Medicine Making

Making the Florida rounds…

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The bus went snow-birding in early February, as we toured Florida.  The photo above shows our first aid station at the Florida Earthskills Gathering.  It is a privilege and pleasure to be able to offer support at events such as these, which preserve and promote a culture of earth protection and respect.  Working a station such as this is a chance to see herbs in action, learning by doing and by observation.  We benefit from noting our patients’ experience, from seeing herbs work and not work, and through skill-sharing of materia medica and clinical techniques with the other practitioners we serve alongside.

1780612_750247308326715_341125773_nNext the Bus headed south to St. Pete’s to run a workshop and clinic practicum for the clinical students of the Acupuncture and Herbal Therapies Training Program.  Day 1 reviewing the Herb Bus Service Manual and making preparations for the next day’s clinic.  Instead of working from the Herbalista Kits, this time we custom built herbal kits on site. This was important for a few reasons. First, we wanted the kits to reflect THEIR style of herbalism and be filled with the tools the students are used to working with (this school practices from a chinese-western blended herbal perspective). Next, it’s just fun to build them. It makes you consider every aspect of your clinical practice– which herbs you use, in what quantities, what types of preparations, how you dispense them, how can you arrange them in an efficient way, and how can you add a little bling (it’s all about the gold duct tape). And what is really thrilling, is that when the Herb Bus rolls out of town, the kits will remain in St Pete’s, with the students, hopefully for many clinics to come! Day 2 brought severe thunderstorms, but in the style of good health we were flexible.  Instead of working out of the Herb Bus, under the elements, we held our clinic in the shelter of the center.  Click here for photos.

~Herbalista Lorna

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Reusing Bottles and Bits

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IMG_3250One thing’s for sure– herbalists go through a lot of bottles.  For a profession where environmental impact rates high on the list of our concerns, the last thing we want to do is add to a bunch of bottles, caps, and droppers to the mountainous landfills.   I clean and reuse bottles and wanted to share with you the methods I have found safe and efficient.

When a bottle is returned to me, I pour out any leftover tincture, oil, etc  and place the bottles into a hot, soapy bath, leaving them to soak for a time to allow the labels and any  residue to loosen.  The labels will practically fall off, and for the more stubborn parts, simply use the label bits that did come free and rub that over the remaining adhered label.  That will work it free.

I have a number of different bottle brushes with which I scrub the inside of each bottle.  As for the droppers, I dissemble them, separating the pipettes, the squeeze bulbs, and the plastic rings from one another.  I use phenolic cone lined caps  and these cones are popped free with the use of a pointed set of tweezers. These bits and pieces are all then immersed in a soapy, hot bath for a soak.  I use my favorite tool, a mascara wand (purchased from a beauty supply store) to clean the inside of the pipettes, squeeze bulbs, and other hard to reach places.  After this prewash I pack everything into a bin for the next step.

In order to feel like the bottles and tops have received a complete wash and sterilization for reuse, I like to use a dishwasher and program it for the heavy duty wash with the high heat setting.  Since I am not gifted with a dishwasher at my own house, the next step involves schlepping all the bottles and various accoutrement to my parent’s house (is there ever a time we stop needing assistance from our folks) to run them through their machine.  I use a simple eco-friendly detergent with the above mentioned settings.

After they have been run through, I schlep them back home for the final stages of this “ever-so-time-consuming-but-totally-worth-it” cleaning protocol.  The bottles are lined up against my west facing window bank to allow for any last bits of moisture to escape and the tops are laid out on a clean towel.  The blue bottle in the picture above is filled with 95% alcohol, which is the same alcohol I use for making my tinctures.  I spritz them all over and wipe them down with a thin cotton towel.  To reach the inside of the squeeze bulbs I again use that trusty mascara wand. Finally, all is reassembled to be used once more to dole out sweet, sweet herbal medicine

For any bottle or top that doesn’t pass muster (using organoleptic evaluation– sight and smell) they are put back into the bin for another cleaning.  You will find that over time, the squeeze bulbs loose their integrity (notice in the photograph that some are starting to look a bit grey) and they will eventually get pulled.  This is a bit frustrating, because the pipettes and ring are still completely fine.  I have searched and have yet to find a distributer of just the bulbs.  So I’ve taken to keeping  the extra pipettes in a cup for tastings of herbal concoctions I’m making, which feels like a fine way to spend their retirement!

-Herbalista Lorna

The Herb Bus Summer Tour

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The Herb Bus

This June and July, the Herb Bus drove cross country to spend time with the plants and serve the people. We assisted in free clinics at both the Firefly and Rainbow Gatherings and also spent time in the field, botanizing and wildcrafting for medicines. The next voyage is planned for September.

Click the link below to see more photos from our trip.  Viva la Herb Bus!

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Apothecary Wish List

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Apothecary Wish List

I’d like to begin by thanking everyone who has already contributed so much to getting the Herb Bus rolling.  This herbalista feels grateful to belong to such a generous community.  There have been some inquiries about how one might make herbal donations to stock our apothecary.  This is something we are grateful for, but also need to be quite specific about.  The simple fact is that the Herb Bus is quite small.  We fit an entire clinic into that little bus and so are particular about what items we stock.  We have now created an “Apothecary Wish List” and plan to keep it regularly updated with both herbs we are low on and herbs that we seem to dispense at a high rate.

