An Echinacea Tincture with Hal Sears

June 27th, 2009

This is Hal Sears.  Hal and I used to work together at the Community Mercantile which is a cooperative grocery store in Lawrence, Kansas specializing in natural foods, organic produce, and a vast selection of bulk herbs.  

Hal was the herb buyer for the store and for a few years, I was the ‘herb stocker girl’.  This means that once or twice a week, during my shift at the store, I would go through all the glass herb jars, pour them out, add new herbs into the bottom of the jars and then put the old herb stock back in to fill the jar to the top.  The store easily carried fifty different herbs and herb blends as well as whole leaf teas, powdered broth, and some bulk baking agents like baking soda and baking powder.  I enjoyed the job, especially re-stocking the peppermint and the cinnamon, but I quickly learned that powdered Valerian is the most vile smell on the face of the earth, and that I must pour the chili powder and the cayenne slowly or my eyes would sting for hours.  

 

 

 

 

Hal is extremely knowledgeable about herbs and their various medicinal uses.  At one point he created and sold his own herbal tinctures under a brand called ‘Thunder Wind Apothecary’.

 

 

Here is a bottle of Hal’s Echinacea Purpurea.  

Echinacea is an herb that can help fight off upper respiratory infections and is purported to boost the overall immune system.  The Plains Indians used it for snake bites as well as a myriad of other illnesses.  They passed their knowledge of this herb onto a travelling salesman named Joseph Meyer who began to market a concoction of the herb from a covered wagon.  To sell his echinacea tincture, he would goad a live rattlesnake into biting him, take a swig of his medicine and he would never get sick… or die… or anything.  He called his miracle drug, ‘snake oil’ and became the first in a long line of snake oil salesmen.  

Now who wants some echinacea tincture?

Let’s make some with Hal! 

 

 

First, Hal digs up a purple cone flower in his yard.  The scientific name for purple cone flower is either echinacea purpurea or echinacea augustofolian.  Either variety is suitable for an herbal tincture, but the augustofolian variety can numb your lips and mouth.

 

 

 

 

Hal keep the entire plant in tact.  He is going to use every part of the cone flower, including the heart, the lungs, the eyeballs, the bladder and the bowels.  

 

 

 

 

There will be dirt.  

 

 

 

Hal removes as much of the dirt as he can, but it is insidious.  Just when you think the plant is clean, you will find more dirt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a thorough cleaning, Hal hangs his echinacea up to dry for a while.  He wants it to wilt a bit.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the cone flower was wilting, Hal and I sat on his back porch and chewed the fat.  We rifled through all of the people that we both worked with at the ‘Merc’ and where they are now.  We talked about the changes over time in the co-op from it’s humble beginnings in a tiny store on Massachusetts street to the full service grocery store that it is now.  We also covered Buddhism, Catholicism, wild-crafting herbs, his adorable two year old granddaughter named Mercury, comfrey, ducks, my four boys, living in a small town, community life, peace, peach farming, baptism, the french horn, aloe vera, theocracy and the Latin mass.  

I love talking to Hal.  

 

 

 

 

I brought Hal a few varieties of cone flowers that we sell at the Garden Center.  

The orange one is called ‘Tiki Torch’ and the yellow one is called ‘Harvest Moon’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is what the echinacea looked like when Hal took it off the clothes line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He brought it inside to his kitchen and chopped it into four inch pieces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hal stuffed two glass jars with pieces of the plant.  He placed the roots in the bottom, then added the stems and leaves…

 

 

 

The flowers went on the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He filled the jars with vodka.

 

 

 

 

One jar was finished, but to the other Hal added a few other herbs.

 

 

 

 

 

He added some goldenseal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some licorice for sweetness…

 

 

 

 

And some cayenne to clear out the sinuses.

 

 

 

 

He topped it all off with just a tad more vodka.

 

 

 

 

Hal then demonstrated how he would filter the tincture after it had set in the jars for one month.  

He simply folded a paper towel inside of  a kitchen colander and set this on top of bowl.

He would pour the contents of the tincture through the colander and then bottle the resulting amber colored liquid.

 

 

 

 

 

Hal labeled the jars for me.

 

 

 

 

He showed me a few books that had shaped his own herbal knowledge.

