Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – Our first medicines were herbs. They are gifts from nature that grow out of the earth, nourished by the sun and the moon, the rain and the snow, to feed and heal us by nurturing our body, mind, and spirit. Dr. Leslie Korn shares some of her favorite ways to benefit from herbs.
Using Herbs Daily
The ways to incorporate herbs into your life are limitless. Among the “delivery methods” are teas, tinctures, extracts, glycerites, steams, soaks, rubs, salves, steams, smoke and vapor, baths and soaks, water infusions and decoctions, oils, syrups, elixirs, cordials, honeys, vinegars, oxymels, herbal infused oils, pills, capsules, lozenges, and suppositories. Read on to learn some simple ways you can harness their medicinal power to serve your health and well-being.
Baths and Soaks
A soak is an herbal-infused bath that relieves distress, soothes painful musculoskeletal conditions, and alleviates skin issues. Foot soaks are helpful in cases where a bathtub is not available. Adding herbs to a basin of hot water makes a relaxing remedy for painful, tired feet. A simple way to prepare an herbal bath is to stuff a muslin bag with herbs and place it in the hot water.
Cordials and Elixirs
Cordials are made with fresh plants while elixirs are made with dried herbs. The word cordial refers to the heart. (Think of being cordial to someone). Cordials are yummy medicinal beverages, about 30 to 50 percent alcohol by volume, that combine medicinal plants with liquor and honey to warm the heart and relax the mind; they are best imbibed in the afternoon through late evening. Using small amounts of cordials and elixirs is a good way to deliver herbal medicine to elders, and cordials are ideal for rituals celebrating love.
To make a cordial, you’ll need an amber glass quart jar. Fill half the jar with a mixture of plants and ground seeds, and then fill the rest of the jar with your choice of alcohol. I use brandy, sherry, or a fine tequila. Make sure the herbs are completely covered, and leave a little space at the top of the jar for the expansion of the plants. Tightly screw on the lid and label the jar with the contents and date. Store in a cool, dark closet and steep for at least a month.
After a month, strain the liquid into a clean jar and add 1/4 cup of either raw honey, grade B maple syrup, or a touch of blackstrap molasses. Or you can get creative and add dried fruits for extra sweetness. If you use brandy or sherry, the cordial will be naturally sweet, so you won’t need to add as much sweetener. This cordial or elixir can keep at room temperature for years.
Herbal vinegars are liquid extracts that use vinegar as the main solvent. They are excellent for children and for those who cannot consume alcohol. Vinegars can be consumed as a food or used in baths, and are especially useful when you are fatigued or anxious.
Herbal vinegars can be made by soaking the herbal material in vinegar – apple cider vinegar is one of the best to use – for 2 weeks in a dry, cool place, and later straining it until all herbal material is gone. Herbal vinegars can be mixed into dressings, beverages, marinades, and other meals; however, for medicinal benefit, 1-2 tablespoons of the herbal vinegar taken 3 times a day is most effective.
A decoction is a method of extraction that works by heating plant material in water. It’s the fancy name for a tea. This preparation is usually used for the woody parts of plants, like rhizomes, bark, twigs, berries, or mushrooms. In a small pot, put 1 ounce of herbs in 1 quart of water and simmer on low for 20 to 45 minutes. For a stronger brew and more potent medicine, simmer the liquid until it is reduced to a concentrate. Leaves, flowers, and herbs high in volatile oils, like valerian root or fennel, do not do well in decoctions because simmering eradicates many of their important medicinal compounds.
These are just a few of the methods for incorporating herbal medicine into your day to day life.
To explore more methods for supporting and improving your health naturally, you can purchase my book Natural Woman, Herbal Remedies for Radiant Health at Every Age and Stage of Life or attend one of my online courses.
Leslie Korn has lived and worked in Banderas Bay since 1973 conducting research in Traditional Medicine of Mexico. She is a Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health-educated clinician in clinical practice in Mental Health Nutrition, Integrative Medicine and the prevention of dementia and cognitive decline. She is the author of 8 books, including ‘Natural Woman: Herbal Remedies for Radiant Health at Every Age and Stage of Life.’ To learn more about her work, visit DrLeslieKorn.com. She can be reached at lekorn(at)cwis.org.