Drop-dose Tinctures, ‘Minimaxes’ & Flower Essences

Herbal practice in the UK is mainly concentrated on use of the tincture, dosed by the spoonful. In the 20th century, a ‘standard’ tincture had a strength of 1:5 – in the 21st, the standard is rapidly approaching 1:2. We still use our capsules full of powdered herbs, but again, we are under pressure to use tablets & capsules of the new enhanced extracts manufactured by the phyto-pharmaceutical industry. This situation moves us towards viewing herbal remedies simply as products, and to assess the therapeutic potency of these products according to levels of drug-like pharmacological action they have on us, side-effects and all.

This is an unwanted departure from the terrain of traditional herbalists, who celebrate an intimate relationship with living plants, and go to great efforts to ‘capture the imponderables of life’. Although we have a good understanding of gross pharmacology we also develop a fine appreciation of the subtle energies of each plant (just as we do the subtle energies of our patients). The more we go on, the more we come to appreciate that subtle effects can often prove more healing than gross ones, and that these effects are not dependent on dose, but on the vitality of the herbal medicine.

Producing the optimum quality from the living plant is in part the function of the body of knowledge conveyed regarding plant condition, harvesting times and techniques, comminution & production processes, and so on. However, one of the biggest single influences on absolute quality is intention. This is a concept alien to western material science but is dignified both by common observation and also the new science, quantum physics. When a herbalist has personally shared a plant’s journey from seedling to full bloom, perhaps many times over, has taken it from harvest to dispensing shelf in an aware and aspirational fashion, and has shared the wish with the patient for a healing union between herb and human, only then can the full potential of plant healing be realised. This is not to say that, for instance, a grower/producer or another practitioner might not play an integral part in this chain of events, but it will rely on a relationship intimate and healthy enough to ‘pass the baton’ intact.

DROP-DOSE TINCTURES

If making your own fresh-herb tinctures may seem a very recent departure from the norm, in the 19th century, particularly in North America, ‘specific’ tinctures were part of the mainstream, along with the understanding that if made with great observation, skill and intention, medicines of the highest possible quality would result. Once achieved, they could in many cases be dosed successfully not by the teaspoon, but by the drop.

There always have been and surely always will be herbalists who are more accustomed to dosing tinctures by the drop than by the teaspoon. Some of them use it at the heart of a style of practice that involves a great deal of unorthodox esoteria. Others do it because treatments that would otherwise cost pounds instead cost pennies. Others again because, whether by intention or by accident, they’ve been successful in using very small doses, and have extended the approach until it becomes an integral part of their work. It’s good to know they’re there – environmental and economic changes may suddenly make their knowledge of critical interest.

Uses

One first has to establish the circumstances in which drop medication is not likely to prove suitable. Firstly, there are occasions on which one is, despite it all, looking for a drug-like action. A good example is Dandelion leaf, Taraxacum officinalis, used as a diuretic – one is unlikely to achieve adequate diuresis to clear dependent oedema, for instance, without using something fairly strong, and even then at higher than normal doses. Secondly, there are many herbs that are primarily nutritive such as Oat Straw, Hawthorn Berries, Milk Thistle or Nettles and, assuming the intention is to use them for their nutritive properties, they need to be taken in reasonable bulk.

To establish the circumstances where drop-dose tinctures might prove effective, one has to move beyond the constraints of western material science and begin the intuitive process of connecting with the energetics of plants which, as already noted, are subtle. It can’t be taught, but it can be learnt, and it’s learnt by close personal observation at all stages, thence repeated many times. The more energetic the medicine, the more likely that a therapeutic effect can be observed from very low doses. An essential tool to aid this understanding is to take medicines you might wish to use in this way yourself, do it often, and observe closely.

There are no formulae, instructions or examples to offer. Ultimately it’s all a matter of personal development… and that’s up to you.

‘MINIMAXES’

‘Minimax’ remedies are a cross between herbal and homoeopathic medicines, originally inspired by the late Diana Grimble, a UK-trained herbalist who was involved in the development of ‘Homeobotanicals’ in New Zealand in the 1980s.

