How to Make Herbal Concoctions

Josephine’s Journal
The Account of an Indentured Servant’s Adventures with the Crewe of the Archangel

June 19

When preparing herbal concoctions for crewe members, I often am asked a multitude of questions regarding my practice. Although I am not a doctor, and I cannot always explain the medical reasons why my concoctions work as they do, I receive my information on good authority before I use it. Trying to explain the difference between a tea, a decoction, and an infusion; a salve, a poultice and a bath; what exactly is a tincture, &c., all the while treating the ill or wounded is a rather trying task. In an attempt to clarify my thoughts so that I may better answer the questions of the curious, I thought perhaps I would put them down in this journal so that they are fresh in my mind regularly.

Teas, Decoctions, and Infusions
Teas are made by boiling water and placing a teabag filled with the herb into the water to steep. The teabag can be made of muslin or another thin fabric that will allow the herbal oils to seep into the water while keeping the herb itself out of the water. The herb should steep for 10-15 minutes, with the tea having a slightly bitter taste which can be sweetened with honey. This bitterness is an indication of the medicinal qualities.

(A tea cup, tea bag, and white willow bark for making a tea of the herb)

Decoctions are similar to teas, except that the herbs are placed directly into the water before it is boiled. This allows for the oils to seep more directly into the water itself. The water can then be strained while being poured, preventing the herb pieces from entering the cup. This treatment may make for a stronger medicinal quality.

Infusions are similar to teas in that the herbs are allowed to steep in the hot, boiling water, however this process is done in an air-tight container for several hours at the very least. Infusions can be taken as a drink or can be applied externally to wounds or trouble areas. If taken as a drink, the infusion does not need to be hot; it can also be temperate or ice cold.

Salves, Poultices, Balms and Baths
Salves are concoctions that are applied externally to the skin in an attempt to heal a wound or other health problem. Salves are made using either fresh or dried herbs that are ground in a mortar and pestle and then mixed with mineral water or Aloe vera juice. Not only will salves heal external wounds, but when applied externally they will aid swelling in muscles and joints.

(Crushed herb being added to a small amount of water to make a salve)

Poultices are made using the herbs that remain after making an infusion. The liquid infusion can be used to wash the area of the skin and the herbs are then placed directly onto the affected area. If it is preferred that the herbs not enter the wound directly, wrap them in muslin or another thin clean cloth and place them on the wounded area. This wrapping can be dipped in the infusion liquid as well.

Balms are made using oil in the place of water. A base oil is used, such as grape seed oil, and is warmed over a low heat source. Once the oil is warm, beeswax is added and permitted to melt into the oil. Once the beeswax has melted, the mixture is removed from the heat source and oils are added based on their desired medicinal effects. When the mixture cools, it has a thick consistency that can easily be applied to skin.

(An agrimony balm to treat wounds)

Baths are simply made of warm water and the desired herb depending on the illness or injury. The warm water is added to a bowl containing the herb, and clothes are soaked in the water and then applied to the injured area. Occasionally, such as with English ivy for wound treatment, the leaves themselves can be applied directly instead of the cloths.

Tinctures
Tinctures, unlike the other concoctions listed above, are alcohol based and take a longer period of time to cure. When making tinctures, the desired herbs are placed in a glass container that can be sealed. The jar is then filled with a clear alcohol in the highest percentage alcohol by volume that the maker can afford, making sure that all of the herbs are completely immersed in the alcohol. The container is then sealed and stored in a temperate environment, with no extreme temperature fluctuations, for six to eight weeks. Occasionally during this time period, the container should be gently shaken so as to mix the herbs and alcohol thoroughly. After the six to eight weeks, the herbs should be strained from the container and the liquid kept in a dark place or in a dark glass to maintain its quality.

(A case bottle of alcohol and an echinacea tincture in a small bottle kept in the nearby bag for darkness)

Through the use of these techniques with the proper herbs is the Crewe of the Archangel kept healthy. I am truly thankful to be able to be a help to the crewe in return for my rescue from the inn in St. Malo.

Copyright 9/2013 J.Otte

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