How to make a natural air freshener, and assemble your own laboratory for concocting teas, salves, and syrups

March 17 | Guest post by Dale Mackey
My favorite herbs. All photos by Shawn Poynter.

As a little girl I mixed 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.

A friend of mine told me about the "laboratory" she'd had at age 12, in which she created, among other things, the cure for AIDs.

You probably won't cure any diseases with your apothecary, but you will scratch that youthful itch to create something useful out of ordinary ingredients. narfmore

I'll get your mad scientist career started with a list of ingredients to start a home apothecary, with which you'll be able to make herbal teas, salves, syrups, tinctures, eye pillows, and infused oils. I've also included a recipe for an air freshening spray you can make.

Starter herbs and their properties

You can find these herbs online or in stores with large bulk herb selections. If you grow them, or can find them fresh, use twice as much of the herb — fresh herbs are not as concentrated as dried herbs.

  • Lavender: Has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, is thought to work as an insect repellent, can ease headaches, encourage sleep and aid in relaxation.
  • Peppermint: Is a digestive aid, thought to aid in fever reduction.
  • Spearmint: Aids in digestion, reduces bloating, lots of antioxidants, super invigorating!
  • Milk Thistle: Thought to promote liver and gallbladder function, reported to detoxify and lower cholesterol.
  • Elderberries: Have shown great success in treatment of influenza.
  • Fennel: Long used as an aid to digestion and bloating. Thought to have diuretic properties, improve milk supply in breastfeeding mothers, repel fleas; long used in India to soothe coughs
  • Rosemary: Used to improve memory and circulation, sad to act as an anti-carcinogen.
  • Chamomile: Used as an aid for digestion, colds, and sleep.
  • Nettle: High in protein, iron and vitamins.
  • Ginger: Proven to be useful against nausea, diarrhea, and arthritis; thought to aid in digestion.

So, oils. We need those, too:

Starter oils

Most essential oils aren't cheap, but a little goes a long way. You can find them in health and hippie stores the world over, or online. I bought a starter set from Amazon years ago.

  • Grapefruit: Used as an energizer, thought to brighten dull skin and hair, and resolve water retention.
  • Lemon: Antibacterial; an astringent, brightens dull skin.
  • Orange: Antibacterial; thought to act as an anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and aphrodisiac. Boosts immunity.
  • Clary Sage: Thought to be useful as a mild antidepressant, astringent, aphrodisiac, sedative, and digestive aid.
  • Rosemary: Antibacterial, thought to stimulate hair growth and mental activity, be useful with respiratory problems and reduce pain.
  • Lavender: Has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, used to calm anxiety, promote circulation and good respiration.
  • Peppermint: Helps with indigestion and nausea, thought to aid with respiratory problems and headaches.
  • Spearmint: Antiseptic, repels insects, thought to act as a stimulant.
  • Eucalyptus: Antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, a decongestant and a stimulant.
  • Tea Tree: Antibacterial/microbial/viral, an insecticide and stimulant, thought to help with healing wounds and pain relief.

AND! You ave to mix your oils and herbs with a carrier.

10 starter carriers and accessories

  • Vodka (for tinctures and aromatherapy mists)
  • Olive or Jojoba Oil (for salves and moisturizers)
  • Tea ball, reusable tea bags or disposable tea bags (for herbal teas and syrups)
  • Sugar (for syrups)
  • Beeswax (for salves and balms)
  • Rice or beans (for eye and muscle pillows)
  • Strainerand/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)

Storage

While it's by no means necessary, I highly recommend designating a centralized spot for storing all these ingredients. Why?
1. It makes you feel like a wizard.
2. It just looks cool as decor. Yay, useful pretty things!
3. It makes it easier to whip up brews without having to go searching for everything.

I used a film drawer my librarian friend gave me — mounted on the wall in the bathroom.

Now, to get started actually making things: here's a starter recipe!

Lavender Mint Room Spray & Linen Mist

Here's a super simple recipe for a relaxing mist for your self and your linens (and your car and your friends and your dog and…)

Ingredients

  • 1 part vodka (1-2 cups)
  • 1 part water
  • 10 drops lavender essential oil
  • 10 drops spearmint essential oil

Mix water and vodka in a pump spray bottle or atomizer, add the essential oils, and shake thoroughly.

You'll want to shake this each time before you spray it to ensure it's all nice and mixed up.

