Guide to Making Tinctures

 

Navigating the world of herbal medicine can inspire a hungry fascination. Finding wellness through herbs often leads to an experience that’s transformative and empowering. This experience can also bewilder our curious minds! We are lucky to have an incredible wealth of information about plant medicine at our fingertips today, but the beautiful complexity that comes with herbal healing makes learning the nuances a lifelong task.

A sip of herbal tea or a dropperful of tincture can easily unlock the door to herbalism. Most of us begin our studies making these simple and effective preparations. However, basic concepts sometimes become muddied when juggling Latin binomial nomenclature, formulation considerations, physiological effects, historical research, and other pursuits within the art. The most common mix-ups arise from misused terminology. One term that tends to be applied to a variety of preparations is tincture. What is a tincture and is there any difference between a tincture and an extract?

All tinctures are extracts, but not all extracts are tinctures!

Tinctures are concentrated herbal extracts that have alcohol as the solvent. If you are using water, vinegar, glycerin, or any menstruum (solvent) other than alcohol, your preparation is an extract – not a tincture. Although, there are exceptions to every rule and sometimes an acetum is defined as “a vinegar tincture” in the tomes.

 

 

The Folk Method

I learned to make tinctures deep in the coniferous woods along green river banks that glitter throughout the Oregon Cascades. Unless you have some sort of handy-dandy collapsible scale contraption that fits in your processing kit, using the folk method is the way to go when making medicine in the forest! Simple, practical, and efficient, this method allows you to estimate your herb measurements by eye. Here are a few important tincturing tips I learned during those years, while apprenticing with the Columbines School of Botanical Studies

Fresh Herb
• Finely chop or grind clean herb to release juice and expose surface area.
• Fill jar 2/3 to 3/4 with herb. ~ OR ~ Fill jar 1/4 to ½ with roots.
• Pour alcohol over the herbs. Cover completely!
• Jar should appear full of herb, but herb should move freely when shaken.

Dried Herb
• Use finely cut herbal material.
• Fill jar 1/2 to 3/4 with herb ~ OR ~ Fill jar 1/4 to 1/3 with roots.
• Pour alcohol over the herbs. Cover completely!
• Roots will expand by ½ their size when reconstituted!

Alcohol Percentages

40% – 50% (80-90 proof vodka)
• “Standard” percentage range for tinctures.
• Good for most dried herbs and fresh herbs that are not juicy.
• Good for extraction of water soluble properties.

67.5% - 70% (½ 80 proof vodka + ½ 190 proof grain alcohol)
• Extracts most volatile aromatic properties.
• Good for fresh high-moisture herbs like lemon balm, berries, and aromatic roots.
• The higher alcohol percentage will draw out more of the plant juices.

85% – 95% (190 proof grain alcohol)
• Good for gums and resins.
• Extracts aromatics and essential oils that are bound in the plant and do not dissipate easily.
• The alcohol strength can produce a tincture that is not quite pleasant to take.
• Often used for drop dosage medicines.
• Will totally dehydrate herbs.

Extraction Time and Bottling

Store jar in a cool, dry, dark cabinet. Shake several times a week and check your alcohol levels. If the alcohol has evaporated a bit and the herb is not totally submerged, be sure to top off the jar with more alcohol. Herbs exposed to air can introduce mold and bacteria into your tincture. Allow the mixture to extract for 6-8 weeks.

Now it’s time to squeeze. Drape a damp cheesecloth over a funnel. Pour contents of tincture into an amber glass bottle. Allow to drip, then squeeze and twist until you can twist no more! Optional: Blend herbs into a mush and strain remaining liquid.

The last step is perhaps the most important of all! Once you’ve strained and bottled your tincture, be sure to label each bottle with as much detail as possible. You will be so happy to have this information to play with next time you tincture the same herb. Don’t plan to lean on your sense of taste or smell alone – regardless of how well honed your organpleptic skills may be. Skipping this step will surely lead to a dusty collection of unused mystery extracts.

 

 

 

That’s it!

