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Tinctures

Do not copy or distribute any portion of this page without the authors written permission. 1996

Herbal tinctures are concentrated liquid extracts of the medicinal properties of herbs. Tinctures represent one of many different ways to prepare and use herbs. The terms tincture and extract are often used interchangeably. Technically these terms are an indication of strength used by manufactures.

 

ALCOHOL TINCTURES

In most cases you should choose to make alcohol tinctures because of its superior qualities. Alcohol will extract volatile oils and most alkaloids from your herbs and will preserve your tinctures longer. Most herb tinctures will maintain their potency for many years. A selection of dried herbs in your medicine cabinet has a shelf life of approximately one year. Alcohol also acts as a carrier for your herbs causing them to be rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream when you take them.

If you don't wish to consume alcohol it is possible to put the required dosage into a cup of boiled water. The heat will cause the alcohol to evaporate leaving the therapeutic qualities of the herb in the water. For recovering alcoholics, liver problems, children or sensitivity to alcohol it is possible to make your tinctures using vegetable glycerin or raw vinegar. Both glycerin and vinegar tinctures will be less potent and have shorter shelf lives.

To make an alcohol tincture you will need the herb, 100 proof alcohol and a labeled glass jar. An alcohol tincture is most often 50% alcohol and 50% water. 100 proof vodka naturally contains the appropriate ratios of water to alcohol. You can use gin, brandy or rum if you prefer. Do not use isopropyl rubbing alcohol which is very toxic when ingested!

Choose fresh plants for making your tinctures whenever possible. Fresh plants may contain properties that are lost or altered when the plant is dried. Dried herbs may be used when they are of good quality. Do not harvest plants that have been exposed to pesticides, herbicides, car emissions and other toxic substances.

Manually remove any dirt from your plants. Chop the plants up into small pieces so that the alcohol will be able to contact a lot of surface. Sometimes a blender is useful for the chopping hard roots. Use 100 proof vodka if you need liquid in the your blender to chop the herbs effectively.

Place the chopped herbs in a glass jar and cover with alcohol plus another inch of alcohol above the level of the herbs. Shake the mixture well to expose all the surfaces to the alcohol. Label the jar with the contents and the date.

If you make your tincture using dried herbs they may absorb a lot of alcohol in the first couple days. If this happens simply add enough alcohol to cover the herbs again. Shake your tincture everyday throughout the next six weeks.

If necessary, you may begin to use your tincture after two weeks but allow at least six weeks extraction time before straining. I often leave my herbs in the alcohol much longer than six weeks and strain it only when I've taken out enough tincture to expose some of the herbs to air. It is convenient if you have small amber dropper bottles to put your finished tinctures in so you can easily carry them with you and measure dosages.

The method that was used to determine the amount of alcohol to use in our tinctures is called the Simpler's Method.

 

GLYCERIN TINCTURES

Glycerin is very sweet and will dissolve mucilage, vitamins and minerals. It will not dissolve the resinous or oily properties of herbs very well. Because glycerin is sweet it is an excellent choice for children's remedies. Make glycerin tinctures in small amounts because it will not last as long as an alcohol tincture, about 1 to 3 years. Be sure to use 100 % vegetable glycerin.

Follow the same basic instructions for making the alcohol tincture substituting glycerin for alcohol. To make a glycerin tincture you can cover your herbs with 100 % glycerin alone or combine 3/4 part glycerin with 1/4 part water. Water also dissolves some properties of herbs into solution so I recommend using it in your glycerin tinctures when you are tincturing dried herbs.

 

VINEGAR TINCTURES

Vinegar primarily dissolves alkaloids. It does not draw all the medicinal properties from your herbs. Use vinegar for people sensitive to alcohol or for tonic herbs that you will be taking over long periods of time. Vinegar tinctures have a short shelf life, 6 months to a year if stored in a cool dark place.

Make your vinegar tincture in the same manner as you do using alcohol. Make sure the herbs are completely submerged in the vinegar. If you are using fresh herbs, spread them out in an airy place to wilt them first. This reduces the water content and reduces the chances of spoilage.

 

DOSAGES

Dosages for herbal tinctures are best determined individually based upon the power of the herb & the reason for its use. A couple of good reference books is the most reliable way of choosing the correct dose. The dosage is dependent upon the illness you are treating and the power of the herbs you are using. For most purposes, herbalist use gentle herbs that can be safely used in large dosages. Commercial tinctures are labeled with the recommended dosage, usually 10-30 drops three times per day. Sometimes ten to thirty drops of tincture is sufficient for a therapeutic dose, other times you may need a teaspoon every hour.

