By Wendy Tremayne
This article is part of a series on the theme of plants for health. The first part of the series is Your Local Living Medicine Chest: Identification & Collection.
Tincture provides a way for us to preserve the beneficial properties of wild-harvested or homegrown medicinal plants for years. The process is easy and can be adapted to a variety of needs and situations. It can be made of dry or fresh herbs, steeped over several weeks or extracted in one day. Tincture-making is an art with a wide range of nuance. You’ll likely find home herbalists with varying preferences regarding volumes and ratios, measurements of time, menstruum (a substance that dissolves a solid or holds it in suspension) formulas, processes, and the like. Tincture is always made using alcohol as a method of extraction.
This article will walk you through a time-honored and traditional style of tincture-making called percolation. The process originates from Remington’s Pharmacutical Sciences and has likely been modified by home herbalists for a very long time. The method uses alcohol to dehydrate and break down the plant’s cell wall so that the medicinal properties of the plant can be moved to the preserving menstruum. Once preserved in the form of tincture, the plant’s properties can be stored and used as a remedy for years.
The process below uses the low-tech percolation method to extract tincture in one day. It’s an appropriate method for extracting from dried or fresh herbs. It is recommended that you begin the hydration process before bed or in the morning. Once the herb is set to hydrate, you will have several hours to let it sit before beginning the percolation.
5oz of plant material will produce approximately 30oz
35oz of 190-proof grain alcohol Everclear is available at most liquor stores, or you can mail-order the pharmaceutical grade
2 coffee filters
Small kitchen scale
Shallow glass bowl
3-cup mason jar
Wide-bodied pop bottle with screw cap The width of this bottle at its fattest point must be wider than the mouth of your mason jar.
Hydrating: If the plant material is dry, grind 5 ounces of dry material into a powder using a coffee grinder. Hydrate by placing the herb in a glass bowl combined with 5oz of alcohol and 5oz of water. This menstruum should cover all the plant material. If it does not, add a bit more liquid until covered. Cover with fitted plastic wrap to keep air out and to prevent alcohol evaporation. Let this sit for 6 to 8 hours (longer is fine).
Bottle Cutting: While you’re waiting for the plant material to hydrate, you may wish to cut your wide-bodied pop bottle. Using a glass cutter, score a line that will remove the bottom end of the bottle. After scoring a line, hold the bottle over a candle. Turn slowly. Do not rotate the bottle until you hear a popping sound where the flame meets the glass. After you’ve come full circle from where you began, place the bottom end of the bottle in a bowl of cold water. Repeat if necessary until the bottom pops off. If your bottle has a sharp edge remaining, use diamond blade sandpaper to sand the edge to a smooth finish.
Warning: Be very careful when cutting glass. Be sure to wear protective eyewear and gloves.
Percolation Setup: Once your plant material is hydrated arrange the newly cut bottle upside down (cut end up/cap down) inside the mason jar with the cap on tightly. The cut bottle should hover in the mason jar due to the wide body of the pop bottle meeting the smaller mouth of the mason jar. Place a coffee filter in the bottle’s neck (push the filter all the way to the cap) and scoop the wet hydrated plant material onto the filter.
Menustruum: Measure 30oz of alcohol and 8oz of purified water. Pour this mix over the plant material. Once the bottle is full, put the rest aside and add it as needed until you’ve used all the menstruum. Carefully lift the upside down bottle and loosen the screw cap. Adjust it so that one drip comes through every 5 to 10 seconds. Cover the open end with plastic wrap so that no particulates get into your tincture.
Wait and Adjust: Pick up a good book — you’ll be watching this drip for a couple/few hours. Adjust the cap and add menstruum as many times as needed to keep this drip rate and until the menstruum is completed.
When all the menstruum has moved through the percolator you may pour your tincture into bottles for storage. Tincture is best stored in a cool dark place (like a closet). Amber-colored bottles that prevent sunlight from affecting the tincture can be purchased for long-term storage. Your tincture will last at least 2 years, after which its potency may go down some. It’s important that you label your tincture and include the following: plant name, date harvested, date processed, and ingredients (percentage water/alcohol/herb).
About the Author:
Wendy Tremayne is an event producer, conceptual artist, and yoga teacher. One of her projects, Swap-O-Rama-Rama, is a community clothing swap and series of DIY workshops that she created as an alternative to consumerism. Wendy lives in Truth or Consequences, N.M., where she is co-creating an off-grid B&B. Find out more on the Holy Scrap Hot Springs blog. Learn more about Wendy at gaiatreehouse.com.