This month we are going back to the basics of using herbs and pure water to take medicinal herbs to make remedies. Water is considered the universal solvent and is the best menstruum (or solvent) to use when making herbal remedies that you want to be rich in vitamins, and minerals. Water also has the ability to extract many medicinal properties. I am going to share 7 different types of herbal remedies you can make with medicinal herbs and water.
Using Water and Medicinal Herbs for Remedies
Infusion:The Merriam Webster medical dictionary defines infusion as: the steeping or soaking usually in water of a substance (a medicinal herb) in order to extract its soluble constituents or principles. An infusion is made by pouring water over plant matter and steeping for a certain amount of time. While teas are infusions the word infusion is normally used in herbalism to designate stronger, medicinal strength teas that are steeped for longer periods of time such as 15 minutes to several hours. Aerial portions such as leaf and flower are used to make infusions. When using seeds they should be slightly crushed or bruised first to release the volatile oils. Aromatic herbs should be covered while steeping to prevent the escape of volatile oil. If making an infusion of root or bark the herb must be powdered first. The strength of an infusion varies depending on the herb. A common simple infusion is 1-3 tsp herb to 8 ounces of water. While larger infusions, often called nourishing infusions, can be made with some nutritive herbs using 1 ounce by weight and 1 quart of water. Infusions should be used with in 12 hours and up to 3 days if refrigerated. Cold and hot water is used to make this herbal remedy.
Hot infusion:Boiling water poured over a measured amount of herb and allowed to steep for 15 minutes or longer.
Cold infusion:Cool water poured over a measured amount of herb and allowed to steep. A cold infusion is often used for herbs sensitive to heat. It is made with the same proportions of herb to water but allowed to steep for 6-12 hours. Milk is a common menstruum for cold infusions especially in the Ayurvedic traditions. Most infusions are strained of herbs with the exception of some infusions made with powders. It is important to use the proper dose for the individual herb when making infusions. Infusions can be used for enjoyment, medicinally internally or externally.
Tea:A tea is a type of infusion. The word tea is actually specific to the use of the plant, Tea (Camellia sinensis) or plants in the Theaceae family. However most people use it to mean any dried herb or plant steeped in boiling water for 2-20 minutes and drank for enjoyment or health. Camellia sinensis grows in Asia and is harvested, dried and fermented in many different ways to produce a variety of black and green treas. When drinking tea for pleasure it can be common to add milk, nutmilk, cream, honey, or sugar. Tea is the most well known and probably the simplest way to use herbs, as well as one of the most enjoyable. Infusions of herbs steeped for short times are usually called herbal teas. The average person buys tea bags pre-filled with herbs. Most tea bags have approximately one teaspoon of herb in them. The strength of tea varies depending on the herb but a common ratio is 1-3 tsp. per 8 ounces of water. While most people just poor boiling water over tea bags, tea connoisseurs will tell you that each type of plant likes to be steeped at different temperatures and length of times. Some teas such as white, green, and oolong like to be steeped in water that is slightly cooler than boiling and for shorter periods of 2-3 minutes. While black and herbal teas prefer boiling water and steep times of 4-6 minutes. Longer steep times can produce more bitterness but also brings out more nutrients and medicinal qualities. You can find great information on tea making and history in Jill's article: Back to the Basics: Herbal Tea.
Decoction:Decoctions differ from infusions in a few ways. The medicinal herbs used in decoctions are harder roots, barks, and some seeds and therefore higher heat must be used to break down the plant matter. In a decoction the herbs are placed in a pan and covered with water, brought to boil and then simmered for approximately 20 minutes, strained and enjoyed. Some traditions simmer herbs for hours and even add meat and other items to make soup. Decoctions are normally used medicinally and the strength is similar to infusions in that it differs with each individual herb. An example of a decoction with a fun twist is my Herbal coffee alternative using burdock, dandelion, and yellow dock roots.