Minimaxes are like homoeopathic remedies only in the sense that they have been activated by succussion. In all other respects they are different – they remain in a ‘normal’ (if very low) dose range compared to homoeopathic potencies, they combine several herbs together in one preparation, and they are robust in the sense that they will not be denatured by the presence of other strong flavours or aromas.

Uses

Minimaxes are very subtle medicine. From experience, they seem to have difficulty ‘travelling’ very far from the mouth, so are most applicable to treating mento-emotional problems, conditions affecting the ears, nose & throat, the lungs, heart, stomach & hepatobiliary axis. There is also some effect treating the skin and lymphatics, especially where the upper body is mostly affected. In particular, minimaxes lend themselves to treating children, as the dosage is low enough to be added to water, diluted fruit juice or even food without being noticed.

Formulation & method

The general formula for a minimax is:-

Tinctures, as required 100 ml
Alcohol, organic, 96% 100 ml
Spring water 300 ml

Vodka or Brandy can be substituted, in which case use 250ml and reduce the water to 150ml. If you can’t access spring water (and this surely doesn’t include the ‘spring’ water that comes in plastic bottles!), use filtered tap water.

You’re going to be mixing in a combination of tinctures and, as should be apparent, quality is of the essence – the ideal is that you’ll be using tinctures you’ve made from fresh herbs yourself. It’s more important to use the very best (relevant) herbs you have in stock, rather than sticking to a preordained formula you can only fulfill with second-rate constituents.

Once combined in a 500ml amber glass bottle, succussion is required. You can do as Samuel Hahnemann (the originator of homoeopathy) did, and tap the bottle sharply on a wooden surface for several minutes: or you might want to go to the considerable expense of a succussion machine: or you can use the method of holding the bottle against the chuck of a DIY hammer drill for 30 seconds or so, which seems to work very well.

A few sample formulae of the combined tinctures are given below to help get you started. It’s common to use 10ml each of ten different herbs, although you may prefer to ‘lead’ with 20 ml of a key herb or two… so long as it all adds up to 100 ml: –

Asthma. Althaea fol, Datura, Ephedra, Glycyrrhiza, Hyssopus, Inula, Lobelia, Marrubium, Thymus, Valeriana, aa 10ml.

‘ENT’ – catarrh, sinusitis, headcolds, etc. Echinacea, Ephedra, Euphrasia, Hydrastis, Marrubium, Mentha, Sambucus flos, Sambucus fruct, Solidago, Thymus, aa 10ml.

‘Infant G/I’ – colic, poor digestion, milk regurgitation, etc. Glycyrrhiza, Hydrastis, Nepeta, Rheum, Taraxacum rad, Viburnum opulus, aa 10ml, Foeniculum, Matricaria aa 20ml.

Insomnia: Humulus, Hypericum, Lactuca, Lavandula, Leonurus, Melissa, Scutellaria, Tilia, aa 10ml, Valeriana 20ml.

The clue from the 500ml formulation detailed so far is that you will normally establish a formula and use it as a stock preparation ready for dispensing as required. However, although effort is involved there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make up an individual remedy for a specific patient – for instance, to make up a 25ml dropper bottle you’ll be dividing the quantities quoted by 20. However, you will then be using as little as 1ml of each herb, which is perfectly possible if you bear in mind that 1ml = 20 drops.

Dosage

As a general principle start on a low dose, only increasing it if necessary.

Adults will usually be directed to take 5-20 drops on the tongue every 2-4 hours, or for digestive problems before meals, or for insomnia just at bedtime. Children can have a lower dose taken in the same fashion as adults, or perhaps disguised in fruit juice. In the case of infants it’s the norm to recommend taking 5-10 drops in every drink (with the reassurance that they need not be forced to finish every drink they’re provided with!)

