All herbs growing on good soil are perfectly chemically balanced a state which quickly becomes distorted by heating, drying and long storage. So a herb eaten raw in its natural state undoubtedly the most potent medicine. The problem is that m medicinal herbs are so strong tasting that they are simply net palatable. That is where the various alternative method of employing them come in. Once you have a basic understanding of these you will be well away. Follow the instructions for he different methods of preparation carefully. One process will extract one active principle from the herb while a differen process will result in activating another element altogether. For example, tincture of lobelia will act as an emetic whereas an infusion of lobelia will prove mildly sedative. A weak infusion of hops will activate aromatic principles, while a double-strength infusion will exploit the bitter tonic principle, and a decoction the astringent properties.

It is also important to understand the many ways in which a herb can be administered, because often when you are really sick you are unable to swallow anything (and remember that fasting is the best medicine of all). Besides which, the external application of herbs is sometimes the most effective way to clear up an ill. ness. The skin, for example, is an excellent avenue into the body whether it be by water, vapour, oil, ointment, poultice or fomentation.

Medicinal Herbal Teas

These are the simplest way to take herbs but contain only the water-soluble principles of the plant. However, if teas are takenregularly over a long period of time they can be extremely effective. Fresh herbs need to be gently crushed to break up the cellulose of the plant cells, so releasing the active principles. Use a stainless steel knife, your hands or a pestle and mortar. Dried herbs should be chopped or crumbled. Don’t use powdered herbs unless you fancy a muddy, unappetizing soup. Keep a teapot specially for your medicinal tea. You will notice that your ordinary pot gets stained with tannin from your

ordinary tea. If you brew an iron-rich tea like yellow dock in such a pot the iron from the herb and the tannic acid from the staining will bond together to form tannate of iron, a very strong styptic which induces acute constipation and digestive problems. The quantities for a medicinal tea are always the same unless otherwise specified -1 oz (30 g) to i pint (600 ml) boiled filtered water. (Don’t use water straight from a tap which is laden with chemicals; water filters are readily available from health food

shops and chemists.) From this quantity you will be able to draw

about 4 wineglassfuls of tea, which you should drink a cup at a

time, one with each meal.

INFUSIONS

Delicate parts of the herb – the flowers and leaves – need to be gently steeped in water for twenty minutes. First warm your special china or glass teapot, then add 1 oz (30 g) of the herb (remembering that fresh herbs will take up a lot more space than dried ones even though the weight is the same) and pour into the pot 1 pint (600 ml) freshly boiled filtered water, which has been allowed to stand for thirty seconds. (Water that is actually boiling is too harsh and destroys the potency of the herb.) Stir the tea with anything that is not aluminium, then cover the pot tightly to stop the volatile oil escaping in steam. Leave to steep for twenty minutes, then strain through muslin, nylon, silver or stainless steel. If desired, add honey, maple syrup or a dash of apple or grape juice, to sweeten.

Store what you do not drink immediately in the refrigerator, in a glass jar covered with linen or muslin to allow the tea to breathe. It will keep for up to three days like this. If you see fine bubbles popping up to the surface, the tea has begun to ferment, so throw r away on your compost heap. But if you make only a pint at atime it should be finished within day or two so this shouldn’t be a problem.

DECOCTIONS

These are made with seeds, roots, bark or very tough leaves like bay leaves, all of which need rigorous processing to make them surrender their medical properties. Put oz (30 g) of the herb into the bottom of a china, glass, enamel or stainless steel saucepan, cover with 1 pint (600 ml) filtered water and a tight-fitting lid and bring to the boil. Boil gently until the water is reduced by half. Strain, hold your nose and drink. When patients complain about the strong taste I am sympathetic and try to cheer them up by pointing out that in China they drink soupy brew which is boiled for hours, with more herbs and water added to it every so often, and never strained. Having tasted such a brew personally it

may be thin compensation but I assure you it is lot worse! All seeds, roots and bark need to be well crushed using pestle and mortar before use. Burdock root and cinnamon only need steeping in freshly boiled water, not boiling, and valerian should be steeped in cold water (for twenty-four hours) to ensure that the valerianic acid and essential oils are not lost. Decoctions will stay fresh for four days and should be stored in exactly the same way as infusions. The dosage is usually 2 tablespoons with each meal.

