How well an herbal supplement works all depends on how active their constituents are when they are ingested and if they can be digested and absorbed by the body. Herbal tinctures are the only way to get supplements from fresh plants (unless you grow and use fresh herbs daily). Tinctures are very efficient and are highly bioavailable to the body, making them especially beneficial for those with digestive issues. Because they are most often carried in alcohol they enter the blood stream quickly and can provide immediate benefits. There are some herbs that have a greater impact on health and wellness when taken in fresh tincture form. Herbal tinctures are highly concentrated, anywhere between a 1:1 to 1:10 herb to alcohol ratio, making them the optimal choice for managing acute conditions. Liquid herbal extracts are able to capture and preserve all active constituents making them the most therapeutically beneficial form of supplementation. They are the preferred choice by herbalists for freshness, potency, absorption and formulation.
When purchasing a tincture, it is important to know how the herb was extracted. They should always start the extraction process in alcohol to ensure potency. They should never be heated, as heat will damage the herbs, making them less effective. You can purchase liquid herbal softgels or alcohol free extracts but the alcohol must be removed using a heat-free vacuum process. A preservative like grapefruit seed extract is safe and natural and should be added to the tincture to prevent the growth of microbes if the alcohol is removed. If you are worried about the alcohol content in tinctures, consider that 30 drops of an herbal extract containing 70% alcohol has the same amount of alcohol as in a ripe banana. You can also evaporate the alcohol out of a tincture by placing a single dose into a cup of boiling water and let cool for 5-10 minutes. 40-60% of the alcohol will evaporate.
Making Your Own Herbal Tinctures-Folk Method
Herbal tinctures are easy to make, are cost effective, and are potent for many years. They can be made with any spirit, however if you would like to taste the herb use neutral vodka or grain alcohol. You can make herbal tinctures from the flower, leaves, roots, barks or berries of fresh or dried herbs and plants. You will need organic herbs, glass jars, a knife or fine chopper, a metal funnel, cheesecloth, alcohol and dark colored glass dropper bottles.
Choosing Alcohol Percentage
67.5%-70% (½ 80 proof vodka + 190 proof grain alcohol)
This percentage will extract the highest amounts of the volatile essential oils and should always be used for fresh herbs with a high moisture content and for fresh berries and roots. If you want the highest quality tincture you can make at home, choose a 70% alcohol content.
40%-50% (80-90 proof vodka)
This percentage will produce a standard tincture. It can be used on most of the dried herbs and on any fresh herbs without a high moisture content. It will be effective at extracting any water soluble properties contained in the herb.
85%-95% (190 proof grain alcohol)
This percentage is really only needed for dissolving gums and resins. The strength of the alcohol will make it difficult to take and this percentage is typically only used for drop dosages. This will completely dehydrate most plant material.
If you want to make a tincture with an herb that has strong aromatic properties or an herb that typically has a high water content, you always want to try and use those herbs fresh. Otherwise, dried herbs can produce just as potent tinctures. Always try to use organic or wildcrafted herbs to avoid toxic pesticides and GMOs. The herbs you should always try to use fresh if possible include Avena Sativa (oat “milky” seed), Skullcap, Rosemary, Lemon Balm leaf & flower, Plantain leaf, St. John’s Wort, Goldenrod, Corn Silk, Chamomile flower, Catnip leaf & flower, Echinacea root, Horsetail, Spilanthes flower, Wild Indigo Root (baptisia), Eyebright, Dandelion root, leaf & flower, Pulsatilla flower, Stinging Nettle root, Mistletoe, Rue, Mullein flower, Garlic bulb, Passionflower, Valerian rhizome with rootlets, and Lomatium. This list is not exhaustive.
Extracting & Storing Tinctures
Find a dark cabinet that will stay cool and dry to store your tincture over the next 6-8 weeks. You will need to shake your glass jars every day. Make sure there is always enough alcohol to completely cover the plant material as herbs that become exposed to the air can grow bacteria and mold.
You will strain your tinctures through cheesecloth and use a funnel to pour the contents into your dropper bottles. Squeeze and twist the cheesecloth full of herbs so you can collect as much of the extraction as possible. Some people even further blend their herbs and strain again. The label for your tincture should include the name, parts used, whether it was fresh or dried, the alcohol percentage, the source of the herb, the date it was bottled, and the dosage.
Making Your Own Alcohol Free Herbal Tinctures
Any herb that is not infused in alcohol will never be as potent as a tincture; however, they are great options for children or those abstaining from or sensitive to alcohol.
Herbal Vinegar Tincture
Use dried herbs to create the most potent herbal vinegar tincture. Grind the dried herb into a coarse powder. Fill a glass jar 1/5 of the way full with the powder and pour organic apple cider vinegar up to the top. Store in a dark, cool cabinet for two weeks and shake the jar daily. You will also strain the powder through cheesecloth. Set this first strained extraction aside and allow the sediment to settle for 8 hours. Strain the liquid extract once again and store in a dark colored glass dropper bottle for up to six months. Because vinegar is very acidic avoid contact with teeth and dilute in tea or water.
*If you are extracting roots or bark you will have an additional step after straining the herb. Heat your liquid infusion just before the boiling point and filter once more through the cheesecloth to prevent your extraction from spoiling too quickly.
Herbal Glycerine Tincture
The basic ratio for a glycerine extract is 60% or more glycerine to 40% or less water. If you are using fresh herbs with a high moisture content, you can use 100% glycerine. Fill a glass jar ½ of the way full with dried herbs or 2/3 of the way full with fresh muddled herbs. In a separate jar, combine 3 parts organic vegetable glycerine to 1 part distilled water. Pour this mixture over the herbs and fill jar. Shake daily and let the glycerine extract from the herbs for 4-6 weeks. Strain with a cheesecloth and store in dark colored glass dropper bottles. Label and store herbal glycerine tinctures for 14-24 months in the refrigerator.
Determining the dose for a tincture will depend on several factors but there are some general guidelines. The number of drops created for each tincture will depend on the viscosity or thickness of the extract, however most extracts contain approximately 1,000-1,300 drops per ounce. A one-ounce tincture will contain between 25-32 single doses. The standard dose for adults is 30 drops in water one to three times per day.
Factors that affect dosing include the following: whether you are using the herb for nutritional or medicinal purposes; if your health condition is acute or chronic; the strength of the preparation based on fresh or dried herbs, cultivated or wildcrafted herbs, folk or ratio tincturing, length of maceration time, and the solvent used to extract the herb. It will be difficult to standardize your homemade tinctures and create consistent tinctures each time so try titrating the dose of your herbs. This means you will start with the smallest recommended dose and slowly titrate (increase) the dose until you get the desired results.
It is important you understand the properties and any safety guidelines of the herbs you are using to make tinctures. If you have been using an herb daily for 2-4 weeks and aren’t experiencing the results you hoped for it may be time to try a new herb or combination.
You can use Clark’s Rule (a mathematical formula to determine a proper dose for children based on weight) to convert an adult dose to a child’s dose: Adult Dose X (child’s weight 150) = Child’s Dose
If you have a child that weighs 50 pounds and the adult dose is 30 drops 3 times per day your child will get 1/3 (50/150) of the adult dose which would be 10 drops 3 times per day. *The formula always measures weight in pounds, and never in kilograms.