After years of informally studying herbs, I've started to take my education further over the past year. I've been learning to identify a ton of plants, as well as training with the Herbal Academy of New England.
One thing that surprised me the most as I sunk deeper into the rabbit hole that is herbalism is how many different methods and schools of thought there are within the space. It's all very interesting to me and I enjoy seeing patterns that show up in different traditions throughout the world – and throughout history!
The most important one to me is holism. The recent western idea that the body can be likened to a machine made up of individual parts that can be “fixed” doesn't show up nearly as often as a holistic approach when looking at more traditional and plant based practices. The holistic theory is the only one that makes sense to me; of course our minds and bodies and interconnected. Of course there's a spiritual aspect to health.
Likewise, the use of whole-plant medicine rather than isolated compounds is appealing.
A few months ago, I connected with Paul Hardacre and Marissa Newell with Mare Maia. Mare Maia offers Spagyric tinctures, which they refer to as “alchemically enhanced plant extractions.” It took me awhile to understand the difference between spagyric tinctures and what I already knew of as tinctures/extracts. This method is fascinating to me, especially since I've been able to use some of them myself and feel the difference.
What are spagyrics?
A spagyric tincture is an alcohol-based extract – specifically, the technique used to make them is based on the ancient tradition of alchemy. Paul and Marissa shared with me how this distinction leads to a holistic use of therapeutic plants. “In alchemy, the Spirit of a plant is referred to as the ‘Mercury’; the Soul as the ‘Sulphur’, and the Body as the ‘Salt’. In a tangible, physical sense these three principles of Spirit, Soul and Body manifest in the ‘physical vehicles’ of alcohol, essential oils and mineral salts, respectively. The spagyric technique of confecting herbal tinctures embodies a more synergistic way of considering Nature and its powers.”
I love what they had to say about the tradition of alchemy:
What inspires you most about your work?
“Nature. As Michael Maier phrased it in Atalanta Fugiens, ‘To him who is dealing with chymics, let Nature be reason experience and reading like a guide staff glasses and lamp.' As the modern master Robert Bartlett asserts, ‘Nature is the greatest alchemist of all. She has all of time to complete the process of evolution which is constantly unfolding around us like a symphony.' However, as the Renaissance master Theophrastus Paracelsus highlights, ‘As Nature is extremely subtle and penetrating in her manifestations, she cannot be used without the Art. Indeed, she does not produce anything that is perfect in itself, but man must make it perfect, and this perfecting is called alchemy.' The work of the alchemist involves demonstrating and ‘utilising Nature’s own laws and methods' in order to assist with the ‘quickening’ of the evolutionary process. To attempt to work in this way – in accord with Nature – teaches a great deal about one’s own nature.”
What's the difference?
“Ordinary herbal tinctures only partially utilise the curative powers of the plants from which they are prepared. A spagyric tincture differs from the usual herbal tincture in that it contains the plant salts that complete the full therapeutic profile of the plant in question. As such, alchemical products like spagyric tinctures offer advantages in terms of concentration, digestion, bioavailability, and consistent effectiveness – spagyric tinctures are much more potent and intensified than ordinary herbal tinctures.”
I've had the pleasure of using two of Mare Maia's spagyric tinctures – both with pleasing results:
German Chamomile Spagyric Tincture
This is a new staple in my home. This one has worked more rapidly than any other tincture (of any kind) that I've used. I have a tendency to let my sleep schedule shift later and later – this has helped me get back on a good routine. The calming effects are almost immediate – I notice mental and physical calming within minutes each time I use it. I have also added this to bedtime smoothies for my children when they are more restless than usual with good results. I have not yet experimented with using it topically, but I'd like to!
Anti-Inflammatory Blend Spagyric Tincture
Mare Maia's blend of turmeric and black pepper spagyric tinctures offers a range of benefits, including support against muscular and joint aches. I have been using it as a supplement on days when I don't have time (or desire) for my turmeric infusion. I was interested to learn that black pepper increases the bioavailability of turmeric, so I've begun adding black pepper to my infusions now. I'm happy to have an easier method of taking turmeric, because it's the only herb that's proven effective for me in decreasing the frequency of RA flares.