A Quick Look at some Herbal Preparation Methods
People have been using herbs and herbal blends for health for thousands of years – literally. Herb lore has been passed down through the generations both word of mouth and in written form. Herbal preparations, as a part of the whole natural healing and health lifestyle have not been traditionally viewed or used as a one shot cure all. They are usually taken over a period of time, creating a gradual adjustment to bring the body into a more natural balance. They are looked upon as only one element of a natural lifestyle that must also include good nutrition and exercise.
The plants themselves have been catalogued, their most potent and useful parts have been recorded and specific preparations have been developed to use those parts. It's also very common to see different herbs and their parts combined because of the myriad of ways they can enhance, offset and interact with each other. For some plants the flowers are used, others the leaves or stems and for many, like ginseng or Echinacea the root is used. Take for example Eyes System Blend from R-Garden. It contains the roots of Angelica, carrot and Ginger, the bark of Slippery Elm, the green parts from Milk Thistle, the flowers from Lavender and the seeds from millet grain (There are other ingredients)
Some plants are used fresh, others dried, ground into powders, made into teas, or compresses or baths. Just as different parts of different plants are used for different purposes, so too the methods used to create different herbal preparations change. That’s because different techniques have been found to best capture the properties of the herbs being used with the minimal amount of damage.
Here are some of the most frequently used types of preparations:
An infusion is – simply put – a tea. Dried or fresh herbs are briefly boiled in water – removed fro the heat and left to steep for different lengths of time to extract the desired properties. The brief exposure to heat minimizes the damage to beneficial elements. For example, basil leaf – an ingredient in R-Garden’s Amino Acid System herbal blend is also prepared in an infusion from the dried herb.
Commonly one half to one ounce of herb is boiled in a pint of water and left to steep for about 10 minutes, but that will vary according to the herbal tea recipe.
A cold extract is similar to an infusion, but, as the name suggests made without using heat. A cold extract will protect the most volatile plant properties. It takes longer make typically about 8-12 hours and often requires 2-3 times as much herb material as does an infusion.
Dandelion root – which is found in Prostate System Herbal Blend is one plant that is used in both infusions and cold extracts.
One benefit of a tincture is that this is a preparation that can be kept for a long time, not surprising since a tincture is an alcohol based herbal extraction. Typically a tincture is made with 1-4 oz of a powdered herb combined with 1 – 1 1/2 pints of alcohol and then watered down to produce a 50% alcohol solution. You allow it to stand (or steep if you will) for a week or two shaking daily and then strain the solution and store in an airtight bottle –no larger than necessary.
Who hasn’t heard of a poultice…like Granny’s famous and famously dreaded mustard plaster? Poultices are used to apply an herb or herbal blend to the skin and use moist heat to enable its penetration, soothe and extract toxins. Poultices start with a fresh or dried herb, pounded or mashed until it has a pulpy consistency. The herbal mash can be mixed with hot water and cornmeal to make a usable paste which is in turn applied to a hot, wet facecloth or tea towel and applied to the skin – greenside down- and then wrapped with another cloth or towel to maintain good contact and moisture. You can remoisten with more hot water if necessary.
If you’re using plants which can irritate the skin – like a mustard plaster- sandwich the herbs between two face cloths to prevent contact with the skin and wash the area very thoroughly when you’re finished.