Different Applications of Herbs

Herbs can be used in many different ways. They can be smelled, swallowed, sipped, and rubbed into the skin. They are most versatile and can be taken in any form that suits for you. I prefer to take pills, but others prefer tea becauses they like getting the aroma, and feel of a warm drink with their "medicine."

However, a tea may not always be your best choice, depending on the type of herb you are using. For relief on constipation, for instance, you will probably need to take herbs that are very bitter tasting, to stimulate bile flow and movement of the bowel, but, sipping bitter herbs in a tea form can be rather distastefull! In this case, pills may be a better choice.

If you have trouble swallowing pills and do not care for tea, liquid or chewable herbal preparations will probably suit you best. For simplicity sake, I will be reffering to herbs to be taken in capsule or tablet. In certain cases where a topical application or other use is more appropriate, I will indicate that accordingly.

Now I know some of you will be eager to know how to make and prepare your own remedies, so I have provide the following handy table for your reference. In later, when a helpful poultice or fomentation is called for, you can refer back to this chart to see how to make one.

  • Form: Bulk herbs as teas, also called infusions. Usually the dried leaves, skins, and flowers of herbs in bulk form. Keep covered when in dried form, as bulk herbs can lose thier essential oils rapidly if left open to the elements.

How to make: Place bulk tea in a metal tea ball or press filter, which are both fairly inexpensive. Or, make sure to have some cheesecloth or coffe filters to strain tea when finished. Pour boiling water over herbs, and let sit for about five minutes or longer for a stronger taste. Teas only need a short exposure time to water to extract their oils and medicinal value.

How to take: Drink rigth away, or refregate for later use. Teas work best on an empty stomach. Use approximately four tablespoons of herb per cup. If making tea from an encapsulated herb, use two to four capsules per cup. (Capsules are usually more concentrated than the bulk herb, so you will need to utilize more of the loose herb than the powder.)

  • Form: Decoctions. Usually stronger than teas. Decoctions are usually the twigs, stems, and dried roots of the herbs, which take longer exposure time in hot water to extract their medicinal properties. Decoctions can be used for drinking or as enemas or douches.

How to make: If your bulk herbs are not already cut into small piece, slice all herb roots diagonally for maximum exposure to water. Place bulk herb into a pot of water, and bring water to a boil. Use approximatelly one ounce of herb for every one to two pints of water. Lower heat, and simmer covered for 20 to 30 minutes. Strain herbs before drinking.

How to take: Treat the same as a tea and refrigate if not taken right away. Again, this form of tea works best if your stomach is empty. It should also be drunk unsweetened.

  • Form: Compress or fomentation. For external use for injuries.

How to make: Prepare decoction, or infusion (tea) as above.

How to take: When decoction or infusion is ready, dip a clean rag into the mixture and place on injured area. As cloth cools, re-immerse into solution and re-apply to affected area. Repeat daily, if needed. This cloth may be wrapped with a bandage or even plastic wrap to keep it in place.

A hot compress is also called a fomentation. This means that you apply extra heat on top of the soaked rag. You can place plastic over a soaked rag, then dry towel, and then a heating pad or hot water bottle. Fomentations (or hot compresses) are best used for spastic or cold conditions such as muscle spasms or tension as they help relax and warm the body.

Compresses can also be cold and are mostly used to decongest areas or inflamed conditions such as edema, constipation, poor urine flow, fevers, and sinus congestion. If you are really feeling energetic, you can also have your partner make you a hot and a cold compress and alternate them. This type of therapy stimulates circulation to the affected area and is helpful for injuries, sprains, bruising, lumps, bumps, and tumors.

  • Form: Poultice. A poultice is paste made from herbs for an external application for injuries or infections, such as boils. The poultice's value is the rapid absorption of the herb through the skin. A poultice will generally stimulate circulation, reduce infection, pull out toxins through skin, reduce inflammation, and relieve irritations.

How to make: Using herb powders is best for making poultices. Capsules can be opened and the powder dumped out, or you can make your own powder from bulk herbs by using a mortar and pestle to crush the herb into powder. If using a freshly cut herb grate, crush or chew it a bit first. Moisten dry powdered herb with liquid herb, such as aloe vera until it has a pasty consistency. Other safe options to bind your herbs together with include egg whites, slippery elm, clay, or olive oil.

How to take: Apply paste to injury, and cover with plastic, cheesecloth, wool, or muslin cloth and wrap with a bandage to hold in place. Change two to four times a day, or as necessary.

  • Form: Capsules or tablets. Probably the most convenient way to take herbs. Powdered herbs can come in a capsule form (usually made from gelatin or cellulose materials) or tablet form (usually a bit stronger than the capsules and made from a powdered herb that is compressed and coated to form a pill).

Make sure that the company you get tablets from uses a natural coating, not plastic or synthetic coatings. All ingredients, including the binding or base materials used to form tablets, should be listed. If not, find out before you buy.

How to make: If you'd rather swallow your herbs in a capsule, but you bought or grew your own herbs in bulk form, you can purchase empty capsules at your local health food store and encapsulate your herbs yourself. (Nature's Way makes Vegicap®, which are labeled kosher.) Crush your dried herbs into powder form with a mortar and pestle to make it easier to encapsulate. You will also get more herb in each capsule this way.

How to take: Swallow with plenty of water.

  • Form: Liquid/tinctures. Liquid herbs, known as tinctures, are concentrated herbal extracts that can be preserved over longer periods of time. They are easier to administer to children, the elderly, and pets and are easily absorbed. Liquid herbs require a base, which is usually either glycerin or alcohol, to stabilize them.

If an extract has an alcohol base that is disagreeble to taste, the herb can be placed in a small amount of very hot water before drinking. The hot water will evaporate the alcohol. Tinctures are not suited for those who lack tolerance to alcohol.

How to make: To make your own liquid extracts use one pint of 60-proof or higher alcohol (brandy, gin, and vodka have all been used), glycerin, or apple cider vinegar to four ounces of herb powder. Combine in container with lid for two to six weeks. Vigorously shake the mixture two times per day. You will notice a slow change in color. Strain tincture through cheesecloth and store in a dark-colored bottle (preferably with a dropper so that it can be easily administered).

How to take: Take sublingually with a dropper, or by the teaspoon-usually a few drops will do. Or, place drops in water or juice, and drink. Tinctures may also be used externally.

  • Form: Chewable. Chewable herbs are another great way to get kids, the elderly, or anyone who hates to swallow pills to take herbs. Herbal manufactures make herbs in chewable forms that are usually sweetened with fruit juice.

How to make: I have not found a palatable way to make my own, but here's an idea used by some if you have the gumption: Take a small amount of the powdered herb mixture, moisten with a small amount of marshmallow herb, add a tiny amount of water (just enough to mix but keep firm). Roll into pea-size balls and leave to dry. The dip the balls in honey or peanut butter to cover the taste.

How to take: Chew and swallow.