Saturday, March 10, 2012

Plant Helper for coughs and colds

The farmers market is a great place to get fresh healthy vegetables, fruits and herbs. The photo above is my grandson, Henry, tending the Wapsinonoc Gardens stand at the Iowa City market last summer. This winter we have experimented with a farmers market inside a school gym, open every other week. Although sales are not as brisk as in the warm seasons, I have been a vendor at most of these inside markets, selling herbal products like healing salves, medicinal tinctures, eye pillows and shoulder/neck pillows. Last week, one of the other venders (an Hispanic woman who embroiders exquisite and colorful clothes and bags) asked me if I had anything to help her son. He had a cough and congestion that seemed never-ending. After looking through the tinctures on my table, I traded this worried mother a bottle of elecampane tincture for an embroidered hair clasp, and hoped that her son would agree to take a few drops three times a day. Then I forgot about it. 

A few days later, I got a call from another Hispanic woman who wanted some elecampane tincture too! Evidently the first woman’s son was improving on the elecampane, and good news travels fast! These transplanted women were accustomed to using herbs for healing in their native countries, and they were reluctant to take their children to the doctor for every sickness. Yet they were far away from the herb women they grew up with. It felt good to be able to be there when they needed a more natural remedy.

The best news is that herbs do heal. And not only can you grow your own. You can also easily make medicine from them. Elecampane, when it’s blooming, draws all the attention in my north garden. It is a giant of a plant, and its sunflower-like blooms are cheerful and sunny. Some folks might grow it just because it looks attractive, but I grow it for its roots. After the plant’s second or third year, the roots are big enough to dig up, and they are a wonderful helper for chest ailments: coughs, bronchitis, asthma, even tuberculosis! Although you can make a strong tea (or decoction) from the roots, it doesn’t taste very good. So I usually tincture it and have it ready for anyone who needs it.

Directions for making elecampane tincture:
Dig the plant up during the warm season, cut off the top, and wash the root well, using a brush and forceful water. Then dry it thoroughly. This might mean letting it sit out in the sun or in the house for a day to make sure that the excess water has evaporated.  Then cut the root up in small pieces with a sharp knife. The smaller the pieces, the more surface area will be in contact with the vodka. Fill a jar with the pieces of root, and then pour in 100 proof vodka to the top. Put a lid on the jar and label it with the date and the contents. Let it sit for at least six weeks, shaking or stirring occasionally. If vodka is absorbed by the root pieces, add more vodka to cover. When you are ready to decant the tincture, put cheesecloth or some other similar cloth over a bowl and pour the tincture through the cloth, letting the bowl catch the infused vodka. Then pull the sides of the cloth up together and twist and twist, getting every last drop of the precious medicine out and into the bowl. Once you’ve gotten all you can, discard the roots and pour the decanted tincture into dosage bottles or a larger bottle for storage. Keep in a relatively dark place until needed. Tinctures will last for many years.

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