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Making Herbal Tincture: Part 1

Herbal TinctureThis week I have been making herbal tincture from dried herbs and thought I would share with you how it is done.

A tincture is an extract of a plant made in a mix of alcohol and water. It is a great way to make herbs last longer as the alcohol preserves the herb (dried herbs denature a lot quicker) and it makes taking herbal medicine a lot easier (no need to keep making teas, just have a few drops or a teaspoon of tincture). Because tinctures use both water and alcohol as a solvent for extracting the plant constituents it can sometimes also extract more from the herb than water alone (as when having it as a tea). It is not difficult to do and there is something really satisfying about making your own medicines!

What Are the Aims When Making a Tincture?

What we want is a tincture that will last well, that we can easily calculate the dosage of (so we know how much we are taking), that has extracted the constituents well, and that is pure and of a high quality.

Having at least 25% alcohol will preserve the tincture, but to make sure that the constituents extract well the percentage of alcohol required depends on the herb. Some things extract better in water and some in alcohol and this can change a lot depending on the herb. For example, if something contains a lot of resin, such as myrrh, it needs a lot stronger alcohol to make a good tincture (90% strength alcohol for myrrh!). A knowledge of the particular herb’s constituents can help guide this, or alternatively just look it up in a textbook!

In order to be able to work out the strength and therefore dose of tincture it is important to know how much herb is in each unit of liquid and for this the ratio of herb to liquid is given. For example, a 1:4 tincture means a tincture that has 1 unit of herb by weight to each 4 units of liquid. As the metric system is always used this means 1 gram of herb is extracted in 4ml of liquid, or 200g of herb in 800ml of liquid.

To make a good tincture it is important to use high quality herbs and it is absolutely essential that you don’t mix herbs up, so be really careful where you get them from and that you label them well!

An Example: Making Vervain Tincture.

Vervain (verbena officinalis) is a bitter herb that, amongst other things, has a strong traditional usage in aiding digestion and helping with stress and low mood. It has often been put to good use in aiding with convalescence, helping people regain their strength.

It is best extracted in about 40% alcohol and as vodka is 37.5% it will do nicely. I am making it as a 1:4 tincture (1 gram of the herb to 4 milliliters of alcohol/water).

Needed:

  • Making Vervain Tincture 1800ml vodka.
  • 200g dried vervain.
  • Scales.
  • Electric coffee/spice grinder (not absolutely essential).
  • 2 bowls.
  • Measuring jug.
  • A large (1.2+ litre) jar with a well sealing lid.
  • Stirring spoon.
  • Label and pen.

Instructions:

  1. Weigh out 200g of the dried herb into a bowl.
  2. Use a clean coffee/spice grinder to powder the herb into the other bowl. This isn’t absolutely essential but can result in a better extracted and therefore stronger tincture.
  3. Tip the powdered herb into the jar.
  4. Measure out 800ml of vodka in the jug and add it to the jar.
  5. Stir the herb and vodka mix until all of the herb has been moistened.
  6. Close the jar firmly and make sure it is properly sealed.
  7. Label the jar with the name of the herb, the strength of the alcohol (e.g. 40%), the ratio of herb to alcohol (e.g. 1:4), and the date you made it.
  8. Store out of direct sunlight and shake the jar twice a day for 14 days.
  9. Check back here in two weeks when I will show you how to squeeze the most tincture from your mix!

That’s it for part 1, check back in a couple of weeks for the next part. In the meantime, if you do have any questions on making tinctures feel free to post them below.

All the best with your tincture making!
Mark

Making Vervain Tincture 2
Mark Jack BSc(Hons) MNIMH is a medical herbalist practising in Chepstow, Newport and Monmouth. For more information check out his website at http://markjack.co.uk/.

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