Making Herbal Pills

How to make Herbal Pills

An herbal pill is a combination of powdered herbs or extracts rolled into a small sphere. The herbs are combined with an excipient (defined as an inactive substance that serves as the medium for an active substance, in this case herbs), which moistens and binds the herbs together and allows them to be formed into small balls or ovals.

You can download a PDF of the Herbal Pill Recipes here: Herbal Pills download

There are many benefits to herbal pills. They are inexpensive and simple to make. They are easy to swallow or chew and make a good choice for administering herbs to children and elders. You can tailor the size of a pill for dosage and ability to swallow. They are very good for treating the GI tract, including the mouth, throat, stomach and small intestines. Herbal pills are easier to digest than tablets. Unlike tablets and most capsules, they contain no fillers. If chewed, they give our bodies the opportunity to taste the herbs. I believe when we taste herbs, we gain the important opportunity to learn more about the herb’s properties, how to digest and assimilate them and how to incorporate their healing properties into our bodies.

Excipients help bind together an herbal pill. They include things like water, glycerin, honey, jaggery, cocoa butter, coconut oil and simple syrup (a specific combination of sugar dissolved in water). As well as having their own healing properties, herbs such as slippery elm, marshmallow, arrowroot, myrrh and acacia can all help hold the shape of an herbal pill. (I would imagine kudzu would work as well, although I haven’t tried it. Please let me know if you do!) Some herbs such as such as myrrh and acacia require the addition of a little water to make them sticky. I generally use a 2:1 ratio of herbs to honey (my favorite excipient) by volume. For example, if you have 2 cups (16 ounces) of powdered herbs, use 1 cup (8 ounces) of honey.

electuary

Here is a recipe for an all purpose excipient mentioned in Remington’s Practice of Pharmacy (1936):

  • Sugar syrup, 4 oz (120 ml)
  • Glycerin, 1 oz (30 ml)
  • Acacia powder, 90 grains (6 grams)
  • Benzoic acid (derived from benzoin gunm and other resins), 1 grain (64 mg); substitute with Tincture of Benzoin (5 – 10 gtt., meaning 5-10 drops)

Herbs to Use:

I like using barks, roots and seeds for herbal pills, as they are more stable. If the pills are going to be used quickly, flowers and leaves can also be used. It is best to use high quality, recently powdered herbs. Here is a list of some of the best herbs to make into pills. They cover a wide range of medicinal actions, so to make your own formula you will need to do more research based on the healing properties you desire.

American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) *
Angelica (Angelica spp.)
Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera)
Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Balsam root (Balsamorhiza sagittata)
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) *
Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
Burdock (Arctium spp.)
Cacoa (Theobroma cacao)
Caraway (Carum carvi)
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)
Cascara sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana)
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.)
Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale)
Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus)
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) *
Elecampane (Inula helenium)
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
Gentian (Gentiana spp.)
Geranium (Geranium spp.)
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) *
Kava (Piper methysticum)
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.)
Lomatium (Lomatium dissectum)*
Marshmallow (Althea officinalis)
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum)
Oregon grape root (Mahonia spp.)
Osha (Ligusticum porteri) *
Pleurisy (Asclepias tuberosa)
Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum)
Psyllium (Plantago spp.)
Red Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum)
Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)
Senna (Senna alexandrina)
Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) *
Spikenard (Aralia racemosa)
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
White oak (Quercus alba)
Wild cherry (Prunus spp.)
Willow (Salix spp.)
Yellow dock (Rumex crispus)

* This herb is on the United Plant Savers at risk list and should only be used organically grown.

Making Herbal Pills:

When herbs are powdered, they get exposed to more oxygen, heat and light, making them lose their medicinal properties faster. For this reason, I think it is important to use recently powdered herbs. To do this, I will often grind the herbs in a mix or blender myself, just before making herbal pills. This is especially important to do with seeds and aerial parts of plants, as they are more fragile. I then sift the herbs through a mesh strainer to get out the larger pieces. You can use these larger pieces to make tea or tincture if you wish.

After combining the herbs, add your excipient. Knead the powdered herbs and excipient with a mortar and pestle or spoon in a bowl until they are well combined and make a very thick paste. Press down hard to combine the herbs. This can take some time to get everything mixed well. Make sure to add the excipient slowly so as not to thin the pills too much. Add enough until you have a thick and consistent paste, much like pie dough. (Just for interest, at this point, your herbal blend is called an electuary.)

herbal pill prep

Roll the mixture out into a long, uniform cylinder about the thickness of your pinkie. Cut the roll every ¼ to ½ centimeter (1/5 inch) or so, depending upon how large you want the pill to be. Making them the size of a peanut is often a good dose. Roll each piece into a small ball or oval. I find that coating my hands first with olive oil or coconut oil keeps the mixture from sticking to my fingers. Once formed, I like to roll each pill in a little marshmallow powder so that they don’t stick together. To dry, lay the pills out on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. A food dehydrator can also be used. Another method is to heat the pills in the oven on the lowest temperature (be aware that to keep the benefits of raw honey intact, don’t raise the temperature above the natural hive temperature of 95°) for 2-3 hours to speed the process. Pills made with honey may take a couple days to dry. Pills made with simple syrup or glycerin dry more quickly.

rolling pills

Store dry pills in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Make sure to label them with the ingredients and date made.

pills drying

To Estimate the Dosage:

Count the number of pills made and divide this number into the weight of herb material used before adding the excipient. Dosage for pills is best measured in milligrams. For example, if 25 grams of herb was used to produce 50 pills, divide 25 grams by 50 pills. 25/50= .5 grams for each pill. To get a milligram dosage, multiply the answer by 1000. S0 .5 grams x 1000 = 500 mg. So each pill will contain about 500 mg of herb. For easy measurement conversion in case you are weighing in ounces, 1 ounce of herb = 28.35 grams, and 1 gram = 1000 milligrams (also denoted as “mg”). The shelf life for a pill will depend on the ingredients used, but I have herb pills that I made over 3 years ago and they are still good.

