Make Your Own Herbal Tinctures At Home
Many of us who take an active role in their own health and well being also tend towards building their own natural medicine chest for minor ailments, such as taking elderberry tincture to stop a cold, catnip and fennel tea for a colicy baby, or turmeric in place of Prozac or Ibuprofen. You can do any of these and more in the form of an herbal tincture. Having specific medicinal tinctures on hand for a variety of health issues is a wise move today.
What is a Tincture?
A tincture is an herbal preparation in which all the phytonutrients, minerals, and essential oils of a plant are extracted into a solvent liquid. The solvents most often used are high-proof alcohols such as vodka or brandy, and occasionally apple cider vinegar or vegetable glycerin. The latter are sometimes used for children’s preparations or by those who abstain from alcohol of any kind, but they’re not as effective as alcohol at drawing the medicinal components from the plants.
For some herbs, such as roots, barks, berries, and non-aromatic seeds, it takes a powerful liquid such as alcohol to extract the medicinal properties from the herb. Extracting with a less-powerful liquid will only result in a less-effective product – really, a waste of your time and money.
Tinctures made with vodka have a long shelf life (7-10 years) and many last longer. Refrigeration is not necessary. Almost all store-bought tinctures use alcohol as a base or include some amount of alcohol as a preservative. Vodka is what we use because it doesn’t have a strong odor and is very affordable.
Alcohol tinctures are easy to make and readily absorbed into your body.
One dose of an alcohol-based tincture has approximately the same alcohol content as eating a very ripe banana. Because of this, tinctures are safe for pregnant and nursing women if the herb(s) you are using are safe in pregnancy and while nursing. (source) Pregnant mamas can easily evaporate all the alcohol by placing their dose in a hot liquid like tea or water before taking it.
This post will be covering alcohol tinctures.
What You’ll Need:
- High-proof vodka (at least 80 proof) or brandy.
- Alternative to alcohol if necessary: high quality apple cider vinegar – preferably organic.
- The herb or herbal blend of your choice: fresh or dried
- A canning jar with a tight-fitting lid
- A place to store your brew while it steeps (out of the sunlight)
- A fine strainer or fine cheesecloth or muslin
- A bowl or glass measuring cup with a spout
- A small funnel
- Small, dark glass bottles for storing the tinctures. Cobalt or amber glass are great, and should have tight-fitting screw-on lids.
Visual Steps to Making An Herbal Tincture:
How to Make an Herbal Tincture
It’s incredibly easy to make your own herbal tinctures. You literally just need to soak plant matter in a solvent for a 5 to 6 weeks so all of its ‘good stuff’ can be extracted into the liquid. The alcohol has to be at least 80-proof – which is 40 percent alcohol – to prevent any mildewing of the plant material in the bottle. High-proof alcohol acts as a preservative and gives that long shelf life.
If you’re using fresh herbs, chop them up a bit or bruise them so the alcohol can get to the inner parts. With fresh herbs, fill your jar about 3/4 full, but don’t pack it in too tightly so alcohol is in contact with all the surfaces. Cover the plant matter completely with the alcohol—no part of the plants should be exposed to the air. Fill the jar with alcohol to 1″ from the top.
If using dried herbs, you’ll fill your jar 1/2 full with herbs, and then fill with alcohol the same way you did with fresh plants – to 1″ from the top. The reason you use less of the dried herbs is that they will swell up, and you need to leave some room for this to happen.
To steep: Cap the jar(s) tightly. Label and date your jars and set them in a dark, cool place. Shake the mixture daily for the first week. You’ll then let it sit in your cupboard (or other place of your choice) for another 5 weeks, so it’ll steep for 6 weeks in total.
To bottle: Using the strainer and cheesecloth or muslin to catch the spent herb, pour off the liquid into a measuring cup below. You can even gather the sides of the cloth and twist it to really squeeze out every last drop. Wash out the cloth to be used again another time. Use the funnel or pour the liquid herbal tincture into glass containers that are clearly labeled and capped.
Important: Before You Make Anything…
Herbal tinctures are not guaranteed to cure ailments. It’s not a good idea to use herbs without having a thorough knowledge of properties, usage, contraindications and such. If you’re feeling ill, it’s important to go to a healthcare professional (that is, a physician, naturopath or herbalist) to get their advice before attempting to self-diagnose and/or self-medicate.
Additionally, it’s highly importance that you know exactly what plant you’re using if you decide to make an herbal tincture for your own use. Going out and foraging for leaves and twigs that bear a resemblance to the plant you’re seeking can be incredibly harmful, so unless you have total certainty about the plant you’re using, don’t use it. When in doubt, it’s better to err on the side of caution and pick up a herb from a retailer instead.
How Do You Take a Tincture?
Tinctures are taken by the dropperful. A dropperful is the amount of liquid that fills the glass tube of the dropper when the bulb on the dropper top is squeezed and released. The liquid may fill the glass tube only a small portion of the way, but that is considered a “dropperful”. A dropperful equals approximately 30 drops.
Note: On all dropper tops, no matter how large or small of a tincture bottle it comes with, the bulb (the thing you squeeze) is standardized and the same size on them all. The bulb is what determines how much liquid fills the tube, not the length of the tube itself.
A standard suggested adult dosage for tinctures is 2 droppersful two to three times a day. For children under 12, please see this Children’s Dosage Guide for recommendations.
I hope you’ll get excited about being your own herbalist. I believe we need to rediscover these lost healing arts for our families and the next generation. Our Creator has given us everything right here on earth that we could need.
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