A Beginner’s Guide to DIY Apothecary and the Idea of Gathering - the-works-seattle

A Beginner’s Guide to DIY Apothecary and the Idea of Gathering

The word gather has many meanings. Above all, to bring together.

Hi, my name is Shannon Douglas and I write, photograph, develop recipes and publish Honest Magazine, a quarterly publication exploring our food and its roots, including themes of wild food, gardening, and slow living. I also teach classes at The Works. 

Each Honest Magazine issue is the story of an idea explored through a slow and thoughtful approach, looking at everything from history to botany to beauty and taste. Issues center around a yearly theme with each issue being a deep-dive into a sub-theme. Last year we ventured into Ancient Ingredients, navigating through stories like Tea: The Drink of Dynasties, Alliums: Bulb and Blossom, Honey: Nectar of The Gods, and Ancient Grains: Husk and Hull

Recently, I taught a class at The Works called “DIY Apothecary,” guiding the students through making their own home apothecary out of natural, garden-grown and wild plants. The class tied back to an issue I published called “The Gather,” which focused on the gathering, education, and cooking of wild plants and how we can incorporate the appreciation, beauty, and use of these plants into our lives.

What does it mean to gather? It can mean to bring together a basket of wild berries like we do in The Gather issue of the magazine, or to bring together a group to learn a new skill with classes at The Works. When we gather together in a group, we are opening ourselves up to differing perspectives. Each student comes to class with a different background, varying levels of experience, and often lots of wonderful questions! It’s the perfect place to build a better understanding of a new topic together, and for me as the teacher to think harder on my answers and the resources I can offer. Students are full of great ideas, and the thoughts and discoveries that spill out of class expand on the ideas as a whole. It’s the community of like-minded people—all coming together for a few hours during their precious time off to invest in themselves, learn a new skill and have some fun together—that makes teaching these classes so rewarding and builds a bigger community that I’m proud to be a part of. 

To me, the feeling of health is rooted in the wild. Time spent outside soaking in the icy river, plucking wild berries and breathing in the scent of the garden naturally nourishes from the inside out. This experience is expanded by capturing the qualities of wild and garden-grown plants in your own apothecary, customizing your creations to personalize the experience and suit your individual needs. I truly believe nature and nurture are a timeless combination. 

In the spirit of learning and sharing, below is a beginner’s guide adapted from the DIY Apothecary Class and The Gather issue of Honest Magazine highlighting the basic skills, ideas and equipment to get you started on your own home apothecary.

Foraging, blending and brewing powerful plants into lotions, balms, toners, and tonics is an ancient practice. Prior to modern medicine, healers of all sorts relied on the properties of plants they could grow and gather to treat illness, enhance beauty and give blessings. Though the modern connection has drifted, many prescription medications still rely on concentrated versions of these same plants. Aescin, an anti-inflammatory from the Horse Chestnut tree and Salicylic Acid found in Mountain Meadowsweet (used to treat acne), are two common examples using PNW native plants. 

Symbolism 

Rose

  • Love, adoration, passion, balance, purity, cleansing of the mind, unfolding of wisdom
Juniper: 
  • Protection, purity, shelter, cleansing, enduring strength

Honey: 

  • Sweetness, prosperity, rebirth, luck, luxury

Geranium:

  • Friendship, good wishes, fertility, love spells 

Chamomile: 

  • Patience, wisdom, long life 

Lavender: 

  • Purity, grace, silence, serenity, grace, calmness

Sage: 

  • Wisdom, long life, purity  

Calendula: 

  • Affection, joy 

Cedar: 

  • Cleansing, protection, healing, prosperity, generosity

  

The Basics

Few tools are needed to brew your concoctions, and most can be found tucked in your kitchen drawers. Some basic ingredients act as a base for various applications, listed below. 

Tools: 

  • Fine mesh strainer
  • Double boiler
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Funnels
  • Grater
  • Cheesecloth
  • A coffee grinder
  • Funnel
  • Clear & amber glass bottles with spray, drop and screw top attachments
  • Tin containers with lids for salves and balms
  • Labels to note remedy & date

Base Ingredients: 

  • Carrier oils: 
    • Aloe vera oil
    • Olive oil
    • Jojoba oil
    • Grape seed oil
    • Walnut oil
    • Avocado oil
    • Sesame oil
    • Almond oil
  • Raw, local honey
  • Whole, unrefined Shea Butter
  • Beeswax
  • Essential oils
  • Witch hazel
  • Yogurt
  • Oats

Apothecary Items: 

  • Infused & scented oils to moisturize skin
  • Salves & balms to soothe extreme dryness and cracking
  • Infused & scented baths & shower soaks
  • Dry shampoo
  • Deodorant
  • Toners to balance skin
  • Face & hair masks
  • Moisturizers & lotions
  • Face & body scrubs

Skin Types & Issues: 

Dry & Irritated Skin: 

  • Oats, honey, yogurt, lemon balm, fennel, lavender, calendula, rose, rosehips

Oily Skin & Acne: 

  • Oats, witch hazel, juniper berry, lavender, rosemary, bergamot, sage

Combination Skin: 

  • Lavender, chamomile, honey, mint, calendula, scented geranium

Recipes

Juniper Berry & Lavender Toner

Come fall I eagerly await the first cleansing breath of the Juniper. Clear and sharp, it soothes the soul and skin alike. There are multiple kinds of Juniper, as there are most plants. On a wall in our kitchen hangs a sprig from the Utah Juniper, a variety with smaller berries and slightly softer branches. Across the table is a rugged branch from the Pacific Northwest. Sometimes applied directly to wounds and snakebites, it’s also inhaled to help treat bronchitis. Combined with soft lavender, it makes for a clean and soothing cleanse especially well suited to acne. 

