You’d think the daughter of an herb farmer would naturally use herbal remedies to treat and prevent illness, right? Well, I do now, but that wasn’t always the case.
After becoming a do-it-yourself-er in order to save money, I soon gravitated toward natural ways to keep my family healthy and avoid costly medical bills. Enter herbal remedies – because, oh yeah, my dad grows herbs for a living.
Now, after using them for a few years (and buying way too many herbs), I’ve narrowed down what I use quite a bit. I think it’s easier to start with a few herbs and get comfortable with those before adding more to the mix. You really don’t need very many.
Below are my favorite herbs and a few different ways to use them:
Accident-prone? Me too. Before I knew of arnica (Arnica montana), my bruises would last forever and I had to deal with pain from sore muscles, sprains, bumps and bruises. Not anymore. Arnica is well-known for it’s ability to soothe pain and speed healing of tender, bruised areas.
Arnica balm, which you can buy here or easily make yourself, is a great way to use this herb. Apply to bruises, sprains or sore muscles to take advantage of its pain-relieving properties. (Find arnica flowers here.)
Cautions: Do not use on broken skin.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) soothes inflammation and promotes healing. I use it on myself and my kids to soothe skin because it’s a very gentle herb. So gentle, in fact, that I’ve used a calendula infusion as an eye wash. Calendula infusion is great for rinsing minor wounds and irritated areas.
To make a calendula infusion, place a cup of dried calendula petals in a quart-size jar. Fill the jar with boiling water, cover (please use oven mitts to do that – the jar will be HOT) and allow it to steep for 4-10 hours. Strain, label and chill. It will keep for a few days. You can also freeze the infusions in ice cube trays so you can always have them on hand. (Find calendula petals here.)
Calendula is also very handy when infused in oils and made into a balm/ointment/salve. Calendula salve can be applied to rashes, like diaper rash, and other irritated skin that needs soothing.
Comfrey has quite the reputation as a healing herb. When infused in oil, comfrey (Symphytum officinale) speeds the healing of sores, abrasions and bruises. It’s also very soothing to irritated skin, thanks to its mucilaginous properties (do you see how these herbs could work so nicely together?).
To make an herb-infused oil, you’ll need a carrier oil, like coconut oil. It’s already used a lot in our house and adds extra moisturizing and anti-microbial properties to infused oils and ointments.
- 2 cups carrier oil (find carrier oils here)
- 1 cup comfrey leaf (or the herb you’d like to use – it can be combination of herbs) – (find bulk herbs here)
Warm your oven to 200º, then turn it off. Put the herbs and oil in an oven-safe dish and let them steep for 3-4 hours. Strain the infused oil into a canning jar, cover and label.
Cautions: Do not consume.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has many endearing qualities. It soothes upset stomachs and helps you get nice and sleepy before bed. Plus kids like the taste and will actually take this remedy with no fuss.
I think lemon balm is best used in a tea, since it’s typically used as a sleep or digestive aid. Steep 1 tsp lemon balm (I use my own dried herbs) in 1 cup hot water. You can add a touch of raw honey if you’d like, or just drink it plain. (Find lemon balm here.)
Cautions: Some studies show that it may cause contractions. Seek out advice from a knowledgable healthcare provider before using during pregnancy.
Another mucilaginous herb, marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) is wonderful for soothing irritated areas. In our home, it’s used mainly for soothing skin. I do this by making an ointment infused with marshmallow root, or by making a marshmallow root infusion to soak the affected area in. (I’ll either add it to a bath or to a small basin of water.)
We also make a tea (follow directions above) for sore throats. The marshmallow root makes a slippery tea that goes down easily and provides relief to sore, scratchy throats. Combine with lemon balm for better taste. Prefer throat lozenges to tea? Learn how to make your own throat lozenges with marshmallow root. (Find marshmallow root here.)
Red Raspberry Leaf
This is commonly thought of as an herb for women, but it can be used by anyone. Red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) is a mineral-rich herb that tones the muscles of the pelvic floor, including the uterus. It also acts as an astringent, which tightens the top layers of skin and mucous membranes to decrease secretions.
Red raspberry leaf takes it a step further and relieves irritation and firms tissues. This is awfully handy when someone has an upset digestive system, particularly diarrhea.
To use red raspberry leaf, make a tea, using the same ratio of water to herb as stated above – though for an adult with diarrhea, I’ll make an infusion and have them sip on it throughout the day. (Find red raspberry leaf here.)
Cautions: Use sparingly during the first trimester of pregnancy. Afterward, try to drink a cup per day.
I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical about yarrow (Achillea millefolium) when I first read about it. I was new to herbal remedies and read a story about a woman cutting her finger pretty badly and sprinkling powdered yarrow flowers on the cut, which made it stop bleeding very quickly. I remained skeptical until I had a similar experience. It works!
Cautions: Do not consume while pregnant – can cause uterine contractions.
Do you use herbs in your home? Which ones are your favorites?
photo credit to suvajack