Herbal Tinctures for Your Health

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This time of year, there is no shortage of ailments- from allergies to colds, the flu to stomach bugs- there are lots of things to make us feel bad. Add COVID to the mix, and the world can be a scary place.

If you're like me, you would rather not take an over-the-counter (OTC) medication for every little sign or symptom. I am by no means against doctors and conventional therapies and treatment options, but I am wary of all the side effects that come along with too many medications.

For my and my family's minor symptoms, I like to use herbal tinctures. These are natural options that, when used correctly, can really help alleviate our symptoms. No, they do NOT taste any better than traditional medications, but they carry far fewer adverse side effects. Making them is super simple and takes very little time. In fact, you can make a year's worth of tinctures in just an afternoon, if you really want to.

Typically, herbal tinctures are made with alcohol (some use Everclear, I use cheap vodka), but you can also use vinegar if you're avoiding alcohol, and I'll include instructions for both methods in this post.

Note: As always, I am not a doctor and I do not play one on the internet. My information is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition or illness, and I DO NOT give medical advice. Please use your own judgment when taking any new medication or supplement, herbal or otherwise. If you have any existing medical conditions, PLEASE consult your physician prior to taking anything new!


What is a tincture, and how does it work?

An herbal tincture is plant material, fresh or dried, that is mixed with alcohol or vinegar and allowed to sit and steep for roughly six weeks. This allows the liquid used to draw out the beneficial properties of the herbal material(s) used. Once strained, you've got a potent liquid tincture that you can take orally to reduce or relieve symptoms of common ailments.

Tinctures work because they use boiling water and alcohol or vinegar to pull all the beneficial compounds from the plant material through a process called maceration. The result is a strong medicinal liquid that contains the compounds of the herbs you used. Once you ingest the tincture, the compounds get to work inside your body to alleviate your symptoms.

Hops, valerian root, catnip, passionflower, and vodka to make a pain relief tincture.
Ingredients for an anxiety/pain relief tincture.

What you'll need:

To prepare the tincture:

  • Herbal material of choice- about 1/4 cup dried or 1 cup fresh

  • Boiling water- enough to just dampen the herbs

  • Vodka or Everclear (note: some people say you should use the higher proof Everclear to extend the shelf life of the tincture. Others say cheap vodka is fine. Everclear is pricy, so I've always used the cheapest vodka [which is 40 % alcohol] the package store has to offer, and my tinctures have never gone bad.)- one pint, or enough to fill all your jars if making more than one tincture at a time.

  • Organic apple cider vinegar, if you choose not to use alcohol- enough to fill your jar or jars.

  • A pint-sized mason jar with a tight-fitting lid

  • Stickers or a way to label each jar (I write on the lid)

To strain the tincture:

  • A fine mesh strainer

  • A funnel

  • Your prepared tincture

  • A clean glass container with a lid, preferably dark glass. I like these * amber glass bottles.

  • Stickers or another way to label your bottles.

How to prepare a tincture:

First, add your fresh or dried plant material to your jar. If the herbal material is dry, make sure it's coarsely ground. If it's fresh, make sure larger pieces have been cut up into smaller ones.

I used four herbs- hops, catnip, passionflower, and valerian root- and added two tablespoons of each one. It comes out to a little more than the 1/4 cup called for, but that's not a problem at all.

Next, pour just enough boiling water over the herbs to dampen them. While this step isn't completely necessary, the hot water can help draw out those beneficial compounds. In the photos below, you can see that the herbs are damp, but there is no standing water within the jar. You want them just dampened, not herb soup.

Once you've dampened the herbs, pour the alcohol over the plant material. You want to fill the jar up to its shoulders (where it starts to curve inward at the top). Put the lid on tightly and shake the jar vigorously. Place a label on the jar that lists the date and contents, or simply write on the jar seal. This is especially important if you're making multiple jars, so you don't forget which is which. They all smell similar and taste equally bad (after all, they are medicines), so you won't be able to tell.

Easy, right? All that's left now is to let your tinctures sit. Place them on a shelf out of direct sunlight at room temperature and let them sit for at least four, but up to, six weeks. If you let them sit longer, no worries. It won't harm them. Shake the jar every two to three days.

At the end of the four- to six-week period, strain the material into its new container. To do this, simply place the funnel into the clean bottle and place the fine mesh strainer in the funnel. Pour the liquid through the strainer and allow the herbal material to fall into the strainer. Press on the material with a spoon or your fingers to extract all the liquid. Cap the bottle, label it clearly with the contents and date, and store.

Herbal tinctures that are at least 25-percent alcohol will last indefinitely. They do not have an expiration date and can be used until they are gone. Some people actually joke that you leave them to your great-grandchildren in a will.

Notes on using vinegar:

You prepare a vinegar tincture in the exact same way as an alcohol tincture. You should always use organic apple cider vinegar instead of distilled white vinegar. Allow these tinctures to sit for two to six weeks before straining them following the steps outlined above. The biggest thing to remember is that vinegar tinctures have a shelf life of one year from the date the tincture was prepared. This means if you start the tincture on 01/01/2021, regardless of how long it sat before straining, you should not use it beyond 01/01/2022.

How to take tinctures:

You take herbal tinctures orally. A good starting point is one teaspoon for adults and 1/2 teaspoon for children. You can generally take a tincture every four to six hours as needed to treat your symptoms. If you have any concerns about dosing, please contact a physician.

Some of my favorites:

I've got several tinctures that I keep in my medicine cabinet at all times. Most are combinations of several herbs. The only single herb tincture I keep is chamomile. I'll share some of the common herbal combinations I tincture, and why I chose them.

  • Chamomile: Plain chamomile is soothing and calming, and it can help you or your restless kiddos fall asleep more easily. If kids don't care for the taste, you can mix 1/2 teaspoon into a cup of juice to help them take it. (I am comfortable giving my children the tincture since the dose is small. Please use your own judgment with your children.)

  • Hops: can help ease pain and induce sleep. Hops are strong and should be used carefully.

  • Valerian: a sedative and pain reliever. This can also be strong and should be used carefully.

  • Skullcap: a sedative and nervine. Great for helping ease stress and anxiety.

  • Catnip: good for pain and stress relief. Catnip is also beneficial for cold and flu symptoms.

  • Passionflower: this is a strong sedative.

  • Lemon balm: helpful at reducing stress and is great for treating the symptoms of common winter illnesses.

  • Monarda: also known as bee balm. Monarda is great for respiratory symptoms.

  • Thyme: great for immune support and respiratory symptoms.

  • Peppermint: this is wonderful for digestive concerns such as nausea.

  • Nettle: a whole-body tonic, great for most any tincture.

  • Yarrow: great for women's health and winter illnesses/respiratory symptoms.

I like to combine herbs such as hops, valerian, catnip, and passionflower in a pain relief tincture. I suffer from severe neck and back pain, and one teaspoon of this in the evening does wonders for it.

A simple tincture of lemon balm and peppermint is great for upset stomach issues. Peppermint is quite settling for a nauseated stomach.

I like to tincture a combination of nettle, monarda, thyme, and peppermint for a cold and flu symptom reliever.

You can create tinctures that will help ease things like hypertension (high blood pressure) and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). I would recommend that you purchase a good book such as Tammi Hartung's "Homegrown Herbs" * so that you can read up on different herbs and their uses.

Now that you know how simple it is to make herbal tinctures, you can ditch some of those OTC meds and try something a little more natural. I'd love to hear what you put in your favorite tinctures!

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