Taking Plants Medicinally

When we take herbs to affect a healing change in our body, it is important to prepare them properly to get the desired effect. There are many ways to take herbs both internally and externally to promote balance in the body: teas, tinctures, capsules, liniments, poultices, salves, baths and oils. The following information can help you to make appropriate choices when using medicinal herbs.

Teas: Drinking herbal tea bag dosages of herbs is not near enough herb to effect change in the body when there is imbalance. Herbal teas need to be prepared in the proper ration and in the right way.

Infusions: To prepare most leafy herbs (above ground portions of the plant}, steep one ounce of herb in one pint of water that has just been boiled. Steep covered for 1 5 to 20 minutes. Strain and drink your tea. Drink the pint of steeped herbs in small ¼ cup dosages throughout the day. Note: It is best to steep herbs in earthenware, glass or stainless-steel vessel. Aluminum containers are not acceptable as they may react chemically with certain plant constituents to form insoluble salts.

Decoctions: For preparing roots, tubers and barks, such as Red Root, Yellow Dock, Burdock and Wild Cherry Bark, use the same ratio as for an infusion (one ounce of herb to one pint of water}. Bring the herb and water to a boil together. Tum to low and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes. Strain and drink. Again, the effective dosage would be to drink the pint in small amounts over the course of the day.

Combining Infusions and Decoctions: Occasionally a formula will combine roots and leaves. To make a tea, first make a decoction. Then strain it while hot and pour it over over the leaves. Infuse or steep for 1 5 to 20 minutes.

Tinctures: A tincture is an extraction of the medicinal properties of the herb with the help of pure or diluted spirits of alcohol. Tinctures are effective and convenient ways to take herbs medicinally. In tincture form, the herbs are absorbed directly into the bloodstream and do not have to be digested and assimilated as a capsulated herb would be. Also, all constituents of the herb are made available through the process. Some herbs have resins in them that are not water soluble, so if a person were to take these in a tea form, they may not be getting the full medicinal value. A tincture makes all the properties of a plant available to the body.

Tinctures are convenient and concentrated. The average dosage is 1 -2 droppers full of the tincture 2 to 3 times per day. Tinctures are a very practical way to ingest medicinal herbs, especially when one has a hurried lifestyle. Tincture also preserve the medicinal quality of an herb for up to 5 years. The average shelf life of a properly stored dried herb is only one year.

Capsules: Gelatin capsules filled with herbs can be a useful way to ingest herbs. Capsules come in many sizes but the most common are small, "0" (single 0), and the larger, "00" (double 0). Generally, "00" caps are used by adults and "0" are used by children or someone who finds it difficult to swallow larger caps. Caps are an excellent way to administer herbs to pets.

If you want to take herbs in capsules, it is best to make your own to guarantee freshness and quality. Once an herb is ground into a powder to be capsulated, the medicinal constituents
-begin to dissipate. If you buy an herb capsule that has sat on a store shelf for a few months, it is quite likely it will have lost some or most of its potency.

To digest capsules well, take them with or immediately following a meal with at least 4 ounces of water. A general and typical dosage for herbs in capsule would be 2 capsules - 3 times per day. The actual dosage for any method depends on the herb used and condition being treated.

Using Plants Externally

Liniments: Liniments are herbal extracts that are rubbed into the skin for treating muscle strain, sprains, pulled ligaments, etc. Liniments have either an alcohol or an oil base. Some have a heating quality and other have a pain-relieving quality or a cooling quality.

Poultices: Moist masses of herbs applied directly to the skin to relieve inflammation, blood poisoning, venomous bites or skin eruptions. Poultices can be used to draw out infections, relieve pain and stimulate circulation in an area or add heat.

Hand & Foot Baths and Full Baths: Baths with herbs are both relaxing and healing. A strong infusion or decoction, depending on the herb being used, is made (usually one quart). Strain the mixture into a bath. Soak for 20 minutes.

Oil Extracts: By extracting plant oils into other oils (almond oil, olive oil, etc.) we have an oil that can be used for healing funguses, cuts, burns, bruises and earaches. Herbal oils can be used to make massage oils and as a base for healing salves and balms or as skin conditioners.

To make an herbal oil take 2 ounces of herbs and add them to one pint of cold-pressed oil. Let the mixture stand in a warm place out of direct sunlight for at least 10 days. Then strain out the herb and you have an oil extraction of the herb. You may use a fresh or a dried plant. To help preserve your oil, add 400 IU of Vitamin E oil per cup.

Salves & Ointments: These are external preparations made with oil, herbs and beeswax. They are excellent for bums, cuts, hemorrhoids and chapped or dried skin conditions.

- Information by Clarissa Smith, Herbalist


Dosage Information

Read dosage information carefully and follow recommended dosages. More is not always better. Many herbs are more effective when used as a tonic, taken regularly in small doses. Average dose for adults weighing 130 to 150 lbs is 30-60 drops, or 1-2 droppers full. Increase or decrease according to stage and severity of ailment as well as weight and individual sensitivities. Best taken in small amount of warm water.

Child's dose is computed by dividing child's weight by 150, which gives the fraction of the adult dose. For example, a 40 lb child will require 40/150, which is approximately 1/4 of the adult dose or 7-15 drops. Most of the alcohol can be removed from the tincture by putting the dosage into a small amount of boiling water and letting it sit uncovered until cool. If you are trying an herb for the first time, just try a small amount at first to make sure that you don't have an adverse reaction to the plant.