Prepper's Natural Medicine: Life-Saving Herbs, Essential Oils and Natural Remedies for When There is No Doctor

CHAPTER 2. STOCKING THE HOME APOTHECARY

Storing natural medicines is the same as storing food. You will need to designate an area of your home for storage of herbs and medicine-making supplies. This area should have the same basic qualities as a food pantry: dry, cool, and out of sunlight. As with food storage, you will want to rotate your stock.

Many of the items are renewable, DIY projects, such as growing your own herbs, extracting your own almond oil, and making your own apple cider vinegar. If something were to happen to your supplies, you could restock yourself.

Other supplies, however, are not duplicable at home. If you want to include these in your home apothecary, you will need to purchase these while times are good, and purchase enough to last until the crisis is over. Good examples are capsules for capsule making. When stored properly, capsules can last a very, very long time. They are also inexpensive, so you could reasonably stock up on many years’ worth of capsules, and in all likelihood, outlast any disruption to services, such as manufacturing and shipping.

FORMULA INGREDIENTS

HERBS

Fresh herbs must be preserved in some way immediately after harvest, either by macerating (steeping) in a menstruum (a solvent such as alcohol, vinegar, or honey) or by drying. As a general rule, fresh herb preparations are best, although dried herbs are perfectly acceptable.

Drying herbs is best done by hanging them in a dark, cool location where air can circulate. Pay particular attention to the formation of mold, and discard any moldy herbs. Alternatively, you could use a dehydrator on the lowest possible temperature setting. Dehydrators shorten drying time, but the heat can damage the herbs if you are not careful.

When choosing which herbs to grow, buy, and store, consider what kinds of health conditions you are most likely to face, and start with the herbs most likely to relieve those conditions. As you read through this book, keep notes on the herbs that strike you as the most beneficial for your immediate needs. You can always add on to your medicinal herb garden or storehouse.

Dried herbs have a shelf life of about a year before their potency begins to fade. To preserve their properties, store dried herbs in a dry, cool space, protected from the sunlight. An ideal way to do this is to place the herbs in Mylar bags with an oxygen absorber or in vacuum-sealed pouches, and store the packets in the freezer.

For specific information on 50 of the most useful herbs, see Chapter 4, Materia Medica.

ALCOHOL

Alcohol is used to extract therapeutic properties from natural substances, to disinfect wounds (painful but effective), and to dull pain. Many people want to steer clear of alcohol for medical or spiritual reasons. However, alcohol—specifically, distilled grain alcohol—is the gold standard for making tinctures. It serves three vital functions:

•Alcohol carries herbal medicine into the bloodstream quickly, which is extremely important in an emergency.

•Alcohol extracts constituents such as alkaloids, resins, and balsams that water cannot.

•Alcohol prevents spoilage and gives your precious, natural medicines a much longer shelf life.

Alcohol has a very long shelf life and is an excellent item to store. There are several categories of alcohol with different strengths to consider: grain alcohol, vodka, brandy, and wine.

Grain alcohol allows for optimal extraction of chemical constituents from the herb into the menstruum because you can dilute it to just the right percentage needed for the specific plant. Grain alcohol comes in a strength of 95% (190 proof) and can be purchased in many states under the brand name Everclear. It can also be ordered online from www.OrganicAlcohol.com.

This type of alcohol can be used for tincture making and disinfecting surfaces and solid objects. You could pour grain alcohol on a wound if you had no other way of disinfecting the wound. However, to say it will sting is an understatement.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol is not recommended for disinfecting surgical instruments. Although it is antimicrobial, it does not kill bacterial spores that surround certain bacteria. It is appropriate for disinfecting countertops, doorknobs, and other surfaces where germs collect. This is normally done by diluting the grain alcohol with water to 60% to 90% strength. However, at 95% it is strong enough to topple tuberculosis, killing the tubercle bacilli in fluid within 15 seconds.2

Never substitute 95% isopropyl (ISO) for 95% grain alcohol in anything that will be ingested. ISO is poisonous to consume. If you cannot get 95% alcohol in your area, instead get the strongest proof vodka that you can find, and allow the plant material to wilt a little bit before tincturing to cut down on the water content.

