Build Your Natural Medicine Cabinet with Herbal Tinctures
“Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Medicine be Thy Food” – Hippocrates
Making your own herbal tinctures is an empowering, cost-effective way to build a natural medicine cabinet. I’ve been tincturing over a year now and absolutely love it. My favorite tincture in my medicine cabinet is Echinacea, Which works wonders on nipping colds and flus in the bud. Tincturing is truly simple and once you’ve gotten the basic equipment and know how, you’ll be wondering why you haven’t done this before!
Learn and Grow
When starting out, begin by familiarizing and researching a single herb. Answer these questions as you move forward with information. What do I wish to accomplish? What components of the herb works better? Is it a gentle herb? Always begin with a gentle herb. Be aware that the medical community isn’t generally favorable towards herbs as a remedy and review studies with this in mind. A herbalist or someone in that field would be the perfect source of information. Signing up for herbal newsletters and following well-known herbalists, such as Susun Weed or Rosemary Gladstar, online is a good way to stock your herbal knowledge. Experience is the best teacher, don’t be afraid to get your feet wet! Below I list a few reference books you can purchase online or borrow from your local library at the end of this article.
What is a Tincture?
It is important to have clarity on this term. All tinctures are an extract, but not all extracts are tinctures. A tincture is an extract created by an alcohol solvent. Other forms are extracts can be created by these solvents: water, oil, glycerin, vinegar. Each of these methods extracts different properties of the herb. Alcohol is the most potent medical medium and herbal tinctures created by an alcohol solvent can last years. There are differing opinions as to which solvent works best to extract and preserve the properties of the herb. The answer isn’t straightforward and depends on the herb itself. You’ll be able to answer those questions with experience and research. Those who wish to avoid alcohol can use other mediums of course. My personal experience has shown me that alcohol works best with some, but not with others. Echinacea tinctures have been extremely effective in stopping colds & flu at the onset of symptoms, but Black Elderberry tincture was not as effective. Personally speaking, Elderberry extracted with water (as a syrup) works better than it’s alcohol counterpart.
When it comes to your food, never undermine quality for the sake of price. It is not worth your health. If you need to purchase dried herbs, my recommended, go-to source, is Mountain Rose Herbs. They have been steadfast in the quality of their herbs. Most, if not all, of their herbs, are certified organic and I’ve been a satisfied customer for years. I’m in no way affiliated with the company, I just highly recommend them. The best, and I dare say most satisfying way, is to grow your own organic, pesticide-free, herbs. Herbs can be grown indoors, year round. To ensure you grow the best herbs possible, make sure the soil you grow your herbs in is rich in composted organic materials with a healthy microbe ecology. Learn more about soil health here. You can also wildcraft herbs. I went on my first wildcrafting adventure this past spring with my younger ones. I wild crafted Dandelions. Dandelions are rich in iron. If you do not use chemicals on your lawn and your lawn is far from heavy traffic, you can wildcraft a herb growing freely in your own lawn. Make sure you get enough to fill up a quart or a pint glass jar.
Start With a Nourishing Herb
If you’re unsure what to tincture, start with a nourishing herb. Nourishing herbs are the safest of all herbs. They rarely have side effects and can be taken generally, in any quantity. They act as food, providing nutrients, simple sugars, starches and more. Examples of nourishing herbs are:
- Red Raspberry Leaf
- Red Clover
- 80 proof (or higher) alcohol – Preferably vodka.
- Herb of your choice
- A pint or quart glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- cheese cloth
- Large glass bowl
- Funnel or measuring cup with a small lip
- dark dropper bottles
How-To With Dried Herbs
There are differing opinions on whether fresh herbs tincture better than dried. The general rule -- fresh is always the best way to go but dried herbed tinctures fare just as well. Fill your container halfway with the dried herb. Pour the vodka over the dried herb all the way to top, leaving a half inch to an inch from the top. Make sure your herbs are completely covered with the vodka. Any exposed herb can mold. Add more liquid as needed to cover over the next few days. Cover with a tight fitting lid. Here’s where canning jars can come in handy, or at least canning lids can be used. Label the container with the herb, it's plant name, type of alcohol, proof of alcohol, date it was created and the end date. Shake the container and keep out of direct sunlight for 6 weeks. Shake once a day. When the tincture is ready to be decanted, place a cheesecloth over a large glass bowl and strain the tincture over it. (You can use a veggie bag, whatever is chemical-free and allows you to wring easily.) Wring the cheese cloth until most of the liquid has been squeezed out. Pour the tincture into a dark dropper bottle through a funnel and label it. You can dump the spent herbs in a compost pile.
How-To With Fresh Herbs
With fresh herbs, the instructions are exactly the same, except you’ll want to fill up your container to the top with chopped herbs. The vodka should cover the herbs completely.
Taking Your Tincture
Because alcohol tinctures are potent, they can be added to tea, water, and other liquids to dilute the taste. They can be taken directly. Under the tongue is the quickest way to ingest tinctures. This way, the extract enters the bloodstream more quickly and the effects are felt quicker. Dosing is not an exact science, but you should be familiar with the amounts. Typically, one dropper full is a child’s portion and equals (very roughly) to about a 1/8th of a teaspoon. Two droppers would be an adult dose. Tincture dosing is also measured in drops. Twenty-five to thirty drops is in a dropper. A good guideline to use –- two droppers of tincture is the same as one cup of tea. If you’re concerned about the alcohol in tinctures, the amount in one dropper full of tincture is minuscule. I read somewhere, and I cannot find the source of this info, that the amount was the same as a very ripe banana. I highly recommend Rosemary Gladstar’s “Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide…”.It is easy to read, understand and covers just about all the basics to tincturing with some solid recipes to boot. This book covers and explains dosing in clear, sensible way.
Boost Your Tinctures
I enjoy filling my kitchen cabinets with jarred herbs and tinctures and the peace of mind that comes with that. Wholesome food, I feel, is a rarity and shopping at a major grocery store does not offer what I look for…quality, intact, real food. So, home-made is the route I’ve chosen to take. It’s thrilling to make tinctures and even more thrilling, is maximizing them with fulvic acids. Naturally occurring, Fulvic Acids are nature's batteries, acting as a super electrolyte to revitalize cells and improve vitamin and mineral absorption. You can add them to a dropper full of tincture in a cup of water or tea. Recently, I added a teaspoon of fulvic acids during the tincturing process. I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out!
I’m co-hosting a giveaway with Holistic Parenting Magazine in giving away a bottle of fulvic acids to three winners. You can win one here or buy one here.
Do you tincture? Share your experiences!
Recommended Reading and Source List:
1. Wise Woman Herbal: Childbearing Year; Weed, Susun S.; Ash tree Publishing, Woodstock, NY; 1986
Mountain Rose Herbs (dot) com
Learning Herbs (dot) com
Rosemary Gladstar – Short BioRosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use