There are many ways to get the healing properties of medicinal plants into our bodies. The easiest way is with tea but other herbal preparations are sometimes more effective depending on what you are treating and what ingredients you have on hand.
I can think of 31 ways to get the healing benefits of herbs into the body. Herbal tinctures, infused oils, infused wine, infused vinegars, syrups, inhalants, poultices, plasters, compresses, masks, ointments, creams, lotions, liniments, herbal baths & salt scrubs, capsules, tablets, powders, lozenges, enemas, suppositories, packs, astringents, gargles, washes, rinses, essential oils, teas, infusions, and decoctions are all excellent herbal products that you can make at home. Don't hesitate to give all 31 a try.
Herbal lotions and creams help keep skin healthy and beautiful.
Try making your own herbal products at home. This is a great way to learn about different medicinal herbs and their properties. After a while you will start to develop a relationship with the herbs you use. Let your body, mind and spirit guide you to what will work. Making herbal teas are a first step. Move on to homemade extractons, tinctures, astringents, muscle rubs, lozenges, and other herbal products as you gain experience. It is easy to make herbal products at home! Homemade remedies contain fresh, quality ingredients so they actually work to heal your body. Don't get discouraged with cheap products that are full of saw dust and cellulose fillers -- make your own herbal products and you will see much better results.
Herbal medicines can be made at home from medicinal leaves, twigs, bark, root, seeds, and flowers. Grow or harvest your own herbs if possible. The most important thing is to have quality plant material. If you can't grow your own herbs, find a herb dealer that you trust. Most herb dealers are honest folks and are not out to hurt or rob other people. Find reputable herb dealers at farm markets, produce stands, health food stores, and online.
There are many ways to extract beneficial properties from herbs. The choice of which method to use depends on many factors. Use herbal tinctures for preserving plant properties for winter use. Use herbal compresses, poultices, and rubs for external applications. Use homemade herbal creams and ointments to protect the skin. Make herbal powders for inhaling. There are many accepted, time-proven ways to get healing herbs inside the body. From strong alcohol-based herbal tinctures to gentle herbal ointments, no one way is best. It depends on the situation, what is available, and the desired result.
Use herbal ointments, creams, and lotions to nourish the skin. Herbal skin products contain vegetable oils like almond oil, fats like cocoa butter, and other beneficial herbs and essential oils that nourish, heal, and protect the skin resulting in a more glowing complexion.
Herbal ointments, lotions, and creams are often used to moisturize the skin. Ointments contain oil and wax or butter and are used for everything from dry skin to diaper rash. Lotions are thinner and contain water. They are used to cool, refresh, tone, and moisturize the skin. Creams usually contain oils, fats, and water with some type of emulsifier. Herbal ointments, creams, and lotions are easy, fun, and inexpensive to make at home with everyday kitchen equipment. Ointments, lotions, and creams can be used on most parts of the body (except the eyes) depending on ingredients.
Herbal lotions are liquids prepared for external application and are usually used for protecting or healing the skin. They contain one or more herbs and a water or witch-hazel base. The healing properties of lotions are absorbed directly into the skin. Lotions can become creams, ointments, or salves with the addition of waxes, fats, or starches to act as thickening agents.
Creams and lotions have thinner consistency than ointments and salves since they do not contain wax. Water based mixtures are good for cooling and soothing irritated and inflamed skin. They usually require an emulsifier to help the water blend with the oil or fat. Borax is easy to use and helps to bond fats with water (but extended use of products containing borax will dry out skin). Lecithin is a natural emulsifier made from egg yolks and works well in some creams.
Homemade herbal creams help moisturize, heal, and protect the skin.
One easy recipe for herbal skin lotion includes a tablespoon of rosewater, a cup of witch hazel, and a dropper of chickweed tincture. Apply with a cotton ball three times a day to improve the look of the skin. A few drops of high quality essential oil may be added for extra strength.
