When there is a need for healing, handling a deficiency, curing anything in the body, according to many herbal philosophies and practices, it is considered obvious that there is a plant or a combination of plants and their constituents which will help bodies mend or improve, or reverse unwanted conditions. Herbalism is an art, a working principle, and a practice that spans the entire history of mankind on planet earth. If we hadn’t had the benefits of plants and the knowledge of their uses we would probably not have people on earth. We would have died off long ago. But nature is an interworking system that has been worked out over millions of years by life force acting on the raw materials of the physical universe, and life with material stuff have come to come pretty good agreements.
The matter, energy, space and time of the physical have made a game place for life forms to develop and thrive. Life acts on the physical and the physical helps life. It’s symbiosis at its best, or at least it has worked for us here. Every living organism and form on this planet is spirit first, then the interaction of spirit and physical, and there is a harmony to it, which we call ‘nature’. It’s a very old system and the interactions and benefits are very thorough and many layered. When one layer fails, another comes in and takes its place. So we must respect each aspect and pay attention because it all acts here to give life force/spirit a place to play the game of living. Every living form has its place. Even harmful bacteria and micro-organisms act as counter balance to keep the beneficial ones strong and weeds out the weak.
Into this picture we have plants and fungi which provide nutrition, stimulant, balance, and harmony to our human and animal life forms. It’s a dance of balance. The healer, the plant lover and grower, the scholar all play a part in providing the knowledge of how to use those plants and fungi to support, provide, and heal.
For myself it is a passion to understand how we fit into the life force and forms on the planet which help and benefit the system I love. To me it’s a wonder and joyful to know how each piece fits into place. How the bird song opens the pores in the underside of the leaf so the atmosphere with its vital nutrients for the plant can be attracted and absorbed by the plant. How the micro-organism in the soil provides just the right mineral for the tree and how the fungi threads called mycelium brings the mineral into the root that supports the leaf above that falls and deteriorates into soil that feeds the micro-organisms and the other plant life.
So as an herbalist and healer, knowing how nature works, and what it provides, then recognizing the beauty of it, and the interrelationships that are there to bring to bodies, human and animal, into harmony, isn’t just science. It’s art, it’s spiritual. We are all part of nature, and using it kindly can bring life into focus so it can in a round about way, then benefit the whole system, plants, animals, air, rock, insects, flowers, weather, water, energy, even the frequencies of music and bird song.
We live on a little rock in a very big universe. The thin layer on this rock is only a few miles thick, and it’s fragile. Nature is a powerful system, but it will break down if abused long enough and hard enough. So, everything we do must be kind to it. When I harvest a wild plant, I am careful to only take a little bit, only what I need, never for profit, but always to benefit. When I grow herbs or other plants in my garden, I use no chemicals that can harm other plants, insects, wild life, or micro organisms in the soil. It isn’t always convenient, but it honors the system so in another thousand years we will still have that little green leaf our great grand children’s great grand children will have it to heal them. Nature has lasted as long as it has because it’s a system that works. Who am I to challenge that system with harsh chemicals or land defying practices?
That being said, plant medicine when used knowledgeably, from pure sources untouched by hidden chemicals or substances, which through nature are available to fit together the broken pieces of a cell or a bone or a tear in the skin, or a rupture in a brain, does so in a science so precise we can’t match it in even the highest tech laboratory in the world. We can’t recreate a seed. We can’t actually create DNA and RNA, we can only change what is there. And if the pieces of nature are broken, it also has the remedies to repair them.
There are literally millions of kinds of plants and fungi on this planet. The diversity is staggering. We are faced with such an overwhelming number of life forms here, one will never know all of them. We as a scientific community will probably never identify every micro-organism or fungi for example because life keeps finding new ways to manifest when seeking to solve the ever changing conditions on the planet. However, through the thousands of years people have been working with plants and fungi, we have identified ones that are especially beneficial for certain or myriad conditions.
In football they call it ‘deep bench’ i.e. if the star quarterback is injured, another player on the bench can come in and keep the game going. The same goes for herbal medicinal plants. When it is summer and the spring antibiotic rich plants are past their medicinal prime, over there on the other bed or in the woods is another plant which has similar properties but is in its prime in the heat. Knowing the richness and many properties of these powerfully healing plants can make it possible to keep moving from one plant to the next when the need is there.