Essential Oils

You have a guarantee of quality if you buy your essential oils from the right places and this saves a fair amount of work. Some suppliers adulterate their oils. The ones I like are listed in the Appendix. But it is not difficult to make an essential oil albeit a dilute version of the pure oil, and as it is only the aromatic ones that are generally available it is useful to be able to make other medicinal ones yourself. Pound 2 oz (60 g) freshly picked herb (dried herbs, in this instance, won’t do) with pestle and mortar. Scrape into a wide-necked glass container and cover with pint vegetable oil olive, almond. Add tablespoon of cider vinegar to assist the breaking up of the cellulose of the herb. The container should be large enough for there be a gap at the top that the contents can be shaken

vigorously. Do this, then the jar should ideally be placed outside in strong sunlight. It should be embedded in fine sand, which attracts and holds heat for hours after the sun has disappeared. Bring the jar in at night. Shake again and store it in the airing cupboard until morning. Keep this routine up for a week, then strain the oil through muslin initially, then coffee filter paper. Bottle in dark glass and label. In the winter, the jar should be left in the airing cupboard all the time, instead of putting it out in the sun during the day. The process can be speeded up by using artificial heat but I never find the results quite as good. Place the closed jar in a pan of

freshly boiled water and keep the water below boiling point for two hours. (This will need your more-or-less constant attention.) Strain and bottle when cool. Taken internally oils are best mixed with a little honey and hot water, and in this case take 3 drops of the oil three times daily. Externally, dilute z drops in a teaspoon of vegetable oil and apply to the skin.

Tinctures

Use good-quality brandy, gin or vodka. Never use wood alcohol, surgical spirit or methanol, all of which are poisonous. The final amount of alcohol is only about one third of the original amount as the herbs, which are strained out, absorb much of it. Alcohol has the advantage over water because it will extract much more of a herb’s medicinal properties than water. As the resulting tincture is therefore very potent it is only administered in very small doses, usually 10 drops at a time, always diluted in water. Tinctures will keep indefinitely and are particularly useful for masking the flavour of some of the foul-tasting herbs.

Combine 4 oz (120 g) powdered or very finely chopped herb with 1 pint (600 ml) alcohol. Shake daily and strain after fourteen days. Tinctures should be started with a new moon and strained with a full moon fourteen days later – the power of the wax ing moon helps extract the medicinal properties. Then strain the tincture through coffee filter paper, into a labelled bottle and

cap tightly. If you are a teetotaller and cannot face the thought of alcohol

even for medicinal purposes use apple cider vinegar instead, but add a teaspoon of glycerine before bottling The dosage for tinctures is 1 teaspoon or 10 drops in at least cup of water three times daily with meals.

Juicing Fresh Herbs

Use fresh herbs only for this and extract the juice in a juicer.

Juiced herbs are particularly useful in a fast added to bland vegetable and fruit juices. They are also useful externally as compresses. The internal dosage is 1 teaspoon diluted in juice a needed. Externally, juices can be applied liberally,

Powders

This is probably the most potent and effective form of herbal medicine because the whole herb is used, not an extract, which is why I favour powders at my clinic. You can buy many herbs already powdered from Gerard’s and if you are prepared to buy a kilo or more at a time you can buy them from Brome & Schimmer . You can powder your own by putting them through a coffee grinder with a very powerful motor but even this will not touch some of the very hard roots and barks.

GELATIN CAPSULES

These are small cylindrical capsules made of animal gelatin into which the herbs are compressed. These are available in sizes ranging from ’00’ to ‘4. The size I stock is ‘0’, which is the correct size for an adult. To fill the capsule, separate it and press both halves firmly into the powdered herbs until each is as full as possible. Then close the capsule carefully so that one side slots into the other. Some of my patients prefer to measure out their powdered

herbs in a capsule and then tip then into a juice, yoghurt,

nut-butter or sugarless jam (such as the Whole Earth varieties),

trying not to wince too much at the strong taste. I encourage this

as much as I can because it ensures that the herbs are properly

digested, beginning with the action of the ptyalin in the saliva,

and the bitter principles once tasted stir up the liver and facilitate digestion. Take 2 or 3 size ‘O’capsules right at the beginning of each meal with lots of liquid, preferably herbal tea or a fruit or vegetable juice.