FLOWER ESSENCES

Flower essences (or flower remedies) were devised in the 1930s by Dr Edward Bach, a London physician specialising in bacteriology. There are wonderful stories to tell about his personal journey of discovery from such unlikely beginnings. Curiously, it took the best part of 60 years before it dawned on anybody else that they could make their own flower essences… leading to the current marketing explosion of different commercial ranges. Well, anybody can make a flower remedy, but not everybody can make a good one, likewise not everybody can keep making good ones. Once more, one suspects that it’s all down to intention.

Flower remedies are a unique form of treatment – they are often applicable to physical ills but their greatest value is in providing direct access to emotional and spiritual disharmonies. Herbalists are entitled to claim them as their own as they are clearly a branch of herbal medicine, and they seem to work particularly well in our accustomed context of addressing dis-ease as a physical, emotional and spiritual whole. Long experience of use brings the conclusion that flower essences, subtle though they may seem, are the single most powerful tool we have on our shelves for promoting wellbeing.

Because they are an incredibly dilute form of medicine taken by the drop, they are often likened to homoeopathic remedies – but they are prepared differently and are much more robust, being unharmed by the presence of strong odours, and can even be added to food, drinks or other medicines. Flower remedies are an exceptionally safe form of treatment. They are ideal for children, and are equally useful for treating animals – and even plants themselves.

Flower essences can be made from the flowers of any plant – being so dilute, there are no toxicity issues. If there is a problem with flower remedies, it’s that one can potentially keep adding to a dispensing range indefinitely, as every single one will have different effects. One even notices that a flower remedy made from the same species by different people can manifest significant therapeutic differences, indicating that every community of plants, every individual plant and every individual human involved yields a different spiritual profile.

However you can if you wish, for instance, make Bach Flower Remedies yourself, with the same indications as the originals, if you are meticulous about the botanical species and the methods prescribed in the booklet ‘The Bach Flower Remedies – Illustrations & Preparations’ by Nora Weeks & Victor Bullen. Once again, a successful replication would surely rely in part on personal intention.

Flower essences do lay down a challenge to practitioners as there is no rational explanation whatsoever as to their mode of action – and in an era where herbal medicine has tried to make itself seem more respectable in a science-dominated environment, flower essences are often seen as an embarrassment, compounded when dowsing is used as the method of selection. Nonetheless, practitioners who are skilled at using them readily acknowledge that they are just about the most powerful therapeutic tool at their disposal.

Formulation & Method

Any flowering plant can be used to make a flower essence, from the tallest tree to the lowliest weed. The plant chosen to make an essence should be in full flower on a bright sunny day (usually the two coincide, of course). The process should be performed around the middle of the day, and when one can be reasonably confident of at least 3 hours of clear sunshine.

Use spring water (but not the plastic bottled variety!) The Chalice Well at Glastonbury is an outstanding source, but there are many other clean springs around the UK. Place no more than 250ml in a clear, shallow glass bowl and float the flowers carefully on the surface sufficient to cover most of the surface – this could be a single huge flower or dozens of tiny ones. Opinions differ as to whether the flowers should be placed face up or face down – follow your instinct. Place the bowl in a sunny spot near to the host plant(s) for about four hours. The flowers are then removed gently and the liquor is strained and mixed with an equal volume of good quality brandy (38%+) to preserve it before bottling. This is the ‘mother’ essence – 100ml or so will probably be enough to last a lifetime.

To reduce this to a ‘stock’ strength essence, three drops of the mother essence are placed in a 15ml amber glass dropper bottle filled with equal parts of brandy and spring water.

In order to dispense for use, three drops each of one or more stock essences are placed in a waiting 15ml dropper bottle full of equal parts brandy & water. Note that the mother essence has now been diluted twice – once to produce a stock essence, and again to make a remedy (containing one or several flower essences) ready for use. Suggestions about how to take flower remedies are covered later.

One should note that instructions for taking proprietary flower essences (and this presumably reflects the way they were made as well) may involve as many as 10 drops, and 4 or 5 are common. This may hint that they are of inferior quality, or more likely that it’s good for sales. Usually 3 drops is plenty, certainly from your own self-made essences.

