Infusions & Tea
Infusions work well for leaves, flowers and green stems. Generally use about 1 heaped teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of fresh or dried plant material. Use a sieve or strainer and fill the cup with boiling water, close with a lid and infuse for a few minutes, times given in sources actually vary allot, from just a couple of minutes to 10 minutes. Root parts can probably be infused for longer than leaves and flowers. They can be taken hot or cold and sweetened with a bit of honey if you prefer. Examples of infusions are lemon balm, elder flower and berry, chamomile, peppermint and lemon balm (3).
You can also make cold infusions for plants that should not be heated, it is infused overnight (7). In addition you can also make a mixture of the two, combining a hot and cold infusion. The general dosage is about 500ml per day (1).
Food is the perfect way to incorporate fresh herbs and plant materials into your daily diet and something I would encourage everyone to experiment with. From salads, soups, smoothies, compotes, spices, infused oils to sauces. An excellent accompaniment to many dishes (vegetables, meat and fish) is a sauce made from a combination of chopped fresh herbs (usually rosemary, oregano and thyme or whatever you have / what suites the dish) mixed with a bit of cold pressed olive oil, black pepper and yogurt.
Powder dry plant material as fine as possible in a food processor or with a mortar & pestle. Fill capsules, use in creams or sprinkle the powder in foods.
Vinegar extracts are a good alternative to tinctures, however not for aromatic herbs and it cannot keep as long nor does it extract as many constituents (3). Use a decoction and add some honey to the vinegar (like apple cider) to sweeten the taste.
Poultices are ideal for nerve or muscle pain, sprains, broken bones, fractures, wounds, ulcers or boils. Simmer the plant material for 2 minutes, remove excess liquid and then apply the herb while it is still hot (1). You can also steam the fresh or dried herbs in a sieve over boiling water. Bandage quickly to keep it warm using a gauze or cloth strips. Poultices can be used for a few hours or overnight.
Steam inhalations are effective to clear airways throughout the respiratory system. Pour about 1 litre of boiled water in a large bowl, add 5-10 drops of essential oil and stir. You can also use an infusion of 25g of herb to 1 litre of water and brew for 15 minutes before putting it in the bowl. Cover your head and the bowl with a towel and inhale the steam for about 10 minutes until the preparation has cooled (1).
Gargle & Mouthwash
You can use infusions, decoctions or diluted tinctures to make a gargle or mouthwash. Tinctures are diluted 5ml in about 100ml of hot water (1).
Decoctions work well for roots, bark, twigs, nuts, seeds and berries (1, 3). Use about 1 tablespoon of plant material per cup of water (3) or 20g dried / 40g fresh materials to 750 ml water reduced to about 500ml after boiling. Place the plant materials (make sure they are in smallish pieces) in a pan and simmer for 10 to 30 minutes (1, 3), strain before use and store in a cool place or the fridge for up to 2 days. The standard dosage for decoctions is 500ml per day (1).
Creams & Lotions
Creams are a combination of oil / fat and water in an emulsion. Small quantities of ingredients like essential oils, powder and tinctures can be added to the cream before it is placed in jars. It is said that adding 1ml of tea tree essential oil to 100ml cream will counter mould growth (1).
Recipes suggest about 30g dried or 75g fresh plant material with 150g emulsifying wax, 70g glycerine and 80ml water(1). Combine the ingredients in a double boiler (or a glass bowl set over a pot with simmering water) and simmer for 3 hours, strain the mixture and stir while its cooling, use a knife to fill dark glass jars, store in the fridge for up to 3 months (1).
You can also make an infused oil or decoction with the plant materials, heat slowly and melt in beeswax, cool and pour into a blender, whip till thick and creamy. Cool and blend again before filling prepared dark glass jars and store in the fridge (3).
Hot Infused Oils
Chopped plant material is placed in glass bowl on a double boiler, oil is added, cover (optional) and simmer for about 3 hours. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before straining into prepared dark bottles. Infused oils are best used within a few months (3) but can last up to a year (1). You can also add essential oils into the mix before straining or make an ointment from the infused oil. Use about 250g dried or 500g fresh plant material to 750ml oil (1).
