There is a noticeable shift of people searching for health from more than just pharmaceuticals. They’re looking for more natural treatments with less side effects and are constantly seeking answers from the experts (read: Google). One of the oldest forms of medicine, botanical (or herbal) medicine, is the use of plants in treating and curing disease. You may already know of medicinal plants in your home or garden right now, but what you may not know is how you can turn them into medicine. Keep reading for a little more information on how to create your own botanical remedies.
You’ll likely need to consult an expert (read: ND or herbalist, not Google) for more information on the dose, dosage forms and extraction methods, and the parts used of specific plants, but here is an overview.
Preparing the part of the plant you’ll be using is an important step. Sometimes it needs to be dried, other times used fresh. Sometimes it needs to be broken down with a mortar & pestle (or coffee grinder), other times left whole.
Depending on the desired phyto-constituents within a plant you’re trying to extract for therapeutic benefit, you’ll need either a hydro-phyllic solvent (water), a hydro-phobic solvent (oil, alcohol), or a combination of both.
Route of Administration
Once you’ve decided which plant you’re using for which condition, it’s important to know how best to deliver the plant: is it best ingested, applied topically, etc. These 2 criteria will then guide you to the best dosage form below.
Infusion (Herbal Teas)
A water extraction using water to steep the desired constituents out of a plant for ingestion. Usually uses leaves, flowers and other non-woody parts. Either hot or cold water can be used.
A water extraction using boiling water for a longer period of time. Best suited for the woodier parts of plants including seeds, bark, and roots.
A water/alcohol combination that extracts most constituents from a plant. Typically written as a percentage of alcohol (e.g. 20%, 60%, etc.), and as a ratio of dried herb (weight) to volume of solvent (e.g. 1:4, 1:5). Typically a bottle of vodka or rum can be used when the desired percentage is 40%. The mother tincture will need to be strained through a cheese cloth to remove the herb before bottling again.
A strong tincture with the ratio of 1:1.
Syrups and Elixirs
Sweeteners used to improve the taste of an infusion, decoction or tincture. You can either make a syrup (e.g. 1 pint water to 2.5 lbs sugar), or use honey in the ratio of 1 part tincture to 3 parts syrup and store. Or simply add to infusion/decoction/tincture to taste.
Putting the fresh herb through a juicer or blender.
Encapsulators can be purchased from most health food stores and are relatively cheap. Prepare the herb by drying and grinding then filling the capsules.
Yep, adding herbs to your bath. Easiest to add the desired herbs in a small muslin bag or cheese cloth and hang from the hot water tap during filling.
A topical semi-solid that can be any combination of a base (e.g. wax, oil, etc.) with any other dosage form (e.g. infusion, tincture, etc.). Combining usually involves slight heating to combine the ingredients, then allowing to cool within desired container.
The medicinal application of essential oils. Can be added to steam inhalations, vaporizers, ointments, etc.
Soak a cloth in a warm infusion and apply to affected body part. Cover with a towel to hold in heat.
The use of dried or macerated fresh herb mixed with a small amount of boiling water to form a paste. The paste is then placed on affected body part and covered with gauze to hold in place.
A Final Note:
Although there are numerous options and combinations as described above, each plant has an optimal extraction method and route of administration depending on the condition it is being used for. Please consult your naturopath or herbalist to understand what form and dose is best for you.