Herbs 101

Herbs 101 – An introduction to the basics on herbs. Herbs are something all of us can benefit from in one way or another; from using them for home remedies, baking, or crafts, they have so many valuable uses we can take advantage of. If you are new to using herbs though, it can seem overwhelming to know where to start and what exactly you are even dealing with. Here are a few tips on getting started with herbs!



Herbs 101 – An introduction to the basics on herbs.

Herbs are something all of us can benefit from in one way or another; from using them for home remedies, baking, or crafts, they have so many valuable uses we can take advantage of. If you are new to using herbs though, it can seem overwhelming to know where to start and what exactly you are even dealing with. Here are a few tips on getting started with herbs!

The question you might ask is “What is a herb, exactly?”

A herb is a plant that is of value for the flavor, aroma it provides or the health benefits properties it may have. Herbs can come in many forms and sizes, depending totally on the type of plant and which part of the plant you are using.

Some herbs have more than one use, such as some of the cooking type you may already be familiar with, like oregano, parsley, or thyme. They have wonderful health benefits, and have been used medicinally for ages, in addition to their use for the flavors in cooking.

Most herbs are not so much of the woody type plant, but more of the soft and more tender type. If herbs are woody at all, it would be in the stems of the plant, but the leaves and buds would be soft and easy to use and break down. Rosemary is a perfect example of this type of woody-stem herb.

For years and years people have used herbs for preserving and flavoring food and this is easily their most popular use. Most people purchase them in the grocery or health food store and cook with them frequently. Herbs have also been used in religious ceremonies.

• Here are some tips for usage in each specific area that should help you if you are new to using them, along with a few cautions as well.

Herbs For Cooking:

If we did not season our food and use herbs in cooking, much of what we eat would not have a whole lot of flavor. Beyond buying the pre-dried type of herbs in the store, you can frequently find some of the more basic ones in the fresh plant form in many stores and also certainly in a garden center. Ask an employee for advice on which are easiest as starters, but mint, rosemary and basil are ones you will probably be able to find without much trouble. All three of those have great health benefits for your body, so know that while you use them to cook with, they are doing your body good too!

Many cooks do grow a lot of their own herbs because they taste so good when fresh. It also can be money saving to just be able to pick off your own plant the specific amount you need for a recipe (and talk about convenient!). In the dried form herbs do have a longer shelf life but some of the benefits will not be as potent and strong either.
If you grow a few different ones, just cut a few snips of each and add them to soups, salads, salsa and more (I walk out to the garden for oregano and basil all the time!) They work great in homemade sauces as well. You may want to read 10 Herbs You Need To Grow for some great herb gardening choices. In additions, this post on herb planting and care can help you get started! And, if you would like to enjoy fresh herbs even during the winter, this post on Tips for Growing an Herb Garden Year Round will be helpful!

The best way to start cooking with herbs is to use recipes you are already familiar and comfy with and then put them in there, tweaking it as you taste and try it. If you are nervous to do so, try one type at a time, like adding a tiny bit to a salad dressing or omelet. Add flavor to salads by using dill, cilantro and basil.

Here are a few recipes that make great use of herbs:

Chicken Salad recipe – Hubby’s best recipe (and that is really saying something!) – the herb addition is what makes it so fantastic!
Roasted Rosemary Mushrooms
Spicy Chicken Thighs
Four Color Caprese Salad
Cantaloupe Prosciutto Mozzarella Salad Recipe

Make a great dressing with an oil base by adding lemon juice and sea salt along with your favorite herbs.
One thing to note is to add them in the last few minutes of cooking, when they are fresh, or they will tend to lose much of their flavor the hotter they get. Do not cook them for more than 25 to 30 minutes.

Infuse either or both olive oil or vinegar with herbs by first placing the herbs in the bottle and then topping off all the way with the liquid. Keep closed tightly and use whenever you’d like. Garlic, Chives, Basil, Dill and thyme are great ones to do this with. Add a cute label and ribbon in a nice colorful bottle and you have a wonderful gift for a cook in your life! Here’s a great how to make herb infused oils post.

Herbal Remedies:

Aromatherapy is one great way to use as remedies. You can add a few snips to a humidifier or add some on the logs in your fire when burning in winter. Incense type sticks called herbal joss sticks are used to cleanse the air in religious rituals and they do help create a mood and make those who are familiar with that scent feel reverence and comfort at their smell.

