Monday, November 16, 2009

Milk Thistle, Flavonolignans, & Proper Battle Gear

My top selling tinctures are those that de-stress and detoxify. In today's increasingly toxic world, this makes sense. In fact one could argue that even the biochemical fallout of stress is just one more toxin to burden the liver. What doesn't make sense is that an herbalist providing detoxifying herbs to her clients should become stressed by the need to keep up with the production of one of those detoxifying herbs, Milk Thistle.

People love Milk Thistle -- which is a good thing -- a Great Thing. It protects the liver from harmful pollutants, it can repair damage done to the liver, even increasing regeneration of liver cells, and it provides peace of mind when a potentially harmful pharmaceutical must be used. But what was once a simple tincturing process involving a scale and a few beakers has now become a kind of herbal wash day, and I blame herbalist David Winston for this added stress in my life. No, I don't know Mr. Winston personally, and probably wouldn't recognize him if he took a seat next to me at the bus stop.(Ok, that last statement is not true.) During a 2001 lecture on 'Herbs for the Liver' he took the time to describe what he felt was the proper way to produce a tincture of Milk Thistle, detailing the importance of washing away the starches and fixed oils before tincturing. He boldly stated that unless you're tincture is a bright lemon-yellow in color, it is useless! I'd never heard this or read this, but he explained that the color was an indication of the flavonolignan content and it made sense to me.

Ever since that lecture, production of Milk Thistle begins with grinding and rinsing, grinding and rinsing, and rinsing and rinsing. True to form, the fixed oils and starches turn the rinse water a dirty greasy brown. This dirty water is discarded, fresh water is added and the greasy film appears once more. When dry it is ground again and finally, tinctured. No, it doesn't sound especially stressful, I realize, but laundry of the family's clothing no longer involves a hike to the river, and I still avoid that too. I find myself putting off the tincturing of Milk Thistle -- until stock runs low and it becomes a production priority. My herbalist friend L laughs at my dilemma; she does not subscribe to the wash and rinse school of Milk Thistle. But I persist and wonder if perhaps something of this unspoken labor of love is communicated to patrons through the tincture. Those who buy it, buy it repeatedly, regarding it as an ally in their battle to protect their health and the optimal functioning of their livers. And knowing their intention intensifies my commitment and extends the battle analogy. In my internal narrative I am that blacksmith, folding the metal a few extra times despite the desire to quit and plunge the sword in the water, call it a day. My clients have valid reasons to be purchasing and consuming Milk Thistle, I want to make sure my product sees them through their battle.

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