Keep in a cool, dark place and your extracts will last for many years. Making your own tinctures is simple and rewarding. The process allows you to form an intimate relationship with both the herbs you study and the medicines they offer.

If you are interested in learning more, here are a few great books to have in your herbal library:

The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook by James Green

Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth by Sharol Tilgner ND

Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech

~ Erin

29 Responses to “Guide to Making Tinctures”

  1. [...] For a great guide on making tinctures, see this article from Mountain Rose Herbs: Guide to Making Tinctures [...]

  2. [...] A great guide on how to make Tinctures… [...]

  3. [...] lemon zest, coffee beans, etc.), then cover by at least 2 inches with 100 proof Vodka. Here is a more in-depth instructional on making your own extracts and [...]

  4. avatar sue5boys says:

    Love This and just did Dried Sambucus Nigra. Can’t wait to be able to grow my own and order ones I can’t. Thank You so very much for these lessons.

  5. avatar marvbrown says:

    Would this work on dried herbs that I bought in bulk if they dried herb I have is already 200:1? I am wondering if this would work with cissus, maca, longjack, and other herbs that already come in some form of concentrated extract? I am new to this whole tincture making idea, but it intrigues me as the studies I have read on cissus being effective for bone and joint health all used an ethanol extract of cissus. Also, I have no idea how the herb extract was processed before I bought it, so it may already be an ethanol extract. Would doing the process make it better, or worse?

    • avatar Erin says:

      Hello,
      That is an interesting question! I only use fresh herb that I harvest or dried herb from Mountain Rose to make tinctures. Since alcohol draws out and concentrates the medicinal properties of plants, just using herbs in their natural state will create very potent and effective medicine. In my opinion, using an already concentrated product to make a tincture might seem like a good idea, but stronger isn’t always better or necessary for making a good formula. Herbs don’t work like pharmaceutical drugs; they help support your body’s own natural healing processes. I hope this helps and thanks for asking!

  6. avatar Conor says:

    Hey, great post. I have a question: Do Seaweeds make good tinctures? If so what is the best method for making one? Fresh/dried? Alcohol% etc..

    • avatar Erin says:

      Hi Conor,
      I have not made or used seaweed tinctures, but I think that their mucilaginous nature calls for water rather than alcohol. Water is an amazing solvent! I would prefer making a seaweed tea, broth, or adding seaweeds to my food rather than tincturing them, but you can definitely experiment. I hope that helps!

      Many thanks,
      Erin

  7. avatar Conor says:

    Thanks Erin! Just a couple of follow up question:

    How long would you suggest boiling the seaweeds for?
    Does alcohol extract the fat-soluble (hydrophobic) nutrients like betacarotein, vitamin E and Vitamin K which are in plants like Seaweeds?
    I was thinking of using muslin bags as “tea bags”, is this a good idea or am I better just straining them with a sive at the end?

    Thanks for your time :)

    • avatar Erin says:

      Hi Conor,
      You can simply soak seaweeds in water to rehydrate them, so boiling isn’t necessary unless you want to make a really thick, mucilaginous broth. I usually toss them into my soup just before eating. If you want to make a tea, you can always eat the seaweed, rather than trying to strain it out. Ryan Drum is an herbalist specializing in seaweeds. His website has tons of great info that I think would be helpful to you. You can find it here: http://www.ryandrum.com/seaweeds.htm
      Thanks again for reading!
      Erin

  8. avatar meladmin says:

    Excellent post! I have a question: what percentage of the liquid used should I expect to have with the final extract? If I use 20 ozs, approximately how much should I expect to have as the extract?

    • avatar Erin says:

      Hello Tyrika,
      That will vary depending on what herb you use, how much herb you use, and how well you squeeze the extract from the herb. I usually end up with something between 1/3 to 2/3 of the bottle volume. Hope that helps!

  9. avatar enn ren says:

    Hi Erin

    I am somewhat familiar with herbs, but am very new to essential oils. I was wondering if there is a formula available to decipher the strength of a herb to its essential oil. And if so, was wondering if it would be possible to make tinctures using essential oils rather than the fresh/dried herb?

