Practical Self Reliance: How to Make an Herbal Tincture

Ashley Adamant at Practical Self Reliance has another well written and highly useful article with How to Make an Herbal Tincture. As usual, more pictures and instruction through link.

Herbal tinctures are extracts made from medicinal plants, mushrooms, or lichen.  Whether made with alcohol or glycerite, homemade tinctures are a shelf-stable way to preserve the medicinal benefits of herbs for year-round use.  They’re an easy way to always have natural medicine on hand at a moment’s notice.

Homemade Yarrow Tincture (Alcohol extract of yarrow)

Homemade Yarrow Tincture (Alcohol extract of yarrow)

Making your own herbal tinctures is a deeply satisfying feeling, and once made, it’s incredibly comforting to know that you have shelf-stable herbal medicine ready whenever it’s needed.

Essentially, you’re distilling all of the therapeutic properties of any given plant material into a super-concentrated, super-powerful elixir that can be taken for any number of health concerns. Depending on the tincture in question, the benefits range from preventative to immune-boosting to sleep-inducing — all in a dropperful of herbal extract!

What you might not realize about tinctures is how easy they are to make. All you need to get started is your desired plant material, a solvent, and a solid 6 to 8 weeks for the extraction process to complete itself.

What is a Tincture?

A tincture is a concentrated herbal extract prepared with alcohol, a solvent that extracts the active medicinal compounds from alcohol-soluble plant matter. Tinctures are a means to ingest super-condensed herbal extracts for their medicinal properties.

The use of tinctures isn’t a new activity, people from all over the world have been making tinctures for thousands of years.

Today, the tincture market is rich with options. You could purchase a tincture for every ailment you can think of, but the prices are often high — especially when you’re buying multiple tinctures at once.  Usually, tinctures are around $12 to 15 an ounce, but the same medicine can be made for pennies on the dollar.

When you make your own tinctures at home you can choose the best quality ingredients to make a potent tincture, all at a fraction of the price of a store-bought version.

Homemade tinctures are made with minimal equipment, using the leaves, flowers, roots, bark, and flowers of fresh or dried herbs and mushrooms as plant material.

Tincture vs. Herbal Extract

You might notice the term “herbal extract” is sometimes used interchangeably with the word “tincture” when you’re reading up on the topic, but there is a difference between the two classifications.

A tincture is prepared using alcohol as a solvent to extract the desired compounds from plant material. Glycerite tinctures use vegetable glycerin as a solvent, and are generally considered part of the tincture family.

An herbal extract is an umbrella term that refers to plant material extracts made with various types of solvents including, but not limited to, alcohol, oil, honey, and vinegar.

How are Tinctures Used?

Depending on the particular extract you’re using, tinctures are taken orally or applied externally. Tinctures are dosed by the dropperful, and are often dropped directly under the tongue, where they’re absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly.

Different types of tinctures have different recommended dosages and means of ingestion. Bitter tinctures, which are taken to stimulate the appetite and relieve signs of digestive distress, are typically ingested 15 minutes before eating.

Some tinctures, like those made from lemon balm and motherwort, tend to be fast-acting, and are of the soothing variety.

Tinctures mades from adaptogenic and immune-boosting herbs and mushrooms, such as ginseng root or reishi mushrooms, must be taken continuously over a period of several weeks before their therapeutic benefits are apparent.

Not all tinctures are meant to be taken orally. Tinctures prepared with black walnut and yarrow are, among others, applied directly to the skin or mixed in with a carrier oil or basic lotion.

Topically-applied tinctures are used to treat everything from parasitic infection to eczema, and certain types can even be mixed in with misting sprays or face cream to add powerful herbal benefits (and at a fraction of the cost of commercially-made, herb extract-enriched beauty products).

Types of Tinctures

By definition, alcohol-based tinctures are the only “true” tincture, although some resources are laxer about this than others.  Glycerine based or Alcohol-free “tinctures” aren’t technically tinctures, but they’re often referred to by this name since they’re pretty much equivalent in terms of how they’re used.  (Technically, they’re glycerites.)

Some plant materials, such as dried mushrooms, contain high amounts of both alcohol-soluble and water-soluble compounds. When this is the case, the double extraction method is the way to go. It’s an additional step, but an easy one, and you’ll find that the result is definitely worth the (very minimal) extra time it takes.

If you prefer an alcohol-free extract, you can also make a potent glycerite tincture using vegetable glycerin — the method is almost exactly the same as a tincture with alcohol, which I’ll walk you through below.

Are Tinctures Shelf Stable?

Because tinctures are prepared with ethyl alcohol they have a naturally long shelf life. Alcohol drastically slows down natural decomposition and the growth of bacteria, so if properly stored a tincture can last for a couple of years (even longer if the alcohol is 100-proof or higher).

Never use isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), it’s toxic to ingest and therefore not suitable for making tinctures — although it can be used to make herbal liniments for external use.

All of my tinctures are made using vodka. I like to use Smirnoff because it’s relatively inexpensive, but not so cheap that it’s completely unpalatable.

Some people prefer to make their tinctures with brandy or rum — pretty much any high-test alcohol can be used. Make sure you choose alcohol that’s at least 80-proof (40 percent) for making tinctures or, if you can find it, 100-proof (50 percent) or higher to ensure safe preservation.

Once the tincture is ready to be decanted, I carefully transfer the extract to a dark amber glass bottle with a dropper and store it in a darkened location away from any light or heat sources — no need for refrigeration.

If stored with care, tinctures will maintain their potency for 2 to 3 years (with some higher alcohol preparations lasting up to 5 years).  The Herbal Academy has an excellent guide to the shelf life of herbal preparations, which has much more specific and detailed estimates, depending on how the tincture is prepared.

How to Make a Tincture

The first step when preparing a homemade tincture is to select your plant material.

One question I see regularly is in regards to using fresh or dried herbs, and if one is better than the other. The answer I would give is: there are advantages to choosing either medium!

Depending on where you live, fresh herbs can be found growing wild or in your garden, which makes them readily available. Fresh herbs have a high water content, which means they’re susceptible to spoilage if they aren’t used immediately after being picked. If you’re fortunate enough to have a surplus of fresh herbs, I would recommend drying them for later projects using this guide to preserving herbs.

If you’re making a tincture from dried herbs, you can use herbs you’ve dried yourself or you can buy the best-quality dried herbs. Dried herbs have a maximum shelf life of 2 years, if you aren’t drying the herbs yourself it’s important to find a source with rapid product turnover.

The main mechanism behind tincture-making is the same: put plant material in a jar, cover with alcohol, and let steep for several weeks. However, a little bit of finesse with herb to alcohol ratios will result in the most potent of tinctures.

For a tincture made with fresh leaves and flowers, finely chop or grind clean plant material (the goal is to expose as much surface area as possible). Fill a jar about 3/4 of the way with chopped leaves and flowers — don’t pack the jar too tightly.

Cover the contents of the jar completely with alcohol and seal with a lid.

How to Make Chickweed Tincture

Making chickweed tincture with fresh chickweed

If you’re preparing a tincture using dried leaves and flowers, you’ll want to fill a jar about 1/2 of the way full with dried plant material.  Dried herbs are more concentrated, and they absorb liquid and expand during the extraction process.  If you fill the jar completely full, your yield will be pitifully small (but intensely concentrated).

Cover the contents of the jar completely with alcohol and seal with a lid.

To make a tincture with either fresh or dried bark, berries, and/or roots, finely chop or grind the plant material to expose optimal surface area or to release the juice of berries.  Roots and bark are especially hard to extract, so increasing surface area is important.

Fill the jar 1/3 to 1/2 full with chopped bark, berries, and roots.  These materials tend to be even more concentrated and expand further than dried flowers or leaves.

Cover the contents of the jar completely with alcohol and seal with a lid.

I always use a standard canning jar, but I use a plastic mason jar lid when making tinctures. There are certain tinctures that will, over time, eat through plastic.

Most tinctures need to sit for a period of 6 to 8 weeks before they can be used, during this time the alcohol extracts beneficial alcohol-soluble compounds found in the plant material.

Store developing tinctures in a cool, dry place away from light. Give them a good shake every couple of days, keeping an eye on alcohol levels. If at any point it appears the alcohol level is getting lower, add more to the jar to completely cover the plant material to prevent unwanted mold growth.

When you’re ready to bottle your tincture, it will need to be strained first. The easiest way to do this is to line a funnel with a cheesecloth, placing the tip of the funnel directly into a dark amber glass bottle.

I often skip the cheesecloth and just use a fine mesh strainer, which is usually fine enough for most tinctures.  If you’re making a tincture with particularly fine material, like pine pollen tincture, definitely go with cheesecloth.

How to Make A Tincture without Alcohol

If you’re abstaining from alcohol for any reason you can still make a tincture using a different menstruum. A menstruum is a term that refers to the solvent chosen for making extracts.

Food Grade Vegetable Glycerine has been used as a solvent to make tinctures called glycerites for close to 200 years. It has a syrupy texture and sweet flavor, making it an excellent choice for tinctures that will be ingested by children.

Most recipes for glycerite tinctures are made with 75 percent vegetable glycerin and 25 percent water, resulting in an herbal extract with a shelf life of 14 to 24 months.

You can also use vinegar as a menstruum when preparing an herbal extract — I like to use apple cider vinegar as a solvent because it has the best taste, but almost any kind of vinegar will work. As long as the tincture is made with no less than 5 percent vinegar, it’s generally shelf-stable for a minimum of 6 months (usually longer).

Like alcohol-based solutions, tinctures made with glycerine or vinegar are made by soaking herbs or mushrooms in the menstruum for several weeks to extract therapeutic and medicinal properties.

Common Herbal Tinctures

Tinctures can be made from most types of medicinal plants or mushrooms, but the specific benefits of each herbal extract will depend on the specific herbs used.  Here are a few of the most common types of homemade herbal tinctures, along with their benefits:

Black Walnut Tincture

If you have black walnuts to harvest, a homemade black walnut tincture is a great way to use those otherwise inedible walnut husks that would normally be discarded. Black walnut tinctures are applied topically and are prized for their anti-fungal and anti-parasitic properties thanks to a natural abundance of tannins.

Tinctures made from black walnut husks are a rare source of land-based iodine, making them a good tincture to have on hand for disinfecting wounds and irritated skin.

My post about the benefits of black walnut tincture provides all the instructions you need to make your own potent tincture…

This article continues with additional specific herbal tinctures.

Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine: Growing Healing Herbs for the Home Garden – Elderberry, Lemon Balm & Rose

Written by Meghan Gemma with Juliet Blankespoor, this article from the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine discusses Medicinal Plants:
Growing Healing Herbs for the Home Garden- Elderberry, Lemon Balm & Rose. While you are thinking of ideas for your spring garden, don’t forget the medicinal plants.

Ready to start or expand your herb garden?

Here we’re introducing medicinal, edible, and cultivation profiles for three cherished healing plants: elderberry, lemon balm, and rose. You can also find a wheelbarrow-full of articles on designing, growing, and tending a home herb garden via our Medicinal Herb Gardening Hub (and you’ll find cultivation featurettes for dozens more herbs!).