We all as healers have our favorite herbs and fungi, which we have had success with to bring about the right changes and healings for people or animals. But just as there are many kinds of plants, so are there many kinds of people and animals, from one to the next. We all don’t respond the same to the substances in those plants and fungi. So, again, we need that ‘deep bench’ of knowledge and herbs.
The Cherokee people and their healers were master herbalists. In Appalachia – mountains and foothills – they identified and used over 1500 medicinal plants at least, but no idea how many mushrooms and fungi they used as well as those have not particularly been chronicled. Other ancient medicinal practices such as in India – Ayerveda, or China – Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) likewise use thousands of plants in their vast herbal knowledge bases.
But to be an effective healer, one doesn’t need to know all of this. It would be impossible anyway. And what we have as resources for those ‘medicants’ (medicinal substances) are as limited as the region we live in, what we can grow ourselves or forage, or the connections we have with others who can provide what we can’t directly.
That being said, knowing what is available around where we live can be eye-openingly astounding. When I first came to NE Georgia from being a gardener in California, I was busily pulling up what I thought were weeds from my newly created planting beds. Then I took a couple of classes from a local very knowledgeable herbalist, including an herbal walk up in the mountains, and found out that all those supposed ‘weeds’ I was pulling were 90% medicinal plants. So, I realized how ignorant I was and started learning what was in my little .7 acre subdivision lot on a very steep hill, 1/3 of which was dense undeveloped forest. When I got to 500 identifications, I quit counting. I didn’t stop learning, I just ran out of index cards. Not really, but I figured whatever I didn’t know and couldn’t identify probably had some kind of medicinal value, and stopped just pulling up everything in sight except the neat seed catalog cultivated plants I was familiar with, and got busy finding out what they were.
In the process of learning all this I also discovered those plants also could be used to make dye, ink, beer, perfume, and a host of other things I kept finding out. Like how many of them were antibiotics, anti-virals, could heal wounds, stop bleeding, help women’s and men’s issues, lessen pain and inflammation, attract and support bees and butterflies, feed hummingbirds and those valuable song birds with their lovely singing, and improve the flavor and strength of the cultivated plants I also grow.
I started gathering a library of books, and have continued to keep very careful research notes on those plants and mushrooms, their healing powers, their constituents, how they are used, what they do for the body exactly, what warnings or counter-indications for their use, what they blend well with to increase their healing powers, how to grow them, what to look for when foraging, and what look-alikes are either beneficial or harmful. I use the internet extensively, and often go down the rabbit hole in my research reading everything I can on a given plant. I also follow up on formuli for various conditions from other herbalists and healers, look up scientific abstracts, look up a ton of words (because there is a whole vocabulary in studying this field), and make sure I really understand everything I’m reading.
I have favorite herbalists I follow, and websites I trust as resources for accuracy.
So, after 15 years here in Georgia, I have a library full of books on herbalism and a host of related subjects like wild crafting, Native American folklore and information, gardening, recipes, wild crafting things like ink and dye, baskets, etc. My mind is always filling up with fascinating stuff. But I also keep very good notes because one mind has trouble holding all of it in. At least mine does. After 4 to 6 hours of research a day for 10 years or so, the cup runneth over. However, I also keep very good computer notes and research sites.
So, in the process of identification I always recommend starting slowly, with a few plants, finding out everything I can about them, and try a few of the recipes online. Dandelion, brought over from Europe in the early days of white colonization on this continent as healing plant and edible, is a good place to start since every part of the plant is either edible or medicinal. The flower when harvested and packed into a jar with olive oil, kept in a cupboard for a month or so, strained, the greenish yellow oil saved in a cool dark place, is a wonderful sore muscle rub. The leaves are loaded with minerals for nutrition, are excellent in salads or soup, and being a bit bitter, also have medicinal value for the glands in the body. The roots can be roasted and make an excellent coffee substitute as used in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War by the troops when they couldn’t get coffee bean. But the root is also used to help treat cancer and other conditions. The while ‘milk’ substance in the stems can be applied to warts a few times a day to remove them. The fluffy attached to the seed can be collected over time and used to stuff in clothing as insulation. Just that one little humble plant that the lawn maintenance people attack with chemicals that pollute our ground water, imagine!
