Backyard Medicine Updated & Expanded Second Edition: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies

Backyard Medicine Updated & Expanded Second Edition: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies

by Julie Bruton-Seal, Matthew Seal

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An Updated and Expanded New Edition of Backyard Medicine!
Modern medicine is truly a blessing. Advances are made with astonishing speed every day, using both science and technology to make our lives longer and healthier. But if the era of modern medicine began less than two hundred years ago, how did people treat sickness and poor health before then? This book holds the answer.
Researched and written by a practicing medical herbalist and natural healer, and now with even more herbs and medicinal plants, Backyard Medicine is the basis for a veritable natural pharmacy that anyone can create. Featuring more than 120 easily made herbal home remedies and fully illustrated with nearly three hundred color photographs, this book offers fascinating insights into the literary, historic, and global applications of fifty common wild plants and herbs that can be used in medicines, including:
  • Comfrey
  • Dandelion
  • Honeysuckle
  • Yarrow
  • And so much more!
Anyone who wants to improve his or her health in a completely natural way will find this book to be an absolute must-have for his or her home—and garden.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781510748057
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 05/07/2019
Edition description: 2nd Edition
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 217,126
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Julie Bruton-Seal is a practicing medical herbalist and natural healer. She is a Council member of the Association of Master Herbalists and editor of its quarterly magazine, Nature’s Path.

Matthew Seal is a writer and editor. He lives in England.

Read an Excerpt


Harvesting from the wild

Harvesting wild plants for food or medicine is a great pleasure, and healing in its own right. We all need the company of plants and wild places in our lives, whether this is in an old wood, a mountainside or the seashore, just down the street, or in our own backyard. Gathering herbs for free is the beginning of a valuable and therapeutic relationship with the wild. Here are a few basic guidelines to help you get started.

Why pay others to frolic in the luscious gardens of Earth, picking flowers and enjoying themselves making herbal products? You can do all that frolicking, immersing yourself in wondrous herbal beauty, and uplifting your mind and spirit. Making your own herbal medicine both enhances your happiness and boosts your immune system.

- Green (2000)

When collecting, try to choose a place where the plant you are harvesting is abundant and vibrant. Woods, fields, and minor roads are best, though many of our fifty plants are also found in the city. Avoiding heavy traffic is safer for you and your lungs, and plants growing in quiet places are less polluted. Plants growing next to fields may receive crop sprays.

We usually want to harvest herbs when they are at their lushest. It's best to pick on a dry day, after the morning dew has burned off. For St John's wort and aromatic plants the energy of the sun is really important, so wait for a hot day and pick while the sun is high in the sky, ideally just before noon.

It is really important to make sure you have the right plant. A good field guide is essential - for North America we recommend the Peterson Field Guide series, which has regional guides including A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Some herbalists and foragers offer herb walks - great for learning to identify plants. For distribution maps and other information, go to the USDA PLANTS database:

Harvest only what you need and will use; leave some of the plant so it will grow back. When picking "above-ground parts" of a plant, only take the top half to twothirds. Never harvest a plant if it is the only one in a particular area.

We have included a few roots in our recipes. It is important not to over-harvest these, even though most of the plants we describe are widespread. The law states that you must seek the permission of the landowner before you dig up roots, if this is not on your own land (see p. 198 for more on law).

Collecting equipment is simple: think carrier bags or a basket, and perhaps gloves, scissors, or shears. If you are harvesting roots take a shovel or digging fork.

A quiet English country lane in May, with hawthorn flowering and a healthy undergrowth of nettles and cleavers.

Using your herbal harvest

Herbs can be used in many different ways. Simplest of all is nibbling on the fresh plant, crushing the leaves to apply them as a poultice, or perhaps boiling up some leaves as a tea. Many of the plants discussed in this book are foods as well as medicines, and incorporating them seasonally in your diet is a tasty and enjoyable way to improve your health.

But because fresh herbs aren't available year round or may not grow right on your doorstep, you may want to preserve them for later use. Follow these guidelines.

Equipment needed

You don't need any special equipment for making your own herbal medicines. You probably already have most of what you need. Kitchen basics like a teapot, measuring cups, saucepans, and a blender are all useful, as are jam-making supplies such as a jelly bag and jam jars. A mortar and pestle are useful but not essential.

