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Guide to Making Tinctures

Guide to Making Tinctures

Navigating the world of herbal remedies can inspire a hungry fascination. Finding wellness through herbs often leads to an experience that's transformative and empowering, but this journey can also bewilder our curious minds! We are lucky to have an incredible wealth of information about plant tonics at our fingertips today, but the beautiful complexity that comes with herbal traditions makes learning the nuances a lifelong endeavor.

A sip of herbal tea or a dropperful of tincture can easily unlock the door to herbalism. Most of us begin our studies making these simple and effective preparations. However, basic concepts sometimes become muddied when juggling Latin binomial nomenclature, formulations, physiological actions, historical research, and other pursuits within the art. The most common mix-ups arise from misused terminology. One term that tends to be applied to a variety of preparations is tincture. What is a tincture anyway and is there a difference between a tincture and an extract?

All tinctures are extracts, but not all extracts are tinctures!

Tinctures are concentrated herbal extracts that have alcohol as the solvent. If you are using water, vinegar, glycerine, or any menstruum (solvent) other than alcohol, your preparation is an extract – not a tincture. Although, there are exceptions to every rule and sometimes an acetum is defined as "a vinegar tincture" in the tomes.

Herbal Tinctures...

Herbs for making tinctures

The Folk Method

Unless you have some sort of handy collapsible scale contraption that fits in your processing kit, using the folk method is the best way to go when making remedies in the forest! It's also dandy at home in your kitchen apothecary. Simple, practical, and efficient, this method allows you to estimate your herb measurements by eye. The only supplies you'll need include organic herbs, glass jars (either with a plastic lid or parchment paper/a sandwich bag to protect the metal lid from corrosion), a knife or chopper, metal funnel, cheesecloth, alcohol, and amber glass dropper bottles

Let's get started! Here are a few important tincturing tips we've learned over the years...

Herbs in ball jars

How much plant material to use?

Fresh Herbal Material: Leaves & Flowers
• Finely chop or grind clean herb to release juice and expose surface area.
• Only fill the jar 2/3 to 3/4 with herb. 
• Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely!
• Jar should appear full of herb, but herb should move freely when shaken.

Dried Herbal Material: Leaves & Flowers
• Use finely cut herbal material.
• Only fill the jar 1/2 to 3/4 with herb.
• Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely!

Fresh Herbal Material: Roots, Barks, Berries
• Finely chop or grind clean plants to release juice and expose surface area.
• Only fill the jar 1/3 to 1/2 with fresh roots, barks, or berries.
• Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely!
• Jar should appear full of herb, but herb should move freely when shaken.

Dried Herbal Material: Roots, Barks, Berries
• Use finely cut herbal material.
• Only fill the jar 1/4 to 1/3 with dried roots, barks, or berries.
• Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely!
• Roots and berries will double in size when reconstituted!

Alcohol being poured over herbs for tinctures

Alcohol Percentages

40% - 50% (80-90 proof vodka)
• "Standard" percentage range for tinctures.
• Good for most dried herbs and fresh herbs that are not super juicy.
• Good for extraction of water soluble properties.

67.5% - 70% (½ 80 proof vodka + ½ 190 proof grain alcohol)
• Extracts the most volatile aromatic properties.
• Good for fresh high-moisture herbs like lemon balm, berries, and aromatic roots.
• The higher alcohol percentage will draw out more of the plant juices.

85% - 95% (190 proof grain alcohol)
• Good for dissolving gums and resins - but not necessary for most plant material.  
• Extracts the aromatics and essential oils bound in a plant that do not dissipate easily.
• The alcohol strength can produce a tincture that is not easy to take and will also dehydrate the herbs. Stronger is not always better!

Extraction Time and Bottling 

Herbs being extracted from alcohol

For ease of use, we often use a plastic lid. If you're using a metal lid, protect it from corrosion by placing a piece of parchment paper underneath the lid (a plastic sandwich bag works well too), and then screw the lid on tightly. Store your tincture in a cool, dry, dark cabinet. Shake several times a week and check your alcohol levels. If the alcohol has evaporated a bit and the herb is not totally submerged, be sure to top off the jar with more alcohol. Herbs exposed to air can introduce mold and bacteria into your tincture. Allow the mixture to extract for 6-8 weeks.

Now it's time to squeeze! Drape a damp cheesecloth over a funnel. Pour contents of tincture into an amber glass bottle. Allow to drip, then squeeze and twist until you can twist no more! Optional: Blend herbs into a mush and strain remaining liquid. Keep extracts in a cool, dark place and your tinctures will last for many years.

Make Your Labels!

DIY labels for homemade tinctures

This last step is perhaps the most important of all!

Once you've strained and bottled your tincture, be sure to label each bottle with as much detail as possible. You'll be so happy to have this information to play with next time you tincture the same herb. Don't lean on your sense of taste or smell alone -- regardless of how well-honed your organoleptic skills may be, tinctures can trick even the most experienced herbalist. Skipping this step will surely lead to a dusty collection of unused mystery extracts.

Important details to note on your label:

  • Common Name
  • Latin Name
  • Part Used
  • Fresh/Dried
  • Alcohol %
  • Habitat/Source
  • Date
  • Dosage

 That's it! Making your own tinctures or extract blends is simple and rewarding. The process allows you to form an intimate relationship with both the herbs you study and the remedies they offer.

Interested in learning more?

Here are a few of our favorite books to have in any herbal library:


Interested in making Tinctures Without Alcohol?

Learn to Make Extracts with Glycerine

You may also be interested in: 

This blog was originally published in 2012. Because it's so popular, we decided to update it for you. Enjoy! 

Topics: All Recipes, Traditional Herbal Recipes, Herbal Education


Written by Friends on June 13, 2017