The value of plants as medicine has been known and used for centuries. Today herbs have increased in popularity, and can be used as a wonderful healing aid alongside a healthy balanced lifestyle, with plenty of fresh food, exercise, water, sunshine and laughter. Remember that herbs can also be very potent, depending on how they are prepared, and so can react with other medications and pre-existing conditions.
One of the best ways to begin using herbs is to get familiar with a herb by growing it yourself – start with one and learn all about the history, folklore, and current uses of the herb and try using it in as many ways as you can in your every day life. If you add a new herb each month, your repertoire will soon grow and your natural health knowledge will expand greatly. Most herbs are very happy to grow in pots, so even if you don’t have a garden you should still be able to cultivate a reasonable variety on a sunny windowsill or in a courtyard.
There are so many ways you can prepare herbs, the most common being as an addition to food and drink – either fresh or dried as a tea or infusion. An infusion is typically made from leaves and blossoms where you steep a teaspoon of dried plant material in a cup of near boiling water for 10 minutes. A decoction is a tea where you simmer the herb (usually roots and bark) together with one cup of water for half an hour, using one teaspoon of dried plant material or one tablespoon of fresh; stand for a further 10 minutes before drinking.
You can also make a poultice using fresh or dried plant material, by crushing it with water to form a thick paste and applying it to a clean cloth which is then placed over the affected area. Oil extraction is another useful home method for preparing medicinal plants to use externally. You simply place the dried herb in a double boiler and cover it with oil (olive is good). Simmer this combination for around 3 hours and then strain it and use the oil once cooled. A cold oil infusion is best for fresh plant material and involves packing a jar with herbs, covering them with oil, then leaving it to stand in the sunlight for several weeks so that the active ingredients are released into the oil before you strain and use the oil.