Using herbal remedies
Herbs can be delicious and effective to take. But, like anything, they do need appropriate handling and use. Common sense is best applied when using anything for the first time. For treating any specific conditions we always recommend to see a professional clinical herbalist.
The herbal remedies we use today represent only a tiny proportion of the plant species growing around the world. Something like 30,000 of the 400,000 plants in the world have been used as foods & medicines. It is certain that humans through history adopted the use of those plants that were quickly effective and with minimum adverse effects. Short-term safety at least is built in to these millions of human experiences through the ages.
Further, the benign qualities of these herbs arise from their complexity. The existence of the secondary plant metabolites- the tasty and not-so-tasty aromatic oils, polyphenols, tannins, mucilages, saponins, or other constituents, – in different ways buffer the effect of more active compounds, which are often in any case present in only low levels. Its the synergy within the plant that creates the balance. You could say that our human relationship with nature has been based on us being exposed to micro-doses of 10s of thousands of phytochemicals on a daily basis. We know each other.
Most importantly, the whole thrust of treatment with plants is different from that of conventional medicine. The herbs are used ideally to nudge healing responses in the body rather than directly attack the symptoms or pathology. A bitter stimulates digestive activity, a hot spice the digestion and circulation as well; laxatives provoke bile, bowel and urinary elimination; expectorants, diuretics, hepatics and lymphatics produce their own detoxifications, and so on. We trust the body to look after its affairs and seek only to help it on its way without disturbing it unduly.
Making your herbs
The remarkable art and science of herbal preparation is a world unto itself. And in amongst all the elixirs and balms is an intent to harness the power of the plants by harnessing the aromas, colours and unique characteristics of each plant. It takes some prior knowledge and practice to skillfully draw their healing properties into a form that is easy to take and be safely preserved. Whether its a cup of tea, a tincture, infused oil or a fresh juice, each plant needs appropriate handling to get the best out of them.
How do you decide if the the water should be hot or cold? Should it be an extract in high or low alcohol? Why are some herbs extracted with vinegar and some in oils?
A little bit of plant chemistry is helpful here. It will help you understand how to harness the best from the herbs. Think of it as a continuum; some plant compounds love water; they are hydrophilic and water soluble, like the mouth-puckering and teacup-staining tannins in a cup of tea or the sweet glycyrrhizin in licorice; some prefer alcohol, like the bitter alkaloid compounds found in gentian and in many a digestive bitter apperitif; and some are fat soluble and hydrophobic – such as the red pigmented hypericin found in infused St John’s Wort oil.
A simple way of thinking about it is that like will attract like; fats will attract fatty properties from plants – which is why cooking essential oil-rich spices in oil makes the food much more delicious; and water will attract the more water-loving elements such as the colourful chlorophyll pigments and sweeter polysaccharides.
More in-depth herbal alchemy for the herbalists
Much of this comes down to the polarity continuum: some molecules are totally non-polar, some have low polarity, others are just a little polar, some are moderately polar, and so on. The main significance of this is that substances with similar polarities can dissolve within one another: Oil and water don’t mix, because water molecules are very polar, and oil molecules are almost non-polar. On the other hand, water and ethanol do intermix, because their polarities are somewhat similar. In the same fashion, polar solvents (e.g., water, ethanol, glycerin – also called glycerol) will dissolve molecules with a polarity similar to their own. Low-polarity molecules will generally dissolve in oils; and polar molecules will dissolve in polar solvents like water and ethanol.
That’s why there are so many types of pastes, percolates and poultices as herbs need different mediums to reach the parts that other herbal extracts can’t reach.
