I've been looking into herb preparations lately. I love to garden, and I have been slowly but surely adding plants that have magical meanings for me to my yard. I even have a 'witches' garden laid out, but it's in pots and in the far reaches of my yard (read: hard to keep watered appropriately). By next year that should all be rectified... but I want to be able to preserve some of my plants for use during the rest of the year. (For information on what you can do with mullein see the Grove of the Ancients blog.)
(NOTE: it is very important that you look up the plant you're working with, several common plants are poisonous and should be handled with extreme care (or if you work on my principles... it's not worth the risk, something else can do the job... so don't work with these plants at all).
So, here are some things to do with the herbs in that garden that you can use in ritual, as remedies, or in less formal 'appreciations':
Flower Essences: I mentioned how I do this in a previous post.
Drying herbs: You can harvest whole stems (as long as you don't take more than about 25% of the plant so that it can regenerate), tie them loosely and hang them in a sunny window or other warm dry place. You could also put them in a food dehydrator if you have one, or put them in the oven on its lowest temperature for about 10 minutes. Store in a jar with a loose lid, or cheesecloth/muslin bag, to keep air circulating and the dust off. It's often wise to remove the dried leafy material or flowers from the stem, as the stem of some plants is difficult to dry and can set mold growing in your herb collection.
Once you have fresh or dried herbs you can make one of the following:
Oils: You can make infused oils by mashing an herb (or in some cases, the flowers) with a mortar and pestle and pouring a carrier oil, such as almond, olive, or jojoba oil, over it. Leave the mixture in the sun for three days, or heat VERY gently over a fire (maybe even just a candle). Strain through cheesecloth and bottle. This should probably be stored in the refrigerator or a cool place.
Teas/infusions: Pour boiling water over the herb (either fresh, in which case you'll need a little more, or dried, which takes about a spoonful or 1 oz.). Let it sit until the liquid cools. Strain through cheesecloth (or you can put it in a teabag to start with... I just bought a bag of empty teabags from my local craft store for 50 cents). These should also be stored in the refrigerator, and they'll only last about a month, but I think it might depend on the herbs.
Alcohol based tinctures: I don't have experience with these, but I hear they work well. According to Cunningham's Incense, Oils, and Brews, you need to use ethyl alcohol to make a tincture (rubbing alcohol is a petroleum product) and it can be hard to find. It's also known as wood alcohol, and I do know that it turns to formaldehyde in the human body (it was widely ingested during prohibition, and it killed and maimed a lot of people). I choose not to use this.
I have a personal list of about twelve plants that I work with regularly and having growing in my garden, plus a few that I buy dried, and I often use cinnamon and lemon. This is really my entire repertoire, and I find that I can do most stuff with these plants.
What are your favorite herbs?