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Common Herbal Preparations

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Teas are the best-known and most widely used herbal remedies. They can be prepared from a single herb or from a mixture of herb.

Tea

Teas are the best-known and most widely used herbal remedies. They can be prepared from a single herb or from a mixture of herbs. Tea mixtures have the advantage of acting synergistically, attacking a complaint from several different angles and treating whole body systems rather than isolated symptoms. For example, a tea mixture for the circulatory system could contain teas that invigorate the heart, soothe the nerves and enhance circulation.

When preparing a tea mixture, it is important to chop up all the ingredients into a uniform size. If one part of the mixture is finer than the rest, it might settle at the bottom and not mix properly with the other herbs. This may be hard to notice when spoonfuls of tea are taken from the package to be used.

When making up your own herbal mixtures you should include the following four basic types of ingredients:

  1. Main ingredients: First choose the dominant herb(s) that will determine the main effect of the tea. For example, you might want your tea mixture to affect the respiratory system, the urinary system or the circulatory system.
  2. Supportive ingredients: Use additional herb(s) that will support the main thrust of the treatment but will add advantages such as being diuretic, antibacterial, calming or whatever additional effects would be of help.
  3. Aromatic ingredients: Add herbs that will improve the taste of the tea. If possible, these ingredients should also be related to the direction of the treatment. A good example of an herb that can lend a pleasant taste to most mixtures is peppermint.
  4. Fillers: Use fillers to increase the bulk of your tea; herbal fillers should ideally have some relationship to the main treatment or be generally toning. Most often, fillers are selected to add visual appeal by including parts of colorful flowers. A typical filler herb that is rarely used on its own is larkspur (Consolidae regalis flos) with its beautiful azure-blue or bluish-violet flowers. Another filler herb, which is also useful as a digestive remedy, is the helichrysum flower (Helichrysi flos), which is a beautiful bright yellow color.

How to Prepare Herbal Teas

Tea should always be prepared in china or glass pots. Simmering should be done in mirror-finish stainless steel pots. (A lot of the cheaper and even some of the more expensive stainless steel pots have a mirror finish on the outside but not on the inside. When these pots come in contact with acids, they stain and give off black residue.) Imported pottery should be avoided unless the glaze is guaranteed to be lead-free. During simmering or steeping, the pot should be tightly covered to guard the precious ingredients, especially the volatile oils.

Four basic preparation methods exist for herbal tea. The first three can be used with single herbs or herb mixtures.

Infusion

An infusion is just another name for a common cup of tea. Many herbals come with instructions for each herb, but a general rule is to use one teaspoon of the cut-up, dried herb per cup of water. Seeds, such as anise or fennel should be slightly crushed just before being used for tea. If herbs are fresh, use three times the dried amount. Boiling water is poured over the herbs, and the tea is steeped for about ten minutes. Keep the teapot or cup tightly covered. After ten minutes, strain and discard herbs.

It is advisable to fill a thermos with tea to have quantities on hand throughout the day. As a general rule, three to four cups of herbal tea are taken per day. Read the instructions for each tea or tea formula because certain teas, especially kidney tea, have to be taken in much smaller quantities and discontinued after about three weeks. Tea is generally most beneficial for the system when it is warm. It should be taken in small sips and kept in the mouth for a while to enhance absorption. To sweeten your tea, use a little honey or maple syrup. (Note: Sometimes the word "infusion" is also used to refer to making herbal oils.)

Decoction

This method of simmering herbs in water is the preferred method for roots and bark, and for herbs and seeds with very tough cell membranes. Simmering ensures that the hard-to-get-at medicinal substances are dissolved. In a decoction, one teaspoon of dried, or three teaspoons of fresh, herb is used for each cup. The herb is put in cold water in a stainless steel pot, brought to a boil, and then simmered for five to ten minutes. If plant materials are extremely hard, they might have to be simmered for up to thirty minutes. It is important to cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid. Alternatively, pour boiling water over the herbs, and simmer for the required length of time.

