Make your own fresh herb tincture

April 16, 2011

I have long wanted to include some ‘practical’ instruction in my blog for the all important preparations that all herbalists and family healers use on a regular basis. This post will be devoted to a simple alcohol extract of a botanical, called a “tincture”. The extracting can actually be done with cider vinegar or glycerin, alternatively, though alcohol does work best. It is important to note that some herbs are better taken as infusions or decoctions, particularly if the vitamin content is what one is after (i.e. nettles).  It is also important to note that some herbs are absolutely best taken as a *fresh* herb tincture rather than a *dried* herb tincture. This post is for making tinctures from *fresh* herbs. Some examples of herbs that should be tinctured fresh are turmeric rhizome, ginger rhizome, St. John’s wort, Milky oat tops, and skullcap. Other herbs I prefer to tincture fresh are motherwort and tulsi.

Oat Tops in the Milky Stage

Oat Tops in the Milky Stage

Step 1:

Organize the necessary container for tincturing. It should be big enough to hold all the herb you would like to tincture. There should not be a lot of excess room in the jar, however.

Jar and herbs for tincturing

Step 2:

Put the herbs in a glass jar. I have a gallon sized glass jar here and I’m using fresh oat tops in the milky stage, shipped to me from Pacific Botanicals organic farm in Oregon.

pouring grain alcohol onto the herbs

Step 3:

After the herbs are in the jar, pour 95% (190 proof) grain alcohol over the fresh herbs. The percentage of alcohol you use is probably the most important part of tincturing aside from the quality of the herbs used. The percentage of alcohol for fresh herbs shouldn’t dip below 50% or the tincture will probably spoil. Because fresh herbs contain a lot of water already, you can assume that just by using fresh herb, you’ll be diluting the % of alcohol in the preparation. So, if you use (40%) 80 proof vodka, for instance, you may end up with a tincture that is only 20% alcohol, and that tincture would certainly spoil. Many herbalists use 100 proof (50%) vodka and have success, even with fresh herbs. I prefer to use a higher proof for fresh. Using 100 proof (50%) vodka for *dried* herbs is certainly okay, though more complicated formulas are used by professional herbalists.  Keep in mind that some herbs require glycerin at about 10%, including milk thistle seed.

So, you pour the alcohol over the herbs and fill the jar to the top. Leave about 1/2 – 1 inch between the alcohol and the rim of the jar. Try to make sure all of the herbs are under the liquid.

tinctured oat tops
Step 4:

Use a chopstick or spoon to press the herb down and stir in order to release any air bubbles that may be trapped in the jar.

Step 5:

Cap the jar. I often like to put a piece of wax paper between the rim and lid so that the lid doesn’t ‘stick’ to the jar. It’s not that this is really a problem, because you can run it under hot water, but it just makes it easier.

Step 6:

Label the jar with the herb, date, and percentage of alcohol. Store in a cool/dark place and allow to do its tincturing  magic for 4 – 6 weeks. You can really leave it for longer if you don’t get to it in that time frame.  I have left herbs in 180 proof alcohol for a *year* and it doesn’t go bad because of the high alcohol content. Sometimes I do up to 3 gallons at a time, so I don’t always decant everything right away!

Step 7:

When you decant, strain the herbs out and compost them after squeezing the alcohol out of them. You can wring out the herbs with a thin, clean dishcloth or cheesecloth. There are also professional herb presses that are available for just this purpose. The herbs will often become quite dessicated, actually, so sometimes it is incredibly easy to extract as much alcohol as you are going to!

Be sure to label your decanted tinctures with the Date and the Herb, as well as the alcohol used. Keep in mind that the % of alcohol is no longer 95%!!! Though it’s not easy to exactly determine, it’s probably closer to 50%, depending on the herb used.

Resources:

Gladstar, Rosemary, Herbal Healing for Women, 1993.
Weed, Susun, Healing Wise, 1989.
Tierra, Michael, The Way of Herbs 1998
Hoffman, David, Medical Herbalism, 2003.
Tilgner, Sharol, Herbal Medicine, 1999.

Good luck with your first tincture. Feel free to comment below if you have questions!
My tinctures can be found on my Etsy site.


The Healing Power of Herbs: Liniments

November 17, 2010

Oil with herbs Liniments. Hm. Sounds vaguely medicinal, right? I remember once going to a bar that was ‘inspired’, I take it, by herbal formulas. Some drinks (shall I say ‘concoctions’?) boasted the inclusion of herbal tinctures of elderflower, ginger, or lavender. Not a bad thought at all, as we often use more familiar alcohol extracts of vanilla or orange peel in herby libations. However, there was a drink that supposedly included the use of an herbal liniment…..HA HA HA HA. Well, that’s the herb snob in me, I’m a little ashamed to admit. Why? Because liniments are for external treatment, not for cocktails. In fact, many liniments use rubbing alcohol as a base which sounds downright raunchy as an addition to an evening beverage. In truth, a liniment could essentially be made the same way as an extract meant to be taken internally, despite the fact that the definition implies that it is used externally. It can also be made as an infused oil, which, if made with the right kind of oil, can be a fabulous culinary addition! Still, I feel some “nameology” needs to be in order.

Moving on.  A liniment is most often made as an alcohol extract. The purpose is to provide a vehicle for the important chemical compounds in herbs that would be used for external application. I have included a DIY recipe below for a ginger liniment that is made with a neutral oil, and some additional possibilities are olive oil, safflower oil, or sunflower seed oil. Essentially an infused oil, this ginger liniment works great as a massage oil post-exercise to relieve aches & pains. It is also a great treatment to increase circulation. Try on arthritic joints, on sore muscles, and troublesome joint pain. Best used twice a day at least!

gingerDIY RECIPE : Ginger Liniment

3″ piece fresh ginger
1/4 cup almond oil

Grate ginger and combine with oil in a non-reactive (non-aluminum) saucepan. Cover and heat on low heat for one hour. Make sure you have this at the lowest possible temperature to avoid the oil overheating or ‘burning’. Remove from heat and steep for another hour. Strain out ginger. Pour oil into a 4 oz colored glass bottle with a tight-fitting screwtop.