The wish list is posted as both a main tab on this blog and a pdf version on the HERBALISTA website.  We care deeply about our clients, so please– read the list carefully and follow all labeling instruction.  And thank you for caring about this sweet little bus on a mission!  Viva la Herb Bus!

Tea Concentrate Granules – Take 1

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Today begins the big experiment with making tea concentrate granules. First, I’d like to thank Christopher Hobbs for planting this seed in my brain. I attended a plant walk with him at the 2012 American Herbalists Guild Symposium and he just happened to mention this process. It was the missing link for the Herb Bus– a way to deliver effective herbal medicine without utilizing the traditional (American) alcohol based tincture.

For starters — WHAT ARE TEA CONCENTRATE GRANULES?

They are concentrated extracts made by dehydrating an herbal tea or decoction till you are left with a concentrated powder. It seems there are two distinctive ways to make the granules, either with or without added starch or an herbal powder.

Due to the high humidity of Atlanta, I have decided to create my granules utilizing starch powder. This will prevent the granules from sticking together and creating a tea concentrate rock.

Here are links to a couple resources I found helpful as I tried to learn more:

Legendary Herbs

Blue Poppy Enterprises

While the process is pretty straightforward in the descriptions, the information I have not been able to locate is how much potato starch to add per ounce of the greatly-reduced-decoction-of-herbal-glop. Based on my gleanings from other kitchen preparations which utilize a starch of some type (jello, jelly, etc) I am beginning with 1 tsp per 2 oz of reduction.

Ginger Concentrate Granules – The Maiden Voyage

I began by putting 2 ounces of dried ginger root (powdered fresh) in a stainless steel pot and covering it with 16 oz of cold, distilled water (1:8). I then simmered it covered for 20 minutes to get out the goods. Then I let it simmer on the lowest heat possible for another 20 minutes uncovered to begin reducing it down. After a slight cooling period I strained the glop through a muslin press cloth to separate out the solids. After an exciting explosion of gingery shrapnel as the cloth gave way to my relentless pressing, I was left with about 4 oz of reduction. So based on the ratio of 1 tsp potato starch per 2 oz reduction, I mixed in 2 tsp of potato starch.

Next I poured the lovely, ginger goo onto a tray meant for making fruit leather in the lovely dehydrator donated to the cause by Kyla Zaro-Moore. I’ve set the thermostat to 95 degrees (the lowest setting) and now I just have to wait and see…

Apothecary Concerns – How to stock the Herb Bus

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mortar pestleToday’s American herbalist, tends to have an arsenal of alcohol-based medicines a.k.a. tinctures in their apothecary. While there are many reasons to use tinctures (convenience, preservation, solvency, etc…) when working with a homeless population, alcohol is best avoided. Why? Here are two good reasons:

1. Alcohol is energetically hot and tends to deplete vital energy. Many homeless suffer from malnourishment and deficiency is a concern. We do not want to further deplete.

2. Alcohol sensitivites. Many in our community struggle with alcohol addiction.

So once I decided the use of alcoholic tinctures was to be limited, I begin to suss out my remaining herbal options:

1. Glycerine Based Tinctures – Decent extraction (about 1/2 the extraction power of alcohol). Tasty. Can be easily utilized in place of traditional alcohol based tincture (similar formulation techniques and method of dispensing.) Diabetic friendly.

2. Vinegar Based Tinctures – Great for extracting minerals and alkaloids. Can be easily utilized in place of traditional alcohol based tincture (similar formulation techniques and method of dispensing.) Diabetic friendly.

3. Syrups – Tasty. Nourishing. A way to preserve tea-based medicine. If prepared with honey or sugar, not diabetic friendly. Honey based syrups often still need refrigeration.

4. Teas – Great medicine that has been the bedrock of herbalism for thousands of years. Nourishing. Can be difficult to prepare if no access to a kitchen. Prebagged in iron-shut baggies is the most likely to be utilized.

5. Powders – Convenient (just stir portion into water or mix with honey or nut butter). Can grind and sift herbal formulas on the spot from dried herbs. Lightweight.

6. Pills / Capsules – Convenient. Western (allopathic) medicine relies heavily on pills. Increased familiarity means increased compliancy . If digestion is impaired, herbs in capsule form are not as readily available. Use glycerin to make pills (avoid honey for diabetic concerns).

7. Tea Concentrate Granules – Convenient (just stir portion into water). Predigested (previously decocted). Concentrated (cuts down on size and weight).

As I think of more options, I’ll add them. But for the moment, my focus is going to be on the preparation and utilization of tea concentrate granules. I like that they are a a water based medicine (very nourishing and soothing), lightweight, and conveniently administered. However, while this is the norm in chinese medicine, it has not caught on among western herbalists in the same way. There is going to be a bit of a learning curve, so here we go! As I practice, I’ll post my errors and successes – all great learning moments.

-Lorna