• Julie Douglas

Tinctures & Herbal Extracts Explained

Updated: Dec 3, 2019

"What's a tincture?" Is a question I often get after explaining to folks that no, I do not sell essential oils.

To put it simply, a tincture is traditionally an alcohol extract of a plant be it root, bark, leaf, flower, seed, or berry. Alcohol is a wonderful solvent for extracting plant constituents. I use 190 proof Organic Cane Alcohol since it's mild, usually isn't an issue for folks who struggle with allergies to grains/potato's etc, and it's smooth (as smooth as 95% ETOH can be).

Depending on the constituents, phyto chemicals and if the plant is fresh or dry, I'll dilute the alcohol with filtered or spring water. I like to make single plant tinctures so I can custom formulate different herbs together depending on the person's constitution. Herbs are generally not one size fits all, but there are formulas that have worked very well for a wide range of folks. Brandy is also used for elixirs and the nourishing tinctures since it has a sweeter and more pleasant taste. Apple cider vinegar, Glycerine, Honey and Oil are also great used as solvents depending on the plant and what you're trying to extract. These are good alternative solvents if you are not able to ingest alcohol, are going through recovery or are allergic.

Every plant is different and requires different ratios and dilution rates. As long as the end alcohol percentage is at 20-25% ETOH, it will be preserved and shelf stable for a very long time, even indefinitely! Vinegars, Glycerites, oils and honey have a shorter shelf life.

Fever Few Tincture

You can use the Folk way of medicine making which is more forgiving and requires less math and figuring out, but dosing will be different and not as precise. The Folk way is done by adding alcohol or solvent of your choice to a jar of chopped up herbs ensuring the menstrum (liquid) is covering the plant material. The more surface area of the plant you expose, the better the extraction...so work on your knife skills! If you're starting out, small batches using the folk method is a great way to get to know the plants. It's also useful for more intuitive medicine making or if you're out in the field.

There's also the double extraction method when making tinctures from fungus, mushrooms and lichen. The constituents in these beauties require heat, water and alcohol to get the most out of the plant. This is a two step process and takes even more time and patience, but is so worth it in the end!

St. John's Wort harvest

Tinctures take 2-4 weeks to macerate. I let mine go for the full 4 weeks, and honestly some will go longer! A lot of times I'll make medicine with the phases of the moon, but it doesn't always work out that way and that's okay. Dry plant tinctures should be given a good shake daily, or when you remember. I like to shake, dance and add some loving affirmations to the jars, doesn't hurt to add some of that booty shakin' medicine.

St. John's Wort Tincture, notice the lovely red color it produces!

More Info On Medicine Making and choosing solvents by Lorna Mauney Brokek of Herbalista



-The percentage equals 1⁄2 of the listed proof. 80 proof vodka is 40%

alcohol (and 60% H2O)

-Excellent at extracting resins, balsams, camphors, essential oils, and


-Depending on the herb, you either use straight 195 proof/ 95% alcohol or blend

the 95% alcohol with water to achieve a desired lower percentage. One can also

80 or 100 proof (40 or 50%) alcohol such as brandy, vodka, or tequila.

-Shelf Life: The end product must contain at least 20% alcohol for reliable


-Macerate for a minimum of 2 weeks.


-An excellent solvent with a wide range of extraction potential. Also pretty darn available. The “other part” of diluted alcohol menstruums.

-Use clean water. If from a well, have it tested regularly and if from a municipal source, make sure to filter.

-Excellent at extracting sugars, gums, mucilage, polysaccharides, some alkalids such as berberine, allantoin, tannins, to name a few.


-ACV is a dilute acetic acid liquid (just over 5% solution)

-Since ACV has a large percentage of water already present, it can extract all the

constituents water does, such as mucilage, starch, sugar, gums, and tannins with the bonus of being an extremely efficient extractor of both minerals and alkaloids.

-Shelf Life: Due to large amount of water present, use straight. Do not further dilute. Refrigerate fresh plant vinegar extracts. Store dry plant vinegar extracts in a cool, dark place.

-Use wax paper between jar and cap when macerating.

-Macerate between 2 and 4 weeks.


-Glycerin is the sweet principle of oils, obtained by hydrolysis. Vegetable Glycerin is often made from soy. However, after the hydrolysis process, no proteins remain. Allergies are reactions to proteins, therefore it should be safe for someone, even if they have a soy allergy.

-In general, extracts constituents similar to water and alcohol, just to a weaker extent. Especially effective at extracting tannins.

-For reliable storage the end product should be at least 60-70% glycerin. It is used straight when working with fresh herbs due to the presence of water in the fresh material and may be diluted to extract dry herbs. Shelf life is 3-5 years.

-Also used in small percentages (5-10%) in other tincture preparations to reduce precipitation of tannins and alkaloids.

-Macerate for 1 month.

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