A Note on Safety
If we read all the safety threats in plants we might be too frightened to eat. Wheat, rye, and barley contain a protein called gluten that is hydrolysed in the digestive system to a peptide alpha-gliadin, a well-established intestinal irritant, that has caused many thousands of deaths around the world through coeliac disease and sprue. Apple seeds, and the kernels of apricots, plums and other stone fruits, as well as bitter almonds, contain glycosides that generate cyanide in the digestive system. Potatoes are members of the deadly nightshade family and produce the same poisonous alkaloids when they turn green under the influence of light. Many common household pulses, like soya bean, red kidney bean, and haricot bean (used in “baked beans”), contain various toxins, notably types of lectins called phytohaemagglutinins, as well as trypsin-inhibitors, that can only reliably be neutralised by boiling for at least 30 minutes.
Of course the foods listed above are generally safe to eat. The real point is to show how difficult it is to predict the toxicity of a plant only from the presence of toxic constituents. The action of the whole plant, and the way in which it is normally prepared and consumed, counts for more than any individual constituent list. We will see here that for the most widely used plant remedies there are similar reassurances.
However, common sense should prevail and the best advice is to observe recommended doses. Using herbs as part of our everyday diet, like chamomile, ginger and peppermint, or a sprinkle of a spice or herb on our food is, of course, completely safe. When using herbs more ‘medicinally’, in general one should always be looking for an exit plan in starting a herbal programme: the best herbal treatment is one that nudges the body to better performance. However there are some situations where long term use is needed, for example, adaptogenic herbs have incrementally benefit into the long term. But, as we have seen, we cannot be absolutely sure what long term effects might build up and focused use of herbs is always the best option. Do review what your plan is if you are taking the same herbs for more than a year. It is always a good idea to have a break within this time to check that the herbs are still being useful.
Be sensible and all will be well.
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
There are always extra cautions in taking any remedies during pregnancy and a professional herbalist’s default position is to back off altogether during the first trimester (while the baby’s organs are forming) unless really necessary. Practitioners will not use strong herbs at all during pregnancy and any listed as risky elsewhere in this article should particularly be avoided. Many reference texts on herbs assume that if a herb has not been proved to be safe in pregnancy it should be avoided, without medical opinion at least. On the other hand many herbs have a good combination of widespread use by pregnant women with reassuring research evidence: our textbook rates many western herbs by tight criteria and finds many a pregnant woman can choose from.
Although precautionary statements have been made about the use of some herbal remedies during breastfeeding the evidence for risk is minimal. Plants with high levels of volatile oils will pass these easily through breastmilk so nursing mothers should be aware that these may affect their babies. This can actually be helpful, as in the case of reducing colic in infants by the mother consuming kitchen spices (although occasionally the reverse can happen). Some of these have additional reputations for enhancing breast milk production.
Guidelines for Children
There are some important guidelines to help decide how much to give children. Age is one consideration, weight is another, and physical constitution is another. Slight or frailer vata-like children require less. Heavy or robust more kapha-like children can use more. Use your intuition and their weight as guides. Dr. Clark’s Rule is very helpful:
To determine the fraction of an adult dose, divide the weight of the child in kilos by 75. Example: 25Kg child divided by 75 = 1/3. Therefore the child’s dose is 1/3 of the adult dosage.
A Rule of Thumb: 12 year old gets an adult dose; 6 year old gets ½ an adult dose; 3 year old gets a ¼ adult dose; Under three just gets a few sips.
Hot Infusions – a herbalist’s tea
Delicate leaves and flowers are usually infused therapeutically at a ratio of one part herb to eight to sixteen parts of freshly boiled water. This brew is left to steep for up to twelve hours. Nourishing herbs such as Nettle leaf or Red clover may be infused at 30g to 500ml, infused overnight, strained and the drunk as four divided cups. For a lighter cup use around 2g/cup 2-3x/day.
Cold Infusions – a herbalist’s tea
A cold infusion is used for steeping very delicate flowers and other herbs that infuse best when cold, such as those high in mucilage, like marshmallow. One part of herb is steeped in six parts of water. This can be made as a ‘sun’ tea by infusing in a glass jar in sunlight for a few hours, or overnight when the cooling lunar energy is at its peak. Diuretics and acid relieving herbs are often made overnight like this, such as fennel seed, coriander seed and marshmallow root and leaf.
