Previously we discussed Drying your Herbs and Plants, let’s go over some methods of ingesting them. Oil Enfusions will be our next post.
Encapsulating Powdered Herbs
If you have ground into a powder or if you go to the health food store to buy herbs, you’ll often find them offered in powdered form or encapsulated. This is a convenient way to store and use herbs, especially if you are using them with people who are unaccustomed to taking herbal remedies.
There are two ways of encapsulating your herbs, but to start you need to turn the herbs into powder if not done after drying. This is most easily done by grinding them in a food processor or electric coffee mill. If you want to go for a more traditional method or are trying to encapsulate them during a time when there is no electrical power, use a mortar and pestle.
If you are going to make any sort of herbal mix, you’ll need a scale to measure out your various herbs. Be sure to mix the powdered herbs well, so that your capsules all have the same herbal concentration.
Capsules come in three sizes; “0,” “00” and “000.” They can be filled by hand or with the aid of a simple filling machine. The least expensive method is to fill them by hand. To start, put the powder in an oversized bowl. Open the capsules individually by hand, and scoop up the powder in both sides of the capsule, trying to get them reasonably full. Then push the sides of the capsule together.
The powder will compress as the capsule slides closed. This is a very boring and time-consuming operation, although effective. You might want some company or some assistance while doing this task.
Capsule Filling Machines
For a slightly more efficient operation, you can buy a simple capsule-filling machine. These are available in 50 or 100 capsule sizes and must be bought to match the size capsules you are using. The machine consists of several plates, which have holes to hold the capsule halves and a base.
Separate the capsules, putting the two parts into separate bowls. The thinner, longer part goes into the base plate on the machine. There is a funnel-like device used to fill this plate. Simply place the funnel over the base plate and pour a quantity of the capsule halves onto it. Shake the machine, until the capsule halves fall into the holes in the plate, ready to be filled. The same basic operation is done with the top plate.
The part of the capsules that is in the bottom plate is the part being filled. Pour a quantity of the powdered herbs onto this plate and move it around with the supplied scraper, allowing it to fill the capsules. Once filled, remove any extra powder by scraping it off.
To close the now-filled capsules, place the top plate over the bottom one. The machine will have aligning pins to ensure that the two halves of the capsules are aligned. Then push down on the plates, several times, seating the capsules. Remove your finished capsules and put them in a jar for storage.
Herbal Water Infusions: Cold and Hot Methods
Tea and coffee are both infusions; usually hot infusions. Cold versions of these drinks are often still infused hot, and then chilled in the refrigerator or with ice; however it is possible to make cold infused coffee and tea; the process is just slower. This cold-infusion process takes time. The properties of the herbs are simply extracted from the leaves or beans into the water. This same process can be used with just about any herb. The typical means of hot infusing herbs is to make a tea out of it. Herbal teas can be made from individual herbs, but it is more common to use a mixture of herbs that work well to treat the condition you are seeking to heal.
The advantage of hot infusion over cold is that it often extracts more of the essential ingredients from the plant tissue. The heat breaks down cell walls, creating a stronger infusion. On the other hand, a hot infusion may also extract ingredients that are not desirable, such as those that give the infusion a bitter flavor. In that case, a cold infusion may be better. Mucilaginous herbs tend to extract better cold, leaving the mucilage intact. Some common herbs we do cold infusions with are lemon balm, marshmallow, slippery elm, and comfrey.
Sun tea is probably the most common “cold” infusion made. Leave the herbs loose (and strain later) or put the crushed leaves in a cheesecloth or muslin bag (you can find these sold as reusable tea bags) and tie it to the top of your jar or cup. For tea, most people simply use 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herb to 8 ounces of water. Moisten dried herbs before putting them in the cold infusion – this is not necessary for fresh herbs. Leave the cold infusion for at least 48 hours to fully extract the beneficial compounds from the herbs.
Herbal tea is a very common way that herbs are used for medicinal purposes. As mentioned above, an herbal tea is a “hot infusion,” which works extremely well to extract the beneficial components from many herbs. Hot infusions can be made in a matter of minutes, unlike cold infusions, which take longer.
Teas can be made from either fresh or dried herbs, producing different results. Each particular herb will react differently whether it is dry or fresh, so you will want to know what is recommended for that herb or for that herbal mixture.
A decoction is a concentrated form of a hot infusion or tea. This can be an extremely useful method for herbs that don’t give up their beneficial chemicals easily or for woody parts or roots. It is also a great way of creating a more concentrated form of an herbal supplement, and for use with children, animals, or anyone else who it is unlikely to drink enough of a hot infusion to do them any good.
To make a decoction, start with cold distilled or purified water. Cold water is important, to help ensure you extract the maximum amount of beneficial nutrients from the herbs. It is best to make your decoction in an earthenware, glass, or glazed ceramic cooking pot, so that you don’t end up with the metal pots reacting to the astringent herbs, affecting the final flavor.
Use a ratio of 1 oz. of dried herbs per 16 ounces of water. Decoctions are normally made in a quantity that can be used within a couple of days, as they don’t keep well in the refrigerator for more than three days. If you do need to keep one for more than three days, keep it in a tightly sealed container or freeze them (ice cube trays work well). You may also add two tablespoons of alcohol (like vodka, rum, or brandy) per cup (8oz) for better preservation.
1. Crush, chop or grind the herbs, as appropriate, into small pieces and place them in the cold water in your cooking pot.
2. Allow the herbs to cold soak for a few hours.
3. Cover the pot and bring to a slow boil. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer.
4. Keep simmering until the volume of liquid has been reduced to ½ of what you started with (about 15-20 minutes).
5. Strain (cheesecloth works well). Once cooled, squeeze the herbs left behind, to ensure that you have removed all the liquid from them.
6. Pour the decoction into a jar with a lid for storage. Use within 48 hours or freeze.
Decoctions contain four times more medicine than a tea. Adults in good health can take up to 1 cup of a decoction, three times per day, depending on the herb. Children’s dosages should be cut, based upon their weight.
Double Decoctions: Double Decoctions are the same as decoctions, with the exception that they are simmered until the final volume equals ¼ of the original volume of liquid, increasing your final medicinal concentration. Adults should only take 1 TB of a double decoction and children up to ½ tsp for most herbs.
Double decoctions are especially useful when decocting shredded bark and dried roots, where the useful compounds come out of the herbs slowly. When working with these herbs, allow them to soak for 12 hours in cold water before bringing it to a boil and simmering.
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This article is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice and treatment from your personal physician. Readers are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither the publisher nor the author takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person reading or following the information in this book. All readers, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition or supplement program.