Outwardly, I am a mild-mannered farm wife [of sorts] who spends her days feeding chickens, sweeping up goat poo, and teaching the children readin’, writin’, ‘rithmatic, and how to find all of the secret levels in Super Mario World.
Inwardly however, I suspect I resemble something more like this:
Yes, I am a mad scientist at heart! So much so, my husband bought me a chemistry set for middle school kids one year, as a Christmas gift, and I completely geeked out over it. I was thirty-two years old. (I knew you’d wonder.) (And, no, I have no shame in admitting it.) I’ve channeled that nerd-love for chemistry into crafting many useful herbal concoctions for my family over the years, including: soaps, salves, creams, lip balms, teas and medicinal tinctures.
One thing I’ve wanted to do all winter is dig up my three-year-old echinacea plant while it’s dormant and use the fresh roots to make a tincture. I’ve tinctured the flowers, seeds and leaves many times before, but never the roots, in spite of the fact that they are supposedly chock full of more of the good stuff that makes echinacea such… well, good stuff. My only hold-up was the fact that the plant is large and I am wimpy, therefore I need my husband’s assistance in digging. He works, a lot, so the opportunity of him being off on a non-rainy day to do so had not arisen for months.
Yesterday was beautiful. I was wandering about my garden, mentally planning what I wanted to plant where this spring, when my husband happened to chance by. Yes! Quickly grabbing the opportunity, I shoved a shovel in his hand and he went to work. (I’m not as bossy as I sound, by the way.)
Echinacea, also known as purple coneflower, is one of my favorite garden plants. In the summertime it looks all pretty and pinky-purple like this:
This is what it looks like dormant, dug up, and after he hacked it into thirds;
Though I’m not exactly sure it will regenerate, I replanted one-third, back in the original location, and planted another third in a new garden area. I pulled the roots apart on the final piece, not an easy task, and replanted the smaller pieces with lots of small feeder roots (see piece on left, below), reserving the longer pieces for processing.
Once done, I brought the roots inside, scrubbed them clean, then chopped them into tiny pieces. Next I placed them into a clean, sterilized jelly jar and covered them with 80 proof vodka. A higher proof is more ideal, but is not available where we live. (The amount of tincture shown is smaller than I normally would make, since I discovered after all of that effort, that I was almost out of vodka.)
Some people may wish not to use alcohol to preserve their herbs, especially if they will be dosing very young children; in that case glycerine is used to make a glycerite. A post I did on making one of those can be found HERE.
Make sure you label your jar with the date, ingredients and type of alcohol used. Put it in a coolish, dark cupboard, periodically opening the door every few days to shake the jar a bit whilst admiring your really cool collection of other mad scientist potions. After six weeks, strain out the herb and you are left with a very powerful herbal medication. I usually only dose tinctures one to two drops at a time, in a spoonful of honey or small glass of ginger ale. They are that effective and at that low a level, I have no issue with giving them to my children.
If you are unable to grow your own, two excellent places to order high quality dried herbs in bulk are Mountain Rose Herbs or Bulk Herb Store. It is deeply satisfying and empowering to be able to use a natural medicine, made by your own hands, to alleviate the occasional sore throat or tummy ache that comes along with being human.
*Disclaimer: Please be aware that this is merely a demonstration of my hobby. Herbal products can be strong medicines, so consult a qualified health care provider’s advice before using homemade remedies of this type, especially if you are on prescription medication, are pregnant or nursing, or have serious health issues.