Decoctions – a strong herbalist’s tea
A decoction is simply made by boiling a set weight of herbs in a specific volume of water and reducing it to the required strength. Different herbal traditions approach decoctions differently as, of course, it depends on what herbs you are using, for what condition and in what type of person that will determine the best method and proportions. For example, the Ayurvedic tradition makes good use of decoctions. One part of dry herb is added to sixteen parts water that is then reduced to four parts of the original volume of water; 30g herbs decocted in 480ml water reduced to 120ml divided into 2 x 60ml drink. Chinese and western herbal medicine also uses decoctions for powerful benefits. Roots, barks, stems and fruits are usually decocted with the more delicate leaves and flowers added at the end of the decoction to infuse with the other herbs for a few minutes. Remember, there are always exceptions.
Here King’s American dispensatory describes the method in more detail:
“An ordinary decoction, the strength of which is not directed by the physician nor specified by the Pharmacopoeia, shall be prepared by the following formula: Take of the substance, coarsely comminuted, fifty grammes (50 Gm.); water, a sufficient quantity to make one thousand cubic centimeters (1000 Cc.). Put the substance into a suitable vessel provided with a cover, pour upon it one thousand cubic centimeters (1000 Cc.) of cold water, cover it well and boil for 15 minutes. Then let it cool to about 40° C. (104° F.), express, strain the expressed liquid, and pass enough cold water through the strainer to make the product measure one thousand cubic centimeters (1000 Cc.). CAUTION.—The strength of decoctions of energetic or powerful substances should be specially prescribed by the physician”—(U. S. P.).”
The fresh juice of a plant is a favourite method of administering juicy and aromatic plants such as aloe vera, cleavers, dandelion leaf, holy basil, ginger.
This is best done with an cold-pressing juicer. After cleaning and washing the herbs you can also grate or finely mince them, add to a muslin cloth and squeeze the juice out. Even easier to just blend the fresh herbs with a little water and take them as a fresh-herb smoothie.
When a dried plant is crushed it becomes a powder. Ayurveda has many famous powders, know as churna; Triphala and Trikatu are both famous churna. Traditional Chinese Medicine have their san ji herbal powder tradition as does the western herbal tradition. Powders are a good way to take herbs, especially as tonics and for digestive issues where the aromatic components need to be optimised. You need thoroughly dried herbs and a very good grinder to aim for a suitable micron/mesh size so they are easily absorbed – 40 mesh should be a minimum.
Take a herbal powder by mixing with water or honey. They can also be put into capsules.
Herbal pills are easy, if not a little messy to make.
Put 100g finely powdered herbs in a bowl. Add a tablespoon of honey – keep adding more until you form a doughy-mass. Now roll into small pellets between the palms of your hand and dry in a dehydrator overnight. Store in an airtight container and consume within a month.
Capsules: To make your own capsules there are many devices available for making your own.
These are a very effective way of extracting some of the vital properties of the plants. And the honey of course adds its own benefits as well as being an excellent preservative.
Infuse the herb in honey in a bain-marie. A ratio of 1 part herb to 4 parts honey works well infusing for a couple of hours. If honey goes over 45C then it can lose some nutritious value which is why this is best made on low heat in a pan without contact with direct heat.
Herbal honeys are good for where honey is good for- especially our respiratory system – thereby imparting a synergistic effect. Thyme, lemon balm and lavender are all favourites.
When we came across this in King’s American Dispensatory we just had to share it:
Mel Rosae (U. S. P.)—Honey of Rose.
Preparation.—”Fluid extract of rose, one hundred and twenty cubic centimeters (120 Cc.) [4 fl , 28 ]; clarified honey, a sufficient quantity to make one thousand grammes (1000 Gm.) [2 lbs. av., 3 ozs., 120 grs.]. Into a tared vessel introduce the fluid extract of rose, then add enough clarified honey to make the contents weigh one thousand grammes (1000 Gm.) [2 lbs. av. 3 ozs., 120 grs.], and mix them thoroughly”—(U. S. P.).