With a little search on the internet you can find a number of excellent ‘field guides’ for hunting down and identifying ‘weeds’ that grow all around us. Some of them are super foods, like purslane which grows into large succulent leafed plants so nutritious you could almost live off of it. Like stinging nettle, a member of the mint family, which has an acid in its tiny needles that sting like crazy, but which when made into a tea is a terrifically nutritious infusion as well as an allergy calming drink loaded with anti-histamines. The plant often found nearby, any member of the ‘dock’ family, the leaf rubbed on the stung place from the nettle, almost instantly, takes the pain away.
Just start out where you are and learn.
If you are a gardener and like to grow culinary herbs, you will be surprised at the benefits of such herbs as basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, sage, mint, and others. They are all medicinal! Powerfully so even. Parsley is even a super food.
If you have fire ants that plague you make sure you grow some plantain herb (not the banana, this is a green herb growing everywhere almost) because at the first sting, if you chew up a leaf from the plantain and rub it on the sting, it instantly takes away the pain and the stung area will not inflame, or infect, no more little pustules and no scars either. I teach all the kids in the neighborhood this trick because we have those ants everywhere. This trick also works well though a bit slower, with bee stings, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets and spider bites. With a hornet or yellow jacket, you may have to apply it a couple of times because those venoms are nasty, but in an hour or so it will also heal up.
If you have a particular problem you want some plant help from, using the internet and searching for ‘herbs for xyz condition’, you will find something that grows around you or something you can get at a health food store to help you. I have found sometimes the number of herbs or mushrooms that help any condition are huge, so narrowing it down to a couple of ones available is a good way to start applying the knowledge.
As you become familiar with what is medicinal and what that plant is commonly used for, your mental ‘apothecary’ (collection of herbs and their uses) will grow sufficiently you can think with this as medicine for use. Most of the ones that grow around me have been used by country people in this area as home remedies for generations, so it has been helpful to talk to the old ‘grannies’ when I can find them, and ask a lot of questions, keeping careful notes. But even those lovely knowledgeable people don’t know it all. But if you know another herbalist in the area, learn from them. Take classes from them if offered, and read up on the internet.
Just as a caution, never use an herb you aren’t 100% certain of its identification, its warnings, its counter-indications (for example using when someone or yourself are taking pharmaceutical drugs, as some will either counter-act the drug, or make it too strong and be harmful), and care of the dosages. Some should not be used by pregnant or nursing moms or babies. Some should not be used if someone is taking heart medication or insulin as you could lower the blood sugar too far, or make the blood too non-coagulating.
I recommend starting with topical applications, like making simple salves and ointments as you learn other applications. A simple salve using plantain, yarrow, and chickweed, olive oil, some bees wax to stiffen it, and some lavender oil to lengthen the shelf life is a great healing and soothing ointment for most skin irritations and small injuries.
As you start to recognize the plants and their applications around you, and you find they carry some properties you would like to try making some medicine with, do a little homework to make sure your identification is exactly right, and take care not to use endangered or rare plants (mushrooms aren’t the actual plant, they are the fruiting bodies and there really isn’t any reason to limit their harvest, just be very very careful your identification is exact because mushrooms can be harmful if you aren’t absolutely sure of their ID).
I also limit the taking of plants in a wild forage to no more than 20% of aerial parts, 10% of a full plant with roots (and then if the roots are split-able, I replant some of the root), and NEVER all of them. We have lost whole plant species from greedy and unethical harvesting of some of our most valuable plants. The Cherokee people stopped sharing their knowledge to others because of this greed and wanton destruction, loosing some of their most valuable plant medicines.
Before harvesting, make sure you are harvesting only the parts that you need. If you can do with only the flower, don’t take the stems and leaves for example. And then, remember flowers are the precursors of the seeds which the plants need to continue their existence, so always obey that 20% stricture.
Some plants loose their potency if not preserved quickly. So, do your home work. Old mushrooms don’t provide much of the ingredients you want, but note their location and come back at a more favorable time. Mushrooms being fruiting bodies can be harvested heavily, but remember they too are the source of reproduction so don’t take it all or everywhere. And if they are rare, don’t share their location unless to very trustworthy others. Be ethical.
I take a basket, a knife, a little brush, and a secateurs (hand pruner) when I go foraging or harvesting in my garden. Some plants look alike so in order to keep them straight I often take plastic zip lock baggies and a sharpie pen to mark their ID.
Now that we’ve talked about the process of learning your herbs, their properties, their caveats on harvesting, and researching, a word about what comes next.