    Thanks so much for your help.

    • avatar Erin says:

      Hi Enn,
      Essential oils are steam-distilled, so they have already been extracted and won’t need additional concentration. In fact, essential oils are much more strongly concentrated than tinctures. When it comes to herbal medicine, stronger isn’t necessarily better. Potent aromatics used internally can be very hard for the body to process. The only time I mix alcohol and essential oils together is to make room sprays or perfumes. I do not use essential oils medicinally, but if you are interested in learning more about that, I highly recommend the book Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art by Kathi Keville and Mindy Green.

      I hope this helps. Thanks so much for reading! :)

  10. avatar enn ren says:

    Thanks so much for the reply Erin. Yes this book looks like it would be a great read. It’s on my Christmas wish list!

    Thanks for taking the time to reply.

    Enn

  11. […] are some links from Wellness Mama and The Mountain Rose Blog for making your own herbal […]

  12. avatar Brit1 says:

    hope I am making my heart/blood pressure tincture correctly. I use Mt Rose dried herbs (hawthorn leaves/berries/linden/yarrow/cramp bark/motherwort add tbl cinnamon/ginger and cover with brandy and leave for as long as possible, but usually at least a month. Then I take a dropperful twice daily.

  13. avatar Vicki says:

    I made a tincture of some wild cherry bark for my hair conditioner using alcohol. Now I am almost ready to use it, but what do I do with all that alcohol. I think that it’s suppose to be really drying for hair. Your direction would be helpful. Thanks, Vicki

    • avatar Erin says:

      Hi Viki,
      Alcohol is very drying, so I wouldn’t recommend it for a conditioner. I’m not sure what hair conditioner recipe you are using, but there won’t be a way to remove the alcohol from the tincture you’ve made. It might be okay in small amounts if mixed into a formula with conditioning ingredients like coconut oil or vinegar, but without more info I can’t tell for sure. Thank you!

  14. avatar Megan says:

    What would be the ratio for ground/ powdered herbs? I have tons left over that I want to make into tinctures.

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Megan~It is really going to depend on the herbs you are using. With ground herbs, you will still want to fill your jar 1/2 to 2/3 and then cover over with alcohol. Depending on how much they expand and soak up the liquid, you may need to add more alcohol as they age. You’ll also want to make sure you strain them well since there are such small particles. Thanks so much! ~Kori

  15. avatar Benny says:

    Hi, I’ve been boiling fresh rosemary with water and using the end result to rinse my scalp after each shampoo. But the rosemary water tends to go bad after a few days.

    I’m interested to use rosemary to make something like a commercial hair tonic which I can just apply onto my scalp. I believe the commercial hair tonics have some degree of alcohol as they have a ‘drying/cooling’ feeling when applied onto the scalp. Can you please advise me whether what I should be using ‘tincture making’ method?

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Benny~Thank you for your question. As you may know, alcohol can be extremely drying, so if you were to use this in a hair rinse, you might want to use just a little and see how it works for you. You might also consider keeping your rosemary rinse refrigerated or making just enough to last for one or two uses so it stays fresh. Thanks so much for reading the blog and good luck! ~Kori

  16. avatar Linda says:

    Hi Erin, I am making tinctures for the first time. After they are made and stored I am unclear how to use them. Do I dilute 1:1 with water into a smaller bottle and keep “mother tincture” in storage. Or do I use straight out of main bottle into a drink or straight onto tongue. I have read a number of articles but still not clear

    • avatar Kori says:

      Hi Linda~You have several options for how to take a tincture. My preferred method is to simply use a dropper and take a dropperful by mouth (dropping the liquid into the mouth.) You can also dilute your tincture in tea, juice, coffee, or whatever beverage you’d like. Unless you have a very large bottle of tincture or plan to share with other folks, you do not really need to separate it out into smaller bottles. I hope this makes things a bit more clear for you. Wishing you the best! ~Kori

  17. […] last for years. A great post to go further in depth with tinctures is one of my favorite blogs: The Mountain Rose Blog. Now, on to the Bug Bite Relief!!!   Bug Bite Relief Ingredients 4 tsp. witch hazel 1 tsp. […]

  18. Mountain Rose Blog,

    I would like to republish this article (about how to make tinctures) in an online digital magazine that I edit. I will credit your website for the article.

