Podcast 152: Flexible Formulation for Herbal Cold Sore Remedies

This week we’re sharing a formula for an herbal cold sore remedy – a soft salve or balm that can be applied right on the sores. It’s going to serve as a jumping-off point for discussing flexible formulation. That’s the answer to the question “what can I do if I don’t have one – or any! – of the herbs in the formula as written?” If you can answer this question, you’ll be much more adaptable when you run out of herbs or when you’re away from your home apothecary.

We start out with the formula we published in our book Herbal Medicine for Beginners, then we break it down from the perspective of herbal actions. After identifying the herbs that contribute vulnerary, antimicrobial, lymphatic, and nervine actions to the remedy, we can come up with substitutions that would fill similar roles.

Here’s the formula as we presented it in our book, for comparison:

Cold Sore Balm

Makes 5 ounces (about a 3-month supply)

This gentle salve is very soothing to irritated cold sores, and helps reduce inflammation while making your body’s environment less hospitable to the virus.

  • 1 fluid ounce calendula-infused oil
  • 1 fluid ounce plantain-infused oil
  • ½ fluid ounce self-heal-infused oil
  • ½ fluid ounce chamomile-infused oil
  • ½ fluid ounce st john’s wort-infused oil
  • ½ fluid ounce thyme-infused oil
  • 1 ounce beeswax, plus more as needed
  1. Combine the oils in a pot and warm them over low heat.
  2. Add the beeswax and stir continuously until it melts. Use less beeswax to make your salve nice and soft if you’ll keep it in little jars; use more beeswax to make it slightly firmer if you’re using lip balm tubes.
  3. Spoon some of the melted oil & wax into a shotglass and place it in the freezer for a few minutes; it will set to its finished hardness. Take it out and test it with your finger to see if it is the consistency you want.
  4. Add more wax if you want to harden your salve; add more oil if you want to soften it.
  5. Pour into a short, wide-mouth jar (or fill lip balm tubes), then cover and allow to cool/set.
  6. Apply liberally to the affected area, 3 to 5 times daily.

Herbs discussed include: calendula, plantain, chamomile, thyme, self-heal, st john’s wort, lemon balm, common bugle, red clover, pine, damiana, violet, goldenrod, oregano, rosemary, lavender.

Mentioned in this episode:

We hope you find this flexible formulation approach helpful when you’re making your own herbal cold sore remedies! If you’d like to learn more about resolving skin problems, check out our Integumentary (Skin) Health course – it covers acne, eczema, psoriasis, various infections, and lots more. The course is delivered by video in our interactive learning platform, and you get access to weekly Q&A sessions with Ryn & Katja.

Integumentary Health

As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.

This episode was sponsored by Mountain Rose Herbs. We thank them for their support!


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:02):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:02):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:02):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:18):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. All right. This week we’re going to talk about something that everybody has lots of conversations with all of their close friends and associates.

Katja (00:29):
Everybody’s favorite topic.

Ryn (00:32):
Yeah. We’re going to talk about cold sores and herpes virus infections. So fun stuff, right?

Katja (00:39):
Fun stuff.

Ryn (00:39):

Katja (00:40):
You know, it’s important stuff. It affects so many people. In this country we’re kind of uptight about herpes and cold sores. But listen, so many people get cold sores, and it just is what it is. It’s fine. We don’t need to be uptight about it. But there are herbs who can help make it better. So let’s talk about them.

Ryn (01:01):
Let’s do that. But before that, let’s remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (01:08):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the U.S. And so these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (01:19):
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as a kind of objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, your experiences, and your goals. So we’re not trying to present a dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (01:37):
Everybody’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but we hope that they’ll give you some good information to think about and some ideas to research further.

Ryn (01:47):
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean that you’re alone on the journey. But it does mean that the final decision when considering any course of action, whether that’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours to make. All right. Well before we go on and talk about cold sores. We have a little announcement for everybody.

Katja (02:10):
We have an exciting announcement. We are so excited to announce that Mountain Rose Herbs has offered to sponsor our podcast. And that’s super exciting, because I have been in relationship with Mountain Rose Herbs literally since I very first became an herbalist. I have been ordering herbs from them for more than 20 years.

