Monday, October 24, 2005

Types of Herbal Remedies

Before we begin to talk about medicinal herbs let me state that I am NOT a doctor! I don't want to be accused of practicing medicine without a license so... any ideas and suggestions in this blog are my opinions based on my own research. It is your responsibility to do your own research... this is very important because any plant substance, whether used as food or medicine, externally or internally, can cause an allergic reaction in some people. It is your responsibility to study medicinal herbs thoroughly before you begin to treat yourself or your family. Herbs are very powerful and if they are misused, they can be harmful. Herbs can also interfere with traditional medications by blocking their effectiveness or reacting with them in a harmful way. Many people think "oh it's just an herb so it's safe" or "since it is an herb I can take as much as I want" and are not careful with dosages, length of treatment etc. This is very dangerous! They can end up doing more harm than good!

Now, as Grandma would say "Nuff said 'bout that!"

I have used herbs for almost 24 years to treat my family. But for the majority of that time, I purchased from other people....pre-prepared formulas, capsules, salves etc. For the last 5 years I have really begun to study herbs and make our own medicines. It is fun, rewarding, saves TONS of money and you know for sure what is in each item that you make. This is very important to me.

Let's talk about the different forms of herbal remedies. The easiest and most common is called an "infusion" (which is a fancy way to say tea!). Almost everyone has had a cup of herbal tea...perhaps chamomile after a long day to relax before bed (ever had Sleepytime Tea?) or maybe peppermint when you had a head cold or an upset tummy. This is one of the safest ways to use herbal medicine. You can also infuse oils in either a cold process or hot process. These oils can be used for culinary purposes or medicinally for massage, creams, salves, or ointments.

Next is a decoction. This is used for roots, barks, twigs and some berries. It is made similarly to tea but you simmer for up to an hour with a lid on the pot. It takes that long to extract from tougher, woodier plant material.

Then there is a syrup. You can take your infusion or decoction (or both) and mix with unrefined sugar or honey to make a syrup. We prefer to use our honey from our bees. We make our own cough syrups and cough drops and have found them to be much more effective than over the counter medicines.

You can make salves (ointments, creams). We make 5 different salves and use at least one of them every day here on our little farm. During the summer it seems as if we use it by the hour!
They have also been big sellers for our little business.

Herbs can also be used in other ways: in poultices to place on the body, they can be dried and chopped and placed into capsules (yes we do that too!) and the hot infusions can be used in compresses.

The strongest form of herbal medicine is the tincture. The medicinal properties of the herbs are extracted using either glycerin or alcohol. We use alcohol. The ratio of water to alcohol must be exactly 50/50. The easiest way to do that is to use 100 proof vodka. You can use other forms of alcohol but I use vodka because it is tasteless. If you wish to use a lower proof, there are certain mathematical formulas that you can follow. We use something called the simpler's method - this is how Great-grandma used to do it! You must really be careful with tinctures - research your herbs and be sure that you know what you are taking. If you are taking a prescription medicine or over the counter medicine, make sure your herbal tincture doesn't interfere or conflict with your medicine.

I have had many requests to sell my herbal tinctures but legally I can't - I would need a commercial kitchen and a lawyer's help to make sure it didn't equal selling medicine without a license. Instead, I teach classes here on the farm for a small fee and pass the knowledge to others. We spend an afternoon making something from each category above - it is very hands on (that means I make the students do all the work!). This is so that each person leaves with the confidence to go home and do what they have been taught in class.

I have been working on a way to place my classes online somehow, if I get it figured out I'll be sure to post it here. I am open to suggestions!

I hesitated to recommend books but I know some of you will ask. Please, please remember that the philosophies espoused in some of these books are based on eastern mysticism and other new age beliefs that are contrary to the Word of God. Please, please eat the meat and spit out the bones, I do not want to be a stumbling block to any of you! With that warning, here are some of my favorite medicinal herb books:

*Prescription for Herbal Healing by Phyllis A. Balch
Therapeutic Herb Manual by Ed Smith - great for dosages!
The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody - lots of color pics and how to directions!

*If you can only buy one medicinal herb book....this is the one!


  1. What's your little business? Do you have an online store?

  2. We don't have an online store although it is on our to-do list.

    We sell soaps, salves, and lip balms (all natural of course)
    along with a garden calendar that I wrote (tells you what to plant when and is full of recipes and herbal information).

    We also offer classes on growing organically, using herbs both culinary and medicinal. We sell our eggs, produce etc. through an email list and, in the past, to several local white table cloth restaurants and coffee houses.

    Keeps us pretty busy!

  3. You truly have depth and are very busy. Once you get the online class figured out let me know. I would love to take it. I am sure different states have different herbs to capitalize on. Nifty.

  4. I'd love to take the classes, too!!! Please let me know if you get something worked out! Hmmm! I may be asking more than soapmaking questions in my future emails! ;)


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