plants coming up that are perfect candidates for the vinegar jar, salad bowl, or soup pot.

What’s in your yard right now? Let me know in the comments section below.

And if you would like help learning to identify the plants in your yard or other areas, come take a plant walk with me! My walks start again in April, and continue through October. Check my class schedule for dates and locations.

Making an Herbal Wreath From Gathered and Foraged Plants, Part 2  

Plants drying hung on a pegboard.

Plants drying on a pegboard, using long hooks. I also use the usual pegboard hooks. (The wreaths are already dried.)

Herbal wreaths are so beautiful, and summer is the perfect time not only to be making them, but collecting materials to dry for future wreaths. In part 2 of Making an Herbal Wreath, I discuss how to dry and store what you want to save for later projects, and give you a list of suggested herbs, flowers, and plants.

There are many plants—herbs, flowers, “weeds”—that grow in our gardens or in fields, empty lots, woods, that are perfect for including in wreaths. Below is a list of some suggested plants. Don’t be limited by what is on there. If there is something you think might be pretty or dry well, try it! If it doesn’t work out, don’t let that discourage you, try something else next time. Experiment and have fun! Or just use what you already know will work.

Methods for Drying Plants, Flowers, etc. for Wreaths

There are a number of ways to dry to plants, flowers, and herbs for wreath-making. I will cover a few of them that are quick and simple, though I know there are others.

Hanging Your Bunches

The quickest, simplest way to dry plants, in my opinion, is to hang them in bunches. Simply pick whatever you are going to dry with at least 4 “ stems, tie them together with a piece of string with a loop at one end or put a rubber band tightly around them, and hang. Use just a few stems per bunch; if you make it too thick, things may not dry adequately.

Queen Anne's lace and a bit of yarrow hung to dry

Queen Anne’s lace and a bit of yarrow hung to dry (with Evening primrose leaves drying as well, they are for soup stock.)

They can be hung from pegs on a peg board, as I do, or pegs on any sort of coat-rack or board with pegs. If you have something with slats that you can hang from the ceiling, you can use unbent paper clips as hooks for hanging the bunches. If you don’t have anything else, you can use a coat hanger and unbend paper clips to use as hooks to hang the plant bunch on the hanger.

Be aware that the petals of your flowers will all point down or in the same direction, as they are being hung upside down. That means that if you want a flower with the petals spread out you will have to dry it by a different method, which I go over below. Flowers can look lovely with the shape they take from being hung to dry, but it may not be what you were expecting.

Laying Things Flat to Dry

If you have a window screen or, even better, a door screen that you can lay flat, you can simply place your plant material on the screen, remembering to place it in a position that will look good when it is dry. Remember not crowd your plants or allow them to cover each other, or they won’t dry well.

If you have a large enough basket, then that will also serve as a good service on which to lay your plant material to dry, and it will give adequate air circulation for good drying.

Other Methods of Drying

To have the petals of a flower spreading out from the center of the flower when it is dry, there are 2 things you can do.

You can take a bottle, such as a water or wine bottle, and put one flower into it so that the head of the flower rests against the mouth of the bottle. This way the petals will dry spreading away from the center. However, if they are long, they will then be pointing backwards from the center, so be aware of that.

You can also take a tray from a nursery that has a criss-crossed or hatched bottom. Many nurseries have these for customers to use in taking their plants home. The many small openings make it possible to stick a stem through the opening while the head of the flower cannot go through. Spread out the petals to dry and they will then be in a lovely circle around the center of the flower. You must prop the tray up on something so that there is room for the stems to hang down and dry. You can do a number of flowers on one tray this way.

Storing Your Dried Flowers and Plant Material

When you have dried your flowers and other plant material, such as seed pods, that you will be using later on, you will need to store it.

I like to use shoe boxes that I can label with the contents. If I have enough plant material I will sort it by colors and types.

A covered basket also works well for storing your plant material.

Plants to use in Wreaths

Here is list of plants and flowers to use in wreaths. Some can be used either fresh or dried, and some are better just used fresh. I have indicated whether the plants can be used fresh, dried, or both.

These are herbs, flowers, and other plants that can be grown in your garden or foraged/wild-crafted.

Legend: f=fresh  d=dried


Dried black-eyed Susans

Dried black-eyed Susans waiting to be used in a wreath.

