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thoughts on dosage...


Ahh, the eternal question... "How much should I take?"


The answer isn't so easily had as one might expect.  It seems while herb books and tincture bottles often repeat, "30 drops three times a day", herbalists all seem to have their own steadfast personal philosophies, from Susan Weed's "An ounce of herb to a quart of boiling water steeped overnight" to Matthew Wood's "3-5 drops of tincture 2-3 times a day".


(and then there are those who advocate taking "standardized extracts", with "guaranteed" quantities of "active ingredients"... we'll not be talking about that; as it's not really the same kind of herbalism I work with...)


In truth (and as one might expect), there's a time and place for many different views on dosage, and it's an admirable virtue to have a philosophy, but not be bound by it.  In that spirit, here are my thoughts on the matter...


Right off the bat, I'll offer the opinion that, in general, 30 drops of tincture is usually more than needs be had.  My standard range of dosage for tinctures is 5-15 drops, 3-5 times daily.  Ideally, smaller doses are taken more often, rather than taking 15 or so drops morning and night.  This dosage is frequently sufficient to achieve the desired end, though sometimes two or three liberal squirts of Kava tincture is just what a person needs... 


Let's consider smaller versus larger doses...

Small doses act more energetically, they stimulate innate physiological, neurological and hormonal responses, and affect the subtle energy patterns of the body, mind, and spirit as well.  As the dosage goes up, the effects of the herb become more gross, more rooted in the material, the physiological reaction of the body to the herb's constituents.  Let's refer to such small doses as "etheric doses" and larger doses as "material doses".


So how do you know when to use which?

My general rule of thumb in determining the size of dosage is based on how confident I am in the match between the herb I'm using and the person and condition its being used for.  If, for example, someone has a cough, and they look up "cough" in an herb book and throw together a blend of a bunch of the herbs listed under that heading, a material dose would be called for, since no care or attention has been made to choose herbs specifically indicated for the precise type of cough the individual person has.  But if that person were to have a dry, racking cough that shakes the frame of the body, and is perhaps attended by a bit of wheezing, the person might say, "Wow, this sure does seem like a Mullein cough...", and then take 5 or 7 drops of Mullein tincture, and find the results quite satisfactory.


You see, every herb seems to possess a constellation of what the Eclectic herbalists of 19th century American herbalism called "specific indications".  These were patterns of characteristic symptoms that an herb seemed to be especially efficacious in resolving.  As examples, dull, aching pain is a specific indication for Black Cohosh, and damp, stuffy sinus congestion is specifically remedied by Yerba Mansa.  Eclectic literature (found in staggering quantities on Michael Moore's and Henriette Kress's websites) is rife with such indications, and I've found the time spent learning about such indications from old texts and other herbalists to be invaluable and exponentially rewarding.  So if you are using an herb according to its specific indications, smaller doses often suffice.


Sometimes, though, you want to instill a more material, physiological reaction.  Using Echinacea to stimulate the production of phagocytosis is a good example; in such a situation, frequent, liberal doses of 30 drops of the tincture can stimulate your bodes defenses and defeat an impended microbial invasion.  Or perhaps you have a painful pocket of gas in your abdomen; often a 30-60 drop dose of Fennel tincture will send it quickly on its way.  For an excellent directory of safe material dosages for a number of herbs, check out Michael Moore's Materia Medica.


The trick is, you want to know what you're doing, and why.


Spirit Doses

Small doses of herbs (say, 1-5 drops) can also be used as a means of accessing an herb's spiritual properties.  Karyn Sanders refers to these as "spirit doses".  I always included this idea into my "etheric" doses, but "spirit doses" just has a good ring to it, no?  


What are an herb's spiritual properties?  Well, it might be that you're using Wild Bergamot to help you express your passions, or you might be working with Canada Thistle to learn how to establish (or respect) boundaries and personal space.  So you could take small, drop doses of these plants internally, or you might rub a few drops into your wrists or temples.  You don't want to manifest the herbs physiological effects, so using the small dosage carries the plant's medicine power without acting on you in a decidedly medicinal manner.


Of course, even within this frame work, in many cases the dosages given (even by me) are really arbitrary.  I frequently recommend herbs in 3, 5, 7 and 9 drops doses not only because I find small doses effective and preferable, but also because I like prime numbers.  That seems like a pretty fluffy rationale, I know, but consider the thoughts expressed by the Eclectic herbalist John M. Scudder in his Specific Medication and Specific Medicines:


"As a rule, the dose of medicine should be the smallest quantity that will produce the desired result. The proper dose, or that which gives the best result, is very much smaller than one who has been used to the large doses of indirect medicine would suppose possible... The dose will vary in different cases, and with different practitioners...  I am satisfied that the size of the dose does not make such difference as has been thought, and that the essential element of success is to get the right remedy."


I wholeheartedly agree.


jim mcdonald 

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