This summer, my apprentice spent long nights pickling and canning in my kitchen. Watching her work to store food for winter reminded me that summer’s heat is fleeting. That even when the sun is hot and the days long we should prepare for cold. In this article, I will provide my version of an old herbal formula for preserving and restoring our internal fire. My hope is that you will benefit from it when the heat retreats.
Weather that bites is on its way. And just as we store our food, we can consider ways to preserve our inner warmth. For just such an event, I have repurposed an interesting herbal tincture formula of an old Eclectic doctor from the early 20th century.
The formula in its original form was known as a restorative tonic, and contained the following plants: 3 oz. of lavender, and 1 oz. each of cinnamon, mace, ginger, anise and motherwort. In short, this combination was to strengthen and benefit the following systems: nervous, digestive, circulatory (heart and blood) and immune. It also had the capacity to warm the blood and circulatory system.
I have a strong affinity for this formula, and find it a curious one. It is unusual in that it is not common for motherwort and lavender to be used in tandem with such warming and carminative plants. And it inspired me to embark on a mental and medicine making journey to come up with my own version. One that would be restorative and warm, balancing to the nerves, adrenals, respiratory and digestive systems, while having strong immune and circulatory properties.
One formula result is as follows: cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, holy basil, and lavender. Each plant has a medicinal purpose but also adds depth to a certain medley of tastes.
With that, I encourage you to read the Materia medica below, and hope you are inspired to try your hand at tincture making, as I will give directions for making a dried plant tincture of this formula using vodka.
This Materia medica is brief, and does not begin to touch on the many uses and effects these plants have historically or in the present. I will give taste and energetics, with a few general uses. My intent is that you get an idea of what is possible, and are able to imagine the many uses this particular formula of plants may have.
Cardamom (Elletaria cardamomum):
Taste: pungent, sweet, warm
System Affinity: digestive system, blood, respiratory. circulatory system
Energetics: carminative, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, expectorant, diaphoretic (fever reducing), warms the blood and strengthens circulation
Cardamom is a respiratory and circulatory stimulant that increases lung capacity, warms, thins and dries wet secretions. I have used cardamom in formulas to further potentiate the actions of other plants when treating respiratory infections (viral, bacterial and fungal), digestive complaints (stomach and colon), and Candida overgrowth. It’s pungent and aromatic flavor is pleasing, and adds much to the taste and scent of this and other herbal formulas.
Taste: pungent, sweet and warm
System Affinity: digestive, immune, circulatory
Energetics: diaphoretic, carminative, antibacterial, diuretic, analgesic, alterative
In Ancient Egypt, cinnamon was used in formulas for its warming properties. It raised the temperature of the body, thus stimulating circulation and the nervous system, counteracting fatigue and depression. It was used in small amounts in topical preparations for the stomach, in poultices to relieve muscle and joint pain, and in Holy Oils and burning rituals.
Cinnamon has a strong capacity to stimulate the respiratory tract, thus increasing oxygen uptake, and stimulating circulation, and the mind. it is an excellent restorative/alterative, improving overall function.
The warmth of cinnamon lends itself well to the energetically cold. Aromatics have the ability to penetrate and move into spaces where other plants can’t go due to their vaporous nature. By doing so, cinnamon relieves tension, thins and dries secretions, and improves circulation and muscle and joint mobility. It is an excellent and energetic herb.
Holy Basil/Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)
Taste: warm aromatic, pungent, sweet
System Affinity: stomach, adrenals, immune, brain and circulatory
Energetics: adaptogen (helps balance adrenal function), antioxidant (assists cell repair when damaged), diuretic (increases urinary output), carminative (helps alleviate gas and bloating in the digestive tract), expectorant (stimulates mucous to be expelled) anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anesthetic,
Holy basil has been revered by the Hindu for thousands of years. It finds a place in every home on altars for protection. It supports nearly every system in the body, and is a tonic also used for acute afflictions such as coughs, colds, indigestion, asthma and fatigue.
Holy basil increases cerebral circulation to clear the mind, balance the adrenal glands, and lower stress related high blood pressure, thus affecting the heart. It is specifically indicated for exhaustion where a cluttered chatty mind is involved. I have also found it to be useful for addictions.
Ginger rhizome (Zingiber officinale):
Taste: spicy, hot, dry, stimulating
System Affinity: digestion, liver, circulation, immune system, lungs colon, heart, joints
Energetics: anti-spasmodic, diaphoretic, anti-viral, digestive aid in stomach thus improving absorption in the small intestine, carminative, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, circulatory stimulant, cholagogue (discharges bile from gallbladder), normalizes the bowel as it may relieve constipation and diarrhea, anti-emetic
Stimulates blood flow, is useful for colds and flu, improves digestion and circulation, and is an anti-inflammatory appropriate for headaches and joint pain. Unbeknownst to many, ginger stimulates the conversion of cholesterol into bile acids. This aids the emulsification and assimilation of fats.
