Herbal Hacks, Part 2: Crafts, Health, and Beauty

From the calming characteristics of lavender to the practice of pressing plants, our readers find all sorts of ways to add a bit of herbiness to their crafty arts and relaxing rituals. Please enjoy our next installment of reader-submitted herbal hacks–herbs for crafts, health, and beauty.

four-assorted-color-petal-flowers_Columbine flowers via Pikrepo

I place a little crystal bowl of lavender buds on my bedside table. It helps me relax and get a good night’s sleep. – Janice Cox

Spray your pillow at night with lavender water for a relaxing sleep. – Kim Labash

If you are unfortunate enough to have an allergic reaction to poison ivy while working in your yard, did you know that jewelweed can help with the itchiness? It usually grows nearby. Just break off a stalk and rub the liquid onto the rash. – Janice Waite

DSC03233I love pressing herbs and flowers in a phone book or microwave press. I use the flowers for cards, bookmarks, etc. – Marilyn Roberts Rhinehalt

Before embroidering, wash your hands with lavender and lemon verbena soap–it keeps you calm and lends a lovely aroma to the work. – Kim Labash

Calming herbs such as calendula, parsley, and lavender make wonderful facial masks. Simply mix a tablespoon of natural clay with a teaspoon of fresh leaves or flowers, then add enough water to form a creamy mixture. – Janice Cox

Use a cloth on your lap when making lavender wands, and then gather the dropped heads and use for sachet making. – Kim Labash

On hot, humid days in the garden, when not a breath of air is stirring and the gnats insist on flinging themselves into your face, tuck several sprigs of southernwood (bruised to release the essential oils) into your headband or under your hat brim. It smells lovely and keeps the gnats at bay. – Kathleen McGowan

20201129_101632Buy a pair of rose bead earrings from the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America–the smell will waft around your head all day. ;) – Kim Labash

I love pressing herbs to make note cards. I print quotes on the front, package them with envelopes, and give as gifts! Everyone loves them! – Dianne Duperior

Light a “heady” smelling candle, such as gardenia, before you get into the bath for a soak–you won’t regret it. – Kim Labash

Photo Credits: 1) Columbines (Pikrepo); 2) Pressed flower luminaries (Erin Holden); 3) Lavender wand and rose bead earrings (Erin Holden)

My Adventures in Making Corn Husk Paper

By Angela Magnan

Corn husks for papermakingAfter watching a video online about making paper from corn husks, I thought it would be fun to try. I had never made paper before, but the video made it look easy. Don’t they always?! I first made some using the husks from six ears. After it didn’t really go well, I bought a book with more detail and tried again. 

But like many DIY projects that I try for the first time, or even the second, making paper out of corn husks reminded me that watching a video is no substitute for a detailed book, which in turn is no substitute for experience. It also reminded me that when trying something new, I should perhaps follow the directions. 

Corn husks and stalks are some of the many plant materials commonly found in home gardens that can be made into paper. Grass and leaf fibers are some of the easier materials to work with. Those who have more time on their hands venture into using bast fibers, the fibrous material in between the outer surface layer and the inner core of certain plants’ stems. Harvesting it involves peeling stems apart one by one and stripping out the bast fibers. Grass and leaf fibers only need to be picked and washed and sometimes cut into smaller pieces prior to processing. 

Corn husk pulpAll plant fibers need to be cooked for several hours in an alkali solution*, a mixture of water and soda ash, washing soda, wood ash lye, lime, or caustic soda (also called lye). Because the amount of alkali you add to the water is based on the dry weight of the plant material, you need to dry, weigh, and rehydrate your plant materials prior to adding to the pot. Cooking breaks down the fibers, and the alkali dissolves non-cellulose materials, like lignins and waxes, that can cause discoloration or prevent the fibers from freely separating. There are pros and cons to each type of alkali, but the trick to using any of them is that you need to balance out the strength of the alkali with the strength of the fibers. Too weak and you will be boiling your fiber for days; too strong and you will damage the fiber. 

Once the fibers pull apart easily, you can use a blender to turn them into pulp, or you can do it by hand using a flat surface and a bat, mallet, or meat tenderizer. 

Once the material is no longer stringy, you add it to a vat with some water and make the paper. This typically involves using a mould and deckle, which is a two-part frame with a screen that you dip into the vat. An alternative is to use a deckle box, which is a deep box on top of a screen that you pour the pulp into. Both of these serve to evenly distribute the pulp and keep it in the shape you want. 

