Here are a few tips on using your herbs at home. These are not exhaustive; we are only hoping to get you started. We encourage you to read the books we offer—they are full of information on each herb, remedies and how to prepare them. For example, Herbal Antibiotics and Practical Herbalism have very detailed instructions on preparing remedies. And remember, there are many right ways to prepare the same remedy. Our methods work for us; your methods work for you.
Teas (infusions and/or decoctions) have the advantage of being easily assimilated, which make them easier for a weakened body to digest. The hot water releases more of the herb's active elements. Best of all, most teas taste great (we regularly add Spearmint and sweeten with raw honey to taste—now that's good medicine!). Incorporating a nutritionally rich tea, served hot or cold, into your daily routine is what we call smart. Every morning we make a blend of herbs into a tea that is suited for our nutritional needs, and you can do the same. If you have poor eyesight, add Bilberry leaf or Bilberry fruit to your tea blend. If you tend to have high blood pressure, or just hold water, add Nettle leaf cut. If you need a "wake-up", use Cinnamon, Cloves, and/or Ginger, like in our Rise and Shine Tea. Just remember to avoid using herbs with sedative properties in the morning, as that would be counterproductive! Teas can be made by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 1–2 tsps. of dried herb. Let the tea steep, covered, for 5 minutes or so (roots and bark even longer). Teas can be served hot or cold, and brewed many different ways. Here are a few of them:
- Electric percolator: this is our favorite way brew our teas. Sometimes we brew the herbs twice, using a little less fresh water the second time. A percolator heated on the stove is also effective.
- Pot on the stove: place the herbs and water in a pot (covered) to be heated on the stove. After it steeps for a few minutes, strain and serve.
- Pot with a strainer on the stove: another variation of the last method is placing a metal strainer in the pot before adding the herbs to the water to be heated on the stove. When the tea is done steeping, you simply lift the strainer and the tea is ready to serve.
- Tea pot: bring water to a boil and pour over herbs in a tea pot. After steeping, place a small strainer over each cup as you serve it.
- Rays of the sun: fill a clear glass jar with the herbs and water, and place the jar where it has lots of sun exposure. This method works best for teas made with flowers and/or leaves rather than roots or barks. You'll need to determine how long the jar should be exposed to the sun before your tea is ready to be strained and served.
We should mention something here about the different forms in which herbs are offered: Whole, Cut or Powder. A few herbs can be offered in Whole form. This means they have been picked, dried, and packaged as carefully as possible to maintain their original state (some crumbling is inevitable). Most herbs are offered in a Cut form for ease of use and packaging. Whole and Cut herbs are the best way to store herbs, and are excellent for using in teas. A few herbs are ground into Powder for use in specific applications, such as for filling capsules, cooking, salves, etc. Powdered herbs are generally not used to make teas, as it's very difficult to strain the powder from the liquid. Once ground into powder, most herbs start loosing their beneficial properties. For this reason, many powdered herbs don't store well, and thus we offer very few in powder form.
The following books have been our best references on making our own teas (infusions and decoctions) at home:
Poultices (also called plasters) can easily be made by pouring a small amount of boiling water over herbs and steeping them for a few minutes to release their healing properties. Strain the herbs and place them on the affected area with the warm herbs folded in gauze or thin cloth. Powders do not need to be steeped. Simply make the powder into a paste with hot water and apply in a cloth.
The following book has been our best reference on making our own poultices:
Capsuled Herbs is another convenient way for you to take herbs. This is especially true while traveling, making it easier to be consistent. It is also easier to take in this form those medicinal herbs that tend to be distasteful. Keep in mind, however, that some herbs are not easily assimilated in this form. We like taking Turmeric, Cayenne, and Ginger in capsules we fill at home. Some manufacturers use a poor quality herb and/or use fillers. For these reasons, even though it's a tedious job, we fill our own capsules. Empty capsules are available on this website, along with filling trays that make the job much easier. Without a tray, however, simply push an empty half of a capsule into the powdered herb of choice, and then rejoin the 2 halves. You can place cut herbs in a coffee grinder or blender or purchase them already powdered. (Once powdered, herbs lose their potency faster.) Remember to bottle and label.
Enemas may not be pleasant, but they are very effective in getting needed nutrients to a weakened body immediately and without upsetting the stomach. Just make a tea as usual, place it in the enema bottle, and proceed as directed on the bottle. It is recommended that, for maximum benefit, enemas be given every 30 minutes until at least 3 are administered. For information on how and when to administer enemas to your children, refer to The ABC Herbal.
Food Recipes are a great opportunity to implement herbs into your daily regimen. Not only can the herbs significantly increase the nutritional value of your meals, but many can also serve as spices and/or digestive aids. Here are a few ways we use them: Ginger for hot cereals, granola, waffles/pancakes, all meats, teas, smoothies/shakes, veggies, and baking; Turmeric for rice, soups/stews, and all meats, omelets; Alfalfa for salads, all meats, teas, soups/stews, baking and omelets; Cayenne and ground up Milk Thistle seed for rice, all meats, veggies, salads, omelets, and soups/stews; Cinnamon and/or Cloves for teas, hot cereals, smoothies/shakes, granola, and baking; Slippery Elm bark for hot cereals, baking and all flour recipes; Thyme for all meats, omelets, salads, soups/stews, and baking. See Nourishing Traditions for more ideas on recipes.