Lastly in this section, you may want to make some of your flower essences using the boiling method that Edward Bach employed for about half of his remedies. This was mainly used for tree flowers which appear early in the year (when strong sunshine is less likely) – and he also opted to incorporate distal twigs and even young leaves with the inflorescences, which logically would be extracted better by this process. It involves placing the flowering twigs in a suitable saucepan with spring water and boiling vigorously for 30 minutes before cooling, filtering and mixing 50:50 with brandy. If you want to try this you are again referred to Nora Weeks’ ‘The Bach Flower Remedies’ as the instructions are very detailed and specific.

Working out what a flower essence is for.

There are three distinct methods: –

  1. Make the flower essence as detailed, and then ‘prove’ it by taking it yourself and giving it to others to try – reporting back on subjective responses. This is a common method, but often proves a little unsatisfactory, as it seems to help if intention has been ‘tuned in’ at the time the remedy gets to be made.
  2. Conduct a Goethean observation with the plant, in preparation for making the remedy. If you haven’t been trained to do this, get somebody who has to take you through it once or twice (for instance, somebody who has studied at the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine).
  3. Only make a flower essence when you ‘know’ what it’s likely to be for. This we might call the intuitive method. It’s most likely to suit individuals who have already developed an intimate relationship with plants in general, and usually the chosen subject specifically. As this is the method the authors and many other successful essence-makers use, further insight will be offered at the end of this article.

Selecting flower essences for patients, etc.

The ‘etc’ above acknowledges that flower remedies may often be used for yourself, family, friends, pets, and even plants that are in need, so let’s just refer to them as the recipient for now. There are three methods suggested here, but no doubt there are more: –

  1. Simply choose them. Sometimes the need for one or more flower essences for a recipient will occur to you, sometimes unexpectedly, so why not go for it? Alternatively, you might more often engage the recipient in a choosing process – if you have a significant range of flower essences to hand, to avoid a very lengthy discussion you might use your knowledge of them to narrow down the selection a bit.
  2. Let the recipient make a ‘blind’ choice. This involves setting out the flower essences, probably with their labels facing away from the recipient, and they choose them for themselves by instinct – many will report that the essences selected felt warmer, or vibrate slightly, of give them a positive feeling.
  3. Dowse for them. This is covered in detail below.

Dowsing for flower essences

Most herbalists who use flower remedies routinely dowse for them, this being an outstanding method as you may not know a recipient as well as you suppose, and they themselves may know what their problems are, but not necessarily what’s behind them. Do bear in mind that not everybody is comfortable with dowsing – some have religious objections, others are just superstitious – so always enquire first and respect their wishes.

First you’ll need a dowsing device of some sort – the most commonly used is a pendulum. You can spend a fortune on a quartz crystal pendulum, or you can simply find something that’s been around the house for a while and shares your vibrations – for example, two very fine pendulums in current use were made with a little wooden top from a Christmas cracker, and a bead from a much-loved necklace. Either way, it needs to be something that is symmetrical, small and light enough for you to be able to attach it to a short (15 cm?) length of sewing cotton at the top centre in order for the pendulum to swing freely when the cotton is held between thumb and finger.

Using a pendulum can’t be taught, but if dowsing is right for you (and you have the right pendulum) it can usually be ‘switched on’ fairly easily. A good initial exercise is to hold the pendulum and think ‘yes’ until something happens, and then change to thinking ‘no’, to see if something different happens. It’s fairly common (although far from universal) to find that ‘yes’ makes the pendulum swing in a circle, ‘no’ sends it too an fro. If this is the case, when you’re dowsing flower essences, start the pendulum off by swinging it to and fro, and if it changes to circling, you have a ‘yes’. The person who will be most impressed by this extraordinary process is yourself, because you will feel the pendulum gently tugging – it clearly has a life of its own.

