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Rooting for good health

Herbal tinctures (Photo Credit: sxc.hu)

Herbal tinctures are easy and enjoyable to make. (Photo Credit: sxc.hu)

A word from Rustik and the author: The following article contains advice and instruction that requires a certain skill level, including the ability to identify plants correctly. And while most of the plants detailed in this article have fairly distinct characterizations, if uncertain, always seek advice from experts. Also, be certain to avoid digging roots from places that may be contaminated or polluted, such as ditches, informal landfills, or places that could be sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.

For those who depend and rely upon natural medicines, autumn is a time to visit mother nature’s well-stocked pharmacy. The cooler weather is an important trigger for perennial herbs to return their energy to their roots – a perfect embodiment of the transition to the more introspective, slower pace of winter.

Making your own medicine is simple, enjoyable and fulfilling.

WHAT YOU NEED

To start, assemble:

A garden spade/shovel
Bowl
Glass jars
Cutting board
Sharp knife
Neutral spirit (Vodka is relatively tasteless and easy to find)
Labels

Plants with taproots – a large, straight tapering root that grows directly downwards – are able to source nutrients and minerals from much deeper below the topsoil than plants with shallow rooting systems. So, although everyone wants to get rid of them, those dandelions in your garden actually benefit more desired neighbouring plants that can’t access these nutrients themselves (but that’s a different article). The fact is, a lot of powerful medicinal plants can be found right in your backyard, or very nearby.

Dandelion root (Photo Credit: Roses Prodigal Garden)

Taproots like dandelion root draw nutrients from deep in the soil. (Photo Credit: Roses Prodigal Garden)

Tincturing is a process of extracting the medicinal components from a plant part using alcohol (glycerin or vinegar are sometimes used, too). It is simple to do, and the resulting medicine can be preserved for a long time. Two main methods of tincturing exist: the scientific method, and the ‘simplers’, or folk method. Clinical herbalists or herbal companies use the scientific method by measuring and weighing plant and alcohol components in a very precise way. The folk method is easy and efficient enough for the home dabbler.

EASY TINCTURE FAVOURITES

Here are some safe and useful plants that are easily and readily found this time of year, and their associated health benefits:

RECIPE: ROOT CHAI

Start with a small handful of roasted dandelion roots. You can make these by chopping the roots small and roasting them at a low temperature in the oven (or on top of the wood stove) on an ungreased baking sheet until they are hard. Be careful not to burn them.

Add:

Minced ginger
Cinnamon
Nutmeg
Cloves
Cardamom
a few peppercorns
Vanilla

Combine all ingredients into a pot of boiling water, remove from heat or turn down to low. Cover and let steep for at least half an hour. Add honey, maple syrup and/or any kind of milk or milk substitute for a creamier finish.

Powered Chaga (a medicinal mushroom most likely growing nearby if you know where to look) makes a nice addition, if you have it.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) – a certain familiar and (often considered pesky) yellow flower, actually boasts a plethora of medicinal components – definitely in its aerial parts, but especially in its roots. Dandelion root has been used for centuries, for liver and kidney problems, skin problems, stomach and digestive issues, inflammation, detoxification, appetite stimulation, and as a diuretic. It is now being studied for its effects on cancer and diabetes. As an aside, if you have the patience, roasted dandelion root tea makes a delicious beverage you can easily make on the wood stove.

Burdock (Arctium lappa) – a plant with which most people are probably quite familiar. In its second year, the plant grows quite tall and produces burr-like seeds. When digging burdock roots for medicine, you want to find the first year’s growth, before it goes to seed. Burdock is notorious for growing in rocky, disturbed soil, so you will need to be a little patient to extract its roots without them breaking off. Burdock is considered one of the greatest blood detoxifiers, supporting liver health and helping to rid the body of accumulated chemical and environmental toxins. Burdock has also been used in the treatment of skin diseases, such as eczema, psoriasis and acne. Burdock is a bitter, so it stimulates digestion, among other things. Burdock root can also be eaten, steamed, roasted, sautéed in stir-fries or added to soups or stews.

Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) – recognizable by its distinct yellow-orange root, and curled leaves. It is also a bitter, and has been used alongside dandelion and burdock for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. On its own, it is known for its high levels of iron, and can be tinctured for the treatment of anemia (it can also be used to make a medicinal syrup, which can make it great for children; recipes are easy to find). As a tincture, it is also safe for use during pregnancy, to keep iron levels up. It is a natural blood purifier and detoxifier, as well.

One can tincture Dandelion, Burdock and Yellow Dock either separately or in combinations. Combine all three, as they work well as a general bitters formula, and mix well for digestive and liver support. Add a little ginger root, if you like, to balance the cooling effect of the three bitter herbs.

GET TO IT

For digging roots, you will need a garden spade or shovel, as the roots can often be quite long and sometimes lodged in hard ground. It is customary in herbal lore to give thanks to the plant, to acknowledge the gift that the plant is giving you, which is ultimately, your health. After digging up the roots, you can wash them with a scouring brush in a bowl of cool water – don’t use hot water as this will dissipate some of the constituents and nutrients in the root.

Arctium Lappa, also known as Burdock (Photo Credit: Wikimedia)

Arctium Lappa, also known as Burdock. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia)

After your roots are clean, cut them into small pieces and fill a glass mason jar about three-quarters full. You will need the extra space for the vodka as well as to ensure that roots are totally covered by liquid. There is no specific size of mason you should use – it’s more important to determine the size of the jar by the ability to fill it with plant materials, rather than leaving it half empty. It doesn’t matter so much when tincturing with alcohol, but when doing oil infusions or glycerin tinctures, the more room that’s left, the more invitation there is for molds or other unsavory things to grow. As such, it’s generally a good habit to match your jar to the amount of material you have. Label your jar with the name of the plant, the date, the alcohol used and, if you like, where the roots came from. Put your jars somewhere dark and cool, and shake them every day. Check them to make sure no plant material is exposed on the top. If there is, add more vodka.

Folklore says to start your tinctures on the full moon, but you can start them whenever you like. Some say that you should infuse your tinctures for one cycle of the moon, but plant matter in alcohol tinctures can basically be left forever, so don’t worry if you don’t get around to it in a month or longer (but it’s a good idea to wait at least one month).

When your tincture is done, strain the plant parts out (you may want to use cheesecloth for the finer bits). Transfer it into smaller tincture bottles (or take it by the spoonful out of a jar if you don’t have any small bottles). Enjoy your tincture straight, or in water, juice or tea (note: hot water dispels the alcohol). Here’s to your health!

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