You'll need jars and bottles, and labels for these. It is a good idea to have a notebook to write down your experiences, so you'll have a record for yourself and can repeat successes. Who knows, it could become a future family heirloom like the stillroom books of old!

There is a list of suppliers at the end of the book to help you source any supplies or ingredients you may need.

Drying herbs

The simplest way to preserve a plant is to dry it, and then use the dried part to make teas (infusions or decoctions). Dried plant material can also go into tinctures, infused oils, and other preparations, though these are often made directly from fresh plants.

To dry herbs, tie them in small bundles and hang these from the rafters or a laundry airer, or spread the herbs on a sheet of brown paper or a screen. (Avoid using newspaper as the inks contain toxic chemicals.) You can easily make your own drying screen by stapling some mosquito netting or other open-weave fabric to a wooden frame. This is ideal, as the air can circulate around the plant, and yet you won't lose any small flowers or leaves that are loose.

Generally, plants are best dried out of the sun. A linen cupboard works well, particularly in damp weather.

Storing dried herbs

Once the plant is crisply dry, you can discard any larger stalks. Whole leaves and flowers will keep best, but if they are large you may want to crumble them so they take up less space. They will be easier to measure for teas, etc. if they are crumbled before use.

Dried herbs can be stored in brown paper bags or in airtight containers such as candy jars or plastic tubs, in a cool place. If your container is made of clear glass or other transparent material, keep it in the dark as light will fade leaves and flowers quite quickly. Brown glass jars are excellent - we have happily worked our way through quantities of hot chocolate in order to build up a collection of these!

Dried herbs will usually keep for a year, until you can replace them with a fresh harvest. Roots and bark keep longer than leaves and flowers.

Teas: infusions and decoctions

The simplest way to make a plant extract is with hot water. Fresh or dried herbs can be used. An infusion, where hot water is poured over the herb and left to steep for several minutes, is the usual method for leaves and flowers.

Part of a summer's herbal harvest: (from left) St John's wort in olive oil; dried mugwort; dandelion flower oil; raspberry vinegar; meadowsweet ghee; meadowsweet, mugwort, and mint in white wine; rosehip oxymel

A decoction, where the herb is simmered or boiled in water for some time, is needed for roots and bark. Infusions and decoctions can also be used as mouthwashes, gargles, eyebaths, fomentations, and douches.


While the term tincture can refer to any liquid extract of a plant, what is usually meant is an alcohol and water extract. Many plant constituents dissolve more easily in a mixture of alcohol and water than in pure water. There is the added advantage of the alcohol being a preservative, allowing the extract to be kept for several years.

The alcohol content of the finished extract needs to be at least 20% to adequately preserve it. Most commercially produced tinctures have a minimum alcohol content of 25%. A higher concentration is needed to extract more resinous substances, such as myrrh resin.

For making your own tinctures, vodka is the simplest alcohol as it can be used neat, has no flavor, and allows the taste of the herbs to come through. If you can get pure grain alcohol (95%) it can be diluted as needed. Whisky, brandy, or rum can also be used. Herbs can also be infused in wine, but this will not have as long a shelf life.

To make a tincture, you simply fill a jar with the herb and top up with alcohol, or you can put the whole lot in the blender first. It is then kept out of the light for anything from a day to a month to infuse before being strained and bottled.

Tinctures are convenient to store and to take. We find amber or blue glass jars best for keeping, although clear bottles will let you enjoy the colors of your tinctures. Store them in a cool place. Kept properly, most tinctures have a shelf life of around five years. They are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, and alcohol makes the herbal preparation more heating and dispersing in its effect.

Wines and beers

Many herbs can be brewed into wines and beers, which will retain the medicinal virtues of the plants. Elderberry wine and nettle beer are traditional examples, but don't forget that ordinary beer is brewed with hops, a medicinal plant.


Vegetable glycerine is extracted from palm or other oil, and is a sweet, syrupy substance. It is particularly good in making medicines for children, and for soothing preparations intended for the throat and digestive tract, or coughs. A glycerite will keep well as long as the concentration of glycerine is at least 50% to 60% in the finished product.

Glycerine does not extract most plant constituents as well as alcohol does, but is effective for flowers such as red poppies, roses, and St John's wort. Glycerites are made the same way as tinctures, except the jar is kept in the sun or in a warm place to infuse.

