Basic Herbal Preparations

All natural, herbal remedies need not be expensive or hard to make. With a few basic tools and ingredients and the right instructions, you can easily make fresh, effective preparations at home that you'll feel good about. Remember that many medicinal plants can also be eaten! Herbs can prevent sickness as well as assist with illness if they are used in the daily diet.

Many plants require an extraction method to draw out their active constituents. This is where preparations are invaluable. The methods are not as difficult as they may sound. Remember to never use aluminum ware when preparing any herbal medicine because aluminum can react with the chemicals in the herb and affect the end product. It is also known to accumulate in the body over time and has been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. Use stainless steel, Pyrex, earthenware, or enamel, free from chips and cracks.

Safety first! Only buy herbs from trusted, reputable, reliable sources, and always check botanical plant names to be sure you are buying or harvesting the correct plant material. Many different plants share the same common names. Start with simples, or one herb at a time, before trying herbal combinations. This makes it much easier to eliminate herbs you might be sensitive to. It will be very difficult to pinpoint an allergy from a tea containing five different herbs. Do your homework and make intelligent, informed choices. Organic is best. If you are wildcrafting, remember this: Never harvest from roadsides where plants have been contaminated by vehicle exhaust and road maintenance weed killers, and harvest ethically by never taking all of one plant species from any location. Leave some for Mother Nature and for others.

If you are using fresh herbs in your preparations, double the quantity of the amount stated for dried herb(s). Water used in herbal preparations should be free from fluoride and chlorine. Make sure you have a small accurate scale on hand when making herbal preparations. 

Most importantly, have fun!


Whether for health or simple pleasure, herbal teas are gentle, soothing, beneficial, and enjoyable any time of day. They are also a wonderful substitute for caffeinated colas and coffee. Mix flavors and have fun creating your own blend.

Basic Tea Recipe
1 T. dried herbs
½ pint water

Place herbs into a clean non-reactive metal or enamel pot with a lid. Bring water to a boil. Turn off the heat and pour the water over the herb(s). Cover the pot and let steep for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain in a non-aluminum strainer and drink. Honey, lemon, or milk can be added if desired.  


An infusion is stronger than a tea and will extract glycosides, alkaloid salts, and water-soluble vitamins. Infusions are intended for immediate use. Store for a maximum of 24 hours in a cool place. Nourishing herbs packed with vitamins and minerals and perfect for infusions include oatstraw, nettle leaf and red raspberry leaf.

Basic Infusion Recipe
1 oz of dried herbs*
1 quart boiling water

Pour water over herbs (easily prepared in a glass quart jar) and cover securely. Steep for 4 - 10 hours then strain and drink. Sweeten if needed.

*Or fill a jar with freshly chopped herbs, like the wild violets you see pictured here. My children love it.DecoctionsThis method is used for hard woody substances such as roots, bark, and stems whose constituents are water soluble and non-volatile. Decoctions are intended for immediate use. Store for a maximum of 72 hours in a very cool place. Decoctions extract mainly mineral salts and bitter principles.Basic Decoction Recipe
1 oz of dried herb or root
1 pint water

Cut or crush herb or root and add to water. Simmer with the lid off about 20 minutes or until the volume of water is reduced by ¼, so ¾ of a pint remains. Cool, strain, and take in divided doses according to the herb’s use. Sweeten if needed.


A poultice is an effective way of applying herbs directly to the skin. The fresh leaves can be bruised and mashed, or powdered or dried herbs can be used. Pour over just enough boiling water to wet the mixture. Ground linseed, white bread, or bran can be added to give the poultice bulk and help retain the warmth. Apply the mixture wrapped in a cloth (cheesecloth, old cotton sheet sections, etc.) over the area and cover with another hot, wet cloth. Replace the cloth with another when it cools. Repeat this process keeping the poultice hot. Poultices are useful for drawing inflammation to the surface or easing painful joints. Wash the poulticed area with chamomile infusion to ease any inflammation. 


