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How to make herbal remedys using medicinal herbs

Updated on October 21, 2014

Making your own herbal remedy's

I was interested in growing herbs and making herbal remedys for years before I finally decided to actually try it. For some reason, I always thought it would just be too complicated. I figured I wouldn't be able to tell which herb was which, or I wouldn't dry or store them right. And although I was very interested (almost to the point of obsession) in learning the different healing properties each herb posessed, there were just too many to remember!

Well, I finally got over my uncertainties enough to have a little herb garden filled with some of my favorite healing herbs. Although I admit to having trouble knowing what was what, I was able to find a book that helped me tell the difference. And I don't worry about remembering every single ailment that every single herb heals. Instead, I bought a couple of herb books that I can reference as needed.

I found out that herbal healing doesn't have to be as complicated as it seems. Here's how easy it is to grow, dry, store and prepare your own herbs for healing. If I can do it, so can you!

Photo Credit: lemonade

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Reasons to Grow and Prepare Your Own Medicinal Herbs

  1. You'll know exactly what chemicals were - or weren't - used during growing. As with anything else you're going to ingest, this is important knowledge. This is especially so for something that's expected to heal.
  2. It's the best way to make sure your herbs are the real thing. Some companies market their herbs as one thing when they're something else altogether. Others blur the lines by using the less effective parts of the herb.
  3. As long as you take care of your herb garden, you'll never have to worry about running out of an herb you need. I have certain herbs that I drink on a daily basis in order to maintain my health. I never have to worry about running out because they're the ones I grow in my garden!
  4. Having an herb garden gives you the option to use either fresh or dried herb. Some recipes require one or the other to be most effective.
  5. The herbs you grow yourself will always taste better than the herbs you buy at the store. Well, at least they do to me.

Advice for using Medicinal Herbs

You don't have to grow every single herb that you use. Just pick a few favorites and the ones you use most. You can easily buy the rest online or at a local herb store.

How to Dry Herbs

Drying can be done many ways, but every method starts the same: with picking your herbs. The best time to pick herbs is in the morning before it gets hot outside. Wait until the dew dries and then use scissors to cut the herbs (if hanging, leave enough stem left to hang them). Rinse them with cold water and remove anything wilted or bug chewed. Roll them loosely in paper towels and let sit for a few minutes so the water can be absorbed.

The traditional method is to to air dry them. Just gather the herbs in small bunches and tie them together at the stems. To hang inside, place them upside down in a paper bag (to protect from dust) with the stems hanging out. Make sure to cut a bunch of holes in it for ventilation before hanging in a dark warm place. To hang outside, skip the paper bag and hang them in a warm airy spot, somewhere shady with no direct sunlight. Whether inside or out, herbs should take 2 - 4 weeks to dry.

Another method of air drying is to use window screens. Lay the herbs in a single layer and place them outside in a warm, airy, shady spot. Flip the herbs every couple of days to ensure even drying. How long it takes depends on the herbs used, outside temperature and humidity levels.

Although the air drying methods are the cheapest way to dry herbs, they aren't the most effective because of the time it takes to dry. As herbs dry, they start to lose their essential aromatic oils. The longer they take, the oils are lost. Plus, some high moisture herbs will mold before they get a chance to dry.

A faster method is to dry your herbs using heat. This is a very controversial method, with most herbalists being either completely for or completely against it. Some say the high temperatures can damage the oils, while others say the faster drying preserves the oil. The one proven drawback is that uneven heating can cause some of the herb to burn while leaving other parts with too much moisture.

To use an oven, lay herbs in a single layer on a baking sheet and place them in an oven heated to 180* or lower. Leave the oven door open and keep a close watch to make sure they don't burn. It should take around 4 hours, but the time is completely dependent on the herb being dried.

Another heating method is with the microwave. Lay out two paper towels, add a single layer of herbs and cover with two more paper towels. Microwave on high for 60 seconds and then check if they're done. If not, microwave for another 30 seconds and check again. If not, microwave for 15 seconds. If they still aren't done, continue microwaving in 15 second spurts. Be careful with this method because it's very easy to overheat and destroy the herbs.

Some swear the most effective, foolproof way to dry herbs is with a dehydrator. It only takes a couple hours and the temperatures don't get high enough to destroy the oils. Leaves and flowers should be dehydrated at 95*. Roots, stems and bark should be dehydrated at 105*. And fruit pieces (papaya, raspberries, apples, etc) should be dehydrated at 135*. Although you can dehydrate different herbs together, certain aromatic herbs, like garlic or mint, should be dried by themselves.

