How Spagyric Tincturing Methods Produce Full Spectrum Colloidal Suspensions of Natural Prodrugs.
Re-ignited in Europe by Paracelsus, an early 16th-century physician and father of modern toxicology, a new branch of Alchemy sprouted up through what he titled Spagyrics. This system, drawing from the framework and practices of both laboratory and philosophical Alchemy forged a methodology of holistic medicine making based upon a concept known as the Tria Prima; a passive/negative element called Salt representing the Body & Moon, a positive/active element called Sulphur representing the Soul/Sun and a neutral element called Mercury representing the Spirit/Mercury.
The title Spagyric, deriving from the ancient Greek words spao (to draw out) and agerio (to gather), highlights the basic technique underlying the many forms of Spagyric medicines.
Regarding plants, the three essential principles to be separated, purified, and recombined include the:
Perhaps the most obvious and uniquely differing variable of a Spagyric extract is it’s addition of the Salt principle; the water-soluble mineral salt profile of the plant. Although a small amount of soluble salts are obtained with a conventional extract using at least some water and/or vinegar, the vast majority of a plant’s salts are left behind in what’s called the marc – the pressed out herb mass after macerating in alcohol, water, vinegar, glycerine etc.
These “trapped” salts so to speak are still confined by organic materials, “leaden shells”, unreachable no matter how long one macerates for. The Salt principle can be viewed as the grounding and “fixed” corporeal aspect of a Spagyric preparation.
In order to free these salts for their recombining with the Mercury (alcohol) and Sulphur (essential oil/active compounds), the marc must first be incinerated completely to ash, and then the ash must be further subjected to steady high heat. This process is called calcination. When calcination is completed, the salts are then leached out of the ashes and purified/recrystallized with a process using distilled water or sometimes the plant’s hydrosol. They are then ready to be recombined in a variety of different ways with their counterparts of Sulphur and Mercury…and this is where the real magic of Spagyria begins!
The salts obtained via calcination from plant sources are predominantly composed of Potassium (carbonate), arguably the most important electrolyte for the human body1. When this alkaline carbonate mineral is re-introduced to the alcohol, essential oils and other active compounds, a variety of chemical reactions start to occur. These reactions include but are not limited to:
The sum of these reactions include a notable increase in stability, improved bioavailability, decreased side effects and lower dosage2. Before moving on with the organic and biochemistry of Spagyric extracts, a brief overview of how the tincturing of plants in alcohol increases bioavailability is in order.
In the plant kingdom, therapeutically active constituents are predominantly comprised of carboxylic acids (terpenes, polyphenols, alkaloids etc)3. These acids share the issue of limited bioavailability, as they are commonly broken down, denatured and deflected by the body’s natural defence systems such as first pass digestion4 or the blood brain barrier.
A clear-cut example of this is with THC, the primary psychoactive found in Cannabis. With fresh and even freshly dried Cannabis, THC presents mostly as THC acid (THCA), which has little to no psychoactivity/bioavailability unless decarboxylated (generally by heating) into THC5,6.
Although thermal decarboxylation does an efficient job of rendering THC available to the body, the heat required can both destroy or denature the volatile and heat sensitive compounds such as terpenes, which are highly medicinal and well worth preserving. Could there perhaps be a better way? Let us explore…
Recent research conducted by Rutland Biodynamics4, a UK based biodynamic farm and tincture producer has given us a modern view of how tincturing herbs (particularly fresh herbs) with alcohol increases their bioavailability. In their 10 years+ of research, Rutland’s validated their focus on fresh plant tinctures by highlighting the importance of amphiphilic7 (partially water-soluble) macro molecules such as sugars, proteins and lipids.
These compounds which are largely destroyed or denatured during the drying process4 were found to form bonds with non water-soluble lipophilic active therapeutic compounds, acting as surfactants, creating what’s known as micelles8. These micelles were also found to be stabilized by the alcohol which acts as a co-surfactant.
Micelles can be explained as nanoparticle aggregates which form colloidal emulsions rather than solutions, meaning they stay suspended in solutions as a microscopic dispersion rather than dissolving. These pairs of water soluble and insoluble phytochemicals have the significant benefit of being able to bypass the body’s usual defense mechanisms, with the active but insoluble compounds hitching a ride into the blood/cells with the water-soluble macro compounds4. Once inside the body, the aggregate compounds are cleaved into the original contributing compounds by enzymes in the blood and cells9.
First described by Warren Kistenbroker of Evolved Alchemy3, the Spagyric tincturing method and it’s chemical reactions is summarized as such:
First, the primary actives of the plant which are comprised mostly of carboxylic acids are extracted with an alcohol (ethanol in this case). When these organic acids are combined with the ethanol, esters start to form, but this reaction is limited by the presence of water3.
This is no doubt one of the reasons why a “sharpened” or “rectified” spirit is recommended in both the classic and modern texts10. But even with so called “pure alcohol” and dried plants, the alcohol is still only 95-96%, therefore some water always is involved, inhibiting the full potential of esterification3.
Once the plant material has been fully exhausted of it’s targeted constituents, the recrystallized alkali/carbonate mineral salts extracted from the calcined/leached marc are reintroduced to the acidic alcohol extract causing a catalytic acid-base reaction that creates novel soap-like compounds.
The reaction is even further aided by the extremely hydrophilic nature of the salt, which removes the remaining tiny amount of water and allows for the full potential of esterification of the organic acids. In addition to the esters formed in the tincture, the carbonate salts in combination with the organic acids form what’s known as carboxylic acid salts3. Both carboxylic esters and salts are otherwise known as carboxylates11.
