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.
A decoction is an infusion, or tea, made from the stems, roots or barks of plants.
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!
24 thoughts on “Herbal Preparations [How To Guide]”
Wow! Shan your articles are mind-blowing! You’re so accurate, detailed and so helpful. It is a pleasure to learn from you.
Thanks Georgina! I look forward to sharing everything I’ve learned about herbs so that others too may utilize their truly amazing effects on health and healing!
Very interesting article. I have heard some negative things about distilled water, so I am a bit hesitant to drink it. Would you think it’s fine to use Poland Spring or another filtered water instead? thanks.
Thanks Joshua! I’d be curious to know what you’ve heard that could be negative about distilled water. I drink a half gallon of it or more daily and I use it for all my teas and preparations and have been doing for for several years now. Filtered water is certainly better to use than tap water but I would recommend against spring water simply because it will contain minerals that could react with various herbs and/or build up in the body.
A great article. Easy to read and extremely informative, right down to the recommended type of utensils to use. The steam distilled water was especially interesting to me. Definitely something I will look into. Thank you
Hi Russ – I’m glad you found the article informative and easy to understand. The world of herbs can seem quite intimidating in the beginning with the vast amount of information out there to sort through.
I always work with distilled water, especially where preparations are concerned. Doing so will help ensure your preparations are pure and at maximum strength.
Wow! You really know your stuff, Shan! I’m thankful for this post. I’m currently living in the Philippines and random odd things keep happening to me that call for some good herbs. There’s really a lot to preparing herbs properly. This serves as a really great resource for me to use when something else pops up that calls for herbs. I look forward to more great posts from you! Thank you for sharing.
Hi Liana – I’m so glad it was helpful for you! The use of herbs has completely changed my life. I wanted to share my insights and knowledge with others who might find health and relief from illness through herbs. So many herbal healing techniques require a little prerequisite knowledge so I wanted to give a few base procedures before getting into the nitty gritty 😉
If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask away!
Take care, Shan
Wow, this would make a great e-book. I was completely unaware of the need to use stainless steel cookware instead of other types due to the steam distilled water being able to draw out the minerals from the cookware and essentially contaminating the herbal prep.
I learned what Gruel and Poultice are. They each have their own applications but each seems to be worthy of further investigation.
I am a real heavy team drinker and was wondering what tea’s you would recommend for relaxation and what quantities also. I generally drink store-bought green tea…sometimes black tea instead.
Thank you for the insight into the world of herbal remedies. Very educational for me.
These are just the basics for beginners but it gives a general knowledge herbal preparations and how they could be utilized.
If you’re looking for a tea that will relax, you may want to try chamomile or lavender. They will both calm the nerves and relieve stress and the taste of each is pleasant. Green tea is a stimulant and black tea contains quite a bit of natural caffeine so they more than likely will energize you rather than relax.
If you have any other questions, feel free to ask!
Hi Shan, wow! For someone that doesn’t know much about herbs, your site helps me learn a lot more about the subject. I just use them to cook with.
I can’t wait to learn more! Thanks so much for the wonderful information!
Herbs are wonderful for cooking with! I use both fresh and dried herbs while cooking.
My plan is to share everything I’ve learned about herbs and their uses along with useful recipes and tips to help those just beginning with herbs to be able to use them as an aide for health ailments as well as preventative care.
Thanks for visiting!
Hi Shan, a pleasure looking through your site.
I think you have picked a great topic. I too cover the benefits of herbs and spices on my site, along with herbal teas.
Sorry to hear about your accident Shannon. I am glad you took the path of becoming a Master Herbalist. I so strongly support the herbal way, and cringe when I think about the medications out there, and the side effects that go along with them.
I suffer from back pain, due to an accident which has left me partially disabled. Along with that I suffer from depression and anxiety. My gosh the side effects of some of the drugs prescribed, scary. I have since started to decrease the prescribed drugs exchanging them with herbal alternatives.
I have bookmarked your page, there are a lot of things I still have to learn. I didn’t know it was best to use stainless steel pots and I would love to try using herbal poultices.
I did feel the dedication you have in getting your message across. I wish more people would follow your methods and alternatives.
Great topic and site Shannon and I thank you for the opportunity to visit.
Thanks for reaching out and telling a bit about you. I am sorry to hear of your accident and disabilities. I have experienced many side effects from medications in the past as well – this is what prompted me to begin my search into herbal alternatives.
If you are interested in using herbal remedies, I highly recommend taking the beginner Family Herbalist course with the School of Natural Healing. I cannot say enough about the instructors I have come in contact with at the school. Their herbal knowledge just amazes and awes me.
Please do visit again in the future. I look forward to sharing tips and recipes for herbal remedies I have learned as well as a few that I have concocted over the years for my own family.
Wow this is really amazing. I would love to learn how to make my own herbal medicines. I had itching in my skin for some time now and using chemical substances haven’t been a really good option and they increase the itching. I would love to learn more about the herbal poultice you have explained on this post. Are there any suggestion of what herb i can use to help cure the itching?