Photo Credit: Simon Howden

Advice for using Medicinal Herbs

Store your herbs according to how you plan to use them.

tea, infusions and decoctions

leaves are usually crumbled

flowers are crumbled or left whole

stems and roots are chopped or ground

capsules

all herbs must be finely ground.

Don't store herbs in clear jars
Don't store herbs in clear jars

How to Store Herbs

Storing is just as important as drying for one simple reason: Even if you dried the herbs perfectly, improper storage can still ruin the batch. When stored correctly, aromatic herbs like chamomile can retain their effectiveness for over a year and non-aromatic herbs like chapparrel can last even longer. Improper storage can lead to mold, infestation and a substantial decrease in the amount of essential aromatic oils.

The three biggest things to watch out for are light, oxygen and moisture. Keep light away by storing your herbs in ceramic or opaque glass bottles. Keep oxygen away by filling any extra space left in the jar with cotton balls, and as you use the herb, don't forget to keep adding cotton balls. Keep moisture away by storing in a cool dark place and making sure the lid is kept tightly sealed (this will also help prevent infestations). If your herbs do happen to get wet, redry them right away and keep a close eye on them over the next week or so to make sure they don't mold.

herbal infusion
herbal infusion

How to Make a Herbal Infusion

Although an infusion is made almost the same way as tea, it's actually way more concentrated and powerful, enough even to be considered a weak extract. Because they have a very short shelf life, infusions should only be made as you need them.

An infusion is made from seeping the flowers, stems and leaves in water for an extended period of time. Depending on the herb, use 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of dried herb, or 1 - 2 teaspoons of fresh herb for every 1 cup of boiling water. Pour the boiling water on the herbs, cover and let seep for at least 20 minutes. After straining out the herbs, it might be necessary to reheat your infusion in the microwave. Of course, you could drink it cold, but most infusions taste better hot.

Photo Credit: happykanppy

Advice for using Medicinal Herbs

Be sure to mark each bottle with the herb's name, how it was prepared and the date it was bottled. Out of date herbs and herbal preparations won't be as effective as fresher ones.

How to Make an Herbal Decoction

Made with the roots and bark of different herbs, a decotion is just slightly stronger than an infusion. Because the active components in the roots and bark are harder to extract, they have to be gently boiled instead of simmered. Again, depending on the herb, use 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of dried crushed (or ground) roots/bark or 1 - 2 teaspoons of fresh crushed (or chopped) roots/bark for every 1 cup of water. Bring the water to a boil and then let it simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Advice for using Medicinal Herbs

If you find the super strong taste of an infusion just a little too bitter, try sweetening it with some honey or lemon. Sometimes just adding another kind of herb while seeping will alter the taste completely.

Herbal tincture
Herbal tincture

How to Make an Herbal Tincture

An herbal tincture is even stronger than infusions and decoctions. In fact, while infusions and decoctions are measured with cups, the dosage for a tincture is usually closer to a teaspoon. It's prepared with alcohol that's at least 100 proof (like vodka) and it takes at least 6 weeks to complete. To make a tincture, add 1 ounce of your chosen crushed, dried herb(s) to 5 ounces of alcohol that's at least 100 proof (pure grain alcohol works best). An important step you can't skip is to make sure the glass jar, lid, your hands, the herbs and anything else that might come in contact with the alcohol are completely dry. Even one drop of water is enough to spoil an entire tincture. Although it's not a necessity, you should also use a dark colored jar to reduce light damage.

After adding your herbs and the alcohol to the jar, seal it tightly and shake it a minute or two. Store it in a cool dry place out of direct sunlight and make sure to come back every couple of days to shake it. After a few weeks, the level of liquid in the jar may decrease. If that happens, you can either just let it be or you can open the jar and top it off with some more alcohol.

After 6 weeks have passed, strain out the herbs and transfer the tincture to smaller bottles (also made of dark glass). Store in a dark cool place to maximize it's shelf life.

How to strain your herbs

Drinking tea with the herbs still in it would be like drinking coffee that's full of grounds. Loose herbs need to be strained from the teas, infusions, decoctions, tinctures and extracts you prepare. There are a lot of products made especially for this purpose (called infusers) , but if you don't have anything on hand, a coffee filter will do in a pinch.

