Begin Working with Herbs (Part 1)

Edited by Nuance, Anonymous, Inukshuk, Eng

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Herbs Put The Body In Tune With Nature As The Gods Intended

The Magic of the Herb Garden

Although Medicinal Herbs are usually not as potent, risky nor as dangerous as pharmaceuticals, they should never be considered 'safe'. Two nutmegs can kill a grown man! And although oregano really spices up Italian food, oregano oil should never be taken if you're pregnant, as it's a uterine stimulant, among other things, and can start labour prematurely. Many people have allergies to herbs, and just like conventional medicines, herbal remedies can be contraindicated with other herbs or medicines you're taking. The side effects of herbs are way easier on the body compared to pharmaceuticals, but herbs should never be taken lightly.

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If you begin working with herbs having respect for the power of herbs, and the potential dangers developing a kind of Herbal Philosophy, you will be starting out on the right path, and hopefully, you'll avoid making mistakes that can be very costly.

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The History Of Herbalism

Working with herbs1 59362.jpg

The use of plants for medicinal purposes is as old as civilization. Archaeologists believe that prehistoric people used herbal concoctions to treat physical complaints long before the dawn of written history. The first known written record of curative plants was from a Sumerian herbal dating back to 2200 BCE. Today, most of the world's people continue to use herbs to the benefit their bodies.

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The origins of Western Herbalism come to us in an interesting route from the Greeks. Because of this, it's good to have basic knowledge of Herbology's origins. Although Hippocrates is known as The Father of Medicine, it was Galen, a 2nd Century physician named Galen, who wrote at length about the Doctrine of Humors.

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This Doctrine maintained the essence of matter was found in the four primary elements; Air, Fire, Water, Earth. These elements related to the Seasons, age, and region. Also, they were connected to four fundamental qualities; Moist, Dry, Hot, Cold, four bodily fluids; Blood, Yellow Bile, Black Bile, and Phlegm, and four temperaments; Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic and Phlegmatic. Each individual was ascribed a particular humor consisting of two fundamental qualities believed to dominate personality and perspective health problems. For example: An asthmatic person would be Phlegmatic (cold & moist). To balance the Humor, the patient would be encouraged to eat foods, and consume liquids that are hot and dry in nature (Indian spicy foods, teas brewed with hot herbs, red wine), and to stay away from cold and moist foods (dairy products, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, bananas and white wine).

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The Four Humors That Exist In The Human Body, Plants, Food And Drink

  1. 1
    SANGUINE:
    Blood. Hot & Moist, ruled by Air (Gemini, Libra Aquarius), Childhood and Spring. ~East~ According to Galen, the Sanguine individual was ideal. Good-humored and clever, but prone to overindulgence.
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  2. 2
    CHOLERIC:
    Yellow Bile. Hot & Dry, ruled by Fire (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius), Youth and Summer. ~South~ The Choleric personality is full of hot wind. Bad tempered or perhaps overly passionate.
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  3. 3
    MELANCHOLIC:
    Black Bile. Cold & Dry, ruled by Earth (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn), Maturity and Autumn. ~West~ By the Middle Ages, a Choleric Humor was the Medieval Ideal. The personality is a bit gloomy and sad introspective.
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  4. 4
    PHLEGMATIC:
    Phlegm. Cold and Moist, rule by Water (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces), Old Age and Winter. ~North~. The temperament of a Phlegmatic person is meek, introverted and somewhat submissive. They strive to please others.
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Things You'll Need To Get Started

Mortar & Pestle - Chocolate Fondue - A pot of Lavender and a Teapot with an Infuser

Once you begin working with herbs, there are things you should always have on hand.

