" Making Herbal Preparations"

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You've grown your herbs, gathered them and dried them. The next step is to prepare them. Preparing herbs is simple and easy - not to mention economical.

Making Herbal Medicines

The goal of the herbalist is to release the volatile oils, flavones, antimicrobials, nutrients, aromatics and other healing substances an herb contains. You can use dried, powdred herbs to make pills, capsules and lozenges or add herbs to water to brew infusions, decoctions or teas. You can soak herbs in alcohol to produce long-lasting tinctures. A spoonful (or more) of sweetener helps the medicine go down in the form of delectable syrups, jellies and conserves. You can mash herbs for poultices and plasters. Or you can harness the power of herbs by adding them to oils to make salves, liniments and creams.

First steps

Lay out all the cooking, storage and labeling materials you'll need to prepare your herbal home remedies. Don't attempt to make salves, syrups and tinctures all at once. Overly enthusiastic beginners often try to do too much too soon. Even the most experienced practitioner can get confused and make mistakes. Concentrate on making only one type of herbal remedy at a time.

Don't overharvest your herbs. Don't bring in a basketful of rosemary if the recipe calls for no more than an ounce. Think small when you store your herbs, too. Salves and other preparations tend to last longer if you store them in small batches. If you intend to save these medicines for longer than a few months, tightly stopper bottles, seal jars with wax and refrigerate liquid preparations.

Using the basic recipes described in this chapter, you can create your own versions of such delightful herbal preparations as tummy-calming teas, snappy vinegars, sensuous massage oils and body-smoothing creams.


One of the easiest and most popular ways of preparing an herbal medicine is to brew a tea. There are two types of teas: infusions and decoctions. If you have ever poured hot water over a tea bag, you have made an infusion; an infusion is simply herbs steeped in hot water. A decoction is herbs boiled in water. When you simmer cinnamon sticks and cloves in apple cider, you're making a decoction.

In general, leaves and flowers are best infused; boiling may cause them to lose their volatile (essential) oils. To prepare an infusion, use 1 tbs of herbs per cup of water. Pour the hot water over the herbs in a pan or teapot, cover with a lid, and allow to steep. You can make your own herbal tea bags, too. Tie up a ts of herb in a small muslin bag (sold in most natural food stores) or piece of cheese cloth, and drop it in a cup of hot water. Let the tea steep for 15 minutes. You can also steep a teaspoon of lose herbs in a cup of hot water; then strain and drink.To make larger quantities of hot infusions use 1 oz herbs per pint of water.

Roots, bark and seeds on the other hand, are best made into decoctions because these hard, woody materials need a bit of boiling to get the constituents out of the fiber. Fresh roots should be sliced thin. To prepare a medicinal decoction, use 1 ts herbs per cup water, cover, and gently boil for 15-30 minutes. Use glass, ceramic or earthenware pots to make your decoction: aluminium tends to taint herbal teas and impart a bitter taste to them. Strain the decoction. A tea will remain fresh for several days stored in the refrigerator.

To preserve teas, make a concentrated brew three times as strong as an ordinary tea. Then add one part of drinking alcohol (not rubbing alcohol) to three parts of the infusion. When you want to use it, simply dilute with three measures of water.

How much of an infusion or decoction can you ingest at one time? In general, drink 1/2 to 1 cup 3 times a day. A good rule of thumb is that if you notice no health benefits in three days, change the treatment or see your doctor or herbalist. ( See   Stomach Remedy   )


Another popular way of making herbal medicines is to produce a tincture. Used for herbs that require a solvent stronger than water to release their chemical constituents, a tincture is a herb extracted in alcohol, glycerine or vinegar. Tinctures can be added to hot or cold water to make an instant tea or mixed with water for external use in compresses and foot baths. The advantages of tinctures are that they have a long shelf life, they're available for use in a pinch, and you can add tinctures to oils or salves to create instant healing ointments.

With common kitchen utensils and very little effort, you can easily prepare suitable tinctures. First, clean and pick over fresh herbs, removing any insects or damaged plant material. Remove leaves and flowers from stems, and break roots or bark into smaller pieces. Of course, you can use dried herbs too. Cut or chop the plant parts you want to process or chop in a blender or food processor. Cover with drinking alcohol. The spirits most commonly used are 80 to 100 proof Vodka or Everclear (grain alcohol). Some herbs, such as ginger and cayenne, need a higher alcohol content to extract their constituents. With other herbs, such as dandelion and nettles, you do not need to use as much alcohol.

Make sure the alcohol covers the plants because plant materials exposed to air can mold or rot. This is especially important if you use fresh herbs. Store the jar at room temperature out of sunlight, and shake the jar every day. After three to six weeks, strain the liquid with a kitchen strainer, cheese cloth, thin piece of muslin or a paper coffee filter. Even when you've managed to strain out every last bit of plant material, sometimes more particles miraculously appear after the tincture has been stored. There is no harm is using a tincture that contains a bit of solid debris. Tinctures will keep for many years without refrigeration.

