Build a Home Apothecary

6 Mar

Last spring I took a home medicine making workshop at Erin’s Meadow Herb Farm, setting in motion a new obsession that I think will probably last a life time: building and using a home apothecary.

Erin's Meadow Herb Farm


"Make Your Place" by Raleigh Briggs

"Savoring the Day" by Judith Benn Hurley

I supplemented the knowledge from this first and subsequent workshops at the Herb Farm with two fabulous books, Make Your Place by Raleigh Briggs and the sadly now out of print Savoring the Day by Judith Benn Hurley.

These give great overviews on helpful herbs and recipes for a multitude of concoctions. Having a collection and knowledge of herbs and essential oils allows you to create everything from remedies for headaches to homemade face moisturizers that not only saves money in the long run, but is just plain fun.

I remember being a little girl and mixing up shampoos and lotions in my laboratory, trying to improve on the toiletries we had.  I never came up with anything worth mentioning, but I did once get scolded for spilling my mom’s shampoo all over the bathroom rug.  Similarly, a friend of mine recently showed me a home video in which she and her friend at twelve years old gave her mother/videographer a tour of their “laboratory” in which they’d created, among other things, the cure for AIDS.  A home apothecary likely won’t accomplish that, but it will allow you to indulge the youthful urge so many of us to create something useful out of ordinary ingredients.

photo by Shawn Poynter

All you need to get started are some basic herbs, essential oils and various carriers that will allow you take advantage of their healing and soothing uses.  With these, you can create herbal teas, salves, tinctures, syrups, aromatherapy mists, eye pillows and infused oils.
10 Great Starter Herbs and Their Uses

You can find these herbs online or in stores that have large bulk herb selections.  If you have these herbs growing in your garden, you can use them fresh instead of dried, but will want to double the amount since dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh ones.

  • Lavender– anti-inflammatory, soothing, insect repellent, soothes headaches, aids sleep and relatation
  • Peppermint– fever reducer, good for digestion, invigorating
  • Spearmint– aids digestion, reduces bloating, antioxidant, invigorating
  • Milk Thistle– promotes luver function, gallbaldder, detox, lowers cholesterol, antioxidant
  • Elderberries– treats flu
  • Fennel– good for digestion and bloating, diuretic, flea repellent, soothes coughs
  • Rosemary– memory, circulation, anti-carcinogenic,
  • Chamomile– Soothing, good for digestion, colds, aids sleep,
  • Nettle– high in protein, iron and vitamins
  • Ginger– nausea, diarrhea, digestion, arthritis, soothing, treats inflammation

Here’s a handy little chart I drew of my ten favorite herbs:

photo by Shawn Poynter, cabinet door supplied by Knox Heritage

10 Great Essential Oils
Essential oils aren’t cheap (or at least most of them aren’t), but a little goes a long way with these oils.  You can find them in health and hippie stores the world over, or online.  I bought this starter set from Amazon years ago.

  • Grapefruit– energizing, brightens dull skin and harm dilutes toxic build up, helps with water retention
  • Lemon– antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, astringent, detoxifying, energizing, brightens dull skin
  • Orange– antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, aphrodesiac, detoxifier, boosts immunity
  • Clary Sage– mild antidepressant, astringent, aphrodisiac, digestive, sedative
  • Rosemary– antibacterial, hair growth, mental activity, respiratory problems, pain reducer
  • Lavender– antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, calms anxiety, blood circulation and respiration,
  • Peppermint– indigestion, respiratory problems, headaches, nausea
  • Spearmint– antibacterial, antifungal, insect repellent, restorative, stimulant
  • Eucalyptus– antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, decongestant, stimulating
  • Tea Tree– antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, insecticide, stimulant, helps with wounds healing, detox, relieves pain

10 Great Carriers and Accessories
These are all fairly inexpensive and easy to find.

  • Vodka– for tinctures and aromatherapy mists
  • Olive or Jojoba Oil– for salves and moisturizers
  • Tea ball, Reusable or Disposable Tea Bags– for herbal teas and syrups
  • Sugar or Honey– for syrups
  • Beeswax– for salves and balms
  • Rice or Beans– for eye and muscle pillows
  • Strainer and/or Cheesecloth– to strain various concoctions
  • Unscented Castille Soap– for shampoos and cleansers
  • Old Fabric– for eye and muscle pillows and sachets
  • Jars, Tubs and Bottles– to store your finished products

While it’s by no means necessary, I highly recommend designating a centralized spot for storing all these ingredients.  First of all, it makes you (if you’re like me) feel like a wizard capable of making magical creations.  Second, it just looks cool.  Finally, and probably most importantly, it makes it easier to whip things up without having to go searching for everything you need.   I used an old film drawer my librarian friend gave me that we mounted on the wall in the bathroom.

top row: Mists and Bath Salts, second row: Salves and Balms, third tow: Essential Oils, bottom row: Syrups, Tinctures and Liniments

With these tools, you’ll have what you need to create a ton of great stuff for your home.  I’ll be posting more recipes and creations, so check back as you continue to build your home apothecary!  You can check out some past recipes I’ve posted in the meantime on the new Apothecary page, which you can find at the top right in the row of tabs.

This post has been re-tooled for a guest spot over at the wonderful Offbeat Home.  Check it out and browse around their kick-ass site.

3 Responses to “Build a Home Apothecary”

  1. Photographer Leia March 20, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    This is lovely! Can I ask where you bought your bottles from? All the ones I seem to find are more decorative then useful, and cost a *fortune.*

  2. mackeyda March 21, 2011 at 7:07 pm #

    I bought them at our local co-op in the bulk herb section. You can also search online for “herb jar” or “amber bottle” or “bottle with dropper” for things like this.

  3. Photographer Leia March 22, 2011 at 7:19 am #

    Thanks 🙂 Apparently I had been looking with the wrong key words.

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