Anise hyssop-f,d
Baby’s breath (gypsophila)-f,d
Basil flowers-f,d
Bee balm-f,d
Black-eyed Susans-f,d
Catnip flowers-f,d
Chive blossoms-f,d
Cockscomb (celosia)-f,d
Cornflowers or bachelor’s buttons-f,d
Delphinium, larkspur-f,d
Dusty miller flowers-f,d
Flowers of artemisias, mugwort, wormwood, southernwood-f
Globe amaranth-f,d
Lamb’s ears flowers-f,d
Mint flowers (all varieties)-f,d
Oregano flowers—f,d
Pearly everlasting-f,d
Queen Anne’s lace-f,d
Red clover-f,d
Sage flowers-f,d
Sea lavender-f,d
Some asters-f,d
Sweet Annie-f
Yarrow (all colors; cultivated and wild)-f,d

Leafy plants/herbs:

Artemisias-silver king and queen, silver mound, Powis Castle-f
Dusty miller-f
Lamb’s ears-f,d
Opal or purple basils-f
Sage (regular green sage is best, purple dries brown)-f
Sweet Annie-f

Seed heads:

Anise hyssop
Bee balm
Curly dock
Evening primrose
Hibiscus, hollyhock, some mallows
Lamb’s ears
Rose of Sharon

If you love herbal wreaths but aren’t able to make your own, I make beautiful wreaths and would be happy to make you one, or have you select from a few that I have already made.



Making an Herbal Wreath From Gathered and Foraged Plants, Part 1

feverfew and artemisia wreath

Fresh feverfew and Sliver Queen artemisia wreath before drying.

One of the best ways to enjoy the beauty of herbs is with an herbal wreath or arrangement of dried herbs. Making a wreath is wonderfully creative and lots of fun. This blog post gives instructions and suggestions for making a wreath with herbs and flowers to hang on a wall, a door, or use as a centerpiece.

There are a few materials and supplies that you need to gather before you start your wreath, and a few decisions to make.

Types of Wreaths

dock seed stalk wreath

Dock seed stalk wreath.

There are several kinds of herbal wreaths. Wreaths made with fresh herbs and then dried, wreaths made with already dried herbs, wreaths made a combination of both. Wreaths made with just one herb, such as a sage or chive blossom wreath, or wreaths made only with herbs, or wreaths made with flowers and herbs, or wreaths made with all flowers. Also, wreaths made specifically with culinary herbs to be used for seasoning in the kitchen.

There are various ways to make wreaths, from wiring herbs onto a base, to gluing them on, to poking them into the spaces of a vine wreath base or a styrofoam base. The instructions I am giving you are my way of making a wreath, which is wiring the herbs onto a vine base, using fresh herbs or a combination of fresh and dried herbs and flowers.

Gathering Your Supplies

Supplies you need:

  • Wreath base
  • Herbs and/or flowers—fresh, dried, or combo
  • Wreath wire
  • Scissors (that you can cut thin wire with) and/or wire cutters

Wreath base: Get one made from vines, usually grapevine, or other vines that you have collected yourself and fashioned into a wreath shape.

Wreath-making wire: This comes in a couple of different gauges, I find the thinner wire easy to handle, but I have small hands, and you might find the thicker wire easier to handle. It also comes in silver or green, and I don’t have a preference, since I try to make the sure the wire doesn’t show anyway.

Scissors and/or wire cutters: Use scissors you don’t mind messing up, because you can cut the wire with them. Conversely, for the most part you can cut plant materials with wire-cutters also, so either will do. I usually use a pair of craft scissors or plant scissors.

Design for Your Wreath (How You Want It to Look)

artemisia, cornflower, black-eyed susan wreath

Silver Queen artemisia, Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed susan, and cornflower wreath.

You may not be thinking “design” when it comes to making a wreath, and I don’t usually think in those terms, but when you are gathering your plant materials and deciding what colors and textures to put together, you are actually in design mode. Even a decision to only use one herb is a design decision.

When you are designing your wreath, or figuring out what you want it to look like, there are a few things to consider:

  • Size: an estimate of the finished size, since it will be bigger than the base
  • What herb or herbs and/or flowers you want to use; single herb, multi-herb, etc.
  • Use fresh, dry, or combo of the two?
  • Colors and arrangement of colors
  • Is there a focal point for the wreath, and if so, top or bottom?

Now you want to actually plan your design and start putting your herbs together. Think about repetition and what colors and textures you want repeated and in what order and how often.

Making Your Herb Bunches

For your bunches you can either use fresh herbs, dried herbs, or a combination of both.

To begin the process of getting plant material onto the wreath base, start with making bunches of herbs that will be attached to the wreath base with a continuous piece of wreath wire. (To have an adequate length of wire that is easy to manipulate, wind several yards of wire onto a small piece of cardboard piece or popsicle stick. It will be easy to maneuver into small spaces of your wreath.)

To make an herb bunch, take several stems of herb and/or flowers and group them together. Wind a short piece of wire around the stems near the bottom of the bunch to hold them together. This will make it much easier to hold in place as you are wiring it onto the base. As you become more adept at the process you can choose to skip this step, but don’t at the beginning, you will have a much easier time!

Don’t make the bunch too thick, nor longer than about 4 to 5 inches or so, unless you have a very big wreath base. Too thick or long a bunch makes for an unwieldy, awkward-looking wreath. Make sure the bunches are approximately the same size for a prettier, more consistent look.

You can make all your bunches at once and then wire them onto your base, or you can make a few bunches at a time and attach them as you go.