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra var. canadensis)

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra var. canadensis)

Elderberry
(Sambucus nigra, S. nigra var. canadensis, Adoxaceae)

Elderberry is an herb gardener’s reverie. Blessed with lush foliage, creamy clusters of frothy blossoms, and heavy bunches of dark fruit that beckon birds to flit and flutter between its branches, elder captures the eye and the heart. Humans are drawn to its canopy just as readily as the birds. This herbal shrub is a rich source of immune-boosting medicine, and is deeply steeped in lore; around the world, stories abound about a healing spirit said to live within the tree. She is often called the Elder Mother, Elder Lady, or Elda Mor—and she can be appealed to on behalf of the ill.1

Elder’s Medicinal Uses

Parts used: Flowers and berries
Preparations: Syrup, tincture, infusion, decoction, mead, wine, honey, shrub, and vinegar
Herbal Actions:

  • Berries:
    • Antiviral
    • Immune tonic
    • Antibacterial
    • Antioxidant
    • Antirheumatic
    • Anticatarrhal
    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Diaphoretic
    • Cardiovascular tonic
    • Diuretic
  • Flowers:
    • Antiviral
    • Anticatarrhal
    • Diaphoretic
    • Antispasmodic
    • Astringent
    • Alterative
    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Diuretic
    • Nervine

Elder is a traditional immune system tonic with significant antiviral properties. The berries are more potent than the flowers in this light, and work by strengthening cell membranes against viral penetration. Elderberry also increases the production of cytokines—chemical messengers that enhance communication between white blood cells and the body during an infection.2 You may have read concerns regarding elderberry as a possible cause of cytokine storms. My opinion is that elder is likely safe for most people, but if you’d like to read more on the topic, I recommend this article by herbalist Paul Bergner.

Elderberry is effective against many viruses, including the common cold and a broad spectrum of influenza strains (especially when taken at the first signs of illness).

The most delicious and nourishing way to imbibe elderberry’s medicine is to prepare a rich purple syrup that combines elderberry tincture, elderberry tea, and elderberry-infused honey. For children and folks who avoid alcohol, I swap out the alcohol in the tincture for apple cider vinegar. I also add liberal quantities of cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) and ginger (Zingiber officinale). It is beyond tasty! See our video tutorial on preparing herbal honeys and syrups for more guidance.

Taken tonically, elderberry has a range of other benefits; it is anti-inflammatory for arthritic conditions, iron-rich and building to the blood, a preventative for vascular disease and atherosclerosis, and an antioxidant preventative for cancer.

Elder flowers are gently antiviral and healing for the upper respiratory system. Rich in tannins and volatile oils, they effectively dry up excessive fluids and help mucus flow more freely from the sinuses, alleviating stuffy nose, headache, and earache. In addition, their flavonoid compounds are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune-stimulating.

When taken hot, a tea or tincture of elder flower can help sweat out a cold or fever, especially when combined with other diaphoretic herbs like peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

Safety and Contraindications: All parts of elder (except the flowers) contain cyanogenic glycosides (CGs) that can cause varying degrees of upset stomach—nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The seeds and unripe berries are the most common culprits, but any toxicity is generally neutralized by cooking or tincturing. The leaves, bark, and roots contain progressively higher levels of CGs and are more likely to cause side effects. Once the plant has been purged from the system, there is no lasting illness.

Edibility

Elderberry is an exemplary nutritive tonic food that is rich in vitamin C, minerals, and bioflavonoids. The berries are not naturally very sweet and benefit from a bit of added honey, maple syrup, or other sugar. This makes them classic for pies, cobblers, jams, syrups, homemade sodas, and meads. Try combining them with other wild berries like serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.), black cap raspberries (Rubus occidentalis), and blackberries (Rubus spp.).

Elder blossoms contain fatty acids and have an almost buttery consistency. They can be added to pancakes, banana bread, muffins, and crepes. They’re also traditional in cordials, liquors, sodas, and tea. And if a special occasion is on the horizon, you might consider looking up a recipe for elderflower champagne.

How to Grow + Gather Elderberry

In Old World Europe, elders were traditionally planted near the home or at the edge of the herb garden as a guardian and protector. In North America, Native Americans have gathered medicine from wild elders (including S. canadensis) for millennia. Given their own choice, elders will prefer a moist habitat with rich, loamy soils. To raise a lush tree or hedge, I recommend a little pampering: enrich the soil with organic matter, mulch heavily after planting to retain moisture, and water young plants frequently. Once established, they need little care. Note: elders are generally tolerant and can establish themselves in dry conditions and poor, salty, or clayey soils.

Elderberries are propagated easily from seed, and even more easily from vegetative cuttings. Follow the guidelines for taking cuttings below. (You can also order cuttings and live plants from many edible plant and permaculture nurseries.)

If you have a local stand of elders, or know someone who has planted a shrub or two, you can harvest cuttings. Be sure to gather cuttings from bushes that have tasty berries, healthy growth, and prolific fruit.

  1. Take cuttings in late winter or very early spring, before the branches have begun to leaf out. From a living branch, take several 10- to 12-inch (25 to 30 cm) cuttings with at least two pairs of leaf nodes apiece. Make an angled cut at the “root” end, about ½ inch or so below a leaf node. At the other end, make a flat cut about ½ inch above a pair of leaf nodes. Use sharp pruners that have been sterilized with hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol.
  2. Apply a rooting hormone. Dust the angled ends of your cuttings with a rooting hormone. Alternately, you can try using willow (Salix spp.) tea. This will increase your success in propagating viable plants.
  3. Fill 1-gallon pots with a planting medium. You can use coarse sand or perlite. If you don’t have either of these on hand, regular potting soil (preferably without fertilizer) will be adequate.
  4. Make holes in the soil in the center of each pot using a pencil or twig and settle cuttings into the holes. Plant the cutting, burying the bottom leaf nodes about 2 inches (5 cm) below the surface of the soil. It’s fine to plant many cuttings into one large pot. Make sure to tamp the soil securely around each cutting.
  5. Water, and try to keep the cuttings consistently moist but not soaking wet. Place them in diffused sunlight until they begin to grow both roots and leaves. Harden them off by gradually introducing them to direct sunlight.

When ready, transplant the cuttings that have successfully rooted in fall or early spring. Space transplants about 6 feet (1.8 m) apart. Many transplants flower and fruit in their first year, though it may take several years before you can gather a sizable harvest.

The berries ripen in mid- to late summer and should be a deep dark purple before they are plucked. You’ll likely have competition from the birds, so be sure to check your bushes regularly. The stems of the berry clusters are considered somewhat toxic, so you’ll want to remove all of the larger stems and most of the smaller ones. If a little “stemlette” or two finds its way into your medicine, don’t fret—it won’t do any harm! Berries can be used fresh for medicine making or cooking, frozen for later use, or dried, which sweetens up their flavor.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon Balm
(Melissa officinalis, Lamiaceae)

The patron herb of bees, lemon balm encourages a bounty of sweetness in the world—not only does it gladden the heart, but it’s traditionally planted near honeybee hives to dissuade the bees from swarming (they adore lemon balm’s aroma). I know few herbalists who are without this plant in the garden. It is a traditional nervine, digestive, and antiviral ally.

Lemon Balm’s Medicinal Uses

Parts used: Leaves and flowering tops
Preparations: Infusion, tincture, vinegar, essential oil, salve, succus, pesto, and condiment

Herbal Actions:

  • Nervine
  • Carminative
  • Antiviral
  • Antidepressant
  • Diaphoretic

With bright green leaves that waft an uplifting lemony fragrance into the air, lemon balm is known to levitate the spirit. It is a brightening nervine remedy for melancholy, mild anxiety, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and mild depression.* With relaxing, antispasmodic, and gently sedative qualities, it’s also indicated for tension headaches, stress-related insomnia, panic attacks accompanied by heart palpitations, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and overexcitement or restlessness in children.3

I find a fragrant infusion of lemon balm to be more encouraging for downcast spirits than a tincture, but both are effective. Try blending in other gladdening herbs like rose (Rosa spp.) and tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum). For tonic use, you might consider adding replenishing nervines like milky oats (Avena sativa) and skullcap (Scutellaria spp.). Taken regularly, these herbs can strengthen and rehabilitate a stressed, strained, and saddened nervous system.

Like many members of the mint family, lemon balm extends its aid as a carminative herb and digestive remedy. Its high concentration of essential oils has an antispasmodic and calming effect on dyspepsia, gas, nervous indigestion, nausea, heartburn, and the pains and cramping associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).4

Lemon balm is also widely used as a topical and internal antiviral herb, especially for herpes (types 1 and 2), chickenpox, shingles, mononucleosis (mono), and sixth disease (roseola).5 Internally, the tincture or strong tea will be appropriate, taken regularly. Topically, a concentrated store-bought cream is highly effective. A dab of the essential oil diluted in a carrier oil is also wonderfully relieving (note that the essential oil is very expensive).

Safety and Contraindications: Lemon balm may be contraindicated for hypothyroidism (in large or consistent doses) because it inhibits the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).6

*A note here on depression: Therapies to treat mental illness are highly individualized; each person and situation is unique. People typically need therapeutic treatment beyond herbalism: this might include acupuncture, talk therapy, nutrition, supplements, or pharmaceuticals. Please do not judge yourself or anyone else for needing and seeking help, natural or otherwise!

If you’re in a dark place or considering hurting yourself, please reach out right now—there are folks who want to talk to you. And we’re in this together. You are not alone! This helpline is one option: (1-800-273-TALK).

Edibility

Lemon balm is one of my favorite nutritive kitchen herbs; its fresh and tender shoots can be added to salsas, jams, liquors, ice cream, sorbet, smoothies, pestos, finishing salts, and infused vinegars. I often chop up a handful and combine it with mint (Mentha spp.) and flower petals as a topping for tacos. Likewise, the fresh leaves can be minced and tossed into fruit salads, tabouleh, and leafy green salads. Lemon balm leaves stirred into lentils or bean dishes add a nice flavor and improve their digestibility.

The simplest way to prepare lemon balm, however, is as a summertime iced tea. It is delicious on its own or combined with herbs like calendula (Calendula officinalis), hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), and mint. I also love Dina Falconi’s recipe for Everything Lemony Lime, which blends lemon balm, lemongrass, lemon verbena, lime zest, lime juice, sea salt, and raw honey. I make this at the height of summer when all the herbs can be gathered fresh from the garden. You can find the recipe in Dina’s exquisite book, Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook.

How to Grow + Gather Lemon Balm

Lemon balm has been cultivated in medicinal gardens for over 2,000 years. Native to the Mediterranean regions of south-central Europe and the Middle East, it is a sun-loving botanical that can thrive in USDA zones 3–10.

Among the easiest culinary and medicinal herbs to grow, lemon balm is most easily propagated by root division. If you know someone who already has a patch in their garden, you might promise to bring them a plate of lemon balm shortbread cookies in exchange for a division or two. For best success, see our guide to herbal root division here.

Lemon balm is also easily started from seed. Because this plant is a light-dependent germinator (LDG), the seeds should be planted right on the surface of the soil or just barely covered. Watering will gently press them into full contact with the soil. Expect germination after 7 to 14 days.

Lemon balm prefers rich soil with a bit of moisture but will also do well in dry or sandy soils. It is a bushing herbaceous perennial and can become extravagantly lush as summer unfolds. Space plants 1–2 feet (0.3–0.6 m) apart.

