NOTE: This is a long, information-packed article on Herbal Preparation Methods – How To. To make it easier to navigate, use the Table of Contents button to your right!
There are many methods for preparing herbs for therapeutic effect. Here are some of the most popular.
A bolus is a suppository made from adding powdered herbs to cocoa butter to form a thick paste, which is then refrigerated. Once the bolus is hardened, bring it to room temperature, and it is ready to use. The cocoa butter will melt with the body heat releasing the herbs. You might like to wear old underwear to prevent staining as the bolus melts.
Capsules are used when the plant is unpalatable to take as a tea, or for herbs which require small doses. You can purchase empty capsules from most health food shops.
Method – Capsules come in a variety of sizes including, -0-, -00-, -000- being small, medium (normal) and large. A medium capsule will hold approx 1 teaspoon of herb. Fill the capsule with powdered herb. 1 capsule is equivalent to 1 cup of herbal tea. (More information and charts on capsule sizes here)
Also called Fomentation. This is used when the herbs are too strong to ingest, as the skin allows a smaller amount of the herb to be absorbed slowly by the body.
Method – Make a herbal infusion/decoction and soak a face cloth, or cotton cloth in this. Squeeze out excess liquid, and apply to the effected area. (More info on making hot and cold compresses here)
A cream is a blend of oil, beeswax and water. You can make your own, or purchase an unscented, water based cream. After adding herb to purchased cream, simmer in the top of a double boiler for 30 minutes. Strain before it cools.
Melt two ounces beeswax in a double boiler. Add one cup olive or other vegetable oil and blend. Add two ounces herb. For lighter cream, add a little water, mixing well. Simmer 20 minutes, mixing well. Add a drop of tincture of benzoin as a preservative. Strain thorough a cloth in to sterilized jars
A Decoction is used when a plant is not soluble in hot or cold water but will be released by simmering. This is used for roots, heavy wooden plants. Make sure you don-t use an aluminium saucepan, as the metal will leech into the tea. Glass or ceramic is best.
- Method #1 Use 1teaspoon dried plant matter to 1 cup of water. Simmer for 5-20 mins. 5 minutes for shredded plant, and 20 mins for larger pieces. Strain while hot. Drink.
- Method #2 Use a handful of fresh herb, or 1 teaspoon of dried herb, simmer for 30 mins in 1cup of water.
- Method #3 Take 30g (1oz) dried herbal mixture and 500ml (16floz) cold water in a pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 mins.
Slice garlic and place in a small amount of olive oil. Add a few lavender flowers. Leave sit for 2 hours then strain. Warm 1 tsp of oil by placing it over a cup of hot water. Put few drops into the ear and plug with cotton wool.
These are made to treat ailments such as strained muscles, arthritis or inflammation. It is similar to a tincture, but may be made using oil, vinegar or alcohol.
Method – Place 4oz of dried herbs of 8oz of fresh herb into a jar. Add 1 pint of Vinegar, alcohol or Vegetable oil. Shake the jar twice a day for 4 days for powdered herb, or 15 days for whole/chopped/sliced etc. herbs. Vitamin E or wheatgerm oil can be added to oil based extracts to help preserve them.
A herbal bath is good for fevers and stress related conditions. A foot bath can be made for soaking tired sore feet, or for food conditions such a tinea, athletes foot and corns.
Method: Steep 200g of dried herb in cold water for 12 hours. Heat the infusion and then add it to your bath water. For a foot bath, steep 50g of herb with the method above, and add to a bucket of water.
Use a sweet red wine with an alcohol content of at least 12%. Cover four ounces of herb with three cups of wine. Leave for a week before straining.
Take four teaspoons one or two times daily. Herbal wine is best used within a month.
Infusions are basically a herbal tea. You let the herb steep in hot or cold water for a while, then either reheat and drink, or drink it cool. You can use infusions in a bath, as a wash and for many other uses.
- Hot: Infuse 1 heaped teaspoon of dry herbs with one cup of boiling water. Steep for approx. 3-5 mins, and strain.
- Cold: put 1 heaped teaspoon of dry herbs in 1 cup of cold water and soak for 8-10 hours, strain and slightly warm before drinking.
Method #2 (Chinese method)
If you are using oyster shell, dragon bone or other minerals you have to add them to 6 cups of boiling water, simmer for 30 mins. If you have no minerals, or after the minerals have simmered for 30 mins, add your heavy roots and bark and simmer for another 20-30 mins. Then add any lighter twigs, fruits and leaves, simmer for another 10-15 mins. Finally remove from the heat and add any leaves and flowers, cover and steep for 10-20 mins. Strain, it's ready to drink.