Alternative: Use 1/4 cup grain alcohol instead of oil. Infuse for a minimum of 6 weeks (without heat) in a dark place. Apply externally with a cotton pad to relieve aches and pains. Do not apply on broken skin.

NOTE: whenever applying an external remedy, do a test patch first to make sure you are not allergic to any of the ingredients. Apply a small amount on the inside of your arm and wait 24 hours to make sure you won’t have any reaction. Some minor redness can be a natural side effect of a ginger liniment, as increased blood circulation may bring blood flow to the surface of the skin.


Making Infused Honey with Household Spices & Herbs

March 26, 2010

cinnamon infused in honey I wrote this DIY post for a local group of handmade artisans here in Philadelphia, for the Handmade Philly blog. But what could be a better project for my own readers than herb-infused honey, using readily available sprices from your kitchen cabinet and herbs fresh from the garden? Pop on over the Handmade Philly and check out the post.


Herbal Remedies Tip#7 – Turmeric for Inflammation

November 9, 2009
turmeric

Turmeric

Turmeric is the Indian spice that gives curry its distinctive yellow color, but this commonly used spice contains potent therapeutic activity. Indeed, it is a key ingredient in Kicharee, a therapeutic food from Ayurvedic medicine made up of mung beans, rice, ghee and spices turmeric, cumin, and coriander.

Probably considered one of the ‘favorite’  herbs by nearly all practicing herbalists, turmeric is a powerhouse from Ayurvedic (east Indian) medicine, and part of a 3-5,000 year old tradition. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory that can be used for internal inflammation,  as well as topically for muscle strain. Because of its potent anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric is a fabulous remedy for arthritis and chronic health issues rooted in excess inflammation. Because turmeric is antibacterial, it may be used topically in powder or paste form by applying it directly to a wound or sore.

Apply the powdered herb paste or extract of the fresh turmeric rhizome externally, but be warned that it may turn the skin yellow (temporarily), or take  300 mg of turmeric internally twice daily as a capsule, or 40-60 drops twice daily of the alcohol extract of the fresh rhizome.  Add liberally to food, as it is a perfect ingredient for soups, curries, egg, and vegetable dishes. 

As part of my work as an herbalist, I  make liver tonic tinctures that include turmeric for supporting liver function and livers under strain from diseases like Hepatitis.  I also use turmeric in my Botanical Assist Pain Relief cream for arthritis and/or menstrual relief. Check out my etsy shop for other Therapeutic offerings.


Herbally Infused Liquors for a Delightful Summer Treat

May 19, 2009

infused_vinegar_alcohol_2I’m a lucky gal – in my ‘real job’, I am about to take on a new research assistant, and lo and behold, she’s a top class bartender by night! We got to discussing the special world of mixology and she mentioned a local bar known for their use of herbal tinctures and infusions in fine vodkas and other drinkable liquors. What a great idea! I did make a wee visit to said establishment and had to chuckle when I saw a mention of an herbal ‘liniment’ on their drink list (a liniment is used topically for various conditions, rather than internally as a medicinal extract). That said, my local mixologists are not the only herbal cocktails gaining attention. Savvy bartenders nationwide are experimenting in the herb garden for new, unusual, and often delightful new cocktails.

Happily, we don’t have to depend on fancy bars for fun herbally-infused beverages. We can all have herbal mixology fun in our own kitchens. Much like making a simple herbal vinegar, herbally-infused alcohol is a simple process.

Step 1: Choose your beverage and the desired herbs. Vodka is a good choice because it has clean, smooth finish that allows the herb to shine through. Gin provides an interesting dimension, and brandy, the choice of many herbalists, is an often-used vehicle for medicinal herbs. Aromatic, flavorful herbs are the best to begin your experiments: ginger root, dill, basil, cardamom, lavender, rosemary, bay leaf, and elderberries would all be fun choices. Use only one herb per infusion so that you don’t muddle the flavor and so you are able to experiment with each new flavor independently.

Step 2: Wash your herbs and pat dry to remove excess water. Roughly chop the herbs and place in clean, glass container. Pour alcohol over herbs and allow to steep in a cool, dark place for 1-4 weeks. Strain the herbs out and replace with a fresh sprig for a nice visual effect, especially if giving as a gift. A container with a rubber, sealed top is a great choice for storing your new herbal extract.

Step 3: Experiment away! Try adding the froth of whipped egg white, a hint of berry or ginger juice for an extra splash of flavor and color, or a touch of citrus for a lovely fresh finish. There are plenty of drink recipes out there in culinary land to get your started. Just be sure that in whatever herbal coctail you concoct, you allow the qualities of your chosen herbs to shine through and make themselves (and all their loveliness) known!

infused_vinegar_alcohol_4


Scullcap and St.John’s Wort tinctures now on Etsy

January 13, 2009

I decided to post my fresh organic herbal extracts/tinctures of both Scullcap (sculletaria lateralist) and St. John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum) on my etsy site. These are such great quality extracts made with fresh, organic herbs from Pacfic Botanicals in Oregon. I have a nice fat disclaimer there because I have to. It’s a shame, really, but the main thing is that I want to make these kinds of quality, home-crafted tinctures available to my customers.

See Scullcap: http://www.etsy.com/view_listing.php?listing_id=19669005 and St. John’s Wort: http://www.etsy.com/view_listing.php?listing_id=19669005


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