Skip to content

Guide to Medicine Making

Making Medicine from Herbs and medicinal plants

Are you tired of relying on synthetic drugs and their side effects to treat your ailments? Have you ever considered making your own medicine from herbs and medicinal plants? Not only is it a more natural and sustainable approach, but it can also be a fun and fulfilling hobby. In this guide, we will explore the art and science of medicine making, from identifying and harvesting herbs to preparing and storing your own remedies. You will learn about the different methods of extraction, such as infusions, decoctions, and tinctures, and how to choose the best herbs for your specific needs. Whether you are interested in boosting your immune system, relieving pain, or enhancing your overall well-being, this guide will provide you with the knowledge and skills to create your own natural medicine at home. So let’s dive into the world of herbal medicine and discover the power of nature’s remedies!

Benefits of using herbs and medicinal plants

Herbs and medicinal plants have been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. They offer a natural and sustainable alternative to synthetic drugs, which can often have harmful side effects. Herbs contain a variety of active compounds that have medicinal properties, such as anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral effects. Additionally, herbs and medicinal plants are often more affordable and accessible than prescription drugs, making them an attractive option for those on a budget or without easy access to healthcare.

Using herbs and medicinal plants for medicine making also allows for a more personalized approach to healthcare. Different herbs can be used to target specific symptoms or conditions, and remedies can be tailored to an individual’s preferences and needs. Finally, by making your own medicine from herbs and medicinal plants, you gain a sense of empowerment and self-sufficiency. You become an active participant in your own healthcare, rather than a passive consumer of pharmaceuticals.

The history of medicine making

The use of herbs and medicinal plants for healing dates back thousands of years, with evidence of their use found in ancient texts and artifacts from around the world. Traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and Native American medicine are just a few examples of the many cultural traditions that have utilized herbs and medicinal plants for healing. In Europe, the use of herbs for medicinal purposes can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans.

During the Middle Ages, monastic communities played a significant role in preserving and advancing the knowledge of herbal medicine. Monks and nuns would cultivate gardens of medicinal plants and use them to treat both themselves and their communities. The Renaissance saw a renewed interest in herbal medicine, with physicians such as Paracelsus advocating for the use of natural remedies over the harsh and often ineffective treatments of the time.

Today, the use of herbs and medicinal plants for medicine making continues to grow in popularity. Many people are seeking out natural and sustainable alternatives to conventional medicine, and the internet has made information and resources on herbal medicine more accessible than ever before.

Preparing herbs and medicinal plants for medicine making

Before you can make medicine from herbs and medicinal plants, you need to properly prepare them. Here are a few steps to follow:

  1. Identify the herb: Make sure you have correctly identified the herb you intend to use, as some plants can be toxic or have similar-looking counterparts.
  2. Harvest the herb: Depending on the herb, different parts of the plant may be used, such as the leaves, flowers, or roots. Make sure to harvest at the right time of year and when the plant is at its most potent.
  3. Clean the herb: Remove any dirt or debris from the herb and rinse it thoroughly with water.
  4. Dry the herb: To prepare the herb for medicine making, it needs to be dried. This can be done by hanging the herb upside down in a warm, dry place or by using a dehydrator.
  5. Store the herb: Once the herb is dry, store it in an airtight container away from light and moisture.

By properly preparing your herbs and medicinal plants, you ensure that they are potent and effective in your remedies.

There are several methods of medicine making, each with its own advantages and uses. By understanding the different methods of medicine making, you can choose the right one for your specific needs and herbs:

