Thursday, November 6, 2008

How to make your own medicine, part 2

Wow! The cold and flu season really is here. Not only did the kids get sick this last week, but with all the coughing in my face, sleeping next to sick kids and nose-wiping on Mommy's shirt, I got it too. I tell you, I'm so thankful for my tinctures now.

Tinctures are the ultra-potent variety of herbal medicine. You could just drink a tea, but the real healing herbs taste so bad that you don't want to drink more than a couple of drops. And you could just take a capsule (sometimes I would prefer that), but your body absorbs so much less from a capsule than from a liquid medicine. I really like tinctures the best.

You'll need:

1 bottle of cheap vodka.
anything that is 40 % alcohol, or 80 proof will do, but don't bother paying extra for something that tastes good. By the time the herb is in it, it'll taste terrible anyway. I was thrilled to find the vodka used here for under $5 at our local grocery store.

1 bag herbs.
Our local place sells herbs by the 1/10 of a pound, so I use 1/10 of a pound of herbs. I'm sure that an ounce would work just as well, and your vodka would stretch further. If you're going by volume, perhaps about a cup is a good choice. They seem to expand.

1 pint jar with a lid.
Or use a quart if you want a lot, and want to use up all your vodka at once.

1. Put your herbs in the jar.

2. Pour in enough vodka to cover the herbs.

3. Close the jar and label it with the type of herb.

4. Shake it up.

5. Put it in the cupboard. Ideally, you'll take it out and shake it every day for about two weeks. I generally forget, and just shake it whenever I remember for a month or longer.

6. Eventually it'll look something like this: dark, and probably murky. Not like something you want to drink.

7. After that, you can strain it through a sieve, then a coffee filter into a new jar. Or you can forget about it and let the herbs settle to the bottom over the course of a few weeks. That's what happened to the herbs above, and it's really the better option if you used ground herbs rather than whole or chopped herbs.

8. When it's clear enough that it doesn't look like mud, pour it into a bottle for storage (I like dark glass bottles for this). Make sure to label it. I always think that I'll never forget what that herb smells like, but I always do.

Now a disclaimer. These are powerful stuff. Don't just gulp them down (as if you could). Too much can be dangerous, especially for kids. So store them out of reach. A dose of a full-strength tincture is about 4 drops. Yes, that's right, 4 drops. Just under 1/8 of a teaspoon. For kids, it's half that. Because of this tiny dose, I often dilute my tinctures with either distilled water or colloidal silver (which I also make myself). If you dilute it with equal parts something else (not another tincture), then a kid can safely take about 1/8 teaspoon.

I have two favorite tinctures:
Lobelia - This is great for lower chest congestion. I think of it as nature's Albuterol - it will dilate whatever you put it on. I give it to my kids when they have a cough, it dilates their esophagus and they cough up all the junk in their lungs. My husband uses it for his ear infections -- a couple of drops in his year, and it drains (plus it kills the infection). But it burns like heck. I find that it also makes me sleepy.

Lobelia is cataloged as a poison by Rodale's (because of it's effect on the nervous system that makes me sleepy), but also recognized widely enough for it's medicinal use that you can find it at many health-food stores. Really, most medicines are poisons if you take too much. That's why we store them out of reach. That said, please don't take a lot of it at once. I allow 2 to 4 doses (see above) a day in my family.

Echinecea-Eyebright. These two herbs combine terrific to deal with upper respiratory congestion. We've never had a sinus infection develop from a cold when we had this around. It's also the best for allergies (itchy eyes in particular) and runny noses. 2 to 4 doses a day is plenty of this too.

I'm not going to kid you, both of these taste really awful, and only a fairly sick person will take them straight. I give these to my kids in their morning juice when they need it. They actually prefer the juice with just the hint of the bitter herb. Weird kids.

We almost never get the stomach flu, so I don't know the remedies for them as much. I know ginger is terrific (we buy candied ginger, yummy!), and Lalycairn commented on part 1 that yarrow tea is great for tummy upset. Peppermint, candied papaya and activated charcoal are all pretty good for gassiness.

What about you? What herbs are your favorites, and how do you use them?


  1. very interesting! thanks for the info!

  2. thanks for the info! would these be safe for taking during pregnancy? I had a tincture that I took a few years ago and you aren't kidding--taste is terrible! but the potency is great!

  3. These two that I've given here are safe during pregnancy (as far as I know -- I've taken both of them while pregnant). There are others that aren't though, so make sure to do your research before trying something new.