Primer: An Introduction to Herbal Medicine Techniques

Choosing and using medicinal herbs to their best effect for your health and lifestyle.


| September/October 1997





Medicine forms

• Herbal teas offer one of the easiest ways to use medicinal herbs. You can grow, harvest, and dry your own tea herbs and make your own blends, or you can readily find both individual herbs or tea blends in bulk at health-food stores and other outlets. To keep them fresh for as long as possible, store dried herbs away from direct sunlight, preferably in dark containers that close tightly.

The main disadvantage of teas is that not all herb constituents are water-soluble, so it’s wise to consult the literature before you begin to brew. Varro Tyler’s Honest Herbal (Pharmaceutical Products Press, 1993) is a good place to start.

To make a tea, place 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herb leaves, flowers, and/or stems (if using fresh herbs, double that amount) in a tea ball, muslin bag, or strainer. Put it in a cup, pour 1 cup boiling water over the herbs, and let steep for 10 minutes, or until it reaches the desired strength. Strain, then sip.

• Infusions are stronger than teas but are prepared similarly—just let the herbs steep for twice as long. A standard dose of an infusion is 1 cup three times daily.

• Decoctions, which are stronger than infusions, require that you boil, rather than steep, the herbs. Decoctions are made most often from roots, rhizomes, and barks, whose active constituents are more difficult to extract than those of flowers, leaves, or stems and require more heat.

To make a decoction, use 1 teaspoon of the dried herb, broken into pieces or powdered, or 3 teaspoons of the fresh herb in small pieces, for every cup of water. Place in a noncorrodible saucepan. Bring to a boil and gently simmer for 20 to 40 minutes. Strain the decoction while it’s still hot. The standard dose is 1 cup three times daily. Make as many as three doses at a time, and store the leftover in the refrigerator.





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