November is Food & Wine Month at The Lodge at Woodloch…well, mostly wine. There is nothing that gives us more pleasure than to find out that a good glass of wine can get even better (for you). That is why we cornered our Master Herbalist, Nathaniel Whitmore to share his knowledge on the subject. Nathaniel is offering an Herbal Wine class on select Mondays in November. If you can’t attend in person, here is the next best thing…
As an herbalist I have always made and promoted the use of tinctures – alcohol extracts of herbs – because of their potency and shelf life along with their superior bio-availability compared to capsules and tablets (liquid is more readily absorbed by the body than dried pills). Tinctures are normally made with high-proof alcohol, usually grain alcohol, and are intended for use in small quantities. Another traditional preparation that uses alcohol as a natural preservative is herbal wine.
The alcohol present in these herbal preparations is generally negligible as it is not administered in doses that cause intoxication; and there are several benefits it offers. One is that alcohol extracts can be made with fresh herbs, allowing the extract to contain properties from the herbs that are lost with drying and age. In this way, ready-to-use extracts can be made from the best quality herbs in a way that the preserves the medicinal properties. Another benefit, as mentioned above, is that generally liquid extracts are more bio-available that dried pills that are usually bound or encapsulated by inert material. Since herbal “tea” requires time for preparation (several minutes to several hours), tinctures and wines have the benefit of convenience over water extracts. Another benefit to alcohol-based extracts is that the alcohol allows the herbs to enter the body very quickly, making (along with alcohol’s inherent pain-relieving properties) such extracts especially useful for treating pain.
A few years ago I began to make herbal wines based on recipes found in a little book “Secret Shaolin Formulas for the Treatment of External Injury”, which was transmitted from oral tradition by Patriarch De Chan. The Shaolins were Buddists revered for their martial arts abilities, which they cultivated to protect themselves from bandit and government attacks and to promote their health and perfect their minds and bodies. The monks also became famous for their abilities in herbal medicine, which they perfected to treat injuries during training and battle. Besides the benefits of wines mentioned above, they were also used for topical application and to help with the warm-up for working out.
These Shaolin wines contain herbs that nourish chi, blood, and connective tissue; regulate the blood; and alleviate fluid stagnation and pain. These properties are ideal for general maintenance during training and for the treatment of injury. I quickly realized the benefits extend well beyond the Shaolin monastery and are useful in everyday life for warding off sickness and treating many ailments.
Simple formulas can also be used for various reasons including treating specific disease and taking supplemental tonics. One herbal wine from Ayurveda that I like to prepare is made with Ashwaganda, an herb used to counter stress and for tonic properties. Another simple tonic is from Rhodiola and Rose to benefit one’s vital energy and mind. Rhodiola, also called Rose Root, is a revered tonic used like Ginseng. It’s flavor blends nicely with Rose, which was once a favorite of the old apothecaries for its many benefits; and they both blend well with red wine, of which the health benefits have been well promoted in recent years. These three simple ingredients combine to benefit the cardiovascular and immune systems, reduce stress response, and improve one’s state of mind.
-Cheers to good health!