Professor Communication and Media
Denise is a devoted organic gardener who challenges herself to live as sustainably as possible in her home in southeastern Pennsylvania. She is a professor in the Department of Communication and Media at West Chester University with a Ph.D. from Kent State University. Her teaching and research areas consist of sustainability, close interpersonal relationships, integrating work and family, and conflict resolution.
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November 19, 2022
In the Garden of Deeden: Homemade Medicinal Preparations
In any visit to a market in an Amazonian town, one will find the local “pharmacy” section. A robust zone dedicated to whole and processed medicinal plants for use in treatment and in ceremony. Cat’s Claw, Dragon’s Blood, 7- and 21-Roots are just a few of the more popular preparations. The bulk herbs can be used as teas, applied directly on the skin as a poultice, and/or prepared into tonics and tinctures. The specific condition and the medicinal properties of the plant determine its use and manner of preparation. 7 Roots is a great example of a tonic…a blend of seven different medicinal plants in an alcohol base (often sugar cane rum) and typically sweetened with honey.
And did you know that Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa), a woody liana vine, is one of the most popular Amazonian medicinal plants imported to the US? It has strong anti-inflammatory properties and is used throughout Amazonia as a tea for general wellness and as a decoction of the bark for specific illnesses. Research is currently underway to assess its potential for treating certain types of cancer. The natural bitterness of the plant invites the use of a sweetener in its preparations. I’m fortunate to have had a chance to try both the tea and alcohol tincture.
I’m a big fan of these kinds of health remedies. And our own region is rich with medicinal herbs, shrubs and trees that can be wild sourced, or you can order them from herbal supply companies. They’re easy to make, and they can last a long time. Some of them even make great gifts.
A number of years ago, a friend gave me throat spray made from propolis (a resin made from sap that bees use to seal up their hive and keep it hygienic). She swore it was excellent whenever she felt a sore throat coming on. It’s a natural immune booster and is chock full of antioxidants. Propolis is thought to have antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. I tried the spray, and it worked really well, so I decided surely I could gather some propolis from my own hives and make an equivalent product. Now I also use it preventatively, for example, before I travel. Easy to make and incredibly effective. Since then, I’ve seen a number of propolis sprays come onto the market. Some add flavors of cherry or mint. Others add echinacea. Some boast having only two or three ingredients. They come in different concentrations.
As with many of my other homesteading adventures, I don’t make it an exact science. I simply gather the propolis and put it in a bottle of vodka. It’s good to shake it up periodically. Some people may use vegetable glycerin instead of alcohol, and I’ll probably try that with my next batch to compare results. I would let it sit a minimum of a few weeks, but it can sit around indefinitely. I’d add a note, here, though that when I’m particularly concerned about the dose of the medicine I’m making, I’m much more particular about how much is added to the extractant I’m using.
Making your Own Tinctures
The same friend that told me about the propolis spray gave me an herbal remedies book, Herbal Remedies Handbook by Andrew Chevallier, as a gift one year. Although the book explains different vehicles for these remedies, such as teas and decoctions, I tend to lean toward making tinctures. It involves simply soaking herbal material – whether it is leaves or roots in alcohol, typically about a ratio of 45% alcohol to 55% water. Similar to the propolis spray, glycerin can replace alcohol.
They will keep for three years or longer, and a benefit is that our bodies easily absorb them. I’ve experimented with echinacea root (immune support), dandelion root (a liver cleanser among other things), and Siberian ginseng (enhances physical and mental performance and improves immune function, among other benefits).
Even though the “recipe” for a tincture is pretty straightforward, the book I use is helpful because it lists the herbs A-Z, offers pros and cons, medicinal uses, part used, how it is best prepared (tincture, capsule, etc.), how much to use, and any potential cautions. Toward the end of the book, it has a table with various conditions (earache, bronchitis, high cholesterol, etc.) and which herbs are best used as remedies; this is helpful instead of having to look through all of the herbs.
So what are you waiting for? You could develop your own mini pharmacy of natural remedies. Start stocking that medicine cabinet!
Note: The information in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness or disease.
Herbal Remedies Handbook