We often talk about tinctures in our articles about herbs and herbal medicines, so we want to make sure that you know exactly what we’re talking about.
An easy way to describe it is to say that a tincture is alcohol with concentrated medicinal plant properties in it.
To get a little bit more specific, every type of plant has different sets of alkaloids and water soluble properties in it. The process of creating a tincture pulls those medicinal properties from the inside of the plant and preserves them in a liquid form that we can easily ingest.
Most of the time a Western Herbalist will give you a tincture made with more than one herb. Each of these herbs is first made into a simple tincture, then added to the formula with a very specific number of milliliters. Each formula is designed to work synergistically to treat your ailment.
Other Common Plant Medicines
While we’re at it, it would probably be good to define a few other types of herbal medicines. There are any number of combinations when it comes to plant medicine processes, and the more you learn about herbalism, the more you will be exposed to those combinations. Here are the simplest:
Infusion – This is just a fancy word for tea. Pouring hot water over an herb and drinking it is, for most of us, our first experience making our own medicine. This is best for leafy/flowery herbs, like when you make your chamomile/mint bedtime tea!
Decoction – If you have ever been to a Chinese Medicine practitioner, they probably gave you a bag of herbs and they probably told you to put them in a pot with water and boil them for 30-60 minutes. You decocted those herbs. This is the best way to extract roots and bark with water.
Extract – This is a very basic term that doesn’t have a solvent expressly attached to it. An extract might be made with alcohol, glycerine, honey, oil, or even water.
Glyceride – If you have purchased herbal remedies for kids from a health food store, chances are you purchased a glyceride. It’s essentially a tincture made with glycerine instead of alcohol.
Acetum – This is a medicinal vinegar. Fire Cider is an example of an acetum. Vinegar is the best at pulling out minerals, so I often add vinegar to alcohol tinctures for an added mineral boost!
Medicinal Honey – Just your classic raw honey with fresh herbs infused over time. YUM! I like to grind up my herbs into a powder and add them to the honey and just eat it!
Tincture Making 101
Here’s how to make a basic folk tincture. Of course, we can make it more complicated (and we can add math) but it’s always good to start out with the most basic form of medicine making.
1) Choose your herb.
Are you using a fresh herb or a dry herb? Most herbs can be made into wonderful medicine when they’re dry, but some are only really effective when they’re fresh (like St. John’s Wort), so make sure that you know about your medicine.
2) Choose your alcohol.
The alcohol that you use is another important factor. Remember that fresh plants have water in them and dried plants don’t, so your water content will increase when you make a fresh plant tincture. Vodka, brandy, your family’s moonshine—any type of spirits make beautiful tinctures.
3) Pour your alcohol over your herb so that it is completely covered.
If you’re using arial parts of the plant, they might float. I like to put pretty rocks or crystals on top of the plant material to hold it down.
4) Let sit for 2-4 weeks.
Look at it, talk to it, shake it—make sure you give your medicine attention and love.
5) Strain out the alcohol and compost the mark (the spent plant material).
The alcohol has the medicinal properties in it, so that’s your tincture!
Note: Some herbs, like reishi, have different constituents that need an additional step for extraction. This goes back to knowing your medicine.
6) Bottle the tincture and keep it in a cool, dark place.
Voilà! You just made your own medicine!
Make sure that you look up the proper dosage of your tincture and make sure that you don’t give someone medicine that you haven’t tried out yourself.
If you’re not interested in using alcohol for your tincture you can always use a different solvent. You would follow the same process, just replace the alcohol with something like glycerin, vinegar, or honey. An alcohol tincture will last indefinitely (if the alcohol content is above 25%) but other types of medicines do have a shelf life, varying from a few months to a few years.
Have you ever made your own medicine? Share your recipe below!
by Aubrey Wallace
Aub is a certified clinical herbalist and content strategist/creator. She is the co-founder of Dandelion Branding, a digital marketing company that works with brands that are focused on revolutionizing their industries. When she's not working on a project, you can usually find her nosing about in the forest or giving congratulatory high fives to every plant in her house for growing.