Begin Working with Herbs (Part 2)

Edited by Nuance

--Nuance (talk) 21:43, 29 September 2016 (UTC)Before reading this VisiHow article, you should read Begin Working With Herbs (Part 1).

Flowering Sage and Goat's Beard in an Herb Garden.

The advantage of using herbs to treat illnesses - although they take a longer time to work, their effects tend to last longer – affecting changes in the body. They are also without the side effects usual in conventional medicine.

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Before you use any herbs - for food, crafts, and especially anything medicinal, check the warnings and cautions associated with herbs. Penelope Ody's, Complete Medicinal Herbal, is an excellent modern herbal. Always have respect for herbs. Just because it's natural doesn't mean it's safe. An old apothecary's saying, Any herb powerful enough to help - is powerful enough to harm. When in doubt, consult a reputable medical herbalist, pharmacist or other medical professional.

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Some Terms You Should Know

Humors.JPG
  1. 1
    Doctrine of Humors.
    According to Galenical and Ayurvedic medicine, there are four prominent fluids in the body, yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm, and if these humors are out of balance, the treatment is geared toward re-balancing these humors. Find out more about humors here. Begin Working With Herbs (Part 1)
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  2. 2
    Doctrine of Signatures.
    This is the theory that the appearance of an herb is an indication to what its inherent medicinal properties are. The leaves of Lungwort, for example, look like a pair of lungs, and lungwort is used to treat pulmonary diseases.
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  3. 3
    Simple.
    Instead of using several herbs to treat an ailment or condition, you only use one single herb as a remedy.
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The Parts of a Plant

  1. 1
    The Root.
    Usually, but not always, the part of the plant that is underground. Like a straw, roots absorb water and minerals from the soil, and anchor the plant. There are three types of roots:
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    1. Bulbs. These are plants that the root is a big ball. Onions have this kind of root.
    2. Corms are similar to bulbs, but the actual root is solid, unlike a bulb, which grows in layers. Garlic has this kind of root.
    3. Rhizomes. These roots grow horizontally, just beneath the soil surface. Echinacea and Ginger are both herbs with rhizome roots.
    4. Taproot. A taproot has a main root that grows faster, and is larger than the branch roots. Comfrey, Burdock and Parsley both have taproots.
    5. Fibrous. These have various roots, all about the same size. Calendula and Oats have fibrous roots.
    6. Adventitious. These are roots that form anywhere on the plant, aside from the actual roots. Strawberry and Willow are two examples.
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  2. 2
    Stem.
    Stems support the plant, and move water and nutrients around the plant, like plumbing in your house. Stems can by pliable, or very stiff.
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  3. 3
    Leaves.
    The leaves are the plant's "kitchen". This is where sunlight, captured by the leaves, are made into food for the plant. This process is called, photosynthesis.
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  4. 4
    Flower.
    For most plants, the flowers is where reproduction part occurs. Flowers contain pollen and ovules (tiny eggs). After bees pollinate the flower, the ovule is fertilized and develops into a fruit.
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  5. 5
    Fruit.
    Fruit provides a protective covering for the seeds. Fruit can be fleshy like a peach, or it can be hard like a walnut.
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  6. 6
    Seeds.
    Seeds contain new plants. Seeds form in fruit.
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The Medicinal Virtues of Plants

Herbs have many medicinal virtues. They are packed with vitamins and minerals. Listed below are some of the actions herbs have on the body. Most herbs have more than one action, but they are generally related.

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A Glossary of the Medicinal Effects of Herbs

The following is a brief description of some medicinal effects. In brackets are examples of herbs that contain properties that can create that action.

