Friday, July 15, 2011

About and How To: Tinctures

This may be shared so long as the note that I am not a certified herbalist remains.

Tinctures are really useful, and many tinctures can replace heavy medication. But remember- Tintures ARE medicine, and need to be used with care as such. Just be sure that if you are continuing with phrama-meds you make sure that the tincture you are using doesn’t react badly. When your doctor asks what medicines you are taking, include your tinctures too! 

Below, I have written up a basic recipe, followed by some further information about Tinctures, a brief history of use as medicine, as well as what the difference is from cordials and infusions.

Note: I personally am not formally trained in herbalism. Instead, I was raised on and with herbal and folk medicine by a woman who is a healer, Wise Woman/spá-kona, and trained as an herbalist and energy healer. This is the “traditions” I was raised with when it comes to healing. 


You will need:

  • A jar or jug that has a seal able lid. Mason jars that have screw tops work well. 
  • Enough of the herb(s)- powdered or thoroughly cut or crushed and dried or fresh- you are making it from to fill the jar loosely, though a smaller amount of herb can be used.
  • A distilled alcohol of at LEAST 80 proof (40% Alcohol); 100 proof or higher is better. Some sources say to use Everclear if you can get it. For those who cannot use alcohol, Vinegar or distilled water can be used instead though this is not to my personal taste. 
  • Cheese Cloth*
  • Rubber band*
  • container to store finished tincture *
  • A dark cool spot that you won’t forget about.

* - Optional


  1. Put your herbs in the jar so that they sit loosely in it, leaving at least two fingers of space from the lid. Less can be used if desired. Make sure it is crushed if dried, or cut decently fine if not. If you are unable to cut, that is alright- My violet tincture uses whole flowers- but it tends to work best if it is. 
  2. Pour alcohol over the herbs until all of the herbs are completely covered. There should be a finger of air MINIMUM between the alcohol and the lid when closed. If using bitter herbs, using Rum can make it less bitter. Vodka is more typical, though the “higher shelf”/better quality it is the better. Potato-y Vodka + herbs can make a pretty nasty tincture.
  3. Seal the jar. Make sure it is tight- you don’t want the condensation to escape. You don’t have to seal them with wax or anything though. I’ve seen them done in big glass pickle jars with twist lids, though the better the seal the better. 
  4. Put in a cool, dark place away from heat for 3-6 weeks. Shake it once a day, but DO NOT OPEN until the minimum 3 weeks has passed. 
  5. Steps 6-8 are Optional. I leave my tinctures with herbs in the jars they were made in unless I am traveling, in which case I might put only so much as I need in baby food jars or in thoroughly cleaned travel bottles. Leaving them in can increase potancy as you use it. 
  6. Open the Jar your tincture has been sitting in. Spread the cheese cloth over the top and secure with a rubber band.
  7. Carefully pour the liquid into your new storage container. Doing this over a sink is ideal, though use of a funnel can also be helpful.
  8. When it seems like all the liquid has drained off: Hold the cheesecloth on, but remove the rubber band. turn the jar upside down so that the soggy herbs fall into the cheese cloth. Squeeze this over your new container to get the remaining tincture into your new conatainer. 
  9. Store in a cool dark place (medicine cabinets are suitable for this) with a resealable lid. Tinctures do not need refridgerated. 

How do I use a Tincture?

Tinctures tend to be used in limited doses when used medicinally. While it is best to have someone trained in herblore or in using a particular recipe to give you an amount for your dose, typical doses tend to be in “drops” (for example, I have one that is “30-60 drops”) to Teaspoons. Most tinctures can be safely taken at 1 teaspoon 1-3 times a day. 

My personal daily regimen currently includes 1 teaspoon each of Catnip, Violet, and Tumeric Tinctures. I have a tiny shot sized wine tasting cup that I use to combine them all in to down quickly, sometimes adding a teaspoon of sugar or sweetener if my stomach is eyeing it. Some people prefer to put their doses in their tea or coffee or in juice or other liquid. I’ve seen it put in smoothy type things for those who are on liquid diets, or even in milk for one gentleman recieving hospice care.

