Herbal medicine was born at home out of necessity, to treat conditions many thousands of years ago and is as old as humans. It is the medicine of the people, for the people, by the people, available to all. The use of herbs contains many common terms such as tinctures, decoctions, etc. Below we describe what each term means and where applicable, commonly used methods and formulas.

Herbal Terminologies Using medicinal herbs cab be both educational and fun, in addition to their “health-help” abilities. You can treat some minor conditions, but remember safety comes first. All you need to get started is a teapot and a couple of pots or sauce pans. Herbal tinctures can be purchased in a herbal store or you can make some with vodka.


You’ll see references and oftentimes formulas for tinctures. Tinctures are solutions prepared by steeping or soaking (maceration) plant materials in alcohol and/or water. A Tincture can often be used directly on the skin. To make tinctures with vinegar use 1 ounce herb to 5 ounces of vinegar for a standard tincture. A drop of tincture is equal to 1 teaspoon of herb juice. A rule of thumb for making tinctures using dried herbs is a 1 to 8 ratio (ie. 1 oz powdered herbs to 8 oz of 100 proof vodka).

Typical Tincture: Combine 1 to 4 ounces of powdered or crushed herb with 8 to 12 ounces of 100 proof alcohol (vodka most common); shake thoroughly and allow to stand in a warm place for 2 weeks. Shake daily; strain and bottle in a dark container such as an amber glass dropping bottle. Take 1 to 30 drops according to the herb used.


A decoction is used when volatile oils are not required from the plant material as these are boiled away in the process.

Extract, Cold Percolation

The purpose of a cold extract is to release the most volatile ingredient while withdrawing only small amounts of the bitter principles and mineral salts. Soft plant parts such as leaves and flowers are often cold extracted.


An Infusion is the same as making a tea, but steeped longer. Usually 10 minutes.


Fresh Extract. First find the water content of your fresh plant specimen. Weigh 2 ounces of the fresh herb and then dry it using the microwave or a dehydrator. Weigh the now dried specimen. Figure the percentage of weight lost in the drying to find the percentage of water contained in the fresh herb. Count this percentage as water when figuring the water/alcohol solvent ratio in the first ounce of finished product. All remaining ounces can be figured at the usual 50/50 water/alcohol rate.

Extract, Witch Hazel: 2-1/2 cups distilled water and enough witch hazel bark that can be thoroughly submerged by the water in the pan. Bring to boil; cover and simmer for 30 minutes; strain and use to make witch hazel water.


Oils, Medicated: Ayurvededic method: 1 part herb to 16 parts water and 4 parts of oil (i.e. 1 ounce herb, 2 cups water, 1/2 cup oil); decoct until all the water is evaporated then strain OR decoct the herb in water alone, then strain and add the oil and continue with the decoction until only the oil remains.

WITH volatile oils (mint, camphor, rose, etc): Steep the dried and powdered herbs directly in the oil and let the mixture stand for 1 or 2 days before straining.

FRESH oils: Crush and mash the whole herb (i.e. grated ginger, garlic, onions, etc) and allow to stand overnight in oil; squeeze through muslin to strain.

Castor Oil Pack

Castor oil is used for deep tissue and organ healing, major infection, congestion and old hard-to-heal injuries.

You’ll need: 6 oz Castor oil, wool flannel cloth (or equivalent), plastic sheet, electric heating pad or hot water bottle, large bath towel.

Fold cloth to a measurement of about a foot square so that there are about 4 layers of fabric. Lay the cloth on the plastic sheet and pour the warmed castor oil onto it so that it is thoroughly saturated but not dripping. Apply to the area to be treated and then cover with the plastic. Place the hot water bottle or heating pad (on medium heat setting) on top of the plastic. Heating pad can be turned up to high if desired for maximum healing benefits, but be careful that this can be tolerated by sensitive skins. Leave in place for 1 to 8 hours. When finished clean the skin with a solution of 1 tsp baking soda in 1 pint of cool water. Cloth can be stored in plastic bag in the refrigerator for the next use.

