Making Herbal Medicines, by Michele Cooper

Herbs are powerful medicine. Do not think for one minute that all herbs are harmless. Herbs can also interact with any medicines you are taking, making them stronger or counteracting some of their properties, so research them well if you are taking any meds.

Herbal Preparations

I will go over various preparations for herbal medicines, which can be made into various forms, including an infusion, decoction, syrup, pill, capsule, and more. I will provide general instruction for each of these below.

Infusion (Tea)

Probably the easiest method to prepare herbal medicine is an infusion, more commonly known as tea. However, for an herbal infusion, it is better to allow the tea to steep for five or more minutes.

To Make Herbal Infusion

To make an herbal infusion, add boiling water to your herbs, cover with a small plate, and allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes. Add sugar or honey, if desired, and drink.

You can make your teas by placing a teaspoon or more of the herb or herbs you want to use into your cup or in a tea strainer. For tea you want to take throughout the day, make it in a teapot. Consume promptly.

Pre-Made Medicinal Herbal Teas

There are also many really good pre-made medicinal herbal teas, which are exceptional medicines, on the market. I personally recommend Yogi brand Breathe Deep for head and chest congestion and asthma. The stuff is amazing, helping with congestion, coughing, and just general breathing. It helps my asthma significantly. It has a slightly sweet, black licorice taste that my husband loves. Licorice is used in many herbal teas, as licorice is one of the top ten most useful herbs but also because it helps the other herbs to work together in harmony, and it covers the taste of many very useful herbs that taste very nasty (like elecampane root, which is a very strong decongestant and expectorant but tastes terrible).


A decoction is a little stronger than infusion but takes longer, as the material is simmered or boiled for a period of time, depending on the herb; roots or woody parts take a lot longer than do softer materials.

Making a Decoction

To make a decoction, place the herbs in a (preferably) non-metallic pan, add water, bring to a boil, then cover, and turn the heat down to gently simmer for 15-20 minutes or longer. To make syrup, you can strain out the herb and add sugar or honey to taste.

Both infusions and decoctions are meant to be used immediately or stored for very short periods of time (a day or two at most) in the refrigerator.


Syrups can be made easily from either an infusion or decoction by adding two parts sugar or honey. Remember: Do not feed honey to an infant under one year of age, due to the possibility of infant botulism.


For longer storage and more potent extracts, you can make tinctures. Tinctures can be made with alcohol, which is usually the kind most people think of and is usually the strongest, glycerin, or even vinegar.

To Make a Tincture With Alcohol or Apple Cider Vinegar

To make a tincture with alcohol, fill a glass jar 1/3 to ½ full of dried herb or ¾ full of fresh herb and add 80–100 proof alcohol to cover the herbs, or filling up the jar. The alcohol can be your choice– vodka, brandy, or rum. A vinegar tincture is made the same way, only adding apple cider vinegar instead of alcohol.

Lobelia is one herb that must be made with vinegar instead of alcohol. BTW, lobelia is such an amazing herb; it is the only one that gets its own chapter in The School of Natural Healing by Dr. Christopher.

To make your tincture, place your jar of herb and solvent (alcohol or vinegar) in a cool dark place for 6-8 weeks, shaking daily. You may then strain out the herbs and discard them (into your compost pile) and store liquid in air-tight bottles (capped bottles or jars).

Label Tinctures

Make sure you label your tinctures with the herb (or herbs used), the date of your tincture, and the correct doses to use. Tinctures are powerful, concentrated doses of herbs, so the usual dosage is 10 or 20 drops up to one teaspoon, dissolved in a glass of water, tea, or juice. Read the label on purchased tinctures to determine how much you should take daily. Tinctures have a very long shelf life, years.

Alcohol Concerns

Alcohol tinctures can have some or most of the alcohol removed by adding it to hot tea. For those who do not wish to use alcohol or for small children (although note, children would be taking doses of 2-10 drops, unlikely to cause drunkenness), most tinctures can also be made with pure vegetable glycerin, which is slightly sweet. However, glycerin tincture is often about half the strength of an alcohol tincture.

To Make a Glycerin Tincture

To make a glycerin tincture, pour 3 cups (750 ml) of vegetable glycerin into a ceramic pan that can be used on a stove top. Add 1 cup (250 g) of finely ground dried herbs and 1 cup (250 ml) of water into the glycerin. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, and then lower the heat so the mixture will simmer gently. Let the liquid reduce by half, and remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Pour the boiled mixture into a glass container and cover it tightly. Leave the container to sit for three weeks, shaking the container thoroughly once a day. Strain the liquid to remove all of the herbs and store in a (preferably) dark glass container on a shelf or in the fridge.

Make Tinctures of Individual Ingredients

Preferably, make your tinctures of individual ingredients and mix tinctures in small amounts to make your combinations. That way you can use a tincture for more than one purpose, as many herbs are useful for many different types of ailments.

Syrup From a Tincture

To make syrup from a tincture, heat it a little and add sugar to taste. Remember Mary Poppins (very wise woman) said, “Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” You can also make syrup from just the herb, water, and sugar or honey, but that is for short-term use and must be stored in the refrigerator.

Using a Nasty-Tasting Herb

If you have a very nasty-tasting herb, combine it with another complimentary strong-tasting herb to help disguise the flavor. Licorice is a good one, as is peppermint, and both herbs lend their own wonderful qualities. Anyone with high blood pressure should be careful with licorice, as it can cause a temporary elevation of blood pressure.


Combine herbs you want in your pills. If they are not powdered, powder them.

I use about 4-5 oz. of powdered herbs. To the herbal powder, slowly add in honey at a 2:1 ratio (two parts powdered herbs to one part honey) and mix until your herbs are about the texture of pie dough. Roll your herbs into a log, about the diameter of your little finger. Then, cut the log into about peanut- or marble-size pills, and roll each into a little ball. Drop those pills into a little bit of powdered herbs, or powdered sugar to coat them (just so they are not so sticky). You can allow them to dry on your counter, or dry them in your dehydrator for a few hours on a low temperature.

You can make your pills with glycerin or sugar syrup; just be sure to add these slowly, so that you do not make your pills too liquid.


For capsules, you will need a little bit of equipment, but it is non-electric, so could easily be used off grid. They are very easy to fill, and I do it while listening to music or watching TV.

Mix your powdered herbs. Put down a piece of paper or a plate (so you can reuse any herbs that are spilled accidentally) and place the larger half of the capsule machine (the base) on its stand on the paper. Separate the capsules, putting the longer half into the base and the shorter part into the cover. Pour approximately one tablespoon of powdered herbs into base, and using the green card move around the powder to fill the capsules. Use the tamping tool to compact powder, and then fill base again. Place cover on base, press down evenly several times until bottomed out. Remove cover. Filled capsules should be in the cover. Depress top cover gently on both sides to eject filled capsules.

Takes a Few Minutes and Saves Money

It only takes a few minutes for 24 capsules, and I sit and make a lot of capsules at one time. I then store my completed capsules in a used and cleaned pill bottle and label it with its contents and what it is for.

This is a real money saver, as you can buy your herbs, vitamins or minerals in bulk (or vitamin C, or whatever) and put them into capsules yourself. This way, you know what is in the capsules and there are no fillers added.

Capsule Machines and Capsules

There are several sizes of capsule machines and capsules. I have both the 00 and 0 sizes. Be sure you get the right size capsules to go into your capsule machine. As of the date of this writing(11/29/18), the capsule machines are about $18 each and you should be able to get 500 to 1000 capsules around $10 for 500 gelatin capsules or $15 for vegetarian capsules. The approximate capacity of the capsules is 500mg for size “0” and 1000mg for size “00”.


Lozenges are made by bringing sugar (about 1 cup) and half as much water (or tea or a decoction) and anything else you want in it (like herbs or honey and lemon, or essential oils) to boil and simmering for 15-20 minutes stirring frequently until it becomes thick and syrupy (or hard crack stage– 300 degrees on a candy thermometer). You can then place them on a buttered cookie sheet, or on parchment paper or silicone baking sheet in drops from a teaspoon and sprinkle with powdered sugar or powdered herbs and allow to cool/dry. Store them in a tin or jar with a lid.


Another use for infusions, decoctions, or tinctures is making compresses, which are simply a piece of cloth or cotton ball soaked in an herbal solution and applied to the outside of the body. Compresses may be cold or warm and are a great way to relieve headaches, tired eyes, muscle soreness, and flu.


Other non-internal uses for herbs include poultices, where the herb is made into a paste applied to the body. Plasters are when the paste is placed in a pouch (or between pieces of gauze) instead of being applied directly to the skin.


When the herb is mixed with other ingredients to be applied to the skin, it is referred to as an ointment. They are easy to make with coconut oil or Vaseline (petroleum jelly). Ointments can be made with any fat available. Though, if it’s a fat that can go rancid, it is unlikely to last as long as using Vaseline. Melt the coconut oil/fat or Vaseline in a double boiler or over very low heat (and watch carefully so it doesn’t catch fire), and add your fresh or dried herb. If you use fresh, use twice as much. Continue to heat on a very low temperature for several hours, and then carefully pour into the container you will be using, straining the herbs out through a couple of layers of cheese cloth. It will thicken as it cools. If after cooling, it is not thick enough, it can be reheated gently and a small amount of beeswax added. Then, it is re-cooled to verify appropriate thickness.

Note To Seek Professional Medical Advice

Note that the information on this page is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content, including text and information, are presented here for general information purposes only. Always seek professional medical advice. In other words, you should always review any information carefully with your professional health care provider.

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