Tinctures and extracts are great ways to prepare natural medicines and store them for later use. They are easy and usually inexpensive to make. Making your own medicines is also a great way to learn about the natural world around us. This can help deepen your animist practice.
What’s a Tincture or Extract?
Before we begin, it’s good to know the difference between a tincture and an extract. It’s really very simple. A tincture is an herbal infusion that uses alcohol as the solvent. Most people choose vodka as the alcohol, but any alcohol will work. The higher the alcohol content, the better the preservative.
An extract is an herbal infusion that uses vinegar, glycerine, water, or any other liquid as the solvent. The solvent you choose is determined by the plant material that you are infusing. For example, when creating a reishi tincture, you need to do a double extraction. First you tincture in alcohol, then you tincture in water. Since reishi contains both alcohol soluble and water soluble components, you want them both.
Vinegar doesn’t dissolve plant constituents as well as alcohol, but it’s a good substitute if you can’t have alcohol. Alcohol will give you the longest shelf life. Glycerine dissolves sugars, enzymes, glucosides, bitter compounds, saponins, and tannins. It doesn’t dissolve resinous or oily components, alkaloids or salts. Glycerine is generally chosen for taste.
You Will Need
- Sterilized wide-mouthed canning jars with lids
- Dry or fresh herbs.
- Vodka or brandy with a high proof. I use Everclear. Unless you are tincturing gums or resins, it’s admittedly overkill. You can get away with lower alcohol content.
- Cheesecloth or muslin
- Amber tincture bottles
Preparing Your Tincture
If using fresh plants, finely chop or grind the plants to release the compounds. Fill the jar 2/3 to 3/4 of the way with plant material. Fill the jar completely with solvent. Air in the jar can create mold.
Put plastic wrap or parchment paper on the top, then screw on the lid. (The barrier prevents corrosion when using metal lids. don’t use plastic because some aromatic herbs can melt them).
If using dried plants, you will fill your jar 1/2 to 3/4 full and repeat the steps above.
For fresh bark, berries, or roots, fill the jar 1/3 to 3/4 with herbs. Repeat the steps above.
For dried bark, berries, or roots, fill the jar 1/4 to 1/3 full as the herbs will expand during the process. Repeat the steps above.
Store in a dark place. Shake periodically. Check for mold and evaporation. If any space appears in the jar, add more solvent. Let it sit for 6 to 8 weeks. Some tincture, like castoreum (tinctured beaver testicles that are used in perfume making) or dit da jao (a Chinese herbal pain remedy often used in martial arts) require a much longer extraction time.
Bottling Your Tincture
Line a bowl with cheesecloth. Pour the herbal mixture into the bowl. Lift the herbs up so that the liquid drips into the bowl. Using clean hands, squeeze the cheesecloth filled with herbs to get the liquid out. Hang for 24 hours to allow the rest of the liquid to drip out. If there are tiny solids in the liquid, you may wish to strain it again through a coffee filter.
Use the funnel to pour the tincture into your bottles. Label the bottles with the content and date. Store away from the light. Enjoy!
Tinctures and extracts make great gifts. Who doesn’t love homemade vanilla? Echinacea is also a popular one for cold season.
Let us know what you’re tincturing and how it turns out.