Western Herbal Medicine
What is a Medical Herbalist?
Furthering Your Knowledge
Herb Reference ~ English to Latin Name
Herb Reference ~ Latin to English Name
Herbal Medicine Terminology A-B
Herbal Medicine Terminology C-N
Herbal Medicine Terminology 0-Z
Herbs of the Month
Your Knowledge to Use
Selected Health Topics
Putting Your Knowledge to Use
- Tinctures: Tinctures
are created by macerating the plant matter (fresh or dried)
in a calculated ratio of alcohol and water, for a minimum
of 2 weeks. This provides the longest shelf life of herbal
preparations and alcohol is one of the best solvents used
to draw out a variety of chemical constituents from the
- Fluid Extracts: Extracts
are more concentrated then tinctures, with generally one
part of volume of the fluid extract being equivalent to
one part by weight of the herb (1:1).
- Standardized Extracts:
In standardization, the one chemical believed to be the
active constituent in the plant is isolated and used as
a marker to determine quality control. If the chemical levels
in the plants do not meet the requirements, then the chemical
is altered or ‘topped up’ in a laboratory, thus
altering nature’s ratios of the plant. Researchers
are finding that the once determined 'active ingredient’
of some plants may not be the one ingredient used for the
plants reputed healing powers. As there are hundreds of
chemicals in one plant, one benefit of using the whole plant
is that the chemicals work in synergy, buffering the more
potent chemicals while working towards creating the desired
action in the body. Isolating one perceived active ingredient
and making it unusually strong is simply creating a form
of plant medicine that is very similar to a pharmaceutical
drug, which is also one active constituent made very potent.
Any active chemical introduced in to the body in high amounts
will be more likely to cause adverse side effects. More
standardized products are appearing on natural health product
shelves, however many clinical herbalists do not use standardized
products, instead choosing tinctures, teas and extracts.
- Syrups: A tasty way for
children or adults to take herbal medicine. The herbs are
mixed with a sweet base, creating a palatable edible medicine.
- Glycerin Based Medicines:
Glycerin is a clear colorless liquid of a thick syrup consistency;
it is a common constituent of many fats and oils. Ensure
that you purchase vegetable glycerin (derived from vegetable
oils) rather then ones from animal fats (generally extracted
by using harsh chemicals, as a byproduct of the soap industry).
Glycerin has half the solvent strength compared to alcohol
yet is gentler on the digestive tract than alcohol, though
does not draw out as many chemicals as the former solvent.
- Dried Herbs Prepared as Teas:
Both infusion and decoctions are used. An infusion is used
for preparing the more delicate parts of a plant, such as
the flowers, leaves, aromatic seeds and fruit.
Decoctions are generally used for extraction of chemicals
from heavier plant material (roots, bark, nuts, and non-aromatic
seeds); with a few exceptions. A decoction is generally more potent than an infusion
and used to pull out mineral salts and bitter principles
of the plants.
- Dry Sock Treatment: Thick
cotton socks, soaked in a strong tea blend are put on while
the liquid is still warm and covered with dry wool socks.
This is an effective way to treat, while not administering
- Liniments and Body oils: Most commonly used for
tired and stiff muscles or dry skin conditions and rashes.
This is an ideal way to moisturize the skin while applying
therapeutic herbs or essential oils for absorption.
- Steaming: An ideal therapy
for any respiratory infection, clearing out bacteria and
viruses and for stimulating the immune system. Loose herbs,
fresh or dry can be added to a bowl of hot water and covered
for 10 or 15 minutes or alternatively, a few drops of essential
oils can be added into the water. The face is then placed
over the bowl and covered with a towel. Steam repeatedly.
- Creams and Salves: A cream
is generally a water-based preparation in which the herbs
and medicinal properties are mixed allowing for absorption
from the surface of the skin. A salve is an ointment, which
has been made from a heated mixture of oil and beeswax.
Any mixture, which moistens the skin, will allow for penetration
of healing properties through it. A topical mixture will
be effective and allow for healing to occur as long as the
skin is kept moist. Thus an oil-based salve will be longer
lasting in terms of effectiveness and absorption, compared
to a water based preparation.
Putting Your Knowledge to Home Use
The art of preparing herbal medicines at home is very similar
to the art of cooking. Both include some basic tools, a few
general rules and each allows for your creative mind to transform
and strengthen a recipe. General types of herbal preparations:
Preparing Herbal Teas
For individuals who are just beginning to use herbs medicinally,
preparing and drinking herbal teas are excellent first steps
in familiarizing oneself with plant medicine. When preparing
an herbal tea for medicinal use, there are two types of preparations:
infusions and decoctions.
Herbal Infusions are similar to preparing a pot of earl
grey tea. Simply pour boiling water over the herbs and steep.
This process is used for preparing the more delicate and
aromatic parts of a plant, such as the flowers, leaves,
fruit, and aromatic seeds. An infusion is best when preparing an herbal tea for its high nutrition
(mineral and vitamin) content.
Remember: General measurement for teas is 1 tsp.
of the herb for every cup of water, steep for 15 minutes.
Method 1. Place the herbs in a container with a
tight fitting lid and pour freshly boiled water over the
herbs. Cover the container and allow it to steep for 10-20
minutes. The length of sitting time depends upon the chemical
constituents in the plant.