Tinctures and herbal extractions are made by soaking fresh or dried plant material in vodka for a period of about two weeks. The alcohol works to extract medicinal properties and preserve them for later use. Tinctures are quickly absorbed by the body and can be used internally and externally. Non-alcoholic tinctures can be made using vegetable glycerin if desired. Both types of tinctures can be taken by mouth or used on the body. Never use rubbing alcohol to make tinctures.
When treating children with alcohol based tinctures, the alcohol can be removed by adding a small amount of almost boiling water to one dose of tincture. As it cools, most of the alcohol will evaporate. Be careful when using heat around alcohol. Alcohol is flammable so don't get burned!
Herbal extractions can also be made with wine (including brandy and cognac) or even apple cider vinegar. Both wine and vinegar make excellent medicines for digestive and circulatory problems. Wine and vinegar infusions are great for taking by the spoonful during the winter months because of their warming actions. Many are also good in salad dressings -- especially basil, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
Tincture drops and herbal mouth sprays bypass the digestive system and deliver a more potent medicine to the system. Sprays and under-the-tongue drops are especially useful in emergency situations. Also, small doses can be used repeatedly over a period of time to help regulate dosage. Sprays and drops should be used in a clean mouth. Brush teeth, rinse well, and wait 10 minutes. Hold spray and drops in mouth for as long as possible before swallowing.
Rosemary tincture - Photo by Janice Boling at Payne Mountain Farms
Tinctures and herbal extractions are easy to make at home. This white wine and rosemary tincture will help stimulate digestion during the winter months.
Try mixing fennel, licorice, mullein, and wild cherry bark tinctures with honey and a little fruit juice. Take 1 teaspoon every hour. Mullein tincture really helps heal lung problems and congestion. See Mullein for more information about mullein tinctures.
Use tinctures on tired, aching muscles for fast relief. Tinctures may be added to washes for treating skin rashes, blemishes, and other irritations.
Herbal tinctures and herbal extracts are pretty much the same thing. They both contain vodka, whiskey, or some other type of alcohol that is safe to consume. Fresh herbs are soaked in the alcohol for several weeks until properties are extracted. The old plant material is strained out and the alcohol is stored for use as needed. Tinctures are taken in small amounts by mouth, used in herbal cough syrups, muscle rubs, and other home remedies. Tinctures are good for preserving fresh summer herbs for winter use. Herbal properties in the tincture are preserved by the alcohol and may retain their potency for years. Vanilla flavoring, also known as vanilla extract, is an example of a tincture.
Herbal tinctures are taken internally for everything from cough to nervous disorders but not all tinctures should be taken by mouth or ingested! Use common sense, do some research, and get to know your ingredients. Tinctures made from culinary herbs like rosemary can safely be taken internally. Tinctures made from some herbs like walnut hulls should be used internally with caution.
Liniments are basically herbal extracts made with rubbing alcohol. They are used on aching joints and sore muscles. Any herbal product made with rubbing alcohol should NOT be used as a mouthwash or taken internally.
Astringents are good for the skin. They kill germs, close pores, remove excess oil, and make good aftershave lotion. Herbal astringents are used externally. Use vodka extraction method to produce chamomile, bayberry bark, sage, nettle, yarrow, or mullein astringents. One cup of extract mixed with one cup of witch hazel makes a good astringent -- for additional tingle mix in a few drops of peppermint essential oil. Bottle, cap tightly, and shake gently before use. Use a cotton ball to apply to face or sprayer for use on body.
This woman uses herbal astringent to brighten her complexion and close pores before applying makeup.
Astringents can also be made out of rubbing alcohol. Put fresh or dried plant material in a mixture of water and rubbing alcohol. Strain after one week. Store the resulting liquid in a bottle with a tight fitting lid. Witch hazel and a favorite essential oil may be added if desired. Shake well before using. Never take anything made with rubbing alcohol internally.
