top of page

HERBALISM AND FOLK REMEDIES: A BEGINNERS LOOK INTO TRADITIONAL HEALING

Updated: Mar 7


In an era dominated by advanced pharmaceuticals and medical technologies, the humble origins and principles of herbalism and folk remedies often seem overshadowed. Yet, there is a growing interest in these traditional methods of healing - a thirst for returning back to the wild and seeping in all the knowledge of natural medicines and foods we can find in the world around us. This interest is not just a nostalgic return to the practices of our ancestors, but a rational and evidence-based reconsideration of what effective medicine can look like in a modern context.




The reliance on synthetic drugs, heralded for their targeted action and potency, has somewhat obscured the value found in the natural compounds that have been the bedrock of medicinal practices for millennia. Despite this pharmaceutical shift, many folk remedies have remained in our homes - from lemon and ginger teas for sore throats and colds, to baking soda paste on nettle stings to stop the itchiness, what the world naturally gives us works - and so we come back to it.


There are benefits in herbal medicines, even if it is not quite understood which components are doing the helping, as this study suggests. These findings give credibility to traditional remedies and expand our knowledge on healing with accessible and effective resources that align with the principles of sustainability. It is always good to keep in mind that traditional medicine is in direct competition with the business of big pharma, so it's no surprise there is a lack of official research being poured into the subject.


This exploration of natural remedies has identified active ingredients in common foods and herbs that support the treatment of various conditions— such as garlic's antimicrobial properties, the anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric, and the treatment of depression using St Johns Wort (though, for clarification, this particular study claims to have "inconclusive" results, despite finding St Johns Wort more effective than the standard treatments).


Nonetheless, these findings validate traditional medicine, as well as illuminate a path forward where health care can be more sustainable, grounded, and in tune with the natural world. Integrating folk remedies into contemporary healthcare practices is not about rejecting modern medicine's achievements but about broadening our approach to healing.

 

HOW PLANTS CONNECT US TO MAGICK


Exploring homemade remedies and herbal medicine not only addresses our physical well-being; it's also an opportunity to reconnect with nature and the knowledge of self-healing that has been part of many human cultures for centuries. As we learn to mix, infuse, and concoct these natural medicines, we begin to understand when and where different plants grow, their properties, and how they can be used to support our health, aligning our practices with the rhythms of the natural world.



The practice of herbalism and the creation of folk remedies intersects with the world of spiritual and magickal practices, particularly within the traditions of green and kitchen witchcraft. In these paths, working with herbs is a way to harness the energies of nature for protection, healing, and transformation.


The spiritual side of herbalism reminds us of our inherent connection to the earth as well as the healing properties of plants. Tapping into a sort of ancient wisdom that teaches us how to live in harmony with nature and ourselves.


HERBAL REMEDIES FOR INTERNAL USE


Below are two tables with common ways we can create traditional and herbal medicines - both for internal and external use. I hope this is of use as a starting point into herbal healing—or at least serves as inspiration for more intentional preparations of things that you might already make—such as  teas, juices, and baths.

Teas

Tea, in the context of herbal remedies, involves steeping dried or fresh herbs in hot water. This simple preparation allows the water to extract the active components of the herbs, making them easy to consume. Herbal teas are commonly used for their therapeutic properties, such as soothing a sore throat or aiding digestion.

Infusions

Infusions are similar to teas but are often made with larger amounts of herbs and steeped for a longer period, sometimes several hours or overnight. This method is particularly effective for extracting the beneficial properties from delicate parts of plants, like leaves and flowers. Infusions are used for a wide range of health benefits, depending on the herbs chosen.

Decoctions

Decoctions are prepared by simmering tougher plant materials, such as roots, bark, and seeds, in water for 20 minutes to several hours. This process extracts deeper, water-soluble compounds from hard-to-penetrate materials, creating a potent remedy for various ailments.

Throat Sprays

Throat sprays are liquid remedies designed to be sprayed directly into the throat. They often contain a blend of herbal extracts, essential oils, and sometimes antiseptic ingredients to soothe sore throats, reduce inflammation, and combat pathogens.

Juices

Juices extracted from fresh fruits, vegetables, or herbs, are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial phytochemicals. Juicing allows for a high concentration of nutrients to be taken in an easily digestible form.

Syrups

Syrups are thick, sweet liquids made by dissolving sugar in water or herbal teas. Medicinal syrups often incorporate herbal decoctions or infusions, combined with honey or sugar to create a pleasant-tasting remedy. They are especially popular for treating coughs and sore throats due to their soothing texture.

Medicinal Honeys

Medicinal honeys involve infusing honey with herbs, spices, or other medicinal substances. The natural antibacterial properties of honey make it an excellent base for preserving the added medicinal qualities. Medicinal honeys can be consumed directly or added to teas and other beverages for health benefits.