Glycerine is a good preservative for fresh plant juices, in which half fresh plant juice and half glycerine are mixed, as it keeps the juice green and in suspension better than alcohol. This sort of preparation is called a succus.


Another way to extract and preserve plant material is to use vinegar. Some plant constituents extract better in an acidic medium, making vinegar the perfect choice. Herbal vinegars are often made from pleasant-tasting herbs, and used in salad dressings and for cooking. They are also a good addition to the bath or for rinsing hair, as the acetic acid of the vinegar helps restore the natural protective acid pH of the body's exterior. Cider vinegar is a remedy for colds and other viruses, so it is a good solvent for herbs for these conditions.

Herbal honeys

Honey has natural antibiotic and antiseptic properties, so is an excellent vehicle for medicines to fight infection. It can be applied topically to wounds and burns. Local honey can help prevent hayfever attacks.

Honey is naturally sweet, making it palatable for medicines for children. It is also particularly suited to medicines for the throat and respiratory system as it is soothing and also clears congestion. Herb-infused honeys are made the same way as glycerites, or can be gently heated in a bain-marie.


An oxymel is a preparation of honey and vinegar. Oxymels were once popular as cordials, both in Middle Eastern and European traditions. They are particularly good for cold and flu remedies. Honey can be added to an herb-infused vinegar, or an infused honey can be used as well.


These are made by stirring powdered dried herbs into honey or glycerine to make a paste. Electuaries are good as children's remedies, and are often used to soothe the digestive tract. This is also a good way to prepare tonic herbs.


Syrups are made by boiling the herb with sugar and water. The sugar acts as a preservative, and can help extract the plant material. Syrups generally keep well, especially the thicker ones containing more sugar, as long as they are stored in sterilized bottles.

They are particularly suitable for children because of their sweet taste, and are generally soothing.

Herbal sweets

While we are not recommending large amounts of sugar as being healthy, herbal sweets such as coltsfoot rock and peppermints are a traditional way of taking herbs in a pleasurable way.

Plant essences

Plant essences, usually flower essences, differ from other herbal preparations in that they only contain the vibrational energy of the plant, and none of the plant chemistry. To make an essence, the flowers or other plant parts are usually put in water in a glass bowl and left to infuse in the sun for a couple of hours, as in the instructions for our self-heal essence. This essence is then preserved with brandy, and diluted for use.

Infused oils

Oil is mostly used to extract plants for external use on the skin, but infused oils can equally well be taken internally. Like vinegars, they are good in salad dressings and in cooking.

We prefer extra virgin olive oil as a base, as it does not go rancid like many polyunsaturated oils do. Other oils, such as coconut and sesame, may be chosen because of their individual characteristics.

Infused oils are often called macerated oils, and should not be confused with essential oils, which are aromatic oils isolated by distilling the plant material.

Ointments or salves

Ointments or salves are rubbed onto the skin. The simplest ointments are made by adding beeswax to an infused oil and heating until the beeswax has melted. The amount of wax needed will vary, depending on the climate or temperature in which it will be used, with more wax needed in hotter climates or weather.

Ointments made this way have a very good shelf life. They absorb well, while providing a protective layer on top of the skin.

Ointments can also be made with animal fats or hard plant fats such as cocoa butter.

Butters and ghees

Butter can be used instead of oil to extract herbs, and, once clarified by simmering, it keeps well without refrigeration, making a simple ointment. Clarified butter is a staple in Indian cooking and medicine, where it is called ghee. It is soothing on the skin and absorbs well. Herbal butters and ghees can also be used as food.

Skin creams

Creams are made by mixing a water-based preparation with an oil-based one, to make an emulsion. Creams are absorbed into the skin more rapidly than ointments, but have the disadvantages of being more difficult to make and not keeping as well. Essential oils can be added to help preserve creams, and they keep best if refrigerated.

Nettle, from Woodville's Medical Botany (1790-3)


The simplest poultice is mashed fresh herb put on to the skin, as when you crush a ribwort leaf and apply it to a wasp sting. Poultices can be made from fresh herb juice mixed with slippery elm powder or simply flour, or from dried herb moistened with hot water or vinegar.

Change the poultice every few hours and keep it in place with a bandage or bandaid.

Fomentations or compresses

A fomentation or compress is an infusion or a decoction applied externally. Simply soak a flannel or bandage in the warm or cold liquid, and apply. Hot fomentations are used to disperse and clear, and are good for conditions as varied as backache, joint pain, boils, and acne. Hot fomentations need to be refreshed frequently once they cool down.