It might seem as if you’re getting an awful lot of alcohol when using grain alcohol, but consider a 1-ounce bottle of tincture. This is the equivalent of a 1-ounce shot glass. A 1-ounce bottle contains approximately 600 drops. The individual dose is likely to be between 30 and 60 drops. So the dose is between 5% to 10% of 1 ounce, which is then further diluted in water or juice when taken as medicine. This is about the amount of alcohol in a ripe banana.

Vodka is widely available at 40% (80 proof) and 50% (100 proof). This range is appropriate for almost all dried herb tincture making. Brandy, made by distilling wine to remove some of its water content, is 50% (100 proof) alcohol, and also falls in this range. Tinctures made with brandy are called elixirs. Wine has a much lower alcohol content, but it is used to make mulled wine. Mulling calls for heating the wine and herbs together.

If this level of alcohol is still too much for you for whatever reason, then your options are either vinegar or glycerin. Neither extracts quite as well as alcohol, and food-grade glycerin isn’t really something most people are able to produce at home. I recommend using vinegar as an alternative to alcohol.

LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR HOMEMADE ALCOHOL

Please check all current state and local laws before attempting to make alcohol. While federal and most state laws make it illegal to distill alcohol at home, some states are starting to permit distillation with a license, usually for making biodiesel. This can be a gray area legally, so please check all current applicable laws for the most accurate information on whether home distillation is legal. The ability to distill even small amounts of grain alcohol for medicinal and sterilization purposes will be a highly valuable skill in a post-disaster world.

VINEGAR

The use of medicinal vinegar is both global and ancient. Vinegar is easy to make from leftover wine, but it’s just as easily made from apple cores and peels. This remarkable liquid has a number of health claims and traditional uses, some of which have promising pre-trial studies in support of them.3

Vinegar is an alternative to alcohol in tincture making. A tincture made with vinegar instead of alcohol is called an acetum. Herbal vinegars can be used in medicines, added to the laundry rinse, and used for rinsing hair after washing it.

The easiest way to make vinegar is to add leftover wine to a large jug. Allow the wine to sit long enough and you’ll have vinegar. However, the vinegar used most often in natural medicine making is apple cider vinegar (ACV).

There are a few ways to make apple cider vinegar. The easiest method for me is to dissolve 1/4 cup of honey into 1 quart of water. Then I collect apple peels and cores after baking something that uses up a lot of apples, like apple pie or apple crisp. I add the apple remnants to the container, cover with a cloth, leave in a warm place for 4 to 6 weeks, and wait for the liquid to turn into apple cider vinegar. Caution: If there are any black spots in the end product, you will have to dump out the entire batch.

Vinegar has proven health benefits. It has a mild to moderate antidiabetic effect and has been helpful to in improving insulin sensitivity. Oxymel, a mixture of honey and vinegar, was prescribed for coughs as least as far back as Hippocrates’ time. Research has shown apple cider vinegar to be antifungal.4 It has even been shown to have a protective effect on red blood cells, kidneys, and the liver in mice fed a diet rich in cholesterol.5

Vinegar is often used to clean surfaces, but to be effective as a disinfectant, it must contain at least 5% acetic acid. There are test kits available to test the strength of your homemade ACV. Unfortunately, they are rather pricey at $50 to $100 per individual kit. A decent compromise is to test for the pH, which is easily done with inexpensive test strips. A pH of 4.5 or less is sufficient. Vinegar with the proper amount of acetic acid has been shown effective in killing mycobacteria, including multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, on surfaces.6

GLYCERIN

Glycerin can be a useful menstruum for natural medicines. It has a shelf life of about a year, perhaps longer if conditions are favorable. Glycerin has a sweet taste and a thick texture, and is useful in making syrups and ear drops. It is soothing to the skin and can be added to cream, lotion, and salve recipes.