You Will Need:

  • Heavy duty blender or Vitamix
  • Fine mesh strainer
  • Bowl and spoon, or mortar and pestle
  • Knife
  • Cutting board
  • Small bowl (for marshmallow powder)
  • Cookie sheet
  • Food dehydrator (optional)

Herbal Pill Recipes:

You can download a PDF of the recipes here: Herbal Pills download

Digestive Bitter Pills

Digestive bitters are traditional remedies dating back to ancient Egypt. They became very popular in the 1800’s and you can find many different recipes in old formulary and pharmacopeia books. Digestive Bitters are taken before a meal to encourage proper digestion. These pills need to taste bitter in order to work well! Chew 1 pill 15 minutes before a meal.

Measure by Weight:

  • 2 ounces Gentian root (Gentiana lutea)
  • 2 ounces Angelica root (Angelica spp.)
  • 1 ounce Orange peel (Citrus sinensis)
  • ½ ounce Ginger root (Zingiber officinale)
  • ½ ounce Cardamom seed (Elettaria cardamomum)
  • ½ ounce Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) to roll the pills in once they are done

Measure by Volume:

  • Approximately ½ cup Honey or a bit more (or any other excipient). Add slowly and only use the minimum amount needed.

Roll and cut into the desired size. Roll between the palms until spherical. The number of pills you get depends on how large you make them. Roll each pill in marshmallow powder and set on a cookie sheet until completely dry.

Calm the Cough Pills

These pills are excellent for soothing and coating a sore throat, cough, bronchitis, and respiratory congestion. Take 1 pill as needed, up to 8 times a day.

Measure by Weight:

  • 1 ½ ounces Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) (1 ounce goes in the pills, ½ ounce is used to roll the pills in after they are formed.)
  • 1 ounce Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.)
  • 1 ounce Wild cherry (Prunus spp.)
  • 1 ounce Elecampane (Inula helenium)
  • ½ ounces Spearmint (Mentha spicata)

Measure by Volume:

  • Approximately ½ cup Honey or a bit less (or any other excipient). Add slowly and only use the minimum amount needed.

Roll and cut into the desired size. Roll between the palms until spherical. The number of pills you get depends on how large you make them. Roll each pill in marshmallow powder and set on a cookie sheet until completely dry.

Digestion Soother Pills

These pills can be used for GI discomfort, diarrhea, stomachache, leaky gut symptoms, ulcers, and after food poisoning or an allergic reaction, or sensitivity to, food. Take 1-2 pills 3 times a day.

Measure by Weight:

  • 2 1/2 ounces Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) (2 oz goes in the pills, 1/2 oz is used to roll the pills in after they are formed.)
  • 1 ounce Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza spp.)
  • 1 ounce Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)
  • 1 ounce Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)
  • ¼ ounce Ginger Root (Zingiber officinale)
  • ¼ ounce Cinnamon Bark (Cinnamomum verum)

Measure by Volume:

  • Approximately 1/2 cup Honey (or any other excipient). Add slowly and only use the minimum amount needed.

Roll and cut into the desired size. Roll between the palms until spherical. The number of pills you get depends on how large you make them. Roll in marshmallow powder and set on a cookie sheet until completely dry.

You can download a PDF of the recipes here: Herbal Pills download

I hope these recipes are helpful for you. I’d love to hear about any herbal pill recipes that you create.
© Elaine Sheff, Clinical Herbalist 2015

ElaineAbout the Author:
The author of several books on herbal medicine and healing, clinical herbalist Elaine Sheff has been passionate about sharing herbal knowledge for over 25 years. Her latest book is Naked: Botanical Recipes for Vibrant Skin and Healthy Hair. Elaine is the Co-Director of Green Path Herb School, located in Missoula, MT, where she strives to inspire and empower students and clients to remember their connection to the earth, the plants and their own healing process. As a certified Instructor of the Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness Methods, Elaine has helped many couples to avoid or achieve pregnancy naturally. An artist and writer, Elaine has written numerous articles about her family’s journey with epilepsy and a special needs child. You can often find her bent over an herb in her garden or marveling at small flowers in mountain meadows with her husband and sons.


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7 Comments on “Making Herbal Pills

  1. Thank you Elaine. You always go above and beyond and provide great information. I can’t wait to try this.

  2. Hello there! Great information. I am looking for pill manufacturers or fulfillment services. Do you know of any or know how I can search for them (esp in China)? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Again great article!

  3. What powders can I use to prevent the pills sticking together, other than marshmallow?

    • Hi Krish,
      I would try arrowroot powder or even guar gum or acacia gum.
      Hope that helps Let me know if you try it and how it works out.
      Warmly,
      Elaine

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