by Lulu Sliker
I am amazed at the abundance of good medicinal plants that grow everywhere I travel. Your back yard probably has a few. I find them growing through cracks in city sidewalks. Along road ways. In my friends yards and of course here on this beautiful piece of land where I live in the Northeast corner of Alabama just on the tail end of the Appalachian Mountain range. I find that through the years my love, appreciation and relationship with each herbal family grows. Once you get to know one or two that are common to your home you might find yourself doing a little dance of joy when you see them showing themselves in the early Spring. I do. I hope you will too.
It is good to start slow by getting to know one or two plants really well a year. Once you know what you are looking for or have cultivated a few of your favorites in your gardens it is easy, simple and fun to turn them in to medicinal tinctures, nourishing vinegars and honeys, lovely oils and healing salves. It does not take much. The cost is low. The process is uncomplicated and it is very rewarding.
You will be amazed at how easy it can be. I do not intend to give you formulas and applications of individual herbs. There is an abundance of information all over the place that will teach you which herbs are good for what and you can look those up or go to a class and study. There are amazing herbalists offering great workshops and apprenticeships all over the place. What I intend to do is provide you with an easy guide to making medicine once you have identified which plants you want to work with. The medicines I make are sometimes called “simples”, meaning only one kind of plant is used for each creation. You can always mix the herbal tinctures or oils after they are decanted and ready for use.
What you will need for the following are some clean jars with nice fitting lids. 100 proof vodka, extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs.
To make an herbal tincture, most commonly used internally, I carry my 100 proof vodka and clean jars out to the plants. I choose 100 proof vodka because I like the finished tincture better than grain alcohol and most plant medicines draw out into the alcohol best with a 50/50 ratio of water to alcohol. I00 proof is just that. Half water, half alcohol. Grain alcohol is oftentimes 200 poof or the likes and you will have to cut them with water. I prefer to use fresh plants. That way the medicine is at its finest. By taking the vodka and jars directly to the living plants I shorten the time between when the plant is harvested and when it is preserved.
I have always lived in the woods and tend to talk to the plants a wee bit. I tell them what I am doing and make an offering in trade (you don’t want to upset the little people by being rude) of tobacco or a piece of my hair before I begin to harvest. I also introduce the plant to the vodka, oil, etc. and tell them what I am intending.
Okay. Back to the process.
Find the plants you want to harvest.
Harvest the healthy parts of the plants, wether it be leaves, flowers or roots. Again it is up to you to know what part you want.
Cut or tear the plant. No need to wash unless it is fresh dug roots. Then give them a light cleaning.
Fill the clean jar all the way to the top. You want to remember the Three Bears when you pack it. Not too tight, not too loose but “just right” as if it was made for Baby Bear. You can use dried herbs if that is what you havea. In most cases you would fill the jar half way as the dried herbs will plump up and expand as they absorb the moisture but remember GREEN is best.
Next, fill the jar with vodka. All the way to the top. Yes, it is magic. You CAN fill a jar twice! Fill it so high that is might ooze out a bit when you put the lid on. This is important because you want no air to be touching the plants.
Cap the jar.
LABEL the jar. This is very important. You can put the name of the plant. What it is infusing in and the date it was made.
Then put the herbal filled jar away in a cool darkish place, like a kitchen cupboard. It is a good idea to check it in a couple of days and top it off with more vodka if it needs it. Some say that the fairies are prone to come and take a little nip.
6 weeks later you have an herbal tincture ready to be used. You can use it then by decanting the liquid from the plant matter or it can stay on your shelf for a really long time and be just fine. Decant the infusion by pouring it through a screen type tool or cheese cloth. Give the herbs a final squeeze to get all the goodness out and compost the used herbs.
You can now transfer you herbal tincture to brown glass bottles for dosage and storage.
Herbs infused in oils are most often used for external applications. Infused oils are not the same as essential oils. Essential oils use massive quantities of plants for very little yield and can be dangerous if misused. Infused herbal oils are gentle, effective, safe and practical. After your infused oils are ready they can be used directly on the skin or be turned in to salves and healing ointments.
To make an infusion of herbal oil is almost the same process as used in making an herbal tincture. Clean jar, oil. I most often use extra virgin olive oil. Other oils can be used with great success as well. Olive oil nourishes the skin. A bonus to the process.
Use fresh plants. You MUST be sure they are not wet. Often you have to wait a day if it has just rained or wait until all the morning dew has dried off the plants before harvesting.
Make your offerings.
Harvest what you intend to use and fill the jar “just right”.
Fill the jar again with oil all the way to the top.
THEN…here is where it differs from the tincture process…
Use a chopstick or a stalk from the plant harvested and poke around in the oil to release any trapped air bubbles. This is very important as the trapped oil will cause the oil to mold and go rancid. It takes a little bit of coaxing but it is a must do.
Once you are satisfied, top off the jar with a bit more oil and put the lid on.
Label the jar and put it away in the cool darkish place.
During the process of infusing some plants get a little gassy and the oil will ooze out of the jar. Not even the tightest lid will prevent this. I put my fresh oil infusions on a saucer to save having oil oozed all over my shelf.
Check oil the next day to top off and perhaps work out a few more bubbles.
Most oils are ready in 6 weeks. Some seem to take less time. Comfrey is one that needs to be looked at in about 4 weeks. It can get pretty stinky if it sets up too long.
When ready, decant the same as with tinctures. Store out of sunlight and enjoy.
I tend to make less oils at a time because they do not have a shelf life that lasts as long as the tinctures do. Vitamin E oil is good to add to your oils to help preserve them. I often add about a teaspoon to a pint of infusion.
Wishing you all great fun gathering and preparing beautiful herbal medicines. I intend to offer a follow up article on how to transform your herbal oils into healing salve. How to create nourishing herbal vinegars and medicinal honey.
Good Green Blessings to you all,