Herbal Medicine Primer
I remember the awe that I felt the first time I added alcohol to a jar filled with Saint John’s wort flowering tops and watched the liquid instantly begin to turn blood red. I still get a thrill every time I add alcohol and water to a jar of ground up, dried plant material and watch as the liquid churns on its own as it begins to incorporate the medicinal and energetic properties lying hidden in the plant’s material body. Making your own medicine is not only rewarding, it is fascinating and fun.

Making good medicine is an alchemical process that calls us to enter into a relationship with the elemental forces of fire, water, earth, and air. Participating in this age-old ritual reconnects us to our ancient wise woman and cunning man healing traditions. Without doubt, an herbal medicine maker exists in every person’s family tree. Maybe that herbalist and medicine maker was a mother who knew which tea to give to her feverish children when they were ill, or perhaps he was a grandfather who knew how to make poultices to relieve the pain of sprains or bruises. As a child, you may even have collected sticks and grasses to make your own potions. I urge you to tap into this forgotten part of yourself and remember that making medicine from plants is the birthright of all. It’s in our bones, and for the vast majority of human history we as a species have known no other way. As you begin to make medicine, trust and embrace the wise and innate medicine maker within. Don’t worry if you are doing it right. Have fun, let your inner child come out to play, and let your imagination run wild.

Making Herbal Medicines

But before we get started, I’d like to present you with a few practical words of advice. There are two components to making good medicine. First, you’ll have to start with high-quality plant material. For me this means harvesting or growing the plants myself. If you are unable to procure plant material directly, you’ll have to get your herb material from others. Taste and smell the herb to make sure that it has retained its vitality. Fresh herbs should not be wilted or discolored. Recently dried and well-stored herb material will be vibrantly colored, have retained its flavor, and, if aromatic, be strongly scented.

The second factor that affects the outcome of making medicine is less tangible. It’s a special faculty that develops over time. As you establish relationships with the plants you are using to make medicine, you will gain an energetic understanding of each plant’s medicine. This will enable you to make medicine that is more effective and that works on deeper levels of the human body and psyche.

-excerpted from Pacific Northwest Medicinal Plants to be published April 2017

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