Monday, 14 March 2011

Tincture Making

 Late in February we explored the basics of tincture making 

Tinctures are used extensively in herbal preparations, as additives to other solutions (tonics, creams, lotions, soaps, etc) or as a unique remedy in themselves. They can be the product of one individual herb, a combination of herbs, or even a mixture of different parts of the same herb, i.e root, leaf and flower of the same plant - (harvested and made at different times of the year.  There is also the idea of 'having a wee tincture' in Scottish vernacular ... but I won't go into that.

As a basic rule of thumb, tinctures are an infusion of the chemical constituents of a herb (fresh or dried) in a solvent. Although the most common solvent is alcohol, others used by herbalists are apple cider, vinegar, wines (including brandy and sherry), water (normally called and 'infusion') oil, honey + vinegar, glycerin or tea. 

Why alcohol? Primarily because it is an excellent preservative: at 25% by volume it is bacteriostatic and any alcoholic solution above 25% is also bactericidal; but also alcohol will extract more constituents per herb part than other solvents.

Making a tincture involves a bit of maths an assessment of your herb and what you want out of it. The basic process involves preparation, maceration and percolation dependent on:

What property of the herbal element you wish to extract and how those chemical constituents react to different types of solvent. For example water soluble constituents only need 25% alcohol  to release mucilage, tannins, flavinoids, saponins, whereas essential oils, alkaloids, most saponins and some glycocides are best extracted in 45-60% proof alcohol, with resins and oleo-resins needing 90%.

A typical tintucture label has several bits of information on it:

1) Name of the herb (Rosa Damascus)
2) Ratio of herb to solvent (1:5)
3) Percentage of alcohol to water (25%)

So, after determining what character of the plant materials we wish to extract we then need to decide upon the right type of solvent.   

Top herbalist can buy vats of nearly pure alcohol (Hayman's sell organic Rye alcohol of 97%), but us mere laywomen were constrained to what the local corner shop had to offer, predominately Vodka at 37.5% or 40% proof. Calculating 25% volumes of a 37.5% vodka and water mix proved a bit tough on the little grey cells, so we ended up working with the Absolut at 40%.

Starting with a litre of Vodka, a basic formula could therefore look like this:

Calculations for Label: Elderberry Tincture, 1:5, 40%
Start with 200 mls jar
1 part plant (p): 4 parts solvent (v) = - 1p:4V
Plant material = 40gms  = 1/5
Solvent = 160 mls = 4/5  (based on mixture of Vodka 64 mls + Water 96 mls to get 40% )
160 mls of solvent + 40 gms plant material = 200 mls total volume.

By the end we could hardly count any more so we reverted to a even simpler 'folk' formula and chopped, scrapped and tore our essential herbs into jam jars and topped with neat Vodka creating perfectly respectable home brews.