There are many ways to prepare herbal remedies. The ones presented here were developed through trial and error over the course of centuries of use.
Herbalists have found that each herb releases its healing powers in certain forms. Some herbs are most productive when they are prepared as decoctions while others prove to be more appropriate in capsules.
You may have to do some extra research if you wish to prepare your own herbals. You’ll need to know which preparation is best for which herb and what dosage is most appropriate. One way to find this out is to visit your local health food store and see how herbs that you are interested in are packaged for sale and what the recommended dosages are.
Here, we define the various types of herbal remedies and offer tips on how to make them yourself. The methods are arranged in order of potency, from the weakest to the strongest. Measurements suggested are general and not herb specific. Be sure to research the strength and effect of herbs you are unfamiliar with. Also, the part used makes a difference, leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, etc., and can require an adjustment in the amount used.
Generally speaking however, one ounce of a single herb or one ounce of combined herbs is what you will need to use.
The following recipes are made from fresh or dried herbs. As a rule of thumb it takes twice the amount of a fresh herb as dried. You can grow your own herbs, wildcraft them (pick them from the wild – be careful though, it’s easy to make a mistake and pick something other than you intended) or purchase dried herbs from your local health food store or online.
Remember that herbs are not like prescription medicines and usually do not have immediate effects. Continue drinking the teas, infusions and decoctions until you feel better which should be no longer than three days or so. In all cases, the effectiveness of herbs is based on a gradual action to restore the natural balance of healthy bodily functions. Very few plant remedies produce lasting beneficial effects after one or a few doses. In the case of treating prolonged problems, consider that, as a rule of thumb, it takes one month of an herbal treatment for each year that you’ve had the problem. In other words, if you have had a problem for three years, it would take about three months to effect a healthy repair.
Important Considerations When Making Teas, Infusions and Decoctions:
- Not all herbs are suitable for making medicinals.
- It is important to cover your pot while boiling or steeping to prevent the aromatic oils from evaporating into the air. A lid will cause the steam to condense back into the water.
- Use a glass or ceramic container. Aluminum, iron, tin or other metals will leach into the tea. Although copper and stainless steel may be okay, herbalists recommend you use clean glass, ceramic, pottery or unchipped enameled pot.
- Use pure water. Fresh spring water or distilled water is best.
- Boil the water first, then remove it from the heat and add the herb or pour over the herb.
- Strain the finished tea before capping and storing.
- Refrigerate if kept for more than a few hours.
Herbal teas are quite pleasant and a healthy addition to your diet. They have a mild relaxing or invigorating effect, depending on the character of the herb. They don’t, however, have the potency, the medicinal dose, of the active constituents in herbs.
The easy way to make a medicinal cup of tea is to triple up on herbal tea bags or the loose tea leaves that you would normally use and steep them in one cup of very hot water, covered, for ten minutes. By tripling the amount of tea you come very close to the medicinal value of an infusion. Dosage is in cups per day. Single strength herbal teas can be taken as often as you wish.
To use bulk dried herbs, toss a quantity of the herb in a nonmetallic container, pour in boiling water and allow to steep for ten to 20 minutes. Most herbalists prescribe an ounce of dried herb (you should invest in a small scale) in a pint of water. Strain the herb parts. Usually, the tea is consumed at room temperature. Drink the tea hot only if the goal is to induce a sweat or to break up a cough or cold. Sip throughout the day, the cumulative dose would be one to four cups a day depending on the herb.
You can buy empty gelatin capsules from your health food store. There are varying sizes of capsules. Simply fill the capsules with powdered or finely cut dried herbs. The reason capsules are not as beneficial as the following liquid remedies is because no extraction process is performed and thus the active constituents of the herbs are not as readily available to your body. Digestion alone does not guarantee the release of the healing agents of herbs. Capsules are, however, preferable when you want the herbs released in the intestines rather than the stomach. Many people prefer capsules and pills for convenience and also because some herbs are rather bitter to taste. The bitterness however, provokes an important series of bodily actions that are important to the process.
This is another easy way to make an herbal remedy. Start by bruising one ounce of dried flowers, leaves or petals of the herb of your choice in a clean cloth. If you are using multiple herbs, the total amount used should equal one ounce. Then, pour three cups of boiling water over the herb. Cover and let steep for at least 20 to 30 minutes or up to several hours (the longer, the stronger). Strain and drink at room temperature or cold. Infusions generally will last in the refrigerator for three days. Dosage is in cups per day. Follow the same “Important Considerations” (above) as in making medicinal teas.
A decoction is made by boiling the hard and woody parts of herbs. Be sure to break up the bark or roots into small pieces, the smaller the better. More heat is needed in making decoctions than infusions because these parts of herbs are more difficult to extract active constituents and be absorbed by water. As with teas and infusions, follow the previously mentioned “Important Considerations” (above in the tea section).
Boil one ounce of your herb(s) in four cups of water for about ten minutes. (Remember, one ounce total if you are using more than one herb.) The liquid should reduce to three cups. If you wish, at this point you can add any lighter herb parts — flowers or leaves that you would use in infusions. Cover this mixture and steep for ten more minutes. Strain and refrigerate for up to three days. Dosage is in cups per day.
