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Herbal Medicines

A guest post by Beladonna.

There will always be medical emergencies that can be treated by having ability in, and knowledge of, first aid; this is what usually keeps the patient safe until the professionals arrive, but if and when the SHTF, there probably wont be any professionals to attend, even if there are communications will be difficult to say the least. First aid can be complimented by having a rudimentary understanding of how the body works and a little insight into how pain relief and healing of the body can be achieved. Of course providing heart or brain surgery is beyond the scope of herbal medicines, but a great deal can be done to heal and alleviate most common ailments and accidents.

There are many ways of using herbs to make medicines; however, taking into consideration the need to plan ahead, the shelf life of whatever medicines may be required must be a consideration. Most ways of making herbal medicines include isolating the constituents of said herb to release its potency to heal; its relatively easy to take a walk, pick the herb required, bring it home and either make an infusion or a decoction using boiling water and drink it three times a day, but an infusion or decoction doesn’t keep well; to be effective a herbal medicine made in this way is best made and drunk immediately.

One way of removing the constituents of herbs that has a virtually unlimited shelf life is to make tinctures using as high a percentage of alcohol as is possible to find. The best alcohol for making tinctures is vodka and it’s available to buy at around 80 to 100%, although it isn’t cheap a little goes a long way providing somebody doesn’t drink it!! Herbs extracted using alcohol provide a tincture that will last as long as you need, providing it’s stored in a dark coloured container and is kept in a relatively dark, cool place.

Tinctures can also be made using vinegar or glycerine but aren’t as good at preserving or extraction as is alcohol.

It goes without saying that 80% vodka may be in short supply, the key here is thinking and planning ahead.

Once tinctures are made and stored they can be the base of many medicines including ointments, salves, rubs, oral medicines etc, and the shelf life makes it ideal for storing away for when it’s needed. Information on how to make tinctures is offered further down this essay.

Some herbs grow wild in Britain; we cut some down when mowing the grass and pull some up for weeds, without knowing what they really can be used for. Other herbs originate from countries other than Britain and can only cultivated by sowing seed; some of these are well worth cultivating.

It’s worth thinking about which herbs might be useful and using a good wildflower book to source where they grow, I have my own list and either wild craft them or grow them from seed, most herbs only need to be sown once and they come up year after year. Although its doubtful that growing vegetables in the garden will mean we have fresh vegetables and fruit to eat, herbs that look like wild flowers will probably be ignored when the powers that be, or those that would want to be, come looking for food to eat. They may well stand on or trample a few but herbs are very resilient and will come back again and again once they have established themselves.

How to make a tincture
Gather the fresh herb and pick through it removing anything that crawls or isn’t herb (don’t wash it), chop it up roughly (not too fine, around 1” long is best)
Put the herb in a glass jar with a screw top lid and squash the herb down gently.
Add enough vodka to cover the herb material and put the lid on tight.
Leave the jar in a warm place for around 2 weeks shaking the jar every day.
After 2 weeks strain the contents of the jar through muslin cloth and squeeze the cloth until you have removed all the liquid.
Put the liquid (tincture) into dark coloured bottle or bottles and keep it in a cool dark place. It will last literally for years, even after opening as long as the lid is screwed back on tightly.
The material that’s left in the muslin square makes great compost, and the muslin square can be washed and used again.

If you cant find the time to make your own tinctures they are readily available to buy, although it is more expensive to buy them off the shelf. An online source I would recommend is Baldwins although if you are buying in bulk there are other sources I have that are cheaper. It may be worth getting together and buying in bulk to share if anyone is interested.

Another ingredient that’s useful to have ready made is macerated oils, which again can be the basis for medicines, especially ointments and rubs. These are really easy to make.

How to make macerated oil
Almond oil is best, although you can use any oil you have – you can buy almond oil in most supermarkets cheaper than anywhere else.
The herb you need – for instance St Johns Wort is a flower you can find growing wild in Britain and is used extensively as a basis for healing ointments. Gather the flowers only, and pack a jam jar or similar with the flowers.
Pour over the Almond oil until the flowers are covered; leave it on a sunny window sill for two to three weeks shaking it at least once a day and twice if you can manage it.
At the end of the two to three weeks pass the oil through a muslin square and bottle the oil, it will keep for years if kept in a dark, cool place.
St. Johns Wort oil makes an excellent rub on its own for tired muscles and sprains, just the thing for when the hunters come home.

A box or container of medicinal herbs may be a little time consuming to get together, but it will certainly be worth the effort. The list below contains items that are worth making up, which last indefinitely and can be easily put together ready to produce effective medicines for first aid in case of accident and treatment of simple ailments and illnesses.

Some Essential Oils are included on the list, not for making a room smell pretty, but for using in medicines as required.