I have a dehydrator which is always on because it is constantly being replenished. You can get a small inexpensive dehydrator from Wal-Mart, or go online and spend a lot more money getting a professional one. But start small in all things until you know how extensive you’ll need the tools of an herbalist. Some of my herbalist friends just air dry their herbs on a paper towel, or a screen frame held with strings in a cool shady area. In any case, dehydration is an excellent preservation method.
Some herbs are best utilized preserved in alcohol, oil, vinegar, glycerin, or dehydrated. When taking an herb for use, find out first which preservation method works to get the constituents out of the herb for use. If I have a glut of herbs in a specific season I know I won’t be able to use right away, I usually dehydrate them. I have some used window screen panels from friends in construction, and lay my herbs on the shady porch till they are crispy dry. Then later the dried herb can be made into a tea, infusion, oil, alcohol tincture and so forth. But once dry, preserve your herbs in tight lidded plastic or glass containers. For liquid preservation I always use glass as sometimes when exposed to liquid, plastic will outgas or otherwise impart toxic material into the herbal medicine making it un-useable. For example, ground ivy, a member of the mint family, in spring is so prevalent in my garden I could take it away in bushel baskets, but I dehydrate it, powder it, and later either place it in capsules or make tincture or tea with it. But once dry it is preserved for at least a year.
Once you have harvested, processed, and collected your herbs, the next action is getting the medicine in the plant somehow to be absorbed into the body. This means some method of extraction.
Usually culinary herbs which are also medicinal like sage, rosemary, mint, thyme, oregano etc. give their medicinal values into the food. We don’t usually notice that eating that spaghetti sauce with the oregano, thyme, and garlic (also highly medicinal) is improving our immune system and helping us fight a cold. Or the sage in the turkey dressing is improving our health. Yet most of the culinary herbs over the centuries used by various cultures are used for their health giving properties, even if the cook doesn’t know they are doing that. So, the extraction method used in cooking is the heat, the liquid in the broth, the soaking in the sauce, etc. However, when specifically making medicine, the extraction method is important.
Removing the active components of plants leaving behind the cellulose and other non-medicinal plant chemicals means condensing those valuable substances so one can not only save from chewing up a bunch of plants without the benefit of a ruminant stomach system (like a cow), which is often the majority of the weight of the plant, to get out what you want out of it, but also have it in controllable and dosable amounts.
Often plants have many valuable medicinal plant chemicals which do various things for the body. They are dissolvable by various solvents called ‘mentsrums’. Depending on what is desired to get out of that plant will determine which of the solvents one uses. They are: water, oil, alcohol, vinegar, glycerin, and honey. The volatile oils can be distilled using steam and a distiller which then becomes what are called ‘Essential Oils’. Making EOs requires a very large amount of plant material because the percentage of the plant that is oil is often in the single digit percentages or lower. Several tons of plant material may be needed for just a couple of ounces of EO. Usually an herbalist will purchase these essential oils rather than try to distill them directly. However lesser condensed versions can be made by an herbalist using steam or infused oil where the oil in the plant is dissolved into a ‘carrier oil’ such as olive oil, or almond or other nutrient rich oil. In that case the carrier oil is the menstrum.
Water is probably the oldest method. Making a ‘tea’ (called when making a tea out of herbs rather than the specific plant Camellia sinensis, a tisane) is the usual method. Any other plant than camellia sinensis is officially a tisane. Water dissolves water soluble plant chemicals and also absorbs volatile oils. When making a tisane from an aromatic plant, it’s best to keep the tisane covered once the boiling water is poured over the herb so as not to loose those substances. This usually entails boiling some water, providing an herb or herb, whether fresh or dried, pouring it over the herb, and letting it ‘steep’ or ‘macerate’ (the herbal word for steeping or soaking) for 5 to 20 minutes, the herb removed then drinking.
Typically the next stronger extraction method with water is called an ‘infusion’ meaning water and herb are brought together, boiling water is poured over it, it is left to steep or infuse for a few minutes up to a few hours. Soft plant parts such as leaves, flowers, small soft stems, fine roots, or tender vines (non-woody) are so infused. The plant matter is strained out and either the infusion is immediately drunk, or it is kept refrigerated until needed.
