Herbal Apothecary 101

Health made simple: Make your own medicine with an herbal apothecary. Prepare medicines in your kitchen using just a few herbs and understanding a few simple techniques as ancient as time.
June/July 2009
“There are innumerable great minds and souls who, by their words, deeds, and writings, contributed to the rich body of herbal knowledge that has been passed down to us. Most of the herbalists who were instrumental in creating and recording this collective system of healing will never receive recognition, yet we carry the seeds of their knowledge each time we use plants as medicine.” ~Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal (Storey Books, 2001)

Since before written history, plants have been allies to human beings—whether our ancestors were eating vegetation, capturing its essence in soups or healing with poultices like those described in ancient Egyptian surgical papyri. The connection endures: Today, 25 percent of prescription drugs sold in the United States are plant-based. The history of plant medicine reaches back to a time when philosophy, spirituality and science were united; when to study medicine was to study plants. Yet common knowledge of plants’ medicinal properties has been all but lost in the age of modern biomedicine. We think that knowledge should be passed along.

Our easy apothecary guide—which is organized according to difficulty—will help you explore the traditions of plant medicine. Get started with our primer on the preparation of a few medicinal herbs, and you’ll be creating money-saving, body-friendly herbal tinctures and herbal teas in no time. If you plan to use plants to support health, we urge you to do some research first. Try published books, clinical trials and studies of the active constituents of plants.

The information given here is not meant to prescribe specific remedies, nor to cure disease or injury. All plants are chemically complex: Their actions may be gentle or quite dramatic. Be sensible, do no harm and be responsible in your approach to using plants for medicine. 

Beginner: Infusions, Decoctions and Syrups

• Recipe for Herbal Infusions
• Recipe for Herbal Decoctions

Intermediate: Medicinal Syrups

• Recipe for an Herbal Syrup
• Recipe for an Echinacea Summer Tincture
• Recipe for an Elderberry Shrub with Honey 

Advanced: Distillates, Hydrosols and Tinctures

Tips for your Herbal Apothecary

12 Essential Herbs in our Apothecary 

Susan Belsinger and Tina Marie Wilcox use herbs every day in and around their homes and greenhouses. Some of this article’s information and recipes are from their book The Creative Herbal Home (Herbspirit, 2007).