Salves and Ointments

Place about 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of an electric skillet to protect its finish. Add herbs and oil to a pyrex bowl or top of double boiler and place in center of skillet. Fiddle with control of skillet until oil measures a steady 95 degrees on a cooking thermometer. Allow to simmer gently at this heat for about 12 hours or until the herbs look “used up”. Strain herbs out of the oil and return oil to a clean bowl or double boiler pan and set back in the skillet; raise heat to 150 degrees and add grated beeswax. Allow beeswax to melt, stirring well. Test by dropping a small amount on a saucer and when desired texture is reached pour into wide-mouth jar suitable for ointment/salve.

Also: Boil herbs in water until sufficiently extracted; strain; add oil to the decoction and continue to simmer till all the water evaporates; add sufficient beeswax until desired consistency is reached (melt about 2 oz of wax to 5 oz of oil); to preserve you can add 1 drop tincture of benzoin per each ounce of mixture or 1 drop grapefruit seed extract per ounce of mixture.

And Again: Beeswax, oil, fats, vaseline can be combined with herbs or tinctures. Place 2 oz of dried herbs into a pint of oil then heat gently for 1 hour; strain and cool for an ointment. For a salve add 1 oz beeswax or vaseline then stir well as it thickens and store in a jar. Store in refrigerator or preserve with tincture of benzoin or grapefruit seed extract (1 drop per oz of mixture for both).

And Once More: Grind dried herbs to powder and cover with olive oil; steep for 2 weeks shaking gently daily; strain through muslin (at this stage it is a liniment/ointment); add beeswax to thicken (now it’s a salve). Store in refrigerator or preserve with tincture of benzoin or grapefruit seed extact.


The best shape for these is a torpedo-shaped cyclinder about 2 inches in length and with the center bulging and the ends tapered. 1 ounce powdered gelatin, 1 ounce vegetable glycerin, 1 ounce distilled water. Place the water in the top of a double boiler and then add the glycerin using a whisk to combine. Stir in the gelatin and set the pan over its lower pan and heat over a medium heat until it becomes clear. Pour into a shallow glass pan and allow to set. Keep refrigerated and covered air-tight to keep from drying out. This can be used as a quick base when remelted and combined with herbs and then shaped by using aluminum foil as a mold.

Also: You will need 1 tbsp gelatin, 4 tablespoons water, 1-1/2 tablespoons glycerin (you can also use a decoction or infusion of herbs or even a tincture rather than the water by itself). Soak the gelatin in the water and then gently heat in a double boiler. Add the glycerin and continue to heat in the top of the double boiler over low heat until you have the consistency you desire. The more water that evaporates, the firmer the consistency. Aluminum foil can be used to shape a mold or you can purchase molds. Pour the warm liquid into the molds and allow to harden. Store in their molds in the refrigerator.

And again: 3 oz cocoa butter, 1 oz powdered herb; simmer herb and cocoa butter in the top of a double boiler until well combined and liquid in form. Pour out into a foil mold.


Use 2 pounds sugar, 1 pint water. Dissolve sugar in water over low heat. Raise the temp to the boiling point and strain the solution while it is hot. Add enough extra water through the strainer to make the syrup measure 2-1/2 pints.

Or: Dissolve 3 lbs of brown sugar in a pint of boiling water and boil until thick. Add any herbs you wish to this to make an herbal syrup.

Or: Pour 1-1/4 cups of boiling water onto 3 oz of crushed herbs and leave to get cold. Stain the infusion and then heat until it is warm and then add 1/2 cup of sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, bring the mixture to a boil and gently simmer until it is a syrup consistency. Allow to cool a bit before bottling.

Or: 2 cups infusion or decoction, 2 cups sugar or honey; warm the infusion or decoction and then add the honey or sugar and stir until the sugar is melted or the honey is welll incorporated. Allow the mixture to cool and pour it into a dark glass bottle. Seal with a cork stopper (not a screw cap…syrups can ferment and cause bottles to explode so the cork is the best seal).

