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Making tinctures.

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Tincturing is fairly easy.

All you need for tincture making is a glass jar, herb, and alcohol.

Tincture strength and dosage

You'll find that different herbalists are comfortable with different herb:alcohol ratios and alcohol percentages.

I use 1:2 95 % for fresh herb (1 part fresh herb by weight to 2 parts by volume of 95 % alcohol)
and 1:5 60 % (or so) for dried herb (1 part dried herb by weight to 5 parts by volume of 60 % alcohol). In other words, I use the percentages given in Michael Moore's Materia Medica (.txt / .pdf); it's not always 60 % for dried herb, but usually fairly close.
Note, Michael Moore assumes you know that fresh herb requires 95 % alcohol; it's mentioned in the tincture-making details in the back of the booklet, but not stated with every herb.

This gives me tinctures which are as strong as the best tinctures found on shelves in the US and in Europe; the dose is 15-30 drops 1-3 x /day, for most of these tinctures.

Weaker tinctures need larger doses; that's fine, of course, as long as you know to adapt your dosage.
BritMed herbalists can for instance go with 1:3 30 % fresh herb tinctures, and use 5-10 ml 1-3 x / day. Their tinctures, too, will work nicely, at their doses.

Some herbalists start their tinctures at new moon and decant at full moon - or is it the other way around? I haven't ever bothered, but they swear by it.

Cutting up herb for a fresh herb tincture

I cut greens and flowers into 2-3 cm long bits. Larger pieces like roots, larger fruit, and for instance the flower of Echinacea get sliced into 5 mm thick slices.

I don't use a blender: you want the alcohol to pull constituents out through the cell walls via osmosis. If you blend things up you end up with a sludge which fills up the alcohol fast, with no chance for osmosis to start working. And you'll have a lot of inert things in your tincture, first among them cellulose. More fragile constituents might not show up in such a tincture at all.

Macerating a tincture

Macerating means "let steep for a long while". So you put your fresh or dried herb into a glass jar, add alcohol, close the lid tightly, and let your tincture sit for 2-4 weeks out of the sun.

If you just jam as much herb as will fit and top up with alcohol you're making a "simpler's" tincture. No measurements. Put that on a label: "Fresh SJW, simpler's, __ % alcohol, July 2005".

If you measured things you should put that on your label, too, on the day you strain your tincture and pour it into bottles: "Fresh SJW, 1:2 95 %, July 2005".

Straining and storing

You could strain through a cheesecloth. If you don't use disposable gloves your hands might look green (for instance from capsella), red (from SJW) or yellow (from berberis or mahonia) for a few days - no biggie, the color will wear off.
If you make more than a few tinctures you might consider investing in a hydraulic press. There's a few good ones out there; if you're handy you can also make your own.

Store your tinctures in room temperature. Clear bottles should be stored in a dark cupboard, dark brown bottles can also be kept on shelves out of direct sunlight.

Mistakes in tincture making

  • Back when I started to make tinctures (long long long ago), I made a few fresh herb tinctures using plain vodka, and rather low % vodka, at that. Some of those went bad on me: too much water in the plant + too much water in the alcohol = too little alcohol to preserve the tincture. Of course, those were rather weak, too, and needed dosages in the teaspoons.
  • Back in those days I remember trying to make a tincture (macerating) in a plastic jar, as I'd run all out of glassware. That one went bad on me: the alcohol evaporated off and the herb started to smell. Yech.
  • I don't think I've ever added water to a tincture to dilute it in storage; that won't work, as you won't get any more water-soluble parts out of the plant, and the high-alcohol-soluble constituens (like resins) will now precipitate out.
  • I've made a double-percolated tincture once: pour tincture over another cone of powdered herb. It's a waste of good herb; the end result is not all that much stronger than the original percolation.
    A good percolated tincture should give you everything in the herb on the first run. That is, once everything has dripped through you're left with a tincture that smells of herb and a herb that smells of alcohol (not herb).
  • Percolation requires powdered herb = dried herb. You can't percolate fresh herbs, sorry.

Good luck in your tincturemaking!

Related entry: Percolating lemon verbena


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Preen 2.

How do you tincture hawthorn? Do you just use the whole berries? Or at some point do you try to pull the fruit away from the seed and eliminate the seed? Does the seed have constituents you do not want in your tincture, such as arsenic?

Why not ask on the herblist?