Learning to make tinctures and liniments is a useful way to preserve and take your herbs, and it can save you a bunch of money. Using tinctures as a way to take your herbs is beneficial because they are a concentrated dose, and after the easy initial prep, takes no time to prepare and are easy to administer. They also have long shelf lives (much longer than the dried herb alone would have) and are incredibly stable if stored correctly; they also take up less room than bulky dried herbs. You also have control over the quality and strength of your tincture, and can easily make personalized blends. Tinctures and liniments are made the exact same way, the only difference is that liniments are for external use only, such as to dry, draw, and disinfect wounds or treat deep muscle pain, while tinctures are taken internally.
To make a tincture or liniment, you are going to need the following:
-Clean, glass jars with tight fitting lids.
-Masking tape and marker for labeling the jars
-High quality, fresh or dried herbs of your choice. Grow your own, visit your local herb store, or find a reputable online herb store such as Mountain Rose Herbs.
-Menstruum of choice
-Cheesecloth or strainer, at a later date
The menstruum is the solvent used to extract the biochemical constituents of the plant while also acting as a preserving agent. The primary menstruums used in tincture and liniment making are alcohol, glycerin, and vinegar.
–Alcohol is the most potent, effecient way to make a tincture. It extracts fats, resins, waxes, most alkaloids, and many other plant components. They are rapidly assimilated by the body and the effects are felt almost immediately. You can use any alcohol (tequila, brandy, vodka, etc) as long as it is at least 50 proof (25% alcohol by volume). For preservation purposes, it’s typically recommended to use something 40% or higher. While alcohol is the most effective tincture menstruum, some folks don’t recommend taking alcohol based tinctures over long periods of time due for the sake of your liver. (But really, just how much of the tincture are you taking?) For liniments, typically rubbing alcohol is used.
–Vinegar is not as strong as alcohol and does not break down as many of the plant constituents that alcohol does, but it is still a highly effective menstruum for tincture making. It’s recommended for tonic tinctures, such as fire cider, which are used to strengthen and build the system over time. Because vinegars such as apple cider vinegar are beneficial foods, it adds extra nutritional benefits to your tincture making. If using vinegar as your menstruum, warm the vinegar slightly beforehand to facilitate the release of the herbal constituents.
–Glycerin is a sweet, mucilaginous constituent found in both animal and plant oils. It’s nutritious and sweet, making it ideal for children’s tinctures, and is a good substitute when making tinctures for people who can’t drink alcohol. It has good preservation properties and dissolves many plant properties except for resinous, oily compounds, alkaloids, and salts. To make a tincture with glycerin, 4 parts water to 1 part glycerin is recommended. It does not have as long a shelf life as alcohol.
So, to make your liniment or tincture, select your herbs and menstruum. Then:
1. Chop your herbs finely – you want to break down fibers so all the properties of the plant are accessible. Try to avoid using powdered herbs, however, as these are really difficult to strain out later.
2. Pour the menstruum over the herbs until all the herbs are completely covered. There is no “official” amount of menstruum to use when making tinctures, but if you need to get a little more precise about it, a good guide is either 1-2 ounce of fresh herb per pint of menstruum, or by weight, with the weight of the herbs either equal to or twice the weight by volume of the menstruum.
3. Seal the jars tightly, and label them. Make sure you write the date, what herbs your put into what menstruum, and at what proportion. You will absolutely forget all of this later.
4. Place the jars in a dark, temperature stable place (preferable around room temperature or slightly warmer), and let sit 4-8 weeks. You can let the tinctures sit as long as you’d like, but less than 4 weeks is not recommended. If you can remember, flip the jars daily.
5. At the end of the appropriate time, strain your tinctures with a cheese cloth or strainer.
6. Store the tinctures in a cool, shaded area in dark amber bottles and label each tincture. Be sure to include the date, ingredients, dosage, and menstruum. If you’ve made a liniment, be sure to write FOR EXTERNAL USE ONLY on the label as well.
Some good recipes to try out from Rosemary Gladstar:
2 parts skullcap
1 part wild lettuce
1 part valerian
1 part hops
1 part peppermint
2 parts gotu kola
1 part ginkgo leaf
1 part peppermint
1/2 rosemary or sage
Tincture for Internal Infections
1 part goldenseal
1 part echinacea
1 part osha
1 part myrrh
1/2 part cayenne
High Calcium Tincture
1 part comfrey
1 part oatstraw
2 parts nettle
1 part horsetail
Heart and Circulation Tincture
1 part motherwort
2 parts hawthorne berry and leaf
1 part valerian
1/4 part cayenne
2 parts damiana
1 parts mugwort
1 part kava kava
A classic liniment by Jethro Kloss: great for weepy, oozy skin infections
1 ounce goldenseal root
1 ounce myrrh gum
1/4 ounce cayenne
1/2-1 pint rubbing alcohol – less alcohol makes the solution stronger
This recipe needs constant shaking and flipping as it macerates, since the powdered herbs tend to settle.