Because the usual dosage of a tincture is 15 to 30 drops, you receive enough herb to benefit from it's medicinal properties with very little alcohol. If you are alergic to alcohol - or simply don't wish to use it - try making vinegar-and-glycerine based tinctures. They dissolve plant constituents almost as effectively as spirits. (glycerine is available at most pharmacies).

Vinegar Tinctures

Vinegar, which contains the solvent acetic acid, is an alternative to alcohol in tinctures - especially for herbs that are high in alkaloids, which require aids to dissolve. You can use herbal vinegars medicinally or dilute them with additional vinegar to make great tasting salad dressings and marinades. Apple cider vinegar is good to use with herbs. Apple cider vinegar is made by naturally fermenting apple juice, whereas white distilled vinegar is an industrial by-product. Rice vinegar, red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar are also good choices, but they are a bit more expensive, and their strong flavours sometimes require additional herbs.

You can apply a vinegar tincture to the skin to bring down a fever. Dilute the tincture with an equal amount of cool water. Soak a cloth in the solution and bathe the body. As the solution evaporates, it cools the body, often lowering the body's temperature by several degrees. Vinegar is also a potent antifungal agent and makes a good athelete's foot soak when combined with antifungal herbs.

Herbs for Vinegars : Basil, Savory, Dill, Tarragon, Marjoram, Thyme, Rosemary.
( See   Vinegar Foot Soak   )    ( See   Kitchen Vinegar   )

Herbal Oils

Oils are a versatile medium for extracting herbal constituents. You may consume herbal oils in recipes or salads, or massage sore body parts with medicinal oils. To make an herbal oil, simply pour oil over herbs and allow the mixture to sit for a week or more. (refrigerate oils you plan to use in food preparation). Olive, almond, grape seed, sunflower and sesame oils are good choices. Do not use mineral oil. Strain and bottle.

Herbs for Oils : Basil, Marjoram, Mint, Coriander,Dill, rosemary, Tarragon, Fennel, Garlic, Thyme.

Topical Preparations

It is fairly simple and lots of fun to create your own herbal skin preparations - they make great gifts, too. Commercial salves, creams and lotions often contain by-products and chemicals you may not wish to use on your skin. When you make your own topical preparations, you can tailor the recipes to suit your particular needs. Use your favorite kind of oil or your favorite scent. Make the lotion warming or cooling, thick or thin. There is no wrong way to make salves, liniments or creams. ( See Massage Oil )


Salves, or ointments, are fat-based preparations used to soothe abrasions, heal wounds and lacerations, protect baby's skin from diaper rash and soften dry, rough skin and chapped lips. Salves are made by heating an herb with fat until the fat absorbs the plant's healing properties. A thickening and hardening agent, such as beeswax, is then added to the strained mixture to give it a thicker consistency.

Kept in a cool place, salves last about six months to a year. You can preserve a salve even longer by adding a few drops of benzoin tincture, polar bud tincture or glycerine. (you can find benzoin tincture and glycerine in most pharmacies, and poplar bud tincture in some health food stores). Make salves in small batches to keep them fresh. Be sure to store them in jars with tight-fitting lids.

The key ingredient of salves is herbal oil. Make the oil out of the herb of your choice using the methods outlined in this page. Calendula oil makes a wonderful all-purpose healing salve. Use St John's Wort oil to treat swelling and bruising in traumatic injuries. Use garlic oil in a salve for infectious conditions.

To turn the oil into a salve, mix it with beeswax and allow the mixture to become solid. A general rule is to use 3/4 to 1 oz of melted beeswax per cup herbal oil.

You can purchase beeswax from health food stores, beekeeping supply stores and mail order companies. Grated beeswax melts faster. You can melt the beeswax in a double boiler or add the grated beeswax to heated herbal oil. Pour the salve into containers before the blend starts to harden.

Note : Problems with your salve ? If your salve is too runny, simply re-heat and add more beeswax. If it is too hard, re-heat and use more oil. To test your salve, pour about a tablespoon of the heated mixture in a container and put it in the freezer. This "tester" will be ready in just a few minutes.

Herbs that soften & Heal Skin : Aloe Vera, Marshmallow, Calendula, Slippery Elm, Comfrey.

Herbs for Sore Muscles : Arnica, Calendula, Chamomile, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Juniper Berries, Lavender, Rosemary, St John's Wort, Wintergreen.

Herbs for Salves : Arnica, Comfrey, Elder Flower, Goldenseal, Marshmallow, Plaintain, Slippery Elm, Yarrow.

( See   Healing Salve   )    ( See   Antifungal Salve   )


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