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Monday, February 28, 2011

Herbal Medicine Chest #6 - Lotions, Creams and Hydrosols

Welcome to week #6 of our Herbal Medicine Chest.  Join us every Monday for the next several weeks to explore herbal preparations and put together your own Herbal Medicine Chest. Share your favorite remedies with the linking tool at the end of each Monday's post. (Now closed to new entries)   Don't forget to check the comments section of each week's post to read the remedies shared by savvy folks who aren't blogging.

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See the Herbal Medicine Chest page (directly linked from the new button) to connect with all the articles in this series...even info pages that are not included in the hop, or visit the archives for direct links.

Lotions, Creams and Hydrosols

If your looking for a way to apply herbal remedies without leaving the oily protective barrier on the skin that you desire with salves, ointments or balms, consider lotions, creams and hydrosols.  These herbal preparations are also valuable in our cosmetic/personal care arsenal.
Lotions  - Latin: lavare - to wash.   Lotions are solutions that are water based and easy to smooth over the skin's surface.  As I mentioned, they are mostly absorbed into the skin rather than forming a film of protection over the top like oil based skin treatments.  This water can be an infusion, decoction or hydrosol of any herbs that apply to the need.  Medicinal lotions usually contain an antiseptic to address broken skin or soothing ingredients to cool hot irritations and minor skin injuries.  Chamomile tea makes an excellent baby wash that calms and relaxes.

Lotions can also be emulsions - mixtures of two liquids that do not blend well.  The old oil and water problem.  Sometimes, the two can be mixed well enough by shaking well before use.  But an emulsifying agent can stabilize the mixture.  Some natural emulsifying agents might be beeswax, lecithin, lanolin or glycerin.  None of these interfere with the ability of the solution to penetrate the skin.  Each type of emulsifier brings it's own healing properties to your lotion.

Beeswax - a thickening agent that hardens lotions,creams and soaps.  It is valued for its antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties.  Beeswax makes the thickest lotions and creams. It does provide a bit of a protective layer on the skin but is also absorbed to soften the skin.

Lecithin - rather slippery emulsifier that brings this characteristic to lotions and creams.  Lecithin can be chemically extracted from animal and plant sources.  And mechanically extracted from some plants such as soybean. The phospholipids in lecithin allow it to draw moisture from the air.  Remember that our skin is our largest organ and lecithin offers deeply penetrating properties that carry healing benefits directly to the cellular level.

Lanolin USP- extracted from sheep's wool - slightly thickens lotions and creams. It is famous as a remedy used by nursing moms for sore nipples. It is protective and moisturizing, antifungal and antibacterial.  Similar to oils in the human skin.

Glycerin - An odorless, colorless, sweet, syrupy, moisturizing substance derived from oils and fats as a by product of the saponification process.  It offers preservative and emollient properties, is warming to the skin and edible. edible lotion...use your imagination!

The last three emulsifiers should be used sparingly because they can make your lotion sticky. For each cup of liquids, 1/2 to 1 tsp of one of the above should be enough.  Don't be afraid to experiment.

Lotions can be colored but unless I want the properties of the herbs in question, I usually don't bother.

Alkanet - pink to red
Tumeric or Calendula - yellow
Nettle, Comfrey or Plantain - green

Other things to add to the healing properties of your lotions or creams are honey and royal jelly. These add vitamins and minerals as well as nourishing enzymes. Aloe vera juice, witchhazel and floral water are also wonderful additives. You can begin to see how various preparations overlap in their usefulness for creating more herbal remedies. Tinctures, hydrosols, herbal infused oils, teas, infusions and decoctions can all be used in lotions or creams.  Alcohol based tinctures add to the cooling effect.  Simply take into account the base of the ingredient - water or oil - and include them in your recipe quantities.

Basic recipe for emulsified lotions
3/4 cup oil
1 cup water (any solution made with water has the potential to spoil quickly)
1/2 oz. beeswax

Add water to blender.  Should cover blades.
Warm oil and beeswax until melted together.
Allow to cool until it begins to look filmy.
Turn blender on low and slowly pour oil/wax mix into water.
Once it's all in the blender increase speed to blend into a silky smooth lotion.  Now is the time to add any extras to your lotion.  But, like whipping cream, do not over blend.
Pour into containers.  If not adding a preservative, refrigerate.

Avoid contaminating your lotions and creams by dipping into the container with your fingers.  Instead, use squeeze bottles or pumps.  Cosmetic paddles can be used in creams.  Essential oils may be added for their preservative qualities.  Lavender and tea tree work well.  The contents of a vitamins E capsule also helps.

