Essential Herbs for the Home Apothecary

With the rise in interest around natural healing, many people are interested in creating their home apothecary.

An apothecary typically contains dried herbs, tinctures, salves, teas, essential oils, and other natural remedies. Building your apothecary allows you to customize the ingredients to your specific needs and preferences. It also enables you to have natural solutions on-hand whenever health issues arise.

Selecting the right herbs and natural remedies to include in a home apothecary takes some research and planning. There are hundreds of herbs to choose from, each with their own medicinal properties and health benefits. To help you get started, here is our list of the top 20 essential herbs for stocking a home herbal apothecary:

Calendula

With its bright orange and yellow flowers, calendula (Calendula officinalis) is easily recognizable. It has an extensive history of use for healing wounds, soothing skin conditions, and promoting skin health. The flowers are antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial.

Medicinal uses: Healing wounds, burns, scrapes, rashes, eczema, acne, dry/cracked skin. Soothes insect bites and stings. Promotes skin cell regeneration. Has antiseptic and lymphatic benefits.

How to use: Infuse flowers in oil to make calendula salve or lotion. Make calendula tea from dried flowers. Tincture the flowers in alcohol or glycerin. Use calendula oils, salves, or tinctures topically on affected skin.

Echinacea

This beautiful flowering plant from the daisy family is one of the most popular herbs. Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea and other species) has potent immunostimulant properties and is commonly used to prevent and shorten the duration of colds, flu, and other respiratory infections. It can also help reduce inflammation and pain.

Medicinal uses: Preventing and treating colds/flu. Shortening duration of respiratory infections. Reducing inflammation and pain. Wound healing. Treating chronic infections and recurrent infections.

How to use: Take echinacea tea, tincture, or capsules at first sign of a cold. Use for several weeks to boost immunity against colds and flu. Apply topically to wounds.

Dandelion

The pesky weed that invades lawns and gardens is actually a powerful medicinal herb. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and diuretic properties. The leaves and roots are used to treat digestive issues, liver disorders, skin conditions, high blood pressure, and more.

Medicinal uses: Treating poor digestion, gas, bloating, constipation. Liver detoxification and support. Increasing urine output as a diuretic. Reducing inflammation and joint pain. Clearing skin problems like acne.

How to use: Take dandelion tea using leaves and/or roasted roots. Eat young leaves in salads. Take dandelion tincture or capsules. Use dandelion-infused oil topically for joint pain.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a popular Ayurvedic herb used to reduce stress, boost energy and immunity, lower blood sugar and cortisol levels, and improve concentration. This adaptogenic herb helps the body resist physiological and psychological stress.

Medicinal uses: Reducing anxiety and depression. Boosting energy and endurance. Lowering blood sugar and cortisol levels. Improving thyroid function. Enhancing concentration, memory and cognitive function.

How to use: Take ashwagandha powder in smoothies, teas, or capsules. The optimal dosage is 1-2 grams per day. Use for at least 30 days to feel the full effects.

Elderberry

These nutrient-rich, deep purple berries have incredible immune-boosting powers. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is packed with antioxidants called flavonoids that protect cells and fight illness. Elderberries have been used for centuries as a natural cold and flu remedy.

Medicinal uses: Shortening duration and reducing symptoms of colds and flu. Providing immune system support against viral infections. Relieving coughs, sore throats, headaches, and congestion.

How to use: Take elderberry syrup, gummies, lozenges, or capsules at first signs of a cold. For prevention, take daily during cold/flu season. Use elderberry tincture diluted in water.

Lavender

Lavender’s sweet floral aroma is instantly calming and soothing. This aromatic herb has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. The uses for lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) are nearly endless when it comes to natural medicine.

Medicinal uses: Reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation/sleep. Healing burns, cuts, scrapes and wounds. Lowering pain and inflammation. Antibacterial and antimicrobial protection. Headaches, nausea, and motion sickness.

How to use: Diffuse lavender essential oil or use lavender room/linen spray. Apply diluted lavender oil to skin injuries. Take lavender capsules or tincture for anxiety. Drink lavender tea for headaches.

Lemon Balm

A member of the mint family, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) contains compounds that have antidepressant, anti-anxiety and calming effects. It also has antimicrobial properties and can help treat cold sores.

Medicinal uses: Reducing anxiety, depression and stress. Promoting relaxation and sleep. Improving cognition and memory. Cold sores (herpes simplex virus). Digestive issues like gas and bloating.

How to use: Drink lemon balm tea as needed for stress/anxiety relief. Take capsules or tincture for depression. Apply lemon balm essential oil or salve directly to cold sores.