Although glycerin is a by-product of soap making, and soap making is a common homesteading and self-reliance skill, making food-grade glycerin at home requires both soap making and distillation skills to produce a pure product. This may be more technically advanced than most people want to get, but if you have those skills, making glycerin is something to look into.

RAW HONEY

If you are not allergic to bees, I urge you to seriously consider keeping bees. Between pollinating your garden and producing honey, wax, and propolis (a resin that bees collect from tree buds and use to maintain the hive), honeybees are an important part of creating a renewable source of natural medicines. It’s also pretty fascinating to watch their behavior as they leave and return to their hives.

Raw honey is a miraculous substance on multiple levels. It never spoils, it tastes delicious, and it is an important ingredient in natural medicines. Raw honey is excellent for soothing a sore throat and calming a cough. Enzyme-rich, raw honey is credited with preventing allergies and is the base for many herbal syrups.

Honey belongs in every first aid or trauma kit. A near-perfect wound treatment for everything from burns to road rash, honey prevents infection through its antibacterial properties and unique ability to manufacture small amounts of hydrogen peroxide the moment it comes in contact with moist, wounded tissues. This means there is a slow yet constant low-dose treatment of hydrogen peroxide directly to the injured tissue. At the same time, the moisture-retaining properties of honey prevent skin from drying out while healing.

Honey can also be infused with herbs to make more specific wound care remedies. Herbs such as yarrow, St. John’s wort, spilanthes, echinacea, and comfrey make wonderful wound care infused honeys, either on their own or in combination.

Never give honey or any unwashed raw food to an infant one year old or younger. It could result in botulism poisoning.

BEESWAX

This will likely be the most accessible wax in a post-disaster society, especially after rebuilding begins. Beeswax has a near-intoxicating fragrance and warm color. It thickens lotions and creams, and hardens salves. Pound for pound, beeswax is more valuable than honey and no doubt will be a highly prized barter item.

PROPOLIS

This substance that bees collect from tree buds is sometimes called “bee glue.” If you get the chance to work a beehive with a beekeeper, you’ll quickly learn why. The bees fill every little hole and gap with propolis. As an antimicrobial, it inhibits infections in the hive. If you place a special grate with holes in the hive, very quickly the bees will fill it in completely with propolis. You can freeze the grate, break off the propolis, and make it into a tincture. Propolis tincture can be used on wounds, but it is also beneficial as a preservative and in giving some antimicrobial properties to herbal products. It is best used in combination with other natural preservatives like essential oils.

MUSHROOMS

A mushroom is a fungus. Mycology, the study of fungi, is a fascinating field of which I’m only beginning to scratch the surface. What I have learned so far only makes me want to know more.

Some medicinal mushrooms are also culinary mushrooms, making it very easy to incorporate them into your diet in soup stocks, sauces, stuffed squash, and savory pies. You can dehydrate mushrooms and store them in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. Among medicinal mushrooms are shiitake, maitake, and lion’s mane. Unfortunately, the white button and portabella mushrooms we are accustomed to are not medicinal.

Reishi, cordyceps, turkey tail, maitaki, and shiitaki mushrooms, on the other hand, are medicinal. Reishi, one of the most heavily researched of medicinal mushrooms, is both bitter and woody. Because of this, reishi is best taken as a liquid extract or in a capsule. Cordyceps has a flavor similar to licorice, while the others mentioned have rich, earthy flavors more commonly associated with mushrooms. One thing almost all medicinal mushrooms share is a reputation for supporting immune function. The next most common, and somewhat related, claim is that medicinal mushrooms have some significant anti-cancer abilities.7

OILS AND FATS

You need oils and fats to make infused oils, which can then be used in salves, creams, and lotions. Currently, the most popular herbal recipes call for exotic fats, butters, and oils that must be imported. Your options are to stock up on these items or produce alternatives yourself.

