Plants and Health

Drying herbs with text: Plants and Health How to Use Plant Preparations

You may be familiar with the idea that plants can be used to support health. But you may ask: how are plants and health related? And what are the ways to harness the health benefits of plants?

The most common way to use plants to support health is to eat them, of course! There are more ways to use plants as well, including extracts, powders and infused oils.

Plant Based-Nutrition

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Other Ways to Use Plants for Health

If eating herbs, fruits and vegetables seems like a lot of fiber to go through, there are other alternatives to get the benefits of plants! Plants have long been used for their medicinal benefits. An adage says that every disease in nature has a solution in nature.

Medicinal herbs do not have to be fancy or exclusive. They don’t include only herbs that are found in remote areas on one day out of the year (or some other absurdly short timeframe). Quality medicinal herbs may not even be particularly expensive, depending on how you cultivate or source them.

You can use herbs from your garden, wild plants and herbs you may know more commonly as “weeds,” and fruits, leaves or flowers from some trees and shrubs. I even use vegetables in herbal medicine making because I enjoy their extra support beyond mealtime preparations.

So, let’s explore the different ways you can utilize plants beyond your garden and kitchen table.


It’s a term you may have seen many times in the kitchen and in recipes. But what exactly is an extract? The verb “to extract” is loosely defined as remove or take out (detailed definition here). This is a good way to remember extracts – all of them involve taking the goodness of the plant out and capturing it in another substance.

The three most common types of extractions are: liquid/liquid, liquid/solid, and acid/base (which is also known as a chemically active extraction). The extracts we use most often in plant medicine are liquid/liquid and liquid/solid. Within the broad category of extracts, there are a number of different ways you may see plant extracts packaged.


Tinctures always include an alcohol base. This is one of the defining characteristics of a tincture and part of what allows for their long shelf life.

They are ingested by mouth and some can be used on skin for relief of irritation. Tinctures are one of the strongest extracts because alcohol is so effective at breaking down plant material and harnessing the plant compounds within.

Tinctures are commonly available with a dropper for ease of use. Each plant has its own unique benefits and qualities.

Tinctures in amber 1oz dropper bottles


Oxymels were healing compounds long before distilled spirits used to make tinctures were commonly available. Plant matter in honey and vinegar creates an oxymel. They are designed to be taken by mouth.

This is an ancient medicinal plant preparation with roots in language of Latin with oxy for “acid” and mel as “honey.” Early medicinal texts by the likes of Hippocrates, Avicenna and Galen reference oxymels. In Greek, this preparation is ὀξύς “acid” and μέλι “honey.”

Honey dripping from spoon


Plant material is macerated (softened) by a glycerin solution to create a glycerite. Sometimes the plants are crushed, torn or otherwise chopped to increase the surface area prior to soaking. You take a glycerite preparation by mouth, usually by dropperful.

Vegetable glycerin is naturally sweet, making glycerites a great choice for those who believe “a little bit of sugar makes the medicine go down”! The natural compounds in glycerin do not raise blood sugar because they have a low glycemic index. These preparations are commonly used by those who cannot tolerate alcohol and for children.


A combination of plants, alcohol and a sweetening component such as honey or vegetable glycerin create elixirs. These are more palatable than a traditional tincture due to the sweetener. But they have stronger properties than an oxymel or glycerite due to the ability of alcohol to extract more plant compounds. They also do not have the acidic component of vinegar.

You can take elixirs by mouth and they often taste sweet yet potent. The flavor of the plant used will heavily influence the taste of an elixir. In some cases, citrus peels or spices are used as additions for flavor. One of our favorite elixirs with citrus is the ginger lemon elixir.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are used in aromatherapy, in skin care preparations and as a delightful scent agent in a other products like cleaning compounds. Their use has been documented going back at least 4000 years for medicinal and aromatic purposes. They are valuable for enhancing hygiene, honoring the deceased and as a health solution. They are also known as volatile oils.

Essential oils are truly the most “essential” part of a plant – that which makes each plant unique from scent to taste – distilled and concentrated by steam. The distillation process creates a hydrosol (the water portion of extract) and an oil (the essential oil). The water and oil must be separated to utilize the essential oil.

Creating an essential oil requires a significant amount of plant material. We’re talking pounds of plant material to ounces of oil! Each plant is different and some are more willing to yield oil than others. In general, it takes a a lot of fresh plant material to make an ounce of oil.

Infused Oil

An infused oil is an oil that has been used to extract the aromatic compounds of a plant. Many oils can be used in this process. I commonly use jojoba, olive or sweet almond oil to create infusions but any high quality oil will work!

Infused oils can be used alone or in conjunction with other preparations. Edible oils can be infused and used in cooking – such as oils infused with garlic, oregano, and peppers in salad dressing or rosemary olive oil for marinades.

Infused oils are made by steeping herbs or plant material in oil at a specific temperature for a set period of time. Once prepared, they can be mixed with beeswax or plant butters to make skin care products such as lemon ginger balm or muscle balm.

Lemon ginger balm in tin with ginger root and lemon balm leaves


Plant powders are something just about everyone has ever prepared a meal are familiar with. Plant powers are familiar in the kitchen and you probably already have many, knowing them as spices! Examples include cinnamon, clove, garlic, turmeric and black pepper. All are plants and all are ground into varying size particles for use.

Many more plants can provide plant powder and make wonderful additions to your cooking or health routines. Add rose petal powder in cooking, to flavor salt, and in skin care. Dock root powder added to smoothies or flour for baking increases fiber and nutrients.

No matter the form, plants have amazing benefits for health!

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