Interview with Janice Loreta
by Loretta Morra (Part 3)
Loretta Morra: Lets continue Janice. Thank you for the tea it was delicious. What was it again?
Janice Loreta: It was Jasmine tea. Did you like it?
LM: Yes I did Ive never had it before. And the cookies, what were they?
JL: Chamomile cookies.
LM: Really? Like the herb?
JL: Exactly the flowers of the chamomile plant and the flowers of the jasmine plant created your tea.
LM: Janice, Im aware that you are an herbalist. Can we continue our interview by talking about herbs, healing and how you use plants in your work?
JL: I would love to Loretta any opportunity to talk about the healing nature of plants and I cant resist.
LM: As usual, I would like to begin in your early formulative years. Those years playing in the woods really were instrumental in your development, correct?
JL: Definitely! As you may recall, I spent much of my childhood alone in those woods. I learned to feel Gaias energy. Mother Earth spoke loudly in a whisper to me. I gained a connection to the animal and plant energies as well. I could sense them as living, individual entities. The plants became my favorite drawing subjects. In the process of sketching, I would feel a type of kindred connection, each became a friend an ally. I guess this may sound a little weird, doesnt it?
LM: I suppose a little. How old were you and did you understand this connection then?
JL: I began exploring this piece of Mother Earth around the age of 4 or 5. I continued through my teen years. It wasnt until I was older that I began to look up the names of the plants and their medicinal uses, and I began sketching the plants in my early teen years. I had this book, my first herbal: The Herb Book by John Lust. In my late teens, my girlfriends grandmother gave me a clipping from her mint plant. I planted it in my yard, and learned everything I could about it. By the way, that stock plant is still growing today.
LM: Really all of these years later and its still growing where you planted it?
JL: You have never grown mint, have you Loretta? (laughs)
LM: No, I havent, but if you cant kill it, it sounds like a good plant for me. Anyway Janice, fill in the blanks for me, from that first mint plant to the herbalist and healer you are today.
JL: Like anyone with an interest and passion, I studied; first on my own with a few books, then a correspondence course in the late 80s. I learned to make herbal remedies and began treating my family and myself. They were my guinea pigs in many ways and Im happy to say they are all still alive!
LM: I know you started teaching herbal education classes when was that?
JL: In the early to mid 90s and I continue to teach today. I studied with several well-known herbalists, took another correspondence course, and even started a small business selling herbal products and crafts. My education never stops and the greatest teachers I have are the plants themselves.
LM: Besides tea, what other forms of herbal remedies are there?
JL: There are infusions, decoctions, oils, salves, capsules, poultices, extracts and tinctures. My favorites are infusions, salves and tinctures.
LM: Janice, what exactly is a tincture?
JL: Actually Loretta, I need to make a tincture today for a client. Would you like to observe the process?
LM: I would love to, let me grab my camera and we can illustrate it as well. Is that fine with you?
JL: Great idea. Ill pull my supplies together and we can make a tincture and perhaps teach others how to do the same.
Loretta Morra: Im back in the kitchen of Janice Loreta, preparing to make a tincture. OK Janice, you have in front of you a box of dried plants, or something. What is all of this?
Box of herbs
Janice Loreta: They are dried, organic herbs; flowers, leaves, seeds and roots. At one point I grew most of the plants that I used and needed. I prefer to use fresh plants when tincturing. It is the best way to capture the medicinal properties of a plant. However fresh plants are not always available, especially here in Ohio during the winter months. I do grow as many of my own medicinals as possible though. Today I am making a tincture that utilizes many plants that do not grow in Ohio, thus I'm using the dried plants and roots. Many of these are roots and I do find that tincturing roots to be an excellent way to draw out the medicinal properties.
LM: Do you create your own formulas?
Finalizing the formula and assembling supplies
JL: There are many excellent, time-tested formulas and recipes available to an herbalist. I use them. But often I feel the need to create my own, especially if Ive been asked to create a tonic or healing remedy for a specific person and a specific condition. Today I am creating a blend specifically formulated for a client. I researched this persons condition, the plants recommended by books, the actual properties and attributes of each plant and then I pull together a formula based on this. The key for me in finalizing a formula is intuition, at least when it is specific for one person. I will read that person's energy for any imbalances and for guidance.
LM: Lets begin. What is this scale for?
Documenting the process
JL: The scale is for measuring the herbs. I have learned herbal medicine using the "Simpler's Method". Basically, the measurements are "parts". One part of this herb to 2 parts that herb, etc. A "part" can be an ounce, a handful, or a cup. The key is consistency to what makes up each part. Today I am using ounces, so I measure on this food scale.
LM: OK, step me through the process, it appears to be complicated.
JL: Quite the contrary. It's not called the "simpler's" method for nothing. Anyway, here are all of the herbs needed for this particular formula. I arrange each, weigh them, and place each part in this bowl. This first herb is milk thistle, which is a seed. I like to put seeds and berries into a mortor and pestle to break them down a little before adding them to the blend. I've even used a blender to chop up the herbs, roots especially.
Weighing the herbs
LM: So, if this were a single herb tincture, what would you do differently?
JL: Single herb tinctures really are just one herb and a menstrum - in this case vodka. I really do prefer to make single herb tinctures, especially from fresh plants. There can be some math involved here Loretta. When you create a standardized tincture there are ratios involved. With the simpler's method the ratio is approximately 1-2 ounces herb to 1 pint menstrum (alcohol, vinegar, glycerin...). If you're using fresh herbs that changes a little because of the water content within the fresh herbs. I personally like to use 100 proof vodka - it is 50% water and 50% alcohol. However, I find that the strongest, most effective tinctures are created when the menstrum is added to cover approximately two inches above the herbs placed in the jar. As the plant material absorbs the menstrum, I continue to add more until all is saturated. It is important that no plant material rise above the menstrum level. How's that for scientific measurement?
LM: Allow me to take a few photos as you pull this formula together.
Mixing the herbal ingredients
Pouring the herbs into the jar
Adding the menstrum (vodka)
Stirring the herbs in the jar
LM: This really does seem fairly simple. What happens from here? How long does this soak and then what?
JL: This tincture mixture macerates for approximately 2 weeks (minimum). Two weeks really is the minimum, I personally allow most tinctures to "work" for 4 to 6 weeks, sometimes longer. It must be shaken about twice a day. This is where the magic and science meet. I personally like to sing to my tinctures to "help them along". Fortunately they are not discriminanting vocal critics (laughs).
LM: So what happens when they are finished cooking?
Straining the tincture
JL: Well, technically it is not "cooking" Loretta. However, let me show you what I do when they are ready to be decantered, or bottled. I use cheesecloth or muslin and strain the liquid from the herbal matter. The remaining liquid is the pure tincture which I bottle in smaller dropper bottles for usage. The spent plant material is added to the compost heap. That is tincture making in a nutshell.
Squeezing the last drops
LM: If someone wanted to learn these techniques from you, do you offer classes or anything like that?
JL: Actually I do. My class listings are on my Renaissance Studio web page. I offer a class in herbal remedy making, an introduction to herbs, an alternative healing therapies class, and a class for woman on safe herbal usage for reproductive and general health.
LM: Sounds exciting. I'm actually quite intriqued by this whole process. I realize that I have definately over stayed my welcome today, yet this whole interview with the pictures should be quite educational to the public.
JL: I pray that it is Loretta. We will meet again soon to finish this interview. I believe that you still have many questions for me.