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Herbal Preparations
by Gillie Whitewolf

There are countless ways to use herbs - this article aims to introduce a number of preparations, with recipes and ideas to help you start making your own herbal preparations. For information on the herbs mentioned please click on the appropriate text links. Not all herbs are safe to use and any health conditions or prescription medication should be taken into consideration - please refer to the Health Issues article for more information.

A quick word on utenstils : It is advisable to use only glass, enamel or stainless steel pots and pans / utensils. Avoid using plastic, wood and metals (other than stainless steel) as these can contaminate the preparations.


A water based infusion is one of the simplest ways to prepare herbs for a range of uses - and it's something we do everytime we make the common ol' cuppa. A single herb or combination of herbs can be used and the resulting infusion may be drunk hot or cold :

Herbal Cuppa
The standard quantity for a cup of herb 'tea' is 1 teaspoon dried or 2 teaspoon fresh herb/s per cup of freshly boiled water. If you are making your herbal brew in a teapot (which in my opinion is the best method), warm the teapot first with water from the kettle just before it boils, add the appropriate quantity of herbs and pour on freshly boiled water. Put the lid on the teapot and leave to infuse for about 5 minutes, then strain into a cup and add honey, lemon or spices to taste as desired.
For medicinal brews use twice the standard amount - depending on your chosen herb / remedy, and leave to infuse for longer, generally at least 5 - 10 minutes - but again, this depends on the herb and remedy.
[For herb suggestions please refer to the 'Herbal Teas' article].

Herb infused water preparations can be used in a number of ways - as a natural herbal bath infusion, skin rinse, hair rinse, mouthwash and gargle, herbal cleaning infusion, flea wash for cats and dogs, or as an ingredient in a more complex preparation.

Herbal Bathing
For a herbal bath brew place a handful of herbs into a teapot or suitable vessel and pour on freshly boiled water. Leave to infuse for at least 10 - 15 minutes (I like to leave mine to brew for about 30 minutes) and then strain into bath water. You may also like to throw in a handful or two of natural sea salt. Another method is to place the herbs in a muslin pouch or tie them in a piece of natural, thin material and leave to soak in the bath whilst the water is running. Oats lend themselves well to this method, use rolled oats / porridge oats to soften the water and soothe irritated skin, particularly eczema. The pouch can also be used as a gentle exfoliating rub over the skin after soaking. A handful of Rose Petals added to the bath water is perhaps an even simpler infusion - and not only makes for a romantic bathing experience but may help ease rheumatic aches and pains.
Rosemary makes an excellent choice for soothing aches and pains and awakening the mind - blends well with Lavender, Thyme and Marjoram - all of which will help soothe aches and pains; Gentle herbs such as Calendula / Marigold, Chamomile, and Nettle are all soothing and healing for irritated or inflamed skin as is Dandelion; and Lavender, Chamomile and Hops make for an ideal bedtime bath. Anxiety and tensin can be soaked away with the help of
Chamomile, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Rose Petals and Marjoram - also all useful herbs for lifting the spirits.

Feet and Hands
A herbal bath brew can also be used in a foot or hand bath. Peppermint, Lavender, Rosemary and Thyme would all make good choices for a foot bath and for the hands try Calendula / Marigold to soothe irritated, chapped skin; or Horsetail to remedy weak or brittle fingernails.

Skin Rinses
Irritated or inflamed skin conditions may be helped by washing the affected area with a herbal rinse. Make up a herbal bath brew infusion (as above), allow to cool to a suitable temperature and use as a skin rinse / swab on to affected area. Calendula / MarigoldComfrey and Nettle all make ideal choices for treating inflamed skin rashes - Calendula in particular is useful for sunburn, as is Chamomile. Peppermint and Chamomile are also helpful for eczema. An infusion of Elderflowers is a well-known folk remedy used to whiten the skin and clear blemishes. An infusion of Calendula can be used as an effective douche or wash to remedy vaginal thrush.

Steams and Inhalations
For a facial steam place a handful of herbs in a wide bowl, pour on freshly boiled water and using a towel draped over the back of your head, sit with your face at a comfortable distance from the water and steam for at least 10 minutes, or as long as is comfortable. Do not put your face too close to the water to begin with or the steam may scald you. Herbs to heal the skin include Nettle, Chamomile, Calendula / Marigold, Comfrey and Fennel Seed - Chamomile and Calendula will also help soothe and soften skin. Rosemary and Thyme blend well to offer a beneficial steam to stimulate the skin - ideal as a pre-mask treatment. Other popular herbs for facial steams include Lavender and Elderflower.
A medicinal herbal steam or inhalant may offer relief to certain chest problems - although serious conditions should be discussed with your health-care practitioner / doctor - especially if you have an existing respiratory ailment. Thyme makes an effective inhalant to remedy throat and chest infections; Chamomile can help with shortness of breath and allergic states such as hay fever - make a cup of chamomile tea and leave to infuse covered for 5 - 10 minutes - uncover and inhale the steam and then strain and drink the infusion.

