Tinctures have been used for centuries as a way to extract the beneficial compounds from natural plant sources. Tinctures are a great way to get the most from your medicinal herbs, increasing their power and potency and making them easy to take or apply topically. With just a little practice and a bit of equipment you can be making customized tinctures out of all of your favorite plants and herbs in no time.
What Do I Need To Get Started?
- Scale: One of the big benefits of making tinctures is that they can easily be stored. Use a scale to measure your herbs, and make enough to take tomorrow and the next day.
- Measuring Cup: Along with a scale, accurate liquid measurements mean you know exactly how strong your final product is. Always weigh and measure your tinctures, not just for safety, but so you can reproduce your results.
- Strainer: Made with stainless steel mesh to last a lifetime, this strainer will get the plant material out of your tincture after it’s been extracted.
- Alcohol: Ethanol is the only alcohol that you should use for tinctures. Using pure ethanol means you can add as much or as little water as you like. Most vanilla extract, for instance, is made with 40% alcohol. 1 part water, 1 part 95% alcohol can also work.
- Glycerine: Used to stabilize alcohol-based tinctures, adding glycerine is an optional step that will slow evaporation and keep your tinctures fresh.
- Citric Acid: Pure food-grade citric acid will help keep your tinctures fresh, as well as acidifying them for efficient extractions.
- Stainless Steel Funnel Set: The best way to avoid spills and fill small bottles, this set of funnels has a range of sizes, making them useful for batches of every size.
- Extraction Bottle: These chemical resistant bottles are guaranteed not to break down or release harmful compounds into your tincture even when heated.
- Storage Jars: Amber-colored glass jars are the best way to store your tinctures. The colored glass will keep out light so they stay potent longer, and the chemical resistant cap is great for alcoholic tinctures.
Alcohol-Based Tinctures In 6 Easy Steps
If you’re making more than one dose of tincture at a time, and you should be, make sure to weigh the herbs and write down the weight before you start. This step is vital for determining dose later, and should not be skipped.
- Add 4 ounces (113g) of powdered herb with 1 pint (473ml) of 40% alcohol
- Add 7 ounces (198g) of dried herb material to 35 fluid ounces (1 liter) of 40% alcohol
You can use 40% liquor such as vodka or save some money by using watered down 95% ethanol (half water / half ethanol to get about 40%)
Add your pre-weighed herbs to a glass or chemical-resistant plastic container then cover them with alcohol. If you’re using citric acid, add that now and give it a stir. If not using a water bath, steep your herbs for a week in a cool place. If you’re using a water bath, warm the water to a simmer before removing it from the heat and placing the container gently in the water. Leave the container in the hot water for an hour and repeat once with freshly heated water.
Strain the herbs out of your tincture with a sieve and pour the tincture in a bowl to evaporate.
Cover the bowl full of your tincture lightly with aluminum foil to keep out dust. Allow the alcohol to evaporate until it has reduced in volume by at least half.
Using a measuring cup and the starting weight of your herbs, you can now figure the strength of your tincture. Divide the weight of the herbs from the first step by the final volume of your tincture. For instance, if we start with 200g of mullein and end up with 10 tablespoons of tincture, the final strength of our tincture is 20g of mullein per tablespoon.
6. Label and Store
It’s a good idea to label the tincture with the name of the herbs used, the strength from the previous step, and the date that it was made. When stored in a cool, dark place, your tincture will stay potent for a year on average.
Optional. Add glycerine
When the tincture is done you can now add glycerine.
Glycerine is used to ‘stabilize’ the tincture and stop it from evaporating so quickly. It also works as a preservative to keep the chemicals in the extract from degrading over time. Depending on the tincture, you would want to have about 5-10% glycerin.
All About Alcoholic Tinctures
Alcohol-based tinctures are a great way to get the benefits of medicinal herbs while lessening stomach discomfort and other side-effects. Alcoholic tinctures can be added to drinks or applied topically, depending on the nature of the herb and the results you want. mullein tincture, for example, has been used for centuries as a cure for earaches, while tincture of Kratom is a powerful pain reliever.
Because of the nature of alcohol as a solvent, nearly every herb can be extracted using it. Whether the active ingredients are essential oils or alkaloids, alcohol will dissolve them efficiently and quickly leaving you with a concentrated, effective medicine. There are a few tricks to making your own alcohol-based tinctures at home as well as shortcuts that you can take to speed the process.
Heating the alcohol to steep the herbs speeds up the extraction time significantly, but remember that alcohol vapors are flammable, so care must be taken to keep away from open flames while you make your tincture. A hot water bath, however, gives you the best of both worlds. You can make your tincture in a short amount of time while still remaining safe. In order to make an effective water bath, you should boil water in a pot and then place the container of alcohol and herbs, with the lid off, into the hot water. Do not do this on the stove top, remove the pot of water from the stove and turn off the heat before placing the container into the water.
Glycerin is an excellent addition to alcoholic tinctures. It’s plant-based and all-natural, and the properties of glycerin help stabilize the finished tincture and keep it from evaporating during storage. Especially if you are using pure alcohol, glycerin is an excellent addition to tinctures that will be stored for long periods of time.
A small amount of food safe acid, like citric acid, is also a great additive for your tinctures. Citric acid helps to keep the alkaloids in the tincture in their salt form. Alkaloids are responsible for the medicinal effects of many natural herbs and can exist in two forms. Salts, also called acidic salts, are one form. Salts tend to be more stable than the other form, alkaloid freebases. In plants, alkaloids are often found in a mixture of both freebase and acidic salts, but converting them all to salts makes for a more efficient, stable, and potent tincture.
The last thing to keep in mind with your tinctures is storage. Storing tinctures in an amber-colored glass jar in cool conditions will prolong their potency. Light and heat break down many of the natural compounds found in herbs, and tinctures stored in a warm place or in sunlight will quickly lose their effects.
That’s all there is to making your own tinctures. There’s no reason to keep paying the high prices or live with the limited selection of health store tinctures. Buy your herbs in bulk online and save money while getting exactly what you need.
Once you’ve mastered simple tinctures, try mixing two or more herbs together in order to make compound tinctures. Kratom, wild dagga, and kava kava will provide pain relief and relaxation. Scullcap and blue lotus tinctures treat insomnia. Or try a tincture of calamus root and kanna for energy and focus. When you make your own tinctures, you’re in complete control.
Nicolas ‘Axel’ Duval is the founder and content editor of this website. He launched Smokable Herbs in 2011. He later created the Smokably herb online store, which sells herbs and blends worldwide.
As an herbalist and marketing enthusiast, he used Smokable Herbs as a sandbox to test ideas and deploy content.