Aromas can truly be good therapy for your body and mind. As you start using herbs and smell them, you will be drawn to certain ones, and you should listen to your body. If it likes one, use it, because your body is telling you you need it. It can evoke good memories for you as well, like the scent of Grandma’s apple pie that takes you back, many herbs can have that effect.

Your brain will release chemicals in reaction to aromas and it can be very helpful with emotional therapy.

Herbal teas and infusions are another way to use them as remedies. Infusions are done by pouring hot water over the herb leaves and blooms and letting them steep in it for at least 15 to 20 minutes, then inhaling and drinking while fresh. Teas are steeped for a shorter span of time and drank.

A few commonly used medicinal herbs are: rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme. They can be used for sinus relief, to help get over a flu or cold, for antiseptic uses, relief for wounds and scars and for allergy relief. There is a lot of information online on these herbs so be sure to research before using for this type of remedy and always consult your physician as well.

Herbs For Crafts:

Herbs can be used as natural dyes, for use with bath products and spa treatments, to make wreaths and bouquets, potpourri and sachets, natural candles, and homemade soaps.

Drying and storing herbs is not too complicated but you do need a good dark space to keep them in while drying and for you can tie them together in bunches and hang upside down as well as laying flat on a screen. They can also be dried in the oven, for faster results.

Once dried, be sure to store in clean, airtight containers, or if storing hanging in bunches, just be sure to protect with a cover to keep off the dust. How to Harvest and Dry Basil!

Cautions:

• If you are pregnant or nursing, or have heart conditions, please consult a physician before using herbs for remedy purposes.

• Here are two herbs that, while beautiful in their plant form, contain poisonous and volatile oils that in small doses may not harm us, but can be toxic if used in larger ones, so it is best to avoid usage and never ingest either of these: Foxglove and Lily of the Valley. Even when growing these plants, be careful to keep pets and small children away from them.

If you would like to learn more about herbs and their uses, one of these books is sure to have the information you seek:

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, 3rd Edition

The Complete Book of Herbs: A Practical Guide to Growing and Using Herbs

Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use

Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 Teas, Tonics, Oils, Salves, Tinctures, and Other Natural Remedies for the Entire Family

The Herbal Apothecary: 100 Medicinal Herbs and How to Use Them

Please remember that none of this is meant as medical advice. I am not a doctor and do not play one on the internet. Please consult a physician if you have any questions about using essential oils or herbs so your doctor can better explain to you the benefits, possible side effects, and any warnings about essential oils and herbs.


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When to use Herbs versus Essential Oils

When to use Herbs versus Essential Oils. The differences between herbs and essential oils are explained, as well as when an essential oil or a herb is a more appropriate use for a project, craft, DIY beauty or in cooking and baking.





When to use Herbs versus Essential Oils

Using natural remedies has become a huge trend in this day and age and it comes from centuries-long traditions. While we here in the United States may have gotten away from natural remedies a while, the tradition is back and much more common than ever.

These days, using essential oils and herbs is very common and you can find all sorts of recipes and ideas online and in books for everything from remedies and medicinal uses to religious traditions to homemade bath products, and more crafty projects as well.

So how do you know when to use a herb vs. an oil, other than just doing what a recipe tells you to do? When is one more appropriate than another?

This post aims to give you some basics on both herbs and essential oils and break it down for you as far as the what and the why of when to use each so that you can understand your choices better. Hopefully, this will help you decide which to choose, and in what circumstances, to get the best results.

Both herbs and oils come from plants. This may seem obvious, but that is where it all starts. Herbs are plants that can vary a lot in size and character, but more often than not, they are usually succulent and soft in nature and not the type with woody stems and parts. Rosemary is one example of a herb, however, that does not fit that description, as it has woody stems and soft leaves, but is used very commonly as a herb, so it is hard to pin down an exact description that blankets them all.

Herbs are used for culinary, medicinal, cooking and crafting uses. They are the dried parts of the plant, like the leaves, flowers, seeds of the plants that are aromatic in nature, and they can also have wonderful flavor as well.

