Old Cone Medicine Show

Echinacea medicine from The Dew Abides
Courtesy of Flickr/Isaac Wedin

Food is medicine. There’s no doubt in my mind that what we eat affects every aspect of our mental and physical well being. But I’ve never been much for crossing the line to homeopathic medicine.

That’s probably because my first job out of college was managing a health food store. The smug owner hawked snake oil at a 400 percent markup, laughed at how most of the vitamins did no good, and bragged about how much money he could worm out of a teenage athlete’s family any given month. To say my eyes were opened to the alternative-medicine racket would be an understatement. And recent investigations that show supplements often contain unwanted substances only increase my skepticism.

But I also know nature gives us plenty of medicinal remedies — aloe for burns, kaolin for stomach ailments, chocolate for, well, pretty much everything else.

So when a few coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) plants in the herb garden needed to be thinned, I decided to make a tincture and experiment with its effectiveness, since I could trust the provenance and strength. Studies have shown it’s useless once you’ve got a full-blown cold, but it may or may not help if taken at the onset of symptoms. There’s also an interesting Canadian study that found echinacea penetrates fungal cell walls, which could reduce fungal infections.

Making the tincture is simple:

  • Dry the whole plant, roots and all
  • Chop roots, leaves, and flowers in a food processor
  • Place dried echinacea in a mason jar and add strong clear alcohol (like gin or vodka) until the liquid rests 2-3 inches over the plant material
  • Let the jar sit in a sunny spot for six weeks, giving it a good shake once a day
  • Strain liquid into a brown glass container

At the end of the year, we’ll report whether or not the buzz about echinacea is bollocks. And stay tuned for our next experiment with homemade medicine: honey as treatment for cuts and scrapes.

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