For more recipes, I've found Make Your Place by Raleigh Briggs and Savoring the Day: Recipes And Remedies To Enhance Your Natural Rhythms by Judith Benn Hurley both extremely helpful. These books have great overviews on helpful herbs and recipes for a multitude of concoctions.

Good luck and happy mixing!

Why make your own air freshener? You ever thought about what's in that bottle of Glade?

  1. I love this! It's not often you find an "herbal 101" like this–most of them are extremely long and detailed, and seem to assume unlimited funds. ;) Thanks for making this a budget-friendly and introductory post!

    10 agree
  2. So amazing, I was just thinking the other day how I'd like to start making my own shit and IF I COULD HAVE THAT ON MY WALL I WOULD DO A JOYOUS DANCE! Wonderful.

    5 agree
  3. Such a great post! I've used so many of these things before but never thought to put together an apothecary.

    2 agree
  4. I never considered myself an apothecary before, but I guess I am, since I already have a good sized essential oil + supplies stash!

    My must-have addition is Epsom salt (for bath salts). And I use sugar (or you can use salt) for scrubs.

    My room/ body spray that I make for myself doesn't have vodka (I may try that!) but I do add a teeny drop of dish soap (liquid dr B's or melted/ dissolved bar soap would also work) as a desurfacant, meaning, you no longer have to shake the essential oils stay suspended in water through the "magic" of chemistry!

    4 agree
    • "Shaking before use", made a non-issue and "Liquid Dr.B", I'll have to look that up. Sounds fun. Thanks.

      1 agrees
  5. My grandmother is in the liquidations business (and still going strong with at at 82 years old!). She gave me a fantastic medical kit from the 1890's with opium, morphine and other vials of things that you just wouldn't use now. I stick them in the bathroom cabinet to freak out people who go snooping.

    There is also a plastic rat in there and a shrunken head with a tampon in his mouth. He also doubles as a pencil sharpener with his eyes. :D

    10 agree
  6. Great something else I must aquire now. Thanks : ) I'm a nurse so after looking at drugs alllll day I love being able to use natural herbal remedies. I use tea tree oil for everything. Its a wonder oil for sure.

    3 agree
  7. Love this post. Even in all of my Wiccan books I have, none of them tell me how to make a room/linen spray. My place looks like a wizard owns it since one whole 7 foot shelving unit is dedicated to all of my Wiccan items like books, and whole bunch of herbs. I own mugswort, do you have any uses for that since it just sits there and I can not find anything to use it for or even wolfsbane?!?

    0 agree
    • make dream pillows with your mugwort. i make mine with lavender buds and mugwort in a linen bag, then put it under your pillowcase where your head is. mugwort is the dream herb and will clarify and help you remember your dreams. you can use all sorts of herbs. check out jim long's book dream pillows.

      1 agrees
  8. i love this!!! (((hugging you for writing all this up for us)))

    0 agree
  9. Also a great recipe for lip balm/massage "stuff":

    Grate beeswax 'till you have 1/2 a cup..add a matching 1/2 cup of vegetable oil of your choice, microwave together.
    Watch the microwave–they could melt from one second to the next! When melted clear, take out and add 1 tsp of flavor (I prefer baking extracts- more skin/mouth friendly), and 1 tbsp of honey, keep stirriing till you get a semi-solid. Your arm will get a bit tired, but this stash will last you quite some time! My roommate and I saved all her boys' baby food jars and made these as holiday presents one year! It's really great for people with allergies..

    5 agree
  10. This is awesome, I do Have a question though. I am highly allergic to lavender, so is there an alternative?
    Please and Thank you!

    1 agrees
    • Definitely. Any essential oil will work. I love the smell of grapefruit and mint together personally!

      0 agree
    • The best thing about essential oils is that they are highly customizable. Lavender has been found to have relaxing properties on most people, but that doesn't mean that something else won't work just as well for you. Take some time to experiment with different scents and see which is the most appealing to you personally and that will be your substitute. Also, do some research to see if it might not be lavender but lavendin that you are allergic to, as that is a hybrid version commonly used in replacement.

      1 agrees
  11. This is a great post!!!

    Honorable mentions should be: honey – can be used to make anything taste better, and has a soothing effect for sore throats; coconut oil – great for dry skin, small abrasions/cuts, is antibacterial and aids digestion, also great for soothing a sore throat; cinnamon – relieves gas and lowers blood pressure; and I'm really surprised aloe vera wasn't mentioned as it's one of the most well-known "home remedies" I can think of.

    Also worth noting, the bathroom is not the best place to store herbs and tinctures because of the humidity. A dry area of the house would be better.

    4 agree
  12. I love your way of actually displaying your home-made medicine. I have kept mine imprisoned in boxes – but no longer. They will come out and shine proudly :-)
    Thnx for the inspiration.

    0 agree
  13. This is awesome.

    Quick note about using essential oils and other natural products as anti-microbials:

    Like clinical and commercial methods, they can be very effective. Like medications and regulated anti-microbes, emerging studies suggest microbes can build a resistance to these oils.

    Point being, by using some here and there occasionally or often, you may inadvertently be arming pathogenic microbes. It's best to use these at full concentration rather than adding a little bit to 'boost' beauty or cleaning products.

    3 agree
  14. Just out of curiousity, does anyone have any recommendations about books or blogs (preferably books) that teach about using herbs in a medicinal sense? I'm really curious about that. I have no formal medical training, I am just fascinated.

    1 agrees
    • Encyclopedia of herbal medicine (book) by Andrew Chevallier:

      An illustrated guide to 550 medicinal plants offers readers the most up-to-date scientific data on these miraculous gifts of nature, as well as information on how to prepare remedies to treat more than sixty common ailments.

      This is a really thorough resource.

      Sometimes local colleges have a class or two you can take as well, if you're interested in getting a little deeper.

      2 agree
  15. (After I used this on a friend suffering from mosquito bites, he dubbed the recipe "Alchemy +1" – I love being a geek!)

    For a one-ounce spray bottle:

    15 drops lavender essential oil
    15 drops tea tree essential oil
    15 drops rosemary essential oil
    10 drops citronella essential oil

    Fill bottle the rest of the way with witch hazel. Pleasant scent, instant sting/itch relief, and is great for driving off mosquitoes and other pesky insects. Best of all, it's easy for children to handle, and it's alcohol and petroleum-free – WIN!

    3 agree
  16. Excellent!!! I have most ingredients at home and needed a reminder to really use them more often.

    0 agree
  17. This is an awesome post, but I strongly caution readers to do research on herbs and essential oils before taking them internally, or using them externally in excess of about a drop (of a diluted solution).

    It may seem silly to consider the effects of herbs and herbal medicines, but many of these things are naturally potent, have surprising side effects, and can seriously screw with any medications being taken. Essential oils especially are something that need to be handled carefully, and must be kept away from children, pets, and used very sparingly for the immuno-compromised and elderly. They are a very high concentration of the plant they're derived from (the example I was taught and point to is that one drop of chamomile essential oil is equal to about 33 cups of strong chamomile tea), and are known to cause renal failure in children and animals easily, and therefore can be fatal if large amounts are ingested.

    Also, essential oils do have a shelf life, because the properties that make them so good do oxidase. Some will age (like jasmine absolute, which is also a very expensive essential oil) and therefore be good for five maybe ten years if treated well, but most will eventually be little more than scented water. The citruses especially have a shelf life of about a year before they need to be replaced if you want the potential medicinal effects; they're still perfectly fine for perfumes or otherwise scenting.

    Treat them like you would treat prescription or OTC medications; as effectively, that's what they are.

    Also always consult with your physician about stuff like this because they will be able to tell you if anything you're taking will be contraindicated to any herbal thing you want to take. (For example, if your meds make you sensitive to sunlight, avoid using citrus oils and juniper berry as citruses are mildly phototoxic and juniper is HIGHLY phototoxic.) It should also be noted that the only people approved to prescribe essential oil ingestion are doctors, too, for this very reason.

    Again, this is an awesome idea, but please be careful and do your research.

    9 agree
    • So glad someone added this! It's a bit alarming how many people treat essential oils like they are completely benign. Undiluted, many oils can be very damaging to the skin. And a doctor needs to be the only one trusted to advise on internal use. Please take care everyone! Great ideas though!

      1 agrees
  18. Okay, this may be a stupid question, but when you say 1 part water and 1 part vodka, what exactly do you mean? If the number of essential oil drops is specific I imagine the amount of water and vodka should be too. So are we talking 1 cup each, 5 cups each, a range of 1-5 cups each?

    0 agree

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.

Biz owners & wedding bloggers

Please just use your real name in your comment, not your business name or blog title. Our comments are not the place to pimp your website. If you want to promote your stuff on Offbeat Bride, join us as an advertiser instead.