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Using herbs at home

A Practical Guide To Using herbs At Home

This page outlines some practical information on using herbs and extracting their active ingredients.



Making an infusion is a way of extracting the active constituents from a herb.

Infusions are only used with the soft parts of herbs like leaves and petals.

Make an infusion just as you would make tea. Put the dried or fresh herbs in a teapot or cup and cover with boiling water. Allow to steep for 10 minutes then strain. Covering the pot will avoid losing volatile oils in the steam. 

As a general rule use 30g fresh plant matter to 500ml of water / 15g dried plant matter to 500ml water (unless stated otherwise)

(1 part dried herb = 2 parts fresh)

You can keep an infusion in the fridge for a few days.



Use a decoction to extract the active compounds from the tougher parts of plants like bark, roots or woody stems.

Make sure the plant material is clean. place in saucepan (enamel or stainless steel), add water, cover the pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

As a general rule use 30g fresh plant matter to 500ml of water / 15g dried plant matter to 500ml water (unless stated otherwise)

(1 part dried herb = 2 parts fresh)

Strain your decoction while still hot.



A tincture uses a solvent; alcohol, glycerine or cider vinegar to extract the useful compounds from plant matter. Alcohol is most commonly used for tinctures. Alcohol based tinctures will keep for 1 year. They are very concentrated and need only be used in very small amounts. The solvent is often referred to as the ‘menstruum’

The best alcohol to use is ethanol which is 90-100% pure alcohol. In the UK you need a licence to purchase this but a good quality vodka - 40% alcohol - is a reasonable substitute.

To make a tincture the herbs are chopped finely and placed in a sterilised jar (sterilise a clean jar by placing in an oven at 160°c for 15 minutes) The menstruum is added so the herbs are completely immersed. The general ratio for tinctures using dried herb is 1:5 ie 200g herb to 1litre of mentsruum (when working with liquids of a similar density to water 1gram = 1millilitre). Some herbs require different ratios so it is important to do you research. There are some useful links below.

It is sometimes wise to put a portion of the herb material in the jar then some menstruum, repeating the process until complete. This is to avoid dry patches and ensure complete immersion. It is advisable to use dried herbs as the water content in fresh plant material will affect the final potency (by watering down the menstruum). Water also makes a cosy home for nasty bacteria. This is particularly important if you are using lower strength alcohol.

Once you are happy that your plant matter is completely covered with the menstruum, seal and place in a cool dark place for 2-4 weeks.

Strain the liquid through muslin, you might find a tincture press useful to extract all the liquid. A dedicated coffee cafetier is a cheaper alternative if you are working on a small scale - make sure this is put back very clean after each use - washing your equipment in a dishwasher and removing when still hot is a very good idea. Pour liquid into a sterilised, preferably dark, glass jar and store in a cool dark place. Make sure you clearly label it with the contents including wieght:volume ratio and the date made.

Tinctures can be taken orally, usually diluted in water. They can be used in the bath or mixed into ointments and creams or used to make compresses.

PLEASE NOTE: Using herbs can be dangerous. Tinctures are particularly potent and should on no account be used without taking professional advice

If you really want to know about tinctures the links below go into far more detail.







Macerated oils are a great way of extracting compounds from plants which contain volatile oils and fats. They can be used directly on the skin and can be made easily at home.

Macerated oils can be made with a variety of oils. Olive oil is great for skin, but the smell can be overpowering. Sunflower oil makes a great base for massage oil or almond oil is very good for skin care. These oils can be used as they are or incorporated into creams or balms.


You can use dried or fresh plant material. Some herbs, such as calendula work better as dried and others, such as Comfrey, are better from fresh.
Make sure all material is completely dry. Fresh leaves should be wilted overnight to remove some water content and chopped finely.

Fill a completely dry jar with the material and pour on the oil of your choice. Try to fill the jar almost to the brim with oil as an air gap will promote oxidation and spoilage.

Stir the contents with a chopstick or glass stirring rod until all the bubbles have dispersed put the lid on.

You can leave it to infuse on a bright sunny windowsill or in a nice warm spot such as beside the boiler or in an airing cupboard.

Shake every day for the first two weeks then leave to infuse for another four, six weeks in total. Calendula and some other oils are nice to double infuse- leave for 3 weeks, strain, then fill the jar with fresh flowers and pour the partially infused oil back on top and repeat the process.

Don’t forget to label your jars so you remember when to strain them. Strain through muslin.

If you used fresh material it is wise to let it stand for a week and check if any water has settled in the bottom of the jar. If so pour off the oil and discard the water.

Bottle the resulting oil preferably in dark glass, label and date.




This is a quicker method if you need to prepare your oil for immediate use.

Use about 100g of dried herb, or 200g fresh herb per 500ml base oil.

Place the oil and herbs in a  ban marie with a lid over a pan of gently boiling water.

Allow to infuse at a very gentle continuous heat (40°c is ideal) for several hours making sure it does not boil dry. Stir every half hour or so.

Strain and bottle or repeat the process if you desire a stronger, double infused oil.

Bottle the resulting oil preferably in dark glass, Don’t forget to label and date.




Salves and balms are made by mixing specific oils, butters or waxes. You should choose the ingredients depending on the purpose. You may choose to use a macerated oil or a butter like Shea butter that has particular skin care qualities. If you add wax, such as beeswax, the resulting concoction will be more solid, like a lip balm, Less wax will be more of an ointment.

You can add essential oils to your creations but be careful. Essential oils are very potent and must be used in very small quantities (most are safe at 1% but some such as rose and ylang ylang are less than that). Some oils are photo-toxic. This means they can cause skin to burn more quickly than in the sun. These oils for instance must never be used in lip balms.

If you want to experiment look for reliable recipes and do your research.

Salve and balms are nice to make because they have no water content and so you do not need to use an antibacterial preservative (like parabens) as bacteria cannot grow in an 100% oil environment.




Heat the oil(s) of your choice over a ban marie. Add beeswax to thicken - you could start off with 250ml oil and 3-4 teaspoons of beeswax pellets. Stir until the beeswax is completely melted. Check the thickness by dropping some of the hot oil into very cold water. An ointment will disperse on the surface, a salve will form a ball. Add small amounts of beeswax until you have the consistency you want.

Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly before adding and blending essential oils in safe amounts. (20 drops is approximately 1ml)

Pour into sterilised jars and allow to set.

It’s good to record the amounts and ingredients you use and note the result.

Always label and date your creations


PLEASE NOTE: Using herbs can be dangerous. Never self diagnose, always seek professional help if you are unwell or are considering using herbs medicinally. Remember Just because something is natural it does not follow that it is safe. Many plants, including plenty in the UK are poisonous and can be easily confused with beneficial ones.

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