When a conscious decision was made to use herbs for our personal and family health and well being I suddenly found myself confronted with literally hundreds of ways they work.

I didn't realize that most herbs have a list as long as my arm of things that they are used for. I found myself reading and reading, trying to memorize all the things they were are for.

Remembering all that stuff can be very confusing, not to say mind boggling, so I settled down a bit and began to concentrate on a few, to learn them and then, to love them.

Actually, I quickly learned that the long list of uses you find with any given herb is actually a good thing. The reason that herbs affect many different parts of your body is that the whole herb is being utilized.

No one has identified a certain constituent and extracted it from it's natural place; no one has isolated it, synthesized it, or adulterated it.

Therefore, used it in it's whole, natural form, allows that particular herb to do many different remarkable things. Even things we aren't expecting.

Part of the fun of learning to use herbs is trying them in different forms: tea, infusions, decoctions, tinctures, poultices, etc. Doing this gives us the opportunity to learn what works for what and which form is most effective for what.

I was just thinking about the many herbs that I love, and thought I could hone that down to just a few to share with you. So here is a list of SIX of my favorite herbs, in no particular order, it's hard to number them because I think all of them would be #1.

  • Slippery Elm. This herb has been amazing as a sore throat healer for our family. Purchased as powder and made into small edible balls by mixing it with honey makes it easy to use and pretty good to eat.

    When the sore throat hits all you have to do is eat one (or two) balls. Often that is enough, especially for kids. You can have one every hour if needed.

    Just put a little honey in a bowl, then add slippery elm powder to it and stir. Make it a consistency of pie dough that can be rolled into a ball. Roll it into small, dime sized balls. Roll these in more slippery elm to make them less sticky, and for more healing goodness. These can be placed in a container, even a recycled throat lozenge container or breath mint container, so you can take them with you.

    If the kids start rebelling and not wanting to eat them, you can dress them up with some mini chocolate chips, coconut or finely chopped up dried fruit.

    These same balls are extremely effective for my sister who has Crohn's Disease. This wicked disease affects the intestinal system. The mucilage from the slippery elm coats and heals her intestinal lining.

    It works amazingly well on all intestinal problems, stopping indigestion, heart burn and even mild food poisoning.

  • Mullein. Many years ago when my children were small, we all knew and loved this fuzzy plant as "Indian Toilet Paper." Our favorite use was rubbing it on stings. We would break the fuzzy leaf open and expose the inside. Just rubbing that on ant bites or bee stings stopped the pain every time.

    It worked for that, but it is good for so many more things and Plantain is actually better for bites and stings. You can definitely still use it for stings in a pinch - even if it isn't on the list!!

    Our favorite use now is for ear infections. Make infused oil with the flowers - fresh is best, and you should be able to find this common herb almost anywhere. Fill a pint jar with flowers, then filled it to the top with olive oil. We give you more instructions on our website on the page about Making Infused Oil.

    You can also make garlic oil, then mix half mullein flower oil and half garlic oil.

    Or you can add St. John's Wort to make it even more effective.

    To do it best, it takes 3 weeks, so start now and get ready for winter colds. If you forget, you can make the infused oil using one of the other methods we talk about. And if that doesn't work, you can even purchase it at the health food store.

    It is also effective for respiratory problems when inhaled. One nephew inhales smoke of dried mullein leaves and finds immediate relief from lung congestion and relief from his asthma.

    Drink it as well. Mullein is used for all lung problems including, whooping cough, asthma, bronchitis and chest colds.

    Place 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried leaves in a cup of boiling water. Cover and steep for 10 minutes. Strain it through a coffee filter or fine linen to remove all the little fine hairs that can irritate the throat and lungs. It is bitter so add honey, lemon, or whatever. Check out our page on making decoctions and infusions.

    You can also use the flowers or roots for tea.

    A tincture of flowers works for swollen glands by soothing and clearing the fluid from the glands.

  • Oatstraw. If those first two weren't my favorites this one would be it for sure. Oatstraw is packed full of calcium, which I am always watching for, and is also nourishing to the nervous system. It is calming yet it lifts the spirits of those who are down, and makes a delicious drink either hot or cold.

    I like to make an infusion using equal amounts of oatstraw, nettle and peppermint. Delicious, as well as nutritious.

    The milky oat tops can be tinctured and used for people who are chronically angry and upset.

    Oatstraw is high in magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, chromium, and many amino acids. It is full of vitamin C. It strengthens the bones and makes strong, healthy hair. I like to use it as a main ingredient when making a hair rinse. It leaves my hair feeling and smelling amazing.

