So you just came home from the herb store with packages of Ashwagandha, Elderberries, and a bunch of others herbs that you have been dying to try. You’ve read all about their benefits and are excited to start your herbal journey, but where to begin. “There are no directions. How do I make a tea?” “Why did I buy the powder? Should I have bought the cut form?” “The recipe says to use a tincture. How do I make one?” No worries we got you; in this “How To” series, we take the guesswork out of making traditional herbal preparations.
Herbs come in all forms – bark, root, leaf, seed, flower, whole, cut & sifted, powder. Learning how to use each form will help you experience their beneficial properties effectively. See our previous “How To” Beginner’s Guide that explains the benefits of various forms of herbs.
How To Make Herbal Teas 101
First up, herbal teas. They are by far the most pleasant and easiest ways to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of your favorite botanical…think a cup of Peppermint post-dinner or a bedtime brew of Chamomile. Feeling a bit under the weather and need a warming boost? A cup of Ginger tea might just do the trick. However, to harness the maximum benefits of each herb, you would need to prepare the Ginger tea in a different way than you would Peppermint and Chamomile.
Infusion for cut & sifted form: This is the most common way to make a cup of tea using dried leaves and flowers.
To prepare, add 1 teaspoon of dried cut herb to a cup of boiling water and let steep for 5-7 minutes. Strain.
When making teas using loose herbs, a tea ball, a tea bag is perfect, or just one cup. Another super easy way to make more than one cup of an infusion is in a french press. Add the loose herb to the container; the press is a built-in strainer. (I keep one for coffee and one just for herbal teas, so there’s no transference of taste). And then, of course, there are those adorable infusion kettles. Why not make your teatime an experience?
Infusion for powder form: Add ¼ – ½ teaspoon of powdered herb to a cup of boiling water and let steep for approximately 10 minutes. Strain before using.
Decoction: This tea preparation extracts active ingredients from hard materials such as barks, roots, berries, and seeds.
General Directions: Add 1 teaspoon of dried herb to a cup of cold water; bring to a boil and then simmer for approximately 15-30 minutes (some recipes can call for a longer simmer time, some up to 40 minutes. just note that a longer simmer time will result in a stronger tea). Strain.
Note: In a past blog I shared how to make yummy herbal lattes and moon milks; check it out here.
Time to Tincture
A tincture is a concentrated herbal solution that uses alcohol to extract the beneficial compounds in a plant’s root, leaf, berry, bark, or flower. It is preferred by those who don’t or can’t swallow capsules as it can be easily added to water, juice, tea, or a smoothie. Herbal tinctures are also easily absorbed and get to work faster. There are several ways to craft a tincture; however, our beloved former in-house pharmacist Karl C. Ruch used to share the following basic recipes with customers:
Tincture directions for powder: In a dark glass jar container, put 4-6 oz of powder and 1 pint of 80-100 proof Vodka. Mix together and let sit in a cool, dark space for approximately 3-6 weeks (we say approximately because a longer maceration time will produce a stronger tincture). During this time, shake the mixture at least once a day. When your tincture is ready, strain (preferably with an extra-fine cheesecloth). Make sure to label the bottle.
Tincture directions for dried cut herbs: In a dark glass jar container, fill with approximately 4 oz cut herb and 1 pint of 80-100 proof Vodka (the herb should be completely immersed in the alcohol). Let sit in a cool, dark space for approximately 6-8 weeks. During this time, shake the mixture at least once a day. When your tincture is ready, strain it into another dark glass container. Again, make sure to label the bottle.
How to Make Herbal Salves
Salves or ointments are topical preparations that support the absorption of an herb’s therapeutic properties via the skin. They are easy to apply and are great for minor skin conditions such as dryness, bites, sunburn, and bruises. You will find several methods, but Karl always used the following…
• Take 4 oz of powdered herb, 6 oz of pure Cocoa Butter, Lanolin, or any pure vegetable oil, and 1 oz of beeswax (more or less depending on the consistency desired). Heat together in a covered pot (double boiler) on low heat for 3-4 hours.
• Strain and pour into a container and allow to cool. While cooling and before the mixture congeals, stir the ingredients so that the powder is evenly distributed and not left sitting on the bottom.
• Optional: Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to enhance the benefits of your specific recipe.
How to Use Herbs: Making a Compress
Another super easy external preparation is a compress. Like a salve, it supports the absorption of an herb’s therapeutic properties via the skin, and you only need a container of very strong herbal tea and a clean cloth – that’s it! And best of all, a compress is excellent to use, either hot or cold, to provide comfort on multiple levels. For example, a warm Ginger compress on the knee supports soothing circulation, while a cool Peppermint compress on the forehead is just the refreshing relief you will need on a hot, humid day.
Directions for a hot compress:
- Dip a clean cotton cloth in a strong tea blend.
- Squeeze out any excess liquid and apply as hot as can be safely tolerated on the affected area.
- Cover with a towel to retain the heat as long as possible.
- After the cloth has cooled, remove and soak it again, then reapply as before.
Directions for a cold compress:
- If you prefer, you can either allow the tea to cool at room temperature or refrigerate it.
- Squeeze out any excess tea and apply the compress to the affected area.
- Covering with a towel for a cool compress is optional.
So there you have it, four easy ways to use the herbs you already have at home. Of course, there are many different preparations to try; tell us which is your go-to method.