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What happened to my tinctures?

Making your own tinctures needn't be difficult

One of the effects of the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (2004/24/EC) is that we’re no longer allowed to sell tinctures over the counter for internal use.  Though appropriate herbal tinctures can still be accessed on prescription after a consultation with a Medical Herbalist (link).  While this new regime has benefits (eg as well as offering expert advice, the herbalist will identify the correct herbs and dose for each individual) the Directive can be frustrating to people who’ve grown used to buying their own tinctures unimpeded.

The good news is that it’s relatively easy to make your own tinctures at little cost.  In fact, it’s so simple that once you’ve done it, you’ll be such a master that you’ll be spreading the technique to your friends and family!

What is a tincture?

A tincture is an alcoholic extract of a substance.  In herbal medicine, this substance is some form of plant material, such as leaves, roots or flowers, and tinctures are usually made with 25% alcohol, although 45% and 90% concentrations exist too.  Many find tinctures convenient as they can deliver a more precise dose than a tea and they are often easier to take, especially if the taste isn’t the loveliest or there isn’t ready access to tea-making facilities.

Tincture strengths normally range from one third of herb to the alcohol solution (1:3) down to one tenth of herb to alcohol solution (1:10).  The most common strength is 1:5, meaning that 1ml of the tincture is roughly equivalent to 5g of the herb.  Alcohol is used because of its powers of extraction and preservation – a tincture can be kept for many years.  If you don’t wish to use alcohol, glycerin may be used, though in general a weaker and less preserved tincture will result.

What do I need?

The easiest type of alcohol to use for a home made tincture is vodka because of its high alcohol content and neutral flavour. With vodka it is fairly easy to make a 25% tincture with fresh herbs (remember that the water in the herb will reduce the alcohol percentage of the overall tincture), or a 45% tincture with dried herbs.

To make a tincture, add the herb into a clean container (such as a glass jar), cover with alcohol and leave in a cool, dark place for around 3 weeks.  Shake the bottle each day. After a few weeks the alcohol should have changed colour.  Strain off the herb using a muslin cloth or a coffee filter, bottle in an opaque bottle and store in a cool dark place away from children and animals.  It’s always worthwhile labeling the bottle with a note of the date and what’s in it.

And that’s it!

Hold on – what about quantities?

To make half a litre of lavender tincture (strength 1:5, alcohol 45%) use 100 gm dried lavender flowers and 500 ml of vodka. Only use enough herb for the vodka to cover, you may have to use 50 gm initially and then repeat the process with the other 50 gm.

And fresh herbs?

For fresh herbs you will need a larger weight of herb due to the water content. For instance to make marigold tincture (strength 1:5, alcohol 25%) use about 200 gm of marigold flowers and 500 ml of tincture. With fresh herbs it is very likely the process will need to be done twice. Another way to make a strong tincture is to grind the herbs down before adding the alcohol, that way more herbs can be fitted into the jar.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, are on any medication or have a medical condition, always consult a healthcare practitioner before taking any dietary supplement or herbal remedy.