In order to use fresh or dried cut herbs for health or medicinal purposes, it is vital for every herbalist to know how to prepare herbs for medicinal use and to gain knowledge in how to utilize herbal preparations.
As various treatments and remedies are added to the Shan’s Herbal site, these basic herbal preparation instructions will come in handy as a resource guide when preparing your own remedies at home.
With enough knowledge, anyone can grow, harvest and store their own herbs and create their own herbal combinations to have on hand to be used when a friend or family member falls ill or is injured. The following is information on various types of herbal preparations and how they are made.
Steam Distilled Water – When working with herbs, you will always want to make your infusions, fomentations and other herbal preparations with steam distilled water if at all possible. Steam distilled water can be purchased at most grocery and health food stores or you can make your own at home if you wish. There are even water distillers that can be purchased for use at home.
David Christopher MH, director of the School of Natural Healing, calls steam distilled water a “hungry water” because it contains no minerals and it is able to draw out the maximum medicinal qualities from the herb with ease. When water with heavy mineral content is used, its ability to pull the nutritional and medicinal value is not as great. Minerals will also build up in the body over time.
I found a video detailing an easy way to make distilled water yourself at home. You can check it out here:
Stainless Steel Cookware – You will want to use stainless steel cookware when creating your herbal preparations. Glass and Earthenware are also acceptable.
When aluminum or cast iron cookware is used, the distilled water will draw minerals from the cookware as well as from the herbs into your preparations and the full medicinal potential of the herb will not be utilized.
The process is slightly different from when working with leaves and flowers. To make a decoction, the roots or bark will be placed into the pot of distilled water and simmered for 20 to 40 minutes. Be sure not to boil them; boiling will result in any nutritional or medicinal quality the roots or bark had to offer to be neutralized. Instead, a slow simmer is necessary.
Once the roots or bark have been simmered, remove from the stove top and strain the plant material out of the water using a stainless steel strainer or cheesecloth. Repeat the straining process if necessary to remove all the root or bark. Your decoction is now ready for use.
Strong Decoctions for Medicinal Use
When a stronger decoction is necessary for a specific medicinal use, we can prepare what is sometimes called a 3x strength solution.
To prepare a strong decoction for medicinal use, place the strained decoction back onto the stove top and simmer (do not boil) the solution down until it has reached half its original amount. This will result in a solution that is much stronger than the original decoction and can be used for various medicinal procedures.
Decoctions and infusions will keep for roughly 2 days in the refrigerator without using any preservatives. If you wish to keep them for an extended period of time, add 1/2 oz of vodka or other 40+ proof alcohol and keep them refrigerated.
A fomentation is a hot compress made with herbal infusions and a natural material cloth. This preparation allows herbs to be absorbed through the skin.
A cloth made out of cotton, flannel, or other natural material is cut to size depending upon the use. I have found that reusable cloth diapers are excellent for use in this manner.
The clean natural cloth is dipped into the herbal infusion or decoction of choice, then rung out just enough so the cloth is not dripping. The cloth is then placed around the body, as hot as can be tolerated, where it is needed.
To hold the heat in, and to be sure the medicinal value from the herbal infusion is absorbed into the body where it is needed and not into the person’s clothing, plastic wrap is placed over the cloth. To further hold the compress in place, an ace bandage is often wrapped over it around the body. Clothing can then be worn over the ace bandage, if necessary, to keep the fomentation further in place.
For example, for use on the knee the cloth is placed over the knee with plastic over it, an ace bandage is then wrapped around the knee to hold the fomentation in place, and then possibly a tight pair of leggings can be worn to further secure the compress if necessary.
Fomentations are often applied for several hours at a time. Some reddening of the skin is normal as it indicates increased circulation to the application site.
When using fomentations, they are replaced periodically as they cool and dry but you will be surprised how long it will hold both its heat and its dampness under the plastic. I have been shocked to remove fomentations after using them through the night to find them still warm and moist in the morning!
Applying Heat and Cold
In some situations, such as sprains, applying heat and cold can help to relieve pain and/or swelling. Once the fomentation is applied with plastic over it (and ace bandage or other covering if desired) use either a hot water bottle or heating pad as a heat source.
Place the hot water bottle or heating pad directly onto the fomentation for 12 minutes followed by placing an ice pack over the fomentation for an additional 4 minutes. This process should be repeated, alternating hot to cold and back to hot, for at least an hour, doing the procedure 2-3 times per day.
These time periods of heat and cold are not set in stone. 12 minutes of heat followed by 4 minutes of cold are the time periods suggested by The School of Natural Healing and has been very near perfect during each use for my family in these situations.
