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Within hours of starting to read Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, I had started a tincture and an infusion. It is one of my favorite herbal books for beginners, and I’m not alone in that opinion. It is one of the classics.
The book starts with basic info about herbs, then includes a chapter on how to make herbal remedies. She has complete instructions for making teas, decoctions, syrups, oils, salves, tinctures, herbal pills, baths, poultices, and compressions.
As a beginner’s guide to medicinal herbs, all of the 33 herbs covered are completely safe. You’ll recognize many of them as culinary herbs too — basil, cayenne, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, rosemary, sage, thyme, and turmeric. Rosemary explains that the difference between using an herb in cooking and using it in healing usually has to do with quantity. As they say, the dose makes the poison, or um, medicine, in this case. If you have an ailment and simply throw a little of an herb into your dinner, it’s not going to have a medicinal effect. She gives you complete instructions on how much to use, which type of remedy, and how long to use it. The info varies based upon the type of problem and if it’s chronic or acute.
Tinctures and solar-infused oils are the easiest to make. Since we had a post about tinctures last month, I’ll tell you how to make a solar-infused oil this time. Because natural oils go rancid fairly quickly, you don’t want to make more than you think you’ll use in a few weeks. For this reason, I use a half-pint canning jar. You should use dried herbs because fresh herbs have moisture in them, and whenever there’s “water” in something, it tends to spoil unless it has a preservative. If you feel you must use fresh herbs, Rosemary recommends at least wilting them for a few hours to get rid of a fair amount of the moisture.
Place your dried herbs in the jar — about half full — and cover with an inch or two of olive oil or some other high-quality oil. Please do not use something like “vegetable oil,” which is made with genetically modified corn and soy. That would defeat the whole purpose of making a medicinal oil. Let it sit in a window for two weeks, then strain through cheesecloth or some type of filter.
The oils will last longer if you store them in the refrigerator. If you don’t do that, at least store them in a dark, cool cabinet. Ironically, oils don’t go rancid as long as the herbs are being infused. It is only after the herbs have been removed that you have to worry about them going rancid. And once the oils start to smell funky, don’t use them. “Our skin is our largest organ of assimilation and elimination, and we should treat it well,” Rosemary says. “If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin.”