One day, during my summer in Vancouver, I went to study a bit of herbology at the local apothecary. Gaia Garden Apothecary has a devoted following of those who want to understand old knowledge and natural remedies, who like knowing exactly what’s gone into their medicine. The apothecary works like a compounding pharmacy, preparing creams, tinctures and herbal formulas.
I love the tradition of treating yourself or your family for everyday illnesses, making sure you have a good kit, or at least know where to find wild herbs safely. In Vancouver, folks wildcraft lemon balm, horsetail, plaintain, shepherd’s purse, yellow dock, red clover, nettles, red raspberry, dandelions. It’s good to have the apothecary if you don’t have that knowledge or the time to gather your own herbs, if you need advice about what to take, and if you have a naturopath supporting your health who can prescribe herbal medicine. The master herbalist at Gaia has helped me so much over the years. He showed me a page in one of his favourite books, which shows all the known medicinal properties contained in ginger root. There were over three hundred!
Row upon row of dried herbs, plants that have been used for thousands of years. There’s an herb room in the back where Gaia’s teas are made, and they do mail order and wholesale herbs.
Row upon row of tinctures. These are alcohol and water extracts, one part plant material to three parts liquid. Wild cherry bark and passion flower sound delicious! The apothecary makes tincture formulas for patients, like going to a pharmacy and getting a prescription.
Essential oil is usually steam-distilled, and needs very special equipment. With infused oils, put the plant material in an oil base for a couple of weeks, strain and use, or you can give it a little bit of heat for a couple of days instead. I’m going to try this! Gaia would need a separate distillery for each oil, required microbial testing is far too expensive to do small batches of tincture, so they work with a company that produces oils on a much bigger scale. Besides making my own infused oils, Kathleen, my herbology teacher for the day, has inspired me to make tinctures:
If you ever wanted to make a tincture at home they’re actually really easy to make. One of the best alcohols to use is vodka, mostly because it doesn’t really have a smell of it’s own and isn’t going to interfere with the herbs you put in it. You just need a big jar, put plant material in it, pour the alcohol in so it covers the plant material. A couple of weeks, shake it every day, strain it, bottle it up, that’s it you have a tincture! Very simple really. Making tinctures like that is a method they’ve used for hundreds of years, the monks used to make digestive bitters with alcohol the same, and we’re still using those herbs, like frangelico… made as medicinals.
Fascinating that some of the infused liqueurs we have now were orginally made as medicinals. I imagine it’s fairly recently that we’ve even abandoned the idea of having alcohol in the house for medicinal purposes, especially when you didn’t have antiseptics and painkillers. Thank you to Kathleen, for showing me round the apothecary, and to everyone at Gaia Garden for welcoming me into your beautiful space. I’m so glad that you exist, supporting natural medicine.
Come and see my first tincture. If you’d like a look at what I have in the works for the future, don’t miss the postcards! Sign up for appleturnover’s first newsletter, out for the equinox this week.