How To Make Echinacea Root Tincture

Photo of Sharol Tilgner

The Process From Beginning to End

A photo of Echinacea purpurea roots

Why I Usually Use The Root

I use to use more parts of the Echinacea plants, but find over the years that I realize the bees and other insects are attracted to the flowers and really like the pollen, so I leave them for the insects. Seed does not extract as easily as the root, plus the birds love the seed. Then there is the herbaceous aerial parts of the leaves and shoots, which although some people sell this part of the plant, I find it to be of little use except for fresh plant poultices to assist in easing the pain and irritation from being stung. Although, I have other methods that serve better for stings than Echinacea leaves. So, as I ripen in my old age, I find myself using only the root for tincture. The field mice and moles would love to eat all the roots, but they have to share with me. I do demand some of the booty I work hard for and I don't like them nibbling on the ones that I harvest. If you want a few more details on Echinacea purpurea check out this pdf.

Procuring The Root

Purchase or harvest the fresh root. I usually grown my own and I use the Echinacea purpurea as it is easiest to grow where I live, but I also use Echinacea angustifolia. Both are equal when harvested fresh as far as what I see take place clinically with them. There are herb farms that will ship fresh roots to you also, but you will probably need to order a minimum amount and be sure that it is sent in a manner that will ensure it gets to you as fresh as when it was harvested. For details on harvesting herbs including how they should be shipped check out "Havesting And Wildcrafting Herbs". For the class you see in the photos here, we dug up the root from my gardens. Some for the tincture and some for students to take home.

Making Decisions On How Much To Process

For this class, we decided we would use a total of 4# of herb in our tincture. The strength would be 1:1 and we would use 50% alcohol. The strength of 1:1 is a good strength for most fresh root tinctures. Some people will make 1:2 and that is okay, but I like it to be stronger. Too strong and you  may get too much sedimentation as you saturate the solution and it does not stay suspended. 1:1 is the perfect strength where I achieve a good balance with Echiancea root. Alcohol strength of 50% will extract the alcohol soluble alkyl amides and other alcohol soluble constituents. You don't need it stronger. If you want the water soluble constituents, I suggest you make a tea.

How Much Root to Use This Time Through

We Know from past experience that only 1.75# - 2# of herb will mix into the alcohol and water, so we decide to use 1.75# this time to be safe. If we mix too much root into the liquid, there will not be adequate liquid to cover the root and it will oxidize.  We will add more of the 4# of root when we press out the current 1.75# from the menstruum (alcohol and water with herb in it). We did not harvest the rest of the root this time as it will be at least a month before we add the rest of the root. We will harvest it later so it will be fresh when we add it. We could have used 2# easily as the root had the upper limit of water usually found in E. purpurea, but we decided to go with the lower amount any way. More on this process below.

Digging up the root

We now need to collect our root. We will not have enough of the macerating fluid (alcohol/water solution) to use all 4#. If we try to put the full 4# into the fluid, we will find there is not quite enough fluid to macerate all the herb up into the fluid. We can't just add more fluid as that will decrease the strength of our final product. You can usually get up to 75% of the fresh E. purpurea root into the solution but there is no need to try to shove that full amount in there the first time. Remember there is water in the root already. The amount of water in the Echinacea pupurea root will run from 63% -75% usually depending on weather, soil, and other factors. Since water content changes depending on various factors, you need to take fresh and dry weights of your plant material every time you make a fresh plant tincture as you will need to use it in your calculations for adding liquid to the tincture you are making. This means as you add root into the water/alcohol solution in the blender, the amount of fluid will appear to grow as the plant root cell walls release liquid into the menstruum. I would suggest you put around 50% of your root in.  Don't put more than 70% in this first time and no less than about 45% of root. What I mean by "first time", is that you will be adding some of the root now, and then the product will sit for anywhere from weeks to months, at which time the herb will be pressed out, and the additional plant material left to add will be procured and blended into the Echinacea root tincture you will have just pressed out. In this case we are using a total of 4# root and we could add 1.75# to 2.5# of root easily to the fluid without having too much root. I tend to often go with a little less than 1/2 of the fresh root as I know more fluid will be added to the mix from the root and I will have much more fluid to work with when we add the second batch of herb later. We ended up adding 1.75# of root to the tincture which is about 45% of the total amount of root we would eventually add.

We collected our Echinacea root and cleaned it. This consisted of finding it in the winter garden which we could do by finding the old withered stems from last years stalks in the garden. We dug the root mass under each bunch of stalks, shook the dirt and mud off best we could and took the roots to the hose.

Cleaning the root

There we used water pressure to clean them some more as we broke the large chunks of roots into smaller chuncks and used garden clippers to clean off any excess stalk still on the top of the roots. We carried the roots into the kitchen and now did more cleaning in the sink. Here we continued to break them up into the smallest bit of roots as we could thus allowing us to get all the little rocks and dirt off the roots. If you don't get all those rocks and dirt, you might break your blender. We removed anything that looked decayed or otherwise unhealthy and then blotted the roots dry with towels. We don't want excess water as we have calculated our alcohol and water amounts based on the amount of water that is in the root. (I will tell you how to do that soon.)  We had extra root, so students got to take root home with them to experiment with .

A photo of a man digging up Echinacea purpurea roots during the winter.
Photo of Echinacea purpurea roots being washed.

