June and July are by far the busiest months for tincture making. The flowers are blooming and the fresh new green growth is abundant! For me, there is nothing more magical than finding myself healing a sore throat in the middle of winter with the vibrant plant medicines made fresh that past summer. Truly a process of beautiful alchemy that you can taste on your tongue and feel through your body. Making a tincture is incredibly simple, and very economical.
First, you source a healthy patch of the herb you’d like to tincture. Or, you take notice of what is growing abundantly around you, and take that as a sign you might just need it. If that’s the case, research that plant, and determine what part is used as medicine.
Today, I made a fresh plant tincture of Verbena officinalis, also known as Vervain.
It is essential that you collect your herbs in the peak of their season, and also the peak of the day. That means when they are fresh, vital, and the flowers are just blooming, or about to, depending on your herb. In your herb books, when it states harvest the “aerial part”, that means cut the top third or so of the plant, stalk, leaf, bud and flower. I inspect the plant as I’m collecting it to ensure each leaf and bud is clean, vibrant, and consistent in its colour. I collect the aerial parts (all the parts above the ground) when the day is dry and sunny. I was out collecting around 11:30am, when the sun was strong, and the plant was in its peak. I avoid collecting aerial parts when they are wet with rain or wilted and exhausted by the sun which they can be in the late afternoon and evening.
Tools of the trade:
To my collecting location, I bring:
- A collecting basket (or brown paper bags)
-scissors or other sharp instruments for cutting (Felco-type clippers are good for the tough stuff)
-jars to put my herbs into
- Masking tape to use for labeling
Once harvested, I then cut or chop my herbs directly into a clean wide-mouthed vessel. Notice here I’m cutting with very sharp utility scissors. I find this much easier and far more efficient then chopping herbs on a cutting board.
I almost always tincture at my harvesting location. That way, the vitality of the plant is being captured in its fullness by tincturing it right away. There’s also something meditative, peaceful, and synergistic about doing it this way. And yes, it’s very time efficient and rewarding to go home with your medicines already made, and ready for the shelf.
Next, I weigh the finished product on my handy electrical kitchen scale. This is an important tool when making excellent quality medicines using the Standard Method according to traditional western herbalism. According to this Standard Method, the most potent and effective method of tincturing fresh plants is by using a proportion of 1:2 herb to alcohol solution ratio; and use 95% alcohol. So in my case, all this plant matter weighed 250grams (remember I subtracted the weight of the jar). So, a 1:2 means I’d use 500ml of 95% alcohol to 250grams of fresh herb.
Then tightly screw on a well-fitted lid to your jar. The next most important step when making a tincture is– a label! You might think you’d remember when you made your medicine, what it is and what kind of alcohol you used, but trust me, you probably won’t. Please label your medicines and include:
- The date
- The latin name
- What percentage of alcohol you used
- what weight to volume ratio you used
Then have your medicine sit on a secure shelf away from direct sunlight. I like to have my tinctures accessible enough so that I can shake them daily for at least a week, admire their beauty, and think healing-filled thoughts each time I walk past them — all important ingredients when making medicine. While your fresh tincture will be ready as soon as 7 days from making it, most herbalists, myself included, prefer to have the medicine sit for at least a month. Yet another important reason to date it – some like to label not only the day they made the tincture, but also the day it will be ready to decant.
Once that day comes, separate your exhausted plant material from the liquid tincture by straining it through a mesh strainer lined with cheese-cloth. Squeeze the cheese-cloth as hard as you can, to get every last drop of tincture. Compost the plant material, and voila! You have plenty of beautiful rich herbal tincture to put in little glass dropper bottles – don’t forget to label those too - ready for your medicine cabinet.
1. If the subject of medicine is something you think you could get passionate about, the best book on the subject (in my opinion) is The Medicine Maker’s Handbook by James Green.
2. 95% percent alcohol is not available on the shelves for sale in Canada. I have a liquor license, and you can get one too by applying at any Government liquor store customer service counter. If you are not interested in going through the process, you can purchase a 75% rum for sale on the shelves which is high enough to make a great fresh tincture. Or, if you cross the boarder into Washington State, you can purchase Everclear at Duty Free.
3. You can purchase empty tincture bottles with droppers at the health food store, pharmacies, or various places online if you google such a thing.
Questions & Comments? Please leave them below. I’d love to hear from you. Oh, and I have two more spaces left in my Alchemy of Herbal Medicine Course, click for more information if you’d like to study this marvelous world more extensively among a great group of people.