If you’ve heard rumors that lemon balm wantonly sows its seeds, I have to tell you the reputation is well-deserved. Many gardeners complain about its proclivity to produce offspring that will inhabit the near and far corners of your garden (though I don’t mind this myself). If you wish to thwart lemon balm’s advance, be sure to harvest the flowering tops before they set seed (but after the bees have had an opportunity to sip their nectar!).

I like to harvest lemon balm several times throughout the growing season. You can simply cut back all of the aboveground growth when the plant is looking at its verdant peak, usually right before it flowers. The leaves and stems can be dried, but I prefer to use lemon balm fresh as its aromatic oils quickly disperse. For fresh preparation suggestions, see the Edibility section above.

Rose
(Rosa spp., Rosaceae)

As an herbalist, it took me a while to come around to rose. Growing up, my only context for its blooms were the florist-perfect, sanguine-red bouquets that emanated a cloying scent on Valentine’s Day. I had never seen an heirloom rose in the garden or buried my nose in the petals of a wild bramble. So, I held little favor for this luxuriant medicine. Years later, as a budding gardener and herbal student, I discovered—with surprise and wonder—that I love rose with all my heart.

Rose’s Medicinal Uses

Parts used: Flower buds, blossoms, and hips
Preparations: Infusion (buds and flowers), decoction (hips), tincture, oil, salve, honey, syrup, elixir, rose otto essential oil, vinegar, flower essence, hydrosol, compress, poultice, and soak
Herbal Actions:

  • Flowers and Buds:
    • Nervine
    • Astringent
    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Cardiotonic
    • Antimicrobial
    • Diuretic
    • Anticatarrhal
    • Antianxiety
    • Aphrodisiac
  • Rosehips:
    • Blood tonic
    • Nutritive tonic
    • Astringent
    • Antimicrobial

Rose is a deliciously nuanced medicine—it is ancient, paradoxical, and mythic. The Greek poetess Sappho aptly named it “Queen of the Flowers.” After all, wild roses have been rambling on the planet for at least 70 million years (compare that to the first fossil evidence of Homo sapiens appearing around 300,000 years ago).

With velvety, kitten-soft petals, rose bears a doctrine of signatures that suggests succor and soothing. Both the blossoms and unopened buds are a remedy for those who are experiencing grief or loss, or feeling tenderhearted or unloved. The benefits are amplified when combined with hawthorn blossoms (Crataegus spp.), lavender blooms, (Lavandula angustifolia), and/or mimosa flowers (Albizia julibrissin). Rose is also an ally for those in conflict—a tea, elixir, cordial, or essence of the blooms can temper anger and encourage resolution.

In children, rose can impart a sense of comfort and security. It calms irritability, fits of anger, and nightmares. A spritz of rosewater on the pillow right before bedtime is a soothing ritual and helpful measure toward sweet sleep…(continues)

Survivopedia: Why You Need to Use Thistle for Food and Medicine

Bob Rodgers at Survivopedia has an article on Why You Need to Use Thistle for Food and Medicine. We had a pretty bad outbreak of Canada Thistle (which is a deemed noxious weed in Washington state) a few years ago in our garden. At the time I didn’t even think to look for any information on edibility or medicinal use. Who knew? Different types of thistle can have different uses, see Canada Thistle/Creeping Thistle (cirsium arvense) vs Common Thistle (cirsium vulgare). Milk thistle (silybum marianum) is whole different species, but looks similar. Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) is yet another species, but also with medicinal uses.

The thistle gained a bad reputation when people interacted with its prickles and when it made its way onto their properties.

Livestock owners hate it and see it only as an invasive plant, especially since few domestic animals will feed on it. Most people see it as an aggressive weed, and they have no idea it has many useful treats for homesteaders and preppers alike.

Truth be told, once the plant makes its way into an unused field, it will be quite hard to get rid of it. The thistle is an invasive species that spreads rapidly in disturbed soil and compete with cash and food crops for space, water, and nutrients in the soil. Thistle can be found almost everywhere, and they thrive when growth and reproduction conditions are favorable.

Distribution

Singularly or in patches, the plant prefers dry rocky or moist sandy soils of forest clearings, swamps, pastures, meadows, open fields, roadsides, railway roadbeds, and you will also find it along the banks of streams and rivers.

In mountainous regions, the thistle can be found in open sunny slopes or in the cracks of steep cliffs. The plant has a worldwide range of distribution from North America (Canada and Mexico included) to Europe and well into the mainland of Asia. It thrives in predominantly temperate to subtropical climatic regions.

The thistle’s forgotten history

Contrary to popular beliefs, the plant didn’t always have such a bad reputation. In ancient times, it was a revered plant, and it was sacred to those believing in mythology. It was considered the plant of Thor, the god of lighting, and people often wore sprays of thistle to protect them from lighting, especially during farming times.

This prickly plant has some fame as the national flower of Scotland. It was credited with saving the Scots in 1263 from an invasion by the fearsome Danish Norsemen. Ruthless hordes of fearless invaders landed upon the shores of Scotland to take the land by force.

Eager for battle, the Danes failed to prepare breastworks to protect their landing boats. Removing their footwear, they attempted a bold tactic of a night attack upon the unsuspecting, sleeping Scots.

The barefoot warriors encountered no problems until they accidentally discovered the prickly thistles growing in the open fields surrounding the encampments. Startled screams of pain and shock alerted the gallant defenders, and a great battle began. On that day, few Norsemen escaped vengeance as the invaders were driven back to the sea.

Regardless of its rich cultural history, the plant has usage in home remedies and self-help medicine. It gained popularity in the Dark Ages as a remedy for various infectious diseases. Thistles saved Emperor Charlemagne from defeat. The thistle’s roots were made into a healing medicine for his disease-plagued armies. Their good health helped to turn the tide of battle to his favor.

How to identify the plant

The thistle is an annual, biennial, or perennial herb. It’s perhaps one of the easiest plants to identify. Thistle has a fleshy taproot on horizontal or vertical root-stocks and numerous side roots. Most are spindle-shaped and may be swollen or filled with fibers. Roots are usually white or may be tinted the color of their soil matrix.

Thistle stems are straight, erect, and may be either branched or un-branched. They may grow up to six feet tall and be covered with white woolly hairs. Stems may have spines or be without. Cut stems may ooze a clear to whitish-yellow colored sap. The sap has a biting or bitter taste. Stems become hollow at maturity.

Leaves are basal, clustering around the stems. Leaves may or may not have leafstalks or petioles. Each basal leaf is 5 to 10 inches long, lanceolate or spear-shaped, and divided into deep lobes with coarse teeth. Teeth are armed with sharp, stiff spines. The edges of the leaves are wavy in appearance.

Stem leaves differ from basal leaves, which are smaller and base-clasping. The leaves alternate around the main stems and may be lobeless and spineless. Fluffs of wispy woolly hair may cover the leaves.

The flowering stems are usually covered with sharp spines, intermixed with the woolly hair. The top of these stems is a vase-like green cup covered with green leaf-like, spiny appendages or bracts.

Flower heads may be in clusters at the tops of flowering stems. The flowers come in a variety of colors ranging from white, pink, yellow, purple to rose-purple.

The fruits are big balls of fluffy white or grayish silk held in the erect cups. Numerous seeds or achenes are small, elliptically shaped, flat, and plumed at tips with seed hairs. Dissemination is by the wind.

Thistle as a food source

During primitive times and even those living in current, under-developed countries have learned how to use this plant to their advantage. Almost all parts, except for the spines, can be used for food. The plant can be quite useful in a survival or wilderness living scenario. Roots, stems, young leaves, flower buds, flower heads, and seeds can be eaten.

Historically, the plant was credited with saving lives during famines and times of scarcity. Even the early pioneers used it as food when they had to subsist off the land.

The roots of the plant can be eaten raw or cooked and are often used as a turnip substitute when preparing various dishes. Even more, the roots were often dried and grounded into flour that was used as an extender in soups or stews.

The raw roots were often roasted in an oven at low heat in order to extract the sugary syrup or molasses. Although it has a slightly bitter taste, it can be successfully used as a sugar substitute.

Roots were also boiled and peeled in order to be pickled in brine. In Armenia, the boiled roots are soaked in a cinnamon-flavored syrup to make a traditional sweet-meat used n wedding celebrations.

The peeled sterns are considered to be wilderness thirst-quenchers or nibbles by knowledgeable hikers and woodsmen. They are sweet and juicy and can satisfy your thirst until you can find a source of water. I’ve seen hikers remove the spines of the leaves using scissors and toss them in salads or cook them as vegetables.

Some are eating the leaves raw, but it takes a while to get used to the taste; some say it’s an acquired taste, and only the younger leaves should be used. From the same young leaves, you can make a stimulating tea. Such tea was often used in the wilderness as an emetic, and it helped treat mild food poisoning.

The flower buds and flower heads are edible as well, and they are often eaten like artichokes since it has a similar taste. For best results, it is recommended to steam the flower buds and flower heads before using them.

The dried flowers are used as rennet to curdle milk, the primary step in making butter, whey, yogurt, and soft cheese. Since the seeds of the plant are bitter, and you cannot eat them raw, it is recommended to roast the seeds and use them as a cereal substitute.

Thistle as medicine

Herbalists are well aware of the plant’s medicinal properties, and homeopathic medical practitioners state it has the following properties: astringent, cooling, sharp-tasting, diuretic, hemostatic, and anti-inflammatory.

Making a strong tea from the roots and drinking it regularly can stop the discomfort of dysentery, diarrhea, and intestinal flu.

A paste made from crushed roots can be applied as a poultice to infected sores, boils, earaches, and carbuncles. This was actually tested in several medical studies, and it showed good results.

The dried root bark is sometimes held in the mouth for gum sores, lip cankers, or infected tongue. Even more, you can make a dried root powder and use it as a styptic to stop traumatic bleeding in deep, open wounds. Such powder has been used to stop bleeding way before the era of the Roman Empire.

The root powder was often mixed with water and used as a douche to prevent uterine bleeding after childbirth. Making a tea from the same powder and drinking it can control hematuria (blood in the urine).

A dried root decoction can be used in the treatment of hematemesis (vomiting of blood), which is usually associated with a terminally ill patient or accidental ingestion of poison. It was used in the past also to ease the pain of acute appendicitis before surgical removal was done.

Making tea from the fresh young leaves of the thistle is recommended to treat urinary problems, kidney infections, and bladder complaints. Such tea can also be utilized as a wash to treat mild burns or infected areas of the skin.

Athletes in Ancient Greece used a paste made from crushed leaves to ease the muscle pains, neck cramps, and pain from bone fractures. It was effective upon compound or open fractures, where the bone has split the skin.

An early Greek method of treating leprous sores involved the thistle. The juice of mashed thistle leaves was mixed with vinegar and applied directly upon the infection. Treatment continued daily until the sores cleared up.

Science proves what people knew for centuries

This is not just folklore medicine, and modern research has incorporated the thistle leaf extracts into experimental medicine and has shown positive results in the treatment of inflammations, sclerosis, tumors, leprosy, and cancer. Purified extracts have been made into specific drugs in Europe as aids in the treatment of cancer and tumorous conditions.

An antimicrobial study of the thistle leaves shows definite beneficial properties. The active principle was extracted by acetone, alcohol, ether, benzene, or water. It showed a natural anti-germ ability by limiting and suppressing the growth of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria and upon mycobacteria in cultured media.

These are the germs that have caused so much misery, disease, and death, suffered by mankind since antiquity. They can be found in the water we drink, sewage, and the soil.

