Botanical Preparations-Tincture Series

silvertipgrizz Posts: 1,990 ✭✭✭✭✭
edited January 2022 in Herbal Medicine-Making

Botanical Preparations-Tinctures part 1

This article is the first in a series giving an overview of some of the most common botanical preparations made at home and found in the marketplace.


Tinctures are plant-based medicines in which ethanol (drinking alcohol) is used as a solvent to extract a plant's constituents. The words alcohol and ethanol are used interchangeably here.

There are two major types of tinctures, macerations, and percolations. A maceration is made by soaking (macerating) the herb in ethanol for a particular amount of time. Percolation is a method where alcohol is poured over dried powdered herbs in a cylinder with the alcohol slowly seeping through (similar to a coffee percolation).

This article will focus on macerations.

Ginkgo biloba tincture

There are a few reasons why tinctures are a popular form of herbal medicine, and there are some drawbacks as well.



  • Tinctures are stable. Along with liniments (made with isopropyl alcohol and used externally), they are the most long-lasting botanical preparation.
  • Alcohol is very good at pulling out most of a plant’s constituents.
  • Alcohol prevents most microbes from growing in the medicine.
  • Other ingredients mix freely in tinctures, such as essential oils and glycerin.
  • Tinctures are easily absorbed, which may increase their effectiveness.
  • They are convenient, easy to carry around and administer.
  • Alcohol is not very expensive and readily available.
  • It is easy to have many individual tinctures and put them together to make an individualized formula.

Feverfew tincture (Tanacetum parthenium)


  • Many people abstain from the use of alcohol. Whenever offering anyone a tincture, it is helpful to explain that the medicine contains alcohol.
  • Alcohol does not extract all the constituents from plants.
  • Large doses may impair judgment and awareness.
  • There are age limits in purchasing alcohol to prepare medicines
  • Tinctures have a strong flavor, which many people find disagreeable.
  • Alcohol can be hard on the body, particularly the liver and kidneys.
  • Alcohol is contraindicated with many pharmaceuticals.
  • Alcohol is more expensive than other menstruums, such as water.

Coming up next: different ways to prepare tinctures

Taylor Rae Tate preparing Kava tincture (Piper methysticum).


  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,622 admin

    7Song is a very experienced clinical herbalist and teacher.

    This is awesome that he is putting out this information.

  • silvertipgrizz
    silvertipgrizz Posts: 1,990 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @torey I thought you might like it

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,622 admin

    Part 2 has arrived.

    Botanical Preparations-Tinctures part 2

    Rose (Rosa species) Petal TinctureThe most common way to prepare tinctures is by maceration. This is done by soaking the plant material in alcohol and letting it sit for a while. There are two common techniques to make these kinds of tinctures, the folkloric and the scientific method (neither term describes the process well).

    In the folklore method, the plants are usually covered in 50% vodka, which then steeps for a few weeks and is shaken regularly. This works fine for many plants and is a common method used by herbalists.

    I like to use the scientific method as it is more consistent with my thought process, and I find it allows for more experimentation and consistency. A few numbers are involved in preparing the medicine in this way, and they can get confusing. These include the alcohol percentage (i.e., 40%, 95%, etc.) and also how much fluid is needed to cover the plant material. This will be given as an herb to fluid ratio (for instance, 1:4). These numbers will be detailed in an upcoming newsletter. 

    Tinctures at the Ithaca Free Clinic

    While these numbers may seem very specific, it is important to note that it is not known what alcohol percentage or herb to weight ratio makes the best medicine. One reason for this is that it is difficult to ascertain the most effective medicine. The most effective tincture would be the most efficacious one. Unfortunately, there are few human clinical trials using herbal tinctures and even less taking into account how they were prepared. I point this out to acknowledge that there are still a lot of questions about the best way to prepare specific plants as tinctures.

    The goal of all of these steps is to extract the medicinal constituents from a plant. In a sense, you are reducing a plant into a liquid form, making it easier to administer.

    Steps in Preparing the Tincture

    Initially, the proof of the alcohol has to be changed to a percentage. This is easily done. Take the proof number and divide it in half, and that is the percentage of alcohol. For instance, if it is 80 proof, the alcohol percentage is 40%. If it is 150 proof, the percentage is 75%.