Method 2. Let the tea steep overnight and reheat in
Store the tea in the fridge and reheat or a thermos in a convient way of keeping the tea hot for hours.
Generally used for extraction of chemicals from heavier
plant material (roots, barks, nuts, and non-aromatic seeds).
A decoction is generally more potent than an infusion and
used to pull out mineral salts and bitter principles of
Method 1. Bring the water to a boil, add the herbs, cover
and simmer gently over low heat, for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat, strain
Method 2. Add the herbs to cold water, place over
low heat and slowly bring to a boil. Simmer gently over
low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, keeping the lid on.
herbs can be reused 2 or 3 times before discarding.
Remember: Always use glass or enamel
containers and do not use microwaves, aluminum, cast iron
pots that may affect the quality of medicine.
External Herbal Applications
Where a fomentation uses the application of a flannel or
cloth soaked in and strained from a decoction or infusion;
a poultice involves placing the herbs themselves onto the
body. Their uses are vast, by supplying heat and moisture
to an area, they provide healing and regeneration to tissues,
stimulate circulation, improve organ functioning, used for
eruptions, abscesses, for enlarged or inflamed glands; to
reduce inflammation and help pull foreign bodies or substances
from an area.
If using powdered herbs, add just enough moisture to make
a thick paste. If fresh plants are being used, chop them
finely before use. A poultice can be applied directly to
the skin or wrapped thinly with gauze. Covering the skin,
initially with vegetable oil will protect the skin and make
removal of the herbs easier.
Fomentations are either infusions or decoctions, depending
upon which part of the plant is being used, in which a cloth
is soaked into (to absorb liquid) and then applied to the
ailing body part. A fomentation’s uses are varied
and will provide relief from congestion, will stimulate
circulation, and help to heal and soothe irritated tissues.
Typically, bitter herbs are used and steeped in water or
apple cider vinegar; adding cayenne powder to the mixture
will encourage more circulation and warmth to the area.
Fomentations of apple cider vinegar, alone, will provide
relief from aching joints, rheumatism and arthritic pain.
How to prepare a Fomentation:
- Steep the selected herbs in
liquid (1 part herb to 3 parts liquid) until the tea is
quite strong. Strain the tea.
- Submerse a thick cloth into
the hot tea (cotton, wool, linen, towel, gauze or even
a diaper, being imaginative, will work).
- Wring the cloth out (just
enough to keep the liquid from running off the body) and
test the heat before placing on the body. The cloth should
be as hot as possible, without causing blistering.
- Once placed on the body, keep
the fomentation moist and warm by covering. Towels or
saran wrap work fine.
- When the cloth has cooled, remove from the body, soak
it again and reapply.
Remember: Wet enough that no liquid runs off the
body, large enough that the cloth covers the entire affected
area, keep damp and warm and change periodically.
Ginger and Cayenne Fomentations
Ideal for cramping, intestinal, menstrual or muscular spasms
and clearing for sinus
1 cup fresh, grated ginger root
1 tsp. cayenne powder
2 liters of distilled water
Boil fresh ginger in water on the stove for 10-15 minutes.
Remove from heat. Strain away the ginger and mix in the
cayenne. Continue with the preparation steps (see above).
The herbal compounds are absorbed thru the skin while the
body is submersed in water. Any herb, which can be taken
internally, can also be used in the bath. Excellent for
children, herbal baths are useful for encouraging sleep
and help with relieving fevers and cold/flu symptoms.
Method 1. Infuse or decoct ½ liter of herbal
tea, steep till it is quite strong. Strain and add to bath water.
Method 2. Fill a muslin bag (or even a clean sock or nylon) with herbs, close the
top and suspend from the hot water tap while running the bath water. A very fresh infusion will be created
as the water flows thru the bag.
Relaxing/Sleep Promoters: Lime blossoms, Chamomile flowers,
Lavender flowers, Rose petals, Lemon Balm leaves.
Revitalizing/Stimulating: Rosemary leaves, Basil leaves,
Fevers: Yarrow leaf and flowers, Boneset herb, Elderflower, Ginger root
Used in conjunction with a balancing health program. The
theory of hydrotherapy is to draw fresh blood to the pelvic
area. Applications of hot and cold water are used to constrict
blood vessels (forcing blood from the abdominal region)
then to dilate blood vessels, (sending fresh blood rushing
to the pelvic area). This pumping action of the blood removes
stagnation and blocked energy from the abdominal region.
What You Need: 2 large buckets, large enough to hold your
hips in comfortably, or 1 large bucket and a bath tub. Fill
the bathtub with VERY hot water (herbal tea can be added),
the other bucket is filled with cold water and ice cubes,
the water should be filled high enough to cover the abdomen
completely. Submerge your body in the uncomfortably hot
water for 2 -5 minutes, then move to the cold tub. This
will be shocking for a moment. Repeat this 5 or 6 times,
for a duration of about 20 minutes, several times per week.
Sitz baths are used to stimulate pelvic circulation, toning
up the bowel muscles, bladder and uterus. Useful for any
chronic stagnation or blockages in the abdominal region.