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What is a tincture anyway?

A tincture is a concentrated liquid extract made from fresh or dried herbs. The herbs are soaked in a menstruum or solvent if you will, which is used to extract the properties of the plant. There are different menstruums, the most common being vinegar, glycerin and alcohol.

I mainly use alcohol for a couple of reasons.

  • It allows me to extract more properties from the plant, especially resinous plants.
  • Alcohol based tinctures maintain their potency so they will last for many years, almost indefinitely.
  • Essential oils are more soluble in alcohol. (herbs like sage, rosemary, lavender)
  • Tinctures are quickly assimilated by the body so you will feel the effects more quickly. It’s also to monitor dosage with tinctures.
  • Tinctures are convenient for travel.

The disadvantage of alcohol tinctures is that they don’t effectively extract mucilage from demulcent herbs. Also, alcohol doesn’t extract minerals like water or vinegar. People with liver disease, allergies to alcohol and alcoholism typically need to avoid alcohol based tinctures. And babies and young children will probably want to minimize alcohol intake.

Tinctures are used as medicine and to help build and strengthen the body systems. For example Mullein Leaf tincture can be used for respiratory complaints especially the common cold. Wood Betony is an excellent choice for headaches of all types. Cleavers is a remedy for cleaning the lymph. Wild Lettuce is used for insomnia and stress. St. Johnswort is antiviral and good for nerve pain like shingles. Vitex normalizes the reproductive system… there are so many amazing plants and just as many amazing uses for them I could gush on and on but I will spare you my rambling. The point is, have some tinctures on hand for all those aliments you can treat yourself.

Preparing your own herbal tinctures is an easy way to create high quality affordable medicine.

The easiest way to make a tincture is the folkloric method. You will need an herb for tincturing, a clean mason jar with a lid, alcohol of choice, a label, a funnel, cloth for straining and a dispensing bottle.

  1. For fresh herbs if the herb is dirty you may want to wash it first. This is usually necessary with roots and sometimes leaves (although I very rarely wash leaves).
  2. Chop your plant material and place in an appropriately sized mason jar. If you are just starting out it might be wise to choose a smaller jar unless you think you might need a larger quantity.
  3. Cover the herb completely with the menstruum of choice leaving 1 inch of liquid over the plant material for flowers, seeds, leaves and bark. For roots and leave a couple of inches of liquid over the plant material.
  4. If you are using dried herbs cover flowers, seeds, leaves and bark leaving 3-4 inches of menstruum over the plant. For dried roots fill half the jar with herb and top with menstruum.
  5. Place the lid on the jar.
  6. Label with at least the common name and date. You can also record scientific name, where you gathered or purchased the herb and what kind of alcohol you used. You might want to tape over the label so you can still read it in case there are any mishaps like spills or leaks.
  7. Place your tincture on a shelf (usually out of direct sunlight) or somewhere you will remember to shake it occasionally.
  8. After 4-6 weeks strain through cotton gauze or muslin. Use a press or your hands to wring the remainder of the liquid after most of the liquid has passed through the cloth.
  9. Store your tincture in a dispensing bottle. Make sure to label it. If you are just learning about the medicinal actions of plants it might help you to remember if you write it down on the label.
  10. Voila, you just made a tincture!
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