herbal tinctures , how to make herbal tinctures, best type of alcohol for herbal tinctures, types of herbal tinctures, herbal menstruum, herbal solvent

Learn how to make herbal tinctures and liquid medicinals from herbs, berries, and roots.

Medicine making is both an art and a science. For the Home Herbalist, learning how to make herbal tinctures is one of the simplest forms of medicine making to experiment with. All that is required is a jar, an herb, a solvent, and some time. Tinctures can be very easily made with whatever herbs that you are growing or can wildcraft from your own back yard.

Today, herbal tinctures are most often thought of as a liquid herbal remedy that has used grain or vegetable-based alcohol as the menstruum (solvent) to capture the medicinal properties of the herb(s) by extracting the medicinal constituents from the plant matter. In earlier times, vinegar and wine were more common solvents. It is not uncommon to see the term used to describe almost any liquid herbal remedy that is taken by the dropper. I recommend making single-herb tinctures and combining them together into the blend you need at the time of treatment.

Which Menstruum for Which Herb?

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There are several solvents to choose from, and they all have their benefits and shortcomings.

While water-based medicines are not tinctures, it is such an important solvent that I will be discussing it in this article.

Water is considered “the universal solvent”; meaning that it can extract the largest variety of medicinal constituents when compared to other solvents. This includes all the chemical constituents found in plants except the resins. Medicines made with water are most often called teas, infusions, or decoctions.

Teas are usually made by steeping flowers, leaves, and/or stems in boiled water for a short period of time. The medicinal effects of teas are usually quite soft.

Infusions make stronger medicine. Using Susun Weed’s recommendations for steep time:

  • Roots/Barks: 8 hours minimum
  • Leaves: 4 hours minimum
  • Flowers: 2 hours minimum
  • Seeds/Berries: 30 minutes minimum

The decoction process is a must when using roots, berries, or barks. They can be, either simmered in water for one-half-hour to 3 hours before straining or the strained infusions that were made as above can be gently simmered for an extended period of time until they are one-half volume. Either way, these decoctions do not have a very long shelf-life, so are made often for frequent, fresh use.

herbal tinctures , how to make herbal tinctures, best type of alcohol for herbal tinctures, types of herbal tinctures, herbal menstruum, herbal solvent

Alcohol-based tinctures are very popular. It extracts the alkaloids, glycosides, saponins, flavonoids, tannins, and resins. My favorite alcohol choice is any organic, potato-based vodka. I could find this easily in New Hampshire and not since. This will eliminate any grain-sensitivity concerns that your medicine-taker might have. I think it makes a smoother tincture; thereby helping with compliance, sometimes. Tinctures made with an alcohol base generally have a shelf life of 5 years or more.

Don’t let the mind-boggling number of types of alcohols to choose from overwhelm you. To help answer the question of what is the best type of alcohol to use to make herbal tinctures, here are a few things I have learned over the years:

  • Use what you can find. Not all states sell all proofs (% of alcohol). For example, I could buy Everclear 120, 151, and 190 U.S. proof (60%, 75.5% and 95% alcohol by volume), in New Hampshire and North Carolina; but not in Virginia. Vodka that is 45-50% (90-100 proof) is easy to find and makes good medicine.
  • Don’t fuss too much. Simpling has been used for centuries and creates potent enough medicine to help heal. Tincture making by simpling is, like the name suggests, simply placing the herb into a glass jar and adding your chosen solvent to cover the plant matter by 2 inches then steeping it for 4-6 weeks, decanting (straining) it, labeling, and storing it for use. Simple.
  • If you would like to be more specific about matching your herb/constituents to alcohol strength there several excellent books that I recommend:
  • Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech
  • The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Book: A Home Manual by James Green
  • Medicinal Herbs: A Beginners Guide by Rosemary Gladstar
  • If alcohol is off-limits for you or someone you are making medicine for, water is always an option (except for when extracting resins). Teas, infusions, and decoctions have been helping to heal folks for thousands of years. In many cases, water extractions make milder medicinals than those that have been made with alcohol, so, more volume is needed. So, for example, instead of taking 3 full droppers, the dosage may be 3 cups of tea.

Apple cider vinegar should not be overlooked. Both Home Herbalists and Professional Herbalists have relied on the medicinal value of ACV for making dependable and true medicine for centuries. ACV extracts alkaloids and resins. The expected shelf-life for these medicinals is 2-5 years.

Glycerin (glycerine/ glycerol) is a sweet-tasting, colorless, odorless, non-toxic, viscous liquid produced as a byproduct of soap making. When lye is added to either animal or vegetable fats, the chemical reaction creates soap and glycerin. It has the ability to extract tannins and resins. Either dry or fresh plant matter can be used. Using vegetable glycerin will eliminate any concerns you might have if you are making medicine for someone that is choosing the vegan life-style.