Valerian

The root of this flowering plant has been used since ancient times as a natural sedative. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) contains compounds that promote relaxation and regulate the nervous system. It’s excellent for reducing anxiety, insomnia, and stress.

Medicinal uses: Promoting deep, restful sleep. Reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Relieving muscle tension and pain. Headaches, menstrual cramps and digestive issues.

How to use: Take valerian root as tea, tincture or capsules before bedtime. For anxiety, use doses 3-4 times per day. Caution: valerian can cause drowsiness.

Astragalus

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is a Chinese herb that has been used for centuries to support immunity. It contains polysaccharides that boost the immune system and protect the body from illnesses and infections. It also reduces inflammation and allergic reactions.

Medicinal uses: Preventing colds, upper respiratory infections and flu. Reducing duration and severity of illnesses. Increasing energy and endurance. Controlling allergic reactions and asthma. Reducing inflammation.

How to use: Take astragalus capsules or tincture several times per week during cold/flu season. Use for a few weeks to increase immunity. Use for several months to increase energy.

Ginger

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) contains anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols that soothe nausea, stomach upset, and motion sickness. It also improves circulation and heart health. In addition, gingerol acts as a natural pain reliever.

Medicinal uses: Reducing nausea and vomiting. Soothing digestive issues like gas, bloating, and constipation. Settling motion sickness. Reducing pain and inflammation. Increasing circulation.

How to use: Take ginger capsules when traveling to prevent motion sickness. Drink ginger tea or use lozenges for nausea. Use diluted ginger essential oil for muscle/joint pain.

Nettle

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) might not sound appealing, but it offers a wide range of benefits. Nettle leaf is a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory. It provides relief from allergy symptoms and joint pain. It also supports prostate and urinary tract health.

Medicinal uses: Seasonal allergy relief. Reducing joint pain and inflammation. Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs). Anemia and fatigue. Skin conditions.

How to use: Take freeze-dried nettle capsules for allergies and joint pain. Use nettle leaf tea or tincture for urinary issues. Apply topically for skin irritation and eczema.

Peppermint

Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is one of the most versatile medicinal herbs, offering a long list of health perks. It is antibacterial, antiviral, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. It also relaxes the digestive tract and soothes headaches.

Medicinal uses: Settling digestion, nausea, gas and bloating. Relieving headaches and migraines when applied topically. Clearing sinus congestion when inhaled. Soothes itchy skin conditions. Antibacterial protection.

How to use: Take enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules for IBS and digestive issues. Inhale peppermint essential oil or use topically for headaches. Drink peppermint tea to ease congestion.

Althaea Officinalis

You may know this herb better as marshmallow. The mucilaginous roots and leaves of althaea officinalis have a soothing effect on mucous membranes. Marshmallow effectively treats coughs, sore throats, digestive issues, and urinary tract infections.

Medicinal uses: Soothes sore throat pain and coughing. Relieves digestive inflammation and irritation. Urinary tract infections and bladder inflammation. Dry, itchy skin conditions.

How to use: Make marshmallow root tea or add powder to smoothies. Take marshmallow capsules or tincture for digestive/urinary tract issues. Apply infused oil or salve topically for skin relief.

Basil

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) isn’t just a tasty culinary herb, it also offers antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Sweet basil is commonly used to treat stomach issues, respiratory infections, diabetes, and stress.

Medicinal uses: Settles upset stomach, gas, and bloating. Coughs, colds, and bronchitis. Helps manage blood sugar levels. Reduces anxiety and stress. Apply topically for skin infections.

How to use: Make basil tea from fresh or dried leaves. Use basil essential oil diluted in a carrier oil for skin infections and inflammation. Take capsules or tincture to manage blood sugar.

Burdock

Burdock root (Arctium lappa) has been used for centuries in herbal medicine. It contains powerful antioxidants that detoxify the liver, balance hormones, and improve skin health. It also reduces inflammation and boosts immunity.

Medicinal uses: Detoxifying the liver and cleansing the blood. Balancing hormones that cause acne. Soothing psoriasis, eczema, and skin conditions. Reducing joint pain and inflammation. Preventing colds and flu.

How to use: Consume burdock root tea, powder or capsules daily as an herbal tonic. Apply burdock oil or salve topically to improve skin disorders. Drink burdock tea at the first sign of a cold.

Licorice

Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has many therapeutic properties and health benefits. It soothes sore throats, eases PMS and menopause symptoms, protects the stomach lining, and supports the adrenal glands.

