Learning how to make a tincture is one of the most important parts of the herbal learning journey. Use this post to figure out the best menstruum, extraction time, and method for producing a safe, effective herbal tincture every time! In association with Mountain Rose Herbs, I am pleased to offer a tincture making primer!
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I kinda have a quirky personality.
Like — my desk is a mess and my dresser drawers looks like a twister touched down in them. But I am an obsessive perfectionist about certain things. Like herbal medicine. So much so that I can overthink myself right out of taking action on something that I really want to do for fear of doing it wrong.
Such was the case the first time I ever made a tincture. Or more precisely, the first time I thought about how make a tincture. I really over thought it, folks. I searched the internet and library books for the best generic “how to make a tincture” recipe and I came up short. Because, my friends, there is NO best “how to make a tincture” book or recipe or post. To put simply — tincture making is only as hard as you make it. Herbs are unique and each one calls for special consideration before preparing a tincture. But with a little thoughtful consideration, you will know how to make a tincture without having to think twice — and definitely not overthink yourself into paralysis!
How to Choose the Right Menstruum for Your Herbal Tincture
Second to growing, foraging or sourcing high quality, exceptional herbs, choosing the proper menstruum is perhaps the most important part of learning how to make a tincture. What is a menstruum? That is the liquid “solvent” with which you extract the active constituents in the herbs. The most common menstruums in tradition home herbalism are alcohol, vinegar and vegetable glycerin. Each menstruum has its uses, and here is some of the reason for the use of each:
- Low Proof Alcohol: I reach for generic, unflavored vodkas with a proof of 80 (meaning that its alcohol content is about 40%), for most leafy and aromatic dried herbs like rose, holy basil and lemon balm.
- Mid proof Alcohol: A staple in my apothecary cupboard is 100 proof vodka, which I use for most fresh plant material and more robust dried herbs like hawthorn berries and rose hips.
- High-Mid Alcohol: When working with barks, thick roots and fleshy berries — I like to combine one part 100 proof vodka with 1 part 190 proof distilled spirits to encourage a strong extraction and to offset the dilution when working with juicy plants such as fresh elderberry.
- High Proof Alcohol: Ounce for ounce, 190 proof spirits are very expensive and should really be reserved to use as the exclusive menstruum for resinous materials and gums like cottonwood buds, myrrh, and frankincense.
- Vinegar: this menstruum is particular well suited for herbs from which you are seeking to extract minerals from such as nettle, alfalfa, chickweed and oatstraw this vinegar based tincture can be combined with honey after the infusion is complete to make an oxymel.
- Vegetable glycerin: Considered a poor menstrumm for extraction purposes, when I craft a glycerite (a glycerin based tincture), I usually blend the herbs to a slurry for infusion to encourage better extraction. Glycerin based tinctures are ideal for small children (due to its sweet flavor) and those adverse to the use of alcohol.
How to Make a Tincture Using Folk Methods
The folk method is both simple and practical for learning how to make a tincture. In this method we are simply eyeballing the proportion of herb to menstruum. When crafting a tincture using the folk method, I visual strive for the following ratio:
- Light, leafy & fresh plant materials: I fill a jar about 2/3-3/4 of the way full and add my menstruum of choice up to the fill height of the jar.
- Dried, heavy, & resinous plant material: In this instance I fill the jar only about half full with the herb, filling the jar the rest of the way with my menstruum.
The folk method may seem overly simple to some folks, but don’t let anyone tell you that this isn’t real, effective herbalism. The folk method produces great results and relies on the skills and supplies nearly everyone has.
How to Make a Tincture by Weight
Preparing a tincture by weight is a very precise way of learning how to make a tincture. When you make a tincture by weight you are using accurate measurements and set ratios to produce replicatable results. Often times you will see ah herbal tincture ratio written as something like 1:5; this is a formula of one part herb(s) to five parts menstruum. In this example we may have four ounces of herb combined with 20 ounces of menstruum.
In order to make accurate measurements, I use a small digital kitchen scale that can measure in grams or ounces. To be clear I weigh both my menstruum and my herbs.
How to Prepare Your Herbs for Tincture Making
In most cases, I suggest giving leafy herbs as well as non-juicy berries like rose hips a fine chop before tincturing to expose more surface area to the menstruum and improve extraction. Tougher materials such as barks and roots should also be reduce to small particles to encourage extraction. Avoid the use of powdered herbs if possible because it may make the resulting tincture cloudy after filtering.
I usually suggest that all herbs be tinctured separately even if they will be added to the same formula. This allows for a little more control over the extraction and blending process. However there is no hard and fast rule says one must tincture each herbs separately, and I sometimes find myself adding herbs into the same tincture jar when at their herbs are at the height of the season and they are of a similar density with synergistic therapeutic actions.
How Long Should I Infuse My Tincture
As a rule of thumb, most herbalists would suggest that your tinctures infuse for at least six to eight weeks. There is nothing wrong with letting your infusion go longer — it will just result in a stringer tincture. In terms of speeding up the tincture making process, one can immerse the tincture jars in a hot water bath for a few days and/or reduce the herb and menstrumm to a slurry in the blender — but I still feel that anything less than six weeks is not ideal.
While infusing your tincture, I would advise keeping it in a cool dry place, away from direct light in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake your jars daily, or as often as possible.
How to Bottle and Store Your Tincture
When you have determined that your tincture is properly infused it is time to strain and bottle. I pour my infusion through a fine mesh sieve lined with several layers of cheesecloth, then squeeze the cloth to release any liquid. A french press also works well for these purposes. Once the tincture is strained and filtered, I use a metal funnel to pour my tincture into one or two ounce amber glass dropper bottles for individual use, or these larger amber glass bottles for dispense and preparing formulas. Label and store these bottles in a cool dark place out of direct light and out of the inquisitive maws and paws of little ones and pets.
I hope that you will find this how to make a tincture post a helpful part of your herbal learning journey!
Apply your tincture making knowledge with milky oats!