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Preparation of Herbal Supplements

preparation of herbs

Since the very beginning of herbal techniques, preparations of herbal supplements have been done in several different ways. These ways include infusion (hot liquids like tea), decoctions (teas that are boiled), tinctures (extractions of the herb using alcohol or water), and macerations (cold water extractions). The method of extraction largely depends on the specific herb being used and the illness that is to be treated.

While the methods of extraction are fairly standard, there are other ways to use herbs to treat conditions. Some treatments require the patient to be soaked in a bath saturated with the herbs, sniffing of the herb in a powdered form and an inhaling of the herbs as they are steamed. Before treatment is begun, it is best to research the best way to prepare an herb for consumption.

For more information on how to use certain herbs for treatments, please refer to our website's section entitled "Common Ailments and Herbal Remedies".

Using Plant Chemicals to Determine Remedies

Every herb that is used to cure or treat an ailment has certain chemicals inside it that act as the agent that treats the condition. Determining how to use the herb that you select to treat a condition depends on which type of chemical is present in the herb. Some examples of chemicals commonly found in herbs are:

  • Essential Oil
  • Acid
  • Alkaloid
  • Steroid
  • Tannin
  • Saponin

The above chemicals will normally have one or two ways that you may extract their benefits. For example, there are several herbs that contain chemicals that are not referred to as water soluble. If this is the case, creating a tea using this herb would not be an effective method of chemical extraction. In addition, be aware that herbs that are not water-soluble (dissolved in water) will not be properly absorbed when digested. However, an herb that is not water soluble is often dissolved fairly readily in alcohol.

Keeping the above information in mind, it only makes sense that an herb that contains multiple chemicals is very valuable. While some chemicals may dissolve in water and be digested, others will not. An herb that has water soluble chemicals that treat depression and alcohol soluble chemicals that treat diarrhea could be used as one or the other without releasing the other chemical. For example, you could boil an herb into a tea to treat the depression or soak it in alcohol to treat the diarrhea.

If you plan to purchase your own herbal supplements, be sure that you do a little research on the herbs that are used in the supplement and how they were extracted. Obviously, if an herb is used in a pill form that is not water soluble, your digestive system will not effectively absorbed by your digestive system and will not work. By doing a little research on the product that you wish to buy, you will save yourself some time, money and frustration. However, before you consider buying supplements, consider making them yourself.

Making Your Own Supplements

preparation of herbs

By creating your own supplements, you can ensure that you get an effective dose, the right herbs or chemicals and do not overpay for herbs that might by very cheap.

Follow the following steps when first purchasing, storing, and preparing your own herbs:

  • Find a good source for your raw herbs. They should know exactly which herbs you need and be able to tell you where they obtained them.
  • Should you have leftover herbs or not use an herb as soon as you buy them, store them in an airtight container or leave the package unopened.
  • Always store herbs in a cool, dark place.
  • Use dried herbs (leaves) within 1 year.
  • Use dried bark or roots within 2 years.
  • Ground herbs can still be used to make any type of extracted supplement.
  • Do not use tap water when distilling herbs. Instead, use distilled or purified water.


Infusions are most often the preferred method for delicate herb extractions, leaf herbs and fresh plants. Infusing an herb is almost exactly like preparing tea.

  1. Bring distilled or purified water to a boil.
  2. Pour the water over the herbs and cover the poured water for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Stir the herbs and water every few minutes.
  4. Use 6-8 oz. of water per 1 tsp. of herb (powdered, 2 tsp. bulk).
  5. While essential oil herbs should be consumed immediately, other herbs can be stored for later.


Decoctions are most often the preferred method for tough and fiber rich plant materials as well as bark and roots.

  1. Using the same ratio of water to herb as above, add cold water to herbs in a pot.
  2. Bring the water to a boil.
  3. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium.
  4. Let the herbs simmer for 20-25 minutes.
  5. After the herbs are done simmering, use a strainer to pour the mixture into a cup.
  6. For tougher bark, boiling time can be increased until the wood is soft. Alternatively, the mixture can be boiled for the shorter time and left to soak over night.
  7. Decoctions can be stored in the refrigerator for later use.


If an herb is not water soluble, its chemicals can be extracted with alcohol. The resulting supplement will normally retain its potency for several years.

  1. Use any alcohol that you like but remember that the higher the proof, the more potent the resulting tincture will be and the longer it will last.
  2. Consider using grain alcohol as vodka is only 40% alcohol.
  3. Use a dark glass bottle with a tight fitting lid.
  4. Weigh the herbs for this preparation.
  5. The ratio is 2 oz. of herb per 8 oz. of alcohol.
  6. If you use grain alcohol (180 proof) start by pouring 1/2 cup alcohol and 1/2 cup water over 2 oz. of herb in the bottle.
  7. Shut the bottle tightly and store it away from sunlight for 2 weeks.
  8. Once a day, shake the bottle to mix the components.
  9. After two weeks, filter the mixture into a separate container and seal.
  10. To remove the alcohol, pour a small dose (1-2 milliliters) into 1 ounce of very hot water.


The simplest method of extraction, macerations are used for water soluble, fresh herbs.

  1. Place 2 oz. of your selected herb in a shallow pan.
  2. Cover the herbs with cold water and allow the mixture to soak over night.
  3. You may also simply mix ground herbs into juice or water and immediately drink it.

Poultices and Compresses

This method of preparation is used for herbs that are intended to be used as a topical agent.

  1. Use a mortar and pestle to grind the herbs.
  2. Pour 1 tsp. of hot water over 2 oz. of herbs and begin to grind them.
  3. Add water as needed until the herbs begin to form a paste.
  4. Place the paste over the affected area and use a bandage to hold it there.
  5. Compresses are simply bandages that are soaked in decoctions or tinctures for an hour and then placed on the affected area.
preparation of herbs

Also called "herbalism," the preparation of herbal supplements is a popular activity that predates human history. Herbal medicine is also quite prevalent in pharmaceuticals and non-traditional medicine. One 2001 study by scientists from the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that 122 compounds found in modern medicines where derived from plant sources. Even some of the most common over-the-counter drugs have their roots not in chemistry or scientific manipulation, but in natural sources -- aspirin and quinine are both such examples.

While herbal medicine is still relatively uncommon in the United States, other areas of the world use it more frequently. According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of the population in some Asian and African areas uses a form of herbal medicine for primary health care.

As herbal medicine is cheaper than most modern medical techniques, the use of herbal remedies and the blending of restorative herbal medicines into culture, folklore and common medical practice is very common in third world countries.