Sunday, 6 September 2015
How to use herbal tinctures
First, let's establish the why. Why a tincture instead of some other preparation? As mentioned in a previous post here the reasons do vary. In some cases the parts of the herb we want are alcohol soluble more than water soluble. In other cases, we are limiting exposure to (but not eliminating) unpleasant tastes.
In my own case, I'm afraid tinctures are often the only way I can store the medicine plants for future use. Ever more humid summers are meaning I have difficulty drying them, and so I resort more often now to tinctures, vinegars and oils. (I never use a dehydrator, I find them too hot.)
Tinctures are also the way to go when we find a small amount of a plant and need to stretch it. Eyebright is a good example of this. Eyebright is considered endangered yet I often find large patches of it in our neck of the woods (well, the edges of the woods, to be more specific.) Just in case these are highly localised colonies, taking too much eyebright is something I do not want to do - especially as it tends to come out by the roots no matter how hard one tries to clip, rather than pull. So eyebright is tinctured in my house, even though it is probably "better" in a tea form.
By the way, I have my suspicions about commercially available eyebright. There is another plant, far more plentiful, which has very similar properties - you may be surprised to learn that this plant is the much maligned purple loosestrife - and I have a hunch that's what's in most commercial teas called eyebright. It's a very useful plant, loosestrife. Come to think of it, this is another example of why it's good to buy your herbs by their botanical nomenclature, rather than the common English name. (Remind me to start labelling my products accordingly!). Common names differ regionally and there is nothing stopping a supplier from calling loosestrife by the name of eyebright. Nothing at all.
Oh dear, I have digressed, haven't I?
Tinctures are little powerhouses, or at least the good ones are. Yes, by that I would like you to read my tinctures are powerhouses and so are anyone else's home made tinctures. What could be fresher than taking going out to the garden with a jar in one hand and a vodka bottle in the other, snipping the plant material directly into the jar, then pouring in the vodka? Never mind what the neighbours might think (especially if you take that traditional swig right from the bottle). That's a dynamite tincture and it just can't compare to what goes on in a factory type setting, now can it? No, it can't.
Because a well made tincture contains absolutely fresh plant material, it has lots of flavour as well. Our bodies respond to flavours. If we take a capsule, the first thing that registers to the body is capsule. It has to be dissolved, then the poor remaining plant material is dissolved in stomach acid. The message just doesn't get through the same way at all.
Taking a few drops of tincture in a swallow's worth of water allows the tongue to send messages directly to the brain. The brain recognizes the tastes of the medicines, even when we don't, and all manner of communications go on between it and the organs so they literally know help is on the way. The water is there to dilute the vodka so the brain doesn't send the wrong message, so to speak. It's gentler, too.
Take these few quiet moments when taking a tincture, especially for the first few times you use it. Every time would be even better, but I have to be realistic; even I sometimes just pull my wild lettuce tincture out of my purse and drop a few drops on my tongue if a tension headache threatens.
Still, when we take time with our tinctures, what we experience can be quite interesting. Apart from the heat of the vodka base, there might be a warmth or a cooling sensation. A sense of peace or a sense of awakening. We taste the plant and we sense its qualities. Moistening or drying. Astringent, opening, diffusive .. etc.
It's the crux of real healing, after all, to learn to listen to the body. As we take time with our tinctures this way we learn to assess how our bodies respond.
Some of the medicine plants are what we might call tonics (sometimes called adaptogens). These are the ones we take in the long term while we work on long standing difficulties. Others (like my wild lettuce for a headache) are for more short term issues. In both cases, though, there is the need for that initial conscious .. what can I call it .. intention.
The more subtle the plant's action, the more important this is, of course. This is not to say that St. John'swort tincture won't relieve your nerve pain if you don't take the time for this. It likely will, but you will sense the beginnings of relief sooner this way. (It's often said of St. Johnswort that the people around us will notice we're feeling better before we do. This is what I mean by subtlety of action.)
I also stress the importance of taking far, far less tincture than the bottle or your herbalist or even I recommend. This is another "listening to your body" lesson. Only you know what is "right" for you. I don't care if you are a 25yr old, 200lb+ body building guy or a 63 yr old lady with the bones of a bird. There are differences in metabolism, make-up of the gut bacteria, what other supplements you may be taking or what your hormone status is. Your dose is yours, so start small and work up. Really small. 1-3 drops small. It may be all you need!
I particularly like that tincture dosages can be varied according to need far more easily than capsules. In some cases we find we need less over time; often, tapering down is how we ask our bodies how we're feeling. No waste, as can be the case if you make a pot of tea then only need a few sips. Best of all, we find our sweet spot by listening to ourselves, not an external authority.
The saying goes that herbal medicine is people's medicine - that's especially so if we can develop the cajones to make our own.
I sell tinctures, yes, but on the whole that's just my sneaky way of giving people a taste of how much damn better home made is than anything you get from Big Herb. I'm trying to work myself out of a job. I'll always be happy to help those with no access to fresh plants of course, but really, I'm trying to instigate a revolt here more than anything.
Somebody has to.