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Forms of Herbal Preparations


Herbal teas are very pleasant, but they do not have medicinal dosages of the active constituents of herbs. Still, they do have a mild relaxing or invigorating effect, according to the character of the herb used to make the tea. Herbal teas can also be a healthy addition to your daily diet; try substituting herbal teas for caffeine-laden coffee or sugary sodas.

Start with about one-half to one ounce, or one teaspoon, of dried herb or three teaspoons of fresh herb per cup of water. Pour boiling water over and steep for five minutes or so before using a straining device. Only the herb's water-soluble elements will be present.

Extracts (Fluid, Solid and Concentrated-Solid)

Extracts are concentrated extractions (tinctures) of fresh herbs, but the medium used in extracts—unlike in tinctures—is water rather than alcohol. Since alcohol is a preservative, tinctures tend to last much longer than extracts. Refrigerated extracts, which are usually mixed in water or juice, last only about a week. Commercial extracts may last longer because they usually include glycerin or alcohol.

Solid extracts are made by evaporating the tincture to obtain a gummy residue, which is dried and then used to make tablets or capsules.

A standardized extract is when most (though not all) of the active ingredients of the whole plant are included in specific percentages.


Professional herbalists often prepare tinctures especially designed to meet the unique needs of their patients. Tinctures are strong preparations that should be stored in cool places and out of the reach of children.

In tinctures we use alcohol to extract the active qualities of the herb. Because tinctures are much more potent than decoctions or infusions, dosages are given in smaller amounts. We recommend tinctures in terms of teaspoons per day. It may also be given in drops or milliliters; carefully follow the directions on each remedy.

A tincture is made by pouring 5 ounces of alcohol over 1 ounce of a dried herb or 3 ounces of fresh herbs. Many commercial tinctures use a combination of alcohol and water. Shake tinctures twice each day to maintain their blend of active ingredients.

Some people prefer to get tinctures from a qualified herbal practitioner. But if you want to make your own at home, here’s how you go about it: Combine 5 ounces of 100 proof vodka and 1 ounce of the herb in a small, sterile, airtight, and preferably dark amber, bottle. Over time the active qualities of the herb are released into the alcohol. Tinctures require 2 to 6 weeks to make, but they can last over a year.

For those who don’t care for alcohol, you can use vinegar instead of vodka. Or, add the tincture to 1 cup of warm water—this will cause most of the alcohol to evaporate, as well as diluting any bitter taste.


An infusion is an easy way to make an herbal remedy. The goal is to extract the active qualities, or healing juices, of the herb. Start by bruising 1 ounce of dried flowers, leaves, or petals of the herb in a clean cloth. Then pour 3 cups of boiling water over the herb. Cover the mixture closely and let it steep for 20 to 30 minutes. Strain the mixture, and drink it hot or cold.

Infusions should be refrigerated and generally last three or four days. Dosages of infusions are also given in cups per day.  Infusion are appropriate for herbs in which the upper parts of the plant, the flowers and leaves, contain the active ingredients.  Take note: If you are using a combination of herbs in a decoction or infusion, use 1 ounce of the total combined herbs recommended—not 1 ounce of each single herb.

Capsules, Pills and Lozenge

Capsules and pills contain dried herbs. Unlike liquid remedies, no extraction process has been used in their preparation. Capsules and pills can be a great convenience when you’re on the go—whether simply in the course of your normal day, or when you’re traveling for pleasure or off on a business trip.

Some herbalists believe, however, that capsules and pills have certain disadvantages compared to liquid-based internal remedies. While capsules may be preferable in certain conditions, such as when you want the herbs released in the intestines rather than the stomach, liquid remedies are generally better, for a number of reasons. First, the active constituents of the herbs are not as readily available to your body when they are in capsule or pill form. Heat and water in the processes we describe above help release the healing agents of herbs; digestion alone does not guarantee that this takes place.

Second, many people prefer capsules because they don't like the herbs' bitter taste. The problem here is that experiencing the bitter taste itself is important in order to receive the full benefits of the herb. The bitter taste is what provokes an important series of bodily actions, such as stimulating bile flow and digestive juices, regulating insulin, releasing the hormone gastrin, and more. These functions are useful in the treatment of digestive disorders, diabetes, gall bladder problems, liver disease, and other ailments.

Still, many herbalists continue to recommend herbal capsules and pills, and they are certainly very handy in today’s busy and active world. Capsules, by the way, can also be opened and the powder inside them can be made into infusions, decoctions, poultices, etc. And chewing rather than swallowing pills can help release their vital constituents.

