Now that cannabis is legal in several new states, more and more people are growing their own, giving even more people the opportunity for making their own cannabis topicals. If you’re a person who likes to “see” how things are done, here is a short video I made to help you make your own infused oil.
I know most of you are here because you’ve discovered how powerful cannabis can be for healing arthritic joints and muscle pain, but did you know there are other common herbs, some as close as
your kitchen spice rack, that can also help ease muscle and joint pain?
- Garlic. What isn’t garlic good for? It’s an old folk remedy for the common cold and taken regularly can help stimulate the immune system. It also contains the mineral selenium, an antioxidant that fights the free radicals that damage joints.
- Turmeric.This lovely yellow spice is a main ingredient in curry. It contains curcumin, a bioactive compound that is responsible for the spice’s medicinal properties. It’s also an anti-inflammatory which may help control the onset and progression of arthritis. To read more about turmeric and arthritis, check out Turmeric for Health, an extensive collection of articles about the health benefits of this beautifully colored spice.
- Juniper. If you live in the western U.S. you are likely familiar with the prolific juniper tree.Those pungent purple berries make a wonderfully warming oil to rub on sore muscles. I love juniper and use it in many of my products for both its fragrance and warmth. To read more about juniper, I recently posted an article over on the Leafy Botanicals blog: Juniper for arthritis and muscle pain.
- Cayenne pepper. Capsaicin is the ingredient in hot peppers that gives them their heat, and there is plenty of this in cayenne pepper. Cayenne pepper is healthy to eat and it can also make a potent topical application. Mix three tablespoons cayenne in one cup olive (or another carrier oil) and heat in a double boiler. If you’d like it more of a salve, add two to three tablespoons beeswax. Heat until all the ingredients are melted and pour into a glass jar. Warning: This mixture can be intense. Don’t get near your eyes, and if your skin is sensitive wear plastic gloves.
- Eucalyptus. Eucalyptus leaves contain tannins, which help reduce the swelling and pain of arthritis.This makes a good topical application and its fresh scent gives it added aromatherapy benefits.
Before I began making Green Cream and massage oil, I taught English. One of the highlights of that other career was a Fulbright scholarship to Meghalaya, India a state in the northeastern part of the country.
It was a research fellowship and my project, “The Language of Place,” gave me the chance to explore our symbiotic relationship to the environment, the way it shapes us and the way we shape our world.
Shortly before I left the U.S., someone at the Fulbright conference in Washington D.C. told me, “India will change you in ways you can’t even imagine.”
It was true. India marked a big transition in my life, and in a way, I can see the first stirrings of what would become Leafy Botanicals began back then.
Part of what India re-awakened was my love for healing and medicinal plants, and this was evoked through Meghalaya’s sacred forests.
India has more than 100,000 sacred groves throughout the country. These old growth forests of varying sizes are generally connected to a particular deity. Many are related to Hinduism, but others, such as the indigenous tribes in Meghalaya, have their roots in older, animistic religions.
They are protected and managed by the community, and revered for centuries of cultural and religious uses. As a result, they are maintained by a conservationism that’s formed by culture and faith rather than laws. Strong taboos keep locals from taking plants, gathering wood or disrupting the forest in any way. In many cases, even dead wood is left where it falls.
Not surprising, these sacred groves are also the habitat of some of the world’s rarest and most potent medicinal plants.
Meghalaya is hilly, verdant and one of the most biodiverse areas in all of Asia. It’s also the hub of Khasi culture. The Khasi tribal people are the area’s oldest inhabitants and nowhere is their culture, religion and beliefs more visible than in the sacred groves.
While there are literally thousands of sacred groves in the hilly, damp mountains, Mawphlang, outside the city of Shillong, is probably the largest and certainly the best known.
Mawphlang is protected by a local deity called Labasa. Some say this mystical creature is a tiger. Some say a snake. Others say the creature can’t be compared to an earthly animal. But what is agreed on is the rules of the sacred grove, laid down by forefathers in the distant past, are sacred and to defy them will bring consequences worse than death. Today, the keepers of the forest belong to the Lynghdoh clan.
