Directions for Herbal Preparations
Once you have determined a formula you wish to use and have obtained the herbs, it is important that the formula be prepared properly. For the purpose of convenience, I have used some terms which apply to the fixing of herbs, such as infusion, pomade, and tincture. Rather than give a complete set of instructions for preparation in each case, this "shorthand" gives a one- or two-word directive that applies to any herb used. In addition, different directions are sometimes given, owing to the ability of one process to extract one active principle from the herb, while a different action will remove another element. For example, an infusion of lobelia will give a mildly sedative effect, whereas a tincture of lobelia can produce an emetic effect. Below are some of the most commonly used concentrations.
These are made simply by taking the herb in powdered or finely ground form, and placing it in a gelatin capsule. These are available in sizes from 00 to 4, with 0 and 00 being the sizes most often used for herbs. Capsules make herbs with an acrid taste or unpleasant oils more palatable. After making capsules, be sure to keep them in a safe container, accurately labeled, including the date of preparation. Gelatin capsules contain beef and pork tissue. However, an all-vegetable capsule may soon be available.
A conserve is a soft mass of herbs mixed with sugar or honey. I usually recommend gut (also called jaggery, or raw Indian sugar). Date sugar works as well. Sugar burns at a higher temperature in the stomach than does honey, but the medicinal property of honey is consumed faster than that of sugar.
To make a conserve, such as rose conserve, gather fresh rose petals and add sugar in the amount of three times the weight of the petals. Mash it together with a mortar and pestle until congealed. If honey is used, roll the mixture in a little orris root powder to keep it from sticking to your hands.
Many roots and barks, as well as some stems and flowers, must be boiled for some time before their active principle is extracted. The proportion usually is 1 teaspoon of the dried herb to 1 cup of water. Always use stainless steel, glass, or porcelain vessels to make decoctions. A coffee percolator may be used to make a decoction. If none is available, boil the substance for 2 minutes, then simmer for 20 minutes covered. Let cool, and add honey or other flavoring if desired.
Obtain 1 dram of the essential oil of the herb, and add 4 drops of it to 1 pint of pure water. This is sometimes very expensive for true natural essential oils (pure amber, for example, costs approximately $400 per pound), and so synthetic oils are often sold as "natural." Of course, synthetics do not have healing properties and can be used for aromatic purposes only.
Dip a cloth in an infusion or decoction and place it over the area to be treated.
Take one-half to 1 ounce of the herb (leaves, flowers, root, or bark) and pour 1 cup boiling water over the herb. Let it stand for 3 to 5 minutes. Strain. Infusions should be consumed or applied while fresh, and the portion not used should be discarded. The infusion is usually the weakest form in which an herb will be used.
A paste made of equal parts of gum arabic and sugar.
Mother's milk has natural antibodies and is the most complete food, capable of sustaining the life of an infant for several years. You can of course obtain fresh mother's milk directly from a nursing mother, if available in your family. If not, the local chapter of La Leche League can usually supply frozen mother's milk.
This must be made from the part of the plant that contains the particular oil desired. The best oils of peppermint, for example, come from the leaves. The most aromatic oils are usually derived from the blossoms of flowers. The basic ratio is 3 or more ounces of an herb to 1 pint of olive oil, which is the recommended base because it does not easily become rancid and can be kept a long time. Never use mineral oil, as it is not safe for internal consumption. Heat the herb in the oil at about 140 °F. Afterward, strain and bottle. Another method is to simmer up to 1 pound of the herb in 1 pint of water until the oil is extracted--usually 4 or more hours. (Consult Appendix III for sources of essential oils.)
This is a standard preparation in the Eastern pharmacies. It is made simply by mixing 5 parts honey to I part vinegar.
Bruise the leaves, root, or other part of the herb and place between two pieces of cloth. Moisten slightly and apply to the surface you desire to cover.
The purpose of a poultice is to apply heat, draw out toxins, and soothe an inflamed area. Some work by producing a counterirritation, some draw blood to the area, and some relax and soothe. Simmer 2 ounces of the herb in ½ pint of water for 2 minutes, then pour the entire solution (without draining) into cheesecloth. Apply the herb poultice directly to area, covering with cheesecloth and a second layer of clean cloth.