Ryn (02:32):
Yep. The distinctive Mountain Rose boxes were a feature of your house when I met you, and they’re still kicking around here today.

Katja (02:40):
They still are, yes., I am pretty certain, I’ve really been trying to remember this. I am pretty certain that the first herb that I ordered from Mountain Rose Herbs was chamomile. And, actually, I know that the first order had more than one herb in it. But I’m pretty sure that came on meal was the first thing to actually go into the cart. Yes.

Ryn (03:00):
I think probably the first herb I specifically got from them was centaury. I think you were making an herb order. And this was when you were still teaching me as an apprentice and everything, and giving me herb of the month assignments. And I was like yeah, I gotta find an herb of the month. Scroll, scroll, scroll. Centaury, that sounds cool. Yeah.

Katja (03:19):
Yeah. I can remember you were on the Mountain Rose website, like scrolling around and saying like yeah, I don’t know what to pick. And then you were like centaury, like centaur. That sounds great. I want that one. I did check, y’all. We’ve talked about centaury before. It is bitter as all get out, but I did check, and they do have it in stock. So if you want to do an herb of the month on centaury like Ryn did, you can get it now from mountain.

Ryn (03:46):
Yeah. I recommend it. Yeah. So we’re excited to collaborate with Mountain Rose. And just in case you don’t know them already, you can find more about them at MountainRoseherbs.com. All right.

Katja (03:59):
All right. Well, this week we filmed videos about infectious skin issues for the integumentary skin health course. Integumentary health, it means skin health. But integumentary is kind of a weird word, so we put both words in there.

Ryn (04:15):
Yeah. The skin is in parentheses, you know?

Katja (04:19):
But yeah, so those videos were covering everything from MRSA to plantar warts to…

Ryn (04:27):
Fungal skin stuff.

A Formula of Herbal Actions

Katja (04:29):
Yeah, exactly. And we were talking about cold sores. And so we wanted to share, we also have a formula for cold sores in our book, which is Herbal Medicine for Beginners. And we wanted to share a recipe from the book. And the recipe itself is in the show notes, because it’s hard to say like a half a fluid ounce of this kind of oil, and a half…like that doesn’t come across very well in a podcast. So you can check that in the show notes. But we want to talk about this formula from an herbal actions perspective. Like specifically, why are these herbs there? What are they doing? They’re not there because they’re the cold sore herbs. That’s not how we work with plants.

Ryn (05:10):
Yeah. And as we look at the formula, we’ll see that some of them are there to like kill off the infection, but many of them are not. Some of them are there to help your body fight the infection, which is a different thing. That is a different thing. And it’s really critical to understand that distinction in herbalism, right? Like the basic idea is that if you have an infectious issue going on, sometimes the approach is yes, get in there and kill the pathogen. But other times the approach is help your body to fight the pathogen. And sometimes that’s way more efficient or just more attainable. On skin issues you can get your herbs right in contact with the site. So you do have a much better chance of working with herbs in that direct antimicrobial way. But in the case of the cold sore, this is a virus we’re dealing with. And viruses are a little harder to kill off then, say, like a bacterium or a fungal body or something like that.

Katja (06:01):
Yeah. They’re kind of like zombies like that.

Ryn (06:03):
Yeah. They do require some activity on the part of your own immune system. Because it’s not just its own foreign invader that’s sitting on top of yourselves. It gets inside. It converts a cell into a virus factory. And so you do need your immune system to be patrolling for those rogue cells of yours that have been reprogrammed. So, when we’re thinking about the actions here, we’re going to see a whole suite of different effects that come together towards that common goal.

Katja (06:32):
And when we think about herbs from that perspective of actions, then we are so much more flexible. Because what about if you’re like, okay, I’ve come up with my perfect formula for cold sores, and now I’m going to order the herbs I need to go and make it. And suddenly one of the herbs is out of stock. I mean, that happens. So if you are creating your formula from the perspective of the herbal actions, then it is very easy for you to substitute another herb with similar actions. As opposed to, if you just look up herbs for cold sore and you get a list and you don’t really know exactly how they’re functioning in this, in this regard. And then you have to substitute and you’re like, well, I don’t really know. So, coming at our formulas from this perspective just gives us so much more flexibility to work with what we’ve got.

