The healing power of Herbal Medicine
by Guest Blogger
This is a guest post by Michele and entry for a non-fiction writing contest I think at SHTF.
This is hopefully the first in a series of many articles on herbal medicine. I’ll try to get off my hinny and get a few more written fairly quickly, and if we are all very lucky, we can get some of our other herbalists like Mama J and Bam Bam to write some as well.
Herbs are powerful medicine. Do not think for one minute that all herbs are harmless. Herbs can also interact with any medicines you are taking, making them stronger or counteracting some of their properties, so research them well if you are taking any meds.
The first thing I wanted to do was to tell you how to make herbal preparations.
Infusions – Probably the easiest method to prepare herbal medicine is an infusion, more commonly known as tea. However, for an herbal infusion, it is better to allow the tea to steep for 5 or more minutes. To make an herbal infusion, add boiling water to your herbs, cover with a small plate and allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes. Add sugar or honey if desired, and drink.
You can make your teas by placing a teaspoon or more of the herb or herbs you want to use into your cup, in a tea strainer, or for tea you want to take throughout the day, in a teapot. There are also many really good medicinal herbal teas on the market – that are exceptional medicines. I personally have a subscription on Amazon for Yogi Breathe Deep, Herbal Tea Supplement, 16-Count Tea Bags (Pack of 6) that I get every month for my preps. The stuff is amazing, helping with congestion, coughing and just general breathing.
It helps my asthma significantly. It has a slightly sweet, black licorice taste that my husband loves. Licorice is used in many herbal teas, as licorice is one of the top ten most useful herbs, but also because it helps the other herbs to work together in harmony, and covers the taste of many very useful herbs that taste very nasty (like elecampane root, which is a very strong decongestant and expectorant, but tastes… (insert appropriate bad words here J )
Decoction – A decoction is a little stronger, but takes longer, as the material is simmered or boiled for a period of time, depending on the herb – roots or woody parts take a lot longer than do softer materials. To make a decoction, place the herbs in a (preferably) non-metallic pan, add water, bring to a boil and turn the heat down to simmer gently. To make syrup, you can strain out the herb, and add sugar or honey to taste.
Both infusions and decoctions are meant to be used immediately or stored for very short periods of time in the refrigerator.
Tinctures – For longer storage and more potent extracts, you can make tinctures. Tinctures can be made with alcohol (which is usually the kind most people think of, and is usually the strongest), glycerin or even vinegar. To make a tincture with alcohol, fill a glass jar 1/3 to ½ full of dried herb or ¾ full of fresh herb, and add 80 – 100 proof alcohol (vodka, brandy, rum – your choice).
Store in a cool dark place for 6-8 weeks, shaking daily, then strain out the herb if you like. You may then strain out the herbs and discard them (into your compost pile) and store liquid in air-tight bottles (capped bottles). Tinctures are powerful, concentrated doses of herbs, so the usual dosage is 10 or 20 drops to one teaspoon, dissolved in a glass of water, tea or juice. Read the label on purchased tinctures to determine how much you should take daily.
A tincture made with vinegar is made the same way as an alcohol tincture.
For those who do not like to use alcohol or for small children, most tinctures can also be made with pure vegetable glycerin which is slightly sweet. Pour 3 cups (750 ml) of vegetable glycerin into a ceramic pan that can be used on a stove top. Add 1 cup (250 g) of finely ground dried herbs and 1 cup (250 ml) of water into the glycerin.
Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, then lower the heat so the mixture will simmer gently. Let the liquid reduce by half, and remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Pour the boiled mixture into a glass container and cover it tightly. Leave the container to sit for three weeks, shaking the container thoroughly once a day. Strain the liquid to remove all of the herbs and store in a (preferably) dark glass container on a shelf or in the fridge.
Alcohol tinctures can have most of the alcohol removed by adding it to HOT tea.
Preferably, make your tinctures of individual ingredients and mix tinctures in small amounts to make your combinations –that way you can use a tincture for more than one purpose, as MANY herbs are useful for many different types of ailments.
To make syrup from a tincture, heat it a little and add sugar to taste – remember Mary Poppins (very wise woman) said “just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” You can also make syrup from just the herb, water and sugar or honey, but that is for short term use and must be stored in the refrigerator.
If you have a very nasty tasting herb, combine it with another complimentary strong tasting herb to help disguise the flavor. Licorice is a good one, as is peppermint and both herbs lend their own wonderful qualities.
Compresses – Another use for tinctures is making compresses, which are simply a piece of cloth or cotton ball soaked in an herbal solution and applied to the outside of the body. Compresses may be cold or warm and are a great way to relieve headaches, tired eyes, muscle soreness and flu.
Poultices – Other non-internal uses for herbs include poultices, where the herb is made into a paste applied to the body; plasters, where a similar paste is placed in a pouch (or between pieces of gauze) instead of being applied directly to the skin.
Ointments – where the herb is mixed with other ingredients to be applied to the skin. They are easy to make with Vaseline (petroleum jelly) but can be made with any fat available, although if it’s a fat that can go rancid it is unlikely to last as long as using Vaseline. Melt the Vaseline in a double boiler or over very low heat (and watch carefully so it doesn’t catch fire), and add your fresh or dried herb. If you use fresh, use twice as much. Continue to heat for several hours, and then carefully pour into the container you will be using – straining the herbs out through a couple layers of cheese cloth.
OK that’s it for the moment. I’ll be adding a list of herbs to use for various things, and hopefully our other herbalists will add their favorites in the comments.
Note: The information on this page is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text and information, are presented here for general information purposes only. Always seek professional medical advice – in other words you should always review any information carefully with your professional health care provider.