To proceed, get the recipient to hold the dropper bottle of essence in their hand (for infants or animals, simply rest it on their stomach or whatever – you have to be inventive about these things!) It helps if your non-dowsing hand is in touch with both the recipient’s hand and the bottle – not essential, but this usually helps to make the process go more quickly and positively. Get swinging your pendulum, and if you get a ‘yes’, put the essence aside and see if any more come up to combine it with (see under ‘dispensing for use’). It is possible to dowse essences without the recipient being present, particularly if you know them well, but be prepared for the process to take somewhat longer. It helps if you can dowse over something that belongs to them or you associate with them.

If you have a large number of essences to dowse (a range of 30-60 is not uncommon), it will help if you organise them in hand-made boxes with about a dozen in each. It saves time if you initially dowse each box by placing it in the recipient’s hand – just for a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but this way you will have saved a lot of time if some of the boxes are rejected.

Taking flower remedies

The normal method of taking flower remedies is three drops on the tongue as required. The effect can be extended if appropriate by placing the drops instead in a glass of water, sipped now and then over a few hours or so. For infants, rub the drops onto the inside of the wrist. For animals, add to the drinking bowl or simply rub it into the fur, from which it will eventually be licked off. Water them in for plants. Flower remedies once selected can usually be identified as either a constitutional remedy, or otherwise as personalised ‘rescue remedy’, or sometimes both.

For use as a constitutional remedy, select 10 minutes or so once or twice a day when you can be still and uninterrupted, and try to settle into a calm and contemplative frame of mind. Take the remedy, and think a little about what one or more of the essences are for, and what journeys and outcomes you are willing for. Finish the session by imagining yourself completely happy, fulfilled and well. A constitutional remedy can sometimes prove quite challenging emotionally the first time you take it, so you may choose to make a start in the company of a trusted friend or loved one.

As a ‘rescue remedy’, take three drops on the tongue whenever you feel the need. This can be before a challenging event if you are anticipating it with apprehension, or during it if you are struggling to cope, or afterwards if you’re having difficulty recovering from the experience.

Stock mixtures

If you ask a member of the public if they’ve heard of flower essences, the answer may well be ‘no’, but as soon as you mention ‘Rescue Remedy’, yes, they’ve heard of it. Rescue Remedy is a stock mixture of five Bach flower remedies. It’s so useful to have something around you to help you through all the unpleasantnesses of life, whether you’ve been worrying about them for days or they take you by surprise. Don’t forget how useful Rescue Remedy can be not only for emotional upsets but also physical pain – it’s a wonderful way to help calm children distressed by the pain of a grazed knee!

Although Rescue Remedy is a Bach trademark, there’s no copyright on the idea, hence no reason why you shouldn’t make up your own ‘panic drops’, or whatever you might choose to call them, selected from your own chosen range of essences. It’s also not unheard of to create a stock mixture for bereavement, exam nerves, air travel, or public speaking for instance.

Make stock mixtures direct from mother essences, placing seven drops of each essence in 30ml of 50:50 brandy and water. To dispense for use, place seven drops of the stock mixture in a waiting 30ml bottle of diluted brandy.

Intuitive essence-making & interpretation – further details

As mentioned earlier, this is the way that the authors go about establishing what flower remedies to make, and what they’re for. It’s most likely to suit those of us who spend a lot of time working with plants and feel they have already ‘tuned in’ to them.

Most importantly, although one may be out of doors with flower-remedy making very much in mind, one should have the patience to wait for a flower to ‘announce’ itself. As an example, we wanted to make an essence from Rose, and were already clear what it’s uses might be, but had to wait a frustrating 4 years before a single bloom caught the eye and said, ‘I’m the one!’ By the same token, it can happen that a flowering plant announces itself in this fashion, but you’re not in the right frame of mind, so with great regret you have to let it go.

Humans have often already developed a strong relationship with a particular plant, and this will quite rightly be imprinted in the resulting essence. Using Rose as an example again, there’s no difficulty in realising it will be something to do with feeling more loved, more loving or more lovable. Most common herbs have some sort of folklore associated with them, and it’s good to reference and contemplate these whilst an essence is being made, as a stimulus to insight.