  1. 1
    Oils.
    You'll need a variety of oils to use as carriers, and a base for creams and salves. Here are three you should have in stock.
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    1. Olive Oil
    2. Grapeseed Oil
    3. Almond Oil
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  2. 2
    Beeswax.
    Beeswax works perfectly to make a salve or cream a little thicker. For example, if you're making a cream by heating certain herbs in olive oil, you'd strain the mixture using cheesecloth, and re-heat, adding shavings of beeswax to make it the right consistency.
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  3. 3
    Mortar and Pestle.
    This duo has been used to grind, crush and pound herbs, roots and bark since ancient times. The mortar' is basically a bowl, while the pestle is a tool with a rounded end used to grind and crush spices in a mortar. A Mortar & Pestle are typically made of wood, ceramic, marble or stone. Always avoid using anything metal to prepare herbs, and the marble mortar and pestle may look nice, but the inside of the bowl is a bit too smooth and isn't as effective as it should be to grind herbs and spices. A rougher texture is more desirable.
    The Marble Mortar & Pestle (Not the best choice)
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  4. 4
    Infuser Teapot.
    Get a teapot with either a glass or plastic infuser (stainless steel will work too). Glass the best choice, as you can see how your infusion (tea) is brewing - the color, etc. Put the herbs into the infuser, pour boiled or scalded water over the herbs. With herbs, it's best not to pour boiling water over them, but wait a minute so it's not so hot.
    An infuser teapot - herbs are placed in the infuser to steep - no straining necessary.
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  5. 5
    Chocolate Fondue.
    Rather that heating herbal concoctions over the stove, and adding electricity to the fray, there is something to be said for using gentle heat. So look through those unused shower gifts stored in the basement, or pick one up for very little money at a garage sale or thrift shop and you can add another tool to your budding apothecary. Chocolate Fondues are usually a simple ceramic bowl that sits on a base with a tea light for heat. A chocolate fondue will not heat water to a boil, but if you're working with oil, a simple candle will get the mixture hot enough.
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  6. 6
    Cheesecloth.
    Used to wrap cheese (it's name), in cooking and in this case, for straining herbs after steeping, cheesecloth is loosely woven cotton, resembling gauze. You can also get cheesecloth bags, which often come in very handy.
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  7. 7
    Strainer.
    A hand-held strainer will come in handy when cheesecloth won't work. Anything you're making with oil is a good example. These are the small strainers that would fit over the mouth of a cup. Make sure the mesh is either plastic or stainless steel.
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  8. 8
    Jars and Bottles.
    You'll need a collection of glass jars and bottles. You could go out and buy them, but it's much easier to have family and friends collect interesting jars and bottles for you in various shapes, colours and sizes.
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  9. 9
    Labels.
    You need to label all your jars of herbs and bottles of whatever concoction you've brewed up.
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  10. 10
    Beeswax.
    Secreted by bees to make their honeycombs, beeswax is also used to make candles and wood polish. In herbology, beeswax is used in a salve or cream, to thicken the consistency, making it easier to apply. It also adds time to the shelf life of your creams and salves.
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  11. 11
    A collection of wooden spoons and wooden chopsticks for stirring your mixtures.
    Again, don't use any metals aside from stainless steel when you're working with herbs.
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  12. 12
    Different sizes of funnels.
    Often, you'll want to strain a mixture through a hand-held strainer, using a funnel.
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What You Need To Know And Do First

  1. 1
    Learn the Latin.
    You should know the Latin names of the herbs you're working with. Vernacular names change, but the Latin names remain the same. The Latin names also transcend the language barrier.
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  2. 2
    Label everything.
    What herb/concoction it is. Dangers and Warnings.
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  3. 3
    Collect interesting bottles and jars.
    Especially look for colored glass, textured bottles and different shapes and sizes.
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Herbal Methods

