Herbal medicines come in many guises. This is because a plant or a tree is a living thing and medical herbalists may use the whole plant, the flowers, the leaves, the roots, the bark, the buds, the stems or even the fruit. Each part of the plant may have different medicinal uses and lend themselves to certain types of preparation. Sometimes a herbalist might choose to use a fresh plant – but this can only be done when the plant is in season and must be used immediately. Most herbal medicines are most commonly prepared in three bases: water, alcohol and oil.
Water based preparations include infusions (aka as teas or tisanes), decoctions, and syrups which are taken internally and poultices, lotions, and compresses which are used externally.
- Infusions are usually made from flowers, leaves, aerial parts and roots, berries, barks and seeds if they are fine enough. Standard infusions are made with 1oz (25g) of dried herb (2oz if fresh) to 1 pint (600ml) of boiling water, or one teaspoon per cup. Dosage is usually 3 to 4 cups daily.
- Decoctions are more suitable for plant material that is hard such as roots, berries, barks and seeds. Using the same proportions as for an infusion, adding a little extra water for that lost in boiling, the plant material is boiled for 10 to 15 minutes. Dosage is the same as for infusions.
- Syrups are excellent for children where they are particularly helpful for respiratory disorders and are nutritive.
- Poultices are very effective in situations where taking medicines orally are a problem and they can relieve symptoms and promote healing locally.
- Lotions are water-based herbal preparations such as infusions or decoctions and compresses are the means of delivery of the lotion.
- Compresses are generally a soft cloth wrung out of a hot or cold infusion or decoction and applied to reduce pain and inflammation and reduce fevers.
Alcohol-based preparations and their non-alcohol alternatives such as vegetable glycerines or vinegars are called tinctures.
Oil-based preparations include infused oils and ointments which are used externally.
Other preparations commonly used are:
- Powders (capsules or loose) which are often used in degenerative conditions to nourish and replenish and externally particularly in wet or weeping complaints.
- Juices are also used and are very nutritive.
- Creams are also used a lot in the treatment of skin conditions.
- Steam inhalations
- Baths and skin washes
- Gargles and mouthwashes
- Pessaries and suppositories.
Please note: the doses listed here are general guidelines only. Consult your local medical herbalist regarding dosage and use of herbal medicines.