Once the liquid has sufficiently drained back into the vat, a papermaker typically transfers the wet paper onto a wool felt or towel in a process called couching. Once much of the water is absorbed by the felt, the paper can then be pressed and dried.

On my first try, I cut the husks up into small pieces and then boiled them using washing soda as my alkali. Then, I used a blender to turn them into pulp. Everything was going as planned. But then? Because I was not sure if my first try would also be my last, I didn’t want to go through the trouble of mould and deckle, and boxbuying or making a mould and deckle and instead poured it through a screen. I ended up spreading it around with my fingers. When I tried to remove the paper from the screen, the pulp stuck to it and wouldn’t come off. Apparently, the screen needs to be wet before it comes into contact with the pulp, a detail I only learned later after I bought the book. And then instead of pressing it, I merely laid it out to dry. My result was lumpy paper with a lot of conkling, a term used by papermakers and watercolor artists for the wavy imperfections in dried paper.  

Because my brother had a field of corn he couldn’t sell this summer, I had plenty of free material to try again. So why not? I made a small mould and deckle from two round plastic containers, some foam, and a piece of an old window screen with the intention of making small paper circles that I could decorate with corn husk ribbons and string together like a garland. Then, after drying the husks from three dozen ears, which weighed about a pound, I rehydrated them in a five-gallon bucket. Because I have an endless supply of wood ashes from my woodstove, I decided to be overly ambitious and made my own wood ash lye, even though the book described it as unpredictable. The book also indicated that the amount of wood ash lye I made would be enough for one pound of dry fiber, but only half of my husks fit. I cooked that half in the wood ash lye for hours and hours, and they still didn’t break down sufficiently. When I tried to pulp it by hand, the fibers would not separate even after an hour of pounding. 

By putting the beaten fibers in a watery vat and swishing it around, also known as “hogging the vat,” I was able to get some good pulp to disperse into the water and pull out most of the bits that were still stringy. Even still, the tiniest remaining strings kept getting tangled in my homemade mould and deckle, so I became an expert at “kissing off,” the act of slapping your screen against the water surface to release the pulp so you can start over. In Finished Corn Husk Paperthe end, I removed the bottom from an old drawer, placed it over a window screen, and used that as a deckle box. Fortunately, I remembered to wet the screen first this time and was able to pour the good pulp through it, then couch, press, and dry it. I ended up with one 11 x 17 sheet of paper. To preserve my materials, I poured the rest of the stringy fibers through the screen and dried them as 2 sheets of lumpy “paper.” 

Despite my failures, I am determined to forge ahead. I may try cooking down my lumpy paper a bit more, and I still have half a pound of uncooked husks. And now, whenever I work in the garden, I can’t help but think, “Could I make paper from this plant? What about this one?”

Sources:

Hiebert, Helen. 1998. Papermaking with Plants. Pownal, VT: Storey Books.

“How to Make Paper from Corn.” Storm the Castle. www.stormthecastle.com/paper-making/how-to-make-paper-from-corn.htm

*Safety disclaimer: Alkali products can be dangerous. You should always wear gloves and goggles when handling any alkali, and you should have vinegar on hand to neutralize it in case of a spill or other accident. You also should not pour alkali solutions down the drain if you have a septic system.

Photo Credits: 1) Dried corn husks; 2) Partially beaten pulp; 3) Homemade mould and deckle and using a bottomless drawer as a deckle box; 4) The final product with the first try on the left and the second try on the right. All photos courtesy of the author.


Angela grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and has degrees in biochemistry, horticulture, and science writing. She now lives in Maryland and has worked in the Gardens Unit at the US National Arboretum since 2012.

HSA Webinar: A Recipe for Success

By Bevin Cohen

I’ve long been amazed by the generous bounty offered to us by Mother Nature. Even as a young boy picking wintergreen berries in the woods, I just couldn’t believe that these tasty treats were available for me to enjoy, in quantities greater than I could ever consume, and the only cost was an afternoon in the shady forest, harvesting the luscious fruits as I listened to the melodious whistling of the birds and the occasional scurried sounds of a startled chipmunk or squirrel. 

As an adult, my appreciation for Nature’s endless gifts has only deepened, and I find IMG_1408myself preaching her message of abundance to anyone willing to listen. Through my work as an author, herbalist, and educator, I’ve been placed in a unique position to share my knowledge, experiences, and passion with audiences the world over, and the core of my message has always remained the same: Mother Nature provides for our every need. But we must first take the time to learn her language and then follow her advice.  

