Making plant medicine can be practices year-round. While summer and spring may be prime time for using and preserving herbs at the peak of their growing season, other botanicals are available for fresh usage during the shorter days of the year.
Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis
A mint family member with evergreen leaves, rosemary can be enjoyed year-round. Where I live, in the PNW, a hardy rosemary bush can be found in a front yard on nearly every block, making it one of the most accessible herbs to use anytime you want to throw a sprig into a recipe! The volatile oils in rosemary leaves - which account for rosemary’s distinctive scent - are associated with strengthening of memory. Rosemary is also a common ingredient in haircare, with its ability to stimulate hair growth, strengthen strands, and prevent dandruff. We include it in our dry shampoo and shampoo bar.
To Harvest: If you wish to harvest a large amount of rosemary for drying and storing, it’s best to harvest in the spring or summer during the growing season. However, rosemary can be harvested year-round from an established plant in smaller quantities for personal usage. Use a sharp, sterile cutting tool to harvest the top 2-3 inches of the stem.
Recipe: Rosemary Hair Rinse
In addition to stimulating growth and relieving scalp irritation, rosemary keeps hair shiny and strong!
Unfiltered apple cider vinegar
Directions: Fill any size jar with fresh rosemary leaves and cover with unfiltered apple cider vinegar. I added a few sprigs of fresh lavender to my rinse, as I have it growing right next to the rosemary in my yard. Vinegar will corrode metal, so use a plastic lid if you have one, or put a piece of wax paper between the jar and the lid. Label, let infuse for two to four weeks, and strain the herbs for your finished hair rinse.
To use: Dilute a quarter cup of vinegar in 16 ounces of water. In the shower, after shampooing, rinse hair with the infused ACV/water solution. Let sit for five minutes before rinsing. Find more detail about why we recommend the ingredients in our shampoo bar for hair care, and benefits of using an ACV rinse in this post.
Check out our other blog post on infused-cleaning vinegar for another way to use rosemary and relieve the toxic burden within your home!
Pine Needles, Pinus spp.
Like rosemary leaves, the needles of most conifers are evergreen, retaining their color throughout the changing of seasons. Spruce, fir, and pine trees are abundant in forests across the United States. While most conifer needles are safe to use topically and internally, it is important to be certain of the plant you are using, as yew needles (Taxus spp.) are poisonous when ingested, and other types of pines, such as the Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) have been proven toxic to certain animals and should be treated with special precaution for any internal application.
To Harvest: Rather than taking needles directly from a tree, recently downed branches can be harvested to promote minimal-impact foraging. While it may be tempting to repurpose needles from your Christmas tree, conifers grown on tree farms may be subject to chemical treatment, so I like to gather needles from an untreated property or the forest.
Recipe: Pine Needle Infused Oil
Conifer needles have skin clarifying properties, and I nearly always have a bottle of oil on hand infused with pine or fir needles for topical use.
Fresh Pine Needles
Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Jojoba Oil (optional)
Directions: Fill any size jar ⅔ full of fresh pine needles. Fill jar with olive oil, covering by about an inch. If desired (for extra skin absorption), add 1 teaspoon of jojoba oil for every cup of olive oil used. Seal the jar with a lid, and let infuse for 2-4 weeks. Check the rim/lid of the jar every couple days for evaporated water, and wipe any condensation away with a clean towel. It is best to lay needles flat for a few hours before adding to jar, to allow water to evaporate before oil is added, as this can allow for bacteria and mold to grow. After 2-4 weeks, strain the oil, and store in a dark, cool place. Best when used within 6 months.
To Use: This infused oil can be used as-is for body oiling before or after a shower. I particularly enjoy the Ayurvedic practice of Abhyanga. If you want to take it a step further, oil can be turned into a salve or made into lotion!
Poplar Buds, Populus balsamifera
Poplar buds are the budding leaves of the poplar tree. During their initial stage of growth, the buds are filled with an aromatic resin which contains a host of medicinal properties. The buds reach the peak of their resinous state between late winter and early spring. Each bud will grow into a new leaf, making this medicine available to harvest for just a short window each year.
To Harvest: Because cottonwood branches break easily in the wind, they are easy to find on the ground after a windy day. I only harvest buds from downed branches, making this a nearly impactless medicine to collect. The resin will stick to whatever it touches, so having dedicated cottonwood bud containers is key. I find March to be the optimal time to harvest in my area, but depending on where you live, you can find resinous-filled buds as early as January.
Recipe: Basic Balm of Gilead
“Balm of Gilead” is a common term to refer to salves infused with poplar bud resin. It’s believed the original Balm of Gilead came from a resinous tree in the Middle East, the exact identity of which is unknown. The term has since become used to describe balsam-infused oil.
1 cup poplar bud infused oil (see recipe above*)
1 ounce beeswax
Jar or tin
*poplar resin protects oil from oxidizing, so oil made with fresh buds can be infused for longer than most fresh plant materials - even up to a year!)
Directions: Add infused oil and beeswax to a double boiler and warm over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Once the beeswax is completely melted and wax and oils are combined, pour liquid into jars or tins and allow to cool. Makes approximately 8 ounces. Good for two years.
To Use: Balm of Gilead is just about as all-purpose as it gets! Use on stiff, sore muscles and joints, inflamed, dry, and itchy skin, chapped hands and lips, and as a generally moisturizer.