Personally, I’ve opted for a combination of stockpiling olive and coconut oils, and pressing my own oils from various seeds including sunflower, pumpkin, and grapeseed with a small home-scale press. If you needed to, you could sprout sunflower seeds, crush them, and squeeze the oil out with a potato ricer to get every last drop.

Lard and tallow are excellent substitutes for some of the exotic butters. Both have a good shelf life. Lard can be kept at room temperature for a few months, in the refrigerator a year, and well beyond that in the freezer. Tallow has an even longer shelf life of a year at room temperature. I don’t think I would choose to go back to my old formulas calling for exotic butters now that I make so many of my lotions and creams with lard and tallow.

BENTONITE CLAY

Bentonite draws toxins through the skin and out of the gut. Bentonite works by adsorption. Adsorption is similar to absorption, except that instead of being drawn into the clay, atoms, ions, and molecules adhere to the surface of the clay. The more surface space, the more adsorption.

There are two types of bentonite: sodium bentonite and calcium bentonite. Sodium bentonite is better able to draw out toxins, but calcium bentonite does a better job of remineralizing. I might recommend calcium bentonite for someone doing a seasonal “detox.”

Bentonite clay is excellent for poison ivy, poison oak, and fungal infections. In order to use it, you must add water and hydrate the clay into a thin enough paste to apply to the skin, or into a thin enough liquid to drink.

Some brands of bentonite are already prehydrated. I keep these on hand for oral usage, in case of food poisoning. Prehydrated bentonite is a much smoother product than you can get by quickly stirring water into the clay. The clay tends to clump until it’s had a chance to sit and really soak. A little bentonite goes a long, long way, and too much bentonite in water tends to clump.

This may sound overly simplistic, but when in doubt about an ailment, slather bentonite on it. One of the most dramatic cases I have ever seen of ringworm uncontrolled even by prescription antifungal cream was treated quickly and cheaply with repeated applications of bentonite clay.

Bentonite also draws out venom, such as from a bee sting. This is something I’ve had a lot of experience with. Would bentonite draw venom from a snakebite? Maybe, maybe not. That’s trickier to answer as there are other substances I might reach for first. See page 108 for information on snakebites.

Because there is no shelf life on clay, bentonite is a good item to stockpile.

KAOLIN CLAY

Also known as China clay, kaolin is the clay most often used in facial masks. It is the key ingredient in QuikClot, which is used to stop bleeding in emergencies. Kaolin clay can be used as a DIY version of QuikClot by pouring right on a wound or by including it as an ingredient in wound powder. As with bentonite clay, kaolin has no shelf life and is a valuable item to stockpile.

ACTIVATED CHARCOAL

Just as bentonite clay has an indefinite shelf life and draws out toxins, so does activated charcoal. Activated charcoal contains tiny pores, creating a greater surface area and more drawing ability. In a pinch, you could use regular charcoal, like the type you barbecue with, but it won’t have the “pull” that activated charcoal has. Specifically, activated charcoal is used to draw out venom from bites and stings, as well as infection and foreign matter from wounds. Activated charcoal adsorbs over 4,000 kinds of ingested poisons.

I carry activated charcoal with me in capsules in a bottle. This keeps them dry and ready for use. I break a capsule to apply on a bite or wound. The charcoal cleans away dead or diseased tissue while drawing out the toxin.

Activated charcoal is a good remedy for food poisoning, ingested poison, and intestinal infections because it does not pass through the gut wall.

SALTS

You’ll need salts for crafting bath salts and salt scrubs. The salts typically used are Epsom salts, which give the body a dose of magnesium (involved in over 300 functions of the body), and sea salts, which have a high mineral content. Salts are purifying, exfoliating, and renewing.

Bath salts can incorporate herbs, herbal infused oils, and essential oils, which will then be released into the warm bath water. You can customize bath salts to calm the nerves, soothe aches and pains, provide flu relief, and do pretty much anything else you can think of.

