Ease of Administering
Ease of Preparation
Alcohol is a potent, effective menstruum that extracts fats, resins, waxes, most alkaloids, as well as many other plant components. Furthermore, alcohol serves as an excellent preservative maintaining the integrity of the herb for many years. The body rapidly assimilates alcohol Tinctures and their effects are quickly felt.
When using alcohol, water is included as part of the menstruum because both substances are needed to extract different plant chemicals. The ratio of water to alcohol determines the actual menstruum. The standard menstruum is 50 % alcohol to 50 % water (a 1:1 ratio), though this varies. Any good 100 proof alcohol naturally supplies this ratio without you having to do anything. It becomes a little more complicated, however, when the ratios of alcohol to water change.
of the proof represents the actual amount of alcohol to water in the alcoholic beverage and is 2 times the % of alcohol (80 proof is 40% alcohol and 2 X 40 is 80 proof). Example: 100 proof vodka = 50 % H20 & 50 % alcohol.
There are several kinds of alcohol used for Tincture making. Brandy, vodka, and gin are favorites because each can be purchased as 100 proof. For preservative properties and extraction purposes, you must use at least 25 % alcohol by volume. When making Tinctures dont scrimp on quality; buy the best alcohol youre able to afford.
Many professional herbalists prefer making tinctures from 190 proof alcohol. This gives you a whopping 95 % alcohol / 5 % water ratio. This high percentage of alcohol allows more control over the percentage of alcohol to water used for extracting the specific components from the herb. I have included the STANDARDIZED method; however, for home use, I recommend the Simplers way. Use a 100 proof (more or less) alcohol. It will simplify the process considerably and is every bit as effective as the standardized method.
Glycerin is a sweet, mucilaginous constituent of all fats and oils of both animal and plant origin. A highly nutritive substance, glycerin is very sweet and soothing to the mucus membrane lining of our systems. Because of the sweet flavor and the fact that it does not contain alcohol, it is useful in making tinctures for children, alcoholics and people averse to drinking alcohol. Though it has good preservative properties and dissolves mucilage material, vitamins and minerals, it does not dissolve the resinous or oily components as well as does alcohol.
To make a glycerin tincture use 2-3 parts of water to 1 part of glycerin ( a 2/3:1 ratio). This is the standard proportion of water to glycerin used as a menstruum. The amount of herb remains the same and the preparation is the same as described below. When buying glycerin (available in natural food stores) be certain it is 100 % vegetable glycerin; it is of much higher quality.
This method can be combined with either the Simplers method or the Standardized method. The only additional item you need is a conical percolator. These can be made from gallon glass jugs in which the bottoms have been cut off. Though I have always used the maceration technique, the percolation method produces potent, strong tinctures and takes much less time.
Almost all herbs tincture well with the correct mixture of alcohol and water. Herbs can be tinctured as a ready made formula, or tinctured as single herbs and combined later in formulas. Most herbalists prefer to tincture herbs as single extracts. This allows control of the water/alcohol ratio for individual herbs and their constituents. It also allows them greater flexibility when creating formulas from single herb extracts. Though I appreciate the reasoning for single herb extracts, I prefer tincturing my formulas together. I sense there is a union and a greater compatibility that happens as the herbs macerate and merge together. Instead of being single components they seem to become one. As you can tell, there is not one method but each person develops their personal way to create tinctures. Experiment and discover which method you like best. Try several methods when first making tinctures to discover the methods that work best for you.
This title is a misnomer to be sure. Although there has been considerable effort to standardize tincture making, the high number of rebellious, independent, right brain herbalists makes this a monumental task. There have been significant inroads made however, and to the extent that standardization exists, I will explain how it works. Be assured that, until all the Pharmacopoeias agree on the same water to alcohol ratio for each herb, there will be no truly Standardized Method in the Modern Scientific sense.
There are two different aspects or ratios that you must understand to make standardized tinctures. The first is the ratio of the herb to the liquid (menstruum). The second is the ratio within the menstruum itself. The menstruum is made up of water and alcohol in a specific ratio. For the purposes of clarity I will refer to the Herb to Menstruum ratio (written Herb: Menstruum) as ratio A, and the Water to Alcohol ratio (Water:Alcohol) as ratio B. After you determine ratio A and ratio B for your particular tincture, you put the two together and presto; you have a Standardized Tincture.
a. Ratio A, Herb: Menstruum
There are three standard ratios in use today. The type of herb you are using determines them.
b. Ratio B, Water:Alcohol (the Menstruum)
This ratio can vary depending on the herbs you are using and the chemical substances you wish to extract. Determining this ratio can be very simple or very complicated, depending on whether you can buy your desired water:alcohol ratio premixed or whether you have to mix it yourself. The most common standard ratio is 1:1 or 1 part water to 1 part alcohol. I will start with the simple way then tackle the more complex technique, hopefully only for your reference library.
First we determine how much menstruum we need by using ratio A. Weigh out your herb in grams and multiply that number by the ratio determined by whether the herb is DRY, FRESH OR RESINOUS. This will give you the number of ml of menstruum you need.
Example 1: If you have 12 g of dry herb, using a 1:5 ratio; 12g x 5 = 60ml of menstruum
Example 2: If you have 22 g of resinous herb, using a 1:4 ratio; 22g x 4 = 88ml of menstruum.
When you have determined the amount of menstruum needed, the next step is to decide what water:alcohol ratio is best for the particular herb/s. This is where the pharmacopoeias are not always in agreement and thus the Standardized Technique isn't exactly standardized. The following chart provides water:alcohol information:
Wa:Al % Water % Alcohol Proof
1:1 50% 50% 100
1:2 33% 67% 134
1:3 25% 75% 150
1:4 20% 80% 160
55:45 55% 45% 90
60:40 60% 40% 80
70:30 70% 30% 60
When you determine ratio B, the water:alcohol ratio; look on the chart above. If you can buy alcohol in the proof you want all you have to do is measure the number of ml you need and that is your menstruum all made up.
