This month in our Alfred Vogel’s Love of Nature series we look at what happens in November, following our busy harvest months.
The gardens in Roggwil are now much quieter. People responsible for our herb fields are now indoors, cleaning tools, planning and preparing for the next season. All the harvesting is complete.
The fields have done their work for the year and have earned themselves a well-deserved rest over the winter months.
Some fields however, take a longer holiday and are allowed to rest for a whole year! But, we do not like to leave these fields completely bare – it is best to keep the soil covered with living plants.
We plant these resting fields with green manure. When ploughed back into the fields, this mixture returns nutrients to the soil naturally. It is sensible, and in keeping with organic principles, to keep a well-organised schedule of crop rotation that includes rest periods so as not to tire the soil out.
A number of plants accepted by organic farming protocols can be used as green manure but we favour one called Phacelia. It germinates easily, grows quickly and covers the soil well. In addition, like all green manure crops, it should not become an ‘unwanted plant’ once we start using the field again.
Although November is a quiet time in our gardens, this is the busiest time for the factory. With the harvests producing a blooming mass of verdant plants over late summer and autumn, the production area is in full swing.
Most of the products in the A.Vogel range are in the form of, or start off as, tinctures. These are made using a method known as ethanolic extraction, using potable (drinkable) medicinal alcohol. The use of ethanol as a carrier agent has the advantage of extracting from plants a wide spectrum of active substances – both fat-soluble and water-soluble phytochemicals.
Freshly harvested plant material brought from our fields is firstly chopped into small pieces and added to a mixture of alcohol and water. The precise proportion of water and alcohol used for each plant differs, depending on how much water is in the plant.
This mixture is then allowed to stand for a period of up to 2 or 3 weeks in a stage of the process known as maceration. This is the crucial period when the active plant substances present are gradually ‘extracted’ into the alcohol.
After maceration is complete, the mixture is filtered. Then, the solid part of the mixture is pressed to recover as much of the liquid as possible. What we have achieved at this stage is an A.Vogel fresh herb tincture.
The process sounds simple but what is not obvious are the myriad quality control checks made during the process. For instance, over 100 tests and checks are used in the production of Echinaforce drops.
In addition, since Alfred Vogel started making fresh herb tinctures in Teufen, we have collected a vast amount of experience in fine-tuning the extraction process. One example is the maceration time. You would have thought that, just as when marinating food in your kitchen, the longer you macerate the herbs, the better. However, this is not the case universally and with some herbs, paradoxically, a shorter maceration time gives us tinctures with a higher concentration of active substances.
Although we believe that tinctures are the best and purest of way of taking a herbal remedy, there are many people who prefer to take tablets.
Our tablets start life as a fresh herb tincture. So, to make Echinaforce tablets, we start with Echinaforce tincture, placing it in a special device that produces a partial vacuum. This allows the alcohol to be evaporated at a temperature of just 40oC – only 2 degrees above normal body temperature. This method gives us a concentrated tincture, which is then tabletted, and allows us to preserve the active substances present in the tincture we started with.
With this unique method we are able to produce tablets from tincture, and these tablets are biochemically identical to the tincture we started with. This is the reason we describe our tablets as fresh herb tincture tablets.