These groves have been kept in their natural state for hundreds of years and to enter one is like stepping back in time. The humid air, the rich soil and lush plants all seemed to bring me back to some essential part of myself that had lain dormant for many years.
How the sacred forests gave birth to Leafy Botanicals
I don’t necessarily believe everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that everything that happens can have meaning and purpose if we learn from it.
While in India I hiked and wandered through steep canyons and green mountains, and in the process an essential part of myself, a childlike wonder at all things green and growing, began to come alive again.
I grew up in rural Ohio and wild plants were a regular part of my family’s diet. My father made dandelion salad, catnip tea and gathered morel mushrooms from Amish farms in the spring.
My great-aunt on my mother’s side was also well versed in how to use wild plants and I spent many summer mornings by her side in the Pennsylvania woods gathering burdock root and wild mint.
As a teenager, my room was overrun with plants, and when I was in my twenties I also kept my home full of plants and herbs, but for some reason, when I got married I let go of that.
Instead, I became the woman who “kills everything green.” It became a joke that I couldn’t make anything grow, and I turned to words and books instead. If I did ever mention that, in fact, I had once had a way with plants, it was probably met with skepticism. In any case, the personae fit at the time.
But in India, that personae began to disappear. In India, my love of green, growing things and of healing began to wake up again. There was something calming about this new direction, something that took me out of my mind and grounded me. I wondered if teaching was really the career for me after all.
When I returned to the U.S. a lot of things had changed, me most of all.
While the sacred forests of India are full of medicinal plants, I knew that my home on the high desert was also home to many healing herbs. I planted lavender, comfrey, sage, lemon balm and began to study what grew wild around me.
I wanted to find ways to work with plants that grew locally. Eventually I found myself infusing herbs into oils and making salves and lotions to help with arthritis and other muscle pain.
And so, Leafy Botanicals was born.
We don’t always know what direction life will take us. Have you ever thought you were on a path, only to find yourself going in some totally unexpected direction? Please share your experience.
Anyone with fibromyalgia will tell you it can be overwhelming to deal with.
Fibromyalgia is not just about pain and fatigue, but it can be highly stressful as well, in part because, like most conditions that include chronic pain, it’s such a misunderstood illness.
The benchmark of fibromyalgia is an enhanced sensitivity to pain. Basically, the central nervous system becomes tweaked, and the neuroendocrine pathways and peripheral pain receptors that affect how the brain processes pain quit working.
As a result, people who have this ailment often walk around with a constant, throbbing musculoskeletal pain. This is often accompanied by “fibro fog” – fatigue, memory problems and a whole host of cognitive difficulties that make you feel like you’re slugging your way through a thick, dense fog.
Some people find dealing with fibro fog more difficult than the pain.
Other symptoms may include
- tension headaches
- temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder
- irritable bowel syndrome
- anxiety and depression.
Compounded to the physical problems, no one really knows what causes fibromyalgia, although many believe physical or psychological trauma, stress and a history of childhood abuse can contribute. There may be some genetic predisposition as well. If a person has rheumatoid arthritis or another auto immune disease, he or she may be more susceptible.
Women seem more prone than men to developing fibromyalgia, and in the past, it was sometimes diagnosed as “female hysteria.” Residue from this attitude may explain why some people still tend to diminish the symptoms of this often-debilitating condition.
While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, it can be managed, and some people develop a program where they are able to manage it quite well.
Sleep may be the most important aspect of managing fibromyalgia. If you’re dealing with pain, you probably aren’t sleeping well, and if you’re not sleeping well, you’re lowering your resistance to all the other symptoms.
It probably feels like a vicious cycle.
However, if you can get a good night’s sleep, it really can be healing. Along with sleep, try to get physical activity, eat a healthy, vegetable-rich diet, avoid junk food and caffeine.
Doctors frequently prescribe a number of drugs from antidepressants to anti-seizure medications as treatments.
There are also a number of alternative therapies.
Many people are disillusioned by the side effects of synthetic pharmaceuticals. This is often coupled with the very real fear of addiction and accidental overdose.
Medicinal herbs, on the other hand, have been around since the beginning of time. Herbs also should never be used without careful instruction, but if used safely and responsibly they may also bring about positive benefits without the side effects of pharmaceuticals.