Action and Medical Uses.—Useful and pleasant addition to mouth-washes and gargles. It slightly stimulant and astringent, and is adapted to inflammatory ulcerations of mouth and throat.”
Note: A Fluid Extract (as opposed to an ‘extract’) is usually considered to be a very concentrated at a ratio of 1:1 herb to menstruum).
Syrups are saturated solutions of sugar and water- and they may also contain, vinegar, glycerine, herbal extracts, fruit juices and honey. The important thing is to ensure that the syrup will be properly preserved and stable. If you dissolve 85g white sugar in 47ml filtered water you will get a solution that is 64% strength of sugar by weight- at more than 60 Brix you know that when stored properly, this will keep stable for around a year. That said we recommend storing in the fridge to optimize potency.
To make a syrup with dried herbs:
Decoct 50g herbs in 500ml water.
Reduce to 250ml, strain, and then reduce further in a bain-marie to 125ml.
Add this to 200g sugar and heat gently until dissolved.
Add a couple of drops of essential oil 2x teaspoon honey and a teaspoon of glycerine to make an extra silky-smooth syrup.
You will have 250ml of syrup at a ratio of 1 part herb : 5 parts syrup meaning that 1 teaspoon will give you 1 g of herb.
To add fruit juices (like elderberry or black cherry) or tinctures, add a more concentrated herb extract at lower volume, and top up the total volume with the juice or tincture.
Favourite herbs for syrups are angelica, echinacea, elecampane, elderberries, lavender, marshmallow, wild lettuce, thyme. Add ginger tincture for a little spice.
The maceration method is tried and tested, effective and pretty easy to make. You will need some jars for storing the maceration, measuring jug, scales, record book and maybe a mill, chopping board and a pestle and mortar.
Cut the herb into small pieces, weigh the appropriate amount and then add the suitable strength of alcohol with the volume of water. A starting guide for dry herbs is to use a ratio of 1 part herb:5 parts menstruum (the liquid solvent) – in this example it means you know that 5ml of the finished tincture extract is equivalent to 1g of the herb. This blend is left to soak for 2-4 weeks ensuring everything is submerged before pressing. This can be by hand but if you are going to make a few its worth getting a powerful press to really squeeze the marc at the end. It is important to filter the tincture before use and to label it correctly with dates, batch numbers, ratios and ingredients.
To make stronger extracts you lower the volume of liquid to herb- though it is essential that the menstruum liquid completely covers the herb. See below about percolation too.
There are all sorts of idiosyncrasies, in that some herbs are better extracted fresh (like rose and lemon balm), some in high alcohol (like resins and volatile oils), some at higher ratios of 1:10 (stronger herbs like poke root), some with a little added vinegar (like lobelia, horseradish) so do read into the specifics of each herb.
A general rule for extract is:
25% polar polysaccharides, flavonoids
60% Volatile oils
90% resins, oleoresins
Fresh herbs of course are often high in water content (ranging from around 30-80%) so you should put approximately double the strength of alcohol you want to end up with (eg 50% at a 1:2.5 will leave you with a 1:5 at 25%)
As King’s American Dispensatory says:
“I. TINCTURE BY MACERATION. The article or articles should be reduced to a powder of a proper degree of fineness, or, where this can not be done, should be sliced or bruised, and then be placed in alcohol or diluted alcohol, as may be required, and allowed to macerate, in a close glass bottle, usually for 14 days, with occasional agitation, after which they are expressed, if necessary, and the tincture filtered through paper. Tinctures of drugs rich in oleoresins, the majority of gum-resins, resins, and balsams, are best prepared by this method.”
A percolated tincture is quicker than the maceration method, and better for making stronger extracts, though it is a little more technical to get set-up. Percolates are always made with dried powder and you can’t percolate fresh herbs.
