Category Archives: Herbal Medicine

Spring Events

Although we still have cold temperatures ahead, it’s clear that spring is upon us. I have seen turkey vultures, geese, bald eagles, and robins. I have seen the tips of crocuses poking through the snow. The maple sap is running slowly but surely. What signs of spring have you seen? Please join us as we celebrate spring with classes on plants and trees.

Work Exchange Program
We are so close to having work parties to finish the Seed House, our straw bale sunroom and greenhouse – we just need the freezing temperatures to vanish so we can start getting our hands dirty making cobb for the walls and the bench rocket stove. But don’t let that stop you from contacting us to start banking work hours in our Work Exchange Program – we need help getting seeds started, planting the green house, preparing seed beds, making trails, and more. Write to trilliumctr@gmail.com to schedule your visit.

Volunteer Program
For those who’d like to get involved and volunteer, there is no requirement to participate in the Work Exchange Program. If you simply want some time out in the woods and have a strong back or some busy hands, let us know. We always have things to do!

March

Monthly Plant Walk and Making Maple Syrup
March 22 – 1 PM-2:30 PM

Join us for the second plant walk of the year, which is actually a tree walk. We will be identifying trees that have medicinal and edible properties.  We will also demonstrate our process for making maple syrup. Plant walks are $10 – all funds go to the Seed Fund for the Trillium Center. Send an email to trilliumctr@gmail.com to sign up.

Serpentine Project Plant Study Group
March 22- 3 PM -5 PM

The Serpentine Project is a monthly experiential study project that allows participants to learn about plants directly from the plants. Read more about the study groups at: http://serpentine-project.org/. The cost is $10 and includes a 2-hour workshop and a sample of the plant medicine to take home. Space is limited, so please send us an email to reserve a seat at trilliumctr@gmail.com.

Community Herbal Intensive
March 29 – 10 AM-6 PM

Monthly series that includes basic identification of wild edible and medicinal plants, herbal medicine making, basic anatomy and physiology, frameworks for developing community projects. Cost per workshop is $75, but early birds get a special price. Full description is on our Programs page.

April

Plant Walk
April 5 – 1 -2:30 PM

Ever wonder what that weed is growing in your back yard, or that flower that blooms deep in the woods in the spring? Learn to identify plants and trees at the monthly plant walk led by herbalist and community health educator, Leah Wolfe, MPH. She will point out wild edible plants, plants that have a history of being used medicinally, along with folklore and some of the latest science on the wild things growing around us. Cost $10. Dress for outdoors.

Cleveland Museum of Natural History: Field Trip to the Trillium Center
April 12 – 10 AM-1 PM

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History will be bringing a van from Cleveland to the Trillium Center for a tour and plant walk. Come learn about seasonal medicinal and edible plants. In early April, we expect to see the spring ephemerals, the forest dwellers that begin to emerge before the canopy fills with shady leaves. Register at http://cmnh.org/site/ClassesandPrograms/AdultFieldTrips.aspx

Plant Walk
April 12 – 1 -2:30 PM

Ever wonder what that weed is growing in your back yard, or that flower that blooms deep in the woods in the spring? Learn to identify plants and trees at the monthly plant walk led by herbalist and community health educator, Leah Wolfe, MPH. She will point out wild edible plants, plants that have a history of being used medicinally, along with folklore and some of the latest science on the wild things growing around us. Cost $10. Dress for outdoors.

Serpentine Project Plant Study Group
April 12, 3-5 PM

The Serpentine Project is a monthly study group that allows participants to learn about plants directly by using their senses, such as taste and smell. Cost $10 – includes a sample of the plant medicine to take home. Read more about the study groups at: serpentine-project.org.

Community Herbal Intensive
April 26 – 10 AM-6 PM

Monthly series that includes basic identification of wild edible and medicinal plants, herbal medicine making, basic anatomy and physiology, frameworks for developing community projects.  This series is closed for 2014, please send us an email if you’re interested in attending in 2015.

 

 

The Art of Making Tinctures

Poke TinctureSome of the frequent questions I hear from students and friends is “why doesn’t my tincture look/taste like yours?” I  have spent many years making wonderfully potent tinctures and making horribly disappointing mistakes. So here are my lessons learned. But first…

A note on menstruum, marc, and other words used to describe tincture making. The art of making herbal tinctures comes with its own vocabulary. The vocabulary words aren’t necessary to the process, so if you aren’t interested skip down to number 1. If you are interested, read on. The first word is menstruum. The menstruum is the solvent liquid that is used to extract the plant constituents. Solvents are liquids that the medicinal constituents of a plant will dissolve into. The menstruum can include the following liquids: alcohol, vinegar, water, vegetable glycerin, oil, or wine.

Generally, the word tincture is referring to an alcohol extraction. A tincture made with glycerin is usually referred to as a glycerite. Other extractions are often referred to by the type of menstruum used, such as vinegar extractions. The plant you want to make the tincture from determines the menstruum. For example, if you are making an extract of a plant like Stinging Nettles, that is high in minerals, consider making a vinegar extraction or using a higher water to alcohol ratio. Vinegar and water extract minerals better than alcohol does.

