Herbs are available in the form of decoction, tincture, elixir, mixture, syrup, tea mixture, powder. Many people ask the question: when to choose, what is the difference between them? So it’s time to “break the mould”.
A little preview: processing the plant parts into extracts
Once the plants have been collected, the next step is cleaning, the aim of which is to remove any accumulated dirt (dust, pesticides, insecticides, soil particles). Sorting is followed by chopping, especially of thick roots, root stems and bark. The drying process has a dual function: to stop undesirable enzymatic activity by reducing the water content of the collected plant parts and to prevent mould growth. It is therefore essential that drying is carried out quickly yet gently. Further chopping of the dried plant part is the final step in the extraction process.
Medicinal extracts – powdered herb
Extracts are divided into liquid, semi-liquid, solid, solid and dry extracts according to the increase in dry matter content and their consistency. Preparations obtained by extraction should always be kept in a tightly sealed container, protected from light, and in the case of dry extracts, in a special container above a moisture-retaining material or in a glass jar with a paraffin wax coating. Among the herbal extracts frequently used in pharmaceutical practice, it is important to mention the greenish-brown, laxative dry aloe extract, the brownish dry belladonna extract, the dark brown liquid liquorice extract and the light brown, tonic dry strychnos extract. The plant extracts are essential ingredients in the preparation of magistral (pharmacy) medicines.
What next? With plants in liquid form
Tinctures are alcoholic or ether-alcoholic dilute extracts of plant parts in which the stability of the active ingredient is limited. Changes in oxygen in the air, light and temperature can all cause changes in the active ingredient, so it is essential to check the active ingredient content of tinctures containing a strong ingredient every year. A number of ‘bitter’ tinctures are used in medicine for their appetite stimulating and digestive properties, most often in combination with herbs such as the combination of orchard grass, yarrow, white wormwood and orange peel, or the combination of cardamom bark, tarragon root, orange peel and cinnamon. Etheric or alcoholic valerian tincture made from cat’s-root has a calming effect and can be used for sleep disorders and nervous exhaustion. The tincture of ratanhia root is diluted with water to rinse the mouth and throat for its astringent properties, and the colour of the preparation darkens when kept. Soapwort, thyme and ipecacuanha (Cephaelis Ipecacuanha, an emetic root, a tropical evergreen plant native to Brazil) tinctures are very popular and are mostly used in diluted form to enhance the expectorant effect in respiratory diseases.
Decoctions and decoctions – old friends found
Decoctions and decoctions are medicinal preparations made by extracting the appropriate parts of the plant from water at the prescribed temperature. In the case of herbs that do not contain strong substances, the patient can prepare them himself, but care must be taken to ensure that the decoctions and decoctions can be used for no more than 2 to 3 days after preparation. The essential difference is that the plant part-water mixture is kept in the steam room for 20 minutes for a decoction and 40 minutes for a decoction, and that the decoction is filtered while warm and the decoction after cooling. In pharmacy, these two forms of medicine are mostly obtained by diluting tinctures with water.
Cured again after tea
Tea mixtures are made from chopped plant parts, often with the addition of salt. Tea is the common name for the broader term for brew and decoction. Tea mixtures should be kept in a dry place, away from light, in a tightly closed box or metal container. During storage, they should be checked for signs of mould or insect damage.
Effective tea tips for those seeking a cure
- For colds and illnesses, a mixture of medicinal zygomycete leaves and roots, liquorice and mallow blossom (also excellent as an expectorant when added to thyme).
- For constipation, horsetail and fennel
- for mild urinary tract infections, bearberry leaf,
- for nervous exhaustion and insomnia, cat’s-root,
- for gallstones, fennel, white wormwood, and a mixture of thyme,
- for stomach ailments, a mixture of chamomile flower, liquorice root, marigold, yarrow.
Syrups, elixirs and mixtures are ingestible medicinal products that often contain ingredients of herbal origin. Their common feature is that they contain sugar. Laxative syrups, which include medicinal syrups, are made from crushed senna leaves and fennel. The shelf-life guidelines for syrups are also relevant here, with a maximum shelf-life of 1 year for laxative syrup, but only in a tightly sealed jar, protected from light, stored in a cool place.
The action of many elixirs is ensured by the tinctures (thyme and strychnos tincture) they contain. The thyme elixir, which has an expectorant effect, contains thymol, which liquefies the mucus and allows it to be coughed up. The tonic elixir contains strychnos tincture, which gives the patient a sweet, then salty and bitter taste when ingested. Its use has been somewhat neglected in recent times. The elixirs should be kept in a tightly closed, dark glass container in a cool place. The mixtures should be shaken before use to prevent sedimentation. They may contain thyme elixir and tincture of ipecac (Mixtura pectoralis) or tincture of valerian and tincture of strychnos (Mixtura sedativa) as a base.