The base for a salve (also called ointment or pomade) is usually almond oil, coconut oil, wax, or petroleum jelly. You can also mix some of these together to make a more readily absorbed salve or to slow down absorption. Petroleum jelly is not soluble in water and is recommended when it is undesirable to allow rapid absorption, such as for application to any of the mucous membranes.
Begin with 2 pints almond oil or other melted lubricant. Add about 1 pound of the herbs in their natural state, 1 1/2 pounds vegetable lard, and 2 ounces beeswax. Place in a stainless steel, earthenware, or glass container and put into the oven for 3 to 4 hours at about 150°F. Check the herbs from time to time to see that they are still submerged and not turning brown or brittle.
A stronger ointment can be obtained by using more of the herb, which is also required if dried herbs are used (increase to 11/2 pounds of the herb). You will be able to tell when the active principle has been extracted by the dark color of the oil base. Cool, strain, and put in wide-mouth jars or bottles for use.
A quick method of making a salve is to take one part each of almond oil, honey, and beeswax and add one part of the remedy you wish to use. Heat the lubricant, and mix in the finely powdered herb. Let cool until it gels, and apply. Another method of making salve is to boil the herb in water for twenty minutes. Strain off sediment, add fresh herbs, and repeat the boiling process (cover while boiling). Strain again. Add the resultant decoction to 1/2 pint of olive oil and simmer until all the water has evaporated. Strain again. Add enough beeswax or resin to solidify. Melt over a low flame and keep stirring until thoroughly mixed.
This is a preparation of herbs mixed with a suppository base such as cacao butter or glycerinated gelatin and molded into special shapes for insertion into the rectum, vagina, or urethra. The suppository bases are solid at room temperature but melt at the temperature of the body. Suppositories should be stored in a refrigerator, especially during the summer.
Suppositories are made in the following sizes and shapes:
Rectal--tapered, about 2 grams
Urethral--pencil-shaped, pointed on one end; 7 cm in length, 2 grams
Vaginal--oval, 5 grams
You can purchase the base from a pharmaceutical supply house or pharmacy, or make your own by lightly heating one of the bases mentioned above and adding the recommended amount of finely powdered herb. Dosage varies according to age, sex, condition, and similar factors.
A syrup is a thick liquid preparation made by dissolving sugar into water, decoctions, infusions, or the like. To make a syrup, first make a decoction (or other liquid base) and settle off any sediment. Then, to every pint of herbal liquid, add 1 3/4 pounds of gur or honey. Place in a stainless steel pan and heat (there will be some scumming, which can be taken off as it cools). Cool and store for later use.
To 1 ounce of powdered herb, add 4 ounces of water and 12 ounces of cider vinegar. Let stand 2 weeks; shake several times every day. After 2 weeks, add 1 teaspoon glycerin, stir thoroughly, strain off liquid, and seal in bottles. If the herb is weak in medicinal power, the original amount of the herb may be increased from 1 ounce to 2 or 4.
A water solution in which herbs are soaked is a weak infusion. These can be made by placing 1/2 pound of the herb, blossom, or green part, or other vegetable in pure water in direct sunlight for 4 hours, preferably from mid-morning until after the sun has passed its zenith in the sky. Properties for healing are extracted from many grains and seeds in this way. If you can't make a pure water for any reason, an infusion is an acceptable substitute. This is the manner in which the Bach flower remedies were originally made.
Notes on Preparation
While it may seem time-consuming to make a tincture, for example, it should be done if that is what is called for in the remedy. If you don't have time to make a tincture (2 weeks), most herbs are available in ready-made tinctures from health food stores, botanical firms, or homeopathic pharmacies. Remember that it is important to use the herb as recommended, for there is often a difference in the properties, depending on how it is prepared. For example, a weak infusion of hops will extract aromatic properties, while a stronger infusion will extract the bitter tonic principle. A decoction will extract the astringent properties. People using herbs for the first time are often disappointed when they "don't work." Each preparation will give a specific result: an herb will not yield the same properties from an infusion as from a decoction.