Welcome to the Order of the Sacred Star! This Pagan/Wiccan group, based in Winnipeg, Canada, is committed to teaching the Craft to all those who wish to learn. Our goal is to provide a complete and fulfulling learning experience. Our public classes are offered through the Winnipeg Pagan Teaching Circle.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Herbology: Herbal Preparations

Herbs can be used in quite a number of different ways. They can be used to treat an ailment or problem. They can also be used for spellcasting and ritual magick. There are several different ways in which herbs can be prepared for use.

Herbal Water Infusions

When plant material is infused in hot water, after about three to five minutes the water becomes a fragrantly scented and pleasantly refreshing drink known as "tea." These are hot water infusions. This is certainly the fastest way to prepare herbs for ingestion, if this is the desired application.

Placing the herbs in cold water and soaking them for eight to 12 hours produces a cold water infusion. This is generally most effective when the preparation is left overnight. It is usually more pleasant if the infusion is warmed slightly before drinking. All infusions, hot or cold, should be strained before consumption.

Herbal Tinctures

In a tincture, the properties of the herbs are extracted and preserved in alcohol. In ancient times, this was accomplished using wines, (as is where the term "mulled wines" originated from). Tinctures can be made with fresh or dried herbs.

Tinctures can also be made "non-alcoholic" by adding the adequate ratio of water to the tincture mix and leaving the mixture uncovered for several hours while the alcohol evaporates, useful for those people that are unable to drink alcohol.

Herbal Poultices

Poultices are herbal compresses that are very handy for skin problems and even muscular and bone ailments. They are made by steaming the herbs over water, but not touching the water. Cover and steam for a few minutes, just so that the herbs "wilt."

The softened herbs are then spread on a cloth and placed on the affected area. The "compress" is covered with a woolen cloth and left on for approximately two hours.

Herbal Decoctions

A decoction is an extract of herbs produced by boiling the herb in water. This method is used for hard seeds, roots and barks, all of which need much longer than just a few minutes to infuse. It is not quite the same as cold or hot water infusion.

The herbs are first boiled, and then left to simmer in the hot water. This can take anywhere from a few hours to several days, depending on the herb used. Although decoctions are prepared by prolonged simmering, they still contain the essential qualities of the fresh herbs. This method of preparation is fairly common in herbology.

Herbal Fomentation

A fomentation is simply a towel or cloth soaked in an herbal infusion or decoction, with the excess wrung out and then applied as hot as possible to the affected area. It is important to be aware that this method can cause burning if the cloth is too hot. The temperature must be acceptable to the skin.

Herbal Powders and Syrups

Powders are exactly what they seem to be: dried and ground plant matter. Often, these powders are mixed water, soup, milk, or any other liquid. They can also be added to most foods. The most common dosage is that which can be picked up on the tip of a dinner knife (about half a teaspoon). However, this dosage may depend on which herb is used.

Syrups are created by taking either raw or brown sugar and boiling it in water until a honey-like consistency is reached. These must then be strained through cheesecloth and the herbal ingredient can then be added. This is very good for encouraging small children to consume their preparations.

Herbal Extracts and Essences

Liquid herbal extracts are generally concentrated herbal liquids which are made in an alcohol and water mixture. These are undoubtedly the best and most convenient herbal preparations. Saturation time is much longer than herbal tinctures, but the principle is basically the same. The time required will vary, but seven days are usually sufficient.

Creating an herbal essence requires taking approximately 28 grams of the herbal oil and dissolving it in 600 ml of alcohol. This is an excellent way to preserve volatile essential oils which are not water soluble. These are generally not taken internally.

There are many ways in which herbs can be prepared for use in herbology, with the right tools. It is important to use the preparation method best suited to the task at hand.

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