Herbalism is the oldest form of medicine known to us, and this knowledge has been accumulated over thousands of years. While modern medicine is all about finding and extracting the one active ingredient in a plant to make it a powerful medicine, herbalists insist that a plant is made up of a number of ingredients, which work together to make it a safer and more effective medicine. Most herbalists believe that modern medicine suppresses the body’s healing powers. The symptoms are healed but the underlying cause of illness is not addressed.
A growing number of doctors and patients are embracing a complementary approach to treating health problems. Minor ailments and non-threatening diseases can easily be treated at home with herbs. The chronic ones need to be treated systematically for months. With more and more people turning to natural remedies, it becomes imperative to know how to prepare the herbs and how to use them correctly to achieve maximum results.
How To Prepare Herbs?
Most medicinal herbs are available with herbalists. We may also grow these herbs – some of them are really easy to grow. One has to be careful however, that the plants have not been exposed to pollutants, pesticides and sprays. Herbs for medicinal purpose should be harvested just before flowering, and the ideal time to harvest is in the morning, says Prof D N Dhar in his book, ‘Natural Remedies’.
Herbs can be taken fresh or dry. Dry herbs are more potent than fresh ones, hence while using dried herbs, it is suggested that the ratio of herb to water should be 25g to 500ml. When fresh herbs are used, the ratio would be 50g to 500ml. There are basically three basic carriers used to extract the healing elements of herbs. These are water, alcohol and oil. The easiest to make at home is water based extractions.
Teas can be brewed from the fresh or dried flowers, leaves or roots of a herb. Add a tsp of dried herb or two tsp of fresh crushed herb to two cups of water. Bring this to a boil and then let it steep for 10 – 15 minutes. Herbal teas can be had hot or cold. Keeping the pot covered with a close-fitting lid, will help to retain the active ingredients, as otherwise they may be lost due to evaporation. Most of the active ingredients in the herbs are volatile.
Place the freshly-crushed herbs, condiments or spices in a container, and pour hot water on them. Cover with a lid, let it cool to room temperature, then use it. Infusions can also be used as herbal teas and for inhalations. Infusions using hot water on the verge of boiling, preserves the beneficial oils that can be sometimes be lost through escaping steam.
Decoctions are usually prepared from the dried bark of trees, seeds and roots. These hard substances need prolonged boiling to release their active principles. Decoctions can also be made from fresh, soft plant parts like crushed flowers, soft leaves and stems. In this case, boil only for 3-4 mins. Take about half a cup of coarsely pounded bark/seeds/roots. To this add two cups of water and boil till only one-fourth remains. Strain through a soft, clean cloth or filter, and use.
In case of delicate plants and herbs such as rose, jasmine, marigold, hibiscus, and coriander whose oils evaporate very fast, the ingredients are soaked in cold water and left for 10-12 hours, or even overnight. Half a cup of herbs to a cup of water should be used.
It is best to use these remedies as soon as possible after brewing them, because they start to lose their potency within a few hours of exposure to air. Honey or sugar can be added to bitter tasting teas to make them more palatable. Some teas produce side effects like nausea, hence they are given with aromatics like cinnamon, cloves or cardamom. Temperatures at which you boil the herbs also play an important role in extracting the medicinal properties of the herb.
Herbs like bearberry, should not be boiled as it loses its efficacy. Hence the bearberry tea is prepared by soaking the leaves in water. Some teas like parsley may not be good for pregnant women as it may increase the risk of miscarriage. Elderly people with liver, kidney and cardiovascular problems should not liquorice for a long time. As a rule , raw, cold, greasy and hard to digest foods should be avoided while taking herbal teas. It is always advisable to follow the instructions carefully while having herbal teas.