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Gathering, Storing, and Using Herbs

Gathering

When gathering or harvesting your herbs, first be absolutely sure you
know what you are gathering! This is very important when gathering
plants from the wild. Be absolutely certain you know what the plant
is before you attempt to use it. If you are not sure of a particular
plant, or it "looks like" something but could be something else,
leave it alone. You would be better off to purchase the herb through
a store or mail order. The alternative may leave you dead. If you care
about our natural plants, you will prefer to purchase or grow what
you need. Today's herbal needs are creating quite a strain on the
numbers of medicinal plants in the wild.

Know what part of the plant you need. Some plants are used in their
entirety, others only specific parts. When you are gathering plants
from the wild, remember not to take all of a particular species you
may find in an area. Leave some to grow and seed and flourish for
the next time you need them. Removing all of a group of plants is
rude, and the Goddess would not be pleased. Give thanks to the
plants you take for your uses. Sprinkle around some of their seeds,
to help them propogate. Give them an offering, i.e. some natural
fertilizer, a prayer, etc. in return for your uses. When taking leaves or
branches of a plant, leave plenty for the plant to survive. You should
offer the same respect to those plants you gather from your own
gardens. Be kind to the Mother and all She has to offer, and She will
reward you for your efforts.

The parts of the plant above ground should be harvested in the
morning, before the heat of the sun has a chance to wilt them. It is
preferable to do so when the dew is still on the plants. Leaves
should be harvested before the buds and blooms appear, and flowers
should be harvested before the fruits and seeds appear. Bark and
roots should be harvested in the early spring, just as the plant is
beginning to show its leaf buds, or in the fall, just as the leaves are
turning. Don't strip bark from around a tree trunk, as this will kill it.
Instead, strip bark from small patches, or particular limbs, to
preserve the mother plant for later use, and to preserve its life.

When using an entire plant, it is customary to hang the plant upside
down in a dry area free from pests to allow the plant to dry. Make
sure your herbs have dried thoroughly before storing them for further
use, or you may discover that you have a moldy mess instead of a
medicinal herb. Roots should be carefully washed, scraped, and
chopped into small pieces to be sure they dry uniformly and
thoroughly. Bulbs are tied together and strung up to dry.

The dried portions can then be stored according to your needs.
Roots are usually ground into powder for use, or left in small chunks
for uses in decoctions, tinctures, and syrups. Leaves are stored in
their entirety, or crumbled for use in teas. The same applies for
blossoms. Store your herbs in air-tight containers. The best
containers to use are colored glass. The herb then does not pick up
impurities from plastics, and does not eat through your plastics, as
can happen. Store in a dry, cool area, and keep out of the light. This
is the reason for using colored glass. Light can often break down the
healing properties of your gathered herbs, shortening their shelf life
and rendering them nearly useless after a short period of time. If
stored properly, the shelf life of dried herbs is approximately one
year. Tinctures can be stored for up to two years. Capsules should be
used within one year. Once an herb has been ground, it shortens the
amount of time the herb is effective. So do pay careful attention to
when you have purchased or stored an herb, for maximum
effectiveness.

When you use one of your herbs, whether for healing, cooking, or for
magick, you should once again give thanks to the Mother for Her
bounty.

Teas

The herbs that will be used for herbal teas are generally the cut and
sifted form, or the crumbled dried leaves and/or flowers. Herbs
should always be prepared in nonmetallic containers. Steep the herbs
in a nonmetallic container with water that has just been brought to a
boil. This is an infusion, and is used for the more delicate herbs to
prevent destroying their healing agents.

A decoction is used to extract the healing agents from herbs that are
roots and barks. The herbs are simmered in a nonmetallic cooking
container for about one hour. Simmer uncovered until the amount of
water is reduced by one half. Those herbs that contain important
volatile oils should be simmered in a tightly covered pot.

Don't add table sugar to herbal teas. If a sweetener is needed, use
pure, unmolested honey for its nutritional benefits, or use stevia
.

Syrups

Syrups are used for treating coughs and sore throats, and make it
easy to give herbs to children. Two ounces of herb are added to a
quart of water in a nonmetallic container, and boiled down slowly
and gently until about a pint of liquid is left. Strain while it is still
warm, and add two ounces of honey and/or glycerine. Lemon oil or
juice can also be added for flavor. Store in a dark glass container.

Tinctures

Tinctures are easy to make, and a very convenient way to make use
of the healing herbs in today's fast society. They are made with the
more potent herbs that are generally not taken as herbal teas.

Tinctures are made by combining 1 to 4 ounces of a powdered or
thoroughly crushed herb with one pint of alcohol. The alcohol most
often used is vodka. The amount of liquid should be more than the
herbs can absorb, so you may need to add more as the days go by. It
is shaken daily and allowed to stand in a warm place, out of direct
light, for two weeks. The liquid is poured through a cloth, such as
layers of cheesecloth. The herbs that remain are squeezed
thoroughly to remove as much of the liquid from them as possible.
Keep the tincture stored in a dark glass bottle or jar. Tinctures are
used by the drop. Don't be afraid of the alcohol content - if you
want to be sure the alcohol won't affect you, or you are a recovering
alcoholic, drop the recommended number of tincture drops into a
cup of hot water, wait a few moments, and then drink. The alcohol
will evaporate. Tinctures can be made of single herbs, or herbal
combinations, depending upon your needs. It is traditional magick to
begin your tinctures on the night of the new moon, and strain on the
full moon, so that the waxing powers of the moon extract the
maximum amount of healing agents from the herbs.

Oils

Oil extracts are made from fresh herbs that contain volatile oils used
for healing. Fresh herbs are necessary for the extraction of the oils.
The fresh herbs are crushed with a mortar and pestle. Olive or
sesame oil is then added, at the ratio of one pint of oil for every two
ounces of herbs. The mixture is allowed to stand in a warm place,
out of direct light, for three days. The oils are stored in dark, glass
containers. After the three days, add one capsule of Vitamin E to
each bottle for preserving the extracted oils. This is another process
that is best done on the new moon.

Capsules

Capsules are the best way to take herbs that do not taste good. They
are also the best way to take herbs that need to be ingested over a
long period of time, or for those of us who don't have time at work
to make herbal teas. It is best to purchase finely powdered herbs for
this purpose. The small "0" sized capsules are used, or the larger
"00". The powdered herbs are blended together, if an herbal
combination is desired. Then separate the two halves of the capsule,
and fill each half. Then carefully put the two halves back together.
Take according to the needs of the treatment.

Creams

Creams are used to treat skin conditions of all kinds. They can be
made by melting petroleum jelly and adding the herbs, although that
is rather messy. A better method is to boil approximately 1 cup of
the herb(s) to be used in 3 to 4 cups of water, in a non-metallic
container, for about 15 minutes for leafy herbs and 30 minutes for
root herbs to extract the volatile oils. You can then strain the herbs
out, or leave them in if you so desire, depending on the cream you
are making. Add 5 ounces of sesame or olive oil to the water
remaining and continue to simmer over low heat until all of the
water has evaporated. Melt 2 ounces of beeswax, and stir into the oil
mixture. TIP: try to have the wax and the oil near the same temp,
and stir like crazy! After the mixture cools a bit, add 2 teaspoons of
Vitamin E oil as a preservative, and mix it in well. Pour into
containers and allow to cool completely. Most creams will keep for
up to one year.

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The information on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice.  No responsibility is assumed by the author(s) of this information or the owner(s) of this site.

Bear in mind "A Modern Herbal" was written with the conventional wisdom of the early 1900's. This should be taken into account as some of the information may now be considered inaccurate, or not in accordance with modern medicine.