Cold Infused Oils
Flowers or plant materials are loosely placed in a sterilised glass bottle, cold pressed olive oil is poured over so that it covers the plant material well, at least 2 finger widths. Let it stand for 14 to 28 days in the sun to encourage the plant to release the active constituents (1, 3, 7). Once strained you can repeat the process for a stronger infusion (1). Other carrier oils include apricot, almond, and coconut (3). Use about 250g dried or 500g fresh plant material to 750ml oil (1).
In some cased a particular plant’s active constituents are destroyed through heat, so instead of a decoction you can pour about 500ml of cold water on 25g of the herb (1) and leave to stand overnight, strain before use.
Baths & Washes
Full Bath: One bucketful (a few litres) of fresh plant materials or about 200g dried is used for a bath (7). Seep the herbs overnight in cold water, heat it in the morning, strain it and pour into the bathwater. You can also use a 500ml infusion, cold maceration, decoction or 5-20 drops of essential oil (1). Soak for about 30 minutes. Ideally create the space and time to relax for a while after the bath. You can also make a smaller bath with half the ingredients and water. The water can be reheated and reused (7). A skin wash can be done with an infusion, cold maceration or decoction.
Alcohol is generally a better solvent than water for extracting most plant constituent, tinctures are very efficient (using about 35 – 45% strength alcohol spirit like vodka (1, 3, 7)) at extracting alkaloids from plants and therefore generally stronger than infusions or decoctions. Generally a 1 to 5 ratio of plant material to alcohol is used (1), you can also use an alcohol and water mixture.
Tinctures also act as a preservative allowing the medicine to have a much longer shelf life, for up to 2 years (1). Place the broken or crushed plant material in a large glass jar and pour the alcohol over so that the plant material is completely covered. There is mixed information about where to place the tincture, most agree on about 14 days, but some recommend putting it in the sun, close to a fireplace, at around 20 degrees (7) and others store it in a cool dark place. Stir or shake the mixture every day or every other day. Filter the mixture before pouring it into smaller dark glass bottles for storage.
You can reduce the alcohol in the tincture before use by adding 5ml of the tincture to a small glass of hot water and leaving it for 5 minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate (1). The general dosage for tinctures is 5ml diluted in 25ml of water or juice (1).
Honey and unrefined sugar are effective preservatives and can be used with infusions, tinctures or decoctions to make syrups. When using infusions or decoctions use about 500ml with 500g honey or unrefined sugar (1), for tinctures use 500g honey or unrefined sugar with 250ml water and add about 250ml tincture once the mixture has been removed from the heat (1).
Ointments contain oils or fats heated with the plant material and usually contain no or very little water. Ointments work great for external application on the skin such as inflammation or damaged skin. The different types of ointment bases are: Hydrocarbon bases, e.g. hard paraffin, soft paraffin, microcrystalline wax and ceresine; Absorption bases, e.g. wool fat, beeswax; Water soluble bases, e.g. macrogols 200, 300, 400; Emulsifying bases, e.g. emulsifying wax, cetrimide; Vegetable oils, e.g. olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, almond oil and peanut oil (8).
The easiest methods include petroleum jelly, soft paraffin wax, coconut oil or a combination of coconut oil / olive oil and beeswax. For a basic ointment use a double boiler, add fresh or dried chopped plant material, dried plant material at a 1 to 10 ratio and fresh about a 1 to 3 part ratio. Stir continuously for 15 minutes to 45 minutes and strain into brown jars while it is still warm. Petroleum jelly and wax mixtures are usually 15 minutes, oil and beeswax mixtures up to 90 minutes and beeswax mixtures (with more oil to create a less solid ointment) are just heated and then stand for 3 hours before straining (1).
Older recipes use 2 handfuls of fresh plant materials to 500g of fat, which is then heated, let stand overnight and then warmed slowly in the morning before straining and poured into prepared jars (7).
The juices extracted from medicinal plants can be taken internally or applied externally. Use a mechanical juicer or food processor to pulp the plant material and then squeeze the pulp through a bag to collect the juice. Some plants need to be cooked in order to be juiced. Ideally use the juice fresh on the day, otherwise store in an airtight container in the fridge.
The plant pulp can be spread on a piece of linen and placed on the affected part of the body, bind and keep warm, even overnight (7).