tinctures a plenty

People talk about tinctures a lot in herbalism. But what is a tincture? Simple! It's an extract of a plant solution dissolved in alcohol. For making tinctures at home, vodka is typically used (because it is relatively odorless and flavorless), however, any alcohol or vinegar could be used. The concept here is that you're brewing a very, very strong cup of tea, made with vodka. 

"OK," you might say, "That sounds awesome! But aside from drinking said vodka, why would I even want a tincture?" What a great question! The benefit to extracting herbs in alcohols or vinegars is that the shelf life of these products is significantly longer than that of a simple cup of tea. A tincture made of fresh herbs and 100 proof vodka (we don't joke about the vodka) can last for years. YEARS. And, because it's so concentrated, you only need to use a tiny little bit. 


lemon balm
There is an expansive science to tincturing, but I found two ratios that seemed to keep rising to the top of my research. 1:1 and 1:5. That's one part herb to one part alcohol (or vinegar), and one part herb to five parts alcohol (or vinegar). I've done several 1:1 tinctures for this post because, honestly, they're really, really easy. Here's the basic recipe: 

  1. Find a clean jar with a tight fitting lid. 
  2. Fill the jar to the top with fresh plant material (discarding any rotting or generally gross parts).
  3. Fill the jar to the top with alcohol (or vinegar). Tighten the lid. 
  4. Label the jar with all ingredients, the date, weather conditions when gathering herb, etc. The more information you add to the label, the more quickly you can learn!
  5. Keep the jar out of direct sunlight and shake regularly (every day or so) for three to six weeks. 
  6. If desired, strain out the plant material (squeezing out excess), and bottle in a smaller container. More than one herbalist said that she liked keeping the plant material in the spirit indefinitely, because it looked cool. Sounds good to me! This is really, really easy. 

With the plant material I gathered from my orchard walk, I decided to make a few different tinctures: red clover, peppermint, lemon balm, and common mallow root. 



so pretty!


First thing's first! Put stuff in a jar!

This is lemon balm. It took forever to take all the tiny leaves off the stems!

Add some vodka! 


This was $18 for 1.75L at my local store. Also a good choice for very broke college students. 

Put the lids on!


red clover, peppermint, red clover. So pretty!!
Isn't the red clover beautiful? I had such lovely visions of this perfectly preserved plant gracing my office for years to come. Not so much. 


:-(
As the plant's stuff (chlorophyll, nutrients, etc.) is leeched into the vodka, the plant itself becomes sad and spent-looking. But, as long as the vodka is completely covering the plant material at all times (initially, the plants float, which is why you need to shake it fairly often), they should remain in this state… forever. 
So, how do you use a tincture? A standard guideline that many herbalists follow is 1 to 2 drops (like, with an eye dropper) for every 5 pounds of body weight, diluted in an 8 oz glass of water. It can also be put into juice, added to food, or simply dropped under the tongue. The frequency of the dose varies; if taking a tincture for overall health or to combat a long-term illness, try taking the standard dose 2 to 4 times each day for 4 to 6 weeks. For something more immediate like a cold or flu, doses may be up to 10 times each day with lots of water. 

Remember, even though it's a plant, it's still medicine. You're putting a concentrated amount of stuff into your body. If you're taking a tincture long-term, make sure to give your body breaks for a few days at a time. Also remember that a tincture will be MUCH stronger than standard flavor-infused vodka. Don't make a martini out if it. Eww. 

How do you know what tincture(s) to use? The benefits of the tincture will be the same as of the fresh plant—so I might use my peppermint tincture when I have an upset stomach or a fever. The red clover and lemon balm are generally calming, soothing, and strengthening, so I thought it might be a good idea to have a strong supply going into winter. 

Tinctures can be made from dry herbs as well, but take it from me, they aren't as good. Every tincture I've ever made with dry herbs had a persistent sediment in the bottom that was… off-putting. However, experiment! And using dried herbs is totally acceptable in place of fresh. Just adjust your measurements: 4 ounces dried herb (powdered) and about 1 pint of liquid (put the powdered herb in a 1-pint jar, fill with alcohol or vinegar of choice). Then, follow the fresh herb instructions (shake shake shake!). 

My tinctures should be ready for use sometime during the week of October 20th. I can't wait! 

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