Methods of medicine making

Quick Overview and Differences

MethodDescriptionPreparation MethodUsesShelf Life
ExtractsA concentrated substance made by extracting the essence of a substance using a solvent such as ethanol, water, or oil.The substance is usually soaked in the solvent for a period of time, then the liquid is strained and the remaining liquid is evaporated to create a concentrated extract.Used for flavoring food and beverages, can be used as a dietary supplement
2-3 years
Essential OilsA highly concentrated liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants.Essential oils are usually extracted through steam distillation or cold pressing. This results in a highly concentrated oil that is usually diluted with a carrier oil before use.Used for aromatherapy, personal care products, and cleaning products
2-3 years
TincturesA concentrated liquid extract made by soaking herbs or other plant material in alcohol or vinegar.The plant material is usually soaked in the solvent for several weeks, then the liquid is strained and the remaining liquid is bottled for use.Used for medicinal purposes, such as herbal remedies
3-5 years
DecoctionsA method of extracting the active compounds from hard plant material such as roots, bark, or seeds by boiling in water.The plant material is usually boiled in water for a period of time, then the liquid is strained and the remaining liquid is used as a decoction.Used for medicinal purposes, such as herbal remedies
24-48 hours

InfusionsA method of extracting the active compounds from soft plant material such as leaves or flowers by steeping in hot water.The plant material is usually steeped in hot water for a period of time, then the liquid is strained and the remaining liquid is used as an infusion.Used for medicinal purposes, such as herbal remedies, or as a beverage24 hours
SalvesSalves are semi-solid preparations made by combining herbs with a base, such as beeswax or coconut oil.Melt the base in a double boiler, add the herbs, and stir until well combined.
Salves are used topically to soothe and heal skin conditions, such as rashes, burns, and wounds.
1-2 years
PoulticesPoultices are soft, moist substances made by mixing herbs with hot water or oil.

Steep the herbs in hot water or oil, strain, and apply the resulting mixture to a cloth.

Poultices are applied directly to the skin to reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, and draw out toxins.Use Immediately

Essential Oils

Making essential oils at home can be a complex and time-consuming process, requiring specialized equipment and knowledge. The most common method for extracting essential oils from plant material is steam distillation. Here’s a simplified overview of the steam distillation process:

  1. Gather the plant material: Choose the plant or herb from which you want to extract the essential oil. Depending on the plant, you may use the leaves, flowers, stems, or other parts. Harvest the plant material at its peak, preferably in the morning when the essential oil concentration is highest.
  2. Prepare the still: Set up a distillation apparatus consisting of a distillation still or apparatus, a heat source (such as a stove or a distillation kit with a built-in heating element), and a condenser. The still should have a vessel for holding the plant material and a separate collection vessel for the essential oil and hydrosol (the condensed steam water).
  3. Load the still: Place the plant material into the still, ensuring it is well-packed but not overly compressed. Add enough water to cover the plant material, but be careful not to overfill the still.
  4. Heat the still: Start heating the still gently. The water will boil, and steam will rise, carrying the essential oil vapor with it.
  5. Condensation: As the steam rises, it passes through the condenser, which cools it down, causing it to condense back into liquid form. The essential oil and hydrosol will separate and collect in the collection vessel. The essential oil, being lighter than water, will float on top of the hydrosol.
  6. Collection: Once the distillation is complete, carefully separate the essential oil from the hydrosol. This can be done using a separating funnel or pipette.
  7. Storage: Store the essential oil in dark, glass bottles with tight caps, away from light, heat, and moisture. Label the bottles with the name of the plant and the date of extraction.

It’s important to note that the above process provides a simplified overview, and the actual distillation process may vary depending on the plant material and equipment used. Additionally, it’s crucial to exercise caution when working with heat and high-pressure systems. If you are new to essential oil extraction, it is recommended to start with small quantities and thoroughly research the specific requirements for the plant you are working with.

