Glossary of Herbs: Types of Herbs & Ways to Use Them

Herbs can range from very mild to extremely potent. Although herbs are natural, some can be dangerous, especially if not used properly. It is always best to consult an expert when using herbs if you are not knowledgeable about them yourself, especially when you are using some of the more powerful herbs or if you are pregnant. Finally, some medical schools are beginning to incorporate some herbal training into their programs.

When you do use herbs you should use their botanical names to ensure you are using the appropriate herb. Begin with one at a time to test what works for you but give each one time to work. Herbs work over time not overnight. Begin with small amounts for minor issues before you try to tackle any serious problems.

There are four main types of herbs that can be used for medicinal purposes. There are herbs that are mild enough to be used every day even for long periods of time. These herbs are usually extremely nutritious and good for your overall health. Some herbs are used mainly as a preventative measure. These herbs need time to build up in your system slowly. This is best accomplished by using them for three days and then don’t use for four days, and begin using again for three days in an alternating pattern. Other herbs can be compared to sedatives and stimulants. These must be used carefully and for short term use only. The last type of herbs is quite powerful and must be used with caution as they can be dangerous if not used properly. These herbs should never be used long term.

There are many ways to use herbs and while one way may work best for one person, it may not do anything for you. Don’t give up on an herbs effectiveness by only trying one method. The following are the various methods of using herbs for your health:

Compresses are cloths soaked in an herbal solution and applied to the affected area.

Decoctions are a type of tea that is made from bark, seed, berry or root and not boiled but simmered for twenty to thirty minutes.

Essential oils come from herbs and when mixed with carrier oils can be used in various ways such as inhalants, teas or massage.

Extracts come from pressed herbs that have been soaked in alcohol or water and then evaporated. This process makes the extracts very powerful and should be diluted in water before ingesting.

Infusions are steeped in hot water for five to ten minutes so that the benefits of the herbs are not destroyed.

Ointments are when an extract or some other form of the herb is added to a salve and then applied to the affected area.

Poultices are hot, moist masses of herbs with flour, mustard or other substances spread on a cloth and applied to the affected area to relieve pain and inflammation.

Powders can be made into capsules and taken orally.

Syrups are made from some form of sugar being boiled with herbs added.

Teas are one of the most common, convenient ways to use herbs especially for long term use. Herbal teas are made from adding one to three teaspoons of the herb per one cup of boiling water and allow steeping for five minutes.

Vinegars are made by adding herbs to some type of vinegar and left to stand for two or more weeks.


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This post is part of the series: Glossary of Herbs

This short series will introduce the use of herbs as a form of natural healing and preventative health. It will explain the various methods of using herbs for natural health and it will list and explain a number of the most common herbs uses for medicinal reasons.
  1. Glossary of Herbs: Types of Herbs & Ways to Use Them
  2. Glossary of Herbs: R-S