I love spending time with passionate and enthusiastic people so when local herbalist Ally Sanchez (local to me in the Blue Mountains, Australia) announced that she was running a beginners herb course Rebecca and I jumped at the opportunity!
I’ve been adding herbs and herbal extracts into my cosmetic formulations since what seems like forever and have often had to work out appropriate dosing based on ‘science’ and what we know about a herbs active constituents but lately I’ve wanted to enter into a more holistic relationship with these ingredients.
The scientific approach to herbal selection for cosmetic use has been helpful for me, as a formulator, and came naturally to me as a chemist. It has provided me with a focal point – the active or actives present in said herb that have been found to elicit this, that or the other effect so adding them into an appropriate vehicle (cream) will result in said benefit. For example, I know that Comfrey contains allantoin and that allantoin is great for wound healing, that Chamomile contains Bisabolol and that bisabolol is soothing and anti-inflammatory and that Arnica’s anti-inflammatory action can be traced to its sesquiterpene lactones. This reductionist approach might be something that a true herbalist turns their nose up at feeling immediately uncomfortable at such a simplification of their craft but the method does have its uses and has been responsible for bringing these herbal ‘actives’ to the masses for many a year without the supply chain blips that naturals can suffer or the price highs and lows or the colours, smells and increased bio-burden that whole herbs bring to a formula. That said, I have always appreciated that this is only part of a much more complex and beautiful story, a story I felt it was time I knew more about!
During our one-day workshop we got to touch, smell and experiment with several different herbs including Sage, Thyme, Rosemary, Calendula, Chamomile, Dandelion and Parsley and I was reminded of how lovely it is to connect with the whole plant, to marvel over the texture of the sage leaves, the intensity of the rosemary aroma and the wild and woody nature of Thyme. We made vinegar tinctures, lavender syrup, simple balms and oil infusions, all of which we got to take home to add to our first aid kits!
I came home and couldn’t stop sniffing the beautiful lavender infused balm that we made, in fact I rubbed it onto my chest before I went to sleep to help relax my over-excited mind – whether it was that or not I slept like a baby last night, dreaming of how I’d turn my calendula and comfrey oil into a balm to take on my 50Km Wild Endurance bush walk in May!
Yesterday reminded me once more of how important it is for me, as a chemist and consultant, to connect with the raw materials that I use, to understand their origins and appreciate their true form and power. I find the whole thing really fascinating and think that it’s time I actually turned that old bath tub in the garden into a healing garden.
Pass me my trowel.