Ask most any herbalist what type herbal preservation method is their favorite and without a doubt, they will say the tincture. Anyone who is truly serious about working with herbs as a healing aid should definitely learn to make an herbal tincture.
What Is A Tincture?
Tinctures are concentrated herbal extracts that most commonly use alcohol as the solvent. Glycerin and apple cider vinegar are also used at times.
Alcohol is the solvent that extracts and suspends the herb’s unique nutritional and medicinal qualities, volatile oils and chemical constituents into a highly concentrated form that is conveniently stored for use when needed.
Tinctures are the preferred way to preserve herbs because of their long shelf life and their ability to retain the herb’s nutritional and medicinal qualities in a stable form. Tinctures also make storing multiple herbs simple and they are easy to transport when necessary.
How Tinctures are Utilized
The uses for herbal tinctures are as infinite as there are herbal combinations. A tincture can be made with a single herb or a combination of herbs. Different herbs can be paired together, with knowledge of each herb’s strengths and medicinal qualities, to form a synergistic blend of herbs that can be a powerful aide when treating specific ailments or health issues.
Tinctures are most often administered orally under the tongue. This method of delivery is the quickest way to get the herb into the bloodstream. This is beneficial in times of emergency or when an immediate effect is desired, such as use as a sleep aide or something more extreme like frostbite or shock.
Tinctures are used in therapies for both children and adults, however dosages may differ depending upon the herb in use and the desired effects on the body. Tincture dosages are typically given by the “dropperful” which is approximately 30 drops.
Tinctures can be used to help insomnia, relieve fevers, cold/flu symptoms, slow down or speed up birthing labor, stop bleeding internally and externally, eyesight and cataract issues, regulate blood pressure throughout the entire body, and much more.
Before working with and administering tinctures, always have knowledge of the properties, chemical constituents, and contraindications of all herbs you are working with.
Always seek and follow the advice of a qualified, reputable herbalist or health care provider with knowledge of herbs for specific designated therapeutic dosage and usage of herbal tinctures.
How to Make an Herbal Tincture
Creating tinctures can be a complicated subject. Depending on the herb’s chemical constituents, water content and desired medicinal use, the solvent or tincture procedures can vary greatly. For informational purposes, a basic alcohol tincture procedure is outlined here.
A quality white alcohol, such as Vodka, of 80 proof (40%) or greater is recommended. I personally use Everclear or Absinthe when preparing herbal tinctures.
A glass container that can be tightly sealed should be used to steep a tincture. Mason jars work beautifully. Ceramic may also be used. As previously discussed, using aluminum or other metals can contaminate the preparation with chemicals or toxins.
Dried cut herbs or fresh herbs are placed into the glass container. Then alcohol is poured into the jar, enough to cover the herbs. The alcohol level should be about 1/2 inch above the herbs to ensure the plants near the top do not begin to oxidize .
When using dried herbs, which are more concentrated than fresh herbs, fill the container about half full with herbs (without packing them down). Fresh herbs are not as potent and in this case, the jar can be filled almost to the top.
The mixture is stirred gently around the outer edges to release any stray air bubbles and then the jar is covered tightly to let the tincture steep. Always be sure to label and date the herbs and alcohol so there is no mistaking the contents.
The tincture is then left to steep in a cool place, out of direct sunlight, for at least 14 days. Shake the jar several times per day. Steeping time for tinctures may vary depending on the herb being used and also the part of the plant. Heavier materials, such as roots and barks, may need a longer steeping period.
After about 14 days, the herbs are strained from the alcohol through a muslin cloth or cheese cloth; Repeat if necessary until all of the herb material is strained out and you are left with just the liquid portion. You will want to squeeze any remaining liquid from the plant parts. Wearing rubber gloves is recommended to protect your hands from the drying effects of the alcohol and also to avoid contaminating your tincture.
Filter the tincture again using a very fine double layer gauze in order to catch any remaining plant fibers and particles. Coffee filters and cotton weave have worked nicely for me in the past.
The liquid is then bottled in darkened glass jars or amber glass tincture bottles. A small cone funnel can be helpful in transferring to smaller mouthed jars to avoid spillage. If using small tincture dropper bottles, I have found a glass turkey baster comes in handy while filling.
Tincture bottles with glass stoppers instead of plastic is recommended in order to avoid any contamination or reaction with the alcohol in the solution. I have found these available online through wholesale bottle suppliers in bulk. Most pharmacies will also carry them.
The last step is to label and date the tincture and store it in a cool place, out of direct sunlight. If I know the tincture will be stored for a long period of time, sometimes I will seal the bottle with wax.
On some occasions, a double strength tincture may be desired. To prepare a double strength tincture, put a fresh batch of herbs into your strained tincture and repeat the entire steeping process again, finishing with straining the plant parts out of your finished product and bottling for storage.
For more detail and to clear up any confusion for those who learn more visually, I have attached a video done by Rickvanman in his Herbalism Basics series detailing the basic steps I have listed above.
Tincture Shelf Life
If steeped and stored properly, tinctures will retain their nutrient and medicinal potency for several years.
Most herbalists will say a tincture made with 80 proof alcohol will remain at maximum potency for 3 -5 years. If a tincture is made with alcohol of 120 proof or above, it could remain at full strength for many more years.
The Herbalist’s Best Friend
Having a wide variety of frequently used herbal tinctures prepared and ready to use at your disposal can be a huge help should an unexpected emergency arise.
In an emergency situation, the prompt administration of a tincture in the proper dose can literally mean the difference between life and death in some instances.
Preserving herbs to aid in various health ailments that are common for your particular family can bring peace of mind knowing you will be able to quickly and easily handle any surprise illness that hits a friend or family member.
Tinctures can be used on their own or mixed with a medium, such as glycerin. Glycerin is used most commonly with children or those who would prefer not to ingest alcohol.
They can also be added to ointments, infusions and other preparations. A few drops of tincture in hot water can quickly make a cup of tea.
Tinctures can be added to bath water for calming effects and to soothe aching muscles. If a particular tincture has an unpleasant or strong taste, it can be added to a small amount of water or juice to help hide the flavor.
Once again, I want to reiterate: Always seek the advice of a qualified, reputable herbalist or health care provider with knowledge of herbs for specific designated therapeutic dosage and usage of herbal tinctures.
This course will give you a foundation in the application of nutritious and wholesome herbs to assist the body in its ability to prevent and alleviate disease and illness. Children’s diseases, herbal first aid, and herbal nutrition topics, among others, are covered.
Give yourself the gift of self-sufficiency and empower yourself to take your health and well-being into your own hands.
If you have experience working with or preparing herbal tinctures, please share them in the comment section below. I love to hear other’s personal success stories with herbs and remedies too!