Have you ever
wanted to make your own herbal concoctions, but were too intimidated to try? Like any new hobby or
course of study, one must approach the subject with an open mind,
and a willingness to learn. The study of herbs is a
never ending process. There is so much information on the
subject that it will take a lifetime for you to take it all in.
But if you study and experiment at your own pace, it will be a
lifetime of enjoyment.
The first book that I bought on the subject was "The Herb
Book" by John Lust. Today my copy's pages are yellowed
and dog-eared. I still use it quite often as a source of
reference. It was this book that opened up my eyes to how
extraordinary the plant world is. This particular book lists
hundreds of plants, all having properties that have some type of
benefit to us, if and when we need them. Just like most
people would go to their medicine cabinet to find a solution to
their medical need, someone that understands the use of herbs
would go to their herbal cabinet, or garden. Modern
medicines are based on plant properties, but they are made
synthetically. Herbs actually are the plants with their specific
properties. Which ones do you think are healthier for
understand the concept of herbal properties (ex. sedating,
astringent, antiseptic, etc...) you can understand how they would
be useful for different beauty needs. Sedating properties
are good for both the mind and body as well as an inflamed or
irritated skin. Astringent properties would be helpful for an
oily skin condition to help tighten the pores. Antiseptic
properties could be beneficial for a skin that has acne. These are the same principles that the un-natural
cosmetic preparations are based on, they are just made with ingredients
that were manufactured in a lab.
Now the next
two things that you need to know are... How do you extract these properties out of
the plant? And... How can you use them? There are several
ways depending on the part of the plant that you are using, and
your own personal preferences. Here are a few ways:
This method of
extracting the properties is
like brewing tea. It's best for flowers, leaves and
stems. Boil the water first. Turn off the heat. Add your herb,
cover with the lid. Let it steep for about 10 minutes.
Never use metal, use a glass or enamel pan with a
tight-fitting lid. Use about a pint of water to every
ounce of herb. Strain, use liquid.
Roots, bark and
seeds do best with this method. You'll need the same
non-metallic pan as above, but this time you will actually
keep the plant parts at a slow rolling boil for at least
10-15 minutes with the lid ajar. A good idea is to use
a mortar and pestle to gently grind the roots or other hard
parts of the plant before you boil them to help them release
their properties further. After boiling, cover and
steep for another 5-10 minutes. Strain, use liquid.
This method will
preserve even the most volatile of ingredients because there
is no heating involved. Add double the amount of plant
materials as listed above to water in either a non-metallic
pan or a large jar with a tight fitting lid. Let it
sit for 8-12 hours or overnight. Strain the mixture,
use the liquid.
If you have a
juicer, you already know how to do this method. By
pressing the plant parts with either a manual or electric
juicer, adding a small amount of water and then pressing
again, you will be using 100% of the plant parts, and
keeping the full activity of the ingredients. You must
use the juice immediately after juicing for the healthiest
Using a mortar
and pestle, grind dried plant parts into a powder which can
be mixed into a liquid base or poured into capsules for
A perfect way to
give children their treatment. By boiling the plant
parts gently in honey or a store-bought syrup until you have
a nice consistency, you can deliver the medicinal parts of
the plants in a gentle, soothing way. Strain out plant
parts, use syrup.
In a bottle with
a tight fitting lid, blend 1-4 oz of powdered herb with 8-10
oz of alcohol (made for human consumption of course, such as vodka,
or brandy). Let it sit
for 2-4 weeks in the refrigerator. Make sure to gently shake the bottle
about once a day. Strain and pour the liquid into a bottle
for storage. Because of the alcohol content, tinctures
last for a long time. You will only need a very small
amount at a time because it is so concentrated.
After using one
of the first three methods of extraction, put the liquid
into a double boiler with some kind of a vegetable oil such
as olive or almond oil. Simmer until the water
evaporates. Add a little beeswax to make a thicker
consistency. Stir and heat slowly until completely
melted. Pour into a small jar with lid. A drop
of tincture of benzoin per ounce of fat may be added as a
By bruising or
mashing the plant material and heating it, it can then be
applied to an area of the body that needs to be soothed,
irritated or detoxified. A good way to do this is put
the paste inside a hot moist towel that is
continuously kept hot by placing new hot towels over the
first as it starts to cool. Clean the skin thoroughly
after the treatment.
This is the same
idea as a poultice, but calls for a series of towels being
saturated by the warm herbal solution of your choice and
being placed consecutively on the affected area. This
method is not quite as effective, but it is less messy.
difference between this method and fomentation is that the
solution and the towels are not hot, they are cold.