The flowers and seeds of the plant have been used in medicine, too. Flower tea is useful as a wash for infectious sores caused by venereal diseases, specifically gonorrhea, and syphilis. An extract of the flowers is very effective upon yaws, a sexually transmitted tropical infection. A raw seed decoction boiled with milk is still in use in Europe to treat infant diarrhea.

Concluding

This amazing plant has contributed to the lifestyle and to the livelihood of the native people who utilize it in their everyday living. In some areas of the world, the thistle is a scarce resource and is greatly sought after for its usefulness. The next time you see thistles, don’t think of how to get rid of the plants, but rather how you can use them to your advantage.

Practical Self Reliance: How to Make Witch Hazel Extract

I have fond memories of witch hazel as an anti-inflammatory from my youth. Not so good memories of why I needed so much, but good memories of it providing relief from bruises and welts. I hadn’t run across the commercial astringent bottles for several years until I finally just happened across it in a drug store and had to buy a bottle on the spot. It makes me feel better just having it on the shelf. It is hard to find live plants for sale, but I was able to purchase some seeds and will hopefully be able to start some witch hazel at home. Here is Ashley Adamant from Practical Self Reliance on How to Make Witch Hazel Extract. Click through the link to Practical Self Reliance for the entire article which includes more pictures.

Witch Hazel Extract is known for its antimicrobial and astringent properties, and it’s been used for centuries as a natural disinfectant and wound cleanser.  Learn how to make your own witch hazel extract in a few easy steps.

Homemade witch hazel extract

Homemade witch hazel extract

 

Witch hazel extract can be found at just about any health food store or natural foods coop, and it’s pretty common in everyday grocery stores and drug stores too.

The problem is, the pre-packaged witch hazel extract available in stores has very little actual witch hazel inside.  It’s almost all alcohol, which is also a disinfectant, but if you wanted a bottle of isopropyl alcohol you could easily buy it for 1/10th the price.

High-quality witch hazel extract is usually advertised as “low alcohol witch hazel,” which is much more expensive, but only has around 12-16% alcohol to preserve the fresh plant extract.  (It’s also much more expensive.)

Why buy it, when you can just make it?

Learning to make witch hazel extract means you always have the knowledge to craft your own natural herbal anti-microbial cleanser, whether you’re deep in the backwoods or simply crafting in your kitchen.

What is Witch Hazel?

American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a really unique shrub native that can be found all across the eastern half of North America (range map).  It’s a perennial bush that grows no more than a few meters tall, and has many stems originating from the roots.

Wild witch hazel can be found near streams, ditches, and wet lowlands, but it’s also commonly cultivated as an ornamental.  The unique blooms look like streamers bursting out of the central blossom, and showy varieties have been bred to almost look like pompoms.

My native witch hazel is much more subdued, but the blossoms are still unique and beautiful.

witch hazel blossoms in late November

witch hazel blossoms in late November

Witch hazel blooms in the late fall, long after everything else has gone dormant.  Here in Vermont, blossoms appear around thanksgiving and persist until mid-December.  Our first frost is usually sometime in September, and we often have snow on the ground by October…so that’s rather late indeed.

A related species, Ozark Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) grows further south and actually blooms mid-winter.

If you can positively identify witch hazel in the wild, the best time to harvest is actually during bloom or right after, as that’s when the medicinal constituents are the most concentrated in the plant tissues.

(I’ve also read other sources that say it’s best to harvest during spring when it’s just breaking bud and sap is running, so clearly there’s some disagreement on this based on the source you check.  Regardless of the “best” time, it can be harvested year-round.) 

All the aerial parts of the plant are used, including the leaves, bark, and small twigs.  I’m harvesting small twigs and flowers right as they’ve past prime, which is usually when I notice witch hazel in the landscape.

harvesting witch hazel

harvesting witch hazel

You can also just purchase dried witch hazel bark, which is easy enough to have on hand year-round.  Starwest Botanicals sells dried witch hazel leaf, and other online sources sell dried witch hazel bark, so you can take your pick.

When using leaves, witch hazel extract is made as a gentle infusion (like making tea).  For bark and twigs, they’re simmered for 20-30 minutes to make the extract.

Benefits of Witch Hazel Extract

These days, witch hazel extract is almost always used externally because what’s sold is a weak steam distillation of the twigs preserved with isopropyl alcohol.  It’s not meant for consumption, it’s meant for use as a topical disinfectant and anti-inflammatory.

Most often you’ll see it recommended as an acne treatment, cleaning wounds, or as a cooling anti-inflammatory pad for treating hemorrhoids.

Historically, a water extract of witch hazel was made fresh and used both internally and externally.  According to Chestnut School of Herbs,

Native Americans have long used the twigs and bark of witch hazel as a medicinal herb, both internally and topically, for a wide variety of ailments. The tea is taken to remedy sore throats, diarrhea, intestinal bleeding, colds, coughs, bruising, and to prevent postpartum hemorrhaging.

The tannins in witch hazel help lessen the inflammation of mucous membranes in sinus congestion from allergies, sinus infections, and head colds.  These same astringent tannins are also helpful for conditions related to the mouth: bleeding gums, gingivitis, and other infections.”

The Herbal Academy also has a list of benefits and uses of witch hazel, covering the various external uses of witch hazel extract for treating burns, dandruff, hemorrhoids, and many other things.

How to Make Witch Hazel Extract

Making witch hazel extract is pretty simple.  Start with about a tablespoon of witch hazel bark in a cup of water.

Commercial witch hazel bark is finely chopped so it’ll pack neatly into a tablespoon.  I just have a rough 1/4 cup of twigs which amounts to roughly the same amount.

Bring the water and bark to a simmer and gently cook for about 20-30 minutes.  The volume will reduce by about half, and you’ll have roughly 1/2 cup of witch hazel extract after you filter the plant material.

While it’s simmering, your house will smell a bit like a hospital.  The scent isn’t unpleasant, but it just smells strongly antiseptic, like an operating room after sterilization.

Simmering witch hazel twigs to make a decoction (fresh water extract)

(If using leaves, use the same ratio, 1 tablespoon chopped leaves to a cup of water, but make an infusion by steeping the leaves for around 20 minutes.)

This fresh witch hazel extract is now ready for use.  Since it’s not preserved with alcohol, it’ll spoil quickly.  Removing as much plant material as possible will help it keep longer, but in the best of cases, it’s still should be kept in the refrigerator and used within a week.

Shelf Stable Witch Hazel Extract

If you’d like to make a shelf-stable witch hazel extract, you’ll need to add alcohol.  A high proof vodka, whisky, or rum works well.  (Isopropyl alcohol will also work, but then it’s not for internal use.)

To be shelf-stable, the mixture will need at least 20% alcohol.  Some sources suggest higher, around 30% alcohol.  I’ve had homemade tinctures spoil at 20% alcohol, so now I opt for at least 25%.

The herbal academy suggests 25% for a 1-2 year shelf life, and recommends higher alcohol concentrations for longer shelf life.

If you’ve started with 1 cup of water and simmered it down to 1/2 cup extract, you’ll need to add 1/2 cup of 100 proof alcohol (50% ABV) to reach a final concentration of 25% alcohol…(continues)

The Medic Shack: Learning Prepper Medicine in a Pandemic

Chuck at The Medic Shack talks about how he and others have made changes to the way that they teach prepper medicine as a result of effects from the current pandemic in Learning Prepper Medicine in a Pandemic.

TIMELINE; UNITED STATES. November-2019-January 2020

November 2019. Thanksgiving day. The world is “normal” In America we cooked, feasted and sat down to the “Big Game.

December 2019 Christmas Day. The world changed. Most here in America didn’t notice. A few of us preppers were chatting on Signal, Wickr, and other groups about this new bug in China. The rest of the US was opening presents , feasting and sitting down for the Big Game.

January 2020. The Pepper side of the internet EXPLODED with pages on the Novell Coronavirus 2019. We published our first blog about it in January. The rest of America recovered from the obligatory New Years hangover. Watched the game and some started saying Hey, WTF is this virus that is taking out the hippies in Seattle?

The Change in Prepper Medicine.

Over the last year, we have changed. No not the change in the country. Medicine has changed. How has going to your doctor changed? Getting a procedure done in a hospital? Buying medicine at the local drug store? “Western” or a better turn is Modern medicine has changed, and may never totally go back to what it was. Prepper or Survival medicine has changed also. What we used to teach in person, we now do via the web. Mail order vs in person buying. The demand for help in fighting this virus from a alternative manner has skyrocketed. That has both helped and hurt people. Help by us with the dedication, morals and the skill to do the very best for people. And hurt by those of us that are more interested in the dollar than our job a healers.

What to watch for.

First off watch out for the wild claims. Way back in 2014 Young Living Essential Oil consultants NOT Young Living itself, had ads on websites and social media that the FDA found that some claimed that Young Living proprietary blend of oils would “cure” Ebola.

FDA Letter to Young Living

Now I’m no fan of the FDA, And certainly no fan of Young Living oils.

*Point of clarification here. I am a fan of EO’s My wife is getting pretty damn good with them. Also the oils made by Young Living are good oils. I am just not a fan of the company, nor SOME of the distributors/consultants. Some that sell Young Living are friends of mine. I feel that there are comparable and possibly better oils at better prices from other places with out the sales pitch and sales pressure that SOME consultants use.

TMS Live

Y’all may remember the episode Cat and I did on this exact topic I found the archive and listened to it. And 6 years later I still agree with Cat’s and my castigation of it. Young Living and the “Oil Dropper” were both wrong. I hate to say that the FDA was correct, but this time they were. But that period of being right, has made it REAL tough to do what I do.

What happened

And after 6 years of reading and re-reading the warning letter, I am torn on the FDA’s letter. Part says YES!!!! It’s about time! Another part says, Hmmm, I sometimes use similar descriptions as the consultants use. Wording is everything! The FDA is murder on anything that implies that an oil or herb compound stick tool or ANYTHING not approved by te FDA can treat or cure any disease. The “Act” Or known as 201(g)(1)(B) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) [21 U.S.C. § 321(g)(1)(B) says ANY item that says or is implied they are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease.

What we can do.

This make it very difficult for the herbalist, alternative medicine practitioner to help people overcome illness and injury. Remember we are not doctors. We cannot treat, prescribed or give any medical advice. In the current state of affairs of the country, that is the law of the land. We are teachers of the body. We teach people to heal themselves with what they have on hand.

It sounds like we are just giving up, We’re not. We’re just taking a different approach to the same ends.

Lets take a look at one of the violations.

On the website, http://www.theoildropper.com, under the heading, “Young Living Versus Ebola Virus”:

  • Under the subheading, “Be Prepared”:

Since I have become an avid Young Living essential oil user I have learned all about the anti-microbial properties of so many oils, including ANTI-VIRAL constituents in many of our essential oils.”

Viruses (including Ebola) are no match for Young Living Essential Oils”

  • Under the subheading, “Top Oil Choices for Viruses”:

Top on my list is Thieves. Thieves is highly anti-microbial . . . it could help against Ebola.”

Ebola Virus can not live in the presence of cinnamon bark (this is in Thieves) nor Oregano.” [sic]

ImmuPower by Young Living would be a top choice as well. ImmuPower is a blended oil containing (oregano, clove, frankincense, ravintsara, cistus, mountain savory and hyssop). Every single one of these individual oils has anti-viral properties.”