Unless you live near the ocean or a salt mine, you should probably stock up on salts. Be sure to avoid table salt in your herbal formulas. Table salt is generally poor quality salt that has been highly refined and stripped of minerals such as magnesium.

ESSENTIAL OILS

Essential oils (EOs) have become quite popular, and it is easy to understand why. They are easy to use and provide a highly concentrated form of plant-based medicine. Essential oils are most often used therapeutically through inhalation or topical application. Inhalation brings the oils directly into the respiratory system, making EOs a good choice for many respiratory infections and ailments. A nebulizing or ionizing diffuser is the best way to inhale the essential oil, but a humidifier could also be used.

EOs are not oils in the sense that olive oil is; they are hydrophobic, volatile chemicals that have been steam-distilled from a plant. It takes a large quantity of plant material in order to get a small amount of oil.

Distillation of essential oils requires special equipment and advanced skills that are outside the scope of this book. However, if you have the land to dedicate to growing the plants and the inclination to learn how to distill them, you will have an extremely potent form of plant-based medicine that will be worth lots of whatever currency is in place in a post-disaster world.

Those who have the resources to grow enough plant material to make this effort worthwhile will be restricted to what grows in their area. Thankfully, several herbs that are high in volatile oils grow in many locales such as thyme, peppermint, sage, and rosemary should be doable. The oils produced by these relatively small planting will give you enough antimicrobial and pain-reducing medicine to keep you well stocked.

Essential oils are wonderful and immensely useful, and I wouldn’t want to be parted from mine. But from a preparedness standpoint, there are a few drawbacks that you need to factor in when making your selections for remedies. Here are 10 considerations in stocking your natural medicine supplies with essential oils, especially when compared with stocking tinctures:

1EOs are not easy to DIY unless you have a lot of land, specialized equipment, and detailed knowledge of steam distillation.

2EOs are almost always distilled outside of the United States. If a situation arises in which shipping is cut off or severely limited, there won’t be a way to resupply your stock of essential oils.

3Shelf life is determined by the chemical composition and the different chemical constituents, how well the oil is stored, and when the oil was distilled (not the date of purchase).

4Most of the time, you will not know when the oil was distilled unless you request a report from the seller.

5Oxidation will eventually cause an essential oil to lose its therapeutic properties. For example, monoterpenes in essential oils have a potential shelf life of 1 to 3 years, phenol-rich oils about 3 years, and monoterpenols in oils about 3 to 5 years. Sesquiterpene-rich oils have the longest potential shelf life, 6 to 8 years in ideal conditions.

6Tincturing herbs requires significantly less land and plant material than distillation of essential oils does.

7Tinctures last potentially 10 years or longer. Although some of the plant material in a tincture eventually will migrate out of the menstruum and it isn’t possible to get it back in, you can simply shake the bottle to distribute the material evenly before each dose.

8Tincturing and infusing oils require no specialized equipment—other than perhaps a percolation cone for advanced tincture making.

9Both tinctures and essential oils require some knowledge of distillation if we face a long-term emergency. Tinctures require higher alcohol percentages than are found in non-distilled alcohols, like beer, wine, and mead, so having the ability to distill spirits would be advantageous. However, distillation of potent essential oils is a more complicated, nuanced process.

10Tinctures cost less money to make or buy than essential oils.

This isn’t to say that tinctures are better than essential oils, or that it’s a choice between tinctures and essential oils. You can have both. However, people depending solely on essential oils will eventually run out of them with no way to resupply in a long-term disaster unless they have secured enough land, can grow the plants they want to distill, and can acquire the knowledge and means to distill oils.

The distillation process only preserves certain aromatic chemicals in the herb and then provides them in a concentration not found in nature. This means that part of the synergistic nature of the herb is missing. It’s important to pay careful attention to the concentration level, to avoid giving a toxic dose. With few exceptions, essential oils should only be applied topically if diluted. Normally, an essential oil is between 1% and 2% of total volume. For example, if you bottled a blend intended for use on skin, and you had a 1-ounce bottle of a carrier oil, you would add 6 drops of the EO or EO blend for a 1% dilution. For a 2% dilution, you would use 12 drops per ounce.