Taste: Aromatic, mildly bitter, sweet
System Affinity: nervous, digestive, immune
Energetics: anti-inflammatory and analgesic (nerves, headaches, muscle aches), anti-spasmodic, carminative (relieves colic and intestinal spasms), antiseptic, skin cell regenerating, nervine tonic (nervous tension and insomnia, specific for elderly and young), diaphoretic and antiseptic for acute illnesses (fevers, colds, flu), old remedy for epilepsy
Lavender is a gentle plant that has been in use as a medicine for over 2500 years. Lavender’s name comes from the Latin word lavare, to wash, a root which also gives us lavatory, meaning washroom. Throughout Europe in the time of the Black Plague people washed their floors down with lavender and wore it round their necks to escape the smell of the plague.
I have used lavender in my practice to slow the mind and restore the nervous system post exhaustion and fatigue, and for acute respiratory illness with fever. It is also a handy plant for insomnia, headaches, and nervousness that adversely affects digestion.
The essential oil is a first aid one-hit-wonder when it comes to caring for wounds. Apply the essential oil directly to cuts, punctures, burns, bug stings and bites. It assists skin cell regeneration, anesthetizes pain, disinfects wounds, and speeds healing, while also calming the mind when injury has occurred.
Making a Dried Plant Tincture
• Formula measurement:
• 2 oz. of dried lavender flowers
• 2 oz. dried holy basil/tulsi leaves
• 1 oz each of: ginger powder, cinnamon sticks or powder
• ½ oz. of cardamom seeds (de-podded)
There are two ways to make a dried plant tincture. My favorite way involves using organic grape alcohol, which is 96% alcohol and only 4% water. But I recognize it’s not realistic for everyone to begin with this product. It’s fair to say, that one may use vodka in a dried plant tincture. And here’s why vodka will work.
Every dried plant tincture, unlike the fresh, needs water added. Why? Because in the drying process the water is taken out. In short, water is a natural part of the plant nd extraction process. We therefore add it back in, but remember, we only add it back in with dried plant tinctures. Vodka is 60% alcohol, 40% water. It works for the general tincturing of dried plants.
If you want to get really specific with your dried plant tinctures, here is a link to an article I wrote gives details. I, by the way, prefer the more specific method. That doesn’t make this easier way wrong. Just remember, vodka is okay for making dried plant tinctures as long as you don’t add water. Vodka is a bad combination with plants that are fresh and have water (bad, as in may mold-yuck).
Supplies for Making Dried Tincture with Vodka
• Dried plant matter
• Mason jar of appropriate size
• Scale(if you are having your plant weighed in the store, you don’t need to bother weighing it yourself. And for those interested in purchasing a scale, it is nice to be able to buy the $150 digital one, but I have found Target’s digital kitchen scales work just fine. They run about $35, and are far more realistic for most people’s budgets.)
• Amber brown bottle(s) of an appropriate size
• Cheese cloth or herb press
1. Weigh your plant, and figure your plant to fluid ratio. This is plant specific in many cases. But in our easy make vodka tincture, we are going to make a 1:5 plant tincture. That is 1 part plant by weight to 5 parts fluid by volume. Example: 2 oz. of dried lavender flowers x 5 parts fluid = 10 oz.! So we need 10 oz. of fluid.
2. Put your plant in the mason jar and add the vodka. At this point, I use a chopstick to poke out all air pockets. You want alcohol covering every stick of plant. When done, let your tincture set for an hour or so, then recheck it to make sure the plant is sitting below the level of the fluid. If it’s not, use a kitchen tool of choice to press it down. (I use a potato masher.).
3. The advice of nearly all tincture makers: Shake daily (or often as you remember), and let macerate for 8 weeks in a cool dark and dry place. When it comes to this tincture, I agree. Depending on the plant and base, I have my opinion. Not in this case, however.
4. Now it’s time to make the label. Date, write if the tincture was fresh or dried, where it was harvested/purchased, dilution of plant to fluid (1:5 is your dilution) and percentage of alcohol (60% for vodka).
5. After 8 weeks press out the tincture. You can use a press or your hands with some cheese cloth. I prefer a press for I can get more tincture out of the process. Rich Gulch has inexpensive small presses starting at around $130.
Store your tincture labeled and in amber brown bottles out of the sun. Community Pharmacy has an excellent selection of sizes. Your tincture has enough alcohol to keep indefinably.
As you see, my version, though different, is chock full of restorative plants. It hits many major functions and systems of the body. I recommend, as always, that you think about your own formula. One that fits your needs. For instance, someone may want to add a lymphatic, substituting one of the spicy plants with echinacea or calendula. Or perhaps someone would like to further potentiate the anti-bacterial properties, and would add in usnea or goldenseal.
Winter is on its way. In anticipation of it, make this, or your own version, of this warming restorative to get you through. If you begin it now, you’ll be pressing it out just as the last oak leaves fall, and hopefully before the first snow.