The Forager's Path - School of Botanical Studies

Variables in Determining the Strength of Herbal Pharmacy

A pot of tea is a pot of tea is a pot of tea…

Well, not really.
There are many variables that affect the strength and quality of herbal pharmacy, whether it is created in one’s home kitchen or in a larger industrial facility.

Included below are the points emphasized and addressed during our 10 Month Foundations program.

1. Time
Within reason, the longer the better.
The specific time duration depends on the solvent.
For water infusions, the time may range from 30 minutes to overnight (8-12 hours).

For alcohol tincture macerations, the time may range from 2 weeks to 6 months.

2. Heat
Warmth increases movement.
Warming a carrier oil, glycerin, honey or water increases extraction. 
Usnea (a lichen) is the only herbal preparation we use that requires a hot alcohol extraction.

3. Agitation or Movement – either continuous or intermittent.
Stirring, churning, simmering or percolating all apply here.

4. Surface to Volume Ratio
Within reason, the smaller the herb particles, the more surface area is exposed to the solvent.
Something similar to corn meal size works well.
If the herb becomes too fine a powder, like powdered sugar, it can pack tightly and have the opposite effect.

5. Marc to Menstruum Ratio
Within reason, the more marc the better.
However, there is a limit to how much a solvent can dissolve and hold.
Tinctures traditionally use a 1:5 ratio for dry herb and a 1:2 ratio for fresh plants

6. The Quality of the Herb.
Color and aroma are important indicators.
There is also a subjective ‘feel’ to a quality herb.
This is similar to picking fresh produce.
We choose what looks the most vibrant although we aren’t always able to verbalize exactly what that is.

7. The Quality of the Solvent.
Alcohol is best if it is organic
Water can be distilled, filtered or from a spring
Oil should be cold expeller pressed although these qualities aren’t available for all oils

8. The Care and Mindset of the person creating the pharmacy.
In many traditional health care systems, the herbalist preparing the herbs is doing some version of praying, chanting or singing.
At the very least, plant preparations should be approached when one is in a positive mindset and unhurried.

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