There are many ways to prepare medicinal herbs for consumption. Fresh herbs are best, but dried are good, too. Infusion or tea, decoction, tincture, powders, compresses, poultices, capsules, and ointments are various ways to take herbs.

Teas or infusions: This is the easiest and one of the most common methods of consuming an herbal remedy. Steep the herbs in boiling water for five to seven minutes to give the tea the taste and color of the herb. I use a teaspoon to a tablespoon of the herb, leaves, or flowers per cup of water. I often add honey for taste. Lemon can also add taste and vitamin C. I usually drink it warm to hot, especially to induce sweating or to break up a cough or cold. Otherwise you can take it lukewarm.

Decoctions: A decoction works best to extract bitter principles of the plant and is necessary for extractions of woody plants, barks, and resins. It is like a tea or infusion but stronger. I use one-half ounce of the herb soaked in cold water for two hours and then simmered in hot water for ten minutes. Cook until almost one-half of the water has evaporated, then use immediately.

Tinctures: Alcohol is probably the best extractor of herbal properties and is often used to preserve a tincture. I make mine by adding four ounces of cut or powdered plant to one pint of alcohol. I usually use high-grade vodka. Warning: Do not use rubbing alcohol. Many people from the Caribbean use rum, gin, or brandy. It is best to shake the tincture daily and allow two weeks for the extraction process. Then strain the herbs out. Vinegar can also be used with some herbs. Tinctures of edible herbs can be valuable for internal as well as external application.

Powders: Powders are made by mashing the plant until there are only very fine particles of the herb. Allow these to dry to a powder. You can make ointments and/or fill capsules with it (see below).

Compress or fomentation: This is a process by which the properties of the plant penetrate the skin topically. It is most often applied for flu, colds, pain, or swelling. It is similar to applying an ointment except it has the added benefit of heat. I boil two heaping tablespoons of the herb in one cup of water. Then I dip a cotton pad into the liquid and squeeze out the extra, placing it on the affected area immediately. Next I cover it with a piece of fabric (wool is best) to keep in the heat. When it cools, I do it again, over and over.

Poultices: I mash the herb and make a paste with water or oil, then heat it in a pan. When warm, I apply it directly to the affected area to relieve inflammation, draw out toxins, cleanse, or heal. Then I cover it with a heated towel to keep in the heat, and reheat and change when it cools.

Capsules: Empty capsules and a capsule filler can be easily purchased from any health food store, or you can purchase the capsules from the health food store already filled. To make your own, you just buy the powdered herb or powder and simply fill the empty capsules yourself.

Ointments or salves: To make an ointment, use three ounces of powdered herb to seven ounces of almond oil and one ounce of beeswax. Blend the ingredients together in a covered pot over low heat for one to two hours. When it cools, it is ready to apply. If it is not the consistency you desire, add more oil or beeswax.

Note: Never use aluminum pots in the preparation of herbs; use glass or enamel or porcelain.

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