An Introduction to Herbal Remedies
Caber and I haven’t seen much of the great outdoors over the last couple of weeks. As, unfortunately, I’ve had to take a few days out to rest and make a concerted effort to get over a bad cold. It’s been hanging around for a few weeks now, but when I woke up with a lymph node the size of a golf ball, I knew it was time to get the big guns out. And, because I was fed up feeling run down and tired, I knew it was time to brew myself a herbal remedy.
Fast forward a couple of hours, and I was ready to start drinking the herbal infusion I’d put together. Now, that sucker has been kicked in the butt, big time! That said, however, it begged the question. “Why don’t I make herbal remedies more often?”
So, bearing the above in mind, I’ve now decided to mix some herbal teas to keep on hand for future use. While I’m great at making these for other people, I do forget about myself sometimes. But, before this post begins to sound all about me, I’m going to share with you how to make herbal tinctures, infusions and decoctions. And let’s be honest, you’re not a fully-fledged forager until you start tinkering with herbal remedies.
Now, before we start, I have to warn you. Don’t abuse the use of herbal remedies, remember the golden rule, “everything in moderation”. Like conventional medicine, there can be side effects. And tinctures, teas and concoctions can affect any medication you’re currently taking. For instance, Feverfew could interfere with blood thinning drugs. Not to mention the many herbs that could have a detrimental effect on anyone who might be pregnant!
So, the second golden rule here is to let your doctor know what you’re considering beforehand. That is, of course, if you’re on a medication regime. If not, then consult a herbalist if you’re considering medicating yourself with herbs, especially if you’re pregnant. You owe it to yourself to do that, and believe me, its money well spent. Alternatively, there are plenty of herbal medicine courses online which will give you a rudimentary understanding of this ancient art.
A Brief History of Herbal Medicine
And talking about “this ancient art”, let me share a little of its history with you. And, I mean “a little”, as this craft has been around since time and immemorial. Its presence so strong, that it still plays an integral part in modern medicine.
So let’s start by taking a brief look at the original hunter-gatherer, the Palaeolithic human. We know they would have eaten a diet of available game, insects, plants, grasses, nuts, and fruits. However, as time moved on and they began to develop more, they would undoubtedly have started experimenting with the available flora and fauna with a view to healing. This form of healing would have, most likely, resembled what we recognise today as the “folk method” of herbal preparation.
The Ebas Papyrus
Moving on, circa 1500 BC, the Ancient Egyptians wrote the Ebas Papyrus. This scroll documents over 700 herbal formulas, as well as herbal remedies. However, it also listed incantations to scare away “disease-causing demons”! But there doesn’t appear to be a modern version of those documented for current use, mores the pity! That said, many of the herbs and plants listed in this 20m long scroll are still recognised today. And this, along with other Egyptian documentation, is accepted as the first documented evidence of the use of herbs for medicinal purposes.
Now, let’s take a significant jump through time to the medieval era, and you’ll find documented evidence on the increase. But, it’s not really until around the 18th century that the documentation of herbal medicine, and its many uses, came into its own. Sadly, as time continued to move on, this medical practice began to fall out of favour as science and research developed a more effective form of medication. However, there’s a great book, written in the 1700s that you can download for free by clicking this link. But I must warn you; it’s quite hard to read but well worth the effort.
So, finally, let’s take a look at how we use herbal medicine today. And we find that it’s not only back in favour, but also recognised as a complementary form of medication, sitting comfortably alongside conventional medicine. It’s found its place again and slipped quietly back into society. Much the same as a tired pair of feet sliding back into a comfortable pair of slippers! Of course, in this parable, the feet represent herbal medicine and the slippers modern medicine!
Anyway, I’m “blethering” as they say in Scotland. So, let’s move on to the main subject of this post, which is, how to make herbal decoctions, infusions and tinctures. First of all, let’s take a look at two methods we can use to brew herbal remedies:
- Folk Method – This method relies on instinct and intuition. You “feel” what is right regarding the mix of herbs, amount and liquid to use. It might surprise you to learn that quite a few herbal practitioners use this method, alongside the process below.
