Herbal Medicine: Tinctures
Herbal tinctures are one of, if not the mother of all ways to receive a long-lasting and effective gift from a plant. While there are a few different solvent bases that you can use to extract the constituents from an herb, it will still beat out balms, tea's, honey or oil infusions in relation to receiving the most relief from a plant for whatever reason you are using the plant for. Don't twist it though, nothing beats a moisturizing balm for chapped hands, an herbal oil for body massages like abhyanga, tea or honey infusions for a delicious herbal treat. You can never go wrong with any herbal creation, and many of these listed ways of creating herbal products are still very beneficial in their own way- but if you are wanting to create a natural and holistic medicine for you and your family, tinctures are what you will need to make.
What is a tincture
A tincture is a type of preparation that goes beyond using solvents like water, honey or oil. Instead, tinctures are created with alcohol, glycerin or apple cider vinegar. A tincture is prepared for the purpose of ingesting and is mostly targeted as a herbal medicine. While you can take herbs in capsule form and receive direct medicinal values that way, having a tincture solvent will pull out all of the medicinal values of the plant(s) you are using, making it much stronger than receiving other herbal benefits in any other form of herbal preparation. Not only that, using a tincture solvent will have a much longer shelf life!
Choosing a solvent
When you are wanting to create a tincture, you will want to think about the person you will be giving the tincture to or what you are looking for specifically when making a tincture. Alcohol will extract alkaloids, sugars, enzymes, and vitamins. Alcohol extracts a wide range of plant properties and allows for easy absorption of healing compounds into the bloodstream. It's the most traditional and potent method of the solvent options. Glycerites and vinegar solvents are not known for extracting as many properties as alcohol, but will still extract better than honey, for example.
Don't worry, we don't have to get into the boring chemistry behind it, but I would base your decision around the person you are giving it to whether that be yourself, a child, animal or a person who is sensitive to alcohol. Then, think about your storage and consumption capacity. For example a glycerite and vinegar solvent has a shelf life of 12-24 months, versus an alcohol extract with a shelf life of 4-6 years. Pick your poison!
supplies and preperations
Creating a tincture is one of the easiest preparations, I think anyway, when you are wanting to play with herbs. All you really need are a few items you most likely already have at home, and then you will need patience. Here are some simple supplies you will need to create your herbal medicine:
- Canning jar w/ lid
- Organic parchment paper
- Dry or fresh herbs
- Solvent of choice (when purchasing alcohol, stick with 60-80 proof Vodka or Brandy)
- Cheesecloth for straining
- Funnel or killer pouring skills
- Labels (or just use a marker and mark on the bottle)
- Amber dropper bottles
Let me guess, I bet you already had some of these supplies at home, and if not, you will not break the bank for any of these items! Besides the herbs you can buy all of these products on Amazon, or your local convenience store. When purchasing your herbs, you can buy online at Mountain Rose Herbs, Herb Affair or Bulk Apothecary. If you have the resources, you can also grow your herbs at home.
When you have your supplies and you are ready to create with the herbs that you have chosen for your specific wants and needs, the fun starts! Grab your canning jar and make sure it is clean, and completely dry. Any trace of water or moisture inside of the jar can cause mold or other bacteria growth we will not want in our tincture. Once you have your jar, throw in all of your herbs that you wish to use and be sure to leave at least one inch at the top of your jar so you have room to shake your jar every day to keep the herbs moving while you wait for the constituents to be pulled from the solvent. Then, pour in your solvent of choice and make sure all herbs are completely covered. You may want to grab a spoon and give it a gentle stir until all of the herbs are attached to the solvent. Then, cut a small piece of parchment paper to put in-between your jar and the lid to prevent any rusting or harsh chemicals coming into contact with your tincture, as most lids are covered in BPA. Once your herbs are tightly sealed in your jar, label the jar with the ingredients, solvent used and the date created. The date is very important as it will let you know when your tincture is ready to be bottled. Most of us wait for a full moon cycle, but you can go down to 2 weeks if you are in a rush for your medicine.
Always make sure to meditate and give thanks to your tincture mixture, as building a relationship with your herbal medicine will only make the connection and bond stronger between you both.
Once the time has passed, and you are ready to bottle, grab a bowl and some cheesecloth. Put your cheesecloth at the bottom of the bowl, but have some length hanging outside so you can wrap it around your marc (used herbs). Slowly pour your jar of extracted herbs into the bowl directly on top of the cheesecloth and wrap the cloth around the herbs tightly. You will want to pick up the herbs and squeeze quite a few times until all that is left inside of the bowl is your tincture solvent. The marc that is left inside the cloth can be thrown out, composted or re-used once more in a tea bath.
After your bowl is filled with only the solvent that you were able to extract, grab your amber dropper bottles and have a funnel or steady hands ready, because you are going to fill the bottle up! Once that is complete, you will need to label that bottle again with the same important information. If you used a big canning jar and have a lot of liquid left, and not enough dropper bottles, simply clean and dry your canning jar again and pour the tincture mixture back in and tightly seal as normal. It will last you for years, and you can store everything in a dark storage cabinet or shelf.
That's it! You have just created a beautiful and healthy medicine for you and your family to use for the next few years. If you are curious about dosage, and how the herbs interact with any medicine you currently take from your doctor, you will want to do your own extensive research as it is all varied herb to herb, and the dosage may vary if you are taking prescriptions. Always be sure to talk to your doctor, do your own research on your herbs and have fun!