MAKING UP PREPARATIONS
There are a number of ways to make herb medicines and beauty care preparations. They are all fairly easy processes and most of the equipment required to make them is already in the home.
The first and most important rule when making any herbal remedy is that the saucepan used should be either stainless steel or enamel, Aluminium or non- stick pans should never be used as contact with their surfaces may alter the nature of the herb.
All herb medicines and cosmetics made in the home are more effective when freshly made and it is unwise to prepare a large quantity at any one time. No remedy should be kept for more than a few days.
If the recipe requires the herb to be chopped, this should be done using a stainless steel knife and wooden chopping board. Light crushing or bruising can be done in the hand, but if the leaves and flowering shoots need to be well crushed this is best done in a stone pestle and mortar. To turn herb leaves into a purée the fresh leaves can be washed and, with a little water added, pulped in an electric blender. Dried leaves will need to be reconstituted in water first. Herbs can be cooked to a mash by adding a little water to the leaves in an enamel pan. Place the pan over a low heat and stir or beat until the right consistency is obtained. Woody-stemmed herbs can be crushed in a pestle and mortar and roots, whether fresh or dried, should be grated as required and used straight away. Seeds can be lightly crushed or ground either in an electric blender or by placing between sheets of greaseproof paper or parchment and using a rolling pin. Flowers are never subjected to heavy treatment and should only be lightly crushed.
After the preparation has been made it should be strained carefully through gauze, muslin (cheesecloth) or a nylon strainer. Gauze is a loosely woven cotton cloth and is adequate for straining whole leaf infusions. Muslin or cheesecloth can be purchased in varying weaves, the very fine being the best for infusions using ground seed, verbascum flowers or rosehips. Muslin or cheesecloth and gauze can be bought at most sewing departments.
Adding herbs to the bath water is a most effective form of medicinal and cosmetic treatment. They are easy to prepare and the bath can be enjoyed as relaxing, healing, invigorating or as an aromatic bath to perfume the body. Some medical herbalists prescribe the herb bath for a number of ailments.
To make a bath sachet, you will need a piece of ‘muslin or cheesecloth 8 in (20 cm) square. On to this place 3 large tablespoons of chopped fresh or dried herbs. Tie the corners of the cloth square together with a piece of string and hang it from the hot water tap (faucet) while running the bath, so that the water rushes through the sachet. Once in the bath, use the bag to rub all over the skin and get the full benefit of the herbs. For added softening of the water, 1 tablespoon of oatmeal can be mixed in with the herbs.
Bath sachets can be used more than once if hung up dry after use. The effect of the herbs will naturally become weaker with each successive bath. Two or three herbs mixed together in a bath sachet can make refreshing and effective mixture. Herbs which go Weil together are chamomile and lavender flowers with thyme. Yarrow for an oily skin combines well with fennel, sage and rosemary. Lovage, which has deodorizing properties, can be mixed with marigold‘s and elderflowers for a soft scented bath.
A strong infusion or a decoction of a single herb can
e added directly to the bath water and is of benefit
o the skin and body in a similar way to a sachet. Four cupfuls would be sufficient for an average-sized bath.
This is a method of applying localized treatment using either an infusion or a decoction. It can be warm, but is usually applied cold. The infusion or decoction is left to cool then strained. A clean piece of lint or light towelling is dipped into it, the excess wrung out and the cloth immediately applied to the affected area. It should be left on for 15-20 minutes or until the heat of the body has warmed it up. Continue, using cool fresh compresses until relief is obtained
This is a medicine or drink which contains sugar and alcohol, so it can be kept for a period of time. There are a number of herbs which can be made into pleasant-tasting cordials and taken for digestive troubles, coughs, colds and other chest complaints. A cordial is usually made with one of the stronger- flavoured herbs such as peppermint, sage or thyme. Make a strong decoction of the herb, leave to cool then strain. Bring the decoction to the boil, remove from the heat and add sugar in the proportion of 2 tablespoons of sugar to ½ cup of cordial. The thinly- peeled rind of an orange or ½ lemon can be added if suited to the herb. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Leave to cool, strain and add 2-3 tablespoons of Dutch gin. Pour the mixture into a stoppered bottle.
This method of extracting the active ingredients of the herbs is usually used for roots, stems and seeds. The root is placed in an enamel or stainless steel pan and covered with water. The water is brought to the boil and simmered for the specified time, usually about 10-15 minutes. After removing from the heat, the herb is left to steep for a further period of time or until cold. It is then strained before being used.
There are some herb leaves and flowers that can be made up as a decoction, for instance violet flowers or sage leaves. These are added to cold water, which is then brought to the boil and simmered for 3-4 minutes. The decoction is covered and left to steep for about 3 minutes before straining.
