Herbs and Herbalism

Tinctures for Home Herbalists

If you’re more of a hobby herbalist like me, or if you’re new to herbalism, tinctures may feel a little daunting. Herbal teas seem less intense, due to their simpler water-based preparation and short wait time. It feels like you can’t mess a tea up! But tinctures are a bit more intimidating to beginners, or at least they have been to me. So today, I’m sharing what I’ve learned about tinctures including different types, methods, and uses.

Let’s start with demystifying the various types of tinctures with a little list—

Tincture: An herbal preparation made by macerating (soaking) herbs in menstruum (alcohol, usually vodka) for a period of weeks. The alcohol extracts helpful components from the herbs and creates a highly concentrated liquid that is typically ingested by the dropper full, alone or mixed with other liquids.

Bitters: You may hear this term specifically in regard to cocktails, culinary uses, or digestive aids. Well, guess what…bitters are the same thing as a tincture! It’s just a bit of a more specific term regarding use—the bitter component is the star and can be used to impart flavor and/or stimulate the liver and digestion.

Elixir: A tincture made with a sweetening agent, usually honey. Elixirs have a shorter shelf-life than tinctures without sugar.

Glycerite: A tincture made with vegetable glycerine instead of alcohol. Often used by kids and those who obstain from alcohol completely (though the alcohol in a tincture dose is minimal). Glycerine typically works better with fresh plant material than dried.

I started out by making elixirs, because honey seemed like a no-brainer to make tinctures more palatable. I also began with multi-herb combos and even different types of alcohol. I don’t recommend any of the above for beginners! My elixirs didn’t always keep fresh for long, sometimes tasting “off” far too soon after straining and bottling. Definitely consider an online class, YouTube video, herbalist’s Patreon, or recipe book’s guidance when making your first tinctures, and keep it simple: one herb and vodka.

Making a chamomile tincture with guidance from Apothecary At Home

I am not going to go into super depth about the process of making tinctures because I am not an expert herbalist by any means. As I mentioned, I recommend seeking expert guidance for tincture-making, which is what I always do. But here is a brief outline of the process:

Generally, you want to fill a small, sterilized glass jar 3/4 full with dried herb, fill with enough vodka to cover the herb completely, and cap tightly with waxed paper under the lid. Label it with the date made and the date it should be ready, as well as the contents. Keep in a cool dark place, and shake daily. After around 6 weeks, strain and bottle in small, dark glass bottles or jars.

Some great starter herbs for tinctures that are useful in both medicinal and culinary respects include lavender, lemon balm, dandelion root, tulsi, rose hip, hawthorn berry, or juniper berry. These all have various health-supportive uses, like vitamin and mineral supplementation, immune system boosting, and even anxiety, inflammation, and heart support. Plus they taste great!

Tinctures are super convenient once bottled! You can take doses straight if you prefer—a few drops to one dropper full, either straight on or held under the tongue for several seconds. You can also add the same amount to plain water, fizzy water, tea, or even cocktails. A refreshing combo I really love in the summer is lemon lime soda, frozen fruit, and a dropper of fresh lemon balm tincture (which I didn’t make; I bought it from Raven Energy Herbal Apothecary on Instagram).

So, do tinctures seem any less daunting to you now? Or are you already a tincture expert? I’d love to chat about this useful herbal potion in the comments!

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