While essential oils are hydrophobic liquids made up of volatile, aromatic compounds, carrier oils are true oils. They are fats and act as a carrier for essential oils. Always use a carrier oil to dilute essential oils before applying to the skin to reduce the chance of irritating the skin. Lavender essential oil can often be applied “neat” (without a carrier), but most others are risky. Certain oils are considered “hot” oils and should never be applied without a carrier. Oregano essential oil is a good example, as it has caused chemical burns when applied neat.

While not easy to make, essential oils can be extremely powerful when used correctly. Chapter 4, Materia Medica, provides information on specific herbs and plants containing essential oils that may be helpful to you in a disaster. They can be used alone or in other remedies. Aromatic oils have intensely strong properties, making them ideal for disinfecting surfaces and the air. When used in a diffuser and aerosolized, they may be capable of cleaning the air of airborne pathogens, depending on which oil you are using. Inhaling these aromatic oils through a nebulizing diffuser draws them directly into the respiratory system. I would absolutely include certain essential oils for any serious respiratory illness. Beyond their therapeutic value, essential oils can be used as preservatives in natural lotions and creams. The only drawback is that the essential oils most capable of acting as preservatives—such as thyme, cinnamon, and tea tree—have very strong scents, which may be counterproductive.

Recently, I had a case in which the individual in question believed he had walking pneumonia. It hurt to take a breath, and he had a violent yet unproductive cough plus fever and chills. He went to his physician’s office, where the doctor ignored his descriptions and did not listen to his lungs with a stethoscope. He was sent home with a diagnosis of flu and told to stay hydrated and ride it out.

While I cannot know if he actually had walking pneumonia, as no actual test was done, this individual did need some help beyond just staying hydrated. So I prepared a blend of the following essential oils, and had him use only 3 drops of the blend in a diffuser as necessary.

Thyme to Breathe Essential Oil Blend

•25 drops of thyme essential oil

•20 drops of peppermint essential oil

•25 drops of rosemary essential oil

•30 drops of cedarwood essential oil

After using the blend as needed for 2 days, he began to feel real relief. For use in a humidifier, fill a small cup with water and add about 10 drops of the oil blend. This blend is likely too strong to use with children due to the thyme EO and rosemary EO, both of which should be avoided in children under 13 years old. Instead, use an herbal steam of the herbs peppermint, thyme, and rosemary. I followed this aromatic breathing treatment with my hyssop-based expectorant Respiratory Infection Tea (page 107).

Blending essential oils is an art. Oils are described as having top, middle, and base notes. Top notes tend to fade quickly. Middle notes are next to fade, and base notes last the longest. Sometimes oils are blended based on a number called the blending factor. Oils are further described as woodsy, earthy, spicy, floral, citrus, and so on. Each of these scent groups blends well with certain other groups.

For our purposes, blending oils for medicinal purposes has more to do with the medicinal properties of the oils and not the perfumery qualities. However, using at least one top, middle, and base note in each blend will make your therapeutic blends smell better. I typically use 20% top-note oils, 50% middle-note oils, and 30% base-note oils. Woodsy scents blend with just about any other scent.

The bottom line is that essential oils have their place in your preparedness plans. They are great for short-term disasters, when we may be without shipping for a year or less. For the overwhelming majority of risks, this is more than sufficient. For long-term survival, unless you have a way to duplicate essential oils on your own, it is hard to rely on them for long-term preparedness.

THE HYPE BEHIND ESSENTIAL OILS

There’s no mystery here. Essential oils are popular because they are highly concentrated, natural medicines that are simple to use. Essential oils can do amazing things, from getting rid of a migraine in record time to treating a MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infection. These are things that modern pharmaceuticals often cannot do easily.