You will need:
- percolation cone – or equivalent ‘bottle-perc’
- percolator stand
- valve with tap to control drip rate
- cotton balls or filter paper – unbleached coffee filters are good
- tamping device
- dried herb powder
- scale to weight powder
To make a 1:5 tincture weigh the herb powder out a ratio of 1 part powder to 5 parts menstruum at the desired solvent strength.
If using a ‘bottle-perc’ then 100g of herbs and 500ml liquid work well in a 750ml wine bottle. You will need to pre-moisten the powder with the menstruum till it looks like wet sand. Let it infuse for 24 hours in a covered container. It should not be too wet or too dry. You will get a feel by doing it.
Now, put cotton balls in the neck of the bottle and then put the tap in end of bottle and put the percolator in the stand. Get ready to pack the moistened herbs down firmly.
Add 1/3 of plant material and pack down. Tamp the herbs down with dowel. Its really important to do this properly as if its too loose the powder floats and if its too tight then the liquid can’t get through. If its unevenly packed then the menstruum can find channels and create an uneven and incomplete extract. Percolation is a good example of how herbalism is both an art and a science.
Then add the next 1/3 and repeat. And again.
Then press a coffee filter onto the top of the material and now can add the menstruum. The coffee filter keeps the material from floating up when you add solvent. You should see the solvent flowing through evenly and quickly through the plant material. Leave the valve open on the tap open or the air will back up and bubble through which can disturb the form of the packed-powder. Keep the valve open until you get the solvent dripping all the way through and out the cone opening. When it gets to the bottom and starts to drip, close the valve and let the menstruum sit for 12-24 hours to optimize transfer of the herb’s vitality into the liquid solvent. Then open the valve to let it drip at the rate of 1 drip every 5 seconds.
And, here’s a summary from King’s American Dispensatory:
“II. BY PERCOLATION.—The article or articles should be reduced to a powder of a proper degree of fineness, or, where this can not be done, should be sliced, bruised, or rasped, etc. They are then to be first covered with the menstruum with which the tincture is to be made, and allowed to stand until they are
moistened throughout, which step generally requires from 24 to 36 hours. The whole is then transferred to a percolator, and the menstruum gradually poured on, and allowed to percolate or filter until the requisite amount has passed (see section on Percolation, under Fluid Extracts). The preparation of tinctures by percolation is, with a few exceptions, the method now generally pursued by all pharmacists of this country.”
A decoction-ethanol extract is a relatively simple method of ensuring you have all the water-soluble as well as alcohol-soluble components and is specifically recommended for some herbs (like medicinal mushrooms). The herb is tinctured first at say a 1:4 @ 50% alcohol. The marc is then decocted with 8 parts water reduced to 2 parts decoction. This is then strained, filtered, and added to the tincture, bringing the final strength of the preparation to 1:4, at 25% alcohol.
Macerate Ling Zhi reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) 250g in 50% alcohol solution = 500 mL
Strain after two weeks
Take the remaining reishi marc 250g and decoct it in 8 parts water (=1000ml), reduced to 500 mL.
When cool add extracts together. Use 5% glycerin to help stabilize the solution.
Infusing herbs in hot water and inhaling the steam is a very effective and simple method for imbibing the properties of herbs. Commonly used for decongesting the nose, head and lungs arising from a cold or allergy. Also used as a facial steam for skin inflammations and health.
Pour 1 liter of freshly boiled water onto the herbs in a bowl. Depending on the plant, and whether it is fresh or dry, you may use a few fresh sprigs or between 10-25g herbs. Essential oils can also be used directly into the water. Cover and leave to infuse for a few minutes. Then put a towel over your head and bowl, remove the cover, and enjoy the aromas. Be careful that the steam is not to too hot for you. Breathe in and out of your mouth 10 x and then your nose 10 x and then repeat as necessary.
This method can be used every day during an infection and also as a potentially useful preventative after travel or recent exposure.
A lovely way to enjoy the amazing aromas of these herbs away from the garden is to make a freshly infused flower water that you can enjoy as face wash.
