Herbs have been used for food and healing, by all cultures, for thousands of years. Many of the common culinary herbs are rich in vitamins, minerals and trace elements and are recognised as being beneficial to good health. For example, garlic is a natural antibiotic, parsley is rich in vitamin C and iron, mint aids digestion. The most natural way to benefit from these herbs is to include them regularly in a balanced diet.
Many minor ailments can be safely treated at home, using wild or cultivated herbs.
However, many herbs have extremely potent properties and it is vital that you correctly identify and fully understand the properties of a plant before using it. Herbalism is a vast topic. Refer to the medicinal section of the book list for a selection of recommended books on the subject.
Always consult a qualified herbalist for serious conditions. Herbal preparations must be used responsibly. Do not take any herbal preparation if you are on other drugs, or if you are pregnant, without consulting a professional.
A LIST OF QUALIFIED MEDICAL HERBALISTS WILL BE AVAILABLE SHORTLY
How to make your own herbal teas/infusions, tinctures, poultices & creams.
Put 1 tsp. fresh herb or 1/2 tsp. dried herb into a cup. Fill with boiling water and cover to infuse for 10-15 minutes. Strain.
The usual dosage is one cup three times a day.
A decoction is used to extract the properties of tougher plant parts, eg roots, bark or hard seeds. It is also the method that is used to make a concentrated infusion. Use 1 oz/25g dried (or 2 oz/50g fresh) herb to 1 pint/600ml water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 to 30 minutes. Strain into sterilised bottles. A decoction will keep in the fridge for about one month.
A tincture is one of the best ways of extracting the beneficial constituents of a plant. Because it is alcohol-based, it will extract substances that cannot be extracted by water alone, such as oils and resins. Tinctures also keep indefinitely.
Use fresh herbs that have been harvested on a dry, sunny day, before noon. Break the leafy, flowering stems into short lengths with your fingers and press down into wide-necked jars with screw-top lids.
Cover with straight alcohol or a 50-50 mix of alcohol and bottled, still spring water. Seal the jars and shake well a couple of times a day for fourteen days. Strain the liquid off, but don’t filter it. Fill brown (amber), sterilised glass bottles with screw tops and store in a cool, dry place. Shake the bottle well before each use. The dose is up to one teaspoonful in hot water, three times a day.
Simmer the herb in a small amount of water for about 2 minutes. Rub some oil on to the affected area, to prevent the poultice from sticking. (3 to 5 drops of lavender or eucalyptus, diluted with 15ml of a carrier oil, such as sweet almond, sunflower or olive oil) Apply the herb while it is still hot. Use gauze or cotton strips to bandage the herb in place. Leave on for up to three hours. Apply a new poultice every 3 hours, or as required.
Fill a wide-necked, sterilised jar with fresh herb, broken into pieces with your fingers. When the jar is as full as possible, cover with good quality olive, sunflower, safflower or almond oil, preferably organic. Put on a tight fitting lid. Stand the jar in a warm or sunny place, covering it with brown paper if it’s in a sunny position. Shake at least once a day for 14 days. Strain and store out of direct light.
A syrup is made by combining equal amounts of an infusion or decoction with sugar or honey. Heat them gently together, stirring continuously until the sugar or honey has dissolved. Bring briefly to the boil, remove from the heat and allow to cool. Pour into sterilized bottles, label and store in the fridge.
16 parts herb oil (see above)
8 parts tincture, decoction or infusion
4 parts good beeswax
4 parts animal fat, or vegetable oil or petroleum jelly
1/4 part powdered borax
Use double saucepans or bowls suspended over pots of boiling water. Gently heat the beeswax and fat (or vegetable oil, or petroleum jelly) in one, and the herb oil in another. When the beeswax has melted, add the warm oil to it. Heat the tincture, decoction or infusion and dissolve the borax powder in it. Very slowly and stirring continuously, add the borax solution to the wax/oil mixture. When all is combined, remove from the heat and continue stirring until cold to prevent the mixture from separating. Pour into wide necked, sterilised glass jars.
When making herbal preparations, use only earthenware, glass, enamel or stainless steel containers. Use a wooden spoon for stirring.
To sterilise bottles, first wash them well, rinse with hot water and allow to drain. Place them in a cold oven and heat to 190C. When the temperature has reached this level, maintain it for half an hour.
Much of this information was condensed from Judith Hoad’s book, ‘Healing with Herbs’, published by Gill & Macmillan, ISBN 0-7171-2454-1. Thanks Judith.
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