If you’ve wandered the aisles of a health food store or old school pharmacy then you’ve likely seen tiny amber dropper bottles that look like they belong in an herbal apothecary. These are known as tinctures, or concentrated herbal extracts made by soaking medicinal herbs in alcohol to draw out all their potent medicinal constituents.

At Organic Olivia, we actually create alcohol-free tinctures, which are technically called glycerites, for several different reasons:

  1. Using glycerine instead of alcohol makes the extract much sweeter and, therefore, more palatable
  2. We can include children and those of us who are sensitive to alcohol and/or avoid it altogether.

Today we’re going to demystify tincture making and hopefully encourage you to try your hand at making one in your home! They’re easier than you think, we promise.

2 Common Methods 

When it comes to making tinctures, there are two main methods: the folk method and the ratio method. Neither is necessarily better or worse than the other, rather, it really comes down to your personal preference and how you like to go about creating things in your kitchen. Think about it this way – when you cook a meal, are you more of a recipe follower or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person who enjoys throwing something together without measuring much? If you’re the former, you’re going to love the ratio method. And if you’re more the latter, the folk method is 100% your vibe!

The ratio method is quite calculated, using standardized ingredient ratios and requiring everything to be measured by weight-to-volume. In other words, the weight of the plant material (also known as the marc) must be in proportion to the volume of alcohol (also known as the menstruum) when making a tincture. In herbalism, we typically use grams and milliliters as our units for weight and volume. Here’s the general formula:

  • For tinctures made with fresh herbs: 1:2 (using a menstruum with an alcohol content of 95%)
  • For tinctures made with dried herbs: 1:5 (using a menstruum with an alcohol content of 50-65%)

If you’re planning to make a tincture with a heartier herb or a mushroom, both of which contain minerals and other plant constituents (like polysaccharides) that don’t extract very well in alcohol, you will want to employ the decoction tincture method, or double extraction method. This consists of simmering the herbs in a saucepan with water, then pouring your decocted herbs into a jar with alcohol to tincture. Alternatively, you can tincture your herbs first, strain them off and then decoct the strained plant material in a saucepan with water, and finally add the strained off tincture to the decoction for a finished tincture. Here’s a great step-by-step article on how to do a double extraction from beginning to end.

The Alcohol Component

Let’s talk alcohol for a second, because the percentages can get a little confusing. When we say 95% alcohol, this means that it’s 190 proof and extremely strong, making it a perfect solvent or menstruum for breaking down herbs. Alcohols that fall into this category would include Everclear, cane alcohol, coconut alcohol, and other spirits that you can purchase online from places like The Organic Alcohol Company. On the other hand, 65% alcohol would be something like strong brandy, whiskey or double proof vodka. Most store-bought hard alcohol would fall into the 40-60% range, for reference. For the sake of ease, we would recommend buying 95% alcohol and then diluting it with water to hit your intended alcohol percentage.  

*Note: if you don’t want to use alcohol, just replace the alcohol with glycerine in any tincture recipe. 

The Process

Regardless of what tincture method you choose, the process remains pretty much the same. If you have a high-speed blender or food processor, you’ll either add your chopped up fresh herbs or dried herbs to the blended with the proper strength alcohol and pulse it up so that the plant matter is broken down as much as possible and there is more surface area available for the alcohol to penetrate the herbs and work its magic. Pour this blended up mixture into a glass jar, lid it, and then let it sit for 6-8 weeks.

Now if you don’t have a blender, no sweat at all. You can simply chop up your fresh herbs or crush up your dried herbs, pack them into an appropriately sized mason jar, fill the jar with the corresponding type of alcohol, and seal it. Again, let this sit for 6-8 weeks. When it’s ready, strain your tincture into a clean dropper bottle using a fine mesh strainer and muslin or cheesecloth to squeeze out every last drop of the herbal goodness. This will keep for up to 10 years!

DIY Violet Tincture 

To preserve the nutritive, nourishing vibrancy of fresh violets in the early summer, we love making a simple tincture. This recipe uses the folk method and requires very little ingredients or materials, making it easy to whip up right in your home kitchen.

What You’ll Need:

  • Fresh violet leaves
  • 190 proof organic alcohol of choice (we used cane alcohol)
  • Glass jar with a lid
  • Small tincture bottle 

The Method:

  1. Harvest fresh violet leaves and allow them to sit out for a bit, letting any critters escape 
  2. Add the violet leaves and alcohol to a blender and pulse a few time to macerate them
  3. Pour the maceration into a clean mason jar and lid it
  4. Label your jar with the contents and date and allow to steep for 6-8 weeks 
  5. Strain into a clean glass bottle, label again and enjoy!

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