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How to use the herbs

Many of the books in the references provide more detailed information on the many ways to use herbs. I will be giving here a relatively brief and general summary of ways to prepare herbs for use. Herbs can be used either fresh or dried, depending on the particular use and herb. It is important that the herb is in good condition without mould or fungus and free from infestation by insects.

Many of the herbs described in this book might be difficult to find fresh in Europe and North America as they are mostly sourced from tropical and sub-tropical regions. With few exceptions however, almost all of the herbs can be obtained over the internet or in health food stores, either in loose form, as tinctures, extracts, tablets/capsules or in creams and other preparations. Whatever the source, it is important to ensure that the source is reputable and as always when in doubt ask questions of your suppliers.

Teas (Infusion)

Teas can be made with a single herb or with a combination of herbs. Teas are generally best for those herbs which have active plant chemicals that are water-soluble. Infusions are the best way to prepare delicate parts of plants such as the leaves and flowers, and for plants which have high levels of essential oils.

To make an infusion, pour boiling water on fresh or dried herbs and leave for 10-15 minutes, strain and drink. The ratio of herb to water varies according to the particular herb and its intended usage, but on average 25g(1oz) of herb to 500ml(1pt) water. For medicinal use, drink 1/2 -1 cup 2-3 times per day. Infusions can also be used externally for skin problems, minor burns, and sprains (see Poultices and Compresses below).

Teas (Decoction)

Teas made from roots, bark, berries and twigs are best used as a decoction. The ratio is 25g herb to 750ml (1.5pt) water. In a decoction, the herb is boiled for 20-30 minutes as this helps to release the active plant chemicals. The mixture should be boiled until there is 500ml of liquid.

Some decoctions are boiled for much longer. This is particularly true of tough barks and twigs and ensures that the medicinal content is fully extracted. The dosage can be the same as for infusions and decoctions and can also be used externally.

Tinctures

Tinctures are made when the herb is soaked in alcohol or an alcohol/water mix, which can better extract the active plant chemicals from the herb. Tinctures are stronger than infusions and decoctions and can last 1-2 years, depending on the ratio of water to alcohol and proper storage.

Tinctures can be made with both fresh and dried herbs. For fresh herbs the ratio is 1 part herb to 3 part alcohol, i.e. 300g(12ozs) : 1 litre(2pts). When using dried herbs, the ratio is 1 part herb to 4 part alcohol; 250g(10 ozs) : 1 litre alcohol. Some herbalists prefer a1: 5 ratio. The mixture should be stored in a glass jar and left to soak for at least two weeks, shaking the container every couple of days. Strain the mixture, squeezing out as much of the liquid as possible with a muslin cloth.

Store the liquid and use as required. The dosage varies according to the herb and the medicinal need, but is usually about 1-2mls, taken in juice or water, 2-3 times a day. For people who don't want to consume alcohol or are pregnant, the tincture should be put into a small cup of hot water and left for some minutes for the alcohol to evaporate. Tinctures can also be made using vinegar and glycerine. Tinctures can be used externally and can be added to other herbal blends (see below)

Poultices

Poultices are a traditional way of using herbs externally to treat skin problems, sprains and for muscular or nerve pains. The herb can be heated either in hot water or over a low, open flame and applied to the affected area. The herb can be powdered, or mashed up in a mortar and placed between two pieces of cloth and tied onto the body part. This can be left on for up to 3 hours or as necessary.

Compresses

A herbal lotion made from an infusion, decoction or from a tincture can be used for external problems such as sprains, bruises, inflammations, fevers, or headaches. Compresses are applied by using a cloth soaked in the lotion to the particular part of the body. The lotion can be hot or cold or alternating depending on the condition.