Making Homemade Medicine

Use this guide to make your own simple, effective herbal remedies, and add medicine-making to your self-sufficiency repertoire.

| March/April 2017

  • Tansy and Tarragon Tincture
    Tinctures, or alcohol extracts of dried or fresh herbs, are one form of natural medicine.
    Photo by iStock
  • Herb Poultice
    An herb poultice is made by combining chopped or powdered herbs with warm water and applying directly to the skin.
    Photo by iStock
  • Dandelion Tincture
    Infused medicinal oils can be used for massages, or be thickened with beeswax to make salves.
    Photo by iStock
  • Herbs
    Horsetail, juniper and calendula are three of the many herbs that make great homemade medicines.
    Photo by Fotolia
  • Beeswax
    Use only beeswax to make salves, as other types of wax use petroleum byproducts.
    Photo by iStock

  • Tansy and Tarragon Tincture
  • Herb Poultice
  • Dandelion Tincture
  • Herbs
  • Beeswax

Making our own herbal medicines and body-care products can save money and improve our health, and it’s much easier than you may think. If you already make herbal teas, then making infusions, decoctions, tinctures, salves and poultices can quickly become part of your repertoire, too. Don’t worry if they sound confusing; you’ll soon discover how to prepare a variety of plants to make a range of simple but effective herbal medicines. 

One very important note before you begin making herbal medicines: Always make sure you are using the correct plant (check the Latin name) and the correct part of the plant (flower, leaf, roots), as some parts may be toxic if used internally.

Internal Medicines

Tea Time

Making herbal tea may seem fairly straightforward, but to reap the greatest medicinal value from herbs, we need to do more than dunk a tea bag in hot water. There are two main forms of herbal tea: infusions and decoctions.

Infusions: Infusions are the commonly known form of herbal tea, in which herbs are literally infused in hot water, usually one heaping teaspoon of dried herb (or one teabag) per cup of hot water for 10 to 20 minutes. This is the ideal method for extracting the medicinal compounds in most berries, flowers and leaves. You can also use fresh herbs, but because of their higher water content, you usually need to double the amount of herbal matter per cup of water (two teaspoons per cup of water instead of one). 



Decoctions: To extract the medicinal compounds from seeds, roots or stems, you’ll want to make a decoction, which involves boiling the herbs and allowing them to simmer for about an hour, usually allowing one heaping teaspoon of dried herb per cup of water. Note that this method is less suitable for berries, flowers and leaves because it tends to destroy many of the delicate medicinal compounds they contain. As with infusions, you can use fresh herbs, but you typically need to double the amount of herb matter per cup of water.

What if you want to make a tea from some combination of roots, berries, seeds, stems, flowers and leaves? Start by making a decoction with the roots, seeds or stems. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer to continue brewing for an hour. Turn off the heat and add any berries, flowers and leaves. Allow the mixture to steep for an additional 10 to 20 minutes. Now you’ve extracted the best medicinal compounds from all of the herbal components you’re using.

Tinctures

Tinctures are alcohol extracts of fresh or dried herbs. They’re highly effective at preserving a plant’s active constituents. You can make a tincture from roots, leaves, seeds, stems or flowers.

To make an herbal tincture, finely chop the fresh, clean herb you are using. You can also use dried herbs. Either way, the idea is to chop the herb as much as possible, to give the alcohol as much surface area to act upon as you can. Some herbalists recommend grinding dried herbs in a coffee/spice grinder before making a tincture. 

Place the chopped or ground herb in a half-quart or quart-sized glass jar. Fill the jar with as much plant matter as possible to ensure the medicinal value of your tincture, keeping in mind that you’ll need enough alcohol to completely submerge the herbal matter. Top with vodka or pure grain alcohol, making sure all of the plant matter is submerged in the alcohol to prevent mold growth. Note that different kinds of alcohol will produce different kinds of tinctures. Visit Mountain Rose Herbs for more information. Date and label the jar, and allow the mixture to sit for two weeks, shaking daily to encourage extraction. After two weeks, strain the contents through a cheesecloth-lined sieve. After most of the liquid has gone through the sieve, pull up the corners of the cheesecloth and, using clean hands, carefully wring out any remaining liquid. Store the herbal tincture in a dark glass jar or dropper bottle away from heat or sunlight to preserve its healing properties. Tinctures will usually keep for a few years. You can make an herbal tincture out of any medicinal or culinary herb that can be used internally. A typical tincture dose is 30 drops (about one dropperful) three times daily, but we recommend looking up specific dosage recommendations for the herbs you use. Avoid tinctures if you are pregnant or nursing, or if you have liver disease, diabetes or alcoholism.

Skin-Healing Medicines

Infused Oils

Infused oils are made by infusing herbs in oil, rather than alcohol as in tinctures. The infusion technique works to transfer the healing properties of herbs to oils. Infused oils are excellent for massage; as skin or bath oils; or as a basis for balms and salves, which I’ll explain in the next section. Never ingest these oils. 