Putting It All Together

Think about where on the wreath base you will start and end. I like to start somewhere in the middle of the left side, but that’s just my personal preference.

first 2 bunches of herbs on grapevine wreath base

The first 2 bunches of herbs on grapevine wreath base.

I don’t recommend starting at the very top or bottom. Getting the ends tucked in under the first bunch can be awkward, and you don’t want the join to be in a conspicuous spot. If your focal point is the top or the bottom, you definitely don’t want to end at your focal point.

Start with putting 2 bunches together side by side on the wreath base, and wind wire tightly around them and the base to attach.

third bunch of herbs on wreath base

The third bunch of herbs on outside of wreath base.

Now put another bunch on the outer side of the wreath, down slightly from first bunches, covering the wire on the first set of bunches. Attach with the wire.

Now put another bunch on the inner side of the wreath base, down slightly from the first 2 bunches, covering the wire already on the base. Continue with another bunch on the outside of the wreath base, then the inside, and so on. You are overlapping the top of one bunch over the bottom of the previous bunch and thus gradually moving around the curve of the wreath base.

fourth bunch of herbs on wreath base

The fourth bunch of herbs on the inside of wreath base.

You want to be covering the wire with your bunches, as this makes the finished wreath much more attractive. If you have a lot of wire showing you can cover it with bunches as explained in supplementing your wreath.

When you finish your wreath, you will want to make sure it has a loop for hanging at the top. You can make a loop with wreath wire, other wire, a pipe cleaner, or even a paper clip.

The Finished Wreath

If you have any fresh plant material, in other words not dried, you MUST leave the wreath lying flat until everything is dried, or the fresh plant material will droop and it will look awful.

How long will it take for your wreath to dry? That depends on how much material is in your wreath and how damp or dry the weather is. You can test it periodically to make sure it’s dry.

Once your wreath is dry, or finished, you can hang it where you like. Make sure you don’t hang it in the sun or over a heat source, like a radiator, or it won’t last very long.

How long will your wreath last? Depends on the plants and where you have it and what you consider is over the hill. Some wreaths can last for years, others will be pretty for just a year or two.

Why Use Fresh vs. Dry Herbs and Flowers?

There are reasons to sometimes use fresh plant material or dried plant material.

One of the big reasons to use fresh plant material is that it is much easier to shape and it won’t break.

There are some herbs that I think it’s essential to use fresh, such as sage. Sage is very fragile when it’s dry, and will break and shatter easily. It will not fit prettily onto a round base and will be rather awkward. Often the leafy herbs I use as the foundation in a wreath are fresh—usually artemisias such as mugwort or silver queen artemisia ( a garden plant related to sage brush) or garden sage.

On the other hand, using dried flowers allows you to have flowers from a number of different seasons. You can dry chive blossoms that bloom in spring and combine them with zinnias that bloom in fall. Or daisies and goldenrod, and so on.

One thing to keep in mind is that plant material shrinks as it dries, and so your flowers may not be as showy when dry and your wreath may not be as full as when made it.

If you find your wreath doesn’t look as full or colorful as you like, you can easily fix it by supplementing the plant material.

Supplementing the Wreath

plant bunch pick

The plant bunch with twisted wire pick for inserting into wreath.

Sometimes you may want to add plant matter or flowers to a finished wreath, for added color or interest, or to fill out a wreath that looks too skimpy.

You can do this by making bunches that you wire at the ends with a bit of twisted wire poking out to poke into the wreath. Sometimes you can just push in a piece of herb or flower if it has a strong enough stem.

Where to Get Supplies, Including Plant Material

You can get wreath-making wire at Michael’s or A.C. Moore, or other craft shops. You can get wreath bases at these stores.

You can also get some dried plants and flowers at these stores.

If you pick or buy flowers and herbs it is easy to dry them.

Some places to find your plant material: your garden or yard or a friend’s, wild-crafting (picking them where they grow wild), farmers markets, florists, bouquets and centerpieces that are left over after an event.

I ‘m sorry I don’t have online sources for you, so if you want to order supplies of dried plants on-line, you will have to do the research.

More Information Next Time

In my next blog post I will give a list of plants and flowers to use in wreaths and several methods of drying them for use in wreaths

Have You Made a Wreath?

If you have made a wreath, please post a picture to show us what it looks like!

All photos and wreaths by Iris Weaver.

Herbal Infusions and Teas

infusion in quart jar

An infusion of peppermint, lemon balm, and bee balm leaves and flowers (all from my garden)

Want to drink something delicious and healthy, cheap and simple to make, and easy to carry with you? Herbal infusions are the perfect answer! They are one of the most basic and easy ways to enjoy herbs and get their wonderful benefits.

What is an herbal infusion? It is simply a water extract of one or more herbs. It is stronger than an herbal tea, and takes more herb material. But it is as easy to make as a loose-leaf tea.

Because there can be confusion as to what is an infusion and a tea, and the differences, if any, between them, let’s define them, at least for the purposes of this article.