Ryn (07:32):
Yeah. So the ingredients in this formula… Actually, we should also talk about the preparation method here. So this was going to be a cold sore balm. And we’re going to basically make an herbal salve, but we’re going to make it fairly soft, especially if we’re going to keep this in little jars. And you’re going to kind of dip in a finger and get a little dab and then put that right on. We’ll make it fairly soft that way. You could make it a little firmer if you wanted to put it into a tube.

Katja (08:04):
You could make it like a chapstick. But listen, cold sores hurt. And so part of the rationale behind the softness of this particular salve, almost ointment-like consistency is that it won’t hurt when you put it on. If you have to kind of push, like if you think about using lip balm in a tube.

Ryn (08:25):
On a cold day where it hasn’t been sitting in your pocket the whole time.

Katja (08:29):
Right. Then you do kind of put pressure on it to get it to go onto your lips. And that might not feel good on a cold sore. So that’s why this particular blend is intended as a softer ointment style salve, as opposed to like a hard salve.

Ryn (08:45):
Yeah. Yeah. So the ingredients in there – the original formula – we had calendula, plantain, chamomile, thyme, self heal, and St. John’s wort.

Katja (08:59):
Was that six original herbs and spices?

Ryn (09:02):
Yeah. There you go. Nice.

Vulneraries, Antimocrobials, Lymphatics, & Nervines

Katja (09:05):
All right. Well, let’s kind of break this up here. We have some vulneraries, that is herbs who can help skin cells heal. We have some anti-microbial herbs, that is literally herbs that can fight microbes on contact. We have some lymphatic action going on, which stimulating the lymphatic system is both part of immune stimulation, but also part of the cleanup crew. And we have a nervine in this particular case. We actually have a couple of nervines in this particular case oriented both at restoring the health of a nerve cell and diminishing pain.

Ryn (09:55):
Yeah. Calming down excessive nerve activity or over excitation of the nerve. Yeah.

Katja (10:01):
Yeah. And if you want, feel free to pause us now and see if you can match up. Some of these herbs have more than one action, but see if you can match up the herbs with the actions. And then you can unpause us and see if you got it right.

Ryn (10:19):
Okay. Well, if we start and take a look at calendula. Well, calendula is many things, right? Now calendula does have some antimicrobial quality. Its capacity to fight off microbes is going to vary a bit from type to type. So let’s say that we find calendula really effective when we’re fighting off a fungal infection. I’d say a bit less so directly for this kind of viral situation with the herpes cold sores going on, but don’t worry because calendula is also a really effective vulnerary herbs to encourage the growth of healthy tissue over that area. And it’s also a really good lymphatic. And when we think about lymphatics, sometimes we kind of get stuck on their most obvious effect cases, right? Where you’re like, I’ve got these big, swollen lymph nodes, right under my chin. They’re easy to feel. And I take lymphatics, and I feel them shrink and recede and everything. So that’s super obvious. But lymphatics are helpful, all kinds of places when we’re dealing with a wound or some infected area, because that’s where we’re going to be draining away waste products and detritus from cellular immune battles and stuff, you know? So having that activity of calendula here is really helpful for resolution.

Katja (11:36):
Absolutely. So we can talk about plantain. Plantain is also a vulnerary. It helps the skin to knit itself back together. It stimulates cell proliferation. That means the growth of new cells to heal over a damaged area. It has some antimicrobial actions too, although in the case of plantain those antimicrobial actions are less direct. Specifically here we’re talking about plantain’s biofilm busting action. And sometimes when we think of the word biofilm, we’re tempted to think about bacteria. But that’s not actually the case. A biofilm can be any kind of pathogen. And in fact it is very commonly multiple types of pathogens all glommed together, specializing on different types of actions to support themselves as a community.

Ryn (12:33):
Yeah. They’re all working together in that way. And plantain is going to help to break up biofilms. And that may be relevant to the kind of like root infection here, you know, with the herpes virus. But it can also just be that hey, once you’ve got a cold sore, that’s an exposed spot. It’s like a wound that has formed. And so opportunistic infections could come along and compound the problem. Right?

