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Making your own medicine from herbs can be a little bit intimidating, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be! People have been making their own medicines for centuries. Luckily, if you have the basics down, you can explore and implement new and improved medicines for yourself. Making a tincture is a good place to start!
Tinctures are an easy and effective way to extract the medicinal properties from a particular herb. Today I’m going to teach you the basics on making a tincture, so you can be confident in your own medicine making.
Tinctures are an herbal extract that uses alcohol as the solvent. They are shelf-stable, and can last a very, very long time. Some herbalists say tinctures never expire.
Decide what tincture you need
If you listen carefully, your body will tell you what medicine you need to heal it. Herbs have their own language as well, known as herbal actions. By really paying attention to both, you will be able to decipher what herb will give you the desired effect.
You don’t just have to use one herb in a tincture. You can also successfully mix herbs, as long as their properties are compatible.
For a thick, mucusy cough, you need an expectorant. Expectorants help break up the mucus so you can expel it with coughing. Mullein is a wonderful expectorant, and makes a good tincture for coughs. If you suffer from heartburn, gas, or indigestion frequently, a bitter tincture could be just the ticket. Dandelion is a great bitter herb, however, most bitter tinctures use a few herbs to take full advantage of their medicinal properties.
Figure out what symptoms you are wanting to treat, and use the herbal action to decide how to best treat it. Then you will know which herb or herbs you will want to use.
Purchase or forage your tincture herbs
You can use fresh or dried herbs for making your tincture. If you use fresh herbs, you will need to use more than if you use dried herbs. Also, a word of caution if using fresh herbs. Some herbs have a very high moisture content, which can cause mold to grow in your tincture. Herbs like dandelions should be set out at room temperature for a day to dry out some of the excess moisture.
I personally love foraging for herbs. But if you can’t confidently identify the herb, or if it doesn’t grow in your area, you may need to buy the dried herbs. I personally love Starwest Botanicals. They have great quality herbs at fair prices. You can even buy in bulk!
Purchase your alcohol
For an effective, super-long lasting tincture, you need to use 80-100 proof alcohol. 80 proof is the lowest you want in order for your medicine to be potent and shelf-stable. Don’t confuse proof with percentage! Proof is twice the alcohol content by volume. For example, a whiskey with 50% alcohol is called 100 proof.
The higher the proof, the more effective the alcohol is in extracting the medical properties of the herb. So proof is important when making tinctures.
Tinctures very commonly use vodka, as there is no scent and less extra flavoring. This lets the flavor of the herbs shine through. Which, you may find, may or may not be a good thing! The last batch of willow bark tincture I made, I used a cheap vodka. It tastes horrible! I have to dilute it in a strongly flavored drink in order to even take it for headaches, which is what it excels at.
Everclear is a good choice, but it’s very strong, and expensive. You could also use whiskey, gin, or certain rums. Just keep an eye on that proof.
Sterilize the jar and lid
Most people, including myself, make their tinctures in a mason jar. Make sure your jar and lid is clean and sterilized. Any bacteria that might be in the jar will be sitting in the alcohol for a month, and thus can contaminate your finishes product.
I find the best way to sterilize jars is in the dishwasher. It gets them clean and hot enough to destroy any bacteria.
Fill your jar
The next step is the fun one – getting started making your medicine! If you are using fresh herbs, you should fill the jar about halfway. You don’t have to be perfect. Herbal medicines aren’t usually that standardized. For dry herbs, you can use more like 1/3 of the jar.
Fill the jar to about an inch from the top with your alcohol. Put the lid on tightly, and shake thoroughly. This mixture should be shaken daily (if you can remember!).
Let it sit
This last step is the easy one. You just need to let it sit for about a month! Actually the “official” recommendation is 4-6 weeks.
Some herbalists prefer the solar method, which means letting it sit in a warm, sunny location. Other herbalists prefer sitting the jar in a cool, dark location like a cupboard. Still others just sit their jars on the kitchen counter. This would probably make it easier to remember to shake it daily, but will take up precious counter space! I sit my tinctures in my semi-sunny mudroom.
Strain the herbs out of the tincture
After your tincture has “brewed” for 4-6 weeks, strain the herbs out of the tincture. A fine mesh strainer or doubled-up cheesecloth usually work best. You can compost the spent herbs.
You can keep the tincture in the same jar that you brewed it in. Make sure you label and date it. You might think you’ll remember what it is, but if you really get going into this, you won’t! If your tincture is something you’ll be taking multiple times a day, possibly when you’re not home, you need a portable container. A small blue or amber dropper bottle works best for these tinctures.
And there you have it – the basics of making tinctures! Have you ever made a tincture? What herbs did you use? Please share with us in the comments – I always love hearing different combinations!
Please note: I am not a doctor, nurse practitioner, or a certified herbalist. I am just an herbal enthusiast and want to share my knowledge with you. Please do your own proper research, and if you have any outstanding health concerns, please consult your doctor before trying any herbal remedies.
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