Maceration

This cold method is the preferred method for tough herbs that are rich in mucilages, such as marsh mallow root and Irish moss. In a maceration, one cup of cold water is used per teaspoon of herbs. Pour water over the herbs and steep for six to eight hours (twelve to twenty-four hours for very tough plant materials). The cold method has to be used with caution because cold preparations can contain very high bacterial counts; infusions made with boiling water can render a tea contaminated by microbes harmless. Brewing a tea will reduce the amount of bacteria to one-tenth of their original count. A finished maceration should be quickly brought to boil before storage.

Combination Methods

Combination methods are necessary if a tea mixture includes ingredients that need different methods of preparation. For example, in one tea mixture some of the ingredients might need to be processed by maceration and others by infusion or decoction. Similarly, in another mixture, some herbs might need to be done by infusion and others by decoction. Here are the details of how the combination methods work:

To prepare herbs by part-maceration and part-infusion or part-decoction:

  • First prepare a maceration with an amount of herb sufficient for two cups (two teaspoons dry mixture or four teaspoons fresh).
  • Steep herbs in the cold water for twelve to twenty-four hours, depending on the toughness of the material.
  • Strain and reserve the strained herbal matter for the next step.
  • Use an additional cup of water to make either an infusion or a decoction, depending on what is required.
  • Discard the herbs.
  • Quickly boil the cold maceration to be on the safe side, and then combine the two liquids into a single tea.

To prepare a part-infusion and part-decoction:

  • First prepare a two-cup infusion, reserving the strained herb mixture.
  • Simmer the strained mixture in an additional cup of water to make a decoction.
  • Strain and combine the two liquids into a single tea.

To combine all three methods, use the above instructions in the following sequence:

  • maceration (remember to boil the cold liquid);
  • infusion;
  • decoction.

Tea Recipes

The varying content and actions of medicinal plants make them useful for many different conditions. This is true for single plants, such as camomile, and for herbal tea formulas made from several different medicinal plants. (Due to the variation of weights of herbs, measurements have been left in imperial.)

Baby Colic Formula

3 tbsp. Camomile
2 tbsp. Lemon balm
1 tbsp. Fennel
1 tbsp. Licorice root


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1/2 tsp. of dried mixture. Give baby 1/2 cup of diluted tea daily. The breast-feeding mother can drink the rest.

Bladder Formula

3 tbsp. Horsetail
2 tbsp. Stinging nettle leaves
1 tbsp. Rose hips
2 tsp. Rosemary
2 tsp. Sandalwood
2 tsp. Mistletoe
1 tsp. Bearberry


Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1-2 tsp. of the mixture, steep covered for ten minutes; strain and drink 1-2 cups daily.

Bladder-Strengthening Tea

6 tbsp. Stinging nettle leaves
3 tbsp. Dandelion roots and leaves
3 tbsp. Horsetail
2 tbsp. Uva ursi


Pour 1 cup of cold water over 2 tsp. of mixture, bring to boil, steep for five minutes; strain and drink 3 cups daily for four weeks.

Blood Cleansing Formula I

5 tbsp. Birch leaves
5 tbsp. Calendula flowers
5 tbsp. Stinging nettle leaves
2 tbsp. Rose hip seeds
2 tbsp. Goldenrod tops
2 tbsp. Dandelion roots and tops
1 tbsp. Peppermint leaves


Mix well and pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsp. of mixture, steep for ten minutes; strain and drink 1 cup two to five times daily for four weeks.

Blood Cleansing Formula II

2 tbsp. Chicory root
2 tbsp. Dandelion root


Crush the roots and mix 1 tsp. of mixture in 1 cup of cold water, heat to boiling point and simmer for twenty minutes; strain and drink 1-2 cups daily.

Circulation-Enhancing Tea

(Use herbs or tinctures)
6 tbsp. Ginkgo biloba leaves
3 tbsp. Rosemary flowering branches
2 tbsp. Siberian ginseng
1 tbsp. Ginger roots
1 tbsp. Stinging nettle
1/2 tsp. Cayenne pepper


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tsp. of this mixture, steep for ten minutes; strain and drink 1 cup two to four times daily. For tinctures, blend and take 20-40 drops in water, two to four times daily. Drink first thing in the morning and between meals. To warm the body in cold weather, mix with a glass of hot apple juice.