The determining factor for deciding which solvent to use is the chemical constituent found in the plant you are making medicine from. Following are a few of the major constituents and some of the more common herbs they are found in.

Alkaloids are among the most efficient and therapeutic constituents known. They have a wide range of therapeutic traits that cover the spectrum from gently therapeutic to extremely poisonous. They are generally bitter and retain their therapeutic value even when dried. Goldenseal, lobelia, and motherwort are examples of herbs that contain alkaloids

Glycosides contain a sugar as part of the molecule. They have a large variety of effects and there are several families of Glycosides. Cardiac glycosides, like those found in foxglove and hawthorn, can have a profound effect on the heart and have some toxic potential. Anthroquinone glycosides that can be found in senna and rhubarb have a laxative effect. Uva Ursa gets its antiseptic qualities from the glycoside artutin. Stevia’s glycoside is 300 times sweeter than sucrose.

Saponins are actually part of the glycoside family. The plants that contain saponins have the unique quality of being able to create a durable lather and are adaptogenic, diuretic, anti-spasmodic, and expectorant. Horse chestnut, licorice, and chickweed all contain this constituent.

Flavonoids are another type of glycoside. They have an antioxidant effect. An antioxidant is a molecule that is capable of slowing or preventing the oxidation of other molecules. They also decrease capillary fragility.

Tannins have antiseptic and styptic capabilities and can cause tissue shrinkage. They are rendered inactive by milk and bind with alkaloids which makes them much less effective. Oak, tea, witch hazel, and red clover all contain tannins.

Mucilage gives the herbs that contain it a “slippery” quality. Made up of chains of sugars called polysaccharides, they are partially soluble in water and create a gel that is soothing to the gut and urinary system and nourishing to the immune system. Marshmallow, comfrey, mullein, and slippery elm contain this constituent.

Polysaccharides are generally immune-stimulating and nutritive. Burdock, astragalus, and boneset are examples of herbs that contain this chemical family.

Minerals: Potassium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus, and micronutrients like zinc, boron, and cobalt have important nutritive value and can be found in many herbs, especially the weedy ones. They can be found in dandelion, oatstraw, stinging nettle.

Vitamins: A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble so the best solvent for herbs with these is a fat or oil. All other vitamins are water-soluble. A few vitamin-rich herbs are alfalfa, parsley, dandelion, plantain, and yellow dock.

Resins are fragrant, bitter and expectorant. They are may be analgesic, antibiotic, and antimicrobial. Myrrh, cottonwood buds, calendula, gumweed, and evergreen pitch all contain resins.

With this in mind, here are a few lists of herbs and their best companion solvents:

Alcohol:

  • Burdock
  • Calendula
  • Cayenne
  • Dandelion
  • Echinacea
  • Fennel
  • Ginger
  • Nettle
  • Peppermint
  • Plantain

Glycerine:

  • Burdock
  • Chamomile
  • Dandelion
  • Echinacea
  • Elderberry
  • Fennel
  • Ginger
  • Mullein
  • Nettle
  • Peppermint

Apple Cider Vinegar: Essentially, any vitamin/mineral-rich herb or those containing alkaloids do well in ACV.

  • Burdock
  • Chamomile
  • Chickweed
  • Dandelion
  • Echinacea
  • Garlic Mustard
  • Lambsquarter
  • Lemon Balm
  • Licorice root
  • Nettle leaf
  • Red clover
  • Red raspberry leaf
  • Sage

Hot Infusion:

  • Cayenne
  • Chamomile
  • Cleavers
  • Comfrey leaf
  • Dandelion leaf
  • Elderflower
  • Elderberry
  • Fennel seed
  • Ginger, dry
  • Mullein leaf
  • Nettle herb
  • Peppermint
  • Plantain
  • Yarrow

Cold Infusion:

  • Burdock root
  • Chamomile
  • Cleavers
  • Nettle root
  • Nettle whole herb
  • Peppermint
  • Slippery Elm

Decoction: All roots, barks, seeds, stems lend themselves well to decoction

  • Blackberry root bark
  • Burdock seeds
  • Comfrey root
  • Dandelion root
  • Echinacea root
  • Ginger
  • Mullein root
  • Willow bark
  • Yellow Dock root

herbal tinctures , how to make herbal tinctures, best type of alcohol for herbal tinctures, types of herbal tinctures, herbal menstruum, herbal solvent

How to Make an Alcohol or ACV Based Tincture

Procedure:

  • Check your plant matter for dirt or insects. Remove the leaves from the stalks (this is called garbling). If using roots wash, scrub, and air-dry first. If using fresh herbs, wilt for a day or so first.
  • Chop or grind fresh or dried herbs to help increase the surface area that the solvent will be able to interact with. Place herbs into a clean, dry, glass jar to no more than half-full to leave room for shaking the herbs and for expansion of dry herbs.
  • Pour the alcohol or ACV over the herbs to completely cover by an extra 2 inches. If dry herbs are used, check the next day to make sure the herbs are still completely covered. Add solvent as necessary.
  • Use a wooden spoon handle or plastic spatula to poke the mixture to release air bubbles from the solution.
  • Label your jar! Do it now! You might think that you could not possibly forget what is in this jar, but there is a very good chance that you may forget. Really! The information that should be included on the label is the common name and Latin name of your plant, the solvent you used and its strength, the place of harvest or purchase, and the date you started.
  • Cover with a lid and let steep (macerate) for 4-6 weeks. Check and shake daily. Some folks like to leave their tinctures in a dark cupboard; while others prefer to sit them on the windowsill or porch railing to be acted upon by the sun and moon cycles. Either one makes good medicine. I prefer the sun-moon-cycle method.
  • Strain your medicine through several layers of cheesecloth. With clean hands, twist and squeeze the cheesecloth bundle to get every little bit of the good medicine from solvent-soaked herbs.
  • Let the liquid set overnight and re-filter it the next day through a finer mesh. A coffee-filter works well.
  • If you are tincturing roots or barks in ACV, before straining, heat your liquid to a near boil and then filter it through the cheesecloth. This helps to solidify any of the albumin that was extracted into the solution and will extend the shelf-life of these medicines.
  • Pour your medicine into clean bottles and store out of the light. Amber colored glass is nice, but if you do not have that you can wrap your bottle in brown paper help keep the light out. A dark cupboard works great.
  • Label, label, label!! This one should include dosing information and maybe what you had intended it to be used for.

Dosages for alcohol tinctures: Adult dosing is usually 30-60 drops from a standard-sized dropper into a little water up to 3 times a day. Child dosing should be researched by herb and age/size of the child; the general rule is 1 drop/5 pounds of body weight mixed into 1-2 ounces of water or sugar-free juice.

Dosages for ACV tinctures: Adults may take 1 tablespoon in water up to 5 times a day. Child dosing should be researched by herb and age/size of the child; the general rule is 1 drop/5 pounds of body weight mixed in 1-2 ounces of water or sugar-free juice.

How to Make a Glycerite

Procedure:

Glycerites can be made using fresh or dried plant material.

  • Place your chopped plant material into a clean glass jar. Fill to nearly full if using fresh; fill only half-full if using dried herbs. For dried plants, moisten with water to rehydrate before adding the glycerin at a ration of 75% glycerin to 25% water. For fresh plants be sure to wilt them for about 24 hours and then add 100% glycerin.
  • Use a wooden spoon handle or plastic spatula to poke the mixture to release air bubbles from solution.
  • For dried plants, you can use a screw-on lid.
  • If using fresh plants, you will be less likely to grow mold in your solution if you cover the jar with several layers of cheesecloth to let the moisture from the plants transpire.
  • Let is steep away from light at room temperature for about 4-6 weeks, checking and shaking the jar every day.
  • If the plants begin to rise above the level of the liquid, add more glycerin as necessary.
  • Decant (strain) your glycerite through a cheesecloth. Twist and squeeze the cheesecloth bundle to get all of the good medicine from solvent-soaked herbs.
  • Cap and label as already outlined under Alcohol/ACV Tinctures.

Dosages: Adult dosing is usually 30-60 drops from a standard-sized dropper in a little water up to 3 times a day. Child dosing should be researched by herb and age/size of the child; but the general rule is 1 drop/5 pounds of body weight mixed in 1-2 ounces of water or sugar-free juice.

Sources for Glycerin

Basic Herbal Tincture Formulas to Try

herbal tinctures , how to make herbal tinctures, best type of alcohol for herbal tinctures, types of herbal tinctures, herbal menstruum, herbal solvent

Lemon Balm Alcohol Tincture (or any single herb)

Procedure for Simpling:

