How to make your own infusions, decoctions, syrups etc were part of everyday life but this knowledge is no longer passed from mother to daughter. However, these home made remedies were imperative to surviving the winter and may be the little extra we are going to need this year, as I think we will be inundated with coughs and colds and these concoctions are great. But how do you make a herbal tea? Or a cough syrup?
Well, I am here to help you discover this help as you never know when you may need it. When in Turkey, I wasn’t feeling well and I was made a special tea by our host and it worked a dream – and only consisted of a couple of herbs from the garden, a squeeze of lemon and some hot water and a lot of local herbal knowledge.
A herbal infusion is the same as your cup of tea – a teaspoon of the dried herb (usually flowers or leaves) or 2tsp fresh herb is added to a cup and hot water poured over, then allowed to infuse for a few minutes, to allow the medicinal qualities of the herb to transfer to the water ready for drinking. Add a little honey if the taste isn’t quite to your liking (though my Nan always reckoned if it tasted rotten, it must be doing you good…)!!
This will get you started with some herbal remedies of your own and you can check out your stores and books and see what you can brew for yourself.
A decoction is somewhat different and what is needed to get the qualities from twigs, roots etc that are a little harder than aerial parts and cannot be got simply by infusing. The root, twigs, bark etc must be placed in a pan with a cup of cold water, brought to the boil and simmered for 5 minutes. This breaks down the harder outer material allowing the medicinal qualities to then transfer to the water.
We have covered infusions and decoctions previously, but what about infused oil? I mentioned St John’s wort above but you can make very useful carrier oil if this plant grows in your garden. The same goes with pot marigolds which make excellent Calendula oil…just use your imagination and the possibilities could be endless.
So, take some fresh flowers/herb etc and place in a lidded/sealed jar. Cover herb with oil such as almond or apricot kernel, with additions of jojoba or Wheatgerm if wanted. Shake the sealed jar and leave on a sunny windowsill. Shake daily for the next 3-6 weeks whilst the herb infuses into the oil. At the end of the time, your oil will probably have changed colour – in the case of St Johns wort, it will have gone bright red… Drain the oil through muslin into a clean container and voila…your jar of infused oil which can be applied direct to the skin or essential oils added for additional health properties. You will all be planting lots by the spring in preparation of what you can make now, and herbal cooking oils can be made the same way, with olive oil so get playing….
What quantities do I use re oils etc?
I have to say I get asked this question a lot as there are many people out there that have no idea what carrier oil is or what to do with an essential oil so here are a few pointers for you adults out there:
For massage, add 3 drops of essential oil per 5ml carrier oil
If you pour 5ml carrier oil into the cup of your hand, you will get a pointer as to how much it is in your hand and won’t need to measure all the time…
For an oil bath, run your bath first, then add 8 drops of essential oil either direct to the bath or into a tsp bath base, cheap vodka or full fat milk – the alcohol or fat helps to disperse the oil into the water which makes it more beneficial and is a must if children are involved (will cover what can be used for kids next newsletter)
If adding oils to the pillow, add 3-4 drops both sides of the pillow plus on the top edge of the duvet – it makes it that wherever you are sleeping, you will still have access to the aroma.
If adding essential oils to a vaporiser, I tend to add 8-10 drops to the water but it also depends on the size of the room too, so use your common sense.
WARNING: It isn’t so important to get exact quantities for room aromas, but when putting oils onto the body, never overdose as you can overload the liver, so never, ever add more than the massage amount indicated unless you are an experienced aromatherapist and know what you are doing. Never put neat essential oils on the skin either – always dilute except in emergency when lavender and tea tree only can be applied to cuts, burns etc
Your very own herbal vinegar…
Cider vinegar is a health-boosting condiment used for centuries and held in high esteem like honey. Add some home-grown herbs and you have a healthy combo to add to food. A splash of herbal vinegar on your chips will add a mineral-laden boost. Vinegar helps free up minerals within your food so why not have a go and make your own. It really is quite simple. Harvest herbs such as rosemary, coarsely chop and fill a mason jar. Pour the vinegar at room temperature over the herbs until the jar is full. Seal the top with the lid (don’t use metal as vinegar will degrade it) or use waxed or greaseproof paper and an elastic band. Make up jars with different herbs so you can find which is your favourite. Label, date and put out of direct sunlight. Strain after 2 weeks et viola!
Add to your salad dressings, cooked greens, stir fries and anytime you would use ordinary vinegar. Also remember that rosemary or lavender vinegar make great hair conditioners so use after a hair wash for your final rinse…! Once you get into the mode, you will wonder how you managed without them…