Friday, August 04, 2017

Whole Plant Echinacea Tincture

For the past few weeks I have been in awe of the bees in our garden.  The flowers are at their peak, and bees are simply everywhere, bees of every description.  We have seen mason bees, sweat bees, bumble bees, small wild bees, honeybees, squash bees, and many more varieties that I am not yet familiar with.  It feels good to be able to provide this host site for so many foragers, and see them buzzing around with gorgeous pollen on their legs!  Did you know that some bees, such as bumble bees and honeybees, have pollen "baskets", or corbicula, on their hind legs to carry the pollen back to the hive?  You can spot it when the baskets are full, sometimes with yellow, blue, purple or pink pollen, depending what flowers they have been visiting.  Amazing!

When making my whole plant echinacea tincture, it was a beautiful start to see the bees covering the echinacea patch when I went to harvest my flowers and leaves.  I knew this was going to be a potent tincture, ready in time for our family to use this winter.  Just look at the rich yellow pollen in that first photo of the echinacea flower.

How & why to make a whole plant tincture?
Tinctures are plant extracts, commonly made of leaves, flowers, roots or berries, steeping in food grade alcohol such as vodka or brandy.  Raw apple cider vinegar can also be used, but does not provide as long a shelf life for the tincture as the alcohol.  An alcohol tincture, if properly prepared and stored, can keep for many years.

Traditionally tinctures are made by steeping the fresh or dried plant material in a clean glass mason jar, covered by at least 1-2 inches of liquid (aka. the "menstruum") so that the plant material stays submerged at all times during the steeping period.  Steeping, or infusing, takes a minimum of 2 weeks, and better yet upto 6-8 weeks.  Then the plant material is strained, and the liquid reserved - that is now your finished tincture.  Bottle (ideally in a dark glass bottle), label, and store in a cool dark location until time of use.  Tinctures are taken by the droperful, in a glass of water.  They are ideal for preserving herbs such as echinacea, which can be used for boosting the immune system and warding off winter colds and flu.

Whole plant tinctures are ones made with not only one part of the plant (e.g. the leaves, or the flowers, or the roots), but the entire plant.  They create the most potent tinctures available, as they make use of all aspects of the plant's medicinal qualities.  The various parts are harvested for the tincture throughout the growing season, when they are at their peak, and then discarded after the infusing period is finished.  For example, the leaves are harvested just before flowers are budding on the plant.  Then the leaves are strained out of the tincture, and the flowers are added just as they have opened.  Then the flowers are strained out of the tincture after they have infused for the necessary period, and next the echinacea roots added.  Roots are usually harvested in the fall, after the flowers of the plant have died back.  So for making this whole plant tincture, echinacea is the perfect plant to experiment with and makes a potent tincture every time.  It takes some attention to make a whole plant tincture, as you need to follow the process throughout the growing season, but the effort is well worth the finished result.

Whole Plant Echinacea Tincture*
Yields: aprox. 6-8 ounces of finished tincture

You will need:
1 clean glass mason jar (250 ml) and lid
fresh echinacea leaves (handful, chopped)
fresh echinacea flowers (3-4 flower heads, whole)
fresh echinacea roots (handful, chopped)
vodka or brandy (food grade)

1) Fill jar with fresh echinacea leaves that are harvested from the plants before the flowers have formed.
2) Add vodka to within 1-2 inches above the plant material.  Make sure plant material is covered completely by alcohol through the whole steeping time.  This is important, otherwise you risk mold growing and ruining your tincture.
3) Label the jar with ingredients, location of harvest, date.
3) Let steep in a cool dark location for at least 2 weeks, preferable 4-6 weeks.
4) Then strain out the leaves, reserve the liquid.
5) Add echinacea flowers, just as the flowers are fully opening.  Again, cover with at least 1-2 inches of vodka.  Steep as before.
6) Strain out the flowers, and reserve the liquid.
7) Finally, add chopped up fresh echinacea roots, that are harvested after the flowers have died back from the plants in the fall.  Use roots from plants that are at least 3 years old.
8) Steep again, covered by at least 1-2 inches of vodka, for at least 2 weeks.
9) Then strain out the roots, and reserve the liquid.
10) Bottle into dark glass bottles with tight fitting lids.  Label and date.  Store in a cool, dark location until time of use.  This tincture should keep for at least 1-2 years if prepared and stored properly.

* a little tip, to make the most potent tincture, always harvest from several of the most healthy looking plants in your garden, rather than from one plant only, and infuse with love and good intention