    Up next, figuring out the alcohol percentage when preparing tinctures.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,622 admin
    edited January 2022

    I gave this a new title to encompass all the parts.

    Here is Part 3.

    Botanical Preparations-Tinctures part 3

    Arielle preparing Jamaican dogwood (Piscidia piscupula) tinctureThe Alcohol Percentage

    This is one of the trickiest and most important numbers needed when preparing a tincture. The basic question is what percentage of alcohol is required to pull out the desired constituents from a plant as well as preserve it.

    Technically, all tinctures are prepared with a hydroethanolic solution, that is, with a combination of alcohol and water. This usually ranges from 40% to 95% (remember, this is a percentage, not a proof.). For example, if the tincture is prepared in 60% alcohol, the other 40% is water.

    An important consideration is making sure the final tincture is above 20% alcohol, as this will prevent microbial growth in your medicine.

    Knowing how much water is in the plant is one of the factors when deciding the alcohol percentage. Some plant parts are 90% water (think of fresh fruit versus dried fruit). Alcohol is hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs water. It will pull the water out of the plant material, thus diluting the final preparation. It will also extract the plant constituents that you want in your menstruum. (A menstruum is the solvent used in making liquid plant medicines. The menstruum for tinctures is ethanol and water.)

    If you press your final product with a tincture press, it will remove almost all of the liquid and other constituents from the plant.

    Tincture pressThe more water in the plant, the higher your alcohol percentage will need to be. Fresh plants need a higher percentage than dried plants, as the dried plants contain very little water, and the final product will be the alcohol percentage you began with.

    For example, if you make a Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) tincture with dried leaves and use 50% alcohol, your final product will be 50%. If you prepare the tincture with fresh Lemon balm leaves, which contain a lot of water, your final product will be much more dilute, as the water from the plant is now in your menstruum.

    A general rule is if the plant is mostly water (think of a carrot), you will likely need 95% ethanol to extract the water and, with it, the constituents from the plant material. This will also prevent the final product from being too dilute.

    If the plant has less water, such as a thin leathery leaf, you can use a lower percentage, such as 70% ethanol, depending on what other ingredients you want to pull out from the plant.

    If the plant is dry, you can use 40%-50% ethanol, as there is no water in the plant but enough in the menstruum to help extract the constituents. There is also no concern about the tincture being too dilute. You generally don't want to go below 40% as it may not pull out enough of the plant's constituents.

    Great spangled fritillary on a Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).Another important consideration is which constituents you want extracted out of the plant. Water is the universal solvent, as it will extract most plant constituents, but alcohol is not far behind. The trouble with just using water (as in tea) is that it is not stable, whereas tinctures have a long shelf life.

    Alcohol will pull out most plant constituents such as alkaloids, saponins, tannins, and essential oils. Sometimes a higher alcohol percentage is needed for certain plant products such as resins, such as Myrrh (Commiphora species). This is because resins are not water soluble (which is why many trees use them as a defense).

    Please note, these are generalizations and guides for figuring out your alcohol percentage, each plant may be a little different.

    The next installment will look at the menstruum: herb ratio.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,622 admin

    The latest in the series.

    Botanical Preparations-Tinctures part 4

    The Herb to Menstruum Ratio

    Preparing Elecampane tincture (Inula helenium, Asteraceae). There are two sets of numbers that often befuddle the botanical tincturer (not really a word, but it fits). The first is the alcohol (ethanol) percentage discussed in the previous newsletter. The next is how much menstruum (fluid) is needed to best cover and extract the constituents from a specific plant.

    Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this, but there are several practical approaches.

    What is the ‘herb: menstruum ratio’? It is a description of the herb weight to the menstruum volume. To put it into a visual context, you will be measuring the herbs on a scale and the menstruum in a measuring cup. The herb is always the first number.

    Here is an example. You have 4 ounces (120 grams) of dried Echinacea purpurea root that you want to make into a tincture, and you are going to use 50% alcohol at a 1:4 ratio. The resulting tincture would be 4:16 (120g:480mL). You would put 4 oz of Echinacea root into a jar and cover it with 16 oz (4x4) of 50% ethanol.

    The question is, how did we arrive at a 1:4 ratio?

    Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora, Lamiaceae) herb in a Vitamix blender.Before going into specific ratios, there are other methods.

