Herb Basics: Tonic Wines, And More

Tonic wines are a fun and unusual way to enjoy many different herbs, plus they’re simple to make. Learn more about them, plus other herb basics.


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A Look at Tonic Wines

Tonic wines are a fun, unusual way to enjoy many different herbs—and they’re simple to make. However, some of the medicinal benefits are lost in the fermenting process, so you shouldn’t use wines exclusively if you take herbs for specific medicinal purposes.

To make a tonic wine, you’ll need three ounces of dried herb leaves or two teaspoons of a powdered root, and one liter of red wine. Place the herbs into a vat or a ceramic jar, and add the wine. Let the mixture sit in a cool place for at least two weeks.

Strain off the herbs and drink a small glass before dinner. Herbal wines made with dried roots such as ginseng are especially effective.

Or, try a combination of herbs, such as a bitters formula for digestion. These formulas often include gentian (Gentiana lutea), ginger (Zingiber officinale), and orange peel.

Store in a cool, dark place (or in the refrigerator) for up to four months. Check for mold before drinking, and if any forms, throw the wine away.

Introduction to Culinary Herbs

Learning to add culinary herbs to your meals not only boosts the dishes’ flavors, but also their medicinal qualities. Many cooks like to add fresh herbs toward the end of a dish’s cooking time to retain the color of the herbs. Here’s a guide to help you get started.

• Use basil in salads, pasta and rice dishes, with fish or poultry, and of course, in pesto.

• Try borage flowers as a garnish in green salads or on desserts, or use young borage leaves and blossoms as a replacement for cucumbers in uncooked dishes.

• Lavender is delicious in teas, ice creams, and sorbets.

• Use oregano with tomatoes, meat, and fish, and in tomato sauce.

• Rosemary is good with lamb, chicken, vegetables, and potatoes. Try using long branches as skewers for grilling.

• Try sage in pestos and sauces,or with meats and vegetables.

The Homeopathic Case

Homeopathic remedies tend to be more effective when they’re used based on many characteristics of a person, rather than just one symptom that person is experiencing. Using homeopathy in the most effective way requires a visit to a licensed homeopath, where they will take a full medical history known as a “case.”

This full medical history includes noting the patient’s constitution and appearance, mental and emotional symptoms, physical symptoms, and peculiar symptoms. The homeopath may ask questions about body temperature—whether you run hot or cold, and whether you prefer sweet or salty foods. Based on this entire case, the homeopath will determine the correct remedy.

After the remedy is administered, several things can happen to the patient. If the correct remedy has been given, the condition may improve and the patient may feel well. Or, there can also be an initial flare-up of symptoms, and then patient improves. The condition may improve at first, then stop improving, in which case a higher potency may be needed. If an incorrect remedy has been given, the patient may experience new, unusual symptoms. In this case, they stop taking the remedy and the symptoms should clear up. If not, a strong cup of black coffee can antidote (stop the actions of) the remedy.

Tonic wines are a fun way to enjoy many different herbs. 

All About Astragalus

Common names: Astragalus, milk vetch, huang qi, yellow leader
Latin name: Astragalus membranaceus
Family: Fabaceae
Part used: Root
Medicinal uses: Astragalus is a powerful immune stimulant andalso has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. The herb can increase the body’s resistance to disease.
Forms commonly used: Tea, powdered root, capsules, extract, and tablets.
Dosage: Drink 1 cup of tea in the morning and evening. Take 15 to 30 drops of tincture twicedaily. Add astragalus to soups or cook it with grains. Follow label instructions for prepared astragalus products.
Side effects: Astragalus seems to be a very safe herb. The Botanical Safety Handbook (CRC,1997), lists it as a Class 1 herb, meaning that it’s safe when used appropriately. According to The American Pharmaceutical Association’s Practical Guide to Natural Medicines (Stonesong, 1999), astragalus’ toxicity appears to be low, but the herb is yet to be examined in clinical trials.
Notes: Astragalus can also be found in “cured,” or honey-treated form. The herb has been usedin China for more than 2,000 years.

Herbs to Avoid During Pregnancy

Some gentle herbs, such as red raspberry (Rubus idaeus), nettles (Urtica dioica), and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) can be of great benefit during pregnancy. But there are many herbs that should be avoided, as they may harm the embryo, cause liver damage, or promote menstruation.

This is by no means a complete list, but the following are some of the most common herbs one should avoid during pregnancy.

• Aloe (Aloe vera)
• Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)
• Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)
• Cascara sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana)
• Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
• Dong quai (Angelica sinensis)
• Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
• Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
• Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
• Sage (Salvia officinalis)
• Senna (Senna alexandrina)
• Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

By The Herb Companion staff

Source: Patraker, Joel and Joan Schwartz. The Greenmarket Cookbook. New York: Viking, 2000.

Sources: Fisher, Kathleen. Herbal Remedies.
Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale, 1999.
St. Claire, Debra. The Herbal Medicine Cabinet. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts, 1997.