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Working with Medicinal Plants

This article was contributed by our exhibitor Sacred Wellness. Learn more about their business here!

Once upon a time, humans had a deep connection with plants and the cycles of nature. Most people could name many of these plants and knew how to prepare remedies from the herbs and flowers that grew in their garden or village.

Overtime, in the U.S, that information was systematically suppressed and removed from our collective knowledge base to be replaced with a dependency on doctors and institutions. While modern medicine is valuable and irreplaceable, so is the ancient tradition of using plants as medicine to maintain a healthy lifestyle and positive mental well-being.

There is an unmistakable feeling of empowerment when you harvest a plant that was lovingly cultivated by your own hands and turn it into a remedy that will settle an upset stomach, or bring down a fever in those you love. I strongly believe that this knowledge should be commonplace and that the deep connection all humans once had with plants and the natural world can not only be repaired but it would thrive!

The art of making plant medicine has a rich history and takes on many different forms as it is found in cultures all over the world. Learning these skills are tools to self-reliance and are a powerful way to nurture your relationship with plants and rekindle the connection that is inherent to the human race.

I would like to share three easy herbal preparations that you can make at home. It is important to remember that even small steps can have amazing results. These processes hold a special place in my heart as they have been instrumental in my own journey.

With any of the preparations below, always source out good quality, freshly dried, loose plant material. Farmers markets and health food stores are a great place to begin. Using dried, cut and sifted material allows you to closely inspect the quality of the herbs and facilitates a very tactile experience with the plant. Take your time and enjoy the smell. Take note of the texture and color. Taste it. It is helpful to know what the plant looks like while growing in the wild or in a garden. Give yourself permission to slow down and really enjoy the process, turning it into a healing ritual. Allow it to nourish your soul.

Number One - Medicinal Tea: This is the easiest preparation and is also known as Infusions. It is simply steeping dried plant material in hot water. Infusions can be made from any number of plants. Generally, medicinal infusions are more potent than your average tea bag and are often made with herbs that are high in nutrients. My favorite cup of medicinal tea is one that is soothing to the nervous system. Good plants to start with are Chamomile, Mint, Oat straw, Linden, Raspberry Leaf or Stinging Nettle. At first just choose one or two to work with. This allows you to get familiar with the taste and effects of the individual plants before making complex formulas. Use 4-8 tablespoons per 1 quart of water. Let it steep for at least 30 minutes and up to 12 hours.

Number Two - Herbal Infused Oil: This preparation is one I particularly love and use a lot at Sacred Wellness. The process is slightly more time intensive but just as easy to produce. With this preparation we are “steeping” dried plant material in cold-pressed oil, like olive or sunflower oil, for no less than 6 weeks. A ratio of 1:5 is a great place to start, that is one part herb to five parts oil. For example, if you had one ounce of herbs (by weight) you would use five ounces of oil (by volume). For a potent oil use a ratio of 1:3. Once the allotted time has passed and the herbs have been strained, you will have a variety of oils that come in a rainbow of colors and smells depending on the plants you start with.

Herbal oils are used for topical application and can be used “as is” or turned into a salve, a topical ointment that is thickened with beeswax. The application will vary depending on the plants you use. For example, hemp and arnica can be used to address pain. Ginger and cayenne produce a potent warming oil that is great for stiff muscles. Or lavender and rose make a delicate fragrant oil you will want to use all over your body. A little bit goes a long way, so just make a pint or two to start out with. Get creative and do not be afraid to experiment.

Number Three – Herbal Infused Honey: This is a delicious remedy that can be used like food by adding it to your tea or yogurt. A spoonful can be used to quell a cough or soothe a sore throat. I like to use fresh plants for my herbal honey as the taste seems to be stronger and turns the honey into a syrup consistency.

To prepare, simply chop up your fresh plants and cover them in honey. This is a lot like cooking and you have a lot of freedom to achieve the desired taste, but a good place to start is with a ratio of 1:2. Let the sealed mixture sit in a dark place for at least 4 weeks. Some of my favorite plants to use for herbal honey are rose petals (do not use roses from a florist as they are covered in pesticides), thyme, elderberry, and wild oregano. You can even make an onion honey which is surprisingly effective for a persistent dry cough. You are only limited by your imagination.

I hope I have sparked your interest as I have shared my love for making plant medicine, and have encouraged you to try one or all of these simple herbal preparations. And though simple, they are immensely powerful tools with endless possibilities.

Remember, cultivating a relationship with the natural world through plant medicine and gardening is a gratifying and enriching life experience, one that encourages self-exploration, personal growth and ultimately increases self-care, self-love, and resilience. Once you choose to begin your own personal journey you will be astounded by all the different places it will take you.

Great Resources to get started: