Healing with Flowers: Simple Medicinal and Cosmetic Recipes for Flowers Commonplace herbs and flowers can be used for soothing teas, salves, and so much more. Discover the restorative properties of your favorite blossoms with these easy-to-make herbal and medicinal recipes.
Calendula Salve
When my boys were babies, I made calendula cream and carried it around to ward off diaper rashes, help heal minor cuts and scrapes, and soften my own hands. Though my boys are almost grown, I still make a pot of calendula salve each year to have on hand in case of minor abrasions. Jordan and Ijie even help from time to time. I like to use calendula from my own garden, and some years I turn out a large enough salve batch to give some to a friend. I hope you’ll find this salve as healing as I do. Makes 1 cup.
2 cups calendula petals
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
¹/₄ cup beeswax*
*Beeswax can be tricky to find, but check your local craft store or natural-foods market. If all else fails, order it online.
In a clean jar with a lid, let calendula petals infuse the oil for about 2 weeks. Then pour the oil through cheesecloth to strain out the petals and any other solids. In a saucepan over low heat, gently stir the strained calendula-infused oil and beeswax until the mixture is uniform. Pour into a clean glass jar and cap. Salve lasts for about 1 year.
Though calendula comes in several gradients of orange and yellow, it looks like little more than a simple yellow daisy. But looks can be deceiving. Calendula is a hardy annual that is steady, reliable, and quick growing. It flavors our food and does a really good job of healing us, too. These golden flowers are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, and antibacterial.
Dandelion Tea for Good Health
For centuries, dandelions have been used as a diuretic and liver cleanser. Teas made with dandelion root—which tastes somewhat like chicory—have long been used as a caffeine-free coffee substitute. They are also used to ease premenstrual symptoms.
Dandelion Root Tea
1 tablespoon (or about one 1-inch piece) roasted dandelion root
1 cup water
Bring water to a simmer and add the roasted roots. Simmer mixture for about 10 minutes before straining and drinking. Makes 1 cup.
Iced Dandelion Root Tea
I like my dandelion-root tea warm, but if prefer yours iced, make a gallon at a time. Just use 3/4 cup root to 1 gallon water, and use the same method of simmering. Strain the brewed tea and store it in the fridge.
To make honey-flavored dandelion blossom tea with the flower petals, see page 181.
Roasted Dandelion Root
1. To roast the dandelion root, first you have to dig some up. This is not as easy as it sounds—they are stubborn suckers—but be persistent. As you dig them up over the season, clean and store them in a glass jar away from light and moisture. Then you’ll be able to enjoy dandelion tea all year long.
2. Preheat oven to 200°F. Wash roots thoroughly, making sure all dirt clinging to the rootlets is gone. Cut roots into pieces no bigger than 1 inch. Spread pieces on a baking sheet and place them in the oven for about 2 hours, or until they are dry and toasted.
Healing with Basil
An antioxidant that’s antiviral and antimicrobial, basil has many medicinal and cosmetic uses. I use basil essential oil as a steam when I have a cold. It’s also a fairly reliable bug repellent. And it’s a good addition to a massage oil because it helps fight sore muscles; be sure to add it to another oil, such as almond oil or extra-virgin olive oil because—with the exception of lavender oil—essential oils should not be applied directly to the skin. You can purchase basil essential oil or make a simple version of your own. This homemade version is a far simplified version of commercially made essential oils; it's really more of an infusion. If you like it, try your hand at other flower oils such as scented geranium, dianthus, rose, or lavender.
Basil Oil
1¹/₂ cups basil flowers
1 cup almond or extra-virgin olive oil
Grind basil flowers in a food processor with almond or olive oil. Cook the resulting concoction over low heat for about 10 minutes. Cover and let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour before straining through cheesecloth into a small bowl. Store basil oil in an airtight container. Makes about 1/2 cup.
Basil Steam
To make a steam, bring 4 cups of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan and drop in 1/4 teaspoon of basil oil. Hold your face about 6 inches above the water, and cover the pot and your head with a towel. Breathe slowly and deeply for about 3 minutes.
The Many Uses for Lavender
I knew of lavender’s amazing properties as an antidepressant and a nervine, a plant remedy that has a beneficial effect on the nervous system. But the first time I used lavender was not what I would deem a great success. My mother was in distress after the loss of her father, and I made some lavender tea to calm her nerves. What I did not know at the time was that with this herb, less is more. The cup of tea I made was so strongly medicinal and soapy tasting that no one could have choked it down! Since that time, I have learned to harness the power of lavender.
Lavender Tea
A tea made with a ratio of 1 teaspoon lavender buds to 1 cup water palatable and soothing to your spirit.
Lavender Oil
Lavender essential oil is one of the only essential oils that can be used directly on the skin; it sooths burns and bug bites. I carry a small bottle of it with me and keep another bottle in my kitchen to sooth minor burns. When my children were little, I added drops to their baths to sooth and calm them and always had a bottle of lavender and a bottle of rescue remedy with me just in case.
1/2 cup lavender flower buds
1 cup almond or extra-virgin olive oil
Grind lavender flowers in a food processor with almond or olive oil. Cook the resulting concoction over low heat for about 10 minutes. Cover and let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour before straining through cheesecloth into a small bowl. Store lavender oil in an airtight container. Makes about 1/2 cup.
Using lavender in cooking is a bit more challenging than using it medicinally. Though recipes abound, it takes trial and error to find the amount of lavender you like—one that’s aromatic without an overwhelming soapy sensation. Start with very small amounts, and you’ll soon make lavender your friend.
How to Fight the Plague with Four Thieves Vinegar
This flower recipe became popular in the Middle Ages because it was thought to protect against black death. Vinegars infused with herbs and flowers have been used in food and as tonics to improve health and (unknowingly) disinfect and kill germs since ancient times. While four thieves vinegar might not save you from the plague, it might just be the cure for your salad dressing woes.
2 tablespoons lavender leaves and/or flowers
2 tablespoons rosemary leaves and/or flowers
2 tablespoons mint leaves and/or flowers
2 tablespoons sage leaves and/or flowers
2 tablespoons thyme leaves and/or flowers*
4 cloves garlic, crushed
4 cups white wine vinegar
*These are the herbs most commonly used in four thieves vinegars, perhaps because they have antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Feel free to adjust amounts and omit or replace herbs with others to suit personal taste. There are many versions of this old recipe, but most include at least four classic herbs and crushed garlic.
Find a good clean jar and throw all the ingredients in together. Let the jar stand in a sunny spot for about 1 week before straining out the solids and using or storing four thieves vinegar in a cool dark place.
Soothing Sage Gargle
Known to be an antioxidant and a memory enhancer, sage has astringent properties. For years it has been used to soothe sore throats. I like to use a gargle of sage when I feel a tickle coming on. Makes about 2 cups.
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sage and/or sage flowers
1 cup water
Warm vinegar in a small saucepan until it is barely simmering. Pour over sage and add water. Let mixture sit for 10 minutes, or until it reaches room temperature, before straining and using as a gargle.