Cold fomentations can be used for inflammation or for headaches. Alternating hot and cold fomentations works well for sprains and other injuries.

Embrocations or liniments Embrocations or liniments are used in massage, with the herbs in an oil or alcohol base or a mixture of the two. Absorbed quickly through the skin, they can readily relieve muscle tension, pain, and inflammation, and speed the healing of injuries.


Herbs can be added conveniently to bathwater by tying a sock or cloth full of dried or fresh herb to the hot tap as you run the bath, or by adding a few cups of an infusion or decoction. Herbal vinegars and oils can also be added to bath water, as can essential oils.

Besides full baths, hand and foot baths can be very effective, as can sitz or hip baths where only your bottom is in the water.


Herbal infusions or decoctions can be used once they have cooled as douches for vaginal infections or inflammation.

Rosaceae Rose family

Description: Upright perennials with spikes of small yellow flowers reaching up to 2 feet.

Habitat: Meadows and roadsides/grassy places.

Distribution: A. eupatoria is native to Europe and introduced to North America. Tall hairy agrimony, A. gryposepala, is more widespread and is used interchangeably with the European species.

Related species: There are around 15 species of agrimony found in northern temperate regions and South America. In China, xian he cao (A. pilosa) is widely used medicinally, mainly for bleeding and diarrhea. Cinquefoil and tormentil are old medicinal herbs with very similar properties to agrimony.

Parts used: Above-ground parts, when in flower in summer.


Agrimonia eupatoria, A. procera, A. gryposepala

Agrimony stops bleeding of all sorts, and is used in trauma treatment and surgery in Chinese hospitals. It helps relieve pain too, and has a long tradition as a wound herb as well as for treating liver, digestive, and urinary tract problems.

Agrimony tightens and tones the tissues, and, in a seeming contradiction, also relaxes tension, both physical and mental. This is the herb for when you're feeling frazzled, when stress and tension or pain are causing torment.

You can hardly miss this tall and bright summer garden herb, which readily earns its old name of church steeples. The sticky burrs that cling to passers-by lie behind another name, cocklebur.

Agrimony used to be a significant herb in the European tradition, being the Anglo-Saxon healing plant "garclive," but it is underused and underrated in modern western herbalism.

Agrimonia eupatoria is the "official" agrimony, but John Parkinson in Theatrum Botanicum (1640) preferred fragrant agrimony, Agrimonia procera, if available. The two can be used interchangeably.

In Chinese medicine, A. pilosa is the species used, and its name, xian he cao, translates as "immortal crane herb," which gives an idea of the reverence in which it is held. It is used in surgery and trauma treatment to stop bleeding, and has been found to be effective against Trichomonas vaginal infections and tapeworms, as also for dysentery and chronic diarrhea.


Excerpted from "Backyard Medicine"
by .
Copyright © 2009 Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface to the North American edition 7

Preface to the 10th anniversary edition 8

Introduction 9

Harvesting from the wild 10

Using your herbal harvest 12

Agrimony 20

Bilberry 24

Birch 28

Blackberry, Bramble 32

Burdock 36

Cherry 40

Chickweed 42

Cleavers 46

Comfrey 50

Couch grass 54

Curled dock, Yellow dock 58

Dandelion 62

Elder 68

Figwort 74

Guelder rose, Crampbark 78

Hawthorn 80

Honeysuckle, Woodbine 86

Hops 88

Horse chestnut 90

Horseradish 94

Horsetail 96

Lime, Linden 100

Lycium 103

Mallow 108

Meadowsweet 112

Mint 116

Mugwort 120

Mullein 126

Nettle 130

Oak 136

Pellitory of the wall 140

Plantain 142

Ramsons, Bear garlic 148

Raspberry 152

Red clover 155

Red poppy 158

Rosebay willowherb, Fireweed 162

Self-heal 166

Shepherd's purse 171

Sorrel 174

St. John's wort 176

Sweet cicely 182

Teasel 185

Vervain 188

White deadnettle, Archangel 191

Wild lettuce 194

Wild rose 196

Willow 202

Willowherb 204

Wood betony 206

Yarrow 210

Notes to the text 215

Recommended reading 219

Resources 220

Index 221

The Authors 224

Customer Reviews