Herbal tincture can be used to preserve herbs for medicinal use. Herbal tinctures are generally comprised of alcohol and the herb to be preserved. Vinegar and glycerin are also used to preserve herbs and sometimes these solutions are also called tinctures, however vinegar and glycerin are not generally considered as effective as alcohol in preservation. Herbal tinctures made with alcohol will preserve herbs longer than simply drying them.
Why Use an Herbal Tincture?
Herbalists generally believe that herbal tinctures made of alcohol are more effective in releasing all the medicinal components from the plant than other methods of using herbs. Active ingredients in herbs are more easily extracted by alcohol than other liquids and heat used in other methods of using herbs, such as herbal tea, can destroy active components of the plant material.
What is an Herbal Tincture?
Tincture is a liquid solution of herbs and a fluid menstruum, usually ethanol. The dried or fresh herbs are combined with alcohol, then the solid matter is removed leaving only the oils of the herbs mixed with the alcohol. For example an extract made from peppermint and alcohol would be called “peppermint tincture.”
Most commercially sold tincture extracts have a herb to alcohol ratio printed on the label. When dry herbs were used to make the extract the ratio is commonly 1 part dried plant to 4 parts liquid, (alcohol and water). When fresh herbs are used the most common ratio is 1:1. This does not indicate the amount of that herb in the bottle, rather the ratio used in making the extract. Example: Dry herb strength: 1:4 means that the mixture used to produce the extract was 1 part dried plant and 4 parts liquid, (alcohol and water). This is not the same as an ingredients list which is also present on most commercial extracts.
Other fluids used for tincturing include vinegar (referred to as an acetous tincture) and glycerin. These fluids are less effective in extracting a wide variety and quantity of plant compounds and have greatly lesser shelf life, but are desirable when alcohol needs to be avoided or in the few exceptions where the desired active ingredient of the plant is more dissoluble in acetic acid than ethanol. Non-ethanol alcohols are sometimes used for tinctures intended for external use, as they are not taxed and hence significantly cheaper to use when possible.
How to Prepare an Herbal Tincture
Generally speaking, fresh herbs are considered more potent and produce better herbal tinctures. This varies with some herbs; a few herbs must be dried prior to creating a herbal tincture. Other herbs require the tincture to age before reaching its full medicinal value. For best results, consult a recipe specifically for the herbal tincture you are preparing. Generalized recipes for tinctures are not specific enough to achieve the desired result, but rather gives a basic foundation for understanding the principles of herbal tincture preparation.
Fresh Herbs vs. Dried Herbs in Preparation
The ratio of plant material to medium is generally 1:5 for dried herbs (1 part herb for every 5 parts alcohol) and 1:2 for fresh herbs (1 part herb for every 2 parts alcohol). Exact tincture strengths and ratios vary by herb. Tinctures made from dried herbs are still classified as herbal tinctures although they contain 20% herb because the dried herbs are concentrated.
Recipe for Herbal Tincture
- 1.Chop the fresh or dried herb and place it in a sterilized mason jar. The more finely chopped the herb becomes the more easily the plant material will be extracted. Coffee grinders are ideal for grinding dried herbs into powder. Food processors and small blenders are often used for chopping or grinding fresh herbs.
- 2.Determine the amount of alcohol to add by determining the weight of the plant material. Alcohol should be added at a 1:5 ratio for dried herbs and 1:2 ratio for fresh herbs. One ounce of dried plant material would require 5 ounces of alcohol. One ounce of fresh plant material would require 2 ounces of alcohol. Pour the alcohol into the jar covering the herb. Vodka is commonly used alcohol for making herbal tincture.
- 3.Seal the mason jar with a sterilized lid and place it in a cool dark place. Label the jar with the date of preparation and the herbal contents. Shake the herbal tincture each day for two weeks.
- 4.After six weeks, strain the plant material from the herbal tincture using cheesecloth This is were all the concentrate herb lies so you can even use a potato ricer with the soaked herb to get a good “Mark” (press). Herbal tinctures should always be stored in dark colored, glass bottles. A dropper is ideal, as it will allow the herbal tincture to be dispensed at specific ratios. Label the dropper bottle with the date and type of herbal tincture.