Circulation-Promoting Formula

2 tbsp.(or 1 tbsp. juice) Dandelion
2 tbsp. (or 1 tbsp. juice) Hawthorn
2 tbsp. (or 1 tbsp. juice) Yarrow


May also be prepared using dandelion juice and yarrow juice only. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tsp. of mixture, steep for ten minutes and drink one to three times daily. (Dilute juices in a glass of water and take one to three times daily.) Optional: add a 1/2 cup of carrot juice every other day.

Cold Formula

3 tbsp. Blackberry leaves
3 tbsp. Camomile flowers
3 tbsp. Elderflowers
3 tbsp. Lindenflowers
3 tbsp. Sage leaves
1 tbsp. Rose hips, whole seeds
1 tbsp. Willow bark
1 tbsp. Hibiscus flowers


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 3 tsp. of this mix, steep for five minutes; strain, sweeten with 1 tsp. honey and drink 3 cups daily.

Cold-Prevention Tea

6 tbsp. Rosehip halves
5 tbsp. Lindenflowers
2 tbsp. Echinacea
2 tbsp. Thyme flowers


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tsp. of this mix, steep for five minutes; strain, sweeten with 1 tsp. of honey and drink 1 cup at bedtime or when feeling chilled.

Alternate version:

3 tbsp. Lemon balm leaves
2 tbsp. Camomile flowers
2 tbsp. Hibiscus flowers
2 tbsp. Lindenflowers


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tsp. of this mix; steep for five minutes; strain, sweeten with 1 tsp. of honey and drink 3 cups daily.

Dandelion Tea

Pour 1 cup of cold water over 2 tsp. of dandelion roots and tops, bring to a boil, steep for ten minutes; strain and drink 2 cups daily, 1 cup with breakfast and 1 cup at bedtime, for six weeks.

Female Tonic Formula

2 tbsp. Horsetail tops
2 tbsp. Lady’s mantle, tops
2 tbsp. Lemon balm leaves
2 tbsp. St. John’s wort tops
2 tbsp. White dead-nettle flowers
2 tbsp. Yarrow tops


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsp. of mixture, steep for fifteen minutes; strain, sweeten with 1 tsp. of honey and drink 1-2 cups of tea daily for four weeks.

Formula to Reduce Weight and Increase Metabolism

2 tbsp. Horsetail
2 tbsp. Rosemary
2 tbsp. Sage
2 tbsp. Wormwood


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tsp. of mixture, steep for five minutes; strain and drink 3 cups daily.

Kidney Tea

5 tbsp. Birch leaves
5 tbsp. Camomile flowers
5 tbsp. Stinging nettle leaves
2 tbsp. Dandelion roots and tops
2 tbsp. Rose hips


Pour 1 cup boiling water over 2 tsp. of the mixed herbs, steep covered for ten minutes; strain and drink 4-8 cups throughout the day for three weeks. Repeat therapy after one week.

Kneipp’s Cough Remedy
5 tbsp. Elderflowers
5 tbsp. Ribwort plantain leaves
2 tbsp. Cornflower
2 tbsp. Marsh mallow flowers
1 tbsp. Fennel
1 tbsp. Fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp. Licorice root


Extract by soaking in cold water. Drink 3 cups daily.

Laxative Tea I

3 tbsp. Senna leaves
2 tbsp. Elder flowers
1 tbsp. Fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. Anise


Pour 1 cup of boiling over 1 tsp. of mix, steep for five minutes; strain and drink.

Laxative Tea II

5 tbsp. Camomile
2 tbsp. Buckthorn bark (aged at least one year)
2 tbsp. Caraway or fennel seeds
2 tbsp. Senna


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tsp. of this mixture, steep covered for ten minutes; strain and drink tea warm.

