Herbs have been a part of human health and healing practices from the very beginning. Archeological evidence of people using plants to treat injuries and illnesses goes back to the Neanderthals. Over the ensuing millennia, we’ve continued to hone our techniques, finding new ways to harness the power of the natural world.
The roots of herbal health stretch far into the past, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also growing into the future. Even now, natural health companies are hard at work perfecting growth, preparation and administration methods for herbs that have served our ancestors for thousands of years before us.
To put it simply, these are not your grandma’s herbal remedies.
Herbal tinctures (sometimes called liquid extracts) have existed pretty much since the invention of distilled alcohol, with written references popping up as early as the second century A.D. Today’s liquid herbs combine that ancient knowledge with a very modern understanding of how the body operates.
Tinctures are created by immersing plant matter in an extracting agent — usually alcohol — and keeping them there for an extended period of time as the valuable chemicals within the plant leach into the surrounding liquid. The mix is then filtered and pressed to remove any solids, leaving behind a highly concentrated liquid supplement that can be added to water, juice or other beverages and consumed.
These tinctures offer several benefits over other forms of supplements, such as pills and teas. The concentrated liquids are considered more bioavailable, meaning they are more quickly and efficiently absorbed into the body. By partially bypassing the digestive system, tinctures deliver the highest possible amount of beneficial compounds to the bloodstream, where they can get to work addressing your wellness concerns.
Easily mixed with water or your favorite smoothie, tinctures are also low-fuss and easily adapted to your daily routine.
Herb Pharm, available at Berkshire Food Co-op in Great Barrington, is one of the largest herbal tincture manufacturers in the country, and operates on the cutting edge of botanical and agricultural sciences. They grow a large percentage of their ingredients on-site at their farm in Oregon, using techniques pulled from tradition and verified with modern scientific testing to harvest plants at their most potent.
The harvested herbs are subjected to rigorous examination at the microbiological level, assessing for purity, strength and lack of contaminants.
They’ve also calibrated the best extracting mixture for each individual plant, using distilled water, non-palm vegetable glycerin and other ingredients in addition to the traditional alcohol. These custom methods are designed to complement each plant’s unique chemistry, for maximum effectiveness.
Another line available at the Co-op, Lakshmi’s Garden, is produced less than 10 miles away in West Stockbridge. Each of Lakshmi’s Garden’s small batches is formulated by hand using organic ingredients, a nod to traditional folk methods.
Most popular herbs are available in tincture form at Berkshire Food Co-op. As cold and flu season looms, immune-boosting echinacea formulas are particularly popular, as are extracts of lion’s mane, a peculiar-looking mushroom believed to support brain health.
Overwhelmed? The Co-op staff is eager to be your guide. “Each herb has its own personality,” said Brittany Cook, a member of the Co-op’s expert Wellness team. Co-op associates can not only help you find the perfect variety for your needs, they can offer advice on the best way to take each supplement to get the best possible results.
Regardless of which tincture you pick, you’ll be carrying home a condensed combination of age-old wisdom and modern innovation.