Herbs that are useful for skin conditions (such as comfrey, lavendar, calendula, pine needles aloes, etc.) can be made into salves. The ideal time to make a salve is in midsummer when the herbs are fresh and abundant, but dried herbs can be used as well. Consider adding green walnut hulls and whole, smashed horse chestnuts to the basic mix for their skin- healing and painkiller properties.
Simmer herbs in good quality olive oil in a large pot. In a separate pot, melt and simmer three to four tablespoons of fresh beeswax (the beeswax should be golden and have a strong honey scent) per cup of oil. Put enough oil in the pot to just cover the herbs. Simmer the herbs in the oil for about twenty minutes. When wax and oil reach the same approximate temperature, pour in the wax. Strain and pour into clean sanitary airtight jars. Tincture of benzoin (about one oz per quart) may be added as a preservative while the salve is still liquid although this is not strictly necessary. The most important factor in controlling mold is to have immaculately clean and dry jars and utensils. Boiling followed by thorough drying is all that is usually needed. Persons living in very hot and damp climates may want to take extra precaution of adding the tincture of benzoin.
Syrups are made by boiling three pounds of Sucanat (dessicated sugar cane juice that can be bought at most organic food stores) in one pint of water until a syrupy consistency is obtained and then steeping the herbs in the hot mixture for twenty minutes to transfer the essential oils from the plant matter into the syrup. The herbs can also be simmered directly in honey or maple syrup for about ten minutes. Use two teaspoons of herb for every cup of liquid. Strain the syrup and store it, well sealed, in the refrigerator.
Similar to an infusion, or tea, a decoction is necessary when you are making remedies from tough plant materials, such as roots, bark, seeds or stems. To begin, place thinly chopped plant material into a saucepan and add cold water. Use 1-2 teaspoons of fresh or dried herbs to one cup of water. Bring the decoction to a very low boil, simmer for 15 minutes, and strain after the liquid has been reduced by one half. The lower the temperature of the boil the more intact the essential oil in the herb will be.
I generally don’t bother with Syrups, but if for some reason you need or want to make one (some herbal syrups are delicious) remember that you can always add a tincture to a syrup mixture relatively quickly. Tinctures are highly concentrated and keep for a long time so they are my preferred method of herbal storage/concentration.
I generally don’t bother with decoctions either. If I need to tincture an especially tough herb (usually a root or a bark) like rose hips I’ll use a food processor or coffee grinder and grind the herb to a cornmeal texture and then use the tincture process on the meal. This is generally easier than a decoction and you don’t run the risk of getting the mixture too hot and thereby spoiling the medicinal compounds.
Tinctures are made by grinding the leaves, roots, or other plant material with a mortar and pestle (or a blender) and just barely covering them with high-quality vodka, whiskey, or grain alcohol. High quality alcohol must be used in order to extract the essential oil from the plant material. Water will not work for a tincture. Shake well once daily. After 21 days strain and store in amber (or dark) airtight containers. Keep the herbal tinctures in a cool, dry place for up to five years. As a general rule resins like dragon’s blood, frankincense and myrrh do not tincture well. The dose is generally twenty drops in a cup of herb tea or warm water four times a day. In acute or emergency situations the dose is given more frequently; in the case of labor pains, for example, it might be a dropperful every five minutes.
Experience has taught me that vodka generally makes a more balanced tincture because it has roughly equal parts water and alcohol and is relatively tasteless. by using both water and alcohol for every tincture you generally get both water and alcohol soluable compounds out of the herbs.
As a general rule it’s best to tincture individual herbs, rather than blends simply because it’s easier to mix and match herbal treatments if each one is concentrated separately.
I generally only keep a tincture for 2 years from the time it’s completed.