Adding herbs to your life can take many forms. You can use tinctures, extracts, capsules, vaping, balms, teas, etc. But what are the differences, and how do you make each one? How do you decide what is the best method? Does the way you prepare an herb have a different effect on your body?
Let’s explore. First off, yes. The way that the herb is prepared does have an effect on how your body responds to it, so if you are looking to use herbs to promote health and wellbeing, we highly recommend you try different methods and keep notes so you can determine what works best for you, as there is a lot of power in understanding your own body and how to best use herbal remedies.
So what are the differences between the methods?
Let’s start with encapsulations like what we create at RidgeCrest Herbals. The method itself is quite simple, you grind up the dry herbs you want and put them into a vegetable glycerine capsule. The real finesse comes with finding the right combination of herbs and the right amounts to get the greatest effect - and we do a pretty good job at that! Some of our products use extracts of certain ingredients, (see below for explanation) but whenever possible we find great benefit in using the whole herb with its myriad and mysterious synergy of beneficial chemical properties.
Next, let's look at tinctures. Tinctures are what you see in the grocery store with a dropper lid. Tinctures usually contain an alcoholic base, often vodka, that has the herbs infused into it. While they can become expensive at the grocery store, doing them yourselves is incredibly simple. Start with vodka in a mason jar. Add the herbs you wish to use and make sure they are fully submerged. Store in a cool location out of direct light and shake it up occasionally for at least three weeks, then strain the herb material out of the alcohol. The alcohol has soaked in all the health benefits! You can take it directly, or add a few drops of the tincture into a tea or even a salad dressing.
How are extracts different from tinctures? Well, a tincture is a type of extract, because you are using a method that draws out the chemical compounds that bring benefit, but there are lots of other ways to create a tincture. You can also use temperature, pressure, air, and many more methods to draw out individual parts of herbs to increase the percentage of the desired compound you are after. For example, most studies on St Johns wart pinpoint the Hypericum as the desired part of the plant. So let's say that your starting st john's wart was 0.2% Hypericum and you would like to increase the amount to be higher. You could take a part of your herb batch and put it through an extraction process, then take the extract and spray and dry it on the other half of your st johns crop. Your crop would then have a higher % of hypericum then the starting 0.2%.
The method of vaping for inhalation is becoming extremely popular, and we can take the popularity of vaping cannabis as a starting point for basically any other herb you wish to ingest. Dry-herb vapes work via heat; the heat is drawn through the herb, breaking the volatile compounds away from the whole herb. Different temperatures are caused by the speed of air over the heating element will widen the compound varieties released. You can purchase dry herb vape e-cigs where you place the dry herb directly into the chamber, or you can vape using a compatible infused oil.
Tea is another, and maybe the most widely used delivery method for herbs. A pleasant taste, a cozy smell, and the comforting warmth of tea, along with the cultural markers of a ritual with a history that shaped nations and global trade for centuries all contribute to the enjoyment, but there are also a lot of health benefits, especially with the right herbs in your tea. The hot water is extremely effective at pulling out the compounds found in herbs for your body to use.
Traditional Chinese medicine has a very old and extremely large apothecary. They have written history on many forms of preparations of herbs and medicines such as fermenting, frying, drying, extraction, and boiling, so there are many more options out there! It is fascinating to read through some of the methods of preparations for herbs. For thousands of years, without our sophisticated technology, we know they were extracting the health benefits of herbs in creative, dynamic ways.