Typically, when someone says the word “Tincture”, what is meant, is a herbal extract via the process of using alcohol. A simple way to state the process is to soak a herb or part thereof in an alcohol.
They are normally better and stronger than infusions and infusions are only meant to last one maybe two days at most, of course decoctions, vinegar and glycerite extractions are good, but alcohol tinctures have very long shelf lives up to 2 to 3 years.
Thousands of years ago, humans would make their herbal extractions mostly out of water (infusions), vinegar and wine, and ultimately, the tinctures of today are the natural progression from the wine extractions.
I personally do not drink alcoholic drinks, but when it comes to tinctures, I am not ‘anti-alcohol’ due to their effectiveness, quick absorption, and that the actual alcohol consumption is very low, safe enough for young children right up to grandpa and grandma. I would not suggest it for babies, as their little bodies still haven’t developed yet and pregnant women.
Here, I would use a herbal glycerite at a much weaker dosage, and even then be careful. You can actually go through the mother, if she is breastfeeding, meaning she can take the extract and it will come out the milk.
I do very much respect that there are those who cannot and should not have alcohol for certain reasons, and this need to be kept so, and honoured.
A bit of history:
They have found ancient pottery as far back as 3150 B.C. in Egypt, containing herbal substances and resins with wine, and their ancient writings suggested: water, oil, and milk, plus a type of beer, wine, and honey. China has similar dates, with fermented beverages that contained rice, honey, plus fruit – Hawthorn, and the Talmud gives reference to a “potion of herbs’ using a wine.
And many years later even Nicholas Culpeper during the 1600’s, suggests a few recipes using alcohol.
Reasons why to do a Basic Tincture
A simple but not so obvious reason to make a basic tincture, is to learn. In other words, to become ‘expert’ at making some tinctures does require time and experience and some skill, that’s why most herbalist actually don’t make them, as they take time and it is easier just to buy them in from various companies.
That being said, there really is no reason why you can’t just start learning, develop and improve, making your own, and becoming a great herbalist and supplier yourself, or just making it for you family and friends, or even trading with your locals.
As mentioned above, if you want good efficacy, and longer lasting herbal remedies, then tinctures are the way to go, you often don’t need to make large amounts, and you can make many different ones all at the same time, really stocking up your ‘medicine cabinet’.
Another reason for making an extraction with alcohol, is that some constituents or properties will not extract well unless you use alcohol, such as gums, resins and oleoresins.
And I tell you what, making something as interesting as a tincture, is very satisfying, and not only that, when your little one gets sick (or big one sometimes) and you are able to administer a few careful drops and help them to mend, that is really empowering!!
Just like infusions, decoctions, vinegar and glycerites, they can be added to many other herbal tools, such as poultices and plasters, compresses, soaks and baths, syrups and succi, creams, ointments, and salves.
Although, it is one of the most involved forms of extraction, it really doesn’t require a huge amount of investment to start, especially if you are handy or there is someone nearby who is handy, like a hubby or father for example.
How to do a Basic Tincture
Each and every herb, ‘technically’ requires having the right ratio of alcohol to herb, but if you are just starting out, and you are unsure, start at 55% or use the table below.
|Percentage of alcohol for type of constituent|
|25%||Water soluble, some glycosides and flavonoids, and a few saponins|
|45 – 60%||Essential oils, alkaloids some glycosides and a lot of saponins|
|90%||Resins, gums and oleoresins|
An important point for beginners, when we say the percentage (%), it means actual alcohol content total within the mix. Because when you buy ‘any’ alcohol, it only has a percentage of ‘real’ alcohol and the rest is often water and other additives. So if the formula said, 55%, the rest is usually the water in the bottle. This is not a bad thing because, the ‘water part’, say, 45%, will help to extract the water-soluble constituents out of the herb too, making it even better.
With either dried or fresh herbs try to reduce the size of the herbs, by either crushing, chopping or grinding as this will increase the surface area, and extraction.
A Basic Tincture
So when calculating an average formula, you can use a 1:5 ratio, that is for every 1 gram of herb use 5mls of an alcohol. For some herbs you will need go up to a 1:10 ratio and a stronger alcohol percentage.
