Why build your own home apothecary? The last few years have shown us that we are living in a time where literally anything can happen. Basic medicines flew off pharmacy shelves, leaving people looking for alternatives.
We now know that we have a personal responsibility to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. The good news is that it is not as complicated as it seems.
With a handful of herbs, and a few supplements, you can address mild illnesses at home. We share 20 must-have herbs, plus finding space, herbalism tools, and where to source your herbs.
Herbs can help support the body’s natural immune function, address a headache, tackle seasonal mood disorder, calm an upset belly, ease mild depression and anxiety, tame itchy skin, and more.
Herbs are effective, and have been used since the beginning of time. Some are easy to grow or forage, others are inexpensive to buy. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from seeing your beautiful jars of herbs lining your home apothecary shelves!
Set Up Your Home Apothecary Space
The first thing you will need to consider is your space. Just as all your lovely, home canned goods need space, so do your dry herbs and herbal creations. For many of us this can be a real challenge.
You can use a broom closet, a designated spot in your pantry, an unused cupboard, or even a free-standing piece of furniture such as a sideboard, or buffet.
My personal apothecary has been in all those spaces, plus an entire Hoosier cabinet (actually mine is a Sellers cabinet – same thing), and now bookshelves in my library!
You will need a space not only for your herbs, but also your tools, and books. You will also want a table nearby. If space is tight, you can always use a foldable camping type table. They are easy to find used.
Common Ailments to Treat at Home
Herbs are useful for a great many things, but we will narrow it down to some common ailments. Most herbs address more than one thing, so the herbs listed will actually address more than just what we go over here.
We will go over some easily obtainable herbs, and supplements for your run of the mill headache, stomach ache, cold and flus, pink eye, skin irritation or infection, seasonal depression, general anxiety, sleeplessness, UTI, and constipation.
Note – If any of these maladies are chronic, you should set up an appointment with your healthcare provider, as it may be beyond our scope here.
20 Must-Have Herbs for Your Home Apothecary
Again, there are many herbs with many uses, so this is by no means an exhaustive list. Many plants treat more than one ailment. These herbs are the ones I use most often in my own home apothecary. Included are a few effective methods of preparation for each.
White willow bark – general headache, tension headache – Decoction, tincture.
Ginger – stomach complaints, cough, cold, flu – Decoction, tincture.
Fennel – stomach complaints, baby colic – Tea, decoction, glycerite, tincture.
Chamomile – general headache, stomach ache, tension, sleeplessness, baby colic, gut healing – Tea, tincture, glycerite.
Mints – both peppermint, and spearmint – stomach ailments, headache, nausea -Tea, tincture, glycerite.
Valerian Root – stronger sedative for sleeplessness, general anxiety; temper with Passionflower – Tincture.
Passion Flower – anxiety, sleeplessness, tension headache, baby colic, used to soften the effects of Valerian – Tea, tincture, glycerite.
St. John's wort – seasonal depression, mild depression, skin healing, topical pain relief, and healing – Tea, tincture, capsule, salve.
Lemon balm – mild depression, mood lifter, hyper-thyroid, stomach complaints, mild headache -Tea, tincture, glycerite.
Echinacea – colds, flu, viral infection, lymphatic mover – Decoction, tincture.
Stinging nettles – tonic, nutritive, water retention, mineral and electrolytes, dehydration – Tea, tincture.
Goldenrod – kidney discomfort, UTI, kidney tonic – Tea, tincture.
Cleavers – UTI, water retention – Tincture
Dandelion root – liver tonic, nutritive, minerals, blood tonic – Decoction, tincture, broths.
Yarrow – topical antiseptic, antiviral, muscle soak for bruises and sprains, sitz bath after baby delivery – Tea, tincture, soak.
Elderflower – fever, antiviral, colds, flu – Tea, tincture.
Calendula – skin complaints, sunburn, lymph mover, skin softener, it reduces the appearance of stretch marks, and makes very effective eye wash – Tea, tincture, wash, salve.
Plantain – drawing salve, skin complaints – Salve, wash, liniment.
Supplements to Have On Hand
Vitamin D3 – colds, flu, everyday health processes, use with magnesium.
Magnesium – Many processes in the body use magnesium, and nearly everyone is deficient. Not every magnesium is useful, and not every magnesium works for everything.
Some of the most useful ones which are Magnesium Glycinate for sleep, Magnesium Malate for muscle soreness, and Magnesium Citrate. Magnesium Citrate is for constipation, and will not be helpful in the same manner as the other two.
I have only touched on some of the things these herbs and supplements are useful for, as that list is exhaustive, and each needs its own lengthy explanation.
There are many methods of preparation for each herb. We can use them internally or externally. Sometimes heat or alcohol brings out more useful compounds from the plants.
The article Real Healing Potions discusses basic herbal preparations.
In addition to the herbs, and a space, you will need a few tools to process your herbs. You will need a stainless steel funnel set (like this one or this one), a mesh strainer, measuring cups, spoons, and a few bowls. I really love to use vintage enamel bowls.
You need jars of various sizes. I use Mason jars, but I also repurpose jars when I know their source. Lids come with new canning jars, but they are in two pieces and do tend to wear out, especially when you are using alcohol or apple cider vinegar to process the herbs. I save my plastic lids from other jars, as well as buying plastic lids.
To make salves you need a double boiler, and some salve tins, or other containers. I also love a good wooden spoon to mix up my tea blends. You want to stick with stainless steel, glass, or enamel. Avoid heating in aluminum and non-stick coatings.
Another fun addition is a mortar and pestle for grinding up seeds and roots to add to your tea blends. A coffee grinder is helpful for tougher berries and seeds, but not needed immediately.
You'll also need something to label your creations. I generally just use masking tape and a Sharpie in my home apothecary, but there are many cute label options. Grab a few rags and cute dish towels designated specifically for your apothecary, and you should be good to go.
Where to Source
Doctors used to be few and far between, but people knew how to use the plants that grew around them.
Although many of these plants are easy to grow or forage, not all of us have time for that just yet. Luckily, there are reputable herb suppliers such as Mountain Rose Herbs, Frontier Herbs, and Starwest botanicals, just to name a few.
There are also many herbalists who grow herbs, probably someone near you. Seek them out, and build those relationships.
Always check your herbs for quality. You want herbs to look vibrant in color, and smell fresh. If not, send them back for a refund.
Home Apothecary Herbs – The People's Medicine
I call herbs “the people’s medicine” because plants are all around us, designed for us to use in our daily lives for everything from nutrition, to some very severe illnesses, and everything in between.
The use of herbs as medicine has a rich history which dates back to the earliest writings all around the world. Many of the prescription medicines in use today are derived from plant constituents.
When the colonists came to America they brought many plants, and plant medicines with them, but they also unknowingly brought seeds for a few others on their shoes and in their belongings. Plantain and dandelion are a couple of examples.
To me, that is proof that humans and plants were designed to interact. You can have an effective home apothecary, with just a little space, a few tools, a couple supplements, and a handful of herbs that treat a number of different ailments.
This article was written by Sylvia Gunther. Sylvia studied under Rosemary Gladstar and earned the distinction of Traditional Herbalist. She then studied Clinical Herbalism through The Herbal Academy, where she continues her life long exploration of herbs.
Sylvia and her husband live in North Central Indiana. Together they raised six beautiful children.