You may as an individual have already formed ideas about a particular species, or a community of them that you’ve become familiar with, by close observation of how they go about their business of growing, competing, cooperating, surviving and reproducing. Trust these insights and take them into account.

The most telling time of course is when the flower essence is actually being made – as your dish of essence is steeping in the sun, it will be situated in close proximity with the plants(s) the flowers came from, and you should spend some considerable time in their company, opening you senses and your imagination to what you see and feel.

From some or all of these various approaches, by the time the essence has been bottled you should know to the great part what it is for. It does also happen that with experience of use, small variations and extra aspects of an essence will reveal themselves.

To help illuminate the process of making flower essences, we give an example of Houseleek, one of our own flower essences – a complex remedy for which our inspiration is equally complex. Houseleeks have a very strong folk tradition for household protection, augmented by our relationship with our own Houseleek plant and the circumstances under which it at last decided to flower. And here’s a fascinating story: – At the time of making Houseleek we had just taken in a pair of rescued cats. We were having problems with Suzie who would stay out all night (and sometimes vanished for days on end) – and she wasn’t eating or sleeping or looking after herself properly. Whilst the flower essence was steeping on the rockery, Suzie came and lapped up a little from it. (It’s therefore true to say that the resulting remedy has a trace of the cat’s spirit in it too). Suzie is sadly no more, but during her long and happy life she never once spent a night away from home again.

Below is copied the page from our own ‘Home Flower Remedy’ users manual that we give to patients (and other herbalists who share our essences): –

HOUSELEEK

Sempervivum tectorum

Feeling ‘at home’ – safe, protected, content

Endurance, patience, staying power

To be uncomplaining

Our children gave us a Houseleek as a present shortly after we moved into ‘The Grove’. We knew next to nothing about herbs then, but the place for it seemed to be the rockery under the kitchen window, about as close to the house as you can get. There it stayed, multiplying slowly, until 20 years later (in 1999) a single rosette decided to send up a tall stem crowned by a pompom of tight-clustered pink and yellow flowers.

As we now know, it’s a living tradition to plant Houseleeks near to houses, (as often as not on the roof) – as it’s considered to be protective – not so much to ward off ‘witches, haints & perfidious prelates’ (for which other herbs have been suggested), but to nurture the structure of the house as a safe and enduring haven for its occupants. An association like this is not hard to understand – the succulent little Houseleek will get its feet into the most impoverished situation where nothing else could possibly grow, and will survive tempest and drought the same.

It’s worth mentioning that Carol and I had tried to move house during the previous year – a foolish venture and in retrospect we’re eternally grateful that it came to nothing. We felt that the flowering of our very own Houseleek was the final acknowledgment from a garden unusually bountiful that we were right to have chosen to stay.

Houseleek, like all good flower remedies, shares its own innate qualities with you – you are encouraged to become more enduring, tough, resistant, resilient, patient, contented, uncomplaining. If this sounds a bit like a moral lecture, imagine how good it might feel to be like the humble Houseleek – durable, unshakable, secure, wanting for little and asking for less, biding ones time patiently in the knowledge that the best things in life are all the better for the waiting.

For young people who have grown up in an age of exaggerated expectations, where everything has to happen yesterday – and they get frustrated that they can’t arrive at the place of their dreams because they’re too impatient to make the journey – this is the flower essence for you. It will give you staying-power, help you to settle down, dig your heels in, feel at home with yourself and be much more content, so you can get on with the important task of making every day count.

Houseleek also suggests itself for people who are chronically ill, or are fighting a losing battle with the aging process, or have emotional wounds that have never quite healed.  It will help you to come to terms with pain or disability or disappointment, to make the best of it, and to look for the opportunities rather than dwell on the misfortunes.

In use, it will usually be apparent that Houseleek is a constitutional remedy – one that heralds change in the whole person – but like the plant itself, progress can be unhurried, purposeful and entirely positive – making this a very user-friendly essence.

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