The Correct Way to Use Herbs.


In last month's issue, we talked about the difference between homeopathic and herbal, and it's a big difference. Although we have touched on the correct way to use herbs in various articles, we decided a refresher course on the correct way to use herbs for maximum benefit is probably required. So we will go into it in more depth with this article.

Almost all of our modern-day medicines are derived from an isolated compound of a plant or herb, concentrated, then compressed into a convenient form for retail sales. Herbs, the whole plant, have been used since the beginning of time. Every ancient culture relied on them and had Shamans or apothecaries or medicine people etc., who studied herbs, how to use them and how to administer them. Herbs have been used to cure ailments long before medicines were invented. They have fallen in and out of favor with the public over many centuries, and replaced with modern medicine primarily because popping a pill is so much more convenient, however, as we are now finding out, modern medicines are prone to causing severe side effects and often produce more health problems.

Many Naturopathic doctors, herbalist and homeopaths believe - and there is some evidence to show - that using the whole plant part rather than just an isolated and concentrated compound of the plant is far less likely to produce side effects. After all, plants were meant to be consumed in their whole form, not picked apart, added to chemicals and super concentrated and highly manufactured. As we have also discovered about food in general, we are paying too high of a price for the convenience of manufacturing; we are sacrificing health for convenience and cost. For many, that is too high of a price to pay and having tried herbal remedies, have found they actually do work if you know what you are doing with them.

If herbs ever became too popular, you can bet the FDA would find some way to regulate them into nonexistence if they become too much competition for pharmaceuticals. So let's thank our lucky stars that hasn't happened yet, and keep using herbs in secret - by growing them ourselves and learning how to use them in their most effective whole form. Let's get started.

Harvesting, Preserving and Storing Herbs:

Harvesting: The term used by herbalist for harvesting herbs in the wild is called "wildcrafting". Whether you wildcraft or grown your own, herbs like every plant, have an optimum time of the day and year to harvest certain parts of them for maximum nutritional and medicinal benefits. For instance, most gardeners would also agree, the best time of day to harvest plants is early morning when they are still holding their freshness and moisture from overnight and have not dried out in the sun's heat.

What part of the herb plant you use will determine what season you will harvest it in. If you are using the flowers, of course, you harvest mostly in early spring or summer when they are in bloom. If you are using the stems, leaves and upper plant, early spring is best for that is when they will have the most nutrients. Therefore, spring would be the best time to harvest leafy herbs such as clovers, alfalfa, oregano, mints, basil etc. Dandelion greens are best picked as soon as they pop out of the ground or they will become bitter as the season goes on.
Late summer is the best time to harvest for essential oils because the oils are not diluted by spring rains and lots of moisture and are becoming more concentrated within the plant as the driest period of the summer arrives.
Late fall is the best time to harvest roots as the plant uses them for storage for the long winter. Also, most people prefer to harvest first-year roots since they will not be as pithy or tough as roots that are older.

Preserving: There are several ways to preserve herbs: drying, making them into a tincture, extract, essential oil or salves.

Drying herbs: Dried herbs can be used to make medicinal teas, crushed and mixed with a base ingredient of some sort, or made into a powder and put into capsules or mixed with food for ingestion. Some herbs are so bitter, you won't want to use them for teas or anything you might taste, they are best crushed into powders and put into capsules. You can buy empty capsules in bulk from most health stores, or simply buy a good quality brand that has already done the work for you. If you plan on using them for teas, it is best to dry the leaves in as whole as possible. The minute you crush up anything it starts to lose nutrients, oils and flavors. Keep dried leaves and stems in a dark-colored glass jar with a lid in a dark place to best preserve their freshness. An herbal company called Eclectic Institute is one of the best brands to purchase for freshness as they freeze-dry most of the herbs to preserve freshness. Dried herbs will not be fresh or have much potency passed a year after harvest.

Warning: Some herbs must be dried to change their chemical composition before use; such as Cascara Sagrada, so be sure to educate yourself on herbs before you process or preserve them.

Drying roots: Some roots get so hard when dried, you will find it very difficult to crush them up to use after they are dry. These are best ground up while they are still soft, then dried on a rack or in a dehydrator, then kept in a glass jar in the refrigerator or in a plastic container in the freezer. Dried roots will keep their potency for about a year.

Tinctures, extracts, oils, salves: All have a much longer shelf life than dried herbs. Generally, they will keep their potency for about 3-5 years.