Most infused oils are fine for use as a food and in massage. Rosemary, thyme, and rose are suitable for both. Some infused oils are not suitable for consumption but are wonderful in massage. Arnica flower infusions are great when used on tired, achy muscles but should never be taken internally. Infused oils can also be used as a base for ointments and creams.
Active plant ingredients can be extracted in oil instead of alcohol. There are two techniques, the hot oil method and the cold oil method. The hot method is best for sturdy herbs like comfrey, rosemary, seed pods, barks, and roots. The cold method is suitable for fragile material like calendula flowers or rose petals. The infused oil is used in massage oils, creams, lotions, ointments, and other herbal products. Tightly-capped Infused herbal oils will last for a year if kept in a cool, dark location, although small amounts made fresh are more potent. Herbal oils are sometimes used for culinary purposes like salad dressings. It depends on the ingredients.
In the following video, Joan Morais shows us how to make infused calendula oil:
To make infused oil with the cold method, pack a jar with herbs and cover completely with cold-pressed vegetable or nut oil. Cap tightly and let stand in a cool, dark place for two weeks. Shake gently every day. Strain through jelly bag, and repeat process for two more weeks with fresh plant material. Strain again and store.
To make infused oil with the hot method, put 8 ounces of cold-pressed vegetable or nut oil (almond, walnut, olive, grape seed, or safflower are good) and a big handful of plant material in a double boiler and gently heat over simmering water for an hour or so. Oil should change color taking on the color of plant material. Strain through a jelly bag or double layer of cheesecloth. Store in a clean, airtight bottle or jar.
Ointments can be made with herbal oil extractions. Often essential oils are added for extra strength and potency. I often add tea tree oil to my ointments since it helps keep them from going rancid or developing mold. Once herbal products go rancid or mold appears, they should be discarded.
Various infused oils are made into ointments by adding a thickening agent like beeswax or hard fat (100% cocoa butter is good). Coconut oil works, too. Essential oils add extra strength. Try rosemary for muscle rub ointment, frankincense essential oil for arthritis ointment, and rose essential oil for chapped lips.
Herbal ointments and salves offer greater protection than lotions. Containing waxes and butters, they are more resistant to water and act as a barrier to germs. Ointments and salves are used to heal, soothe, and protect. Diaper rash ointment and eczema salves are examples.
Try a warming cocoa butter and lavender ointment on winter-weary feet. First soak feet in warm vinegar water. Dry completely and then slather on your herbal ointment. Put on thick socks. It's like a little bit of heaven on earth.
Put 4 ounces of infused oil into the double boiler, add a small piece of wax or cocoa butter (about a tablespoon), and stir until gently melted and completely mixed. Add up to 8 drops of essential oil if desired. Pour into a jelly jar or small tin while still warm. Cool before capping tightly. Mixture will thicken as it cools. If herbal ointment is too hard, use more oil or less wax next time. If it is too soft, use more wax.
Ointments can be made with herbal infused oils or with cooking oils. I like to use beeswax and a good cold-pressed oil such as almond, grape seed, walnut, safflower, or olive oil. It is easy to do!
Take a couple of tablespoons of beeswax, cover with oil -- about 4 liquid ounces, and heat in a small glass or stainless pan until wax is melted. Watch carefully and stir often to help wax melt and blend with the oil. Do not let it get so hot that the oil starts to smoke! Gentle heat is always best. Heat only until wax is melted. Once your oil and wax are blended and slightly cooled, add five to ten drops of desired essential oil and stir gently. Other ingredients such as cocoa butter, lanolin, or vitamin E may be added at this time. Once everything is combined, pour into a container with tight fitting lid and place in the refrigerator to set. Once cooled, the resulting solid will have the consistency of petroleum jelly or maybe a little firmer. The more wax that is added, the harder the resulting ointment will be.
Larger quantities of ointment can be made in a double boiler over boiling water. Add wax, oils, tinctures, and other ingredients then stir until blended. Remove from heat. Add essential oils once mixture starts to cool. Transfer to jars with tight fitting lids before ointment sets up.
