Interview with a Herbalist

by Daisy

One of the best parts of blogging is the people you “meet” along the way, irrespective of geographical and other barriers.  One of those people is Paula Normandale.  She is an English herbalist and she has been helping me find my way through this relatively new interest of mine, herbal medicine.
She’s kindly agreed to an interview and I took advantage of the opportunity, specifically, to ask her about herbal tinctures.  But first, a little background . . .
Paula, can you introduce yourself and tell a bit about how you came to be involved in herbalism?

My name is Paula Normandale, I’m 42 and have been practising as a herbalist for 15 years. I’m originally from Scarborough, (as in Scarborough Fayre) in the North East of England.  I trained at the College of Phytotherapy, a private college in East Sussex in the South of England, and the only place offering such in-depth training at the time….4 years in total. I lived on an organic self sufficient(ish) farm for a few years during my training. I later went on to teach at the college, specifically in the onsite training clinic and another in London.  

I don’t remember what first got me interested in herbal medicine, but I do remember waking up one morning and deciding that I was going to be a herbalist. A year later I was accepted on the course and whilst at college my mum started tracing back her family tree and found out that her great grandma had also been a herbalist, so I guess it was in my genes!

Who are your clients and how is herbalism regarded in your part of the world?

My clients come from all walks of life and all ages but there is definitely a predominance of female clients. Scarborough is a seaside resort and has a high percentage of elderly residents, many on several ‘orthodox’ medications. For these I have to work out which herbs can safely be given without interfering with absorption and detoxification rates and causing the drugs to present with side effects.

Herbal medicine is regarded in varying ways. There are several GP’s (state health care physicians) in the area that send their patients to me to get advice, but then there are also ones who pooh pooh the whole thing. On the whole I think interest is increasing. When I started training back in 1993, there was only one college in the whole UK that provided the herbal education to the standard I received. Now, in 2012 there are several universities in the UK offering degrees in Herbal medicine.

            What is a herbal tincture?  Can you talk about using tinctures for both acute illness and for general health and preventative use? Can you take a tincture year ’round?

            A herbal tincture is basically an extraction of herbal ingredients (active and inactive) in a solution of alcohol and water. This traditionally would be made by steeping fresh or dried herbs in wine. Nowadays, commercial tinctures are made using a blend of alcohol and water to varying percentages in order to extract specific compounds from the herbal matter.

Tinctures can be used for both acute and chronic health problems and as a tonic or a preventative. Many herbal tinctures can be used all year round, others are best used for a short period of time. I have many patients that are on long term herbal prescriptions to manage conditions that would otherwise need medicating with a life long drug regime. Whilst there is some public debate about taking herbs like echinacea all year round, the research that suggested not to, was flawed and interpreted poorly. I took echinacea daily for 7 years whilst running my herbal shop… I’m still here and I’m still healthy! Herbs such as chamomile, mint, fennel, garlic, nettle, ginger, turmeric etc, in fact all the culinary herbs are totally safe to take daily over a life time. 

How is a herbal tincture made?

At its very basic, herbal tinctures are made by steeping herbal parts in an alcohol water mix for several weeks before straining and bottling the resulting mixture. For long term preservation the alcohol needs to be at least 25% in strength, so vodka or brandy is suitable.The herb needs to be finely chopped, powdered or even grated. If using roots keep the skin on, for fresh leaves, sift through and make sure that none are mouldy. Leaves can be removed from stalks to maximise the weight to liquid ratio.  Use about 4oz of dried herb / 8oz fresh herb to 1 pt of of vodka. Place all ingredients in a tightly sealable wide next jar, (kilner jars are great for this purpose). Keep the jar in a warm (not hot) place for 2-3 weeks, and shake daily. After two weeks, pour the ‘mash’ through a muslin cloth (like in jam making) and store the resulting liquid in a clean sealable, preferably dark, bottle.

Most herbs can be tinctured at this strength, however, as a rule of thumb, herbs with resins in them such as myrrh and saw palmetto, need to be extracted in a tincture nearer to 90% alcohol, seeds such as fennel and caraway, and herbs with essential oils, do better in 45% alcohol. But far better to make one at 25-30% than not at all!

Thank you so much, Paula!

Next week I will post part two of the interview.  I’m excited to report Paula has agreed to contribute additional posts with seasonal herbal recipes through the year.


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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

KimH January 30, 2013 at 10:43 am

Very cool. I’ve been dabbling in herbs for close to 30 years and I wouldnt want to live without them. I would have loved to become a professional herbalist had the opportunity be available to me back when, but Im considered a shadetree herbalist by friends and family regardless.
Looking forward to the next part of your interview!

Carol February 2, 2013 at 9:35 pm

A most informative & enjoyable article. Thank you both*- Really looking forward to those herbal recipes as I grow a few herbs in my small garden.

Ann S February 3, 2013 at 7:41 am

I thank both you and Paula. I am new to working with many herbs but have worked with with a few throughout my life and am very interested in learning much more. Will look forward to Paula’s recipes and insight into herbs.
So excited to have found this site.

barbara February 4, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Thank you both for contributing to the education of using herbs as tinctures. My grandmothers were well versed in the healing properties of their property in Wyoming and Arizona. I became interested in using herbs many years ago but became discouraged by my extended family members and friends who seemed to have little vision at the time. I will be following your posts closely, to learn more about herbals.

Kay T February 6, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I am interested, and have grown herbs, but not medicinally. Hope to find help for severe migraines on one side of my head and neck and in the center behind my eye. I get nauseated by them and the orthodox treatments help a little, however maybe something more effective could be there with herbals. I can not use alcohol at all. I heard glycerin is an alternative?

Daisy February 7, 2013 at 6:58 am

Kay T–Glycerin is an alternative. Not quite as potent, but a viable choice. Those migraines are rough. Hope you can find the right combination of treatments to get rid of them.

mahrudhomey February 11, 2013 at 8:29 am

Yes I do herbals – they help. My advise is to start a food/environment diary to find out what you have that triggers your migraines. For me – one of my triggers was gingerale. I went from having 1+ migraines every couple of days to 1 every 4-6 months.

Kay T February 11, 2013 at 10:36 am

Thanks, I will start one up today. I can’t take any aspirin based meds or NSAIDS at all. Alcohol is out also, so any extracts need to be with gycerin ar something other than alcohol. Hope to get to the bottom of this. Ido have neck pain & doc say I may have “slept on it wrong” Idon’t think so. Ihave a memory foam matress & bed < (Tempur-Pedic) So I doubt it.

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