What’s An Herb?  “Any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume” (Google) The definition of...

Herbs 101 with Abby Artemisia


What’s An Herb? 

“Any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume” (Google) The definition of an herb is pretty simple, so let’s make this simple! A simple is an herbal remedy that is made of only one ingredient. This is a good way to get started with herbs. Choose one herb and make it into a tea. Drink it daily and notice how you feel.

Note: some herbs extract better in some formulas or into certain liquids than others. The book Making Plant Medicine states this information under each herb listing.)

Herbal Teas

Infusions vs. Decoctions, Dried vs. Fresh

An infusion is a tea made from more delicate, easily extracted plant materials, such as leaves and flowers.

Directions for Making Herbal Tea Infusion:
Pour about 8oz of water over 1 tablespoon of herbs and steep, covered, for about 20 minutes.

A decoction is a tea made from the hardy plant parts, which are tougher to extract nutrients from, like roots, bark, and berries.

Directions for Making Herbal Tea Decoction:
Using the same proportions as above, add the herbs to the water in the pot and simmer for 5-20 minutes. Strain herbs and drink. You can also make larger quantities to drink throughout the day by using 3-4 tablespoons of herbs per quart of water. Strain into a mason jar. This will stay good on the counter for 1 day, or refrigerate for up to 3 days.

These proportions are for dried herbs. For fresh herbs, double the amount of plant materials because they will have higher water content.


Tinctures are an extraction of herbs into a menstruum, such as alcohol, vegetable glycerine, or vinegar. Pros: stronger than tea, portable, ready for use when you need them, longer shelf life (preservation). Cons: takes up to a month to make.

As stated in the note above, some herbs extract better into certain menstruums.

You can make tinctures the traditional (easy way) or the more precise (more time-consuming) mathematical way. Glycerine tinctures can be easier (read “tastier”) for children to take, though if you drop tinctures into warm water and wait, the alcohol will evaporate. Alcohol tinctures last indefinitely, while glycerine and vinegar tinctures have a shelf life of about 1 year.


Kids love these! Syrups are a tasty way to take tonifying herbs. Some syrup ideas: elderberry syrup, iron elixir (from “Healing Tonics”). Syrups are usually a strong decoction mixed with honey, sugar, or molasses.

Salves and Balms

Salves and balms are more portable than lotion and are usually a combination of herb-infused oils and wax, as a hardener. There are a variety of purposes: skin healing, moisturizing, inflammation/pain.

Directions to Make Salves and Balms:
Use a double boiler or slow-infuse the herbs into the oil in a jar on the windowsill to avoid scalding the oil. (You can stop after this step, if you want, and use the oil for massage or foods like salad dressing.) Then, add the wax (beeswax or other vegan wax) and any essential oils. Add more wax and essential oils for lip balm.

Herbs For Kids

Children like teas, especially if they help make them and they’re sweetened with a little honey. Check dosage guidelines (in books like Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal) and adjust accordingly.

Nursing mothers can drink teas or take tinctures for their babies. Certain herbs are not recommended for pregnant or nursing mothers. Check with your doctor and references first. Though certain herbs are great for pregnancy and nursing.

 “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” - Hippocrates

Culinary Herbs

  • Basil: antispasmodic, antibacterial, draws out poisons from stings and bites, colds, earaches, indigestion 
  • Black Pepper: dries mucous, sore throat, digestion, warming, general tonic 
  • Cinnamon: antibacterial, antifungal, balances blood sugar, digestion, warming, circulation 
  • Cloves: antiseptic, colds, circulation, digestion, toothaches 
  • Ginger: anti-inflammatory, circulation, colds, flu, morning/motion sickness, digestion, menstrual cramps 
  • Oregano: antiseptic, disinfectant, anti-inflammatory, immune system, respiratory system 
  • Peppermint: antibacterial, antimicrobial, antivirus, digestion, diarrhea, nausea, colds, flu, headaches 
  • Rosemary: anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, hair, colds, headaches, heart tonic, memory, circulation, nervous system 
  • Thyme: antiseptic, disinfectant, bronchitis, congestion, digestion 

Make sure they’re fresh! Look at and smell the herbs They should break easily, but not be brittle.

Where To Find More Information

  • The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicine by Matthew Wood
  • The Green Pharmacy by James Duke
  • Healing Tonics by Jeanine Pollak
  • Health Handbook: A Guide to Family Health by Louise Tenney
  • The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook by James Green
  • The Little Herb Encyclopedia by Jack Ritchason
  • Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech
  • Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal by Rosemary Gladstar (and anything else by Rosemary)
  • The Way of Herbs by Michael Tierra

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