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Are you interested in herbs? Would you like to use more herbs in your everyday life? Well, building a working home apothecary is the first step in doing so!
What is an apothecary? According to Wikipedia, “apothecary is one term for a medical professional who formulates and dispenses materia medica (medicine) to physicians, surgeons, and patients. The modern pharmacist (also colloquially referred to as a chemist in British English) has taken over this role.”
To the herbalist, an apothecary is their collection of herbs and solvents that they use to make medicine. A traditional apothecary cabinet was a large, card-catalog-type cabinet that held hundreds of dried herbs. But of course, it can be a shelf, cabinet, or storage tote.
Whether you are just learning to work with herbs, or are an expert herbalist, you can build your own home apothecary. I’ll show you how!
Decide where you will store your apothecary supplies.
Your home apothecary should be in a pretty temperature-controlled area. It shouldn’t be damp or too cold, so the herbs stay their freshness the longest. Each individual herb should be in its own air-tight container, such as mason jars, Tupperware, or even old spaghetti jars. For the longest shelf-life, an oxygen absorber can be added to the container.
I keep my herbal supplies on a simple open shelf in my master bathroom. My mason jars and spaghetti jars are clearly marked with the jars’ contents and date I stored them. This makes my supplies easy to organize and rotate when they get old.
Home apothecary cabinet[/caption]
Start with the basics.
When building your home apothecary, it’s a good idea to start with the basics. You don’t need a bunch of overly complicated formulas taking up space in your cabinet. I suggest storing single-herb preparations in your jars. You can combine some later if you have more complex recipes. Here are what I suggest you start with:
- Loose leaf teas. These are herbs in their most basic, dried form. You can consume them as teas, or use them as a base ingredient for more processed medicines. Most of my herbs are stored this way in my home apothecary. Common herbs that I suggest keeping as a loose leaf tea are peppermint, lemon balm, elderberry, thyme, oregano, calendula, holy basil, and mullein.
- Tinctures. Tinctures take loose herbs one step further. They are simply an herb, or combination of herbs, steeped in high-proof alcohol for about 4 weeks, then strained. Tinctures have an extremely long shelf life, with some herbalists saying they last “forever”. Some tinctures I suggest you keep in your apothecary are echinacea, willow bark, plantain, elderberry, peppermint, ashwagandha, valerian, and feverfew.
- Salves. Salves are a topical medication, like an ointment. They are easy to make, and even easier to use. They are just herbs steeped in oil, strained, then added to beeswax. Salves are a necessity around our homestead. Scrapes, cuts, and bug bites all require a nice herbal salve to speed healing. Basic salves that I suggest keeping in your apothecary are plantain, calendula, jewelweed, lemon balm, comfrey, dandelion, and arnica. You can read more about making salves here.
- Essential oils. If you use Essential Oils“>essential oils, the home apothecary is a wonderful place to store these as well. I keep mine on my bathroom apothecary shelf. That way, they’re easy to organize, easy to get to, and easy to put in salves and such. Speaking of essential oils, if you are looking for a good essential oil company, I highly recommend Essential Oils“>Rocky Mountain Oils. They are high-quality oils at reasonable prices. And they are not an MLM – so you get the same quality without paying for a “middle man”.
Buy or gather your herbs.
I like to forage as much of my herbs as possible. Can’t beat free, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to get out into nature! Of course, this is an ongoing process.
If you’re interested in learning to forage your own wild medicine, I highly suggest my new e-book, Weedy Friends of North America. It’s a great little reference book on plants that most people will have growing near them to gather for medicine!
For herbs I can’t forage or grow on my own, I shop Starwest Botanicals Inc.“>Starwest Botanicals. They have great quality herbs at good prices. And they have all organic options as well!
Buy or gather your supplies.
For my bulk herbs, I like to store them in Mason jars or old spaghetti sauce jars. I keep all of the sauce jars that I buy from the store. Upcycling at its finest!
For tinctures, I love these bottles.
For salves, these are my favorite.
If you’re working more with essential oils, here is a great kit to have.
And of course you need a mortar and pestle to grind up those herbs.
I use a tea ball like this for my loose leaf teas.
But of course, you could also use a french press like this.
Make sure everything is labeled.
You might think you’ll remember what is in each jar, but trust me, you won’t! Make sure that each and every jar, baggie, and bottle is labeled clearly. List each ingredient used in the concoction, and the date you made it. This will help you know how long the item is good for.
Knowing how long your supplies are good for is a good way of reducing waste. Labeling each ingredient is important, especially if you are giving to someone with allergies.
Create your own medicine.
Now that you have your home apothecary set up, get carried away making your own medicine! There are lots of things that need time to prepare, so you’ll want to make sure you give yourself enough time to prepare them. This post talks about the things I always forage and make in the fall to be ready for cold and flu season. Tinctures take about 4 weeks to infuse. So do infused oils for salves, although you can do a quick oil infusion if you’re in a pinch.
I keep a lot of my individual herbs separate for use in teas and decoctions. Since these don’t take much of any processing time, it’s easier that way. After my tinctures are done infusing, I strain the herbs out of them and store the tincture in jars in the apothecary. If I need to take these tinctures frequently, I’ll put them into a small dropper bottle to keep in my purse or on my nightstand.
If you want to dive deeper into making your own herbal remedies and medicines, you need to check out The Lost Book of Herbal Remedies. It is a wonderful guide to help anyone learn to make their own medicines from the plants around them.
I also highly recommend anything by Rosemary Gladstar. I’m not an affiliate, but love her work!