Creating An Herbal Medicine Chest
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on October 14, 2009 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Choosing The Right Herbs
When building your own herbal medicine chest it is vitally important to choose your herbs wisely. It is also important to know where your herbs are coming from, so it is best to grow them yourself. If you are planning on ingesting a particular herb you do not want to be concerned about whether or not the herb has been exposed to any pesticides during its growth period.
In the end it is far better to grow, harvest and dry your own herbs than to purchase them already dried.
The following is a list of common ailments and their corresponding herbal remedies:
Alcohol Abuse: Milk Thistle
Arthritis: Devil’s Claw
Blood Purification: Dandelion
Brain Food: Ginkgo
Breathe Easy: Licorice
Calming Agent: Valerian
Cleanse and Detox: Milk Thistle
Circulation: Hawthorn Berries
Cough Calmer: Eucalyptus
Depression: St. John’s Wort
Heart Support: Hawthorn Berries
Mood Support: St. John’s Wort
Stress: Kava Kava
Water Retention: Dandelion Leaf
However, a good herbal medicine chest should have at least 20 different herbs to cover almost any health care issue. (Most of these herbs you probably already grow for cooking purposes.)
Other herbs to consider are comfrey, angelica, chamomile, and calendula.
Comfrey helps wounds heal by encouraging cell growth and repair. Angelica helps by improving circulation, coughs, colds, and all lung diseases. Chamomile is wonderful relaxing herb; whilst Calendula is both an antiseptic and astringent.
Make a list of the allopathic medicines that you are currently taking on a daily basis, as well as those over the counter medicines you take on an as-needed basis. Knowing your symptoms will help you in deciding on the right herb to take.
Remember that there a multitude of herbs available, each with their own unique healing properties. Take the time now to carefully learn what each herb is for and never take anything if you don’t need its particular healing value.
Harvesting Your Herbs
Once you have chosen your herbs and planted the seeds and watched them sprout and grow, it will soon be time for you to harvest them. However, since there are certain parts of an herb that you need, you will have to harvest the herb at the right time at which that particular part is at its peak medicinal power.
Here are a few general guidelines:
Stems and Leaves: These parts of the herb should be picked before the herb flowers. Harvesting should take place after the dew has dried in the morning but before the sun is strong enough to evaporate any of the herb’s oils.
Flowers: These should be harvested before they are at full bloom. They should also be harvested at the same time of morning as for the stems and leaves.
Berries and Fruits: These should be harvested when they are at their peak ripeness.
Roots and Rhizomes: These should be dug up once the leaves start to change color in the fall. This is usually just after the sap of the plant has been returned to the ground.
Twigs and Barks: These should be gathered in the springtime as soon as the first leaves start to appear and the plants’ sap is rising.
Once harvested, you can use the herbs in tinctures, salves, and teas. Tinctures are simply highly concentrated liquid extracts of specifically chosen herbs.
Making your own tincture will involve mixing 4oz of powered herbs with 1 pint of alcohol, such as vodka or rum. The concoction will then need to sit for at least two weeks, although you will need to shake the bottle daily. Then simply strain off the liquid through a layer of cheesecloth and pour what is leftover into dark dropper bottles. Remember to immediately label your bottle!
A salve is an ointment made with beneficial herbs, beeswax and oil. Begin by heating 2oz of herbs in a pint of oil, such as olive oil. Allow the herbs to cook for two hours in a stainless steel pot. Flowers and leaves can then be added and the mixture can continue to cook gently for another hour.
Once cooked, strain the mixture through a double layer of cheesecloth into a second pot. Into this add 1-1/2 ounces of beeswax per pint of oil. Then, add one teaspoon of gum benzoin, commercial preservative that you can find in your local drugstore, for each quart of salve.
Immediately pour the salve into small jars, such as baby food jars and quickly label them. The finished salve can then be stored and used for years.
Photo Credit: Smoobs
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Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan