How To Tincture Herbs With the Folk Method

Photo of Sharol Tilgner

The Folk Method Makes Herbal Tinctures Easy

Photo of Echinacea marc being strained to ready fro pressing.

People are often confused about how to make herbal tinctures using the "formula" or "calculation"  or  "weight to volume" method that I teach in my book. I give very detailed directions and these directions will result in a very precise product. However, if you are not making tinctures to sell, you can fudge a bit and do not have to be so precise.  For those of you who do not like the math or are confused, I suggest trying the folk method in the beginning. This involves no math and makes the process very easy. Once you have used the folk method and feel confident, you can go on to using the formula/calculation method of extraction if you want to be more consistent and precise in your herbal tincture making.  I suggest you read this in its entirety before beginning to make a tincture, as the tips on type of alcohol and water content in plants might change how you approach your project.

I would warn you that there is nothing precise about this method, so forget using this method if imprecision is going to bother you. There are also some times where it is best not to use the folk method. We will cover this at the end.

Tools And Ingredients You Need

Ingredients: The organic or wildcrafted herb you plan to tincture, alcohol, and perhaps water.

Tools: Glass jars (I suggest canning jars with tight lids.), something to cut up the herb if necessary, blender if necessary, a funnel, strainer, cheesecloth or thin linen towel to press the herb out by hand -  although a potato ricer can be used as an herb press if you have one in your kitchen, and amber glass dropper bottles or something similar to put the finished tincture into.

The Type of Alcohol You Use Is Important

In the pure folk method of tincturing herbs, people often use whatever hard liquor they have around. When I make a tincture using the folk method, I usually use either straight vodka or diluted organic grain alcohol which is 95% alcohol strength and has no flavor. (I don't like to support GMO derived alcohol.) However, people can use whatever they have as long as it is something that is 80 proof or 40% alcohol such as vodka. This will generally ensure enough alcohol to preserve the product and extract most of the constituents desired.

Herbal Tid Bit

The "Folk Method" does not calculate for the percent of alcohol used. Some plants are better extracted with a higher amount of alcohol such as resinous herbs, and there may be a concern about having a high enough alcohol strength to extract the resin or other materials. If you know your herb should have more alcohol used to extract it you can use 95% alcohol  found in the liquor store.

Adding the Alcohol and Herb

Start by filling a jar about 1/3 -2/3 full with fresh or dried plant material. Fresh leafy parts and flowers will already contain water and you can add about 2/3 to 3/4 of the jar with these materials. If you are using fresh roots and barks, they also contain water, but not as much so decrease it to 1/3 to 1/2 of the jar. With dried leaves  and flowers fill it to 1/3-1/2 full to start with. Some leaves really soak up the liquid so, be careful. Mulleing is a real soaker.  If using dried roots or barks, start with 2/3 of the jar. Pour alcohol over the top of the herbs. Please realize that dry herbs will really soak up the alcohol, so you may need to add extra solvent later. You can check the next day to see if you need to add more alcohol. The alcohol must stay over the top of the plant by at least 1/4-1/2 inch at all times to keep it from oxidizing. If you are making a tincture with a fresh plant rather than a dry plant, you usually won't need to add more alcohol later. This is due to the water content in the fresh plant. In the case of the dry plant extract, the plant material will suck alcohol into its dry cells. So you will have to add more alcohol later.  If you are adding alcohol to dry plant, you will definitely need to check it the next day to see how much more alcohol needs to be added to it.

 

Blenderize Your Herb and Alcohol

Now in its simplest form, you don't even use a blender to mix the herb and alcohol. You just pour the alcohol over the herb and you are done. However, most people using this method will use a blender to mix the alcohol and the herb together. This breaks up the plant into smaller particles and lets the alcohol get absorbed into the plant quicker and allows it to come into contact with more plant material, thereby extracting more of the goodness from the plant. This can also be accomplished with a mortar and pestle also, which does give you a good work-out  but is much slower than a blender.

Herbal Tid Bit

You have a choice of purchasing whole dry herb or cut and sift herb. For many herbs, whole form is best to purchase as cut and sift herb becomes more oxidized over time sitting on the shelf in a cut up form that allows oxygen to get to more cells of the plant.  Being oxidized means it will loose its healing powers quicker. If however the dry plant is cut up just prior to shipment to you, that is okay. Some plant roots or barks can be so hard that you can not cut them up yourself, so in these cases using whole plant might just exasperate you. If you do find yourself with some tough roots or bark, I suggest you pre-soak them in alcohol to allow them to soften up before trying to blend them. (I once had to soak a root for months to soften it up before blending it.) Otherwise you might break your blender.

Let It Extract And Then Press It Out

Once your herb and liquid are mixed together, and there is adequate liquid (at least 1/4-1/2" above the plant material) to keep the herb from oxidizing in the air, put a lid on the container and steep for 4 to 6 weeks in a cool, dark place such as a pantry or closet. Shake it often. Then strain or press out the liquid or menstruum. You can press it with  a potato ricer or by using a strainer, cloth and some muscle power.

This is really all there is to the folk method. In many cases this will work just fine. If you want it filtered, let it sit for 24 hours or more to settle out some of the debris, then decant it off, leaving the debris behind and pour the liquid through a filter in your kitchen such as a non-bleached coffee filter or cheese cloth.

Photo of gallon jar with Echinacea purpurea menstruum in it.
Fresh Plants Or Substances Needing High Alcohol

The folk method is best used to extract dried plant materials. Fresh plants have moisture in them and as soon as you mix the fresh plant with the alcohol, you are diluting the alcohol. If the plant has 75% moisture in it, you are diluting the alcohol a lot and it is better to start with alcohol that is stronger than 40% strength Vodka.

When you want to use the folk method with plant material that needs to be extracted with a high percemt of alcohol (such as resin) or plant material that has a lot of moisture in it, it is best to use 190 proof (95%) alcohol. Doing this will allow you to get a good extraction from plant material  such as resins.

 

190 proof alcohol is needed when:

• Plant material has constituents that necessitate a moderate to high amount of alcohol to extract them.

• Plant material is fresh and it has a high moisture content.

• When you want to make a fresh plant tincture stronger by extracting additional plant material in the menstruum. This makes the final product stronger and necessitates more explanation than I am going to go into here. However, I do cover this in, "Herbal Medicine"

 

Reasons I often don't use the Folk Method

• This method does not allow me to know the strength of my product.

•  Lack of consistancy in my products & not being sure about how much to give since I don't know the strength.

•  This method can lead to an alcohol strength that is too little or too much which can lead to inadequate extraction as well as excessive, unnecessary alcohol in a product.

Even though these reasons may keep me from using the folk method, I do use it when I make small amounts of a tincture for myself or friends/family and don't have to be specific about alcohol and strength.

 

Calculation Method

This method is also called the formula or weight to volume method. It is much more tedious, has extensive directions, and yes it does involve math. You will find these directions in "Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth". You can also look for an herbalist living in your area that teaches classes on how to make herbal tinctures. Getting hands on experience is really the best thing when learning how to make herbal products.

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