What to Stock In A Home Apothecary
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Having a home apothecary full of medicinal herbs, tinctures and infusions of all kinds is many a homesteader’s dream! In fact, as far as goals and dreams go, it’s up there with having a pantry brimming with jars of home-canned food!
But for most homesteaders, herbal medicine and building a home apothecary tend to come later in the game, and it can be a bit confusing knowing just what you need to get started (and what you should be adding and stocking up on as you go).
To help make building and stocking your home apothecary or natural medicine cabinet a little easier, I compiled a list of all the ingredients I like to keep on hand for making my own medicinal preparations, as well as a suggested list of herbs to start growing or stocking up on and some other fantastic resources to help you get started preparing and using your own herbal medicine at home.
What is a home apothecary?
Before we get started, let me quickly explain what a home apothecary actually is for anyone who doesn’t know…
The term “apothecary” traditionally means “pharmacy,” or rather “pharmacist.” You see, long ago before modern day drug stores and pharmacies existed, herbal apothecaries were the place to go to get medicines, teas, tinctures, lotions and potions of all kinds.
The apothecary (which is also the term for the person who ran the shop), would not just dispense medicine, but would actually blend the herbs, mix the tonics and prepare the medicine on site.
Similarly, just like most people have medicine cabinets full of name-brand pharmaceuticals, creams and cosmetics today, people used to store their own medicines and personal care products at home too, but instead of synthetic drugs, pills and pharmaceuticals, they stored jars of dried herbs, medicinal salves and bottles of herbal tonics, tinctures, elixirs and infusions, many (or most) of which they mixed at home themselves.
But home apothecaries are seeing a comeback as more and more people become interested in herbal and natural medicine and look to lessen their dependence on pharmaceuticals.
A modern day home apothecary can be as simple or elaborate as you like; From storing a few bottles and Mason jars on a shelf or in your existing medicine cabinet, to purchasing or building a custom home apothecary cabinet. Have fun with it!
*** For a printable version of this list, click here to access my Free Resource Library and download my full apothecary checklist from the “Home Pharmacy Resources” section. ***
A quick disclaimer
Every time I share anything about herbal medicine I’m obliged to share the following disclaimer, which is that I am not a doctor, a certified herbalist or a medical professional of any kind, and for safety reasons I always recommend speaking with your family doctor or primary health care provider before using herbal medicine.
Remember that just because something is natural doesn’t automatically mean that it’s safe.
Some herbs can interfere with other drugs or medical conditions or may not be recommended for use by people of all ages, by women who are pregnant or nursing, etc. So, as always, use common sense and speak to your doctor about any health concerns you have.
Alright, let’s get into it…
What to stock in a home apothecary
Stocking a home apothecary is very similar to stocking a home pantry: since you’ll be making many of your own herbal remedies from scratch, I recommend stocking up on a variety of versatile staple items that can be used to create a wide variety of homemade medicines and cosmetics.
Here’s a list of items you might want to consider purchasing or gathering for your home apothecary:
Dried herbs, flowers, spices and teas
You can’t make your own herbal medicine without herbs! While the list of medicinal herbs to keep in your home apothecary could very well be endless, here are a few herbs and spices you might want to consider stocking (and possibly even growing) at home:
- Cannabis* (beware of the laws in your area)
- Dandelion (dried flowers and roots)
- Dried chilli peppers/flakes
- Dried citrus peels or slices (lemon, lime, orange, etc.)
- Herbal teas/tea blends (store-bought or make your own with the dried herbs listed here)
- Lemon Balm
- Red raspberry leaves
- Stinging nettles
- Tea (black & green)
- Tulsi (aka. Holy Basil)
While you may already be growing some of these herbs, spices and plants at home, you can also purchase dried medicinal herbs. I don’t recommend using dried herbs from your local grocery store for medicinal purposes, however. For starters, you don’t know how long those herbs have been sitting there, and often they’re ground up quite fine. Both of these factors lead to them losing their potency and making their medicinal properties a lot weaker. Not to mention, store-bought culinary herbs aren’t always guaranteed organic, and you definitely want to be using organically grown herbs for medicinal purposes.
One of my favourite places to source dried medicinal herbs is Starwest Botanicals. They’ve got just about every herb under the sun, including bulk herbs and spices, bulk herbal teas, herbal extracts and capsules and a bunch of other herbal products and accessories.
Another great source for dried herbs, medicinal herb seeds and herbal teas is Farmhouse Teas. My friend CeAnne runs this incredible small business with her husband and children and makes her own herbal tea blends that are both delicious and full of medicinal properties.
She also sells a medicinal tea blending kit, which includes 10 packages of dried herbs so you can make your own herbal tea blends or medicinal preparations at home, seeds so you can start growing your medicinal herbs at home, and my personal favourite, her Dump & Go Mix Trio which includes 3 packages of pre-mixed herbs and spices to make your own Elderberry Syrup, Wild Cherry Bark Syrup and Fire Cider at home.
If you have a good, reasonably priced organic health food or bulk store in your area, this might also be a good place to source dried herbs and spices for your home apothecary.
Related: 4 Ways to Preserve Herbs At Home
Aside from the herbs themselves, you’ll also want to store some basic ingredients for making medicinal preparations at home, including a variety of liquid solvents, which can be used to make herbal infusions like tinctures, liniments and elixirs. Here are a few to keep on hand.
- Alcohol (vodka and/or brandy)
- Apple cider vinegar (store-bought or homemade)
- Coconut oil
- Distilled water
- Honey (raw, local, unpasteurized is best)
- Maple syrup
- Olive oil/other liquid carrier oils
- Witch Hazel
Tinctures are one of the most popular types of herbal medicinal preparations to make at home, and can make you feel like a real herbalist (or cottage witch!) To make a basic medicinal tincture, cover dried herbs with vodka or other 80 to 100 proof grain alcohol (or brandy) and let sit and infuse for several weeks. Then strain the herbs out and store the liquid extract (aka. tincture) for medicinal use.
Tinctures are a great way to prepare and take medicinal herbs like yarrow, echinacea and holy basil, and they’ll last for years on your shelf due to the alcohol content. However if you’d prefer not to use alcohol, you can also make a glycerite, which is prepared the exact same way as a tincture except with vegetable glycerin as the solvent. This is a great option for kids.
Other types of medicinal preparations made with the above solvents include infused honey, infused oils, infused vinegars, oxymels (a mixture of infused herbal honey and vinegar), elixirs (herbs steeped in honey or maple syrup mixed with alcohol like brandy), topical astringents, liniments and compresses.
Essential oils are, well, an essential part of my own personal home medicine cabinet. Last I checked I had over 100, and I use them in one form or another pretty much every day.
I not only diffuse oils daily, but I also use them to craft homemade cosmetics and cleaning products, candles and room sprays, salves, lotions and topical medications.
While I’ve amassed my collection over the course of a few years, if you’re just starting your own collection, here are the essential oils I’d aim to stock up on first:
- Tea Tree (aka. Melaleuca)
- Pine or Spruce
I purchase all of my oils from Plant Therapy and find them incredibly affordable considering the high quality of their oils. They also offer some great sets, like the essentials gift set, which is a great way to start building your collection.
Related: How to Get Started With Essential Oils
The following herbs and ingredients are best stored and used fresh rather than dried. These are great to keep on hand to use as medicine but you may want to keep them in your pantry:
Other apothecary ingredients
There are so many ingredients you could potentially add to your home apothecary, but here are a few more you might want to keep on hand for making your own all-natural medicine and personal care products:
- Beeswax (for making salves & balms)
- Bee pollen
- Sea salt
- Himalayan pink salt
- Epsom salts
- Sugar (for sugar scrubs & syrups)
- Lye (for soap-making)
Apothecary tools & equipment
You’ll also want to stock up on a few basic tools and pieces of equipment. Here’s what I recommend keeping on hand:
- Mortar & pestle
- Measuring cup & spoons
- Kitchen scale
- Double boiler
- Assorted bottles, jars & containers
- Labels and a pen
A good mortar & pestle is an essential tool for every home apothecary. It can be used to grind up spices, crush fresh and dried herbs and make poultices and pastes. I like this stoneware mortar & pestle from Roots & Harvest, but there are lots of different kinds, including marble ones and even molcajetes, which are Mexican mortars & pestles traditionally made of lava stone. I have one of each, and love and use them all.