Interestingly, in today’s modern pharmaceutical world carboxylate esters and salts are synthesized to create some of the most efficacious and safe types of medications called prodrugs12.
Prodrugs consist of an aggregate compound, often comprised of a surfactant such as an alkali salt and and a medicinal lipophilic acid13. Sounding familiar? These are the same two ingredients found in Spagyric extracts!
Inert until metabolised by the body14, the lipophilic active drug is rendered water-soluble and transported past the body’s defence mechanisms such as first pass digestion4. Easily making it’s way into the blood and cells, the inert aggregate is activated through the cleaving of the active acid and alkali surfactant.
Literally, the active compound found in the living plant has been “snuck in” so to speak, reanimated by enzymatic metabolism in the body. Prodrugs also have the benefit of being used on demand by the body, similarly to endogenous compounds, reducing side effects drastically due to their specified actions and reduced dosage due to their increased bioavailability and potency12,15.
In contrast to the amphiphilic proteins, fats and sugars acting as surfactants as seen in Rutland Biodynamics research, Spagyric tinctures achieve the same mechanism of forming micellar microemulsions of their active compounds via the addition of alkali/electrolyte mineral salts, most notably potassium carbonate.
Rather than the combination and cleaving of macro-nutritional sugars, proteins and lipids from a medicinal acid at the target site, with a Spagyric tincture it is the micro-nutritional potassium salt that acts as the surfactant and is later separated by enzymes. This potassium carbonate anion16 with it’s negative charge has the added benefit of once again acting as a chelating and cleansing magnet for positive ions, which occur in the body as toxins such as heavy metals, mold, pollution etc17.
Further improving upon the synthetic/isolate prodrug model, Spagyric tinctures contain the plant’s full spectrum of active compounds, therefore creating naturally buffered and ratioed complexes of prodrug microemulsions.
Using this method also addresses the issue of using dried plant material which may result in denatured or entirely lost proteins, sugars and lipids. Because potassium salt is used rather than the proteins, sugars and as a surfactant, the process of creating Spagyric micellar compounds can be maximized by performing the extraction anhydrously (water being a catalytically limiting factor as mentioned above)3.
To summarize the key factors of the increased bioavailability of both conventional fresh plant and Spagyric tinctures:
Conventional fresh plant ethanolic tinctures include microemulsions comprised of:
Spagyric tinctures include nano emulsions of:
Both of these preparations mirror the alchemical framework of two opposites and a neutral variable, yet the Spagyric method differs in that it actually forms a balanced chemical equation3 with the benefit of a fully water-soluble and negatively charged alkali (the potassium carbonate salt) a positively charged acid (the lipophilic acidic active compounds) and a neutral pH solution to combine within (ethanol, Ph7.14). Again, it is this combination of alkali salt and acidic active compounds which form the natural carboxylates similar to synthetically produced pharmaceutical prodrugs.
Although with conventional alcohol macerated tinctures microemulsions are still obtained, they are limited to aggregates comprised solely of partially water-soluble acidic compounds in contrast to the neutralizing effect of the alkali salts found only in the Spagyric method. In the case of the fresh plant conventional tinctures the active lipophilic compounds are delivered into the blood/cells and the cleaved proteins, sugars and lipids serve in various nutritional roles; with a Spagyric extract the cleaved potassium salt acts as a cleansing/chelating agent after being released from the delivered active compounds.
Alchemically speaking, it could be said that the fresh plant ethanolic tinctures are more “fixed” or nutritional in nature, whereas the anhydrous Spagyric tincture is more “volatile” or stimulating in effect. That being said, it is certainly not the intent of this article to put down “non-spagyric” botanical extracts, rather it is to note the differences between different methods of preparation to better elucidate the topic as a whole. Anyone who works closely with the plants knows that you can derive healing just by being with them, so of course all incarnations of their medicines have an important place in the healing arts.
So how can we easily tell if our tinctures contain colloidal/microemulsions? Thankfully there is an easy technique that can be performed without expensive analytic laboratory testing! By shining a laser (any laser pointer will do), we can test whether a liquid is a true solution or a colloidal microemulsion by shining the laser through the mixture in the dark. With fully dissolved particles, the path of the laser is not visible, but with nano emulsions, the light refracts off of the suspended particles revealing the laser passing through! This is known as the Tyndall effect18.
A laser passing through a Spagyric tincture diluted into water
Thanks to the pioneering research of Rutland Biodynamics and Evolved Alchemy, it is clear that there is a provable modern scientific reality behind full spectrum/whole plant herbal tinctures, and in this case particularly with conventional fresh plant ethanolic tinctures and Spagyric anhydrous tinctures. Their work studying the benefits of full spectrum tinctures has significantly helped to further the understanding how nature’s perfect combinations of plant constituents deliver medicine to the human body, validating holism alongside the conscious and creative role of medicine making.
Undoubtedly, the chemistry presented regarding Spagyria in this article indicates uniquely bioavailable and therapeutic botanical extracts achieved via this method…but of course there is so much work to do from here! For the sake of brevity in introducing this topic, the many various methods of Spagyric preparation of plants has been limited to simple pure ethanolic extracts of dry plants in this article. In reality, there are many methods of creating Spagyric extracts, all of which merit further exploration and research under a modern lens.
The author would like to call upon interested persons working within relevant fields such as the health sciences, laboratory/analytic sciences, herbalism, naturopathy, traditional medicine, western medicine etc to add to this conversation, explore the topic further and hopefully help to foster rigorous scientific
research into the varying methods of preparing this ancient yet newly lime-lighted practice of natural medicine making.
For inquiries, interest in further research or more information please feel free to contact us.
Special thanks to:
2 The prodrug approach in the era of drug design
©2020 Daniel Wiseman