In phytotherapy, there are several ways of using the active ingredients found in medicinal plants and the application of creams, balms and ointments is one of them.
Historically, the use of balms and ointments as natural remedies dates back to antiquity. At that time, the Egyptians used them for both the living and the dead and the Chinese discovered the recipe for the famous "Tiger Balm". Since then, the use of balms and creams has continued to evolve to improve their range of action. However, balms are far from being the most widely used method in phytotherapy and are overtaken by infusions, macerates and tinctures with alcohol.
Phytotherapy, what to know about it
Phytotherapy, also known as herbal medicine, is a practice that is part of the so-called unconventional medicines. Unlike conventional medicine, it does not use chemistry to heal, but rather the natural properties that nature offers us. Medicinal plants are very numerous and can be found everywhere, even in one's own garden, and their therapeutic virtues treat a wide range of pathologies.
In order to carry out a phytotherapeutic treatment, the medicinal plant should not be used in its entirety. In fact, it is only certain parts of the plants that possess the desired benefits. The leaves, roots, flowers, bark, seeds, stem, bulb or buds are therefore separated from the rest to become the basis of a natural treatment.
The various existing preparations in phytotherapy
Phytotherapy can be used on everyone and administered in many different ways.
As an infusion or herbal tea
As a decoction: boil the roots, bark or seeds in water for ten minutes.
In oily or glycerine macerate: leave the plants to macerate in a cold liquid (water, oil or glycerine) for about a month.
In mother tincture, alcohol: dissolve the fresh plant in alcohol and then filter the solution to preserve only the liquid.
In dyeing: this is the same process as the mother tincture but starting from a dried plant. The properties are therefore less important.
In paste extract: starting from an alcohol or a tincture and allowing the alcohol to evaporate. Paste extracts are used for the preparation of ointments.
In dry extract: this is the same process as for the pasty extract but the process continues until the extract is completely dry. After the extract is ground, the powder obtained is used to make tablets.
In syrup: dissolve the plants in water and then add sugar or honey. Finally, filter the solution and add a little water to obtain the desired mass and volume.
As a balm or cream: beeswax is heated and a large quantity of oily macerate and essential oils are added.
All of these methods of manufacturing herbal products make it possible to choose a preparation more or less concentrated in active ingredients according to the needs of the user.
Creams, ointments and balms: what are the differences?
Contrary to what one might think, these three words do not designate the same remedy, even though they are often used as synonyms. Indeed, it is the composition of these three forms that will vary and differentiate them.
A cream is a paste composed of beeswax, water or hydrolat (aromatic water) and oily macerate. The presence of water in its composition makes it less stable and therefore it is preserved a shorter time than a balm or ointment.
An ointment is a combination of three ingredients: vegetable oil, beeswax and a plant. It is greasier, keeps longer and contains a higher concentration of active ingredients than a cream.
A balm is an ointment to which essential oils or aromatic extracts are added. These additional ingredients add further medicinal properties to the preparation. It also has a stronger aromatic odour than an ointment.
Uses of balms, ointments and creams
Balms, creams and ointments are used in everyday life for their therapeutic virtues on the skin to heal it (against bruises, abrasions or burns) or to protect it (from the cold for example).
Due to their very oily nature, ointments and balms do not penetrate the skin as creams do and they deliver the properties of plants on the surface. Ointments are therefore useful for a protective role for the skin.
Creams, on the other hand, contain extra water and are therefore both greasy and moist. Creams have the advantage of penetrating deep down to deliver their therapeutic virtues. They therefore play both a protective and nourishing role for the skin.
Thanks to their relatively simple composition, balms, creams and ointments are easily made at home.