***SAFETY REMINDER: It is NOT recommended to give herbs to children under 2 years old for internal ingestion. They lack the liver enzymes required to properly process many herbs. (Please see my interview with American Botanical Council’s Mark Blumenthal if you want some advice from him about what you should do if you want to give your children herbs).***
In general, there are 3 situations in which you might want to blend your own herbs to keep your family in good health:
- To help improve an acute illness or problem
- To assist with recovering from an acute illness or help alleviate a chronic illness
- To bolster overall health
Okay, let’s go with situation #1. First, think about what organ systems need assistance and the herbs that love helping those systems. If you need a refresher, you can revisit my Part 1 and Part 2 posts on this topic. Next, think about which of the supporting cast of herbs might be “called in” to provide additional reinforcements. Finally, make up a list of herbal groups that you think would be beneficial, and then pick one herb from each group to put in your formula.
Let’s say the situation was a cold, with a fever and some congestion. There are many ways to go here. If it were me, I would choose an antiseptic herb (to help reduce the formation of infection and help support the immune system), an astringent (to help dry up discharge), and an expectorant (to help eliminate excess mucus or phlegm). Then, I would bring in a diaphoretic (to help promote sweating and aid the fever along – which is the body’s way of fighting infection) and a stimulant (to help the other herbs do their jobs better). So, I might pick Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) as the antiseptic, Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) as the astringent, Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) as the expectorant, Sage (Salvia officinalis) as the diaphoretic, and Cayenne (Capsicum annuum) as the stimulant. I might put an ounce of each of the Echinacea, Mullein, Licorice Root, and Sage, plus half an ounce of the Cayenne (otherwise, you might burn out your taste buds), blend them together, then take an ounce of the blend and use it to make my infusion. (This is by no means the ONLY blend you could make…it is one of many many many, trust me!)
Let’s move onto Situation #2. Let’s say that the person has gotten over the cold (your herbal blend was successful, yay!) and is now in the recovery phase. Now, you want to mix some herbs to help speed the recovery and restore the appetite, maybe detoxify, maybe even promote overall health and vitality of the body. In this case, I might pick an alterative herb (to gradually cleanse the blood, tone and strengthen the digestion, increase appetite, etc.), a hepatic herb (to help the liver detoxify), and perhaps a tonic herb (to give the whole body a boost). If there’s been some irritation to the internal membranes (like too much hacking or coughing during the cold), I might also bring in a demulcent herb to coat, soothe, and relieve (gosh, sounding like a Pepto-Bismol commercial here). And lastly, cannot forget that wonderful stimulant to help intensify the action of the other herbs! So what might I pick? I might choose Burdock (Arctium lappa) for the alterative, Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) for the hepatic, and Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) for the tonic. Then, for the demulcent, I would get some Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra) powder, and for the stimulant, some Peppermint (Mentha piperita). A note on tonic herbs: sometimes they are quite bitter and you will need a good, strong aromatic herb to cover up the bitterness and help it go down easier. In such a case, either Peppermint or Ginger as stimulants will do nicely. A formula might be: 1 ounce Burdock, 1/2 ounce Dandelion, 1/2 ounce Goldenseal, 1 ounce Slippery Elm, and 1 ounce Peppermint. After mixing well, I’d take an ounce of the blend and create an infusion. Again, there are literally millions of herbal combinations that you could put together here that would be very effective…and good-tasting!
And finally, let’s go to Situation #3: boosting overall health and vitality. Sometimes there’s nothing particularly wrong, you just want to stay in a state of optimum health. In this case, I might choose a tonic herb plus a stimulant to help it do its job (remember – tonics are frequently bitter, so choose the stimulant wisely). Or, because the elimination of waste materials and toxins is so vital to maintaining optimum health, I might pick an herb or herbs that help all the eliminative organs perform better, such as a hepatic (to support elimination through the liver), a diaphoretic (to support elimination through the skin), an antiseptic, alterative, or tonic (to support elimination through the lymph), and either a cathartic or a diuretic (to help support elimination through the bowels or kidneys). One important note: it’s probably best NOT to put both a cathartic and a diuretic in a blend, as it might result in too much loss of fluids. And finally, the stimulant to help the overall blend work better! So what might the resulting blend look like? Well, I might choose Dandelion, Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), Calendula (Calendula officinalis), Cleavers (Galium aparine), and Ginger (Zingiber officinale). Another equally great blend could be Plantain (Plantago major), which is also a good hepatic herb, Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Burdock, Licorice Root, and Peppermint. Are you starting to see the possibilities?? I hope so! Welcome to the wonderful world of herbs…
I realize that this was just a cursory introduction to formula-blending; we haven’t even scratched the proverbial surface with the proverbial fingernail yet. I’ll keep posting about herbal formulas and even share some of my own favorites that I’ve used to great effect as the weeks go on…in the meantime, if you have any specific questions about formula-blending that you want to get answered, please feel free to post as a comment!