My Herbs Blog
A number of years ago, I started making my own creams, salves, and liniments, and slowly replaced all of my pharmacy bought items, with all-natural herbal remedies. All items in my new medicine chest are made by the plants that grow on my property and neighboring vicinity. I think in actuality, I have my own pharmacy with hundreds of items, from herbs, to pure vegetable oils, jars, and even standard tools like bandages, and cotton swabs. My medicine chest is really what I like to call my Herbal Apothecary, and in our family, we use many items in the cabinet daily. I have actually dedicated a corner of my kitchen to the herbals that I make. I have 2 wooden stand-alone cabinets of that are not only attractive, but very useful. I chose pieces that had closed fronts to keep the natural light at a minimum.
Any kind of chest, cabinet piece of furniture, or other creative storage space can be used to make your herbal medicine chest. Maybe you have a big pantry, and you can dedicate a section for your herbs, or maybe you have a perfect cabinet in the kitchen for easy storage and access. Just avoid putting your items in the bathroom, near a stove or natural light source. The location should be easy to access if you have a quick need, but also relatively safe from small children. Nothing I make would harm a child if they got into my apothecary. Most herbs for “medicine” taste bitter and that would be enough of a deterrent, and nothing is toxic or poisonous.
If at all possible collect your own plants either from your garden or from fields, stream beds, and the woods. Make sure the soil and location is healthy and free from chemicals or other run-off that would harm the plants, and thereby you. One of the best determinants is to look at the plants size; small, withered plants, with brown leaves are probably either A. not getting enough nutrients, or B. absorbing toxins from the soil. It may be too late in the season to collect your own herbs, and in that case I recommend finding a local health food store, farm, or even an herbalist who can sell you some local herbs. I find that the herbs collected and used from a person’s local environment can be more effective than those exotic and from faraway lands. There is a temptation to think- farther means better, but truly the most humble and simple “weeds” can be the most effective herbal remedies.
Yarrow flowers, Achilliea millefolium would be the first item I would collect and store. Keep the dried flowers in a glass jar, to use for herbal teas. You will also want to grind some of the flowers into a fine powder and store in a small glass jar. Clean baby food jars are great for storing small amounts of herbs, seeds, and for salves. The whole flowers of the Yarrow plant are infused into a hot tea that is useful for fevers, and colds. Yarrow is a diaphoretic herb that promotes sweating and thus will help a body sweat out a fever effectively. The powdered flowers can be applied to cuts to stop bleeding and promote healing. Another powdered herb that I always keep in my medicine chest, and which also stops bleeding even more effectively is cayenne pepper.
Cayenne, Capiscum annum can be grown in your garden, and after the peppers have been dried, ground up finely into a powder. The powder is especially useful as a first aid item. Cayenne pepper applied to cuts, with stop bleeding, like a clotting factor. Cayenne pepper can be mixed with some water, juice or milk and drank in cases of shock, or hypothermia. Cayenne is also beneficial for stabilizing the blood flow in the body, and stimulating digestion. Although a spicy herb, spice, and condiment- Capiscum is definitely something I keep on hand. I believe I have at least 4 ounces powdered at any given time.
My singularly favorite herb, and plant that I keep in my herbal apothecary in numerous forms, is Black Walnut, or Juglans nigra. The green hull is the part of the plant you want to use. It contains the chemical juglone, which is antibacterial, antiviral, antiparasitic, and a fungicide. This plant is so incredibly useful, and the trees are so exceptionally plentiful. Most people throw or burn away the green nuts, finding them a nuisance. I keep the tincture of the green hulls in my apothecary for sore throats, toothache, and for a quick application to skin rashes. I also make a black ointment, and one of the main ingredients is black walnut hull powder. The ointment is used for almost every kind of bump, blister, cut, scratch, or splinter. I even freeze the hulls to preserve the precious juice over the winter. When you thaw out the slices of the hull, you can use the slices to rub on fungal infections of the skin. It works quickly to take away itch and discomfort, but beware, you will get stains on your skin for a few days from the juglone.
Comfrey leaf, Symphytum officinale, is a must in your herbal medicine chest. The leaf of this herb should be dried and stored in glass jars. I would suggest storing 1 lb. for the winter. If you grow it yourself, you should have no problem collecting that amount, because this plant spreads fast, and has large leaves. It is also very easy to dry. In cases of bruising, straining, spraining or aching, make a large pot of comfrey tea. I use 1 heaping Tablespoon of dried comfrey leaf, per cup of water. Soak clean white cloths in the tea and wrap around the affected area. Cover with saran wrap, and another dry cloth and leave on for 30 minutes. Repeat 3-4 times a day or more for acute pain. You will be amazed at how quickly your body responds to the healing powers of this plant.
