Making tinctures.

Date: Tue, 12 Dec 1995 18:16:07 MST
From: Michael Moore <hrbmoore.RT66.COM>
Subject: Re: tinctures (long)

I know I am being a crusty old poot, but, having manufactured tinctures for commerce for 27 years, I would like to offer up the brief and (for me) concise directions for making fresh plant and dry plant (maceration and percolation) tinctures and the most common method of making a Fluidextract (F.E.)...I have made HUNDREDS of personal variations for PERSONAL use...but there is a 150-year old tradition of HOW these are made...and I have always desired to see IN COMMERCE a fairly consistant product that is labeled "Tincture" or "20% Extract"...the latter because the FDA has, from time to time, vigorously objected to herbalist's use of the word "tincture"...for some strange reason.

I pulled this out of my Materia Medica 5.0...I have worksheets to help anyone work out the math...both can be downloaded from my website, and the Materia Medica contains the convention proportions of alcohol and water (and sometimes glycerin) for making DRY well as a list of the plants that I feel can be made into 1:1 fluidextracts without compromising the balance of soluble constituents found in the plant.

Golden Seal Fluidextract, as an example, is an abomination...the soluble constituents almost completely dominate in a fluidextract...substances that are poorly water and alcohol soluble, such as hydrastine, may only be present in 5-7% of the total alkaloid the PLANT, hydrastine is usually 40-45% of total alkaloids, and in a 1:5 tincture there is enough "room" for hydrastine to retain that proportion.

One part by weight of the fresh, chopped herb is steeped for 7-10 days in two parts by volume of grain alcohol (190 proof or 95% ethanol), and pressed or squeezed out. There is no reason to blend or shake this maceration; the tincture is formed passively as a result of dehydration. Ethanol draws out all plant constituents that contain water, leaving only cellulose and dead tissue behind.
If the Materia Medica calls for a [1:5, 60% alcohol] tincture, it means this: your solvent is 60% alcohol and 40% water (the water is presumed), and one part of herb by weight has been invested in five parts of solvent by volume. Let me run you through one. You have four ounces of dried Blue Cohosh roots, which you then grind and sift down to a fairly consistent coarse powder. The four ounces (1) must be mixed with 20 ounces of solvent (5). The solvent is 60% alcohol, the rest water, so you mix 12 ounces of ethanol and 8 ounces of water to get the final volume. Mix both together in a closed jar, and shake the mixture up for a couple of minutes twice a day. After 10-14 days of this, let it set another day, pour off the clear tincture from the top, and squeeze as much out of the sediment as your press or wrists allow. The 20 ounces of solvent (called menstruum) and 4 ounces of herb, may yield up 13-14 ounces of tincture (by wrist) and up to 17 ounces (by press); the rest is immutably held in the sediment (called marc). This remnant moisture is full strength tincture, and eventually this knowledge drives one out of four herbalists stark raving nuts. The resultant attempts to constantly upgrade hydraulic presses rivals the feeding frenzy at computer hardware conventions.
This is a method that needs physical demonstration and hands-on practice. That being said, this is a brief run down of the process. The same Blue Cohosh has been freshly ground as before. Pack it into a measuring cup to check its compressed volume...probably about six ounces. The menstruum will need to be the 20 ounces PLUS the 6 ounce volume the ground dry herb takes up. The proportion is the same; 60% alcohol and 40% water. 60% of 26 ounces is 15.6 fluid ounces (the alcohol), 40% is 10.4 (water). This gives you your 26 ounces of 60:40 menstruum. Place the powdered herb in a little mixing bowl with a top, add about two-thirds as much menstruum as the herb took up in volume. It took up six ounces in volume, so add four ounces of menstruum to the herb, and mix it thoroughly, then cover it. This may be confusing; the herb WEIGHS 4 ounces, but FILLS 6 ounces of volume. The reason for checking its VOLUME will become apparent. Anyway, the menstruum-moistened herb needs to stay covered and digesting for at least 12, preferably 24 hours.

Now you will need a percolating cone...didn't I mention that? Me and my students find that a large Perrier bottle with its bottom removed sits upside-down inside a large-mouthed Mason jar very nicely, and the screw cap can be used to control the rate of drip out of the bottom (former top). Anyway, you will need to place some moistened herb inside a coffee filter paper, slide it into the neck of the cone, and gradually add the moistened herb on top. It needs to be compressed and compacted onto the first batch, until you have an evenly distributed column of herb inside the cone. Place a filter on the level herb-column, and pour some menstruum slowly on top. The menstruum should descent evenly down the herb column,and drip from the bottom at about one drip per second. If it never drips out the bottom, you packed too tight. If it drips too quickly (drools is a better word), lift the cone out of the Mason jar, and screw the cap on until the drool becomes a slow drip. Keep fresh menstruum covering the top of the herb until it drips through. This can take one or two hours (or more).

When it has finished, there will be 20 ounces of tincture in the Mason jar, and the last six ounces of menstruum (virtually inert) will stay in the herb column, like a moist sponge. Toss it. Now you see why you need to measure the dry herb volume; you make just enough menstruum for that batch of tincture, and you won't have little jars with left-over excess menstruums that are impossible to compute into another batch with different proportions. Every Pharmacist has a copy of Remington's Pharmaceutical Sciences, which describes the process in great detail, and explains why you get better tinctures when percolating.

Briefly, take 8 ounces of Tabebuia (Pau D'Arco), grind it, make up an arbitrary amount of menstruum (let's say four times as much, or 32 ounces). The tincture lists a 50% strength; make your fluidextract menstruum 20% higher in alcohol content (i.e. 70%). Mix 22.4 ounces of alcohol with 9.6 ounces of water to get a quart of 70% alcohol menstruum. Take the Tabebuia, moisten it, digest it for TWO days, pack a larger cone with it, and drip (very slowly) a first batch of tincture that is only 75% of the volume as the original dry herb weighed. This means after you have dripped 6 fluid ounces, take it away, and continue dripping everything else into a second jar. As the rest of the menstruum finally starts to sink below the top of the herb column, start adding water into the cone. This second drip can be any amount you wish...a quart, two quarts, whatever. You will need to evaporate it all in a double boiler until it is reduced to 25% in volume of the herb weight...2 ounces in this case. Add the vile remnant of the second percolation to the 6 ounces from the first percolation, and you now have 8 ounces of fluidextract, made from 8 ounces of Tabebuia Bark. A Fluidextract is by definition 1:1 in strength. Now clean up.

Michael Moore (
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