Pills

These are useful when the herb cannot be finely powdered but can be roughly chopped, and for those who hate capsule-filling. Mix 1 oz (30 g) of the herbs with enough firm-set honey or melted unsalted butter to make a malleable paste (a food mixer is handy here). Divide the paste into 100 equal-sized portions by rolling it into thin sausages, then cutting it into pellets and shaping it into balls. Roll each ball in a little slippery elm, spread them on a stainless steel baking sheet and dry them out overnight in an airing cupboard. The herb to be taken as a medicine may be extended with the addition of slippery elm or carob powder as a carrier base.

Hypoglycaemics, diabetics and anyone with a pancreatic prob lems should not use honey and people trying to lose weight should avoid both butter and honey. Take 2 or 3 pills right at the beginning of each meal with plenty of liquid.

Syrups

These are a good basis for cough mixture. To a strained decoction

add a quarter of its weight in liquid honey and thicken slowly over a slow heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture turns syrupy. You will need to skim off rising scum from time to time. Decant into a labelled glass bottle. Take i tablespoon as needed.

Poultices

These sound very old-fashioned but they are a useful form of treatment for external lesions, for ulcers and for drawing out

boils and suppurations, as well as for applying nutriment directy through the skin via the lymph and blood circulation to the tissues and organs beneath. Poultices are also a good way of softening and dispersing material that has become hardened as breast lumps. You will need:

1. Herbs. Fresh herbs need to be liquidized in a little water; dried

ones should be macerated in a little hot water, and powder can stay as they are. 2. Slippery elm powder, arrowroot or cornflour as a carrier base.

3. Apple cider vinegar.

4. White fine pure cotton. A very large man’s handkerchief usually does beautifully, depending on the area to be treated Gauze is also suitable. 5. Two large plates, and a large saucepan of boiling water. 6. Plastic sheeting (such as a piece of bin bag or those plastic bags

that come from the dry cleaners, or cling film), stretchy cotton

bandages and safety pins.

Estimate enough herbs to cover the area to be treated to a depth of 4 in (6 mm). Mix these with about a tablespoon of the camer base and enough apple cider vinegar to form a thick paste. Spread the piece of cotton onto a plate and put this over a saucepan of boiling water. Scrape the herbal mixture into half the cotton, keeping it from the edge to stop it squelching out when you use it Fold the other half of the cotton over the top, then fold the damp edges together and press out any excess moisture. Cover the whole with the other plate until the poultice is really hot. Remove and apply it as hot as is bearable to the affected area, but obviously don’t burn yourself. Cover with plastic; secure with bandages and safety pins or, if the area is very large, a thin towel. Leave it on all night. If the poultice is to be applied somewhere on your trunk wearing a tight cotton T-shirt will help to hold it firmly in place.

The next morning peel the poultice off and warm it up using the plate method. Meanwhile cleanse the area by bathing in a warm decoction of echinacea. Reapply the poultice but this time use the other side against the skin. Repeat each evening with a completely fresh poultice (using it again in the morning) until the area is healed.

 HERBAL FORMULAE FOR POULTICES

These are listed for convenience in alphabetical order.

Breast lumps

2 parts saw palmetto part poke root

1 part linseed

Burns and deep wounds

2 parts comfrey 1 part lobelia

equal quantities honey and wheatgerm oil

Mix in enough honey and wheatgerm oil to make a thick paste. This needs to be left on permanently until the area beneath is completely healed and it falls off of its own accord. Apply thickly over immobile areas, thinly over areas that move. If for any reason you have to remove it (and try to avoid this) soak it off with a warm decoction of equal parts of echinacea and golden seal. Keep the burn out of the sun for at least a year, and as soon as the skin is strong enough skin-scrub daily 

Congestion, swelling and respiratory problems

2 parts lobelia

i part marshmallow

part linseed

Drawing poison out of the skin

part slippery elm

part linseed

part plantain 2 part cayenne

External itching

parts chickweed

I part arrowroot

1 part slippery elm