Want to make your own herbal medicines, but not sure where to start? Tinctures (alcohol extracts) and infusions (concentrated teas) are my favorite ways to take herbs internally– after eating them as food, of course! Both methods involve soaking plant material, whether leaves, flowers, roots or seeds, in a liquid.
Which liquid is preferable depends on what you’re trying to get out of the plant — that is, the type of constituents you’re going for. Tinctures are often used for acute or specific concerns, while water-based infusions, when made part of your regular diet, just like “an apple a day,” gently strengthen the body.
Remember that knowing how to make herbal medicines doesn’t mean you know how or when to use them. If you do have possibly serious concerns, don’t hesitate to consult a health professional.
Alcohol-based extracts are quick and convenient: they are appropriate for acute ailments and first-aid situations. And they have a shelf life of three to five years or more.
Plant constituents that dissolve easily into alcohol include (as their name suggests) alkaloids. Plants with important alkaloids also frequently have other constituents that dissolve more easily into water. For this reason, I tincture plants in equal parts alcohol and water. That is what is meant by “100 proof” alcohol: 50 percent alcohol and 50 percent water.
To make your own tincture, chop fresh plant material, pack into a glass jar, and cover with 100 proof alcohol. Ideally you want a 1:2 ratio of plant weight to alcohol volume. If you have 6 ounces of dandelion roots, for example, use 12 fluid ounces of alcohol. If you are using leaves, packing the container full and tightly is close enough.
Keep in mind that a tincture will only be as potent as the plant material in it. The less fresh the material, the less potent your medicine. If the plants are dried, they are further removed from the source and don’t tincture as well. So try to complete the whole process, from field to jar, the same day.
Label your jar with the contents and the date and let it sit for six weeks. Then strain out the plant material and viola, you have enough homemade tincture to fill and refill a 1- or 2-ounce dropper bottle many times over.
Tincture dosages are usually expressed in drops, and a dropper (when squeezed and released once) contains about 25 drops. When taking tinctures, it’s best to dilute in water or juice.
If you are concerned about the alcohol content, you can just use warm tea instead, as much of the alcohol will evaporate out with the steam. Keep in mind, though, that each dropperful has no more alcohol than a ripe banana.
Infusions, or concentrated teas, extract nutrients like minerals, vitamins, and chlorophyll. Infusions taken daily are nourishing and tonifying.
Infusions are best made with dried herbs because they can only be left for a few hours, not for weeks, so there’s not as much time for the liquid to penetrate the tough cell walls in the plant. During the drying process the cell walls of the plants are weakened. Then the contents of those cells, when soaked in water, easily come out into solution. That’s why fresh leaves will barely color a tea while dried ones will often turn it a dark, rich hue.
This is not to say that fresh plants should not simply be eaten. Let’s say you have fresh Nettles outside your doorstep . . . rather than brewing the leaves like an infusion, cook them — and eat both greens and broth!
To make an infusion, place one ounce (about a cup) of dried plant material into a quart mason jar. Fill with boiling water, cap, and let steep for four to six hours or overnight. You can add a pinch of mint for flavor. Then strain out the plant material and enjoy one or more cups daily. With most tonic herbs, the dosage need not be precise. These are foods: help yourself!
Infusions keep for several days in the refrigerator. You can drink them warm or cold, sweetened or plain. The important thing is to make them a part of your daily diet, and for that, they need to be something you enjoy.
Try some out yourself. My favorite infusion herb is Nettles, which is nourishing for the adrenals and kidneys, as well as the hormonal and immune systems. My favorite tinctures to have on hand in the family medicine chest include the renowned immune tonic, Echinacea, as well as St Johnswort and Motherwort.
It feels good to make your own herbal medicine and to make herbal food your medicine!
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