Homeopathy is a system of alternative medicine that treats a disease with very dilute quantities of an agent or drug that would cause symptoms of the disease in a healthy individual. Homeopathic remedies and treatments are developed from a biological substance, which can be either plant, animal or mineral. The important first step in the manufacture of such a remedy is termed the mother tincture. This refers to a mixture of water and alcohol, plus the plant material or other matter that is being used to elicit a cure or remission of a particular ailment.
Flowering plants are the most commonly used substance in developing a mother tincture, primarily because of their availability, ease of use and the wide array from which they can be selected. Virtually any nontoxic plant can be used and will yield an abundance of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and other nutrients, but medicinal herbs generally are chosen because of their healing properties. Which herb is used will depend on the specific ailment to be treated.
To prepare the mother tincture, a fresh or dried herb is cut up, minced, grated or ground into particles with about the same coarseness as cornmeal. The herb can simply be torn into pieces, but the purpose of reducing it in size is to create more surface area of extraction, so smaller is better, as long as it’s not so finely ground that it will pack down or clump. Next, measured amounts of alcohol or water, or a combination of both, are poured on top of the herb. This liquid part of the herbal tincture is called menstruum, and the amount added is standardized to achieve consistent results. The menstruum acts as a solvent and will leach the active constituents from the herb.
Some botanical material and other material used in alternative medicine contains complex combinations of insoluble constituents that might not be dissolved by alcohol or water. Vinegar or food-grade glycerin can be used as the extracting compound in herbal medicines. The menstruum used in the herbal extract depends on the nature of the plant components, with the one that will allow the tincture to retain the beneficial activity of the herb and its flavor typically being preferred.
After the menstruum has been added, the solution is mixed manually or in a blender. The mixture will form a slurry. Next, the slurry will be stored in a container that has a wide mouth and a tight-fitting, non-corrosive lid. The best macerating containers are made of stainless steel or glass. Canning jars are often used.
The maceration period during which the herbs steep in the solution generally varies from three to eight weeks, but it sometimes lasts only a few days. The mixture is kept at room temperature in a dark spot within a closet or cupboard. It’s generally recommended for one to vigorously shake the container at least once a day throughout the maceration stage.
When the herbal mixture has completed the extraction process, the liquid is poured into clean, dry bottles through a cheesecloth or other clean cotton cloth to strain the plant material from the liquid. The remaining liquid is the mother tincture. It’s used for the basis of homeopathic remedies after it’s been through several standardized dilutions. The undiluted herbal extract is very potent and should retain its active constituents for approximately three years if properly stored.