A more intense method of using water, usually reserved for larger amounts of herb-to-water, particularly for a nutrient rich nutritional infusion, is in quart sized volumes, to fill a quart jar half or full of herb, covering it with boiling water to the top of the jar, screwing on a tight lid, and letting it sit for 4 to 8 hours, or overnight. Then one drinks it through the day for liquid food and to provide valuable vitamins and minerals as well as the medicinal values in the herbs. It isn’t preserved so the un-drunk liquid is kept in the frig for up to two days. It’s best drunk within the first two days however. See Susun Weed herbalist.
A more intense way to use water for extraction is called a ‘decoction’ usually used in harder to extract substances such as roots, woody herbs, bark, resins, or tough stems or woody mushrooms. In this case the plant matter is cut up as finely as possible so the water can impinge into the tougher matter, the water brought to a boil, lowered to a simmer, and then simmered for several hours. This can be in a double boiler, a pan on the stove, or a slow cooker with a lid on. One watches the water level so it doesn’t evaporate out too much, and one replaces water to keep the same amount of liquid in the pot. The plant matter is strained out, and the decocted extraction is kept in a glass container with a tight lid, refrigerated. It is not preserved so best to drink it within a couple of days.
Water is not a preservation method like some of the other extraction methods, so caution should be made to use it up quickly.
Alcohol Tinctures are an excellent to not only extract the medicinal properties but also preserve the medicine from the plants and fungi. However, some of the medicinal substances in an herb are only dissolved in water. Thus usually the alcohol will also dissolve the water based medicine along with the alcohol dissolved material, because most of the alcohol used is mixed with water. When using spirits such as vodka, hard liquor, wine, beer, or other alcoholic liquids, the percentage of alcohol to water is listed on the label. It’s rare to use or even find 100% alcohol, but Ever Clear, or Moonshine are very high percentages alcohol – in the 90 percentages, the rest water. Usually I use 80 proof vodka which is 40% alcohol, or 100 proof vodka – 50% alcohol by volume. Wine and beer can be used, even mead made from fermented honey, are in the 12% alcohol levels. Check the labels. Then both the alcohol and water dissolvable substances are dissolved together.
Sometimes when making an extract of an herb, we use a double extraction method to get out all the possible medicine from the herbs. First we extract with alcohol, using the cold method, macerating the herb in the alcohol for 4 to 6 weeks, straining out the solids (called the ‘marc’), then placing the solids separately in a pot with water and simmering it for 40 minutes to a couple of hours, keeping the liquid level sufficient to cover the marc, and not burning it, and straining it finally. Then the alcohol tincture and the decoction are mixed together. Since the alcohol tincture is a preservation method, this does not need refrigeration, and will last a long time, some say indefinitely, but certainly up to 12 years.
If one is in a hurry a hot method for tincturing it can be used, though extreme caution must be made in using heat around alcohol because if an open jar of alcohol is near a heat source, it can explode or burst into fire. Therefore, making a hot method tincture is always done with a covered jar. We use a quart mason jar set over a towel in the bottom of a pot, sufficiently large to bring the water level at least half way up the quart jar. The herb is measured according to the recipe into the jar, covered with the chosen alcohol, up to the shoulder of the quart jar, tightly lidded, lowered into cold water, then the heat is turned up high till the water boils, then lowering it immediately to a slow simmer. It simmers for an hour up to most of the day, then carefully removed with the lid still on. Use a jar lifter, set the hot jar aside, and allow it to return to room temperature before removing the lid. Then if one is double extracting the herb, strain out the alcohol, and proceed to making the decoction from the marc. This is called a double extraction or DX.
I recommend always doing only one herb in a tincture or double extraction. Then later if one wishes to make a blend of herbs, take the individual extractions and blend them. That way if you don’t use all of the individual extract you can use it in other blends or alone.
Tinctures are condensed extractions, usually only used a few drops or a dropper load at a time. Keep the final products in colored glass in a cool dark location to preserve the medicinal properties. They do not need to be refrigerated.
Straining the marc with water or alcohol preparations are best strained thru a cloth bag so the solids can be squeezed hard to get the last bit of the liquid out. We make them using muslin fabric and a double ‘French’ seam (i.e. sewn on one side, turned inside out, and sewn again over the first margins, this makes for a very tough seam which won’t break when squeezing with a lot of pressure).