Standardized: A term you will see on most dried herb capsules. As you can determine, and will discover if you make your own herbal products, batches of herbs can vary in potency from one batch to another, which is typical. Standardized herbs have been manufactured to always contain the same amount of its medicinal compound for every batch. However, some herbalists disagree with the practice of standardization for the same reasons we mentioned above that cause side effects in drugs. Standardization isolates one compound in an herb the same way drug manufacturers do. Many herbal users believe a plant should be used in its whole form in order to avoid side effects and to preserve the maximum medicinal qualities. Some compound are most effective in the presence of another compound in the plant.

Various Methods for Using Herbs:

Herbs are most effective and potent when taken on an empty stomach; this way they don't get diluted and have to compete with food to get into the body. There are a few exceptions, such as garlic, goldenseal and some very bitter herbs that may cause stomach upset if not taken with food. Every person responds to herbals differently, just like medications, and herbs should be respected and used with caution just like medications. Start out with a half dose of any herb you have never tried before when first using it to see if you have any adverse reactions to it. If not, then take the full dose a few hours later.

Infusions, Teas, Decoctions, Juices, Syrups: These are all the easiest to make, and can be just as potent as any other form of using the herb. Tea is essentially an infusion, there really is not any difference except that when somebody makes an infusion, they are taking certain factors into consideration that they would not with tea. Tea is usually consumed for it's taste, while an infusion is consumed for its medicinal properties so it may be a bit more concentrated or handled a bit more seriously during preparation. For instance, using distilled water will pull more of the desired nutrients out of the plant because it is a "hungry water". Generally 3 Tbsp of fresh herb or 1 Tbsp of dried per cup of water is used.

A decoction / extract is a more concentrated, potent tea. Usually this term is used to describe a very strong tea made from roots, seeds or bark that need to be simmered slowly for a long period of time in order to release their medicinal essences. Using distilled water, usually 1 ounce of dried herb to just enough water to cover it by about 1/2 inch or 1 1/2 pints, simmer on low for about 10 minutes, leave it in the pan but remove it from heat and let it sit for an additional 5 minutes or overnight. Decoctions can then be frozen for future use if needed. I do this with comfrey root so I can always keep it handy and ready to go in my accident-prone family and for pets. Comfrey root decoction will only last about a week in the refrigerator before it turns sour and spoils, so freezing it is a good way to keep in on hand for emergencies.

Extracts are a cold-processed version of decoctions, or herbs that would lose their effectiveness if heated are soaked in water or oil for use. Some use alcohol and some use glycerin or water. Tinctures are basically decoctions or extracts or dried herb preserved in alcohol. You can make them yourself using a high proof alcohol like vodka or grape alcohol. Make sure it is at lease 80 proof in order to actually preserve the herb rather than ferment it. 100 proof vodka works well. The general rule for tinctures is 50% water to 50% alcohol, which is equivalent to 100 proof vodka.

Oxymels and Best Way to Use Garlic: Are a combination of 5 parts honey to 1 part vinegar added to especially nasty-tasting herbs to disguise their taste. Some people use it for garlic, although I don't mind the taste of garlic and actually like it simply sliced thinly and put on a piece of buttered bread or cracker. The butter prevents it from burning your mouth so much and garlic should be taken with a little food to avoid stomach upset anyway. Fresh garlic is the best way to use it since once it is dried or even crushed or sliced it immediately starts to lose its medicinal qualities. Goldenseal, Horehound and some other very bitter herbs are another story. Usually the only way a person can stand their taste at all is to hide it as much as possible. They are good herbs for oxymels.

Oils: Essential oils are made by distillation, an extraction process than you really cannot duplicate at home with much effectiveness. So essential oils are best purchased from a quality manufacturer. Essential oils are so potent and concentrated, they are meant to be used externally only. Never use an essential oil orally and many have to be diluted with a carrier oil before they can be applied to the skin or they will burn.
You can make herbal culinary oils, cooking oils, or skin oils such as ear oils yourself. Usually all that is required to make an herbal oil for internal consumption is to chop up the herb in fine pieces and soak it in olive or grapeseed oil for at least 2 weeks in a cool, dark place. Keep the oil out of the sun and when cooking with it, add it just before serving as most herbal oils do not taste very good once the herbs are cooked.

Salves / Ointments / Lotions: Can be made with beeswax, olive oil and essential oil. Heat 5 ounces of olive oil with 1/4 ounce beeswax and warm just until you can mix them together to the consistency you want. Remove from heat and add a couple drops of your desired essential oil or use dried herbs to prevent the salve from getting moldy.

