It is very easy to learn how to make herbal tinctures and they are an excellent way to utilize the healing power of herbs throughout the year.
Tinctures and extracts can last for years so you can continue to enjoy your favorite herbal remedies even in the dead of winter when fresh herbs are not available.
The basic process is simple. You cover fresh or dried herbs with a solvent (usually alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin), seal it in a jar, and let it sit for 6 weeks or longer.
Most beneficial herbal compounds are soluble, so the solvent will draw them out of the plant material.
Strain off the plant material and you’re left with a concentrated liquid extract of your herb that can be bottled and used by the drop as needed.
What is the Difference Between a Tincture and an Extract?
If you’re wondering about what the difference between a tincture and an extract is, well, join the crowd.
Some sources will claim that a tincture uses alcohol as the solvent to extract beneficial compounds from herbs, with extracts instead using vinegar or another non-alcoholic solvent to draw out the active herbal ingredients.
Others claim that it is the ratio of solvent used that determines what you call it, with an extract using a ratio of herb-to-solvent of 1 to 1 (equal parts herb and solvent) while a tincture uses a ratio of herb-to-solvent of 1 to 3 (one part herb to three part solvent).
The important thing to know is the process more than the nomenclature.
Alcohol is typically the most effective solvent at extracting herbal compounds, but there are good alternatives such as apple cider vinegar if you want to make a herbal tincture or herbal extract without alcohol.
Once you’ve settled on the solvent you want to use, you’ll need to settle on a ratio of herb to solvent as that determines the strength of the concentration.
If you’re buying a tincture or extract, it should be labeled clearly with the herbs used, the type of solvent, and the ratio of herb-to-solvent.
How to Make Herbal Tinctures
Learning how to make herbal tinctures is actually easier and faster than all of the explaining above about what a tincture is and how it works.
Mold is your primary enemy when making a tincture so start with a dry sterilized pint jar and lid.
Some herbs call for different parts of the plant to be used (roots or leaves or flowers) when making a tincture and we can’t cover all the bases in this quick guide, so you’ll need to do a little research here to determine what you need.
Gather your herb and make sure it is clean with any dirt removed. If necessary, rough chop your herb so it will easily fit into your jar.
Alcohol is the easiest solvent to use when starting and many tinctures use 100 proof vodka, which is 50% alcohol.
If you’re working with fresh herbs, you’ll typically want to use one part herb to two parts alcohol.
The shorthand for your tincture formula (assuming you’re using 100 proof vodka, which is 50% alcohol) would be 1:2 50%.
If you’re using dried herbs, you’ll usually want to use a ratio of one part herb to four parts alcohol, which would be 1:4 50%.
Make sure your herb is completely covered by alcohol, with at least an inch or two of alcohol on top of the herb at the top of your pint jar.
If the herb isn’t completely covered you run the risk of developing mold, which requires you to throw the whole batch out.
Fill your jar with herb and alcohol and tightly screw on the lid, setting it aside in a cool, dark place.
For the first week, shake the jar once every day. If the herb absorbs alcohol and expands until it is no longer covered completely, simply add more alcohol to your jar as needed.
After a week your tincture should be fully absorbed and you’ll no longer need to shake it, leaving it to work its magic until 6 weeks is up.
Be sure to label all jars with the herb and preparation method used, as well as the date when you started it.
When your tincture is ready, strain off the herbs with a cheesecloth and transfer the tincture liquid to dropper bottles. Label the bottles and you’re done!
Best Herbs to Use for Tinctures
There really is no “right” or “wrong” herb for tinctures and this is merely meant as a quick guide to get you started.
Herbalists use many different methods for their tinctures — the herb used, the part of the herb used, the concentration, the type of alcohol — so don’t get caught up in thinking there’s only one correct way to make a herbal tincture.
Experiment and try different things, which is true of creating your tincture as well as finding the dosage that works best for you when it is time to use it.
Most herbs perform well in tinctures but you may want to avoid those that tend to be used for their mucilage such as slippery elm as it can result in a gooey, slimy tincture that doesn’t completely absorb into the alcohol.