Herbalism 101

What's an herb?

A plant or whole plant preparation which is used for food, medicine or ceremony.  


A brief introduction to the fundamentals of Herbalism:

Conventional drugs consist of single consitutents, isolated and concentrated. Herbal remedies are different in that a whole plant preparation contains thousands of medicinal constituents with a synergistic effect. This effect cannot be replicated by the administration of a single constituent in isolation, like a conventional drug provides.

Quality herbal preparations, when used intelligently, have the ability not only to relieve symptoms, but also to address the underlying condition by providing:

  • optimum nourishment to rebuild tissues
  • tonifying factors to increase the healthy function of particular body systems or organs

Whole Plant Preparation - The result of a procedure in which a whole plant or entire plant part (such as leaf, root, flower or seed) is minimally processed, allowing the natural complement of constituents to remain as close as possible to the way they occur in nature. Such preparations generally do not require a lab or special equipment to prepare.

Examples of Whole Plant Preparations  
Teas - Water-based preparations usually made with dried herbs. Teas are short brews made with small amounts of herb, usually 1-2 teaspoons for 5-20 minutes. Teas are quick and easy to prepare, and dried herbs keep for a long time, if kept away from light and air. Some plants work especially well as a tea, such as those containing volatile oils, while others do not.

Long Infusions - Water-based preparations made with dried herbs. Long infusions are made with large amount of nourishing herbs, brewed over a long period of time. Usually 1 ounce herb in one quart of water brewed for 4 to 8 hours. The longer steeping time allows for a larger and broader spectrum of nourishing constituents to extract into the water than from a tea.

Tinctures - Made from fresh (or sometimes dried) plants which are soaked in an alcohol and water mixture (usually 50/50) for a minimum of six weeks to extract both the alcohol-soluble constituents and the water-soluble constituents. The liquid is then drained off and bottled, and later taken by mouth, mixed with a little water. Tinctures enter the bloodstream rapidly, retain their potency for many years, and are generally only needed in small amounts, typically, 1 ml. They are relatively impervious to temperature extremes, very easy to administer, and travel well.

Infused Oils and Ointments - Made by soaking fresh plants in oil for six weeks or more. The strained oil can then be mixed with thickening ingredients such as beeswax to make an ointment that can be easily applied to the skin.

Kathleen is compiling this information and more, based on her years of teaching experience, into her book, Herbalism 101For more detailed information on these topics look for the book coming soon!