HOMEGROWN member Nora, a birth doula from Richmond, Virginia, contributed this 101. Thanks, Nora! Your mamas are lucky to have your help—as are we!
When summer shuts its doors and windows, we look for ways to keep ourselves and our families healthy and thriving through the winter. If you prefer to steer clear of over-the-counter medicines, or if you’re interested in a natural way to supplement them, search no more! Tinctures, or highly concentrated herbal extracts, are a simple and natural way of boosting your body’s strengths and abilities, and sometimes can help keep those winter blues in check.
Tinctures can be made from any high-quality herb, fresh or dried. Certain herbs, such as St. John’s Wort, skullcap, and motherwort, are better used fresh, but either way will do in a pinch. Things to keep in mind when evaluating the medicinal qualities of dried herbs:
• Color. The dried herb should retain a very similar color to the fresh herb. Leaves and roots should look alive and vibrant, and flowers shouldn’t be too full of stems.
• Smell.The dried herb should smell vibrant, fresh, and potent, never musty or old.
• Taste. The dried herb should retain its fresh taste; mind you, this does not necessarily mean it tastes good!
Let’s get down to work! In this 101, we’ll learn how to make an echinacea tincture. Echinacea purpurea is an herbaceous flowering plant: Note that it's in the daisy family and should not be used by folks who have compositae or ragweed allergies.
Echinacea works to stimulate the immune system and suppress infection. Commercially, it is often found in combination with goldenseal and zinc. Echinacea can be taken in small daily doses to help reinforce the immune system; higher doses can be amazingly effective when you feel the first tickle of a cold coming on (see below for amounts).
The two most common methods of making a tincture is to soak the herb in either grain alcohol or vegetable glycerin. Each has its pros and cons. We'll learn about alcohol tinctures first.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED TO MAKE AN ECHINACEA TINCTURE
» Dried echinacea leaves and flowers—the entire upper part of the plant, including dried petals, leaves, stems, and cone
» 80- to 100-proof grain alcohol
» Lidded glass jars
» Cheesecloth or a strainer
WHAT TO DO
Sterilize your jars by submerging them in boiling water for about five minutes. Place the herb in the glass jar. You can use as much or as little as you’d like, but you’ll only need about eight rounded tablespoons for a single dropper bottle. Now, add your alcohol. My rule is to fill the jar three fingers higher than the dried herb (when using fresh herbs, I do two fingers higher). Make sure to label your jar with the name of the herb and the date you filled the jar.
Close the jar tightly and allow it to sit in the sunlight for a week to steep (meanwhile, it will also absorb solar energies, if you’re into that sort of thing), shaking it daily. Then put it in a cool dark place until it is done. Refrigeration is fine, but it won’t make a significant difference. Let it extract for about six weeks; longer is fine since alcohol tinctures can sit nearly indefinitely, but keep in mind that your tincture will get stronger with time. If you’re using dried herbs, you might notice that they absorb a lot of the alcohol in the first few days. If this happens, simply add more and re-cover the jar.
When the herb is done extracting, strain it through a cheesecloth or strainer and compost the remaining plant parts. Fill an amber bottle with your finished tincture and label it. Alcohol tinctures have a shelf life of many years, so use at your leisure.
Vegetable glycerin tinctures are made in precisely the same way but have some different applications. They are ideal for children—or for you, if alcohol makes you cringe—since glycerin tastes sweet and syrupy. They do have a significantly shorter shelf life of about one year, so they should be made in slightly smaller batches.
The average dose for any tincture is 10 to 30 drops in a small amount of water three times a day. This will vary depending on the herb and what you are using it for. With echinacea, you’ll want to veer toward the higher end of the dosage, or 30 drops, during times of illness. Please note that children’s doses are generally one-quarter of an adult dose.
Mountain Rose Herbs is my go-to herbal supplier. On their website, you can find pounds of every dried herb imaginable, bulk vegetable glycerin and other bases, bottles, and even premade teas, tinctures, spices, and beauty products. Be sure to mention if you are enrolled in any sort of herbal class, and you’ll get 10 percent off your order. Below is a great video tutorial from Mountain Rose, demonstrating how to make a valerian tincture for insomnia, hyperactivity, and anxiety.
You can read more about Nora’s services at Springtide Doula Care. Got a question on tinctures? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling! Plus, check out the HOMEGROWN groups Hunting, Gathering, and Foraging; Homemade Cosmetics; and Earth Mamas and Papas. You might also take a gander at the Homemade Sunscreen 101 and the Homemade Laundry Detergent 101, and you can always find more things to make, craft, plant, grow, cook, preserve, and extract in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.
Wonderful tincture 101! I make lots of tinctures at home, many from herbs that I've collected myself but I admit most of my herbs come from Mountain Rose who I love and gladly support for doing what they do! This year we'll be growing echinacea, wild strawberry, elderberry bushes, calendula, and lots of other wonderful medicinal herbs at our Homegrown Missouri community garden!
Desiree: What an awesome haul. If you're not a member already, you might be interested in joining the Herb Lovers! group—and/or I might pester you to share some of the tincture recipes where these fragrant herbs will end up!