Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tincture Time!

I promised a post on making herbal tinctures, and here it is!

Everybody's doing it. The more folks learn about natural health, and taking seriously the stewardship of their health, the more folks are learning about herbal medicine. Making your own herbal medicine is combining health stewardship and financial stewardship. Even Martha (who surely doesn't view stewardship from a biblical worldview) is doing it. (As much as Mr. Visionary 'respects' Martha Stewart, if he sees this, I'll have to break out my ginger tincture to help settle his stomach. "You put a link to who???")

Most of the time, when I need herbal medicine for my family, I choose alcohol tinctures for several reasons. First, they make the chemical constituents of the herbs easier for our bodies to assimilate. (Just like you wouldn't eat nails if you wanted to increase your iron levels. It just doesn't work.) It is the same with herbs. Not all the good stuff in the herbs can be extracted through digestion. Second, alcohol is the strongest solvent that can extract a major portion of the plant constituents without harming its properties. Also, they are easy to make (read that: not labor intensive), keep forever (about five years when stored properly), and they don't take up tons of space (compare a cough syrup bottle for the tincture to a bag of cotton candy for the bulk dry herb).

You can make tinctures with a different menstruum (the liquid medium) such as vinegar or glycerine, but the alcohol medium makes the tincture stronger. Also, Mr. Visionary wouldn't get near anything made with vinegar and the glycerine method is much more involved.

How you make them is actually very simple. Powder the herb, add alcohol, and let it sit a while. Then take the alcohol back out, and it is a tincture. The timing and measurements are the only parts that are slightly more complicated.

I buy my herbs in bulk in the largest form possible (i.e. sticks or pieces of root herbs, whole leaves or flowers of herbs, etc.), then powder them myself in the blender. This is because the chemical constituents last longer in a whole form rather than a powdered form.  If you do not have strong blender, then it is perfctly fine to buy your herbs already powdered, just make sure they are fresh.

Here is how we recently made an Elderberry tinture and then turned it into syrup (you'll flip when you see how easy it is):

Gather Supplies

Step One: Gather supplies. We use 100 proof alcohol (v*dka is said to have very little taste) because it has the exact 50/50 ratio of water to alcohol that you need for your menstruum. (Some of the plant constituents need water to extract and some need alcohol, and the ratio matters.) The proportions of herb, alcohol and water we use will make a standardized extract that will have a specific amount of that herb's healing ingredients. This makes following dosage guidelines more accurate, and you know that when you make the same tincture the next time, it will have the same strength.

Blend Herb & Menstruum

Step Two: Measure ingredients. For soft herbs like Elderberries (they are a little harder than raisins) you will need to blend the herb and v*dka at the same time without powdering the herb first. (You will need 1/4 pound of dried herb for 16 ounces of alcohol to make a standardized tincture.) Here are some very good directions for making a tincture with instructions for figuring out your measurements.


Step Three: Blend Well. Blend the herb and alcohol until thoroughly combined. It will be thick and the berries should be as completely dissolved as your blender can get them. (Just a side note: this can also be done with a simple mortar and pestle...you don't have to have a spectacular blender, it just saves time.)

Powder Herbs

When you use hard dried herbs (like this echinacea) it works best to powder the herb in the blender before you add the alcohol (at least that is what we've found).

Store In Dark

Step Four: Macerate (or soak). Now, pour the mixture into a jar with tight-fitting lid and stick it in a cabinet or pantry (somewhere in the dark). Even though it has to sit for two weeks (at least) you will want it some place easily accessible (and easy to remember) because it needs to be shaken every day. Shake it every day to get it well mixed (the herb will settle to the bottom of the jar). While it needs at least two weeks, the longer it sits, the better it will be. Some (especially Asian herbalists) believe it is better to leave them to macerate for 6 weeks or longer. However, I have read that after six months, the alcohol will no longer extract constituents from the herb.

Ready To Strain Squeeze

Step Five: Strain the liquid (two weeks later). You need something to help you strain all that smushed-up herb back out of the mixture. We use a metal mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth (wet the cheesecloth first). Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth lined strainer, and let as much liquid as you can strain through on its own. Do small amounts at a time. Then, gather up the cheesecloth and gently squeeze the remaining liquid out of the herb mixure. Be careful not to squeeze too hard or you will burst the cheesecloth and have to start all over. However, get as much liquid as you can squeezed out, as this is the richest part of your tincture, and you don't want to waste any.

Step Six: Bottle and store your tincture. Now your tincture is complete, and you can bottle it for future use. It will keep best if stored in dark jars (blue or amber).  Make sure you label your jars!

Now, for how to make the syrup:

I learned that I can mix equal parts of an herbal tincture with either honey or maple syrup to make a simple syrup. I chose not to use honey in case I ever needed to give some to the baby.  So, I mixed equal parts of my elderberry tincture and real maple syrup. When using this syrup, I double the standard dosage. Typically, during an illness, I keep the sick person far away from any sugar. Shonda Parker (author of Mommy Diagnostics) taught me that any sugar (even healthy natural sugars like juice, sucanat or honey, etc.) decreases immune function for up to four hours after ingestion. But since we use Elderberry syrup primarily for prevention, and since the dosage is so small (for children: 30 drops or ~1 teaspoon per day) I determined that it was a small price to pay for the ease of getting herbs into my children. You see, this stuff tastes like candy-it is delicious! My children call it blueberry juice'.

Making Syrup 

'Blueberry juice' recipe: equal parts elderberry tincture and maple syrup. Store in the refrigerator.

There are tons of sites online that give more information about making herbal medicine, and I have learned some there. Some sites I use when researching herbs are:

this one for learning about the usage of certain herbs,

this one for learning how to make different forms of herbal products,

 and this one for buying herbs and essential oils in bulk.

Several books that have taught me a lot are:

Mommy Diagnostics by Shonda Parker

Herbal Antibiotics by Stephen Harrod Buhner

The Complete Woman's Herbal by Anne McIntyre.


Have fun making your own medicine. (Although I hope you won't be needing it!)


  1. I love your site and everything I've read so far...I'd like to get involved in the study on Rebuilding the Church (not the right name, but you know what I'm saying, I'm sure.) I was wondering what herb or ticnture I can take for carpal tunnel or numbness of fingers?

  2. I've been wanting to learn more about this and make some of my own things, but didn't have any idea where to start! Thanks for sharing this wonderful info! (your post and the links) :)

  3. will you please let me know if you can make a tincture out of the elderberry flowers and whats the ratio. thank you very much for what your are doing! it's great!

  4. oldpathsfamilyfarmMay 27, 2008 at 4:15 PM


    Yes, the flowers are great. For dried flowers, you'd just need 1/4 pound of dried herb for 16 ounces of alcohol to make a standardized tincture. Best Wishes in your tincture-making!

  5. I made some elderberry tincture and need to know what the dose would be for children? The dose generally stated for adults in 2 tablespoons every 6 hours for 8-10 days. I do have grandkids though and I've been trying to find a correct dosage or how to amend the tincture for kids. This would not be for preventative, it would be in the event of coming down with the flu. Thank you so much, you have a great website!

  6. Hey, Julie! Does this mean you are still waiting for the twins' birth? I've been praying and checking in . . .

  7. Yes, you can use fresh elderberries, but a lot of people recommend that they be heated first. Some constituent of the berry tends to be a problem for some people if not heated. So the recommendation is to just cover with water and heat to boil and let set for 24 hours. When you press out the juice, then you can go on to make a syrup or a tincture. I do it both fresh and heated and have seen no adverse side effects. Hope you enjoy your elderberries.


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