Collect a small handful of flowers such as rose, lavender, roman chamomile or clary sage flowers and add them to a clear glass jar, cover with water and seal with a lid. Place in the sunlight for 2-3 hours and then strain. Enjoy as a refreshing wash for revitalising your skin and uplifting your spirits.
A delicious way to enjoy the amazing aromas and benefits of many of the more delicate herbs away from the garden is to make a freshly infused flower water that you can enjoy as a Sun Tea.
Collect a small handful of herbs such as lavender, chamomile or clary sage flowers and add them to a clear glass jar, cover with cool water and seal with a lid. Place in the sunlight for 2-3 hours and then strain. Enjoy as a refreshing tea basked in solar vitality. You can also make this with any of the mints, lemon balm, bee balm etc.
Another beneficial way to enjoy the amazing flavours of many of the more delicate herbs is to make a freshly infused herbal water that you can enjoy as a Moon Tea.
Collect a small handful of any aromatic herbs and add them to a clear glass jar, cover with cool water and seal with a lid. Place in the light of the Full Moon overnight and then strain in the morning. Enjoy as a cooling drink infused with the rhythms and reflective light of the lunar cycle.
Floral Ice Cubes
Collect whole fresh flowers and add to the ice-cube tray before popping in the freezer. Borage, rose, lavender, chamomile and clary sage all look enticing in a cube, and can be defrosted any time to bring their tastes and aromas back to life.
Of course a great way to keep a bit of summer shining in your home all year long is to have them emanating their fine aromas inside. Collect the most fragrant herbs at their peak and dry them at a very low heat (around 30-35C) in a well ventilated area. Then store them in an airtight container for blending into fragrant mixes that you can leave out in a jar or bowl. When the mood takes you, gently crush the herbs to release there delicate perfume and linger as a natural air freshener.
For External Use Only
Macerated and Infused Oils
Infused or macerated oils are produced by infusing the chosen plant part e.g. the flowers or leaves in a carrier oil. You can use an organic olive, sesame or sunflower. The plant matter is usually chopped up before being placed in the selected plant carrier oil.
Preparing the plant in this way breaks up the cell walls of the plant allowing the lipophilic or fat-loving molecules to infuse. This combination is gently agitated daily and placed in the dark or sunlight (depending on the herb), and or/with warmth to enable the active constituents of the plant to be absorbed. These constituents are all of the oil-soluble compounds present in the plant including the essential oil phytochemicals. The carrier oil gently softens the plant matter and draws out the healing ingredients. Once the carrier oil has fully absorbed all the precious plant ingredients the mixture is carefully filtered. This process is similar to the long and slow brewing of a tea but a carrier oil and potent sunlight are used rather than hot water.
Usually made at proportions of 1 part herb : 4 parts oil- though this will vary for each plant. Infuse for a couple of weeks. If using fresh plants you should ‘wilt’ them first to remove some moisture and then filter off very carefully to ensure no water is left in the oil. You can do this by simple separation as you pour off.
Some oils are also made with gentle heat using what is known as ‘The Digestion Method’. Put the herbs cut or powdered directly in some oil and then warm in a bain-marie for a few hours. For longer ‘digestion’ use an electric thermostatic cooker than keep just be kept at 40C and macerate for a week.
Strain the oil off, leave to settle for a day and then filter to avoid any sediment in your oil.
Decocted & Medicated Oils
In Ayurveda medicated oils are made. Known a siddha taila they are a great way to make a strong massage oil. Made in the proportions of 1 part herb:4 oil:16 water these decocted oils are used for massage and healing wounds, strengthening bones, as hair tonics, skin treatments, medicated enemas. They are also used for nasal administration to clear sinus conditions.
It’s quite a laborious process and takes a few hours but makes a very effective therapeutic oil. You can check when its ready by dipping a bit of paper in the oil and then burning it. If it crackles it still has water in, if it just burns, its ready.
A salve is an essential of every Green Aid Chest. The oily medium is good for carrying the fat soluble properties of the herbs deep into the skin and surrounding tissues.