  1. 1
    Alterative.
    Herbs that slowly restore the body to its proper function, while increasing the overall strength (Burdock, Cleavers, Nettle)
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  2. 2
    Analgesic.
    Herbs that work to reduce inflammation and pain. Depending on the situation, they can be used either internally or externally. (Willow, Skullcap)
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  3. 3
    Anaphrodisiac.
    Reduces sexual arousal. (Hops)
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  4. 4
    Anthelmintic.
    These will destroy or expel or worms from the digestive system. (Wormwood, Garlic, Rue)
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  5. 5
    Antianemic.
    Preventing or treating anemia - low iron. (Nettle)
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  6. 6
    Antibacterial.
    These herbs work as antiseptics, reducing or destroying the growth of bacteria. (Cinnamon, Garlic, Ginger, Thyme)
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  7. 7
    Antibilious.
    These antibilious herbs help remove excess bile from the body, and are helpful in cases jaundice. (Burdock, Garlic, Dandelion)
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  8. 8
    Anticatarrhal.
    Helps rid the body of excess mucous and phlegm. (Echinacea, Garlic, Goldenseal, Hyssop, Sage, Yarrow)
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  9. 9
    Antidepressant.
    Works to prevent, cure, or alleviate mental depression. (Basil, Borage, Oats)
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  10. 10
    Anti-emetic.
    Reduces nausea and helps to relieve or prevent vomiting. (Cayenne, Fennel, Lavender)
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  11. 11
    Anti-inflammatory.
    Helps to sooth inflammations within the body. Can be taken internally or applied externally as a poultice salve or poultice. (Chamomile, Calendula, St. John's Wort)
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  12. 12
    Anti-lithic.
    Herbs with this property help prevent stones from forming in the urinary tract, and help to remove them if they've already formed. (Buchu, Wild Carrot)
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  13. 13
    Anti-microbial.
    These herbs work hard to rid the body of pathogenic micro-oganisms, and improve your resistance to them. (Cloves, Echinacea, Eucalyptus, Thyme)
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  14. 14
    Anti-spasmodic.
    As its name implies, herbs with anti-spasmodic properties relax and often prevent spasms, convulsions and cramps. (Motherwort, Skullcap, Valerian)
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  15. 15
    Aphrodisiac.
    Herbs that increase sexual desire and arousal. (Anise, Cinnamon, Cloves, Ginseng)
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  16. 16
    Aromatic.
    Aromatic herbs have an intense and in most cases, pleasant odor. They are effective at stimulating the digestive system, and added to other herbal formulas, they can make them more flavorful, or at lease, palatable. (Aniseed, Basil, Caraway, Cardamom, Chamomile, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander, Peppermint, Rosemary)
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  17. 17
    Astringent.
    These herbs reduce secretions and discharges. As they contain tannins, they can also shrink or contract tissue as well. Herbs with these properties include Agrimony, Bayberry, Beth Root, Bistort, Bugleweed, Golden Rod, Kola, Lungwort, Mullien, Oak Bark, Pilewort, Plantain, Rasberry, Red Sage, Slippery Elm, St. John's Wort, Wild Cherry, Witch Hazel and Yarrow.
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  18. 18
    Bitter (Aperitive).
    Often served before meals, bitter herbs help kick start the digestive process into action. (Golden Seal, Hops, Rue, Tansy, Wormwood.)
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  19. 19
    Cardiotonic.
    A tonic made of these herbs work to tone and strengthen the heart. (Cayenne, Ginger, Hawthorn, Motherwort)
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  20. 20
    Carminative.
    Carminatives contain a large amount of volatile oils that relax the stomach and work to expel gas from the stomach and intestines. (Angelica, Aniseed, Caraway, Cayenne, Dill, Fennel, Ginger, and Peppermint)
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  21. 21