Processing the root

How Much Water is Already in the Roots

Before we can do the calculations for how much alcohol and water will be needed, we must figure out how much water is already in the root of the plants we are harvesting. We do this by weighing out a small amount of root. In this case we weighed out 30 grams of root. We then use a toaster oven to dry the root. We put it in the oven at about 200 degrees F to dry it quickly. Once completely dry, we remove it and weigh it again. It is now 9 grams. 9/30 = 0.3 or 30%. This means we now have 30% dry root left after drying. Therefore we had 70% water in the root prior to drying. We will need to use this 70% water  in our calculations.

How Much Root to Use This Time Through

We Know from past experience that only 1.75# - 2# of herb will mix into the alcohol and water, so we decide to use 1.75# this time to be safe. If we mix too much root into the liquid, there will not be adequate liquid to cover the root and it will oxidize.  We will add more of the 4# of root when we press out the current 1.75# from the menstruum (alcohol and water with herb in it). We did not harvest the rest of the root this time as there simply is not enough room for it and we will have to remove the old spent root in the future by pressing it out, before we can add more root into this liquid again. It will be at least a month before we add the rest of the root, probably longer. We will harvest the rest of the root later so it will be fresh when we add it.

Going Through The Calculations

We start with our known factors. We have 4# of total root that will be used in this product. We want to make the tincture a 1:1 fresh plant strength. (1 part plant to 1 part liquid (alcohol & water). We want to use 50% alcohol and 50% water. We have 70% water already in the root to account for.

Start by Using Metrics

Our scales are mostly in pounds. We changed our pounds into grams but rounded up to make the calculations easier.  We did this by using 1# =  450 grams (we rounded up). We are using metric as it allows us to change our weight in grams into liquid volume of milliliters. We are rounding up as it keeps us from making as many mistakes if we use an even number. Although there are a few reasons why  this is not 100% accurate, it is how this is done by a lot of herbalists and if done the same way each time creates consistency.

 

4# x 450grams = 1800 grams of root

 

Now we want to figure out how much liquid to add. We are using a 1:1 strength so it is easy to calculate. We use 1 part herb to 1 part liquid. So we multiply the 1800 grams of herb x 1ml and get 1800 mls of liquid. (If it was 1:2 we would get 3600 mls of liquid.)

 

So we will be mixing 4# of herb with 1800 ml of liquid. But wait, we still need to account for the water in the root and calculate for how much of the total liquid added is water and how much of the total liquid is alcohol. Here is how we do that.

 

Calculate for Water in the Root

1800 ml liquid x .7 water = 1260 ml water in root

 

Need to Use the Water in the Root in Our Calculations

Now add the 1800 ml of liquid we are planning to add + the 1260 ml of liquid in the root (1800ml + 1260ml = 3060ml) We need to use this 3060 ml of total liquid including the root water to calculate for the alcohol and water we will add.

 

3060 ml x 50% alcohol = 1530 ml alcohol

3060 ml x 50% water = 1530 ml water

 

Subtracting Root Water in the Calculation Out of Amount to Add

Now we have to subtract the water in the root out of our calculated amount of water to add because it is already in the root.

1530 ml total water needed - 1260 ml in root = 270 ml water to add.

 

So we now know we will be adding 1530 ml alcohol and 270 ml water.

We took 1.75# of Echinacea purpurea root and ground it up in a vita mix (type of a strong blender) with 270 ml of water and 1530 ml of alcohol.

We added this mix of E. purpurea and water and alcohol to a gallon jar, put a lid on it and labeled it with the name of the product, the strength, the date and other details we wanted. We also had a batch record sheet that was taped to the jar.

Now We Wait

It is now sitting in a dark place and is shook once each day for at least a month or longer. We also put our loving vibes into the product each day as we shake it.

 

A photo of an herb press being used to press out Echiancea root tincture.

Pressing It Out

A month later, the spent root (called the marc in herbal language) is now sent to the compost pile. The menstruum (liquid with herb extracted in it) was put back into the vita mix with 2.25# of Echinacea root just as we had done the first time. It will macerate for another month or longer and then be pressed out and ready to use.

The Folk Method

For those of you who say, this is just too much trouble. Is there an easier way? Yes, but you won't be able to control the strength or alcohol percent of your product. If you are okay with not knowing the strength or alcohol percent, you can use the folk method. It is fine to use for home use, but if you want to have consistency or sell on the open market you will want to use the calculation method.

Usually, with the folk method you would use 40-45% vodka or some such alcohol and mix it with the roots one time and press and filter to get your product. You can do this but if you want a stronger product and still use the fresh roots and  get close to a 1:1 strength as well as about  50% alcohol do the following:

For making Echinacea purpurea, simply mix your root with 190 proof alcohol with blender or VitaMix. Make sure there is about an inch or more of liquid over the top of the root. Let it sit and shake daily as stated above. Press out in one or more months and then mix the menstruum with more Echinacea. Once more making sure there is some liquid above the herb to keep it from oxidizing. Let it sit one or more months and press. Filter and it is ready to use. It will be close to a 1:1 strength and somewhere from about 40-60% alcohol strength.

Remember To Send This To Friends And Family Who Will Benefit From Reading It!

If you want to know more about making tinctures and other herbal products, check out Dr. Sharol's book called "Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth" here.

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