    Please advise,

    Donna Hancock
    Producer – Declare Your Independence with Ernest Hancock Radio Show
    Editor-In-Chief – Freedom’s Phoenix Digital Magazine
    Email: Producer@DeclareYourIndependenceWithErnestHancock.com
    Phone: 602-828-1819
    Webpage: http://www.FreedomsPhoenix.com
    Radio Call-In Number/Studio Line: 602-264-2800

  19. avatar Megan says:

    Also wanted to put my comment here in case you don’t see it:
    So I am using ground herbs and am making 4oz of tinctures and I am wondering if I put the herbs and the alcohol in an 8 oz container do I have to fill the 8 oz container up to the top or can I just fill the container with 4 oz of alcohol? So can I fill up the container half way? For some of the herbs they needs a lot more room and area to shake. 4 oz of alcohol and herbs in a 4 oz container makes it very difficult to shake them. – See more at: http://mountainroseblog.com/guide-tinctures-extracts/#comment-33658

Leave a Reply

Facebook Follow Me on Pinterest Twitter YouTube

Meet Us

  • ErinErin (328)
    Erin is the Marketing Manager at Mountain Rose and studied herbalism, botany, and ethical wildcrafting at the Columbines School of Botanical Studies. She spends her days making botanical illustrations, playing in the garden, creating culinary gems, and formulating medicine in the magnificent Oregon Cascades.
    ChristineChristine (120)
    Christine is our Product Manager here at Mountain Rose Herbs and our Certified Aromatherapist on staff. She's a longtime Mountain Roser with nearly a decade under her belt and assists with selecting new and exciting herbal and herb-related products. She also makes sure our current products are the best they can be!
    IreneIrene (53)
    Irene Wolansky is the Customer Experience Director at Mountain Rose Herbs. Born and raised on the Oregon coast, her interests include crafting body care products and herbal medicine, harvesting mushrooms, gardening, brewing herbal mead, fermentation, and exploring wild areas.
    FriendsFriends (40)
    An array of voices from around Mountain Rose Herbs and beyond share their wisdoms, inspirations, and exciting stories from the herbal world.
    KoriKori (28)
    Kori is our Public and Media Relations Coordinator! A West Coast native, Kori is a seasoned nonprofit activist and community organizer. Having launched six adult kids, she spends her free time in her burgeoning organic and very urban “farm”—taming Heritage chickens, building top-bar beehives from reclaimed materials, baking, brewing, and preserving.
    AlyssaAlyssa (21)
    Alyssa is the Director of Sustainability at Mountain Rose Herbs and an expert social butterfly. When not fluttering between community and non-profit events, she enjoys hiking, gardening, playing with her chickens, and organizing potlucks.
    ShawnShawn (14)
    Shawn is the Operations Manager at Mountain Rose Herbs, which means he has his hands in just about everything here, but he is most passionate about advancing the company's ecological platforms for sustainable business practices. In his spare time, he can be found deep in Oregon’s designated wilderness areas or fly fishing (strictly catch and release) with his furry friends Abigail and Maggie.
    AlietaAlieta (12)
    Alieta is our Marketing Assistant! An Oregon native, she studied philosophy, Spanish and graphic design at Portland State University and has a natural affinity for the natural foods industry. She spends her time outside of work playing her 54 key Rhodes piano, hanging out with her cat Penelope, and cooking delicious gluten-free and dairy-free meals to share with friends.
    BrianBrian (6)
    Brian is our Domestic Farms Representative! He was born and raised in the Appalachian foothills of Alabama and has worked with plants for over a decade across the country. He studied advanced botany and herbalism at Columbines School of Botanical Studies. Brian loves working with our farmers and wildcrafters to provide the highest quality and most ethically gathered plants around.
  • Subscribe to the Mountain Rose Blog and never miss a recipe!