March 23, 2018

How To Make an Herbal Tincture

Several weeks ago I shared what we were doing for Dan's hand to support healing. One of those things is an herbal formula called Bone, Flesh, & Cartilage. It was originally developed by Dr. John Christopher, and we found the recipe in a video series by one of his students. Dan has been using a strong tea of the BF&C ingredients directly on his fingers as a fomentation, and also taking it in tincture form orally. The other day I made a batch and thought you might be interested in how I make an herbal tincture.

A tincture is extract of herbs in alcohol. It's advantage is the alcohol acts as a preservative so that it stores for indefinite lengths of time. Teas must be used immediately or they will eventually grow mold and have to be discarded.

The ingredients for this particular tincture are equal parts by weight of white oak bark, marshmallow root, mullein leaf, wormwood, lobelia, scullcap, comfrey root, black walnut bark, and gravel root.

The three forms in which herbs are used.

Herbs come as cut and sifted, whole, or powdered. I like using cut and sifted herbs for teas, because it's hard to strain out powdered herbs with an ordinary tea strainer. I like using powdered herbs for tinctures, however. The theory is that the more surface of the herb is exposed, the more medicinal components can be extracted.

This is white oak bark that I broke up with a
hammer and then ground in the blender.

Cut and sifted and powdered (C/S) herbs can be mixed however. The general rule is to use half the amount of powdered as C/S.

I find this pretty much holds true weight wise. It takes half the volume of a powdered herb to weigh the same as C/S. I will say that C/S herbs make a prettier tincture, i.e. clearer. Powders tend to make the tincture a little more opaque.

I use large glass jars for tincture making.

I use vodka for my alcohol base. (For those who don't consume alcohol, see information below under dosing.)

The cheap kind works just as good as the expensive stuff. Some people dilute the vodka with water. Some recipes call for vinegar instead of water. Vinegar is especially helpful to extract specific medicinal components which can't be extracted in water, such as the alkaloids in lobelia and golden seal.
Different people recommend different ratios of herbs to alcohol. I was taught that when the herbs settle, the amount of liquid on the surface should be 25% of the total amount.

The above mixture measures 5 inches, so I'm aiming for the liquid layer to be about an inch and a quarter. This makes a strong tincture with doses measured in dropperfuls.

Put in a dark cool place and shake the jar often. It should sit for a minimum of two weeks. Longer is better.

When it's needed, the tincture is pressed. This gets every last drop out of the herbs. I put the unstrained tincture into a jelly bag and then use a wine press. It has a spout to drain off the liquid through a hose into a bottle,

but I just set up mine to drain directly into any handy container (stainless steel, glass, or ceramic.)

Pour into bottles and store in a cool, dark place. I especially like the brown bottles for storing tinctures.

Doses are by eyedropper.

One dropperful is about 1/4 teaspoon. It can be squirted directly into the mouth, mixed with water or juice, or...

Those who don't drink alcohol can add it to one cup of boiling water to evaporate the alcohol. Allow to cool and drink the same as tea.

A typical dose might be one dropperful three times per day. That can be adjusted according to results, but results will vary depending on the strength of the tincture. If you take the herbs as tea too, you can give whatever ails you a double-whammy. Dan is taking one teaspoonful (4 droppers) of BF&C tincture three times a day.
Tinctures can also be made from individual herbs which can be mixed as desired. In fact, this is the best way to make your own custom blends. Of course you need to know your herbs, their medicinal properties, and uses. And double of course you need to get permission from your health care professional before using herbs, etc., etc., (insert usual disclaimers here), etc., etc.


Rain said...

What a great lesson Leigh! This is something I want to start doing down the line too. I use a lot of tinctures for health and mental health purposes. We are starting slowly and gradually to avoid chemical medication/pharmas lately and opting for natural medication instead and for the most part, it works well, sometimes takes a little longer, but if we're lazy and pop an Advil or something, we feel that horribleness in our bodies for days, so we are tending towards natural and patient.

In my future, I see a thriving herb garden with me making tinctures from them. :)

Michelle said...

So for those of us who don't drink or own any alcohol, vinegar would work just as well? Does it matter what type of vinegar?

Leigh said...

Rain, you're my kind of gal! Dan has a terrible time with pharmaceuticals so the natural works better for him. No nasty side effects!

Michelle, look at the paragraph under the photo of the eyedropper. You can add the tincture to boiling water, which will evaporate off the alcohol. When it's cool enough to drink, drink it just like tea. (I'll italicize that sentence for better visibility.)

Michelle said...

Leigh, I did read that but I don't even OWN alcohol, so was hoping I could just use vinegar.

