Buying Prepared Herbs
Costs: Many people don't actually grow their own herbs, but buy them from places like Mountain Rose Herbs and the Bulk Herb Store. Here are some sample prices from MRH:
Average price for dry herbs: $3-5 with some exceptions
Average price for tinctures: $9-10
Average price for herbal oils: $7-20
Average price for salves: $6 with some exceptions
Average price for syrups & tonics: $15
If you bought 5 bags of dry herbs at $4, five tinctures at $9, two oils at $13, one salve at $6 and one syrup at $15, your total cost would come to $112 for a basic herbal medicine cabinet. Note that I said basic... once you start using herbs you will probably want to buy more and will find more uses for them.
So there is your initial cost for buying herbs- I would say $100-$150. This will be a continuing cost if you actually use the herbs and need to replenish your stock each year.
Benefits: There are several obvious benefits to buying herbs prepared. You get to use an all-natural healing method without doing all the research (just buy a "tummy blend" or "cough-away" tincture/tea). You don't have to spend time harvesting and drying the herbs. The biggest benefit is the time you save.
I prefer to harvest and prepare my own herbs. This takes an initial investment of time to learn how to identify each herb in the wild. You'll also need to know the medicinal properties of each herb and how to prepare it (drying, tincture, etc.). Unfortunately you'll be limited to herbs that grow in your area, but you can always buy herbs online (see above) if you find an un-growable one that you want to use.
Costs: In order to make your own tinctures and other preparations, you'll need some supplies. Here are the basics:
Vodka: $1.45 per 4 oz. tincture
Oil: $0.44 - $1.32 per cup (varies greatly between vegetable oil, coconut oil, etc.)
Amber bottles: $1-$2 per tincture bottle
For our purposes, the herbs we are using will be free. Believe me, there are a ton of free herbs to choose from! I know I can find the following herbs at and around my home (prices from RMH are included for your amusement):
Black Walnut leaves, dried (4 oz.): $3.00
Burdock root (4 oz.): $4.50
Chickory Root, roasted: $2.75
Dandelion leaf: $5.50
Juniper berries: $3.25
Mullein flowers: $13.50
Nettle leaf: $4.25
Peppermint leaf: $4.00
Plantain leaf: $3.00
Raspberry leaf: $3.50
Red Clover blossoms: $11.00
Red Root: $4.50
Rose hips: $3.50
Slippery Elm Bark: $11.00
Spearmint leaf: $4.25
St. John's Wort: $3.00
Strawberry leaf: $3.75
Teasel root: $12.50
Wild Cherry bark: $4.00
Costs: Using free herbs (worth $127.75!) and a bare minimum of supplies, you can create your own herbal products at the following costs.
Dry Herbs: FREE!
Tincture: amber bottle ($2) + vodka ($1.45) = $3.45
Salve: oil ($0.50) + beeswax ($0.75) = $1.25
Herbal Oil: oil ($1.00) = $0.50
Syrup: honey ($2) = $2
If you "bought" 5 bags of dry herbs at $0, five tinctures at $3.45, two oils at $0.50, one salve at $1.25 and one syrup at $2, your total cost would come to $21.50 for a basic herbal medicine cabinet. Once you get a good supply of amber bottles, your cost to replenish this basic medicine cabinet each year drops to $11.50. As I mentioned before, as time goes on, your interest will grow and you will want more herbs. The good news is that if you forage herbs instead of buy them, an expanded medicine cabinet won't cost you much.
Benefits: There is an estimated yearly savings here of at least $100. As your skill in identifying and using herbs grows, the variety of medicines will grow. You may be able to sell some of your herbs. There is plenty of free information on the internet to help you identify and prepare herbs. Most of my herb books were picked up at garage sales for under $1. If you homeschool, or even if you don't, you'll have the opportunity to teach your kids about different plants and make it part of their schooling.
The Bottom Line:
Buying herbs for a family can get expensive. I listed a bare minimum cost for the herb "buyer", but I know the reality is that a family using herbs regularly will spend a lot more than $150. Natural healing has become a great big marketing funnel that sucks you in. First you spend a couple dollars on dry herbs for tea, then you buy the tinctures, tonics, salves, essential oils, cleanses, supplements, and the list goes on and on. Before you know it, you're spending WAY more money on home health care than you care to admit. You think you're doing something great for your body, and justify that you're "saving money in the long run" on doctor and hospital bills. But there's more to the equation than herbs. I know many people who are sick, fat, or depressed and the biggest herb users on this earth. But then there are people go and go and go into their old age, and NEVER used herbs. While they are helpful and useful, herbs are not the miracle cure.
Most herbal products aren't made with some exotic, expensive ingredient. If your friend has a bottle of "Super-Immune Plus" that she gives her kids and recommends it to you, look at the ingredients. It probably has elderberries, echinacea, or other herbs that you can easily grow or harvest yourself. One of my friends went on an "expensive" 1-2 week cleanse, and I was surprised to see that the first ingredient listed was dandelion root. Just because something is expensive or nicely packaged doesn't make it work any better than a homemade product with the same ingredients. What your friend is paying for is CONVENIENCE. If you have the time and need more exercise anyway, you don't need convenience. You can make your own "Super-Immune Plus" that works just as well for free or cheap.
The last reason I prefer to harvest and prepare my own herbs is that it fits into my holistic health plan. Of course herbal remedies help me feel better when I 'm sick, but they also help me feel good every day because I must go on a walk or bike ride to find them. Exercise and sunshine are things that most of us don't get enough of, and we would do better to go for a mile walk every day than take yet another supplement or miracle cure.
DIY: A Better Option for the Long-Term
In my opinion, foraging and making your own concoctions is a much better plan long term. It fits well into my personal health plan and my goal of becoming a producer instead of just a consumer. In addition to the savings ($100+ per year) you become more aware of different plants and how nature works. You learn about history and how the medicine men and doctors of old practiced. Plus, herbs are all-natural and don't have the same side effects as pharmaceutical drugs (though watch out, because they can be extremely effective!). Harvesting and preparing your own herbs is a great learning opportunity for your kids and a reason to get out and enjoy nature.
Feeling overwhelmed about jumping in head first? I would recommend poking around at the Bulk Herb Store's website, maybe buying some herbs and making some of the recipes you find there. After you feel comfortable with this, start by identifying just one plant from the wild (dandelion is a good place to start!). Then another, and another, and another.
Lately I've been attempting to profile herbs that are in season and ready for you to go out and pick. Many of these herbs grow across the US, and especially in the North Eastern US. You are welcome to follow along or join in on the fun! If you learn one herb per week, by summer's end you will have a whole stockpile of herbs. :)