How to Prepare Plant Medicines

An herbal medicine chest or cupboard filled with tincture bottles, flower essences, infused medicinal oils, and jars of dried herbs offers reassurance and hope to anyone in need. There are many ways to prepare herbal remedies, and each herbalist usually has her or his favorite methods. Use your intuition, knowledge, and skills and build upon your previous experiences when creating recipes and methods you like, and which work. Open your heart to the magic and surprises the plants offer.

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HERB TEAS

Preparing tea is an ancient ritual. It is a simple act that adds warmth and pleasure to women sharing their life stories over a steaming cup of tea. Herbal teas are used for administering both nourishment and medicine. The process of making tea directly connects us with the elements of water, fire, air, and the green gifts from Earth, helping us realigion with nature’s healing energies.

INFUSIONS

A tea made by steeping or infusing leaves an flowers in hot steaming water is called an infusion. If you are using dried herbs that have been stored whole, gently crush the plants between your fingers to open their cellular structure. If you are using fresh leaves and flowers, you can place a few handfuls, whole or chopped (I usually leave them whole as they are so beautiful) into a glass or stainless pot, cover with cool water and a lid, and slowly warm until steaming but not boiling. Keep covered and infuse for as long as you wish. The beneficial qualities of the herb will be drawn out in 10-20 minutes. The longer herbs steep the more bitter the tea will taste because bitter and astringent tannins are being released.

For beverage teas, place 3 TBL of dried flower and leaf into a clean glass canning jar with a lid, stainless tea ball, or tea pot and pour 1 cup of hot, steaming water over the herbs. Cover with tightly fitting lid and let infuse for 10-20 minutes.

Cold Infusion teas: Are more effective for heat-sensitive constituents such as volatile oils, mucilage and for herbs high in minerals. Cold infusions are made with fresh or dried herbs and cold water, left covered 1-8 hours or overnight. Cold infusions draw out

1) the maximum aroma in scented herbal waters like rose petals, lemon balm, lavender blossoms, and rose geranium leaves

2) the maximum demulcent action from mucilage-rich herbs such as marshmallow root and violet leaf

If you are using fresh herbs for your tea, use twice the amount you would use if the herb were dry. This is because the water content in fresh herbs dilutes their flavor.  Let your hands, eyes, nose and heart guide you.

DECOCTIONS

Decoctions are herbal teas made with roots or barks. They need to be simmered for 20-40 minutes in a glass or stainless pot with the lid slightly open so as to avoid boiling your tea. I recommend making a quart that will last you a few days if stored in a cold place. To make a quart tea use 6-8 TBL of dry root or bark. If using fresh roots or barks use twice as much. Simmer 20-40 minutes and drink 1-3 cups/day.

Some of my favorite roots and barks include: Astragalus root, burdock root, cinnamon bark, codonopsis root, dandelion root, and Solomon’s seal root.

SOLAR AND LUNAR TEAS

The amount of chemical constituents and flavor extracted in a solar or lunar tea is less than for herbs infused in hot, steaming water. However, the sun’s rays and moon’s rays add their energy to teas as they infuse and offer special qualities only you will know.

To make Sun Tea: Place fresh or dried herbs into a glass jar, pour cool water over the herbs, cover with a lid and sit the jar in the sun or moon. I like mixing whatever medicinal and edible flowers are blooming in my garden into a glass quart jar, cover the herbs completely with water, and sip on this water throughout the day when I am gardening. I aim to fill my jar with water 2-3 times during the day to ensure I drink enough fresh water. I love

HERAL VINEGARS

Find a good quality, raw organic apple cider vinegar as it is my favorite to use when making delicious and nutritious herbal vinegars. Use the various culinary herbs such as tarragon, basil, rosemary and thyme and a touch of the spring tonic greens such as dandelion, chickweed and nettle.  Fill a glass jar with fresh herbs and cover with vinegar. Cap with a glass or plastic lid and place in the direct sunlight. Separate the vinegar from the herbs after 4-6 weeks by pouring through cheesecloth. Store in a glass jar with glass or plastic lid in a dark, cool cupboard.

TINCTURES

Tinctures primarily refer to an alcohol-and-water based preparation though on the market today there are tinctures made from vegetable glycerin. Glycerin is a sweet, mucilaginous liquid processed from either coconuts or beets so be sure to look for organic glycerin from the health food store or onlin. Glycerin is an effective solvent for  herbs that are rich in mucilage. Herbal glycerites are useful for children or people who cannot tolerate any alcohol.

Alcohol is more commonly used to make tinctures because it easily extracts many of the different medicinal constituents found in herbs including alkaloids, resins and volatile oils. Glycerin extracts some, but not as many of the constituents that alcohol is able to extract. Vinegar only extracts alkaloids and minerals and vitamins so is especially useful for infusing culinary herbs.

Alcohol, glycerin, and vinegar act as preservatives and therefore have a longer shelf life than dried herbs. Some herbalists say alcohol tinctures last for 8-10 years. Glycerin lasts for 1-2 years and needs to be stored in a refrigerator or cool cupboard. The shelf life of vinegars may vary depending on the quality and percentage of acetic acid of the vinegar. If any of these liquid extracts go bad they will smell funky and moldy.

