Medical Herbalism 10(4):3
The following comments on the relative merits of teas and tinctures were published in 1863, just prior to John Scudder’s development of the theory of “specific medicines” which would dominate Eclectic medicine from the 1870s until its demise in the 1930s. In historical context the comments came at the end of period when Eclectic medicine was almost completely wiped out after turning for a decade or more to the use of concentrated plant extracts and resinoids. These forms evoked violent physiological responses and were rejected by the general public. The Eclectics at this time were thus swinging back toward the use of traditional forms of herbs, and were somewhat under the influence of the Physiomedicalist physicians, who often preferred water extractions and powders to tinctures.
The dominant herbal form in Western medical herbalism today is the tincture, and the dominant commercial form is now the concentrated herbal extract, most of which are essentially the residues of evaporated tinctures. We include the comments of Jones and Scudder here as our editorial for this issue. We don’t discount the value of tinctures or concentrated extracts, but feel that infusions and decoctions of medicinal herbs, probably the dominant form in which they have been used in the history of medical herbalism, deserve an advocate as we enter a new millennium.
Tinctures are very valuable form in which to administer such agents as are soluble in this menstruum, providing the agent employed possesses very active properties, so that it is administered in small doses. Or in case of stimulants and tonics, where the action of the alcohol is not disadvantageous. In ordinary cases where the dose of the remedy is large, and especially if sedatives, narcotics, etc are to be administered, it is a very inappropriate form; the solvent, even in doses of a fluid dram [Ed: about a teaspoonful] often acting more powerfully on the living system than the principles that it holds in solution. Again the continued use of these preparations produces the same deleterious effects as the habitual use of ardent spirits, and often lays the foundation of a morbid taste for spiritous liquors, and is the direct cause of intemperance and its train of fearful evils. The chief use of these preparations is to enable infusions and decoctions to which they are added to sit lighter in the stomach, or to add to them some active principle which water is incapable of extracting.
An infusion is a solution of vegetable
matter, obtained by maceration of the substance, either in cold or
boiling water. A large proportion of vegetable remedies yield either a
part or all of their virtues to water by infusion; but in addition to
the medicinal principles of the plant, water extracts the gum, starch,
As far as success in practice in concerned, we have no doubt but infusion and decoction are the most eligible forms of administering such vegetable remedies as yield their properties to water. However much “tea” practice may be laughed at, we know that this practice has proven eminently successful in the hands of our old practitioners. In these forms, the remedy is readily absorbed; there need be no doubt of its purity, or that it is well prepared; and again, it is certain in this case, that the patient will receive sufficient [liquid], a matter that is of the first importance in the treatment of many diseases.
From The American Eclectic Materia Medica and Therapeutics by L.E. Jones and John M. Scudder (in two volumes). Cincinnati, Ohio: Moore, Wilstach, Keys and company, 1863.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner