I really enjoy herbal-crafting. Making teas, tinctures, salves and other herbal concoctions is relaxing, and it makes me feel good to know that I can create things that help my family feel better. There’s something comforting and empowering about knowing exactly what it is that’s going into the medicines and cures I am using to treat myself and my family. Additionally, there’s a connectivity between Man and The Earth that I appreciate in a very visceral way when learning about herbs and choosing herbal allies to help protect my health.
If you’re new to herbal medicine, there’s a lot to be learned, and it can be overwhelming when you realize how much there is to know. But even a beginner can feel confident using herbal medicines, and just a few things can create a good foundation upon which to build. Let’s talk about a few herbal allies that almost anyone can use with ease and confidence. [STANDARD WARNING: As with all medicines, treat herbal remedies with respect. Use caution and care when using herbs as medicine. Start small, with single-herb remedies and gradually work your way towards more complex recipes as you gain knowledge, experience and confidence. Always document well so that you can pinpoint any potential issues to a particular herb in the event of an allergic reaction or emergency!] Because there are so many articles out there that focus on the more common ‘beginner’ herbs (lavender, chamomile, raspberry leaf, peppermint leaf, etc.), I’m going to focus on some of the herbal allies that are less common but still extremely easy to use.
YARROW – Yarrow is really an unsung hero. It’s something that I’ve kept in my medicine cabinet for years now, and if you’re a mom, it’s great for kids. One of my favorite preparations is a yarrow tincture, combined with olive leaf, ginger, slippery elm and catnip. Yarrow is also helpful for relieving fevers, promoting relaxation, and can be used during your menstrual cycle to help alleviate cramps. We also have used it in salves, along with calendula, arnica, chamomile and other herbs in a beeswax base to apply to minor cuts, scrapes and mosquito bites. It can also be used with elderberry to shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms. If you’re into the spiritual aspects of herbs, there’s a connection to Greek Mythology, in that it’s said that yarrow is one of the herbs used to treat wounds on the battleground of Troy, and in ancient Britain, a yarrow leaf pressed to the eye is said to bring on second sight. Traditionally, yarrow has been called a variety of names, including bloodwort, woundwort, devil’s nettle, and knight’s milefoil, to name a few.
ELDERBERRY – Elderberry is another staple for us. I make a new tincture every year, and combine it with honey to make elderberry syrup. It’s a great preventative medicine for flu season – just a spoonful in our normal cup of tea is how we normally take it. I’ve been planning to make either elderberry and marshmallow root lozenges or gummies for a while now, and just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe later this summer, I’ll finally make time to do that! Elderberry is incredibly easy to use though, especially for tinctures – just fill your vessel with dried elderberries to about an inch of the top, then fill with the highest proof vodka you can find (cheap vodka is fine). I’ve also made tinctures with Everclear, moonshine and apple cider vinegar, and all worked just fine; the vodka is my personal favorite method though. Put the vessel in cool, dark place for a minimum of 4 weeks, but you can leave them for up to 3 months, then strain through cheesecloth and coffee filters into a clean vessel and voila! Ready to use tincture! Elderberry has some connections to the Teutonic goddess Hulda, with parallels drawn to Persephone, Frigga and Aradia.
CATNIP – Catnip is another great herb for families. In addition to helping with digestion, it also promotes relaxation and calms restlessness. It’s great for ‘growing pains’ and RLS (restless leg syndrome) when brewed in tea, and can be a really good addition to a sleepy-time tea blend or tincture. My youngest has trouble sleeping every now and again, and so we use a catnip tincture combined with honey and a smidge of valerian. Catnip is super easy to grow and if growing it isn’t your thing, it’s usually sold in the garden department of home stores if you want to keep it fresh. Obviously, as catnip is beloved of cats everywhere, there’s an obvious connection to Bast, and to Frejya and even Hecate.
HONEY – Even though honey isn’t an ‘herb’, I’m including it here because it’s SO GREAT to keep on hand as an extension of your medicine cabinet (and beauty cabinet as well). I use honey to make incense, to make herbal remedies go down a little easier, as the base for some of my herbal remedies, as an ingredient in salves, lip balms, beauty treatments (masks), and just in and of itself to go on cuts and scrapes and nicks to the skin (though of course you would not use honey on a child less than one year of age).
