Never pass up the opportunity to use
herbs in your aromatherapy formulations. When the essential oil of a plant is deemed too strong for a particular person or
application, the herb itself in tea or tincture form is likely a safe and effective substitute. When used together, whole
plants and essential oils often create a synergy with greater potential for healing than either used alone.
Herb quality is as important to herbalism as purity of essential oils is to aromatherapy.
Growing your own herbs is ideal, but we realize that many of you will be buying herbs from an herb or natural-food store.
The good news is that it is much easier to determine good herb quality by smelling, seeing and tasting than it is with essential
oils. Dried herbs should not be brown and lifeless; they should be fragrant, colorful and, ideally, organically grown or responsibly
picked in the wild. Buying direct from the grower, wildcrafter (one who picks wild herbs), or local sources such as farmers'
markets, where you can inquire about growing methods, is probably the next best thing to growing your own herbs.
The following recipes provide a useful basis for making basic herbal preparations.
They can be made either with individual herbs ("simples") or a combination of herbs ("compounds"). So get creative! If you
need more detailed information on the specific uses of individual herbs, consult a good herb book such as Kathi's Herbs, an
Illustrated Encyclopedia (Friedman/Fairfax).
Preparing Herb-Infused Oils
Oils made by macerating (steeping) herbs
in vegetable oil are called infused oils. The oils can be used instead of plain carrier oils in all of your aromatherapy preparations.
Finely chop (or coarsely grind) one cup dried herbs in a blender. Place the herbs
in a wide-mouth jar and add enough oil to cover. Check the mixture in a day or two; you may need to add a bit more oil. Keep
the mixture in a warm place and shake daily. The ideal temperature is 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit, but fluctuations in temperature
will not harm the oil. Let the mixture steep for one week; by this time, the oil should have taken on the color, aroma and
healing properties of the herb.
Strain the oil through a kitchen strainer, or through cheesecloth, muslin or a
thin dishcloth. Most of the oil will drain out. To get every precious drop, press with the back of a spoon or wring out as
much oil as possible. Compost the herbs and store the infused oil in a cool place.
There are many variations on this preparation. Choose a vegetable oil such as
olive for medicinal preparations such as salves; choose hazelnut or another light oil for cosmetic applications or massage.
It is difficult to give exact measurements for each herb, because they are different in texture, weight and volume. To double
the strength, you can add a new batch of dried herb to the same oil. This is called a double infusion.
Another way to make infused oils is on the stove top. Place the dried herbs in
a pot and cover them with oil. Gently warm the herb mixture over low heat (about 100 degrees F) without a lid, stirring occasionally.
(Be careful not to deep-fry your herbs.) After about six hours, strain, cool and bottle.
Some people like to use fresh herbs, although the water in fresh plants may cause
the oil to mold and spoil. However, some oils-St. John's wort for example-must be made fresh. Wilt the plant material overnight
to eliminate some of the water, then finely chop or crush them. Process as instructed above for dry herbs. Be sure that all
the plant material is submerged and that there are no air bubbles.
When straining the oil, simply let the mixture drip; wringing or pressing will
give you more oil, but also more water. When the water from the fresh plant has settled in the bottom of the jar, pour the
oil off the top and discard the water. (Be prepared to lose a little oil.)
Don't confine yourself to making only medicinal or cosmetic oils. Experiment with
creating culinary oils, too. Try a combination of basil, oregano, rosemary and garlic infused in olive oil. It's great on
pasta or french bread!
Always keep a meticulous record of how you make your herbal preparations. Your
notes should include ingredients and proportions, the date you started and completed the preparation, processing procedures,
comments, and possible improvements to be made next time. Label finished products with the date the product was made, ingredients,
and instructions for use.
Further Examples of Herb-Infused Oils
Alkanet-This is an
infusion of alkanet root in vegetable oil. Because of its brilliant color, it is used as a pink coloring for cosmetic preparations.
Calendula-Very healing to the skin in all cosmetic applications, calendula
is specifically recommended for burns and is also antimicrobial, making it suitable for the treatment of many types of skin
infections. There is also a carbon-dioxide extract of calendula which is very concentrated and tarlike. It can be diluted
in vegetable oil and added to any essential oil preparation.
Neem-Derived from a tree native to India, neem is used to treat a number
of skin diseases, as an astringent, antibacterial and antiviral. It is also a preservative. The oil has a long history of
use in treatment of hair loss, dandruff, excess sebum production, brittle nails, nail fungus and gum infections. This herb
is hard to find unless you have a neem tree, but pre-prepared oil can be purchased.
