When you enter into the world of medicinal herbs it is easy to get overwhelmed and confused by all the different kinds of preparations. To help you understand what they mean, here is a list explaining how some of the most popular herbal preparations are made and used.
Tea is probably the most well-known herbal preparation in the world. To make a tea, herbs are steeped in hot water for several minutes in order to extract beneficial properties. Teas are a very mild form of herbal administration, and can be enjoyed regularly as a beverage.
Decoctions are similar to teas but instead of steeping the herbs in hot water, the herbs are boiled with the water for an extended period of time. Sometimes one or more herbs will be boiled for longer, and other herbs will be added later. Through this process different herbs can have different strengths within the same herbal formula. Generally, decoctions are stronger than teas, and should be used with more clearly defined intentions.
Of all the water preparations, cold infusions take the longest to prepare. To make a cold infusion herbs are submerged in unheated water for as long as 48 hours. Because no heat is added to draw the herbal constituents out, these preparations are generally even milder than teas.
A tincture is an alcohol or glycerin herbal extraction. To make a tincture, the most common process is to chop up fresh herbs and submerge them in alcohol or glycerin for 2 weeks. Occasionally dried herbs can be used when fresh herbs aren’t available, but fresh herbs are almost always preferable. Different herbalists may use different ratios of herb to liquid, and they may also infuse the herb for more or less time than 2 weeks. The recommended doses also vary depending on the herbalist.
Cordials and Herbal Wines
A cordial or herbal wine is similar to a tincture but generally the herbs are infused in brandy (for a cordial) or wine, rather than the more highly-alcoholic liquors most-often used for tinctures. This means the constituent extraction may be less profound than in a tincture. However, these preparations are meant to be tasty, and are therefore often enjoyed regardless of their medicinal properties.
Granules are most commonly found in modern Chinese medicine practices. They are produced by dehydrating herbal decoctions into concentrated granulated forms. Tablespoons of the granules are then added to the water when they are to be consumed. This method is prescribed by practitioners of Chinese medicine to make Chinese formulas less arduous for the lay person.
Syrups are made by cooking a jam (with herbal berries) or strong herbal decoction (for leafy herbs, flowers, bark, or needles) and adding glycerin, honey, or sugar. Syrups are one of the most delicious forms of herbal preparation, but should be taken in moderation due to their sweetness.
An essential oil is obtained through a distillation process that leads to a highly concentrated herbal extraction. Essential oils are so strong that they are mainly used for external aromatherapy purposes in drop doses. Very rarely are they used internally.
Where other herbal preparations can have clear physiological effects based on material constituents, flower essences elicit an energetic reaction similar to homeopathy. With the belief that energy guides matter, flower essences may have physical effects, but their focus is generally on the emotions.
Flower essences begin with a plant infusion, generally placed in direct sunlight. After a certain amount of time the plant parts are removed, and the liquid essence is preserved with brandy. Because they act on the energetic body, flower essences are taken in drop doses.
Sitz Baths and Soaks
Sitz baths and soaks generally use herbal teas, decoctions, or essential oils to immerse the skin and achieve desired therapeutic effects. Sitz baths are specifically for the hips and legs, whereas an herbal soak can involve any part of the body
An herbal pill is generally made by combining powdered herbs with honey or dates and rolling the combination into small pills. Pills can then be dehydrated or kept in the refrigerator and enjoyed as needed.
Suppositories are a form of rectal or vaginal herbal application, generally in pill form.
A poultice is a fresh herb application on wounded skin. The herb is chopped up into small pieces and applied directly to the affected area. To keep it in place, the fresh-herb poultice is generally covered with cloth and secured with a knot.
Compresses are also used topically on wounded skin. Compresses are made by infusing or decocting fresh or dried herbs, soaking cloth in the warm liquid extract, and then applying the wet cloth to the affected area for up to an hour.
Salves are made by decocting herbs in oils, straining the physical herbs out, then adding beeswax to the herbal oil and letting the mixture cool. Salves are used as lip balms or healing ointments on wounded skin.
Katerina Pozzi believes it can be easy and affordable to live a healthy, vibrant life with the right resources and knowledge. Weaving Indian and Chinese philosophy with Western understanding, Katerina runs the site Della Terra Wellness, where she explains what forms of nourishment people need at any given time, both body and soul, and how to provide it for themselves using what is easily available.