One of the most common questions I receive in my practice is clients asking what is the difference between various herbal preparations? This is such an important conversation because an informed individual can decide which herbal delivery system is the most effective for pulling out the medicinal properties and meeting their needs in terms of budget, compliance and palate.
For example, if an herbalist recommends you drink a quart of an affordable tea daily yet the taste of it makes you gag, then that tea that just sits on your countertop isn’t going to help you meet you health goals! A tincture might be a better option for you. I am going to describe 12 common ways to take herbs so you can more effectively achieve your health goals this year! This post is about the various ways to take herbs internally, stay tuned for part II on external herbal delivery systems…
There are many preparations that fall into the ‘tea’ category. Teas are wonderful as they are simple, affordable and the large volume ingested (as compared to a tincture or capsule) covers a lot of tissue from your mouth throughout your entire gastrointestinal tract so they’re especially good for gut concerns as well as being comforting, warm and familiar.
a)Tisane – your standard beverage tea, it is not as medicinal as an infusion or decoction. The usual dosage is one tea bag or one heaping tsp. per cup of water, steeped for 10 to 15 minutes, covered to preserve the aromatic components of the herbs. This method works well for for leaves, flowers, and stems.
b)Infusion – much stronger than a tisane and used for medicinal purposes. Steep 1 ounce of dried herb per pint of boiling water for 4 to 8 hours. This is necessary to extract the optimum vitamins and minerals from the plant material. If the herb is fresh, triple the amount of herb used to account for the fact that it contains water. This method is for leaves, flowers and stems.
c) Decoction – necessary for extracting the medicinal properties from the hardened parts of plants such as bark, roots, seeds and dried berries. It requires simmering the plant parts on the stove anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, covered to reduce evaporation. The proportions are one ounce of dried material to one pint of water.
d)Maceration/Cold extraction – plant material is soaked in cold water for 4 to 12 hours and drunk as needed. Certain barks, like willow bark, require this amount of time to extract their active principles. Marshmallow bark is often cold extracted in order to pull out the mucilage and soothe sore throats.
. Tinctures, glycerites & infused vinegars
– dried or fresh plant material chopped and macerated (soaked) in alcohol, glycerine or vinegar in cool, dark space with no heat applied. Shake regularly for best results and then strain and bottle after 2+ weeks. Usually made with a clear alcohol such as vodka or grain alcohol. Alcohol is a better solvent than glycerine so is more commonly used, but glycerine (or vinegar) are great options for those avoiding alcohol. Each solvent extracts different constituents from the plants so you need to do some research to decide which is the best one for the herb you’re using. Tinctures will last indefinitely and should generally be taken diluted with herb tea or water. Tinctures are wonderful for travel as well as formulating – this is the most common delivery system I use when formulating for individuals as I can easily combine several herbs to make a custom, client specific formula.
3.Cordials are herbal tinctures made with brandy or liqueurs & sometimes sweeteners. YUM!
4.Elixirs are sweet & tasty preparations made with tonic and aromatic herbs. Also, YUM! These make wonderful gifts.
5.Syrups & Infused honeys are sweet concoctions used as a base for elixirs and to sweeten tinctures. They are especially useful when giving medicines to children.
a) A basic syrup recipe to which you can add medicinal ingredients such as tinctures is: 85 grams of organic white sugar dissolved in 47 ml water OR (if you aren’t comfortable with the metric system) boil 2 cups of sugar in a pint of water until it reaches the right consistency. The ratio is very important for preservation – not enough sugar will allow bacteria to grow and too much sugar will precipitate out and allow bacteria to grow in the water portion). Shelf life is a few months, or longer in refrigerator.
b)Infused honeys – gently heat (not too hot to preserve the healthy enzymes in the honey) herbs (or fruit!) in honey for a few hours and strain through cheesecloth. Store in fridge for best shelf life. Also, YUM!
6. Flower essences – herbal infusions made from the flowering part of the plant. They are gentle, yet powerful, remedies that work on an energetic level to address the emotional and mental aspects of our well-being. The energetic imprint of the plants’ life force is infused into water and that remedy interacts with the subtle bodies of the individual taking the remedy. Flower essences work via water the way inspirational music or art carry meaning via sound or sight.
The first 38 flower essence remedies were created by British physician, Dr. Edward Bach, in the 1930’s. Many additional remedies have since been developed.
Flower essences are very safe and thus are excellent choices for children, animals and sensitive people. I’ve seen them work magic in many ways!
7.Oxymels are sweet preparations containing vinegar & honey. Vinegar is a solvent (see #2 above) and preservative and honey a preservative and flavorant. Tinctures + honey are more common but vinegar is a great alcohol-free option.
8. Spirits aka Essences are a dilution of essential oils (EO’s) in strong alcohol, 10% Eo is a good ratio. EO’s disperse better in water when diluted in alcohol, also safer than consuming straight EO. These are used primarily for flavoring & topically.
9. Juice- Fresh juice can be extracted from most plants with the aid of a juicer or blender. Juices should always be taken immediately, as they lose their vitamins as they age.
10.Powder – ground up plant parts with a mortar and pestle, vitamix or other implement until you have a powder. Powders can be taken with water, milk or soup, made into teas, sprinkled on food, or put into capsules, which must be consumed with a liquid, in order to put the powder into solution so that the body can easily absorb it. Powders are very inexpensive though can be difficult to digest for those with gut issues.
11. Capsules/Tablets – Swallow with 8 ounces of water. Also very convenient and great for travel, though more expensive than taking the plain powder.
12. Eating in salads – a very effective way to take herbs is to mix them into a green salad and enjoy! The absolute maximum vitamin and nutritional content is ingested in this manner. Parsley, dandelion greens, calendula petals, basil, rosemary and more!
I hope this post inspires you to be more creative and compliant with our herbal allies! Stay tuned for my next post on topicals.
Wishing you a happy, healthy 2019 full of joy and ease.