Many herbalists and herbals use one or the other term and they seem to mean the same thing, referring to a water-based extraction that uses a fairly small amount of herb steeped for 10 or 15 minutes or maybe half an hour (to me this is a tea). At other times the term tea refers to using a large amount of herb matter steeped for a short period of time. However, my understanding of the difference between an infusion and a tea, gained in part from Susun Weed, is that an infusion is much stronger and more concentrated than a tea.

My definition of teas and infusions is this: A tea uses 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of herb/s per cup of boiling water, steeped about 5 to 15 minutes. An infusion uses 1 ounce of herb material to 1 pint to 1 quart of boiling water, and is steeped anywhere from ½ hour to 8 hours or overnight, depending on the herb.

An herbal tea may be drunk for its medicinal properties or for the pleasure of its taste, or both. An infusion is quite often clearly medicinal and will often be used for its medicinal qualities.

Often, I am not sure quite what I want from my herbal drink—do I want something medicinal, just something that tastes good, or both? I will end up doing something that is between a tea and an infusion, using a goodly quantity of herb/s—more than a tea requires, but less than an infusion. I end up with a strongly-flavored drink that is at least somewhat medicinal and often tastes good, if I’ve gotten the right blend of herbs (I am always using different combinations, again depending on my mood).

Herbal Teas

Making herbal teas is fun! Don’t be afraid to experiment with combinations of various herbs you like and try different amounts mixed together. When it comes to taste, there is no right or wrong, only what delights your mouth and your senses.

In my experience, using a good quantity of herbs for your tea makes for a better tasting brew. If you think herb teas are insipid and weak, then you probably have not been using nearly enough herb matter for a cup of tea. Use more! The taste will be surprisingly robust and may truly change your mind (or your friends’) about what an herbal tea can be.


Generally, the proportion of herb to water for tea is to use about a tablespoon of dry herb to a cup of boiling water. Pour the freshly boiled water over the herb, cover (to keep in the essential oils and other good stuff), let steep for 15 minutes, then uncover and sip. You can add sugar, honey, maple syrup, or stevia for sweetening, and/or milk of your choice. Enjoy!


dry herbs for infusion in quart jar

Dry herbs ready to be infused

An infusion is made by soaking plant material (usually dried) in water that has been brought to a boil. The infusion steeps anywhere from ½ hour to 8 hours, depending on the plant material being infused. Boiling water must be used to break open the cell walls of the plant to allow them to release their constituents. Make sure you have good strainer to strain out your herb material.

What you need:

  • A heat-proof pint or quart jar, such as a spaghetti jar or canning (mason) jar (You can also use a cooking pot or pan that has a lid.)
  • A lid to fit the top of the jar, screw-on and tight-fitting if you will be transporting your infusion.
  • Boiling water
  • Herb/s
  • Strainer


Using the proportions of plant material to water below, put your herb material into the heat-proof jar with a lid or other covering that won’t allow steam to escape. Bring your water to a boil, pour over the plant material in the jar to the bottom of where the lid comes, and cover. (The lid needs to be kept on to keep volatile constituents from escaping.) Now let it steep for the time indicated for the plant materials you have used. When you are ready to drink it, strain it out with your strainer into another jar or into a cup or mug.

Usually it’s easiest to infuse one herb at a time. If infusing an herb blend, infuse for the time needed for the ingredient that gets infused for the shortest time. For instance, if you’re infusing a blend that includes anise seeds or hawthorn berries, even if it includes roots, you will only let it sit for ½ hour. If you’re using a blend that includes chamomile flowers, you’ll only let it sit for 2 hours, and so forth.

However, I don’t worry too much about being exact when I am steeping an infusion, and often mine sit for hours before I get to them.

Infusions can be drunk warm or cold. If you’ve let it steep for several hours, you can warm it up on the stove or in the microwave.

flowers and herbs infusion in quart jar

Flowers and herbs infused, ready to be strained for an herbal bath

Infusions are easy to take with you in their jars, strained or not. They only last about 24 to 36 hours, even with refrigeration, so plan on making fresh infusions every day or two. If it starts smelling or tasting off, let it go—give it the plants, indoors or out.

Infusions can also be used as the basis for other herbal products, such as shampoos, or as the base for soups, drinks, and other herbal consumables.


For all parts of a plant, except roots and bark, the proportion is 1 ounce of dried plant material to 1 quart of boiling water. For roots and bark, it is 1 ounce of plant material to one pint of boiling water. See chart below.

                                    Length of Time for Infusing

Plant Part           Amount            Jar/Water       Length of infusion

Roots/Barks     1 oz./30 g.         pint/500 ml      8 hours minimum

Leaves              1 oz./30 g.         quart/liter       4 hours minimum

Flowers             1 oz./30 g.         quart/liter       2 hours maximum

Seeds/Berries  1 oz./30 g.          pint/500 ml    30 minutes maximum

The information on making infusions and the table of proportions are from The Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise by Susun Weed, Ash Tree Press, 1989.

