Herb preparation 101…Get Started Here!

herb-preparation-pic-11-9-blog1In order to get the most out of your herbal concoctions, it is key to know how to prepare the herbs in a way that the full medicinal properties are released.

Herbs are more useful healing agents when taken internally. However, they can be used both internally and externally.

Internal preparations are prepared in infusions, decoctions and tinctures. While external preparations consist of washes, compresses, and poultices.

Infusions and decoctions are the most common of internal preparations, as they are both water based.

Infusions are made using the leaves and flowers of the herb. If you can make a pot of tea, than you can make an infusion.

  • Take a teapot (or any kind of glass, ceramic or stainless steel vessel) and put, on average, 1 teaspoon of dried herb per cup inside.
  • Pour 1 cup of boiling water per person into the teapot.
  • Let this sit, covered, for around 10 minutes.
  • It is best to drink medicinal infusions as hot as possible.

Decoctions use roots, bark seeds and berries. Since the active constituents are being extracted from (harder) plant matter, more heat is required. The woody parts of the herb (roots, bark and seeds) need to be simmered in order to be effective medicines.

 To Prepare a Decoction:

  • Put 1 teaspoon of plant matter per cup into a saucepan (ceramic, enamel or stainless steel – never aluminum!  The plant matter should be powdered, crushed or broken into small pieces.
  • Add 1 cup of water per teaspoon of herb to the saucepan, and bring to the boil.
  • Once you reach boiling point, cover the pot, turn the heat down and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Strain and drink whilst still hot.


Tinctures are the concentrated forms of medicinal herbs.  A Tincture is made by extracting the active Constituents with a mixture of water and alcohol.  The preparation of a tincture is not very complicated but it is fairly easy to take too much of a medicinal plant in its concentrated form. For that reason, Herbalists and Naturopaths typically prepare Tinctures.

 To Prepare a Tincture:

  • Put about 120g of finely-chopped, dried plant matter into a large glass jar.
  • Pour half a liter of 50% alcohol (some brands of triple-distilled vodka are this strong, otherwise get the strongest clear alcohol you can find) over the plant matter, close lid tightly and shake well.
  • Keep the container in a dark place for 2-6 weeks (6 is best, but 2 is ok if needed), and shake periodically.
  • After the allocated time, strain the tincture through a muslin cloth or fine mesh strainer. Squeeze out the excess liquid from the herb matter. Discard the plant matter and bottle the tincture in a dark glass bottle.
  • As tinctures are much stronger than infusions or decoctions, much smaller doses are required, often only 15 drops or 1-2 mls twice a day. A good way to take tinctures is to put the dose into a cup of boiling water, as much of the alcohol is evaporated in this way.
  • Interestingly, research has often shown that tinctures are most effective when started on a new moon and strained/finished on a full moon!


External or topical remedies are best used for localized skin or muscle complaints. However, being that the skin is capable of absorbing medicinal constituents, they can be useful for more general needs as well.

External preparations can be categorized into washes, compresses, poultices and salves. * (we will not be going into salves as they are difficult to make as they are in cream form and are best purchased)


The simplest way to use herbs externally is to begin by preparing a decoction or infusion. Which method chosen will depend on the herb. Once the decoction or infusion is prepared wash the affected area three times a day for 3-7 days.

Alternatively, you can also pour a liter of any infusion/decoction into a bath full of hot water and soak in the mixture.


A compress is a more concentrated application than a wash.  They are commonly used for wounds, eczema, rashes, muscle aches and fungal skin infections.

To prepare a Compress

  • Make a litre of infusion or decoction, depending on the herbs to be used.
  • Use a clean cloth made of natural fibre such as cotton, linen or hemp.
  • Soak a wad of the cloth in the hot infusion/decoction and place on the affected area.
  • The heat is an important part of this remedy, so either change the compress as it cools, or place a hot water bottle on top of the cloth to keep it warm.


A poultice is very similar to a Compress. However when preparing a Compress, the whole plant matter and not just the liquid extract is used. Poultices are most commonly used for bruises, sprains, inflamed organs, skin complaints and for drawing pus out of infected wounds.

To prepare a Poultice

  • Use the bruised fresh herbs, which have been mixed to a mush with hot water.
  • It is useful to mix the herb matter with fresh aloe vera gel or castor oil, as this draws the active parts of the plants deep into the skin and underlying tissues.
  • Apply the mix to the affected area and cover with an oiled cloth or plastic wrap to keep the moisture in. Keep it warm with a hot water bottle.
Citing Sources : Hoffman,David -The New Holistic Herbal: A herbal 
celebrating the wholeness of life  para.- 4 

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