Tips for making your own herbal treatments

There are some guidelines to follow when making your own herbal formulas at home. Safety and efficacy are top of the list of things to consider, but the specifics of the plant you want to use also matter.

Good practices in phytotherapy

  • If you are harvesting or wildcrafting plants, consider the plant’s exposure to pollutants and pesticides, and consider the ecological impact on protected or endangered species.
  • Be sure to have the correct species – common names for plants can be the same for several species, and some plants look similar to others.
  • Keep a clean workspace – wash hands thoroughly before handling equipment and plants, ensure equipment is clean and disinfected.
  • Ensure labelling is clear and comprehensive – name, quantities/weight/volume, how the plant was sourced, concentration of ingredients (weight:volume), batch number, date, expiry date, storage conditions, and cautions or warnings.
  • When the preparation is ready, ensure dose and administration instructions are on the label.
  • Always decant the preparation into another container before using, e.g. don’t dip a finger into the main cream source, use droppers directly in the tincture that will come into contact with infected eyes or mouth or sores, etc.

Buying pre-dried herbs – choosing your herbs

The visual check

The colour of the plant you’re using should be as close to the original colour as possible. For example, fresh leaves should be green, not brown; chamomile flowers should be yellow, not straw-coloured. A loss of colour suggests poor storage conditions, old stock, or sun-drying.

Plant parts should be able to be identified. If the plant is powdered or you can’t identify the parts, the herb may have been overdried or overhandled.

Check for undesirables: insect and animal ‘bits’ (hair, faeces), dead insects, mould, foreign plant matter.

Ensure you’re only using the part of the plant you want. For example, if you’re using flowers, ensure you don’t make your mixture with stalks and leaves – it reduces your ultimate product.

Smell

Even dried plants should smell fresh and clean, not mouldy or musty, and any oils should be able to be smelled when the plant is rubbed between two fingers. Smell can help with authenticity and plant identification.

Taste

Don’t be scared to taste your herbs! The feel of a plant can tell you a lot, for example, a slimy feeling can indicate mucilage, resins and gums will be sticky, any plant high in tannins will have an astringent feel, bitterness indicates bitter compounds, etc.

Touch

Plants should not be powdery, spongey or brittle. Roots and bark will snap easily if properly dried, while leaves will not turn to dust when you touch them.

Tips for harvesting your own plants

  • Harvest in mid-morning when dew has disappeared and the oil content is optimal
  • Avoid harvesting on rainy days, as moisture encourages mould and makes drying more difficult
  • Ensure sharp tools to prevent plant bruising
  • Handle plants gently
  • Check for plant health – don’t use plants that look dishevelled or unhealthy
  • Be cognisant of contaminants – pesticides, herbicides, insects, weeds, dirt
  • Garbling – this is the process of discarding low quality or extra unwanted material – garble as you harvest to save time later
  • Many perennials need post-harvest management to ensure the next crop
  • For herbs you want to dry, use a spacious cloth bag or basket, while for herbs you want to use fresh, use a plastic bag to avoid losing moisture
  • Don’t overharvest if you can’t process your herb in a timely fashion (drying time, space)
  • Keep harvested plants out of the sun and away from heat (like a hot room or car)

How to dry herbs

Drying herbs increases storage times of plants, while also reducing the bulk by up to 90 per cent.

Dry herbs in a clean, well ventilated space on racks. When the temperature is 25-30C (77-86F), with low humidity and good air flow, herbs should take 3-7 days to dry completely. Don’t let the area get too hot (less than 40C/104F), as this can cause denser material to dry on the outside, but not the inside. Avoid direct sunlight.

Fly wire/insect screens, nylon mesh (from stockings) or stretched muslin make great drying screens. A clothes horse/rack can serve as a good rack for the screens. Use just one layer of plant, and don’t bunch herbs.

Dry herbs as soon as possible after harvesting. Aim to dry to about 10 per cent moisture content, where the plant is crackly and brittle, and ready for storage.

When storing herbs, protect from moisture, light, air and insects or other pests. Glass jars are perfect, but a sealed paper or plastic bag will do. Keep herbs in a cool, dry, dark place.

Flowers and leaves will last about a year, while roots and rhizomes will last about two.

Choosing your extraction method

There are various methods to extract the medicinal qualities out of your plants:

  • Expression – juicing, essentially, by pulping and pressing the herb
  • Infusion – steeping plants in boiling water (tea)
  • Decoction – put plant in cold water and bring to the boil, simmering for 20-30 minutes
  • Maceration – steep a plant in a solvent at room temperature for 1-2 weeks (common solvents are alcohol, glycerine, oil, water, vinegar)
  • Digestion – maceration using gentle heat, usually body temperature
  • Percolation – plant is macerated in a tall cylinder with a tap at the bottom, and when the tap is opened, the solvent moves slowly through the plant using gravity, dissolving constituents on the way

Herbs can be administered in many ways, from capsules of dried herb, baths, creams, tinctures, washes, poultices, teas, etc. Research the best method of extraction for how you want to use the herb.

Getting help making herbal treatments at home

Not all herbs are created equal! Consult a reliable source on the best way to extract the goodness from the specific plant you are using for best results.

References

Herbal Manufacturing: how to make medicines from plants by Jenny Adams and Eleanor Tan



Original price was: USD $9.95.Current price is: USD $0.00. ex GST/VAT/TAX
Original price was: USD $9.99.Current price is: USD $0.00. ex GST/VAT/TAX
Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)
SHARE YOUR CART