Katja (12:56):
If we can clear those out or break them up, then it’s going to allow your immune system to really focus on the threat that it needs to clear out. Which it wouldn’t be able to do if it’s got that big sort of borg-like glom that is standing in the way.

Ryn (13:15):
Yeah. Right. Okay. So there’s plantain for you. Well, and then chamomile. So chamomile of course, you know, has that nervine quality of like calming and soothing over excitation. When we drink chamomile tea we can feel a kind of emotional or psychological calmness emerge for us. And that’s reflecting the kind of systemic impact of chamomile to slow down nerve firing rates and help us to just feel a little more relaxed and settled. Now here with a cold sore, you’ve got irritated tissue. You have irritated nerves. In fact, the herpes virus can attack the nerve tissue itself. And that can cause a kind of irritant over-excitation reaction on the part of that nerve tissue. So chamomile is going to have this really nice calming, soothing influence there. And that can reduce the pain that you experience, right? But it’s also kind of helping to maintain good tissue health in the underlying structure. But there’s more.

Katja (14:17):
But that’s not all. Chamomile has pretty potent antimicrobial action actually. And we don’t tend to think of chamomile in those terms because, you know, we so often are like, oh, a nice cup of chamomile tea. But in fact, especially if you have a good, strong preparation, chamomile is quite anti-microbial. And it’s got vulnerary action. It’s got skin healing action. So chamomile is really doing, doing quite a lot of work here.

Ryn (14:49):
Yeah, for sure. All right. Our next herb on the list there was thyme. And thyme primarily here is serving as an antimicrobial. And also I’d say, we didn’t name this category before, but it is a bit of a stimulant. Specifically it’s going to increase blood circulation into the tissue area here, and that’s coming from the warmth. If you take thyme or if you make some good strong thyme tea, it feels warming. This is a warming herb. It’s kind of hot, stimulating, activating. And so that kind of topical effect is going to increase some blood movement and perhaps increase some of your own innate response to what’s going on in there. Yeah.

Katja (15:31):
Yeah. But really in this case, the thyme has very, very potent antimicrobial action. And so frequently, not to jump in on substitution already, but so frequently people when they hear cold sore they think lemon balm. But thyme is in the same family, and actually has many of the same constituents as lemon balm. So right off the bat, we’re thinking like think beyond lemon balm. Lemon balm is fantastic. And if you have some go ahead and work with it. But thinking beyond lemon balm here, thyme is really doing much of the same type of work, but also bringing other very effective aspects in as well.

Ryn (16:15):
Yeah, for sure. Okay. Well then with self heal we have another vulnerary as the name implies, right. You know, to encourage the healing of the self. Yep. It can do that. And self heal is also going to be another one of our lymphatic herbs, to help that draining from below to happen.

Katja (16:34):
And then finally, St. John’s wort, which has that nervine action, in this case as a trophorestorative. It restores function to the nerves themselves. So trophorestorative is a specialized word, like a specialized subcategory of nervine here. But St. John’s wort really is able to heal nerve cells, encourage their healing in a very effective manner. And it also has a little bit of sedation aspect. Now I don’t mean like St. John’s wort will help you sleep at night. But in this case it will calm down an agitated nerve. And when a nerve is being attacked by a virus, that hurts. That is agitation. And so having that calming effect is going to help reduce the pain.

What If We Don’t Have the Formula Ingredients?

Ryn (17:36):
Yeah. So the formula as a whole, right. We’re bringing all those activities together. We’re trying to make sure that we can heal some damaged tissue. We’re preventing or fighting off existing infection. We’re moving that lymph from below. We’re calming down the nerves. We’re supporting their healthy regrowth and, you know, self-maintenance and everything. And that’s the idea. So what happens if we didn’t have all those ingredients. Is the whole thing going to fall apart? You know, that often is something that people worry about. Students of herbalism can feel worried about that, or feel like if I can’t replicate the exact formula from the book or from the teaching, then it’s not going to be as successful. Now, there are some cases where following the whole formula can make a difference. You know, there was something came out a few years back about a formula from Bald’s Leechbook. The one with the stye in the eyes. And they had this whole formula with a variety of different herbs and also like what kind of metal the vessel you prepare it in should be made from, and a few different ingredients there.

