Indefinitely Wild Series: Tinctures 101

Just 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 a 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 droppersful 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 droppersful tincture, every 2 to 3 hours.

stinging-nettles

How To Make A Tincture 102

Have you ever roamed the supplement aisles and wondered if you could create your own herbal apothecary? Well, you can! There are many ways to create effective products right from your home garden. Even if you don’t have a green space of your own, these days quality herbs are easily available for purchase. One of the first things most budding herbalists learn how to make is tinctures. Tinctures are alcoholic extracts of plants, they have a long history of use, and can easily be taken on the go.

While there are many different ways to create tinctures, we’d like to start off by teaching you all the “folk method.” This method is a simple way to make tinctures without having to fuss overweighing the herbs or doing lots of math. We prefer using brandy or vodka when first starting out because their ratios of alcohol to water are appropriate for many herbs, such as the nettles we have chosen to use in this article. If you are feeling creative, you can use this format with herbs from our tea bags! If this is something you’re interested in doing, we’d suggest making tinctures from herbal teas.

Nettles are a great spring green to tincture. It’s a superior herbal tonic that supports joint health* and grows abundantly in many places across the United States. While it is covered with microscopic hairs that sting you when touched, we still adore this plant. Nettle’s fierce exterior is just a front, and underneath is a gentle and nourishing herb that can be used in tinctures, eaten as a food or made into a rope from its strong fibers. We recently dedicated an entire article to nettle called Nettle 101, which gives you, even more, information on this incredible herbal ally.

Now let’s get started!

Ingredients
Nettle, fresh or dried
Brandy or vodka

Materials
Gloves
Mason jar
Muslin or cheesecloth
Labels
Amber dosage bottles
Small funnel
Large bowl
Liquid measuring cup

The first step to creating this tincture is to gather your herbs. You have a few options: you can harvest nettles carefully with gloves, purchase them dried locally or order in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs. Nettles are often found growing abundantly in the wild, but if you do decide to do some wild harvesting, we would suggest that you get a Peterson’s Field Guide or find a herbalist to help you identify the plant and reference The United Plant Savers “Species at Risk” list before harvesting.

If you are working with fresh nettles, we recommend using gloves and wearing clothing to cover your skin to avoid a sting that may itch and tingle for a few hours. Chop the nettles as small as possible, because the more herb chopped, the more surface area covered during the maceration (or extraction) process. Then fill your Mason jar about ¾ full of freshly chopped herb, and cover all the way to the top with alcohol. When using dried nettles, we’d suggest filling your jar ½ way and then cover all the way to the top with alcohol (also known as your menstruum in herbalism).

Then, put the cap on it, sit it upright and label your jar. We suggest writing down the following on your label:

1. What kind of alcohol you used, and the percent of alcohol by volume.
2. Whether you used the fresh or dried herb.
3. The common name and the Latin name of the plant used (in this case nettle in Latin is Urtica dioica).
4. The date you made the tincture.

Let the mixture macerate, shake the jar every day and store it in a cool dark cabinet. Make sure the herbs stay covered with alcohol and add more if needed. This is a great time to put good energy into your herbal creation and visualize all the ways it’s going to help you once it’s finally ready.

After 4-6 weeks have passed, you can then press out your tincture. Don’t worry too much about the time, some folks wait as little as three weeks and some wait much longer. To start the pressing process, unscrew your Mason jar, put your muslin or cheesecloth over the top and then flip over the jar above a large bowl to drain out the liquid while separating the herb. Once all the liquid has gone into the bowl, you can then use both your hands to squeeze out any remaining liquid from the herb.

Next, pour that liquid (which is now your tincture) into a liquid measuring cup. Place your funnel in the mouth of your dosage bottle and carefully pour your liquid into it. The number of bottles you’ll need to store these tinctures in will depend on the amount initially created. You can also put the tincture back into the Mason jar until proper storage is found.

Lastly, make a label that replicates your first one for each dosage bottle filled. Store in a cool dark place and enjoy! We suggest taking about ½-1 teaspoon of nettle tincture 2-3x a day when you’re feeling like you need some joint support or a herbal tonic.*

You can now use this format with many of the medicinal herbs in your own home garden. Of course, it is important that you get to know the identity of the plants you’re working with first and research the dosage and safety information from trusted sources. Each tea, tincture or herbal preparation created is an opportunity for you to take your health into your own hands. We hope this ritual empowers you as a growing herbalist and inspires you to establish an even deeper connection with the plants around you.

Consult your healthcare practitioner prior to use if you are diabetic or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. In sensitive individuals, nettle leaf preparations may occasionally cause mild gastrointestinal upset or allergic reactions. Do not use this product if you have a known hypersensitivity to nettle plants. Not recommended for use with children under 12 years of age.

 

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