Oil is another fine menstrum. We use a ’carrier oil’ to dissolve the plant medicines out of the herb. Popular carrier oils are extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, sunflower oil, argan oil, avocado oil, black cumin seed oil, coconut oil, grape seed oil, hemp carrier oil, jojoba oil, shae butter or other hard oil. An excellent full explanation of carrier oils can be founding this website: https://www.newdirectionsaromatics.com/blog/products/all-about-carrier-oils.html
Oil infusions are usually used to make topical (on the surface of the skin, not inside the body) medicines, but sometimes an herbal oil can be given a few drops at a time internally. The herb (one at a time per batch) is either cold infused (like a tincture above) for 4 to 6 weeks, usually in a warm location such as a sunny window, or hot method. In this case a double boiler or bane marie (a metal or glass bowl sitting on a pot with water boiling below it) is used to heat up the oil. It isn’t recommended to heat oil directly on a heat source because it too can burn and hurt you.
When using a hot method, never boil the oil, and allow it to gently simmer for 40 minutes up to 3 or 4 hours, then strained once cooled off. Keep unpreserved oils in the refrigerator. The hot method when making a salve or ointment can break the rules about single herbs, and a recipe of various herbs can be heated together for making a batch. Always allow the oils to cool before trying to strain. We usually use a muslin bag as a filter so it can be squeezed to get the last few drops out of the used herbs.
When making an infused oil from a fresh herb it is recommended to let it dry out – wilt – for a day on a paper towel in a well ventilated place to drive most of the water out. If the herb is wet, the liquid in it will drop to the bottom of the jar and can later ruin your batch as the water supports bacteria which can contaminate your final product. You can also use dried herbs.
If you wish to make a lotion which includes water based substances and oils, you will then need to use some kind of emulsifier to enable both oil and water to stay suspended together in a single substance. The medicinal oil in this case should start out water free as water with the oil can contain bacteria. Usually we use carnauba wax or other emulsifying agent to allow them to exist in the same product. But when making a medicinal oil infusion, you don’t want any water left in with the oil.
Infused oils are not preserved so they need to be kept in the refrigerator once made unless you then make a salve or ointment out of them at which case they will contain a preservative such as Vitamin E oil, lavender essential oil or other anti-bacterial essential oil or ingredient. Coconut oil, Shae butter or other harder oil solidifies and can be kept un-refrigerated as long as two or three weeks, but liquid oil should be refrigerated.
Vinegar being very acidic makes another kind of ‘tincture’ for those who can’t intake alcohol (such as babies, alcoholics, those with religious reservations, or other reasons) yet vinegar in itself has medicinal properties which are beneficial. So, using the same techniques as the above talk about tinctures can be used. Vinegar dissolves pretty much the same plant chemicals as alcohol, and being a water based ingredient, of water as well.
Glycerin, another tincture making solvent, is often used in the place of alcohol or vinegar, and is often used for formulas for babies and small children. It is treated the same as water and tincture above and is called when completed a ‘glycerite’ rather than a tincture or infusion. It is thicker in texture than water or alcohol. It is also a sugar based ingredient so it should be kept refrigerated when not in use.
Honey, being a slower solvent, is often used to make syrups and cough medicine because it can coat the mucus membranes of the mouth and throat. It usually is not heated as honey’s medicinal benefits which are themselves powerful, are destroyed with too much heat. Heat only to soften the texture but never boil or even simmer. Best method to making a honey infusion is to chop up the herbs, place in a jar, pour over with honey and using a chop stick or knife, work out the air bubbles releasing them from the plant material, tightly cover the jar, and leave in a warm spot for a month or so, then either use a strainer or leave the herb in the jar and start using it. Sometimes the action of making a honey infusion will release water from the herb and make it more liquid and make it easier to strain.
Now that the herbs and their constituents are drawn out of the plants or fungi, getting those plant chemicals into the body in the intended way are a consideration of the herbalist. We use a number of ways to do that.
A tea or tisane is obvious, you drink a cup of it as needed. Or you can gargle it in the case of a sore throat, use it as a wash topically on a wound, or add it to your bath water. Hot water opens the pores to allow the medicine to go into the skin directly.
Nutritional infusions can either be taken directly in a glass, added to sparkling water for a beverage, or made into a syrup by adding a sweetener if it is bitter or the flavor isn’t palatable. Same with a decoction. Depending on the taste, which can be bitter or flavorful, depending on one’s taste considerations, and the dosage recommended for the herbs in question, they can be mixed with other herbal concoctions in blends, or added to hot water to make a blended tisane.