Katja (18:44):
Yeah. I mean, back when we used reactive metals as cooking vessels, because we didn’t have non-reactive metals. Of course, asterisk, even nonreactive metals are not entirely nonreactive. But, okay.

Ryn (18:56):
Yeah. But in that one they had tried a couple of different versions of the formula, and like left out a few key ingredients here and there. And it didn’t work, or didn’t work as well anyway. So it’s not to say that there aren’t…

Katja (19:08):
Wasn’t that the one that had, like, ox bile in it or something like that?

Ryn (19:08):
It did have some ox bile, yeah, yeah, and a few other things. So, you know it’s not to say that there aren’t great formulas and that following them is always bad or whatever. It’s definitely a great place to start. And sometimes you just really love the way a thing comes out and tastes and feels and acts. But also we don’t want to get stuck, right? We don’t want to be in that position where you’re like, I don’t have every one of these ingredients. That means I can’t make anything? No.

The Least Number of Herbs to Get All the Actions

Katja (19:35):
Yeah, no, you totally can. So first off in this particular formula, maybe we could start by reducing it down to it’s like lowest common denominator. And in order to do that, we can look at our actions: vulnerary, anti-microbial lymphatic and the nervine actions. And think about what’s the minimum number of herbs that would get us all of those actions. And I propose chamomile and thyme. Oh, wait. No, I didn’t get the lymphatic action in there. Ah! I still propose chamomile and thyme, but we could put some plantain with it. Chamomile, plantain, and thyme.

Ryn (20:22):
So your chamomile’s covering your nervine and vulnerary qualities.

Katja (20:28):
Okay. It also has anti-microbial qualities. So honestly it could be plantain and chamomile. It’s just that I want the thyme. I just want it, but you’re right. It doesn’t need to be there. Plantain and chamomile actually does get the whole thing done.

Ryn (20:41):
Right. But now why do you want the thyme there? Well, it’s going to be stronger.

Katja (20:45):
Yeah, exactly. It’s stronger.

Ryn (20:46):
You know, because thyme is just a more potent herb. It’s more stimulating. It’s more powerfully antimicrobial than chamomile. So, you know, take that and when you’re building your formula, don’t think, okay, I need to match one herb per action.

Katja (21:02):
Yeah. Wait, I want to go back. Sorry, finish your sentence and then I want to go back to a thing.

Ryn (21:05):
Just to say, there’s going to be overlap. And some herbs are going to be in multiple categories simultaneously. They’re not likely to be in all of those categories to the same degree though. Right? So you have a mild antimicrobial with chamomile. You have a powerful antimicrobial with thyme. You put them together and you can get a broader kind of activity. Plus you can draw on the other effects that chamomile brings that thyme doesn’t really have on its own. Yeah.

Katja (21:30):
Okay. But I do want to just challenge our idea that thyme is a stronger antimicrobial than chamomile is. I am not certain that that is accurate. And I’m thinking about some pretty profound anecdotal case studies that talk about chamomile as like the single herb responsible for the antimicrobial action. And I think that, I mean, I think I’m not the only one, but I’m investigating my own feelings here that I think of thyme as more powerful because it is hot and sharp. Right. And instead what I want to think of here is that when you put thyme and chamomile together you get a very broad spectrum of action. They’re different plant families. They have different types of constituents and very different volatile oil profiles.

Ryn (22:32):
Which you know because they smell different. That’s all it takes, y’all, is they smell different. Okay. Their volatiles are different.

Katja (22:38):
And they don’t smell a little different, like thyme and lavender. They smell drastically different. So that gives you the information that their profile, the chemicals that are making up those smells that is the volatile oil component, is in fact also drastically different. So I really want to emphasize that it isn’t that I think thyme is stronger, even though kind of I’m inclined to think that thyme is stronger because, I don’t know. I grew up in this culture and hot, sharp things are clearly better than gentle, soft things. I don’t know. But really it’s about that broad spectrum of action that I really want to get there. Especially because once a cold sore opens, like once that skin is broken, it’s not just about the virus anymore. It’s about every possible opportunistic pathogen that says, ooh, like somebody just opened a back door to the party. We’re in. And so now we’re not just fighting the virus itself. We’re fighting all of them.

