One thing I wish I knew more about is using herbs for lotions, potions, tonics and such. Talk about connecting to our agrarian past! I suppose I get stymied by some of the ingredients needed to make these herbal helpers. Lanolin, beeswax, and benzoin are so easy to come by these days. Recently I've discovered that tinctures are actually fairly simple to prepare from fresh or dried herbs.
What is a Tincture?
A tincture is a liquid made from steeping herbs in a 50% alcohol (100 proof). You can also use herbs to make infusions by steeping them in water. Infusions are best used immediately; tinctures will keep when stored in a sterile, amber colored glass bottle.
Unlike some herbal preparations, tinctures can be made with items that are readily available at the grocery store. Keep these materials on hand and you'll be ready to make a tonic whenever the mood hits.
- Fresh or dried herbs. If you purchase herbs be sure they are organic. Even though these mixtures are topical, you don't want chemicals.
- Cheese cloth
- Sterile glass jar with lid
- Amber bottles with screw-tops for storage.
- 100-proof vodka
Basic Recipe for an Herbal Tincture
It is best to research the herb you are planning to use to discover a suitable recipe, but this one will give you a jumping off point. Use 50% alcohol, in other words a product that is 50% alcohol and 50% water. 100-proof vodka works well. A good ratio for dried material is about 1 part herb to 5 parts alcohol and with fresh material 1 part herb to 3 parts alcohol.
- 1 ounce fresh herbs, chopped fine
- 3 ounces 100-proof vodka
- 1 ounce dried herbs
- 5 ounces 100-proof vodka
Place herbs in a Mason jar and pour in vodka. Make sure the vodka covers the herbs. Screw on the lid and give it a good shake. Label the jar with the date and type of herbs. Place it in a cool, dry, dark place.
Shake the jar every day for 2 weeks.
After two weeks strain the liquid by pouring through a sieve lined with cheese cloth into a bowl.
Bundle up the cheese cloth and squeeze remaining liquid into the bowl.
Using a funnel, pour the tincture into a sterile amber bottle, screw on the cap and store in a cool, dry cupboard. During hot weather, it's nice to keep a tincture in the refrigerator for applying after working in the garden.
A tincture should keep indefinitely, but it's a good idea to do a smell check periodically. If it smells off, toss it.
Herbs for Topical Use
For this article I'm focusing on the topical use of herbal tinctures, but you can prepare tinctures to take internally too. Just be sure to do the research and talk with your physician before adding an herbal tincture to your diet.
Here are just a few of the herbs you can use for tinctures.
Apply to insect bites to draw out irritants.
Skin tonic for minor bumps and scratches. The fragrance soothes frayed nerves.
Astringent for minor skin irritations.
Good for refreshing the skin. The scent is said to help with headaches.
Hair rinse, sore muscle relief.
Moisturizing skin tonic. Use as an antidepressant in aromatherapy.