herbal Inventory Time
This time of year with winter’s cooler temperatures and abundant rainfall, there is little opportunity to engage my herbal interests outdoors. However, it is a good time to take stock of what is in “ye olde herb cupboard” and begin planning what I will need to replenish or add for the coming year.
I am a rather basic herbalist. My personal philosophy about using plant medicine is simple: use what is indigenous to your location. Occasionally, I will become curious and add something exotic, usually in a pot on the patio, but not very often. Although I have tried to abide by the teachings of several of my mentors who all agreed that for most issues, an herbalist really only needs to have ten herbs in her medicinary, somehow, I always seem to have a few more.
So, which herbs do I have in my herbal cupboard?
My tried and true standby herbs, the ones that I would never want to be without, are:
- Oregon Grape root
- St. Johns Wort
Most of my ‘basic 13’ herb choices are reflective of my own personal needs, such as Hawthorne tincture to keep my blood pressure in check, Skullcap and Valerian, for relief of painful chronic neck and back tightness, plus Feverfew and St. John’s Wort, for migraine headaches.
Many of my herbs are in single-herb tincture form, as I prefer using tinctures to making infusions-just a personal choice. Tinctures absorb into the body more quickly than teas, usually require small doses of a dropperful (or less) and are always ready to use. A well-made tincture generally has a shelf life of at least five years, sometimes longer, depending on the plant used, how it is prepared and how the tincture is stored. Tinctures are best stored in a cool, dark place, tightly capped. To help preserve the quality of homemade tinctures, always use a small dosing bottle (2 to 4 ounce dropper bottle) to prevent exposing your larger stock bottle to air and possible contaminates through repeated opening. Preserving medicinal plants as single-herb tinctures allows me the flexibility to later combine different tinctures to formulate specific blends, such as my migraine Headache Remedy..
Although tinctures have many characteristics which make them a desirable addition to the herbalist’s repertoire, by no means am I implying that infusions or tisanes do not have an honorable place, as well. We often refer to these as “tea”, but truly, tea refers to the beverage made from the leaves of the plant, Camellia sinesis, an evergreen plant which grows in tropical and subtropical climates. A tisane is a non-caffeinated beverage made by infusing or decocting plant materials. Beside their nourishing and healing properties, tisanes or herbal infusions can provide valuable comfort in their warmth as well as from the ceremony in which you prepare them. For instance, the process of preparing your infusion coupled with using a special tea pot and cup reserved for your favorite tisanes transforms the mere act of drinking a beverage into ritual-a therapeutic process which can, for a brief period of time, remove you from the everyday demands and stresses of life.
I keep dried herbs used in making infusions in glass Mason jars, labeled as to what they are, where they came from and when I obtained them. Many dried herbs if stored in a cool, dry, dark place will last about one year; however, some do have a shorter shelf life. If your dried herbs still have a rich aroma and energetically “feel alive”, they can be used longer. Any herb which looks and smells “dead” should be discarded into the compost.
Some herbs I infuse into oils, such as St. Johns Wort, Comfrey and Lavender, for use alone or for combining into salves. Thyme-infused honey is a staple on my shelf for treating scratchy throats and coughs and I would never be without Elderberry elixir, to be taken at the first sign of a cold or flu.
In addition to my basic 13 herbs, there are a few more which have found their way into my kitchen, often used more for their nourishing or culinary qualities.
I usually have dried Nettle, Red Clover flowers and Dandelion root to add to nourishing infusions which I find especially helpful as we transition from winter to spring. Died Nettle is also a basic ingredient in the many variations of Gomasio which I use to season everything including soups, stir-fries and salads. Other herbs, such as Rosemary, Oregano a lovely Bay leaf tree, reside in large pots on our patio which I use fresh. Sweet Woodruff happily meanders through the garden and is added to May Wine for Beltane. Its rich vanilla scent is so uplifting!
There are some of the more ‘traditional’ herbs often found in an herbalist’s medicinary that are never in mine, such as Chamomile. Although Chamomile has a very long and respected history of healing use with sedative, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, it has never been one that has ‘spoken’ to me, so, I choose not to use it.
Many of the spices in my kitchen are not only used in cooking but are often used to treat a variety of ailments, too.
Cinnamon when added to a cup of hot water is a wonderful remedy for nausea and vomiting associated with winter flus and viruses. Fennel seeds are great for a gassy tummy. Adding Fennel seeds or my other favorite, Caraway seeds, when cooking gas-forming foods such as cabbage, does help to significantly reduce or eliminate the problem. There is usually a very good reason why traditional recipes choose to include certain herbs and spices.
Setting aside a dedicated time each year to go through all of my herbs keeps my medicinary fresh and well-stocked. Not only do I retire old, outdated herbs to the compost but by assessing just where my quantities are six months before most plants are ready for harvest for medicine-making helps me to plan my summer garden for what I will need in the coming year.
This information is offered for educational purposes and is not intended to take the place of personalized medical care from a trained healthcare professional. The reader assumes all risk when utilizing the above information.
Copyright© 2013 Louise Harmon
All Rights Reserved
Wikipedia.Tea. Retrieved from