A few basic kitchen tools and gadgets are also useful for a home apothecary, including a funnel, measuring cups and spoons, a meat or candy thermometer, a kitchen scale and some scissors (check out these 5-blade Herb Scissors that make quick work of cutting up fresh herbs!).
A double boiler is also handy for melting down salves and balms. I use this double boiler pouring pot for candle-making, as well as for making medicinal salves at home.
Finally, you’ll want to keep an assortment of glass jars, bottles and labels on hand for storing and labelling dried herbs and medicinal preparations. Mason jars are great for storing herbs, spices and teas. I also like to keep a variety of glass amber bottles for making sprays, tinctures, syrups, salves and rollerballs, among other things.
Books and journals
I also highly recommend keeping a few solid herbal reference books on hand, as well as a journal to record your own herbal mixes and recipes in. This type of journal is referred to as a “Materia Medica.”
While there are a number of great books on herbal and natural medicine, these are my favourite go-to reference books:
- Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide (by Rosemary Gladstar)
- Alchemy of Herbs (by Rosalee de la Forêt)
- The Country Almanac of Home Remedies (by Brigitte Mars & Chrystle Fiedler)
- Essential Oil Natural Remedies: The Complete A-Z Reference of Essential Oils for Health and Healing
As for your Materia Medica, any type of journal or notebook will do, however I like and use this one.
How to organize your home apothecary
How you choose to organize your home apothecary is completely up to you. You could simply use your medicine cabinet if you’ve got enough space. Otherwise you could use another larger cabinet, or you could splurge on an old-style apothecary cabinet or chest. There are some really beautiful ones out there if you’re willing to invest the money!
Of course you’ll want to keep everything tidy and organized so you know what you have and can easily access what you need, so try to keep like items together. You can use the different lists above to know how to organize and group things together.
The reality is that you might not have the space or set up to keep everything together. In our house, I store essential oils and some solvents, herbal preparations and cosmetics in our bathroom drawers and medicine cabinet, I store dried herbs, spices and tea, as well as most oils, vinegars, alcohols and honey in our pantry, and I keep my tools in my kitchen cupboards.
While it’s nice to fantasize about having a miniature version of an 18th century apothecary cabinet brimming with drawers full of dried herbs and curved bottles of potions lining the shelves, that’s not reality for most people, so make do with what you’ve got.
Start building your home apothecary today!
It’s really quite easy to start stocking your own natural home medicine cabinet, and you likely already have many of the above listed ingredients on hand! To help you take the next step, here are a few more helpful articles and recipes for herbal preparations and herbs you can gather to start building your home apothecary today:
- 13 Culinary & Medicinal Herbs to Grow At Home
- Homemade Elderberry Syrup Recipe
- How to Make Fire Cider At Home
- How to Safely Harvest & Use Stinging Nettles
- How to Use Yarrow to Cure Almost Any Ailment
- Harnessing the Healing Powers of Calendula
- DIY Dandelion Salve for Healing
- Homemade Vitamin C Powder
- Essential Oil Rollerballs for Spring & Summer
- Essential Oil Rollerballs for Fall & Winter
- DIY Bath Salts with Essential Oils
If you’re interested in going deeper and learning even more about herbs and how to build your own apothecary at home, I highly recommend checking out the extensive collection of recipes, blog posts and online courses from The Herbal Academy; my affiliate partner and go-to source for information on all things herbal medicine.
* A version of this article originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine: The Herbal Medicine Issue. To read the full issue, as well as gain access to our entire library of current and past issues and get new issues delivered to your inbox, visit modernhomesteadingmagazine.com and subscribe for just $19.99/year!
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