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 journey 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, formulations, physiological actions, 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, glycerine, 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.

 

Herbal Tinctures…

  • Tinctures are concentrated herbal extracts.
  • Alcohol is the solvent. You can use any spirit you like, but I prefer something neutral like vodka so I can taste the herb. 
  • They can be taken straight by the dropper or diluted in tea.
  • They can be made with fresh or dried flowers, leaves, roots, barks, or berries.  

 

Guide to Making Tinctures

 

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 best way to go when making medicine in the forest! It's also dandy at home in your kitchen apothecary. Simple, practical, and efficient, this method allows you to estimate your herb measurements by eye. The only supplies you'll need include organic herbs, glass jars, a knife or chopper, metal funnel, cheesecloth, alcohol, and amber glass dropper bottles

Let's get started! Here are a few important tincturing tips I've learned over the years…

 

Guide to Making Tinctures

 

How much plant material to use?

Fresh Herbal Material: Leaves & Flowers
• Finely chop or grind clean herb to release juice and expose surface area.
• Only fill the jar 2/3 to 3/4 with herb. 
• Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely!
• Jar should appear full of herb, but herb should move freely when shaken.

Dried Herbal Material: Leaves & Flowers
• Use finely cut herbal material.
• Only fill the jar 1/2 to 3/4 with herb.
• Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely!

Fresh Herbal Material: Roots, Barks, Berries
• Finely chop or grind clean plants to release juice and expose surface area.
• Only fill the jar 1/3 to 1/2 with fresh roots, barks, or berries.
• Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely!
• Jar should appear full of herb, but herb should move freely when shaken.

Dried Herbal Material: Roots, Barks, Berries
• Use finely cut herbal material.
• Only fill the jar 1/4 to 1/3 with dried roots, barks, or berries.
• Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely!
• Roots and berries will expand by ½ their size when reconstituted!

 

tincture-pour

 

Alcohol Percentages

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

67.5% – 70% (½ 80 proof vodka + ½ 190 proof grain alcohol)
• Extracts the 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 dissolving gums and resins – but not necessary for most plant material.  
• Extracts the aromatics and essential oils bound in a plant that do not dissipate easily.
• The alcohol strength can produce a tincture that is not easy to take. Stronger is not always better!
• Often used for drop dosage medicines.
• Will totally dehydrate herbs.

 

Extraction Time and Bottling 

Guide to Making Tinctures

 

Store your tincture 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. Keep extracts in a cool, dark place and your tinctures will last for many years.

 

Make Your Labels!

Guide to Making Tinctures

 

This 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'll be so happy to have this information to play with next time you tincture the same herb. Don't lean on your sense of taste or smell alone – regardless of how well-honed your organoleptic skills may be, tinctures can trick even the most experienced herbalist. Skipping this step will surely lead to a dusty collection of unused mystery extracts.

Important details to include on your labels:

  • Common Name
  • Latin Name
  • Part Used
  • Fresh/Dried
  • Alcohol %
  • Habitat/Source
  • Date
  • Dosage

 

That's it! 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.

 

Medicine Making Books

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

Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide by Rosemary Gladstar

 

Looking to purchase high quality, certified organic herbal tinctures?

Find them in our shop!

~ Erin