Tinctures (extracts) are a concentrated, liquid form of herbal medicine that are easy to make, and easy to assimilate. They are so concentrated that sometimes we take our doses in tea or water. They are usually made with consumable alcohol, but can also be made with Vegetable Glycerine, vinegar, honey, etc.
- Alcohol Tinctures (also known as extracts) are the most popular because alcohol is the most effective at drawing out the important properties of the herbs, and tinctures made with it have a longer shelf life (2 years or longer). Almost all store bought tinctures use alcohol as a base or include some amount of alcohol as a preservative. Vodka is what we use because it doesn't have a strong odor and is very affordable (rum, etc. will do).
Make your tinctures by simply filling a jar 1/3 to 1/2 full of your herbs (1/2 full makes for a stronger brew; do not pack in the herbs), and pour in just enough hot water to get them wet. Then, fill the jar to the top with alcohol, seal, and store for 3 weeks in a dry, cool place (shake daily). After 3 weeks, strain and discard the herbs, bottle the liquid and label it.
Pregnant mamas can easily evaporate the alcohol by placing their dose in a hot liquid like tea or water before taking it.
Tinctures can also be made by using vinegar in place of the alcohol (following the same directions). Vinegar does not draw out an herb's properties as well as alcohol, but it is very inexpensive, can be used as a gargle, and can be used to fight fungal infections. You may want to rinse after each dose to avoid enamel damage from the vinegar.
- Glycerites (tinctures / extracts made with glycerine) are syrupy liquids that provide an alcohol-free alternative to the more popular alcohol tincture. glycerine has a sweet taste (but doesn't affect sugar levels) and thus is preferred by children over an alcohol or vinegar tincture. My little ones liked my mixture of half alcohol and half glycerine tinctures.
As with all remedies, directions for making glycerites vary from one book to another. The ABC Herbal includes simmering the herbs in the glycerine and water for 2 or 3 hours as a part of the instructions. Though we simmer ours for longer, we consider this a good method since it worked for the author and many others. We make ours by filling jars 1/3 - 1/2 full of herbs (1/2 full makes a stronger brew), adding just enough hot water to get the herbs wet, and filling the jars to about 1/2 inch from the top with glycerine. After sealing the jars tightly, we place them in a crock-pot (or on the back of the wood burning stove) with a cloth beneath the jars to keep them from breaking. Fill the crock-pot half full of water, and leave it on the lowest setting for 3 days (keeping the glycerine hot, but not boiling), adding water as necessary. After about 3 days, carefully strain the hot and sticky mixture through a cloth (or a worn-out t-shirt). Squeeze the herbs a bit, pour a small amount of boiling water over them, and then discard them. Bottle and label the glycerite (tincture).
By the way, if your crock-pot gets too hot on the lowest setting, the herbs will smell like they are “cooking” and turn dark and strong smelling within 24 hours. This will not ruin the glycerite, but it does speed up the process, and may not be quite as effective as a slow heat. We have a crock-pot that gets too hot, so after about 42 hours, we go ahead and strained the mixture, and it is just fine. You can also water bath the herb mixture by putting the herb/"glycerine":/VG mixture in a jar with lid, in hot water on the stove for 3 days. The idea is to break down the herbs so that the properties are released into the glycerine. You have succeeded when the mixture becomes dark and strong smelling.
We normally mix our glycerites with alcohol tinctures to reduce the sweetness. Some have used honey or even sugar syrup in the place of glycerine, but the taste is less than desirable. Yuck!
The following books have been our best references on making our own tinctures at home over the years:
- Herbal Antibiotics for making alcohol and glycerine tinctures
- Practical Herbalism for making alcohol tinctures
- The ABC Herbal for making glycerine tinctures
Tinctures (extracts) for external use only are wonderful as hair rinses, muscle rubs, insect repellents, etc. For muscle rubs, the base is rubbing alcohol. Vinegar, however, is the base of most externally used tinctures (extracts). For example, lice can be treated by filling a jar 1/3 full of Tansy, and then filling it to the top with vinegar. Seal and store the jar in a dark, cool place, shaking daily. After three weeks, strain, bottle, and label. If you have been exposed to lice, rub 1/2 cup of Tansy vinegar tinctures (extracts) into your hair, and cover with a plastic bag. After 30 minutes, rinse your hair thoroughly. If you have lice, this will need to be repeated every few days until all lice sacks are destroyed. Remember, with lice, all bedcovers and couches will need washing in hot water.
Salves/Ointments are generally antiseptic, and bring healing to a scrape, cut or burn by forming a protective layer over it. Using a pan or crock-pot, melt lanolin, lard or another base of your choice and stir in your herbs. Heat and occasionally stir until the mixture is darkened (harder/denser herbs will take longer). Strain removing as much of the herbs as possible. Then, bottle the liquid while it's still warm and label.
The following books have been our best references on making our own salves and ointments at home:
Store your herbs in sealed, airtight containers in a dark and cool place. (A refrigerator/freezer is great, but not necessary.) Avoid exposing them to temperatures over 60 degrees, and NEVER expose them to sunlight.