Equivalents
60 drops = 1 teaspoon
4 ml. = 1 teaspoon
1 ounce = 28.4 grams (solid)
1 fluid ounce = 29.57 ml.
1 teaspoon tincture = 2 "OO" capsules

Dosages for children are not provided in most herbals. To determine the correct dose you need to consider the size of the child, the ailment, the power of the herb you intend to use, and the adult dosage.

Young's Rule for determining dosage uses the child's age divided by twelve plus the age. The dosage for a 4 year old:

4/12+4 = 4/16 = 1/4 of the adult dose.

Clark's Rule for determining dosages divides the weight of the child by 150 to give the approximate fraction of the adult dose. Dosage for a 40 lb. child: . 40 /150 = .26 or approx. 1/4 the adult dose.

 

HERBS TO TINCTURE

When using herbs to help maintain the health of your family you won't need to have a large number of herbs on hand for general use. Some of the most commonly used herbs are listed here as a basic starting point. These herbs are mild in action and non-toxic. Add less commonly used herbal tinctures to your medicine chest when you know they will be useful to you.

BURDOCK ROOT (Arctium lappa) - Burdock aids liver function, purifies blood, and is antiseptic. It is effective in treating systemic skin disorders such as psoriasis, eczema, acne and dandruff. Burdock is also useful for arthritic conditions, rheumatism, and many types of infections. It is the primary ingredient in ESSIAC TEA, a Native American cancer formula. Burdock root is commonly eaten as food among the Chinese. The boiled roots, called gobo, have a mild flavor similar to potatoes.

Dosage for tincture is 1/2 teaspoon 3-4 times a day.

 

DONG QUAI ROOT (Angelica sinensis) - Dong quai is a tonic herb rich in minerals and iron and is an excellent remedy for many gynecological problems. Many women have found dong quai to be useful in treating P.M.S. and symptoms of menopause. Dong quai is a uterine tonic and hormonal regulator. It is a specific for menstrual cramps, irregularity, dysmenorrhea, and delayed or absent menstrual cycles. Dong quai can stimulate bleeding and is not recommended for use during the menstrual cycle or during pregnancy.

Dong Quai also acts as a blood purifier and antispasmodic, useful for treating heart palpitations, insomnia and cramps.

Dosage of dong quai tincture is 1/4 teaspoon twice a day.

 

DANDELION (Taraxacum officinale) - Dandelion root stimulates and aids the liver in the elimination of toxins from the blood. Use dandelion for liver disorders, and gall bladder problem. The liver is responsible for so many functions important to good health, such as filtering the blood of toxins, regulating and normalizing hormone production, and metabolism of fats, cholesterol and enzymes. Dandelions action upon the liver makes it useful for treating a large number of ailments. Dandelion is useful for P.M.S., menopause, hypoglycemia, recent onset diabetes, high blood pressure and digestive disturbances. You can use dandelion root on a regular basis for cleansing and toning the liver.

Dandelion leaf is one of our best diuretic herbs because it contains large amounts of potassium which is lost when the kidneys are stimulated by diuretics. Use for treating water retention due to heart problems or P.M.S.

Dandelion leaves are also a wonderful spring green. They can be eaten freshly steamed or marinated. Dandelion greens are very rich in vitamin A, potassium and minerals.

Dosage for dandelion tincture is 1/2 teaspoon 3-4 times per day for the root or leaf. There is no known toxicity so you can eat as much as you like of the greens.

 

ECHINACEA - ( Echinacea purpurea or E. angustifolia ) This herb is the most widely consumed herb in the world today. It is used internally to activate the immune system when fighting colds and flu, or almost any type of infection. You can use echinacea tincture whenever you feel your body is fighting an ailment. In Germany, studies have shown that echinacea has also been found to be useful for some arthritic diseases, certain cancers as well as many viral and bacterial infections.

The root is the most powerful part of the plant. Two species, Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia, are commonly used. Both species are powerful, but it is best to choose E. purpurea because it is the most abundant species. E. angustifolia is becoming rare in the wild. Many people cultivate echinacea in their gardens, commonly known as Purple Coneflower. To avoid further depletion of wild echinacea plants, try to buy only cultivated plants or grow your own.

Dosage for echinacea tincture is 1/2 teaspoon every 2 hours for acute conditions and 3 times per day for chronic conditions.

 

HAWTHORNE (Crataegus oxyacantha) - Hawthorne berries are a circulatory system tonic useful for treating both high and low blood pressure, palpitations and arteriosclerosis. Hawthorne is also effective in relieving insomnia. For a synergistic cardiac tonic blend combines equal parts of hawthorne berries and motherwort herb. Motherwort has properties similar to hawthorne.

Dosage for hawthorne tincture is 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon 3 times per day.

