One of the most popular ways to take herbs is in tea format. Herbal teas are readily available to buy in large supermarkets or health food shops, but you can also very easily make your own infusion or decoction. Often, many of the ingredients you need to make the tea can be found in your back garden, and may include leaves, flowers or common weeds. You can adapt the ingredients you use to suit your specific requirements.
Making herbal tea involves steeping or cooking the herbs in water in a pot, and straining the liquid, which you drink. The advantage of taking herbs in this way is that they're quickly absorbed by the body, so the results may be immediate. You may need to take the tea several times per day, over a period of time, however, to notice long-term results.
Despite the ease and effectiveness of herbal teas, they often have a strong taste and an unpleasant odour that can be hard for some people to stomach.
Capsules and tablets
If you find herbal teas unpalatable, you may prefer to take herbal medicines in a capsule or tablet format. Containing finely ground herbs rolled into a pill, herbal tablets have been used in Chinese medicine as far back as the 12th century.
Herbal capsules can be used for many illnesses, and they're especially suitable for relieving the symptoms of colds, flu or indigestion. Since they can be safely taken over a long period of time, herbal pills are also most often used for chronic conditions.
Unlike teas, herbal pills take longer to be absorbed by the body, so you might not notice immediate results. Many people choose herbal pills, however, as they are inexpensive and store well. They can be kept in the bathroom cabinet and used as and when needed.
When the active components of herbs are extracted and mixed with water or alcohol, this is known as creating a tincture. Taking herbs as tinctures is popular by many who prefer natural medicines, but since it is in a very concentrated form, only a small amount is required. Knowing how much is safe to take is vital.
The benefit of tinctures is that they come in a handy bottle, making them very convenient to use. Since you only need a few drops, a little can go a long way.
Some people believe that different moon cycle stages may influence the effectiveness of tinctures but we haven't been able to find any reliable studies to back this up!
Many traditional cultures prefer to ingest herbs as a raw powder, which is basically herbs that have been ground. No other process, such as extraction or evaporation is involved, so you get the benefit of taking the complete herb.
Herbal powders should be as fresh as possible, and any older than six months should not be used. This may limit how long you can store them for. Powders are cost-effective, however, and they're thought to be especially useful for treating digestive disorders.
Lotions and salves
Topical medicines containing herbs are commonly applied to the skin as lotions, creams or salves. They are especially suited for calming down inflamed skin or easing painful muscles. Calendula is often used to help heal wounds, for instance, and comfrey or arnica applied as a cream are well known for healing bruises.
Herbal creams are readily available to buy, but it is important that you choose a good quality brand that contains the right amount of active ingredients to do their job. Some inferior products may include a whole host of additional ingredients and very little of the actual herbal product. Herbal lotions and salves aren't easy to make yourself at home, so purchasing them from a reputable health shop or herbalist is recommended.
Washes, compresses and poultices
Herbs that have been infused or made into a decoction can be applied to the skin as a wash. This can be used directly on a specific area or added to a hot bath for whole-body benefits.
To make a more concentrated infusion, a compress can be used. A compress involves soaking a cloth in a herbal infusion and placing on the affected part of the body. Compresses are useful for healing wounds or skin rashes.
Similar to a compress, a poultice uses the whole herb, not just the liquid infusion to ease irritated or inflamed skin. A moistening agent such as honey or egg white is mixed with the herbs and spread on cloth, which is then applied to the affected area for several hours.