Ryn (23:47):
Yeah, right. But yeah, we could do that. And we could go by action and just say, all right, here’s the actions I want. Let’s get me some set of herbs that will fulfill them. And you’ve got a lot of options with that. You can also say, all right, well – or kind of like what you were doing – which herbs would overlap many or even all of these of these categories. I don’t know if I can get all of them from one plant.

Katja (24:10):
I kind of think that chamomile is the closest, because the only thing it doesn’t have is the lymphatic stimulation.

Herb by Herb Substitutions

Ryn (24:15):
Yeah. I don’t know. Yeah. Okay. Well, so that’d be one option to do it. We could also say like, if I take this herb by herb, what’s the closest thing to calendula. Is there another herb that moves lymph around have some antimicrobial quality, but more than anything is just really good as a wound healer.

Katja (24:36):
Honestly, if I had to replace calendula in a formula, I would replace it with chamomile and plantain together. And that is not just because those two plants are in this formula. Like that is sort of what I would be thinking about.

Ryn (24:56):
Hmm. Yeah, maybe some self heal though, to get that lymphatic quality. Move that from below.

Katja (25:02):
You know, self heal is a plant that is frequently out of stock. Because it’s a very small plant and it takes up just as much space as the nettles do. But nettles gives you way more, and self heal is a tiny plant. You don’t get a lot from growing it. Like you don’t get a lot of quantity when you grow it. So it’s frequently out of stock. And I think that’s one of the super common questions from students is, ah, they’re out of self heal. What should I have instead?

Ryn (25:34):
Yeah. And we somewhat underestimated that when we included it as one of our 35 verbs in Herbal Medicine for Beginners.

Katja (25:39):
Hey, but it’s easy to grow. It will grow right in your lawn, so you can grow it. You can grow it. But I think…oh, go ahead.

Ryn (25:47):
We can always turn to another lawn herb and look at common bugle, Ajuga reptans. That’s a little less well-known.

Katja (25:57):
And I don’t think you can find it in commerce, but it does grow like it might be growing in your lawn already.

Ryn (26:04):
Yeah. But that herb is almost identical to self-heal in terms of it’s…I mean we do consider it to have the same list of like actions and qualities. It’s a vulnerary. It’s a lymphatic. It’s a green yard-y herb that’s a little bit salty and a little bit vegetal. And you can drink a lot of it, and it’ll be good for you all around, you know? So it’s kind of one of those friends.

Katja (26:27):
One common substitute for self heal is actually calendula, because calendula is usually an easier to find herbs and they do have very similar, especially when we’re talking about topically, they do have very similar actions. But you could go with red clover too, if you needed to. Red cover won’t give you the vulnerary action that you get from calendula, and not really the antimicrobial action either. But if what you’re trying to replace is the lymphatic part, then red clover is a good substitute. And especially when we’re thinking about self heal, and now I’m way off the topic of cold sores but, often when I’m working with self heal internally, it is because of lower body fluid stagnation. And I find that red clover can be a helpful herb in that regard as well.

Ryn (27:19):
Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Okay. Well all right. I guess we got that one pretty well covered. Now for plantain, plantain also has a lot of overlap with the self heal and with the common bugle. To some extent with the clover, although plantain is a better vulnerary than clover is for sure. So I don’t know. Herbs we haven’t discussed so far?

Katja (27:42):
Wait, if plantain was out of stock, I would go with pine. Because pine gives you that vulnerary action. It gives you the biofilm busting action, plus other antimicrobial actions. I think that would be a really lovely substitute there.

Ryn (28:03):
Yeah. And it works well for the format that we’re talking about, which is always good to kind of double check when you’re coming up with your great lists of verbs to include in your formulas. Like, wait a minute. Do these all play together? So for this particular formula, this is going to be oil extractions initially, right? We’re going to make a salve out of this. So we’re going to extract the herbs into oil, and then blend those, and then make a salve. So we need to make sure any herbs that we’re thinking about including here that the principles we want are going to extract into oil. Yeah.

Katja (28:34):
And pine does that beautifully, the resin of the pine.