The first two entries are bad descriptions The out right say the oils WILL help with viruses. A alternative medicine person cannot say XYZ oik will do PDQ Thing IE including ANTI-VIRAL constituents in many of our essential oils. And “Viruses (including Ebola) are no match for Young Living Essential Oils”

Now the next item. Hell I’ve used descriptors like this one:

Top on my list is Thieves. Thieves is highly anti-microbial . . . it could help against Ebola.”

Yes, it is a known fact that the individual oils in Thieves oil are anti-microbial

Antibactrial propertied of essential oils

This study shares the oils and what bacteria were killed by the oils.

Hell I’ve said the same thing, and have since taken stuff like that off of my websites.

And the end of the sentence, “ it could help against Ebola.” It sounds harmless enough, and it really is. And its wrong. This person made the statement of It could help against Ebola. This falls under the FDA’s Mitigation of disease. The “it could help against” is a mitigation of care.

Well, what do we do now?

My partner in crime and I have talked about this. Teach. By teaching the use and actions of herbs and other non traditional methods we eliminate the “mitigation, treatment and curing of disease or illness”, by moving it from the here and now to the “Hypothetical” And/or Educational aspects of medicine.

Education is the key

Add to the education is the list of supplies needed. Using this method we can supply to the two most valuable things for a prepper herbalist. The knowledge. And quality supplies at fair prices, or links to get the supplies from elsewhere.

To start this off Cat Ellis is offering her Herbal Skills Intensive course. For the folks who follow and read Pagan Preparedness there is a $50.00 limited time coupon code. This is fantastic class. This gives you the grounding you need to start healing yourself and your family. In the check out type in TMS50 for $50.00 off the course price. And coming real soon, The Medic Shack in conjunction with The Herbal Prepper will be re-working and improving our Wound Care in Austere Environments. Totally revamped we can’t wait to get it finished and online for you!

And Finally.

I know I’ve said this in the past. I apologize for the lack of posting on a regular basis. I’m trying! 🙂 I will say I will do my very best to get more content on line, get our classes going, both live and virtual. And tp be more responsive to comments. To help with that, email me direct at Medic AT Themedicshack.net My spam filters are set pretty high on that account. Y’all would not believe the crap I get sent. From a lawyer in Bumfukistant that has USD 29 million waiting for my SSAN and bank information, to ED prevention, to how my car warranty on my 2001 Jeep Cherokee has expired! ( I really need to jump on that!) Email me and I’ll put your question up on the web page.

OH!! One more thingMedic AT Themedicshack.net

Facebook for The Medic Shack is about done. I’m permabanned from FB on both my accounts. I have partners in crime that will post to The Medic Shack FB page. That being said, Find us on Mewe at  The Medic Shack on Mewe

Practical Self Reliance: Yarrow Salve

Ashley Adamant of Practical Self Reliance tells us how to make Yarrow Salve. A few years ago I tried to start some medicinal herbs indoors. I didn’t do a very good job. A few weeks later, most of the neglected herbs were dead and the rest were sad, scraggly things on the verge of death. Tucking these struggling starts into a few out of the way places in the garden, I resigned myself to their imminent death. A couple of years later, there was a mysterious, inexplicable abundance of yarrow growing throughout the periphery of the garden. It took some time to realize that they must have grown from that tattered start. They’ve turned into a nice, soft ground cover which the kids wish covered the whole yard. Oh, and it still has medicinal value, too.

Yarrow salve offers many medicinal and healing benefits, and it couldn’t be easier to make at home. Yarrow can be found growing in the wild all throughout the United States and is an important addition to any home remedy collection.

Yarrow Salve

 

With its soft white flowers and equally soft green leaves, the yarrow plant is a beautiful addition to any garden (which, thanks to its mosquito-repelling properties, is why you’ll often find it planted in backyards and surrounding areas).
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is also easily found growing in the wild, where it can be foraged and then used to make this salve.  If foraging is new to you, read my post about foraging and using yarrow for tips on locating and identifying this plentiful flowering plant.
This salve uses the leaves of the yarrow plant, if you find yourself with an excess of leftover yarrow flowers you can turn them into a soothing hot & moist tea for cold and flu.

Benefits of Yarrow Salve

The healing and medicinal benefits of yarrow have been known for thousands of years. Over 2,500 years ago Asian yarrow was first used by Chinese doctors to relieve inflammation, bleeding, and animal bites. Yarrow also makes an appearance in Greek mythology; the warrior Achilles is said to have used the herb for its blood-clotting effects on the battlefield!
While the flowers of the yarrow plant are typically used to relieve internal issues such as fever, stomach upset, and menstrual cramping, yarrow leaves are more likely to be used as a topical remedy. Specifically, yarrow leaves have powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-itching, anti-bacterial, wound healing, and blood coagulating properties when applied to the skin.
Scientists have actually been able to replicate these findings in a lab setting. A randomized controlled study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology examining the use of yarrow as a topical inflammatory found that, after seven days of continuous reapplication, “The application of tested oil extracts on artificially irritated skin in vivo demonstrated the ability to re-establish their optimal pH and hydration of skin to the values measured prior to the irritation.”
According to Herb Rally, yarrow’s “antiseptic and anodyne properties coupled with its ability to coagulate blood and stop bleeding make it the perfect ally in this case. These properties also make it useful in cases of hemorrhoids, post-partum care, bruises, and mouth sores, as well as internal bleeding.”
Yarrow leaves are one of the best herbs to bring on a camping or hiking trip (or, if you’re comfortable ID-ing yarrow, you can forage it directly from the site). You can make a basic poultice by chewing the leaves and placing them directly onto a burn, mosquito bite, or minor cut for near-instant relief.
Yarrow leaves

Supplies & Equipment for Making Yarrow Salve

One of the best parts about making homemade herbal salves is the fact that no special equipment is required.

All you need is a simple double broiler, such as this store-bought double boiler, or you can make your own DIY-version using a heatproof bowl and a small pot (which is what I usually do).

The herbs are infused into a neutral oil; I like to use olive oil but you can also try grapeseed, coconut or jojoba oil — each of these options have well-known soothing properties when applied to the skin.

Beeswax thickens the salve and helps it set, you can weigh out pieces from a large block of beeswax or pour and measure out beeswax pellets (which I find is a lot easier).

A small kitchen scale is an indispensable, inexpensive kitchen tool for measuring the beeswax (unless you happen to find beeswax in convenient 1 oz bars, like these).

Finally, you’ll need to have containers on hand for the finished salve.  I typically like to use 2-ounce salve tins which screw shut and make great gifts.  If you prefer the look of glass, you can also use any small jar with a tight-fitting lid, such as quarter pint mason jars.

How to Make Yarrow Salve

Making your own yarrow salve is easier than you might think, the active prep time is only 30 minutes and the rest of the time is hands-off. If you’ve ever made any other healing salves you’ll know the main requirements are patience and consistency (and in fact, because we’re going to use the warm rapid infusion method to make this yarrow salve, the actual patience required for this recipe isn’t all that much).

When it comes to infusing oil with herbs, there are two main methods: rapid infusion and slow infusion.

Fresh herbs, like the yarrow used in this recipe, should always be infused using the warm rapid infusion method. When fresh herbs are stored in oil for several weeks they’ll eventually spoil, releasing water into the oil and causing it to go rancid (which, you’ll know if you’ve ever accidentally smelled or ingested rancid oil, is an unpleasant experience).

The slow infusion method, on the other hand, can be used when dried herbs are added to the oil instead of fresh. This process involves storing the jars in a cool, dry location out of direct sunlight for 3 to 6 weeks.

Begin the salve-making process by filling a pint mason jar with yarrow leaves — they should be fairly densely packed.

Since yarrow grows wild all around my land, and the surrounding areas, I actually just bring a mason jar out foraging and pack the leaves right into the jar.  It’s a convenient way to measure.

Chopping yarrow leaves for salve

Next, you’ll want to finely chop the yarrow leaves into small pieces using a pair of garden shears or sharp kitchen scissors.

I’ll bring the jar filled with yarrow back to my porch and get to chopping.

Making Yarrow Infused Oil

Pour enough olive oil (or other neutral oil of your choice) into the mason jar to cover the chopped leaves.

In this case, I’m just using olive oil from my kitchen, since it’s a nice neutral choice and great for gifts.  Almond oil has natural skin-soothing properties, but be sure it’s not used by anyone with nut allergies.

I’ve also used jojoba oil, which mimics your skin’s natural lubricants and is especially nourishing.

Infusing oils with fresh herbs takes a bit of care, and usually involves a double boiler so the herbs infuse before they spoil. It’s a quicker process, infusing over 1-2 days instead of 3-6 weeks.

Leaving the jar open, place the jar into a double boiler that’s been filled with about an inch of water on the bottom. If you don’t have a double boiler, you can use also use a saucepan or slow cooker, in which case you’ll need to place the jar on a trivet (I use a canning lid or an old cotton dish towel).

Very slowly, warm the water up to 110 to 120 degrees. Resist the urge to crank the heat during this step, the goal is to gently infuse the oil with yarrow, not to cook the herbs. Overheating the oil will result in the yarrow losing some of the healing properties and medicinal potency.

Allow the yarrow to infuse into the oil for between 24 and 48 hours, keeping the temperature between 110 and 120 degrees. This can be achieved by periodically bringing the water back up to temperature and then turning it off again. Before I go to bed I heat the water up, turn it off, and then place a towel over the pot to keep its contents warm.

Once the oil is infused to your liking, it can be made into the finished salve. Carefully strain out the yarrow leaves from the oil and pour into a heatproof bowl (we’re going to make another double boiler). Place the bowl over simmering water in a small pot, adding the beeswax and stirring until the mixture is completely incorporated and smooth.

(If you don’t have a kitchen scale to weigh the beeswax, 1 ounce of solid beeswax is roughly equivalent to 1 heaping tablespoon of beeswax pistils).

Pour the liquid yarrow salve into small tins or jars and let it set for at least 30 minutes.

As a general rule, herbal salves should be used within 1 year of being made.

Apply yarrow salve to bee stings, minor cuts, rashes (including diaper rash), and burns. It’s something I always like to keep on hand, and these small tins are perfect to bring on camping and hiking trips as well as for stashing in a purse or backpack…

Click here to view at Practical Self Reliance with additional photos and info.

 

The Human Path: Herbal First Aid Kit

Sam Coffman, author of The Herbal Medic, at The Human Path has this video about The Herbal First Aid Kit.

Sam Coffman from The Human Path (an herbalism and survival school in Austin and San Antonio, Texas) explains the most fundamental concepts around creating and using your own herbal first aid kit. Sam’s experience as a former Special Forces Medic, while blending that world with herbalism, gave him some unique insights into making and using herbal first aid kits that are highly effective in a variety of situations. He uses the herbal first aid kit that The Human Path sells, as the starting point for talking about the packs, the containers, the herbs, the practicality of what works and what doesn’t, and why you would want to use an herbal first aid kit in the first place.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIhXY1q2cv4

Practical Self Reliance: 50+ Ways to Use Yarrow

An earlier post on elderflower mentioned its use in combination with yarrow and mint to fight fevers. Yarrow grows prolifically in our garden, filling in the edges and between rows. In damp conditions, it makes for a pretty soft ground cover — enough so that the kids want a yarrow yard. In this post from Practical Self Reliance, Ashley Adamant discusses many more uses for yarrow – 50+ Ways to Use Yarrow.

