Why make an herbal tincture?
Taking herbs in their whole form certainly has its benefits, but some of the constituents can actually pass through the digestive tract without ever being absorbed by the body. Herbal extracts are able to draw even more constituents from the plant material and are then contained in a medium which is easily accessible to the body. Solvents can be water, vinegar, glycerin, or alcohol. A tincture is an herbal extract that only uses alcohol as its solvent. They are potent and concentrated, requiring only small doses at a time, and tinctures are very portable and ideal for when you are away from home. They are also a great way to have a well-prepared medicine cabinet of your own, before a need even arises. Another benefit to the tincturing method of herbal extraction is that a greater spectrum of constituents are collected when compared with other solvents too, such as water, vinegar, or glycerin. With an alcohol as the solvent, the shelf life is quite long as well. If kept in a cool, dry, dark location, tinctures can last for years and years even. Also, be sure to use airtight, sterilized containers so as to not risk any contamination.
A tip on glass jars: Using wide mouth jars for tincturing will make your job much easier once you are straining off the herbs, since they will expand a bit in the oil and can quickly become wider than the mouth of smaller containers. Also, I highly recommend using the ever popular Mason Jar due to their durability, non-toxicity, non-porousness, portability, and heat resistance. Most Mason Jars also come with tight fitting lids. Just a practical choice all around, whatever the herbal preparation.
How to make an Herbal Tincture using the Folk Method
There are mathematically precise methods of making tinctures, resulting in very specific dosing if so desired. However, the folk method of making tinctures talked about here is a simpler process using a few basic principles and resulting in a lovely and still very effective finished product.
- glass jar & lid, sterilized and dried
- spoon or other utensil
- wax paper
- cheese cloth
- mesh strainer
- at least 80 proof alcohol (Vodka or grain alcohol is a good, neutral flavoured choice)
- herbs of choice: either fresh or dried: bark, berries, flowers, leaves, or roots.
- Prepare the herbs. You can use either fresh or dried herbs. If fresh herbs are chosen, harvest, remove from stalks, and rinse (or even scrub) off dirt from underground parts of the plants if needed, then chop into small pieces. For dried herbs, remove any thick stalks and grind or crush the plant material down. Getting your herbs into very small pieces will expose the greatest surface area to the menstruum or solvent (alcohol, in this case), getting the most benefit out of them as possible.
- Place the herbs in a glass jar. Here’s an excellent guide from the Mountain Rose blog:
- How much plant material to use?
- Fresh Herbal Material: Leaves & Flowers
• Only fill the jar ⅔ to ¾ with herb.
• Jar should appear full of herb, but herb should move freely when shaken.
- Fresh Herbal Material: Roots, Barks, Berries
• Only fill the jar ⅓ to ½ with fresh roots, barks, or berries.
• Jar should appear full of herb, but herb should move freely when shaken.
- Dried Herbal Material: Leaves & Flowers
• Only fill the jar ½ to ¾ with herb.
- Dried Herbal Material: Roots, Barks, Berries
• Only fill the jar ¼ to ⅓ with herb.
• Roots and berries can expand by ½ their size when reconstituted.
- Fill the jar the rest of the way with vodka. Make sure to slowly pour in the vodka, using a utensil to poke around the herbs, catching any air bubbles and distributing the solvent equally around them making sure they are fully saturated. All plant material should be well covered by the alcohol. Replace the lid tightly. To preventive corrosion and leaching of chemicals from BPA-lined lids, use a small piece of unbleached wax paper as a liner, screwing it tightly underneath the lid.
- Label and mark with the current date. This is important! You don’t want to forget what the contents are after a few weeks, nor when it was made either.
- Keep the jar in a cool, dry, and dark place. Gently shake or roll between your hands every day. Keep an eye on the alcohol level, since it may need to be topped off a bit. The herbs should always be covered by the solvent.
- After 4-6 weeks, strain the tincture. To get a tincture as clear of plant material as possible, strain through a mesh strainer lined with a few layers of cheese cloth. Press down on the plant material to squeeze out as much menstruum (the finished product- your tincture!) as possible. You can then leave the tincture to sit for another day in its jar, so that any remaining bits of the plant material settle to the bottom and can be decanted out as well. For an even more meaningful experience during the interim of this slow herbal preparation, I encourage you to consider making your tincture synchronized with the rhythms of a complete Lunar Cycle:
The moon exerts ongoing effects on the Earth, including the level of oceans and the growth of plants, as well as our own internal regulatory mechanisms and our hormones. It is also said to influence tincture making. It may therefore be beneficial to honor the effects of the Moon by allowing our tinctures to work for at least one complete Moon cycle, going from one New Moon to the next, or preferably for a full six weeks, from one New Moon to the Full Moon six weeks later. – Aviva Romm, MD, Midwife, & Clinical Herbalist
- Label and store the tincture in a glass container, in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Ideally, use amber or blue coloured bottles, which will block out the broadest spectrum of harmful rays of light. Also look for bottles with dropper caps, which make use and dosing easy.
Dosing & Use:
As to dosing, there are so many types of tinctures to make and so many types of plants that may require different dosing depending on your needs and goals, so please do proper research and use accordingly.
However, a very general recommendation is taking 30-60 drops of tincture 3 times a day.
- For chronic, long-term problems such as allergies, insomnia, arthritis, and back pain: ½ – 1 teaspoon three times a day.
- For acute issues, or sudden sickness such as migraines, colds, or flu: ¼ – ½ teaspoon every 30-60 minutes until symptoms subside.
I hope you enjoyed this educational post! Head back to the Herbalism page for more ways to study herbs and their properties, actions, preparations, and traditional use in day-to-day living.
- The Natural Pregnancy Book: Herbs, Nutritions, and Other Holistic Choices – Aviva Romm, MD, Midwife, & Clinical Herbalist
- The Complete Herb Book – Jekka McVicar
- The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs: Their Medicinal and Culinary Uses – Sarah Bunney
- An Illustrated Guid to Herbs: Their Medicine and Magic – Anna Kruger
- Herbal Academy of Herbal Arts and Sciences – Introductory Herbal Course
- Herbal Academy of Herbal Arts and Sciences – Intermediate Herbal Course
DISCLAIMER: Any information offered here is for educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Leaves in My Hair makes neither medical claim, nor intends to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. You must do your own independent research concerning the safety and usage of any herbs and for making any decisions regarding your health. Pregnant or breastfeeding women, persons with known medical conditions, and those on medication should consult with their licensed health care provider about any medical decisions. References to external websites and resources are for informational purposes only. Leaves in my Hair neither endorses them nor is in any way responsible for their content.