Make by mixing a strong herbal infusion with a thickening agent to form a paste. The strong infusion is made by pouring ½ cupful of boiling water on to 1-2 handfuls of herb. Leave to infuse for 15 minutes, strain and allow to cool. Fuller’s earth, oatmeal or yoghurt can all be used to thicken the face pack. The herb can be added directly to yoghurt and left to permeate for 30 minutes before using. This may be too liquid if using an infusion and a little oatmeal mixed in will help to form a thicker paste.
To use a face pack, thoroughly cleanse the face. Spread the pack over the skin with fingers or a brush, avoiding the eyes and mouth. The eyes can be covered with cotton wool pads wrung out in cold water. Lie down and relax for 15-20 minutes. Remove the pack and wash the face with warm water, finishing by splashing the skin with cold water.
The herb used will depend upon the skin type or problem. If the skin is very oily the pack could include yarrow, parsley or elderflower. For large pores, horsetail and sage are effective and comfrey makes a soothing face pack for a dry skin. There are other ingredients which can be added: egg yolks are helpful for a dry, flaky skin, and honey in a fennel pack helps to smooth out wrinkles. Lemon juice is astringent and will help to tighten the pores in oily skins.
This is similar to a poultice, and although less effective as a treatment it is easier to apply. It is a form of moist heat and used as a remedy to increase the flow of blood and thus relieve the affected area. As soon as the infusion or decoction has been made, strain it into a bowl standing over a pan of hot water. Have ready a piece of lint or towelling folded into the middle of a longer piece of cloth. Place the cloth containing the piece of lint in the bowl with the ends hanging over the sides. When thoroughly soaked twist the ends in opposite directions until the dripping has stopped. Quickly unfold the cloth and place the fomentation as hot as possible on to the painful spot. The fomentation can be renewed until relief is felt.
For tired, aching and swollen feet a daily footbath can bring soothing relief, help to regulate the flow of perspiration, or provide a tonic invigorating effect. A strong decoction of the appropriate herb is made by adding 2 cups of water to 2-3 handfuls of the herb. Leave to soak for a short while (the time depending on the individual herb), bring slowly to the boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
A strong infusion of some herbs is as effective as a decoction. Add boiling water to the herb and leave to steep for 10 minutes. Strain the decoction or infusion into a bowl and soak the feet for about 15 minutes. The effects of the footbath can be helped in some cases by putting them afterwards into a bowl of cold water. The feet should be carefully dried and rubbed with marigold oil to soothe and heal. Herbs for a footbath include horsetail, lavender and mugwort.
This is a simple remedy for many different ailments which will keep well over a long period of time if stored in a dark cool place. An oil can be made with fresh or dried leaves, flowers, petals, crushed stems or grated roots. Fill a wide-necked glass jar with the appropriate herb and cover the herb with almond, sunflower or olive oil (use almond oil if intending to use the preparation on your face). As a rough guide, the proportions should be 1 large handful of the herb to I cupful of oil, Cover the jar with a piece of muslin or cheesecloth secured with an elastic band and stand it on a sunny windowsill or in the greenhouse for 4-6 weeks, shaking the jar each day. After every 10 days, strain off the herb and pour the oil over a fresh batch of herb. Alternatively, as the herb sinks lower in the jar keep it topped up with fresh herb and shake to mix each time. Do this for 4-6 weeks. When the oil is ready strain through fine muslin or cheesecloth and pour into small screwtop bottles.
The process of making an infusion is similar to tea making. Boiling water is poured on to the fresh or dried herb and left to infuse, usually for 5-10 minutes, but it can vary according to the individual herb. The
quantity most often used is 1-2 teaspoons of herb to I cup of boiling water. The cup should then be covered and the infusion left to stand for the required length of time. Strain through muslin or cheesecloth and use warm or cold. For a weak infusion, use half the amount stated and for a strong infusion use double the amount.
Cold infusions are used for herbs whose properties 3.re destroyed by hot water. Pour on cold water and leave for 8, 12 or 24 hours according to the herb.
This is a solution of sugar boiled to prevent fermentation. A properly made syrup should keep for some weeks. Make a double strength infusion y pouring 2 cups of boiling water on to 4 handfuls of the herb. Leave it to infuse for 10-15 minutes according to the herb being used, or even until the infusion is cold. Strain into an enamel pan and add 8 tablespoons of sugar to 2 cups of infusion. Bring it to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. When cold, pour into screwtop bottles and store in a cool place.
Roots or seeds should be grated or crushed and put a pan with cold water in the ratio of 2 handfuls of ehrb to 4 cups of water. Leave to soak for 5-6 hours. Bring the mixture to the boil and simmer until reduced by half. Strain and add sugar as above.
When using a powdered herb the syrup is made by adding 2 cups of sugar to 2 cups of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes, add 1-2 tablespoons of the powdered herb and simmer for a further few minutes before removing from the heat.
