First, I want to point us back to our friend nettles. Urtica Dioica is a deep nourisher and tonic herb, meaning it works generally on the entire body, bringing it back to maximum health and nourishment. But it is also a specific remedy for allergies, due to its anticatarrhal action. This means it dries up mucous that has thickened into sticky, thick catarrh. We’ve already talked about one way to ingest our nettles: nourishing herbal infusions. If allergy season has arrived where you live, or better yet, if it hasn’t quite, but is about to, start a regimen of overnight nettle infusions tonight.
If you’re already in the thick of it, however, you might want something a bit more potent and fast-acting. A tincture of nettle, or of other herbs helpful for allergies, will be most helpful here. If you were unfamiliar with herbal medicine before reading this blog, a tincture in a small brown glass bottle might be what you think of when you hear the word “herbalism.” These are liquid extracts of fresh or dried plant material which have been steeped in alcohol for a number of weeks, until the medicinal compounds have leached out from the plant into solution. We then take drops of the solution as needed.
Tinctures are an excellent way to take concentrated forms of herbs, and to extract constituents that are alcohol soluble. Nettles are great in overnight infusions AND tinctures. They contain alkaloids, which extract well in alcohol, and they contain protein and salts, which extract well in water. Tinctures use alcohols in the 40-90% alcohol by volume range, which means they still have some water content. This is useful for drawing out water-soluble compounds AND alcohol-soluble compounds. (ABV multiplied by two is the “proof” of an alcohol. Everclear, which is 151proof, is 75% ABV.) So let’s make one!
Nettle Tincture- Folk Method
2-4c dried nettle or 3-6c fresh
Alcohol, 45% ABV or higher. I recommend 90proof brandy or vodka
Glass jar of any size with ring lid
Tincture bottle of any size
The “folk method” of medicine making means we eyeball our amounts, instead of creating tinctures with standardized formulas. If I were making a tincture for sale as part of my small business, I would calculate a standard ratio of plant material to alcohol. We’re not doing that, which is why there is such a range of materials needed. Here’s the general formula:
IF USING DRIED NETTLES, fill a glass jar halfway with finely chopped plant material.
IF USING FRESH, fill the jar ¾ full with finely chopped plant material.
Pour in alcohol to cover. You may need to stir the solution to get the plants to sink to below alcohol level. Make sure everything green is covered. Cover tightly with lid, and set the jar out of direct sunlight. Let it steep for 4-6 weeks, agitating once a day for the first two weeks. After a month or more, remove the lid. Does the solution smell both alcoholic and “green?” We want to make sure the tincture looks and smells like it has steeped. Does it smell like a plant? Has the liquid turned a dark greenish-brown? If so, it’s ready to strain. Reserve every drop of liquid, and press the plant material well to ensure all tincture has been extracted. Carefully pour into a brown glass tincture bottle, label with the date, plant, and alcohol. You can then start taking the tincture right away. Nettles is a safe tonic herb, so you can’t take too much. But it’s also strong medicine, so you might not like how large amounts feel in your body. I recommend starting with 5-10 drops, 3-5 times a day as needed during allergy season.
We’ll talk in future posts about other herbs that tincture especially well. Enjoy your homemade medicine, and drink your infusions while you wait! Happy healing!
This week I got my information from a class on tinctures led by Ashley Elenbaas and Betsy Miller at the Sky House Apothecary in Maryland. If you are interested in taking your plant knowledge to the next level, I cannot recommend Ashley’s herbal foundations class highly enough. It’s a year long, and you can take the class locally or from far away. Most classes take place online. A new year starts May 24th. More information is here.
Legalese: In our society, only MDs get to say they are "treating" disease. As such, this blog post has not been analyzed by the FDA, and the advice within has not been scientifically proven to diagnose, treat, or cure disease. Please see a health practitioner for medical treatment.