Herbalism is the ancient art of promoting health and healing through the use of plants, trees, fungi, and other growing things. For centuries herbalism was practiced at home; recipes and remedies were passed down through families or shared among friends and neighbors. Today, herbalism is experiencing a resurgence of popularity as a result of increasing interest in alternative forms of medicine.
Treating illness and injury is an age-old concern. Humans have tried many different methods of preventing sickness and healing countless ailments. Some of these treatments have been abandoned in favor of simpler, more effective cures while others, like herbalism, have never entirely faded from view.
In many ways, herbalism was the first form of medicine. There was no way to prepare chemical or artificial remedies so people were limited to using the plants around them for all their medical needs. Many ancient cultures developed highly complex medical herbal traditions and wrote down their studies in books, some of which we still have today.
As European cultures became increasingly city-based, modern medical practices began to gain ground. Gradually, herbalism faded from general use and was limited to the poor and to people living in rural areas far away from practicing doctors.
Today, people have returned to herbalism in an effort to take more responsibility for their own health. Practicing herbalism at home is a great way to put the power of healing yourself back in your own hands. Basic herbal remedies are inexpensive and generally easy to prepare. Thanks to the increased availability of books and other herbalism reference materials, it’s simple for anyone to learn the basics of this ancient art.
There’s just about no limit to the herbs that are put to use by professional herbalists, though the ones you use are home are probably not going to be very exotic. Experienced herbalists recommend that the beginner stick to the herbs they’re most familiar with; experimenting with herbs that you’re not familiar with can be a waste of time at best and dangerous at worst.
Some of the most popular and useful herbs include:
There are many ways that medicinal herbs can be prepared and administered to members of your family. The preparation you choose will depend on several factors: Who will be receiving the preparation, when it will be taken and how often, what it’s being taken for, what herbs are being used, and how any remaining portion will be stored.
Infusions, poultices, infused oils, and tinctures are just a few of the medicinal preparations you can make for yourself at home. The supplies needed for each type and the method of preparation will vary, so refer to a comprehensive home herbalism guide for detailed guidance. One of the less complicated methods is an herbal infusion.
Herbal infusions are often mistakenly referred to as “herbal teas”. Properly speaking, “tea” only refers to beverages made from the Camellia sinensis plant – the tea plant. Black, green, and white teas each contain Camellia sinensis; the differences between each variety come about as a result of the way the plant is harvest, dried, and prepared. Tea has an extensive history and is enjoyed every day by millions of people around the world.
An infusion is a beverage created by combining fresh, dried, or crushed herbs and medicinal plants with hot water. People experienced with creating tea and infusions caution against the use of boiling water in your beverage preparation. Boiling water can disperse the beneficial botanicals contained in the herbs, so water that’s just shy of boiling is better for use in these beverages. If you heat water in an uncovered pot, watch for the formation of small bubbles on the bottom. This is a sign that the water will soon begin to boil
Before you prepare your first herbal infusion, you have to measure out the herbal material you’ll be using. Standard infusion guidelines state that one to two tablespoons of herbal ingredients be used for each cup of water; if you’re making four cups of infusion then you’ll need four to eight tablespoons of herbs. The amount of herbs used will vary somewhat depending on the intended outcome, the herb in question, and how potent you want your infusion to be. You can experiment with different amounts of herbs on your own or you can refer to a trusted herbalism guide. A professional herbalist will also be happy to give you some suggestions.
Once you’ve measured out the herbs you’ll be using, put some water on the stove. Gently heat the water for five to eight minutes, removing the water from the heat if it gets close to boiling. You can pour the hot water over the herbs you’ve mixed and let the infusion brew or you can add the herbs directly to the water. Either way, it’s recommended that you use a section of cheesecloth to bundle the herbs; you can also place the herbs in a small muslin bag. Metal tea strainers should be avoided because they prevent the herbs from opening up and circulating in the water. Give the herbs space to move and you’ll be rewarded with a richer, more flavorful infusion. Let the infusion sit for at least five minutes. The infusion’s full flavor and strength will be reached within fifteen minutes. The longer you let the infusion brew, the stronger the flavor and medicinal potency will be.
Your new herbal infusion can be sipped hot, at room temperature, or over ice. Consider making a quart of infusion instead of just a cup. Your supply of herbs will last longer and you won’t have to wait to enjoy a second cup. A fresh infusion can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week; after this point the flavor and potency of the drink will begin to decrease. To preserve your infusion, store it in a covered container.
While home-based herbalism has the potential to be highly beneficial, there are some cautions you need to keep in mind. Herbal remedies that are prepared for adults should never be given to children; their growing bodies can be very sensitive to medicinal herbs, so talk to a professional herbalist about giving remedies to children. Keep in mind that herbal remedies aren’t 100% safe; a plant that has healing properties in small doses may have harmful effects when taken in large amounts. The best thing to do is to talk with a licensed herbalist; they’ll help you get started using this ancient healing tradition.