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