The fifth herb is also considered a spice, and spices and herbs are often all called herbs, and that is mustard powder. Mustard is in the family Brassicacae, and in the Northeastern part of the United States, it can be found growing along fields, roadsides, and empty lots, every spring. The plants are easy to identify by their bright yellow flowers. I have not personally gathered my own seeds, but I pick the leaves and eat them raw or in green salads as a spring tonic. I find you cannot really make a mistake when purchasing mustard seeds, unlike other herbs. If at all possible buy the seed, before it has been ground which will ensure the best potency. You can grind your seeds in a small coffee grinder. I would have ½ a pound on hand at any one time, and grind up 2 ounces to store in a glass jar. That way, if you have an urgent situation, you do not have to take time grinding your mustard seeds.
I like to use the dried powder weekly in hot foot baths. The properties from the mustard seeds soak into the soles of the feet and through the body with help of the nervous system. I find that doing this weekly is relaxing, and keeps a body a little more resilient. If a cold comes upon you unawares, and you have chest congestion, a mustard plaster over the chest works wonders, and of course you will want to do the foot soaks with mustard powder as soon as you feel under the weather. To do a mustard soak, prepare a large bowl, or bucket with very warm water. It should be hot, but not too hot. Sit in a comfortable chair with a cup of Yarrow tea, or whatever delicious tisane you have on hand. Mix ¼ cup of mustard powder into every gallon of water. The water should come up to mid-calf. Sit with your feet submerged for at least 20 minutes. After doing a mustard soak, rub your feet with sea salt and dry thoroughly. Lay down and take a rest. Repeat daily if ill, and continue weekly for cold prevention.
As I said before, the items I have in my herbal medicine chest are numerous. I probably have at least 100 different herbs, and mixtures and other helpful tools. However, with just six different herbs, you can use each plant at least 3 different ways, which gives you 18 different herbal remedies, minimum. If you are new to herbs, it is best to start slowly, and become really familiar with a few plants, before branching out to more herbs. I want to leave you with one more set of instructions with the mustard powder, as it is very helpful. It does require another herb that could be your number 6 in your apothecary. That herb is Slippery Elm, Ulmas rubra in Latin. Slippery elm is terrific for stomach complaints and any inflamed skin inside and out of the body. You will want to mix your mustard powder with slippery elm, before making a plaster, because the mustard powder brings a lot of heat to the skin.
In a small ceramic bowl, mix 4 Tablespoons mustard powder, and 4 Tablespoons slippery elm powder. Add small amounts of water slowly and stir until you have a paste-like consistency. If you are the one ill, try to get some help with this application. You will also need two clean towels. One for laying on, and one for when you get up, just so you do not make a mess where you were laying. You will need to remove your shirt and I like to rub some olive oil on my chest first before applying the paste. After rubbing in the Extra Virgin Olive Oil, apply a thick layer of mustard plaster on the chest area, avoiding sensitive skin areas. It is best to remain laying during application. You can set a timer for 10 minutes, but if you feel too hot before the timer goes off, you may wash off the plaster. If you can keep the plaster on longer than 10 minutes, keep on as long 20 minutes before washing.
You will be surprised at how red your skin will look. The mustard brings a lot of blood flow to the chest area, which will help with bringing healing to a congested respiratory tract. If after washing off the mustard plaster, you still feel hot, and even uncomfortable, get a cool wash cloth and lay it on your skin for another 20 minutes. Like I suggest after the mustard foot bath, lay down and rest after completing this remedy. I find that a good rest after mustard applications really does wonders. If you can master the application and use of these 6 herbs, you will be well on your way towards a bit more freedom, and self-reliance for yourself and your loved ones. Do not worry about making mistakes, you probably will. Herbs can be very forgiving, and will teach you along the way.
RECIPE for my BLACK Walnut Tincture
You will need:
-8 Green Black Walnut Hulls (fresh) or
-1/2 ounce Black Walnut Hull powder
-Large clean quart jar with lid
-40 Proof Alcohol (Vodka is preferred)
-2 cups high quality water
-Blue painters tape and a sharpie marker
-Knife and cutting board
Directions: Making the Black walnut tincture can be a messy business. The hulls will stain everything they touch. That is why I suggest old rags, and you may even want to use an old cutting board, versus a nice new one. If you do not wear gloves, your hands will stain a deep yellow, and then almost turn a brown or black color wear the juglone gets on your skin. This lasts a few days, so gloves are recommended.
On your cutting board, slice pieces of the hulls off the ball of the walnut. There is a large inner shell in the middle, so you have to cut around it. As you slice pieces, put them into your quart jar. You should have enough slices to fill just above half way.
When you have finished cutting, you will then pour your water into the jar until the water line gets half way on the jar. Then, fill the jar the rest of the way with your Vodka, leaving a 1/2 “headspace at the top of the jar. You can then put on your lid tightly and label with the blue painters tape. The information that should be on the label is as follows: -Date, -Herb material,- Where you obtained your herbs,- and menstruum (liquid in the jar).
Lastly, sit you freshly made jar of Black Walnut tincture on a sunny window sill. Make sure you put the old rags under the jar, because it may leak a little and remember the liquid will stain. Let this sit for two weeks before straining off the hulls, and rebottling the precious liquid.
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