    One avenue is the folk method, in which the Echinacea roots are just covered in alcohol without any measuring. Frankly, this often works fine, as one of the main goals is to have the plant material fully covered by the menstruum.

    Then there is the use of a specific set of numbers. Once one establishes a ratio that seems to make the most potent tincture, that same set of numbers can be employed when preparing the same plant in the future. In other words, it can provide consistency between batches of the tincture. For the tincturer, this means keeping good records and having the details on the jar’s label.

    There is often a big difference between tincturing fresh and dried herbs. The water in fresh plants tends to make them heavier and more compact. This means that you can use less alcohol since the plant takes up less room in the jar. Dried plants are often much lighter and take up more space in the jar, requiring more alcohol to cover them.

    The same principle is true for roots, fruits, seeds, and more dense plant materials, which also tend to be more compact and settle at the base of a jar rather than lighter materials such as leaves and flowers, which take up more room.

    Skullcap after it has been reduced in a blender. This is important as you will want to cover all of the plant material in the jar. Covering the herb allows you to extract the constituents from all the plant material in the jar and prevents the uncovered plant material from oxidizing or growing bacteria or fungi. Shaking the jar regularly can also help (this will be covered in a future article).

    If using lighter plant material, you may need to use a lot more menstruum to cover it. This can lead to a dilute tincture as you have greater amounts of alcohol compared to the constituents that will be extracted from the plant material.

    One way to reduce this and compress the plant is by blending it. This is especially useful for very fluffy dried plants such as Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), Damiana (Turnera diffusa), and Hops (Humulus lupulus). If they were not blended, the ratio would need to be about 1:7 to cover the plant. After blending, it is closer to 1:4, making it a more concentrated medicine. I use a Vitamix blender and continually add the alcohol while blending to help reduce the herb. I keep a pad nearby to make a note of how much alcohol I am using so I will know the ratio for the next time.

    The basic principle when preparing a tincture is to cover all the plant material. If all other aspects of this ratio seem confusing, just use this basic guideline.

    In practice, most fresh plant material is tinctured between 1:2 to 1:3. One of the main reasons for this is that you will eventually be extracting all the water from the fresh plant, which will make the final tincture dilute from this water. This will also add bulk to your tincture, especially if using a tincture press to remove all the fluid from the plant.

    With dry plants, this dilution will not happen as they will contain very little moisture. They are often tinctured between 1:4 to 1:6. The numbers will vary depending on several other aspects. This includes how much volume of the jar is occupied by the herb. As mentioned, if the herb cannot be compressed, either manually or with a blender, more alcohol will be needed to cover it. Another factor is the constituents you are looking to obtain from the plant material. For instance, with resinous plants such as Myrrh (Commiphora species), a higher ratio might be needed to dissolve the resin in the menstruum. Higher dilutions (such as 1:8) might be used with plants with potential toxicity, such as Yellow Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens).

    I hope this article helps articulate the ratio in preparing tinctures. 

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,622 admin

    Botanical Preparations-Tinctures part 5

    The Equipment

    Old-style Vita-mixer. I really like the reverse toggle switch on the left side. Here are the equipment and supplies needed for preparing tinctures in this fifth installment on preparing botanical tinctures. As mentioned previously, if you follow the folk method, all you really need is the plant material, jar, ethanol, and label. However, with the more specific scientific approach, you will need measuring equipment as well. The blender and tincture press are optional, but I use them frequently.

    Tincturing equipment. Vitamix blender with tamper, calculator, measuring cup, pad, pen, labels, scale, canning funnel, clear tape, jar, water, alcohol. The Equipment (in alphabetical order)

    All the below equipment can be seen in the photo.

    Blender-for reducing the plant material and exposing it to more ethanol. It also compacts the plant to take up less space in the jar. While expensive, blenders with a strong motor such as a Vita-mix are needed for hard plant material such as roots. The older models are much less expensive on sites like eBay (see photo).

    Calculator-to help with the various calculations.

    Canning funnel-I find this very helpful for pouring the mix from the blender into the jar. They also protect the neck of the jar from breaking when pouring from one glass container into another.

    Ethanol-‘drinking alcohol’, the main menstruum (fluid) for making tinctures.

    Jar-canning jars work well for their strength. And you can purchase plastic lids for them after the tincture is pressed so the alcohol won’t interact with a metal lid.