Liver and Gall-bladder Formula

5 tbsp. Birch leaves
5 tbsp. Stinging nettle leaves
4 tbsp. Milk thistle fruit, crushed
2 tbsp. Dandelion roots and tops


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsp. of this mixture, steep covered for ten minutes; strain and sip warm tea between meals. Every two weeks alternate with dandelion tea.

Liver Tea

5 tbsp. Milk thistle fruit, crushed
2 tbsp. Dandelion roots, with tops
1 tbsp. Peppermint leaves


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsp. of this mixture, steep
covered for ten minutes; strain and sip warm tea between meals.

Nerve Tea

3 tbsp. Lemon balm leaves
3 tbsp. St. John’s wort, tops
1 tbsp. Hawthorn leaves and flowers
1 tbsp. Lavender flowers
1 tbsp. Peppermint leaves
1 tbsp. Passion flower leaves and blossoms
1 tbsp. Raspberry leaves
2 tsp. Valerian roots
1 tsp. Hop cones


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tsp. of this mix, steep for five minutes; strain, sweeten with 1 tsp. of honey, and drink 1 cup an hour before going to bed. Drink 2-3 cups daily for four weeks to stabilize the nerves. Rest for two weeks and continue treatment if needed, but not for more than four weeks at a time.

Rheumatic and Gout Formula

4 tbsp. Stinging nettle leaves
2 tbsp. Birch leaves
2 tbsp. Dandelion roots and tops 2 tbsp. Hibiscus flowers
2 tbsp. Raspberry leaves
1 tbsp. Willow bark


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsp. of this mix, steep covered for ten minutes; strain and sip warm tea between meals every day for at least three weeks.

Sensitive Stomach Formula

3 tbsp. Camomile flowers
2 tbsp. Lemon balm leaves
1 tbsp. Iceland moss
1 tbsp. Bitter orange peel


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsp. of this mixture, steep covered for ten minutes; strain and sip warm tea between meals.

Stomach Tea (relieves cramps and pain)

3 tbsp. Camomile flowers
1 tbsp. Lemon balm leaves
1 tbsp. Peppermint leaves
1 tbsp. Wormwood
1 tbsp. Yarrow


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsp. of this mix, steep covered for ten minutes; strain and sip warm tea between meals.

Sweat-Promoting Tea

2 tbsp. Elderflowers
2 tbsp. Lindenflowers
2 tbsp. Mullein flowers
2 tbsp. Peppermint


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tsp. of this mixture, steep for five minutes; strain, sweeten with 1 tsp. honey, and drink hot.

Tea for Breathing Problems

2 tbsp. Iceland moss
2 tbsp. Violets
1 tbsp. Licorice
1 tbsp. Marsh mallow root


Place 2 tsp. of mixture into 1 cup of cold water. Let stand overnight, strain and warm before drinking.

Tea for Insomnia

3 tbsp. Lemon balm
3 tbsp. Peppermint
2 tbsp. Hops
1 tbsp. Valerian
2 tsp. Camomile


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tsp. of this mixture, steep for five minutes; strain and drink 1 cup at bedtime.

Tea for Menopausal Symptoms

6 tbsp. Camomile flowers
6 tbsp. Lemon balm leaves
6 tbsp. St. John’s wort, tops
3 tbsp. Lavender flowers
2 tbsp. Orange flowers
2 tbsp. Rose hips, skin only
1 tbsp. Valerian roots


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 3 tsp. of this blend, steep for five minutes; strain and drink 2-3 cups daily for four weeks.

Tea to Calm Nervous Conditions

4 tbsp. Lemon balm
1 tbsp. Mistletoe
1 tbsp. Silverweed
1 tbsp. Valerian


Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tsp. of this mixture, steep for five minutes; strain, sweeten with 1 tsp. of honey, and drink 3 cups daily.