- Ratio Method – The preparation of herbs and liquids in exact measurements. You’ll find ratio remedies in a previous post I wrote, “The Menopause & 10 Herbal Remedies”.
Preparing Herbal Remedies
Now, let’s take a look at the preparing of a herbal remedy. If you wanted to keep it simple, you could choose a single herb. For home use, however, it’s best to use 2-3 herbs. And today we’ll be looking at three ways to prepare your herbal remedies:
Most tincture liquids contain a 25% alcohol base in water. (i.e. 25ml alcohol with 75ml water). And, for homemade tinctures, you’ll find that vodka will work a treat. It’s readily available and doesn’t have any other herbs or flavourings in it, making it the ideal choice. So, to make this easy for you, what you need to do is buy a litre bottle of vodka and add 500ml of water to it. You now have the necessary base for any tinctures you wish to make. See how easy that was?
Next, burn into your mind the following weight/volume ratio, 1:5, which equates to 1 part herb to 5 parts liquid. But, before you run wild in your excitement to make your first ever tincture, let me give you some advice. Make them in small batches! And the following is an example of a measurement which will help you do that:
- Place 100g of the herbal mixture (your choice of 2/3 dried herbs) in a jar with a tight lid and give it a good shake. Top up with 500ml of your pre-made alcohol base, and give it another vigorous shake. Now, put it away in a dark cupboard for two weeks, giving it a shake now and then. You can choose to use fresh herbs instead of dried herbs. However, if you do, then you have to add 3x the amount of herb mixture, which, in this example, would mean 300g of fresh herbs to 500ml water. (You need to account for the water content of the fresh herbs to produce a strong enough tincture). You may find this post interesting, “How to Make Herb Tinctures”, which gives you a recipe using fresh herbs.
- After two weeks, strain the contents of the jar through a jelly bag or muslin cloth. And finally, store the resulting liquid in sterilised, dark glass bottles or containers and use as required. The recommended dose is usually 20-30 drops three times a day in a glass of water, or orange juice if you’re not a fan of the taste. However, if you don’t have a dropper, then use one teaspoon of the tincture instead of the 20-30 drops. Your tincture will last 2-3 years. That said, I think it’s a good idea to reduce the container/bottle size as you use your tincture. I do this to keep the oxygen content to a minimum.
The following is the best way to prepare an infusion (herbal tea):
- Boil a kettle of water, and let it go off the boil before using. Then, add 25g dried herbs of your choice to a bowl. (Not aluminium or steel). When boiled, add 500ml (pint) of the water to the dried herbs and leave to steep for 10 minutes. When it’s ready, put the infusion through a sieve, and you will now have enough for three doses (approx 150ml per cup). It’s best to make a fresh batch daily. However, an infusion can last up to 48 hrs in the fridge. As for tinctures, if you choose to use fresh herbs, then it would be 3x the dried amount. Which, in this case, would be 75g fresh herbs. You can also add honey if you would like a sweeter flavour. The infusion can be drunk hot or cold.
Why don’t you take a peek at “My Top 3 Winter Cold Remedies“…
And finally, we come to a decoction, which is a method used for roots, barks and parts of the plant from which it’s hard to extract the active ingredients. In this scenario, you’re simmering the herbs in water for 15-20 minutes.
- Add 25g of dried herbs to 750ml of cold water. Bring to the boil in a saucepan (not aluminium) and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the liquid reduces by about a third. From this point on, treat the decoction as you would an infusion. Sieve, and drink that day.
To sum up today’s post, you know how to make the liquid base (menstruum, as it’s known) for tinctures. And you can also use three methods to concoct your herbal remedies. All you need now is a comprehensive list of plants that you can use, and you’ll find this article very helpful for that purpose, “Best 100 Medicinal Herbs”. Alternatively, this No.1 Best Selling Book – The Handmade Apothecary: Healing Herbal Remedies is available digitally for only £8.99. You’ll also find the best herbs to use for menopause symptoms in my post, The Menopause & 10 Herbal Remedies.
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s article, don’t forget to leave your comments below. And, if you don’t want to miss a post you know what you have to do, subscribe here! In the meantime, stay safe and take care.