If you have spent any time around the blogosphere, you know that essential oils are everywhere. Articles and advertising are found in abundance in mommy blogs, DIY cosmetics blogs, and survival blogs. Some of the websites do a phenomenal job of explaining how to use essential oils in a safe and intelligent manner. Others, however, make wild claims about the quality, purity, safety, and effectiveness of their favorite brand of oil. You can usually spot these because the bloggers tend to be sales reps for those same companies.

There is a lot of hype and misunderstanding about how to use essential oils safely, as well as how to source quality oils. I’d like to take a moment to clear the air.

Get your essential oil advice from aromatherapists, not sales reps. Aromatherapists are focused on their clients. Sales reps are focused on sales.

If you see “therapeutic grade” on a label, understand that this means absolutely nothing. There is no industry-wide grading system, nor is there any third-party agency that verifies the grades listed on labels.

For those interested in the “essential oils of the bible” trend, the truth is that there were no distilled essential oils mentioned in the bible. Those were infused oils, hydrosols (a hydrosol is the water portion left after steam distillation, like rose water), and extracts, but the technology to produce therapeutic, volatile oils did not exist until the 14th century.

Safe methods of using essential oils include inhalation and topical applications. Ingestion is never without risk. It has a time and place, so I won’t say never to do it. But it’s rare.

There is no such thing as a “French school of thought” regarding aromatherapy that promotes ingestion, and no “English school of thought” that shies away from it. That’s made-up marketing baloney.

Just because an oil has GRAS status (meaning, generally recognized as safe) does not mean that it is safe to consume in quantity. It’s one thing to make lemon squares with 3 drops of lemon essential oil (most of the citrus oils have GRAS status) and quite another to drink a glass of water containing 3 drops of lemon essential oil. The drops in the lemon squares are spread out (diluted) through the entire batch. Most people would not eat an entire batch of lemon squares all at once, where they would drink the entire glass of water.

The liver was never intended to process something as concentrated as essential oil. If ingestion is part of your regimen, eventually you will impact your liver.

Whatever you put on the skin sinks into the pores, through each of the layers of tissue, and ultimately into the bloodstream. Take care to avoid contraindications (situations where using an herb or oil would be inadvisable). For example, someone who is already on blood-thinning, or anticoagulant, medication shouldn’t use oils that are also blood thinners, such as birch, clove, or basil essential oil.

If a red welt develops from applying an essential oil, stop using it. Redness or, even worse, an open sore is not a sign that your body is detoxing. It is a chemical burn. On my website I have an online course on herbal burn care that covers chemical burns. Be aware that chemical burns are nothing to mess around with.

CONTAINERS

Glassware: Glass is reusable, beautiful, and inert. It will not leach chemicals into your herbal formulas. Unfortunately, glass is also breakable, and I don’t know any other way around that other than to stock up on a lot of glassware. This is the glassware I use most often: mason jars for making tinctures; dark amber Boston rounds with glass pipettes and a rubber bulb for dispensing tinctures; and round flint jars for my lotions, creams, and salves.

HDPE: Although glass is the standard, there are times when glass just doesn’t make sense. Recently, I’ve begun using Nalgene bottles for the tinctures in my first aid kit. This is the bag that gets tossed around in the car and on practice bugouts, and I’ve always worried about my glass bottles breaking. The high-density polyethylene (HDPE) Nalgene bottles are designed to hold up to harsh chemicals without leaching.

Cosmetic Tins: These round, silver tins are what I use for my salves. They can take a few hits, aren’t going to break like glass, and can be easily cleaned and reused.

EQUIPMENT

Capsules and Capsule Machine: Making your own capsules of dried herbs, activated charcoal, or perhaps powdered mushrooms creates a convenient way to take remedies that may not taste so good otherwise.