Hair Rinse
To enrich the natural colours of your hair try using one of the following herbal infusions as a final rinse after washing your hair : Rosemary or Sage for dark hair and to darken grey hair; Chamomile for fair hair; and Calendula / Marigold, for redheads. Nettle can be used as a general hair tonic for all colours, and Parsley is helpful for hair which is thinning or needs thickening out. Rosemary, Sage, Lavender and Cloves are useful for remedying dandruff and itchy scalps.

Mouthwash and Gargles
Prepare a simple infusion as if you were making a medicinal cup of herbal tea (see above) and allow to cool. Use as a mouthwash or as a gargle to remedy a sore throat.
Sage has an affinity with mouths and throats and offers one of the best remedies for a sore throat I know. Rosemary and Thyme are also useful for sore throats or mouth infections. Cloves is another anti-bacterial, antiseptic herb widely used in oral hygiene and can help alleviate toothache. Lavender or Fennel mouthwashes will help sweeten breath.

Cat & Dog Wash
Fleas and mites can not only cause your feline or canine friend a lot of discomfort, but can also pose a serious threat to their life. Many of the flea remedies on the market are very aggresive, and packed full of unnatural chemicals. Herbal infusions offer a natural way to remedy a flea or mite infestation or a skin irritation (like eczema), or just to keep your cat or dog friend happy and healthy. I have used infusions of the following herbs on my cats with great success : Yellow Dock and Calendula / Marigold, (both excellent if the skin is irritated too), Rosemary, Lavender, and Catnip. I have also used Nettle in a blend to help soothe irritated skin. Make up the infusion as if you were making a medicinal herbal cuppa or a bath brew, leave to infuse and cool, strain and check that the temperature is not too hot or too cold before using it on your cat. If your cat does not like having a bath (I can hear you roaring with laughter now!) try a flannel wash - soaking the flannel and stroking the cat gently, squeezing out of the flannel gently and stroking the infusion into the fur and skin. Keep your cat warm after their bath and allow the infusion to soak in as much as possible before drying them off with a towel.

Herbal Cleaning
A strong infusion of Rosemary makes an ideal anti-bacterial solution for wiping down kitchen surfaces and food storage shelves. Other useful herbs include Thyme and Lavender.

These are certainly not the only ways to make or use a herbal infusion and an infusion doesn't have to be water based - click here to discover the delights of Herbal Infused Oils.


For tougher herbs, roots, bark, seeds and dried berries, more forceful treatment than a simple infusion is often required to extract the herbs medicinal constituents. Like an infusion, decoctions can be taken hot or cold.

A standard quantity (to make 3 - 4 doses) is 20g dried or 40g fresh herbs to 750ml cold water, simmered to reduce to about 500ml. Crush, chop or bruise the herbs and place in a pan. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 - 30 minutes until the liquid is reduced by about a third. Strain into a clean jug, cover and store in a cool place until required - best used within 24 to 48 hours.

Dandelion Root can be used to make a 'hangover detox decoction' - use about 15g of chopped root to 750ml water and make as above. Sip small quantities frequently throughout the day. Yellow Dock is a mild laxative - use 1 teaspoon to 1 cup of water. For flu with muscle aches and pains use 5g of Echinacea Root to 750ml water and drink 2 - 4 cups a day. Cramp Bark is useful for remedying joint, tendon and ligament inflammation, as well as back pain, or sleeplessness caused by backache. A decoction of Cramp Bark also makes a soothing external rub for tense neck and lumbar regions.


A compress is a cloth soaked in a water-based herbal infusion, decoction or diluted tincture which can be held against the skin to relieve swelling, bruising and pain, or to soothe headaches and cool fevers. Resoak or prepare a new compress when the compress cools (if it was hot to begin with) or warms up or dries out (if cold to begin with),
A compress soaked in an infusion of Comfrey can be very effective at healing small fractures where a plaster cast wouldn't be possible (little toe or rib), it will also help relieve pain and bruising. Do not use comfrey on broken skin.
Use an infusion of Chamomile flowers and soak cotton pads in the cool solution and apply the pads to closed eyelids to soothe and refresh tired eyes. A Chamomile compress can also be used to ease breast tenderness and sore nipples.
For a wonderfully soothing headache remedy add a few drops of Lavender and Peppermint essential oils to a bowl of ice cold water, soak a cloth and use as a compress on the forehead or nape of neck [or better still, alternated between the two].


