One of the most common uses for herbs is cooking; from flavoring up meats, sauces and side dishes to even decorating cakes and pastries. But herbs also have a variety of other uses such as Aromatherapy and the making of essential oils, medicines and healing, crafts, and spellwork.
The use of herbs can be traced back to ancient times from texts found in Egypt, Greece, Rome and China. There are hundreds of herbs worldwide, whose leaves, stems, roots, flowers and seeds can be used in many different ways. Many are toxic, and should not be used internally or upon the skin. Wormwood, known for its use in the making of Absinthe , also produces a toxic smoke when burned.
As one can see in the above "herbal timeline", even in the world of medicinal herbalism, what comes around, goes around. Though pharmaceutical companies have been developing manmade compounds, it is not unusal for a drug to have its basis in nature, namely in plants such as herbs.
Medicinal herbs may be prepared as infusions, decoctions, poultices and tinctures. They can also be used in the bath, cosmetics, ointments, and compresses. Be sure to research all herbs you plan on using.
Infusions work best for making tea from leaves and flowers because these plant parts give up their active constituents easily. Allow the tea to steep for 10 to 20 minutes so the therapeutic properties can pass from the herb into the water.
To make an infused oil put dried herbs in the top of a double-boiler, cover with oil about an inch over the herb (olive works well for this because it has a fairly long shelf life), let simmer for 2 hours without letting it get too hot or boiling, a temp of 150 F is good. Strain the oil into a clean jar, date & label.Without any preservatives an infused oil will last about a year.
Teas made from roots and twigs are usually brewed by decoction because it's more difficult to extract their medicinal properties. Boil or simmer 1 to 2 teaspoons of the herb per cup of water for 10 to 20 minutes.
A poultice is a paste of chopped, fresh (or dried but remoistened) plant material that's applied directly to a wound or skin infection. It's usually held in place by a wet dressing covered by a bandage. Poultices are typically used to prevent infection and hasten healing.
To make a poultice, boil, steam, or pound your chosen healing herb to release more medicinal compounds. Then shape the material into a small, coin-size wad that can lie flat against the wound. Many herbalists recommend mixing 1 part herb with 3 parts water,alcohol, witch hazel or vinegar. Thicken with flour to make the poultice easier to handle and apply.
Stuff dried herbs into a jar, add enough alcohol (usually vodka or everclear, depending on the strength needed for the particular herb) to amply cover the herbs, and screw the lid on. Allow the mixture to stand for about a week, shaking it occasionally. Then strain it,discard the plant material, and store the tincture in a bottle with a dropper lid. Label and date the bottle. Most tinctures have a shelf-life of 2 years.
2 oz solid fat - such as Crisco, coconut oil, cocoa butter or lanolin
5 oz herb infused olive or grapeseed oil
2 oz herb infused water
1 tsp (approximately) beeswax -shave or grate before use
3-5 drops essential oil, if desired for fragrance or effect
Gently melt solid fat, wax and oil over double boiler or carefully in microwave; use low heat and stir until blended. Remove from heat.
Put water into blender or mixer bowl and agitate. While water is spinning, slowly pour the oil, fat, wax mixture into the water. Continue mixing until emulsified. You may notice a distinct change of sound as the cream congeals.
Remove cream, while still warm, into clean containers and leave open until completely cool. Label each jar with contents and date, be sure to note the date your herbal oil was made if it is much older than your cream.
Store in a cool, dark place; should stay fresh for 6 months to a year. Sniff before using and look for mold after 6 months. If the oil and water separate, just stir before using.
Make a compress by dipping a clean cloth in an herbal solution - an infusion, decoction, tincture or herbal vinegar. You can hold a poultice in place with a compress, in which case it doubles as a bandage.Or, apply the compress directly to the skin (also called a fomentation).
Back in the days of yore, herbs had much more sinister sounding names then as we know them by today. It's no wonder that herbalists and midwives were accused of witchcraft during the witch hunts and trials. In the list below, you will find the elder name, the modern name and the scientific name: