Making a herbal tincture is the process of soaking plant material in a menstruum (that is, a solvent) to extract the medicinal components into the said menstruum to use for medicine. A menstruum can be alcohol, water, vinegar, oil, wine, glycerin, honey, or a combination of any aforementioned.
Tinctures are handy because one would need to eat or drink a lot of herbal material to draw out the medicinal components. That’s not always possible either because the taste of the herb is horrible and no one could stomach eating or even nibbling any great amount of a herb, or, a herb may only be in its prime for a short amount of time and one may not have access to a great volume of it, whereas the condition or ailment requires long-term use. Extracting the medicine into a liquid (solvent, menstruum) makes it convenient to take your medicine over a long period of time. Plus, alcohol acts as a preservative. So many tinctures can last years and years. What a gift from one day of harvest!
It is essential that you collect your herbs in the peak of their season, and also the peak of the day. That is, when they are fresh, vital, and the flowers are just blooming, or about to, depending on your herb. In your herb books, when it states harvest the “aerial part”, that means cut the top third or so of the plant, stalk, leaf, bud and flower. I always inspect the plant as I’m collecting it to ensure each leaf and bud is clean, vibrant, and consistent in its colour. I collect the aerial parts (all the parts above the ground) when the day is dry and sunny. I was out collecting around 11:30am in the photo’s here, when the sun was strong, and the plant was in its peak. I avoid collecting aerial parts when they are wet with rain or wilted and exhausted by the sun which they can be in the late afternoon and evening.
Tools of the trade:
To my collecting location, I bring:
– A collecting basket (or brown paper bags)
-scissors or other sharp instruments for cutting (Felco-type clippers are good for the tough stuff)
-jars to put my herbs into
– Masking tape to use for labeling
Once harvested, I cut or chop my herbs directly into a clean wide-mouthed vessel. Notice here I’m cutting with very sharp utility scissors. I find these much easier and far more efficient to use then chopping herbs on a cutting board.
There’s also something meditative, peaceful, and synergistic about doing it this way. And yes, it’s very time efficient and rewarding to go home with your medicines already made, and ready for the shelf.
Next, I weigh the finished product on my handy electrical kitchen scale. This is an important tool when making excellent quality medicines using the Standard Method according to traditional western herbalism. According to this Standard Method, the most potent and effective method of tincturing fresh plants is by using a proportion of 1:2 herb to alcohol solution ratio; and use 95% alcohol. So in my case, all this plant matter weighed 250grams. So, a 1:2 means I’d use 500ml of 95% alcohol to 250grams of fresh herb.
Then tightly screw on a well-fitted lid to your jar. The next most important step when making a tincture is– a label! You might think you’d remember when you made your medicine, what it is and what kind of alcohol you used, but trust me, you probably won’t. Please label your medicines and include:
– The date
– The latin name
– What percentage of alcohol you used
– what weight to volume ratio you used
Then have your medicine sit on a secure shelf away from direct sunlight. I like to have my tinctures accessible enough so that I can shake them daily for at least a week, admire their beauty, and think healing-filled thoughts each time I walk past them — all important ingredients when making medicine. While your fresh tincture will be ready as soon as 7 days from making it, most herbalists, myself included, prefer to have the medicine sit for at least a month. Yet another important reason to date it – some like to label not only the day they made the tincture, but also the day it will be ready to decant.
Once that day comes, separate your exhausted plant material from the liquid tincture by straining it through a mesh strainer lined with cheese-cloth. Squeeze the cheese-cloth as hard as you can, to get every last drop of tincture. Compost the plant material, and voila! You have plenty of beautiful rich herbal tincture to put in little glass dropper bottles – don’t forget to label those too – ready for your medicine cabinet.
1. If the subject of medicine is something you think you could get passionate about, the best book on the subject (in my opinion) is The Medicine Maker’s Handbook by James Green.
2. 95% percent alcohol is not available on the shelves for sale in Canada. I have a liquor license, and you can get one too by applying at any Government liquor store customer service counter. If you are not interested in going through the process, you can purchase a 75% rum for sale on the shelves which is high enough to make a great fresh tincture. Or, if you cross the boarder into Washington State, you can purchase Everclear at Duty Free.
3. You can purchase empty tincture bottles with droppers at the health food store, pharmacies, or various places online if you google such a thing.
Questions & Comments? Please leave them below. I’d love to hear from you. If you’re interested in learning more about herbal medicine consider joining my Alchemy of Herbal Medicine Course!