A poultice is a mixture of fresh or dried herbs applied directly to an affected area. Some poultices require the herbs to be simmered first (for roughly 2 minutes) - the excess liquid then squeezed out and the herbs applied to the area, bandaging them in place for up to 3 hours. To prevent the mixture from sticking to the skin apply a little carrier oil (such as olive oil or sweet almond) to the skin before applying the poultice.
Alternatively fold crushed herbs in a surgical gauze or muslin to make a pack, place in a dish and pour on just enough boiling water to cover the pack. Soak for 3-5 minutes, drain off the water, allow the poultice to cool to a comfortable temperature and place on the affected area. To make a cold poultice crush and bruish fresh herbs to make a paste which is then spread on a piece of gauze and placed in the freezer for 5 - 10 minutes. Remove and place on affected area.

A poultice of
Chamomile flowers can be placed around the throat / neck to help soothe a sore throat. Comfrey can be used on small fractures and bruises - but do not use comfrey on broken skin.


Tinctures are created by soaking herbs in alcohol and result in a preparation which should last for 1 to 2 years, if stored correctly.

Use 200g dried or 300g fresh to 1 litre alcohol (Vodka, Brandy or Rum). A regular dose is 5ml diluted in water or fruit juice, taken 2 to 3 times per day, Place the herbs in a clean glass jar, pour on alcohol ensuring all the herb is covered, put the lid on and shake. Leave in a cool dark place for a fortnight, shaking every other day or so. Strain and pour into clean glass bottles and store in a cool, dark place.

Tincture of Hops is recommended by some herbalists as a remedy for insomnia. Use 10 drops to begin with, increasing to a maximum of 30 if required. Do not take if suffering from depression. Echinacea Tincture can be effective taken at the first sign of colds and 'flu - take 1/2 teaspoon with water 2 times a day. A teaspoon of Myrrh Tincture diluted in 5 teaspoons of warm water can be used as a gargle to remedy a sore throat.


Tonic Wines are very much like a tincture - herbs are used to fill a clean jar / vat, over which wine (or port) is poured so that the herb is completely covered and the level of the wine is above the top of the herbs. Close securely and leave to mature for at least 1 month. Regularly top up the jar to ensure the herbs remain covered, replacing with a new batch of herbs as required. Lasts for about 4 -5 months - but keep an eye on the mixture for any mould and discard remedy if any occurs.

A quicker method is to add the herbs and wine / port to a saucepan (roughly 6 oz herbs to 2 pints liquid), cover with a lid and heat gently until the wine begins to simmer - do not allow the mixture to boil (unless you wish to eliminate the alcohol content - in which case leave uncovered and allow to boil for at least 5 minutes). Remove from the heat and leave covered for 24 hours. Strain and bottle.


Syrups are made using equal proportions of herbal infusions / decoctions and honey or unrefined sugar. Herbal infusions / decoctions used in syrups need to be brewed or simmered for longer than normal. Place the infusion or decoction in a saucepan together with the honey or sugar and gently heat, stirring continuosuly until the honey / sugar has dissolved and the mixture has a syrupy consistency. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Once cooled pour into sterilised glass bottle, use a cork as a stopper and store in a cool, dark place. The cork stopper is important - syrups are prone to ferment and may explode if kept in a screw-lid topped bottle. A regular dose for syrups is 5 - 10 ml (1 to 2 teaspoons) taken 3 times a day. Store for up to 6 months.


Fresh leafy herb such as Cleavers, Lemon Balm, Borage, Fennel and Dandelion can be liquidised to produce nourishing herbal juices, which can also be blended with freshly juiced fruits and vegetables. Place the fresh herbs in a food processor or liquidiser and process until the mixture is thick green slurry. Take in 2 teaspoon / 10ml doses mixed with a little water or fuirt / vegetable juice if preferred, 3 times a day. Keep herb juices refrigerated and use within 48 hours.

The preparations mentioned in this article are of course not the only ways to prepare and use herbs - and quite often the herb needs no special preparation other than perhaps drying and possibly a little grinding with a mortar and pestle. Culinary dishes the world over will offer up a rich history of herbal ingredients, and the world of herbal crafts is full of ideas, from a simple strewing herb to pot pourri, sleep pillows and herb poppets to pomanders and linen bags, powders and deodorants to incenses... the list is endless! I hope this article has helped identify a few herbal preparations and has sparked a herbal flame of curiousity and inspiration. Enjoy your herbs and the natural, healing remedies they offer us so freely.

Related Herb Articles :
Health Issues : When not to take herbs and oils - and which ones to avoid.
Herbal Oils : How to make your own herbal infused oils.
Herbal Teas : Introducing a selection of herbs suitable for infusion
and the 'Remedies for Common Ailments' series of articles featured on the Herblore Main Page

Disclaimer : This article is not intended to replace any professional medical advice you may have been given - nor is it intended to be in place of professional advice. Always check with a medical professional if you are taking prescription drugs, have a health condition, are pregnant, breast-feeding, trying to conceive or are generally unsure about a herb / oil / medicine. Always research before preparingor using a remedy! Respect the medicines Mother Nature offers us and live a healthy, happy life.


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