Just shy of a decade ago, my wife, Heather, and I founded Small House Farm, a sustainable homestead project in central Michigan. As a practicing herbalist, I felt that this venture was the perfect opportunity to continue promoting my ideology of Nature’s abundance and localized living. The salves, balms, tinctures, and teas that we offer are purposely crafted using only herbs grown in our gardens or harvested from the wild. Additionally, we have taken on the task of producing our own seed and nut oils through cold pressed, expeller extraction for all of our product lines. It’s through this direct relationship with our ingredients that we are able to create products that are not only potent and useful but that also reflect our value and commitment to localized sustainability. Just as the sommelier believes that the terroir of the grapes is reflected in the quality of the wine, at Small House we believe that our locally sourced ingredients are the recipe for success.

Please join me on Thursday, August 20th, at 1pm EDT for an Herb Society of America webinar entitled “Wildcrafted Herbs and Fresh Pressed Oils: How Locally Sourced ArtisanHerbalist_CatIngredients are a Recipe for Success.”  During this presentation, I’ll be discussing the value of locally sourced herbs from one’s own bioregion and the multitude of herbal allies available to us in our nearby parks, fields, and forests. I’ll also share my thoughts on do-it-yourself seed and nut oil production for use in herbal formulas, drawing on my years of experience with small-scale commercial production and sale of various oils including hempseed, sunflower, almond, flax, and pumpkin seed. 

Those joining us for the webinar will receive an exclusive coupon code for a 15% discount off the cover price of my 2019 bestselling book, Saving Our Seeds, as well as a unique link to preorder my upcoming book The Artisan Herbalist: Making Teas, Tinctures and Oils at Home (New Society ’21).

Webinars are free to Herb Society of America members and $5.00 for guests. Visit https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars or click here to sign up. Become a member today, and enjoy all of our webinars for free, and as an added bonus, you’ll automatically be entered into a raffle for a free educational conference registration to our 2021 conference being held in Baton Rouge, LA, from April 29th – May 1st, 2021.

Photos courtesy of the author.


BevinCohenBevin Cohen is an author, herbalist, gardener, seed saver, educator, and owner of Small House Farm in Michigan. Cohen offers workshops and lectures across the country on the benefits of living closer to the land through seeds, herbs, and locally grown food, and he has published numerous works on these topics, including the bestselling Saving Our Seeds and his highly anticipated new book, The Artisan Herbalist (New Society ’21). He serves on the board of the International Herb Association and the advisory council for the Community Seed Network. Learn more about Cohen’s work on his website  www.smallhousefarm.com 

A Healing Herbal Gift

By: Gladys McKinneyIMG_7276

What with the coronavirus outbreak and so many people becoming ill with COVID-19, I wondered what I could do to help, besides staying home, of course. The images seen across social media and press reports are heartbreaking, to say the least.

I wanted to respond with herbs. My sister, my daughter, and my niece are all nurses, and I have a number of family members who are also in law enforcement. So, they have to put on and take off their safety equipment many times throughout the day during this phase of the crisis. The images of our first responders with broken skin, where the safety equipment rubs, seemed to need a response from somewhere, and petroleum jelly was not going to do it. So, I created the following recipe for a healing moisturizer.

The end result has a whipped butter texture that, IMG_7275admittedly, is somewhat greasy when put on due to the oils that are in it. But, keep in mind that these are the healing oils that the skin will need after a long day. After washing your face at night, simply put this moisturizer on. Wash it off in the morning, and then apply whatever moisturizer you would normally use. The healing moisturizer can be used on hands, elbows, and knees in the evening as well. This is not a regular everyday go-to moisturizer, but a way of moisturizing skin that has been through a rough day.

Healing Herbal Moisturizer

First, fill a small mason jar with dried roses* and add enough almond oil to completely cover them. Let this sit for about a week. This creates the rose-infused oil needed in the recipe.

IMG_72901 cup of shea butter

4 tablespoons of jojoba oil

2 tablespoons of rose-infused almond oil, strained from the roses.

2 teaspoons of honey

10 drops of vitamin E oil

10 drops of German (blue) chamomile essential oil

Chamomile is a favorite of mine. The flowers have a sweet apple scent that brings sunshine with each breath. Chamomile has been reputed to help with upset stomachs, colicky babies, insomnia, and soothing emotions. The reason for its application here is that chamomile has been noted to help with skin irritation, sores, and assist in wound healing.**

  1. Heat the shea butter and jojoba oil in a double boiler. Stir. Once melted, remove from heat and add the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Place in the refrigerator. Once this is solid and creamy white, take it out.
  3. Whip this until it looks like whipped cream.
  4. I put the whipped moisturizer in clear 5 gram screw top containers and needed just over 50 of them.IMG_7277

You can give these out to the first responders in your life, drop them by facilities that you think would need them, or if you are a first responder, you can make this for yourself.

