Basic How-to's

HERBAL TINCTURES

A tincture is an alcohol-based extraction of plant material. Alcohol is used because it is very efficient at pulling out medicinal compounds in a plant. A tincture is stored in amber dropper bottles, and is used by the drop or dropperful (1-1.5" in the glass dropper) at a certain frequency every day, or as needed. This all depends on which plant, and what you're using it for.

Many herbs do fantastically in tincture form. However, not all plants are appropriate for a tincture, or best administered in a tincture. Tinctures are favored by herbalists because they require no preparation past the initial making of it, can be carried with you at any time, and are easy for most people to take. Some herbalists feel the need to standardize their tinctures, which is to say that they use a consistent ratio of herb weight to alcohol volume. Though I know how to do this, I don't find it necessary if you're making tinctures for your own personal use. The non-standard method is called the folk method.

Folk Method Tincture of Fresh Plant:

- A glass jar with a lid
- fresh plant material (not dried)
- alcohol (either vodka, or Everclear mixed 1:1 with water)

1. Chop the plant material as finely as possible with a very sharp knife. Each plant will have its own unique ideal way to chop or peel for maximum power. You will no doubt learn this as you go along. I am always open to questions.
2. Fill a clean glass jar (sized to fit the volume of plant material that you have) with the chopped plant. It should be full, but not packed too tight. Leaves and flower especially need a little push down to fit more.
3. Pour alcohol mix (50% alcohol by volume for most plants, but not all) over the plant material, filling the jar so that all plant is covered. Some herbalists say the level of alcohol should go above the plant material by an inch.
4. After 2-4 weeks, strain the tincture with a loose weave cloth, squeezing it with your hands to get the maximum out of the spent plant material. Compost the plant material, and store the jar of tincture in a cool, dark place.


Common herbs that are good to prepare as a basic, fresh tincture:
Valerian (root), oregon grape (root bark), arnica (flowering tops), echinacea (root), skullcap (flowering tops), St. John's wort (just-picked flower and buds), hops (flowers), nettle (leaves, seeds, roots), cleavers (not-yet-flowering leaves and stems), devil's club (green inner bark), lemon balm (leaves), comfrey (root), red root (root, esp. root bark), and elecampagne (root).

Herbs that need 90% alcohol by volume because they are hydrophobic: 
Myrhh resin and poplar buds

Herbs that need about 70%-80% alcohol by volume because their medicine is better extracted in alcohol:
Usnea lichen, thyme and rosemary.



INFUSED OILS

Many people are intimidated by making infused oils because they can mold and go bad easily. Each herbalist seems to have their own method of doing this, and it can be difficult to navigate the different methods. Ultimately, it depends on the herb and the moisture content as to how much attention you must pay it. Some people may choose to use dry herbs to avoid the hassle, but there are many herbs which are completely useless infused dried, such as St. John's wort flowers, which spoil even within an hour or two of picking.

How to make a HEAT extracted infused oil

Some herbs work well with gentle heat to help extraction, others are ruined by it. Some herbs taht I might infuse using this method are poplar buds, rosemary, conifers and pines, cedar, myrrh, pine sap, willow, ginger, and chilis.

Materials:

  • thick glass jar (quart size)
  • oil (olive, almond, coconut etc)
  • herb (fresh or dry)
  • crock pot (or large pot filled with hot water)
  • brown paper bag or clean wool fabric
  • rubber band
Fill the quart jar with the herb, packed tightly to the top for more potent oil, filled only 1/2-3/4 for a less strong oil. Pour oil over the top of the herbs until it covers them. The less oil and more herbs the strong... more oil = weaker. Rubber band the paper or fabric over the top instead of the lid. This will prevent bad things from getting in, but allow water to evaporate out. The less water in the final product, the better. If you are using fresh herbs, this is especially something you should concern yourself with. If there is condensation on the inside of the jar, use a paper towel to wipe it up. This will prevent mold in your oil.

Fill the crockpot with water, and set to "warm" "Low" or "keep warm", whatever is the lowest setting. Place the oil filled jar inside so that the surface of the water reaches the surface of the oil If this is not possible, don't worry too much about it.

Let sit on warm for 5-8 hours. This could be while you are sleeping or during the day. If the waterline gets low, add more water. Turn the crockpot off when you notice the oil is fragrant and infused-seeming. You may leave it in the warm water a little longer for more infusing, or take it out. At this point, check for condensation and wipe up the inside of the jar. Strain the herbs out of the oil (do not leave in the oil, as they may mold and spoil your oil.

Again, if you are using fresh herb you are constantly concerning yourself with removing moisture, so leave the fabric top on for another day or so to let the water out. The worst thing you can do is to make an air tight seal while water remains, as mold will flourish in that environment. You may even decide to just leave the paper over the oil for a while. Once you are convinced the moisture is gone, 

Oil Cold Infusion

Herbs that should absolutely be infused into oil without heat are: Chickweed (always fresh), calendula flowers (Can be dry), violet flowers (Fresh), St. John's wort flowers (Fresh), mullein flowers (best fresh but can be dry).




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