 

 

 

And then he made me lunch!

Who got the best deal out of this little excursion?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks Hal!

 

 

Addendum…

Several commenters have been asking about dosage recommendations for this tincture.   I hesitate to put medical advice on my blog because I don’t actually know anything.  I will say that the only way I have ever used echinacea myself is to simply  steep the dried root  in a nice hot cup of water whenever I feel the first bit of a scratchy cold coming on in the back of my throat.  You can purchase dried echinacea in most stores that have a good herb section or any health food store.  Now that I have Hal’s tincture, I will try it out and I will probably follow the dosage advice in this article (scan down towards the end of the article for the dosage info.)

 

Happy Herbing!

Rechelle

Comments

  • Cool. We’ve got purple cone flowers growing across the street from us in a lease. Some guy comes by every year and digs some up. They grow wild over there. I’ve never tried making anything from it but at least I now know how. Thanks.

  • Stephanie:

    Wow, what interesting people you know…
    My dear grandmother was a wiz at tinctures
    and herbal remedies..
    but sadly her knowledge passed with her…

  • How neat is that! What a great friend you have in Hal, and a very interesting post. Thanks for sharing. :)

  • georgie:

    That was really interesting. I’d never seen how tinctures were made before and been curious about the protocol. No echinacea here but we do have two Valerian plants. How can I use them (and avoid the stinko factor you mentioned) in an herbal way? Will it calm down my friends when they get overwrought about weight, men, jobs, men, politics, men, economy etc?

  • What a great tutorial! Very interesting! I especiallylove any recipe that uses the phrase “fill the jars up with vodka” and then “top off the jars with vodka!” Salute!!! I will definately have to try this.

  • Tammra:

    Hey thanks Rechelle,
    I will plant and grow these to make tinctures. What is Hal’s recommended dosage? I vote for you to visit Hal again.

  • Anonymous:

    Hey! Are you sure you (he) aren’t really in OREGON? If you’re not, you should be. But the Midwest certainly needs a good herbologist like Hal.

    Now HERE is a very useful post. I’ve been waiting for my echinacea and valerian plants to get mature enough to use like this. That tutorial was excellent.

    And what does the conventional Country Doctor think of all this alternative medicine hocus pocus? Hm?

  • That was ME. Don’t know what happened. I’m never anonymous.

  • Rechelle:

    When the Country Doctor and I started dating, he came down with a cold and I made him some echinacea tea. He drank every drop.

  • Very cool! I was curious how the coneflower (which I have photographed *literally* thousands of times) turned into an herbal remedy. I would never have guessed that whole plant went in – or that vodka was the secret ingredient!

    Methinks you are mastering your new camera – excellent photography!

  • Hey, I have coneflowers. Unfortunately, I don’t have any of the other ingredients. Hubs has some whiskey; would that work in place of the vodka?

  • Rechelle:

    I believe any alcohol that is ’80 proof’ works. I don’t really know what ’80 proof’ means.

  • Rechelle:

    Thanks Lee… it is easier to take photos outside. I put it on ‘auto’ for the inside shots. Too skeart to try that whole aperture thing again.

  • I love Hal. How does this stuff work? Do you drink it? Do you snort it? Please follow up.

  • Jeanie:

    I have absolutely no idea what one does with a tincture. Pray tell-inquiring minds want to know and I am too lazy to google it and find out for myself. You have peaked my interest because I don’t know if I have some ailment that I could use for.

  • Wow, what a really informative post.

    I don’t mean to sound “down” or “pessimistic” but thinking of the knowledge we’ve lost over the generations as far as natural, simple, not-controlled-by-drug-conglomerates remedies makes me sad. (It is “down” to realize I can’t write a legible sentence though!) Kudos to people like Hal who still have the knowledge and are willing to share it with others. We need to get back to more of what enables us to “take care of ourselves” such as homemade tinctures, remedies, raising/growing/preserving our own food, weaving, building, sewing, basic craftsmanship, etc., etc. Okay, I’m stepping down from my soap box now.

    Thanks for a great post, Rechelle. Thanks, Hal.

  • Lois:

    Loved this, Rachelle! Do you put a little in tea?

  • Marilyn:

    What does the good doctor think about this? What is the dosage and for what ailments? I just spent $177 on an antibiotic for bronchitis. I may start making my own!