Please note that this is my list, you might want to add to it or remove some things and it’s a matter of finding what each herb does and compiling your own list of possible needs. For instance, I use a mixture of Valerian, Hops and Passion Flower if I can’t sleep, someone else might prefer adding lavender and leaving out Valerian as Valerian can give a headache if used too much.

Oils: (usually called ‘macerated oils’)

  • St. Johns Wort oil
  • Calendula oil
  • Olive oil

Tinctures:

  • Wild Indigo
  • Liquorice
  • White Horehound
  • Valerian
  • Echinacea

Essential Oils:

  • Pine
  • Eucalyptus
  • Benzoin (preservative)
  • Bergamot
  • Myrrh
  • Lavender
  • Thyme

Bottle of Witchhazel – cheaper to buy than to source from the wild.

Petroleum Jelly
Lanolin is nice although it can be substituted for any fat, including animal fat, which can be sourced from any animal you may bring in to eat.

Beeswax is a necessity, if you buy in bulk it will last for a long, long time. Never ever use paraffin wax for healing, it’s not the same and could do more harm than good.
Honey is a healing substance all on its own, when mixed with lemon it’s a good sore throat remedy, but honey is much more than this, well worth stockpiling.

As above, lemons also have constituents that have much to recommend them, its worth buying lemon juice in bottles, they will keep in a dark cool place for quite a while.

Brown bottles and jars for storing medicines
Muslin – can be bought from most haberdasheries, I buy mine from the local dress material shop

I have given the name the herbs are best known by as well as the Latin names, it’s important that when buying seed or plant, or wild crafting herbs what you have is exactly what you need. For instance, when buying the herb Calendula, it’s also known as Marigold; there are various flowers in the garden centre with the name Marigold, but only the one with the name Calendula officinalis can be used for herbal medicines; the rest can do more harm than good. You can’t beat buying a good wild flower book for wild crafting, and if buying seed make sure you check the Latin name is correct. The best book I have found is The Wild Flower Key, I never ever go wild crafting for herbs without this little book in my pocket.

Herbs I source by wild crafting (herbs available depend on where you live and what grows there) so can be gathered when needed or when in season and stored by drying are:

Hawthorn berries Crataegus oxyacantha
Dandelion Taraxacum officinale
Mistletoe Viscum album
Hops Humulus lupulus
Yarrow Achillea millefolium
Cleavers Galium aparine
Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara
Elder flower Sambucus nigra
Elder berry Sambucus nigra
Meadowsweet Spiraea Ulmaria
Oak bark Quercus robur
Wild Cherry Prunus serotina
St Johns Wort Hypericum perforatum
Burdock Arctium lappa
Nettles Urtica dioica
Rose hips any rose
Plantain Plantago major
Daisy Bellis perennis
This is the one that comes up in the lawn
White willow bark Salix alba
Wormwood Artemisia absinthium

Herbs I grow by seed, not usually available in the wild in Britain, although this depends on where in the country you live:

Echanacia Echinacea angustifolia
Great Mullein Verbascum thapsus
Licorice Glycyrrhiza glabra
Thyme Thymus Vulgaris
Golden rod Solidago virgaurea
Marshmallow Althaea officinalis
Boneset Eupatorium perfoliatum
Eyebright Euphrasia officinalis
Sage Salvia officinalis
Chamomile Anthemis nobilis or Matricaria chamomilla
Excellent for children, coughs, colds, eczema, rashes etc
Skullcap Scutellaria lateriflora
Comfrey Symphytum officinale
Lavender Lavendula vera
Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis
Passion Flower Passiflora incarnate
Wild Indigo Baptisia tinctoria
Cramp Bark Viburnum opulus
Fennel Foeniculum vulgare
Dill Peucedanum graveolens
Active constituent in gripe water for babies
Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis
Feverfew Chrysanthemum Parthenium
Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis
Mint Mentha sachalinensis
Peppermint Mentha peperita
Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium

Ginger has a vital use in medicines, it’s one of the best remedies for an upset stomach, its difficult to grow and to keep when fresh; the best way is to buy ginger ready preserved or make it yourself using fresh ginger root and sugar.

A last herb I wouldn’t be without is Aloe vera, the plants sit on the window sill looking very decorative, but within the lush leaves hides a gel that’s brilliant for sunburn or burns of any kind. It’s not native to Britain but it’s readily available in any garden centre, well worth keeping.

Its relatively easy to browse the internet to find what herb is recommended for what ailment, but looking towards a time when the internet wont be available, you cant beat a good book, The Holistic Herbal by David Hoffmann, is a myriad of information on herbs, how to use them and what to use them for.

Those who survive any kind of catastrophe, be it natural or man made will be the ones who have planned well and who are fit enough to remain standing.

12 comments to Herbal Medicines

  • Skvez

    I live in the UK, where am I going to find a windowsill that sunny for two or three weeks?

