Using Your Plant
How do you extract the goodness from the plant and put it to use? You can’t just eat all the herbs you want to use, and strangely enough, some dried herbs have more medicinally active constituents than fresh ones. Use some common sense and follow safety procedures. First make sure that you identify your herb correctly- if in any doubt at all, leave it alone. Make sure that you have looked up the method of preparation and the safe dosages. Pick your herbs from unpolluted locations- herbs from the side of a busy road will be covered with chemicals. Herbs may be used in a variety of ways, internally and externally:
Dried Herbs in Capsules
This is usually the way you purchase herbs from a shop, and it is the worst way to take them, and the least effective. They are poorly digested, poorly utilized, often stale or ineffective, and quite expensive.
Hot Infusion (Teas or Tisanes)
Many of a herbs components, such as its minerals, vitamins, sugars, starches, hormones, tannins, volatile oils and some alkaloids dissolve well in water, and for this reason, herbs are often taken as infusions or tisanes. Generally the difference between the two is simply of strength- an infusion is a medicinal dose, whereas a tea or tisane is weaker. Use one teaspoon of dried herb per cup or 1 oz per pint of boiling water. Pour the boiling water over the herb and infuse for 5-15 minutes.
Some herbs have properties which are destroyed by heat, so a cold infusion is made. Use a non metal container and put in 1 oz of the herb and 1 pint of cold water. Close the lid or cover with cling film and leave for 5-6 hours.
Some seeds, roots, buds and barks etc. need to be boiled in water for a while. This is called a decoction. If they are dried they should first be pounded into a powered. Use 1 oz of dried herb or 2 oz of fresh herb to one pint of water. Bring the mixture to the boil in a non aluminium pan and simmer 10-15 minutes. Strain.
Plant constituents are generally more soluble in alcohol than water, so tinctures are made. Alcohol will dissolve and extract resins, oils, alkaloids, sugars, starches and hormones, though it does not extract nutrients such as vitamins or minerals. Brandy or vodka is usually used. Because a tincture is much stronger than an infusion or decoction, you only use a few drops -5-15) in a glass of water as a medicinal dose. Alternatively, a few drops may be added to a salve or bath. To make a tincture put 4 oz of dried herbs or 8 oz fresh herbs into a clean jar and pour on one pint of vodka or brandy. Seal and keep in a warm place for two weeks, shaking daily. Strain and store in a dark bottle.
Add one pint of infusion or decoction to the bath water.
Herbs can be made into salves. Melt 8 oz petroleum jelly or other fat and simmer 2 tablespoons of the herb in it for 15 minutes.
Prepare a clean cotton cloth and soak it in a hot infusion or decoction. Use this as hot as possible on the affected area. Change the compress as it cools down.
Bruise fresh herbs and apply directly to the skin and cover directly with a cloth.
Cold Infused Oil
Fats and oils extract the oily and resinous properties of an herb, many of which are strongly antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, and wound-healing. These are applied to the skin or used with massage. To make an infused oil cut up the herb and cover with vegetable oil (olive, sunflower, almond etc.) in a glass bottle or jar, Leave in a warm place for 2-3 weeks, shaking daily. Strain into a clean jar. Infused herbal oils are available as is, or thickened into ointments. Unlike essential oils, they do not need to be diluted for use.
These can be used in the bath, with massage or in an evaporator. They cannot be made at home, but are readily available from shops. They are very concentrated and must always be diluted with vegetable carrier oil.
Hearth Witch (The Eight Paths of Magic)