Leigh said...

Gotcha Michelle. We buy it just for this purpose. Some tinctures are made with vinegar and it is a preservative. From what I understand, different medicinal components may be extracted from the herb depending on what's used. So water, vinegar, and alcohol may have different healing qualities. I think using vinegar would certainly be worth researching and trying.

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

You are so wise. I have never made a tincture. Nancy

Barb said...

Leigh, how or where did you learn about herbal medicine? Are there books you'd recommend, or did you learn from someone who taught you? Classes perhaps? It is very difficult to know where to begin and whose advice to trust in this area.

Lady Locust said...

What great knowledge! I've only done very simple tinctures and "teas" but this is great. I love that wine press! How handy. Hope Dan's hand is continuing to heal well.

Goatldi said...

Nice presentation Leigh. I too use tinctures for myself and occasionally for the critters. Often times a tea works better for drenching them.

My herbalist uses apple cider vinegar for her tinctures that need to be non-alcoholic. I am under the impression from her and a course I have taken that it is a measure to measure replacement but best to check on that.

Leigh said...

Michelle, yes, you can use vinegar instead of alcohol! See Goatldi's comment below. James Green has an entire chapter on vinegar tinctures in his The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook. Apparently they don't have the shelf life alcohol based tinctures do, but for keeping small amounts on had for a year or two, it should be perfect. He gives an interesting discussion on vinegar plus instructions along with formulas for determining amounts.

Nancy, not so sure about wise! I just follow the directions. :) Tinctures are a bit of a job to make, but great to have on hand for what ails you.

Barb, gosh, I started learning about herbs back in my back-to-the-land days. Someone had a couple of books on herbs that I read from cover to cover. I worked on a mail order course from the Herbal Academy of New England but those materials got lost somewhere along the way. Some years later we were given a video series by Sam Biser called "Save Your Life." In it he interviewed Dr. Richard Schultz, who was a student of Dr. John Christopher. I think it's out of print now but that was where I learned about herbal preparations. Dr. Shultz got in serious trouble for claiming to cure cancer, so I don't think he's around anymore. If I was going to go through training now, I would through Dr. Christopher's School of Natural Healing. The family herbalist course isn't too expensive, but the master herbalist course runs $5000-6000.

A book I like that would be a good introduction is Penelope Ody's The Complete Medicinal Herbal. She has a few others out but I like this one best. Covers common herbs, their medicinal constituents, preparations, and give a nice picture tutorial on how to make them. James Green's The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook is an excellent guide to preparations.

Lady Locust, thanks! The wine press really helps to squeeze all of it out.

Goatldi, thank you for that! That's helpful info for Michelle. And I agree about teas for drenching goats. Or just feeding the herb directly with their regular feed.

Goatldi said...

Funny that.

Some of my girls will eat anything on their feed some not so much. Which as why I drench or make up my own capsules and hide them in a pitted prune or a handful of raisins.

My boys are easy. They are typical guys when it comes to food and love the goat Mama wanting to make her happy throw anything on top of a bit of grain and poof be gone .

Quinn said...

very useful! i buy tinctures occasionally but maybe this summer i'll try making some. thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the lesson, Leigh! I'll have to substitute tequila or rum for the vodka (massively allergic for some strange reason). I've done the same with other recipes that call for vodka with great results. I'll have to give making my own tinctures a try.

Leigh said...

Goatldi, that's goats for you! What worked best for me was to mix the herbs with a bit of bran and blackstrap molasses. The molasses does the trick. :)

Quinn, it's nice to make your own because it's more economical, plus if you have a good source of herbs you know you will have top quality tincture.

Sue, I don't know what it wouldn't work! The rationale I learned was to use clear liquors because the colored ones contain other things and so aren't as "empty" as the clear ones. Some people, though, use wine or brandy, I believe. Somewhere I have a recipe for herbal beers, which would give the medicinal benefit of the herbs plus the probiotics from the natural fermentation. Haven't tried those.

M.K. said...

Very interesting and informative! I've improved and expanded my plantain salve into an healing herb ointment with plantain, yarrow, and dandelion. It's been very, very good. So glad Dan's healing is coming along!

Leigh said...

M.K. that is a wonderful combination, especially for an ointment. Very useful to keep on hand!

Sandy Livesay said...


Homemade tinctures are so much better for Dan instead of the commercially made stuff. Another post for my reference notebook, thanks.

Leigh said...

Sandy, I agree. I hear somewhere that some cheap commercial tinctures are made by just running the alcohol base through herbs in a sieve. No steeping, so how strong could those be? And with good fresh herbs, you know you've got something useful.