  1. 1
    Infusion.
    Tea steeped for ten minutes. Only good up to 24 hours in the fridge.
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  2. 2
    Decoction.
    When you need to make an infusion (tea) with bark, roots and seeds, you need to boil them in water for about ten minutes. Bark, roots and seeds are tougher, and steeping is not enough to pull the constituents from the herbs. Store up to 24 hours in the fridge.
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  3. 3
    Tincture.
    A tincture is an alcoholic extraction of the herb. Alcohol dissolves the active constituents and acts as a preservative. There are certain herbs, like Echinacea root, that are only effective with the use of alcohol. Store tinctures in a dark place. The standard dosage is 15 drops three times daily. Because of the alcohol you can keep a tincture up to two years.
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  4. 4
    Herbal Wine.
    Use a sweet red wine with an alcohol content of at least 12%. Put four ounces of herb in a jar, and pour with three cups of wine over the herbs. Cover and leave in a dark place for a week before straining. Four teaspoons one or two times daily. Use within a month.
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  5. 5
    Syrup.
    Sugar is a good preservative and ideal for cough mixtures. Strain two cups of infusion or decoction into a stainless steel pan, or preferably, a chocolate fondue. Add 1¾ cup brown sugar or a honey and sugar mixture. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Pour into a clean glass bottle and seal and label. Store in the fridge. The standard dosage is one teaspoon three times a day.
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  6. 6
    Capsules.
    Dry, powdered herb can be placed inside empty capsules. This method is preferred by some people who cannot tolerate bitter herbs.
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  7. 7
    Oil Infusion.
    For external use only. For the hot method, fill a jar with fresh herbs and cover with olive, sunflower or almond oil. Place the jar up to the neck in a saucepan of water and bring to a medium heat. Simmer for up to three hours. Strain through filter paper (coffee filter), or cheesecloth into a brown glass bottle. Follow the same instructions for the cold method, except the oil should be placed on a sunny windowsill instead of heated.
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  8. 8
    Creams and Salves.
    Simmer base oil for 30 minutes with 2 ounces of herbs. When it is nearly done, separately melt 2 ounces of bees wax. Strain the mixture before it cools and add beeswax (about 5 parts mixture to 1 part beeswax). You can add a drop of tincture of Benzoin as a preservative. Pour into sterilized jars.
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  9. 9
    Ointment.
    Ointment does not penetrate the skin like cream, but coats and protects it. Petroleum jelly is a good base, and the method is the same as for a cream.
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  10. 10
    Compress.
    Soak a cloth in a hot infusion or decoction of herbs. Squeeze most of the liquid out and apply the hot cloth to the affected area. Once it has cooled, repeat the process.
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  11. 11
    Poultice.
    Poultices are effective for boils, abscesses, chest infections and sprains. Mix chopped herb or ground roots or seeds with boiling water to make a pulp. Place the pulp in on a hot cloth and apply to the affected area. Replace when cool.
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  12. 12
    Steam and Inhalant.
    For skin problems like acne, or for bronchial problems like sinusitis, asthma and laryngitis, an inhalant will be very effective. Add a strong decoction, one or two drops of essential oils, or 2 teaspoons of tincture to boiling water. Put it on the table; cover your head with a towel and Breathe. Make sure this hot liquid is not in danger of being upset by little curious hands belonging to children. In the past year in USA, 17 children have been scalded by this process.
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Storing Herbs

The shelf life of herbal mixtures isn't great, so keep an eye on the label because you've included the date there.

  • Store your herbs in glass bottles or jars.
  • Use textured glass jars, or jars and bottles with colored glass to store the more volatile (dangerous) herbs in. When you touch the textured glass, or notice the color, you'll be reminded to check the warning on your label.
  • Label the jar or bottle with the following:
    • Common Name (Sage).
    • Latin Name (Salvia officinalis).
    • Warning (Do not use any more than cooking during pregnancy. Can trigger seizures in Epileptics.)
    • Date of Purchase (D.O.P - June 11 2016), or date you made the mixture.
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  • Do not keep herbs longer than one year.
  • Always store herbs out of direct sunlight.