 

NETTLES (Urtica urens) - Nettles are rich in minerals, vitamins, and chlorophyll. The new shoots are eaten lightly steamed in the spring. They contain the indole histamine which makes them useful for allergies and asthma. Nettles are a tonic and general detoxifying remedy for the whole body, primarily for the lungs, stomach and urinary systems. Use nettles for allergies, asthma, eczema, urinary complaints and arthritic and rheumatic problems. Nettle root is used for benign prostate enlargement.

Nettles offer the most benefit if they are tinctured using the fresh herb. With careful attention and a firm grasp you can pick nettles without getting stung, or wear long sleeves and gloves. Nettles lose their sting when they are dried.

Dosage of nettle tincture is 10 - 30 drops 3 times per day.

 

USNEA (Usnea barbata) - Usnea is an herbal antibiotic useful for treating respiratory infections, colds & flu, urinary tract infections, bacterial infections and fungal infections. Usnea inhibits the growth of staphylococcus, streptococcus and pneumonococcus. At the onset of an illness I use a combination of echinacea and usnea. I have had great results using this herb and would not be without it. The active ingredient in usnea does not dissolve well in water so the tinctured form is more effective than tea.

Dosage for usnea tincture is 1/2 teaspoon 3 - 4 times per day.

 

VALERIAN ( Valeriana officinalis ) - Valerian is sedative and antispasmodic useful for insomnia, nervousness, pains and the symptoms of stress. It has a strong odor and taste that is disagreeable to many but its effectiveness makes it a worthwhile herb to have in your medicine chest. Tincture valerian alone or combine with skullcap, hops, and passion flower for a synergistic combination.

You can grow valerian in your garden for your own supply of fresh root. The odor of the fresh root is not as disagreeable as the dried root.

Dosage for valerian tincture is 10 drops to 1 teaspoon three times a day, or as needed.

 

GATHERING & HARVESTING HERBS

With a little effort you can find many useful herbs for tincturing growing near your home. If you want to obtain your herbs this way you will need to pay attention to these plants so that you can harvest them at the appropriate time. The general rule is to harvest the above ground portions of the plant when it is flowering and harvest roots when the above ground portions begin to die back. You can find many useful herbs growing near your home. Perhaps in your lawn, a meadow, or in a wooded area. If the herb is growing in an area that is free from chemical contamination then it is safe to harvest some for your own use. Avoid harvesting from fields that may have been sprayed with pesticides and from harvesting along roadways where the plants absorb pollutants released from cars.

Please honor the ethical wildcrafting guidelines. It is not difficult for us to severely threaten a plant species due to over- harvesting. We see this with many herbs that are valuable to us such as ginseng, echinacea and goldenseal. If you choose to collect your own herbs, remember to show appreciation for these healing gifts the earth provides to us and collect in a way that helps the plants to reproduce and flourish in their natural environments.

The information contained here is a sharing of the authors experiences and those of other herbalist. It is not intended to treat, diagnose or prescribe. This information is not a substitute for professional health care and guidance.

Recommended Reading and references

AN ELDERS' HERBAL. David Hoffmann. Vermont. Healing Arts Press.1993

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NATURAL MEDICINE. Michael Murry, N.D. & Joseph Pizzorno, N.D. California. Prima Publishing. 1991.

HERBAL HEALING FOR WOMEN, Rosemary Gladstar. New York. Simon & Schuster.1993

THE HERBS OF LIFE. Lesley Tierra. L. AC. California. Crossing Press. 1992.

THE MALE HERBAL: HEALTH CARE FOR MEN & BOYS. James Green. California. Crossing Press. 1991.

PRESCRIPTION FOR NUTRITIONAL HEALING. James F. Balch M.D.& Phyllis A. Balch, C.N.C. New York. Avery Publishing Group. 1990.

THE WAY OF HERBS, Michael Tierra C.A.,N.D. New York, Simon & Schuster Inc.1990.

ECO-HERBALISM: ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS FACING HERBALIST TODAY. Rosemary Gladstar. Written for the North East Herb Association Newsletter

HERB BOOK. John Lust. New York. Bantam Books. 1974.

HERBAL HEALING FOR WOMEN, Rosemary Gladstar. New York. Simon & Schuster.1993

HERBAL MEDICINAL PREPARATIONS. Rosemary Gladstar Slick. Vermont. Sage

INDIAN HERBOLOGY OF NORTH AMERICA, Alma R. Hutchens. Boston. Shambhala. 1973.

THE WAY OF HERBS, Michael Tierra C.A.,N.D. New York, Simon & Schuster Inc.1990.

POCKET HERBAL REFERENCE GUIDE. Debra Nuzzi. California. The Crossing Press. 1992.

USNEA: THE HERBAL ANTIBIOTIC. Christopher Hobbs. California. Botanica Press. 1990.



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