Friday, January 6, 2012


Usnea thallus on tree branches

Most herbal tinctures are effective for home use when made by the folk method in which the plant is covered by vodka and steeped for two weeks before straining off the medicine. But certain powerful plants need more specific extraction to avoid under or over dosing. The time honored weight-to-volume method is the most accurate way of standardization short of biochemical analysis. This method uses a ratio of one part plant to five parts alcohol (1:5) for dried or woody herbs. For fresh green plants that contain a lot of water, the ratio is instead 1:2.

Stems branch from a central stalk (thallus)

I’ll demonstrate this process with old man’s beard (Usnea thallus), a lichen with antiviral and antifungal properties, because it’s available for picking in winter. We found a large patch of it growing on tree branches in the lower swampy part of the property where two springs converge to join Price Run.

Other herbs best extracted by weight-to-volume include sedatives like hops, passionflower and valerian root, analgesics like willow bark, Indian pipe and wild lettuce, and endocrine tonics like wild yam, black cohosh and greenbrier.

HERBALIST’S NOTES: 1) Most plants can be coarsely ground or chopped before tincturing but airy or fluffy plants like usnea need to be finely ground in a blender to achieve the proper weight-to-volume ratio; 2) Weight-to-volume measurements can be in ounces to fluid ounces as illustrated below or in grams to milliliters for metric scales; 3) Most plants can be extracted in 50% vodka but those with high oil or resin content may require higher proof.

Usnea is very light and airy

Blend it for alcohol coverage

1. Gather usnea and snip off any bark remnants from the stems;
2. Weigh it on a precise kitchen scale, write down the weight (i.e. 1.2oz), and place the usnea in a blender;
3. Determine the amount of alcohol by multiplying the weight by five (i.e. 1.2oz X 5 = 5oz). The antibiotic oils in usnea extract better in higher proof alcohol, in our case 75.5% Everclear which is the highest proof available in West Virginia; 
4. Pour the alcohol over the herb and blend until completely immersed;
5. Pour all of the liquid and herb into a non-translucent jar and seal with a tight fitting lid;
Usnea extracts with high proof and heat
6. Label the jar with the herb, ratio, alcohol, and date (i.e. Usnea thallus 1:5 in 75.5%, 1/2/12);
7. Place the jar in a warm dark place for two weeks, briefly swirling the mixture daily. Usnea extracts better with heat so a boiler room or on top of a water heater is best;
8. Strain and press the tincture into an appropriately labeled storage bottle;
9. Dispense in one or two ounce dropper bottles at a dose of 1 dropper  (10-15 drops) three times a day when an antibiotic is needed.

DOCTOR’S NOTE: Serious infections or those resistant to herbal treatment should be evaluated by a healthcare professional who may need to obtain a culture for determination of microorganism and antibiotic sensitivity.

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