The solution is applied with the towel to the affected area
and kept there until it is warmed by body heat, usually
about 15-20 minutes.
Vapor Bath -
This method is
used for both the respiratory system as well as skin
detoxification. Place the plant material into boiling
water, turn off the heat. Let the herbs steep for at
least 10 minutes with the pot covered. Then, using a
towel over your head to keep the steam directly on your
face, lean over the uncovered pot. Make sure to be
careful that the steam is not too hot before you put
the towel over your head. If it's too hot, either wait
until it cools to a comfortable temperature, or add a small
amount of cool water.
Taking a bath in
herbal properties can be very effective. Make sure that
the temperature of the water is neither too hot or too cool,
90-95 degrees is perfect for most. Minerals such as
sea salts can be added, and/or herbs. Making an
infusion or decoction first and then adding it to the bath
is probably the most effective way to make an herbal bath.
Another way would be to hang a tea bag filled with herbs
under the spigot. The running warm water releases the
properties of the herbs. Footbaths with stimulating
herbs are ideal for tired feet that need a pick-up.
It's also a nice idea to add herbs with antiseptic
properties for a thorough cleansing.
Since this is a
basic introduction to using herbs, I haven't discussed the use of
natural preservatives at any great length. Most of your
homemade beauty products will only last for a day or so in the
refrigerator (just like food). In most cases they won't last as long as the un-natural versions, but the pay-off
for you is that they
are 100% natural.
Now that you have an idea of how to
extract the properties from the herbs, and what to make them into,
it's time to say a few words about the safety of using them.
Only work with herbs that you know for a fact are safe for your
purposes. Invest in at least one good herb book that
will tell you which herbs do what. Buy your herbs from a reputable
source. Make sure that the herbs are either certified organic or wildcrafted (or wildgathered). This means that
a certifier has made sure that they
have not had any pesticides used on them or they have been collected
out in a natural place where they have been growing on their own.
Some herbs are safe when used topically and are dangerous when
taken internally. You must know this kind of information
before you attempt to use any herb. This is not
to scare you. This is just meant to be a warning against the possibility
endangering your health. Whether it be a natural
ingredient or an un-natural one, people have allergies and
reactions. So err on the side of caution. Less is more
when using herbs. Work with them carefully, getting to know
them one by one.
have fun. When working with common natural
cosmetic ingredients, you should be safe. You may even come
up with some new and exciting beauty recipes! I find that
working with herbs not only makes me feel like I'm doing something
really healthy, I get lost in it the way I do with anything
creative. Time flies, and at the end of the day I have my
own beauty products, made personally for me, by me!
wondering what herb to start with, I would say Aloe Vera! In
my opinion, there is no other plant that comes in handier when I
have any kind of abrasion, bite or burn. Because it's a
succulent, it's tolerant of almost anyone's neglect. So even
the non-gardeners will enjoy owning this plant. I use it
fresh by taking off one of the outer leaves. I run my
fingernail up the center and peel back the top two sides.
This exposes the juice inside the leaf which I place directly on
the affected skin. Usually I will gently press this in place
until the stinging or burning sensation has completely gone away.
It always amazes me how quickly and affectively Aloe Vera works.
It actually heals the skin. And does so very quickly
. Aloe Vera will be a wonderful addition to your
herbal medicine cabinet. It also is a fantastic natural
beauty product ingredient. You can use it as a base for some
of your formulas. Of course, with Aloe Vera, you will just
squeeze the juice out of the leave and use it fresh. There's
no need for heating or any of the extraction methods listed above.
mentioned one herb. There are so many more to learn about.
I hope that you are inspired to do so. Again, I recommend
getting a good book that can further your herbal studies. I
feel that the best way to get to know any herb is to plant it in your garden. You form a relationship with
You nurture it... and it will teach you.
given is not a diagnosis, treatment, or cure for any medical condition
and is certainly not meant to replace your
healthcare practitioner's advice or services. Use any of the
advice given here at your own risk. Neither the author or SharAmbrosia accept responsibility for any effects that may arise
from using any herb. Although many species are
known to be safe for many people, it is not possible to predict an
individual person's reactions to particular species.
Therefore, neither the author or SharAmbrosia can accept
responsibility for any personal experimentation. If you have
any serious medical conditions that need attention, please seek
the aid of your physician or healthcare provider. The
information given here has not been evaluated by the