“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” - Hippocrates

How to Make Herbal Medicines and Use the Herbs you Have

You are here because you want to know how to make herbal medicines. Well, the good news is that using herbs for preparing herbal remedies is not a difficult or complicated process. You do need to make sure that you have identified the right herb, if you are just taking them from fields around you, and you also need to know what strength or dosage you should be taking of each.

Finally, always proceed with caution. Some people have allergies to certain herbs, others have pre-existing conditions which exclude them from certain herbal medicines and pregnant women should stay away from taking herbal preparations until they have discussed this with their doctors. The reason for this is that there are a number of herbs that can cause miscarriages.

Bottles of herbal medicine and oinments

How to Use Herbs in Herbal Medicine

Herbs can be used in the following ways:

    As a tea
    As a syrup
    As a tincture
    As a poultice
    As a compress
    As a steam inhalation
    As a cream
    As an ointment
    In essential oils as in aromatherapy

How to Make Herbal Medicine: Tea

A commercial tea bag next to dried herbs from the garden.

I mention herbal tea first as this is probably not only the easiest way of making a herbal remedy for yourself, but also because it is the most common.

I not only grow a number of herbs for this purpose, but I also look for herbs on my farm and harvest and dry them for future use, or else use them straight away if I need them. You will be surprised what you can find. I regularly use colstfoot, dandelion, hawthorn, nettle, borage and chicory that all grow wild on my farm.

These days you can buy a number of herbal teas already made for you in stores that come in a tea bag. You boil the water, place the tea bag in the cup, fill it up with boiling water, allow it to steep for 5-10 minutes and then drink.

Although commercial herbal tea bags are convenient, for many herbs to work the essential oils found in the flowers and leaves need to be freshly crushed. With the tea bags, the precious essential oils have now disappeared into the air, and so very little health benefits can be gotten from these commercial teas.

As a result, I make herbal tea now only using fresh herbs.

Important Note:

  • Almost all herbs can be used in a herbal tea, although there are some exceptions.
  • If you are going to pick your own herbs make sure that you are certain that you have picked the right herb and not something that looks similar but is poisonous.
Coltsfoot flower tea brewing in my kitchen

6 Steps to Making Herbal Tea

  • Use a non-metallic teapot which is clean, and has a tight fitting lid to trap the essential oils in and making sure that they don't evaporate.
  • Boil the water
  • Place the required amount of herbs in the pot
  • Pour over the herbs 1 cup of boiled water
  • Close the lid tightly and allow to steep for 5 -10 minutes before using
  • Strain and drink

How to Make Herbal Medicine: Syrup

Herbal syrups used in herbal remedies are sweetened liquids usually used as cough syrups or to hide the taste of some strong herbs used in herbal tinctures. To make the syrup combine 1 pound (450g) sugar and 1 cup (250 ml) water in a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring continuously. Once all the sugar crystals have dissolved you can bottle this and use it to mask the taste for certain tinctures.

For making herbal cough syrups you would first make your tincture and then add 1 part tincture to 2 parts syrup. For the dosage, you would take as many tablespoons of your cough syrup as teaspoons recommended for your tincture.

Your cough syrup, once opened should be stored in the fridge and used within 6 months.

Important Note:

  • If you are making a cough syrup for children make sure that you use a cider vinegar based tincture rather than an alcohol based tincture. See details below.

How to Make Herbal Medicine: Tinctures

Herbal tinctures are often used in herbal remedies and they are made by soaking a herb in alcohol. This causes the healing properties of the plant to be dissolved into the alcohol and this gives tinctures a stronger action than if you were to use the same herb as either a tea or an infusion.

To make the tincture,  place the herb of your choice in a large, clean glass (not plastic or metal) ja, preferably one that is made of darkened glass to cut out the light which will weaken the healing quality of your tincture. For every 1 part of herb add 5 parts vodka or rum. Usually 6-10 ounces (200-300 g) of herb is enough to make 1 quart (1 liter) of tincture.

Making sure that the herb is completely covered with the alcohol, shake the jar for a minute or two, and then allow it to remain in a dark cupboard for 2 weeks. Strain the liquid through fine muslin and pour into clean, dark bottles using a funnel. Label and either cork off or screw on the top.
How to Make a Non-Alcohol Tincture

If you want to make an alcohol-free based tincture then you can substitute the vodka and the rum with apple cider vinegar. This is now safe for children to use, as well as pregnant women.