Steep 2 teaspoons of dry herbal mixture in 2 cups of boiling water for 10-15 mins.
Steep 1 oz – 1oz dried herbal mixture to 1 pint (600ml) of water for 10-20 mins, then strain and drink.
Place 50g of dried herb in a bowl or in the sink. Pour a litre of boiling water over the herbs. Cover your head with a towel and hang your head over the bowl/sink to inhale the steam.
Ointments are used when the active principles of the herb are needed for longer periods of time, such as muscular aches.
- Method #1 Take 1 – 2 heaped tablespoons of herb and bring to the boil in vaseline, stir then strain. Use cold.
- Method #2 Melt 1 cup each of beeswax and vegetable oil in a double boiler until the wax is molten. Add a tablespoon of herbal extract (in an oil base), herbal infused oil or essential oils. If you wish to use herbs, use 1 tablespoon of dried herb, and strain through a heated metal strainer.
Oils are used when ointments or compresses are not practical. Always store your oils in amber glass bottles to prevent sunlight from reacting with the oils.
Method: Take 2 oz plant matter to 1 pint of oil. Leave this to stand for 4 days. If you want this process to happen quickly, you can heat the oil in a saucepan for 1 hour. A small amount of Vitamin E or Wheatgerm oil can be added to help preserve the oil.
A poultice is made from warm mashed herbs, which are applied directly to the skin. Used for inflammation, bites, boils, abscesses etc. You should apply oil to the area before applying the poultice.
- Method #1 Add hot water, apple cider vinegar, herbal tea, liniment or tincture to the desired herbs, and mash them into a paste.
- Method #2 In a saucepan bring water to the boil, suspend a sieve over the pan, and place into the sieve the fresh or dried herbs you will be using. Steam, these for a few minutes. Spread the softened herbs onto a cloth and apply to the affected area. Cover the compress with a bandage and leave for 2 hours.
A salve is similar to an ointment
Method: Take dried or fresh herbs and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 30 mins. Strain and add to an equal amount of vegetable oil. Simmer until the remaining water has evaporated from the oil. Add enough beeswax to give the salve a thick consistency (Remembering that it hardens as it cools) and pour into a jar.
Sample Salve Recipe to Try Out
While you should put together your own recipes of salves based on the healing properties of the herbs, here is a basic salve you can try out. This one includes grapefruit essential oils to give you more energy, plus lavender and rose to relax you.
There is also some calendula in there as well. What you want to do for your salve is combine coconut oil with dried herbs like lavender, rose, and calendula, then a few drops of essential oils. You can also mix in your shaved beeswax to give it the right consistency.
Types of Herbs You Can Put in Your Salve
Keep in mind that most salves are going to use more than one herb, because they are trying to treat a particular medical, skin, or mental health condition. The salve often helps with an actual skin condition where it is rubbed, but not always. For example, you can make a salve that is rubbed on the chest when someone has a chest cold, as it provides soothing qualities.
As a good place to start, here are some of the best herbs to add to your salve, depending on what you are using it for:
- Comfrey leaves or roots
- St. John’s wort
- Goldenseal leaf
- Echinacea leaf
How to Make an Herbal Oil Infused Salve
Before you start making your salve, place two or three soup spoons in your freezer. We’ll get back to them later. Have your containers ready to fill. Baby food jars work well, as do pimento, caper and artichoke heart jars. I save the small decorative jars that contained jam and honey samples.
You also can find attractive jars through herb suppliers or specialty shops. These suppliers feature several sizes, including thin, small lip balm containers. Thoroughly clean and dry them.
I’ve been experimenting with salve making for years and I’ve come up with a basic recipe that works for me. After you’ve tried my recipe, I encourage you to experiment and create your own blend of wax and infused oil. The standard ratio I use is 21/4 cups infused oil to 2 ounces beeswax. I’ve found in measuring the wax that the volume is roughly equal to the weight.
Get your dried, organic herbs, organic essential oils, bulk spices, loose leaf organic teas and aromatherapy supplies at the place where we shop – StarWest Botanicals!
Melt the wax in a glass measuring cup or dish in a warm oven. Place the infused oil in a saucepan and warm just enough to keep the wax from solidifying when it’s poured in. Since the volume for wax is similar to its weight, some people prefer to weigh the wax and grate it unmelted into the oil. When the wax is totally melted and blended, pour the mixture into your containers.