The most popular infusers are tea balls. They're little enclosed balls that you can fill with herbs and put directly in your tea. They're made of mesh so that the water can get in but the herbs can't get out. They come in many sizes, different shapes and some have little strings attached so you can easily remove it from your teacup. These can also be filled and placed in boiling water for decoctions.

If your recipe uses ground herbs, you'll need a strainer with an open top to pour the liquid through. Choose a mesh strainer large enough for your needs and place a piece of fine cheesecloth over it. Then pour the liquid through.

Natural Brands Bombilla Strainer Straw 1 straw
Natural Brands Bombilla Strainer Straw 1 straw

My favorite is a bombilla because I like to infuse my herbs loose in the water. A bombilla is a straw that has a strainer in it. As I drink my herbal tea, it strains the herbs out. Although they all basically work the same, this particular bombilla is a little better than others because it's super easy to clean and unless my herbs are ground a little too fine, it rarely gets clogged.

 

Advice for using Medicinal Herbs

Adding herbal tinctures and extracts to your lotion, shampoo, conditioner and other hygeine products is a quick and easy way to get the herbal benefits without making each product from scratch.

Herb capsules by hinnamsaisuy
Herb capsules by hinnamsaisuy

Other Ways to Prepare Herbs for Healing

Although infusions, decoctions, tinctures and extracts are the base of most herbal remedy recipes, there are still plenty of other ways to use these herbs medicinally. One easy way is to grind the dried herb into a powder using a mortar and pestle. Then transfer the powder to gelatin capsules. Make sure to research how much each dose should be and buy the right size gelatin capsules to fit that amount. Capsules to large will give you a larger (and possibly dangerous) dose than needed and capsules too small won't give you enough. And neither of those scenarios will be helpful for you.

Herbal pillows are easy to make and they have many uses. To make, decide what you're going to use your pillow for and let that help you decide how large to make it. If you want your pillow to be a 3x3 square, then cut a 4x8 piece of cloth and fold it in half. Sew up both sides and part of the top, leaving only enough room to turn the pillow right side out. Then fill with the aromatic herbs of your choice and sew the rest of the way up. Put it under your pillow for a restful nights sleep. Put it in your bathwater for a scentual bathing experience. Add a ribbon and place it on the wall next to your front door as a way to give your visitors an aromatic welcome. The uses for this herbal pillow are endless.

Some herbs don't need any preparation at all. They can be eaten fresh either by themselves or as part of your meal. Alfalfa and young dandelion leaves are both delicious healthy additions to a salad. Although all four are commonly used for herbal healing, apples, raspberries, papaya and blackberries are more frequently eaten for their sweet juicy flavor.

Photo Credit: hinnamsaisuy

The most common use of herbs is...

for adding flavor to a recipe.

Although many don't realize it, a lot of the herbs used for healing are the same ones found in your spice cabinet!

Add to Your Herbal Knowledge

There are so many herbs that heal so many different ailments, it's about impossible to keep them straight. That's why I keep my herb books on hand. Anytime I have a headache, a toothache, a cold sore, heartburn, strep throat or anything else wrong with me, I just take a quick look at my books to find out the best herb to heal me

Use herbs with caution

Many people think that just because herbs are natural, that also means they're safe. But even natural herbs have side effects.

With certain herbs, using too much or for too long can cause effects ranging from fatigue to death.

Always research every herb before using for medicinal purposes.

© 2011 Othercatt

How do you use medicinal herbs?

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    • webrunner2023 profile image

      webrunner2023 3 years ago

      I like to use them to help with healing cuts, aiding in digestion and to help me sleep. Nice lens by the way.

    • CrossCreations profile image

      Carolan Ross 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Now this is a topic I've always wanted to learn more about - medicinal herbs. Very well done!

    • profile image

      Denims_Home 5 years ago

      nice article. I enjoy growing & processing my own herbs too thought yours was a good article.

    • Musicalcroc LM profile image

      Musicalcroc LM 5 years ago

      Very helpful guides. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 6 years ago

      Nicely done and blessed, I'm and herbalist too...enjoyed the quiz. I'm adding this to Diet and Nutrition SquidAngel under the supplements category though the sub here is different than my "neighborhoods", can't resist:-)

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 6 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      Great information about how to prepare your own herbal remedies.

    • profile image

      Khaleeka 6 years ago

      I learned some interesting things reading this-especially how to dry herbs. You've been blessed!

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