Extracts

Making extracts at home typically involves using a solvent to extract the desired compounds from herbs, spices, or other plant materials. Here’s a general method for making extracts using alcohol as the solvent:

  1. Choose the plant material: Select the herb, spice, or plant material from which you want to make the extract. Ensure that it is fresh and of high quality.
  2. Prepare the plant material: Wash and dry the plant material to remove any dirt or impurities. Coarsely chop or grind the material to increase its surface area, which helps with the extraction process.
  3. Select the solvent: For alcohol-based extracts, you’ll need a high-proof alcohol such as vodka, rum, brandy, or grain alcohol (e.g., Everclear). The alcohol acts as the solvent to extract the compounds from the plant material.
  4. Combine the plant material and alcohol: Place the prepared plant material in a clean glass jar and cover it with the chosen alcohol. The alcohol should completely submerge the plant material.
  5. Seal and store the jar: Tightly seal the jar and store it in a cool, dark place. Allow the mixture to steep for several weeks or even months. Agitate the jar gently every few days to help with the extraction process.
  6. Strain the extract: After the desired steeping period, strain the mixture to remove the plant material. You can use a fine-mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or coffee filter to separate the liquid extract from the solid plant matter. Squeeze the plant material to extract as much liquid as possible.
  7. Bottle and store the extract: Pour the strained liquid extract into dark glass bottles with tight-fitting lids. Label the bottles with the name of the extract and the date of preparation. Store the bottles in a cool, dark place to preserve the extract’s quality.

It’s important to note that the strength and potency of the extract may vary depending on factors such as the plant material used, the alcohol concentration, and the duration of steeping. Additionally, it’s essential to exercise caution when working with alcohol and to ensure proper ventilation in the extraction area.

Please note that while the method described above is suitable for making alcohol-based extracts, different extraction methods may be necessary for other types of extracts, such as glycerin-based or oil-based extracts. The choice of solvent and extraction method depends on the specific requirements of the plant material and the desired properties of the extract.

Infusions

Infusions are one of the simplest methods of herbal preparation, and are used to extract the beneficial properties of herbs. They are made by steeping herbs in hot water for a period of time. Infusions are typically used for teas, but can also be used for other purposes such as skin toners and hair rinses.

Making infusions is a simple and versatile method of extracting the flavors, aromas, and beneficial properties from herbs, flowers, or other plant materials using hot water. Here’s a basic guide on how to make infusions:

  1. Choose your plant material: Select the herb, flower, or plant material you want to infuse. It can be fresh or dried, depending on availability and preference. Common examples include chamomile, peppermint, lavender, or green tea.
  2. Prepare your water: Heat fresh, filtered water in a kettle or pot. The temperature of the water will depend on the type of plant material you’re using. In general, for delicate herbs and green teas, use water that is around 175°F (80°C). For more robust herbs or black teas, use water that is around 200°F (93°C). You can adjust the temperature based on personal preference.
  3. Prepare the plant material: If using fresh plant material, rinse it gently to remove any dirt or impurities. If using dried plant material, ensure it is of good quality and free from contaminants. Roughly chop or crush the plant material to release its flavors and aromas.
  4. Add the plant material to a container: Place the desired amount of plant material in a teapot, cup, or heat-resistant container. The quantity will depend on your taste preferences and the strength you desire for the infusion. As a general guideline, use about 1 teaspoon of dried herbs or 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs per 8 ounces (240 ml) of water.
  5. Pour hot water over the plant material: Carefully pour the hot water over the plant material in the container. Ensure that the water fully covers the plant material.
  6. Steep the infusion: Cover the container with a lid or a plate to retain the heat and allow the infusion to steep. The steeping time will vary depending on the plant material and desired strength. As a starting point, steep delicate herbs and green teas for 2 to 3 minutes, while stronger herbs or black teas may require 4 to 5 minutes. Adjust the steeping time to suit your taste preferences.
  7. Strain and serve: After the desired steeping time, strain the infusion to remove the plant material. You can use a fine-mesh strainer, tea infuser, or a paper coffee filter. Pour the strained infusion into cups or teacups and enjoy. You may sweeten the infusion with honey or add lemon or other flavorings if desired.

It’s important to note that the above instructions provide a general guideline for making infusions. The steeping time and water temperature may vary depending on the specific plant material and personal preferences. Feel free to experiment with different herbs and steeping times to find the combination that suits your taste best.

