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Back to Basics: How to Make a Tincture with Fresh or Dried Herbs

devon 15 Comments

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milky oats tincture

Back to Basics: How to Make a Tincture with Fresh or Dried Herbs

Devon 15 Comments

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!

This is a sponsored post. This means I received product and/or monetary compensation from the company or organization mentioned in this post. This helps to support my blogging efforts and my family. I only partner with brands that I value and respect, and all thoughts and opinions share herein are my own.

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!

Cleavers Tincture

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

preparing elderberries for tincture making

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

weighing rosehip for tincturing

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.

milky oats tincture

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 make a tincture

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!

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How to Make a Tincture

Devon

Devon is a writer and author on subjects of holistic and sustainable living. She has a degree in Complementary and Alternative Medicine from the American College of Healthcare Sciences, and her first book, The Backyard Herbal Apothecary, was published by Page Street Publishing in Spring 2019. Devon's work outside of NittyGrittyLife.com can be seen at LearningHerbs.com, GrowForageCookFerment.com, AttainableSustainable.net, and in the magazine The Backwoods Home. Devon's second book, The Herbalist's Healing Kitchen, will be published Fall 2019.

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15 Comments

  • Sue November 17, 2018 at 3:26 am

    I’m new to tinctures. Question. Do you lose potentcy if alcohol is put in boiling water?? I don’t want any alcohol…..THANX

    • Devon November 17, 2018 at 5:36 pm

      Hi Sue — good question. I don’t think the potency would be altered but the shelf life would be if you were successful in drive off the alcohol completely. And the process of driving of the alcohol might be difficult to do safely in the home. I would suggest glycerin based tincturing for those that prefer not to use alcohol. I have had great success with the process and the results glycerin based tinctures (I have several clients that are in recovery or object to the use of alcohol for personal or religious reasons).

  • Linda March 3, 2019 at 7:54 pm

    Hi,

    You don’t mention using organic or non GMO ingredients. Shouldn’t this be important, especially as you are making tinctures? Alcohol (vodka) is derived from either grains or potatoes, which are genetically modified unless grown organically. Berries are heavily sprayed, and herbs as well..

    • Devon March 5, 2019 at 8:33 pm

      Hi Linda,
      I do appreciate your concern about non-organic and GMO ingredients. This post is meant to meant to be a board overview on the tincture making process. I try not to alienate readers that cannot afford non-organic and non-gmo products or that don’t share this particular view, by leaving most of my recipes open to using ingredients that fit their budget and value system.

  • Rose May 24, 2019 at 11:10 pm

    Dear Devon,
    I am a huge fan of your book but I have a question,
    Where/how can you get chickweed seeds. You have been such a help and I know you listed a link on dried chickweed but I cannot find chickweed seeds on that website or many others I have read. I know chickweed is a weed but do you know if I could get seeds?
    Your unshure fan, Rose.

  • Anne Anderson May 26, 2019 at 9:27 pm

    This is extremely helpful, thank you for putting this into writing for those of us seeking to learn herbalism and prepare our own tinctures.

    • Devon May 29, 2019 at 5:06 pm

      You’re very welcome, Anne!

  • Sarha June 10, 2019 at 8:54 am

    What is the shelf life of the glycerin tinctures?

    • Devon June 12, 2019 at 4:53 pm

      One year or so for the average home herbalist. I find it more difficult to strain glycerin tinctures, so there is suspended plant matter that could potentially spoil. That said, it may last far longer.

  • Nayira June 19, 2019 at 8:51 pm

    Hello, I’m interested to know if there is any method that speeds up the process, I mean, do not have to wait 4 or 6 weeks for the tincture to be ready? greetings from Costa Rica.

  • Bethany October 12, 2019 at 11:19 pm

    Curious about making a dried (or fresh) hawthorn berry tincture using 200 proof alcohol, do I need to dilute it with distilled water or can I keep it pure alcohol?

  • Jezreel Gill October 13, 2019 at 6:08 am

    This is brilliant and easily understood. I am slowly gearing myself and my family to a less wasteful, more holistic lifestyle. I too talked myself out of tinctures because of fear of doing it wrong! I love seeing MRH products here too as I trust them. Thank you for keeping it broad in terms of ingredient quality as I always want to use local organic but sometimes those products are just out of my budget! (Rosehip seed oil anyone?)

  • Courtney November 16, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Hi, I am attempting my first tincture recipe and I have 2 questions
    1) what will happen if I went on vacation and did not have anyone to shake my tincture for about 2 weeks, give or take. Will it ruin? Oh it has been sitting in my pantry for over 4 weeks with normal care.
    2) What are the side effects of not filling the jar up to the top with alcohol, but the herbs are covered? I ran out of alcohol again, and wasn’t going to the store for a third time. So, I improvised and split what I did have of alcohol to my jars. They are about an inch or so from the top.
    Will I get sick as a result relating to one or both of the questions listed above? Can you tell me what to look out for when I begin the straining process, in case I did create unwanted effects by not filling up my jars completely and did not shake them for 2 weeks?
    Thank you so much! I loved your article, very useful information and insight!

    • Devon December 15, 2019 at 5:35 pm

      Sorry for the delay in resonding! I get BURIED in spam comments even with a spam filter… That said, totally fine not to shake the infusion for a couple weeks. The shaking just helps to insure that all the surface area of the herb is getting extracted by the alcohol. You will also be just fine if the jar isn’t completely full, but the herbs are submerge. You might lose some alcohol to evaporation, but really, I am talking nominal evaporative losses. As for straining,not much to luck for, but I do advise straining through some cotton or muslin to filter away solids, resulting in a nice clear tincture.

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    About Me

    About Me

    Meet the Nitty Gritty Mama, Devon!

    I am an herbalist, farmer, cook, and forager. I get my hands dirty and am not afraid to do things the "hard way". Sharing my Nitty Gritty Life with you! Read More

    Devon

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