    Labels for jar-it is important to label the jar right away, as it is easy to forget the details. No specific label type is required, just a piece of paper taped to the jar will do. See the below note about tape.

    Measuring cup-to measure out the liquid volume of ethanol and water.

    Pad-I find it very helpful to keep notes when preparing the medicine and to keep track of how much plant material and menstruum I am using.

    Pen-for the label. I suggest a 'Sharpie' or another indelible ink pen, so they don't run when they get wet.

    Plant material-this is the plant you will be tincturing.

    Scale-to measure the weight of the plant material.

    Tape-I like to use strong, clear tape and tape both sides (or laminate) labels so they will last for many years. A good quality tape is also easier to remove from jars when cleaning them.

    Tarp-or some kind of floor or table covering, as tincture making can get messy.

    Tincture press-I’ve written about this device a few times. It is a very useful piece of equipment to press out the tincture after it has finished macerating (soaking). The problem is that they can be very expensive, hard to find, large and heavy, and they take up household space. There are some smaller and less costly tools that can accomplish this, though not as productively. If you are making a lot of medicine, they are invaluable in retrieving much of the menstruum from the plant material.

    Water-if you are starting with a higher percentage of ethanol (i.e., 95%), you will often need to water it down. I don’t think you have to be too choosy about your water, as long as it doesn’t contain too much sediment.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,622 admin

    For anyone interested, there was a link provided in this e-mail to a video interview on Mountain Rose Herbs' Tea Talk program with 7Song.

  • annbeck62
    annbeck62 Posts: 1,019 ✭✭✭✭

    @torey thanks for posting. There's a lot of great information here. The herbalist I took classes from must have been a "folk herbalist and/or they were keeping it simple for beginners. And blending the mixture down is new to me.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,622 admin

    Botanical Preparations-Tinctures part 6

    This installment will cover converting alcohol percentages, about shaking tinctures, and how long tinctures may last. 

    Windflower (Anemone [Pulsatilla] patens, Ranunculaceae)

    Converting the Alcohol Percentage

    When preparing tinctures, you may need to convert a higher ethanol percentage to a lower percentage. For instance, if you were making a tincture and starting with 95% ethanol and want to tincture the plant at 40%, how do you convert the 95% to 40%?

    There are three numbers necessary for this conversion. The ethanol percentage you are starting with, the percentage you want to use, and the amount of alcohol you will be using to prepare the tincture. 

    For example, if you are tincturing Licorice and want to tincture 4 oz of the root in 16 oz of 40% ethanol and are starting with 95% ethanol. The goal is to convert the 95% ethanol to 40% ethanol.

    There are three steps to this process.

    Step 1-Divide the percentage of alcohol you are starting with (95%) by the percentage of alcohol you want in your final product (40%).


    Step 2-Divide the amount of alcohol you will be using (16 oz) by the number above. This will give you the amount of 95% ethanol you will be using.


    6.75 oz of 95% ethanol

    Step 3-Subtract the amount of (6.75 oz) ethanol from the final amount (16 oz). This will give you the quantity of water needed to make the final amount.

    16-6.75= 9.25

    Your final product would be:

    6.75 oz of 95% ethanol

    9.25 oz of water

    6.75 oz (ethanol)+9.25 oz (water)=16 oz (40% ethanol)

    There are other equations you can use to get to this number, but I use this one for its simplicity.

    These calculations start with 95% ethanol because it is the percentage I generally start with. I purchase 95% (190 proof) ethanol in volume online and have it delivered to my home as it is less expensive than buying it from a liquor store. I purchase 95% because that is the percentage needed to tincture many fresh plants as well as resinous plants such as Myrrh. You can always water down a higher percentage, but you cannot change a lower percentage into a higher percentage.

    Elephant's head (Pedicularis groenlandica, Orobanchaceae). One of the most accurate common plants names I know. 

    Shaking the Tincture

    After preparing a tincture, I usually shake them daily for up to two weeks. I feel that it is helpful to move the constituents out of the plant material and into the solution. I am not sure how necessary this is since I will eventually press the tincture out in the tincture press. But I enjoy the process. I suggest shaking the tinctures for at least a few days.

    How Long do Tinctures Last

    This is difficult to answer as there are no clear studies on this subject, nor do herbalists agree on any standard. However, from a personal perspective, it seems that they can last for many years. I've had 20 year old tinctures that taste and smell similar to when they were first made. While this is a very subjective evaluation, it is one of the only tools I have to assess this question.