Glowing Skin with DIY Sugar or Salt Scrubs

sugar-salt scrub in gold-capped jarSo the holiday season is over and you’re tired, wan, and your skin feels like an alligator’s from the cold weather. On top of which, no one gave you anything to make your skin happy! Insert your unhappy face here…

In about 10 minutes you can make yourself a lovely scrub that will leave you feeling rejuvenated and your skin soft and happy. It’s easy to make with ingredients you most likely already have in the kitchen, except for the essential oils (unless you’re like me, and the essential oils are in a cupboard right there).

Here’s what you need (more about the ingredients below) and what you do:

-Organic sugar or evaporated sugar cane crystals
or Sea salt or other natural salt of your choice
-Organic oil—olive, almond, sesame, or other oil of your choice,          preferably infused with a skin-loving herb (e.g., calendula)
-Essential oils (optional)
-Clean, dry jar

 SuperFacial Sugar Scrub

½ C. sugar, plus a little more
¼ C. oil of your choice
Essential oil/s of your choice—32 to 40 drops

Mix sugar and oil together. If you don’t like the texture—too soupy or too hard, add a little more sugar or oil until it’s the texture you like. If you want scent, add the essential oils you like. You can use more than one essential oil for scent, but the total number of drops should be 32 to 40 to begin with. You can add more if you want the scent to be stronger.

Put your scrub in a clean, dry jar and label it. You’re all set to go! (Your scrub may separate; if so, just take a clean spoon and stir it back up.)

This makes a wonderful scrub for your face but can also be used for a body scrub!

Invigorating Salt Scrub

½ C. sea salt, plus a little more
¼ C. oil of your choice
Essential oil/s of your choice—32 to 40 drops

Mix salt and oil together. If you don’t like the texture—too soupy or too hard, add a little more salt or oil until it’s the texture you like. If you want scent, add the essential oils you like. You can use more than one essential oil for scent, but the total number of drops should be 32 to 40 to begin with. You can add more if you want the scent to be stronger.

Put your scrub in a clean, dry jar and label it. You’re all set to go! (Your scrub may separate; if so, just take a clean spoon and stir it back up.)

This makes a fabulous scrub for your whole body and all the rough places that need smoothing out!

Sugar and Salt Scrub

¼ C. sugar
¼ C. sea salt, plus a little more
¼ C. oil of your choice
Essential oil/s of your choice—32 to 40 drops

Mix sugar and salt together, then add and mix in the oil. If you don’t like the texture—too soupy or too hard, add a little more salt or oil until it’s the texture you like. If you want scent, add the essential oils you like. You can use more than one essential oil for scent, but the total number of drops should be 32 to 40 to begin with. You can add more if you want the scent to be stronger.

Put your scrub in a clean, dry jar and label it. You’re all set to go! (Your scrub may separate; if so, just take a clean spoon and stir it back up.)

This makes a terrific combo scrub for your whole body and all the rough places that need smoothing out!

 Why Use These Ingredients

There are good reasons for using the ingredients in this simple but effective recipe. Sugar and salt both have an effect on the skin, and the oils we use for skin care are good for the skin.

Sugar is slightly acidic and can act like retinoic acid and help clear off dead skin cells and expose new skin. It can leave your face and skin feeling very fresh.

Sea salt is rich in minerals and helps remove dead skin cells and dirt when used as a scrub, as well as stimulating circulation. Be aware that it can burn broken skin.

Vegetable Oils—olive, almond, grapeseed, sesame, and more all have marvelous nutrients that can nourish and heal the skin in various ways, as well as help with hydration. It’s your choice as to which oil you choose. Olive oil tends to be heavier and the other oils mentioned tend to be lighter. Remember you won’t have it sitting on your skin for long. If you have oily skin or are prone to breakouts, avoid olive oil at least on your face.

Herbs that are good for the skin, such as calendula, chamomile, comfrey, and more, have nutrients that affect the skin and can help with soothing and healing. When you infuse them in oil, you get the benefits on your skin through the oil. Click here for an article on making an herbally-infused oil.

Essential oils make your product smell good and can have an effect on your skin and even your mood, depending on the oil. For example, lavender will be more soothing, peppermint more stimulating. It’s up to you to decide what pleases you and makes you feel good when you use your scrub.

I hope you have fun making a scrub or two for yourself! Let me know how it turns out in the comments section.

Foraged Blackberry Vinegar and Syrup: Summer Goodness Year ′Round


Blackberries–ripe, unripe, and very unripe

Blackberries in summer—what could be better? The blackberries on the canes edging the woods near my house are starting to ripen and I am starting to harvest them. I will of course be popping them straight into my mouth, but I will also save some for my morning oatmeal, find room in the freezer for a few, and make my favorites: blackberry vinegar and blackberry syrup.