Take 100ml of an infused herbal oil
Warm in a bain-marie, add 15g beeswax until it has melted.
Take it off the heat.
Whilst it is still warm add any essential oils you want to; 5-10 drops per 100ml.
Pour this into some ‘salve’ jars.
Allow to cool and then add a lid, label and store.
Making your own creams is very satisfying. You just need a few tactics to do it properly as there is definitely a knack.
You will need to prepare before you start:
Herbal liquid – tea or flower water
250ml strong herbal infusion 50g herbs infused in 300ml boiled water for two hours and thoroughly strained. or floral water
1 tsp vegetable glycerine
Infused & Essential oils
175ml infused herbal oil
75g Coconut oil
5ml Vitamin E
2.5ml Essential oil
How to make the cream:
Melt 25g beeswax and 75g coconut oil in a bain-marie, then add the infused oils and stir them together and pour into a blender to cool and semi-set.
Now mix the glycerine into the herbal tea infusion. Add any flower waters to this you are using.
When the mix in the blender has gone from liquid to semi-set, transparent to slightly opaque, start the blender on a slow speed and very slowly add the infusion. Keep adding the infusion, push down any lumps and then when it is a thick cream add the Vitamin E and essential oils. Pour, more like ‘dollop’, into jars. Store extras in the fridge and use within a month.
Herbal Bath Soaks
These are easy-to-make and very soothing for sore muscles and skin.
What you will need:
- ½-1 cup of Epsom salts (depending on the size of your bag)
- ½ cup of relaxing and soothing herb of your choice
- 5 drops of pure essential lavender oil (or another oil of your choice)
- 1 muslin bag and string to tie.
Pour your Epsom salts into a bowl and mix with the dried herbs of your choice so that all the ingredients have blended together. Then add the 5 drops of essential oil. Use a spoon and transfer the mixture into individual muslin bags and tie the tops securely.
To use, place in a running bath or hang from the tap and enjoy.
To refresh just discard the spent herbs in your compost and renew for another relaxing bath.
For skin soothing think of herbs such as chamomile, calendula, oatflowers (or oats). For Relaxation,lavender, lemon balm, rose, chamomile, Muscular aches and pains; rosemary, St John’s wort, meadowsweet.
If you don’t have the Epsom salt, sea salt is good too. Or just use the herbs on their own, fresh or dry in the muslin bag for a ‘herbal tea bath’.
Poultices, Plasters & Fomentations
We all know about the use of a dock leaf for a nettle leaf sting and using a poultice is a similar principle. When a fresh and whole plant is crushed it makes a paste that can be used for external poultices and plasters, also known as a cataplasm. Specific vulnerary, wound-healing and pain reducing herbs for bumps and bruises are arnica, calendula, marshmallow, plantain and St John’s Wort. They are often applied warm and wet for added effect, but also ‘fresh’ and cool too.
To make a field-poultice just crush of the leaves of the specific plant in your ready-to-hand pestle and mortar, or if not available, between your hands with some water and moisture before applying to the ailing area.
For another approach you can put the bruised herbs in a muslin bag, add enough hot water to moisten it and apply to the affected area. The benefits of the poultice can be enhanced by repeating the process using refreshed herbs.
Plasters can also be used as ‘drawing’ agents for splinters and infections. Apply the moistened herb either directly or over a muslin cloth and apply to the affected area. Marshmallow and flax seed especially useful here.
Freshly crushed herbs are also used as plasters on the skin as a counter-irritant to blockages. A famous one is the mustard seed paste, known as a sinapism, placed directly on a muslin cloth on the chest for 10-30 minutes and used for congested lungs and bronchial coughs. Heating herbs such as ginger and horseradish can be used for painful joints too.
Fomentations, often used for soothing aches, bruises and pain, are made by soaking a flannels in a strong and hot herbal tea (decoction or infusion as appropriate) and applied to the affected area repeatedly. Ensuring the liquid is hot, but not too hot, refresh the flannel in the herbal tea every few minutes until the area is warm, reddened and feels relief.