  • Kellye:

    I had never heard of a tincture. That was very informative. Your pictures also looked great. Do you drink the tincture?

    • Horsetrader:

      Excellant post, I have made this myself using dried Echinacea / cone flowers / Purpurea. The results the following day have usually been instantaneous. Not just for myself but for all of those who have taken my mix. Antibiotics are generally not required here. Love it knowing that I have this in my cupboards.

  • Myra:

    Many people in range management-related fields (or with an interest in native plants) like to play a trick on innocent newbies by getting them to chew the root of Echinacea angustifolia. Your mouth will be numb for quite a while! (Not that I would EVER do something like that…) Also, I have a copy of the Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie book. It is excellent! There is also a book called Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie out there…they make a great set.

  • That’s so neat! Tell Hal thanks so much – what a great guy. It’s too bad that people who know things like this are so hard to find.

  • My mother-in-law has Back to Eden. I’ll have to borrow it from her. This was a great post. I’ve often wondered how I could make the tincture myself, but I am very lazy and never tried to find out! It looks easy enough, so maybe I’ll actually do it now. We usually buy it in either tincture or tea form from the health food store, but I’ve bought capsules, too.

  • No grass growing under your feet, Rechelle!! You work fast. Absolutely beautiful article–words and pictures. You are amazing. See why we all loved you at the co-op store!!
    I am flattered to be an object of your extraordinary efforts and I thank God for you and your life and family and your many other talents and charms.
    Glad that people like the tincturing info!
    There is no way to tincture valerian without the smell, as far as I know. I have read that valerian was considered a perfume in the Middle Ages–if so, can you imagine what ordinary life must have smelled like then?! I set out the Tike Torch echinacea by the front walk today, and am setting out the yellow Harvest Moon by the back walk so Dee can see it every day as she walks by. Cheers!

  • Lisa:

    Rechelle, what a blessing this must have been for you!!! I am so JEALOUS that you know someone with such knowledge, and that is willing to share it. I’m happy that we, as a society, seem to be reconsidering, and even embracing, the remedies of past times.

    I’m certainly not one of those that shuns modern medicine (HELLO, anti-biotics!!!), but I think we could learn so much from people like Hal.

    Just curious…what does the Country Doctor think of Hal’s tinctures?

  • Grant:

    Why use Vodka? Is there a minimum Alcohol proof?

  • whirlwen:

    Hal…what a treasure of a man to know!

    Rechelle…your writing and photography are truly lovely.

    thank you both for sharing!

  • P.J. in Katy:

    Hal looks like benevolent guy; no doubt he would be fun to chat
    with over a cup of tea. Great work from both of you! Will there
    be a follow-up sometime on another herb? This information is
    so interesting even though my efforts to grow the purple cone
    flower have been unsuccessful!

  • I’m smitten with Hal. I think you need to do more interviews with him. : )

    Back to Eden is on my list of “must get soon” books.

  • Dee:

    This is Hal’s wife and I don’t think anyone answered the questions about dosage. Tinctures are usually put into dropper bottles. Just squirt about a half dropper onto the back of your tongue (maybe more or less, depending on the cayenne content). Great if you have that pre-cold scratchy throat.

    Good work, Rechelle.

  • Laurel Sears:

    Hi Rechelle,
    Laurel (Hal’s Daughter, Mercury’s mama) here! Very nice… I’m giving a talk to the KC Herb Society this week and am including a link to this very sweet post. Not only is it neat that it’s my dad, but instructive and concise!
    I want to second what my mom said above (yeah we all are on board here). Take three or four droppers full per day. You can exceed that but really, why push it? I do it three times a day, when I feel a cold coming on. Some herbalists will recommend an hourly dose for something INTENSE feeling- infection, etc. I think that it is hard for me to do that without having a trained person guiding me (Hal or something). Cheers!

    • Rechelle:

      Laurel! So nice to hear from you! I enjoyed my time with your dad so much! It brought back so many memories. I wish I could hear your talk. Medicinal herbs are so interesting both their history and their current use.

  • [...] time readers might remember the day that Hal and I made an echinacea tincture together. I am so glad that I got to spend that time with him. Years ago, when I worked at the cooperative [...]