Yarrow is a common wild herb that’s useful in both the kitchen and medicine cabinet.  This list of yarrow uses covers everything from biscuits and beer to salves, soaps, and tinctures.

Yarrow uses

Yarrow’s always seemed magical to me, and I remember lounging in my room as a teenager, reading through 16th-century herbals and dreaming of the day I’d spot it in real life.  (Yes really, that’s actually how I spent my free time as a teenager.  I know, I’m such a nerd.)

The problem is, while yarrow grows ALMOST everywhere, I happened to grow up in one of the very few places outside of yarrow’s range…the Mojave Desert.  Now on my homestead in Vermont, it grows in every untended nook and cranny.  We’ll see our first yarrow blooms in early summer, and it’ll keep right on producing through fall, meaning I have a virtually unlimited supply of yarrow (even leaving plenty for the bees).

Yarrow Identification

Though yarrow is incredibly common, so are its look-alikes.  Once you’ve actually spotted yarrow, you’ll agree that the look-alikes aren’t really all that close.  There are lots of low growing herbs with white flower clusters, but yarrow really stands out in a crowd.

Start with the flowers.  They’re white, but not really.  If you were looking at paint samples, they’d have the name “Victorian white” or some other fancy title, because in reality, they’re a muted off white color.

Yarrow leaves are also distinctive, and there’s a reason its species name is “millefolium” or thousands of leaves.  The leaves are feathery, as opposed to the more distinct leaves of Queen Anne’s Lace and other white flowering herbs.

Identifying Yarrow by the feathery leaves and distinct white flower clusters

Make sure you’re 100% certain on your identification, as there are white-flowering plants within its range that are deadly toxic (namely, Water Hemlock).  To my eye, they don’t look anything alike, but as an optimistic teenager desperate to find yarrow in some stray ditch…I may well have made that mistake.

Read this guide to Yarrow Identification for more information.

Benefits of Yarrow

So why is yarrow so magical?  Many reasons!

A wide geographic distribution means yarrow made it into the traditional pharmacopeias in Asia, Europe and the new world.  Yarrow is used in everything from food and drink, to salves and tinctures, to ritual divination and ceremony.

This quick list will give you some ideas, but is by no means comprehensive:

  • Stops Bleeding
  • Skin Toner & Astringent
  • Bitter Tonic
  • Treats Cold and Flu
  • Lowers Blood Pressure
  • Improves Circulation
  • Induces Sweating
  • Reduces Fever

Be aware that while it’s generally considered safe, individual reactions are always possible.  It’s also contraindicated for pregnant women, as it can induce menstrual flow and possibly increase the risk of miscarriage.

Recipes for Cooking with Yarrow

While yarrow is perhaps best known for its uses as a medicinal, both internally and externally, it’s also a tasty culinary herb.  It’s not the only one of course, and many culinary herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, and more) are potent medicinals, taken in the right dosage at the right time.

These yarrow recipes incorporate a small amount of yarrow, just enough to flavor the dish without reaching a “medicinal” dosage.

Recipes for Yarrow Beverages

Believe it or not, hops are actually a relatively recent brewing ingredient.  Before hops became common in beer, herbal beers, or gruits, were all the rage.  Yarrow was one of the most common brewing ingredients, and it was known to create an extremely intoxicating brew.

While hops are a sedative, that dulls the senses and slows the sex drive, yarrow based brews do just the opposite.  There’s a reason yarrow beers (and meads) were popular historically because they lifted you up and sent you home ready to put a few buns in the oven (if you catch my drift).

Our own homemade yarrow beer

Our own homemade yarrow beer

If you’re interested in learning to brew with herbs, specifically yarrow, I’d highly recommend the book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, which takes you through literally thousands of years of herbal brewing tradition (with recipes for each herb discussed).

The Wildcrafting Brewer likewise includes recipes for yarrow brews and approaches the subject more from a foraging perspective (rather than a historical one).

While the traditions have but been forgotten, a few brewers keep the traditions alive.  Here are a few yarrow beverage recipes to wet your whistle, both alcoholic and non.

Harvesting Flowering Tops for Yarrow Tincture

Harvesting Flowering Tops

Yarrow Uses for First Aid

My most common use of yarrow is as a first-aid treatment for bleeding.  Yarrow tincture in a spray bottle is a powerful astringent, and I’ve watched it pucker closed wounds in seconds.

I always keep a small spray bottle on hand just in case, and it’s worked wonders on all manner of small (but persistent) topical injuries.  It’s also made into styptic powder and DIY quick clot, for similar purposes.

Homemade Yarrow Tincture (Alcohol extract of yarrow)

Over the longer term, something like a yarrow salve is wonderful for treating injuries and promoting healing.  It’s also commonly employed as an itch remedy topically.

Making a yarrow salve is no different than making any herbal healing salve, and it comes together quickly with just a few ingredients.

Yarrow has been used for millenia to stop bleeding and treat minor wounds. A healing salve helps preserve the herb, and ensures that it's on hand when needed.

Yarrow has been used for millennia to stop bleeding and treat minor wounds. A healing salve helps preserve the herb, and ensures that it’s on hand when needed.

More yarrow uses for first aid:

Yarrow Herbal Remedies

Beyond yarrows use as a topical first aid remedy, it’s also commonly used in preventative remedies and internal medicine…

 

Continue reading at Practical Self Reliance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See also this video from Cat Ellis, the Herbal Prepper:

Gardener’s Path: Elderflowers for Food and Medicine

It’s 93 degrees F and rising. Summer is here. Luckily we’ve been enjoying refreshing elderflower spritzers in the evening heat. When we started expanding our vegetable garden to various berries, elderberry was one of the first on my mind. One reason was for medicinal purposes. Hippocrates was writing about medicinal elderberry as the medicine chest hundreds of years B.C. Second was ornamental. And third because of a delicious elderflower spritzer we had shared with a friend in Oregon. We first started making cordial using the River Cottage Preserves Handbook recipe which can be found at their website. The article below, however, comes from Gardener’s Path and describes not only cordial making but several other elderflower uses – How to Use Elderflowers for Food and Medicine.

You may have heard talk about the benefits of elderberries, or even come across elderberry syrup on the shelf of your local health food store. But you likely never heard anything about the flowers.

Often overlooked, the lovely little white or yellow blossoms of the magical elder shrub are also edible and medicinal, with some very special benefits of their own.

What You Will Learn

These enchanting little white or yellow clusters of flowers emit a summery sweet fragrance. The flower essence is said to instill a sense of youthfulness, vigor, and restore inner strength.

These delightful blossoms have a long history of medicinal use and are often used to flavor food and drinks. Read on to learn about their miraculous properties and some of the many ways you can use elderflower.

Medicinal Benefits

Both the berries and the flowers of the elder plant have been used for medicine for thousands of years. While both have similar affinities for boosting the immune system and fighting off infection, elderflowers have some additional unique uses.

Oblique view of a wooden mortar and pestle with freshly harvested edlerflowers preparing to make a tincture.

As an immune stimulator, elderflower tea can provide soothing relief for acute cold systems. The booms are a key component of a traditional tea blend taken to reduce flavor. A concoction of elderflower, yarrow, and mint is a great fever fighter, and was often used historically for measles and chickenpox.

Blooms can also be used to treat conjunctivitis and soothe red itchy eyes, reduce pain and swelling in acute joint inflammation, and relieve toothaches. They are natural antihistamines, and when taken prior to the appearance of pollen, can ease symptoms of seasonal allergies.

As a nervous system support, it is said they have the capacity to heal deep grief, helping to open people’s eyes to the magic of the world.

Clinical studies are even starting to show that these flowers can reduce blood sugar, potentially useful for addressing type 2 diabetes.

Harvesting and Preparing for Use

Depending on your climate, elder shrubs may bloom at various times over the summer between June and August. To harvest, pick a warm dry day when the plant is in full bloom. Harvest during the morning or evening to keep the picked flowers from wilting in the sun or try to find a shady place to set them while you work.

Pluck off entire clusters of blossoms at the base, shake gently to dislodge any hidden insects, and place each bundle into your basket or bag.

If you don’t have any elder plants in your yard don’t worry! Just look for wild ones on the edges of streams, ponds, or along other disturbed edges such as fences or roads.

If you also plan to harvest the berries later in the season, pick flowers selectively, leaving some clusters intact here and there. I would recommend taking no more than a third on each plant. This is good practice anyway, as it is best to always leave some behind for the birds and the bees!

Once harvested, you can preserve for later use by drying and storing in tightly lidded jars in a dark place.

To dry, lay flowers on trays or mesh screen and leave in a dark, dry place for about a week. When fully dry, make sure they are still a similar yellow or white color to when they were fresh. Browning can be prevented by avoiding light during the drying process.

Fresh and dried elderflowers. Top down view.

If you prefer, you can also leave flowers attached to the stem while drying and hang in bunches in a cool, dark location. I often dry herbs in a back closet.

Caution

Before using for food or medicine, it is important to separate the flowers from the stems. Leaves, stalks, and roots of these plants are toxic and should not be consumed.

Ways to Use for Food and Medicine

There are so many great ways to use this enchanting herb. The following are a few ideas on ways to utilize them in food, medicine, and even cosmetics. Try out a few of these suggestions or concoct your own recipes!

1. Tea

For relief from colds or flu, pour boiling water over fresh or dried flowers and steep in a covered container for 10 minutes. Mix in a spoonful of local honey and feel those pesky symptoms ease as you breathe in this steamy sweet beverage.

The cool tea can also be used as a mouthwash. Gargle and rinse to combat sore throats, toothaches, and abscesses.

2. Tincture

The flowers can be tinctured in alcohol for use as an herbal remedy for various ailments. Just place crushed dried flowers in a jar, cover with 60% alcohol, and let sit in a cool dark place for 3 to 4 weeks, shaking daily.

Homemade tincture of elderberry flowers in a glass jar.

Consult with a clinical herbalist and your doctor before starting any herbal medicine.

3. Salve for Inflammation Relief

Use a salve or lotion made from the blossoms to reduce inflammation and pain from sprains and strains.

You can incorporate other healing herbs such as calendula, comfrey, or st. John’s wort for additional support.

4. Soothing Eye Wash

Make an eye wash for relief from itchy eyes, conjunctivitis, or hay fever. Just make a batch of elderflower tea, let cool, and rinse! You can also try soaking a washcloth in the cool tea and use as an eye compress.

5. Syrup

A syrup for fighting off colds, flus, and winter blues can be made with flowers of the elder tree as well as the berries. Or combine them for maximum benefit and flavor!

A glass filled full of liquid and dried elderflowers to make syrup.

This article on elderberries includes an easy recipe for syrup (see unpublished elderberry harvest article) Just incorporate or substitute in the blossoms.

6. Cosmetics

Back in the Victorian era, elderflower water was often used as a skin cleansing lotion, believed to keep the skin young and free of blemishes. Use of elder blossoms in cosmetics is beginning to make a comeback, and can often be found in lotions, oils, and body butters that claim to reduce wrinkles, soften skin, and slow aging.

7. Cordial

A cordial is a type of sweet soft drink that is historically popular in Western Europe and has been brewed since the Roman era.

Delightfully fragrant and sweet, this concentrated syrup can be added to drinks or even mixed into recipes such as cakes and pancakes.

Elderflower cordial steeping in a large pickle jar.

