Sometimes the world of natural remedies can get overwhelming. Have you ever walked the aisles of your local natural healing store and wondered which products you need to buy, and how many you can make at home just as effectively? Read on to learn how to make a tincture from healing plants you’ve grown in your own garden.
While the natural health industry is becoming increasingly commercialized, many people are going back to basics. They’re planting medicinal herb gardens and mixing their own remedies. In fact, most herbal remedies are simple and easy to make. Furthermore, preparing them at home allows you to control every aspect of the process.
While balms and teas are often the remedies that home healers try, tinctures are an ideal jumping-off point for advance herbal remedies. Tinctures are as easy to make at home as teas and infusions, but they’re more potent, and form the base of many compound remedies.
If you’re feeling shy about attempting a tincture, start with an herb you know and love. Pick a safe, effective root like dandelion, yarrow, or burdock and give it a try. You’ll soon be confidently combining home-brewed tinctures and turning your medicine shelf into an herbal wonderland.
What is a Tincture?
A tincture is a concentrated herbal preparation made by steeping fresh or dried herbs in high-proof alcohol. Any part of the plant may be used in a tincture. The alcohol draws out the plant’s active ingredients and perseveres them for long term use.
Tinctures extract more of the plants’ healing properties than an infusion (or tea) does, so lower doses are able to produce similar results. This means that you can use the shelf-stable healing properties of an herb gradually, over time with a tincture, without having to brew daily cups of herbal tea.
Well stored tinctures can keep their medicinal properties for up to 4 years.
Which alcohol is best?
Most at-home herbalists use vodka in their tinctures because it’s a high-proof alcohol with a neutral flavor. But rum or brandy are good alternatives if you’re hoping to disguise certain herbs’ flavor. Gin and whiskey are also good options.
Many folk herbalists will also make tonic wines using the same method. Wine isn’t a strong enough alcohol to produce an actual tincture, but tonic wines are effective and often delicious. If you’re looking for a milder preparation for herbs you take consistently, tonic wines might be for you!
Fresh or Dried Herbs?
You can make a successful tincture with either fresh or dried herbs. You just need to know the right quantity of each. Fresh herbs have more water weight, so you’ll need to account for that in your recipes.
Generally speaking, if you’re using 1 part dried herbs, you’d need 3 parts fresh herb to produce an equally strong tincture. So, if you’re filling a 9 ounce jar with fresh dandelion root, you’d only need 3 ounces of dried dandelion root with the same amount of alcohol.
Remember though, that dried herbs lose most of their medicinal benefit within 12 months. Even if you’re storing them carefully out of direct sunlight, dried herbs over a year old will not be as potent as dried herbs only 6 months old.
Make sure your dried herbs still smell like themselves are aren’t dusty or dirty.
What About Alcohol-Free Tinctures?
Technically speaking, only extracts made with alcohol are true tinctures. But non-alcoholic extracts are effective and provide a similar concentration of the plant’s healing properties.
If you’re not interested in making alcoholic tinctures for any reason, you have a few options to chose from. For example, the most common options are cider vinegar and glycerin. Both options will make a slightly weaker extract than an alcohol tincture. Keep that in mind when working out dosage—you may need to take a little more product to receive an equal amount of the herb.
Cider Vinegar Extracts
Apple cider vinegar extracts have be popular in herbalism for millennia. While other fruit cider vinegars are also an option, apple cider vinegar has its own health benefits, which make it an ideal choice. The method of steeping is identical to alcohol tinctures.
Apple cider vinegar extracts can be combined with raw honey in a 3:1 ratio to make herbal oxymels as well. This herbal preparation is shelf stable and palatable to kids and pick adults alike. Oxymels are one of our favorite ways to turn herbal extractions into appealing medicines!
Glycerin tinctures use vegetable glycerin diluted 1:4 with water. It’s naturally sweet, so it can help to make palatable extracts for children. If your kids are struggling with the flavor of a tincture, and you’d prefer not to add honey, try making a vegetable glycerin extract instead.
Glycerin extracts only last for up to a year on the shelf, however. After a year, your extract should be carefully disposed of in the compost or trash.
How to Make a Tincture
Ok, you’ve picked your herbs and chosen your base. Let’s get this herbal extraction going!
First of all, clean your fresh herbs well. It’s not exciting to open up a tincture and find a caterpillar essence has been extracted along with your Echinacea! Wash those herbs well, then let them dry off, and chop them up. If you’re working with clean, dried herbs, you can skip this step.
Now, put the herbs into a jar and fill the jar with alcohol (or whichever base liquid you’ve chosen). Generally, fresh plant material will take up about 1/2 to 3/4 of your jar. In contrast, dried leaves and flowers will take up about 1/4 to 1/3 of your jar.
Always put the herbs in first and pour the alcohol over them. Now seal the jar, shake it once or twice, and set it in a cool place, out of direct sunlight for 2-6 weeks.
After two weeks, strain out the herbs through a cheesecloth or fine mesh. Pour the strained liquid in to a clean, dark bottle. Amber glass bottles are idea for tinctures, because they preserve the extraction from direct sunlight, which enables it to last longer.
It’s best to store your tinctures in clearly labeled amber or cobalt glass bottles with droppers. A dropper is the best way to get a consistent dosage (commonly about 20 drops) of the extract each time you take it. If you don’t have a dropper, however, just measure out about 1/4 to 1 teaspoon of the extract in a measuring spoon.
Healing with Herbal Tinctures
Once you’ve bottled and labeled your tinctures, you can start using them right away. Herbal tinctures can be used in a variety of ways though. Depending on your situation, you may want to use the tincture as a base for an herbal elixir.
An elixir is similar to oxymel, but it’s made with an alcohol-based tincture instead of an apple cider vinegar extraction.
(I know, all these special terms within herbalism can get confusing. But they are good to know when you’re looking for the right extraction. It’s nice to know that oxymels will always be alcohol-free when you’re searching for the right remedy for an alcohol-sensitive friend or family member.)
Making an Elixir
If you want to turn your tincture into an elixir, just add a few dollops of raw honey to the tincture and shake well. Allow the honey to dissolve and voila! You have a sweeten elixir of herbal healing.
For a more intense elixir, steep the same herb, or a complimentary herb, in your honey for a week or two while the tincture is steeping. Then, mix the two together until the honey dissolves.
To use the elixir, add a dropperful to your evening tea, or take a spoonful as needed.
Taking Tinctures for Herbal Healing
If you just want to use your tincture directly, simply add the appropriate dosage to a cup of warm water and drink. The average dosage for tinctures is around 20 drops. With very potent herbs, or anytime you’re uncertain of the dosage of a particular herb, start with 5 or 10 drops and increase gradually.
You can also apply a tincture directly to your skin. A plantain tincture, for example, is fantastic applied directly to itchy bug bites or painful stings. Plantain draws out the insect’s venom and allows your bites to heal calmly. Lavender tincture is helpful in speeding the recovery of cold sores, and calendula tincture is helpful in combating athlete’s foot.
Most tinctures work best when used over time, but they aren’t meant to be needed forever. Use medicinal herbs as needed and give your body a rest from the herb periodically. You may discover that you no longer need to take your regular dose. That’s good! It means your body is healing.
I like to take a week a month off from my herbs and reassess during that period. You may prefer a week every two months, or some other schedule. But, if you’re using an herbal tincture to work on an underlying health issue, give the herbs at least a month to work with your body before resting.
Of course, any medical decisions should be made with the guidance of an herbally competent MD, naturopath, herbalist, or midwife. Look for local herbalists in your area for advice and guidance, and enjoy creating your own healing tinctures!