Fresh Juice

Only fresh plant juice captures the whole synergistic complex of healing ingredients locked in the living plant. The therapeutic effect of plant juices is not attributed to any single substance, but to the complex effects of the various elements contained only in the fresh plant. Plant juices provide a multitude of nutrients, especially the badly needed enzymes required to boost the immune system. In the long run, investing in a juicer that juices wheat grass and leafy green herbs is more efficient and money-saving than purchasing the green powders.
Be certain to get freshly gathered plants, since they quickly deteriorate in storage. The plants must be grown in organically pure soil, free from chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

Roots of radishes or celery can be juiced as they are. If you want to make juice out of woody herbal stalks or tough roots and leaves, you should cut them into small pieces, cover with water and let soak for a few minutes before putting them into a juicer.

Juices should always be used immediately. If they need to be kept for a little while, store in a glass or ceramic container in the fridge, or keep fresh juice in the fridge and let settle for one day, filter and store in tightly sealed container in the fridge for not more than a week. Juice can also be frozen in small compartment plastic bags. Transfer the frozen cubes to non-toxic containers for storage.

Quality bottled commercial juices (such as Schoenenberger plant juices found at your natural health store) are prepared and bottled under optimal conditions and are recommended if fresh, organically-grown medicinal plants are not available for home juicing. Bottled juices are suitable for short-term treatments of a week or two, since potency and freshness are lost shortly after the bottles are opened.

Capsules and Tablets

For capsules, herbs are pulverized and put inside gelatin capsules (available in some health food stores). While capsules can also be prepared at home, tablets are usually store-bought (although Chinese medicine commonly gives instructions on how to manufacture herbal pills). Capsules and tablets have become very popular because they save preparation time and hide any unpleasant taste an herb may have. In spite of their popularity, taking herbs in these preparations is probably the least beneficial way of ingesting them. Many medicinal ingredients in herbs can simply not be used by the body without extracting them first by one of the methods previously described

Extracts

Extracts are herbal liquids prepared with either water or alcohol. To prepare an herbal extract, the powdery herb is stirred into either one of these liquids and treated as a maceration. After the steeping period, the strained liquid is simmered in an open pot until it is reduced to a desired potency. (In Germany, extracts are precisely formulated so that one gram of the extract is the exact equivalent of one gram of the herb.) Many herbs are now available in standardized extracts to assure their medicinal potency. In North America, the words "extract" and "tincture" are often used interchangeably. For the lay person, it probably makes more sense to prepare tinctures rather than extracts.

PDF Table of Standardized Extracts

Tinctures

Many people are surprised to find how easy it is to prepare homemade tinctures. Tinctures are advantageous because they deliver highly concentrated herbal substances in small packages. A few drops are usually sufficient for one dose. Preparing your own tinctures, such as the famous Swedish Bitters or echinacea, is very cost-effective. Remember, however, that most herbs, including echinacea, should not be collected in the wild but purchased in an herb store. Echinacea is a good example of an herb whose recent popularity has turned a once abundant North American plant into a threatened species. The echinacea herb you buy in stores has been farm-cultivated for medicinal use.

You can prepare tinctures from fresh or dried herbs (never both) in a base of eighty proof to 140 proof alcohol. (Proof is double the percentage of alcohol–alcohol that is eighty proof is equivalent to forty percent alcohol). For home preparation, a neutral-tasting alcohol such as vodka (or possibly gin) is best. Using alcohol in a natural remedy may seem strange, but alcohol not only acts as a good solvent for extracting most active constituents but also serves as a stabilizer, preserving tinctures almost indefinitely. Actual exposure to alcohol is minimal since the typical treatment asks for fifteen to thirty drops taken in water three times a day. It has been proven that alcohol makes the walls of the stomach more permeable and facilitates absorption of even very small quantities of herbal substances.

If you do not want to consume alcohol-based tinctures or if you need a remedy suitable for children, there is a new way of preparing herbs in a base of glycerine. The best commercial glycerites are made from herbs that have first been alcohol-extracted for maximum potency, then de-alcoholized in a special process, and then preserved as a glycerine-based tincture. Another good base to use in tinctures is vinegar.

When you prepare any tincture, it is best not to mix herbal ingredients but to use one herb per preparation. If you want to combine several herbs into a single tincture, results are more accurate if single-herb tinctures are prepared first and combined afterwards. However, health food stores do offer some premixed dry herb formulas, notably the one for making Swedish Bitters.