    Cathartic (Purgative).
    These herbs work as a laxative to stimulate the bowels to produce bowl movements. (Aloe Vera, Licorice, Peppermint)
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  22. 22
    Cholagogue.
    These herbs increase the secretion of bile from the gall bladder. They also have laxative properties. (Burdock, Calendula, Dandelion, Garlic)
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  23. 23
    Demulcent.
    These herbs smooth inflammation – especially for mucous membranes. (Licorice, Marshmallow, Mullein)
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  24. 24
    Diaphoretic.
    These herbs help the skin by eliminating toxins, by encouraging perspiration. (Cayenne, Elder, Garlic, Ginger, Yarrow)
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  25. 25
    Diuretic.
    Diuretic herbs work to stimulate and eliminate urine from the body. (Buchu, Dandelion, Parsley, Yarrow)
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  26. 26
    Emetic.
    Emetic herbs induce vomiting. It usually takes a high dose of the herb to be successful. (Black Elder, Lobelia, Mistletoe)
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  27. 27
    Emmenagogue.
    These both stimulate and normalize menstrual flow. Often, these are used in combinations with other herbs to create a tonic. (False Unicorn Root, Motherwort, Raspberry Leaves, Valerian, Yarrow)
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  28. 28
    Emollient.
    Herbs with emollient properties soothe, soften, and protect the skin. (Comfrey, Fenugreek, Flaxseed, Mallow)
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  29. 29
    Expectorant.
    These herbs that remove excess mucous from the respiratory system. (Aniseed, Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Hyssop, Licorice, White Horehound)
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  30. 30
    Febrifuge.
    Herbs classified as a febrifuge reduce fevers. (Cayenne, Elder Flowers, Peppermint)
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  31. 31
    Galactogogue.
    These herbs increase the flow of mother's milk during breastfeeding. (Aniseed, Blessed Thistle, Fennel)
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  32. 32
    Hepatic.
    These herbs increase the flow of bile, and strengthen the liver. (Barberry, Black Root, Dandelion, Goldenseal)
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  33. 33
    Hypnotic.
    These herbs treat insomnia by encouraging sleep. (Hops, Passion Flower, Skullcap, Valerian)
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  34. 34
    Galactifuge.
    Reduces the flow of milk when breastfeeding is finished. (Lemon Balm, Oregano, Sage, Yarrow.
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  35. 35
    Nervine.
    These herbs either stimulate or relax the nervous system, making it stronger and more toned. (Chamomile, Damiana, Ginseng, Hops, Lavender, Oats, Skullcap, ValerianWormwood)
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  36. 36
    Rubefacient.
    Herbs with these properties are applied directly to the skin, causing a mild irritation. This works to dilate the capillaries, which in turn, increasing the blood flow to the area, relieving muscle pain. (Cayenne, Ginger, Horseradish, Nettle, and Peppermint Oil)
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  37. 37
    Sedative.
    These herbs calm the nerves and reduce stress and tension. (Chamomile, Hops, Passion Flower, Skullcap, Valerian)
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  38. 38
    Sialagogue.
    These herbs stimulate the production and secretion of saliva. (Cayenne, Centaury, Ginger)
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  39. 39
    Stimulant.
    These herbs boost physiological responses, and stimulate, physically. (Cayenne, Cinnamon, Ginseng, Wormwood)
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  40. 40
    Tonic.
    These herbs generally strengthen and tone all the major organs. (Aniseed Cayenne, Cleavers, Comfrey, Echinacea, Garlic, Ginseng, Hawthorn, Hyssop, Motherwort, Nettle, Oats, Thyme, Wormwood, Yarrow)
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  41. 41
    Vulnerary.
    Herbs with vulnerary properties are used externally to heal cuts and abrasions. (Aloe, Calendual, Comfrey, Elder, Goldenseal, St. John's Wort, Yarrow)
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Things To Do

