One of my goals for this year was to become greater acquainted with the use of herbs in general. I plan to grow and dry a large amount of culinary herbs, but I also am determined this year to learn how to make some herbal medicines.
One book on my shelf which covers this topic is The Herbal Medicine Maker's Handbook, by James Green (link for this book is at the left of the blog). I really like this book--the author has a great writing style, and the book is just packed with detailed and practical information. In the first chapter, Mr. Green suggests that a beginning herbalist should start by creating a dandelion tincture. Tinctures are easy to do. And not only are dandelions easily available to just about everyone, but they are a very healthy plant. Dandelion is an excellent overall tonic which detoxifies the blood and liver. All of us living in the modern world could use some detoxification. The tincture can also be used to relieve gas and indigestion. Dandelion is a gentle laxative and safe, highly effective diuretic.
Sounds great, right? So after studying Mr. Green's instructions, I went into our tiny yard this afternoon, armed with my trowel, and dug up all the dandelions I could find.
I didn't want to take any dandelions from the common areas of our neighbourhood (we live in a townhouse condo) because I couldn't be sure they hadn't been sprayed with pesticides, or by a dog for that matter.
I took the bunch of plants and washed them very well in cold water, being careful to remove all the little bits of sticks, yellowed leaves, and bugs.
Then I chopped them into little bits on a cutting board. I discarded the stems and flowers, because although I could have used them, the roots and leaves contain the most medicinal substances. I stuffed the chopped parts into a mason jar, and covered with vodka. I used the strongest kind I could find at the liquor store--45% alcohol. You want to have a strong alcohol base because it's the alcohol that acts as a solvent to draw the compounds out of the plant material. Also, the stronger alcohol, the less chance of spoilage. A tincture made with 50% alcohol will supposedly keep for years. Never use rubbing alcohol to make a tincture, as it is toxic when ingested.
All the instructions I've seen say to cover the plant material completely with the alcohol. I had a problem with this, because the bits seemed to sort of float. I'm going to assume it's not a big deal though. After pouring in the alcohol, I put the mixture into the blender for a few seconds to get the dandelion into really small bits, to maximize the surface area. I poured it back into the jar then and screwed on a lid.
After labeling it with the contents and date, I'm going to store it in a cupboard and shake it up every day. I noticed some little scraps of leaf sticking to the inside of the jar--I suppose this is okay since they have been coated with alcohol. If anyone knows otherwise, please let me know. :)
Apparently a tincture can be strained and used after a minimum of 2 weeks, but it's better to wait for 6 weeks or even longer. When my tincture is done, I'll write another post about it.
Tinctures can be made from dried herbs, too. Here is a nice video that shows you how to make a tincture from dried herbs.