If you aren’t completely sure about how an herb is used, PLEASE consult a doctor or an herbalist. There are some herbs that can make chemo less effective, and some natural anti-depressants like st. john’s wort can cause potentially deadly serotonin storm if mixed improperly with a lot of perscription anti-depessants and other Psycho-phrama. If you have a particular condition, try looking for an herbalist familiar with that condition if it is one that tends to have complexities. 

Tinctures should not be consumed like it is a liquor or as a recreational beverage. Indeed, many don’t taste that great for this use. Instead, you should try a cordial for the recreational intake which can be used as medicine but is more commonly used as a “special occation” beverage now a days. 

What is a Tincture?

A Tincture is made of an Herb soaked in an alcohol that is between 80 and 140 US proof (40-70 abv). A higher proof or ABV can be used though, and with some herbs can be prefered. It is allowed to seep, and is not heated. It is a way of extracting and delivering the oils or essence of an herb(s). 

Note: The Polish Nalewka also technically fits this description, though in the EU Nalewka can only be called such if made in Poland (or Lithuania I believe) or by a family that is from the region, culturally. Some people allow for specific recipes that were passed down through families in the region to be called this as well. Please respect this- many of the cultural practices of this region were stamped out between the late 1700’s and late 1800’s by cultural pressure and conquest from Western Europe. 

What is the difference from a Cordial or an Infusion?

A Cordial is made in a similar fashion, but uses alcohol that is under 80 proof. That, technically, is the difference. However, cordials are often sweeter, and can be used more in a way that is like dessert wine as far as how it is consumed. Many are made with fruit, though herbs may be used, and a good number use sugar or other sweeteners such as honey. Brandy tends to be the most commonly used alcohol for a cordial.

An infusion involves heat. Hot Oil or water (or a mixture thereof) is poured over the herbs, and allowed to cool. For medicinal use, it should sit for 4 or more hours. For non-medicinal/recreational use, “tea” is a good example of a simple infusion. These, unlike tinctures, need refridgerated. 

What is the History of Tinctures?

Tinctures actually date back as far as the thing that makes it a tincture- that is, distilled alcohol. While cordials and infusions had been known for thousands of years, and some might point to Ancient Egyptian recipes for cordials as ancient “tinctures.” But tinctures, by the actual definition, had to wait until after 1000 CE.

When Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sīnā (Commonly refered to as Ibn Sīnā; Romanized in western references as Avicenna) discovered distilling, he also found that medicine could be made from the distilled alcohol. Along with many other medical topics in his Al-Qanoon fi al-Tibb (The Canon of Medicine), published in 1025, Ibn Sīnā wrote down recipes for medicines that would today be called tinctures. 

Distilling wasn’t commonly known in Europe until the 1400s, and didn’t become wide spread until around 1500, though the Irish and Scottish peoples adopted distillery much earlier than the rest of Europe. However, Ibn Sīnā’s Al-Qanoon fi al-Tib was the basis for the teaching of medicine in the west from the 12th-17th centuries and so his discoveries around medicine and medicinal uses of distilled alcohol did become ingrained in western medicine. 

By the “Victorian” era in Anglocentric cultures, Tinctures were common. Laudanum is a Tinture of Opium, and Paregoric- used over the counter in the US until the 1970s, commonly with small children- is a Camphorated variety. Warberg’s Tincture was a common medicine used in the treatment of fevers, including malarial fevers- and was used to treat colds until the 1980s. Until the 1920s, cannibis Indica tinctures were sold in your average pharmacy. Any number of the elixirs and other medicines found commonly advertised were either cordials or tinctures. 

It wasn’t until pharmacology moved on to emphasizing pills that tincture usage fell into disuse, though the advent of mail-order purchasing may had led to some decrease in the creation of homemade tinctures. 

on Ibn Sīnā:

On Tinctures and cordials in Medieval and Ren Europe:

If you have any comments, questions, or corrections, please feel free to comment. 


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