Lean safe herbal formulation and throat spray recipe

Lean safe herbal formulation and throat spray recipe

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Creating your own herbal formulas can be an intimidating
process. Formulation is admittedly not a clear-cut process and it seems that
many herbalists create their formulas with a combination of knowledge and
intuition. That’s tough to teach!

What makes things even more complicated is that Western
herbalism doesn’t have a strong tradition in herbal formulas. While a few
classic formulas exist, we don’t have anything like Traditional Chinese
Medicine (TCM), which has thousands of formulas that have been perfected over
hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of years.

One of the biggest hurdles people have when starting out in
making herbal formulas is the concern about safety. A question I often get is,
“Can you ever combine herbs in an unsafe way?” or “Does combining two or more
herbs ever end up with a toxic result?”

The answer is a definite no. As long as the herbs you are
using are generally regarded as safe and are given in safe doses, then the end
result will be safe.

But this isn’t to say that all herbal combinations are a
great idea. Creating herbal formulas is a bit like combining food: sure, you
could add ketchup to your coffee – it wouldn’t hurt you – but it also doesn’t
make sense and the end result would be nasty. “Double shot Americano with two
pumps of ketchup, please” – probably not!

You can see that artful herbal formulation is an important
skill to develop. It enables you to carefully choose herbs that fit the
individual and the circumstances. If you know the reasoning behind an herb in a
formula, it also can help you to choose substitutes if necessary. You can also
create formulas out of plants that you grew or foraged.

In this article I am going to show you one way to create an
herbal formula using a sore throat spray as an example. Please keep in mind
that there’s no one way to create an herbal formula. By showing you both my
method and reasoning, I hope that it deepens your understanding of herbal
combinations so that you can feel more confident about creating your own.

Step #1: The Big

Our first step is to figure out why we want this herbal
formula in the first place. In our example, we want to create a sore throat
spray formula, but we need to take a closer look at the situation.

We may ask…

What exactly do we want to we want to accomplish?

What herbal actions are we looking for?

If we looked up “sore throat herbs” in a reference we’d
likely find a long list, but what exactly are those herbs doing?

Here are some generally helpful actions herbs can have on a
sore throat.

Anodyne: Relieve pain

Astringent: Tighten swollen tissues (this can
relieve pain and inhibit further infection)

Lymphatic: Address swollen lymph glands

Antimicrobial: Combat infection (antiviral herbs
are especially helpful with sore throats)

Demulcent: Coat and soothe irritated or inflamed

Immune Stimulant: Sore throats are often the
first sign of a cold or influenza, making it the perfect time to boost the
immune system in the hopes of avoiding illness or shortening the duration. 

Step #2: The Formula Structure

Before we choose the herbs for our sore throat spray blend,
let’s take a look at the structure of an herbal formula.

I first learned herbal formulation when I was studying
Traditional Chinese Medicine at the East West School of Planetary Herbology.
Over the years I’ve adapted my own language and nuances, but I am undoubtedly
still influenced by those early studies.

When I create an herbal formula, I break it into three

Main Roles

Supporting Roles

Catalyst and Corrigent Roles

The main roles are the starring herbs. These are often are
used in the largest amounts in the formula and are the herbs with the main
actions and effects that we are looking for.

Herbs in supporting roles boost the efficacy of the main
herbs and they can also bring other gifts to a formula that the main herbs
don’t possess. Supporting herbs are generally used in smaller amounts than
those in the main roles.

Catalyst herbs raise the level of action of the formula.
Catalyst herbs are often warming and aromatic in nature, helping to stimulate
circulation and increase absorption of all the herbs in the formula.

Corrigent herbs are added to smooth out a formula by
balancing out the warming, cooling, moistening or drying qualities. With this
in mind, they can be added as a final touch to a formula to make it more
fitting for an individual. They can also be used to improve the flavor of the

Catalyst and corrigent herbs are very important for bringing
the formula together. These powerful plants are generally used in much smaller
amounts than either the main or supporting role herbs. 

Step #3: Choose Your

Our next step is to combine what we covered in the first two
steps to artfully choose our herbs.

For this sore throat spray formula, I have decided that the
main actions that I want are anodyne, antiviral and immune stimulating, as I
want to slow down the infection. As a supporting action, I want an astringent
herb to help tighten the throat tissues. In the catalyst and corrigent roles, I
want something aromatic to enhance absorption, I want something soothing and
moistening to the throat, and I want something sweet to improve the flavor of
the formula.

Once we have determined the appropriate actions for the
situation, we want to choose herbs based on the actions we are looking for as
well as the body system we want to address. In this case we can consider herbs
that have an affinity for the throat and the mucous membranes.

Let’s take the herbal action astringency as an example. Oak
bark is a wonderful astringent herb. I have no doubt it could be helpful for a
sore throat. However, it is not an herb that has a strong infinity with the
throat. Instead, it’s more often used to address the lower digestive tract.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) leaf, on the other hand, is a
wonderful astringent with an affinity for the throat. A warm sage tea or a
sage-and-salt gargle are some of my favorite simple remedies for a sore throat.

By this process, we decide which herbs are best for each

Here’s the formula I came up with for this sore throat

Main Roles: Echinacea and elderberry

Supporting Roles: sage

Catalyst and Corrigent Roles: fresh ginger,
licorice root and honey 

Let’s take a closer look at each of these herbs.

Echinacea (Echinacea

In modern days, Echinacea is famous for being an immune
stimulant and is often recommended at the first sign of an upper respiratory
illness. However, it has several other herbal actions that inspired me to give
it a starring role.