Ingredients: 

  • ½ cup alcohol-free witch hazel extract 
  • 8-12 whole juniper Berries or 4 drops of juniper berry essential oil
  • 2-4 sprigs of fresh lavender or 4 drops of lavender essential oil
  • Amber bottle with spray top or twist cap 
  • Label 

Directions: 

  1. In a small saucepan heat the witch hazel over low heat until you can feel some heat when you hold your hand over the pot. 
  2. Smash the juniper berries and crush the lavender. Add to the pot, turn the heat to low and let steep for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. 
  3. Once cool, strain the mixture to remove the lavender and juniper berries. Use a funnel to pour into an amber bottle fitted with a spray top or twist cap. Label and date. 
  4. Spray directly onto face and neck or apply to a cotton ball and run over face and neck one to two times daily (morning and night), as needed. Store in a cool, dark place. 

Calendula Gardener’s Salve

Calendula is your friendly garden flower. A member of the marigold family, its charming face lures bees and butterflies. It’s edible and makes it way into many a butter and salad in my house. This application is a lovely full-circle, as it treats the dry, chapped hands so common to gardeners. 

Ingredients: 

  • Handful of calendula petals
  • 1 cup carrier oil of choice (olive, jojoba, almond, walnut, avocado, grape seed, avocado)
  • 1 ½ -2 ounces beeswax
  • Metal tin with cap
  • Label

Directions: 

  1. Place the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the calendula petals, stir, and remove from heat. Let steep for 10 minutes. 
  2. Strain the oil to remove the calendula petals and return to the pot over low heat. 
  3. Add the beeswax and gently warm until fully melted. Stir to thoroughly combine the beeswax and oil. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. 
  4. Pour into tins and label. Rub into dry cracked skin on hands, elbows, feet and anywhere else in desperate need of some moisture. 

Rosehip & Wild Rose Facial Steam

Ruggedly beautiful, it crawls up craggy banks and rocky slopes, hooking roots into the crumbling ground. With a preference for full sun and high elevations, varieties can be found blooming across the country from spring until summer. Rosehips are one of the last edible foods to be found in frost and are happily cultivated in the garden. The tender petals that unfurl remind one of softness in strength and bring a seductive smell to the skin. Steaming releases the natural oils, moisturizing and calming the skin. Gentler than most, it’s a good choice for those with sensitive skin and couldn’t be simpler to make.  

Ingredients: 

  • Handful wild rose petals
  • Handful wild rosehip
  • Small handful of scented geranium leaves
  • A couple sprigs of sage or thyme (optional)
  • Glass jar with screw top lid
  • Label 
  • Towel

Directions: 

  1. Combine ingredients in a large heat-safe bowl and stir together with a wooden spoon. Remove all but one cup of the mixture and place it in a glass jar with a screw-top lid. Label and date the jar. 
  2. Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Pour the boiling water into the bowl, hydrating the dried herbs and flowers. Set the kettle back down and lean your face over the bowl into the seam (you can lay the towel over your head and the bowl to further trap steam if you’d like). Breathe in deeply and take in the aromas blooming in the bowl. Note the lush rose, humble raspberry leaf, and feminine scented geranium. I like to do this with a good cup of beauty tea to sip as I sit. 
  3. After 10 minutes the mixture will have stopped steaming and your skin will be bright and clear.

Continuing Your Practice

A wonderful way to continue your practice is to cultivate your own apothecary garden. Imagine a space where you step into intoxicating smells of herbs and flowers...an aromatherapy experience in and of itself. Tending to your own little patch and watching it grow knowing it will continue to nourish you after harvest adds to the meaning of “slow beauty.” It doesn’t take much, as many of these plants are easy to grow herbs. Some even take pleasure in growing in indoor pots. 

Plants For Your Garden 

  • Bee Balm (a.k.a Bergamont): Use in a face mask to treat acne and as a detangler 
  • Wild Rose & Rosehips: use in facial steamers, face masks, lotions, bath soaks
  • Raspberry Leaf (good for beginners): use in tea, bath soaks 
  • Anise Hyssop: Use to freshen breath, in deodorant, cleansers, face, lip & body scrubs & to and clear sinuses
  • Lavender: Use in deodorant, face masks, toners, oils, shower steams, cleansers & bath soaks
  • Mint: Use in mouthwashes, hair & scalp treatments, lotions
  • Rosemary: Use in toners, dry shampoo, body & lip scrubs & scalp treatments
  • Chamomile: Use in tea, lotion, hair & face masks
  • Lemon Balm: Drink as an iced tea, steam to clear congestion, use in deodorant, shower steams & bath soaks
  • Scented Geranium: Use in face, body and lip scrubs, deodorant, cleansers, oils, shower steams & bath soaks
  • Thyme: Use in hair masks, as a salve, balm, oil & scrub
  • Calendula: Use to make a gardener's hand salve, dry skin balm & in cleansers
  • Sage (can grow indoors): Use as incense, in lotions, toners & hair masks 

Plants in The Wild 

  • Anise Hyssop: Use to freshen breath, in deodorant, cleansers, face, lip & body scrubs & to and clear sinuses
  • Wild Mint: Use to freshen breath & clear sinuses
  • Juniper Berry: Use in toners, lotions & scrubs to treat acne & remove oils and as incense
  • Rose: Use in facial steamers, face masks, lotions, shower steams & bath soaks to help soothe & hydrate sensitive skin 
  • Lemon Balm: Drink as an iced tea, steam to clear congestion, use in shower steams & bath soaks
  • Dandelion: Use in lotions
  • Wild Fennel: Use in toners, deodorant, dry shampoo & scrubs for acne & to removal oil
  • Cedar: Use as incense, in shower steams, bath soaks & toners

Additional Resources