There are many choices when you are trying to decide what types of herbal remedies to use. Making the choice to use herbal remedies for yourself and your family may seem like a daunting task. There is simply so much information out there it’s sometimes hard to make sense of it all.
The choice to make your own herbal remedies from herbs you gather or get them from a health food store is only the first step in the process. You need to know which herbal remedy you may need for various minor ailments. Certain herbal remedies have been used for centuries to treat certain minor illnesses. Learning about these can help you avoid a visit to the doctor’s office for minor ailments which can easily be treated at home.
For the record, we will never advocate treating a serious illness with herbal remedies alone. They should be used for minor things that you can treat yourself. If they don’t seem to be helping you should see your health care provider. Never put off seeing your doctor if you have symptoms of a serious illness.
Topical Herbal Remedies
Topical herbal remedies are those remedies used to treat skin, muscle, or joint issues at home. Topical herbal remedies are available in several forms. These are forms meant to be used externally only. They are applied to the skin to relieve such things as acne, dry skin, wrinkles, and muscle/joint pain. Below are the types of herbal remedies meant to be used externally.
A poultice is one of the first ways that herbal remedies were used by man. It is one of the simplest types of herbal remedies. It is a traditional method of using dried or whole fresh herbs. The herbs are mashed until they have a consistency similar to a paste. Water may be added to help the herbs maintain a thick consistency which is then applied to the skin. A poultice is probably the way your grandmother might have used herbs to treat a cold, or a cut or scrape on your skin.
A poultice is normally used only for short-term treatment. It is applied to the skin over the injury and held in place with a cloth covering. The cloth covering helps to keep the poultice in place and also concentrates the healing herbal material over the wound. They should not be used for deep or puncture wounds due to the possibility of creating an anaerobic environment. An anaerobic environment means an environment poor in oxygen. Some nasty microbes thrive in anaerobic environments, so avoiding creating them helps prevent infection of the wound my these microbes.
A compress is similar to a poultice. Herbs are mashed and combined with water to create a paste. This is then placed into a permeable bag or on a cloth and placed over the area to be treated. It is held in place by a covering to keep the herbs compressed onto the skin. This is a short-term treatment that should be used several times a day for 15 minutes to an hour.
Always make sure the dressing is not too tight when applying a compress or poultice. You want the area to get good circulation to help with the healing process. Good blood flow is essential for healing to take place. Never apply a compress or poultice so tight that the skin takes on a mottled or blue appearance. This will do more harm than good. Your immune system needs to be able to bring cells that fight bacterial and viral invaders to the site, and your bloodstream also needs to be able to transport healing proteins to the site for proper healing to take place.
Salves, ointments, and balms are similar so I will cover them as interchangeable. They are thicker than infused oils and differ mainly in the thickness of the different compounds. They have been made with petroleum jelly or other substances in the past. Most herbal salves and ointments made at home by herbalists these days are made with natural beeswax and other natural ingredients to give them a thicker consistency. Commercial preparations may still contain other ingredients to give them a longer shelf life, such as preservatives you may not want to put on your body.
To create salves/ointments/balms you can use carrier oils such as sweet almond oil and infuse the oil with the herbs. The next step is to melt beeswax and shea butter to mix with the infused oil. Then they are placed into wide-mouth storage jars to set up. Once they cool they are thick and can be applied to the topical area which needs the treatment. You can read about my St. John’s Wort Salve or my Dandelion Joint/Muscle Pain Balm.
Herbal-infused oils may be one of the easiest types of herbal remedies to make at home. You will need a carrier oil to place the herbs in for the infusion. Once the oil is infused you can use a small amount and rub it into the area you wish to treat. Carrier oils are used in aromatherapy to help transport essential oils into the skin and surrounding tissues to get the desired effect. Herbs can be infused into carrier oils and used in the same way. You simply need to know which herbs will give you the desired effect for whatever minor ailment you plan to treat. There are many sources on the internet for information on using herbs to treat minor ailments. Always be sure and use trusted sources for this information.
To make an infused oil you will need to gather and clean your herbs. If you wash them be sure to let them air-dry or pat them dry prior to placing them in a glass jar. Water in the oil could allow bacteria to grow and ruin your precious oil. Next, you will need to cover your herbs with the carrier oil of your choice. Seal the jar and place it in a cool dark place for 6-8 weeks. Shake the jar every few days to maximize contact between the herbs and the oil. You can use the oil as it is, or use it to make balms or salves as outlined above. To learn more read my article on carrier oils.