Example: The particular herb you are tincturing works best with a 40% alcohol menstruum. You have 12 g of dry herb from example 1 above. Look on the chart and see that 40% alcohol is the same as 80 proof. Go to any liquor store and buy 80 proof vodka, brandy or whatever you desire. Measure out 60 ml (12g x 5) of it and ratio B, your menstruum, is completed.
Example: The particular herb you are tincturing works best with a 50% alcohol menstruum. Look on the chart above and see that 100 proof alcohol is necessary. Buy the 100 proof alcohol. If you are using the 22 grams of resinous herb in example 2 above, measure out 88 ml (22 x 4) of 100 proof alcohol and the menstruum is ready to use. Then follow the tincturing technique under Simplers Technique.
Most commercial herbal tincture production is done with pure grain alcohol also called ethyl alcohol. This is 190 proof or 95% alcohol. You can buy 100% alcohol. Because many herbalists are very right brain the mere sight of mathematical formulas strikes fear in their hearts and their brains refuse to go further. I promise you this is relatively easy if you will stay with me and try. The several steps in this process are:
1. Determine what % alcohol you want to use in the menstruum, (Pharmacopoeia, etc).
2. Determine how many ml of menstruum you need (ratio A).
3. Multiply the % alcohol (step 1) by the total ml of menstruum (step 2) to get the total ml of alcohol you need.
4. Divide the total ml of alcohol (step 3) by 0.95 (ethyl alcohol) to get the total ml of ethyl alcohol you need to add to the menstruum (ratio B).
5. Subtract ml ethyl alcohol (step 4) from total ml of menstruum (step 2) to get the ml of water in ratio B.
Lets take an Example. Suppose the Pharmacopoeia requires 42% alcohol to tincture our 93 grams of fresh mullein. Now wee go through the above steps:
1. % alcohol = 42% = .42
2. Ratio A, FRESH herbs = 1:2 93g x 2 = 186
ml of menstruum.
3. .42 x 186ml = 78.1 ml of alcohol
4. 78.1 = 82.21 ml of ethyl alcohol
5. 186 - 82.21 = 103.79 ml water So ratio B is Water:Ethyl Alcohol = 103.79:82.21
I intentionally picked numbers that wouldnt work out evenly because if you use this technique your numbers probably wont work out evenly either. If you try it a few times you will find it quite simple to use.
The Simplers or Folk Method
- This is my preferred method and the way its been done for hundreds of years. It is VERY simple; all that is required are the herbs, the menstruum, and a jar with a tight fitting lid.
- Chop your herbs finely. I recommend using fresh herbs whenever possible. High quality dried herbs will work well also, but one of the advantages of tincturing is the ability to preserve the fresh attributes of the plant. Fill a clean, dry jar to the top with the herbs.
- Pour the menstruum over the herbs. Fill the jar to the top, being sure the menstruum COMPLETELY COVERS the entire herb. Seal with a tight fitting lid. If using vinegar as the menstruum, I recommend warming the vinegar first. It facilitates the release of the herb essence.
- Place the jar(s) in a warm, dark place and let macerate for 2 to 6 weeks. The longer, the better. In Western herbology we are taught the proper time to allow to macerate is 2 weeks. In Eastern herbology, herbs are left to macerate for months, even years. In spite of all the controversy about this subject, I have found that the longer the herb is allowed to tincture the better.
- At the end of the appropriate time, strain. I have found using a large stainless steel strainer lined with cheesecloth or muslin to work well. You can use the cloth to wring out every drop of herbal essence. Reserve the liquid and compost the herbs. Rebottle and label as directed on page 2.
- I always encourage the daily shaking of the bottles of tinctures during the tincturing process. This not only prevents the herbs from packing on the bottom, but also invites some of the old magic to come back into medicine making. During the shaking process, you can sing to your jars, stir them in the moonlight or the sunlight, wave feathers over them; whatever your imagination inspires of you. It adds a special medicine to your preparations.
Though alcohol is the menstruum of choice these days, and rightfully has earned its popularity through its effectiveness, vinegar is also a suitable menstruum. Select an organic apple cider vinegar if possible. It is definitely not as strong as alcohol and does not break down all of the plant components as well, but there are some advantages to using vinegar. Vinegar is a food, 100 % non-toxic and tolerable by almost everyone. It helps regulate the acid/alkaline balance in our bodies and is an excellent tonic for the digestive tract. It also tastes good and can be used as a food. Vinegar tinctures are a fine alternative for alcohol sensitive people and can be used for children, alcoholics, and people averse to drinking alcohol. I find vinegar is a good medium for tonics where strength is not so critical. These tonics become part of our food and daily fare. Vinegar is a good base for this type of tincture formula. For strong medicinal purposes, Alcohol based tinctures are probably more effective; they are extremely potent and quick acting in the body.
Add a little honey to your vinegar tonic for a nice flavor. I like knowing my medicine is more like a food substance. I can use these tinctures on my vegetables and salads or sip a small amount plain. Though they may not be as concentrated as alcohol tinctures, I trust in the body's ability to discern what it needs and to use it efficiently.
There is some controversy as to the shelf life of a vinegar tincture. Most literature reports that vinegar tinctures have a short shelf life, up to six months, before deteriorating. My personal experience, and that of many of my peers, has been that vinegar tinctures will last, if stored in a cool dark place, for several years. I have vinegar tinctures that are two, three, four years old and they are still in excellent condition.