Shelf Life: Infusions can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Decoctions

Decoctions are similar to infusions, but they are made by boiling the herbs in water for a longer period of time to extract the more potent medicinal properties. Decoctions are typically used for roots, barks, and seeds, which require a longer steeping time to extract their properties. Unlike infusions, which use hot water, decoctions involve simmering the plant material in water to extract the desired compounds. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to make decoctions:

  1. Choose your plant material: Select the herb, root, bark, or other plant material you want to decoct. Ensure that it is fresh or dried, depending on availability and preference. Common examples include licorice root, cinnamon bark, or astragalus root.
  2. Prepare your water: Measure the desired amount of water based on the concentration and quantity of decoction you want to make. As a general guideline, use a ratio of 1 part plant material to 8 parts water (e.g., 1 ounce of plant material to 8 fluid ounces of water). Place the water in a pot or saucepan.
  3. Prepare the plant material: If using dried plant material, crush, grind, or chop it to increase the surface area for better extraction. If using fresh plant material, rinse it gently to remove any dirt or impurities. You may also chop or crush it to release more of its beneficial properties.
  4. Add the plant material to the water: Place the plant material in the pot with the water.
  5. Bring to a boil and simmer: Place the pot on the stove and bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and let the mixture simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes. Simmering helps extract the desired compounds from the tougher plant material.
  6. Strain and cool: After simmering, remove the pot from the heat and let the decoction cool for a few minutes. Then, strain the liquid to separate the plant material from the decoction. You can use a fine-mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or coffee filter to strain out the solids. Gently press the plant material to extract as much liquid as possible.
  7. Store and use: Pour the strained decoction into a clean glass jar or bottle and store it in the refrigerator. It is recommended to use the decoction within a few days to ensure freshness and potency.

To use the decoction, you can consume it as is or dilute it with water or other beverages to adjust the taste. The dosage and frequency will depend on the specific plant material and its intended use, so it’s always a good idea to consult reliable sources or a healthcare professional for guidance.

Please note that the instructions provided above are a general guide for making decoctions. The specific plant material and desired properties may require adjustments to the decoction-making process.

Shelf Life: Decoctions can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Tinctures

Tinctures are made by steeping herbs in alcohol, typically vodka or brandy. They are used to extract the medicinal properties of the herbs and are more potent than infusions or decoctions. Tinctures are typically used for internal use, such as in drops, and can also be added to tea or water.

  1. Choose your plant material: Select the herb or plant material you want to use for the tincture. It can be fresh or dried, depending on availability and preference. Common examples include echinacea, ginseng, or valerian root.
  2. Prepare your plant material: If using fresh plant material, wash it gently to remove any dirt or impurities. If using dried plant material, ensure it is of good quality and free from contaminants. If necessary, coarsely chop or grind the plant material to increase the surface area for better extraction.
  3. Choose your solvent: The most commonly used solvent for making tinctures is high-proof alcohol, such as vodka, rum, brandy, or grain alcohol (e.g., Everclear). The alcohol acts as the extracting agent. The alcohol concentration should be at least 40% (80 proof) to ensure effective extraction.
  4. Measure and mix: Determine the ratio of plant material to alcohol based on the desired strength of the tincture. As a general guideline, use a ratio of 1 part plant material to 4 or 5 parts alcohol (by volume). Place the plant material in a clean glass jar or container and cover it with the alcohol, ensuring that the plant material is fully submerged.
  5. Label and store: Seal the jar tightly and label it with the name of the plant, date of preparation, and alcohol used. Store the jar in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight. This allows the tincture to steep and extract the active constituents from the plant material.
  6. Shake and steep: Shake the jar vigorously for a minute or two to ensure thorough mixing of the plant material and alcohol. Then, let the tincture steep for several weeks to several months, depending on the plant material and desired potency. The longer the steeping time, the more potent the tincture will be. Shake the jar occasionally during the steeping process to promote extraction.
  7. Strain and bottle: After the desired steeping period, strain the tincture to separate the liquid from the plant material. You can use a fine-mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or coffee filter to remove the solid particles. Squeeze the plant material to extract as much liquid as possible. Pour the strained tincture into dark glass bottles with tight-fitting lids. Label the bottles and store them in a cool, dark place for long-term storage.