To make a cordial, boil the flowers for at least minutes, strain, and add in equal parts sugar to the remaining volume of water. Including a splash of lemon juice and citric acid will help preserve the cordial and add a pleasant tartness.

To use in drinks, pour 1 to 3 tablespoons into a glass and add water, seltzer, tonic water, sparking wine, vodka, or gin.

Tip: Make a large batch all at once and freeze the extra for later use…(continues)

See also this video from The Human Path and Sam Coffman:

Human Path: Making your own Herbal Medic First Aid Kit – Online Course, Aug. 2020

The Human Path is hosting an eight hour, online course on Making your own Herbal Medic First Aid Kit Aug. 3 – 16, 2020 for $100 ($65 if you register by July 13).

Making your own Herbal Medic First Aid Kit

Building your own first aid kit can be a daunting task – trying to find the best pack to hold your gear, keep the weight manageable and have all the equipment you need in one place..

It even becomes more complicated when you want to add herbal remedies to your first aid kit.

Do you know the essential equipment you must have in your kit?

Do you know the best type of packs to use for small, medium and large first aid kits?

What are the most important herbal first aid preparations to include in every kit and why?

Do you know how to improvise bandages, splits, packs and kitchen first aid herbs?

This is an 8-hour course that includes lectures, videos and resources on:

FIRST AID KIT CONTAINERS

  •  The top three items every kit MUST haves
  • Improvisation – making a great herbal first aid kit from containers EVERY household has
  • How a kit opens and why this is important
  • Compartmentalizing: containers within containers
  • Sizing and weight
  • Car kits, work kits, go bags and mini (every day carry) kits

ESSENTIAL TRAUMA FIRST AID SUPPLIES

  • Necessary bandaging equipment from minor to life-threatening
  • Wound & burn management
  • Sharps from A to Z
  • Hydration, nutrition and recovery
  • First aid improvisation: using materials on hand for your kit (and in emergencies when you have no kit)

MUST-HAVE HERBAL PREPARATIONS

  • Infection control for respiratory, UTI, Gut and Skin
  • Nervines/Adaptogens for anxiety and trauma
  • Immune supportive herbs for medical emergencies
  • Venomous bites and stings
  • Salves and powders (which to use, when and contraindications)
  • Working with herbs you probably have in your kitchen

The Herbal Medic First Aid Kit Course will include eight hours of video lectures, resources for supplies and materials, slideshows and handouts.  Students will also receive access to ‘The Top 25 herbs for the end of the world’ pdf and the ‘Building Your Own Herbal First Aid Guide’ pdf for download. 

In addition, students will be mailed two full-size glossy 11”x17” posters:  “First Aid Kit Essentials” and “Herbs for Emergency First Aid”. One of these posters includes an organized and visual layout to help you understand what to pack in your first aid kit and how to organize it, whether you know nothing about first aid or you are a medical doctor. The other poster includes an organized structure that will help you pick the most essential herbs you need for your kit, with over 50 herbs spanning multiple health care issues from acute to chronic!

This incredible online course will open on August 3rd with 60 days access. All course materials can be downloaded for personal future reference and use, and the posters will ship out on receipt of tuition.

Dates: The online classroom access will open on August 3rd, 2020, with materials made available for download.

Live Session TBA.

Registration will remain open until August 16th, 2020.

Location: This is an online class – you do not have to be in our area to participate! You only need access to the internet to take this class.

Click here for the class info and registration page.

Learning Herbs: Harvest Dandelion Root and Make Roasted Dandelion Tea

Spring is thinking about Summer which means that dandelions are making their presence known in my area. While they can be annoying in the lawn, they also make me think of tea and eating weeds. I try to keep some dandelion tea on hand, finding the flavor somewhere between black tea and coffee; different from other herbal teas. It has health benefits, but sometimes I like to drink it just for a change of pace flavor-wise. Here is an article from Learning Herbs – How to Harvest Dandelion Root and Make Roasted Dandelion Tea.

“But like all good rebels, the dandelions are irrepressible.” —Guido Masé, herbalist and author of The Wild Medicine Solution
Herbalists love to love dandelions. Not only do they grow abundantly all over the world, every single part of the plant offers us either food or medicine (or even a free wish). While I adore dandelion leaf pesto and consider dandelion flower wine to be a delicious burst of flavored sunshine, I would have to say that drinking dandelion tea with roasted dandelion root is my favorite way to enjoy this plant. Besides being yummy, dandelion root is packed with nutrients and minerals and is frequently used by herbalists for a myriad of health benefits. Here’s a look at some of the specific ways dandelion root is beneficial.

PRE-biotics
Dandelion roots are high in a starchy substance called inulin. Inulin is not digested by humans, but when eaten it passes to the colon where it provides foods and nutrients for healthy gut flora. Many pro-biotic formulas now boast that they also contain pre-biotics like inulin. With dandelion roots you can avoid pills and let your food be your medicine.
Liver Health
Herbalists have long relied on the simple dandelion root for improved liver health. Because our livers are involved in many physiological functions, this means that dandelion can be used for a lot of different ailments. Here are some examples: To support healthy hormone levels (poor liver health is associated with imbalanced hormones). To address skin inflammation (poor metabolic pathways can lead to inflammatory conditions in the body that can show up as acne, eczema, etc). To improve digestion (a healthy liver produces bile which is stored and then released from the gallbladder to digest fats). Numerous studies have shown that dandelion improves liver health in animals; I would love to see well-designed human clinical trials further validating this use.
Cancer
Folk herbalists have long used dandelion root to support the health of people who have cancer. Scientists are now looking into this and there are a handful of in vitro studies showing promising results.
Dandelions Are Wallet-Friendly
Another benefit of dandelion is its cost. To make this recipe you can buy roasted dandelion roots from apothecaries (they are fairly cheap). You can also buy raw roots and then roast them yourself. However, if you’d like to take advantage of dandelions you have growing near you, here’s a step-by-step guide to harvesting and roasting your own.
Step by Step Guide to Harvesting and Roasting Dandelion Root
  • Know how to properly identify a dandelion. There are lookalikes! You can read more about how to identify a dandelion in this article.
  • Locate dandelion plants in an area where it is safe to harvest. (i.e., hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, doesn’t see a lot of pet traffic, etc).
  • Carefully harvest the roots, ideally in the fall months. You’ll quickly learn to gently ease the roots from the earth, otherwise they will readily snap off. (Luckily for us as well as the dandelion, the plant will continue to grow even if it breaks off prematurely.)
  • Gently wash the roots, leaving as much of the root sheath on as possible.
  • Finely mince the roots and dry them thoroughly. (If you live in a humid environment you may need to use a dehydrator.)
  • Once thoroughly dried, roast them in a dry cast iron pan on medium high heat, stirring frequently. You’ll know they are done when they have turned a darker shade of brown and have a rich aromatic smell. Avoid burning them. You can also roast them in the oven at 350 degrees, checking on them frequently to stir and keep an eye on them to avoid burning.
  • Once roasted you can store them in a dark, airtight container for up to a year.
Also a word about butter… This recipe makes a foamy creamy dandelion tea with the aid of butter. To get the most benefits from butter, I recommend buying organic pasture-raised butter. While butter used to be vilified as heart-clogging unhealthy fat, we now know that high-quality butter is a good source of important fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins (A, K2) that can actually aid heart health. If you don’t eat butter, you can get similar effects by using ghee or coconut oil instead. You can also omit the butter entirely and enjoy roasted dandelion root by itself; however, using the butter will give this dandelion tea a creamy taste with a foam top that is sooooo delicious.

Creamy Roasted Dandelion Root Tea Recipe
This is a lovely rich roasted beverage that is perfect during the colder months. The addition of butter makes this a creamy and foamy drink, similar to a latte. The combination of dandelion root and high quality butter offers many potential benefits for the liver and heart.
What you’ll need…
2 tablespoons finely cut, dried and roasted dandelion roots (15 grams)
16 ounces water
1 tablespoon butter

(continued)

The Herbal Prepper: Respiratory Relief Tea

Who’s up for a healing, herbal tea when you start feeling a bit Ill? Certainly me, for one. Cat Ellis, The Herbal Prepper, has a nice, lengthy post on making an herbal tea for the remedy of cold/flu/respiratory issues – Respiratory Relief Tea.

This tea is one of my favorite cold and flu season remedies. I make it every year, tweaking it a little bit each time. I make this in large batches in September in anticipation for cold and flu season.

Around the house, I nicknamed it, “herbal tussin tea”. I wrote one version of my tea blend here. In my book, Prepper’s Natural Medicine, I list is as “Respiratory Infection Tea”. Since it addresses common, respiratory symptoms, and not any specific infection, I’ve renamed it, “Respiratory Relief Tea”.

I have also updated this recipe to allow for more effective tea-making techniques. It blends cold infusion, hot infusion, and decoction preparations.

Want the Lazy Version?

If you want an easier method with fewer steps, check out my easier version here. It’s less of a potent remedy, but it has fewer steps and is still effective.

Relief for Common Respiratory Complaints

The herbs in this tea are a blend of expectorant, decongestant, diaphoretic, analgesic, immunostimulant and demulcent herbs. This will support your body as it heals from a respiratory infection by:

  • Making coughing more productive and easier.
  • Supporting natural immune response.
  • Soothing irritated mucosal tissues.

Methods Used

This preparation is a bit more involved than my previously published respiratory tea recipes. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really not that hard.

This tea utilizes three different water extraction methods:

  1. Cold Infusion
  2. Decoction
  3. Hot Infusion

Cold infusions are made by steeping herbs in room temperature water for 4 to 8 hours. I tend to make them in mason jars, filling the jar 1/4 of the way. Then I fill the with water and secure the lid.

I use tend to use wide mouth jars for ease of filling and emptying the jars. I also use left-over lids from canning, or these reusable, plastic lids.

Decoctions are made by simmering hard plant material, such as roots and bark. To 4 cups of water, add between 1/2 and 1 cup of herbs, depending upon your needs and how concentrated you want your end product. Add the herbs to a pot of cold water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes, and the water will have reduced by half. Strain, and the resulting liquid is your decoction.

Hot infusions are made by steeping delicate plant parts, such as leaves and flowers, in hot water. I use anywhere from 1 tablespoon up to 4 tablespoons per 1 cup (8oz) of water, depending upon how strong I want the end result.

Measurements

I have listed the ingredients by volume, not by weight. For example, I measure by cup, not by ounces. So, 1 cup equals 1 part.

If you want a smaller batch, use a 1/2 cup or a even 1/4 cup to represent your measurement of “1 part”, and maintain the ratios throughout.

Weighing everything would be more precise, but I haven’t found weighing everything out to exact amounts to matter much with this tea.

How to Make Respiratory Relief Tea

Follow the instructions below on how to make the Cold Infusion Phase, the Decoction Phase, and the Hot Infusion Phase.

Here are the steps to combine the phases:

  1. Make the cold infusion phase first.
  2. Use the resulting liquid as the water for your decoction.
  3. Strain out the herbs and reserve the liquid.
  4. Reheat the decoction (the liquid) if needed to just before boiling.
  5. Add the herbs for the hot infusion, turn off the heat, and cover.
  6. Allow herbs to steep covered for at least 15 minutes.

This takes a bit of time from beginning to end. I suggest making it in larger batches, once a day, and reheat just before consuming.

