Whispering Woods Herbal Grimoire


Methods of Using Herbs


Hot infusion: 250 g. dried or 750 g. fresh herb to 500 ml oil. Heat gently, in a double boiler for a period of 3 hours. Strain through cheesecloth into dark bottles.


Cold infusion: Pack a large jar with the herb. Cover it with cold-pressed oil and put the lid on. Let stand in a sunny windowsill for 2- 3 weeks. Squeeze the oil through a jelly bag and repeat the process. Store in dark glass bottles.


Infusion: A tea made by pouring boiled (not actively boiling) water over fresh or dried herbs. Use approximately 30 g. dried or 75 g. fresh herbs to 500 ml water. Or steep 2 to 4 tsp. dried leaves or herb in 1 cup boiling water. Drink 1/2 cup three times a day.


Massage Oils:

Use 5 drops essential oil to 20 ml carrier oil. Sweet almond, jojoba, and avocado make good carrier oils. You can also used infused oils.


Ointment:

A mixture of oils and fats that forms a protective layer over the skin. Melt 500 g. petroleum jelly or soft paraffin wax in a double boiler. Add 60 g. dried herb and simmer gently for 2 hours. Strain through a jelly bag and pour into jars while still hot.


Plaster:

Wrap the chopped or boiled herbs, or a paste made from them, in cheesecloth or muslin before applying to the affected area. This is good for herbs that might irritate the skin, such as mustard.


Poultice:

Boil herbs in a little water for a hot poultice, or bruise or chop slightly for a cold one. Smooth a little oil on the skin to keep the herbs from sticking, apply the herb, and wrap with muslin or gauze strips.


Steam Inhalants:

Place a few tablespoons of the dried herb in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Drape a towel over your head and breathe in the steam.


Syrup:

An infusion or decoction preserved by adding sugar or honey. Use 500 ml infusion to 500 g sugar or honey; heat gently until the sweetener has dissolved. Store in dark glass bottles with cork tops; screw top bottles may explode if the mixture ferments.


Tincture:

Steep the fresh or dried herb in a 25% mixture of alcohol and water. Do not use methyl, grain, or rubbing alcohol as they are toxic. Vodka is ideal; rum has the added benefit of covering unpleasant flavors. Use 200 g. dried or 600 g. fresh herb to 1 liter alcohol and water. Place in a sealed jar in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks, shaking occasionally. Strain the liquid through cheesecloth and store in a dark glass bottle. Take 5 ml three times a day, diluted in a little fruit juice or water



Drying Herbs:

Grandma used the rafters in the attic, or a back room on the north side of house, to dry her herbs. An area with low light and an open window for ventilation is all that is required. Air conditioning is a bonus as it speeds the drying process by removing humidity from the air.

Dry the leaves right on the stems. When you have gathered your material, wrap a string or elastic band around the bottom of the stems and hang upside down to dry. Overhead rafters are ideal, but a pushpin stuck into a back wall works well too. It is preferable to bundle the stems in small quanities as they will dry more quickly. By the time a large bundle is sufficiently dried, it has usually collected more dust than you would care to eat. Either that, or gone moldy.

Another method is to place the plant material loosely in a paper sack into which a good number of holes have been punched in the sides for ventilation. Tie the top with a string and hang to dry. This serves to keep the dust from the plant material and allows for something suitable for labeling.

Always attach some type of label or identification to your drying material.

Once dried it can be extraordinarily difficult to distinguish between one herb and another.


Yet another method ideal for small amounts is to place the plant material into a wicker or plastic open-weave basket which is lined with a paper towel. Place on a side table out of direct light and 'fluff' the contents from time to time to prevent settling.

Once dried, leaves are easily removed by stripping them from the stems. One exception is thyme. It can be tedious to strip its tiny leaves, so the dried stems and leaves are both ground for use. Try it both ways and see which you prefer.

To harvest seeds, such as dill, place a paper bag over the seed head, then snip from the plant. You should attempt to get the seeds just before they have turned completely dark, and they are still attached to the plant. Once they begin falling, they go rather quickly. If a few seeds fall from the head when it is gently tapped, then it is time to harvest.

If your electric oven can maintain a temperature of between 80°F and 90°F, then you will be able to dry your herbs by placing them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. The herb is dry and ready for storage when the leaves crackle between your fingers.