Essential oils are basically the extracted oils from the plant, instead of the dried plant material itself. It takes a lot of plant material to have a substantial amount of an essential oil and if you tried to make your own oils at home with your own herbs, you would probably not yield much oil at all. Essential oils and herbs have use versatility in common, as well as both being used for centuries for religious, medicinal, and beauty purposes. Today, essential oils are widely used all over the globe for homemade remedies, and homemade items, just like herbs are. The oils are extracted most commonly by steam distillation and many oils come from the leaves, or the peel of the plants or fruits, but can also come from the bark or roots as well.

So what is the difference between essential oils and herbs other than the form they take?

Essential oils are 50 to 70 times more potent than a herb. The extraction process itself a huge difference too, of course. Large companies who sell them go to major lengths to ensure the potency and purity of an essential oil if they are marketed for remedy and health purposes. Companies really have to be careful about how they market an essential oil.

This is why, when you purchase an essential oil it may seem quite expensive – especially when compared to a herb – but understanding the process that goes into making an essential oil (and how costly the process is) as well as the rarity of the plant and where it is located, brings the price into perspective.

A little goes a long way when using an essential oil. Many (most) products we make at home using essential oils use just a few drops at a time. The average bottle of essential oil has about 250-300 drops in it. If you figure out that you are using your essential oil a few times a week and you use two or three drops each time, well that bottle will last you several months.

Herbs, when you use them, use a small quantity as well (a teaspoon or a tablespoon) unless they are a more potent flavor, and you may just use a pinch. However, that is much more than a drop or two at a time. Herbs will be used up more quickly is used as regularly as an essential oil. You can, however, grow and dry your own herbs. This can make them very cost effective.

Generally speaking, an essential oil will have a longer shelf life than a herb. I personally have found, several times over my life, an expired bottle of a herb blend for cooking, that I used maybe once, or never at all, that is already expired and I have had to throw it out. It is easy to rotate them in your cabinet and easily miss that they are past the expiration date. This means not only are not safe anymore for use, but they probably have no flavor left anyway.

Essential oils can last up to a few years when stored properly and not in direct heat.

When making the choice to use a herb or essential oil, consider the product you are producing.

If you are making a liquid item that is for remedy or spa type of a use, more than likely the oil is best. It takes less of it to achieve a scent, and sometimes you would not want leaves or petals in the product either. If you making something where the petals would look pretty but does not require a concentrated scent, then add the herb instead. And, there are times when both an essential oil and a herb (or flower or fruit) will work well within the same product:
Homemade Rose Bath Bombs
Rose Petal Soap Recipe
Make Your Own Orange Creamsicle Soap

For cooking, herbs are more commonly used than essential oils. However, when using an essential oil for cooking or baking make certain it is a certified pure oil. If the essential oil says it is for “aromatherapy only” then do not use it in your cooking or baking. Those type of oils have been blended with perfumes or toxins to achieve the aroma and are not safe for ingestion. If your oil says it is “natural” “Organic” or “pure”, it may still have additives, so read the entire label to be certain the essential oil is fit for consumption. The FDA has given many companies approval for these additives and they can still say those words on the label legally but they cannot say the word “supplement”, so that is key.

You may be interested in reading this post: Essential Oils to Use in Your Baking.

When cooking with an essential oil, it is best to start with a tiny amount, using a toothpick to stir it in because of the potency. Less is better than too much. With both herbs and oils in cooking, though, add them in in the last 10- 15 minutes of cooking to get the best flavor and not have the heat basically boil the flavor right out of them.

Hopefully, this post has given you some idea when it is best to use an essential oil or a herb in a project (craft, home remedy or DIY beauty, or food preparation). Do you have any tips on when you prefer to use a herb over an essential oil, and an essential oil over a herb?

Please remember that none of this is meant as medical advice. I am not a doctor and do not play one on the internet. Please consult a physician if you have any questions about using essential oils or herbs so your doctor can better explain to you the benefits, possible side effects, and any warnings about essential oils and herbs.


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Homemade Vanilla Sugar Candle

Homemade Vanilla Sugar Candle. This easy to make homemade vanilla sugar candle is really sweet! The sugar makes for a beautiful glistening look. This candle uses a vanilla scent but is can be customized using another scent you might like.  Candle making is easier than you think! Get started using this homemade vanilla sugar candle tutorial.





