Updated: Feb 6
What Are Herbal Tinctures?
An herbal tincture is a concentrated liquid form of one or more herbs. To make a tincture, a person must soak parts of an herb for several weeks in alcohol.
What defines a tincture?
Tinctures are concentrated herbal extracts.
All tinctures are extracts, but not all extracts are tinctures!
Alcohol must be the solvent used to extract the herbal properties. If you are using vinegar, glycerine, only water (water used to dilute alcohol is fine), or any menstruum (solvent) other than alcohol, your preparation is an extract, but it is not a tincture. Any spirit may be used, but many herbalists prefer something neutral like vodka so the taste of the herb comes through.
They can be made with fresh or dried flowers, leaves, roots, barks, or berries
Examples include: dried moringa leaf, vanilla, beans, cinnamon sticks, and dried mushrooms.
How and why to use herbal tinctures?
Tinctures are dietary supplements in a concentrated, shelf-stable, and liquid form. Like other herbal extracts, tinctures can be used to support a wide range of wellness goals.
Their effects will depend upon the herb or herbs tinctured, the amount and frequency taken, and the individual ingesting them, so it's recommended that folks consult a qualified medical professional for advice on appropriate use for your personal needs.
Tinctures can be taken straight by the dropper or diluted in tea or sparkling water. Some tinctures may also be used to add flavor to cocktail recipes.
The Folk Method
Simple, but slow.
The folk method is the best way to go when making remedies at home. Simple, practical, and efficient, this method allows you to estimate your herb measurements without any special tools.
The only supplies you'll need include organic herbs, glass jars (either with a plastic lid or parchment paper/a sandwich bag to protect the metal lid from corrosion), a knife, a funnel, cheesecloth, alcohol (sometimes called a "menstruum" in tincture preparations), and amber or dark tinted glass dropper bottles.
Plant Material Proportions (Fresh vs. Dried)
The first step is to fill your tincturing container with the correct amount of herbs. Proportions are important here: too little, and you'll end up with a weak tincture. Too much, and the amount of alcohol added won't be enough to pull out all the plant goodness from your herbs.
The appropriate alcohol strength and the relative amount of plant material to use will vary based on what you're tincturing. Here are some basic measurement guidelines:
FRESH LEAVES & FLOWERS
Finely chop or grind clean herb to release juice and expose surface area. Only fill jar 2/3 to 3/4 with herb. Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely! Jar should appear full of herb, but herb should move freely when shaken.
DRIED LEAVES & FLOWERS
Use finely cut herbal material. Only fill jar 1/2 to 3/4 with herb. Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely!
FRESH ROOTS, BARKS, & BERRIES
Finely chop or grind clean plants to release juice and expose surface area. Only fill jar 1/3 to 1/2 with fresh roots, barks, or berries. Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely! Jar should appear full of herb, but herb should move freely when shaken.
DRIED ROOTS, BARKS, BERRIES
Use finely cut herbal material. Only fill jar 1/4 to 1/3 with dried roots, barks, or berries. Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely! Roots and berries will double in size when reconstituted!
Alcohol Type and Strength
After filling your jar with the desired amount of plant material (fresh or dry), you'll need to fill the rest of the space with a high-proof alcohol. To my knowledge, most spirits will work, but many herbalists favor a high-quality, clear, and low-flavor liquor like vodka or grain alcohol. (Note that stronger alcohol types can be diluted with distilled water to reach a lower alcohol content by volume.)
The appropriate alcohol strength for your tincture will depend upon the qualities of the plant material being used. Stronger is not always better!
A Few TIPS for Matching the Alcohol Strength (Proof) to the Herb Being Used:
40% to 50% alcohol by volume (80- to 90-proof vodka)
"Standard" percentage range for tinctures.
Good for most dried herbs and fresh herbs that are not super juicy.
Good for extraction of water-soluble properties.
67.5% to 70% alcohol by volume (half 80-proof vodka and half 190-proof grain alcohol)
Extracts the most volatile aromatic properties.
Good for fresh, high-moisture herbs like lemon balm, berries, and aromatic roots.
The higher alcohol percentage will draw out more of the plant juices.
85% to 95% alcohol by volume (190-proof grain alcohol)
Good for dissolving gums and resins but not necessary for most plant material.
Extracts the aromatics and essential oils bound in a plant that don't dissipate easily.
This alcohol strength can produce a tincture that's not easy to take and will also dehydrate the herbs if used for botanicals beyond gums and resins.
Tincture Extraction Time
Tinctures should be secured with a lid during extraction. Since some tinctures can effectively melt plastic (particularly those with aromatic herbs), so I recommend using a standard metal canning jar lid with rim. If you plan to let your tincture macerate (extract) for six months or more, you may consider protecting your lid from corrosion by placing a layer of parchment paper underneath the lid before securing the rim (a paper sandwich bag works well too).
If you opt for this option, try to leave as little air space between the liquid and lid as possible, as too much air plus the parchment may cause tinctures of insufficient alcohol content to develop rot.
Be sure to label each bottle with as much detail as possible (as pictured to the right). You'll be so happy to have this information to play with next time you tincture the same herb.
Store your tincture in a cool, dark, dry place. Shake several times a week, and check your alcohol levels. If the alcohol has evaporated a bit and the herb is not totally submerged, be sure to top off the jar with more alcohol.
Herbs exposed to air can introduce mold and bacteria into your tincture. Allow the mixture to extract for 6 to 8 weeks.