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If you’re like me and just really getting your feet wet when it comes to herbal medicine, you may be wondering what you need to set up your home apothecary. Through Herbal Academy‘s courses, I’ve learned A LOT about medicinal herbs, preparations, dosing, etc. but have found myself lacking a specific herb or the equipment to even create the preparation I know I need.
If you’ve been thinking about taking professional herbalism courses, I cannot recommend Herbal Academy more. Their introductory course gives you a solid foundation of herbal medicine so that you’ll be confident to create remedies to treat yourself and your family effectively and safely, as well as recommended readings and how to create a materia medica to further your own education. Click on the link below for more details:
13 Things You Need In Your Home Apothecary
This one is a BIG one. I’ve made tinctures before and din’t label them, thinking, oh, I’ll remember. I even dehydrated herbs but couldn’t tell my shiso from my kale! You can buy basic blank labels you can write on, buy cute designs from vendors on etsy.
I find that labels don’t stick very well to the mason jars that have the designs molded into them – and don’t put a label on the lid unless you’re REALLY good at only opening one jar at a time.
Another option is writing in black or silver sharpy on the jars themselves. There’s no mess when you go to change the label – you just need to wipe the marker off with rubbing alcohol and allow it to dry before relabeling.
2. Mortar and Pestle
This one is not necessarily essential to your home apothecary, but I find myself using it all the time. Technically a coffee grinder (reserved only for herbs) works as well, but tends to chop things too finely.
I, personally, like that added connection to the herbs. I like crushing them in my hands, or cracking seed pods with a mortar and pestle. It makes me feel like I’m channeling the hundreds of women in my ancestry who healed their families at home.
This is the mortar and pestle I have –>Chef Sofi Mortar and Pestle but any will do. I prefer the heavier ones because they don’t move around as much while you’re grinding.
This one is absolutely essential. I use my dehydrator for everything from dehydrating fresh herbs to slices of strawberries to beef jerky! It’s truly a versatile machine you’ll end up using a ton. I’ve ever heard you can make yogurt in one! But I haven’t tried that — yet!
4. Mason Jars
Old pickle jars will work at well, but I have a huge stack of mason jars already from all of the home canning I do, so I always have others laying around that I can use for storing my dried herbs.
If you’re interested at all in making tinctures, you’ll need a bottle of alcohol at least over 80 proof (or 40% alcohol by volume). You can make tinctures with other solvents such as vinegar as well, but I’ve found that making tincture with alcohol is much more forgiving.
For more details on how to make herbal tinctures, check out my post How To Make An Herbal Tincture. I go into much deeper detail including both folk and mathematical formulas for tincture making.
In addition to that post, I’ve also created an easy FREE printable checklist to make sure you have everything to get started making herbal tinctures.
6. Carrier Oil
You carrier oil can be anything from sweet almond oil (particularly good for skin issues) to coconut oil to extra virgin olive oil. If you’re working with essential oils, you’ll need to dilute them with a carrier oil before applying to your skin.
When you make salves and balms, you’ll start with an herb-infused oil. There are several ways to infuse your oils, but I’ll save that for another post!
I keep a few bottles of sweet almond oil on hand because I tend to make salves for the baby (bug bites or diaper rash), but feel free to use whatever you have on hand.
Another especially useful herbal remedy is herbal honey. I keep a pint-sized mason jar of lemon ginger honey in the fridge year-round. It’s perfect for soothing sore throats or upset tummies, or simply adding to hot water for a simple, delicious tea!
Honey is antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and has a ton of antioxidants. It will also extract medicinal constituents from herbs just like alcohol or water.
In fact, honey has been scientifically proven to be more effective at suppressing coughs than dextromethorphan (a common cough suppressant found in drugs) and diphenhydramine (an antihistamine). And I would much rather give my son a spoonful of honey than cough syrup – and he would much rather take it!
*NOTE: do not give babies under one year of age honey
Just like alcohol and honey, vinegar is a powerful solvent that you can use to extract herbal constituents. If you’re giving herbal medicine to a child or your religion prevents drinking alcohol, vinegar is a viable solution. It’s a little gentler on herbs than alcohol is, so it might not extract as much, but it will also keep delicate constituents in tact.
9. Kitchen Scale
When measuring out herbs while you’re making your concoctions, or measuring out beeswax while making a salve, or measuring out a dosage, a kitchen scale is essential. It can be as fancy or as simple as you would like.
If you’re off-grid or want to reduce your reliance on stores (ie. not have to buy new batteries), an analog scale will work just fine. I have both a digital and analog and I tend to use them for different purposes – the digital one can measure fractions of an ounce better than an analog one can, in my opinion – but try them out for yourself and see what feels better to you.
Cheesecloth is relatively inexpensive and one like this is unbleached and reusable so you don’t have to worry about waste or running out. However a fine colander works for some herbs as well, and I personally use a reusable coffee filter. You’ll be using a strainer to remove solid herb materials from your oils, teas and tinctures after you soak them.
11. Graduated Cylinder
If you’ll be doing mathematical tincture making, you’ll need a graduated cylinder. They are inexpensive and worth having on hand even if you’re not interested in mathematical tinctures right now. You could have a family member request a remedy that requires a mathematical formula, so they’re worth buying now and keeping on stand-by. For more info on making tinctures the mathematical way, see my post How to Make Herbal Tinctures.
12. Amber-Tinted Bottles with Eye-Droppers
Primarily used for small dosages such as tinctures or essential oils, amber-tinted bottles protect your herbal mixtures from denaturing caused by sunlight. You can buy the amber bottles with eye-droppers or orifice reducers (what you typically see in essential oil bottles).
13. Pots and Bowls
While I’m sure you already have a ton of pots and bowls in your kitchen, you might think about setting a few aside, or buying new one, that are dedicated solely to herbs. You won’t have to worry about food contamination or (like me) needing that one pot that always seems to be dirty (because it’s my favorite and I use it every day).
There’s something special that adds a little more ceremony or je ne sais quoi to your herbal preparations when you use tools specifically for making medicine that are also attractive. Think of it like a Japanese tea ceremony.
It is also especially useful to have pots and bowls that have spouts built into them to prevent spilling.
If you’re like me and want to get some hands-on experience but might not be sure where to start, check out Herbal Academy’s herbal kits. They have several “levels” of kits that come complete with herbal, containers, labels, and recipes. They’re the second best thing to having a teacher standing beside you while you experiment.
Next up, I’ll talk about my top herbs that I always keep stocked in my home apothecary to treat everything from ear infections to stomach bugs.