If you are adding essential oils to your salve, add them when you take the oil/wax blend off the heat, just before you pour it into containers. Cover the containers lightly with a sheet of wax paper to prevent anything from falling into your salve before it’s solidified. Don’t cap your jars until the salve has cooled down or you will get unwanted condensation.
The consistency of a salve is an individual choice. If you are making a salve for camping, you may want it to be hard, as it will soften a little with heat. You may prefer a softer salve to apply easily. Before you pour your salve into your containers, you can check the consistency with the spoon test.
Remember our spoons in the freezer? Take one out, dip it into the warm wax and oil mixture, and then place the spoon into the freezer for a couple of minutes.
Once the mixture has solidified on the spoon, you can feel for the consistency. If you want a firmer salve, use more wax; if you want your salve to be softer, add more oil. In adjusting your recipe, add extra oil or beeswax in small increments. A little adjusting can make a big difference.
Before you clean up, write down any comments. Label your jars. I like to decorate mine with colorful stickers. Store in a cool place.
Take a jar of coconut oil and place the jar in a bowl of hot water if it is solid and if it is not in a liquid state already. Pour the coconut oil into a bowl and begin adding powdered herbs to the oil until a dry pie dough consistency is reached.
Do not pour all of the powder into a bowl and then pour your whole jar of coconut oil in because you could either have too much or too little oil and have to order more powder or go back to the store for another jar of coconut oil.
Neither use all of your coconut oil or all of your powder, so you can always add more of either. Once you have your mixture in a consistency that is easy to shape, form the herb mixture into the size and shape of the suppository you desire.
Take into consideration the size of the opening into which it will be inserted and shape one end into a rounded point for easy insertion. A bullet or acorn shape is good and allows you to have one end flat. Once you have finished shaping your suppository, stand the flat side on a piece of wax paper, stainless steel, or glass plate and refrigerate them.
Refrigeration will make them hard. Once they are hard you can quickly put them into a cold jar and return them to the refrigerator for storage. A pre-refrigerated jar is perfect and will prevent a melt.
Just before bed, take one suppository out of the refrigerated jar returning the others immediately to the fridge. Hold the suppository between your fingers for just a few seconds (the coconut oil will begin to melt). Lubricate the opening of the body orifice and insert the suppository into the area you want to benefit from the herbs and coconut oil.
The herbs will disperse as your body temperature causes the coconut oil to melt. If you are in a reclining position, the herbs will tend to stay in the area where you placed them whereas if you are standing, gravity will tend to allow them to run out. Use one suppository each night until your condition is corrected.
Syrups are used for coughs, congestion, sore throats etc.
- Method #1 Take 2 oz herb and boil in 1 quart of water until it has reduced to about 1 pint. While still warm ass 2 oz of honey and/or glycerin..
- Method #2 Take 600ml (1 pint) boiling water and 900g (2 lb) of sugar. Bring this to the boil. Take off the heat, stir in tincture (3 parts syrup to 1 part tincture)
Herbal tinctures are concentrated liquid extracts of the medicinal properties of herbs. Tinctures represent one of many different ways to prepare and use herbs. The terms tincture and extract are often used interchangeably. Tinctures are similar to extracts but are made using alcohol, allowing it to keep for longer periods of time. People with weak digestion may have trouble with tinctures.
Alcohol Tinctures – How to Make
In most cases you should choose to make alcohol tinctures because of their superior qualities. Alcohol will extract volatile oils and most alkaloids from your herbs and will preserve your tinctures longer. Most herb tinctures will maintain their potency for many years.
A selection of dried herbs in your medicine cabinet has a shelf life of approximately one year. Alcohol also acts as a carrier for your herbs causing them to be rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream when you take them.
If you don't wish to consume alcohol it is possible to put the required dosage into a cup of boiled water. The heat will cause the alcohol to evaporate leaving the therapeutic qualities of the herb in the water. For recovering alcoholics, liver problems, children or sensitivity to alcohol it is possible to make your tinctures using vegetable glycerin or raw vinegar. Both glycerin and vinegar tinctures will be less potent and have shorter shelf lives.
To make an alcohol tincture you will need the herb, 100 proof alcohol and a labeled glass jar. An alcohol tincture is most often 50 percent alcohol and 50 percent water. 100 proof vodka naturally contains the appropriate ratios of water to alcohol. You can use gin, brandy or rum if you prefer. Do not use isopropyl rubbing alcohol which is very toxic when ingested!