Medicinal uses: Soothes sore throat pain and coughing. Hormone balancing; reduces PMS and menopause symptoms. Protects and heals stomach lining from ulcers. Supports healthy adrenal glands and stress response.

How to use: Consume licorice root powder or capsules. Use licorice tincture diluted in water for adrenal fatigue. Drink licorice tea or take lozenges for sore throats.

Oregano

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a potent antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory herb. The active compounds thymol and rosmarinic acid give oregano its immune-boosting powers. Oregano oil is used to treat respiratory and skin infections.

Medicinal uses: Potent antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antiparasitic action. Treats respiratory infections like coughs, colds, sore throats and bronchitis. Kills fungal infections like athlete’s foot and nail fungus.

How to use: Take oregano oil capsules at first signs of an infection. Dilute oregano essential oil and use topically for skin and nail fungal infections. Drink oregano tea for respiratory issues.

Tulsi

Tulsi, also known as holy basil (Ocimum sanctum), has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 5,000 years. Tulsi reduces stress, inflammation, and respiratory infections. It also lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Medicinal uses: Adaptogenic herb that reduces stress and cortisol levels. Anti-inflammatory properties reduce joint pain and swelling. Antimicrobial action against viruses, bacteria and fungi. Helps manage diabetes symptoms.

How to use: Drink tulsi tea daily for stress relief and immune support. Take tulsi capsules or tincture to improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Use tulsi essential oil in aromatherapy.

Turmeric

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) contains the active compound curcumin that gives it anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial powers. Turmeric benefits every system in the body, from brain to joints to digestion.

Medicinal uses: Natural anti-inflammatory for arthritis, back pain, injuries and headaches. Improves liver detoxification and gallbladder function. Boosts immunity against colds, coughs and flu. Promotes heart health and healthy cholesterol levels.

How to use: Take turmeric capsules daily to reduce inflammation and pain. Use turmeric powder in cooking and smoothies. Drink turmeric tea or golden milk for antioxidant benefits.

Chamomile

The daisy-like flowers of German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) have gentle sedative properties. Chamomile relieves stress and anxiety, soothes indigestion, and promotes restful sleep.

Medicinal uses: Relaxes the nervous system; relieves anxiety, irritability, depression and insomnia. Settles upset stomach, nausea, gas, diarrhea and colic. Promotes skin health and healing. Soothes mouth ulcers and gingivitis.

How to use: Drink chamomile tea regularly for relaxation and sleep. Place used teabags over irritated skin. Use chamomile essential oil or lotion for eczema. Swish tea or dilute oil for mouth sores.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) is the fragrant bark of an evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka. It contains antioxidants that reduce inflammation, lower blood sugar levels, improve heart health, and boost brain function.

Medicinal uses: Balancing blood sugar and reducing risk of diabetes/metabolic syndrome. Supporting healthy cholesterol levels and improving heart health. Enhancing cognitive function and memory. Soothing upset stomach and diarrhea.

How to use: Add cinnamon powder to food, smoothies, oatmeal, tea or coffee. Take cinnamon capsules if monitoring blood sugar levels. Use cinnamon essential oil aromatherapy for cognitive boost.

Building and Using Your Home Apothecary

Once you’ve selected the herbs you would like to stock in your home apothecary, it’s time to start preparing them for use. Having your herbs in different forms like teas, tinctures, capsules, oils, and salves offers versatility in how you can use them. Follow these tips for preparing and using your apothecary herbs:

Purchasing High-Quality Herbs

The medicinal potency of herbs depends on their freshness and quality. Whenever possible, purchase organic herbs from reputable suppliers. Growing your own herbs is ideal, but not always practical. For the best quality:

  • Buy dried herbs in small quantities and store in airtight containers away from heat, moisture and sunlight to preserve potency.
  • Tinctures and extracts should be from certified organic fresh or dried herbs, not powdered. Alcohol-based tinctures have longer shelf life.
  • Only purchase undiluted essential oils from suppliers who use organic plant material and proper extraction processes.
  • Read ingredient labels. Avoid herbs with flow agents, preservatives, pesticides and other additives.

Drying Herbs at Home

Drying fresh herbs at home can save money while supplying herbs at their peak potency. Here is a simple process:

  • Choose herbs with intact flowers or leaves. Wash and gently dry with towel if needed.
  • Remove any dead or damaged parts. Separate leaves or flowers from stems.
  • Place herbs in a single layer on dehydrator trays or baking sheets. Don’t overfill trays.
  • Dehydrate at 95-115°F until completely dry and brittle. Test for dryness.
  • Store dried herbs in glass jars out of direct sunlight. Label jars with herb name and date.
  • For best flavor and potency, use within 1 year.

