Methods of Preparing Traditional Herbal Remedies

When a therapeutic effect is desired the quantity and method of use are more important. They are best if used in the fresh state, but can be dried to ensure a constant supply throughout the year. When using dried material half the quantity is needed. After choosing the plant to use you must obtain the active ingredient from it. This is carried out in different ways depending on the part of the plant, the active ingredient or the mode of administration. The simplest is to use part of the plant directly, (powder or bulk herb) but usually some form of preparation is necessary. Below are the more traditional methods.

• Infusion (tea)- Use for soft parts of plants like flowers, stems or leaves. Place 56g or 2oz of fresh herb (28g or 1oz if dried) in a warmed teapot and pour on 600ml or 1 pint, of boiling water, cover and leave for about 10 minutes, then strain. For a cupful use two teaspoonsful of fresh or one of dry herbs in a strainer, cover and infuse for 10 minutes, remove the herb and drink. Most should be drunk while hot. Some should be infused with cold water to prevent destruction of the active ingredients - infuse for 10 to 15 minutes. The dose is one cupful usually three times daily for chronic conditions, or hourly for acute conditions. Preparations should not be kept for more than 24 hours.

• Decoction - Use for woody parts like bark, seeds, nuts, etc., after breaking up by crushing or chopping. Add 56g of fresh herb, to 600ml of cold water, 28g if dry ( two teaspoonsful of fresh or one of dry herb to one cup). Place in a non-aluminium pan, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain, allow to cool and drink. If the volume decreases during simmering, make up the volume by adding hot water to the original. The usual dose is one cupful three times daily or hourly for acute conditions. Preparations should not be kept for more than 24 hours.


• Tincture - Alcohol and water are used to prepare a more concentrated extract and one which keeps for at least two years. Use Vodka as it is relatively taste free, and the alcohol to water proportion is about right. For dried herbs use one part to five parts Vodka, eg. 200g (7oz) to 1 litre (2.2 pints). The ratio for fresh herbs is 1:2. Place the powdered dry, or finely chopped or crushed fresh herb in an airtight jar, pour in the vodka and seal. Leave in a dark place for two weeks shaking daily. Then squeeze the mash through muslin to remove all the liquid and store in a dark glass bottle. As an alternative to alcohol use equal parts glycerin and water. The adult dose is usually 5ml (one teaspoonful) three times daily or double for acute conditions. Half a teaspoonful for children. The dose can be diluted in water or fruit juice for palatability.

• Cold Infused Oil (Maceration)- Use for flowers and soft parts of plants. Pack the herb into a screw-topped jar and pour in enough vegetable or olive oil to cover. Leave on a sunny windowsill for one month, shaking daily. Strain the mixture through muslin and store in a dark glass bottle in a cool dark place. Sterilize the bottle first by heating it to 100°C in the oven and allow to cool before filling.

• Hot Infused Oil - Place 250g (8oz) of dried herb in a bowl with 600ml of vegetable oil and use a bain-marie to heat gently for three hours. Strain through muslin into a jug and store in a sterile dark glass bottle. After preparing the herb it can be used in different ways or made more palatable by a number of methods for taking internally. (Whole fresh herbs can be made into a sandwich to mask the taste).

• Honey - A more palatable way to take whole herbs. Use finely chopped fresh, or powdered dry herb. Cover with honey, leave to infuse for a few minutes, then take on a spoon. This method can be used for essential oils, one drop to a teasponful of honey.

• Syrup - Prepare a syrup using 1.25kg of sugar in 600ml of water, bring to the boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add one part of a tincture to three parts syrup. The mixture will keep for a long time since the sugar acts as a preservative. With infusions or decoctions add 325g (¾lb) sugar to each 600ml, heat while stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens. Cool and store in the fridge, in sterile dark bottles with cork stoppers (pressure can build if fermentation occurs).

When using herbs externally, apart from applying them diectly, an infusion, decoction, tincture or essential oil can be added to bath water. Or they can be inhaled by adding to hot water in a bowl. Application to the skin can be as a compress by soaking a clean cloth in an infusion, decoction or diluted tincture and pressing on the affected part. There are some preparations that can be made.

• Ointment - Made with hot or cold infused herbal oil and beeswax. Using a bain-marie, melt about 1cm square (½in) of beeswax in 105ml (3½lf oz) of the oil while stirring. Pour into an ointment jar while warm and leave to set. This will keep for about a year.

• Cream - Use Aqueous Cream to incorporate a little of an infusion, decoction or tincture for application two or three times daily. Or using Emulsifying Ointment, dried or fresh herbs can be incorporated directly. Melt two tablespoonsful in a bain-marie and add two teaspoonsful of the finely chopped herb, stirring until it takes on the colour of the herb. Strain while molten, leave to cool and store in a jar. Keeps for up to a year.
Poultice - Make a paste by finely chopping the fresh or dried herb with a little water. Place the paste between two pieces of gauze and keep in place with a cotton bandage. Applying a hot water bottle improves the effectiveness. Leave for several hours and repeat morning and night.

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