Follow the recipe for making the tincture above and then just replace the vodka or rum with the same amount of apple cider vinegar

One can also remove the alcohol from the tincture by placing a small dose in a small glass of newly boiled water. Allow to stand for 5 minutes. The alcohol will evaporate.

Important Notes:

  • Never use alcohol based tinctures for children, pregnant women, or those suffering from gastritis or peptic ulcers.
  • Never use industrial alcohol, methyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol (isopropyl) in making your tinctures. Use either vodka or rum only.

How to Make Herbal Medicine: Poultices

Sometimes a herbal remedy will call for a poultice. This involves using fresh herbs directly on the skin or affected area. The herb is chopped up finely in a food processor with a little water, so that it becomes a thick paste and warmed slightly in a saucepan before putting it on the area. More commonly, however, dried or powdered herbs are used where they are first mixed with hot water and the applied. In either instances, the herbs are then covered with cling wrap or a bandage to keep the poultice in place for at least 20 minutes.

If you are using dried herbs, mix enough boiling water with the herb to bring it back to a paste. Allow it to steep for 5 minutes, absorbing as much liquid as possible and then place on the area needed.

Important Note:

  • Herbs used in making poultices can be used only once.

How to Make Herbal Medicine: Hot or Cold Compress

Compresses involve applying a soaked in a herbal liquid to an affected area. A compress can even just be used with plain water, for example in placing a damp cloth of a forehead to try and break a fever.

    A compress can be used hot, and is called a wrap
    A compress can be used cold and is called a fomentation

Cold compresses are usually used, as mentioned before, to break fevers, but also for sore throats, skin inflammations and headaches.

Hot compresses are usually used for arthritic pain, colds and flu.

Using tea bags is fine for a compress. Or you can use your a tincture. Use 1 drop in 1/4 cup of water. Place the clean facecloth in either a hot or cold herbal solution, depending on the ailment and wring out before placing on the affected area. Replace when either hot for a cold compress, or cold for a hot compress.

How to Make Herbal Medicine: Herbal Steam Inhalation

Herbs used for steam inhalations are usually used for asthma, cold, hay fever, bronchitis, and sinus problems.

To make a herbal steam inhalation, pour 1 quart boiled water into a large bowl. Add 5-10 drops of essential oils, and stir well. See the aromatherapy page for more details.

If an essential oil is not available you can make an infusion by brewing 1 ounce (30 g) of your herb in 1 quart (1 liter) hot water and leave for fifteen minutes.

Lean over the bowl and cover your head and bowl with a towel, thereby making a tent. Close your eyes and breathe deeply over the bowl, not getting too close. Do this for about 10 minutes or until the liquid cools and there is no more steam.

Important Note:

  • To allow your nasal passages to adjust and to get rid of the mucus, remain indoors in a warm room for at least 30 minutes after the steaming process.

How to Make Herbal Medicine: Herbal Ointments

Homemade Lavender Salve

I think making my own herbal ointments gives me more satisfaction out of all the herbal preparations. I think too it is because I know that salves and ointments have been made throughout the ages, and so I enjoy the history behind it, and the joy of still being able to carry on the traditions of making homemade medicine.

Herbal ointments, salves or liniments are a useful way of applying essential oils to the skin in a semi-solid state that would otherwise evaporate into the air. Thereby staying on the skin longer, and being more effective.

In the olden days herbs were mixed in kitchen lard or some sort of animal fat, and then applied to the skin. Although using lard, especially is a totally acceptable fat to use as a base for your herbal ointment, today people prefer to use beeswax and vegetable oils instead.

I use beeswax because we keep bees on the property and so it just makes perfect sense to use this wonderful, free resource. Because we grow olives too, my preference again is to use olive oil.

Take 1/4 cup melted beeswax and mix it with 1 cup olive oil. Add powdered, dried herbs in a ration of 1 ounce (30g) per batch.

Essential oils are also useful in adding to ointments. Here you add 1 teaspoon of essential oil to 1 cup of beeswax-olive oil base.

I keep my homemade ointments in the fridge. Label them so that they are not confused with food! Adjust the consistency of your ointment by adding more beeswax if you find it too runny, or more oil if it is difficult to spread.

Important Note:

  • If you apply a hot heat to your ointment your essential oils will end up evaporating.

This is not an exhausted list on how to make herbal medicine, but these are the main ones that you will use more often than the others. I do hope that you found herbal preparations useful and will be using these methods in the many free medicinal recipes we have for you in the other sections.

Other Sections of Interest

Herbal Remedies

By Kathryn Bax

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