Dosage and usage instructions for tinctures may vary depending on the specific plant material and intended use. It is recommended to consult reliable sources, herbalists, or healthcare professionals for guidance on proper dosing and usage.

Note: Making tinctures using alcohol involves working with flammable substances. Ensure proper ventilation and exercise caution when handling alcohol and working with open flames or heat sources.

Tinctures can be made with a variety of herbs such as echinacea, milk thistle, and valerian. They have a longer shelf life than infusions and decoctions and can be stored for up to two years.

Shelf Life: Tinctures can be stored for up to two years in a dark glass bottle.

Salves

Salves are used for external use and are made by combining herbs with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil, olive oil, or beeswax. Salves are typically used for skin irritations, cuts, and burns, and can also be used for muscle and joint pain.

  1. Choose your herbs and carrier oil: Select the herbs or plant materials you want to use for the salve. Common examples include calendula, lavender, comfrey, or chamomile. Additionally, choose a carrier oil, such as olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil, or jojoba oil, which will be used to extract the beneficial properties of the herbs.
  2. Prepare your herbs and oil infusion: If using dried herbs, grind or crush them to increase the surface area for better extraction. If using fresh herbs, make sure they are clean and free from dirt or impurities. Place the herbs in a heat-resistant glass jar and cover them with the chosen carrier oil. Ensure that the herbs are fully submerged in the oil.
  3. Infuse the herbs into the oil: Create a double boiler setup by placing the jar containing the herb-infused oil into a pot filled with a few inches of water. Heat the water gently on low to medium heat and allow the oil and herbs to infuse for several hours. This slow and gentle heat helps extract the beneficial compounds from the herbs. Stir occasionally and monitor the temperature to avoid overheating.
  4. Strain the oil infusion: After the infusion period, remove the jar from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes. Strain the oil infusion using a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth to separate the herbs from the infused oil. Squeeze the herbs to extract as much oil as possible. The strained oil infusion is the base of your salve.
  5. Add the solidifying agent: Measure the amount of strained oil infusion you have obtained and transfer it to a clean heat-resistant container. Calculate the desired ratio of solidifying agent (usually beeswax) to the oil infusion. As a general guideline, use about 1 part beeswax to 4 parts oil infusion by weight. Grate or chop the beeswax into small pieces for easier melting.
  6. Melt and combine the ingredients: Create another double boiler setup by placing the container with the oil infusion and beeswax into a pot with a few inches of water. Heat the water gently on low to medium heat until the beeswax melts and combines with the oil infusion. Stir well to ensure thorough mixing.
  7. Test and pour into containers: To test the consistency of the salve, place a small amount on a spoon and let it cool for a few minutes. If the salve is too soft, add a little more melted beeswax. If it’s too hard, add a little more oil infusion. Once satisfied with the consistency, carefully pour the melted salve into clean, sterilized containers. Let it cool and solidify completely before sealing the containers.
  8. Label and store: Label the containers with the name of the salve, date of preparation, and ingredients used. Store the salves in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

Salves can be applied topically to the skin for various purposes, such as moisturizing, soothing, or providing herbal benefits. They should be used externally only and not ingested. If you have any specific concerns or conditions, consult a healthcare professional or herbalist for guidance on selecting the appropriate herbs and making salves for your needs.

Shelf Life: Salves can be stored for up to six months.

