Making medicinals is a wonderful hobby that is not only fun, it’s cost effective and great for you and your family’s health. I also love it as it gets me, my kids and grandchildren closer to nature, flowers and soil. How can that be bad, right?
Since we have been making medicinals and women’s health products organically at our ranch for over ten years we’ve been around alot of people who have lots of questions. Our goals have always been to help others begin this journey themselves, in their quest to take charge of their own health. The number one question we get asked is: How do I get started?
Our advice is to start with five to ten medicinals to learn each year. Each year take on five more and you’ll see that over five years you’ll have mastered 25 different medicinals without pressure to know everything immediately. We then inform them that it’s easiest to start with medicinals that are also cooking herbs. With this they are armed and ready to go. They then go to the store and buy organic herbs and start them in pots on their deck and/or porch. It’s really that simple.
I get our family members started on some basic herbs/medicinals that are great for cooking and medicine: the mint family. They all love peppermint and spearmint tea. they love the smell in salves when I make the oil infusion and harvest wax from our own hives. They also love these smells in the organic goat milk soaps I make. My kids often help me with the harvesting, drying, oil infusions, salve and soap making. They also help me collect wildflowers for jelly making, as well. Wildflower harvesting for jelly making is another wonderful adventure that falls more in the ‘food’ category than ‘medicine’ category. All of these activities combined are a great exercise and learning journey for the whole family.
So, let’s get started.
Step One: Collecting your herbs. It is important to know what you are collecting and when to collect it. Also, it is important to know what part of the plant is the part you use. For this you can do research on the internet or buy a great beginner herb book. As an example though, if you were to collect queen anne’s lace to make wildflower jelly, you need to know that there is a BLACK STAR in the middle of the flower. If it is missing that star, it’s poison hemlock and can kill you. So, it’s best to start with the easy herbs and wildflowers. Here’s what I am currently collecting right now as it is June and each month’s collections are determined by what’s blooming:
- Red Clover
- Sweet Mint
- Lemon Balm
- Sweet Marjoram
- Lemon Grass
- Anise Hyssop
Step Two: Drying Your Herbs. There are really two ways to dry your herbs, 1) hang drying or passive solar, and 2) a dehydrator. I do both.
Hang drying of course takes longer. My dehydrator takes about eight to twelve hours. Note how I label each rack so it’s easy to know what each herb is. This is a smart thing to do as the plant and flowers will change form and color as they dry and honestly it’s sometimes hard to remember what you are drying. A trick I do is I save the labels I have, which are a collection for each month, April, May, June, etc. This helps me remember each year what to harvest and when.
Step Three: Processing Your Herbs. It is important to know that drying is always a necessary step to assure there is no moisture in the herb for storage. How you then process your herb is determined by what you want to do next. The easiest things to do for a beginner is to process for two to three purposes: tea, salves and soap making.
In all three cases you want to cut up the dried herb and store it in an air tight container until you use it for each purpose. Salves and soaps have one more step which I will get into next.
Above is how I chop up my herbs to go into containers. I use a coffee grinder. This allows me to easily cut up the leaves into smaller units. Note however that when you cut the leaves it releases the oils in the plant. So, you can leave the leaves whole and use a mortar and pestle at the time you make your tea to release the oils, or cut them up but not too fine and then rub them together in your fingers before you put them in your tea bag. I chop mine (not too fine) and store and replace the herbs I don’t use, every year. This keeps the oils at their highest. I chop right out of the dryer due to the fact I immediately use many to go into soaps and salves.
The next step to do in order to make salves and soaps is to make an oil infusion with the chopped herb. An oil infusion is done by adding equal parts oil (I use olive oil) to equal parts flower and/or leaves depending on the plant, in a glass jar. You then make sure there is enough added oil to be one inch above the dried herb. You also want to leave at least one quarter inch of space at the top of the jar so that the herbs can expand. You place this on a sunny window sill for two months, shaking it every day. It is actually okay to strain it at four to six weeks, but I do two months usually, just due to my cycle of making all the medicinals I do per year. Once the oil infusion is done, you strain the oil out using cheese cloth and then store the oil in a glass jar in a cool dark place. That oil will last approximately one year. You can add vitamin E to extend the shelf life of the oil.
To make salve you then simply heat up the oil and add bees wax to it. It’s truly that simple. And, to make soap you add the infused oil to the soap making process.
You can find great recipes for salves and soap making on the internet or in a beginners medicinals how to book.
Our whole family loves the herbal teas, salves, soaps, tinctures and jellies we make here at our ranch and farm. It has also taught us all a great deal about the power of healing and wellness through natural medicine.
We encourage everyone to try taking baby steps into this wonderful hobby that truly is life transforming. It really changes how we think about our bodies, our plants and our over all health and well being.
God Bless! L. Davis