Tips & Warnings

  • 2 Nutmegs can kill a grown man. Translation - herbs are not always safe.
  • Herbs can be contraindicated.
  • People can be allergic to various herbs.
  • Never store herbs in direct sunlight.
  • Know the dangers of specific herbs.
  • Never use metal with herbs (stainless steel is okay). Use wood, ceramic, glass, or plastic instead.
  • Label everything.
  • Keep a journal of everything you try, how it worked, or when it didn't.
  • Sterilize jars and bottles before using.
  • When practicing steaming, make sure children are safe from the hot water. Scalding has happened.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

THEN

Some Herbals From The Past
  1. 1
    Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Early England (Cambridge University Press).
    This comes in three volumes, and used to cost a fortune. Cambridge Press has made it available for a very reasonable price. This was originally compiled in the 10th Century by Cild, but first printed in 1864 by Thomas Oswald Cockayne.
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  2. 2
    Culpepper's Complete Herbal:
    Consisting Of A Comprehensive Description Of Nearly All Herbs With Their Medicinal Properties And Directions For Compounding The Medicines Extracted From Them, by Nicolas Culpeper (The Wordsworth Collection Reference Library). It was originally published in 1653 under the title: The English Physician. This book is fun to have in your collection. Culpeper added the idea of Astrology to the Humors, but other than that, Culpeper was considered a quack by his contemporaries, and has very little solid herbal knowledge. It's more a curiosity to own this.
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  3. 3
    The Golden Age of Herbs & Herbalists by Rosetta E.
    Clarkson (Dover Publications). This book is an excellent overview of the herbal practices and herbalists over 500 years.
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  4. 4
    The Medieval Health Handbook:
    Tacuinum Sanitatis, translated and adapted by Oscar Ratti & Adele Westbrook (George Braziller Pub). This is an excellent book that incorporates food into the mix, how to choose foods that are right for you and avoid needing an herbal remedy.
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NOW

Some More Recent Herbals
  1. 1
    A Modern Herbal by Mrs.
    Grieves F.R.H.S. (Tiger Books). This herbal is an interesting collection of Culinary, Cosmetic, Medicinal, Folk-Lore, Cultivation and Economic Properties of Herbs.
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  2. 2
    The Herb Book by John Lust (Bantam Books).
    Like a bird guide, this is great for quick references.
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  3. 3
    Medicines from the Earth:
    A Guide to Healing Plants Edited by William A.R. Thomson M.D. (Alfred Van Der Marck Editions). It includes a new forward by Richard Evans Schultes.
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  4. 4
    Indian Herbalogy of North America by Alma R.
    Hutchens (Merco Pub.) This is the ultimate guide to medicinal plants native to North American, and their uses.
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  5. 5
    The New Age Herbalist edited by Richard Mabey (Simon & Shuster Inc).
    How to use herbs for healing, nutrition, body care and relaxation.
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  6. 6
    Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs Edited by Claire Kowalchik & William H.
    Hylton (Rodale Press). This book is a good resource, and self-explanatory.
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  7. 7
    The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody (Key Porter Books).
    A practical guide to the healing Properties of Herbs with more than 250 remedies to common ailments. Actually, anything by Penelope Ody is great. She has the amazing ability to incorporate the Greek ideas of Herbology, and Medieval Herbology with modern concepts and cautions. If you are lucky enough to live in Southern England, Penelope offers courses in Herbalism. Find out more HERE. She's also written many books, all of which would be a welcome addition to your Herbal Library. Some other titles include:  
    1. The Chinese Medicine Bible. The Definitive Guide to Holistic Healing
    2. The Complete Guide to Medicinal Herbs.
    3. Home Herbal.
    4. Practical Chinese Medicine. Understanding the Principles and Practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Making them Work for You.
    5. Healing With Herbs. Simple treatments for more than 100 common ailments.
    6. Herbs for First Aid. Simple Home Remedies for Minor Ailments and Injuries from Coughs and Colds to Cuts and Bruises.
    7. Essential Guide to Natural Home Remedies.
    8. Simple Healing with Herbs.
    9. Pocket Medicinal Herbs.
    10. Healing Herbs.
    11. Herbs for First Aid. Simple Home Remedies for Minor Ailments and Injuries.
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Recent edits by: Inukshuk, Anonymous, Nuance

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