When Echinacea comes into direct contact with mucous
membranes, it stimulates secretions and creates a zingy and numbing sensation.
It is also one of our best herbs for promoting lymphatic movement, which can be
helpful for swollen lymph around the throat. Echinacea is also broadly
antimicrobial and has been shown to be effective against a variety of bacteria,
viruses and fungi.1 All in all, Echinacea is anodyne,
antimicrobial, lymphatic and an immune stimulant. All of these actions combine
to make it a fantastic herb for addressing a wide range of symptoms in a sore

 Important note:
Because Echinacea has been tragically overharvested from the wild, please only
used cultivated sources. This is a beautiful plant to grow – consider adding it
to your garden!

Elderberry (Sambucus
canadensis, S. cerulea, S. nigra)

I often combine elderberry and Echinacea for the first signs
of a cold or flu. I also take this combination with me when traveling on
airplanes and use it as a preventive remedy. Elderberry is my favorite herb for
warding off an upper respiratory infection. It works in many different ways to
modulate your immune system, as well as to prevent viral replication.2 3 4 While
elderberry doesn’t have as many herbal actions that are beneficial for a sore
throat as Echinacea, its ability to prevent the illness from progressing earns
it a starring role. It also has a good flavor, which is always helpful in a
sore throat spray.

Sage (Salvia

As mentioned above, sage has long been used to bring relief
to sore throats. Researchers have confirmed this folkloric use in a couple of
human clinical trials. In one randomized, double-blind trial, researchers
compared the effects of a sage and Echinacea extract on sore throats with the
effects of a spray made up of the antiseptic chlorhexidine and the anesthetic
lidocaine. For reducing sore throat symptoms, the sage/Echinacea extract showed
slightly better results after three days.5 Another study showed that a fluid
extract of sage worked better than a placebo in reducing pain due to viral
pharyngitis (throat infection).6

Sage is astringent, helping to reduce swelling, which can be
a contributing factor to the pain of a sore throat. It’s also antimicrobial.
While it could play the main role for a sore throat as a tea, in this sore
throat spray formula it’s better suited in a supporting role. Also, a little
bit of sage’s strong flavor goes a long way and a lower dosage is best for

Fresh Ginger
(Zingiber officinale)

Ginger is commonly used as a catalyst or synergist in TCM
herbal formulas and it is the perfect catalyst for a sore throat spray
formulation. Fresh ginger is wonderfully antimicrobial and somewhat pain
relieving. It is also warming in nature, bringing a circulatory stimulating
effect to the formula.

Licorice Root
(Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Licorice is another common synergist in herbal formulas,
especially in TCM. The root is very sweet and is sometimes called a
“peacekeeper” in formulas because it is said to bring all the herbs together.
In addition to its sweet taste, I added it to this sore throat spray formula
because of its antiviral and demulcent qualities. Licorice, when taken in large
amounts, can raise a person’s blood pressure but this generally isn’t a problem
when it is used sparingly as a synergist in formulas. However, if you are
concerned about your blood pressure, then licorice can be omitted from the


While technically not an herb, honey is an important part of
our formula. Local and minimally processed honey is immunomodulating and
antimicrobial. I like adding honey to a sore throat spray because of its
demulcent and soothing qualities, as well as for the wonderful flavor.

Step #4: Putting Your
Formula Together

Now that we have chosen the herbs we want for our sore
throat spray, we need to figure out how to use them.

Here’s what we need to consider.

Which part of the plant is used (e.g., leaves,
roots, flowers)?

Is it best to use the plant fresh or dried (or

How do we best extract the plant (e.g., hot
water, cold water, alcohol, vinegar, oil)?

What individual dosages should be used for the

If you are new to herbs, then figuring all of this out could
seem like a daunting task. But you learn about herbs the same way you learn
about anything in life: little by little. Many herbalists recommend studying
one herb at a time so that you can really sink into all of that information.

To save us both some time, I’m just going to tell you how I
would create this formula by giving you the recipe below.

Herbal Sore Throat
Spray Recipe

From a dull ache to a raging inferno, sore throats can be
one of the more uncomfortable symptoms of a cold or flu. Sipping hot teas and
eating spicy soups both help to mitigate the pain, but there’s only so much
liquid you can consume in a day! This herbal sore throat spray can be a
convenient way to frequently get the herbs directly on the throat where they
are most needed. The following recipe can be made with alcohol (my preference)
or a glycerin and water combination.

What you’ll need…

35 grams (about 1/3 cup) finely cut and dried
cultivated Echinacea angustifolia roots

25 grams (about 1/4 cup) dried elderberries

3 grams (2 firmly packed tablespoons) dried sage

5 grams (about 2 teaspoons) minced fresh ginger

3 grams dried licorice root 1 tablespoon honey

About 1 2/3 cups vodka or brandy OR 1 cup
vegetable glycerine and 2/3 cup water

Place all the herbs and honey into a pint-sized jar.

If using alcohol, add it to the jar, leaving about a 1/4
inch headspace.

If using glycerine and water, then first mix together the
glycerin and water before pouring into the jar. Stir well.

Reserve any leftover liquid (alcohol or glycerine/water).

Cover the jar tightly with a lid and label.

For the next week, shake the mixture every day. If
necessary, as the dried herbs soak up the liquid, add more of either the
alcohol or the glycerine/water mixture.

Let it steep for a total of 4 weeks.

Strain using a fine mesh strainer and cheesecloth. Squeeze
or press the herbs well to release as much liquid as possible. Compost the

Pour the liquid into containers and attach fingertip misters
(spray toppers). Label.

To use: spray directly to your throat as needed to relieve
pain and reduce swelling.

About 1 1/4 cup

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