Depending on the cause, there are several single herbs and herbal combinations that can help with itching and dermatitis. Using a fomentation over the irritated area made with a chickweed and/or plantain infusion will calm the itch. Burdock root, Echinacea, or Oregon Grape root can also be added to the infusion. For small areas and sudden breakouts, chickweed ointment can be helpful. Taking the plantain and chickweed tea internally at the dose of 1 cup 2-3 times per day will speed healing from the inside. A few drops of Lobelia tincture added to the tea will speed up the process.
Black walnut can be extremely helpful in healing dermatitis of all types. The leaves or bark of any herb in the walnut family will bring relief and aide in healing. These herbs would be used in the same manner as above – as a fomentation externally and/or a tea taken internally. Ointments can also be utilized.
I hope some of these ideas will be helpful for you!
Take care, Shan
Wow, I never knew making my own herb can be quite day and gun to do. I love taking herbal tea a lot but I sometimes doubt how pure these herbal tea can be, because I have heard of cases where these tea are mixed with some other substance. However reading through this post have given me an insight on how to make my own herbal tea. It really means a lot to me. Thanks for sharing
The processes of healing with herbs can be quite simplistic; It’s remembering which herbs will help with which ailments and in which doses that can get confusing. There are certainly some processes that require much time and attention but when results are yielded I’m always amazed at the power of nature.
Herbal teas and products have become somewhat of a trendy hype in recent days. Some of them are indeed not pure and some even have added chemicals and additives just like pharmaceuticals do. This is dangerous in my mind since they give the appearance of being healthy and all natural when in reality some can do quite a lot of damage. The important thing when purchasing pre-made herbal products is to research the source and manufacturing processes. You will want to be sure the herbs are all grown organically, the herbs are not heated or cooked during the process (this will cancel any health or medicinal benefits), and that no added chemicals or preservatives are added to the product.
Take care, Shan
This how-to guide on herbal preparations was just what I was looking for this morning. I have been meaning to do more at home so they are fresh for my cooking and liquid preparations that I am doing all the time these days. I like the taste a lot better and I think it is also much healthier than buying from the supermarkets.
What was totally new to me from your article is that you can also create these herbal preparations for topical use and they likely are much more effective than the pharmacy ointments or creams you can buy at great cost. I will try to make some to have on hand.
Is there a shelf life for these concoctions and what is the best way to store them to prolong their effectiveness? I am the kind of person that will make up a batch just to have around if I need it, and if I could freeze it or store it for a longer period in the refrigerator, that would be good.
Herbs can absolutely be prepared in ointment form for topical use! My next ‘How To’ article currently being written is on that exact topic, so please feel free to check back for more in-depth details on creating and utilizing ointments.
I too love to have various herbs on hand for when I need them, especially for use during the winter season when I am not able to simply run outside to collect the herbs I want. It is difficult to have infusions and decoctions made up ahead of time and stored for use since their shelf life is only a few days, even if they are kept in the refrigerator.
Instead, I always make sure to have herbs in either dried or tincture form prepared and stored. The shelf life for dried herbs is anywhere from 6 months to a year and tinctured herbs can literally last a lifetime depending on how they are prepared. Then I only need to take the time to prepare the infusion or decoction I need for any given situation.
Best to you, Shan
This information is just what I was looking for, thank you! I had no idea that regular water was actually not as effective at drawing out the medicinal value. This is so helpful to know now, so I can get the most from what I make. I used to make a decoction with cloves, ginger, mint and a few other ingredients to use as a mouthwash, and this has inspired me to start doing that again! I do prefer to go down the natural route if I can and your site looks like the place to look for the right inspiration for this 🙂
I never knew how much more effective distilled water is to pull the maximum medicinal value from my herbs until I studied at the School of Natural Healing. It’s the best decision I ever made!
I’m very happy to have inspired you to start preparing your concoctions again. That sounds like an excellent herbal combination for mouthwash. Great for both freshening the breath and killing any bacteria left in the mouth. Thanks for sharing it! I’m always excited to meet others who prefer all things natural. Thanks for visiting!
Take care, Shan
Wow! I cannot have wished for more detailed instructions for herbal preparations. This guide will be a great help for me. I can’t wait to try some of these concoctions. Right now I would really love to mix up something that could take care of a migraine. I prefer herbal remedies whenever possible since they are all natural and have little to no side effects. Thanks so much for this information.
I’m happy you found the guide helpful!
Depending on the cause of the migraine headaches, there are several herbal aides that could prove helpful for you. One that seems to work no matter the cause is an ointment blend of the herbs Eucalyptus, Peppermint and Spearmint with menthol and camphor. We use it by rubbing a small amount of the ointment on the forehead along the hairline and on the temples. Its cooling tingling effect will lift even the worst migraine pain! My family loves it 🙂
Take care, Shan