What extraction method is best?

Something that I continue to have a hard time grasping is deciding/knowing what extraction method to use for what herb. Do you just have to learn as you go, or are there common indicators that the plant gives so that you instinctively will know?


  • monica197
    monica197 Posts: 332 ✭✭✭✭✭

    We can't underestimate that instinct as you mention, you know?

    At my recent trip to the Plymouth Plantation I learned in the apothecary that in the 1600s they had a medicine they made by grinding the fresh herb with sugar and then one grinding fresh herb with honey, letting them both harden in a small pottery vessel and then 'cracking' a piece off with a spoon when it was needed. I forget what she called it - it was a word I had never heard before.

    I have noticed that some things work better done certain ways - for example, fermenting garlic in honey - when I am not feeling the best a spoonful of garlic honey just sounds a lot more interesting than a spoonful of an alcohol based garlic tincture, you know what I mean?

    What do you do?

  • vickeym
    vickeym Posts: 1,938 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I still struggle with this as well. When I first started exploring and learning herbs I tinctured everything. When I tried to strain things out I found out that powdered herbs are much harder to strain. lol And that many uses for the herb do not work as well in alcohol. Using plantain as a poultice just isn't practical when it is a tincture in alcohol. Putting alcohol on a cut was not a fun way to get the family to use it.

    On the other hand taking an oil as a few drops under your tongue wasn't always the right choice either.

    Still working on what to use when though I did figure out that many herbs make a good tea although not always tasty.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,402 admin

    Its more about which constituents you want to extract.

    I recently did an extraction of burdock root as an experiment. I used dried burdock in alcohol, fresh burdock in alcohol and fresh burdock in vinegar. Each preparation turned out differently. Lots of precipitate in the fresh burdock in alcohol. A bit less in the fresh burdock in vinegar. Hardly any in the dried burdock in alcohol. The sediment is mostly inulin so from dried state, the inulin didn't extract well. I thought the fresh burdock in alcohol tasted the most potent. Vinegar is very good at extracting the mineral compounds from an herb. I was quite surprised at this experiment and from now on will use fresh burdock if I am making a tincture. I am going to combine the two fresh extracts (the one in alcohol and the one in vinegar) for a more complete tincture. Kind of like spagyrics without going to all the extra work of reducing the marc to its mineral salt ashes.

    Another experiment was to make a decocotion from Oregon Grape Root. It tasted very pleasant, kind of grassy, but absolutely none of the bitterness that is generally associated with OGR. Berberine is the bitter alkaloid that you are after in an extraction of OGR, so water is not a good extraction for alkaloid constituents.

    For some plant material, mostly resins, heat is required to be able to get a full extraction of the constituents. But for others heat isn't so beneficial.

    @monica197 If you are ever back to the Plymouth Plantation, be sure to find out what they were making.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,215 admin

    Interesting information & experiments, @torey. I didn't know that you could combine alcohol & vinegar extracts. Would the dosage remain the same as you would have with a tincture?

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,402 admin

    Yes, I would give the same dosage of the vinegar/alcohol tincture as I would with straight alcohol.

  • Alkaloids are not that good soluble in water, depending on there size. As these can be quite bulky molecules they are better soluble in alcohol as alcohol is a good solvent for organic compounds. Chemical speaking.

    In a combination of of 50ml of pure alcohol and 50ml of water you end up with a total volume of round about 90ml, maybe keep this in mind for the combination of vinegar and alcohol extract.

    There is such a wealth of information here I need to take this as a project next year. The chemical basics I know from my studies but the practical use is something completely different.

  • JodieDownUnder
    JodieDownUnder Posts: 1,481 admin

    @LaurieLovesLearning I’ve always thought about it like this. “What do I want to do with the end product”. If it is to consume, then usually a tincture or a tea(dried or fresh). If topical, then an infused oil, so I can then make a salve or lotion or keep as an oil. I know that is very basic and some herbs “cross over” but I try to keep it simple. Remembering all the medicine men & women of the past, had very basic homes and equipment.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,215 admin

    @JodieDownUnder I agree with following that line of thinking, but I know that some of the things that you might want out of the plant are best extracted by another means than a person might initially assume. That is the reason why I asked this question.