If you want a tasty extraction that is safe for children or people with alcohol sensitivities consider using vegetable glycerin (note that glycerin is often sourced from soy). Glycerin can also be used for plants that are high in mucilage (slimy constituents that help heal mucous membranes and other tissues, such as Marshmallow and Mullein. Plants that are high in resinous constituents like Pine or Balsamroot require a higher alcohol content or can be extracted in oil. The marc is the plant material that remains after the extract is removed by pressing or squeezing. The marc can be put in the compost. Two other important words are standardized and folk method.

Standardized vs. Folk Method
Tincture making with alcohol usually follows one of these protocols. Standardized tinctures adhere to the protocols established by a conference held in Belgium in 1902, “Conference Internationale pour l’Unification de la Formule des Medicaments Heroiques.” This protocol was adopted by the US Pharmacopoeia in 1906. Making a standardized tincture involves weighing the plant material and then preparing the menstruum at the appropriate ratio. Different ratios were established for dry plant vs. fresh plant and for varying potency. For example, a dried plant is prepared at a ratio of 1:5, 1 part dried plant in grams to 5 parts menstruum in milliliters. If you want to learn more about standardization, pick up one of the following books:

The Herbal Medicine Makers Handbook, by James Green
Making Plant Medicine, by Richo Cech

The folk method is far less complicated but in my experience often yields similar results. Start by thoroughly garbling your plants (this is described below under number 2. I choose a container that I think that all of the plant material will fit in once it has been cut into small pieces.

Fill the jar about 1/4 to 1/3 with your menstruum. Start placing the plant material in the jar before you begin cutting it. As you place the plant in the jar, chop it up as small as possible with scissors. You will be cutting the plant up in the jar directly into the menstruum. (I describe this more in number 3 below). Keep cutting and adding more of the plant and menstruum (if needed) until the jar is full.

Make sure that the menstruum covers the plant material. Put a lid on tight. Now maceration begins. The process of maceration has two parts time and agitation. The recommended time is two-four weeks. Agitation means shake it. Shake it as often as possible but at least two or three times a day.

The shaking helps distribute the plant material so that pockets of air and water don’t stagnate and cause your extract to rot. After the two weeks is up, strain, press, or squeeze the liquid out of the marc. Put your extract into a dark colored bottle and store in a cool dry place.

Note: the above methods are for alcohol extractions. To learn more about using other menstrua, get one of the books mentioned above.

And now for my lessons learned…

1. My tincture just tastes “green.” Usually what they mean by this is that it tastes ambiguously vegetative. This effect usually occurs when certain plants are grown in or near vegetable gardens. Plants create various chemicals as part of their survival strategy. Certain types of stress cause plants to create their own protective chemicals in response.

A few years ago I had a group of herbalists sitting on my front porch. We each had our own yarrow tincture (I had at least 3 from different places). So we did a taste test. We found that the yarrow that grew in the high desert near the Columbia Gorge in Oregon surpassed all the others in complexity and potency. Those places included the Rocky Mountains, the bluffs along Lake Erie, and a hayfield in northern Wisconsin (and perhaps others I’m forgetting).

I’ve also tasted yarrow tincture made from a plant grown in a garden in Portland, OR and found that it had that ambiguous and bland green taste. It doesn’t mean that you have to travel to eastern Oregon to have a good yarrow tincture. But, if you have the option, choose the plant that lives under some duress. That said, avoid plants that look diseased or inhabited by tiny critters, unless you know that the chemicals created under that stress are the ones you are looking for.

2. “My tincture isn’t as strong as yours.” This usually occurs when the garbling process is overlooked or under appreciated. Garbling is the process of removing dead leaves, dried up flowers, woody pith that comes off when peeling barks, and other parts of the plant that contain little to no medicinal constituents. This will add more time to the process but as you can see in the picture of the two St. John’s wort tinctures, it matters. And really, why wouldn’t you want to take the time to make the best tincture.

Variation in St. John's wort tincture. One was carefully garbled and chopped, the other was not.
Variation in St. John’s wort tincture. One was carefully garbled and chopped, the other was not.

Another thing that can happen is that the plant is not processed soon enough, especially when the plants being used have volatile oils that evaporate quickly. Timely processing captures more of the potency. Although I often lose some of the bulk of the plant while garbling, I often leave out stems unless they taste nearly as strong as the other parts I’m using. Which is a good reminder: taste the plant before you make the tincture. That’s what your tincture should taste like. If your tincture tastes different, something went wrong, and usually it’s the problem I describe in number 4 below.

Another aspect of potency is knowing when to gather plants. And I will say right now that there are many different theories about this. Some believe that the phase of the moon is critical. Others will say that time of year matters. Others emphasize the age of the plant. I will leave it at that because I believe each herbalist should find their own way as they develop direct relationships with the plant.