Ryn (28:38):
Right. Pine resin.

A Completely New Formula

Katja (28:38):
Well, okay. So I have another game here. What if we tried to recreate this formula using none of the herbs that are in this formula?

Ryn (28:50):
Yep, sure, sure, sure.

Katja (28:54):
None of them. We can’t have any of them. So, I’m already thinking for the St. John’s wort I would substitute damiana.

Ryn (29:01):
Yeah. I was kind of considering that as well.

Katja (29:04):
And I think for the plantain I would put pine in.

Ryn (29:08):
Yep. For the lymphatics, instead of calendula or self heal, I mean, if we had bugle around I would love to put that in. Clover I feel less excited about for an oil extraction.

Katja (29:20):
Yeah. I agree with you on that.

Ryn (29:22):
You know what? Probably violet though.

Katja (29:24):
Violet is the answer.

Ryn (29:26):
Violet extracts well into oil. It’s another kind of ground green herb from the same height class, I guess.

Katja (29:34):
Yes. And it has that beautiful lymphatic action. Yeah. Damiana is going to get us our nervine action, our trophorestorative action. And then pine will cover the vulnerary and some of the antimicrobial actions. We need some other vulnerary.

Ryn (30:01):
Well, we could put goldenrod in.

Katja (30:01):
Oh, I love that.

Ryn (30:01):
Goldenrod has both vulnerary qualities to it, and some antimicrobial qualities in a topical application like this one,

Katja (30:11):
And some pain relieving qualities as well, actually. Yeah. We typically think about that in terms of muscle soreness, but I still think it would be applicable here. I love that idea.

Ryn (30:28):
And if we did want to have a mirror for the thyme from the original formula, well, we could go with oregano. I’d say that’s maybe the next closest herb.

Katja (30:39):
Except what I think I would want is lavender. No, rosemary. So I’m thinking about what we have here. And I always am thinking about drinking something as tea. I don’t know why. I guess because I really like tea. But rosemary and the pine is going to have a scent profile that will be very pleasing. If you are going to put this on your lip and it’s right under your nose, and it’s going to smell like oregano, you might not be super excited about that. But if it’s smelling like pine and golden rod and rosemary or lavender, and damiana has a beautiful scent too, then now we’re creating a balm that is like really, really appealing. And that plays a role in your medicine making. Because if something smells nice, and you just want to have it, then that’s going to encourage you to work with it more often. And I think oregano is a great choice medicinally. But I think that if you do that, then you’ll feel like you’re walking around smelling like medicine, as opposed to smelling like, oh, do you have a new perfume? Like, that’s really nice.

Ryn (31:59):
Yeah. Some of this might depend on your mother’s pasta recipes.

Katja (32:05):
Right, right. And how you feel about that.

Ryn (32:08):
If you’re just like oh, oregano. Yeah.

Katja (32:10):
That’s true. Some people might just adore the smell of oregano. Yeah.

Ryn (32:15):
Yeah. But anyway, y’all can see the process, right? We’re looking at the actions of the herbs that we’ve got in the formula together. We’re looking in some ways at the kind of like relative balance of those activities. The original formula is pretty heavy on vulneraries. It’s pretty heavy on nervines, honestly, by the time we get to the end of it. And we have one, thyme in there saying like, I’m going to do the antimicrobial stuff. Mwua-ha-ha. Apparently that’s how time talks today.

Katja (32:49):
That’s definitely thyme’s voice.

Covering the Spread with Herbs or Proportions

Ryn (32:49):
Yeah. So we have that going on. And we can put together another formula of completely separate herbs, but we can cover that same kind of spread. We can say these are the activities that I’m interested in. These are the ones that are most important to me. These are the ones that I want to include, but I don’t need to like flood the system with. And of course that can also be manipulated by proportions, right, or by ratios. We haven’t really discussed that in this particular episode here, but the ratios of the herbs that you put in is also going to really shift around what kind of actions are emphasized. For instance, the effect of our formula here is going to be really different if we have a very high proportion of thyme or rosemary or lavender – these like kind of hot active mints – as opposed to if we made it a very high proportion of violet oil, a more cooling, tissue restorative kind of herb instead.