Herbs ingested in tincture form are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.  Tinctures are easy to travel with and to administer in first aid situations. They are useful when someone is in bed with a flu or broken bone and cannot make tea but can reach for their tincture bottle. Tinctures are also convenient for people caretaking children, elderly people and animals. Another advantage of tinctures is they allow someone to ingest an herb that they might otherwise not because of the herb’s extremely bitter or unpalatable taste. Tinctures are also a method of preserving fresh herbs that only have medicinal value when tinctured in their fresh stage such as shepherd’s purse.

The amount of tincture drops taken internally depends on body weight. A simple guideline to follow is one drop of tincture for every 5-10 pounds of body weight. A 25 pound child or dog would get 3-5 drops and a 125 adult or goat would get 10-25 drops. Nursing infants and young children can receive the herb’s properties through their mother’s milk.

Daily dosage depends on the health condition, ie: is it an acute illness or are you using herbs for long term support such as recovery from a broken bone, post-partum or menopausal support. For nourishing and restoring strength and tone to a particular organ or system in the body such as the respiratory system, a tincture is taken 3-4 times per day for 1-2 months or longer if needed. For acute fevers, coughs, flu or sore throats, you would use the herbs every 1-2 hours in smaller doses. People who are recovering alcoholics or who are extremely sensitive to alcohol may choose to  completely avoid using alcohol tinctures and turn to herbal teas, capsules and powders.

PREPARING A TINCTURE FROM FRESH PLANTS

Tinctures are simple and fun to make. When made mindfully and with good quality herbs they contain strong medicine. Fresh plants embody the vital life force (contained within all plants) and I believe this vital life force adds to a tinctures’ potency.

There are many ways to prepare tinctures. The following directions are basic guidelines to assist those of you who have never made tinctures.

After carefully gathering the plant you need, check over and compost damaged parts of the plants such as rotten sections of a root, yellow or chewed tips of leaves.

*  Wash roots if they are muddy. I rarely wash leaves and almost never wash flowers. I do finely chop roots or put them in the blender with the alcohol to expose more of the plant to the solvent. I like to tincture flowers whole and chop or grind fresh leaves.

* Fill a glass jar full of plant matter leaving an inch of space. (I prefer to tincture each herb separately and mix combinations as I need them.)  Completely cover plants with  80 or 100 proof vodka and secure the lid on tightly. Some folks use brandy for some of their herbal tinctures. Shake the bottle 50-100 times. Offer a prayer or song if you wish. I also like to bow to each freshly made tincture.

* Lable and date each tincture bottle. Include the name of the plant and part used. You might want to record your measurements in a recipe book. Also include the place you harvested from and any other interesting weather information or observations you made. I enjoy looking back year after year and seeing what the weather was like or what bird I saw when harvesting.

* Place jars in a dark closet or cupboard and let sit for a minimum of 4 weeks. Shake your bottle several times a week. During the first week of extraction, you may need to top off your jar as the plants absorb liquid. This insures the plants will stay completely covered in liquid.

After 4-12 weeks, strain the tincture through unbleached cheesecloth. An easy way to do this is to place a stainless-steel colander in a large bowl and pour the liquid through the cheesecloth. Tightly wring the cheesecloth, which contains the plant material, to get out what extra liquid you can.

Pour all your liquid into a glass bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Label and date your tincture and store in a dark, cool place. Alcohol tinctures last at least 6-8 years, even longer as alcohol is a preservative. Energetically, tinctures may have a shorter life span. This is a personal matter between you and your tinctures.

PREPARING A TINCTURE FROM DRIED PLANTS

Weigh out 4 ounces of dry plant material. You can blend it in your blender with 12 ounces of vodka or brandy. Some plants may require a bit more alcohol in order to effectively blend the herb and alcohol together. A general guideline for dry plant tinctures is either using 1 part herb to 3 or 4 parts menstrum (vodka). 80-100 proof vodka works well for home tinctures as it contains both alcohol and water. An organic vodka is available on the market called Rain.

GLYCERIN TINCTURE

Glycerin is a sweetish, mucilaginous and thick liquid derived from plant or animal sources. 100% vegetable glycerin is available through herb stores and health food stores though you may need to have it specially ordered for you. Glycerin is able to extract plant alkaloids along with the mucilage found in some plants such as marshmallow and comfrey roots but does not extract resin type substances such as bee propolis.

Glycerin tinctures are made in the same way as alcohol tinctures. Vegetable glycerin is used instead of alcohol for the liquid.

FRESH PLANT GLYCERIN

When making glyerites from fresh plants the water content of the herb is sufficient for the water component of the menstrum, so use full-strength, undiluted glycerin.

To make a fresh plant herbal glycerite: either chop or grind a fresh plant with glycerin. Your glycerin wants to be completely mixed with fresh plant material. Add more plant material if you need. Pour into a glass jar, cover with a tight fitting lid, label and store in a dark, cool place. After 4-12 weeks, strain the tincture through unbleached cheesecloth. An easy way to do this is to place a stainless colander in a large bowl and pour the liquid through the cheesecloth. Tightly wring the cheesecloth, which contains the plant material, to get out what extra liquid you can.

Pour all your liquid into a glass bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Label and date your tincture and store in a dark, cool place. 

To make an herbal glycerite from dried plants

* Powder 4 ounces of an herb. Place in a pint glass jar. Mix 1 and a 1/2 cups of vegetable glycerin and 1/2 cup of distilled or spring water together and pour over herbs. Secure lid tightly and follow the directions above for decanting your herbal glycerite.