Making Herbal Teas

Herbal teas are a easy, effective way to get the benefits of medicinal herbs. To prepare:

  • Place dried herbs (1-2 teaspoons per cup of water) into a teapot or infuser. For roots/bark use 1 Tablespoon per cup.
  • Bring water to a boil, then pour over herbs and steep for 5-10 minutes covered.
  • Strain tea into cups; add honey or lemon as desired. Drink 1-3 cups per day.
  • Most herbal teas can be safely consumed daily. Pay attention to effects and adjust as needed.

Creating Herbal Tinctures

Tinctures are concentrated liquid extracts that pull key compounds from herbs. Follow this process:

  • Grind/chop fresh or dried herbs into small pieces. Place in a glass jar.
  • Cover with vodka, brandy or glycerin. Use a 1:5 herb to liquid ratio. Shake well.
  • Store jar in a cool, dark place and shake daily for 4-6 weeks. Strain through cheesecloth.
  • Take tinctures by placing drops into water or directly under tongue. Start with small doses like 3-5 drops at a time and work up as needed.

Infusing Herbal Oils

Infusing herbs in oil transfers their medicinal properties into a topical format. To infuse oils:

  • Lightly pack chopped fresh/dried herbs into a glass jar until 3⁄4 full. Cover completely with olive, coconut or jojoba oil.
  • Store in a warm spot for 2 weeks, shaking daily. Strain oil through cheesecloth; squeeze to remove all oil.
  • Store infused oil in an airtight container away from heat/light. Use within 1 year.
  • Use infused oils topically on skin, diluted with a carrier oil. Can also be made into salves.

Making Herbal Salves

For treating skin conditions, herbal salves provide concentrated relief and protection. Follow these steps:

  • Prepare herbal-infused oil using method above. Melt beeswax into the oil using 1 Tbsp per 1 cup of oil.
  • Test consistency by placing a spoonful on a cold plate. It should solidify to an appropriate salve consistency.
  • Add essential oils if desired. Pour carefully into storage containers before mixture solidifies.
  • Allow to fully solidify for 24 hours before use. Apply small amounts to skin as needed.

Filling Herbal Capsules

Taking herbs in capsule form provides consistent doses and convenience. To fill capsules:

  • Purchase empty vegetarian/vegan capsules and a capsule filling tray. Grind herbs into a fine powder.
  • Separate capsule halves and place the top and bottom tray aligning with capsule holes.
  • Scoop herb powder into each half, filling almost full. Join capsule halves and press gently.
  • Take capsules with water. Store in an airtight container away from moisture and heat.

Creating an Herbal Medicine Chest

Having a stocked herbal medicine chest allows you to quickly access remedies for common ailments. This checklist highlights must-have preparations to include:

✓ Anti-inflammatory salve – calendula, chamomile, lavender

✓ Digestive tonic – ginger, fennel, peppermint

✓ Immune-boosting tincture – echinacea, elderberry, astragalus

✓ Sore throat spray – sage, licorice, marshmallow

✓ Tension tamer tea – chamomile, lemon balm, passionflower

✓ Sleep aid – valerian, passionflower, lavender

✓ Stress relief capsules – ashwagandha, rhodiola, lemon balm

✓ Energizing elixir – ginkgo, ginseng, rosemary, cinnamon

✓ Respiratory relief oil – eucalyptus, peppermint, oregano

✓ Anti-nausea ginger capsules or tea

✓ Skin healing salve – calendula, plantain, St. John’s wort

✓ Digestive capsules – milk thistle, marshmallow, fennel

✓ Pain relief tincture – turmeric, boswellia, celery seed

✓ Anxiety capsules – lemon balm, chamomile, ashwagandha

Safety and Responsible Use

Herbs offer a safer alternative to medications in many situations, however, some precautions should still be taken:

  • Consult your healthcare provider before using herbs, especially if you take medication or are pregnant/nursing.
  • Research contraindications and potential interactions before using new herbs.
  • Start with low doses and gently increase as needed. Monitor your body’s response.
  • Purchase organic herbs when possible and from ethical, sustainable sources.
  • Many herbs can be safely used long-term, but take breaks as needed.
  • Pay attention to shelf life and expiration dates for optimal potency and benefits.
  • Keep herbs in childproof containers and out of reach of children and pets.

A home herbal apothecary provides you with an assortment of natural solutions to boost health and treat common ailments. Take time to create a well-stocked collection of herbs that you can use for years to come.