Folk Tincture Making 101

Herbal Medicine Making 101: Tinctures 

  Tincture: A tincture is an alcohol based extraction of the medicinal alkaloids of a plant. Vitamins and minerals are not extracted into alcohol so its important to understand how the medicinal alkaloids of the plant are beneficial before deciding on tincture vs a water or vinegar based preparation. Alcohol essentially dehydrates the plants alkaloids into solution, pulling the plants medicine out in the process. 

There are two basic ways of making tinctures. One is the folk method and the other is a standardized tincture which is made using a similar process but requires some more measuring and a bit of math. Lets start with the Folk Method.

I recommend using fresh plant when  possible to better access all the vitality and wisdom held in the plants essence.

Fresh Plant Folk Medicine Tincturing Process 

Imagine medicine men and women spending time searching the web for the perfect measuring flask or micro measuring herb scale to perfect their tincturing methods. Doubtful. Most folk healers followed the seasons and the rhythm of the earth harvesting with their senses. What does the plant look like, smell like, taste like? How is the energy of the location feel? Is there sun on the plant, did I receive any negative messages like a slip and fall on my way to the harvest site and am I at peace with myself today? 

Folk tinctures are a step up in potency from using vinegar or glycerin as a menstruum. A menstruum is herb vocabulary for liquid used in processing. Any liquid is a menstruum: saliva, water, vinegar, honey, glycerine, alcohol. Choosing your menstruum is important when defining your intention but for simplicity, the folk method of tincturing typically uses a 100 proof vodka. 100 proof vodka is half water and half alcohol. Certain parts of a plant is extracted in water and certain parts are extracted in alcohol. Using a 100 proof vodka makes for a simple tincturing process and is appropriate for most plant material. If tincturing resins, a higher proof menstruum would be necessary. An example of a higher proof menstruum would be Everclear with 95 percent alcohol content. An example of a lower proof menstruum would be whiskey or brandy with a 80 proof is 40 percent alcohol. When tincturing plants with a high polysaccharide content; a lower proof menstruum is needed.  

Folk tinctures are made by packing a jar with freshly harvested, finely chopped plants and covering them with 100 proof vodka. The jar should be “pillow packed” which is to say the plants are pushed down into the jar but not packed too tight that they do not move when shaken. 

Folk method tinctures require the right size jar. If you cover fresh plant material with alcohol and leave a space between the lid and the tincture; the plant will rise above the alcohol. This not only encourages discoloration but reduces the amount of plant material being used in the extraction process. 

Step 1: Center yourself, ask permission to harvest the plant. Harvest just as much as you need, leave the space the same or better than when you arrived. 

Step 2: Chop by hand the plant material, visualizing the healing of the person you are working with (or yourself if that is who the medicine is for) This is an important invisible aspect of medicine making. When the answer is yes when asking permission to harvest, often there is a dialogue that the plant enjoys having as it is made in to medicine. Using food processors is fine for large or commercial batches but if using plants individually or as a beginner; hand processing is recommended. Students or beginners using food processers learn how to turn on a food processor but miss the training of using their senses to understand the texture of the plant, the aromatics, the transmission of alkaloids dermally (through touch) and of course, the plants last chance to communicate) 

Your plant to alcohol ratio should be close to 1:2. That means one part plant material by weight and 2 parts alcohol by fluid ounces. Typically, finely chopping the plant and filling a clean, appropriate size jar to the top, leaving a fingertip gap at the top will be 1:2.  

Step 3: Cover the plant with alcohol, filling the jar to the top with menstruum. Using a chopstick, push through the plant to the bottom of the jar to release any air bubbles. Fill again, tightly place a lid on and shake. 

Step 4: Label. Labeling is very important. I have made the mistake of not labeling one too many times. It is a dishonoring to the plant when medicine is wasted or discarded because you cannot remember what plant you tinctured and when. Write the name of the plant, both common name and botanical name, date. If you are using various extraction methods, also add the ratio, alcohol used. 

For example: Leonuras cardiac, Motherwort 2/4/2019 1:2, 100 proof vodka 

For added information, add things like location, time of day, energetics of the day, moon phase, etc. 

Step 5: Shake and pray. The more you add in to the energy of the tincture the better. Shake the jar daily to encourage the plants extraction into the menstruum for a minimum of 4 weeks, preferably 6 weeks. 

Step 6: Decant the tincture by straining the jars contents through a cheesecloth lined strainer, twisting the cloth to get every last drop. 

Step 7: Pour in to a clean jar, label, store in a cool dry place. Tinctures have an indefinite shelf life. 

Congratulations. You just made a fresh plant tincture using the Folk Method. 

Tincturing Dried Plants 

Folk method tincturing of dried plant material is simple. Using the same menstruum, 100 proof vodka, change the ratio from 1:2 or packing the jar with finely chopped plants to 1:5 ratio. This will require weighing and measuring. 

There are always variations to the rule but a simple rule of thumb is for every one once (by weight) of dried plant material, add 5 parts (by fluid ounce) of 100 proof vodka. 

For example: 4 ounces of dried Oregon Grape root, placed in a jar. 

          Cover with 20 fluid ounces or 2 ½ cups of 100 proof vodka. 

Label, shake and pray for 4-6 weeks, strain

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Erin Vanhee