Wash:A wash is simply using an infusion or decoction of medicinal herbs to wash an area of the body that needs healing. An example could be an herbal eye wash. An herbal wash can be used for eye infection, irritation, or allergies. A wash may also be used to help soothe a wound or rash or provide antimicrobial, antihistamine, or anti-inflammatory properties. Herbal infusions or decoctions using the appropriate herbs for the situation can be poured directly over a wound or the eyes or put in a squirt bottle. It is important to make sure that all herb matter is removed from the liquid when using it as a wash. This method works well for an eye wash when there is a foreign object present, however it is important to make sure the liquid is not hot and that it is done gently to protect the eye. Another alternative for the eye is to use an eye cup made specifically to fit around the eye and hold the infusion on it for approximately 30 seconds. When using washes for the eye all containers should be clean and sterilized for each use and only pure water should be used. A strong infusion can also be poured into a tub to use as a soak for wounds, or added to bath water. Herbs can also be placed in a cloth, tied and placed under the hot water as the bath fills.
Compress:An herbal compress is an external moist application of an infusion or decoction of medicinal herbs using a cotton or muslin cloth. A thin cloth is dipped in the herbal infusion of choice, squeezed out and applied or wrapped onto the desired area. This can be covered with saran wrap to protect clothing or another towel. A compress can also be applied over a poultice to keep it moist. Depending on the situation a compress can be left on for 20 minutes or for hours. When the cloth drys or needs refreshing it can be dipped in the herbal infusion and reapplied. A compress can be used warm or cool. Some of the herbs chosen might have vulnerary, stimulant, diaphoretic, analgesic, or anti-inflammatory properties.
Hot or Warm Compress:Useful for sprains, joint issues, wound healing, joint stiffness, abscesses, applied onto the chest during congestion, and to accelerate healing.
Cool Compress:Can be beneficial for headache, bruises, injuries, applied to the throat to increase healing or to the eyes during allergy, infection, or tiredness.
Fomentation:The word fomentation can be used differently by different herbalists. Fomentation is an old term for what is essentially a compress. A fomentation was generally used to describe a hot treatment of thick moist medicated cloth or poultice applied to the body for pain relief. It is derived from the Latin word fovimentum which meant a warm application. Some practitioners consider a fomentation to be a hot moist application where as a compress can be either hot or cold. Hot and cold packs can also be applied on top of a fomentation. A hot or warm fomentation can be used to relax muscles, calm muscle spasms, increase circulation, soothe, provide pain relief, relieve abdominal bloating, gas, and joint stiffness, break up congestion, and accelerate healing. Caution is necessary when using heat in people with diabetes, deep vein thrombosis, neuropathy, or with deep wounds.
Steam:Herbal steams are created by measuring a set amount of medicinal herbs, placing them in a bowl or pan and pouring boiling water over the herbs. A towel is then placed over the head as you lean over the bowl and inhale the steam. Steams are used to help break up congestion, clear sinuses, moisten skin, or clear certain types of skin breakout. Herbs with differing properties are used depending on the benefit desired. For example in sinusitis you might use demulcent herbs for dry sinuses, or drying aromatic herbs for thick mucous. As with any hot liquid it is important to protect yourself from burns. As you can see simple supplies such as water and herbs can be made into many different preparations to bring healing in a multitude of situations. God truly has provided a wealth of blessings for our health in His creation.
Do you have recipes for one of these 7 preparations of medicinal herbs?s Please share with us in the comments.
Resources:Christopher, D. (n.d.). Fomentations. Retrieved January 12, 2015, Theaceae | plant family. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2015, Tea | beverage. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2015, Tea. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2015, Fomentation. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2015, Fovimentum. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2015, The Hacker's Guide to Tea. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2015, Hawkins, J. (2010). Natural Preparations. In Vintage Remedies Certified Holisitc Wellness Professional Textbook (1st ed.). Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism. Rochester: Healing Arts Press.
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