FORMS OF HERBS - BOTANICALS USED
Healing herbs can be used in various forms such as teas, tisane /baths/ pills, tinctures, infusions, extracts, poultices, ointments, oils, compresses, salves and creams.
There are two methods of making herbal teas, infusion and decoction. Naturopaths may prescribe healing teas for the purpose ofInfusions:
Infusions are hot water extracts made from herbs with medicinal constituents in their flowers, leaves and stems such as chamomile, mint, green and black tea among others.Decoction
Decoction is boiling tougher parts, such as roots or bark for a longer period of time such as ginger or cinnamon tea.
Tinctures are extracts that are made with alcohol instead of water. Alcohol extracts of various medicinal herbs and plants usually remain potent longer and are more stronger than teas. Herbalists/ naturopaths may mix several herbal tinctures to form an individualized prescription for each patient. Homeopaths use very dilute tinctures as their basic medicinal preparations.
Fluid extracts are stronger than herbal tinctures, and can be made with alcohol or glycerin. Various types of extracts are available such as solid extracts of licorice and hawthorne. Cold extracts are made with cold water to effectively preserve the most volatile ingredients and extract only minor amounts of mineral salts and bitter principles.
Fresh juices of plants/ herbs are simply prepared by juicing them. This is an excellent way of getting vitamins and minerals from the plant; but the juice must be taken within a short time after being pressing since the vitamin content declines rapidly and fermentation sets in.
Poultices are used externally to treat affected skin areas. They are generally prepared fresh for each use by crushing the medicinal parts of the plants to a pulpy mass. If dried herbs are used, they are generally mixed in with a substance such as water, vegetable fat before they it is applied to the skin. They have the shortest life span of any herbal remedy. A fomentation/ compress has the same application, however generally a decoction or infusion is used with a compress.
Dried powdered herbs can be packed into tablets and gelatine capsules. Capsules are a convenient way to carry herbs and also to take herbs that are unpleasant. Syrups are another way to take herbs, especially for administering medicines to children.
An ointment or salve is a semi-solid preparation made to be applied to the skin. Depending on the purpose for which it is designed and its method of preparation, the texture can vary from very greasy to a thick paste. The simplest ointments use petroleum jelly /beeswax, olive oil or vegetable oil as a base.
Most people are familiar with essential oils used to relaxation such as lavender and lemon and eucalyptus for colds. Essential oils are extractions of volatile liquid plant materials and other aromatic compounds from plants. These plant oils may be used internally in some forms of herbal medicine as well as in aromatherapy.
In naturopathic treatment (alternative medicine) essential oils have proved to be highly efficacious in the treatment of headaches and muscle soreness, joint pain and certain skin diseases. Herbal baths are another way of using herbs and plants to cover a larger part of the body – for example – using oatmeal / Aveeno for babies in their baths or using lavender or camomile flowers for a relaxing bath.