A Guide to Different Methods of Consuming Herbal Medicine (tinctures, capsules, etc)
- Published on: 10 July, 2020
- Last update: 03 November, 2020
When I first began dabbling in the world of plants and potions, I was a straight up capsule kinda gal. They seemed like the easiest way to get my medicine in (no taste?! sign me up), and I still love them to this day, but once I began attending herb school my whole world opened up. There are so many ways to experience, utilize, and develop a relationship with your daily herbs… and it turns out that the flavors* we may not be too fond of initially are often part of the magic. (YES, you can learn to love the taste of even the strongest herbs… coming from the girl who basically ate peanut butter and Wonderbread for 3 years straight as a kid!)
*If you want to learn more about how the 5 flavors of food + herbs nourish the 5 main organ systems of the body, check out this post. You can also learn about how our emotions are related to the 5 flavors here.
To this day, one of the questions I get most often is: do these various forms of consuming herbal medicine make a difference? Are some better than others? The answer is, it totally depends on which herb you’re using and the effect you’re trying to achieve. That’s why I use a mix of capsules, tinctures, teas, and even syrups in my line.
Because my goal is to make sure you guys not only have the formulas you need for your health, but the information and knowledge to be able to use them properly and grow your herbal skills far beyond what I offer, let’s break down the different ways we can prepare and consume our plant medicine!
A tincture is a powerful, concentrated extract of plant material in a base of alcohol (most common, preserves your medicine for ages) or glycerin (tastes much better, but doesn’t last as long). Tinctures are the fastest and most effective way to absorb the medicinal plant chemicals within herbs, as the liquid comes in direct contact with your digestive system once it goes down the hatch. The alcohol does an excellent job of extracting those medicinal compounds (such as the curcumin found in turmeric), but it doesn’t fare quite as well when extracting the minerals from plants and leaves. Therefore, you should use tinctures when you’re choosing a plant for its active ingredients, especially in acute situations. For example, I always use turmeric in tincture form when I experience inflammation from airplane travel. I also use tinctures when I’m getting a cold (rotated with my Immune Shroom) because I’m looking for the pathogen-fighting chemistry within the antibacterial herbs – not necessarily their mineral or nutritive content. Lastly, I prefer tinctures with herbs that you must taste in order to receive the full benefits, especially bitter herbs when I’m looking to improve someone’s digestion. Why? Because your tongue has specific receptors for the bitter notes. When those light up, your vagus nerve is stimulated & the digestive juices start to flooow! Taking digestive bitters in capsule form just wouldn’t be the same because your tongue doesn’t give your body that first signal. If you’re interested in something like this, you can try my Digestive Juice spray-style bitters formula. Yes, the taste is strong at first – because it’s waking up your taste buds and that vagus nerve to signal digestion! But it also gives us the flavor that our bodies need in order to produce adequate bile and HCL. Bitter foods are all too often missing from our modern diets, which many people believe contributes to our modern diseases.
Capsules are wonderful because they make herbal medicine much more approachable for those who are sensitive to strong flavors. My teachers always tell us that client compliance is the most difficult aspect of practicing herbalism, because most people just won’t drink an earthy brown liquid 3 times a day even if it’s magical unicorn juice that will allow you to eat 3827923875 cookies without consequence. (Okay, actually — most people would drink that. Myself included. But you get my point, right?!) Capsules involve grinding down dried herbs into a fine powder so that it is easily assimilated by the body once the capsule casing dissolves. Although this doesn’t happen as quickly as it does with tinctures, you’re still ingesting whole plant material with all of its compounds in tact. A ton of the herb’s surface area is exposed since it’s so finely ground, which helps with absorption. I take capsules when I want to consume ‘food as medicine’ (like the Immune Shroom mushroom capsules I mentioned earlier). I also love to use capsules for chronic conditions and extended herbal regimens, like my 45 day ParaPro parasite cleanse. Capsules makes the process much easier without sacrificing medicinal value, as long as your ground herbs are high quality & dried fresh. I would use capsules for someone who has chronic Lyme disease, for example, because they may be on antimicrobial herbs for months and months at a time.
Hot Tea/”Short Infusion”
This is best for gentle herbs that are designed to be consumed in smaller doses slowly over time. Herbs that are high in volatile oils (such as chamomile, lavender, or rose) make excellent candidates for a quick brew tea. You’re not looking for too much of a ‘medicinal’ effect here, but rather a weaker extract that is calming, nutritive, and balancing.
Room Temperature Tea/”Cold Infusion”
This method is particularly indicated for extracting mucilage rich herbs, such as marshmallow root. Marshmallow roots are high in polysaccharides and starches, and by using a cold infusion, you extract mainly the mucilaginous polysaccharides. The result is a slimy tea that coats and soothes the mucus membranes of the body. All you have to do here is the cover the herb with room temp water and seal in a mason jar for anywhere from 4 hours to overnight.
This is a long, low simmer method that is indicated for hard plant material such as roots, barks, seeds, and resinous plants. The long simmering helps to soften and extract the plant’s goodness, and the cover is kept on to keep volatile oils from escaping. The result will be a dark, earthy tea that has texture and richness.
You know how you eat leafy greens in salads to get the benefits of their mineral content? Think about all the other plants and herbs in the world that have leaves and minerals. Ya… there’s a lot of them! This means that you don’t have to only eat salads to consume your daily nutrients – you can actually extract them into hot water from the same leafy greens you know and love. The longer the water has contact with the herb, the more minerals it can extract from the plant. Mineral rich herbs such as nettle leaf and horsetail (though most herbs are mineral rich) benefit from long infusions (overnight or a full day). Use this method when you’re making a ‘multi-vitamin tea’ to sip throughout the day.