How to Prepare Herbal Remedies

There are many ways we can use herbs in order for them to exert their beneficial influence. The easiest way to take herb is to simply eat them. Most of us do this every day, for example with parsley in salads, mint or rosemary with roast lamb or garlic with just about everything. The herbs are absorbed in the digestive tract and enter the blood stream and circulate around the body.

Preparations for internal use

Apart from culinary use herbs can be taken internally as teas, tinctures or in tablet form.

Tablets or capsules

This method is the easiest way to take herbs. Simply ingest a tablet or capsule and follow with a glass of water. They may also be dissolved in hot water for tea. The tablets and capsules can be purchased and you can keep them on hand for when they may be needed. You can also make them at home using gelatin capsules filled with powdered mixtures of the herbs you require. The process is made easier by using a capsule maker.

There are two sizes - 0 and 00. Size 0 holds about 0.35 g of powder, so that three capsules should be taken three times daily to achieve the standard dose. Size 00 holds about 0.5 g of powder, requiring two capsules to be taken three times per day for the standard dose.

Teas or infusions and decoctions

Teas come in two forms - infusions and decoctions. Which one you make depends on the part of the herb that you want to use. Infusions are for the soft parts of the plant and decoctions are for the bark and woody parts.

Infusions

These are made the same way as making a cup of tea, using the soft parts of the plant (the leaves, stems and flowers). The standard dose is 1oz (25g) of dried herb, or 2 oz or (50 g) of fresh herb to 1 pint (600 ml) of boiling water. This can be varied according to taste. It is important that they be palatable so that you can drink them regularly, when you need to. Sometimes a little honey makes the tea more palatable.

Put the herb in a warmed pot and pour on the boiling water, leave covered to infuse for 10 minutes and then strain. A cupful is generally taken three times a day for chronic conditions and six times daily for acute illnesses. An infusion will keep up to two days in the refrigerator.

Combine different herbs with similar properties to improve the healing and alter the flavour.

Decoctions

These are similar to infusions except that they are made from hard materials, such as bark, roots, wood chips, seeds and nuts. They may require more heat than an infusion.

Break or hammer the pieces first with a pestle and mortar or chop them if fresh. Porcelain or glass vessels should be used in preparing infusions and decoctions. The full benefit of the herb is attained by keeping the material covered while being processed. Simmer the material in a glass or enamel vessel with some water, for at least 10 minutes before straining. Use a little over a pint (600 ml) of water per ounce (25g) of herb, to make up for any water lost during the simmering. The dosage is the same as for infusions.

Using infusions and decoctions

You can use infusions and decoctions in eyebaths, gargles, mouth washes and lotions. Such treatments are given about two to three times per day for chronic problems and every two hours for acute situations.

Note: milk is not usually added to a herbal infusion or decoctions.

Syrups

These are often preferred for children. Give two teaspoons (double for adults) three or four times per day for chronic problems and twice as much for an acute illness.

After preparing the herb as if to make a tea, bring it to a boil for five to ten minutes. Mix in 12oz (325g) sugar or honey into a pint (600ml) of the liquid and heat until the sugar dissolves. Store the syrup in the refrigerator.

Alternatively, you can weigh your infusion or decoction and add a 1/4 of its weight of honey to it. Heat this slowly and stir it as it starts to thicken, skim of the scum that forms on the surface.

Another method is to pour a pint (600ml) of boiling water over 21/2lb (1.25kg) of soft brown sugar and stir over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the solution starts to boil. Remove from the heat. Add one part of herbal tincture (see below) to three parts syrup. This will keep very well.

Tincture

These are concentrated extracts of herbs, usually using a mixture of water and alcohol (Duke 2000, uses the cheapest vodka that he can buy for this process) to extract the constituents of the remedy and act as a preservative. The ratio of alcohol to water varies form one remedy to another. 25% alcohol is needed for glycosides and tannins. Resins and gums need 90% alcohol. (see... for what these mean)

To make the tincture use:

  • dried herbs at the ratio of one part herb to five parts of liquid,
  • fresh herb at the ratio of one part herb to two parts of liquid.

