You do realize that many modern pharmaceutical medications are based on natural plants, right? Aspirin, for example, is made from willow bark which contains the active pain-killing ingredient salicin.
People who are into naturopathy use herbs, spices, and other plant components to cure what ails them. It surprised me to find out that over the past three decades, at least 80 percent of people worldwide rely on herbal medicinal products and supplements for some part of their primary healthcare needs.
There are all kinds of ways to take herbal remedies. You can get a lot of benefits by cooking with plant-based seasonings, from thyme to turmeric.
Soothing teas are another excellent way to impart plant extracts into heated water. The process of using water to separate curative agents from biomatter is called infusion, as is the finished product: a hot steaming mug.
To be effective medicinally, tea must be steeped long enough to make a strong brew with a taste that is often bitter or otherwise unpleasant. That’s why Julie Andrews sang about taking “a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.” Of course, these days, honey is the healthier choice of sweetener.
The potency of herbal treatment is stepped up with a decoction. In this extraction method, you boil plant parts in water for 15–20 minutes until the water volume is reduced by half.
Decoctions are the most common form of administration of Chinese herbal medicine and are usually taken by mouth. The body absorbs them quickly.
While decoctions have the strongest action of all of the traditional types of preparation, they have a limited shelf life. Even in a sealed vacuum-packed bag, a boiled herbal preparation can be stored in a refrigerator for only a few days.
Powders, gels, and capsules containing powders or gels, store better and are also superior ways to supplement your body’s nutritional needs. But these therapies can get expensive, especially if you take them regularly.
If you want to get a tremendous amount of bang for your herbal buck, turn to tinctures. These concentrated herbal extracts can be made with ease by simply soaking the plant parts in alcohol or vinegar. The active components of the herb or herbal combination transfer from the plant to the liquid.
Here are the basic steps for making a tincture:
- Gather the useful parts of one or more herbs, possibly the berries, leaves (dried or fresh), roots, bark, or all of these, and remove any unwanted parts
- Wash and chop the herbs coarsely (not fine)
- Place the clean and lightly chopped herbs into a wide-mouthed glass jar that has an airtight lid.
- Pour alcohol or vinegar into the jar and seal it. For fresh herbs, use a 1-1 plant-to-alcohol ratio. For dried herbs, use a 1-4 ratio.
- Seal the jar for 6 or more weeks to give the alcohol time to absorb the active components of the herbs. Shake it occasionally.
Do not use plastic or metal containers to make tinctures as these materials can degrade and leech unwanted and potentially toxic substances into the mixture. Glass is safe because it doesn’t interact with oils or chemicals.
Use straight drinking alcohol rather than rubbing alcohol. NEVER DRINK RUBBING ALCOHOL – IT IS A POISON.
The concentration of alcohol depends on the plant’s water-soluble ingredients. Use alcohol proofs between 80–100 for herbs with more water-soluble components. Plant parts with fewer water-soluble components need 180-proof alcohol.
“Proof” is two times alcohol by volume. For example, a vodka rated 40 percent ABV is termed 80 proof and one that is 45 percent ABV is 90 proof. A “proof spirit” is 100 proof (50 percent ABV) or higher.
After opening the jar, use a strainer to separate the plant parts from the liquid. Label the jars with some basic information about the tincture, such as:
- Name(s) of the herb(s) used – common and/or Latin
- The plant parts used and whether they were fresh or dried
- The date of preparation
- Instructions on how to use the tincture and dosage (e.g. 10-20 drops in one cup of tea once a day)
- The type of alcohol used and its concentration
Get some amber glass bottles with glass droppers to make dispensing easy. A small bottle uses much less space than the larger extraction jar so it’s good for the kitchen counter or bathroom medicine cabinet. Make the extra effort to label these handy potions to prevent misuse by you or anyone else coming across them.
You can tincture pretty much any plant to concentrate its dosage, including wild cherry bark for sore throats and coughs, echinacea and chaparral to kill bacteria, and milk thistle to restore the liver.
As with all medicinal treatments, there may be hazardous side effects such as allergic reactions and blood clotting problems. Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before embarking on any new journey to wellness.