Tinctures may also be added to ointments for various reasons. Add one drop of tincture of benzoin to guard against mold. Benzoin acts as a natural preservative. You can also add tea tree oil or the contents of a vitamin E gel cap to stop mold from forming. Refrigeration also deters mold growth. All herbal products made with natural ingredients will mold over time due to their lack of chemical preservatives. Never use moldy, rancid, or off smelling products.
Homemade ointments, creams, and lotions will last for only a couple of weeks at room temperature. All herbal products deteriorate faster than petroleum products whether preservatives are added or not.
Herbal preparations like lotions, creams, and ointments keep best in dark-colored glass jars or tins with tight lids. Dried herbs keep well in paper sacks stored in a dry, ventilated attic. Herbs need to be protected from dampness, high heat, and insects. If herbal products become moldy or rancid, throw them away. Don't let herbal products go bad -- go ahead and treat yourself. Slather herbal lotions on sore muscles. Apply gobs of herbal ointment to dry feet and elbows. Use plenty of herbal cream after shaving and on wrinkles.
When making ointments, lotions, and creams, use appropriate herbs or essential oils depending on condition to be treated. Try adding geranium essential oil, neroli essential oil, and frankincense essential oil to help promote new cell growth. Use lavender essential oil to speed healing in cases of abrasions. Add eucalyptus or tea tree essential oil for making herbal chest rubs to calm coughs and loosen phlegm. Add peppermint essential oil, eucalyptus essential oil, or wintergreen essential oil for chest congestion. Use ginger and fennel to stimulate circulation. Use rose essential oil for hormonal problems. Try rosemary essential oil and patchouli essential oil for arthritis pain. Use frankincense or myrrh oil for stubborn spider bites and infections, carrot seed oil for scrapes and scratches. The list goes on and on as you learn more about herbs and essential oils.
Microwaves can destroy healing properties. Just heat infused oil and wax until melted together in double boiler on stove top on medium heat, remove from heat, and stir in essential oil if desired. Store in tightly sealed jars or tins.
Herbal poultices are made from fresh or dried herbs. The herbs are blended with oil, vinegar, or water into a paste. Poultices are then applied directly to the affected area (or on top of a thin layer of cheesecloth), covered with a thicker cloth, and left in place for as long as possible (or up to four hours). Poultices, plasters, and compresses may be taped to body or wrapped with gauze to stabilize. A thin layer or olive oil can be applied first to help keep herbs from sticking to skin.
Powdered herbs are useful for making poultices, plasters, compresses, and ointments.
Herbal plasters are made by spreading a thin layer of honey or ointment on a clean cloth and adding powdered herbs. The plaster is then applied to the body. Powdered herbs like ginger and mustard are good for treating lung and chest congestion. Use comfrey for clean skin abrasions. Herbal plasters may be left in place for up to four hours. Check for irritation every hour especially when using ginger or mustard which can burn.
Make a compress by soaking a cotton cloth in strong, hot herbal tea and applying to affected area (but not so hot that it burns the skin). The heat enhances the healing activity and opens the pores for faster drainage and healing. To stimulate circulation, alternate compresses with hot tea and cold water. This is also good for treating minor wounds.
A cold herbal compress is used for headaches. For headache, use white willow bark, peppermint, or lavender in a strong decoction or infusion. Let cool and soak a clean cloth with the liquid. Place in freezer until cold. Hold against temples, forehead, or back of neck until room temperature. Repeat if necessary.
Use the pulpy plant material from a used tea bag as a poultice -- and have the patient drink the tea. If treating a boil or skin rash, prepare a pot of chamomile tea. The tea will work from the inside and the poultice from the outside! Use a hot water bottle over the poultice to keep it warm.
Sometime poultices, plasters, and compresses will need to be changed every hour. It depends on the condition being treated. A nasty spider bite benefits from hourly applications of plantain poultices. As poison is drawn out, the material needs to be freshened up.
