Written by Ruth Weaver
Children love making potions and playing with nature and making herbal medicines is a great way to empower them with self-care knowledge. This article shares some great recipes to make at home.
Making herbal medicine is truly one of the most naturally joyous activities for all ages. Whether using freshly foraged herbs or sustainably sourced ingredients, bringing children into the world of herbal medicine has so many delights- both connecting children with nature through practical fun activities and giving them valuable skills to support their health.
Medicine making is both an incitement of timeless experiment, with children loving the theatre of making potions. Experimenting with natural materials, carrying out an accurate chemical fusion to create something that heals our body and brings us health. We can offer this heritage of knowledge to them and allow the practice of home herbalism to continue down the generations.
One does not have to be a confident forager to start making and using herbal medicines at home, because it is easy to source good quality, sustainable ingredients from trusted suppliers. You can even source ingredients from local herbalists, and organic shops are also a great place to start. Many simple herbal medicines can be made using household herbs and spices, and other kitchen ingredients too.
Herbal medicines can be made using a variety of different plant parts such as leaves, flowers, seeds, fruits, roots and barks. Herbal Medicines may also be seaweeds, algae or fungi. With an equally diverse range of preparation types such as teas, syrups, honeys, tinctures, lozenges, glycerine’s, oils, ointments, creams, balms and more!
This article hopes to offer some simple yet exciting, diverse and delicious herbal recipes for the young budding herbalists. Herbal Medicines have hugely diverse taste profiles than that which is found in our regular western diets. So for the purpose of the recipes included here we will look at medicines that are both useful and effective for a multitude of minor childhood illnesses whilst also pleasing to taste;
Please note: For the best results, sterile equipment is important when making and storing any medicines and using the correct quantities of ingredients listed below will allow for maximum shelf life. It is best to source equipment that is set aside for the purpose i.e. not used interchangeably for cooking, this reduces the risk of contaminants that will spoil the preparations.
Herbal Syrups have to be one of the most loved herbal medicines by all. They are simple and fun to make whilst having a naturally sweet and beautiful taste. Syrups are a brilliant way to carry herbs that also captures their unique taste profile, where alcohol preparations such as tinctures may overpower.
Syrups can be made using honey, maple syrup or cane sugar. Cane sugar is a simple carbohydrate that can be used 2:1 (two parts sugar to one parts herb) whereas honey would need a higher ratio of 3:1 to act as an effective preservative.
Syrups are made from strong teas or decoctions that have been gently concentrated through a process of slow and gentle simmering. Follow the steps below to make a herbal syrup.
Herbal syrup instructions:
- For floral or herbaceous plant parts a strong tea infusion is made simmering on a low, gentle heat for 20 minutes (roots, fruits or barks would need a longer simmer of up to 1.5 hours). Usually enough water is added to cover the herb (dried or fresh herb can be used), the ratio would be so the herb is covered but also so the bottom of the pan would not be visible whilst moving a spoon through the mixture.
- During simmering, stir occasionally with a wooden spoon (if using berries or roots use a potato masher to press the plant material, extracting more of the goodness for your medicine).
- After simmering for the appropriate time, remove from heat and strain the infusion/ decoction using a muslin cloth on a fine sieve into a sterile container.
- Return the infusion/ decoction to a clean pan and on the lowest heat setting add the appropriate ratio of sugar or honey until dissolved.
- Cool the syrup, store and label in sterile glass bottle/ container in the fridge. A syrup can last between 6 months to a year in the fridge.
Recipe: Calming chamomile honey syrup
- Chamomile (dried) 100g
- Lavender (dried) 100g
- Purified / Spring water approx 200ml (enough to cover herb well)
- Honey (approx 2 x 500g jars)
To make this syrup follow the above instructions. Chamomile and lavender work both on the nervous and digestive systems. This sweet syrup would be helpful for anxious children who may be experiencing related digestive issues.
This same method can be used for herbs such as i.e. thyme and marshmallow (for respiratory support) or elderberry and rosehips (for immune support), experiment with blends of different plants to build up your home apothecary!
The chamomile and lavender syrup can be taken by the teaspoon up to 3 times daily. The honey syrups can be taken according to herb dosage instructions as per tinctures (see herb monographs for specific information on each herb).
Tinctures are made using either alcohol or glycerin. Vegetable glycerin is a clear, odorless liquid with a syrup-like consistency. It is usually made from vegetable oils such as soy, palm or coconut oil using high temperature and pressure, that splits the glycerin molecule from the fatty acids.
While sweet, it is not metabolised by the body like sugar. Look for an organic, sustainably harvested, non-GMO glycerin to use in medicine making (check the Resources section at the bottom).
The benefit of using glycerin is both for those wishing to avoid alcohol consumption, but an added bonus for using glycerin is that it is an excellent preservative of fresh plant juices, particularly for aromatic plants such as lemon balm, rose, violet etc. Glycerin however, is not as effective in extracting compounds from dried herb matter as an alcohol tincture.
Glycerite tincture instructions:
- Fill a clean (sterile) jar with, chopped fresh plant material or half-full of dried plant material (dried material will expand as the glycerin is absorbed).
- A glycerite tincture should contain a minimum of 55% glycerin to herb ratio. For fresh plants, add enough glycerin to fully cover the plant matter, filling the jar to within one inch of the top. For dried herb, dilute glycerin with distilled water in a 3:1 ratio (3 parts glycerin to one part water) and fill the jar with mixture to within one inch of the top
- Use the end of a clean wooden spoon to gently press the herb under the glycerin to ensure release of air bubbles and allow maximum coverage of materials.
- Replace the lid and label jar.
- Macerate or infuse the tincture for between 4-6 weeks, gently shaking the bottle every two days. Top up with glycerin as necessary if plant material is too exposed above the glycerin.
- After 4-6 weeks, strain the tincture into a clean bowl using a muslin cloth (coffee filter paper works but very slowly; nut milk bags are also effective). With clean hands, gather corners of muslin cloth together, squeezing the tincture out until there is barely a drop left. The last few squeezes will have add some very potent mixture to the final tincture so don’t give up squeezing too quickly!
- Finally, bottle and label your glycerite tincture. It stays in date for up to a year.
Recipe: Lemonbalm glycerite tincture
- Lemon balm (fresh leaves)
- Vegetable glycerin
Lemon balm is gently nervine and works to support our nervous system through stressful times. It is also indicated for digestive upsets and in respiratory complaints. The lemon balm tincture can be taken by the teaspoon up to twice daily.
Herbal infused oil
Herbal infused or ‘macerated’ oils are a wonderful way to preserve herbs for use in topical conditions. They are also quick and incredibly simple to make and diverse in their applications.
There are a number of different methods to make herbal oils both for use in medicine and for culinary use. This method is called the solar infusion and relies on a warm sunny window.
Herbal infused oils can be used neat or can be made into salves or ointments and also blended into creams, so they are a fantastic base from which to explore other herbal preparations. For best results use dried herbs (fresh herbs add a water element to oil, which can lead to spoiling), there are different methodologies for fresh herb oils.
Carrier oils that are ideal for topical use include sunflower and olive oils, both excellent carriers whilst offering some resistance to oxidation and rancidity. Herbs that are commonly used in herbal infused oils include calendula, St John’s wort, chickweed and plantain, all having their own unique medicinal qualities.
The most simple way to make an infused oil is as follows.
Herbal infused oil instructions:
- Add dried herbs in a dry, sterilized container and cover with your chosen carrier oil, usually the oil should sit 1 inch above the top of the herbs.
- Use a spoon to press and mix the herb/ oil so that all surfaces of the herb matter is coated and no air bubbles remain.
- Place a square piece of natural waxed paper or greaseproof paper on top of the jar, then seal jar with a tightly fitting lid.
- Place the jar in a sunny window for between 4- 6 weeks to infuse. The warmth of the sunlight will help to extract the compounds from the herbs into the oil. Stir or shake the mixture every few days.
- When the infusion time is up, line a sieve with of muslin cloth (folded to layer up) and filter. the mixture into a clean bowl. Gather the corners of the cloth up and squeeze strongly, squeezing as much oil from the herb as possible
- Cover and let aside overnight in a cool, dark location to allow for any herb sediment to settle at the bottom of the jar. You can also strain the oil through an unbleached coffee filter to remove fine sediment.
- Pour the oil into dry, sterilised, dark-coloured glass bottles. You can add a couple of drops of Vitamin E into your final oil to slow down the oxidisation process, giving the oil a shelf life of around 1 year.
- Label your infused oil, and store in a cool, dark place.
Recipe: Calendula infused oil
- Calendula petals
- Sunflower oil
Calendula infused oil can be used directly on the skin to treat all manner of skin inflammations and in first aid for minor cuts, grazes, bruises, sprains and strains. Calendula oil is also useful for slow healing wounds and for the healing of minor burns. This blend can be used as and when needed, up to 3 times a day.
A herbal balm is made from a herbal infused oil, simply adding a wax element such as beeswax or (vegan) carnauba wax. Balms and salves are subsets of an ointment. Salves are typically softer, where as a balm or ointment is more solid. The benefit of infusing a wax into an oil to create balms/ salves/ ointments is that it increases binding to the skin, more successfully than an oil alone, they are also potentially, slightly less messy to use than oils.
Herbal balm instructions:
- Using a double boiler/ Bain Marie or a water bath method, on a gentle heat. Add your infused oil into the clean pan.
- Add around 8- 12 % beeswax and gently stir with a silicone or wooden spoon until the wax has fully dissolved into the oil. Remove from the heat.
- You can add an essential oil at this stage if desired; approx 10 drops (depending what is being used). Essential oils act as a preservative but also help to assist circulation and better absorption into the skin.
- Slowly pour the mixture into a clean, dark glass jar. Cover but do not close the lid firmly until the balm has fully set/ solidified.
- Label your jar and close the lid firmly. Store in a cool, dark place. Balms/ Salves/ Ointments should last for unto a year.
Recipe: Calendula balm
- Calendula infused oil
- Sweet Orange or Chamomile pure essential oil
- Beeswax (unfiltered pellets or solid form)
Calendula Balm can be used directly on the skin to treat all manner of skin inflammations and in first aid for minor cuts, grazes, bruises, sprains and strains. Calendula is also useful for slow healing wounds and for the healing of minor burns. This balm can be used as and when needed, up to 3 times a day.
For more information on uses of the herbs discussed in this article or other herbs you may wish to explore in medicine making using these recipes, visit our Herbs section.
Medicine making books and other resources
- The Handmade Apothecary by Vicky Chown and Kim Walker
- Hedgerow Remedies by Julie Barlett Bruton and Matthew Seal
- A Herbal Book of Making and Taking by Christopher Hedley
- The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual by James Green
- The Herbarium is also a fantastic resource for medicine making instructions and recipes.
- Earth Song Seeds also provides some very useful information on how to prepare herbs under the “How to…” section