Thank you to all the first responders for their loyalty and love for their fellow humans during this time.

*Do not use florists’ roses as they may have been treated with chemicals during processing.

**Never take essential oils internally.

Sources for ingredients:

Note: This recipe’s ingredients can be modified with ingredients of your choice. Just keep in mind not to allow anything with water to touch what you are doing, because it creates an environment for bacterial growth.

While The Herb Society of America does not endorse one establishment over another, we’ve provided some sources to help get you started. Please utilize due diligence in locating the material of your choosing.

Better Shea Butter

Mountain Rose Herbs  (an Herb Society of America business member)

Author’s Note: As of this writing, Mountain Rose Herbs will be temporarily closed until April 24th, 2020. Please read their statement here.

Starwest Botanicals

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


IMG_7308

Gladys and daughter Cheyenne, a nurse

Gladys McKinney is The Herb Society of America’s Treasurer and lives in Cape May, NJ. She has six children, loves accounting and herbs. When not busy with accounting, her favorite things to do with her children and one grandchild include gardening, going to the ocean, and reading old herbal books.

An Herbal Craft – Pressed Flower and Herb Note Cards

By Dianne Duperier, HSA Membership ChairDianne finished product

These pressed flower cards are a great idea for preserving the beauty of the flowers and herbs growing in your garden before Jack Frost has a chance to get to them. There is no limit to your imagination when creating these beautiful cards. Use the cards to remember birthdays or any other special occasion. Or—to sell at your next herb event. Or—to use as gifts. Be sure to make plenty! They will be in demand.

SUPPLIES NEEDED

  • Clean, dry, and pristine herbs, leaves, or flowers (woody and succulent stems do not press well)
  • Paper towels
  • 8.5”x11” 20/50# text stock or paper (for pressing)
  • 8.5”x11” 65# cover stock (for note cards)
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Thin brush
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Fine-line ink pen
  • Herbal/garden quotes
  • Optional cut printed stock overlay (Scrapbook pages sold at Michaels or Hobby Lobby)
  • Plastic note card gift boxes or fabric bags (Available at Amazon or Uline)
  • #5.5 invitation envelopes (Available at Amazon)
  • Ribbon to trim finished product

PREPARING SPECIMEN

Dianne preparingdianne flowerpressDiane labeling

Select clean, dry, and perfect specimens of herbs, flowers, or leaves. If moist, pat specimens dry by pressing with a paper towel. A flower press can be used or you can use paper and books to press your specimens.

If using books to press your leaves and flowers, fold an 8.5”x11” sheet of text stock paper in half and lay the specimens on the paper. Try not to overlap. Put inside another folded 8.5”x11” cover stock sheet to protect the pages of the books used for pressing. Continue until all of the specimens are done. Press for several weeks or months until ready to assemble.

Unless you know the names of all your herbs, flowers, and greenery, I suggest labeling them before pressing.

PREPARING NOTE CARDS

Dianne coverstockDianne overlay

Cut an 8.5”x11” cover stock sheet into fourths.  Trim if needed. This is the best use of a sheet of 8.5”x11” cover stock. The envelopes and plastic boxes suggested in supplies are based on this size. If making a different size card you would need to order envelopes and boxes/bags to fit that size.

If using a printed overlay, cut a piece of overlay to the desired size and glue to the front of the card using a thin layer of glue. (Some people water down the glue.) Let it dry. Press if needed.

ARRANGING SPECIMENS ON CARDS AND GLUING

Dianne arranging dried productDianne herbs on card

On a large table, lay out your specimens with proper identification.  Assemble 3-5 specimens per card. With a thin brush, lightly apply glue to the back of each specimen and arrange on the card. You may need to blot to remove any excess glue. Let air dry and then weigh down and allow to dry overnight.

FINISHING NOTE CARDS

Dianne inside cardDianne Herbs-With Overlay1 (1)Dianne herbs on card 1

Using a ruler, sign your card, and add the year. Using a ruler, write a message on the top or side of the card. Insert a quote, if desired. (Herb, garden, and seasonal quotes can be found online.) Select five assorted cards and five envelopes for packaging.

PACKAGING NOTE CARDS

Dianne finishedDianne packaging

Insert in plastic note card gift boxes or recycled boxes and secure with ribbon. Another option is to package your cards in fabric drawstring bags.