Making your own tinctures is very simple and a considerable savings over buying them. They are really useful in a number of situations, such as traveling, emergencies, taking an herb over a long period of time, and more. Some tinctures can also be used externally, in which case they are known as liniments.
The way I learned to make tinctures was to use fresh plant material, and this is what I do most often. There are times, though, when I do use dry plant material, and I will give instructions for that further down.
With the folkloric method there is no figuring out ratios or measuring out proportions of alcohol to water to quantity of herb. One puts together plant material and alcohol in a simple mix and lets it soak (macerate) for a few weeks or longer.
Generally, 100-proof vodka is used (though some herbalists prefer 80-proof vodka or will use other alcohols, such as brandy). Hundred-proof vodka is used because it has equal amounts of alcohol and water, and this is the mix that is often used for dosages.
The vodka is your menstruum, the liquid in which you are macerating your plant material.
Making the Herbal Tincture with Fresh Plant Material
For making tinctures in the folkloric method, you need only a few materials:
• The plant/s you are going to tincture
• A sharp knife or scissors for chopping plant material
• 100-proof vodka
• A clean jar
To make a tincture with fresh plant material, you need to gather it from your garden, wildcraft it, or get it from a supplier, such as the farmer at your local farmers market. Coarsely chop or cut up your plant material. It doesn’t have to be really small, but it shouldn’t be really large pieces, either. You want the menstruum to have lots of access to the plant material.
Now lightly pack your plant material into a clean, dry jar just to the bottom of the lid ring. You don’t want to pack it tightly, but you also want more than a few sprigs of herb. The plant matter should be slightly springy.
Then pour in the 100-proof vodka and fill the jar to a little above the top of the plant matter. Screw on the lid.
Label your jar with the date, the herb, and the vodka that you used. Labeling is important because it assures that you know what herb/s and what oil/s you used. Don’t rely on your memory, my experience has proven that it is notoriously forgetful!
Check the jar in 24 hours and top-up the vodka if necessary, because the plants may have absorbed some and the level may have dropped.
Put your jar in a dark place to macerate. Let it sit for at least six weeks, checking it occasionally. Some herbalists say that a few days or couple of weeks are enough, but I believe that six weeks gives lots of time for the menstruum to pull out all of the plant’s constituents, and to really absorb the energy of the plant.
Some herbalists also like to shake the jar every day or every few days, sing to the plants or say prayers, etc.
After six weeks, you can strain out the plant matter. You can leave it longer without any problems. I have sometimes left tinctures macerating for a couple of years (or longer). In Chinese medicine, the medicine of the tincture is considered to be stronger the longer it soaks.
To strain, use a couple layers of cheese cloth or clean muslin, or a fine-meshed strainer or colander. I like to put a couple layers of cheesecloth in a strainer. Don’t use a coffee filter or paper towels, the pores are too fine and will clog up, and then you’ll be waiting all day for your oil to strain.
Squeeze any leftover menstruum from the plant matter with your hands or a spoon. (You can put the spent plant matter in your compost or fireplace or trash.)
Put your tincture into another clean, dry glass jar. Label this jar also with the herb/s, menstruum, and date. Light-protective bottles or jars, such as brown Boston rounds, are preferable to clear glass. If you use clear glass, definitely put your tincture in a dark cupboard protected from light. Light helps break down the tincture and lessens its efficacy.
Store you tincture in a cool, dark place. You can put it in 1- or 2-ounce Boston rounds with droppers when you are ready to use it.
Using Dry Plant Material for Your Tincture
I don’t usually use dry plant material, but occasionally I have a need to. According to Susun Weed, dried leaves and flowers break down too much in the drying to make good medicines. Dried roots, seeds, and berries hold up to drying better and can be used for dry plant tinctures.
To make a tincture with dry plant material, use 1 ounce (by weight) of dry plant material to 5 ounces of 100-proof vodka. Let sit for at least 6 weeks before straining.
I have been making tinctures for many years now and have had good results using my home-made tinctures. Let me know what you have tinctured and how you used it, I’d love to know!