Elspeth MacLeod’s Herbal – Part One
To the Reader: While writing The Convenient I renewed my interest and research into herbal remedies. My protagonist, Elspeth MacLeod, was trained to be a Healer before she went to Italy to study medicine. All women were expected to be proficient at healing, spinning, sewing, cooking, brewing and a myriad of other tasks. The following might have been taken from Elspeth’s handwritten herbal. I will add to it often if there is enough interest.
I am making this record for those who come after me. Each of us must take care to use herbs cautiously and with the greatest care. This is but a simple guide so that you may learn of what has been done in the past and determine your own course.
Preparation is the most important part of herbal lore. This is how I prepare and use my herbs and includes the common names used to describe the procedures. There are many ways to prepare herbs, and this is only my way.
Herbal baths lower fevers and anxiety levels. Foot baths are used for soaking tired sore feet, or in the treatment of tinea (ringworm), athlete’s foot and corns. This is a soothing treatment for anyone with sore feet and angst.
Method: Put one cup of your herb of choice in cold water for 12 hours. Heat the infusion and then add it to the bath water. For a foot bath, steep 2 ounces of herb with the method above, and add to a bucket of water. I especially like lavender, mint, and rosemary.
Compress (See Fomentation): When herbs are too strong to ingest, this method allows a smaller amount of the herb to be absorbed slowly by the body. Folded pieces of cloth of various sizes and shapes are contrived for use with a bandage, to apply pressure on any part of the body. The cloth may be used with liquids, ointments, or creams.
Method: Make an herbal infusion/decoction and soak a cotton cloth in it. Remove excess liquid, and apply to the affected area. I often use this method with spikenard (lavender) for soothing patients.
Cream: A thick herbal based liquid or soft substance that is rubbed into the skin to make it softer or is used as a medicine for the skin. It is a water-soluble medicinal preparation and is absorbed easily. Dried or fresh herbs can be incorporated directly. An ointment differs from a cream in that it has more oil, and tends to stay on the surface of the skin.
Method: Melt two ounces of beeswax in a double boiler. Add one cup oil and blend. Add two ounces herb extract, tincture or fresh herb. For lighter cream, add a little water, mixing well. Simmer half an hour. If you are using fresh herbs, pour through a strainer into your containers and cool. Experiment with various mixtures.
Decoction: Decoctions are solutions of herbal principles obtained by boiling in water. Use for woody parts like bark, seeds, nuts, etc.
Method: Crush or chop the herb, place in water (two teaspoons of fresh or one of dry herb to one cup), cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
Strain and give one cup, up to three times daily. Decoctions can also be used for creating salves
Extracts are used to treat strained muscles, arthritis or inflammation. Extracts are like tinctures, but may be made using oil, vinegar or alcohol.
Method – Place 4oz of dried herbs or 8oz of fresh herbs in a jar. Add 1 pint of white vinegar, vodka or vegetable oil. Turn and agitate the jar twice a day for 3 weeks. Strain.
Fomentation (See Compress): A partial bathing by the application of cloths.
Method – Dip cloths in hot or cold water or medical decoction, and apply to affected area.
A dry fomentation might be a warm stone or brick, wrapped in soft cloth and applied to the area, or simply a heated cloth.
Honey – Included here as a more palatable way to take some herbs. Honey is something you should always keep on hand. I will add details in Part Two.
Method: Use finely chopped fresh or powdered dry herb. Cover with honey, leave to infuse for a few minutes, then administer by spoon. This method can be used for essential oils, one drop to a teaspoonful of honey. I often put ginger or mint into the honey for those with stomach problems.
Infusion: Infusion is the process of extracting properties from plants in solvents such as water, oil or alcohol, by suspending them in the solvent over a period. The process is distinct from decoction, which involves boiling the plant material.
Method: Cold Infused Oil (Maceration) Use for flowers and soft parts of plants. Pack the herb into a screw-topped jar and pour in enough oil to cover. Place on a sunny windowsill for five hands, shaking daily. Strain.
Hot Infused Oil (Maceration) Heat herbs gently in vegetable oil for three hours. Strain.
Inhaled solutions are used to improve breathing and lung function, and to alleviate the symptoms of chronic respiratory issues, such as asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Method: Put desired herbs into simmering water. Container may be left on stove or hearth and steam allowed to fill the room. A basin may be filled with the hot liquid, and the patient may lean over the basin, and inhale the steam. A cloth placed over the head, extending to the basin, will contain the steam longer.
A medicinal preparation applied to the skin. An ointment differs from a cream in that it is primarily oil based, as opposed to being more water-soluble.
Method: Use hot or cold infused herbal oil and beeswax. Melt beeswax gently in the oil while stirring, over lowest heat. NEVER overheat herbs.
A poultice is made from warm mashed herbs, which are applied directly to the skin. Poultices are used for inflammation, bites, boils, abscesses and similar problems. Before applying protect the area with a layer of oil.
Method: Macerate ingredients, place on a clean cloth and apply to area. Hold in place with a cloth bandage. Repeat if needed. Poultices are often heated before application.
A soothing adhesive ointment to be applied to wounds or sores. It is composed of various ingredients, depending on what it is to be used for.
Method: Basic composition of salves is two parts oils to one-part beeswax, with added selected herbals. Heat oils gently, just warm enough to melt the Beeswax. Never overheat herbs. When adding essential oils, put them in after you remove the salve from the heat, before pouring into containers.
There are no absolute rules about making salve. Add more beeswax to make a very firm salve, or use less to make a soft salve. Healing salves are usually firmer.
Syrups are used for coughs, congestion, sore throats and carriers for the less flavorful herbs.
Method: Make simple syrup of sugar and water and add herbal extract desired. Simple syrups are composed of equal amounts of water and sugar. Bring to the boil. Remove from heat, cool to lukewarm, and stir in tincture. Three parts syrup to one-part tincture. (3 parts syrup to 1-part tincture)
A solution of herbal substances in alcohol or diluted alcohol, prepared by maceration or digestion. Tinctures and extracts are used with syrups.
Method: Alcohol and water are used to prepare a more concentrated extract. Use vodka which is clear and has almost no taste of its own. The ratio for herbs is one-part herbs to five parts vodka. Some of the vodka may be replaced with water. Place in jar, seal tightly, and agitate once a day for three weeks. Strain.
Herbal Wine: Herbs of choice, mixed with wine.
Method – Use a sweet red wine with high alcohol content. Cover four ounces of herb(s) with three cups of wine. Leave for a week before straining.
Part Two of Elspeth’s Herbal will list many herbs she knew and their uses.