Medicinal herb gardeners can readily make effective liquid extracts using only the simplest of tools - things found in every country kitchen: a sharp knife or pruning shears, a cutting board, canning jars with lids, cheesecloth, and a bowl. Grinders and blenders can speed up the process but they are not necessary. We will discuss making formulas according to specific formulas using scales and measuring equipment later on, but the simplified procedures described here require very little measuring and no weighing at all!
Making Menstruum the Easy Way
Menstruum simply refers to the liquid in which you extract your plant compounds and medicine. It is recommended to use grain alcohol (190 proof = 95% pure alcohol) to make the menstruum. The best water to use is distilled water. If you cannot get distilled water, then use pure spring water or well water.
As a menstruum for dry herbs, make diluted alcohol by combining one part by volume of grain alcohol with one part by volume of distilled water. If grain alcohol is not available to you, then use vodka or other spirits. The alcohol you use for tinctures must be at least 40 proof (20% pure alcohol) or you risk the possibility that the extract will not be properly preserved.
As a menstruum for fresh herbs, use grain alcohol without adding water. If grain alcohol is not available to you, then use the highest proof alcohol you can find. The alcohol you use for fresh tinctures must be at least 80 proof (40% pure alcohol).
If you prefer not to use alcohol as your menstruum you can use apple cider vinegar or vegetable glycerin, although nothing preserves your formula and extracts all the goodness quite as well as alcohol.
Procedures for making an easy tincture:
1- Chop the fresh herbs or grind them up.
2- Place the herb in a glass jar, labeled with the current date and the name of the herb.
3- Add sufficient liquid menstruum to cover the herbs.
4- Screw on the lid, put the jar in a dark place at room temperature, shake at least once daily.
5- After one moon cycle, or 4 weeks, pour the contents of the jar through several layers of cheesecloth and express the liquid.
6- Allow the liquid to settle in a clean jar overnight.
7- Decant the clear liquid through filter paper.
8- Store in a correctly labeled, amber glass bottles, out of the light.
Harvesting and Processing Herbs for Tincturing
Fresh Aerial Parts: Harvest leaves and flowers of plants in the midmorning, after the dew has evaporated. Leaves generally contain the highest degree of medicinal value just prior to flowering (e.g. sage). The leaves of biennials are usually harvested in the summer of the first year of growth (e.g. mullein). Flowers are harvested in the early stages of maturity, often in combination with associated immature buds and leaves (e.g. Saint John’s Wort). If the stems are succulent and contain the active principles of the plant (e.g. skullcap), then they can be left in the tincture. If they are very woody and do not include medicinal properties, it is best to exclude them (e.g. catnip).
To make the fresh herb tincture, put the leaves and/or flowers on a cutting board, and finely mince them with a sharp knife. The idea is to break through as much of the cell structure as possible while increasing the surface area for extraction. Lightly pack the minced herb into a quart jar and cover completely with the menstruum, screw on the lid, then set the tincture aside to macerate.
Fresh roots: Roots are usually dug at the end of the growing season or during dormancy when they have stored their energy for the winter. Wash them thoroughly, using clean water. Get the root as clean as possible then place them on a cutting board. Use pruning shears to remove parts of the stem, old wood or rotten portions. Cut the roots in sections diagonally. The pieces must be small enough so that they can be easily ground up, or if you are tincturing in sliced form, to expose the inner structure of the root to the menstruum. Pack the fresh root pieces into a macerating jar, pour the menstruum over the roots until they are fully covered with liquid, screw on the lid then set the tincture aside to macerate.
Dry roots: Dig the roots while the plant is dormant and wash them thoroughly. If you do not have machinery for grinding the roots once they are dry, then thinly slice them when they are fresh. Once dried (you can dehydrate them in the sun, in a warm, airy location. It usually take a couple of weeks for them to dry properly. If you have a hammer mill, high powered blender or coffee grinder, you can further reduce the dried root pieces into a coarse powder. Alternatively, you can use the dried root pieces.
Fill the jar over half full with dried root powder or slices, slowly pour the menstruum on top. Keep pouring until the herb is fully covered then secure the lid. Leave it to soak for an hour or two and if the roots have swollen above the surface, add more menstruum until they are covered. Shake and set aside. Shake the jar once a day for 4 weeks.
Pressing: A good pressing cloth can be made from several layers of clean cheesecloth or a single layer of clean linen draped over a large glass or ceramic bowl. Pour the macerating extract into the pressing cloth, gather the edges and squeeze. Collect the crude tincture in a bowl. If your tincture was made of minced or crushed herb and root slices, then this hand process will be pretty efficient. If you ground things up in a blender and squeezing the mass only produces a disappointing drizzle of liquid, you may have to invest in a press or potato ricer.
Settling and filtering: Put the crude extract in a labeled jar and set it on a shelf overnight. The settling is complete when the demarcation between the clear extract and the sludge at the bottom is well-defined. In the morning, slowly decant the liquid through a coffee filter or several layers of cheesecloth. Collect the finished tincture in a jar.
Storage: Store the finished tincture in an amber glass bottle, appropriately labeled and dated, in a cool place out of the sun. Amber glass bottles with droppers are the preferred tool for administering drop dosages of liquid extracts.
Happy Tincturing!! Tag us in any photos you share on social media! Now is an amazing time to make tinctures of any flowering plants! Tinctures of roots are best done in spring and autumn when the medicine in the roots is strongest!