Blackberry vinegar is the first step to making blackberry syrup, and they are both really easy to do. I used them both to make a delicious drink last winter, until I ran out of the vinegar. Needless to say, I will make and have on hand more vinegar this year!

Before I give you the directions for making these delightful products, let’s take a quick look at blackberry.

It is a plant in the Rose family, and as with other members of this family, its white flowers have five petals. There are a number of species of blackberries, and they are native to many parts of the world, including Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Australia. There are blackberries that grow in great bushy piles, with canes many feet long and wicked thorns, and there are blackberries that trail along the ground, called dewberries.

Thimbleberry Rubus_parviflorus in flower

Flower of thimbleberry, a species of blackberry.

I don’t worry too much about what species I am picking from, for I know that whatever it is, it’s edible and that’s what counts!

It is a perennial, meaning the plant lives for a number of years. It spreads readily by root extension, and can be very invasive, with very strong, persistent roots. This is great if you want lots of berries, not so great when you have to keep pulling prickly shoots out of your garden.

According to A Modern Herbal, blackberry flowers, leaves, and fruit were used for various health issues from ancient times. However, in the present the parts of the plant that are used medicinally are the leaves and the roots, both of which contain a good proportion of tannins, though the root more so. The astringency of the tannins contributes to their medicinal actions. The berries may also be used medicinally.

In years past I have dried the leaves, sometimes mixing them with raspberry leaves, and used them for a pleasant tasting tea which is slightly reminiscent of black tea, or mixed them with other herbs in herbal teas.

Blackberries are ripe when they easily pull away from the vine. They don’t ripen off the vine, so don’t try harvesting any before they are actually ripe. The nice thing about blackberries is that they ripen over a period of several weeks, so you can go back a few times to get more.

Here are the instructions for making, first, Blackberry Vinegar, and then Blackberry Syrup (the recipe is from A Modern Herbal). I suggest you make some of each as they are both delightful. Remember that you can also use the vinegar for salads and desserts, and the syrup is lovely on ice cream, too.

 Blackberry Vinegar

1 quart of ripe blackberries, destemmed
Vinegar—apple cider, red wine, or malt

Fill a quart jar with blackberries to just below the threads where the lid fits. Fill the jar with vinegar until the berries are just covered. Put on the lid and let sit for three days to draw the juice out.

After 3 days strain through a sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth.

Let your berries sit and drip for a few hours until the vinegar-juice has finished straining.

At this point you can bottle it up with a pretty label and use the vinegar, or you can make Blackberry Syrup.

Note: If you are using raw apple cider vinegar, as I do, your vinegar may get a white bloom on top. I am not sure what that is, whether it is the growth of a vinegar mother or something else. If this concerns you, simply put your vinegar in a pan and boil gently for few minutes to pasteurize it.

Blackberry Syrup

bottle of blackberry syrup

The end of last year’s blackberry syrup.

1 pint blackberry vinegar
1 pound sugar—can be raw, sugar cane crystals, etc.

Place vinegar and sugar in a pan. Heat to boiling and gently boil for 5 minutes, removing any scum that arises. Let cool and bottle with a pretty label.

Note: I used slightly less sugar than this recipe calls for and my syrup came out fine. You can experiment and see how much sugar you want to use.

According to A Modern Herbal, 1 teaspoon of the syrup, mixed with a glass of water, “will often quench thirst when other beverages fail and makes a delicious drink in fever.” It makes “a fine cordial for a feverish cold.”

I find that putting the vinegar and syrup together makes a drink that is tasty and very thirst-quenching. Here are proportions to start with, and then you can adjust to your own taste.

Blackberry Tonic

1 qt. water or carbonated water
1/3 to 1/2 cup blackberry syrup
1/4 cup blackberry vinegar

Mix and enjoy! You can pour it over ice for a refreshing drink on a hot day.

A  Modern Herbal by Mrs. Maude Grieve, originally published in 1931, reprint available from Dover. Online version:

The Berry Bible by Janie Hibler, 2004, William Morrow


Three Herbs to Forage Now for Year-Round Skincare

marigolds in basket

Marigolds drying

If you like making your own skincare products then summer is prime time for gathering herbs and making the basics that you will use for your skincare all year long.

Here are 3 herbs that can be wild-crafted or foraged to either dry or infuse in oil, alcohol, or vinegar: plantain, St. John’s wort, and yarrow. All of them are available or ready for harvest around mid-summer (the month of June) or soon thereafter, depending on the weather and local factors.

Drying the herbs or infusing them in oil or vinegar or vodka are ways to both preserve the herbs for longer use than if you only use them fresh, and also to make their properties more readily available to your skin, as well as make them available for a wide range of uses.

Dried herbs can be used in poultices and compresses, as infusions for washing or rinsing the skin, in baths, and facial steams. Herbal oils can be used directly on the skin or hair, or as the basis for salves, lotions, scrubs, massage oils, and more. Herbal vinegars can be diluted and used for skin toners, hair conditioners, and to treat rashes and other unpleasant skin ailments. Tinctures can be a great asset in quickly treating bites, rashes, scratches, pimples, and other skin discomforts.

