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Herbal Preparation Basics


Herbs can be used for a variety of reasons, & in a variety of ways. The key components of herbs can be extracted, through boiling, soaking, crushing, distilling, etc. Each method has it benefits & each can be used with a single herb or a blend of herbs. The following are some of the most common herbal preparations:


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An infusion is a liquid produced by steeping leaves &/or flowers in boiling water for 10 to 20 minutes then straining. Most infusions can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days.


A decoction is a liquid produced by boiling roots, seeds or bark for 20 to 30 minutes and then straining. Most decoctions can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days.

A tinctures is a liquid herbal medicine produced by soaking herbs in high proof  alcohol for 2-6 weeks. Most tinctures can be stored in a cool dark place for up to 2 year.

Medicinal Syrups

A medicinal syrup is a sticky solution produced by simmering herbs in a mixture of water & sugar or honey for 15-20 minutes. Most syrups can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three months.



A poultice is a topical treatment made by crushing moistened herbs and applying them to the skin. Often use for burns, sprains, small cuts and scrapes.

Essential Oils

An essential oil is an oil produced by distilling or expressing various parts of an herp. Difficult to make but very effective and concentrated. It is not recommended to ingest essential oils without supervision of a professional. For those essential oils that can be used topically, it's important to dilute them in a carrier oil before applying to avoid burns and skin irritation. 

Medicinal Oils

A medicinal oil is a thick liquid produced by soaking (6 months) or heating (2-3 hours) herbs in oil. Most oils can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 6 months


A salve is a topical treatment produced by combining a strong infusion or decoction of herbs in melted beeswax. Though they are often more work to make, they are easier to apply. Most salves can be stored in a glass jar for up to 6 months



A compress is a topical treatment consisting of cloth of liquid applied to the skin to treat aches and pains (hot), swelling or headaches (cold), poison ivy or tired eyes, etc. To make a compress, start with an infusion or decoction (double strength), then dip a strip of absorbent cloth in the brew (hot or cold depending) & apply to affected area.

  • Magic & Medicine of Plants, by Readers Digest

  • Desk Reference to Natures Medicine, by Steven Foster & Rebecca L. Johnson, published by National Geographic



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