For centuries people have been making and ingesting extracts of various herbs. The general consensus is that these extracts have medicinal benefits and/or taste good. These extracts are generally called Tinctures. Iodine, sleeping potions, and cold remedies fit into the above category, and so do coffee and tea. Terms used to describe processes to make these extracts, and to use the extract for various purposes are varied and somewhat confusing. This article is an attempt to explain tinctures in general, and to give an example of making a tincture using the herb, Echinacea purpura (common name is coneflower) as an example.
The name Tincture has several definitions depending upon who uses the term. For example a chemist most probably would define tincture as a solution of something dissolved in alcohol. Most of us are familiar with a Tincture of Iodine and a Tincture of Mercurochrome.
Botanists and Herbologists tend to use the term Tincture to refer to an extract of plant material. In general the solvent is ethyl alcohol, but occasionally other solvents such as acetic acid (vinegar), glycerin (glycerol), or propylene glycol (common ingredient of food and skin products) are used.
All plants contain many non woody compounds within their tissues. The goal of making a tincture is to extract most of the compounds that are healthful for the human body of taste good and put them in a concentrated form whereby the human can ingest them readily and easily.
Many of these compounds are soluble in water, but some are not. Those that are not soluble in water can usually be extracted with a lipid solvent such as ethyl alcohol, etc. A combination of both water and ethyl alcohol can extract both.
There are many reasons why an acid such as acetic acid (vinegar) and/or propylene glycol is not always the best lipid solvent. Acids cannot dissolve many of the naturally occurring acidic compounds in plant tissue, and ingested propylene glycol may have some negative side-effects to humans. These solvents may also be prone to bacterial contamination and may have to be refrigerated. Tinctures made with at least 25% ethyl alcohol and 75% water, while flammable, can have an indefinite non-refrigerated shelf life.
For those persons concerned about drinking alcohol, several drops of a 25% alcohol tincture probably contain less ethyl alcohol than a ripe banana.
All parts of the Echinacea plant seems to contain efficacious healthy compounds. One can readily taste these compounds in the roots, stems leaves, and flowers. The roots of a two or three year old plant seem to have the most concentrated compounds. I prefer to harvest the seed heads of young plants in the fall and extract the roots in their second or third year of growth.
A veritable cookbook of herbal concoctions and suggestions can be found in Helen Anderson’s book “Herbs, The Natural Alternative.” This is a Kindle book, Amazon ASIN: B00529H89U.
How to Tincture Fresh Echinacea Plant Material (Maceration Method)
This is a simple procedure which only requires that you take 1 part/wt of fresh plant, put it in a jar with 2 parts per volume of 95% ethyl alcohol, and shake the jar daily for 2 weeks. At the end of the 2 weeks, strain the mixture, and the strained fluid is your extract. You can bottle it. This method when used with fresh roots makes the strongest tincture.
One can easily purchase the alcohol from a liquor store, or in some states you can buy it tax free from the state Department of Alcohol & Tobacco. Names such as Everclear or (190 proof alcohol) are synonyms for 95% ethyl alcohol. I understand that some states won’t allow the purchase of 95% ethyl alcohol. In that case use the strongest vodka you can buy.
How to Tincture Dried Echinacea Plant Material (Maceration Method)
This process is a little more complicated than using fresh material. You want to end up with a 1:5 ratio of dried plant material to 70% ethyl alcohol. This means you take one part by dry weight of plant and mix it with 5 parts by volume of 70% ethyl alcohol. Let the mixture sit for 10 to 14 days and then, using a cheese cloth or dish towel, squeeze the liquid into a container and bottle it.
How to Tincture Dried Echinacea Plant Material (Percolation Method).
This technique seems a bit more involved, but is quicker and, I think, better. Follow the steps.
1. Measure the packed volume of the dried finely ground herb that you wish to extract.
2. Add 2/3 of this volume of herb, in the form of 70% alcohol, to the herb, cover and let it soak for 12 to 24 hours. By the way, the percolation fluid is called the “menstruum” for some reason.
3. Cut the bottom out of a 1 or 2 Liter plastic bottle. Hang the bottle upside down or put it into a ring stand. Put a cork with an inserted tube (see figures) into the neck of the bottle. Put a pinch clamp on the tube so that you can control the volume of fluid flowing from the upper bottle to the lower one.
4. Put a coffee filter or some paper toweling into the neck of the bottle. Fill the bottle fairly tightly and smoothly with the ground and presoaked herb. Place another filter over the packed herb.
5. Fill the bottle with the correct volume of menstruum. Remember that the final ratio of herb to 70% alcohol is 1 part by weight to 5 parts by volume. For example the amount of menstruum to use for 100 g herb is 500 ml plus the value used to soak the packed dry herb.
6. Adjust the pinch clamp so that the menstruum filters through and herb at a rate of about 1 drop per second.
7. Collect and bottle your tincture. It is now satisfactory for human ingestion as recommended by your medical advisor.
I generally make my tinctures in 500 ml or 1 liter batches. This process makes consistent tinctures which vary only to the extent that the plant material itself varies.
How to Make Various Percentages of Ethyl Alcohol From Stronger Concentrations ethyl alcohol.
Many people don’t know how to make a 70% or weaker alcohol/water sollution from Everclear or 95% alcohol/water sollution such as you would buy from a liquor store.
A simple way to make 70% ethyl alcohol from 190 proof alcohol is to pour 70 ml of 95% alcohol into a 100 ml graduated cylinder, and fill the cylinder up to the 95 ml mark with water. The result is 70% alcohol/water.
This method works well for other alcohol ratios also. For example should you wish to make 45% alcohol/water with 60% alcohol/water, pour 45 ml of the 60% alcohol into your graduated cylinder and fill the cylinder up to the 60 ml mark with water. The result is a 45% alcohol/water sollution.
You might find a more complete source of this information in Remington’s Pharmaceutical Science. ISBN # 0-912734-04-3.
If you wish to see the mathematics involved with the above, send me an email.