I love using herbal medicines. So far, I’ve mostly done different types of tea, infused honey, and salves. But now I’m planning to expand into a new area of herbal medicine: the tincture.
A tincture is a super-concentrated herbal solution. Herbs are placed in alcohol, vegetable glycerin, vinegar, or even a sugar solution and allowed to sit. Their properties are extracted into the liquid, then the liquid is strained and the herbs discarded. Different liquids have different properties in and of themselves, so which you choose to make a tincture is important.
- Safe for children (no alcohol)
- Safe in larger doses, if needed
- Sweet tasting and easy to take
- Dissolves the vitamins and minerals in the plants well; does not dissolve alkaloids and medicinal compounds as well
That last reason is actually why I’m choosing glycerin today. I’ll be using it to make an herbal multivitamin. Alcohol dissolves the medicinal compounds well, but it doesn’t dissolve much or any of the vitamins and minerals, making it useless for this purpose. It would also be difficult, if not impossible, to take a decent-sized dose of an alcohol-based tincture. This is a great option for pregnant mothers who can’t or don’t prefer to drink a pregnancy tea blend or take a prenatal vitamin, assuming the herbs chosen are safe to use in pregnancy.
So, today, a glycerin tincture. This is the basic method and you can feel free to use any herb you want. Dandelion, catnip, and other nourishing, toning herbs (look for herbs that are “adaptogenic,” which means they balance the body and don’t have any particularly strong medicinal qualities — it’s highly unlikely or impossible to overdose on these) can be used in this manner. Or, come back next week and I’ll share my exact multi- vitamin recipe!
You will need:
- 100% food-grade, vegetable glycerin
- Filtered water
- A glass jar
- Herbs of choice
There are really several different methods of doing this. I’ve read to fill the jar all the way up or fill it only 1/3 to 1/2 full. I’ve read to (almost) never use dried herbs or that it doesn’t matter. I’ve read that it matters what the phase of the moon is when you begin or decant a tincture. I’ve read methods using heat or not. I’ve read lengths of time to sit from 24 hours to 6 weeks (and sometimes longer). Okay, so that could get confusing really fast….
What I’m going to lead you through here is a type of balance: I do think that the length of time something tinctures matters. I don’t think you get the same medicinal properties when you take short cuts. But I also believe if you go nuts trying to find the “perfect” method the first time you try it, then…you won’t. That’s no good. Instead, start with this basic method, and if you enjoy using tinctures, you’ll develop a way that may be a bit different, but which works for you, as you go along.
Gather up all your supplies. Dried herbs are okay for this, but not powdered herbs.
If you’re using a combination of herbs (which I am — come back next week for the recipe!), mix them together and put them in a glass jar. I’m using a quart jar since this is something we’ll be taking daily for awhile. You can use a much smaller jar if you are only wanting a small amount of medicine. Fill your jar about halfway with herbs, loosely packed.
Add about 2 c. filtered water into the jar (if you’re using a quart), about 1/2 full, then 2 c. vegetable glycerin. You won’t be able to add it all at once; about 1 1/2 cups of each at first. Put a lid on it and shake it. See how it isn’t full now?
Add the remaining liquid and shake it again.
Seal the jar, and label it with the date that you prepared it. (Traditional herbalism says to begin tinctures at a new moon, then let them sit for 6 weeks and decant on a full moon, but you don’t have to.)
I agree that tinctures should sit for 6 weeks. There are ways to heat them and do them in a few days, but I think the medicine should be drawn out slowly. Luckily, you don’t have to “do” anything with them during this time — just let them sit in a cool place away from direct sunlight.
When your tincture is done, all you have to do is pour it through some cheesecloth and squeeze it to get all the liquid out of the herbs (this is important as some of it will still be in the herbs). I don’t have pictures of this because I started mine only a few days ago. Pour the strained liquid into a jar (preferably darker glass, I’m told) and discard the herbs.
**This has been entered in Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist**