Oregon Grape Root Hand Sanitizer

I’m a plant dork, and I’m not afraid to admit it.  I often find myself pondering interesting and creative ways to incorporate wild edible and medicinal plants into my daily life, whether it be through harvesting plants for food, or using plants to make herbal medicine and self-care products.   I’m also always dreaming up ways to incorporate wild plant-based projects into our programs at Feather and Frond Forest School.  Over the years I’ve discovered that most kids just love to harvest plants for cooking and/or medicine-making.  This act of cultivating a relationship with wild plants through the mindful harvesting and use of native species adds a whole 'nother level and depth of nature connection to our programs.  I just love it!!  

My passion for plants wasn’t always present, however.  I wasn’t raised by nature lovers or “plant people”.  In fact, my parents were quite the opposite— nature was not something we paid much attention to when I was growing up.  Instead, I spent my free time watching TV, playing video games, going to the mall, and, in general, participating in mainstream consumer-based culture.  To this day I’ve never seen either of my parents pick a wildflower or eat a berry straight from a bush!  It’s just not part of their repertoire.  

It wasn’t until about ten years ago when I moved to the West coast to study at Wilderness Awareness School that I started to form a relationship with plants.  The first plant that I learned to harvest and use for medicine was Oregon Grape (Mahonia nervosa).  Back then, John Gallagher of LearningHerbs.com was a regular guest instructor at Wilderness Awareness School.  John encouraged us to “get to know” Oregon Grape by having us do a sit spot next to the plant to observe the way it grows in the forest and take note of what “role” it serves.  Later, we shared our observations of the plant:  many folks noticed that Oregon Grape likes to cover the forest floor as it grows, providing protection for small animals and other plants, etc.  True to our observations, John taught us that Oregon Grape really is a “protector” plant, as its anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties help protect us from illness.  He then showed us how to make a medicinal tincture with the potent roots of the plant.  It was truly an incredible, life-changing class! 

Kids love to lend their helping hands in the harvesting and preparation of plant medicine!   We use butter knives to Scrape the Oregon Grape root bark with our students.

Since then I’ve had an affinity for Oregon Grape, as it really served as my introduction to wild plant medicine.  Making my very first tincture ever with this plant sparked a passion for wild plants within me that continues to grow and evolve to this day.  

A few years ago, another plant mentor of mine, Lindsay Huetmann of Plantdorks.com, showed me how to make antibacterial hand wash with Oregon Grape root, which got my wheels turning.  Why not use Oregon Grape Root to make hand sanitizer?!  I can replace my store-bought hand sanitizer with a wildcrafted homemade version!  I thought to myself.  Another inspired plant pondering took root. . . ;-)

Now, before I get down to the nitty gritty on how to make the hand sanitizer, I'm feeling inspired to share some thoughts on hand sanitizer in general.   While I’m not the type to promote over-sterilizing and excessive sanitizing by any means (in fact, I truly believe that dirt is incredibly beneficial to our immune systems.  Check out the book Dirt is Good for some science behind this), I realize that there are times in life when you just so happen to brush past something a bit funky.  Or. . . your kiddo gets into something that is downright gross.   And it just so happens that y'all are miles away from the closest sink.  Sometimes, you just gotta have something on hand to keep things. . .sanitary.  Hence, the wonders of hand sanitizer.  At Feather and Frond Forest School, we certainly don’t hesitate to bust out hand sanitizer after we’ve dissected an owl pellet and we're about to eat lunch, for example.  Or if we’re doing some primitive cooking in the forest with the kids.  We like to play it safe!  However, if the kids just have some good 'ole natural organic dirt on their hands, we don't sweat it too much.  As always, choose what works best for you and your family.  

So with that being said..  after doing a bit of internet research and perusing various DIY hand sanitizer recipes, I've noticed that most recipes call for using some sort of alcohol which acts as the "germ-killer" aspect of the hand sanitizer.  In my recipe, I've replaced the plain alcohol with Oregon Grape Root tincture (which is basically alcohol infused with Oregon Grape root).  This takes the anti-bacterial level up a notch and makes it wildcrafted!  If you prefer to avoid using alcohol in your hand sanitizer (as some folks do), then I suggest making the Oregon Grape root tincture with vegetable glycerine instead.  

** Heads up!  This recipe requires that you first make Oregon Grape root tincture (which I've outlined how to do in this blog post).  It takes at least a couple of weeks for the tincture to infuse and be ready to use for this recipe!

All you need is a few simple ingredients to make Oregon Grape root Hand Sanitizer

Oregon Grape Root Hand Sanitizer


Oregon Grape root tincture

Aloe Vera Gel

Vitamin E Oil

Lavender and/or Tea Tree essential oils (optional, but it makes it smell nice!)


Re-useable silicon tubes are a great way to store your Oregon grape Root Hand Sanitizer

Re-useable silicon tubes are a great way to store your Oregon grape Root Hand Sanitizer

Step 1:  Harvest and process Oregon Grape roots, using the bark root shavings to make a medicinal tincture by following the instructions that I've outlined in this blog post HERE

Step 2:  Once your tincture is ready (this takes a few weeks!), mix 1 Tablespoon of Oregon Grape root tincture with 1/4 cup of Aloe Vera gel.  

Step 3:  Add in 1/2 tsp of Vitamin E Oil and few drops of essential oils (optional)

Step 4:  Mix well and store in a re-useable silicon squeeze container (these ones are great)

That's it!

Be sure to pack your Oregon Grape Hand Sanitizer with you on your next wild wander through the forest with your family!  You never know when it might come in handy :-)