This is a combination of sweet-scented leaves, flowers, petals and spices which can be made either dry or moist. Dry potpourri is placed in open bowls and the leaves and flowers should be carefully dried to preserve the brilliant colours of the flowers and the clear green of the leaves. The dried ground roots of orris or elecampane are added to act as a fixative, mingling with other scents to make them last longer. Spices can also be added and a few drops of an essential oil such as oil of bergamot. Moist potpourri is kept in a china jar with a close-fitting lid and holes for the scents to escape. When stirred, the perfumes fill the room with fragrance.
For scented leaves, mix together the dried leaves of angelica, bergamot, costmary, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lovage, peppermint, rosemary, sage, sweet cicely, sweet marjoram and woodruff. Flowers and petals used are chamomile, cornflower, elderflower, lavender, lime flower, marigold petals, nasturtium flowers, rose petals and sweet violets.
Spices can be added to bring out further scents in the potpourri; try aniseed, cinnamon stick, coriander seed and nutmeg. The cinnamon stick can be added in broken pieces, but all other spices should be freshly ground. Dried orange or lemon peel can also be added to the mixture.
A dried potpourri can be a grand mixture of any herbs, spices and oils or a simple bowl using only one or two herbs. To make a simple potpourri take I handful of rosemary leaves and crush them together with 2 handfuls of lavender flowers. Add a handful of orris powder and start to fill a small bowl or jar with the mixture. Between spoonfuls add a few drops of oil of roses. Cover the container and leave in the dark for 2-3 days. Bring out and stir together with a wooden spoon to release the scents into the room.
A moist potpourri is filled with leaves, flowers and petals, none of which needs to be fully dried, alternating with layers of kitchen salt (not iodized salt). Each layer should be pressed down and the whole process can take a period of months as the flowers and leaves are gathered at their best. Meanwhile the potpourri is kept tightly closed. When the jar is full, the mixture is taken out and broken up into small pieces so that it can be mixed with spices and fixatives, Put back into the jar, cover closely and leave in a dark cool place to mature for up to 6 months. Potpourri should always be covered at night to preserve the perfume.
Tincture As these are made with alcohol in place of water they will keep for a long time. They are made using powdered herbs and the usual proportions are 2 tablespoons of herb to I cup of alcohol. Arnica is the exception, being made with fresh flowers. Powder the herb in a pestle and mortar or use an electric blender – it is best to use freshly ground dried herb. If medicinal or rubbing alcohol is unavailable vodka can be used. Put the alcohol and the powdered herb in an airtight jar. Leave in a warm place for 3-4 weeks, shaking the jar at least once a day. Strain through fine muslin or cheesecloth into a stoppered bottle. Dilute with water where recommended.
This provides a fragrant refreshing addition to the water when washing the face. White wine vinegar is the best to use, to which should be added highly aromatic herbs such as lavender, rose or lemon verbena. Fill a glass jar with the herb and cover it with white wine vinegar. Cover the jar with a piece of muslin or cheesecloth secured with an elastic band and stand it in a warm dark place for 2-3 weeks, shaking the jar once a day. Strain and repeat the process twice more, using the same vinegar and a fresh batch of herb. Finally, strain through fine muslin or cheesecloth and pour into a stoppered bottle. It will keep for a long time if stored in a cool place.
A bath vinegar can be made by adding 2 cups of cider vinegar to 2 cups of water in a pan and heating to very near boiling point. Remove from the heat and add 6 tablespoons of dried or chopped fresh herb. Cover and leave for a day before straining into a bottle. For an average bath, use I cupful.
The storage of herb preparations made in the home is important and varies according to the ingredients they contain. Infusions cannot be kept for longer than a few days and ideally should be stored in the refrigerator. The decoctions will keep for longer in a cool place but they lose their medicinal or cosmetic value after 7-10 days. They are stored in bottles or jars, preferably with a plastic screwtop, as herbs should not come into contact with a metal screwtop. Stoppered jars using either corks or plastic corks can be used with complete safety and are suitable for medicinal syrups, toilet vinegars, flower waters and herbal oils. Ointments and some medicinal oils which are not made in great quantity can be stored in small screwtop pots and all should be kept in a dark cool place.
PREPARING A POULTICE
Take fresh or reconstituted dried herb, and crush or cook the chopped herb to a pulp.
Spread the pulp carefully on to a piece of muslin or cheesecloth and fold over.
Put between two plates and heat over boiling water. Apply as hot as possible to the painful spot.
PREPARING A FACIAL STEAM OR INHALATION
Place the appropriate crushed fresh or dried herb into a medium-sized bowl and pour boiling water over it.
Cover the head and bowl with a large towel and steam the face or inhale the fumes for 10 minutes.
After a facial steam, finish by splashing the face with cold water to refresh the skin and tighten the pores.
PREPARING AN OINTMENT
Melt 4 heaped tablespoons of pure lard, shortening or white petroleum jelly in an enamel pan.
Add the appropriate crushed herb to the lard or petroleum jelly and boil until it is crisp.
Strain through muslin or cheesecloth and pour it into small pots. Cover when completely cold. 4