More Common Terms:

  • Bolus: (Used to draw out toxins and reduce cysts and tumors in vagina or rectum) Mix powdered herbs together and add a tbsp of the herbs to a small amount of melted cocoa butter to form a pie-dough consistency. Roll the mass to form the bolus. Refrigerate to solidify the cocoa butter and then allow to reach room temp before using.
  • Waters, Herb (quick method): Add a few drops of essential oil to 1 cup of distilled water.
  • Tea, Medicinal: 30 drops of extract (about 1/2 dropperful) = 1 cup of tea when placed in hot water.
    Tea, Concentrate: A strong tea made with 1 tablespoon of herb per cup of water. Freeze the tea in ice cube trays and then place a cube in a glass of water for tea.
  • Syrups, Medicated: From jelly: To make a jelly into a medicated syrup, add 2-1/2 pints of vodka for each pint of jelly.
  • Preserving Flowers: If you are unable to process your flowers (ie. elder, rose) immediately, you can either pack them (don’t crush) into wide-mouthed canning jars and then pour glycerine over the flowers until they’re covered. Cap the jar. Or you can pack them in 1/3 of their weight of salt. This method is usually employed when preserving flowers to use in fresh sachets or potpourris.
  • Non-petroleum Jelly: 1 oz beeswax, 1/2 cup baby or mineral oil or sweet almond or olive oil; melt together in the top of a double boiler. Pour out into suitable container and allow to set up.
  • Paste, Herb: Fresh herbs: Grind and mash. DRY herbs: Add a little water and work into a paste; may be taken as is or mixed with honey or oil. If using oil, keep refrigerated; if honey, will keep without refrigeration.
  • Ointment, Quick: (Also Salves) Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of tincture to each ounce of commercial skin lotion.
  • Juice, Herb: When attempting to obtain juice from dry herbs, soak in twice their weight of water for 24 hours and then press out the fluid. Lotion: The same as making a cream, only use more water.
  • Lotion, Quick: Mix 2 parts herb water with one part vegetable glycerine or combine herbal infusion with glycerin.
  • Oil, Herb: Infuse powdered herbs in warm olive oil in double boiler for several hours. Strain through muslin and keep straining till all bits of plant material are strained out of the oil.
  • Ghee (clarified butter): (Useful in treating chronic inflammatory conditions.) Heat 1 pound of raw, unsalted butter on medium heat until white saturated fats condense and separate out from the pure unsaturated oil (this is the ghee).
  • Poultice: A warm mass of powdered herb applied to the skin, then covered with a hot, moist towel until cool.
  • Poultice, Basic Clay: (Clay is used to draw out toxins and foreign subtances, to heal burns and to repair damaged tissues.) 1 lb green clay and some distilled water. Mix clay with enough water to make a thick paste; spread paste onto the center of a soft cloth which measures about 6 to 8 inches square and has about 4 layers of thickness. Apply directly to the area with the clay side against the skin and press it down a bit so it sas to the skin. Cover with a dry cloth and leave in place until the clay pulls away on its own.
  • Powders/Capsules: Herbs can be powdered in a coffee mill. If you’ll be be doing much work with herbs, you should have one especially for powdering herbs. A standard size 00 capsule will hold about 200-250 mg of powder with the standard dose being 2 to 3 capsules taken 2 or 3 times a day. To fill the capsule with the powdered herb, place the powder in a saucer and separate the two halves of the capsule. Slide the 2 halves together through the powder. Fit the halves together and store in a dark glass jar in a dark place out of direct heat.
  • Pills: Decoct herbs down to a paste at the bottom of the pan; scrape decoction off the bottom of the pan and roll into pellets (make tiny pills for easier utilization); set out on a clean paper container to dry. Alternate method: Mix a little water, syrup or honey with the powdered herbs and roll into pellet of desired size. (Tip: The herbs in the pill are more effectively utilized if taken with warm water.)
  • Plaster: Wrap chopped or boiled herbs, or a paste made from them, in cheesecloth or muslin before applying to the affected area. This is good for herbs that might irritate the skin, such as mustard.
  • Steam Inhalants: Place a few tablespoons of dried herb in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Drape a towel over your head and breathe in the steam. Caution: people with asthma or other breathing problems should not use this remedy.
  • Tisane: Put dry or fresh herbs in a jug. If you use fresh herbs double the amount, but the dry herbs will work best. Pour 1 cup boiling water over herbs into jug and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes, occasionally stirring. Strain liquid into your cup and add honey to taste. This tea will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Read More about: Herbs