Recipe for alcohol-based tinctures:

Use 1 liter of neutral-tasting alcohol for 200-250 grams of dried herbs or two to three times that amount for fresh herbs. Fresh herbs should be partially dried or well-wilted before use, otherwise the tincture will be diluted by too much water from the fresh herbs. Make sure herbs are wilted in a warm, dry environment to avoid moldiness. St. John’s wort, which is dotted with many tiny pockets of hypericin, its dominant active constituent, should always be used in a wilted, rather than completely dry, form. Fresh wilted herbs are cut into small pieces while dried herbs are finely chopped. Herbs are packed loosely into a jar and covered with alcohol. The jar is tightly closed and kept in a warm place (room temperature is fine) for at least ten days, and possibly for two to three weeks. During that time, the jar is vigorously shaken once a day. When properly aged, the tincture is filtered twice and then put into a dark bottle. The tincture can be used at once. However, to improve its taste, it can first be stored in a dark, cool place for an additional one to two weeks.

Recipe for glycerine-based tinctures:

Next to alcohol, glycerine is the best preservative base for tinctures; its preservative properties are just about equal to those of alcohol and its ability to extract active constituents from herbs is also acceptable. Glycerine actually surpasses alcohol in its ability to extract essential oils but falls short for resins and gums. For glycerites, use 200-250 grams dry, finely chopped herbs in 1 liter of liquid base. The following method in preparing glycerites can be used for children: Prepare a mixture of sixty percent glycerine and forty percent water. In a tightly closed pan, slowly simmer the herbal matter in the liquid for about fifteen minutes. There is also the following non-cook method: Prepare 1 liter of fifty percent glycerine and fifty percent water. Put liquid and 200-250 grams of dried ground herbs in a tightly closed container. Let it sit for two weeks, shaking the container daily. After two weeks, strain and press the mixture, or wring through a cloth. If fresh wilted herbs are used, reduce the water content of the base liquid to twenty-five percent water and seventy-five percent glycerine.

Recipe for vinegar-based tinctures:

Vinegar contains acetic acid, which is both a good solvent and a preservative. Organic apple cider vinegar is best because it has many excellent medicinal properties of its own. Vinegar tinctures are prepared by the same method as alcohol tinctures. You may also use them for cooking. In addition, you can prepare vinegars meant for kitchen use from the recipes below.

Kitchen Vinegars

The vinegars described can be used in cooking and also in hair rinses and baths. Again, because of its own medicinal properties, organic apple cider vinegar is probably the best base. You can use either dried or freshly harvested herbs. Dried herbs are used at the rate of one to two teaspoons per cup of vinegar. Fresh herbs are used in whole sprigs to look pretty inside a bottle. Herb sprigs are lightly squashed before use. About three to six sprigs are put into each liter-sized bottle. Bottles are tightly closed and stored for two to three weeks. They have to be shaken daily.

Vinegars can be made with just one herb or a combination. Good herbs to use are basil, summer savory, dill, garlic, marjoram, parsley, peppermint, sage and thyme. If you have a bottle of essential oils from a corresponding herb, you can add a few drops to the completed vinegar to give it extra flavor. The vinegar should be shaken well before use, since the essential oils do not mix with the vinegar. Freshly prepared vinegars with sprigs of herbs still inside the bottle make pretty presents although herbs should be removed soon after the steeping process is completed.

Wines

Herbal wines have a long tradition in Europe, where they can be bought in stores ready-made. You need ten to twenty grams of herbs for one bottle (three-quarters to one liter) of wine. For herbs that affect the digestive tract, red wine is used because of its tannin, which enhances the effectiveness of the herbs. Digestive wines made with bitter herbs such as wormwood are the most common ones among the herbal wines. Use less, rather than more, of the bitter herbs to prepare the wine.