Infused oils are easy to make. Choose any type of vegetable or carrier oil, other than petrochemical-based oils such as baby oil or mineral oil. It is also best to avoid oils that break down quickly when exposed to heat, such as flaxseed oil. I prefer olive oil or sweet almond oil, which can be warmed to encourage the transfer of healing compounds from the herb matter to the oil. 

You can make many types of infused oils, but two of the most common are St. John’s wort and calendula oils. St. John’s wort oil, made from the flowers of the plant, can be used for treating bruises, swellings, hemorrhoids, scars and sprains. It is also recommended as a topical treatment for eczema. Avoid sun exposure for a few hours after using this oil on your skin as it can cause photosensitivity. Calendula oil, also made from the flowers of the plant, aids wound healing and alleviates various skin conditions.

Making herbal infused oils is particularly suited for the delicate flowers and leaves of plants. Simply add fresh flowers or leaves to a jar and fill it with oil, such as sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, almond oil or olive oil. You’ll want enough plant matter to ensure the medicinal value of the infused oil, but not packed so tightly that the oil cannot penetrate the plant material. The plant material must be completely submerged in the oil to prevent mold from forming. Label and date the jar, including the herb and the oil used. Allow the infusion to rest for two weeks, shaking the bottle periodically to encourage the infusion process. After two weeks, strain the herbs from the oil, squeezing out any remaining oil with clean hands. Cap and label the jar, and store away from light and heat.

Salves

Salves are basically herbal balms or ointments made by thickening herbal oil infusions with melted beeswax. Most health-food stores sell plain beeswax, which can be shaved with a potato peeler or grated with a cheese grater and then melted over low heat. You can also buy beeswax pastilles, which are ready to melt. Be sure to avoid other types of wax, as they are made of petroleum byproducts.



Allow two tablespoons of shaved, melted beeswax to one cup of infused oil after the herbal material has been strained off. Melt the oil and beeswax over low heat, preferably in a double-boiler, to prevent overheating. Stir regularly. Remove from the heat as soon as the beeswax is melted and well-incorporated into the oil. Immediately pour into small, shallow jars, tins or lip balm containers. Let cool undisturbed to allow the ointment to set. Use for skin irritations and other skin conditions, and for dry or chapped lips. Similar to herbal infusions, calendula and St. John’s wort are excellent choices to use in salves.

Poultices

A poultice is a paste made with herbs that is applied to the skin. It is typically applied while hot or warm, except when made with herbs that are naturally chemically hot, such as chilies or ginger. To make a poultice, fill a natural-fiber cloth bag with powdered or chopped fresh herb matter. Tie it closed, and then place it in a bowl of hot water just long enough to soak and heat the herb. Remove it from the water, and apply to the affected area until the poultice has cooled and until you experience some relief. Reheat and reapply the poultice. It is best to use a fresh poultice each day.

Poultices are particularly effective in soothing aching or painful joints or muscles, as is the case with ginger. Calendula helps bruises and damaged skin, while echinacea boosts the immune system to help heal long-lasting wounds. 

Some of My Favorite Healing Herbs

All of the herbs listed here are safe and effective. However, before making specific remedies of your own, make sure to research the herb you plan to use to ensure you're using the right parts and amounts, as well as contraindications that may apply specifically to you and your circumstances.

• Calendula (Flowers): Skin healer extraordinaire
• Chamomile (Flowers): Relaxant and dental antrimicrobial (use tea as a mouthwash)
• Dandelion (Roots or Leaves): Osteoporosis preventer and anticancer powerhouse
• Echinacea (Roots): Immune booster
• Feverfew (Flowers and Leaves): Headache and migraine alleviator
• Garlic (Cloves) Amazing germ buster
• Ginger: (Root): Muscle and joint pain healer
• Horsetail (Leaves): Nail, teeth and bone builder
• Juniper (Berries): Urinary tract antimicrobial
• Lavender (Flowers): Anxiety and depression alleviator
• Licorice (Root): Chronic fatigue syndrome solution
• Nettles (Leaves): Allergy remedy
• Oregano (Leaves): Antimicrobial antidote
• Peppermint (Leaves): Headache remedy and sinusitis aid
• Red Clover (Flowers): Relieves menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes
• Rosemary (Leaves): Memory booster
• St. John’s Wort (Flowers): Anxiety antidote and anticancer therapy; skin healer
• Thyme (Leaves): Cough and antibacterial medicine


Adapted from Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty, and Cooking by Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM.

pathippchen
11/25/2019 5:44:17 AM

Happened to interact w/ a Naturopath while looking at Green Teas-- she said: "most people don't know that they are supposed to 'blanch' the leaves first [cover w/ hot water for 2-3min], then drain and perk w/ hot water as normal"... this activates the medicinal properties of the green tea.







mother-audience

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

February 15-16, 2020
Belton, Texas

Join us in the Lone Star state to explore ways to save money and live efficiently. This two-day event includes hands-on workshops and a marketplace featuring the latest homesteading products.

LEARN MORE







Subscribe today and save 58%

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living !

Mother Earth LivingWelcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $19.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $24.95.




Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds

click me