Beginners Guide to Stocking The Home Apothecary
If you’ve been thinking about introducing holistic health and wellness to your home, chances are you’ve thought about creating your own home apothecary. Learning the basics of herbal medicine is a journey well worth the time and effort, but it can be overwhelming when you are just starting out. But with a little effort and a few basic ingredients and tools, you can get started with treating simple things like the common cold, headaches, and bruises, as well as minor infections, cuts, burns, and more.
But keep in mind that there is a lot to learn, so start slowly, building your apothecary and your knowledge over time. This list is intended to give you a basic outline of some of the most useful, multipurpose, safe, and simple to obtain herbs for a home apothecary.
A Quick Disclaimer
Before we start, let me remind you I am not a medical professional, doctor, or certified herbalist of any kind, and I have no professional training. I prefer to treat simple ailments on my own whenever possible, but I am in no way suggesting that you should fail to seek medical advice when needed. Remember that just because something is natural doesn’t automatically mean it’s safe. Certain herbs can be harmful to pregnant or nursing mothers. Others can have adverse interactions with existing medications. Always do your research, and speak to a professional regarding any major concerns.
Apothecary Tools & Equipment
Aside from your herbs and ingredients, you’ll want to have a few simple tools on hand for creating your herbal medicinals. Below is a basic list, but as you build your apothecary and become comfortable treating yourself and your family, you may wish to add additional tools.
Clean Mason jars (for making and storing tinctures)
Amber bottles with both dropper and spray top lids (for storing oils and tinctures)
A pot or teapot (for boiling water)
Small bowl or container (for mixing ingredients)
A coffee grinder or mortar and pestle (for grinding herbs)
A small-grade strainer or a French press (for straining teas and tinctures)
A funnel (for getting things into bottles)
A kitchen scale (optional but helpful)
Clean cloth or cheesecloth (also for straining teas and tinctures)
Labels, masking tape, or painters tape (for labeling ingredients and finished products)
A journal, notebook, or Materia Medica to keep your recipes in and keep notes.
Solvents & Carrier Oils
Before we get into the herbs themselves, let’s quickly talk about the other items you’ll want on hand for quick medical preparation. You’ll want to store some additional ingredients in your apothecary, including various liquid solvents, for herbal infusions like tinctures, salves, or elixirs. And you’ll also want to have some carrier oils for lotions, creams, salves, and infused oils.
Alcohol (80 - 100 proof vodka tends to be the best choice)
Apple cider vinegar
Honey (raw, local, unpasteurized is best)
Evening Primrose Oil
Sweet Almond Oil
It is not necessary to keep all of these solvents or oils on hand; just gather a small selection that works best for you. You can find an excellent guide to carrier oils on Homstead.com.
Other Apothecary Ingredients
The list of ingredients you could potentially add to your home apothecary is nearly endless, but here are a few extra things you may want to keep on hand for making medicinal and personal care products.
Beeswax (for making salves & balms)
Himalayan pink salt
Sugar (for sugar scrubs & syrups)
Basic Herbs for the Home Apothecary
There are thousands of medicinal herbs and spices out there. Today, we will cover 20 basic, multi-purpose herbs that can get you started safely, quickly, and easily. These herbs are easy to obtain, whether through wild foraging or growing in your garden.
#1 - Cayenne (Capsicum Annuum)
This is the same pepper found in most spice cabinets. For medicinal purposes, the whole pepper should be used, including seeds. Cayenne can be used as a “crisis herb” for shock, anesthesia reactions, bleeding, and pain-killing properties. We use cinnamon regularly in our Homemade Cough Syrup.
#2 - Calendula (Calendula Officinalis)
Also known as pot marigold. The whole plant is edible, but the flower is the medicinal portion. It is anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial. It has excellent antibiotic properties that can help to accelerate healing.
* Note: Do not take Calendula internally while pregnant or nursing.
#3 - German Chamomile (Matricaria Recutita) or Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum Nobile)
Medicinally, both varieties are the same. Chamomile can treat upset stomachs, gas, diarrhea, insomnia, and anxiety. It is mainly used for “nerving,” meaning it has a calming effect on the nerves. Chamomile also has antibiotic properties as well as anti-inflammatory properties. You can use it both topically or internally to calm nerves causing pain.
* Note: if you’re allergic to ragweed, avoid chamomile.
#4 Cinnamon (Cinnamomum Zeylanicum)
Another spice found commonly in almost every home. Cinnamon is packed with antioxidants, which offer mild analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, cinnamon can work to liquefy mucus, serve as an expectorant, and help to expel mucus from the body.
#5 Comfrey (Symphytum Officinale)
Comfrey has anti-inflammatory properties and is excellent for pain management. It can soothe irritation in mucus membranes, including the gut, mouth, throat, and bladder. Comfrey’s most famous use is for promoting healing. It contains a chemical called allantoin, which accelerates cell division. Wound healing times can be accelerated markedly when using comfrey.
* Note: There is some controversy about taking comfrey internally; this herb is best taken topically.
#6 - Cramp Bark (Viburnum Opulus)
Cramp bark is a common ornamental bush often called the “Snowball Bush.” The inner bark of the bush is the medicinal part. This bark can help with uterine cramps, coughs, and diarrhea but is primarily used for pain management.
* Note: Unlike most things taken for uterine cramps, cramp bark is safe for pregnant women.
