If you have an herb garden, or simply enjoy working with herbs, there are numerous ways to use these herbs at home to make your own medicine. Herbal medicines can be as simple as an herbal tea, or as complex as herbal lozenges and tinctures. Some things to consider before deciding how to prepare an herb medicinally are:
The ailment for which you plan to use the herb The shelf life of the herbal medicine The type of herb you are preparing The age and preferences of the people taking the herbal medicine
Infusions and Decoctions as Herbal Medicine
These are essentially medicinal teas that are taken orally. They are suitable for all ages. The infusion is prepared in a base of water. The difference between an infusion and a decoction is the part of the plant used in the herbal tea. Aerial parts of the plant (above ground) such as leaves stems and flower are considered an infusion. Woody parts of the plant, such as barks, stems, and roots are considered a decoction.
As a general guideline herbal infusions or decoctions are made by steeping 1 teaspoon of dried and ground herb, or 2-3 teaspoons of fresh herb in boiling water for 15 minutes. Strain the herb and allow the medicinal tea to cool before drinking. Specific recipes for herbal infusions are in the resource section below. A recipe specific to the herb yields better results.
You can also prepare a cold tea by allowing the herb to steep in cold water for a day in the refrigerator. Herbal infusions and decoctions will last up to a week when refrigerated.
Topical application of herbs infused in water, can be made by preparing herbal baths, and compresses. These herbal infusions are basically teas, infusions or decoctions applied externally for the purpose of external medicine. They come in handy for rashes, bites, infections, cuts, and headaches.
Tinctures as Herbal Medicine
Tinctures are a concentrated herbal medicine that extends the shelf life of the herb for several years. Tinctures are prepared using alcohol such as vodka or everclear for leaching out the medicinal components of the herb. Commercial medicines are prepared using alcohol as well. Vinegars can be used in place of alcohol when preparing herbal tinctures for those who do not wish to use alcohol, but these are not true tinctures. Vinegar tinctures work well for children.
Specific recipes for herbal tinctures are in the resource section below. A recipe specific to the herb used, yields better medicinal results.
Oil Infusions as Herbal Medicine
Oil infusions are infusions of the herb into oil for the purpose of both external medicine or oil to be consumed as food. Whether you are preparing oil for food consumption or for topical medicinal application to the skin, olive oil, coconut oil and vegetable oils work well.
Herbally infused oils for topical application are called liniments. Liniments also serve as the base for a variety of other topical herbal medicines such as lotions, creams, salves, ointments and balms. Most begin with a liniment base and add thickeners, preservatives or emulsifiers to create other types of topical herbal medicine.
Infused Honey as Herbal Medicine
Medicinal or herbally infused honey can be made using one tablespoon of fresh herbs, or half a teaspoon of dried herbs for every 2 cups of honey. Grind the herbs well prior to infusion using a spice mill or coffee grinder. Tie the herbs in cheesecloth and place them in a pot of warm honey. It is important not to heat the honey too much or the enzymes will be destroyed. Put the honey and the herbs into a large glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Let the honey sit in at room temperature in a dark place for at one week. Heat the honey one more time and strain out the herbs. Herbally infused honey serves as the base for lozenges and syrups. This form of herbal medicine is often used when giving medicinal herbs to children.
Powdered Herbs that have not been Infused as Herbal Medicine
Powders and capsules are dried forms of an herb that are crushed using a grinder, or more traditionally a mortar and pestle. After being ground the herbs are simply used in powdered form as additions to food or beverages. You can also place the powder into empty gel capsules, available at most health food stores.