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I was fortunate enough earlier this month to meet Sharon Astyk at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello and attend her lecture “A Nation of Farmers,” an exploration of the current state of energy and food, how the two are connected, and what this means for our future. I can’t say enough good things about Astyk’s writing—that’s me on the left in the photo, valiantly trying not to stammer in my excitement—but suffice to say, if you have any interest in self-sustaining practices at home, you should look her up.

Sharon Astyk at Heritage Harvest Festival, Monticello. Photo by Mary Delicate

Pertinent to the subject matter of this learning blog, however, Astyk recently wrote a couple posts on her favorite herbalism books. Her second post I found particularly interesting, as it addresses the issue of scientific versus intuitive herbalism. In choosing my herbalism teacher and in continuing to study at home on my own, it was always important to me to ensure I was receiving a balance of the two.

Is there a right or wrong approach to herbalism? Well, we all have our opinions, but there are practitioners on both ends of the spectrum for whom I have immense respect. What these practitioners do is powerful largely due to the fact that they are following and using their own strengths and inclinations. So Rosemary Gladstar, Christopher Hobbs, Susun Weed, Jim Duke, etc., all sit at different points along this scientific/intuitive spectrum, and we can learn from all of them.

But for self-study and home herbal practice? We don’t need to be any of these fine people. We must find our own strengths, our own voice. Education isn’t necessarily the same as emulation. We can choose which tools to keep for our own toolbox.

And without further ado, click here to read Sharon Astyk’s thought-provoking blog on the subject.

Apologies for not writing—it’s been an eventful couple of weeks and my mind’s been elsewhere due to exciting developments at home. I expect that I may continue to be a bit… er… distracted for the next eight months, but promise to do my best to stay on target with continuing to learn and post here. That said, I’m a very happy girl.

Last weekend, noting the imminent end of a long dry spell and the coming fall season, I decided to make some herbal oil from the needs-to-be-cut-back-anyway-before-winter rosemary bush (tree??) in the garden. Seriously, it’s huge. The following methods for making  oil are how I was taught by my teacher Kathleen Maier.

For a fresh plant oil, as with most other fresh plant preparations, you want to gather the herb after dew has lifted and the leaves are completely dry, mid to late morning. Remove any bad spots (do not wash it!), chop your herb, and fill a mason jar 3/4 full with the herb. Fill the jar the rest of the way with your oil of choice. Close the jar, put a plate under it in case the oil leaks, and let it sit in a cool dark spot for six weeks. Strain the marc from the oil, and your oil is ready for use.

What oil you decide to use depends largely on what you want to use the oil for. For cooking, you want to use a heat-stable oil like grapeseed, sunflower, or avocado oil—NOT olive oil (contrary to popular use, olive oil is unstable at high heat and should not be used for cooking). Coconut oil is also good for cooking, but since it’s generally solid at room temperature, I don’t recommend it for fresh plant oils. For an oil that will not be cooked, you can use whatever you prefer. It’s always a good idea to be aware of issues of rancidity and shelf life in oils, as well as which oil may suit your purpose or constitution better. For my rosemary oil, I plan to use it for cooking as well as a skin and hair oil, so I chose sunflower.

To make an oil from dried herb, place the herb in a crockpot and cover with  oil. Heat the oil mixture, maintaining a temperature of just under 110 degrees Farenheit for 24 hours. Strain and store oil in a cool, dark place.

Feel free to share your own oil-making tips in the comments!

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