Ideally, you should invest in a dehydrator if you plan to store a great many herbs. This is almost essential for roots (the roots will need to be cut up into small pieces, or sliced thin). It also makes the whole harvest ready for storage in a very short time. Try to get one that will operate without heat (air flow only - essential for things like lemon balm) or has a thermostat (set at the lowest setting).

Replace your dried herbs with a fresh harvest each year. Although there are a few special exceptions to the rule, after one year they begin to deteriorate in flavor and potency.

Most herbs can be placed in plastic bags and fresh frozen. Basils will develop a dark color, but the taste will be unaffected. Use as you would fresh herbs.

One final method for drying delicately flavored herbs such as chives or salad burnet involves the use of your frost-free refrigerator. Lay the blades of chives on a plate and place in refrigerator uncovered. If you're familiar with the way uncovered produce dries out, you'll understand what's happening. Flavor isn't lost, but the chives will be "pseudo" freeze dried.


Harvesting:

Most herbs can be used fresh, dry, or fresh-frozen. The rule of thumb is to use twice as much of the fresh or frozen herb as the dried form (the dried herb being a more concentrated form).

Harvesting and drying herbs is not complicated. The key two words to keep in mind are volatile oil. It is this important part of the plant which is stored up mainly in the leaves, which gives the plant its aroma and taste. And it is this key ingredient which must be preserved in the drying process. Air drying is the simplest method. Food dehydrators take advantage of this principle by applying a gentle flow of air which hastens the process. A dehydrator is a worthy investment for any kitchen with large quantities of foodstuff and plant materials to be stored. The idea time of season to harvest most herbs is just when the flower buds are forming, but just before they open. The best time of day is in the morning when the dew has dried off the leaves and there is no moisture clinging to the plant. The volatile oils will be at their best this time of day.

To insure that the plant material is clean, hose them down the evening before you plan to harvest, gently spraying away any dirt which clings to the leaves.

As much as 50% from one picking may be harvest from an annual plant by snipping the stem at least 4 inches up from the ground, yet still above active growth. In time it will grow back and give you a second harvest before summer's end. In some cases, even a third.

With perennial plants, no more than one-third should be taken. In the case of some plants only the growing tips can be harvested.


Procedure for Making Salve:

Equipment you will need:

an electric skillet
the top of a double boiler pan (or a Pyrex bowl)
a cooking thermometer
a suitably sized jar to hold the salve
Wide-mouth 4-oz canning jars are particularly suitable and can be easily sterilized.

Step 1: Powder the herbs in a blender or coffee mill.

Step 2: Combine the oils and herbs in the double boiler or bowl.

Step 3: Place 3/4 inch of water in the bottom of the electric skillet to protect its finish. Turn the skillet control to where the control light just comes on, then keep raising it little-by-little until the temperature of the water reaches about 100º F. (also known as fiddling-with-the-controls)

Step 4: Place the double boiler pan (which hold the herbs and oils) in the center of the skillet and switch the thermometer from the skillet to the inside of the double boiler pan.

Step 5: When you are sure that the temperature of the combined herbs and oils is constant at 95-98 degrees F., allow to remain uncovered for 12 to 14 hours or until the herbs look 'used up'.

Step 6: Strain the herb-oil mixture through muslin or fine cheesecloth and get out as much oil as you can. After the initial straining, you may wish to do it again in order to remove as many of the herb particles as possible. Do the second straining into a measuring cup and have a salve jar standing by.

Step 7: Take note of the amount of oil you have and pour into your cleaned double boiler pan. (Write it down so you don't forget). Raise the temperature of the skillet so the oil is at 150º F., (Beeswax melts at approximately 148º F).

Step 8: When 150º F has been reached and maintained steadily, add the grated beeswax and vitamin E (if desired). Stir while wax is melting.

Step 9: When wax is completely melted, remove from heat and add 1 drop Tincture of Benzoin (or grapefruit seed extract) for each ounce of liquid you measured. Test the consistency of your product by dripping a couple of drops onto the bottom of the salve jar (or onto a plate). Allow a minute for it to harden and then test the consistency. If suitable, pour contents into your jar. If it is too loose, add a bit more grated beeswax (a tiny bit at a time). If too firm add a teaspoon of oil. Any more should not be necessary.


Historically, herbs were simmered in lard to make a salve and can still be done that way to cut costs.

The usual method is to combine lard and herbs in a large pan in the oven on low heat (about 125º F. for 12 hours). Lard can still be used in the skillet method.




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