Creams -  are basically just thicker than lotions.  Use a little more emulsifier and a little less liquid.  If you are preparing a cream and all the water is not blended with the oils, either pour off the extra or use a paper towel to absorb it.  Because creams are thicker, they are best stored in shallow jars with wider lids than the lotion bottles and removed with a cosmetic paddle or single use, clean wooden craft stick.  Recycle these in other projects.

Hydrosols -  are the offspring of the steam distillation process used to make essential oils.  As the steam rises, water and oils combine until they begin to cool when they separate again.  But, there's a little something from the oils that remains in the water creating a delightful  liquid that can be used alone or added to other herbal remedies or cosmetics.  Used both internally and externally, the liquid is not as potent as the essential oil.  Lacking the bitter and intense properties of essentail oils and yet retaining unique, subtle qualities of those oils in combination with the water soluble properties, hydrosols are unique and highly prized lotions.  Not to be confused with floral or herbal waters, true hydrosols must be made by steam distillation. Floral and herbal waters, which are made by adding essential oils to water, do not contain the unique mild blend that results from the marriage of oil and water properties found in hydrosols.  Hydrosols are anti inflammatory acids, that are soothing to the skin and pleasing to the palate.  Providing you haven't made them from toxic plant material, they are very safe to use.   In the past, except for rosewater and orange blossom water, this wonderful byproduct was thrown away.

Here's how to make your own hydrosol.

You'll need:
a granite canner with a convex lid
a fire brick
ice in a large plastic sealable bag
16 oz. or a quart of fresh plant material, picked at it's best harvest time
(My favorite is rose petals!)  Turkish delight, milk pudding and rose cream!
a glass bowl

Place the fire brick in the center of the canner.  The purpose of the brick is to elevate the glass bowl above the heat and the water.  Keep in mind that whatever you use will be in the water so you'll need it to be clean and sterilized.
Place plant material all around the brick on the bottom of the canner.
Add about 3 quarts of water to the canner.
Place the glass bowl on the brick.
Put the lid on right side up.

At this stage, you can let the water and plant material stand together (macerate) for a few hours if desired.

Bring to a boil.
As soon as the water boils, invert the lid so that it dips down in to the pan.
Fill the "bowl" formed by the inverted lid with ice (inside a plastic bag for easy removal).
Gently simmer on lowest heat for 30 minutes or until the water is nearly gone.  If you need to open the lid to check, just crack it open without completely removing the lid.  That steam is valuable!
Turn off heat and allow to cool.

Here's what's happening.  You've created a crude still!  While the water and plant material were simmering and evaporating, the steam was condensing on the cold, inverted canner lid, collecting and running down the convex lid until it drips into the collection bowl inside the canner.

Pour the liquid in the bowl through a wet paper filter lined funnel into a glass jar.  The hydrosol will flow through the filter but any oily residue left in the filter is essential oil!  There won't be much but you can collect what's there with a dropper.

Cap the hydrosol jar and refrigerate.  I like to put mine in spray bottles for ease of application.  They make a freshing spritz on hot summer days!

This is a great project to do with your kids...educational and fun!

If you'd like, you can grab my button from the sidebar to share with others. Just copy and paste the html text onto your site or post to provide a direct link back to The Woodwife's Journal home page. 

Please add to the Herbal Medicine Chest by sharing your favorite Home Remedy recipes. 

Sharing the herbal love with the folks at:
Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth
Monday Mania
Homestead Barn Hop
Real Food Wednesdays
Simple Lives Thursday
Wildcrafting Wednesday #55


  1. Hi there,
    Thanks for the tips on making hydrosols. Even though I am very familiar with the distillation process of plants, I never thought of doing it at home like you shared here. I'm glad I stopped by.

  2. Wow thanks for all of your extensive information on making home remedies! I hadn't realized you were doing this every week, I actually have a bunch of remedies that I have never gotten around to posting on my site, from when we were living in the Catskills of NY, so I hope that your medicinal chest bloghop will help me get a fire under my butt to get those posted!

  3. @ hellaD - Hope you'll share some of those remedies here.

  4. Hey Wanderer, thanks for the reminder to link back to the hop, sorry for forgetting. BTW I was wondering if you were still interested in contributing a calendula salve or some other recipe to our Urban Dweller's DIY? I have the first draft up so you can see what the idea is:


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