Herb Basics

A ripe banana contains more ­alcohol than a dose of tincture

| May/June 1999

  • The deep red pistils of ­Crocus sativus are the source of saffron, a ­Chinese medicinal.

• A Brief Lesson in Botany 

Sacred Spas: Sweat Lodges

For centuries, the sweat lodge has been a part of many Native American tribal rituals for healing, vision quests, and preparing for most major ceremonies. Customs differ from location to location and tribe to tribe, with sweat leaders determining the details.

The lodge is a small domed structure made of bent willow branches and covered with hides, tarps, or blankets. The floor is usually covered with juniper and/or sage and has a pit in the center where heated rocks are ritually doused in water to produce steam.

Participants often drink teas such as yarrow and wild geranium to stimulate sweating. Once inside, they may rub their bodies down with herbs such as wormwood or sage further stimulating perspiration and detoxifying the body.

The modern traditions of saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs are reflections of this ancient ritual. Modern herbalists often combine these traditions with the use of diaphoretic herbs (herbs that stimulate sweating) to encourage the elimination of wastes through the skin. Diaphoretics also dilate surface capillaries to improve circulation and skin tone. Examples include boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), ginger, and yarrow.

Tincture Tales

In a generic sense, the word “tincture” refers to a liquid ­ extract made from an herb that has been dissolved in a solvent such as grain alcohol, glycerin, water, or, rarely, another liquid. More specifically, “tincture” can also be used to refer to alcoholic extracts only, while glycerin-based extracts are called “glycerites”.

These concentrated forms of an herb’s active chemicals offer several advantages over other herbal preparations. The bottles are easy to carry and need no refrigeration. The concentrated form makes it easier to take large doses. They keep for years and are easy for the body to assimilate—in fact, tinctures are often absorbed up to 40 percent better because the herb’s active components have been separated from the plant’s indigestible cellulose and starch.

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