Pay attention to the body’s signals. If the heat doesn’t seem to be helping the pain anymore after 9 minutes, by all means, switch to the cold pack at that time; and vice versa. Each person and each injury is different so these time periods are estimates.
A gruel is made by mixing dried herbs into a paste by adding small amounts of distilled water until it reaches the consistency you wish to achieve.
A gruel can be helpful when preparing various herbal treatments and remedies or can even be used on their own as a hot cereal or medicinal paste.
A herbal poultice is basically a paste made from crushed plants, clay, or other natural materials that is wrapped around the skin and fastened. The body is then able to draw in the nutrients and medicinal value in through the skin. The poultice is placed directly on the body in the area of need to speed relief and healing.
It is similar to a fomentation but where a fomentation is an application of the infusion made from the plant, a poultice is an application of the entire plant.
A poultice can be beneficial for ailments ranging from bug bites and bee stings to blood-poisoning to burns to broken bones and sprain/strains. Uses for poultices are virtually endless. Herbs and other natural materials are chosen for their medicinal value, depending upon the ailment.
Poultices can be used to draw toxins or foreign materials out of the body, stimulate and increase circulation, sooth, heal, and regenerate tissue, relax and loosen sore stiff muscles, and even to stimulate specific organ functions.
Since uses and herbs vary so widely when using poultices, this procedure is vague in description but the general process is the same for most treatments.
You should have a general knowledge of poultices and their uses as you begin working with herbs so I mention the procedure here.
Fresh Herb Poultice
A basic fresh herb poultice is made by taking the leaves of the plant of choice and crushing, or bruising, them into a pulp or paste using a mortar and pestle. The same effect can be done with a blender on pulse setting. If you are in a real emergency, crushing and twisting the leaves with your hands can get the job done.
Your fresh paste can be applied to the skin on its own or combined with clay, an ointment, or mixed with other plants depending on what medicinal or healing outcome you are trying to achieve.
A natural material clothe or plastic, as with fomentations, can be applied over the poultice depending upon the length of time your treatment requires. As the paste dries out, a fresh poultice should be applied; Most treatments require the poultice to be kept moist at all times.
Applying heat can be beneficial at times in conjunction with poultices. Heat can aid in opening the pores of the skin and increasing circulation to the area which aides in the absorption of nutritional and medicinal qualities your herbal poultice has to offer. As mentioned above, a hot water bottle or heating pad are the best options when considering a heat source while using this technique.
Dried Herb or Powdered Herb Poultice
When using dried or powdered preserved herbs to prepare a poultice, dry herbs are mixed into a gruel as described above using small amounts of boiling water.
This gruel is then applied and spread upon the skin in the same manner as above and depending on its use you may or may not wish to cover it with a natural cloth or gauze bandage.
This poultice will have much the same effect as a poultice made with fresh herb leaves. Heat and cold may also be used.
Poultices can be useful for aches, pains, to increase circulation, to assist the lung and bronchial function, or to draw toxins and impurities out of the body through the skin to name a few.
Using clay as a poultice is helpful in drawing toxins and foreign materials from the body. This type of poultice can be especially helpful in healing burns or damaged tissue.
In this application, the clay would be mixed with enough water (distilled if possible) to produce a thick paste. The paste is then applied directly to the skin about an inch thick, pressing into the skin until it adheres, and covered with a dry natural cloth. The procedure is completed when the clay pulls away from the skin on its own.
A bolus is a suppository. A bolus can be prepared by combining powdered herbs with softened or melted coconut oil or cocoa butter.
A ratio of 2:1 is recommended; For example use 4 oz coconut oil to 2 oz powdered herbs.
Using very low heat when melting so as not to burn or bubble the mixture, mix the herbs in little by little until they are firm. This mixture is cooled either by air or refrigerator until it can be handled comfortably.
When the mixture has cooled it is rolled into long narrow strips and cut into approximately 1 inch pieces. Then each bolus is wrapped individually in wax paper and refrigerated to harden. Before using, let the bolus come to room temperature.
Boluses are used at night and inserted into either the vaginal or rectal area. They can be useful for ailments such as vaginal infections or hemorrhoids.
With the knowledge of how to create your own herbal preparations, you are well on your way to having the ability to treat any number of ailments, injuries and illnesses with the help of herbs.
I hope to be part of your journey with herbs and I will try to create the best possible resources to aid you while learning to work with herbs. Before long, you will be creating your own herbal remedies for your family and friends.
If at any time a process is not clear or you need further instruction, please feel free to drop your questions in the comments and I will be sure to respond as quickly as possible.
Share your experiences with herbal preparations in the comments below so we may all learn and grow together!