Article in Homestead Apothecary Quarterly Zine
Making your own Tinctures at home
By Kara Sigler
Making your own medicine at home is a fun self-empowering, as well as revolutionary process. By going to the plants for answers and ourselves for our own healing, we take back the power to heal ourselves and the mother earth, and thus the collective whole. The following is a quick and dirty (dirt is great!) explanation of how to make a Folk Tincture in your own kitchen. Happy healing!
Explanation of Terms:
A Tincture is an alcohol or water/alcohol extract of a plant. Most phytochemicals (plant constituents) are dissolvable in either water or alcohol, so a combination of the two is often the best Menstrum. Menstrum refers to the liquids in which the herbs Macerate. The Maceration refers to the herb extraction process in the menstrum.
There are other menstrums that work well with some plants, such as water, vinegar, honey, oil, or glycerine. Each of these menstrums has its own benefits and drawbacks. Water extracts, called Infusions or Decoctions (boiling), pull many nutrients out of plants but are not shelf stable. Vinegar extracts, or Acetums, draw minerals and micro-nutrients out of plants, and are more shelf stable than water but less so than alcohol. Always use Apple Cider Vinegar for the most alive nutritive vinegar. White distilled vinegar is not a fermented product and thus should only be used as a cleaning product in the home, not in the body. Neither water nor vinegar extract resins well. Resins are the sticky antimicrobial parts of the plant. Teas and Acetums are great for extracting Tonic herbs which are taken daily as nutritives more than as acute remedies. Honey extracts, or Melitas, are great for fresh chunks of root which can be easily strained out, or to mix in powdered herbs. Honey can spoil if there is too much water content. Great for use as cough syrup or to sweeten other tinctures. Does not extract all plant constituents as well as alcohol. Mixing a Acetum with a Melita makes an Oxymel. This gives the medicine of the vinegar with the sweetness of the honey for a sensitive pallet. A spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down. In this case raw honey is much more medicinal than white processed sugar. Oil makes a great extract for topical applications of herbs, although water does not emulsify well with oil, so this is not a good option for most fresh plants. Oils also go rancid eventually so the shelf life is much less than alcohol tinctures. Keep your oils in the refrigerator to stabilize them longer. Glycerine is a sugar from plant fiber. It does not pull as many phyto chemicals out as alcohol, and may be just as hard on the liver as alcohol. It is often used in kids’ formulas, but kids are often fine taking small doses of tinctures, teas, or oxymels, which are in my estimate preferable.
The benefits of using alcohol include the number of phytochemicals that are extracted, ease of dosing, and the almost indefinite shelf life of the extract. This article will focus on the Folk Method Alcohol Tincture.
Folk Method of a Tincture
- Chop the herb into small pieces. If the herb is dry grind it in a coffee grinder.
- Press the herb into a jar, preferably filling the jar, especially if you are working with a leaf or a fluffy herb.
- Pour the menstrum over the herb so that the liquid fully infuses and covers the plant matter by ¼- ½ inch above. For Dry plant tinctures, vodka or other 40%/80 proof liquors are sufficient (this means there is already 60% water mixed with the alcohol). There are organic vodkas available. For Fresh plant tinctures make sure to use as high a percentage of alcohol as possible. The fresh plant has its own water content, which can dilute the menstrum and cause decay. Regular vodka which is 40%/80 proof liquor is not high enough alcohol content for many fresh plants. Look for 151 or Everclear, which means that the alcohol content is 75%/150 proof. Another option is to buy 95% ethanol online or from the Sonoma County Herb Exchange, for pickup at Homestead Apothecary. Talk to Nic about days for order and pickup. This alcohol can then be diluted to the percentage desired. Fresh plants often require 60%-80% alcohol to keep from spoiling. If you are using fresh plants and all you have is vodka, dry or dry wilt the plants for 2-3 days; Let extra moisture evaporate from the herb until it wilts before macerating. Freshly dried plants are still more potent than dry plants that have sat on the shelf for long periods of time.
- Weigh down fresh herb with a stone if you need to keep the herb compressed below the level of the liquid. Herbs sticking out have the potential to oxidize or mold. Stones can be simply rocks you pick up while hiking then scrub and boil to clean. Or you can be very intentional about infusing specific crystal energies into your plant medicines by choosing gems and crystals to weigh down your herbs. Cap the jar tightly and let macerate.
- Shake dry plant tinctures daily, especially if the herb is powdered and compressed at the bottom of the jar. This keeps the surface area of the plant in contact with the menstrum and adds energetic vibrations to your medicine. Be sure to sing or talk to your medicine to enliven and potentize the extract.
- Macerate the herbs in the menstrum for 2-4 weeks. For the most potent medicine, time your tincture making with the moon’s energy. Build magical energy into the herb by making your tincture on the new moon and pressing it out on the full moon, or leave the herb macerating for a full moon cycle to infuse your medicine with the potency of a full cycle. Fresh plants will fully give up their constituents quicker than dry plants. The Marc, or plant after it is pressed out of the liquid, will be almost colorless and dry and crispy when it is done macerating. All of the energy of the plant will now be in the menstrum.
- Press the Marc, or the herbs, through a clean cotton cloth. My favorite method is to place a strainer in the rim of a bowl, lay the cloth in the strainer for support, pour the macerating herbs into the cloth and pull the corners of the cloth up to twist and wring out the liquid. Once the marc is as dry as you can get it, compost the plant matter. The liquid can now be bottled in tightly sealed dark glass away from light. This will ensure the shelf life of the tincture.
- Use as needed.
Have fun with your medicine and happy empowered healing with the plants!