Herb Basics You Can Do at Home


Content Tools

Want to give your loved ones a tasty, homemade gift for the holidays? Try making a batch of herbal jelly and packaging it in decorative jars.

Using sweet apples as a base, it’s easy to add a variety of herbs for unique tastes—for example, apple-mint, apple-rosemary, or apple-thyme jelly. For a particularly tasty, unusual treat, try a jelly made with any variety of scented geraniums (such as lemon, cinnamon, or ginger).

To make the jelly, chop six pounds of unpeeled, sweet apples and place them in a pan with fifty scented geranium leaves and one quart of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for forty-five minutes. Ladle onto a piece of muslin or cheesecloth (on top of a bowl) and let strain overnight.

In the morning, measure the strained liquid and add one pound of sugar for each pint of liquid. Simmer the mixture until the sugar dissolves, then boil for ten minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into clean, warm jars. Cover the jars with waxed paper until the jelly is cool, then cap the jars and label.

Making A Mustard Plaster

One of the simplest home treatments for coughs is a mustard plaster. Long used as a folk remedy, mustard plasters are said to help stimulate circulation to the lungs and help expectorate mucus. The plasters have also been used to relieve aches and pains, including the discomfort associated with rheumatism.

To make a mustard plaster, combine one tablespoon of mustard powder with four tablespoons of flour. Add enough water to make a paste. (For sensitive skin, use egg whites in place of the water, just enough to make a paste.)

To protect the skin, rub the chest with a carrier oil, such as almond oil, before applying the plaster. Spread the plaster on your chest and rest for fifteen to thirty minutes. A cautionary note: A mustard plaster can burn the skin if left on for too long. If it feels uncomfortable, remove the plaster immediately and wash the area with soap and water. Don’t let yourself fall asleep with a plaster on.

If using a mustard plaster on a child (and only use it on children over the age of three), supervise the child carefully and leave the plaster on for only five minutes, then wash his or her chest with soap and water.

Tea Bags for the Bath

At the end of a long day, there’s nothing quite as relaxing as a hot bath. Adding dried herbs to the bath water can make a bath ritual even more indulgent and enjoyable.

To make bath tea bags, you can use either the small muslin bags available at health-food stores, or you can buy disposable, empty, large-size tea bags made especially for using in the bath. The tea bags are also available at health-food stores. Either method works well, although the muslin bags are reusable; if using the muslin bags, you can empty out the contents when the scent disappears from the bag, and refill with fresh herbs.

Fill bath tea bags with any herbs you enjoy. For a soothing, skin-softening blend, try filling the bags with rolled oats, dried lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), dried rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and dried lemon balm (Melissa officinalis).

Mustard plasters are used to stimulate circulation to the lungs. 

To relieve the discomfort of a cold, try a blend of rolled oats, peppermint leaves (Mentha ¥piperita), and eucalyptus leaves (Eucalyptus globulus).

To use the tea bags, simply hang one bag by its attached string over the tap of the bathtub and let the hot water run over it—this will release the fragrance of the herbs. Enjoy!

All About Eleuthero

Common names: Eleuthero, Siberian ginseng

Latin name: Eleutherococcus senticosus

Family: Araliaceae

Part used: Root and root bark

Medicinal uses: Eleuthero is an adaptogenic herb—it helps the body adapt to stress. It’s used to increase energy, reduce jet lag, strengthen the immune system, and improve athletic performance.

Forms commonly used: Tea, tincture, powdered herb, capsules, tablets.

Dosage: Drink 1 cup of tea twice daily. Take two or three 400 to 500 mg capsules per day, or 20 drops of tincture up to three times daily.

Side effects: Very few adverse reactions have been reported for this herb. The German Commission E recommends that people with high blood pressure avoid the herb, but many practitioners feel the caution isn’t warranted. According to the American Pharmaceutical Association’s Practical Guide to Natural Medicines (Stonesong, 1999), “In rare cases people report drowsiness and mild fatigue right after they take the extract, probably due to a slight drop in blood sugar levels.”

Notes: Eleuthero, a prickly, deciduous shrub, grows in Russian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese forests.

Herbs and the Nervous System

For the health of your nervous system, herbs perform several functions: They can speed you up, slow you down, or help build up your whole system. Here’s a breakdown of the three classes of nervous system herbs (nervines, relaxants, and stimulants), plus some of the specific herbs that fall in each class.

Nervines help support and strengthen the entire nervous system and are useful as tonics in times of extreme stress, or if you tend to feel nervous most of the time. Oats (Avena sativa) are generally considered the best nervine tonic; skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is also a good choice.

Relaxants such as lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), hops (Humulus lupulus), and valerian (Valeriana officinalis) help to relax the nervous system during stressful occasions.

Stimulants such as kola nut (Cola nitida) and guarana (Paullinia cupana) speed up your nervous system but can increase nervousness and anxiety, much like coffee.