Homemade Vanilla Sugar Candle

This easy to make homemade vanilla sugar candle is really sweet! The sugar makes for a beautiful glistening look and smells a lot like home baked cookies. Get started with candle making using this homemade vanilla sugar candle tutorial.

How is this for a super cute, unique candle idea? The bonus is it is a soy candle, so no build up on the walls or ceiling. I absolutely adore soy candles. They are my go-to candle when buying, and now when making.

If you like soy candles too, you may like these candle recipes and tutorials: Homemade Coffee Bean Soy Candle (like fresh brewed coffee!? this one is for you!), Homemade Mason Jar Soy Candle (any color, any scent! Truly customizable) or this delicious Homemade Autumn Spice Soy Candles tutorial. Get into candle making! It is really easier than you think.

Homemade Vanilla Sugar Candle. This easy to make homemade vanilla sugar candle is really sweet! The sugar makes for a beautiful glistening look. This candle uses a vanilla scent but is can be customized using another scent you might like.  Candle making is easier than you think! Get started using this homemade vanilla sugar candle tutorial.


Homemade Vanilla Sugar Candle Materials:

• 2 cups Soy Wax
• 1 Candlewick (with a weighted bottom)
10 Drops Vanilla Candle Scent (You could also use Vanilla Essential Oil if you have it on hand)
• 1 tsp Decorators Sugar
Glass Measuring Cup
• Pencil, Chopstick or Wooden Stick
• Scissors
• Glass Jelly or Mason Jar

Homemade Vanilla Sugar Candle. This easy to make homemade vanilla sugar candle is really sweet! The sugar makes for a beautiful glistening look. This candle uses a vanilla scent but is can be customized using another scent you might like.  Candle making is easier than you think! Get started using this homemade vanilla sugar candle tutorial.


Homemade Vanilla Sugar Candle Instructions:

• Place your candlewick in a glass jelly or mason jar allowing the wick to drop to the bottom.
• To hold the candlewick in place, wrap the top around a pencil or chopstick.
• Place the stick over the jar and let the bottom of it drop to the bottom. A weighted candlewick does this nicely and settles on its own.

• Add 2 cups of soy wax to your large glass measuring cup (do not use a plastic measuring cup) and heat in the microwave for 2-3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds. or Using a double boiler on the stove to heat the soy wax flakes until they liquefy. (If using a non-stick pan to heat the soy flakes, use a very low heat and stir frequently – do not allow to scorch.)
• Add vanilla scent to the liquid soy wax (you can use more than is listed here, and if you prefer a scent other than vanilla, use that!).
• If you want to color your candle, DO NOT use food coloring as it will not mix well. This candle is naturally white, but if you wish to add color use pieces of broken crayon to do so. Peel the crayon and break it into small pieces (just ¼ of a crayon will work for a light color, more is necessary to achieve the darker colors). Allow the wax to melt and tint the mixture.

Homemade Vanilla Sugar Candle. This easy to make homemade vanilla sugar candle is really sweet! The sugar makes for a beautiful glistening look. This candle uses a vanilla scent but is can be customized using another scent you might like.  Candle making is easier than you think! Get started using this homemade vanilla sugar candle tutorial.


• Slowly pour your liquid soy candle wax into the glass jelly or mason jar
• Immediately re-center the candlewick if needed.
• Store the candle in a cool place until it sets. Allow it to harden at its own pace.
• After approximately 30 minutes – when the candle has begun to solidify – sprinkle the top of the candle with decorator sugar.
• Once the mixture has hardened, remove the pencil and you can snip the candlewick to shorten it.

Homemade Vanilla Sugar Candle. This easy to make homemade vanilla sugar candle is really sweet! The sugar makes for a beautiful glistening look. This candle uses a vanilla scent but is can be customized using another scent you might like.  Candle making is easier than you think! Get started using this homemade vanilla sugar candle tutorial.


• Light and enjoy!

Safety tip: never leave a lit candle unattended!

• This is a super easy project! You can dress up your Mason Jars with ribbons when giving as a gift! Think teachers, small gift exchanges, housewarming presents, stocking stuffers and more!

• To print the Homemade Vanilla Sugar Candle instructions, click here.


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