St. John's Wort-Excellent for bruises, inflammation and nerve damage, St.
John's wort is made from fresh flowering tops of the plant to obtain the desired deep red oil, high in the healing constituent
Yarrow-For treating the genito-urinary system (see Chapter 5: Therapeutics).
Herbal boluses are vaginal or rectal suppositories used
to treat chronic infections, nonspecific vaginitis, cysts, and hemorrhoids. See "Reproductive System."
1/8 cup finely powdered herbs
1/4 cup cocoa butter
drops appropriate essential oil
Melt the cocoa butter over low heat and add the finely powdered herbs to form
a thick, pliable paste. Add the essential oil. Drop the mixture by the teaspoonful onto a cold plate and form into a suppository
shape about the size of your little finger (or you can mold it into a long, thin roll). Refrigerate until firm. Remove the
hardened mixture and cut it with a warm knife into 1 1/2-inch lengths. Date and store boluses in glass or plastic in the refrigerator.
For treatment, insert one bolus each evening for seven days. Women may want to
wear a panty liner and gently douche every couple of days.
1 cup herb-infused oil
3/4 ounce beeswax,
Warm the herb-infused oil in a pan and add the beeswax. (More beeswax will create
a salve with a firmer consistency, which won't melt in hot temperatures.) You can shave the beeswax with a wide-hole cheese
grater. (For a quick cleanup, heat the grater over the kitchen stove and wipe with paper towels.) Add essential oils at the
end, after the salves cool a bit so that the oils do not evaporate. (You can also add the essential oils to the individual
jars before pouring.)
Lip balms are made the same way as salves, but use 1 ounce beeswax.
Herb Tea: Infusions and Decoctions
For infusions, pour boiling water
over fresh or dried herbs, let them steep while covered for 5-10 minutes, strain and drink. Cover steeping herbs to keep in
the precious volatile oils.
Infusions are good for delicate plant parts such as leaves, blossoms and fruits,
or seeds and roots that are high in volatile oils. The amount of herb varies, but the general rule is one teaspoon dried herb,
or one tablespoon fresh herb, per cup of water.
For hard plant parts, such as roots, barks, twigs and some seeds, decoctions are
preferable. We prefer to soak the herbs in cold water overnight, bring the water and herbs to a boil, then lower the heat
and simmer, covered, for at least 15 minutes. Roots and seeds that are high in volatile oils, such as ginger and valerian
roots, or fennel and anise seeds, should be infused.
To make tea with both leaves and roots, start by soaking the herbs overnight in
the refrigerator, then bring to a boil, remove from the heat and steep for 15 minutes. You can also decoct the roots first,
remove from heat, add the leaves to the decoction and steep.
Teas are a great addition to bath water, especially for those with highly sensitive
skin. Almost any herb or essential oil, alone or in combination, will do. Refrigerator storage is acceptable for up to three
dry or fresh herbs
vodka to cover
Chop or grind herbs before tincturing to expose more surface area of the plant
to the vodka which contains only water and alcohol and is used to break down the plant matter and extract its qualities. Put
the herbs in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and cover with menstru-um. The proportion of herb to vodka is hard to specify,
because the weight-to-volume of each herb varies so much. Make sure that the herb is completely covered. Check in a few days
in case you need to add more vodka. Cover the jar tightly and let the herbs soak for two weeks in a cool, dark place, shaking
daily, then strain. You'll be surprised to find how easy this is, and it costs much less than commercial tinctures.
Tinctures are best made with single herbs, and can then be mixed together to make
compounds or formulas. This helps avoid undesirable constituent interactions that can occur when herbs are tinctured together.
It also allows for more flexibility in blending tinctures into different combinations. Tinctures are taken orally, typically
15 to 30 drops three times a day, mixed in a little water or juice. One advantage herbal tinctures have over teas is that
they need no refrigeration and remain potent for many years, take up little storage space, and are fast and easy to use, fitting
into any busy lifestyle. They are also quickly and easily absorbed by the body.
fresh or dried herbs
vinegar to cover
Make sure the fresh or dried herbs are covered by the vinegar. Shake daily for
two weeks, strain. Add essential oils to the vinegar after straining, but remember to shake well before use-essential oils
do not mix with a watery carrier. These vinegars can be used to make "Queen of Hungary's water," other facial toners, hair
rinses, baths, and douches. Vinegar also can be used as a substitute for alcohol in tincturing for those who are alcohol-intolerant,
but it is not a good menstruum for extracting the resinous constituents contained in certain plants.