A kitchen, with all of its marvelous tools, will supply you with most of the utensils you need for preparing herbal products. One of the few rules that most herbalists agree on is never to use aluminum pots and pans for preparing herbs. Despite its popularity, aluminum is a proven toxic substance that is easily released by heat. Instead, use glass, stainless steel, ceramic, cast iron, or enamel cooking equipment.
Here are some items we’ve found especially useful.
- Cheesecloth or fine muslin for straining herbs
- A large, double-meshed stainless steel strainer
- Stainless steel pots with tight-fitting lids
- A grater reserved for grating beeswax
- Canning jars of various sizes for storing herbs and making tinctures
- Measuring cups (though, heaven forbid, I hardly use them)
- A coffee grinder for grinding herbs (Don’t use your herb grinder for coffee; you’ll forever have the flavor of herbs in your coffee and the scent of coffee in your herbs.)
HOW TO DETERMINE MEASUREMENTS
While many people are converting to the metric system, we’ve reverted to the simpler’s method of measuring. Many herbalists choose to use this system because it is extremely simple and very versatile. Throughout, you’ll see measurements referred to as “parts”: 3 parts chamomile, 2 parts oats, 1 part lemon balm. The use of the word “part” allows the measurement of any one ingredient to be determined in relation to the measurement of the other ingredients.
The “part” can be interpreted to mean a cup, an ounce, a pound, a tablespoon, or what-have-you — as long as you use that unit consistently throughout the recipe. If you were using tablespoons in the recipe above, you would measure out 3 tablespoons of chamomile, 2 tablespoons of oats, and 1 tablespoon of lemon balm. If you were using ounces as your unit of measurement, you’d use 3 ounces of chamomile, 2 ounces of oats, and 1 ounce of lemon balm.
Herbal teas remain my favorite way of using herbs medicinally. The mere act of making tea and drinking it involves you in the healing process and, we suspect, awakens an innate sense of healing in you. Though medicinal teas are generally not as potent or as active as tinctures and other concentrated herbal remedies, they are the most effective medicines for chronic, long-term imbalances. And all you really need to make them is a quart jar with a tight-fitting lid, your selected herbs, and water.
Herbal teas can be drunk hot, at room temperature, or iced. They can be made into ice cubes with fresh fruit and flowers and used to flavor festive holiday punches. They’re deliciously blended with fruit juice and frozen as pops for children. Once brewed, herbal tea can sit at room temperature for quite some time, but after several hours or when left out overnight, it will eventually go “flat,” get tiny bubbles in it, and begin to sour.
Stored in the refrigerator, herbal tea will keep for 3 to 4 days. We seldom direct people to make medicinal teas by the cupful. It is impractical and time-consuming. Instead, make a quart of tea each morning or in the evening. Use 4 to 6 tablespoons of herb per quart of water. The herb-to-water ratio varies depending on the quality of herbs, on whether the herbs are fresh or dried (use twice as much fresh herb in a recipe), and on how strong you wish the tea to be. There are two basic methods for making tea, and two variations I’ve included just for fun.
Infusions are made from the more delicate parts of the plant, including the leaves and flowers. Place the herb in a quart jar (or any container with a tight-fitting lid), and pour boiling water over the herb. Cover, and let steep (infuse) for 30 to 45 minutes. A longer steeping time will make a stronger tea. Strain, reheat if needed, and your tea is ready to drink. For medicinal purposes, it is always recommended to drink your herbal tea (or any liquid, for that matter) warm or at room temperature.
Decoctions are made from the more tenacious parts of the plant, such as the roots and bark. It’s a little harder to extract the constituents from these parts, so a slow simmer (or an overnight infusion) is often required. Place the herb in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Heat slowly, and simmer with the lid on for 20 to 45 minutes. Again, the longer you simmer the herbs, the stronger the tea will be. Strain and drink.
Solar and Lunar Infusions
Have you ever considered using the light of the moon or the sun to extract the healing properties of herbs? It’s one of my favorite methods for making herbal tea. Sometimes, after I’ve prepared a tea on my kitchen stove, I’ll place it in the moonlight or sunlight to pick up some of the rays of these giant luminaries. We are children of the sky as well as the earth; using the energies of the stars, moon, and sun in our healing work adds a special touch.