3. “My tincture isn’t as dark as yours.” This often happens when plant is cut on a cutting board. If you do this, take a look at your cutting board next time and notice whether the cutting board turns the color of your plants. You could be losing your color and potency on the cutting board. Instead weigh your garbled plant material and measure the appropriate amount of menstruum. Begin adding the plant to the alcohol while using scissors to chop it up in the alcohol. You will also increase the potency because you will likely end up with smaller pieces. You might be tempted to throw it all in the blender. Some herbalists do this and others don’t. Those that don’t say that the blender breaks down the plant material at a cellular level compromising the tincture quality.

4. “My tincture smells or tastes funny/different/weird.” The first question I ask the person that says this is, did you shake it with real commitment? The process of letting the tinctured plant soak and shaking it is called maceration. This process is vital especially if you are working with fresh rather than dried plant material. If it isn’t shaken, air and water bubbles could be trapped and lead to rot. Rotten tinctures are not good tinctures. There was a time when I had a chance to gather some important plants but then I had to travel. They were all lost. So if you can’t do it, find someone that will.

Last Words
Remember that intention is the most important part of the tincture-making process. Be mindful while gathering plants with good wishes for community and personal healing. Be mindful of where you are and your methods of wildcrafting – some of our most precious plants are listed at-risk of endangerment by United Plant Savers (unitedplantsavers.org). Take time to learn some basic principles of ethical wildcrafting. I will share my ideas on this website after I present a workshop on ethical wildcrafting in August at the Planting the Future Conference (http://www.unitedplantsavers.org/content.php/374-Planting-the-Future-Wisconsin-2013).

Viriditas,

Leah Wolfe

 

 

The United Plant Savers Botanical Sanctuary Network

Today we received a package in the mail from United Plant Savers. UpS has welcomed the Serpentine Project into their botanical sanctuary network. A bit from the UpS website:

UpS Botanical Sanctuary Logo“The mission of United Plant Savers is to preserve, conserve and restore native medicinal plants and their habitats of the US and Canada, while ensuring their abundant, renewable supply for future generations. To this end, United Plant Savers established one of our most important projects: the Botanical Sanctuary Network. As we became more deeply involved in the complexities of plant preservation, we realized that in order to preserve plants we must first preserve and protect the habitat in which our native plant communities thrive. What better way than to create a network of sanctuaries dedicated to restoring and preserving habitat for wildlife, both plants and animals.” Read more here if you are interested in developing your own sanctuary: https://www.unitedplantsavers.org/content.php/43-Botanical-Sanctuary-Network

I decided to work toward developing a UpS sanctuary for medicinal plants while I was studying plants in Oregon. Much of my studies centered on indigenous or native plants and naturalized plants. Some of the indigenous plants are rare and require ethical wildcrafting and propagation to ensure that they continue to exist. So I invite them to the places I live and hope that they settle in and get comfortable. Right now I’m inviting plants to NE Ohio. I had a garden in Oregon and then later started another garden around the meditation center at Anathoth Community Farm that is still doing well.

At BLD farm in NE Ohio, a learning garden with the at-risk species has been established closer to the house so that people who want to come learn and see the plants can do so without braving ticks and mosquitoes. So far that garden has a few plants each of Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Black Cohosh, Bloodroot, Goldenseal, Wild Ginger, Great Blue Lobelia, and Red Trillium. The other medicine gardens are in open areas near the garden and the work site for the green house.

Our long-term plan is to establish a center at BLD farm that emphasizes Earth-based skills (such as herbalism) and other folk arts that can contribute to a more sustainable society. We are currently working on the design of the primary classroom and apothecary. If you would like to help us make this dream come true, please donate or volunteer. Send checks payable to Serpentine Project to:

Serpentine Project
c/o Leah Wolfe
715 Furnace Road
Conneaut, OH 44030

Or donate online via PayPal by clicking below:

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The Sanctuary

Elecampane
The root of Elecampane is often used to heal lung infections. It has also been shown in a French study as an effective treatment for MRSA infections.

BLD farm has established a plant sanctuary for medicinal, indigenous, and unusual plants. We are hoping to ensure that some plant diversity in the regionis preserved. Many of the plants that grow here are common (or once were common) in the Appalachias, so we work hard to include those species due to the reduction in habitat in the region caused by mountain top removal (more on that below). We were accepted into the United Plant Savers sanctuary network in the November 2012.

The sanctuary includes medicine gardens, restoration projects, a food forest, and a green house improvement project. The medicine gardens are filled with indigenous plants, some beautiful cultivars, and important medicinal and edible plants. We plant non-native plants like the Elecampane at right as a way to reduce the use of indigenous plants that are on the United Plant Savers at-risk list. Under a canopy of beech, wild cherry, and oak, an indigenous plant garden has been started that thus far includes at least one each of red trillium, goldenseal, Jack-in-the-pulpit, great blue lobelia, black cohosh, and wild ginger.