Have you ever made a medicinal tincture?
Are you interested in doctoring yourself?
While you can make a superb Madagascar Bourbon vanilla bean extract or a ‘Jamaican Bay Rum’ aftershave for your husband (see my effort in the above photo), this post is mainly about medicinal tinctures. The principle of extracting is always the same.
Many of us who take an independent, active role in our own health also desire to build our own natural medicine chest for minor and even advanced ailments, such as taking elderberry tincture to stop a cold or flu, 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 medicinal tincture.
Having specific medicinal tinctures on hand for a variety of health issues is a wise move today.
I strive to be prepared to doctor us myself if needs be!
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 (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, however, they are not as effective as alcohol at drawing the medicinal components from the plants.
For some herbs, such as dense 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 less effective use of your time and money.
Shelf Life & Absorbability
Tinctures made with 90 proof vodka have real shelf life (minimum 15 years) and really if made properly, most will say they NEVER expire. 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.
Understanding Alcohol Content
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 most of the alcohol by placing their dose in a hot liquid like tea or water before taking it.
This post will only be covering alcohol tinctures.
What You’ll Need:
- High-proof vodka (at least 80 proof) or brandy.
- Alternative to alcohol only if necessary: high quality apple cider vinegar – preferably organic.
- The herb or herbal blend of your choice: fresh or dried (or browse Amazon)
- A canning jar with a tight-fitting lid
- A place to store your brew while it steeps (cool and 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.
First, 4 Visual Steps to Making An Herbal Tincture:
(for my example today, I am making Liver Cleanse, a premixed herbal blend)
- your lidded jar
- the herbs you will be steeping
- and your alcohol base
2. Steep the herbs
- covered in vodka (out of the sunlight)
- for 4 plus months (one exception is nettles which take 4-5 weeks)
3. At the end of the brewing time
- strain off the herbs from the finished tincture using a fine strainer, several layers of cheesecloth or clean muslin.
4. Bottle up the finished tincture
- in dark bottles
- label and date them
- Store in a cool, dark place
Note: Liver Cleanse is my favorite pre-mixed tincture for the family of all we’ve used, and Bulk Herb Store is the only place you can get the herbal mixture unless you compound it yourself which would be cost prohibitive.
The alcohol has to be at least 80-proof 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, shaking occasionally, 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 glass vessel with a spout (so you can pour it into your dark bottles). I use a glass measuring cup. You can even gather the sides of the cloth and twist it to really squeeze out every last drop at the end. Wash out the cloth to be used again another time. Use the funnel or pour the liquid herbal tincture into dark glass containers that are clearly labeled and capped.
How Do You Take a Tincture?
Tinctures are taken by adults by the dropperful with the exception of a garlic tincture which is just 5 drops one-2 times a day in water. If you are on drugs, discuss with your doctor.
What is a dropperful?
A dropperful is the amount of liquid that fills the glass tube of the dropper when the bulb on the dropper top is fully squeezed and released.
The liquid may fill the glass tube only a small portion of the way, but that is considered a standard “dropperful”. A dropperful equals approximately 25-26 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 usage for tinctures is 1 dropperful two to three times a day. I would strongly advise you research the specific tincture you are making or ask your doctor before deciding on the amount.
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.