Over the years, we have published effective herbal remedies for a variety of ailments, from skin disorders, to headaches, to the common cold. One of the most common questions we receive, though, is how, exactly, to make herbal remedies from scratch.
While it’s possible to use commercial supplements for any of the remedies we’ve given in the past, many people want to grow and make their own herbal preparations, both to save money and have greater control over quality. Here’s a quick primer on some of the most common herbal remedy delivery methods, and how to make them yourself.
Tea: One of the easiest ways to prepare an herb for internal consumption is to make a tea from it. You can brew tea from a single herb or more than one at a time. There are two basic methods of preparing herbal tea: infusion and decoction. To make an infusion, simply pour hot water over a tea bag or ball filled with herbs and allow it to steep. This is the best method for fresh or dried herbs that consist of leaves or flowers. To extract active compounds from woody stems, bark, roots, or seeds, you will need to make a decoction by boiling the ingredients for a period of time. For an infusion, use about 1 tablespoon of herbs per cup of hot water and steep to desired strength. To make a decoction use one tablespoon herbs per cup water, then cover, and gently boil for up to 30 minutes. Drink herbal teas hot or cold, just as you would any other tea. If the flavor is bitter or otherwise unpleasant, you can sweeten the tea with honey.
Tinctures: Another popular method for preparing herbs intended for herbal consumption is to make a tincture, a concentrated spirit-based liquid extract. Tinctures are highly effective because they store well and can be taken in a small doses. To make a tincture, place herbs in a sterilized dark glass jar. Pour vodka or brandy — at least 80 proof — into the jar until the dry ingredients are covered. Place a lid on the jar, shake it up, and store it in a cool, dark place. Allow the herbs to steep in the alcohol a least six weeks, making sure to shake the jar daily, then strain the herbs out of the solution with a sieve and pour the liquid into a new sterile jar. Store tinctures in labeled jars in a cool, dry place, and take a few drops per day, as needed.
Syrups: Herbal syrups are excellent during cold ad flu season, because they can coat and soothe sore throats, making them the ideal preparation for herbs intended to relieve respiratory symptoms. To make an herbal syrup, add about two ounces of fresh or dried herbs to a quart of water and bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Simmer until the liquid is reduced down to one pint, then strain out the herbs. While the liquid is still warm, add in some honey and continue boiling until it reaches your desired thickness and flavor. Store in labeled jars in a cool, dry place and take a few teaspoons per day, as needed.
Capsules: Capsules are a great way to take unpalatable herbs, and also make an easy method of storing and transporting your supplements. Though they take a bit of extra work on the front end, they can be more convenient in the long run. Before you can begin to make your own capsules, you will need a capsulating machine and several empty capsule shells. Dry your desired herbs well and crush them into a fine powder, using either a food processor or a mortar and pestle. Fill the capsules and store them in labeled jars. Take 2-3 capsules per day, as needed.
Poultices: Sometimes you want an herbal remedy for a wound or other external ailment. A Poultice is a thick paste made from ground up fresh herbs, usually used over inflamed or infected areas to be absorbed into the skin. To make a poultice, place up to two cups of the desired herbs into a blender or food processor, and add in a small amount of distilled water. Puree the mixture into a paste, adding in more water as needed to reach the desired consistency. The poultice should be creamy, not runny or wet. If the poultice is for an infection or injury, you may wish to warm it up somewhat in a microwave before applying. If it is for a skin irritation, such as an allergy or sunburn, leave it cool. Spread the poultice over the affected area and cover it with a bandage or compress. Reapply as needed.
Salves: Another popular herbal preparation for external use is the salve. Because they are made from oil, salves are a great delivery method for herbs that treat dry, itchy skin, or other topical ailments. To make an herbal salve, cover fresh or dried herbs with water, bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain out the herbs and add in olive oil equal to the amount of water left. Bring the oil and water mixture to a boil and simmer until all of the water evaporates from the oil. Add beeswax to the oil to thicken it to your desired consistency. Store in small, labeled jars in a cool, dry place, and use as needed.