A Guide to Herbal Preparations by Laura Marie Ruocco and I

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My friend and teaching buddy Laura Marie Ruocco and I just wrapped up a monthlong Wednesday evening mini-course at ThirdRoot Community Health Clinic, an amazing wellness space in Flatbush. Throughout the 4-week series we created and shared a few guides to help people as they continue their herbal pursuits.

I’m sharing here a handout on herbal preparations that we gave to folks who came to the Herbs for Heartbreak and Boundaries class we taught on Wednesday, January 23.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to use the right preparation method for the specific part of the plant you are using (be it a bark, berry, root, leaf or flower) and the purpose for which you are making medicine. Herbal medicine is, in many ways, a wonderfully free-form, folk-based, intuition-driven art, rather than science. I love how creative and free-flowing it can be. That being said, if you want to ensure delivery of medicinal constituents in a consistent manner and get the most value out of your plants, there are a few guidelines that are good to keep in mind.

Herbal Medicine Preparations

Tincture

-A liquid solution made from fresh or dried plant material extracted into a solvent. The solvent draws out the plant’s medicinal constituents. Alcohol is commonly used as a solvent but vinegar and glycerine are used as well. Tinctures are useful as a lower by volume dosage of plant medicine, (compared to other preparations like tea), that taken by mouth enter the bloodstream relatively quickly. You can mix your tincture with water or take it directly by mouth, under the tongue.

-Tinctures are taken in drop dosages, by the dropperful or by the teaspoon. A dropperful is between 15 - 20 drops, or 1 ml, of tincture. One teaspoon is about 5 ml of tincture. Common ratios of plant material to alcohol-based solvent are 1:2 at 65% [or higher %] alcohol for fresh plant material and 1:5 at 50% alcohol for dried plant material.

Flower essence

-Aki Hirata Baker from Minka in Flatbush calls flower essences “vitamins for the soul.” Flower essences are subtle vibrational medicine made from infusing distilled water in a clear glass bowl with flowers, ideally under a clear sun or moonlit sky. This water (called the Mother) is combined with brandy for preservation and the resulting solution, is the flower essence.

-Flower essences can help us make subtle energetic shifts and attain alignment. Each plant via its flowers is able to share its unique frequency, its unique message with us, enabling us to accelerate our evolution alongside other internal work. Flower essences are wonderful when used in conjunction with journaling, therapy, meditation and other therapeutic practices.

-Flower essences are taken in drop dosages, usually between 3 and 8 drops, 3 times a day or as needed.

Decoction

-Herbal tea prepared by simmering herbs in a vessel with lid for 20 minutes or more. Teas of barks, berries and roots are best prepared using this method. To prepare, place one ounce of herb in 1 quart cold water in a pot on the stove with a lid. Turn heat to low. Once water boils, simmer for 20-60 minutes, ensuring that the lid is secure the entire time.

-Strain, being sure to press all medicinal tea out of the plants.

Infusion

-Herbal tea prepared by pouring hot—not boiling—water over fresh or dried plant material into a vessel with a lid. Because so much of plants’ medicine is in their volatile oils, steeping herbs with a lid on the vessel will ensure that their volatile oils do not evaporate off. When ready to strain, be sure to press the herbs to draw all of the medicine out of them! For a medicinal dosage, plan to use one ounce of dried herb per quart of water.

-Mineral rich plants such as oatstraw, nettle, alfalfa, or red raspberry should be steeped overnight. Aromatic plants can have a shorter steep - 10 min or so.

-Medicinal teas of leaves and flowers are best prepared using this method.

Cold Infusion

-Herbal tea prepared by infusing herbs over a number of hours in cool water. Some herbs have constituents that are destroyed by boiling water or, because of their constituents, are best extracted in cold water.

-To make a cold infusion, wrap one ounce of the dried herb in muslin or cheesecloth and tie it into a small bundle. Moisten the herbs, so that when they are placed in water the water extracts the medicine from the plants evenly. Suspend the bundle of herbs in a jar filled with one quart cold water. You can tie the bundle with string and then tie the string to a chopstick or knife. The suspension is thought to be important to allow water to circulate around the herbs and draw the constituents down into the water by the force of gravity.

-Herbs can be placed in water loose, without cheesecloth, but mucilaginous herbs can be hard to strain.

-Allow to stand 8 hours or overnight.

Syrup

-Herbal infusion/decoction sweetened and preserved with sugar, honey, or glycerin. Typical ratio is 1 part sweetener to 2 or 3 parts tea depending on your taste. Syrup will keep in the fridge for at least one month.

-Brandy or other alcohol can be added to further preserve. Bringing the syrup to 20% alcohol or higher will make it shelf-stable.

Infused Oil

-Herbs can be infused into oil for topical use. Use the same ratios as with an infusion, but instead of water you will steep in oil (olive, coconut, grapeseed, sunflower, etc).

-Oil should steep in the sun or in a warm place for 4-6 weeks, or kept on a low heat for 10-14 days using a yogurt maker, or modified crockpot (Oil should not be heated above 120 degrees). Can also use “Magical Butter” machine.

-Plant material must be very well strained to prevent oil from going bad, and no water can be introduced or bacteria can grow. Dry herbs are easiest for this reason.

*Please note there are many more ways to prepare herbs, and many opinions on the best methods. This information is just an overview of our favorites :)