Begin Working with Herbs (Part 2)
Edited by Nuance, VC, Maria Quinney
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.
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.
- 1 Some Terms You Should Know
- 2 The Parts of a Plant
- 3 The Medicinal Virtues of Plants
- 4 Things To Do
- 5 How to Buy, Grow, Harvest and Dry Herbs
- 6 Tips and Warnings
- 7 Comments
Some Terms You Should Know
- 1Doctrine 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)Advertisement
- 2Doctrine 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.Advertisement
- 3Simple. Instead of using several herbs to treat an ailment or condition, you only use one single herb as a remedy.
The Parts of a Plant
- 1The 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:Advertisement
- Bulbs. These are plants that the root is a big ball. Onions have this kind of root.
- Corms are similar to bulbs, but the actual root is solid, unlike a bulb, which grows in layers. Garlic has this kind of root.
- Rhizomes. These roots grow horizontally, just beneath the soil surface. Echinacea and Ginger are both herbs with rhizome roots.
- Taproot. A taproot has a main root that grows faster, and is larger than the branch roots. Comfrey, Burdock and Parsley both have taproots.
- Fibrous. These have various roots, all about the same size. Calendula and Oats have fibrous roots.
- Adventitious. These are roots that form anywhere on the plant, aside from the actual roots. Strawberry and Willow are two examples.
- 2Stem. Stems support the plant, and move water and nutrients around the plant, like plumbing in your house. Stems can by pliable, or very stiff.
- 3Leaves. 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.
- 4Flower. 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.
- 5Fruit. Fruit provides a protective covering for the seeds. Fruit can be fleshy like a peach, or it can be hard like a walnut.
- 6Seeds. Seeds contain new plants. Seeds form in fruit.
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.
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.
- 1Alterative. Herbs that slowly restore the body to its proper function, while increasing the overall strength (Burdock, Cleavers, Nettle)
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.
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:
- 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
- 1The most common way to dry herbs, is to bunch them up, tie them, and hang them upside down until they've completely dried.
- 2Seeds. 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.
- 3A 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.
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).
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.