Katja (33:46):
You could actually make two versions on purpose. You could make a version that skewed towards that hot, active side. And then you could make a second one that had much more of the cooling, gentle herbs with just a little bit of the stimulating herbs like thyme in there. And then you could alternate them. Because if you had a super high percentage of thyme or rosemary or oregano or whatever, then over time that might become a little bit irritating. Like the heat of it might become more than is what is comfortable. But you could say, okay, like twice a day I’m going to use the super hot one, the super stimulating, the super active one. And then through the rest of the day, I’m going to choose the salve that has more of the cooling vulnerary action. It still has a little bit of the thyme in there, or one of our thyme substitutes, but just not quite as much so that I’m emphasizing different actions throughout the day. And t’s easy to do that when you’re making it, because you have all the ingredients right there. So you can just make two different batches where you’re shifting the proportions.

Ryn (35:08):
Yeah, that’s right. So, hopefully by now the process is making sense. This idea that we’re going to look at the original formula. We’re going to take what we understand about the herbs that are in there, why they were in there. If it’s one of your formulas, hopefully you already knew that.

Katja (35:23):
Right. You’re already solid on why you put them in there.

Ryn (35:25):
Right. But if you’re analyzing somebody else’s formula, this is the approach you can take. You can say, all right, look at each of the herbs that’s in there. What do I know already? Or what can I learn about those plants to tell me what their kind of primary actions are? If I think about what this formula is designed to accomplish, then it should become clear which particular kinds of activity from that plant, or from each plant, are relevant to the job at hand. And then you can say, all right. Well, I can either try to replace individual plants with another one that’s very similar, or I can take a step back and say what are the set of actions that’s in this formula as a whole? What are the kind of relative strengths of each of them? And how could I put that together with other herbs that I’m either more familiar with, or that I have on hand today, or that I expect to be available to another person? You know, one thing that we’ll do sometimes with formulas is say, all right. How much of the effect that I want here could I get from grocery store plants?

Katja (36:26):
Yeah. It’s just that kind of accessibility is very valuable when you are putting together a formula. Not just because it could be less expensive or whatever that way, but simply because what if you’re traveling. And you don’t necessarily know what’s going to be available to you, but you know that you’re going to find parsley and cilantro and sage and stuff at a grocery store, and that you’ll be able to get chamomile tea bags.

Ryn (36:55):
Right. And I was about to say like, kind of going back to your argument for chamomile as the most important herb here. If you were getting a cold sore, and you were away from home and in a hotel somewhere in the middle of anywhere, you can probably go downstairs and get a chamomile tea bag. So, you know yeah. It is a useful exercise to think that through for all kinds of different formulas and remedies and situations that you might encounter. That’ll make you more flexible as a practitioner or just as a human who likes to work with plants. Yeah. So this is kind of a recurring theme for us. We had an episode way back where we talked about tulsi in particular, and about what we do when we don’t have tulsi around, but really want all the things tulsi can do for us. It’s really sort of a similar idea. Looking at one herb as a formula, and then breaking it down in the same kind of way we described here.

Katja (37:49):
I’m pretty sure we did that for chamomile as well at some point. I know that we actually have done it, because there was a time that we ran out of chamomile once. And we had to formulate, because I really can’t be without chamomile, y’all. I don’t even know. But I’m pretty sure we also talked about that at some point.

Ryn (38:07):
Yeah. So something that we just really like to be aware of, to stay agile with. And you, too, can accomplish this.

Katja (38:17):
I like that – to stay agile with it. Like just to not be sort of sunk into your patterns of, well, this is the herb I always turn to for this thing. Because it might be out. You might run out of it. And so always keeping that nimbleness and the flexibility. And when you work with herbs from the perspective of their actions, it’s so much easier to do that.

Ryn (38:45):
Yeah. Whether it’s a cold sore or any other kind of thing. So if you’re particularly interested in cold source or other kinds of skin afflictions, then we have our integumentary skin health course available for you right now.

Katja (39:01):
You can find it at online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Ryn (39:06):
Yeah. So we’ll be back next time with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you. Until then, thank you for listening. Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea, and put some salve onto those old sores there. That’ll just be great.

Katja (39:21):
Bye bye.


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