As part of the path, I write posts each Sunday about the weekly facts in order to help me learn them. So far I have done 1 cycle so today we start the second cycle. You can see my previous post on the Health weekly facts here.
Last time we learned some basics about what herbal medicine actually was, including the difference between herbal and modern medicine. We also saw that herbal medicine is making a come back. But before we can use a herbal remedy, we need to know how to harvest them and then make them usable.
Harvest plants from the wild is called Wild-Crafting and many different herbs can be found around in the local area, whether in hedgerows, woodland or fields. It is always best to use organically produced herbs if possible. You can also buy many herbs and herbal remedies over the counter.
It is best to harvest herbs on a dry sunny day. Always ensure you pick the right plant and the correct part of it. Don’t take more than you need and use a sharp knife or scissors to cut it in a way that ensures regrowth. Obviously we shouldn’t choose plants with blight, insect damage or growing in polluted areas. The best times to harvest are – flowers when they are just opening, leaves when they are fully open, fruits, herbs and seeds when ripe and whole plants when they are mature.
Once harvested, the herbs will need to be dried. This is best done in shaded, well ventilated areas e.g. on racks. Once they have dried, remove the poorly dried material and chop up the remaining dried herbs.
There are many diffeent way to make herbal remedies and I will describe nine common ones here. The different methods used often extract different chemicals from within the plant (called the “active).
1) Tea/ Infusions.
Teas and Infusions are the simplest and quickest way to make herbal remedies. The above ground elements of the plant e.g. dried herbs and flowers are used. Teas extract the water soluble constituents. It allows easy absorbtion, several herbs can be combined and it can be drunk or applied as a lotion. However it can sometimes taste unpleasant and must be used within 24 hours.
To make a Tea or Infusion –
a) Add 1 heaped teaspoonful of fresh or 1 level teaspoonful of dried herb (leaves, flowers) to teapot. Pour in a cupful of boiling water.
b) stir, cover and leave to stand for 10 mins.
c) Strain, add honey and drink.
2) Decoctions –
This is the best way to prepare tougher plant parts e.g. bark, berries and roots. It is good for extracting water soluble constituents and both fresh and dried herbs can be used. t allows easy absorbtion, several herbs can be combined and it can be drunk or applied as a lotion. However it can sometimes taste unpleasant and must be used within 48 hours. It also takes a little longer to make than a tea or infusion.
To make a Decoction –
a) Use 1 heaped teaspoonful of fresh or dried herb material (bark, berries, root) and put in a non-alumunium saucepan. Add 1.5 cups of water and gently bring to boil.
b) Simmer for 20 mins.
c) Strain, add honey and drink.
3) Juices –
When making juices, its best to use high powered juice extractors. When properly prepared, juices contain a wide range of constituents that can be lost when plant is dried. Juices are easy to make, contain a lot of nutritients, are easily absorted and aid digestive function. However they must be kept refrigerated and consumed within 10 days.
4) Tinctures –
Tinctures are made by soaking chopped herb material from any part of plant in an alcohol solution. The is usually 45% alcohol and 55% water, but it varies. They are easy to make and keep for three years or more. Alcohol and water is often mixed allowing both water soluble and non water soluble constituents to be extracted. This also allows for more concentation. It is easily absorbed, small amounts are effective and different tinctures can easily be combined together. However it takes several days to produce, contains alcohol and can taste very unpleasant.
To make a Tincture –
a) Use 1 part dried herbs to 3 parts alcohol solution e.g. vodka and water.
b) Put the chopped herb material in a jar and stir in the alcohol solution.
c) Stir well, close the lid and label.
d) Stir or shake contents thoroughly for a few minutes each day, for 10 days.
e) Strain into a glass bottle, seal with cap & label with a use by date.
5) Syrups –
These are made by adding sugar or honey to infusions and decoctions at a ratio 1:1 (half and half). The Sweetness masks unpalatable herbs & soothes irritation within the throat & chest. It is often used as a cough mixture. It has a long shelf life, however it contains a lot of sugar.
6) Fixed oils –
These are made by soaking herb material in vegetable oils e.g. sunflower oil. They are usually made with herbs that have wound-healing properties and they can be applied neat to minor cuts, grazes, sprains e.t.c. These can also be used in creams and ointments. The oils are easily massaged into the skin or blend well with essential oils, however they are also greasy so ointments and creams may be better.
7) Powders –
Powders are easy to take but tend to deteriorate quicker than normal dried herb material so they need to be carefully stored. They may also taste unpleasant.
8) Ointments and Creams –
Ointments are made by using oils and fats. They don’t use water and so they can form a waterproof protective surface on the skin. However, creams are made by emulsifying oils and water in an emulsion. They are cooling and moisten skin so can be used to soothe sore and inflamed skin conditions. You should always avoid applying ointments and creams to open wounds.
9) Essential Oils –
Essential Oils are produced by distilling flowers, leaves e.t.c and collecting the resulting oil – the plants “essence”. They are very concentrated so must be used with care. It’s best to blend them in a carrier oil at s maximum 5% dilution e.g. 1ml essential oil to 20ml carrier oil. |They should not be taken internally. They can be used diluted on skin but can occasionally cause irritation or allergic reactions.
It is a good idea to keep various herbal remedies in your house as part of a home based first aid kit e.g. Aloe Vera, Tea Tree essential oil, Lavendar essential oil and Arnica ointment. Similarly, a lot of common kitchen foods can be used as medicines e.g. Olive Oil, Honey and Cranberry Juice. Many herbs & spices make very useful herbal remedies too e.g. Thyme, Sage, Parsley, Garlic, Cinnamon, Ginger and Cloves. And of course, you can plant medicinal herbs in your garden e.g. Echinacea, Lavendar, Yarrow, Chamomile and Lemon Balm.
Today we have learned how to harvest and dry herbs as well as nine different ways to create a herbal remedy. Next time I will look at aspects of safety and quality.
This is a cure-all plant, native to temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. It has been known as soldier’s woundwort, thousand-seal, herbal militaris and nosebleed plant due to its ability to stop the flow of blood from wounds. It commonly flowers in May and June. It’s Aerial parts and leaf are the parts used in medicine.
It is most commonly taken as a tea to reduce cold & flu symptoms, control fever and speed recovery. By drinking the tea hot, it causes sweating, encourages cooling and helps to improve cleansing of waste products from the body. It is also very useful in healing cuts and bruises or for stopping or slowing bleeding e.g. nosebleeds. It can be applied topically to small cuts and abrasions.
Yarrow stimulates appetite and digestive activity and can be used to treat diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome. It also helps circulation and lowers blood pressure. However, allergic reactions on the skin can occur and its not advisable to use when pregnant or to give to small children. Adults can take 3 – 7.5g per day can be taken but no more than 50g per week.
For more information about Yarrow, check out the Wikipedia page here.