The dosages of pills and capsules vary widely. Capsules come in different sizes. Carefully follow the directions on the bottle of any herbal remedy you choose, beginning your usage with the smallest recommended dose.

A lozenge is the powdered herb or oil combined with sugar and mucilage or gum into pills that are meant to be sucked.


A decoction is a remedy made by boiling the hard and woody parts of herbs. Break up the bark or roots into small pieces or grind into a powder—the smaller they are, the more easily they will be absorbed into the water. A great deal of heat is necessary to make sure that the active constituents of the herb, those healing juices that have a specific dynamic effect on your body, are released. More heat is needed in making decoctions than infusions, since the parts of the herb that are used in decoctions—the bark and roots—are very dense in nature.

To make a decoction, boil 1 ounce of the herb in 4 cups of water. Allow the water to boil for about 10 minutes, until it has been reduced to approximately 3 cups. Next, add any lighter material, such as the flowers and leaves you would use to make infusions. Cover and simmer (steep) for an additional 10 to 20 minutes, and then strain the mixture while it is still hot.

Making a decoction helps to break down the tougher cell walls of barks and roots and allows the transfer of the active chemicals.  Unfortunately, the high heat does tend to destroy some of the herb's volatile oils.

Decoctions will last three or four days in the refrigerator. The dosages of decoctions are usually given in cups per day. A note of caution here: If you are using a combination of herbs in a decoction, use 1 ounce of the total combined herbs recommended--not 1 ounce of each single herb. Use stainless steel or ceramic pots to make herbal remedies; avoid using aluminum, which may chemically interact.


To relieve sunburn and skin irritations you may want to apply an herbal solution to the whole body.  An herbal bath is the answer. Add two cups of an infusion or decoction to the bathwater, or a few drops of an essential oil. You can also place fresh or dried herbs in a muslin or gauze bag and suspend it from the tub's tap as water fills the bath.


Many herbal mouthwashes can be used to reduce tooth decay and relieve sore gums or throats. Myrrh is especially good for mouth and gum infections. Gargling with Bayberry mouthwash can relieve sore throats and gums. You can usually use mouthwash up to three times daily.


An herbal douche is a liquid remedy inserted into a body cavity for cleansing or curative reasons. Vaginal douches are most common. For example, a douche made with Echinacea and Pau d’Arco can be used three times a week for the duration of a yeast infection. In general, douches should not be used too often. If the condition you are treating with a douche persists, consult a qualified practitioner.


Poultices are hot packs applied to the skin to help heal a wound or infection. To make a poultice, mix the dried herb with hot water. Place the mixture directly on the skin, into a muslin bag or between two thin layers of gauze and apply to the affected area as needed. May be held in place by using a wet dressing or a compress. There are doubtless many compounds in a poultice that pass through the skin and have internal benefits as well.

Fresh leaves or flowers are usually crushed or bruised and then applied to the skin.


A hot compress may be made by pouring a hot herbal tea (or infusion, decoction, tincture) on a sterile clean cloth, or towel; wring lightly and apply to skin. Be careful that the tea is not so hot it burns you.

You can also simmer the roots or woody herbs for a few minutes--place in a thin cloth bag and apply to skin.

Many compresses are helpful in relieving swollen conditions. Apply compresses locally as needed. Also known as fomentation.

Cream, Oil, Ointment, Salve, Liniment and Lotion

These often have an herbal basis and can be applied locally as needed. They can promote the healing of and be very soothing to burns and superficial wounds. Carefully follow the instructions on the label of a commercial remedy, and begin use with the lowest recommended dosage.

Salves and ointments are semisolid fatty preparations that liquefy on contact with the skin. The distinction is minor: some herbalist consider a salve to be a stiff ointment. They're both easy to apply and are used in similar manners. You can make your own salves by adding essential oils or herbal concentrates to beeswax, and your own ointments by adding one teaspoon of herbal tincture for each ounce of natural skin lotion.

Herbal companies make lotions by mixing a water extract with glycerin. This stiffens the preparation without making it oily. 

A liniment is a mixture of alcohol, or in some cases vinegar, with herbal oils.  The active herbs are often ones like cayenne, camphor, peppermint, and eucalyptus, which work to increase circulation and remove pain from muscles and ligaments.

Discontinue use if you develop any sort of rash.

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