What's a Tincture? Plus, A Simple One You Can Make At Home

Create your own herbal apothecary—here's how!

January 24, 2018
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how to make a tincture
Allison Young

What the heck are tinctures, anyway? They’re the cute little vials you see lining the shelves of hip herbal apothecaries—even some natural food stores stock them. Used for hundreds of years by herbalists, doctors of Chinese medicine, and Ayurveda practitioners, they’re potent plant-based, holistic remedies to support both physical and emotional health, from coughs and constipation to mood and sexual mojo. In short: “A tincture is basically an alcohol extract of an herb,” explains Rosalee de la Forȇt, a clinical herbalist and author of Alchemy of Herbs.

What Makes Them So Powerful?

Herbs are packed with protective plant compounds, active ingredients like polyphenols, alkaloids, resins, terpenoids, and flavonoids that have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and healing effects. Alcohol extracts the beneficial properties of the herb, so you’re left with a concentrated liquid infused with healing components. Like herbal teas, tinctures can be made from an array of herbs, but they’re way more potent. They’re like herbal tea—on crack.

Related: How To Brew Healthy Tea From 6 Different Kitchen Herbs

“Also a tincture is very fast acting because the body metabolizes alcohol very quickly, so when you take a tincture you can expect to feel the result fairly immediately—in under 10 minutes,” says de la Forêt.

They’re also convenient: Keep it in your pocket, your purse, or desk drawer at work and put a few drops directly in your mouth or mixed with water.

Sure, you can buy the plant-based healers, but they don’t come cheap. Just one ounce can cost upwards of $12. Not only is doing it yourself dramatically cheaper, you control the ingredients. “When you make your own tincture, you can see that the herbs you’re using are quality, with strong scents and strong visuals,” says de la Forêt. But even more than that, making your own medicine can be fun.

Related: 5 Skin-Detoxing Herbs That Can Clear Your Skin Naturally

how to make a tincture
Photograph courtesy of Allison Young
1
Which Herb Should You Start With?

Tinctures can be made from almost any herb, including flowers, leaves, roots, bark, and berries, both dried and fresh, so the pickings aren’t slim. The best herb to start with is one you need. For example, taken orally St. John’s Wort can dial down depression and anxiety, chamomile promotes calm, peppermint can boost digestion, stinging nettle can reduce allergies, red clover can help with menopause symptoms, valerian can get you to sleep and arnica, one of the few tinctures that works topically, soothes sore muscles, bruises, and insect bites. Still not sure? When in doubt, echinacea is a great place to start, says de la Forêt: “It’s great for taking at the beginning of cold or flu symptoms, it’s safe for adults and children and people are familiar with it.”

Watch how to make an immune-boosting echinacea tincture:

how to make a tincture
Photograph courtesy of Allison Young
2
So How Do You Make A Tincture?

Tinctures don’t take any special equipment or skill to make, and with a shelf life of up to five years, they last forever. The toughest part can be just getting started. “Making anything new can be intimidating, but it’s very empowering to make your own medicine,” says de la Forêt who encourages having fun with each step of the process. Here’s the step-by-step…

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how to make a tincture
Photograph courtesy of Allison Young

1. Gather your supplies. You need organic herbs, an 8-oz or 12-oz mason jar with lid, plain vodka, cheesecloth or muslin, metal funnel, and 1-oz glass dropper bottles. Oh, and patience.

2. Prep your herbs. Chop fresh herbs, break up dried flowers, grind dried roots—the more surface area your herbs have, the better.

how to make a tincture
Photograph courtesy of Allison Young

3. Put herbs in a glass jar and top with alcohol. How much you fill the jar depends on the herb. Fill 1/3 full for hard herbs and roots (they absorb more liquid), 1/2 full for fresh herbs and 2/3 full for softer herbs. Once you add the herbs, fill the jar to the top with alcohol (80-90 proof vodka is standard, although higher proofs work better on fresh herbs and roots). Be sure to cover plants completely, then lid and label it (include herb type, alcohol proof, and date).

how to make a tincture
Photograph courtesy of Allison Young

4. Shake and wait. Store jar in a cool, dry, dark place for 4-6 weeks. Fresh herbs, delicate dried flowers (like chamomile and Echinacea), and leaves (like peppermint) take 3-4 weeks, while hardy roots (like cinnamon and licorice root) take 6 weeks. Gently shake the jar 2-3 times a week and make sure herbs stay covered with alcohol to prevent mold or bacteria; add more alcohol if needed.

 
 
how to make a tincture
Photograph courtesy of Allison Young

5. Strain and bottle. Once macerating is complete, strain through cheesecloth into a spouted glass measuring cup. Using clean hands to squeeze liquid out of herbs and discard solids. Funnel strained liquid into glass tincture bottles, label, and store out of the light.

Your Tincture Is Ready—Now What?

One of the benefits of store-bough tinctures is they come with a specified dose, but even these can be off.

“Dosages are never a set thing, as it varies with age, weight, sensitivity, or even purpose,” says de la Forêt. For example, when using tinctures for acute reasons (eg: ginger for nausea or chamomile for soothing nervousness), it’s better to use something more frequently, say every hour, than only a couple times a day (eg: echinacea for a sore throat.)

Related: 5 Herbalist Reveal Their Go-To Remedies For Stress, Poor Sleep, And More

Most tinctures are administered at a dose ranging from 15-90 drops, several times per day. De la Forêt suggests starting with a low dose, then slowly increasing the amount until the desired effect is reached. You can take tinctures straight, either dropping them directly in your mouth or under your tongue, but if taste is an issue (tinctures range between bitter and strong), add them to water, tea, juice, or even a smoothie. For a topical tincture, like arnica, you can swab onto bruises or insect bites or even massage into the skin.

NOTE: If you have a medical condition, are taking pharmaceutical drugs, or are pregnant, please consult your physician before to taking herbs.