Tinctures

Tinctures are concentrated herbal extracts made by soaking herbs in alcohol or vinegar for several weeks. This method extracts both water-soluble and alcohol-soluble compounds, making tinctures a potent and long-lasting remedy. They are taken in small doses, typically a few drops at a time.

Gargles and Mouthwashes

Herbal gargles and mouthwashes are made by diluting herbal infusions, decoctions, or tinctures with water. Used to treat oral or throat infections, alleviate sore throats, or improve oral hygiene, these remedies work by coming into direct contact with the mouth and throat lining.

 

HERBAL REMEDIES FOR EXTERNAL USE


person putting external
Photo by Ron Lach via Pexels

This table presents a quick overview of the different methods for creating external-use herbal remedies. It categorises these methods based on the type of preparation involved—such as infusions, decoctions, tinctures, oils, salves, creams, and poultices—each tailored for specific therapeutic purposes.




Room Sprays

Herbal room sprays are made by diluting essential oils or herbal tinctures in water and alcohol, used to freshen the air or create a specific mood. They can also have antimicrobial properties, depending on the herbs chosen.

Sleep Pillows

A sleep pillow is a bag filled with herbs chosen for their relaxing and sleep-inducing properties, such as lavender or chamomile. Placing it near the head during sleep can help improve sleep quality and relaxation.

Steam Treatments

Herbal steam treatments involve inhaling steam infused with herbs or essential oils. This method is beneficial for respiratory issues, sinus congestion, or as a facial treatment to cleanse pores and rejuvenate the skin.

Baths

Adding herbs or essential oils to your baths can help enhance relaxation, soothe skin conditions, or to alleviate muscle pain. The warm water helps open pores, allowing the skin to absorb the beneficial properties of the herbs.

Hand/foot bath

Similar to full baths but focused on the hands or feet, these baths are especially beneficial for conditions like arthritis, soreness, or skin issues. Herbs or essential oils are added to a basin of warm water for soaking, providing targeted relief.

Compress

A compress involves soaking a clean cloth in an herbal infusion or decoction and then applying it to a specific area of the body. Warm or cold compresses are used to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, or treat skin issues, depending on the herbs used and the condition being treated.

Poultices

Poultices are made by crushing fresh herbs or rehydrating dried herbs, then applying them directly to the skin, often wrapped or covered with a cloth. This method is used for localized healing, such as reducing inflammation, drawing out infection, or healing wounds.

Ointments, Creams, and Lotions

These are semi-solid or liquid preparations that are applied to the skin to moisturize, heal, or protect. They are made by blending herbal extracts or oils with bases like beeswax (for ointments) or emulsifying waxes (for creams and lotions) and are used to treat a variety of skin conditions or as protective barriers.

Liniments

Liniments are liquid preparations applied to the skin with a rubbing motion, designed for relieving pain, stiffness, or sore muscles. They are typically made with alcohol, vinegar, or witch hazel as a base, infused with herbs known for their analgesic or anti-inflammatory properties.

Medicinal Oils

Herbal oils are created by infusing herbs in a carrier oil (like olive or coconut oil) over time. The oil extracts the active compounds from the herbs, creating a versatile remedy that can be used for massage, skin care, or as a base for other products like balms or salves.


THE BENEFITS OF HERBAL REMEDIES OVER SYNTHETIC MEDICATION


These methods of natural healing consist mostly of raw foods and plants that are readily available in our homes or the nature surrounding us. This accessibility not only underscores their sustainability and simplicity, but also highlights a significant advantage over synthetic pharmaceuticals: the reduction of side effects.


Synthetic medications, while quick, effective and life-saving in many contexts, often come with a list of potential side effects. These can range from mild discomforts to severe reactions that sometimes outweigh the benefits.



In contrast, natural remedies typically exhibit fewer and less severe side effects. This reflects the evolutionary relationship between humans and their natural environment. Our bodies have co-evolved with the plants and foods that have been used for centuries in traditional medicine, which may explain why they are generally well-tolerated (except, of course, when it comes to allergies).


However, it's important to approach natural remedies with a balanced perspective. While many are safe and effective, not all are without risk. The efficacy and safety of natural medicines depend on various factors, including the dosage, the way they are used, and the individual's health condition. For example, certain herbs can interact with synthetic drugs, leading to increased risk of adverse effects or diminished efficacy of the medication. Therefore, it's crucial to conduct thorough research and consult certified herbalists or healthcare professionals before integrating natural remedies into one's health regimen.


By incorporating a variety of natural foods and plants into our diets, we can support our health in a gentle, non-invasive manner that aligns with the principles of holistic medicine. This approach not only helps to prevent disease but also promotes a deeper connection with the natural world, encouraging a lifestyle that is both healthful and environmentally conscious.


Medical disclaimer: This blog post is intended for informational purposes only. The content is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a certified medical practitioner or herbalist with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

46 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page