Tinctures extract the chemical constituents in alcohol, cider vinegar (white vinegar is synthetic and defeats the purpose, we think), or vegetable glycerin. Alcohol is most effective and therefore the most commonly used. Vinegar or vegetable glycerin can be used where there is a reason not to use alcohol, such as for small children or alcoholics. Tinctures are invaluable, as water will retrieve only some of the medicinal properties. You can certainly use 90% or higher alcohol for any tincture, but to save money, it pays to research the required alcohol concentration for each herb. For example, garlic requires only 25% alcohol, while Chaste Tree berries require 75%. 
100 proof (50% alcohol) vodka is a popular all-purpose solvent for tinctures.

Tinctures are extremely useful, quick, easy, simple to dispense, and will last indefinitely if stored correctly. They are also great for when an infusion or decoction is too bitter to drink.

Ask us if you are interested in Red Barn Herb Farm's tincturing methods. 

Basic Tincture Recipe
(remember, this is a very basic, 'folk' recipe .. do a little research to discover the best way to extract your herb's medicinal goodness)

1 to 2 oz of powdered or chopped herb
1 pint of alcohol such as 100 proof vodka, or cider vinegar, or vegetable glycerin

Mix herb with liquid. Keep the tincture in a tightly closed jar in a warm spot (but not in the sun), for approximately 2 weeks. Shake the tincture 2 to 3 times every day. Strain through a coffee filter, folded cheesecloth, or muslin. You may need to strain your tincture two or even three times to remove all the herb.

Store your tincture in a dark bottle or cabinet. Half a pint of tincture should equal the medicinal potency of 1 oz of the fresh herb, so approx. 1 t. will equal the medicinal strength of 1 cup of infusion. Take tinctures in a bit of water or juice.

Another tincture formula is to add 1 part herb to 5 parts of alcohol.


Syrups are very useful for cough mixtures. 

Basic Syrup Recipe
1 pint decoction of herb of your choice
1 cup honey
Vegetable glycerin, for preservation (optional, I don't use it)

Prepare your decoction of choice. Add honey to decoction and simmer 10 minutes. Vegetable glycerin can be added to help preserve the syrup using 4 T. of glycerin to every 8 T. of syrup. Honey has some natural preservative action of its own.

Ointment & Salve

This is a useful method of applying herbs topically. The herb is held in suspension and a certain amount of absorption of active constituents occurs through the skin. The ingredients making up the bulk of the ointment can also have therapeutic value. For example, beeswax has natural antibacterial properties. There are many, many different ways to make an effective salve. Experiment to find what you like best.

Basic Ointment/Salve Recipe *
4 oz good quality cold-pressed oil (olive, sweet almond, etc.)
½ oz bees wax
8 oz fresh herb(s) or 4 oz dried herb(s)

Slowly heat oil over a pot of hot water or in a double boiler over med-low to low heat. Add herbs and heat gently for ½ to ¾ of an hour. Do not allow the oil to boil; it can cause your infusion to lose important healing properties. (If you do allow it to boil, carefully discard the oil and start over.) Strain through muslin or cheesecloth, squeezing the herb to extract all the oil, being careful not to burn yourself. Add the beeswax, varying the amount depending on how firm the final ointment needs to be, and stir gently until the wax is melted. Pour into sterile, labeled jars and cool before putting on the lid.
Note: Tinctures or essential oils can be used instead of the fresh or dried herbs. Use 1 ½ t of tincture or oil to 4 oz of oil, stir before pouring tincture into sterile jars, so the tincture does not settle on the bottom.

*You may also use 1 oz of beeswax per 1 cup of infused oil for a smaller batch of salve.


Cleanliness is important when preparing herbs for medicines, particularly if you intend to store the preparation. Sterilize all jars and bottles. This can be done by boiling them and their lids separately for 20 minutes or putting them in an oven and heating them to 350 F for one hour.

Don't let any of the recipes daunt you; they are much easier than they look. You'll be surprised how much fun it is to make your own remedies, and practice makes perfect!

Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only. We are not responsible for any accidents, miscalculations, or other mishaps whatsoever that may occur from your own herbal preparations. Be safe!