Just when you think you are winding down for the winter, it is time to dig roots, peel bark and collect seeds for decoctions, tinctures and syrups. Perennial plants concentrate and store nutrients in their roots and seeds during the fall so that they have what they need to come back to life in the spring. This includes the chemicals that give it health benefits and medicinal actions. Roots can be used fresh or dried to use later. It is best to cut roots into small pieces to speed drying and make them easier to grind. Grinding can be done in a blender or coffee grinder. Most of the plants described below are ones you have cultivated and you do not have need to identify because you already know them. If you do not have them, this winter is a good time to look for sources to purchase seeds or plants. It is very helpful to be able to make your own medicines, but more importantly your appreciation and protection for plants will grow immeasurably.
You may use either fresh or dry material. Cut fresh roots very thinly, grind dry roots into a coarse powder. Measure 25 grams of fresh root or 5 grams of dry and add one pint of water in a glass or ceramic pan. The water should be naturally soft (e.g., rainwater) or distilled. Let the mixture soak for a few hours and then very slowly bring it to a boil. Gently boil the mixture for 15 minutes (longer if the material is very hard and dry). Strain or filter out the plant material and allow the decoction to cool. Divide the finished product into three portions and consume about 6 hours apart. The following are recommended for decocting:
Blackberry root and bark – stops diarrhea and gastrointestinal bleeding
Black Cohosh root – antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic (reduces dull aches anywhere in the body)
Burdock seeds – detoxifies liver, helps relieve rheumatism and gout
Comfrey root – eases dry coughs, soothes digestive tract, stops hemorrhaging, heals wounds
Dandelion root – general tonic, detoxifies the liver, mild laxative and bitter
Echinacea Root – immune stimulant, anti-microbial, stimulates macrophages
Ginger – relieves nausea and motion sickness, aids digestion, warms and promotes perspiration, anti-inflammatory
Mullein root – expectorant, tones the mucous membranes, reduces inflammation, diuretic
Yellow Dock root – cleanses liver, laxative
Syrups can be made by making a strong hot water infusion or decoction. Strain out the plant material and reheat. Turn off the heat and add raw honey in the ratio 2 parts herb to 1 part honey. Store in the refrigerator for longest life.
The very easy and common preparation method is using alcohol to extract plant components. Herbs can be dry or fresh. Use a ratio of herb to alcohol of 1:5 for dry herb and 1:2 for fresh. Grind dry herb or chop fresh herb. Place in a quart jar and fill with 80 proof vodka or brandy. Place jar out of the light and shake daily for 3-4 weeks. Filter and press the marc (plant material) until it is dry. Bottle in dark glass. It will stay potent for a year or more. Take ¼ - ½ t. straight or in water 3-5 times daily. Tinctures can be made from almost any herb. In the fall the most common ones are Echinacea root (immune enhancement), black cohosh root (menopause), comfrey (can be used as a liniment).