Interview with a Herbalist, Part 2

in Herbalism

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Motherwort Motherwort
This is the second half of my interview with English herbalist Paula Normandale.
I try growing more medicinal herbs each year.  However, I don’t always know what to do with them, which is one reason I’m happy to bring Paula into our realm.  My main method now is tincturing, so I’m picking her brain for details:
Paula, unless I grow it myself, how can I know I am getting the best herbs for tincture making?

Most of my tinctures are made from dried herbs rather than fresh, with a few notable exceptions. Substitution and contamination are the main problems. Buying organic sorts out the contamination problem. When making my own tinctures, or even buying ready made ones for my dispensary, I buy organic herbs from reputable herbal suppliers who can, on request, provide me with the results of thin layer chromatography tests to show that the herb is what it claims to be, and that there are relevant quantities of the active ingredients present. I don’t generally ask for these results, but knowing that the company does test as part of their policy, is reassuring. The problem with buying from companies that don’t do this is that they may have been supplied with substitute herbs, ones that are similar to the required herb but actually a different plant all together.

How do you know the dosage for a particular herb?

Making your own tinctures to the strength suggested above (in part 1 of the interview) gives a dosage varying from 5-20 drops per dose. For children a small dose 1-5 drops is usually sufficient, for adults 15-20 drops is more appropriate. Full doing guidelines can be found in the books I’ve suggested below. For acute conditions, tinctures can be taken almost hourly, and at least 3 times daily. For example, at the first sign of a cold, I would take echinacea hourly, whereas preventatively only once daily. for a skin infection / abscess, I would suggest taking calendula / turmeric / blue flag (what ever other herbs I chose) at least 4-5 times daily, for digestive problems, specific herbs would be taken three times daily, one dose before each meal, chest infections, depending severity, 3-5 times daily.

How should you store a tincture?  How long do they remain potent?

Tinctures should be stored in a cool and dark place and in air tight bottles, preferably glass. If the alcohol content is right for the plant, they should last indefinitely. However, if the alcohol content drops below 20% they can spoil. Herbal tinctures made from fresh plant matter tends to be more unstable as the water content of the original plant matter is higher and dilutes the finished product. There is also some debate about the shelf life of fresh herbal tinctures due to fact that the plant material used is an in an unstable state when the tincture is made, so can degrade in the bottle over time. This can be considered to happen on both a chemical level and on a vitality level.  

However, tinctures made from herbs with high levels of essential oils, need in my opinion to be made from the fresh plant material in order to capture those essences. I would keep these tinctures for 2-3 years for optimal effect, but they will still have some efficacy for many more years. Use your nose…do they still smell of essential oils!

What are the best resources for learning more about herbalism?

There are so many herb books available nowadays, knowing where to start can be a minefield. A lovely book to start with is The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman. Perfect for the layperson, it covers the idea of holistic medicine and then goes through the body system by system discussing disease, prevention and treatment. Further into the book is it discusses chemistry, actions and preparations of herbs and finishes with an A-Z of common herbs.

For a more in depth clinical perspective, I would recommend “Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy” by Simon Mills and Kerry Bone.

Encyclopaedia of Herbal Medicine by Thomas Bartram is a good standby book to dip into too. The internet can be a valuable tool for information but be guided by what the writer is trying to sell you! If an article says that herb x is the best thing since sliced bread then see if he is actually making a bid to sell you it before you put all your trust into it. Exotic herbs come and go, and that will always be the case. Market forces will always drive a new herb from the undergrowth, but remember that native herbs have endured for a reason. For up to date research information on specific herbs and conditions check out Google Scholar or Medline.   

  What would you like people to know about tinctures that I haven’t asked about?

Tinctures can be mixed together to make individual formulas, eg fennel and chamomile would make a soothing digestive blend, garlic and turmeric an antioxidant, anti-infective, cholesterol busting blend.

Don’t forget that tinctures can be used topically, either neat or made into creams and ointments and that fresh and dried herbs can be made into teas and poultices if you don’t fancy making tinctures. Some people prefer not to use alcohol and substitute it with vinegar or glycerine. 

Thanks again, Paula. I’m looking forward to learning more over the coming year.



{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ruth Bross February 6, 2013

really enjoyed this email . Don’t know how I missed part 1 how can I read that one

2 Daisy February 7, 2013

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