In today’s post, contributing writer Heather Harris is going to be giving us a peek into what she keeps on hand in her own herbal medicine cabinet.
The sound often comes late at night, when you are in a deep sleep. Harsh, deep coughs and the “maaahm” that comes with your kids getting sick. You run to your child’s side, but what do you choose? An over the counter medicine or an herbal alternative? Do you even know where to start building a home herbal apothecary, or herbal medicine cabinet?
A Peek Into My Herbal Medicine Cabinet
I love being an herbalist. I love the idea that I can treat my family’s colds, coughs, minor bumps and bruises at home with herbs and essential oils. Learning how to do this correctly and safely took me over 2 years of training, but it was so worth it. I’d like to give you a peek into my home herbal apothecary, and explain why I use what I use. This will give you some ideas on where to start building your own herbal medicine cabinet.
Building the Correct Vocabulary
To start, let’s go over some terms that I will be referring to in this post:
- mL- In medicine, we use the metric system to weigh and measure. This gives a far more standardized preparation. mL is short for “milliliter”, and can be measured as 5mL= 1 teaspoon.
- Ratio- What that ratio means is that for every gram of herb, 5mL of liquid is used. In herbal medicine, correct ratios are IMPORTANT. This ensures that you get the correct dose to be effective and safe at the same time. If you plan on using herbs as medicine in your own home, it’s worth the money to get a scale to weigh things properly.
- Tincture- This is an alcohol based herbal preparation. Most often you will see 80 proof vodka being used in a ratio of 1:5.
- Glycerite- This is a glycerine and water based herbal preparation. Most often used for those who abstain from alcohol completely, or are uncomfortable giving it to young children in any dose. Glycerine is mixed with water to form the liquid part of the ratio. So, for every 1 gram of herb (by weight), you will use 3mL of glycerine and 2mL of water. This is the most common ratio and what I use in my home.
- Infusion- This refers to an herb being steeped in hot water, like in a tea.
- Balm and Salve- Although technically different, these words are often used interchangeably to refer to an herb infused into an oil, strained and made more solid with the addition of shea butter or beeswax.
- Dosing- Believe it or not, there IS a science to dosing an herbal medicine. It’s more than just “eyeball it” or “give a teaspoon every hour”. For many herbs, following that advice can be dangerous. You can get too much of it in too short of a time. It’s best to start with the smallest dose possible, and give it more often than to give a larger dose in less frequency. For example, if an herbal dosage is 5mL 3x a day, (remember 5mL is equal to 1 teaspoon) you could start off with 1/2 teaspoon 6 times a day. This is a great way to monitor for reactions to the herbs. Reactions could include-allergic responses or vomiting. If those occur, it’s best to stop use of that herbal preparation.
My Top Five Must-Have Herbs
This is a Chinese legume, actually and is often used in cooking. It has adaptogenic properties, meaning that it helps your body adapt to it’s environment.
I make this into a 1:5 tincture, and give the adults and teens 10mL 1x a day, and my young child (5) 5mL 1x a day. This dosage is what we go by when we are NOT sick, but to help support our bodies during weather changes, schedule changes and such. If we DO get sick, I double the dosage for each person. We will take the dosage 2x a day, instead of just once daily.
This is most often given by measuring the tincture into an empty capsule for ease of taking. Astragalus is a GREAT herb, but smells and tastes like something scraped off the bottom of the chicken coop.
This is my go to herb for upset tummies, indigestion, coughs and general beauty needs. Chamomile is safe for everyone, except those with a ragweed allergy. (this is due to them being in the same family; chamomile can give the same allergic response to those allergic to ragweed.)
Some of the best ways to use chamomile are in an infusion. 1 Tablespoon to 8 ounces of hot water, steeped for 10 minutes, then strained and cooled will offer even the tiniest tummies relief. Calming and soothing, this is a great tea to drink in the evenings to help relax before bedtime.
Chamomile is also great in a balm or salve to help soothe diaper rash or minor cuts and scrapes.
Perhaps this is my favorite dried herb of all. It’s usefulness is extraordinary. You can drink this in an infusion tea, add dried herbs to bath water, fill a cloth with dried herbs for a fragrant pillow and more.
My most often uses are making this into a burn salve by infusing 10 grams dried herbs into 1/2 cup coconut oil. Heat in 200 oven for 2 hours, then stain the infused oil. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Use on minor burns, cuts and scrapes by applying a quarter sized amount on the affected area. Adding 10 grams dried lavender in a glycerite with 30mL glycerine and 20mL water, infused for 3 weeks then strained, is also great for young kids to help them get to relax and sleep. Simply administer 1 teaspoon 1/2 hour before bedtime.
This herb is easily foraged for, or can be purchased online. It’s great for bumps and bruises and I most often use it in a salve.
When making a salve, infuse 5 grams of dried herb into 1/2 cup of olive oil. Heat in 200 oven for 2 hours, then strain the infused oil. Add 3 teaspoons beeswax (or 15 grams) and heat gently in oven until melted. Pour into jar with tight fitting lid and allow to cool before use. To use, simply apply a quarter sized amount on affected area.
It’s referred to as a “bone knitting herb” as studies suggest that it helps speeding healing in broken bones. When using it, you want to avoid applying to broken skin, such as a scrape.
This is another herb that is easily foraged for. I love how the leaves feel all “flannely” and soft. Mullein is great in a tea or homemade cough syrup for sore throats and coughs. To make a tea, add 2 grams dried herbs into 8 ounces hot water. Steep for 10 minutes, strain and sweeten as desired. Adding a bit of honey will further help soothe a sore throat. You can drink this tea up to 3 times a day for adults, 2 times a day for children, over the age of 2.
These are my top herbs that I will always have on hand for my family. They pretty much cover all things we would need them for.
What are your favorite herbs?