Here are the 3 herbs to wild-craft now:

Narrow-leaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata) in flower

Narrow-leaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata) in flower

Plantain (Plantago major, Plantago lanceolata): Parts used—leaves

Both species are perennial herbs with rosettes of leaves and flowering stalks that stand above the leaves. The two species, both introduced from Europe and naturalized in the U.S., are used interchangeably.

P. major, greater plantain or broad-leafed plantain, has wide leaves that mostly stay close to the ground; P. lanceolata has narrow leaves that are more upstanding.

I tend to harvest the leaves throughout the season, as I am able to grab them and deal with them, drying them or infusing in oil. However, I find that the leaves are in the best shape (less insect and fungus damage) earlier in the season, and I don’t have to pick through so many leaves to find the best ones. If you are drying the leaves, spread them out well and dry them quickly, so they are less likely to discolor.

The fresh leaves of either species can be used to help with bug bites, rashes, stinging nettle, and so forth when outdoors. Simple grab a leaf or two, chew it up to release the juices, and put it on the bite or sting (please note: if you are allergic to bee stings, this won’t help). It will have a soothing effect. You may have to replace it in a little while to get complete relief.

Properties: Astringent, emollient, anti-allergy
Plantain can help reduce swelling and itching, and reduce to some extent excretions from the skin. It soothes, tones, and heals the skin, also making it feel better. And it helps heal wounds.

What to do with it: Dry the leaves, or infuse them in a good quality oil. (Directions for infusing oil here.) I usually use the infused oil in healing and all-purpose salves.

St. John's wort in flower

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) in flower

St. Johns’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): Parts used: The flowering tops
St. John’s wort is a generally short-lived perennial, 2’ to 3’ high, with cheerful yellow blossoms starting around mid-summer’s eve, and continuing sporadically throughout the summer into fall. I infuse this plant in oil for skincare uses and don’t usually bother with drying it.

To harvest it, you pick about the top ¼ of the plant, including flowers, buds, possibly beginning seeds, leaves, and stems. Actually, I usually cut off a bit of the top and then the side stems, leaving the main stem to continue producing. I go back to the plants that are still blooming throughout the summer to gather small quantities that I can then infuse in oil.

Properties: Anti-inflammatory, astringent, vulnerary

St. John’s wort relieves inflammation and pain and helps wounds heal. It helps speed the healing of wounds, bruises, varicose veins, and mild burns. It is especially good for sunburn. I have seen it help with allergic rashes and eczema. It is useful for injuries to areas rich in nerve endings and can help with nerve pain topically. It is considered one of the best skin herbs.

What to do with it: Infuse in a good quality oil, or infuse in apple cider vinegar. The flowering tops can be dried for use in washes and other herbal preparations. I prefer the infused-oil or vinegar products, and use the oil far more than the dried herb.
(Directions for making St. John’s wort oil here.)

To dry the flowering tops: put into small bunches and hang to dry, or lay them out on a basket or screen. When dry strip off the leaves and flowers and compost the stems. Store in a glass jar or paper bag.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Parts used—flowers, leaves
The finely feathered leaves of this perennial are a delight to see, and the flowers are sturdy and dainty at the same time. For medicinal and skincare purposes the white-flowered yarrow is used. It can grow singly or in patches, and is easily found along roadsides and in fields. Often you can find the leaves well before it is in bloom. Don’t confuse them with the leaves of Queen Anne’s lace or tansy.

This is an easy plant to dry. You can harvest the flowers and tie them in bunches to hang until dry, then store in a glass jar or paper bag. The leaves can be treated the same way, or laid out on a plate or screen to dry, then stored with the flowers. It is recommended to harvest the plant while flowering, in which case you can just cut as much of the plant as you can get and hang it to dry. I usually strip the leaves and flowers off of the stems once dry and compost the stems.

Yarrow is very good at helping to stop bleeding. People have taken the fresh plant and chewed the leaves to put on a cut to stop the bleeding, or taken some of the dried leaves, crushed or already in powder form, and applied them to stop bleeding. I use the tincture for this purpose.

Properties: Astringent, styptic, antiseptic, antifungal
Yarrow is known for its ability to help stop bleeding and heal wounds. It also a lovely anti-itch herb because of its astringency. It helps prevent infections because if its antiseptic properties, though if you have other, stronger antiseptics it is advisable to use them as well, just to be on the safe side.

For years I have carried a tincture of half yarrow and half shepherd’s purse to use for any cuts, scrapes, and scratches that occur in my travels. I also have both a spray bottle and a dropper bottle of this tincture in my bathroom. Though I like using shepherd’s purse with the yarrow, you can use the yarrow tincture alone for the same effects.

