Saturday, February 12, 2011

Herbal Ally Challenge #6: Tinctures Part 1

Last week we started our section on Alternative Infusions by starting a vinegar infusion. This week, we will continue with our Infusion lessons by tincturing our allies. We'll be using dried materials and later in the season, we'll add fresh tinctures to the mix so that we can compare them.

Before we get started, I wanted to say a bit about tincture making. Just as our lives can take many journeys, there is no one way to make a tincture. Some herbalists such as Susun Weed use only vodka to make their tinctures. This is the simplest way and a great way to start your journey in tincture making. I stuck with this method for years! Some herbalists such as Heather Nic an Fhleisdeir match their herbal tinctures to the remedies they'll provide. For instance, if making a tincture such as Blackberry that will be used mainly for the digestive system, she will tincture it in brandy because brandy is made from fruit which is good for the digestive system. Gin might be used to tincture herbs such as cleavers as it contains Juniper which is good for the kidneys, bladder and urinary system. Other herbalists such as Richo Cech use grain alcohol such as Everclear because they can control the water percentage based on the type of herbs being tinctured. I use this method most often now and if you are interested in learning more about it, I highly recommend buying Richo Cech's book Making Plant Medicine. This book is very informative and Richo has already done the trouble of researching a good deal of herbs and how they best break down when tinctured. If you cannot find your herb in this book, simply find another herb that has a similar chemical make up and follow the directions for that herb.  

Assignment 1:
Before you jump into making a tincture with your ally, think about what you'll be using this ally for. Is there an alcohol that would be most appropriate for your ally? Perhaps gin would be a good match for your Dandelion tinctures? While this is not necessary for making a good tincture, it is fun to think about. 

Read a few different perspectives on tincture making:
Homemade Medicine article on Herb Companion:

Healing Wise by Susun Weed pages 267-271 (Can be found online here:

Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech pages 9 - 52 but especially Chapter 3: Tincturing Made Easy pages 17 - 26 (you can see chapter 2 of this book here:

The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook by James Green Chapter 12: Tincturing by Maceration pages 146 - 156 (click to see online)

Assignment 2:
Start a tincture of your ally. If you are working with an ally such as dandelion that has several useable parts, make separate tinctures of each part.
To make a tincture, fill your jar about 1/5 full with your ally. Fill the jar full with brandy, gin, vodka or 3/4 full with grain alcohol (such as Everclear) and top off with filtered water. Cap and shake well. For more extracting power, dump the entire contents of the jar into a blender and blend for a few seconds. Let settle then pour back into the jar.

Shake daily for about 3-4 weeks. It is not necessary to strain off the plant material, the tincture will continue to strengthen over time, especially when tincturing roots, barks and seeds. 

Journal about your tincture making experience. Be sure to list the source of your herbs, parts used, alcohol used, proportions, etc. 

Optional: Make tinctures out of different alcohols to compare. Gin, brandy, whiskey, vodka and everclear all make great tinctures. Down the road we will explore wines. 

Assignment 3:
Observe the changes your tincture makes over the next 3 weeks as you shake it daily. Make note of any color changes and occasionally taste your tincture to see if you can taste a difference. Note any changes in your journal.

Assignment 4:
Are you still drinking infusions? (You may not want to depending on your ally but if it's a tonic herb, continue as long as you can.) If you are, can you feel any differences? Is your level of energy rising? Skin problems clearing up? Nails and hair getting stronger? Be sure to journal about any changes, subtle or otherwise. 


Sarah said...

My understanding about using vodka in tinctures is that the quality doesn't really change with price, so you can use the cheapest brand with confidence. With gin and especially brandy, you get what you pay for. I like the concept of using the alcohol to suit the action of the herb. We can't buy Everclear in the UK unless you have a special alcohol license - a road I don't want to go down.

I've not made anything with my ally yet apart from infusions. I'm waiting until the growing clumps are looking a little less fragile, althought both sites are flowing at the moment.

Stephany said...

Hmmm, I can honestly say I've never heard of anyone doing a burdock root tincture but I guess I will give it a go. I am dreadfully behind but the I am out of burdock and waiting for MY Mountain Rose order. I hope they hurry.
I broke down and ordered a used copy of Richo Cechs book, too.

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