Learning how to make herbal tinctures is an easy and important life skill for those who prefer traditional, science-backed remedies for nonserious illnesses instead of over-the-counter drugs and other pharmaceuticals with many side effects.
While steeping herbs in hot water and then allowing them to cool à la herbal infusion is my preferred method for using plants as natural remedies in my home, I also brew and bottle concentrated herbal tinctures for the home medicine cabinet as well. Tinctures keep for years, whereas a concentrated infusion stays fresh for mere days.
Before I provide my method for making them in a base of either alcohol or glycerin, let’s go over why you might want to try it yourself!
Herbal Tinctures 101
An herbal tincture is a concentrated liquid herbal extract.
All traditional cultures used them in some form or fashion. They are particularly prominent in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Complex Supply Chains
The global supply chains for herbs and the tinctures made from them are extremely complex. This means tracing the country of origin can sometimes prove difficult and time-consuming.
Hence, sourcing quality, organic herbs locally for tincture-making or growing them yourself is an attractive option. This avoids the potential for contaminated herbs from other areas of the world.
Costs for Herbs Keep Increasing
Besides questionable quality, the price of organic tinctures is increasing. This is especially true since the beginning of the 2020 pandemic. This trend shows no sign of reversing for the foreseeable future.
Thus, to keep costs under control and maintain optimum quality and potency, more people are turning to homemade herbal tinctures as time goes on.
Alcohol or Glycerin?
When it comes to tinctures, the medicinal or culinary properties of herbs can be extracted in a base of either alcohol or glycerin.
For example, homemade vanilla extract is actually a tincture when you think about it. Vanilla beans are simply soaked in a bottle of vodka for a couple of months. The resulting concentrated extract is bottled in amber glass the same as you would do with a medicinal herb.
Some people prefer to use organic or nonGMO glycerin instead of alcohol. While the choice is a matter of personal preference, for what it’s worth, I prefer alcohol tinctures. They seem more potent in my experience.
In addition, given the small amounts in which you use herbal tinctures (or cook with it…where all the alcohol is heated away), I don’t think using glycerin is of as much benefit in the final analysis.
If you do choose glycerin over alcohol for making your tinctures, be sure to avoid the synthetic stuff.
Always choose pharmaceutical grade such as this brand.
What about Vinegar?
You can also use vinegar for making tinctures. However, vinegar has a much stronger taste than either alcohol, which is virtually tasteless, or glycerin which is slightly sweet.
Since most tinctures are taken with a small amount of water, I would recommend against using vinegar unless your tincture is expressly for culinary purposes such as this recipe for elderberry vinegar. The Master Tonic is another well-known vinegar-based herbal remedy.
How to Make a Tincture from Fresh or Dried Herbs
There are 4 steps for making an herbal tincture at home. Note that you can make them with either dried or fresh herbs.
Fresh is always better, but not always available. Organic herbs grown in healthy soil and picked at their peak (not hydroponics) produce the most potent tincture possible.
Dried vs Fresh?
If using fresh herbs, be sure to use the part of the plant that is appropriate medicinally.
For example, an elderberry tincture would use only ripe, dried berries. The elderberry stems, leaves, bark, or unripe berries would not be used as these are poisonous.
When using dried herbs, a good rule of thumb is to use one-third the amount that you would use fresh. Keep this in mind as you are sourcing so that you buy the correct amount.
Place Herbs in Glass Jar
Once you have the proper amount of fresh or dried herb for making a tincture, place the herb in a clean, one-quart, wide-mouth amber mason jar.
It is very important to use amber glass jars (like these). The darker glass of the amber jars protects the potency of the herb as it steeps.
If using fresh, chop the cleaned herb coarsely and fill the jar to 3/4 full. If using dried, fill the jar to 1/4 full.
Cover with Base Liquid
Add alcohol (I recommend potato vodka) or pharmaceutical grade glycerin to cover. Screw on the lid securely.
Gently Turn Jar
Let the jar sit on the kitchen counter in a spot that doesn’t get direct light or in a cabinet for 6-8 weeks.
Every morning and evening, turn the jar gently to remix the liquid and herb.
Strain and Label
After 6-8 weeks, strain the herb out of the liquid by pouring the contents of the amber mason jar into a large bowl lined with a large, clean, cotton cloth (like these).
Gather the ends of the cloth together and gently squeeze out any remaining liquid from the herbal matter.
Rinse the plant matter and compost for the garden (or toss).
Decant the strained herbal tincture into small amber bottles with eyedropper lids (I use these) and label with the type of herb and date.
Store your DIY herbal tinctures in a cool, dark cabinet. They will be potent enough to use for 3-5 years.
If you’ve made more than you can use, share with family and friends who would enjoy and appreciate them. They make a wonderful gift!