Cannabis is one.
Recently, the Connecticut Board of Physicians recommended medical cannabis for a number of pain-related conditions including fibromyalgia. Other reports show convincing evidence that cannabis may be a viable alternative to prescription drugs.
A number of people have told me they’ve gotten a lot of help from my Green Cream, which has a cannabis base. Topical ointments can be wonderful for short-term relief, but to really manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia you need something that will work longer and deeper.
While the most common way of using cannabis continues to be smoking, edibles, tinctures and topicals are also options.
Depending on what strain you use, you can also regulate whether or not you’ll make use of the plant’s psychoactive properties. Cannabis with a high CBD count will work on pain without the high. THC, the best known cannabinoid, will work on pain as well as give you a little buzz. They work best together.
It’s also important to remember that cannabis has literally hundreds of compounds besides CBD and THC. Some are analgesic. Some anti-inflammatory. Some help with cell regeneration.
Each one has unique healing properties.
Physical and emotional health go hand in hand. We live in a fast-paced, stressful world. Life isn’t easy on people, and people are often hard on themselves as well as each other.
It’s really not surprising that emotional issues can trigger physical reactions.
If you have fibromyalgia or other chronic pain, it’s important to be gentle with yourself. Believe in yourself, and know that you can get better.
I have a special fondness for juniper.
Juniper trees pepper the land where I live, but even though they’re prolific, there are a few I feel like I know personally. Next to the driveway an ancient juniper with branches that seem to sprawl out like a octopus’ legs makes a favorite perch for my cat, Monteblanc. A smaller one near my rock garden sometimes creaks like a squeaky rocking chair when the wind blows.
This coniferous tree generally grows between six and 25 feet, and is a common shrub on mountainsides and heaths throughout North America, Europe and southwest Asia.
It is sometimes called the only herb to come from a pine tree.
Juniper is one of the main flavorings in gin and it can be a pungent addition to many dishes – they make a great brine for Thanksgiving turkey, but are also tasty for recipes that use wild game. In Germany and eastern Europe juniper berries are a staple for much of their cuisine, particularly those using fowl and meat dishes.
Make no mistake. Juniper is a bitter herb and in any recipe should be used sparingly.
The berries grow only on the female trees and generally take up to three years to ripen, so maybe their feminine nature appeals to me as well. However, their fragrance is particularly favored for many men’s products such as beard balm and cologne.
Juniper also has medicinal qualities, and when I began making topicals, I knew I wanted to incorporate it into some of my lotions.
The first time I tried a juniper topical was in a salve made by a Paiute woman in Susanville, California. She infused it into coconut oil, added beeswax and white willow bark. It had a wonderfully soothing texture and a lovely fresh smell. When I used it on a spider bite it eased the itch almost immediately.
Juniper has a long tradition among Native Americans where it was used both internally and externally.
In the high desert area where I live, the berries were dried and ground into a meal that was then formed into patties and fried.
Juniper berries are also brewed it into a tea and given to women in childbirth. However, as it is a uterine stimulant, it should not be used at other times during pregnancy.
The berries were also chewed for upset stomachs and to ease muscle spasms. However, it should not be used for prolonged periods of time without a break, and it should never be used if you have a kidney disease or infection.
Aromatically, it’s a wonderful addition to have around the house. Indigenous cultures around the world have burned juniper for purification and ritual purposes, and it continues to be used in many North American swear lodges. The berries are a frequent addition to medicine pouches. Juniper has a spicy, fresh fragrance that is uplifting to the spirit and soothing to the mind.
I love it most for its topical applications. Valued for its ability to sooth itchy skin and relieve arthritis pain, juniper oil can be a powerful ointment. It has a slight warming effect, and its antibacterial properties help heal skin problems like eczema and psoriasis.
The recipes for making juniper oil seems to differ a bit from the way I generally infuse oils with medicinal herbs. Instead of solar infusions or slow cooking the dried herbs in a carrier oil, it is recommended that:
- You first soak the juniper berries overnight in distilled water.
- The next morning, pour off the water, mash the berries and put them in a double boiler.
