Let’s Create Some Herbal Medicine ~ Tinctures

tincture-bottles-littleJust as you can make a tea and extract your herb’s medicinal constituents with hot water, you can do the same with a cool liquid – alcohol. You can grind and soak your fresh or dried herbs in an alcoholic liquid or solvent {such as Vodka}, then strain out the herbs. The resulting liquid is called a tincture.

Alcohol is an excellent solvent {meaning that the medicinal constituents of herbs dissolve in it very well}. In our opinion, alcohol is second only to water. For most herbs, a hot tea will make the best herbal preparation, but in a few cases, tinctures can be an excellent choice.

Why make a tincture instead of a tea? One reason is that alcohol will pull out the active constituents of the herbs as a cool liquid instead of as a hot one, which will better protect certain delicate constituents that can be boiled or steamed away by hot water {such as the oils that contribute to peppermint’s lovely scent, or valerian’s heat-sensitive active compounds}. Alcohol carries the healing components of the herbs into your bloodstream quickly when you drink a tincture. In addition, alcohol is a very good preservative, so tinctures stored away from heat and light remain medicinally active for a year or more {and, depending on the herb, can sometimes remain viable for 2 to 3 years or longer}. Tinctures are also portable and convenient – you can carry a small bottle with you and take it directly by mouth or by adding a few droppers full to water.

Tinctures are made by grinding or finely chopping up fresh or dried herbs, adding them to a solution of alcohol, letting the mixture stand for 2 to 3 weeks, and straining out the herbs. It’s that simple!

You will need to pay attention to the strength of your alcohol because different herbs extract somewhat differently. Alcohol’s strength is known as it’s “proof,” and proof is written as twice the percentage of alcohol in the liquid. Some herbs need a higher proof alcohol to extract all of their medicinal constituents, while other herbs will yield their components better when the level of pure alcohol is lower. If the herb you want to tincture needs a very high alcoholic percentage, you will need to use a higher proof alcohol, for other herbs, you can use a spirit with a lower level of pure alcohol, or you can dilute a high-proof alcohol with water to change its strength. When you are making a tincture, the alcoholic liquid is technically called the “menstruum,” and the herb, when you strain it out at the end, is called the “marc.”

Finding the Right Solution:

To obtain the correct level of alcohol for a menstruum, you have several choices. You can make your tincture with 100-proof vodka {50 percent pure alcohol}, 160-proof vodka {80 percent pure alcohol}, or 190-proof pure ethyl alcohol {95 percent pure alcohol}. Ethyl alcohol is the strongest alcohol you can purchase, but it is restricted in some states; if you can obtain it, pure ethyl alcohol is often superior to vodka as a solvent. Traditionally, brandy has been used as a menstruum {it is 40 percent alcohol by volume}, but modern brandy may contain pigments, flavoring compounds, sugars, and other components that diminish its ability to draw out the medicinal components of the herbs. We recommend using vodka or pure ethyl alcohol when available.

Basic Tincture:

A basic tincture is made with a herb {by weight, given in ounces}, and a menstruum {by volume, given in liquid ounces}. This recipe will make a little more than 1/2 cup of finished tincture.

2 – 3 ounces ground or finely chopped fresh or 1 ounce dried flowers, leaves, bark, seeds, or roots

5 liquid ounces vodka or ethyl alcohol

In a clean glass jar with a lid, combine the herb and the alcohol, making sure that the herb is completely submerged in the menstruum. If it’s not, add more alcohol until the herb is completely covered by about 1 inch of liquid. Many herbalists recommend whirring the herb and the alcohol in a blender or food processor until pureed to make sure that lots of surface area are exposed on the herb. Cover the jar and store it in a dark place, shaking it daily for 2 to 3 weeks. Do not allow the herb to float above the level of the alcohol or the tincture will spoil; add more alcohol if necessary to keep the herb submerged. When the tincture is finished, filter it through cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or a fine-mesh strainer. Then put the herbs into a muslin bag, square of cheesecloth, or even a length of clean hosiery, draw the sides together, and squeeze out the last drops of liquid from the herbs. {You can even buy special herb presses that do the job well.} Compost the herb, pour the tincture into amber bottles, label the bottles with the contents and date, and store.

Dosage: 2 to 4 droppers full tincture, every 2 to 3 hours.

Echinacea Tincture:

You can take this tincture when you feel a cold coming on, or if you’re treating an infection.

12 tablespoons fresh or 6 tablespoons dried ground or finely chopped echinacea root

2 cups 160-proof vodka {if using fresh herbs} or 100-proof vodka {if using dried herbs

In a blender or food processor, combine the echinacea and alcohol. Blend or process until pureed. Pour the liquid into a clean glass jar with a lid, making sure that when it settles, the herb is completely submerged in the menstruum. If it’s not, add more alcohol until the herb is covered by about 1 inch of liquid. Cover the jar and store it in a dark place, shaking it daily, for 2 to 3 weeks. Add more alcohol if necessary to keep the herb submerged. When the tincture is finished, filter it and then squeeze out the last drops of liquid from the herbs. Compost the herb, pour the tincture into amber bottles, label the bottles with the contents and date, and store.

Dosage: 2 to 4 droppers full tincture, every 2 to 3 hours.