An Introduction to Medicinal Herbs: Their Collection, Storage, and Use

Learn the basics of collecting, storing, and preserving medicinal herbs, and the methods for preparing herbal medicines.


| April/May 1992



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No matter where you live, you will always be able to find plants that can be cultivated for their medicinal values. Many wonderful cures are as common as what's found in your herb garden.

PHOTO: GORDON E. SMITH

In recent years there has been a tremendous surge of interest in herbal or botanic medicine. In consequence, a wide variety of ready-prepared natural remedies have found their way onto the shelves of herb suppliers, health-food stores, and even some chemists. While manufacturers are to be commended for presenting the public with an alternative to chemicals, it's important to remember that a lot of remedies can be made at home. While naturally treating what ails you may seem like hocus pocus, many wonderful cures are as common as what's found in your herb garden.

Collecting Medicinal Plants 

No matter where you live, you will always be able to find plants that can be cultivated for their medicinal values. Of course, exactly what plants are available to you depends largely on your own geographical location. Where I live, one can find an almost endless variety of useful herbs, "weeds" (I detest that word), and shrubs. Even in quite heavily populated towns it is normally possible to find an inexhaustible supply of dandelion, groundsel, chickweed, coltsfoot, dock, plaintain, and bindweed.

When collecting plants—especially those to be used for medicinal purposes—there are several golden rules to follow. Stick to them, and you can be sure that the plants you pick will be of the finest quality.

Rule 1: Correctly Identify the Plant

Some herbs are almost indistinguishable from others that have totally different properties. Rosebay Willow-herb (Chamaenerion angustifolium) may, to the untrained eye, look suspiciously like Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), and two members of the Figwort family Scrophulariaceae—Yellow Lute (Odontites lutea) and Common Cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense)—may also be easily confused by someone who is gingerly taking his or her first herb-hunting expedition in the fields.

Always take several illustrated pocket books with you when you are looking for herbs that you are not overly familiar with.

Rule 2 : Never Pick within One Mile of a Highway

Some plants such as the Raspberry, Blackberry, Lesser Plaintain, Ground Ivy, and Self-Heal have a curious affinity for the lead thrown out by car-exhaust fumes. Plants picked by a busy roadside may contain up to 200 times their natural level of lead.





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