Water based infusions are the beginnings of syrups which are used in a number of ways for delivery. When an herb is too bitter or unpleasant as an infusion to drink directly, by adding a sweetener it can become deliverable. For someone who refused to take pills, is fussy such as a sick child, or an older person who refused to take medicine, a syrup can be given in spoon doses, or added to juice or sparkling water as a pleasant beverage. Syrups also can be a concentrated form of tea and by adding hot water, makes another pleasant beverage. One doesn’t even know they are taking medicine, which is sometimes a good thing.
Tinctures are usually delivered in dropper amounts, added to juice or water, into a smoothie, or added to other blends depending on the intended use.
Herbal infused oils are used as massage oils delivering the medicinal properties via the skin. They are often combined with the more powerful and concentrated essential oils for pain or inflammation, or rubbed into scar tissue, or healing areas (not open wounds) to improve healing time.
Salves, ointments, balms, lotions, body butters, or unguents, being of various thicknesses and textures, are all oil or fat based, and deliver the medicinal properties along with the moisturizing properties of the carrier oils, through the skin. They can pinpoint an area of inflammation, pain or injury, and work the healing plant chemicals where they are most needed. Lotions being more light can be used all over the skin for moistening, healing, soothing, and in the case of baby rashes or irritations such as diaper rash, they can do so gently bringing comfort. They can even be used to deliver antibiotic herbal remedies to infected areas which penetrate the skin and act directly. Or in the case of comfrey herb, help to heal and knit bone injury. In the case of upper respiratory congestion or infection, a salve with aromatic essential oils can help clear the congestion. An oil with antibiotic and loosening qualities can be dropped in the ear to relieve an ear infection or wax build up. An oil with a sedative herb or essential oil used as a massage oil can help relax traumatized or injured people, or added to a bath, can relax muscles and give relief. Rubbed on the bottom of feet, it can help people relax enough to sleep.
Infusions can be used on the hair and scalp to handle scalp issues, improve the texture and shininess of hair, used as a toner for skin, help relieve acne, and improve skin texture. Specific herbs can be infused to make eye drops or deliver medicine under the tongue. Oils can bring relief to eczema, psoriasis, itchy skin, dry skin, rashes, and other irritations. Tinctures can be taken in morning coffee or tea to handle specific body conditions without discomfort.
Preservation of herbs has been covered above through refrigeration, the use of alcohol in an herbal preparation, the addition of vitamin E oil or lavender essential oil in oil preparations, alcohol itself as a tincture, or vinegar in an infusion themselves are preservatives. Often dehydration of the fresh herb, and kept in tight glass jars is itself an excellent preservation method and can extend the useful life of an herb up to 5 years depending on the properties of the herb.
If you have an herb garden, and you harvest herbs at their peak of excellence, determine if the herb is best used in water, alcohol, oil, vinegar, glycerin or honey, and before the herb’s properties dissipate through time, or the aromatic properties are released, act quickly to keep the good effect of the herb.
Some good resources for understanding herbs are Rosemary Gladstar’s book on herbal medicine for the beginner https://www.amazon.com/Rosemary-Gladstars-Medicinal-Herbs-Beginners/dp/1612120059, Patricia Kyritsi Howell’s book on Medicinal Herbs of the Appalachian Mountains https://www.amazon.com/Medicinal-Southern-Appalachians-Patricia-Kyritsi/dp/0977490505, Susun Weed’s many great videos on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gRKT0orYjY, John Christopher’s many good websites on the internet https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3igtWldaqw and his book https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/356779.School_of_Natural_Healing, Herbalist David Crow, Herbalist Ronda Reno, Herbalist and Naturopath Doc Shillington email@example.com, Herbalist Jim Buckenmyer firstname.lastname@example.org ,and Herbalist and educator Anne-Marie Bilella https://www.localharvest.org/bella-vista-farm-M65820 and just Google herbalists. There is so much good information available for the beginner all the way up to an expert available.
Herbal medicine is a vast subject and the number of medicinal herbs and their uses and properties could fill an encyclopedia. In this article I have put down some general information on the subject, some references which can lead into making plant medicine and home remedies, and a general look at what it does and can do.
Diann Dirks, Herbalist, Permaculture designer, Organic gardener, Auburn, Ga.
Some General References
More Books on herbs:
MEDICINAL EDIBLE & USEFUL PLANTS OF THE CHEROKEE
Published by the Great Smoky Mountain Association