- Cover them with oil – a general approximation is about 1/3 juniper berries to 2/3 oil. Organic olive oil remains my favorite for its many health benefits, but apricot, avocado, almond or any good plant oil will do.
- Cook slowly for up to one hour, and then strain the oil through a cheese cloth.
- Label and store in a cool, dry place.
An alternative method for making juniper berry oil is:
- Fill a sterilized glass jar ¾ full of dried berries and cover with organic olive oil or another carrier oil of your choice.
- Store the jar in a dark place for four to six weeks.
- Gently shake every few days.
- When the oil is at the desired strength, strain it through cheesecloth.
- Label and store in a cool, dry place.
I love using juniper oil as a massage oil. I generally use about 1/3 juniper-infused olive oil and mix it with 2/3 of a lighter oil such as almond or apricot. Sometimes I may infuse these oils with lavender or calendula for adding healing.
A quick and easy recipe for a very soothing beard balm is:
- 1/3 cup olive oil infused with juniper berries
- 1/3 cup almond oil
- 1/3 cup shea butter
- 2 to 3 Tbl beeswax
- Optional: 2 to 4 drops essential oil
Heat the oils, shea butter and beeswax in a double boiler. Begin with 2 Tablespoons beeswax. When the ingredients have all melted, fill a teaspoon and put it in the freezer for two minutes. Check the consistency. If too thin, add more beeswax until you reach the desired density. Pour into jars, label and store in a cool, dry place.
I invite you to discover the beauty of juniper. If you live in even a semi-rural area, you can likely find juniper berries to make into your own holistic remedies.
In the morning when I look out over the hillside where I live the branches of the trees are so covered with tiny blue berries they look purple. Their piney fragrance scents the air and they provide food for the many deer who wander across the property. Since I live on the high desert, juniper are about the only trees that grow around me.
Without them the ground would be rocky, bare. Honor the plants that surround you.
If you suffer from sore muscles and aching joints, you probably already have an arsenal of salves and ointments in your medicine cabinet. You’ve no doubt also figured out that these potions have varying degrees of effectiveness. Even the same brand might work differently depending on conditions.
Topical pain relievers are readily absorbed through the skin, the body’s largest organ. Most topicals come in one of three categories:
- Some herbs like camphor, eucalyptus, tea tree oil and other menthol products are called counterirritants because they create a cooling sensation and distract your mind from the pain.
- Salicylates are creams that contain the same ingredients as aspirin. When absorbed into the skin they can be helpful, particularly to joints close to the skin surface.
- An effective analgesic if used regularly for an extended period of time, capsaicin is the main ingredient in hot chili peppers and can help with topical pain. It will tingle or burn a bit on first use, but if used regularly, can have a soothing effect on sore joints and muscles.
At Leafy Botanicals, we use cannabis as our primary pain-relieving ingredient in green creams, massage oils and bath salts.
In the case of cannabis, our skin carries both CB1 and CB2 receptors, so the chemical compounds we find in cannabis can directly interact with these receptors, relieving pain without entering the bloodstream. Hair follicles, sweat glands and fiber bundles all carry these receptors, making it a highly efficient process – pain relief without the high.
There is also something wonderfully soothing about rubbing good, organic lotions into your skin. Even people who are conscientious about what they put into their bodies, often don’t pay enough attention to what goes on it.
Treat your muscles well!
Summer may be over, but the sun is still shining in California and it’s never a bad time to make solar-infused massage oils – or herbal oils to mix into lotions.
I love solar infusions and my front yard generally has several jars going at once. They’re easy. They feel wonderful on the skin, and there’s something magical about letting the sun do its job over a period of several weeks or even months.
This year I made several jars of cannabis infused oil that I’ve been using for massage oil. I also made a strong batch of calendula in olive oil, and when I put it on a scab that wasn’t healing it cleared up the following day.
What herbs can be infused into oil?
Really any medicinal herb that might be taken orally, can also be used externally. Some of my favorites include:
- Lemon balm
Of course, this is because I like to use what I have growing in my yard, but dried herbs from a good vendor work as well.
Making an infusion is easy, but it takes time and you need patience.
