Plants have been powerful allies for health and healing for as long as humans have lived. Herbal medicines can be effective remedies for ills as anyone who’s sipped on ginger tea for a stomachache can attest. They can also be powerful tonics for everyday health.
Many common plants are full of vitamins, minerals, proteins, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and other nutrients. When you prepare them the right way, they’re transformed into nutrient-rich tonics, which boost health and well being. When I drink herbal tonics daily, my hair and skin shine and I feel calmer and more grounded.
Nourishing Herbal Tonics
If you’re new to using herbs, congratulations! Learning about herbalism is an amazing way to take charge of your health and form a deeper connection to nature. Check out my post Herbs Made Easy to learn more about the benefits.
I make herbal tonics using herbalist Susun Weed’s method. She advocates the art of simpling, which means using a single herb to make an infusion.
“In The Herbal Home Remedy Book, Joyce Wardwell lays out the four elements of simpling as follows:
- Use mild herbs. These plants are commonly used as foods, safe for small children and the elderly, and they enhance the body’s capacity for healing.
- Use large doses. Brew strong infusions, and drink them often.
- Use the herbs that grow near you. The herbs that grown in your climate are the best adapted for the stresses the climate puts on your body.
- Be patient. You’ll probably see some effects within three days or so, but sometimes it takes longer.
Pick an Herb to Infuse
Like Warwell, I’m a huge believer in consuming the plants that grow near you to help your body adapt to the environment and optimize your health. (You can learn more about the benefits of a local diet in my post Local, Seasonal Foods are Superfoods.)
Though a plant grows in your area, even outside your back door, it’s usually safer and easier for beginners to buy good-quality dried herb at a local health food or herb store. You can learn to harvest herbs later if you wish. (Check out my article Eating the Wild Plants in Your Backyard for a primer.)
Herbs are usually inexpensive by bulk. Look for herbs supplied by local organic growers or reputable wildcrafters, and make sure the store cleans and changes their jars or bins frequently. If you can’t get dried herbs where you live, mail-order them from Mountain Rose Herbs or another bulk herb company.
According to Weed, the following plants are highly nutritious, and side effects from consuming them are rare:
- Calendula flowers
- Comfrey leaves
- Honeysuckle flowers
- Lamb’s quarter
- Plantain (leaves and seeds)
- Red clover blossoms
- Siberian ginseng
- Slippery elm
- Stinging nettle
- Violet leaves
I usually stick to a few nutrient-rich herbs for my daily tonics, including:
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Weed calls nettles “one of the finest nourishing tonics known” and contends that “the list of vitamins and minerals in this herb includes nearly every one known to be necessary for human health and growth.”
According to Weed, nettle infusions supply calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and D, and they are in a readily assimilated form. Nettles also contain iron and vitamin C, and the vitamin C ensures the iron is well-absorbed by the body, making nettles an excellent remedy for anemia. Nettles are also high in protein. Their high vitamin and mineral content make nettles an excellent all-around tonic.
Nettles are also used to encourage the flow of breast milk in nursing women, lower blood sugar levels, slow profuse menstrual bleeding, treat eczema, heal arthritis and gout, and cure hay-fever allergy symptoms. Externally, nettle compresses can stop bleeding or heal hemorrhoids, eliminate dandruff, and slow hair loss. Does that sound like a lot of uses for one plant? Well, that’s far from all. Check out the book 101 Uses for Stinging Nettles by Piers Warren for more.
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
According to herbalist Michael Tierra, alfalfa means “father” in Arabic, perhaps referring to the plant’s “function as a superlative restorative tonic.” Alfalfa leaves are highly nutritious, containing vitamins C, D, E, and K, calcium, potassium, iron, phosphorus, manganese, and protein.
Alfalfa’s historically been used to restore vitality and increase appetite in both horses and people. It’s also used to treat cystitis, prostatitis, peptic ulcers, fever, insomnia, inflammation, and arthritis, as well as to increase the flow of breast milk in nursing women, reduce inflammation, and regulate the bowels.
Oatstraw (Avena sativa)
Oats are rich in silica, magnesium, phosphorus, chromium, iron, calcium, alkaloids, protein, the vitamin B complex, and vitamins A and C . Oat straw, the stem of the plant, nourishes the bones, endocrine system, immune system, and nerve cells and helps the body cope with insomnia, anxiety, and nerve disorders.
How to make a nourishing herbal tonic
Here is Susan Weed’s infusion method:
- Place one ounce of dried herb (about a cup) in a quart jar.
- Fill the jar to the top with boiling water
- Put the lid on tightly and steep for four to 10 hours. (I usually let it steep overnight.)
- Strain and pour a cup, and store the rest in the refrigerator.
- Drink two to four cups a day.
- Drink the entire infusion within 36 hours or until it spoils. (You’ll be able to tell by the smell.)
- Use whatever remains to water house plants, or pour over your hair after conditioning as a final rinse.
If you don’t love the taste of the infusion but want to reap the benefits, try adding a tablespoon of dried mint to the herb before you infuse it.
Nettles, alfalfa, and oat straw are mild herbs that have been ingested for thousands of years with excellent safety records, however they may not be for everyone. If you have a medical condition or take any medications, check with your doctor, an herbalist, or a pharmacist first.
It’s a good idea for everyone to be cautious about what goes into your body. Read about the herbs you plan to take, and be alert to the rare potential for an allergic reaction or side effects. But don’t forget to enjoy yourself! Nutritious herbal tonics are amazing additions to a healthy and happy life.Load up on vitamins without supplements by making restorative herbal tonics.Click To Tweet
The New Age Herbalist by Richard Mabey
The Herbal Home Remedy Book by Joyce A. Warwell
The Way of Herbs by Michael Tierra
Herbal for the Childbearing Year by Susan Weed
The Herb Book by John Lust
If you liked this post, you may enjoy these related articles:
- Try This Before Eliminating a Food Group
- Dandelions are Superfoods
- Simplify Your Medicine Cabinet
- 5 Winter Immunity Boosters
- Local, Seasonal Foods are Superfoods
- Eat Bitter Foods for Better Health
[Editor’s Note: This is an updated and revamped version of a post originally published on June 3, 2009, Photo credit: Caitlin Regan, modified]