Place the herb in a large jar and pour in the alcohol and water mixture. Close the lid of the jar and leave in a cool dark place for two weeks, shaking it daily. When this process is complete separate the herb and the liquid and place the liquid into a dropper bottle. (Tinctures are often taken by dropper measures.) Store the tincture away from heat and light.

You can use an alternative to alcohol by using glycerine which gives a sweet taste to the tincture and makes them more palatable. Use equal parts of water and glycerine for dried herbs and 80% glycerine for watery fresh herbs (such as borage) to ensure they do not deteriorate or become contaminated.

Tinctures generally keep well for about two years.

Tinctures can also be used to make mouth washes, gargles, lotions and douches. Use about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon in a cupfull of water 2 to 3 times per day in chronic conditions and every tow hours in acute conditions.

Suppositories

Local and systemic conditions can be treated with this method. Suppositories bypass the intestines and are absorbed through the mucosa of the rectum.

To make suppositories add finely powdered dried herbs to a base of melted cocoa butter. Pour this into moulds, made in the required shape from aluminium foil and allowed to cool.

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Preparations for external use

The skin is very absorbent and substances that are applied to the skin will be carried by the blood vessels around the body.

Make a wash

A wash is a warm infusion, decoction or diluted tincture (10 ml tincture to 250 ml warm water) that is spread over the skin with a clean cloth or cotton ball. A wash is good for wounds, cuts and grazes as well as rashes and ulcers.

Compresses

To make a compress take a clean cloth or towel and soak it in either a hot or cold herbal infusion or decoction or into water into which a few drops of essential oil have been added. Then wring it out and apply it to the affected area - such as the site of a headache, period pain, backache, inflamed joints. Repeat several times for good effect.

Hand and foot baths

The hands and feet are sensitive areas with many nerve endings. Despite thickening of the skin in some areas herbal constituents pass readily from these areas into the blood stream.

Mustard foot baths are an old remedy for the afflictions of the cold and damp, from colds and flu to arthritis. The hands and feet are excellent ways to treat children and babies.

Herbal baths

A fragrant warm bath is a relaxing way to take a herbal remedy and an easy way to treat babies and children.

  • You can hang a muslin bag filled with fresh or dried herbs directly under the hot tap.
  • Alternatively you can add a strong herbal infusion to the bath water. Soak in the water for 15 to 30 minutes.
  • You can add a few drops of essential oil to the bath water.

Dilute the oils first for babies and children or if you have a sensitive skin.

Liniments

Liniments are rubbing oils used in massage to relax or stimulate or sooth away pain from inflammation or injury. They consist of extracts of herbs in oil or alcohol base or a mix of herbal oils and alcohol tinctures of your chosen herbs. They are intended to be absorbed quickly through the skin of the affected part and for this reason they often contain cayenne or stimulating oils to increase circulation.

Oils

Essential oils are extracted from aromatic plants by a process of steam distillation so these are unable to be prepared at home. However you can make herbal oils by infusing finely chopped herbs in a pure vegetable oils, such as almond, sunflower or olive, for about two weeks.

Place the oil in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Place the jar on a warm windowsill and shake it daily. Gradually the oil will take up the constituents of the herbs used. After two or more weeks filter the oil and press the remainder out of the herb through a muslin bag. Store the oil in an airtight dark bottle.

Oils can be used for a massage. A few drops of the essential oil can be diluted in the base oil. You can also put 5 to 10 drops into a bowl of hot water for inhalation.

Poultices

A poultice is a soft damp mixture that is added to part of the body. You can use fresh or dried herbs as a poultice, placed between two pieces of gauze. Make the herbal mixture into a paste (crush the fresh herbs or add some water to the dry herbs) to spread over the gauze. Then bind the gauze poultice to the affected area using a light cotton bandage.

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References

Duke, J. A. 2000, Anti-aging Prescriptions. Rodale.

McGrath, W.R. 1991, Common Herbs for Common Illnesses. American Survival Guide.

McIntyre, A. 1995, The Complete Women's Herbal. Henry Holt Reference Books.

Woodward, P. 2003, Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies. Hyland House.

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