So lets say you want to make a Calendula tincture:
- Take 120g / 4oz of Calendula flowers (Calendula flowers are best picked just as they are blooming and are dry)
- Chop, bruise or lightly grind up these flowers
- Put these into a suitable glass jar
- Fill with 500ml / 1 pint of alcohol (for flowers you only need about 25% or more alcohol)
- Put the lid on a shake vigorously
- Label and date, and keep out of the sunlight
- Continue to shake the jar each morning and afternoon for 2 weeks
- After 2 weeks, filter out the particles and place back into the previous jar so long as its clean, but change the date to two years in the future
- Store in a cool dry place out of the sunlight
For roots, stems and bark, you will need to continue shaking the jar for up to 3 weeks, more would be better, say 6 weeks, and you will want a higher alcohol content.
After you have made your tincture and now you want to use it, always give the tincture a really good and thorough shaking before taking it, as this is said to improve it, and think of it as a living entity.
If you want have a tincture but don’t want the alcohol, then put the dosage into just off the boil water, allow a few minutes and the alcohol will have evaporated leaving only the medication and water.
Choice of Herbs for a Basic Tincture
When it comes to choices of herbs for herbal tinctures, you can really just about do anything, but that being said, some just won’t do as well. Here you are either better off, using a different form of extraction process, or different ratios of alcohol and water.
Any part of the plant can be used in a tincture, such as flowers, leaves, fruits/berries, seeds, stems, bark, rhizomes, tubers and roots. Both fresh and dried herbs can be used, but when using fresh herbs, use 1 1/2 times as much fresh herb as dried herb.
If you are using dried herbs, always source the best you can find, that is certified organic, non-GMO, and ethically sourced. And if you are using fresh herbs, say from your garden, pick once they are dry, free from pests, diseases and damage, and choose the best season when the nutrients are flowing best. For example, the leaves before flowering, or when the flowers are in full bloom, and roots at a certain age or in a stage of growth.
Choice of Alcohol for a Basic Tincture
Some will require different ratios of water to alcohol or percentages, and some will require very high proof grain or similar alcohols and some don’t need it very strong at all. As a general rule, you usually use about 55% alcohol, but this is another area where things get more tricky and that is that for different herbs and herbal parts, you will often need to vary the ratio. See table above.
That is why it is best to start with some thing simple and work your way up. Don’t let this concern stop you from learning, just start simple, and you’ll get there.
But what if you can’t get high proof grain alcohol? But you can get, for example, a good quality white “cooking wine”. Well now here is the trick, water and alcohol freeze at different temperatures. And if you have a freezer, and a plastic container, you can raise the proof of the alcohol.
Simply pour the cooking wine into the plastic container, put the lid on, and put it into the freezer. Depending on the ability of the freezer, after one to two days, pop it out and have a look, and you will see, frozen bits of ice, this is water and the rest is mostly alcohol, remove the ice, and put it back into the freezer. Wait another one to two days and take it out again, remove the ice again. Each time you do this you are in fact, raising the ‘proof’ of you alcohol.
If you want to be ‘technical’ you can measure the volume of water you remove and from there calculate its proof, if you love mathematics. As the proof is measured as ‘Alcohol By Volume’ (ABV) and therefore proof is measured by its volume of alcohol content.
In the US, For example 50% alcohol is called 100-proof, 75% alcohol is 150-proof, but the British calculate times by 1.75. Or you could measure it’s specific gravity using a hydrometer or alcoholmeter. But just remember, higher proof does not mean better extraction, sometimes higher means less.
For your ‘home made’ projects you can use a number of different types of alcohol, such as, vodka, sherry, brandy, whisky, rum and gin, just so long as it has a high enough alcohol content for the job. Commercial preparations typically use a food grade ‘ethanol’.
Never use rubbing/isopropyl alcohol, methylated or industrial alcohols!
- Never use rubbing/isopropyl alcohol, methylated or industrial alcohols!
- Always be aware of possible allergic reactions
Please remember, this blog cannot and should not replace a health care professional, and is for informational and educational purposes only and is not for medical advice or treatment, and no cure is implied in anyway. If you have a known serious condition, or are pregnant, please consult your health care professional, before use.
Russell a.k.a Herbal Panda
“If we all had to ‘take our own medicine’ we would all feel better quicker”Herbal Panda