The tincture is great at slowing bleeding and helping to keep it from recurring, though you may have to reapply the tincture a few times. It helps wounds heal faster as well, and reduces the chance of infection (the alcohol in the tincture helps here as well).

Since yarrow has an astringent affect, it is helpful for rashes, itchiness, and oily skin.

What to do with it: Dry the flowers and leaves, infuse in alcohol for a tincture, or infuse in apple cider vinegar. Tinctures can be used for skin problems, and vinegars can be used in skin toners and similarly to tinctures. The dried plant can be used in rinses and washes, poultices, and more.

I hope you are able to find all of these abundant, superbly useful plants and add them to your skincare routines!

Making an Infused Oil with St. John’s Wort

Hypericum_perforatumMany people have heard of St. John’s wort, often as an herbal aid for depression. But St. John’s wort is also a marvelous herb for your skin.

Surprised? Well, many herbs have both internal and external uses, and St John’s wort is no exception.

This wonderful herb has been used for hundreds of years for nerves. We have nerve cells both inside our bodies (the central nervous system, where neurotransmitters regulate our moods) and in our skin, where nerves let us know if we’re hot or cold, or if our skin (our body’s outer defense layer) has been hurt in any way, such as scratches or insect bites or sunburn.

Over the years, many cultures observed that a plant’s shape and/or growth seemed to roughly correlate to parts of the human body. People realized that the herb, or the relevant part of it, benefits the corresponding area of the body (in Christianity, this was known as the “Doctrine of Signatures”).

It is easy to make a beautiful, dark-red oil from St. John’s wort to be used directly on your skin, or add to salves and lotions.

All you need is a clean, dry jar with a lid, good-quality olive, sweet almond oil, or other vegetable oil (preferably organic), and a nice stand of the plant in bloom.

St. John’s wort is easily identified with the help of a good field guide. The cultivar you want is known botanically as Hypericum perforatum, the “perforatum” of the species name referring to little translucent glands scattered throughout its leaves, somewhat mimicking the nerves and glands of our skin.

Other species of Hypericum don’t have the constituents that are needed, so even if you have a beautiful ornamental St. John’s wort shrub in your yard, resist the temptation to use it –you’ll get disappointing results.

St. John’s wort grows in sunny fields and roadsides, as well as partial shade. I was surprised one year to find it taking over the woodsy hill in my backyard!

It blooms from the middle of June until August or September, though less profusely after July. The herb got its name because it blooms around St. John’s Eve, June 24.

So, on a beautiful, sunny day, when dew or rain have dried off the plants (usually late morning), take a pair of scissors and a basket or paper bag and go harvest St. John’s wort tops.

Take only the top quarter of the plant (flowers, buds, possible seed heads, leaves, and stems). All these parts contain active ingredients.

Two cups loosely packed is enough.

This allows the perennial plant to keep growing and blooming so it can come back next year.

Be aware of where you are picking. Do not take plants closer than a few yards next to a highway or busy street, or from an area you know or suspect is contaminated with lead or other chemicals/heavy metals. Remember that whatever goes onto your skin gets absorbed into your body to some extent.

When you get home, spread the St. John’s wort out to wilt for a few hours or overnight, or place in a very low-temp oven for a short time. This gets out some of the moisture, so your oil is less likely to mold. It is called fresh-wilting.

Next, cut up the plant material to some extent.

Lightly pack the St. John’s wort into your clean jar. You don’t want to cram as much plant material as possible into the jar, but you also want more than a few sprigs of herb. The herb matter should be slightly springy.

Pour the oil in and fill the jar to a little above the top of the plant matter, then take a skewer or chopstick and stir to get air bubbles out.

Screw on the lid.

Label your jar with the date, the herb, and the kind of oil you used.

Check the jar the next day and add more oil if necessary, because the plants may have absorbed some and the level may have dropped. Make sure plant material is completely covered, because any plant matter that is above the oil, in air, can easily cause molding. You can shake the jar to get the herb and oil to combine more completely.

Depending on your preference you can leave your oil on a sunny windowsill or place it in a dark cupboard. Either way, put it on a plate or something oil-resistant! Some of the oil will inevitably ooze out of the jar. Let this mixture brew for six weeks (if you’re in a hurry, 4 weeks will do), checking it occasionally and stirring out air bubbles.

After six weeksyour oil may go bad if you wait too long. Using cheese cloth or clean muslin (don’t use a coffee filter or paper towels, the pores are too fine and will clog up), strain out the plant matter, then squeeze out any leftover oil from the plant matter.

Put your infused oil into another clean, dry jar. Label this jar also.

The oil will last for several years, especially if you keep it refrigerated or in a cool place.

You can use the oil directly on your skin, or as the base for salves and lotions. St. John’s wort oil is a great soother for sunburn, sun-poisoning rash, and some eczemas. It is also a fine moisturizer. Traditionally St. John’s wort has been used externally to help with nerve pain.

Remember not to use it on open wounds, and always consult a health-care practitioner about any skin problems.