There is a wide variety of ways we can use herbs in order for them to exert their beneficial influence - just being amongst them in a fragrant herb garden, or picking wild herbs in a country lane in summer, is enough for us to feel their wonderful effects.
The easiest way to take herbs is of course to eat them, which most of us do daily - parsley in salads, dill with fish, marjoram with pizza, mint with lamb, horseradish with beef, basil with pasta, garlic with everything! They are absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream and circulate round the body.
Apart from culinary use, herbs can be taken internally as teas, tinctures, or in tablet form.
These are similar to infusions but prepared from the hard woody parts of plants, such as the bark, seeds, rots, rhizomes and nuts, which require greater heat to impart their constituents to water, break or hammer them first with pestle and mortar, or chop them if fresh, then place in a pan with the water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for ten to thiirty minutes in a non-metallic pan and strain. Use three heaped 5mls tespoonfuls of the powdered herb to 500mls (about a pint) of water. The solids are strained off to obtain the liquid decoction. This method is best for roots and a few herbs with less soluble compounds.
Dilute 1tbsp of herbal tincture in half a cup of water, or use half a cup of infusion or decoction, and gargle every 2 hours in acute infections, and 2-3 times daily in chronic problems. Gargle with your head back, holding the liquid in your throat and saying "Aaaah" for a few seconds before spitting the liquid out. Repeat until the liquid is compltely finished.
You can take garlic raw, crished in salads, salad dressings, chopped into honey, or even on toast. For the more squeamish, garlic capsules/perles (as second best) are available from health food stores.
These are a delicious and very easy way to give herbal remedies, especially with children! You can chop fresh or dried herbs finely, or powder them and cover with honey. Leave to infuse for a few minutes and then give on a teaspoon. You can also give essential oils in honey - one drop per teaspoon of honey.
These are made in the same way as a cup of tea using the soft parts of plants - the leaves, stems and flowers. The standard dose is 1oz (25g) of dried herb, or 2 oz (50g) of fresh herb to 1 pint (600ml) of boiling water. You can vary this according to taste - it is important to make your herb teas palatable so that you drink them regularly when you need to. Put the herbs in a warmed teapot, pour on boiling water, leave covered to infuse for ten minutes and then strain. A cupful is generally taken three times daily for chronic conditions, and six times daily or more in acute illness. An infusion will keep up to two days in the fridge.
Some herbs, particularly those with a high mucilage content, such as comfrey, need to be prepared in the same way but with cold water. Most infusions are taken hot, except when treating the urinary system, when they need to be drunk lukewarm to cold. When making infusions you can blend several herbs together to make a tasty brew; the addition of aromatic herbs such as mints, lemon balm, lemon verbena, fennel, lavender and licorice to more bitter medicinal herbs is recommended to make them palatable for children.
Using a bowlful of hot infusion or decoction, or 5-10 drops of essential oil in a bowl of hot water, lean over the steaming liquid, enclosing your head and the bowl with a towel to prevent the steam from escaping. Breathe slowly and deeply to reap the benefit of the remedy for 5-10 minutes. repeat every 2 hours in acute infections, and twice a day for chronic problems.
You can use infusions and decoctions in eyebaths, gargles, mouthwashes, and lotions generally. Such treatments are given about two to three times daily for chronic problems and every two hours in acute cases.
use 1 tbsp of herbal tincture diluted in half a cup of water, or half a cup of infusion or decoction. Rinse it thoroughly around the mouth for a few seconds and then spit it out. Repeat until the liquid is finished. Do this 3 times daily.
Both local and systemic problems can be treated quickly and simply by this method. Suppositories bypass the alimentary canal and are absorbed quickly into the system. The herbal remedy is absorbed directly to the blood-stream through the mucosa of the rectum.
You can prepare suppositories easily at home by adding finely powdered dried herbs to a base of melted cocoa butter. Pour this into moulds, made in the required shape from aluminium foil, and allow to cool. Store in a refrigerator. It is a good idea to make a row of suppositories in the foil at one time.
These are often preferred by children. Give two teaspoons (double for adults) three or four times daily in chronic problems and twice as much in acute illness.
You can use an infusion or decoction to make a syrup by mixing 12 oz (35g) sugar into a pint (600 ml) of the liquid and heat until the sugar dissolves. Store the syrup in a refrigerator. Alternatively, you can weigh your infusion or decoction and add a quarter of its weight of honey to it. Heat this slowly and stir as it starts to thicken, skimming off scum as it forms on the surface.
Another way to make syrup is to pour a pint (600 ml) of boiling water over 21/2 llbs (1.25 kg) of soft brown sugar and stir over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the solution starts to boil. Remove from the heat. Add one part herbal tincture to three parts syrup and this will keep indefinitely.
Herbs in a tablet or capsule form can often be bought from herb suppliers or health food shops. You can also make capsules at home using gelatin capsules filled with powdered mixtures of the herbs you require. The process is made easier by using a capsule maker which enables you to make up a large quantity at a time. The two standard capsule sizes or 0 and 00. Size 0 holds about 0.35g of powder, so that three capsules should be taken three times daily to achieve the standard dose. Size 00 holds about 0.5 g of powder, requiring two capsules to be taken three times daily.
Dilutre either 1tsbp of tincture or 5 drops of essential oil in half a cup of water or use half a cup of infusion or decoction. Fill a throat spray, available from most pharmacists/chemists, with this liquid, and spray in the back of the throat every 2 hours in acute infections and 3 times daily in chronic problems.
These are concentrated extracts of herbs, usually mixing a mixture of water and alcohol to extract the constituents of the remedy and act as a preservative, The ratio of alcohol to water varies from one remedy to another; 25 per cent alcohol is used for simple glycosides and tannins, while 90 per cent alcohol is needed for resins and gums.
To make a tincture, use dried herbs at a ratio of one part herb to five parts of liquid, or fresh herbs to a ratio of one part herb to two of liquid. Place the herb in a large jar and pour the alcohol and water mixture over it. Leave to macerate, shaking daily for two weeks. Then, using a wine press, press out the liquid and discard the herb - which makes very good compost. Store in labelled, dark bottles or glass jars, away from heat and light.
When making tinctures at home you can use undiluted alcohol such as brandy, gin or vodka. Alternatively you can use glycerol (glycerine) which gives a sweet taste to the extracts and makes them more palatable. Use equal parts of water and glycerol for dried herbs, and 80 per cent glycerol for watery, fresh herbs such as borage to ensure they do not deteriorate or become contaminated by infection.
A standard dose is one teaspoon of tincture diluted with a little water with or after food three times daily in chronic conditions, and every two hours in acute illness. Children should be given half dosages, and babies a quarter of the adult dose.
Tinctures generally keep well for about two years, and although more time consuming to prepare than teas, they have the advantages of being easy to store, and of needing to be taken in only small amounts.
Tinctures can also be used to make gargles and mouthwashes, lotions and douches. Use half to one teaspoon in a cupful of water two or three times daily in chronic problems and every two hours for acute conditions.