    Since tinctures are based in alcohol, they rarely go bad, meaning they don't usually grow foreign matter such as bacteria or fungi. But the question remains, do the active constituents lose their potency over time? The best way to appraise this is by using them medicinally. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to ascertain how effective any herbal remedy is, especially as they might be used for weeks or months before any change in health is observed. With that said, I have older tinctures that seem medicinally effective. For example, I've used 15 year old Anemone tincture for panic attacks, which was clearly beneficial. This is only one example, but from personal experience and speaking with other herbalists, it seems that tinctures are often medicinally efficacious even after many years.

    Gray fox kits

  • karenjanicki
    karenjanicki Posts: 961 ✭✭✭✭

    Thank you for sharing this excellent information!

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,622 admin

    Part 7 is here.

    Botanical Preparations-Tinctures part 7

    Putting the Pieces Together

    This is the final installment about preparing herbal tinctures.  I hope to bring all the elements from the previous articles together. Below are a few examples to illustrate the process of tincture preparation.

    The Four Main Numbers to Prepare a Tincture

    1. The weight of the plant material
    2. The ratio of plant material to alcohol
    3. The volume of menstruum (ethanol plus water)
    4. The alcohol percentage (i.e., 50%)

    Red maple (Acer rubrum, Sapindaceae) in fall. 

    Example 1

    Tincture of Dried Japanese Barberry Root (Berberis thunbergii)

    Tincture 8 oz. of dried Japanese barberry root in 50% ethanol at a 1:4 ratio.

    • 8 oz of Japanese barberry root
    • 50% ethanol will best extract the medicinal constituents of the plant.
    • 1:4 is the ratio that will pull the constituents from the plant so that the menstruum will not be too saturated nor too dilute.

    Tincture Preparation

    1. Starting with
    • 95% ethanol
    • 8 oz. dried Japanese barberry root
    • 1:4 ratio
    • 50% final menstruum
    1. The ratio will be 8:32. This number is reached by the 1:4 ratio
    • 8 (oz) x 4=32
    1. Your final menstruum will be 32 ounces in 50% ethanol.
    2. The numbers you will be working with
    • 8:32 at 50% ethanol.
    1. To change 95% ethanol to 50%, divide the percentage of alcohol you are starting with (95%) by the percentage of alcohol you want in your final product (50%).
    • 95÷50=1.9
    1. Now divide the amount of the final menstruum (32 oz) with the number above
    • 32÷1.9=16.84
    1. 16.84 is the amount of 95% alcohol you will use
    2. To figure out the amount of water needed, subtract the amount of 95% alcohol from the final amount
    • 32-16.84=15.14 
    1. The final product (rounding out)

    17 oz 95% alcohol

    15 oz water


    32 ounces menstruum

    1. This is the amount poured onto the 8 oz of dried Japanese barberry root.
    2. It is helpful to shake the tincture for a few days to help move the constituents from the plant into the menstruum.
    3. The plant material should be allowed to soak in the alcohol for at least 2 weeks.
    4. After 2 weeks, the tincture can be pressed out in a tincture press or poured off for use.
    5. The tincture does not have to be strained, as the plant material will not go rancid in the alcohol.

    Yellow floating heart (Nymphoides peltata, Menyanthaceae)

    Example 2

    Tincture 18 oz of fresh Echinacea purpurea root in 95% ethanol at 1:2

    Starting with

    • 95% ethanol
    • 18 oz plant material
    • 1:2
    • 95% menstruum
    1. This example doesn’t need an ethanol conversion number as the formula asks for 95% ethanol.
    2. Tincturing at 1:2
    • 18 (oz) x 2 =36
    1. Final ratio 18:36
    2. Tincture 18 oz. of fresh Echinacea root in 36 oz of 95% ethanol.

        *Side note, I like to blend the fresh Echinacea root in a Vita-mix

    Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara, Solanaceae)

    Example 3

    Tincture 12 oz of dried Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) leaf in 40% ethanol (80 proof vodka) at 1:6

    1. Starting with 80 proof vodka (40% ethanol)
    2. The ratio will be 12:72 (12x6=72)
    3. Tincture 12 oz of dried Lemon balm leaf in 72 oz of 40% (80 proof) vodka