Choose fresh plants for making your tinctures whenever possible. Fresh plants may contain properties that are lost or altered when the plant is dried. Dried herbs may be used when they are of good quality. Do not harvest plants that have been exposed to pesticides, herbicides, car emissions and other toxic substances.
Manually remove any dirt from your plants. Chop the plants up into small pieces so that the alcohol will be able to contact a lot of surface. Sometimes a blender is useful for the chopping hard roots. Use 100 proof vodka if you need liquid in the your blender to chop the herbs effectively.
Place the chopped herbs in a glass jar and cover with alcohol plus another inch of alcohol above the level of the herbs. Shake the mixture well to expose all the surfaces to the alcohol. Label the jar with the contents and the date.
If you make your tincture using dried herbs they may absorb a lot of alcohol in the first couple days. If this happens simply add enough alcohol to cover the herbs again. Shake your tincture everyday throughout the next six weeks.
If necessary, you may begin to use your tincture after two weeks but allow at least six weeks extraction time before straining. I often leave my herbs in the alcohol much longer than six weeks and strain it only when I've taken out enough tincture to expose some of the herbs to air. It is convenient if you have small amber dropper bottles to put your finished tinctures in so you can easily carry them with you and measure dosages.
The method that was used to determine the amount of alcohol to use in our tinctures is called the Simpler's Method.
Glycerin Tinctures – How to Make
Glycerin is very sweet and will dissolve mucilage, vitamins and minerals. It will not dissolve the resinous or oily properties of herbs very well. Because glycerin is sweet it is an excellent choice for children's remedies. Make glycerin tinctures in small amounts because it will not last as long as an alcohol tincture, about 1 to 3 years. Be sure to use 100 percent vegetable glycerin.
Follow the same basic instructions for making the alcohol tincture substituting glycerin for alcohol. To make a glycerin tincture you can cover your herbs with 100 percent glycerin alone or combine 3/4 part glycerin with 1/4 part water. Water also dissolves some properties of herbs into solution so I recommend using it in your glycerin tinctures when you are tincturing dried herbs.
Vinegar Tinctures – How to Make
Vinegar primarily dissolves alkaloids. It does not draw all the medicinal properties from your herbs. Use vinegar for people sensitive to alcohol or for tonic herbs that you will be taking over long periods of time. Vinegar tinctures have a short shelf life, 6 months to a year if stored in a cool dark place.
Make your vinegar tincture in the same manner as you do using alcohol. Make sure the herbs are completely submerged in the vinegar. If you are using fresh herbs, spread them out in an airy place to wilt them first. This reduces the water content and reduces the chances of spoilage.
Dosages for herbal tinctures are best determined individually based upon the power of the herb & the reason for its use. A couple of good reference books is the most reliable way of choosing the correct dose. The dosage is dependent upon the illness you are treating and the power of the herbs you are using.
For most purposes, herbalist use gentle herbs that can be safely used in large dosages. Commercial tinctures are labeled with the recommended dosage, usually 10-30 drops three times per day. Sometimes ten to thirty drops of tincture is sufficient for a therapeutic dose, other times you may need a teaspoon every hour.
60 drops = 1 teaspoon
4 ml. = 1 teaspoon
1 ounce = 28.4 grams (solid)
1 fluid ounce = 29.57 ml.
1 teaspoon tincture = 2 “OO” capsules
Dosages for children are not provided in most herbals. To determine the correct dose you need to consider the size of the child, the ailment, the power of the herb you intend to use, and the adult dosage.
Young's Rule for determining dosage uses the child's age divided by twelve plus the age.
The dosage for a 4 year old:
4/12+4 = 4/16 = 1/4 of the adult dose.
Clark's Rule for determining dosages divides the weight of the child by 150 to give the approximate fraction of the adult dose.
Dosage for a 40 lb. child: . 40 /150 = .26 or approx. 1/4 the adult dose.
- Method #1 Combine 4oz of powdered or chopped herb with 1 pint of alcohol (Vodka, brandy, Gin, Rum etc.) Shake daily for 2 weeks, strain and bottle.
- Method #2 Take a jar and place the dried herbal mixture into the bottom. Add alcohol to cover the herbs plus 1 inch. Leave sit for 2 weeks, strain.
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With attention like that, you can be sure you will receive only the highest-quality organic herbs, dried herbs, organic spices, therapeutic essential oils and all natural products when you place an order with Starwest Botanicals.