In the past, medicinal herbs have been made into an extraordinary variety of formulations—not only infusions, decoctions, and tinctures, but also preparations such as oxymels and elixirs. The following pages give simple step-by-step instructions on making common herbal preparations. Making most types of herbal medicine is not difficult, but it can be time-consuming—if you lack time or equipment, buy ready-made remedies from an herbal supplier.
Before using medicinal plants that have been collected from the wild, it is essential that they be correctly identified. If in doubt, do not use the herb. The wrong identification of herbs has led to many cases of poisoning. Foxglove leaves (Digitalis purpurea), for example, are often mistaken for comfrey (Symphytum officinale).
Use glass, enamel, or stainless steel pots and pans, wooden or steel knives and spatulas, and plastic or nylon sieves. A wine press is useful for making tinctures. Do not use aluminium utensils, as this potentially toxic element is easily absorbed by herbs.
All utensils used to make herbal remedies should be sterilized for at least 30 minutes in a well diluted sterilizing solution, such as the type used for a baby’s bottle. After soaking, rinse thoroughly with boiled water and dry in a hot oven or wash in a dishwasher. Proper sterilization maintains hygiene and prevents remedies, especially creams and syrups, from becoming moldy.
Weights & Measures
For most purposes, ordinary kitchen scales are suitable, although electronic scales are more accurate. Metric measurements of grams and liters are generally much easier to use than imperial measures when making remedies. If it is difficult to weigh a small quantity, such as 10 g, on your scales, measure double the weight; i.e., 20 g, then halve the quantity. Liquids can be measured in a kitchen measuring jug, although conical or straight-sided glass measures are more accurate. Very small volumes of liquid can be measured in drops (see Measuring Remedies, below.
Different preparations may be kept for varying periods of time before they begin to lose their medicinal properties. Infusions should be made fresh each day and decoctions must be consumed within 48 hours. Store both in a refrigerator or cool place. Tinctures and other liquid preparations, such as syrups and essential oils, need to be stored in dark glass bottles in a cool environment away from sunlight, but can be kept for a number of months or years. Ointments, creams, and capsules are best kept in dark glass jars, although plastic containers are also acceptable.
1 ml = 20 drops
5 ml = 1 teaspoon
15 ml = 1 tablespoon
150 ml = 1 herbal cup
250 ml = 1 cup
Never exceed the quantity of herbs used or the recommended dosage. Although these measurements are approximate, they are accurate enough for most purposes and are used as standard throughout this book. The number of drops to 1 ml depends on the caliber of the pipette (or size of the dropper tip) being used. This can be checked by counting the number of drops required to fill a 5 ml measuring spoon (this book assumes that 100 drops is equal to 5 ml) and then adjusting the drop dosage as necessary.