Herbal tinctures are concentrated liquid extracts of the medicinal properties of herbs. Tinctures represent one of many different ways to prepare and use herbs. The terms tincture and extract are often used interchangeably. Technically these terms are an indication of strength used by manufactures.
In most cases you should choose to make alcohol tinctures because of its superior qualities. Alcohol will extract volatile oils and most alkaloids from your herbs and will preserve your tinctures longer. Most herb tinctures will maintain their potency for many years. A selection of dried herbs in your medicine cabinet has a shelf life of approximately one year. Alcohol also acts as a carrier for your herbs causing them to be rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream when you take them.
If you don’t wish to consume alcohol it is possible to put the required dosage into a cup of boiled water. The heat will cause the alcohol to evaporate leaving the therapeutic qualities of the herb in the water. For recovering alcoholics, liver problems, children or sensitivity to alcohol it is possible to make your tinctures using vegetable glycerin or raw vinegar. Both glycerin and vinegar tinctures will be less potent and have shorter shelf lives.
To make an alcohol tincture you will need the herb, 100 proof alcohol and a labeled glass jar. An alcohol tincture is most often 50% alcohol and 50% water. 100 proof vodka naturally contains the appropriate ratios of water to alcohol. You can use gin, brandy or rum if you prefer. Do not use isopropyl rubbing alcohol which is very toxic when ingested!
Choose fresh plants for making your tinctures whenever possible. Fresh plants may contain properties that are lost or altered when the plant is dried. Dried herbs may be used when they are of good quality. Do not harvest plants that have been exposed to pesticides, herbicides, car emissions and other toxic substances.
Manually remove any dirt from your plants. Chop the plants up into small pieces so that the alcohol will be able to contact a lot of surface. Sometimes a blender is useful for the chopping hard roots. Use 100 proof vodka if you need liquid in the your blender to chop the herbs effectively.
Place the chopped herbs in a glass jar and cover with alcohol plus another inch of alcohol above the level of the herbs. Shake the mixture well to expose all the surfaces to the alcohol. Label the jar with the contents and the date.
If you make your tincture using dried herbs they may absorb a lot of alcohol in the first couple days. If this happens simply add enough alcohol to cover the herbs again. Shake your tincture everyday throughout the next six weeks.
If necessary, you may begin to use your tincture after two weeks but allow at least six weeks extraction time before straining. I often leave my herbs in the alcohol much longer than six weeks and strain it only when I’ve taken out enough tincture to expose some of the herbs to air. It is convenient if you have small amber dropper bottles to put your finished tinctures in so you can easily carry them with you and measure dosages.
The method that was used to determine the amount of alcohol to use in our tinctures is called the Simpler’s Method.
Glycerin is very sweet and will dissolve mucilage, vitamins and minerals. It will not dissolve the resinous or oily properties of herbs very well. Because glycerin is sweet it is an excellent choice for children’s remedies. Make glycerin tinctures in small amounts because it will not last as long as an alcohol tincture, about 1 to 3 years. Be sure to use 100 % vegetable glycerin.
Follow the same basic instructions for making the alcohol tincture substituting glycerin for alcohol. To make a glycerin tincture you can cover your herbs with 100 % glycerin alone or combine 3/4 part glycerin with 1/4 part water. Water also dissolves some properties of herbs into solution so I recommend using it in your glycerin tinctures when you are tincturing dried herbs.
Vinegar primarily dissolves alkaloids. It does not draw all the medicinal properties from your herbs. Use vinegar for people sensitive to alcohol or for tonic herbs that you will be taking over long periods of time. Vinegar tinctures have a short shelf life, 6 months to a year if stored in a cool dark place.
Make your vinegar tincture in the same manner as you do using alcohol. Make sure the herbs are completely submerged in the vinegar. If you are using fresh herbs, spread them out in an airy place to wilt them first. This reduces the water content and reduces the chances of spoilage.
Dosages for herbal tinctures are best determined individually based upon the power of the herb & the reason for its use. A couple of good reference books is the most reliable way of choosing the correct dose. The dosage is dependent upon the illness you are treating and the power of the herbs you are using.
For most purposes, herbalist use gentle herbs that can be safely used in large dosages. Commercial tinctures are labeled with the recommended dosage, usually 10-30 drops three times per day. Sometimes ten to thirty drops of tincture is sufficient for a therapeutic dose, other times you may need a teaspoon every hour.
60 drops = 1 teaspoon
4 ml. = 1 teaspoon
1 ounce = 28.4 grams (solid)
1 fluid ounce = 29.57 ml.
1 teaspoon tincture = 2 “OO” capsules
Dosages for children are not provided in most herbals. To determine the correct dose you need to consider the size of the child, the ailment, the power of the herb you intend to use, and the adult dosage.
Young’s Rule for determining dosage uses the child’s age divided by twelve plus the age.
The dosage for a 4 year old:
4/12+4 = 4/16 = 1/4 of the adult dose.
Clark’s Rule for determining dosages divides the weight of the child by 150 to give the approximate fraction of the adult dose.
Dosage for a 40 lb. child: . 40 /150 = .26 or approx. 1/4 the adult dose.
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