The effectiveness of a poultice, plaster, or compress is increased when skin is warm especially after a sauna, hot oil massage, hot bath, in high humidity, or with any rise in body temperature. Skin is also more permeable if natural oils are removed due to washing with strong soap or detergents.
Certain areas of the body are more permeable than others and include the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, and thin skinned areas such as the forehead, face, neck, shoulders, armpits, and scalp.
Herbal syrups contain honey or sugar and are made from infusions and decoctions. Elderberry comes to mind. Syrups are excellent remedies for bronchitis, coughs, sore throats, and colds. Honey is soothing and the added sweetness disguises the flavor of bitter herbs. Heat the strained infusion, decoction, or tea and add honey or sugar, stirring until well blended. The more honey or sugar that is used, the thicker the syrup will be. Allow mixture to cool and store in a dark bottle. Seal with cork stopper (syrups can ferment and may explode if tightly capped).
Herbal lozenges are good for mouth, throat, and upper respiratory problems. Soak a mucilaginous herb such as marshmallow or slippery elm in water for twenty-four hours. Stir occasionally. After twenty-four hours, heat to boiling. Cool, strain, and then beat the resulting liquid to obtain uniform consistency (like thin Jell-O). Mix with enough powdered herb (like mullein or comfrey) to form a paste and add sugar or stevia to taste. A few drops of essential oil like mint or clove may also be added. Roll out on a board covered with arrowroot powder (available at health food stores) or sugar to prevent sticking. Cut into shapes and leave exposed to the air until dry. Store the lozenges in airtight containers and keep them in the refrigerator until needed.
Herbs can also be taken as powders. Empty capsules can be purchased just for this purpose. Powders can also be added to juice or sprinkled on food. Powders can be made into suppositories for treating rectal and vaginal problems. Suppositories sooth inflamed mucous membranes, speed healing, fight infection, and help reduce swollen tissue. They are easy to make at home. Mix finely powdered herbs (like yellow dock, calendula, or chamomile) with enough cocoa butter to make a firm consistency. Roll into bullet shaped tubes about an inch long and place on waxed paper. Put in refrigerator to harden and remove one at a time for use. Allow to come to room temperature and insert at night while sleeping for best results.
Herbs may also be used in enemas and vaginal packs. Use garlic for killing parasites, harmful bacteria, and viruses. Use aloe vera to help heal inflamed tissue and for hemorrhoids. Use catnip or dandelion for stomach and digestive diseases. Use chlorophyll or fresh wheat grass juice to stimulate the liver and to help remove toxins.
* Never use rubbing alcohol in tinctures because it is toxic when taken internally. Rubbing alcohol is for external use only! Ointments, creams, and lotions are for external use only. Do not take internally. Do not use herbal lotions, creams, or ointments on deep wounds. Astringents prepared with ethyl alcohol are for external use only -- do not take astringents internally. Do not apply astringents to deep wounds. Always use common sense and discontinue use if irritation develops. Always treat herbs with respect. Use herbs only as needed and know when to stop. Keep your healthcare professional informed. Store herbs properly and discard if moldy or if they smell rancid. Watch for possible allergic reactions. Realize that essential oils are extremely concentrated and may be toxic in large amounts. Use essential oils only when diluted with carrier oils. Do not take essential oils internally. Use special care with herbs like ginger and cayenne since they may cause burns on sensitive skin. If considering using herbal remedies during pregnancy, consult with your physician first. Use lower doses for children. Do not treat children under 2 or the elderly with herbal remedies (even catnip and chamomile could cause an allergic reaction). Remember that some herbs are photo-toxic and should not be used when outdoors or in sunlight. Herbs work with other medicines to boost their potency so always consult with your healthcare provider before using any herbal remedy especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking other medicines.
* Note - the information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
** Most of the articles in this online herbal encyclopedia were first published by the North Georgia News in a weekly column titled Every Green Herb (by Janice Boling).
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