    • Beladonna

      Hiya Skvez
      Your point is a valid one but needs a little clarification.

      The sun is in the sky between sun rise and sun down, even if its cloudy and cold the sun still affects whats here on earth.

      A sunny windowsill is the best, but if you dont have what you need, then make do with what you have. Whether the suns visible or not, leaving the herbal oil on a windowsill where its subject to a certain amount of light and the effects of the sun will do the job, it may take a little longer, but it will do whats needed.

      You could also try putting the jar on the windowsill during the day to catch the light, and a heated airing cuboard during the night. This way its still getting light and heat.

      I too live in the UK, last year was a particularly sunny and hot summer, although I will agree with you that the weather here in UK is unpredictable, the forecast is for hotter, drier summers and colder winters. As Skean Dhude says, its a matter of taking the opportunity where you can.

  • Skean Dhude

    Skvez,

    Clearly we are looking at July. It is a very tight window of opportunity so you have to plan ahead and make a years worth at a time. 🙂

  • Silent Storm

    Thanks for that list Beladonna, very informative.
    I have been foraging and wild crafting for a few years now but a couple of the books I use when making the most of my herb garden at home are ‘Culpeppers colour herbal ( an old one but a good one) and a more recent one that accompanies a TV series ‘Grow your own drugs’ by James wong.
    I have also attended a couple of ‘Herbal’ weekends in Wales over the last couple of years and found that they were invaluable at expanding my knowledge of what is available to use in the wilds of the British woodlands and forests.

  • Skean Dhude

    Silent Storm,

    I have the Wong book myself. Was very disappointed 😉 Only joking. I found it informative but it seemed lacking to me. Maybe I need a beginners guide or something.

    Want to share this expansion of knowledge?

  • Beladonna

    The Culpepper book isnt the best, bear in mind he wrote the book in the 1600’s when superstition was rife and no one knew why herbs work, they just knew they did. Books written in the middle ages are interesting to read and Culpepper has some good information as long as the crap tied to its removed, but as far as I am concerned it doesnt compete with a modern book written by someone who has studied plants, the human body and the effects of one on the other. Hence Hoffman is my bible until I find something better.

    James Wong brought the use of herbs for drugs to the attention of people, what he has is ok. The programme and the books are a good beginning and as an encouragement to kick off an interest in herbal medicines probably do the job well. But its like reading Janet and John books at school, they lead on to better books, and somebody ends up reading the dictionary and a theasaurus. Everybody has to start somewhere, the key is knowing when to move on to something a little more indepth.

    Silent Storm, your course sounds interesting, face to face is the way to share information in the best way, but then as I have said, when you are limited to what you have then use it to advantage.

  • Silent Storm

    Beladonna.. your correct in your comments about both the Culpepper and the Wong book.
    The wong book ( Grow yr own drugs) was the book that launched me off to Wales to go on the course and learn more on a hands on basis.
    The Culpepper book, though an old one has a lot of modern add ons in the version I own, I do agree however that there are now some much better modern ones, I’ll keep an eye out for the ones you mentioned.

    Skean..I’d love to be able to share what i learned, but I’m a point and click kinda guy in the real world. This means that if you put me in the woods I could point at something and tell you what it is, unfortunatley I’m crap at explaining what I know in an enviroment such as this, where its easy to mis-read something with disasterous results.

  • Skean Dhude

    Fair enough. I’m pretty much the same myself on some things.

  • Beladonna

    Hiya Silent Storm
    Im of the opinion that there is use in everything if we look for it, I have a collection of herbal books that I use occasionally, some are pretty dire but even these have points in there that have been really useful. I have an old book of Culpepper’s and the pictures in there are detailed enough to be able to source herbs and compare them. Its a matter of using anything we can find, so I agree with you on Culpepper or any other book, its worth having for the pieces of info we can use.

  • Skean Dhude

    Beladonna,

    That is not always a good choice. Books that are inaccurate can lead to deadly results and are not worth keeping because the uninitiated cannot tell the difference between the good stuff and the bad. They don’t tend to be marked as such.

  • Beladonna

    I will admit it depends on how information is used especially with herbs, what works for one person doesnt necessarily work for another, or perhaps may work slightly differently.

    Anything written in a book needs researching to see who the author is and where they found their knowledge, this is a good indication of whats worth using and what isnt. I wouldnt use any herb just because information on it is written in a book; whats in a book or whats offered by someone is only the beginning of the journey.

  • Kenneth Eames

    Belladonna, an excellent article. Many excellent books are available on the net. Have a look at the books section of the site and the net addresses that I put on there. The address for swsbm is probably the best Herbal site. I hope to meet you sometime as I am a Herbalist and Homoeopath. Next year 2012 is my 50th year as a Herbalist.

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