#7 - Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale)
This humble weed's flowers, roots, and leaves can be used medicinally. The leaves can stimulate the appetite, aid digestion, help kidney function, and act as a diuretic. The dandelion flower has antioxidant properties and immune-boosting properties. The root is also used to detoxify the liver and gallbladder.
#8 - Elderberries (Sambucus Nigra)
Elderberry has long been used in folk medicine. It is packed with antioxidants and vitamins that boost the immune system, tame inflammation, and reduce stress. This is a wonderful ingredient to help with the cold and flu season. It can also be used as a treatment for constipation, joint/muscle pain, respiratory infections, and headaches.
* Note: If you have diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis, consult your doctor before taking elderberry
#9 - Garlic (Allium Sativum)
This is another common item in nearly every kitchen in the world. But, medicinally, garlic offers anti-microbial & nutritive properties. This simple bulb can counter infections of the nose, throat, and chest. It may also reduce cholesterol, helps with circulation, and lower blood sugar levels.
#10 - Flax Seed (Linum Usitatissimum)
Flax, though technically a grain and not an herb, is an excellent addition to the home apothecary due to its ability to draw out infections and toxins, and it makes a great addition to poultices when ground.
* Note: Flax has a very short shelf life once ground, so this item is best kept whole until ready to use.
#11 - Ginger (Zingiber Officinale)
Yet another common kitchen spice, this unassuming rhizome, has a history of being used medicinally for centuries. It’s been said to improve immune function, reduce inflammation, and relieve congestion. Ginger can also be used to help prevent or treat stomach upset, nausea, and vomiting.
#12 - Holy basil (Ocimum Tenuiflorum)
Also known as Tulsi Basil, this plant is commonly used in the traditional Indian medicine system, Ayurveda. It has adaptogen & immune-modulating properties and is used to tackle stress, anxiety, and inflammation.
#13 Hops (Humulus Lupulus)
The same hops commonly used to make beer also have medicinal qualities. The medication in hops comes from the “strobile” or the cone-like fruit of the hop plant. Hops have antibiotic and muscle relaxant properties. It is generally used for gastrointestinal ailments because of its ability to relax the muscles and kill bugs. Hops can also be used to treat pain topically. * Note: Hops are in the same family as cannabis and have the same pain-killing properties without the drug effects of cannabis.
#14 - Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia or Lavandula Officinalis)
Easy to grow in any home garden, lavender is believed to have antiseptic, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be helpful in treating minor burns and bug bites. It can also treat anxiety, insomnia, depression, and restlessness. Other uses include treating digestive issues such as vomiting, nausea, intestinal gas, upset stomach, and abdominal swelling, as well as fungal infections and wound healing.
#15 - Mullein (Verbascum Thapsus L.)
This plant grows wild in most of the US and can be distinguished by its pale broad fuzzy leaves. We harvest it wild from our front yard each season. Mullein contains anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral properties. Great for easing coughs, and congestion, reducing pain and inflammation, and reducing issues with asthma.
#16 - Osha (Ligusticum Porteri)
This is one that some may have difficulty sourcing, but here in Colorado, where we live, it is easy to forage for in the wild and a true staple of our home apothecary. Also known as Bear Medicine (since it is often the first thing bears eat out of hibernation in the spring), this pungent root has anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting properties. We use it seasonally to boost immune function and treat colds.
#17 - Peppermint (Mentha Piperita)
Common in most home gardens, peppermint has carminative and anti-microbial properties. We grow it in containers surrounding our garden to help with pest control and use in cooking and medicinals. It can help with upset stomach, headache, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, joint and muscle pain, and breathing issues.
#18 - Plantain (Plantago Major)
Plantain is another common “yard weed” in North America. We have it growing wild around our property and harvest it from around our chicken coop each season. Plantain has antibiotic and wound-healing properties and contains mucilage for soothing mucus membranes. It is also great for pulling poisons from the body in minor puncture wounds and bug bites.
#19 - Turmeric (Curcuma Longa)
Yet another everyday kitchen staple, turmeric has adaptogen, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. Like Holy Basil, it is also a common ingredient in Indian medicine.
It can be used to treat disorders of the skin, upper respiratory tract infections, joint issues, digestive disorders, and allergies.
#20 - Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
This is one of my favorite herbs to keep on hand. It grows wild around our property, and we cultivate it in our garden as well. Our favorite use for yarrow is its ability to stop bleeding, and we use it to treat minor cuts on ourselves, our dogs, and our chickens. Additionally, yarrow has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-microbial properties and can help with healing wounds. It is also an excellent herbal ally for cold and flu season, nausea, and upset stomach support.
Start Building Your Home Apothecary Today
If you’re ready to get started with a home apothecary, the good news is that you likely already have many of these ingredients in your spice cabinet. The rest of the basics list is readily available at most herbal stores or simple to grow in your own home garden. As you embark on the home healing journey, remember to take it slow, there is no need to have everything right away.
Take the time to research and fully understand the uses, benefits, and possible drawbacks of each ingredient before you attempt to ingest them internally. Remember the famous quote, “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food,” and always look for new ways and uses for the common items in your kitchen. You may be surprised at how many of the foods you already eat have medicinal qualities that you can harness!
Do you have an apothecary for your home? What are your top “can’t live without it” ingredients? Tell us all about them in the comments below, and until next time,