We are at the height of summer and if you’re like me, your herb garden is overflowing and your favorite foraging spots are begging to be harvested. So what to do with all this fresh herb material?
A great way to preserve these herbs for use throughout the year is to start making herbal tinctures. Through this article you will learn the ins and outs of how to make an herbal tincture.
What Are Herbal Tinctures?
Before we get into how to make an herbal tincture. let’s first learn what an herbal tincture even is.
Tinctures are concentrated liquid extracts of herbs. A little bit goes a long way with tinctures so they are taken by the dropperful, often diluted in warm water, tea or juice. Because they are so concentrated, they should be administered cautiously and sparingly.
Tinctures are prepared using alcohol as the menstruum (solvent). I recommend using a high quality vodka (80-100 proof) as its neutrality of flavor allows you to fully experience the flavor of the herb. Vegetable glycerin or apple cider vinegar can be used instead of vodka (to make an extract) if you don’t want to use alcohol or if the tincture will be administered to a child.
Why Would You Want to Make a Tincture?
Here are some reasons why you would want to make a tincture instead of other types of herbal preparations such as tisanes or infusions.
- Tinctures can be made with any part of the herb: with fresh or dried herbs, flowers, leaves, roots, barks, seeds, or berries.
- Tinctures have a longer shelf life compared to other herbal preparation methods
- Tinctures prepared with alcohol can last indefinitely if prepared properly
- Extracts prepared with apple cider vinegar can last for about six months if prepared properly – refrigeration is recommended
- Extracts prepared with glycerin can last between 14-24 months and does not require refrigeration
- Once prepared, tinctures are simple to dispense and can be taken instantly or diluted in a glass of water, tea, juice, or other liquid
- Tinctures are useful when an infusion, tea, or decoction would taste too bitter to drink
What alcohol is used for herbal tinctures?
Any quality, high proof alcohol may be used, but many herbalists, myself included, prefer a neutral spirit like vodka so the taste of the herb comes through.
Most tinctures use ethyl alcohol that can be found in high-proof spirits such as vodka or brandy. These are commercially available and very safe for consumption.
Remember that regardless of the alcohol chosen, it has to be at least 80-proof (namely, 40 percent alcohol) to prevent any mildewing of the plant material in the bottle.
Plant Material Proportions: Fresh vs. Dried
The first step in making an herbal tincture is to fill your jar with the right proportion of plant material. Proportions are important because if you add too little, and you’ll end up with a weak tincture. Too much, and the amount of alcohol added won’t be enough to pull out all the medicinal properties from the herbs.
The appropriate alcohol strength and the relative amount of plant material to use will vary based on what you’re tincturing. Here are some basic measurement guidelines:
Supplies for Tincture Making
When learning how to make an herbal tincture, most people use the folk method, which is the most widely used method by home herbalists. This traditional technique is simple, practical, and efficient, and allows you to estimate your herb measurements without any complicated tools.
What Tools Will I Need?
- homegrown, foraged, or store-bought organic herbs
- widemouth glass canning jars of various sizes (with tight-fitting lids)
- sharp knife, chopper, or herb grinder
- metal funnel
- cheesecloth or muslin
- alcohol (sometimes called a “menstrum” in tincture preparations)
- tincture bottles (amber glass dropper bottles)
- fine mesh strainer
How to Make an Herbal Tincture
Basic Folk Method for Learning How to Make an herbal Tincture
- Gather the useful parts of the herb(s), possibly the berries, leaves, roots, bark, or all of these, and remove any unwanted parts.
- Chop fresh herbs and grind dried herbs to increase the surface area for the maceration. Place herbs into a clean, dry mason jar with a wide mouth.
- Pour quality, high-proof alcohol (vodka or brandy) over the herbs until the alcohol level is an inch above the top of the herbs. Dry herbs may absorb the liquid, so check and add alcohol as needed.
- Cover tightly with a lid and place the jar in a dark cupboard and allow to soak or macerate for 4-6 weeks.
- While macerating, shake your jar gently every other day. Keep an eye on the alcohol level to ensure all your herbs are still covered.
- Once macerating is complete, layer cheesecloth a few times over the top of a clean bowl and secure with a rubber band if possible.
- Strain the mixture through the cheesecloth and with clean hands, gather the cloth up and squeeze strongly so every bit of possible liquid is drained from the herbs.
- Allow material to settle overnight and re-strain through a smaller filter such as a coffee filter or a very fine mesh strainer.
- Use a funnel to transfer into labeled, amber bottles and store in a dark cupboard.
Cech, Richo. (2000) Making Plant Medicine. Williams, OR: Horizon Herbs
Gladstar, Rosemary. (2012) Medicinal Herbs: A Beginners Guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.
Herbal Academy of New England. (2013) Herbal First Aid, Herbal Academy of New England’s Medicine Making Handbook