What to keep in your herbal medicine chest. These herbs and essential oils are basics that are great for anyone, especially those new to natural medicine.
Do you make an infusion, a salve, a pastille? What herb is best for your cough or what about that bump on your left shoulder? Timmy skinned his knee, what should you use to stop the bleeding and assist in healing? Susie has an upset tummy after eating cake and ice cream at a birthday party, what should I use that will ease her stomach, yet is safe?
With all the information out there on essential oils and herbs, it’s hard to know where to even start.
While it’d be great to be able to run out and forage for, or purchase all the herbs known to mankind, and all the essential oils you can smell, it’s just not that feasible in the budget for most of us. In many cases, it’s not necessary to have them all. Many are “dual purpose” in that they can be used for more than one thing, making them truly versatile.
For the beginner in natural health, you really only need a few items to get started. then you can add to your herbal first aid kit as you gain more knowledge. Here’s what I recommend people start out with and why:
For essential oils and carrier oils in your herbal remedy kit, try these:
- Lavender Essential Oil-this has natural antibacterial properties and is great for calming or soothing. Lavender can also be applied “neat” in small amounts, directly on burns, cuts or scrapes. I love it in homemade sunburn spray especially.
- Sweet Orange Oil-this is another great scent that is generally safe for young children. It’s natural antibacterial properties also make this great for homemade hand sanitizers and natural home cleaning products. It’s energizing scent is perfect for those moments when you need a bit of a “boost” in the afternoons. Just 5 drops diffused in your room will help perk you up.
- Olive Oil-not only great for cooking and salad dressings, olive oil is very useful for infusing herbs in for salves, lotions, and massage oils. I choose organic as much as possible, especially for internal or culinary uses. Garlic infused olive oil is great for rubbing behind the ear when an earache comes on.
- Jojoba Oil-another awesome carrier oil, jojoba has natural anti-inflammatory properties. When you get a minor burn, sunburn, scrape or other damage, the skin will go to great lengths to protect itself. That inflammation can be quite painful. Jojoba oil keeps the skin soft and supple while helping to reduce the inflammation. It’s a great massage oil, as it’s light and non-greasy. A couple of drops of sweet orange and lavender into 1/4 cup of jojoba oil will give you a relaxing massage just before sleep.
- Beeswax-this will come in handy for making salves and oils thicker. Just a couple tablespoons per cup of oil will usually thicken it enough to use as a rub on salve. Non-greasy, and a light honey scent along make this an easy addition. A little goes a long way with pastilles, and they are usually best stored in the fridge.
There are many dried herbs to choose when building your herbal medicine cabinet.
I have a lot of favorites, but I seem to keep coming back to the same herbs time and again for my family. Many of these can be added to your garden or foraged and dried for later.
- Dried plantain I love having this on hand for cuts and scrapes. Well, more cuts from the knives in the kitchen. Just a couple tablespoons of the dried herb, moistened with water in a cotton cloth make a great poultice to lay directly on a cut. It will help stop bleeding quickly.
- Echinacea This is a “go to” constantly in my family. We keep this on hand in the form of tinctures and for teas when colds or the flu hits. It’s not the best tasting, and my children describe it as “the bowels of hell”, but it’s been effective at helping to shorten the time we are sick.
- Astragalus This is another non-tasty herb, especially in tincture form. It’s been described as what the bottom of the chicken coop would taste like. But, astragalus is an adaptogenic herb, meaning that it can assist the body in times of stress. I like to keep this one in tincture form as well and my family takes it daily. I up the dosage to 2x a day when under stress, like time changes, seasonal changes or other physical and mental challenges arise.
- Elderberry ah, the wonderful, humble elderberry. Awesome for cooking down into a syrup to assist the body during times of cold or flu. This can also be used over pancakes and waffles, over ice cream and even cakes to let your “food be your medicine”. Elderberries are toxic when fresh, so you MUST cook them to eliminate that. The flowers of the elderberry plant, however, are NOT toxic and are great when drunk as a tea during colds. It has immune stimulating actions and can help to increase bronchial secretions, helping you to cough up congestion.
- Dried Peppermint or Spearmint This is perfect for those upset tummies due to overindulgence. A peppermint infused tea will help settle your stomach and ease digestion.
Learning Herbal Medicine
For other items in your home herbal medicine chest, I suggest the following items to help make your herbal emergency medicine kit. These will be helpful as you are learning herbal medicine and how to use it safely.
- Vodka, brandy or nonalcohol menstruums. You can use food grade glycerine or apple cider vinegar. These are a must for making herbal tinctures, as they “pull” the medicinal qualities from the herb. Normally, for alcohol, you would use 5 mL of liquid for every gram of dried herb. Since it’s medicinal, you NEED to measure by weight. For glycerine and apple cider vinegar, you would use 3mL of that liquid PLUS 2 mL of water for each gram of herb.
- Garlic-most households will already have fresh garlic in their kitchen for culinary uses. Garlic also has medicinal qualities to it that make this a MUST have on hand. Garlic infused olive oil is great for ear aches, or even used on warts. You can also assist the body in shortening the life of a cold or flu by liberally adding this to your food. Again, letting “food be your medicine” is a great choice. My mother in love used to feed my hubby raw garlic on buttered bread when he was sick. It wasn’t his favorite, but he felt it worked at getting him over being sick sooner.
These herbs are my personal favorites, and the ones we always have on hand.
Building our herbal medicine cabinet has helped us save time and money. We do not have to go to the doctor every time we have a cough and sniffle, and I feel better that we are assisting our bodies naturally during stressful times, colds, coughs, the flu, and minor burns, cuts, and scrapes.