Healing Herbal Tinctures:
by Rosemary Gladstar
popular form of herbal
medication available today, tinctures are highly concentrated liquid
extracts of herbs. The ease of use and prolonged shelf life have given
tinctures great appeal to the busy lifestyle of modern herbal
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There are many benefits to using herbal tinctures. An herb, once tinctured, will retain its medicinal properties far longer than in most other preparations. Alcohol tinctures will last for many years. Tinctures made from vinegar have a shorter shelf life, but are effective for at least a year, and often much longer. Unlike bulky raw botanicals, tinctures store compactly. They are excellent for car first aid kits and for traveling.
Easy to Administer
Tinctures are ready to administer with no further preparation. The tinctures are dispensed directly under the tongue or mixed with warm water, tea, or juice.
Easy to Make Yourself
Anyone is capable of making high quality tinctures. There is no mystery or complicated process involved in preparing them. What are required are good quality herbs, a high quality solvent, a measuring cup, and a little time. Though tinctures are fairly expensive to purchase (you are paying for the quality time and expertise of the herbalist and wildcrafters who collected the herbs) they are relatively inexpensive to make yourself. If you need to take a tincture over a long period of time for a chronic situation or as a tonic, you should really consider making your own. Those little one-ounce bottles that tinctures come in can get quite costly.
Tinctures in Alcohol
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.
Half 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 and 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 don't scrimp on quality; buy the best alcohol you're able to afford.
Many professional herbalists prefer making tinctures from 190 proof alcohol. This gives you a whopping 95% alcohol to 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.
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. 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 with alcohol. When buying glycerin (available in natural food stores) be certain it is 100% vegetable glycerin which is of much higher quality.
The Tincture Process
For home use, I recommend using a 100 proof alcohol--it will simplify the process considerably and is every bit as effective as the standardized method. 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 which allows control of the water/alcohol ratio for individual herbs and their constituents. It also allows 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.
The Simpler's Method
The Simpler's Method (also called the Folk Method) is my preferred method and the way it's been done for hundreds of years. It is very simple; all that's required are the herbs, the menstruum (liquid), and a jar with a tight fitting lid.
1) 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.
2) 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.
3) Place the jar(s) in a warm, dark place.
Let the jars macerate for two to six weeks. The longer, the better. In Western herbology we are taught the proper time to allow to macerate is two 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.
4) Remember to shake the bottles periodically.
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.
5) 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.
Endocrine Tonic Tincture for Menopause
1 pt Sarsaparilla 1 pt Blue cohosh
2 pt False unicorn root 2 pt Wild yam
1 pt Dong quai 3 pt Sage
3 pt Licorice 3 pt Dandelion rt
Mix herbs together. Put two ounces of the mixture in a wide-mouthed bottle or jar and cover with one pint of good-quality brandy or vodka. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and place in a shaded, warm area. Let the tincture sit for 4-6 weeks. Shake once a day to mix the herbs and alcohol together. Strain through a strainer lined with cheesecloth and then rebottle the herbal liquid. It is now ready for use. Recommended dose: one-fourth teaspoon diluted in tea or juice 3 times daily for 3 months or longer.
Source: Herbal Healing for Women by Rosemary Gladstar
Reprinted with permission from www.sagemountain.com
Rosemary Gladstar has been a practicing herbalist for 30 years. She founded the California School of Herbal Studies, United Plant Savers, co-founded Sage Mountain Herbs, and was the original owner of Rosemary's Garden in Sebastopol, CA. She now lives in Vermont.
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