Stock up on capsules, which have a very long shelf life and are inexpensive to purchase. You could fill capsules by hand: Simply take the capsules apart, scoop the powder into the halves, and stick the halves together again. Capsules are great when an herb tastes unpleasant. For example, bladderwrack is a seaweed that smells and tastes awful. It is also a good source of iodine. Capsules make the odor and off-putting flavor a non-issue. Cayenne is another great example. Not everyone enjoys cayenne’s heat, but it is a good option to lower blood pressure. Encapsulation allows the cayenne to be swallowed without setting the taste buds on fire.

Your other option is to make a small investment of approximately $15 in a manual capsule machine. This device allows you to fill multiple capsules at a time, and gives you a more consistent result. You will need a separate machine for each size capsule you want to make. For example, size 0 capsules require a size 0 machine, and a size 00 capsule requires a size 00 machine.

Scale: Much of herbal medicine can be done intuitively. Some of it, however, does require taking proper measurements. A small scale is helpful for measuring specific amounts of beeswax, fats, and so on. If you can manage to find a non-electronic scale, great. If not, stock up on batteries.

Mortar and Pestle, Herb/Coffee Grinder: The mortar and pestle is an iconic herbal tool. This simple instrument turns herbs into powders. However, it might take a long time to get a fine powder. A coffee grinder can do a decent job of powdering herbs in a matter of seconds. I have both an electric and non-electric coffee grinder, and the manual one guarantees a finer powder.

Blender: A blender is used for emulsifying (combining one liquid into another liquid in which it is not soluble). This is how lotion is formed. Although you can successfully produce lotion with just a whisk and elbow grease, a blender makes the job easy. If you do have power, either a regular blender or an immersion blender will work.

Wide-Mouth Funnels: For ease of cleanup, I’ve switched to wide-mouth mason jars. Wide-mouth funnels make filling the jars so much easier. No more spilling herbs everywhere as I pour from mixing bowls into jars.

Strainers: Mesh strainers come in the form of the classic tea ball. Others are in the shape of a basket that sits on the rim of your cup with the inner part submerged in the water. Muslin and cheesecloth can be used to strain and squeeze out every last drop, and a potato ricer does a decent job of squeezing out the last few drops of tincture or infused oil. It’s a good idea to get one or more of these strainers for your kit.

Kitchen Miscellany: Have on hand several metal mixing bowls. The types with pour spouts are the most convenient. Also get multiple rubber or silicone spatulas—you cannot have enough of these. You will also need measuring cups and measuring spoons. Some items can do double duty, for example, individual pots that you use for a double boiler. Instead of buying an actual double boiler, just set a smaller pot inside a larger one that contains water.

Labels: I’ve saved the most important for last. Label your herbal concoctions! Trust me, in a few months, you’re going to look at a container and wonder, “What the heck was that?” Always apply a label with the name of what you made, the date you made it, and the date it will be ready.

2William A. Rutala et al., “Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 2008.

3Carol S. Johnston and Cindy A. Gaas, “Vinegar: Medicinal Uses and Antiglycemic Effect,” Medscape General Medicine 8, no. 2 (2006): 61.

4A. C. Mota et al, “Antifungal Activity of Apple Cider Vinegar on Candida Species Involved in Denture Stomatitis,” Journal of Prosthodontics (2014), doi: 10.1111/jopr.12207.

5Mustafa Nazıroğlu et al., “Apple Cider Vinegar Modulates Serum Lipid Profile, Erythrocyte, Kidney, and Liver Membrane Oxidative Stress in Ovariectomized Mice Fed High Cholesterol,” Journal of Membrane Biology 247, no. 8 (2014): 667–73.

6Claudia Cortesia et al., “Acetic Acid, the Active Component of Vinegar, Is an Effective Tuberculocidal Disinfectant,” MBio 5 no. 2 (2014): 13–14.

7Richard Sullivan et al., “Medicinal Mushrooms: Their Therapeutic Properties and Current Medical Usage with Special Emphasis on Cancer Treatments,” Cancer Research UK, University of Strathclyde, May 2002.