Herbal Simples

Written by Amanda Klenner

herbs as simples

This article was originally published in Natural Herbal Living’s September 2013 issue – Rosemary, which you can purchase here.

Beginning an herbal journey can be overwhelming. The recipes we find in herbal books and blogs involve several herbs and precise measurements. This can be daunting. The art of using an herb as a “simple”, or by itself, is one that everyone should know. Using them one at a time allows us to really understand the plant and how it works with our body. By using an herb individually we are able to build a deep relationship with the plant, and get to know it on a more personal level.

What is an herbal simple?

A “simple” is simply using one herb at a time. You can prepare this herb many ways. A tisane, or herbal tea is one of the easiest ways to experience the herb. If you are making a tisane with more delicate materials like the flower or leaf, you would make an herbal infusion. This is simply putting an ounce of plant material into a quart mason jar or French press, filling the jar with boiling water, and putting a lid on the jar. Allow this to steep for 5 minutes – 8 hours (depending on the herb and the benefits you are hoping for). Strain the herb material and enjoy the wonderful, nourishing, and invigorating herbal infusion.

Making a tisane with more rough materials, like the bark, root or the seed, is called a decoction. Tomake a decoction you would put 1oz of material into a quart of water and simmer it in a lidded pot for 20 minutes. Filter out the plant material and enjoy your delicious herbal drink.

A tincture is an herbal extract, commonly made with alcohol. The alcohol extracts the essential compounds of the plants, allowing the user to use a few drops for a strong medicinal effect.

To make a tincture using the “Folk Method” :

These, of course, are very general instructions. Some herbs will have slightly different requirements, or might be better extracted in another menstruum like glycerin or vinegar. These directions are a good jumping off point, though.

• Chop up the fresh plant into very small pieces and stuff them as tightly as you can into a sterile canning jar, filling it to the top. If using dried material grind the herb to a moderately coarse powder and fill the canning jar a little over half way with the herb powder.

• Add 80-100 proof alcohol (preferably a high quality vodka), filling the jar to the top.

• For fresh herbs: Pour the contents of the jar into a blender or food processor and process in the blender for 1-2 minutes. Pour back into the jar and cap tightly.

• For dry herbs: Cap tightly and shake the tincture. After 24 hours add more alcohol. The dry herbs will absorb it so top off the jar again.

• Shake the mixture frequently for 14 days. Let it sit an extra day to settle.

• Pour off, or decant, the liquid through a filter lined with cheese cloth or an unbleached coffee filter. Press all of the menstruum (alcohol base) out of the herbs, squeeze them dry and add this to the tincture bottle.

• Bottle tightly in an amber or cobalt blue glass bottle and label with herb and parts used, date, and menstruum used. Ex: Rosemary officinalis- fresh leaves and stem, 80 proof vodka 9/15/2013.

• Dosage depends on the plant and parts used and what you are trying to treat.

By using simples, we are allowing ourselves to build a lasting relationship with one herb at a time, and to really see how these herbs work with us in an unencumbered way. Once we build a relationship with these herbs as a single entity, we can better understand why it is used in an herbal blend and if, indeed, it is the right recipe for us, or if we could just make life simpler, and use one herb at a time.


The Herbal Medicine-Makers Handbook: A Home Manual by James Green: 2000

Amanda is a Clinical Herbalist, Holistic Nutritionist, and Health Coach located in Westminster, CO. She is also a mother, wife, and avid dog lover (cats are ok too). She has a passion for teaching people about the beautiful herbal medicines we can work with to maintain health, wellness, and joy. She is the publisher of Natural Herbal Living Magazine, works with people clinically to help them reach their health goals, and makes a line of organic, handmade herbal products.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Thaleia from Something2Offer says

    Thank you for explaining the “simple” ways to enjoy an herb and what each term means. When someone begins their journey to learn about herbs it often becomes confusing with all the terms like tincture, hydrosol, liniment, decoction, mentruum, etc.

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