Make your own herbal medicines

I was given a great book for Christmas: ‘Grow Your Own Drugs: A Year With James Wong’, the companion to the BBC TV show that has also aired here in Australia.  James Wong is an ethnobotanist interested in medicinal plants and home grown remedies (and quite easy on the eye).

James Wong - Grow Your Own Drugs

I haven’t seen the show but the book is fantastic and filled with great ideas for turning fresh and dried herbs, essential oils and other simple ingredients into homemade herbal medicines.  Some of the herbs in his recipes are not readily available in Australia, at least to my knowledge, but I found plenty that are and so I had a go..

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The first thing that caught my eye was his “Peppermint Tummy Soother for Indigestion”, a peppermint and chamomile syrup to take as needed for stomach cramps and nervous indigestion.  Most people have herbal tea bags in the cupboard so this is super easy.  I used dried peppermint leaves, 4 chamomile tea bags and some beautiful fresh chamomile flowers from J’s sister.

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I basically made a really strong tea, simmering the herbs in water for 20 mins, then leaving to cool and straining through a sieve and muslin.  He recommends pushing on the herby bits with a spoon (I used my fingers) to squeeze out all the therapeutic juices.  This is what I ended up with:

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I returned this to the clean pot and simmered for ages to reduce to 200ml volume.  James Wong suggested to simmer gently and I possibly took this slightly too far as it took about 40 mins to reduce!  Anyway, I was able to put a lot of love into my liquid herbs by spending so much time with them.  When the volume was right I added a cup and a bit of honey (from my cousins’ bees!) and 75ml of good cloudy apple cider vinegar.  This stuff is a great digestive tonic, alkaliser and all around friend to your body.

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Then it was more quality time together, another 20-30mins of simmering, gentle stirring, whispering sweet nothings…  not quite. James Wong recommends paying attention at this stage to make sure the honey does not burn.

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I fear I have made this sound labourious, it really wasn’t.  And the reward is a lovely, and very tasty, herbal syrup to keep in the fridge for 6 months and use as needed.  It can be taken as is, around 2-3 teaspoons 3-6 times a day is the recommendation for adults.  This is also a fantastic remedy for kids, the book recommends 1 teaspoon 3-6 times a day for kids over 2 years.  I loved the suggestion to dilute the syrup and use as a digestif cordial, hot or cold.

The other recipe I tried was the ‘Soothing Rub for Period Pain’.  So easy, I put 100g of dried juniper berries and 250ml of apricot kernel oil into a clean jar and left it for 2 weeks.  Then I strained the oil through a funnel and coffee filter paper into a brown bottle.  The oil can be massaged straight onto the abdomen and I found it helpful with my last bout of crampy period pain.  I added a few drops of rosemary and lavender essential oils to the rub.  Next time I will try pounding the dried berries a little before I soak them, to allow more of the active ingredients to soak into the oil.

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Yay – thanks James Wong! I can’t wait until it gets a little colder to try out all the immune boosting and cold and flu soothing recipes.  I will certainly have a go at the ‘Port Winter Tonic’, delicious!

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