In addition to teas, tinctures, syrups, and salves, I also encapsulate herbs and herbal blends for specific purposes. I take a fertility/menstrual health blend that is biphasic (meaning one recipe is used during the first half of my fertility cycle, and another blend is used during the last half). I also take several amino acid supplements, and with all the media attention that commercial supplement companies are experiencing for using fillers in their capsules, it’s very comforting to know that what is going into my capsules is actually the herbs I have chosen and not fillers. It also gives me control over how much of each herb to put into my blend, making my dosages consistent and easier to keep track of their effects.
I hope you’ve found some information here useful, and inspiring! Please comment and let me know what your ‘unsung’ herbal allies are!
Over the past few years, I’ve come to recognize the importance and value in creating my own care products. Some things, like soap, I’ve tried and found that I don’t have the patience for, so I buy handmade soaps from reputable artisans, but other things I’ve dabbled in to try it out and found that I prefer making them myself.
Of late, herbal supplements have come under fire for not actually containing the herb that the label says, which can cause effects ranging from ‘nothing’ to ‘severe allergic reaction’, depending on what the supplement capsule actually contained and the user’s health history is. Some of the fillers used were rice flour and soy-based. If you were on a gluten-free or ketogenic diet, that could be enough to affect the user.
Of particular interest to me was that saw palmetto berry was one of the supplements they tested. I have PCOS, and have been taking a bi-phasic herbal blend to help regulate my symptoms, and SPB is one of the ingredients. I’ve been creating my own, because there isn’t a version of this particular blend available commercially, and I like to tweak things to my own use rather than use a recipe I find somewhere else, but I can only imagine how frustrating it would be to ‘think’ that something is helping, or worse – rule it out as helpful because you were really taking a capsule full of fillers.
This has further application as well. For Pagans on a shoestring budget, buying commercially packaged encapsulated herbs might be an easy way to access more expensive and/or uncommon herbs in small, inexpensive amounts for spellcrafting. While not the best quality, sometimes that might be the best option available. But if you’re counting on those herbal energies to aid your spellcraft, what’s the effect of using an entirely different set of energies (based on the fillers or actual product in the capsule)?
For my own purposes, both for personal/healing use and for spellcrafting, I’ve found it less expensive and a way to ensure the quality of the herbs I use, to slowly build up my apothecary cabinet with herbs and oils. I usually buy herbs in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs, essential oils and carrier oils our local health food store or from a company like Young Living, Eden’s Garden or DoTerra, and sometimes even from the grocery store (for tea-tree and avocado oils). I like Wyndmere’s blends (Clearer Skin is awesome!!), and have tried other brands as well. It’s definitely expensive, but when you plan out your purchases over a length of time, you can build a quality apothecary cabinet that you can depend on.
At this point, I’ve built my supplies to the point where I feel the need for cohesive storage, and have started buying containers (when they’re on sale, making them $1 each) and making labels for my herb jars. I’ve recently discovered the KonMari method of simplification, and have been taking strides to make her stance of ‘have nothing in your life that doesn’t bring you joy‘ my own. My herbs and oils, which are essential to my daily practice and family’s health, bring me joy because I know their value, and I want them to be more easily accessed and beautiful. I just created new labels:
I found a couple of old spice racks at Goodwill, and use that to store my oils in (and on – they’re creeping out of the spaces as my collection grows). Eventually, I will get around to re-painting them, but for now, they’re plain wood-grain and lovely in their simplicity.
My goal in writing this post is two-fold. One, if you’re a new Pagan, a new-to-herbcraft Pagan, or a Pagan who is under financial constraints, to let you know that ‘slow and steady’ is the way to go. It takes time, but eventually, you get to the point where you have the tools you want at your disposal. It’s absolutely worth the time and effort (and delay) that it takes to build your cabinet to ensure that the quality of the products you’re using is as good as you can make it. Secondly, to encourage those of you who haven’t taken the leap into herbcrafting for health use to give it a try. Start with something simple and easy, like tinctures (which only require herbs and alcohol or vinegar), or something honey-based, like elderberry syrup or ‘throat coat’ (made with honey, lemon and ginger – just add slices of lemon and ginger to a honey jar and let sit. Add a tablespoon to hot tea. Re-fill with honey when it gets low; add new lemon and ginger occasionally). Once you get some of those basics under your belt to build confidence, you can branch out into creating your own supplements. It feels good to take charge of your health, and to know exactly what you’re putting into your body.