How to Make Herbal Tinctures

Making your own herbal tinctures can be both fun and rewarding. You may be wondering, what is a tincture? It is simply a medicinal extract of plant material. You know that bottle of vanilla extract in the cupboard? That’s tincture of vanilla beans. Most tinctures are made with alcohol, or a combination of alcohol and water. You may also tincture with apple cider vinegar or vegetable glycerine. These solvents pull compounds from the plants that are insoluble in water, such as resins, alkaloids, and glycosides. If you tincture with 80 to 120 proof alcohol, you reap the benefits of both the alcohol- and water-soluble plant properties. Other advantages of using tinctures include: convenience, portability, long shelf life, and easy absorption and assimilation. You will need a clean jar with a snug-fitting lid. Old spaghetti sauce jars or canning jars work really well. Select good-quality, fresh plant material. Aerial parts of herbs are best harvested either just before or just at flowering time, while roots are better harvested in the cool fall season. Rinse the roots, but leave the aerial parts alone unless they are really dirty. Chop the herbs coarsely or tear them apart with your hands, then fill the jar almost to the top. (If you choose to use dried herbs, only fill the jar one-third to one-half of the way. The herbs will expand as they take up fluid.) Now completely cover the herbs with your choice of 80-120 proof alcohol. I generally use brandy or vodka, although some herbs call for more creative use of spirits. Last year I made a delicious feverfew tincture using a lemon-flavored vodka. Gin also works quite nicely. Cap the jar and shake it well. Label it clearly with the name of the herb, the alcohol, and the date, then place in a cool, dark location. Check on it the next day, and top off the alcohol if needed. I find that I need to top off my dry herb tinctures more often than the fresh ones. You may gently shake the jar every few days, or just leave it be. Place it out in the full moon light for some infused lunar magic. For extra potency, many people put up their tinctures during the new moon and decant them at the full moon. After 4-6 weeks, pour the tincture through a mesh strainer lined with muslin or cheesecloth. I like to decant into a large bowl or liquid measuring cup. Wring out your herbs for every last ounce, and taste your fingers—do you like what you have made? Re-bottle in a clean, labeled glass container, and store away from excessive light and heat. Enjoy! Once you have learned the art of simpling, or using one herb at a time, experiment with different herbal combinations. Here are some suggestions, based upon traditional herbal usage*:
  • Digestive system: Chamomile–aerial parts in flower (Matricaria recutita or Chamaemelum nobile), any Mint–aerial parts before flowering (Mentha species), Lemon balm–aerial parts before flowering (Melissa officinalis), Angelica–first-year fall roots (Angelica archangelica), Catnip—aerial parts before flowering (Nepeta cataria), Fennel–dry seeds (Foeniculum vulgare), Anise—ripe seeds (Pimpinella anisum).
  • Respiratory system:Mullein—first year rosette leaves (Verbascum thapsus), Butterfly weed—root (Asclepias tuberosa), Horehound–aerial parts before flowering (Marrubium vulgaris), Marshmallow–root (Althea officinalis), Monarda—aerial parts in flower (Monarda species), Thyme—aerial parts at any thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Hyssop–aerial parts just before flowering (Hyssopus officinalis).
  • Immune system: Echinacea—for best potency, use a plant at least three years old. Harvest the entire plant in flower, or tincture flowering tops in summer, then dig roots in the fall. (Echinaea species). Yarrow—top third of flowering plant; a traditional fever remedy (Achillea millefolium).
  • Nervous system: Chamomile–aerial parts in flower (Matricaria recutita or Chamaemelum nobile), Saint Joan’s Wort—top third of flowering plant (Hypericum perforatum), Catnip—aerial parts before flowering (Nepeta cataria),Valerian—root (Valeriana officinalis), Lavender—flowers (Lavandula species), Passionflower—flowers and leaves (Passiflora incarnata).
  • Headaches: Feverfew—aerial parts in flower (Chrysanthemum/Tanacetum parthenium), Periwinkle—perennial Vinca vine in flower (Vinca major).
  • Liver health: Saint Joan’s Wort—top third of flowering plant (Hypericum perforatum), Burdock—first year fall root (Arctium lappa) , Rosemary–aerial parts, at any time (Rosmarinus officinalis), Dandelion whole plant, at any time (Taraxacum officinalis), Milk thistle—ripe seeds (Silybum marianum).
*Please consult with an herbalist if you are pregnant, taking any medications, or experience any untoward effects.   Adrienne Leeds is a Certified Clinical Herbalist and South Carolina Licensed Midwife who trained at the RockyMountainCenterfor Botanical Studies in Boulder, CO. Her interests include nutrition, the female life cycle, flower essences, and childbirth. She is available for wellness consultations and community education through her business, Abundant B’earth:  843-709-8068.    
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