An Alchemist's 

This page is best viewed while sipping hot herbal tea

Quite apart from turning lead into gold occasionally your ancient alchemist produced an array of techniques for concentrating the powerful forces of plants, metals and chemicals that today's scientists and parfumers are still using, with just a tad more precision.  As any mint farmer can tell you, the results can be just as profitable as turning lead into gold.

 Making your own herbal remedies is really not that difficult. And since the best herbal preparations are those made when the plants are fresh, you are better off to grow your own herbs (or collect them from the wild) and make your own preparations.  Mastering the following definitions will help you to understand and follow directions with more accuracy.

Even the best plants can be ruined if you use the wrong kind of process in preparing your remedies.  The option you choose will depend on the parts of the plant to be used, the form in which the remedy will be taken, and the result you desire to achieve.

How To Read Faster, And Learn More,  This is my most popular free download, most weeks anyway.   Remember that herbal remedies are not one-shot wonder cures.  Their effectiveness is based largely on repetition and continued application. 

The following ways of preparing your fresh herbs are those most commonly used in herbal medicine. One caution -- Always use an enamel or non-metallic pot, if glass is not available.

Infusion - this is a beverage made like tea, combining boiled water with the plants and steeping it to extract the active ingredients.  Probably the most famous application is Sassafras Tea which can be used for cleaning the body, reducing itch, and even warding off marauding mosquitoes if a spot of vinegar is added.  The normal proportions are about 1/2 to 1 ounce of the plant to one pint of boiled water. You should let the mixture steep for five to ten minutes, covered, and strain the infusion into a cup.

For example, if you want to make rose water you should put 3 large handfuls of petals from fresh (preferably red) roses into a clean pot and pour about 1 litre of distilled water over them. Place the pot over low heat and simmer the mixture down slowly until only half the water is left. Remove the petals and discard, then pour the liquid rose water into a sterile container. 

For a basic flower perfume, take a large bowl and place a cheesecloth inside where the edges are hanging over the bowl. Fill the cheesecloth with 1 cup of flower blossoms of your choice. Pour distilled water over the flowers until they are completely covered.  Allow this to sit overnight.  Most of the water will seep through.  Squeeze the remainder through the cloth if possible, and discard the leaves.  Now seep the water over low heat until you have only about 1 teaspoon of liquid left.  Pour this into a small, sterile bottle and use within 30 days.

Cold Extract - preparing your herbs with cold water preserves the most volatile ingredients, while extracting only minor amounts of mineral salts and bitter principles. Add about double the amount of plant material used for an infusion to cold water and let sit for about 8 to 12 hours, strain and drink.

Decoction - this method or preparation allows you to extract primarily the mineral salts and bitter principles rather than vitamins and volatile ingredients. Boil about half an ounce of plant parts per cup of water for up to 4 minutes. Steep the mixture with the cover on the pot for a few minutes.

Juice - chop and press fresh plant parts to make juice, then add a bit of water and press again. This is excellent for getting vitamins and minerals from the plant. Drink the juice right away for the best results.

Syrup - make a basic syrup to which you will add medicinal ingredients by boiling 3 pounds of raw, brown sugar in a pint of water until it reaches the right consistency. 

Powder - grind your dried plant parts until you have a powder.  The powder can be taken with water, milk, soup, or swallowed in gelatin capsules.

Ointment - quick method: combine well one part of your powdered remedy with four parts hot petroleum jelly or lard. For purists: Add the decoction of the desired herb to olive oil and simmer until the water has completely evaporated. Add beeswax as needed to get a firm consistency. A little gum benzoin or a drop of tincture of benzoin per ounce of fat will help preserve the ointment.

Essence - dissolve 1 ounce of the herb's essential oil in a pint of alcohol; this method preserves the volatile oils of many of those plants which are not water-soluble.  

Sometimes called distillation, this process requires nothing any more substantial than producing steam. The steam is passed through the flowers material. As the steam rises it carries the essential oil from the plant along with it, locked in suspension with the vapor.

When the vapor cools the oil from the flowers will be seen floating on the surface of the water. This (Essential) oil is then separated from the water, usually just by pouring it off, or by wicking it off. 

Herb Bath - herbal baths include the use of various herbal additives to enhance the natural healing power of the water.    They are baths to which plant decoctions or infusions have been added. There are full and partial herbal baths. For a full bath some of the medicinal plant parts should be sewn into a cloth bag and then boiled in a quart of water; the strained mixture is then added to the bath. Sometimes you can put the bag right into the tub for a more thorough extraction of the herbal properties.

Poultice - to make a poultice, you just crush the medicinal parts of the plant to a pulpy mass and heat. Mix with a hot, sticky substance such as moist flour or corn meal. Apply the pasty mixture directly to the flesh. Wrap a hot towel around and moisten the towel periodically. A poultice is used to draw impurities from the body.  

Note:  farmers call the application of fresh cow manure to injuries on an arm or a leg a poultice also.  Actually this is just a wrap.  Fresh manure is daubed thickly inside the wrap and then the wrap is tied securely over the wound on the injured limb.   Does it work?  Well, it doesn't make sense, but Yes, quite often when even wonder drugs like penicillin have failed a wrap of manure will jump start the healing process.  

After a Native American friend was wounded in the leg he languished in the Letterman General Hospital for several months until finally the Euromerican doctors said (hopefully joking) they were going to amputate the leg because the wound was still open and the leg refused to heal.  
He talked them into giving him a furlough and we headed for his home on the reservation.  There the old medicine man poured raw turpentine into the wound then wrapped it shut with a pulpy poultice of deer and rabbit pellets in the wrap, right over the wound. 

Sure there was some hollering and screaming, even a few minutes of dancing -- but no rain fell.  By the time we had to go back to Letterman the leg was well on its way to being healed.  What did it?  

My theory is, Shock.  In essence the medicine man told the cells in that leg to wake up or those Euromerican doctors were going to do something bad to it.

That may sound barbaric, but Euromerican doctors tried similar barbaric tactics with insane people for years by ducking them down into snake pits.  Personally I don't believe psychiatrists were any more successful then than they are now, but I do believe they successfully weeded out all the people who were trying to cop an insanity plea.

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and Gathering

The first step of making your own herbal recipes is collecting and gathering your essentials correctly. If collecting herbage, the upper part of plant, and or berries, these need to be collected in the late morning, after the dew is gone but before the sun is fully on it to dry up the oils in the plant. The energy rises up in the morning so this is when the upper parts will be the strongest in medicine.

Herbs (on the other hand) can be cut when collecting or dried and then cut. Some herbs like Motherwort are difficult to deal with when dry, so cut while fresh. 

Roots are usually only gathered in late Fall or early Spring, before the energy of the plant goes into leaf production. Roots are dug in very early morning before the energy starts to rise up to the stems. Cut the herbs at an angle so you are exposing as many cells as possible. 

All herbs, berries or roots must be dried in the dark. Easiest methods of drying your herb is to tie the stems together and hang in a paper bag or place the leaves and roots on screens. Provide a warm well ventilated place for them to dry. Be sure all of the herb is dry before storing. Storage needs to be in glass, dark if possible and placed in a cool area till you use.

Collection advice, compliments of the Tao Herb Farm.

There you have it.  After you master these techniques you will be 
ready to turn lead into gold with your own techniques.

the end.

Lin Stone is an author, writer, photographer and essayist.  
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