Herbal Basics

In Herbalism, the definition of herb is not the dictionary definition. Herb refers to all parts of the plant, whether it is the leaves (dictionary definition), stems, seeds, roots, flowers or fruit, and each are prepared differently.

Unless noted otherwise, the rule of thumb for herbal teas are as follows:
One teaspoon of herb per cup of water. Most recipes call for two cups of water (one pint) per person or dose. This would need two teaspoons, total, of the herb. If three or more herbs are used, mix the herbs in proportion in a container then measure out two teaspoons. Please note that some powdered herbs are too concentrated to be used at this strength, for example cayenne pepper and capsicum.

For regular teas (hot infusions):
Leaves and flowers are steeped. Boiling water is poured over the herb and allowed to steep for five to ten minutes. Sometimes it is good to allow them to steep longer to increase the strength, but herbs like Chamomile should be steeped no longer then five minutes or they will become bitter.

Seeds should be bruised and steeped in hot water for five to ten minutes.

Stems, bark, roots should be chopped and simmered for a minimum of five minutes.

Fruit coatings such as citrus can be "zested" and added to hot water to steep. Do not boil or the volatile oils will go off in the vapor. Fruit juices can be added while steeping or just before drinking.

Teas may also be made by cold infusion, commonly known as "Sun Tea". Please note that the Sun is not necessary. Just place the herb in cold water, in the proper proportion as above, and let stand, in the shade, in the Sun or wherever, for at least two hours. This is an excellent method to extract the essence from very fragile hers, such as flowers. This way the essence will not be "boiled off".

Another method is called maceration. This means to soak in a liquid to get the essence of the herb. It us usually done in one of two ways. The first is soaking in oil, the result is an "oil", the second is soaking in alcohol, and called a tincture.

Oils are made by filling a bottle with the herb, pouring oil over the herb to fill the bottle. Let it stand for a week or two, shaking daily, then strain the used herbs out. If the oil is not strong enough, add more herb to the bottle or jar and pour the same oil over it. Repeat as often as necessary.

The same method is used for tinctures and is an excellent way to extract certain oils that can be damaged by boiling. Place the herb in a jar or bottle, pour alcohol over the herb. Note: do not use rubbing alcohol, or wood alcohol. These are very poisonous. Wood alcohol is made from just that and can cause blindness and brain damage. Rubbing alcohol or other "denatured" alcohols are denatured by adding things such as acetone. Use alcohol which is manufactured to drink. I use Vodka, and I buy the plain label brands or the cheapest brand.

To make salves, put a large amount of herb in a bowl. Add one pound of lard or other semi-solid fat, plus two to three ounces of bees wax (for firmness). Place in a low-medium oven, 250-300 degrees for three hours. Strain, bottle and cool.

There are many more types of herbal preparations that are not listed here, they may be found in many herbal books. I would suggest a good herbal book, such as The Herb Book by John Lust. In regard to Herbal Books, some books have very valuable information, but others have information that can be harmful. Be cautious, check several sources. Some Herbal Books such as Culpeppers Herbal base their information on planetary considerations, or the "doctrine of signatures". Planetary ruler ship of herbs is useful for magical purposes, but may get you into trouble when used for other purposes. The "doctrine of signatures" in essence says that Herbs heal parts of the body that they look like, such as: Broad Leaf Plantain looks like the sole of the foot, therefore is for healing feet, or Toothwort and Dandelion (Dent = tooth, of the Lion) is for teeth because they look like teeth, or Boneset for setting bones because the opposing leaves are joined at the stalk.

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