Sometimes called "macerations" Herbal Tinctures are concentrated liquid herbal extracts made by soaking herbs or other plant parts in a drinkable alcohol for a number of weeks to extract the active constituents. Alcohol is most commonly used as it is much more effective than water for drawing out the medicinal properties of plants.
When being commercially produced Ethanol is usually used however many people making them at home use a cheap Vodka or Gin. Rum is sometimes used when making tinctures with less palatable herbs as it can hep disguise the taste. The use of "rubbing alcohol" (Isopropyl) or Methyl is very toxic and poisonous so should not be used.
Vinegar can be a great alternative to alcohol when making a tincture for infants or recovering alcoholics. The use of alcohol for producing tinctures in Britain can also make them expensive as customs officials regard some of the more pleasant-tasting tinctures made from orange peel or cinnamon for example as being a liqueur and therefore liable for duties and taxes.
A Brief History of Tinctures
Many ancient cultures such as the Egyptians used Cordials or Infusions as medicine but these were not strictly speaking tinctures, as they were not made from distilled alcohol which was a method not used until after 1000CE. Distilling wasn't a commonly known practice until the 1400s and wasn't adopted more commonly until around the 1500s by the Irish and Scottish people who adopted it much earlier than the rest of europe.
The use of tinctures gained in popularity in the West and were used widespread by the Victorian era, until they eventually started falling out of favour with medical practitioners when pharmacology started introducing the use of pills.
What are the benefits?
"Herbalists prescribe more alcohol based tinctures than any other form of medicine" and it's no real surprise, they are long-lasting and can be used in very small doses straight up or in beverage such as tea, some people have even been known to to add them to salad dressing. When taken properly they are better absorbed and faster acting than powdered herb capsules.
How to make a Tincture
What you need:
- Glass jar with a seal-able lid
- The Herb or Herbs of your choice
- Some scales for weighing your herb(s)
- Alcohol (Cheap Vodka works well)
- A Fine sieve and/or cheese cloth
- Dark glass container (to store the tincture in)
- Pen and sticky label
- Weigh then add approx 200g of dried or 600g of fresh herb(s) to your seal-able glass jar (With fresh herbs you need roughly three times the amount of herb to account for the water content)
- Pour 1 litre of alcohol into the jar and seal it
- Shake thoroughly and leave in a cool dark place for two weeks making sure you shake the jar occasionally
- Open the jar and strain it's contents using the fine sieve and cheese cloth, so the liquid runs through to your dark glass tincture container
- Discard the leftover residue in the sieve (you can throw it on the compost heap)
- Finally seal your tincture jar and label making sure to include the following details:
- Common name
- Latin name
- Type of alcohol and percentage used
- Batch number
- Plant part(s) used and source
- Any additional information such as instructions
Storage of Tinctures
Tinctures should be stored in clean, dark glass container (glass is used as plastic can interact with the alcohol), in a cool, dark place ideally a cupboard to protect from ultraviolet light.
When stored properly they can last two to three years. Some Ayurvedic medicine practitioners say tinctures increase in potency as they age.
How to use a Tincture
When using a store bought or prescribed tincture always follow the instructions provided on the bottle or the recommendation of a professional herbalist.
For medicinal use Tinctures tend to be used in very small doses and measured in "drops" often several times a day. This can be done either by consuming the tincture directly "straight up" or more commonly by adding them to a drink such as Tea, Coffee, Juice smoothie, even a meal or snack. Please do note some tinctures such as arnica should only be used externally.
Always remember if you are unsure how to use a tinure please consult a qualified Herbalist or Doctor.