If you want to make herb wines with other than digestive herbs, white wine is preferable. One simple herbal wine is rosemary wine. A handful of crushed rosemary leaves are steeped in a bottle of white wine. This wine is mildly relaxing and soothes the digestive tract. Herbs in all types of wine are steeped for eight to ten days. The wine is then filtered and can be used immediately. You can experiment with such flavors as ginger wine (settles the stomach) or aniseed wine (good for cramping and flatulence).

Healing Herbal Oils

Herbal oils, also called herb-infused oils, can easily be prepared at home. They basically consist of a vegetable carrier oil in which herbs have been allowed to steep. Herbal oils are best used externally for massage and for skin care. While internal use is possible, essential oils are much better suited for that purpose. The most popular herbs used in herbal oils are high in essential oils, such as St. John’s wort, calendula (Calendula officinalis), lavender, rose, peppermint and rosemary. Calendula is one of the most useful skin care herbs. Since it is antibacterial, the oil can be used for many forms of skin infections. St. John’s wort oil, which is deep red from its high content of hypericin, is excellent for bruises and inflammations. It is also a soothing treatment for backache when the warm oil is rubbed into the spine. St. John’s wort oil is made with the dotted leaves and the whole flowering tops of the plant.

Any vegetable oil that is used as a base for herbal oils should be quite stable, that is, it should not go rancid in storage. One general rule is that the more saturated an oil, the thicker its consistency and the longer its shelf-life. Extra-virgin olive oil, a polyunsaturated oil, is very stable, but because of its strong smell and thick consistency, some people do not like it for skin care. It is used as a base for massage oils, instead. Except for extra-virgin olive oil, oils in supermarkets should be avoided because they owe their long shelf-life to the fact that they have been heat-treated, solvent-extracted, and/or chemically deodorized.

Another rule is that oils rich in vitamin E are more stable than others because vitamin E is an antioxidant, preventing fats from going rancid. You can add extra vitamin E to an herbal oil to increase its stability as well as its benefits to the skin. Use about one 200 International Unit (IU) capsule of vitamin E for every 2 ounce of oil. Since vitamin E does not stay fresh indefinitely, oils should not be prepared in too large quantities and should be stored in the refrigerator after preparation.

While thick, polyunsaturated oils, such as extra-virgin olive oil, make good massage oils, monounsaturated oils are better suited for skin care because they penetrate the skin better than polyunsaturates. They also feel lighter, because they seem to evaporate into the skin. Almond oil and apricot kernel oil are especially well suited for skin care because, in addition to being monounsaturated, they are rich in vitamin E and have a very pleasant smell.

There are several ways of preparing herbal oils.

Preparing herbal oils with fresh herbs:

Fresh herbs should be partially dried or well wilted. They should be cut into small pieces before use. Do not use succulent herbs or other herbs high in water content for this method. Herbs are packed loosely into a jar with enough room for shaking and are covered with oil. Use about three parts of wilted herbs to five parts of oil. The jar is tightly closed and stored for one to four weeks in a dark place, away from heat. (Oil is sensitive to air, light and heat. Room temperature is fine during the steeping process.) The jar is shaken vigorously once a day.

At the end of the steeping period, the oil is strained. Hang the strained herbs in a muslin bag, allowing any residual oil to drip into a bowl (to retrieve as much of it as possible). Do not squeeze the herbs. Let the herbal oil sit so that any water will settle on the bottom. The oil can then be poured off and the water discarded. The oil is stored in a dark, air-tight bottle and kept in the refrigerator.

Preparing herbal oils with dried herbs:

Dried herbs should be finely chopped. Use one part dried herbs to five parts oil. You might have to check later and add a little extra oil. Follow the process described above, although there will be no concern with water content. After the steeping period, dried herbs can be squeezed and wrung out to retrieve as much oil as possible. Make an extra-strong infusion by adding another batch of dried herbs to the finished oil and repeating the steeping process. This is known as a double oil infusion.

Preparing herbal oils on the stove top:

Prolonged heat treatment is never a preferred method, but it might have to be done when there is no time to wait for the steeping process. Tough chopped-up plant materials such as roots and bark are best suited for this process. Herbs used in this method should be low in volatile oils. Use one part o

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