Extracts & Tinctures:
Because extracts and tinctures are much more potent than decoctions or infusions, much smaller dosages are used. They are dosed in drops, not cups. They are strong preparations that should be stored out of the reach of children and in a cool place (it’s not necessary to refrigerate). A tincture is made by pouring five ounces of alcohol (preferably 100 proof vodka) over one ounce of a dried herb (or a one ounce combination of dried herbs). An extract uses three ounces of fresh herbs. Use a small, sterile, leak-proof, air tight bottle or jar. Shake the tincture or extract twice a day to maintain the blend of active ingredients. Continue to do this for at least two weeks (and up to six weeks). It takes time for the active ingredients of the herb to be released into the alcohol. Tinctures can last for over a year. The alcohol acts as a preservative. If you prefer not to use alcohol you can use vinegar instead. Or, add the tincture when finished as above to one cup of warm water to cause most of the alcohol to evaporate. This will also dilute the bitter taste however, the strength is also changed.
Other Medicinal Recipes:
Honey-based syrups preserve the healing qualities of some herbs and can be used to soothe sore throats and provide relief from coughs and colds. To make an herbal syrup, combine two ounces of dried herb(s) with one quart of water in a large pot. Boil down until it is reduced to one pint. Add one to two tablespoons of honey. Store all herbal syrups in the refrigerator for up to one month.
Soak a towel in a hot herb tea and lay it on the affected area. Be careful not to burn yourself when you wring out the towel thoroughly or the “patient” when you lay it on the area to be treated. Cover the compress with a dry towel. Leave it in place until it no longer feels warm and then replace it with another. Keep the area under compresses for up to 30 minutes, depending on the condition and the herb being used. Generally, stop the application when the skin becomes uniformly flushed, or a tingling sensation or feeling of relief develops and interrupt the regimen if the area becomes red or the patient feels discomfort.
Some herbs are stimulating and warming (such as Cayenne or ginger) and are used to increase circulation and energize areas of the boday that are congested or debilitated. Other herbs are soothing and cooling and dissipate excess heat or nervous energy or calm swelling from sprains or bruises.
Mix dried, powdered or macerated herbs with hot water or herb tea. If you want a paste like mixture, add flour or oatmeal. Place this herbal mixture right on the skin. A warm cloth, or bandage should hold the herbs in place. These are effective for drawing out infection and foreign bodies and relieving muscle spasms and pain. Burdock, comfrey, crab apple, flax seed and slippery elm are safe and traditional poultice herbs.
Cayenne and mustard are best applied as plasters rather than poultices so they don’t actually touch the skin. Other herbs work well as plasters when you want an antiseptic and healing effect on an injury. Make an herb paste (as described in “Poultice”) and place within folds of cheesecloth or muslin. Apply to the injured area.
Oils and Ointments:
Aromatic herbs contain active ingredients in essential oils. Manufactured oils are extremely concentrated, extracting oils from many pounds of plants to produce a few drops. Do not underestimate their potency when purchasing manufactured essential oils. You can make a less concentrated (and safer) oil yourself by macerating two ounces of dried herb(s) and mix with one pint of olive oil (or safflower or vegetable). Keep in a warm place. Shake this mixture twice daily for a few days to six weeks depending on the potency you want. Strain and bottle the oil. For a quicker process, heat the herbs and oil gently, uncovered, for one hour. Do not boil. Strain and bottle when cooled.
For ointments, add one to one and a half ounces of melted beeswax (or tallow) to any herb oil. If using tallow (rendered lard), simmer one ounce of crushed dried herbs in three quarters of a pound of fat. When the herbs break down well, strain and allow to set. For a firmer ointment add melted beeswax while this mixture is still warm. Calendula or comfrey ointment is widely recommended as a first aid cream.
A very old form of medical treatment, the herbal bath is a safe and effective way to use herbs for healing. Relaxing, healing qualities of herbs permeate through the skin. It’s easiest to wrap dried herbs in cheesecloth and hang the bundles from the spout while running the water. You could also make a strong infusion and pour it into the water. Also pay attention to the temperature of the water. Warm baths relax muscles, cool baths stimulate the body. Your body temperature (98 degrees) is the warmest you should have as bath water. Hot baths dehydrate the body, dry the skin and can be exhausting. Cool, refreshing baths should range in temperature from 70 to 85 degrees.
The following are some herbs, classified by type, for use in baths:
- Stimulating Herbs: basil, bay, calendula flowers, citronella, fennel, lavender flowers, lemon verbena, lovage roots, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme
- Soothing Herbs: catnip, chamomile flowers, comfrey, elder, evening primrose flowers, hyssop, jasmine flowers, juniper berries, lemon balm, mullein, passionflower, rose flowers, slippery elm, vervain, violet
- Tonic Herbs: blackberry leaves, comfrey, dandelion, ginseng root, jasmine flowers, nettle, orange, patchouli, raspberry leaves
- Herbs for muscles and joints: agrimony, bay, juniper berries, mugwort, oregano, sage
- Antiseptic Herbs: yellow dock, eucalyptus, sandalwood
- Astringent Herbs: agrimony, bay, bayberry, clary, comfrey, dock, frankincense, lady’s mantle, lemongrass, mullein, nasturtium flowers, raspberry leaves, rose flowers, rosemary, white willow bark, witch hazel, yarrow.