Herbal Remedies For Internal Use
Herbal remedies for internal use are another of the types of herbal remedies you can make at home. These are taken by mouth for a number of minor ailments which can be treated at home. Many of these types of herbal remedies can also be purchased commercially.
Infusions are by far the most common way that people use herbal remedies. Infusions use water as a solvent to dissolve constituents from herbs and allow them to be consumed. The most common form of infusion is herbal teas. Hot water is poured over the herbs and they are allowed to steep in the hot water for a period of time. The resulting infusion is then drunk to ingest the constituents which have been extracted from the herbs into the water. A great example of this is chamomile tea, which many people use to relax and as a sleep aid.
A decoction is similar to an infusion because water is used in the making of both. However, a decoction is made by boiling herbs to release more of the constituents we are looking for so it is stronger for the most part. If a decoction is to be stored it should be refrigerated and used within a few days. Alcohol can be added as a preservative, which may extend the life of the decoction. The type of alcohol used should be grain alcohol, such as vodka. Never use rubbing alcohol as a preservative, or take it internally. A decoction should still be made in small quantities and used quickly to prevent spoilage since water is used as the solvent. Using water leads to the possibility of bacterial growth and spoilage.
Capsules or Tablets
Many herbal remedies are available in capsule or tablet form if you prefer commercially available items that are easy to use. However, you can also buy empty capsules and equipment to fill your own capsules at home too. Empty capsules and the equipment to fill them are available online. This is quite labor-intensive because you must gather and dry the herbs, powder them, then place the powder into the capsules for consumption. But this might be a way to save money if you are the DIY type.
Tinctures are prepared using alcohol instead of water. This is the preferred method of ingesting herbal remedies for most people because the alcohol used acts as a preservative too. This allows you to store and use tinctures for a much longer period of time than when using water as the solvent. A tincture is made similarly to an infused oil. The herbs are added to a jar and then alcohol such as vodka is poured over the herbs to completely cover them. You should use alcohol with at least 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume) or higher. The jar is then sealed and placed in a cool dark place for 6-8 weeks. Once the tincture is finished you strain the plant material from the tincture using a fine mesh cloth or coffee filter. Store in tincture bottles and your tinctures should last 6 months to a year. Use dark amber or blue tincture bottles to keep sunlight from spoiling your tincture. Store them in a cool, dark place, such as a medicine cabinet. Be sure and keep them out of reach of children.
Glycerites are made in basically the same way as tinctures, but they use vegetable glycerine instead of alcohol. Vegetable glycerine is a natural product made from vegetables and can be used to extract herbal constituents without using alcohol. These herbal remedies are good for use with children when you don’t want your kids consuming small amounts of alcohol. Adults with an aversion to alcohol can also use this method for making herbal remedies. Always make sure you consult your child’s doctor before using herbal remedies with your child.
There are a few precautions you should be aware of when using herbal remedies at home. If you are using commercial preparations always check the expiration date. When making your own home remedies write the date you bottle or package them on the container. That way you know how old they are. Know the storage considerations and don’t use them beyond the recommended storage date.
Always use dark amber or blue glass containers for your homemade remedies. Sunlight can spoil the contents. These dark bottles will filter most of the UV light responsible for breaking down your remedies.
Store your containers in a cool, dark place such as a cabinet. Heat and light are the enemies of your herbal remedies and proper storage is important for the longest shelf light. If you have the room storing them in the refrigerator can also prolong the shelf life.
Know what you are taking and why you are taking it. Just because a product is natural does not mean it is totally safe. There are reports of injury every year from the misuse of essential oils, which are also totally natural products. Using herbal remedies in an unsafe manner, or abusing them, can have unwanted and serious health implications. If you are unsure about any herbal remedy do not use it! You should also have a frank discussion with your health care provider if you are taking any prescription drugs and plan to begin using herbal remedies. There can be unwanted and potentially hazardous drug interactions between natural remedies and prescription drugs.
Herbal remedies can be safe and effective when used properly. They can also have unintended consequences when you don’t know what you are doing or you abuse them. Make use of nature’s bounty safely. If you have doubts talk to your doctor, consult an herbalist, and do your own research.
Disclaimer- No part of the information in this article should be considered as medical advice. Always consult with a medical professional before using any natural remedies if you are currently taking any prescription medications. Herbal remedies should be avoided by those who are pregnant, may become pregnant, nursing mothers, or small children and infants unless directed by a physician.