  • Plantain. For some reason this was one of the first herbs I learned. I really love it.

    I have saved myself pain and agony from several really bad stings. One wasp sting on my little finger happened just after I had picked fresh plantain. I ran immediately into the house, chewed the plantain and placed it on my finger as a spit-poultice. I taped it there and changed it every 20 minutes for three or four times. Then I just left some on my finger for the rest of the day.

    When I took it off that night there was no sign of a sting of any kind. It only burned and stung when it first happened and it never itched as it does while healing.

    It is also good for drawing splinters out. Just do the same thing - chew some up - tape it on the area and wait. Before long you will have a little bit of the splinter sticking out and can easily get it with the tweezers or your finger nails.

    A tincture of plantain herb is amazing with canker sores. Just but a drop or two on the end of a q-tip and rub it on the canker sore. It stops the pain fast and heals it as well. We have used this repeatedly with great success.

    Plantain is a demulcent. This means it is slippery, just like slippery elm. It is good for intestinal infections, heat of urinary infections, ulcers, or other gastro intestinal inflammations.

    It can also be used for coughs as a tea or an infusion. It loosens phlegm and it's mucilaginous properties help to soothe a sore throat.

    Both plaintain and mullein are great in salves.

  • Ginger. This really is one of my favorites. A nice pot of ginger tea is the very best for when you are feeling miserable because of a colds. In the first place it is warming and helps you feel warm when you are chilled.

    It is also a diaphoretic, so if you have a fever with your cold it will help that fever break so you can get over it. It is an expectorant and will help loosen the phlegm.

    The lemon which is added to this tea also has anti-viral properties that fight infections and halt the progress of a cold. The honey is antibacterial and antimicrobial, also full of enzymes. How much better can it get?

    All these things sound important, but really, I love it because it is a big pot of comfort. Just make a pot, drink a cup, wrap yourself up in a blanket, snuggle up somewhere and sleep. When you wake up drink some more.

    I feel sure that you will love this too. (The first swallow is powerful - be ready! Remember ginger is spicy.) We show you how to make this yummy tea on our website in the page on cold remedies.

    This same powerful tea really works well with menstrual cramps as it calms spasms, not just in the throat, but from cramps as well. Ginger can influence pain receptors, relieving pain and making you feel a lot better. Just add a heating pad. You can also add crampbark to this decoction to make it even more effective.

    Ginger is, of course, good for digestion. Making the tea a bit less strong still works great when you are feeling bloated or having heartburn.

    Ginger is also good for motion sickness. My poor little daughter-in-law has had motion sickness all her life. She has come to rely on ginger and soda crackers.

    The best way to use it here is to make ginger candy that can be taken with you. You can also purchase it at the health food store.

    Ginger tincture is also effective and fast acting for motion sickness. Just place a dropperful in water and drink it. It's still easy to use, just not quite as convenient.

    Using plain ginger tea after it has cooled down to wash off burns, was recommended by Steven Buhner, a well known herbalist, to prevent infection and to relieve the pain.

    It has also been recommended for reducing arthritis pain.

  • Arnica. My sister and I recently made a batch of salve to be used for bruises. The main ingredient in this salve is Arnica. This amazing herb is known as a wound herb, a fracture herb and a fall herb. It obviously helps swelling and bruising.

    It has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities, and moves the blood away from the area of impact, thus causing the bruise to heal quickly or not even appear!

    Really, it is amazing. We have been so impressed with what it does. We could go on and on about our stories of healing. It is especially effective if you rub it gently on the bruised area ASAP. I think the gentle rubbing of the area helps too, even though it may hurt and you don't really want to touch it.

    I even have a story of my grandson who received a blow to his head when he fell, the results being a raised "goose egg" on his little head. It wasn't until several days later that my daughter mentioned it to me. She was worried because it was still huge. I asked her if she had used the salve. She had forgotten about it!!

    She used it immediately and she said that within an hour the bump had gone down and by the next morning the bruise was almost gone!!

    Wow! It is amazing. Do not apply it to open wounds, but use it for treating arthritis, burns, ulcers, eczema, and acne. The main place we have used it is on wounds (not open) and sore muscles.

Well, that is six. Most of these herbs do not grow locally where I live. Mullein and Plantain are the only ones that do. I have always like to go "wildcrafting" and find the herbs first, so that I can know where they grow and what they like, but because I wanted to try these herbs, I ordered them from a reputable company, Mountain Rose Herbs.

Herbs have not disappointed me. As a matter of fact, I don't know how people can live without them. They really make life nicer.

So have a great month. I hope you have an opportunity to think about your favorite herbs and maybe learn about a few more.