  • Clean and chop or grind the herb.
  • Place into a clean, dry, glass jar to no more than half-full.
  • Pour the alcohol or ACV over the herbs to completely cover by an extra 2 inches.
  • Use a wooden spoon handle or plastic spatula to poke the mixture to release air bubbles from the solution.
  • Label. Note the common name and Latin name of your plant, the solvent you used and its strength, the place of harvest or purchase, and the date you started.
  • Cover with a lid and let steep (macerate) for 4-6 weeks.
  • Check and shake daily.
  • Strain your medicine through several layers of cheesecloth. With clean hands, twist and squeeze the cheesecloth bundle to get every little bit of the good medicine from solvent-soaked herbs.
  • Let the liquid sit overnight and re-filter it the next day through a finer mesh
  • Pour your medicine into clean bottles and store out of the light.
  • Label. For example: Lemon Balm Tincture, (Melissa officinalis), 45% vodka, Adult dose: 30-60 drops 3 times a day. Child dose: 1 drop/5 pounds of body weight mixed into 1-2 ounces of water or sugar-free juice up to 3 times a day. Uses: Internal: digestive problems, menstrual cramps, nervousness. External: herpes simplex sores or cold sores. Date of bottling.
Vinegar of the Four Thieves

There are many variations of this formula and the story behind it goes like this. Somewhere around 1413, during the reign of the Black Death (Bubonic Plague), it was noticed that 4 men were going about stealing from the sick and dying without contracting the deadly disease. The king heard of this and had them brought before him with a promise that they would not be burned alive for their crimes if they would share their secret. They gave the king their formula of essential oils that they place on cloths and breathed through during their escapades. The king was ecstatic to have such a marvelous medicinal and so, true to his word, the thieves were not burned alive for their misdeeds. They were hanged.

This formula uses herbs and vinegar instead of the essential oils of the herbs.

Ingredients:

Procedure:

  • Place all herbs and garlic in a clean, large glass jar.
  • Pour the vinegar over the herbs.
  • Place a piece of plastic wrap or plastic bag over the jar top and seal tightly.
  • Place in cool, dark place checking and shaking daily for 6-8 weeks.
  • Strain, bottle, label.

Uses:

  • For use as an insect repellent, place ¼ cup of Four Thieves into an 8 oz spray bottle and fill with water. Spray on clothing, skin, etc. It has a very strong vinegar smell and will need to be reapplied often.
  • In case of sickness, adults can take 1 Tablespoon diluted in water 3-4 times a day; children can take 1 teaspoon diluted in water, juice or herbal tea 2-3 times a day.
  • It can be used as a disinfectant to clean household surfaces
  • Some folks have had good results using it as a foot soak for fungal infections of the nails.
  • Used as a hair rinse after shampooing, it may treat dandruff.
Chamomile Glycerite

Procedure:

  • In Jar #1 place your chosen plant matter (chamomile, in this case) to the half-full mark if using dried herbs
  • If using fresh, wilted herbs fill to the 2/3 mark
  • In Jar #2 combine glycerin and water in the ration of 75% glycerin for dried, or just pour 100% glycerin over fresh, wilted herbs. Shake.
  • Pour the liquid into Jar #1 to cover your plant matter.
  • Cover tightly and place either on a windowsill or in a cupboard
  • Check daily and gently shake
  • Let steep of 4-6 weeks
  • Strain, bottle and label
  • Store in a cool, dark place

Uses:

  • Chamomile Glycerite is a gentle medicinal that has mild sedative properties. It may also aid digestion and is a go-to herbal remedy for many moms with babes that suffer from colic.

Dosage: Adults take 30-40 drops 3 times daily or as needed. The child dose is 1 drop/5 pounds of body weight mixed in 1-2 ounces of water or sugar-free juice up to 3 times a day. To easily treat breastfed babies, it can be dropped onto the nipple just before feeding.

herbal tinctures , how to make herbal tinctures, best type of alcohol for herbal tinctures, types of herbal tinctures, herbal menstruum, herbal solvent

Making herbal tinctures at home is as easy as snip, steep, strain, and sip. I have found that the very act of making my own medicine has its own healing powers. Give it a try. You may find that it is one of the simplest, most powerful things you can do for yourself and your family.

 

Glossary of Herbal Tincture Terms

Adaptogenic: works to counteract the effects of stress on the body and exerts a normalizing effect upon bodily processes

Antiseptic: prevents the growth of disease-causing microorganisms

Anti-oxidant: removes potentially damaging oxidizing agents in a living organism

Anti-spasmodic: used to relieve spasms of involuntary muscle

Antimicrobial: an agent that kills microorganisms or stops their growth

Disinfectant: destroys bacteria

Diuretic: causes increased urination

Expectorant: promotes the secretion of sputum by the air passages

Nutritive: providing nourishment; is nutritious

Styptic: capable of causing bleeding to stop when it is applied to a wound

***Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. There is no licensure for herbalists. The material presented in this article is for informational, reference, and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a substitute for diagnosis and treatment by healthcare professionals.

 

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