Poultices

Making poultices is a traditional method of applying a moist herbal or plant material directly to the skin to provide relief from pain, inflammation, or other localized conditions. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to make poultices:

  1. Choose your herbs or plant material: Select the herbs, fresh or dried, or other plant materials that have properties suitable for your intended purpose. Examples include chamomile, comfrey, ginger, plantain leaves, or activated charcoal.
  2. Prepare your herbs or plant material: If using fresh herbs, wash them gently to remove any dirt or impurities. If using dried herbs, ensure they are of good quality and free from contaminants. If necessary, crush or chop the herbs or plant material to release their beneficial properties and increase their surface area.
  3. Create a moist base: To provide moisture and help the poultice adhere to the skin, you’ll need a base material. Common options include warm water, herbal teas, vegetable or fruit puree, or carrier oils. Choose a base that complements the properties of the herbs or plant material you’re using.
  4. Combine the herbs and base: In a small bowl, mix the prepared herbs or plant material with the moist base. Add enough base material to create a thick, spreadable consistency. Stir well to ensure that the herbs are evenly distributed in the mixture.
  5. Apply the poultice: Take a clean cloth or piece of gauze and spread the herb and base mixture onto it. The thickness of the poultice will depend on the desired effect and the location of application. Ensure that the poultice covers the affected area adequately.
  6. Secure the poultice: Carefully place the cloth or gauze with the poultice mixture onto the affected area of the skin. Gently press it down to ensure good contact with the skin. You can secure the poultice in place with a bandage or tape if needed.
  7. Leave it on and monitor: Allow the poultice to remain on the skin for the desired duration. This can range from 15 minutes to several hours, depending on the purpose and sensitivity of the skin. During this time, monitor the skin for any adverse reactions or discomfort. If you experience any negative effects, remove the poultice immediately.
  8. Remove and discard: After the recommended time, carefully remove the poultice from the skin. Discard the used poultice mixture and wash the area with warm water if necessary.

Poultices are typically used for acute or localized conditions and are not meant for long-term use. If you have specific concerns or conditions, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional or herbalist for guidance on selecting the appropriate herbs and making poultices for your needs.

Shelf Life: Poultices should be used immediately after preparing them.

Tools and equipment needed for medicine making

While medicine making can be done with minimal equipment, there are a few tools that can make the process easier and more effective. Here are a few examples:

  • Mortar and pestle: A mortar and pestle can be used to grind herbs into a fine powder, making them easier to extract their medicinal properties.
  • Cheesecloth: Cheesecloth can be used to strain infusions or decoctions, removing any solid particles from the liquid.
  • Glass jars: Glass jars are great for storing dried herbs or for making tinctures and salves.
  • Double boiler: A double boiler can be used to heat herbs and oils without burning them, making it a great tool for making salves and poultices.

While these tools are not essential, having them on hand can make the process of medicine making more efficient and enjoyable.

Safety precautions when making medicine

While making medicine from herbs and medicinal plants can be a safe and effective way to treat ailments, it’s important to take proper safety precautions. Here are a few tips:

  • Research the herb: Make sure to research any herbs or plants you plan to use and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any questions or concerns.
  • Use proper equipment: Use clean and sterilized equipment when making medicine to prevent contamination.
  • Follow instructions carefully: Make sure to follow the instructions for each method of medicine making carefully to ensure the safety and effectiveness of your remedies.
  • Label your remedies: Always label your remedies with the name of the herb, the date it was made, and any other relevant information.

By taking these safety precautions, you can ensure that your medicine making is both effective and safe.

Storing and preserving your medicine

Proper storage and preservation of your herbal remedies is essential to ensure their potency and effectiveness. Here are a few tips:

  • Store in a cool, dark place: Store your remedies in a cool, dark place away from light and moisture to prevent degradation.
  • Label and date your remedies: Make sure to label your remedies with the name of the herb, the date it was made, and any other relevant information.
  • Use airtight containers: Use airtight containers to store your remedies and prevent contamination.
  • Check for signs of spoilage: Check your remedies regularly for signs of spoilage, such as mold or a rancid smell.

By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your herbal remedies remain potent and effective for as long as possible.

Conclusion

Making your own medicine from herbs and medicinal plants is a natural and sustainable approach to healthcare that offers countless benefits. By properly identifying, harvesting, and preparing your herbs, and using the right method of extraction, you can create effective and personalized remedies for a variety of ailments. With the right tools, safety precautions, and storage methods, you can enjoy the benefits of herbal medicine for years to come. So why not give medicine making a try and discover the power of nature’s remedies?