Preparing Herbal Treatments

The herbal treatments recommended in this book include teas, baths, compresses, poultices, oils, and ointments. Some require that you start from scratch, while others, especially tablets or capsules, are available ready made. The recipes and directions in this section will teach you how to prepare and use a wide variety of herbal treatments.

Herbal Baths

An herbal bath is as much of a treat as it is a treatment. There are several ways to prepare an herbal bath.

If you are using a soluble ingredient, such as baking soda or aloe vera gel, simply dissolve it in hot bath water.

If you are using oatmeal, you can either whirl it into a powder in your blender or bag it (see below). Oatmeal seems soft, but it doesn’t dissolve completely unless it has first been very finely milled.

If you are using fresh herbs, you can bag them in a square of cheesecloth or a washcloth. A two- or three-thickness square of cheesecloth is ideal. The loose weave permits maximum release of the herbal essence, yet keeps the parts from floating free in the bath water. One method of bagging herbs is to stitch three sides of a cheesecloth square closed and run a drawstring through the top, or tie the bag closed with a sturdy string. An easier and quicker method is to place a suitable quantity of herbs in the middle of a cheesecloth square. Then simply pull the four corners of the square together and secure them with string. (You can do this with a washcloth or small towel, too, but cheesecloth is easier to manage.) For a full bath, use approximately 6 ounces of dried or fresh herbs.

Fill the tub, placing the bagged herbs under a forceful stream of comfortably hot water. As the tub fills, swish the herbs through the bath water. During the bath, gently squeeze an essence-rich stream of water from the herb bag directly on the part of the body you wish to treat. Your child may enjoy soaking and squeezing the bag. If you are treating an itchy skin condition, you may gently rub the bag across the affected areas. Unless you can trust your child not to rub itchy places raw, however, you may want to do this gentle scratching yourself. If you are using dried herbs, you will have to guard against rough parts, which may be irritating.

If your child is comforted and soothed by an herbal bath, you may want to be ready with a pre-prepared

herbal infusion. Soak 6 tablespoons of dried or fresh herbs overnight in 3 cups of water. Start with very hot water and allow it to cool naturally. The following morning, heat the infusion and strain out the residue. No bag is needed; just pour the strained infusion directly into the bath water.

Herbal Infusions (Teas)

Medicinal herbs are most often administered in tea form. The Chinese, who have a 5,000 year history of herbal medicine, teach that the heat of the water and the taste of the herb enhance its effectiveness. Steeping an herb in hot water draws out the therapeutic essence of the plant.

To prepare hot tea from herbs, measure out 2 heaping tablespoons of herb for every cup of tea (unless the label directs otherwise), and place them in a china or glass teapot or cup (plastic and metal containers are not suitable for steeping herbs). For each cup of tea, pour 8 ounces of freshly boiled water over the herbs. Cover the container. As a general rule, teas made with the leaf or flower of the herb should be allowed to steep for five to ten minutes; teas using roots or bark should be simmered for ten minutes and allowed to steep for an additional five minutes. After steeping, strain the tea, cool it to a comfortable temperature, and serve. If you prepare more than one cup of tea at one time, you can keep it at a comfortable sipping temperature in a thermos bottle.

To make an herbal tea from a tincture or extract, put the suggested number of drops of the extract into a hot cup of water. Let the mixture sit for five minutes to allow some of the alcohol to evaporate.

Herbal Juices (Juiced Fresh Herbs)

If you are lucky enough to have a reliable source of fresh herbs and a juicer, you may want to prepare a fresh essence.

Wash the fresh herbs well under cold running water. If necessary, scissor them into pieces of a suitable size. Place the wet herb parts in a juice extractor and whiz them into liquid. The fresh juice maybe taken internally in the form of a few drops diluted in tea or spring water. For some conditions, the juice may prove valuable when dabbed externally on the affected parts of the body.

Fresh juices are generally used immediately after extraction. However, if you place the liquid in a small glass bottle, cork it tightly, and refrigerate it, it will keep for several days without an appreciable loss of vital properties.

Herbal Ointments

There are many very fine herbal ointments and salves available. Purchased ointments and salves are often much more attractive and pleasant to use than the homemade variety. But if you wish to emulate yesterday’s herbalists, here’s how to make your own herbal ointment.

In a double boiler (preferably ceramic or glass), heat 2 ounces of vegetable lanolin or beeswax until it becomes liquid. Once this base is melted, add 80 to 120 drops of each herbal tincture you want in your salve. Mix them together and pour into a glass container. Refrigerate the mixture and allow it to harden. If you prefer, you can use a very strong herbal tea made with your own fresh or dried herbs instead of a store-bought tincture. Keep a record of your recipes for later use.

