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If you enjoy cultivating a from-scratch lifestyle and have an interest in natural health, learning to work with herbs to support your family’s well being can be a rewarding skill. You might even have most of the tools you need to get started – just check your kitchen cupboards! Many of the basic tools an herbalist needs can be borrowed from the kitchen – items like glass canning jars, coffee filters, and measuring cups.[Tweet “Like cooking and gardening, herbalism is part science, part inspiration, and part practice.”]
Here’s the quick, Scratch Mommy start-up guide for the home herbalist, including a few good reads, tools & supplies, and recipes that will help you learn the basics at get started creating.
Like many other DIY projects and skills, good books to learn from are a must. Chances are, each book you encounter will focus on a different aspect of herbalism. Some books might emphasize gardening or cooking, others on the finer points of using herbs for healing, and still others might contain recipes for creating a complete home apothecary from scratch.
There are many ways to “do” herbalism, so take the time to browse at your local library or bookshop and search for books that inspire you!
Kami McBride’s The Herbal Kitchen is a must-have for the aspiring from-scratch herbalist. Her recipes have an inspired way of bringing herbal wellness into the kitchen for everyday use.
Rosemary Gladstar’s books are always full of wonderful recipes, too. Check our our review of Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs (another must-have beginner’s guide). We also love Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 Teas, Tonics, Oils, Salves, Tinctures, and Other Natural Remedies for the Entire Family. It’s packed full of information and beautiful herbal recipes for the entire family.
If you are looking for a more in-depth reference, Anne McIntyre’s The Complete Herbal Tutor is a beautiful guide with a directory of plant profiles and step-by-step directions for making basic herbal preparations, as well as chapters devoted to health and the human body.
Of course, right here at Scratch Mommy you will find loads of DIYs and herbal knowledge from which you can pull. Scratch Mommy Founder Jess has written extensively about herbs and how she likes to use them. If you are looking for DIY herbal recipes here on Scratch Mommy CLICK HERE.
Jess’s Scratch Mommy Contributors also have a plethora of information. Some Scratch Mommy Contributor sites you’ll want to check out include:
- Agatha at The Independent Herbalist (Hey, that’s me!)
- Brittany at The Pistachio Project
- Jamie at The Herbal Spoon
- Kathie at Homespun Seasonal Living
Tools & Supplies
Glass Canning Jars
Glass canning jars in several sizes are the perfect containers for mixing and brewing herbal teas, creating tinctures and elixirs, and storing your homemade spice blends. Be sure to pick up reusable plastic lids designed specifically for glass canning jars, because ingredients like vinegar in your projects can corrode the metal lids and bands. A sheet of wax paper between the metal lid and the mouth of the jar can help somewhat, if you need a quick fix in a pinch.
A fine mesh sieve is invaluable. Having one on hand makes straining teas, infused oils, and extracts a snap. Some sieves have a lip that fits over the edge of the bowl or jar beneath and helps prevent slips and spills. A medium size sieve will be able to handle almost everything, although adding an extra one in a smaller size can be nice, too. Here is a nice set of three metal sieves for a reasonable price.
Coffee Filters and Muslin
Muslin and cheesecloth can be nice, but if you have difficulty finding some at your local craft store an unbleached coffee filter can almost always stand in. Muslin drawstring bags are even better than a yard of muslin- you can either buy them ready made, or make your own. They make handy filters for holding herbs in an herbal bath or foot soak, and can be used to strain herbal projects just as well as a coffee filter- with the added benefit that they are washable and can be reused.
Consider a 4 cup glass measuring cup (glass is less likely to react to your ingredients than metal or plastic), as well as a smaller 5 oz glass measuring cup. The 5 oz glass measuring cup is very useful for measuring vinegar and alcohol for elixir and extract recipes, while the larger measuring cup is nice for larger quantities of herbs or other ingredients.
Even if you have a coffee grinder already, you might want to invest in a second one that will be used for your herbs only. It is possible to buy most of your herbal ingredients already powdered, but herbs in “cut and sifted” form have a longer shelf life than powdered herbs. As with spices, grinding herbs yourself in a quality coffee grinder is a way to make sure you are using the freshest ingredients.
There are hundreds of herbs to choose from, so how should you go about deciding which ones to purchase when you are just starting out? One of the most practical ways for a new herbalist to add new materials to their herbal supply cabinet is by picking out a few new recipes to try (keep reading for more help in this department).
You will need to purchase dried herbs in order to make most herbal recipes. A recipe might only call for a few tablespoons of the herb, but herbs are typically sold by the ounce or in pouches of four ounces or more, so you will quickly begin to build a little apothecary of your own that you can turn to when you want to try other recipes. A few versatile herbs that you might want to consider include: rose petals, lavender blossoms, chamomile, peppermint, lemon balm, calendula petals, and elecampane root.
You won’t need anything but the herbs themselves for herbal tea blends, but certain ingredients often turn up in other types of herbal recipes. Apple cider vinegar (raw, organic ACV), vegetable glycerin (non-GMO sourced vegetable glycerin), honey (we always suggest sustainably sourced local honey, but this is a great raw, organic honey, too), and organic brandy &/or organic vodka are nice to have on hand for extracts and elixirs. In her handcrafted Rose Water Spray and handcrafted witch hazel Scratch Mommy Founder Jess uses a unique vodka sourced from organic sugarcane in Hawaii.
The following ingredients are common in salve and balm recipes: Beeswax (organic, sustainably sourced, unrefined beeswax), olive oil (again, quality organic olive oil is best), and coconut oil (this is hands down our favorite organic, hand pressed, raw coconut oil). As with herbs, you can collect your ingredients on a recipe by recipe basis, or stock up ahead of time based on what strikes your fancy.
One of the great things about being a from-scratch herbalist is that there are so many creative projects to try and recipes to sample. In addition to the books mentioned above, here’s a collection of some of our favorite free online recipes:
Learning to make your own herbal goodies and preparations at home opens a treasure chest of recipes and creative concoctions that are unrivaled by anything you can purchase of the shelf at your local co-op or health food shop. Once you get started, you may wonder how you ever managed before discovering the art of from-scratch herbalism!