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A Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies
Whenever I had a sore throat when I was younger, my mother would always give me lemon, honey, and ginger steeped in hot water to help me feel better. Despite the simplicity of this drink, it was surprisingly helpful; and it’s something that I reach for whenever my lymph nodes start feeling tender. Now, of course, I realize that it shouldn’t have been surprising, since herbs like ginger root and hundreds of other plants have been used for thousands of years to soothe and treat common ailments like indigestion, aches and pains, and more.
Herbs aren’t only for when you’re feeling off; they’re also widely used in a preventative manner for promoting overall health. Many people take herbal tonics daily to help boost nutrition and overall functioning. However, just because they’re “all natural” doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be thoughtful about their use. Not everyone reacts to herbs in the same ways, and they can interact with medications that you’re taking, so you should always tell your doctor about any herbs you are incorporating into your lifestyle on a regular basis. Also, if you’re under 18 or over 65, or pregnant or breastfeeding, you should also proceed with caution. Though herbal medicines have been around for a long time, they are only recently being studied in more rigorous scientific trials, so more research is needed to demonstrate effectiveness and prove benefits across a wide range of people.
That being said, whenever you start to learn about and make your own herbal remedies, you get to partake in a long tradition of engaging with the natural world for solutions to common health issues and to keep systems running smoothly. The great thing about making and using herbal extracts is that you can control what goes into them. While it may take some initial investment to build up your basic herbal medicine cabinet, over the long run you will likely save money—and boost your vitality!
Read on to learn about ways to make and use herbal remedies at home:
Make Your Own Herbal Teas at Home
Photo by Joanna Kosinska
Herbal teas are not as potent as extracts or tinctures making it a suitable fit to help manage long term, chronic imbalances. Herbal teas are readily available at your local grocery store, but consider using loose leaf and self-harvested teas rather than commercial ones for their freshness and strength.
Steep 50-75 grams of fresh herbs (use twice as much if you're using dried) to every liter of hot water for 10-20 minutes, then strain and sip. A longer steeping time will yield a stronger tea. Or, they can be simmered on a stove top to bring out their beneficial properties.
Common healing herbal teas include the following:
- Chamomile flowers - can help with indigestion
- Passion flower - can help with anxiety and stress
- Feverfew flowers/leaves - assist with headache relief
- Ginseng - balances and restores your bodily energy over time
Photo by Joanna Kosinska
Herbal teas can be made in larger quantities to save time and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. I suggest incorporating herbal teas into your cooking to make your meals more nutritious and healing. I like to make a big batch of ginger tea to provide extra support to my digestive system, and then use it to cook with throughout the week. I substitute half of the water with ginger tea when I make homemade chicken stock to make a spicy, warming broth that I pour over rice and serve with thinly sliced scallions and chili oil.
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Infuse Every Day Oils with Healing Herbs
I was surprised at how easy it is to make herbal infused oils. You can take dried or fresh herbs, like lavender, and put them into a clean, dry glass jar, then proceed to fill the jar with a high quality oil like organic cold-pressed olive oil.
Photo by Joanna Kosinska
Make sure everything is coated well, then seal and store in a cool place for 4-6 weeks (or in indirect sunlight), making sure to shake it up and check on it regularly. When you’re ready to use it, carefully strain the oil into another jar, discard the herbs, and label your new container. Watch this video and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how easy it is.
The whole process of working with these herbs is a sensory experience in itself that can also be beneficial. You get to smell, feel, and appreciate that you’re working with the bounties of nature. Whenever you shake your jar, you can even put your love, gratitude, and intentions into it for how it will help you in the future.
Photo by Roberta Sorge
Another quick and simple method that makes a beautiful oil; use a double boiler method to gently heat the herbs and oil for 30-60 minutes on low, checking and stirring often to prevent burning.
After you’ve strained the oil, you can find all kinds of wonderful ways to incorporate it into your life. I like to use lavender oil specifically as a massage oil to promote relaxation and relief from my muscle aches. I’ve also used it before bed so that I can fall asleep with a little more ease. Plus, it comes in handy during the summer whenever I get bug bites because the anti-inflammatory properties of lavender seem to help soothe my itchy skin.
If you store your herbal oils properly in a cool dark place they will last for up to several months. Keep them refrigerated if possible.
Making Herbal Tinctures for Medicinal Use
I suggest making tinctures out of plants that you have in your own garden so you can take advantage of the plants entirety—all of its healing flora and fauna. This is often referred to as whole plant medicine; using the entire plant provides an entourage effect that you simply can't get from just using one part of the plant. In our home, it's our unruly passion flower vine that I'm frequently trimming off leaves and flowers from to make medicinal tinctures.
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Herbal tinctures and extracts preserve the berries, roots, leaves, and seeds of a plant. By soaking them in alcohol or vinegar, you end up with a more concentrated product suitable for medicinal use; plus, they last longer. Herbal extracts have a 1:1 ratio of herbs to solution, while tinctures have a ratio of 1:3. It’s recommended that you make a tincture by using 80-proof alcohol like vodka and putting the appropriate ratio into a jar.
Similar to herbal oils, you store them for 4-6 weeks (but you’ll want to shake it more frequently), then strain your mixture into a clean jar when finished. To use them, you can put a dropperful of the tincture directly into your mouth or mix it into another liquid like water or tea if the taste is too strong.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema
While you can make tinctures at home, you should make sure you carefully research which parts of the plant to use for tinctures to ensure they are not harmful when ingested. Lemon balm can be made into a tasty tincture and can be used for both anxiety and nervousness as well as stomach distress and cramps.
Tips for Trying at Home
As I mentioned above, it’s important to speak to a qualified medical professional about the herbs you’re incorporating into your life, and it’s also important to start with a low dosage. You’ll want to monitor how herbs affect you over time and take this into account. As with other natural solutions, using herbal remedies is really meant to be one element of a more holistic approach to wellness. Rather than being a quick fix, use the practice of slowing down to make time for creating herbal remedies at home as a jumping off point for other important considerations (diet, sleep, exercise, relationships) in your life.