- Fill a clean glass jar about 3/4 full of dried or fresh herbs. Don’t pack them in.
- Fill the jar with a carrier oil of your choice such as olive, avocado, apricot, hemp, etc. Some people like to use emu or another animal oil. I prefer to keep Leafy Botanicals products vegan-friendly, but I’ve heard some great claims about emu oil. Your choice.
- Put the jar in a sunny place and let it sit. I like to gently shake it every other day or so, but it will work just as well if you don’t.
- After two weeks, strain the oil and discard the herbs. If you’re oil is still not strong enough, repeat the process with fresh herbs. You can do this as often as you like. I have some massage oil that I infused for close to three months, but generally four to six weeks is plenty of time.
When you have your oil to the strength you like, put it in a clean jar and label. You can also add a few drops of your favorite essential oil.
I like to mix two or three herbal blends together for a solar massage oil. Allowing the sun to slowly draw out the plant’s healing properties makes these oils especially potent and healing. The herbs also act as natural preservatives, giving these oils and exceptionally long shelf life. Of course, as with all plant-based oils, keeping them in a cool, dry place is best.
Have you ever made or used solar-infused products? Leave me your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!
Every day my appreciation of herbal healing deepens. As I look around my land I see lavender and rosemary outside the window. The juniper trees are purple with berries – a great topical remedy for arthritis and muscle pain.
Nearly two years have passed since I founded Leafy Botanicals and in that time, as well as starting a business, I’ve re-discovered some long-buried parts of myself – my love of herbs and working in the dirt, of holistic healing and drawing on the subtle energies that are all around us.
I never dreamed one day I’d be making herbal healing balms, but some nights I dream about recipes. Mornings I can’t wait to get into the kitchen and drain oil through cheesecloth and experiment with combinations of herbs.
Most people are looking for one basic quality when it comes to a pain-relieving salve:
- It needs to work. How well it works depends on the way the ingredients interact with your personal chemistry. Some herbs work better than others for pain. Camphor is a common ingredient in many salves, and while it has a nice cooling effect, not everyone reacts well to camphor. I like to use juniper that I gather wild and cannabis as the main pain-relieving herbs.
Other herbs that help relax muscles and soothe tired skin include:
- tea tree oil
- lemon blam
Pain management works on many levels, emotional as well as physical. A salve alone won’t solve serious muscle aches, but it can give you the relief you need to continue the work of healing.
Most of us are aware that using herbs and essential oils can have a positive effect on our overall health and wellness. But there are many other elements that are also organic, natural and have wonderful curative properties.
Consider adding some of these natural ingredients to your home medicine chest:
Clay isn’t just for pampering yourself at the spa – although that’s nice too! Clay mixed with dried herbs and made into a paste with water is an ancient remedy for healing wounds and sores. As a poultice it’s wonderfully soothing and if you have children, a clay paste is a great remedy for scraped knees or insect. Plus, by the time they’re finished helping you mix the clay and getting it all over themselves, they’ve usually forgotten their owee anyway.
Clay is also an inexpensive way to do your own home spa treatment. Mix up a tablespoon or two with equal parts water and give yourself 15 to 20 minutes to relax. That’s as healing as the clay!
If you’d like you can add a teaspoon of your favorite ground herb: lavender, calenduala, comfrey, any minty or citrusy herb is often a good choice, as is ground oatmeal. The clay will draw out toxins, while the herbs heal.
Clay also makes great body powder especially mixed with ground herbs and arrowroot or cornstarch. A couple drops of palmarosa oil will give your healthy mixture the sweet fragrance of traditional baby products.
Two clays that both make wonderful facials as well as a nice ingredient in bath powders are bentonite and kaoln clays. Bentonite is especially good for facials and wound dressing. It has powerful drawing abilities and can be part of a detoxification routine.
Kaolin clay is a gentler, white clay. This is an excellent clay for baby powders and others with sensitive skin
However, clay is everywhere. Keep your eyes and ears open. If you live in an area where there’s any geothermal activity at all, there is likely a source of local clay.
Clay does absorb minerals specific to where it’s found, but there’s something to be said for using what’s around you even if it doesn’t sound as exotic as clay from Peru or the Middle East. If you do find a source of local clay, you can always get it tested to find out the exact mineral composition.