Poultices / Fomentations: A poultice is made by taking the whole herb, crushing it and applying it to the affected body part and wrapping it to keep it in place for several hours allowing the natural juices of the plant to seep into the skin to heal the affected area. The herb should be crushed thoroughly to release it's medicinal juices, wrapped first with plastic wrap to keep it moist then wrapped with a cloth bandage or rag. This is the best way to use plantain leaves for beestings, bites, splinters, rashes etc.
A fomentation is made by making a very strong or potent tea and dipping a cloth into the fomentation then applying it to the affected area. This works extremely well for comfrey root and is the best way to use it.

Warning: Some herbs should never be used fresh. A plant's chemical composition will change when it is processed. Elderberry is one herb that should never be used fresh because of it's high amounts of cyanic acid which can be poisonous. Cook elderberries before use by using them steeped in a tea, made into a syrup or extract/tincture.


Bug Repellent Oil.

Essential oil of Citronella, Eucalyptus, Bergamot or Lavender. Mix three parts olive or grapeseed oil of one part essential oil of one of these herbs known to repel bugs. Keep in a lotion bottle in the refrigerator until used.

Face Cream.

2/3 cup Rosewater or Orangewater

1/3 cup aloe gel

Essential oil of choice, something like grapefruit, Vitamin E oil, Vitamin A oil, are good facial oils

3/4 cup apricot or almond oil

1/3 cup cocoa butter

1 tsp anhydrous lanolin (can find online for body care making products)

2 Tbsp liquid lecithin (necessary to break down the oils so they mix with the other liquids and don't separate.)

1/2 ounce grated beeswax.

Melt oils and beeswax together. Cool. Add aloe gel to rose or orange water and whip in a blender. Gradually drizzle the oil mixture into the aloe gel mixture and whip on highest speed. It will get very thick, then you know it's done. Keep in a jar in the refrigerator.


Foods That Heal: Kiwi.


Therapeutic Properties: This fruit has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat stomach cancer and breast cancer. It is a very high source of vitamin C.

Acid or Alkaline: Very alkaline

Significant Nutrients: 1 Kiwi fruit contains 74 mg of vitamin C, more than a whole orange. Kiwi is also a very good source of potassium and fiber.

How to Use: Peel and slice. Tastes good mixed with citrus juice in a blender, eaten raw, on salads or in a smoothie.

How to Grow: Kiwi is a tropical fruit.




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HOME REMEDIES: Bug Bites, Stings.

Summer can be a hazard what with all the insects and plants that can cause irritation. The best summer bug bite and bee sting remedy around is plantain leaf, and it's so easy to grow. Plantain grows along roadsides, but you don't want to use it after millions of vehicles have contaminated it with chemical exhaust. So save the seeds from a plant, disperse them in a dry area with good drainage, cover them lightly with soil and if you even get one plant to come up, you will have plenty more as it readily self sows.

Then the second you get stung, pick a plantain leaf (you can easily recognize plantain as it is the only plant that has leaves with vertical veins) crush it up in your mouth and apply it to the sting. Keep it there for a minimum of 20-30 minutes and you will be surprised at how it takes down the swelling, pain and redness. Works for almost any bug bite or skin irritation.



How to use herbs for maximum benefit. Short and sweet descriptions and uses written by our on-staff Nutritional Herbalist. Always remember that herbs should be treated as a medicine. Almost all of our modern-day medicines are derived from chemical compounds found in herbs and plants. If you have not used a particular herb before, try a half dose at first to make sure you do not have an unfavorable reaction to it.

Kelp, Sea Kelp

Medicinal Properties: Mainly used as a source of iodine for proper thyroid function. Studies report that almost anyone living in the Rocky Mountain and Great Lakes regions are iodine deficient.

How to Use: Various brands of dried herb in tablet and capsule form are best since it tastes horrible (like stinky fish). Should be taken every day to correct and maintain proper thyroid function.

How to Grow: Kelp grows in the oceans, the cleanest oceans and the type of kelp to look for in stores is kelp from the cold water areas such as, Norwegian Kelp, Icelandic Kelp etc.

Significant Nutrients: Iodine, chlorophyll

Some Herb Basics: Most herbs work better on an empty stomach. A few exceptions are garlic, goldenseal and cayenne due to stomach upset. Herbs work in a cumulative fashion meaning they are not a "one dose wonder." They need to build up in the system a little, usually within 2-3 doses, before any real affect can be noticed. Fresh herbs always work better than old herbs and science is always proving the fact that a whole herb usually is more effective than one isolated compound of that herb.


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May 2015

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