Thursday, October 21, 2010

Making Herb Tinctures (with alcohol)

Recently I spoke about the herbs to get you through the winter.  In that post I referenced Tinctures and Tea as a way to take these herbs medicinally.  I am not a fan of herbs in capsules, mostly because they are powdered herbs and those lose potency quickly if not monitored.  There was also an exposé a few years back that pointed out that many capsules did not have the needed concentration to provide the medicinal benefits.  As a result I recommend Teas and Tinctures instead.
The philosophy behind tinctures is to capture the important physical essence of the plant. This is done by using the power of ethyl alcohol to extract and preserve the volatile oils of the herb in question.
The substance used to extract the herbs is known as the menstrum. The herbs you are tincturing are known as the mark. Tincturing will extract and preserve both the water-soluble and alcohol-soluble properties of an herb, making it entirely different in concentration and effectiveness from a simple infusion or decoction (fancy words for tea).
Herbs & Tinctures
In the interest of taking a more involved stance in their health, many people are turning to homemade tinctures made from fresh or dried herbs. Tinctures have proven to be more powerful and longer lasting than dried herbs. Tinctures will keep up to two years and keep their potency if stored properly. Making your own tinctures will save you quite a bit of money. If you purchase tinctures in a retail store you will get a few ounces whereas if you make it yourself it will yield about a quart.
Materials Needed
When purchasing herbs, make sure you are buying from a reputable source. Better yet, grow your own herbs to be sure of the highest possible quality. When growing your own you can make any number of combinations to make up your tinctures. I have also found that when growing my own herbs I get the most enjoyment, knowing not only did I make the tincture but I grew the herbs. I become part of the process from beginning to end.
There are several items that you will need to make your own tinctures. First you need either powdered herbs or fresh cut herbs. Vodka, brandy or rum, 80-100 proof to cover the herbs. Mason jars with lids. Muslin or Cheesecloth that is unbleached. Lastly, labels for the jars.
Steps to Creation
You will need 7-10 ounces of chopped fresh herbs for every quart of vodka, brandy or rum. I prefer to use fresh herbs when making my tinctures. When using powdered herbs, I use 4 ounces of herbs to one pint of liquid. If you are making a tincture from bitter herbs it is best to use rum as it will mask the taste of the herbs. To make a non-alcoholic tincture use distilled water, glycerol or vinegar. Keep in mind that if you use vinegar the tincture will have to be refrigerated.
Put your herbs in the mason jars and then pour the liquid over them so that it comes up to about an inch above the herbs. Seal tightly and label the jars then put them in a very dark, warm area. Keeping them in a paper bag on top of the refrigerator has worked well for me. You will have to shake the jar everyday, several times a day if you can mange it.
At first check the solution daily to make sure the vodka, brandy or rum still covers the herbs. Let the mixture steep for at least two weeks and up to three months. When you reach the allotted waiting period, line a sieve with the cheesecloth or muslin and pour the liquid thru the sieve into another bottle. Gather up the ends of the cheesecloth and squeeze to extract all of the liquid. You can now fill small bottles with droppers with the tincture for ease in use. Be sure to label the jar with the name, the alcohol used, and the date.
Using Tinctures
The typical dose is one teaspoon tincture in a cup of tea, juice or water taken three times daily.
There are no right formulas for making tinctures. Experiment with different combinations. Be sure you write down the formula so when you come up with a winning combination you will have it on file.
Here are a few ideas for treating colds. Make tinctures from the following herbs:
* echinacea (leaves, flowers)
* elder (leaves, flowers, berries)
* eyebright (leaves, flowers)
* ginger (root)
* peppermint (leaves)
* yarrow (leaves, flowers)
* catnip (leaves)
Most important to remember
This information is for reference and education only!!  It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a physician.  I do not advocate self-diagnosis nor self-medication!  Be aware that any plant substance, whether used as food or medicine, externally or internally, may cause allergic reactions in some people.  Everyone responds differently to herbs. Use them carefully and responsibly!
For details on a few other herbs that make great tinctures for winter ailments, see our blog on the topic of 7 Winter Herbs posted 10/19/2010.
      Although we do not market tinctures, we do sell many varieties of tea at the Backyard Patch.  Please stop by to view our different blends as

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