Easily found and inexpensive, Epsom salts may be one of the best relaxation tools around. They are also somewhat misunderstood. Epsom salts are not salts at all. Rather Epsom salts from England are a pure mineral compound of magnesium sulfate. These tiny white crystals look like salt, but unlike salt, they have no sodium chloride.
Epsom salts are high in magnesium and there are many benefits from bathing in them. A study by the University of Birmingham claims that bathing in Epsom salts for 12 minutes a day for seven days increases magnesium levels. Elderly participants also claimed a decrease in rheumatic pains.
Epsom salts are also softening to the skin.
Dead Sea Salts
Dead Sea salts have been used since ancient times and many spas use them for their unique balance of magnesium, potassium, calcium chloride and bromides. Like Epsom salts, Dead Sea salts helps balance the skin’s moisture and help combat stress.
This isn’t the charcoal you use for barbecues. Activated medical-grade charcoal is an ingredient used in hospitals to help with poisoning. Because chemicals bind to it, it can be a good way of removing toxins from the body.
Some people take a small amount of charcoal internally in juice as a way to detoxify. However, care should always be used when taking charcoal internally and be sure you are under the care of an informed medical consultant.
Charcoal can be used to deep clean skin and hair. It’s an excellent exfoliate and will de-clog pores. Many people claim it works wonders on acne and other skin problems.
Pure, simple water is one of the best things for us. Drink plenty of water every day. Get in the habit of splashing your face with cool water. It’s wonderful for hydration and will help you feel fresh.
If you make your own skin care products, distilled water is also handy for making lotions and herbal mixtures.
If you mix your own essential oils or cosmetics, you know one of the most important ingredients is a good fixative oil. A fixative will bind with your other fragrances, enhancing them without becoming overpowering.
That’s how I stumbled across amyris. (amyris balsamifera L.) when I first began experimenting with fragrances. As well as being a great fixative to mix with other essential oils, it can also stand on its own and has unique healing properties.
Amyris grows in Haiti, Central America and parts of the Caribbean and is sometimes called West Indian sandalwood. Unlike sandalwood, though, this herb is not endangered so as well as being less expensive it’s a more ethical choice as well.
Sandalwood is sweet and musky, while amyris has a woodier base aroma. It’s a softer, most subtle scent than sandalwood, and will absorb and soften the scent of other essential oils.
Sometimes it is also called torchwood or candlewood because of its heavy, flammable oil.
Amyris is a soothing herb and in aromatherapy will calm the nerves and help with sleep. If you deal with insomnia, try a few drops of amyris and lavender oil in a diffuser before bed.
This herb is wonderful for skin care products because of its anti-inflammatory actions and regenerative ability. It’s a common ingredient in anti-aging cosmetics and frequently used in soaps, incense, lotions and aromatherapy treatments. It binds well to other fragrances and helps lotions hold their scent.
Generally considered very safe and non-irritating to the skin, you should nevertheless do a skin test first as you would with any other essential oil.
Amyris and cannabis
Since all of my pain-relief products are made with cannabis, I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting to find herbs that blend well with the cannabis, are healthy for the skin and will give the salve a pleasing aroma. Cannabis’ unique composition of terepenes gives it the strong, skunky scent it is known for.
Some people love the smell. Others hate it.
With its woody scent, amyris along with other essential oils has proven to be a good combo with cannabis. The oils I use most frequently along with amyris include lavender, wintergreen, frankincense and myrrh.
There are other ways to cut the smell of cannabis. A lot of people are making topicals with keif – the trim after the buds are trimmed, which generally eliminates the smell, but I believe sacrifices the potency. Keif may be high in THC and CBD, but cannabis contains more than 450 unique compounds. How many helpful ones are sifted out with this method?
A smelly lotion that works is better than a sweet smelling one that doesn’t.
Scent affects our emotions and can either agitate or calm us.
Perfumers call this ability to evoke moods “scent narrative.” It’s an alchemy that brings together disparate raw materials and creates something truly different.
The subtle scent of Amyris is a big part of its beauty.
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