Hey all. Last week I posted on Instagram that I was formulating a tincture out of the plants that are growing on my parent’s property, and a couple of folks asked to know more. Two years ago, as I was planning out the orchard I was designing for my parent’s yard, I could not help but add in some plants that would be both beneficial for the landscape but also beneficial for people- specifically women.
I had been doing a lot of reading on herbal remedies and I found a recipe from Rosemary Gladstar that was for the relief of menstrual cramps. I’ve always been fascinated by alternative approaches to women’s health, and had recently discovered the potential dangers of high levels of ibuprofen use. I wanted to find ways to help get relief from pain without automatically going straight for conventional pain relievers. Don’t get me wrong. I think pain relief medicine is a wonderful gift, but I also think it’s something to be used with caution and mediation like more other drugs.
If I can find a less potentially harmful way to support myself through menstrual cramping, I’m going to go for it. Save the ibuprofen for extreme situations. And be thankful it’s there.
I digress. Herbal solutions to cramping have been around for a while, and luckily for me, one of them lives in a plant called cramp bark, or highbush cranberry. Highbush cranberry is a favorite of New England permaculturists because of its habitat building properties along with its native plant status. I found my highbush cranberry plants at the New Hampshire state nursery and got ten little bare root plants for 10$, which is a damn deal. State nurseries are a great resource for affordable, native plants that benefit the environment and humans at the same time. Huzzah!
Cramp bark contains valerenic acid, a compound that is also found in the valerian plant and is known to reduce muscle spasming. To harvest the cramp bark, I selected a branch, asking the plants permission, and cut it off with my shears. My plants have been in the ground for two and a half seasons at this point, which is probably the earliest you should really harvest. I knew I would only need one branch at most to make the amount of tincture I need, so I was careful not to harvest too big a branch. I then took a sharp knife and ran it parallel along the side of the branch to remove just the outer bark and cadmium layer.
I measured the amount of bark I had collected in grams. I wanted to have a tincture made of equal parts of each ingredient, so the amount of cramp bark helped determine the quantity of the rest of the plants. It came to 22 grams. I went out to the pennyroyal patch I had started from seed which is growing under the plum trees and collected about 40 grams. Some to dry and some to add to the tincture.
Next was yarrow, known to regulate bleeding and heat the body.
It was happily populating the open area next to the chicken run. Lastly was lemon balm, known to lighten the mood and help things taste nicer (because yarrow is a bitter medicine, let me tell you).
I chopped up each of these herbs and added approximately 22 grams of each into my pint jar. I then took some 90 proof vodka and poured it over the mix until it was completely covered.
Note that you can absolutely make tinctures out of vegetable glycerin (diluted with water) or even vinegar if you are avoiding alcohol!
In the end the recipe looked like this:
22 grams each of: cramp bark, pennyroyal, yarrow, and lemon balm.
appx. 1 cup vodka
I will now let the tincture steep for the next four weeks, giving a little visit and shake along the way to add in the good vibes. I made myself a migraine tincture a few weeks ago that has proved to be shockingly helpful (I’m still a skeptic about herbal ways, so it’s always fascinating to me when these solutions actually work), so I have high hopes for this little menstruation tincture. I had an IUD until this summer and I am back on the menstruation brigade, so I’ll let you know how it goes.
If you are wanting to make this yourself but don’t have the plants growing in your yard, you can easily order the dried plants in bulk online from retailers such as Mountain Rose Herbs- I have no deal with them, by the way, if you do buy from them. They are simply the one bulk herb retailer I know about! If you do use dried herbs, 22 grams is going to be a lot more herb than I used, but you should be fine.
Once the tincture has steeped for four weeks, I will use a cheesecloth to strain the herbs out and keep the liquid in the same jar. Perhaps I will decant some into a dropper bottle, but only if I have one around.
These herbs that I’ve used are quite safe, especially in the quantities and strengths that I’m talking about, but be sure the check up on all of them to make sure you’ll be safe using them- everyone is different. When it comes to making tinctures, though, relax. It’s not a perfect art, and it doesn’t have to be.
Good luck, and let me know how it goes.