Your Personal 20 Herbs

A good way to begin working with herbs, is to choose 20 herbs that you'll learn as much as you can about. There are so many out there, that it's much better to know a lot about 20, that a tiny bit about several hundred. Go through the herbs you choose, and try to cover as many of the medicinal effects listed above by the 20 herbs.

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Keep Records Of Everything You Do

It's important you keep track of everything you do, for future reference. There are things that are very important to record.

  • The actual recipe.
  • The herbs you use.
  • The process you use.
  • Who you are making it for.
  • What you are using the remedy for.
  • The results (get feedback if it wasn't for you)

Create Your Own Measure

Find something that isn't made of metal (except stainless steel), and use it to measure herbs. Always use this to measure, so when you are writing down recipes, you'll know the amount because you always use the same measure. I use a small horn that holds about an ounce (liquid). As an example, the ingredients for an infusion for eczema:

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  • 2 measures chamomile
  • 2 measures nettle
  • 2 measures of evening primrose
  • 1 measure of burdock

How to Buy, Grow, Harvest and Dry Herbs

It's important to make sure you are using the best quality, organic herbs possible.

Herbs Drying

Picking Herbs in the Wild

It's fun to collect herbs in the wild, but there are a few precautions.

  • Make absolutely sure you know what you're picking!!!
  • Make sure the area your collecting from, hasn't been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.
  • Make sure you have permission. If it's public land, there might be restrictions.
  • If you have a friend with a lot of land, and they aren't interested in what grows on it, you might ask them for permission to harvest some of what grows naturally there.
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How to Purchase Herbs

Whether you buy herbs dried or fresh from a health food store, or you find someone who grows them to purchase them from, make sure they are organic, and the dealer is reliable.

How to Grow Herbs

Herbs are relatively easy to grow, and don't require a lot of attention. You can start small by planting a few herbs in pots, and expand from there. The important things to research before starting a serious herb garden, is what plants should be planted next to each other (companion planting), which plants thrive in sun (Chamomile), and what plants prefer shade (Sweet Woodruff), and which plants can be grown in acidic soil (Arnica).

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How to Harvest Herbs

Don't harvest in areas you aren't sure whether or not they've sprayed. You want to harvest herbs in early in the morning, but you must make sure the dew has completely dried. You don't want to pick them too late, as the sun zaps the essential oils from the plant. If you're harvesting the leaves, it's best to cut the stems just before the plant flowers. Once a plant flowers, most of the energy goes into the flowering, and the strength of the leaves will be depleted. When gathering flowers, pick them when they have open, but not for too long.

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How to Dry Herbs

Drying herbs can sometimes zap the strength from an herb, so it's important to find out what herbs are best used fresh, and what herbs can be dried, and still work effectively.

  • Don't dry any herbs that are wet, or even a bit damp. They need to be harvested when dry.
  • Always dry herbs in a dry, shaded or dark place, with some air ventilation.

Some drying methods.

  1. 1
    The most common way to dry herbs, is to bunch them up, tie them, and hang them upside down until they've completely dried.
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  2. 2
    Seeds.
    Dry seeds by cutting some holes in the side of a paper bag, put some herbs upside down in the bag, and hang it. The seeds will drop to the bottom of the bag.
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  3. 3
    A very good trick for drying flowers (Chamomile, Borage, Calendula), is to purchase wicker plates from a dollar store.
    These are the ones meant to hold a paper plate at a picnic. Place some flowers one of the wicker plates, and then put the next plate on top, adding some more flowers, until you have a stack of maybe eight of them. These will dry the flowers quite nicely. The flowers will still get some ventilation, but won't get dusty.
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How to Store Herbs

The two greatest enemies to preserving the effectiveness of dried herbs is oxygen and light. Use airtight jars, preferably made of dark glass. If you don't have dark glass, at least makes sure they are always out of direct sunlight. Keep them in a dark, cool place. The potency of herbs is lost over time. Don't keep herbs longer than one year (which is why you've labeled and dated them).

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Tips and Warnings

  • An herb powerful enough to help - is powerful enough to harm.
  • Two nutmegs can kill a grown man. Herbs are not always safe and gentle.
  • Always use organic herbs.
  • Don't assume people aren't allergic to herbs. People can be allergic to almost anything. Proceed with caution.
  • Purgatives should not be taken internally, as they tend to imitate the effects of a really bad bout of intestinal flu, and are often poisonous.
  • Herbs that stimulate the uterus, including the culinary herb, oregano, can cause a spontaneous abortion. Always read the cautions.
  • Herbs can be contraindicated. Find out how they work with other herbs, or conventional medications you might be taking.
  • Never store herbs in direct sunlight.
  • 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.
  • If you have problems with any of these steps, ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.
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