Honey is a perfect addition to this tea, as it helps to both sweeten the tea and to relax coughing. If you are diabetic and cannot have honey, you can sweeten your tea with something like this monkfruit-based syrup.

Respiratory Relief Tea- Cold Infusion Phase

Ingredients

  • 3 parts slippery elm
  • 1 part marshmallow root
  • 4 parts room temperature water

Directions

  • Combine slippery elm bark and marshmallow root
  • Cover with the water, and allow to steep at room temperature between 4-8 hours.
  • Strain, reserve liquid and discard the plant material.
  • Store cold infusion in refrigerator for up to 2 days if needed.
  • Use this as the water for the decoction phase

There are concerns with slippery elm, as it is an endangered wild plant. If you can, buy organic. That should ensure that it came from a managed population, not from a wild population that might have been overharvested. Otherwise, feel free to substitute Siberian elm instead, or just use 100% marshmallow root.

A quart mason jar will allow for 1 cup of plant material and 4 cups of water. This is the correct ration of plant material to water, and the jars have easy-to-read measurements on the side of each jar.

Use cut and sifted instead of powdered forms. Powdered slippery elm and marshmallow will be much more difficult to strain out. It’s a mess. Ask me how I know…(continues)

Click here to read the entire article in full glory at The Herbal Prepper.

Related:

Wholefully: 5 Cold-Busting Herbal Tea Blends

Learning Herbs: Hyssop Oxymel: A Cold, Flu and Bronchitis Home Remedy

The Medic Shack: Herbal Help for Covid 19

Chuck at The Medic Shack shares some herbal info for boosting the immune system and soothing symptoms of coronavirus.

Herbal Help for Covid 19

Herbal Help for Covid 19 We have been busy. My work has been either totally crazy or worrying about getting enough hours. So I’ve been off the keyboard doing a lot to get things better prepared. The other day my wife told me. You need to start taking your own advice that you write about. Well she really said Read your own damn web pages and DO IT. So that is what we’ve been doing. Got a rushed straw bale garden going Working on some trades. Making a Bowie knife to trade for some things. Filling holes in our preps. Gods I wish we had what we had in New Mexico.

But we don’t. We started from scratch. Like a lot of you. So look if we can do it, y’all can also.

Lets talks about this little bug that is causing such a hubbub.

Covid 19

There is some good news about it. Wait WHAT? Good news? Well YEAH.

  • It is not Ebola or Marberg,
  • Covid19  doesn’t have the high mortality of MERS or Hanta,
  • It hasn’t made Zombies…… Yet.

Overall it has a 98% survival rate. For Gods Sakes. We take bigger risks than that driving to work in rush our traffic here in Charleston.

The at risk population mainly appears to be among the elderly or those with per-existing lung conditions or per-existing conditions that lower immunity. It also seems to affect folks with pre existing cardiac issues. Heart failure and coronary artery disease are the 2 biggies. So far it’s primary way of death is Pneumonia. Lets try to prevent that

The Herbalist point of view.

I’ve been talking with some herbalists that know a lot more than me. All pretty much agree we need to support and build up the body against lower respiratory infection. Talking with some respiratory therapists one of the issues the body has with pneumonia is the bacterial infection and the triggering of the immune response can coat the lungs with “gunk” And yes that is a proper medical term! This can make a incubation “soup” that allows more bacteria to breed and grow. Enter the Lymphatic system. It removes the waste and broken down bacteria, fluids and other items from the lungs. Echinacea is good go to for that. Astragalus, and Ginger are also good. Back home in New Mexico I would use Ginger Echinacea and Ocotillo stems as a tea or tincture.

Coughing

Another thing the virus does is produce a cough. Most of the time it starts out dry. But as infection spreads it turns to a wet, productive cough. The dry cough can be soothed by Marshmallow (Not the Stay Puff kind) Mullein and Pleurisy Root. I sometimes add in some slippery elm to lubricate things up to help sooth the dryness a bit. Not to much.

If/when it transitions to the wet cough we don’t want to stop it. Sounds wrong, but a wet productive cough is the body trying to move the “gunk” out of the body. We now want to help the body “dry out” the lungs and get that crud out. Decent expectorants include elecampane,thyme, Hyssop Lobela and ginger.

Elderberry.

This one is causing a storm. Some think that it causes a cytokine storm and helps the virus with that. I’ve never seen it. I have heard of it from elderberries, but it is very rare. Now there is some work being done with Elder flowers. The flower of the Elder tree. It is showing a higher penchant for attacking a virus than the berry. We use both. I am leaning more toward the elderflower since it is far less sweet and they go a lot farther than the whole berries. I have read that instead of a full 8 ounce cup of the elderflower tea it shows more effect by taking small shots multiple times a day. A few drops of tincture instead of a whole dropper. Right now we have tea in the fridge and a percolation cone going of tincture.

Fire Cider

Our old friend who got “trademarked” by a low life company, They eventually lost the lawsuit. UNFORTUNATELY we don’t have the 6 weeks to make it. Thanks to my partner in prepping crime There is an instant version. Full details are here. Instant Fire Cider, but here is the gist of it:

A very similar remedy can be made at home, right now, with very inexpensive ingredients. You probably already have some, if not all, ingredients in your kitchen. It’s filled with decongesting, anti-inflammatory, and immune boosting ingredients. I’m not as big of a fan of “hot & spicy” as others, but I can’t deny the effectiveness of this combination.

Here’s the recipe (makes 8 oz):

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup raw apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice or the juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • Pinch of cracked black pepper
  • 1/3 cup of raw honey

Directions

  • Add lemon juice, vinegar, and spices to your jar
  • Add honey to bring up to 8 ounces
  • all ingredients in a small jar (like a mason jar or hex jar)
  • Shake well to mix
  • Store in the refrigerator

Finally.

This is a short post. More of a what you can do before and if/when you’re infected. Get off you butt and start gathering the items I’ve listed here. There is no cure and no vaccine. But the gods have giving us the things we need to fight it. Herbs trees and most importantly a brain to do it with. Don’t get all caught up in the media panic or the panic at the stores. Keep a cool head, buy supplies when you can, as you can. Take care of your community, your inner circle. Look if you don’t have to dig into your stores right now then don’t. Use the time we have to keep adding. Don’t buy huge quantities. That makes you a target. Baby steps. Be that no descrpit person that is talked about in the police shows. “What did he/she look like ma’am? I don’t know. Average looking”.

Some herbs to track down

  • Yarrow
  • Astagalus
  • Elecampane
  • Pleurisy root
  • Horehound
  • Mullein
  • Lobela
  • Elderberry and Elderflower
  • Ginger
  • Tumeric
  • Cayanne
  • ACV
  • Honey
  • Hyssop
  • Clear alcohol. IE Vodka , everclear
  • Marshmallow
  • Thyme

There is so much more to cover but there is not much time and much to do. We’ll keep posting as we can. Please add comments to theses posts. Add to them. Share them We will make it though this mess. We will emerge into a different world than we left on January 1 2020. We’ll deal with that as we can. We have some bad stuff coming. Keep your wits about y’all and don’t give up. We’ll make it though this mess and get ready for the next. We have a poop ton of information we have written about prior on The Medic Shack Use them and share them.

Practical Self Reliance: 20+ Immune Boosting Herbs

Ashley Adamant at Practical Self Reliance has compiled a list of twenty immune-boosting herbs and mushroom to help stave off illness.

Natural immune-boosting herbs work to support a healthy immune system, ideally preventing illness or speeding recovery.  Staying healthy starts well before flu season, and all of these herbs for the immune system can play a helpful role.

Immune Boosting Herbs

Immune-boosting herbs are a big part of my families’ wellness routine, and we need all the help we can get with a doorknob licking toddler and extra snuggly preschooler in the house.

Even before children, natural immune boosters were a regular part of our lives.  I worked in a hospital, and my husband flew cross country regularly for work.  While handwashing and other preventative measures are obviously the first step, sometimes you need a bit of extra help when you’re surrounded by sick people on a day to day basis.

Just recently, I found myself making a batch of our favorite herbal immune booster…elderberry syrup.  I’d harvested fresh elderberries in our garden that we’d grown from cuttings, and I started looking around for other herbs for the immune system to add into the mix.  A short walk around the garden and nearby woods and I’d picked more than 20 different immune-boosting herbs, flowers, roots, mushrooms, and lichen.

Add in a stop at the spice cabinet for immune-boosting spices like ginger, black pepper and garlic and I had quite the spread to choose from…

(Note: I am not a clinical herbalist or healthcare provider.  This is based on my own experience and research, but I encourage you to verify it with other sources.  Please consult a healthcare provider before beginning any health regimen, herbal or otherwise.) 

Herbs for the Immune System

Herbs for the immune system generally fall into three categories:

  • Immune Stimulants ~ Generally used for a short period of time, immune stimulants are best used on a short term basis.  The best time is right as you’re starting to get sick, or anytime you’ve been exposed to an illness.  Those times when someone coughs right on you, or you’re about to go on a long flight where there may be extra pathogens in the recirculated air.  Examples include Echinacea and usnea lichen.
  • Herbal Immunomodulators (or Immune Tonics) ~ Often used over a long period of time, immunomodulators are tonics for the immune system.  They’re not meant to be overtly healing during acute illness, but rather to help balance your system and promote a healthy immune response.  Examples include tulsi (holy basil) and reishi mushrooms.
  • Anti-Microbial Herbs ~ While they may not directly impact the immune system, they’re helpful in treating illness and maintaining health.  While prescription antibiotics have their place, minor illnesses (or injuries) can be treated with anti-microbial herbs instead.  Some are specifically antifungal (for topical issues) while others are more generally antimicrobial.  These disserve an article in their own right, and I’ll cover them briefly at the end.

While these three classes of herbs are somewhat different from each other, the terminology often gets mixed, even in peer-reviewed scientific journals.  Some, in fact, fall in multiple categories.  The main thing to keep in mind is that not all herbs are for long term use and not all herbs for the immune system will have a direct impact if you’re already sick…(continued)

Click here to read the entire article at Practical Self Reliance.

Medic Shack: Basics of Herbal Medicine Webinar,

The Medic Shack usually teaches The Basics of Herbal Medicine as a live, in-person class, but because of the pandemic is moving the class on-line. It will tentatively start on March 28th and go for 2 or 3 weekends.

 I have some irons in the fire, and one of them was a local class on the basics of herbal medicine. This was going to be at our house in Summerville SC. We can do up to 6 or so folks at a time. Well with this virus and everything all Topsy turvey, we’re going to do it on line over a few days.

This will be a live webinar, with a study guide and suggested equipment. This is not a herbal certification course like my bud Cat Ellis teaches. This is a get your feet wet on making tinctures, tisanes and  decoctions, What you should treat and what should be left to the pros. Going to do a tentative start date of the weekend of the 28th of March. We can knock this our in 2 or 3 weekends. I’ll take as long as needed to make sure everyone’s questions are answered. We haven’t worked out the cost for the class, but it will be a lot less expensive than the in person one would be. Hope to see you folks there!

This may be the safest way to have classes…

Topics to be covered:images

• Herbal theory
• Introduction to making Tinctures and Herbal teas
• Colloidal silver• Pain control
• Herbal clot accelerators,
• Bites, burns and Skin irritations
• Respiratory and Allergens
• Equipment and safety considerations
• Anti-microbial and Anti-viral

Webinar announcement page

Webinar Signup page