Monday, January 9, 2012
Herbin' Legend: Swedish Bitters
This past year, I enjoyed taking beginner's steps in making some of our own herbal medicinals. Many medicinal plants are what mainstream gardeners consider weeds. Others can be found as easily as looking right in a basic spice collection.
My focus is to use herbs to both help cleanse and regenerate...detoxify and nurture healing. We use most of our herbs right now in the form of teas made as either infusions (hot or boiling water poured over an amount of herb and steeped) or decoctions (herb brought to a particular temperature/boiling for an amount of time) depending on the recommendation I find in some of the books I have. Sometimes we use herbal tinctures, since we don't always have a good source for the fresh plants or the dried herb (and if bought they can be expensive). The tinctures preserve the dried or fresh herbs beautifully...there are specific ways to tincture specific plants, and specific parts of the plants and harvest times that are optimal...so I am using herbal how-to books a lot right now to learn those things. I'll make a list of some of the books I'm really loving...soon :)
An interesting development has been that Jack and I have discovered that our personal diets often lacked foods that are bitter, to whatever degree. Many of the herbs we are using have varying degrees of bitterness, not all unpleasant. As we accustom ourselves to drinking these throughout the day, and pairing them with better foods including greens that sometimes have a bitter taste, we've come to realize that the actual bitterness within these healing foods is something we've been lacking. Oftentimes, they help cleanse and tone our bodies, noticeably our muscles, and as a result Jack has had less muscle wear and tear, and less pain or recovery time when his physically-active job runs long. His legs used to be in knots when he tried to sleep, and he was often plagued with cramps and muscle fatigue.
Tonics made of bitter herbs have been around for lifetimes.
In reading a couple books by the late Austrian herbalist Maria Treben, she repeatedly mentions a particular bitters tonic called Swedish Bitters...here's an article that describes it in more detail.
I decided to make my own Swedish Bitters tincture from the original "recipe," and found a way to order it here (no, I don't get paid to mention this, it's simply where I ordered it).
It's as simple as adding at least 40 proof alcohol to the dried herb mix, covering it and letting it steep in a warm place (sunlight's ok) for 2 weeks, shaking it daily to make sure it gets distributed throughout the liquid. Then you can strain the liquid off into amber bottles for use. The instructions state that the herb can be left in the larger container and small amounts strained off as needed.
The herb mixture has a camphor-ish smell, not unpleasant. (Do any of you get a kick smelling herbs like I do?? OK, maybe I'm weird, but I love it) I lidded my jar with the standard canning lid and ring, but put a piece of plastic wrap underneath it before screwing it on to prevent the alcohol from coming into contact with the metal.
We'll use this, when it's done, for a variety of household DIY personal care needs topically as well as take it as a tincture whenever we want our bitters "tonic."
I made some of this years ago, and it keeps indefinitely once made and stored in a dark closet. It darkens considerably to a black-brown slurry which takes on the strong smell and healing properties of the herbs, for so many uses, it's sort of a herbal workhorse. I'll write more on it as we strain off the finished product and use it, but I wanted to include these quick pics to show how easy it is to make, and to see if any of you out there have ever used Swedish bitters or any other bitters formula before.
Anyone? I'd love to hear your go-to homemade herbal "old faithfuls"!