What is a Materia medica? A Materia Medica is a book you put together of herbal remedy information. In the past, a Materia Medica was hand illustrated and often filled with illuminated letters (fancy calligraphy). They were often a laborious piece of work the laboring of which extended over the adult life of their creators, usually monks.
Yes, you can purchase many herbal remedy books, and I have, but there is something more permanent and intimate in the creation of one’s own Materia Medica. It is YOUR book… YOUR creation. Your own words, and drawings if you wish, of your findings from your experiments. Not only all of that information but also where you found the plant if you wild-crafted it, or what store in which you were able to purchase the supplies needed.
Did you make a tincture from alcohol? What kind? How much? Did it turn out? If not what do you think happened? Did you use it? What were the results? Did it work well enough to make and use it again? If not why not? What happened? How can you avoid making the same mistake next time?
A Materia Medica is a kind of diary you can use to record your herbal journey.
Here is a video I made on one possible way to make a Materia Medica.
Fill a jar well with the blossoms but do not crush the blossoms or overcrowd. Pack them in up to the top of the jar then pour the vodka and vegetable glycerine over the top. Label it:
date it was made:
date it will be ready:
Mine will be finished on July 7th. Lilac is good for; parasites (vermifuge- they stun parasites), it is antiperiodic which means it helps to prevent disease. It is also restorative. Lilac helps to prevent relapses after a patient has healed, it is an antifungal- it purges the body of fungi and lowers the risk of fungal infections, helps to reduce fever, helps to ease anxiety, it’s good for your skin (helps heal burns, reduce wrinkles from sun damage and aging, etc.), antibacterial.
If you look around where you live, you just might discover a medicine chest in your own neighborhood or backyard. Lilac does not grow wild in America. It is native to Europe. If you do not have any bushes, ask your neighbor if you can cut some of their blossoms off in exchange fore some tincture. You do not need many blossoms to make your tincture. This is the bowl I used to harvest the blossoms. I still have some unprocessed blossoms left.
Be sure to harvest your lilacs in the morning when it is still cool and they are a bit dewy (but it’s ok if they are dew free) you want to be sure they are full of their oils. This is best in the morning. You want full, open blossoms. Store them in an air tight jar for 6-8 weeks if using 100 proof vodka or 8-12 weeks if using 80 proof vodka. When finished, transfer liquid to a bottle with an eyedropper if desired for easier administration.
Bible verses supporting the use of herbs.
Revelation 22:2, KJV: “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
You do not need to wait until you get to heaven or the apocalypse happens to experience the healing power of plants.
And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”
Only this single green stem of leaves remains in the sea of dead twigs surrounding it. This little twig is a remnant of the lovely, larger plant I cut up to use to make a healing salve.
The other day at the grocery store, I purchased three plants; thyme, rosemary, and a rose bush. The rose bush was over watered, right from the grocery store. Even though I let it dry out until the potting soil is hard as a rock before I water it, some of the leaves turn pale yellow/green in protest of receiving more water. I even cock the pot to one side by setting it on the lid of a jar to keep the roots from being puddled in water. I am not, however, discouraged. It popped out several bits of new growth many of which contain new, tiny, rose buds.
The rosemary bush is small but doing well. I am taking care not to over water it but our house is very dry and I am checking it daily. I long to have an herb garden in my backyard. These few plants are going to be the start of something great! They just need to survive a few months longer.
The thyme plant, however, is in plant I.C.U. The minute I chopped off the other stems to make my oil for the salve, it dried up. I thought I had left enough to keep it alive. It’s either too cold, or too dark in my house for it. I thought it was a ‘gonner’ but then, I looked at it after I had watered it a bit and there it was; that one, tiny, green sprig of hope.
Isn’t that kind of how it is with spring? Just when we think the snow cannot get deeper, the wind cannot blow colder, here comes a chick-a-dee, a robin, or a hummingbird to remind us; ‘Winter is almost over. It’s almost time to rejoice in spring!’. And so we wait, ever hopeful, patient, cold, peering into the sky, trying to tell if those are storm clouds or just cloud, clouds. We stare at the snow to see if the warmth of the day melted it any. We buy plants with hope that it cannot be cold and snowy forever. We buy plants with our hearts focused on spring, the future, life, warmth, breath. We buy plants…
I feel like an ‘herb nurse’ right now. If the thyme lives and becomes strong enough to plant, it will eventually find its way outside to my garden. Thyme is a wonderful, versatile plant with delicious culinary uses and healing properties. Years ago, I took a Christian Herbal Healing course. I just looked through my, Materia Medicas (Materia medica is a Latin term from the history of pharmacy for the body of collected knowledge about the therapeutic properties of any substance used for healing, (And you can make your own!), from the course, and not one of them has mention of thyme! I turn instead to my, Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody. Published in 1993, and picked up at a book fair (remember those?) this book was my ‘gateway book’, so-to-speak, that first sparked my interest in herbs and herbal remedies.
