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Ask the Herbalist--Preparing Herbs

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ANSWERS FROM CARLOS:
QUESTION:
 What is the most effective way to consume garlic for the most health benefits?  I have tried taking garlic, mincing it, and putting it in warm water to let the nutrients seep into the water and then drink it.  I have also tried raw garlic where I mince it up, let it sit 20 mins, then take spoon of garlic, eat it while flushing it down with water so I donít taste it.  Does it matter?  Would garlic effect or cancel out the dandelion root and/or aloe vera?

ANSWER: As to Garlic the fresher the better. Include it as a condiment in all your meals if possible. It will not cancel out the others.

PREPARING TINCTURES
QUESTION:
I've read instructions on the internet about how to make my own liquid herbal extracts.  I plan on using 100 proof vodka and making extracts in small 1-2 oz bottles.  I wanted to ask you:

* when extracting from seeds (like Fenugreek, Fennel, etc) is it best to use in powdered form or whole seeds?
* do I absolutely need to measure out the herbs exactly? I would rather estimate 1 part herb to 1 part vodka.  Is this okay?
* Some say to let the herb sit in alcohol for about 2 weeks.  Others say 4-6 weeks.  Which is correct?

ANSWER: "When extracting from seeds (like Fenugreek, Fennel, etc) is it best to use in powdered form or whole seeds?"

Personally, I like to crush the seeds with a mortar and pestle before adding them. Some seeds like milk thistle won't release all the components if you don't do this. Powders are also fine, but if you use the whole seed, just make sure you crush them first.

"Do I absolutely need to measure out the herbs exactly? I would rather estimate 1 part herb to 1 part vodka.  Is this okay?"

What you're talking about is called the "simpler's" method and it's been used in herbalism for years. Using parts instead of cups or ounces. It's fine to do things in parts, just make sure if you are converting from a recipe, that you are getting the parts correct. (Are you good at fractions?!) As for one part herb to one part vodka, that is not the proper combination unless you are using fresh herbs. Usually for dried herbs, 1 part herb to 4 parts vodka.

"Some say to let the herb sit in alcohol for about 2 weeks.  Others say 4-6 weeks.  Which is correct?"

I think the longer the better. I've never done a tincture less than 4 weeks, but I suppose it's possible. I have jars with herbs and alcohol in them that are still steeping after months. It certainly won't hurt to leave them longer and it gives the ingredients time to combine nicely. Make sure you are agitating them every day.

LOOKING FOR AN HERB

QUESTION: A friend of mine was asking me if I ever heard of a herb called "decotation". I'm not sure, but I think it's French. I had never heard of any herb called by that name. I started to search for the name decotation, but nothing showed up. Then I found the site HerbNET saying if anyone had questions, to  e-mail you. If you have any information about this herb, or if it exists, please send me some information.

ANSWER:  What they are probably referring to is a "decoction". It is a way of preparing herbs like a tea, or a tincture, or an infusion. Decoctions are made from the harder parts of the plant, like the roots, or bark or seed. It's harder to extract the constituents from these parts, so a slow simmer or an overnight infusion is often required. To make your own decoction, place the herbs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Heat slowly and simmer, covered, for 20 to 45 minutes. The longer you simmer the herbs, the stronger the decoction will be.