Solar tea is made by placing the herbs and water in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Place directly in the hot sunlight for several hours.
Lunar tea is made by placing the herbs and water in an open container (unless there are lots of night-flying bugs around!) and positioning it directly in the path of the moonlight. Lunar tea is subtle and magical; it is whispered that fairies love to drink it.
Syrups are the yummiest of all herbal preparations, and children often prefer their medicine in this form. They are delicious, concentrated extracts of the herbs cooked into a sweet medicine with the addition of honey and/or fruit juice. Vegetable glycerin may be substituted for honey; it is an excellent medium for herbs and is very nutritious.
HOW TO MAKE SYRUP
This is one of the favorite methods for making syrup.
Step 1. Combine the herbs with water in a saucepan, using 2 ounces of herbs per quart of water. Over low heat, simmer the liquid down to 1 pint. This will give you a very concentrated, thick tea.
Step 2. Strain the herbs from the liquid. Compost the herbs and pour the liquid back into the pot.
Step 3. Add 1 cup of honey (or other sweeteners such as maple syrup, vegetable glycerin, or brown sugar) to each pint of liquid.
Step 4. Warm the honey and liquid together only enough to mix well. Most recipes instruct you to cook the syrup for 20 to 30 minutes longer over high heat to thicken it. It does certainly make thicker syrup, but I’d rather not cook the living enzymes out of the honey.
Step 5. When the syrup is finished heating, you may add a fruit concentrate to flavor it; or perhaps a couple of drops of essential oil, such as peppermint or spearmint; or a small amount of brandy to help preserve the syrup and to aid as a relaxant in cough formulas.
Step 6. Remove from the heat and bottle for use. Syrups will last for several weeks, even months, if refrigerated. Though you can make almost any herb or herbal formula into a syrup, the most popular syrup, without question, is elderberry syrup. You can make elderberry syrup using either fresh or dried berries.
Far more delightful than taking herbs in tinctures or pill form are these delicious medicinal candies. You can mix just about any herbal formula this way.
HOW TO MAKE HERBAL CANDY
Step 1. Grind raisins, dates, apricots, and walnuts (the exact proportions are up to you) in a food processor. Alternatively, you can mix nut butter (such as peanut, almond, or cashew) with honey in equal portions. (If you’re concerned about the use of honey, then use maple syrup, rice syrup, or maple cream.)
Step 2. Stir in shredded coconut and carob powder, again in whatever proportions you like.
Step 3. Add your herbs, in powdered form. Mix well.
Step 4. Roll the mixture into balls. (To yield the recommended dosage, divide the number of herbs you’ve used by the dosage, and roll that number of balls. For example, if you’ve used 10 teaspoons of herbs, and the dosage is ½ teaspoon, you’d roll 20 balls.)
Step 5. Roll the balls in powdered carob or shredded coconut. Store in the refrigerator.
Herbal pills are simple, practical, and easy to make. You can formulate your own blends and make them taste good enough so that even children will eat them. Formulate them with herbs for the throat to make a tasty sore throat remedy to suck on.
HOW TO MAKE HERBAL PILLS
Step 1. Place powdered herbs in a bowl and moisten with enough water and honey (or pure maple syrup) to make a sticky paste.
Step 2. Add a tiny drop of essential oil, such as peppermint or wintergreen oil, and mix well.
Step 3. Thicken with carob powder, adding enough to form a smooth paste. Knead until the mixture is smooth, like the texture of bread dough.
Step 4. Roll into small balls the size of pills. You can roll them in carob powder for a finished look if you like. (To give each the recommended dosage, divide the number of herbs you’ve used by the dosage, and roll that number of pills. For example, if you’ve used 10 teaspoons of herbs, and the dosage is ½ teaspoon, you’d roll 20 pills.)
Step 5. Place the pills on a baking tray and set to dry in the oven at very low heat (even the pilot light will work), or just in the sun. These pills, once dried, will store indefinitely. I often store mine, undried and unrolled, in the refrigerator, in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, and roll them as I need them.