[ Tinkering with Tinctures ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company
Tinctures capture the essential properties of plants that reside in their leaves, roots and flowers. Because the plant’s chemical compounds are suspended in an alcohol base, tinctures have a much longer shelf life than teas, tonics and infusions. In fact, with proper storage, herbal tinctures can last for up to five years. Many herbs are prepared for consumption by tincturing — echinacea, valerian, nettle, and yarrow, to name just a few.

If alcohol is a concern, apple cider vinegar or vegetable glycerin will serve as alternative solvents, although the result is technically an extract not a tincture (and the topic of a future newsletter).

In any case, it’s easy to make your own herbal tinctures with just a handful of supplies and a few weeks of patience.

[ Tinkering with Tinctures - The Way of Old ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

the way of old

There is something deeply satisfactory about tincturing. It requires obtaining (perhaps even growing and harvesting) and inviting a plant to yield its secrets to you. This hands-on approach is much different than opening a cellophane jacket or a dropper bottle to release an herbal tea bag or liquid tincture purchased from a health food store. The process, while not difficult, offers complex rewards beyond the finished product. It awakens the primal hunter-gatherer within, and, if you are very perceptive, you may experience a deeper connection with each plant’s unique signature and energetics with which it supports life.

Herbalists of only a few generations ago did not learn their craft from books or the Internet. They learned by spending time with nature, through trial and error, and from the wisdom passed down from those who came before. Consider this an opportunity to carry on the tradition, or to start a new one for yourself and your family. In fact, you might want to purchase a journal in which to write down your observations of the wild plants indigenous to your region, an informal Materia Medica, if you will.

[ Tinkering with Tinctures - Gather Your Supplies ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

gather your supplies

Before you begin tincturing, you’ll need a few things. First, you’ll need some herbs, either singularly or in combination. Fresh plant material is ideal. (FYI: Traditionally, herbs are harvested before the morning dew has dried when the concentration of volatile oils in the leaf is highest.) Remove any dead or decaying matter from your cuttings and inspect and evict any critters that may have hitched a ride into your workspace. If using roots, soak them in water for a bit to make it easier to rub off clinging dirt with your fingers. If you don’t have access to fresh material, using dried is perfectly fine. We have an excellent variety of conventionally grown herbs as well as organically grown herbs to browse.

  • Canning jars with lid
  • Cheesecloth
  • Mesh strainer
  • Funnel
  • Tincture bottles with droppers (1 or 2 oz, amber or cobalt)
  • Vodka or brandy (80 proof, at least)
  • Labels

[ Tinkering with Tinctures - Keep it Simple ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

keep it simple, folks

The most common way to make herbal tinctures is the old-fashioned way, known as the folk method or simpler’s method. No measuring tools other than your eyeballs are needed. Simply fill a canning jar with chopped fresh herb, or dried cut and sifted herb, leaving ½-inch of head room at the top, and cover with alcohol (called the menstruum). Be sure to cover the herbal material (called the macerate) completely to deter fermentation (mold). Note, too, that dried herbs will absorb a good deal of liquid, and dried berries and roots will double in size, making it necessary to check the liquid level often and replenish as needed. Cover tightly and stash in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks, checking the jar and giving it a turn or gentle shake every day.

At the end of the maceration period, strain off and discard (or compost) the menstruum through a mesh strainer lined with a double layer of cheesecloth, reserving the liquid in a clean container. Squeeze out the cheesecloth to get every precious drop! Then, using a funnel, carefully pour the tincture into glass tincture bottles and secure their droppers. Finally, label each bottle with the type of tincture (i.e. “Motherwort Tincture”) and the date it was bottled. Store the finished tinctures in a dark place until needed.

[ Tinkering with Tinctures - Extracting Extraction ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

extracting extraction

There may be times when you’ll want more consistency between varieties and batches of tinctures so that the same concentration of plant glycosides and alkaloids can be expected with each use. The method of tincturing to achieve this is referred to as weight-to-volume ratio formulation. Although it may sound intimidating, it isn’t terribly difficult. The general rule for this method is a 1:2 ratio for fresh herbs and a 1:5 ratio for dried herbs. Put another way, one ounce of fresh herb to two ounces of alcohol and one ounce of dried herb to five ounces of alcohol.

For example, let’s say you’ve harvested some catnip or feverfew from your garden that weighs a total of five ounces (a kitchen scale comes in handy for this). To tincture this amount of herb, you would use 10 ounces of alcohol (5 x 2). Similarly, if you are starting with five ounces of dried herb, you would use 25 ounces of alcohol (5 x 5). In either case, proceed as outlined in the folk method above.

[ Tinkering with Tinctures - Spirit Matters ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

spirit matters

For best results, use the right percentage of alcohol according to the botanical material you’re tincturing. The standard menstruum is 80-proof vodka because it is neutral in flavor and works well with most fresh and dried herbs with water-soluble properties. How do you know if an herb is water-soluble? Think of leafy, “tender” plants that wilt quickly in soup or tea, like parsley, dill, basil and mint.

In contrast, fat-soluble herbs tend to have a resinous flavor and are usually woody with waxy leaves. Examples include rosemary, oregano and bay. This applies to aromatic roots and bark as well. For these herbs, try to use a 70% percentage of alcohol, which can be achieved by using equal amounts of 80-proof vodka and 190-proof vodka, also known as Everclear. The latter, however, is currently banned in more than a dozen US states. If you live in one of them, just go with the highest proof vodka (or gin) you can find.

[ Tinkering with Tinctures ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

tinkering with tinctures

Blended tinctures, also called formula tinctures, contain more than one herb. Some herbalists approach blending tinctures by combining herbs with similar properties (i.e., valerian and skullcap) in the same menstruum to make an all-in-one tincture. Others make and blend single tinctures to create a unique formula. Go with your informed instinct, but keep in mind that the more herbs involved the greater the potential risk of unwanted side effects. Also, more isn’t necessarily better. In fact, a simple tincture is often sufficient for its intended purpose without “backup” from other herbs.

If you do choose to combine tinctures, or to create multi-herb formula tinctures, it’s best to invest in one or more herbal reference books for direction. There are scores to choose from, written by experienced herbalists, and most will contain information on alcohol percentage requirements and solubility, as well as provide recipes for combination tinctures and guidance on how to use them.

Botanicals for Tinctures(calm)
Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Valerian Root, (or Passion Flower, or Catnip) help to restore frazzled nerves and ease anxious moments.
Botanicals for Tinctures(tonic)
Chamomile, Oatstraw, Nettle, Raspberry Leaf are packed with nutrients to help you feel your best.
Botanicals for Tinctures(digestion)
Peppermint Leaf, Usnea Lichen, Ginger Root are perfect after-dinner aides to help settle the stomach and stimulate digestion.
Botanicals for Tinctures(digestive)
Botanicals for Tinctures(immunity)
Ginger Root, Oregon Grape Root, Echinacea help your immune system to fight off viral invasions.
Botanicals for Tinctures(immunity)


other herb suggestions