For a quick minute, as I thumbed through its pages, I thought it too would have forgotten the amazing yet humble thyme plant from its pages but no! There it is on page 104… thyme, pronounced Time, not THym. Like Thomas not THat, or THis.
Garden thyme is known as; thymus vulgaris, wild thyme is thymus serpyllum. Not just great to use when cooking, thyme has many medicinal properties that make it a must-have in any herbal medicine cabinet.
All parts of the thyme plant (except the roots) may be used in making herbal remedies. Thyme is good for insect and sea creature bites/stings. In folk traditions it was used to give the wearer strength and courage, which it of course can still be used for today. Bathing with thyme oil is said to help the bather ‘let go’ of issues. Thyme can help with chest congestion (it is an expectorant) when made into a tea or syrup (or the essential oil inhaled). An infusion or diluted tincture can be used as a gargle for sore throats (great for people who make podcasts or sing), place 10 drops of the essential oil into 20ml of a carrier oil and rub on the chest to help clear chest infections. Ten drops of the essential oil can also be added to water to treat insect bites or skin ailments (infections). Add a couple of thyme sprigs to warm, not boiling, water to make a tea, or1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried thyme if you do not have fresh. Remember when I said it can help improve strength and courage? Add a few drops to bath water to strengthen a person or relieve arthritis symptoms (which is also a great way to open up the lungs when congested), please make sure not to draw too hot of a bath, you’re not an egg that needs boiling. Keep the water at around 100 degrees.
I placed my thyme stems in sweet almond oil. The stems are infusing the oil with their plant essential oil. I plan to leave the stems in the oil for at least 6 weeks. I could heat the whole lot up on a very low setting to cause the infusion to happen faster, but I am in no great hurry. I will have that infused oil for a while. I plan to add it to other ingredients such as bees wax or shea butter, some other essential oils and by the time I am through I will have a nice salve to put on cuts or bug bites.
I have been asked in the past, “Why not just buy some from the store?’. That’s a good question. If I ‘just buy stuff from the store’ I miss out on the satisfaction of having made something from scratch that benefits me, and whomever I choose to bless with a gift of the salve. If I ‘just buy some form the store’ I am stuck using whatever the store has whether or not I am completely happy with the product whereas if I make it myself, I know exactly what ingredients were used in its preparation and I can customize the essential oils to those which I prefer.
Making a salve from scratch is immensely satisfying. I would miss out on all of that joy if I did not make it myself. Plus, making it myself helps to solidify the knowledge of thyme, its benefits and how to craft herbal remedies. Practice is needed to become proficient. You cannot by experience. It must be earned… acquired.
When using, thyme please be sure to avoid it during pregnancy. Always dilute thyme as it can irritate mucus membrane.
If you wish to wild-craft your thyme (look for it in the wild as to buying or growing it), look for a bushy plant whose stems are bright-medium green, thin and covered in small roundish leaves that grow in pairs opposite one another. The plant sometimes has some purple leaves but always the flowers are purple. The plants can sometimes look different from what I have just described. A quick Internet search will show what I described but also give you thyme plants that look different from what I described. The plants in your region may look different, please be careful and do your own research to make sure you are not harvesting something deadly. If you are unsure, walk away. It’s better to be cautious than dead.
This is just the first of many more articles to come about herbs and herbal remedies. Please share them with friends and family. The more we can do for ourselves during these times, the better.
You can begin your own, Materia Medica to keep track of herbs, how you use them, how you process them, even how you grow them and the results of all of the wonderful ways you put them to good use. The more information you fill up in the pages of your Materia Medica the better reference you make for yourself, and for future generations who might be interested in your herbal research.
You can include images of the herbs, either photographs you took or illustrations you drew. You can include the medicinal/healing properties of the herbs as well as the folklore associated with the plant. You can be as technical, or not technical as you like. Try thyme in your baking as well as your cooking. savory scones into which you baked thyme would be a delicious accompaniment to teatime. Thyme infused sugar cubes to put into tea would be lovely. Thyme essential oil can be inhaled before a job interview, a date, a family gathering to bolster you and give you strength.
Vintage Materia medica images:
Thyme and bee keeping. Thyme is a great insect repellent that does not bother bees (In small doses.).
In my online research, I came across information on bee hives and thyme. Some keepers of bees place a few sprigs at the top of each hive. The bees drag it down to the exit, through the hive, releasing the plants beneficial essential oils along the way. This is a gentle way of lightly applying the essential oils/fragrance of thyme without overwhelming the bees. The individual who reported this experience noted that they had a significant reduction of mites. Thyme is also anti-microbial which means it can help to reduce or eliminate fungi/molds that can grow in enclosed places such as bee hives which is why European bee keepers have been using Thymol with their hives for several years now. Please look up and do your research before applying thyme oil or Thymol to your hives.
I hope this post gives you some good ideas on how to use thyme besides stuffing it inside of a turkey on Thanksgiving day!