Updated: Jan 19, 2021
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Knowing which part of the plant is used for each plant is very important for both safe and effective use.
Once you have that part figured out, you can take your plant medicine to help support your health.
Just like with pharmaceutical medication, there are different ways you can take plant medicine. Each way has its own specific benefits.
The most common ways that plant medicine is used include:
1. Tea - aka a "hot water extraction"
This method pulls out the water-soluble constituents.
Tea is the most commonly used method, as well as usually the cheapest, easiest, and most accessible for most people.
Herbs that have a strong smell or taste (are aromatic) tend to work well in tea-form. Think Peppermint, Chamomile, and Ginger. The smell and taste are often signs of compounds called Volatile Oils, which are easily accessed with hot water.
Nutrients like vitamins and minerals are generally water-soluble, as are carbohydrates, like the immune-supporting polysaccharides of Echinacea and many medicinal Mushrooms.
Tea is great for children, especially if they have their own special teacup (check out this Instagram post for my personal childhood teacup which I believe had a long-term effect on my love of herbal tea) Added benefit of taking plant medicine in a tea? Teapots. Beautiful, beautiful teapots!
2. Tincture - aka an alcohol & water extraction
This pulls out a mix of both the fat and water-soluble constituents, and you can change what you get based on the ratio of alcohol and water used. Sometimes we want to access a fatty or resinous compound from a plant - that is a great time to use a tincture. A good example of this is Calendula. It's antimicrobial and healing resins are best extracted with alcohol for internal use, and in oil for topical use (see below for more info on topical herbs!).
*Making lemonbalm tincture at home with plain old vodka and lemonbalm that I grew in my little container garden!*
Making tinctures can be as simple or as complex as you like. I like the simple methods for my own home pharmacy as I'm a bit averse to complex math, and I only have access to standard alcohol percentages.
Tinctures are great because they are a super concentrated form of herbal medicine, and they give you a wide spectrum of active constituents. You only need to take a small amount (from a few drops to a few mls) to get the effect. One aspect of tinctures which some people don't like is the taste. Herbs extracted in alcohol don't tend to taste that good. However, you need such a small amount that it's just sort of "down the hatch". I often tell people that if you have ever shot tequila than you can shoot your herbs!
3. Topically - Herbs can be applied topically in an oil, ointment, or cream
*Making St John's Wort Oil - it turns bright red and is so amazing for nerve pain and inflammatory skin conditions*
When we extract herbs in oil, we access the fat-soluble compounds. Calendula is another great example here as it contains fat-soluble resins, as well as carotenoids - the same colourful compounds that are found in carrots and peppers and are a Vitamin A precursor.
Using herbs topically is common for injuries or joint problems and can be a great, safe way to use plant medicine for people who are on serious or multiple medications.
4. Capsules and Tablets
These are more modern uses and are easily found in health shops. Sometimes this gets very high tech and we pull out single constituents from a herb rather than using the whole herb. Using only single constituents isn't my favourite, as I definitely prefer to use the whole plant and get a wide array of constituents. Using the whole herb tends to have a more established safety profile, and often it is the synergy of the whole plant that tends to be the most therapeutic rather than a single "magic bullet" chemical. Also, you get that *balance* that I talked about above with the dandelion in my last post- where a plant naturally contains something to balance out what could be a side-effect.
In saying all this, there are definitely times where a tablet or capsule (ideally of a whole herb extract) is useful. Especially if it means you are more likely to actually take your herbs this way! I always say that taking your herbs the way that you are *going to* take them is way more important than the *ideal way* that just sits in your cupboard.
Capsules and tablets can be made to extract the water-soluble or the fat-soluble compounds, or a mixture of both, depending on how they are made.
In case you can't tell - I'm a super geek when it comes to plant medicine and finding ways to use them everyday!
What is your favourite way to use plant medicines every day? Leave a comment below!
And stay tuned for upcoming blogs on this topic.
Next up: How/Where to get your plant medicine!
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