Herbal Oils

To prepare a fragrant herbal oil, wash the fresh herbs of your choice and permit them to dry overnight. Place scissored fresh herbs or crumbled dried herbs in a glass bottle or jar. Slowly add light virgin olive oil or almond oil until the oil level is an inch above the herb parts. Cover the container tightly and allow it to stand in a very warm place for two weeks. You may place it near the stove to gather warmth from cooking, or outside in the sun (but remember to bring it in before night cools the air). Strain the oil before using it.

Herbal Poultices or Compresses (Pulped)

Only fresh herbs are suitable for making a pulped poultice. Dried herbs do not pulp well. By pulping the herbs directly onto the poultice cloth, you retain all the juices and improve the effectiveness of the poultice.

Place a quantity of fresh herb parts on a clean white cloth several folds thick (cotton, gauze, linen, and muslin are ideal). Wrap several thicknesses of the cloth over the herbs. Using a rolling pin, thoroughly crush the herbs to a pulp.

Unwrap a layer or two of the cloth, until you uncover a thoroughly wetted area. Apply this to the affected area of the body. To trap the juices and hold the poultice in place, overwrap it well with a woolen cloth or a towel. A pulped compress can remain in place overnight.

Herbal Poultices or Compresses (Steamed)

A hot herbal poultice can be very comforting to a distressed child. The active ingredients in the herbs will be absorbed through the skin.

Place a steamer, colander, strainer, or sieve over a pot of rapidly boiling water. Layer either chopped fresh or dried herbs in the steamer, reduce the heat to a simmering temperature, and cover the pot. Allow the steam to thoroughly penetrate and wilt the herbs.

After about five minutes, spread the softened and warmed herbs on a clean white, loosely woven cloth, such as cheesecloth, and apply * to the affected area. To hold in the heat, you may overwrap the poultice in a woolen cloth or a towel. The poultice should remain in place for at least twenty minutes, and/or for as long as your child will sit still. If your child feels comforted and soothed by the poultice, you may leave it on overnight.

Herbal Tinctures

Tinctures employ alcohol to draw out and preserve the active properties of an herb. Because tinctures concentrate the essence of herbs, they are commonly taken as drops in tea, or diluted in spring water. Tinctures may also be used in a compress or body massage.

To prepare an herbal tincture at home, loosely fill a glass bottle or jar with herbal parts. If you are using fresh herbs, scissor them into manageable pieces. If you are using dried herbs, crumble them into the container. Add pure spirits, such as vodka, to cover the herbs. Seal the container and allow the tincture to stand in a warm place (between 70° and 80°F) for two weeks. While you are waiting for the tincture to mature, shake the container daily. After two weeks, strain out the herbs and squeeze out the residue.

To remove some of the alcohol from a tincture before giving it to your child, add the suitable number of drops of tincture to 1/4 cup of very hot water or tea. Most of the alcohol will evaporate away in about five minutes.

Herbal Vapor Inhalation Treatment

An herbal inhalation treatment is very helpful for respiratory and sinus conditions. It opens up congested sinuses and lung passages, helping your child to discharge mucus, breathe more easily, and heal taster.

Fill your bathroom sink with very hot water and add 2 to 5 drops of herbal oil. To keep the water hot and steaming, allow a small, continuous trickle of hot water to flow into the basin (the overflow outlet in your sink should prevent the water from spilling over). Have your child inhale the steam for at least five minutes. As the treated water becomes diluted, add a few more drops of herbal oil as needed.

If it is not feasible to use the bathroom sink for this purpose, or if you are using dried or whole herbs, use a pot of water heated on the stove to prepare an inhalation treatment. Fill a pot “preferably one that is wide but not too tall) with water. If using whole or dried herbs, add a small handful, heat the water to boiling, and simmer for about five minutes. Then remove the pot from the heat, place it on a hot pad or trivet on a tabletop, and allow it to cool slightly. If using herbal oil, heat the water to just short of boiling, remove it from the heat, place it on a tabletop, and add 4 to 5 drops of the oil. Have your child drape a large towel over his head, forming a tent, and lean over the pot. Have him inhale the steam for at least five minutes. (Be careful that the mixture is not too hot; if it is, it can burn the nasal passages.)

To help clear lung congestion, encourage your child to take several deep, full breaths of air after an inhalation treatment.

From Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child by Janet Zand, N.D., L.Ac., Robert Rountree, MD, Rachel Walton, RN, ©1994. Published by Avery Publishing, New York. For personal use only; neither the digital nor printed copy may be copied or sold. Reproduced by permission.

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Written by Janet Zand LAc OMD

Explore Wellness in 2021