I am often asked what the best way to buy and take herbs. There really is no one way to take herbal medicine but I generally recommend that people buy herbs like they would buy produce. Instead of thinking about the chemical makeup and the medicinal effect of an herb, consider the quality, the freshness, whether the herb has been treated with chemicals, how long it has been sitting around, the reputation of the people harvesting and selling the herb. Really the best way to take herbs is to grow and collect them yourself. In that way you have a direct connection to the plant, how it looks, feels and smells out in the natural world.
There are a number of ways of buying herbs. They can be purchased in bulk, in alcohol or glycerin tincture form, capsules, syrups and pills. Each herb performs best in different ways for different people. Let’s look at some of the most commonly used herbs and some of the best ways to take them.
Nettles: Try taking this as an infusion. Gather one ounce of the herb and place it in a quart jar. Boil water and fill up the jar. Allow to stand for 4 hours, or best overnight. The infusion should look deep green to black. Tastes somewhat milky and mild. Drink throughout the day.
St. John’s Wort: Best taken as a tincture but can be added as an herb to some teas. Take 10-30 drops two to three times a day. With all tinctures, its best to dilute it in a half cup of water and swallow it down pretty quickly. Taken directly, the alcohol from tinctures can burn the tongue and mouth and leave a bitter taste. A good tincture of St. John’s Wort should look blood red. This herb sometimes takes many weeks to build up in the system and become effective.
Valerian, Hops, Scullcap: These herbs are most commonly taken in tincture form or in capsules. Often used as a remedy for anxiety or as a sleep time aid. As a medicine for insomnia, try taking 30 drops of one of these herbs a half hour before going to bed.
Peppermint and Chamomile: Best taken in tea form. Because of its high content of alkaloids, these herbs can become overly bitter when steeped in hot water for too long. To make a quart of tea, place one ounce of the herb at the base of a jar, then add a quart of boiling water and allow to steep for 2-5 minutes. The longer it steeps the more bitter it becomes.
Dandelion, Dock and Oregon Grape roots:
Want to try a nasty tasting herb that is good for you? These herbs all fit the bill although many find dandelion to be quite tasty and some have used it as a coffee substitute. These herbs are usually used for sluggish digestion, liver complaints and a tendency towards excessive internal heat and inflammation. Any root herbs need to be decocted to access their medicinal constituents. First, add one ounce of the root herb to a pot and then add a quart of water. Bring the water to a boil and then place the pot on a back burner to simmer for about an hour. Remove the herb and drink the decoction over the course of the day.
Finally, when people ask how to take and prepare herbs, I always suggest experimentation. One of the best ways to understand how to take an herb is try a variety of methods. If you can, get your hand on the raw material so you know how it looks, smells and tastes. Taking an herb is much more than just consuming something to gain an effect. It is developing a relationship with a plant that can become less than just medicine and more like developing a friendship. Through this active relationship, they become allies on your path to better health.