The preparation of a medicine from a plant that contains a beneficial chemical varies according to the chemical and the plant. Sometimes the chemical is extracted from the leaves by the use of boiling water. Sometimes the roots are dug up and ground. The most basic and common process for producing medicines is to use liquid and heat.
Here is a list of some of the varied processes that can be used. Pages 8 and 9 then contain examples of how these processes are used to produce medicines from just seven common plants. There are, of course, hundreds of beneficial plants that can be used. We have just selected a few which are widely known and have been tested, tried and researched scientifically.
Cold water extracts
This is used for ingredients that are destroyed by heat. Leaves should be cut into small pieces. Roots should be pounded. Soak ingredients overnight in cold water. Use within one day.
Tea (or brew)
Pour one litre of boiling water over a handful of herbs. Leave to stand and after 15–20 minutes filter through a clean cloth. Use within one day.
Boil one handful of herbs in one litre of water for 20 minutes. Filter through a clean cloth. Use within one day.
If the herbs taste too bitter, a syrup can be made. After preparing a tea or decoction, filter the liquid and add one cup of sugar to one cup of the liquid. Heat gently if necessary to dissolve the sugar. Use within three days.
Tinctures contain alcohol which helps to preserve the herbal extracts. Use good quality medicinal alcohol. Usually 100g of herbal mixture is mixed with one litre of an alcohol and water mixture (45–70% alcohol). The mixture is not heated but poured into a bottle and allowed to stand in a warm place for a week before filtering. The higher the alcohol content, the longer the tincture can be kept. With 20% alcohol, it should keep for two years: 40% or more alcohol content means that it will keep for five years.
Ointments use pure vegetable oil and wax. Good quality palm oil made from freshly gathered and processed oil palm kernels is very suitable. You can also use olive oil, groundnut oil or shea butter oil.
Dry the leaves and pound them into a fine powder. Mix one cup of this powder with nine cups of oil. Heat the mixture in a water bath made from two pots. The larger outer pot is one quarter filled with water and placed on the stove. The oil and plant material are placed in a smaller inner pot with a lid. Make very sure that water from the outer pot cannot enter the inner pot. Let the water come to the boil and simmer for 60 minutes.
Do not try and do this without using a water bath, as overheating spoils the oil. Filter the oil through a cotton cloth while it is still hot. Add one cup of warmed, clean wax (use beeswax, commercial wax or candles) while the oil is still hot, and stir for one minute.
Adapted from the book Natural Medicine in the
Tropics, reviewed on Page 14.
There are risks and side effects in using
medicinal plants. Every herb, as well as
every chemical substance, may have a
range of effects; the main effect may be
positive for one patient, negative for
another and even dangerous for a third.
For example, a plant that is good for low
blood pressure, may kill a person with
high blood pressure. In addition, the
quantity of active ingredient in a plant can
vary according to the variety, the season
or the age of the plant. For this reason we
cannot be held responsible for any results
of using these herbal recipes. All we can
do is encourage you to be careful and
Keep careful notes and records of all
herbs, quantities, treatments and effects.
Learn from your own experience, and keep
in close contact with other practitioners,
so that you also learn from their
knowledge and experiences.
When in doubt, seek help.