Out of all the things I teach people when it comes to herbalism, this is the one thing that I teach the most. Some days I get a stank eye and get told I have no idea what I’m talking about. Other days, I see the light bulb come on, and it makes complete and total sense. And, honestly, why wouldn’t it?
What am I talking about?
Glad you asked.
Let’s rip the band-aid off, because there’s no other way.
I don’t use the folk method for making herbal tinctures.
That’s right. Gasps everywhere. The holy grail and 90% of the internet tell us to make tinctures by using the folk method, but I simply don’t find it as reliable as the method that I use. And honestly, my family isn’t a guinea pig for me to guess how much, or how little, is needed in a tincture.
As I study to become a Master Herbalist, the courses I’ve chosen are scientific and evidence based learning structures. We go through real life clinical studies done by doctors that believe in herbalism, and even doctors that don’t. Even the great James Green himself admits that the folk method isn’t as reliable. And here’s why…
Let me first start by saying that using the folk method isn’t wrong. Yes, absolutely, it has its uses. It’s the most widely used method for a reason. But I fear that reason is simply because it’s the most commonly known from a “folk” standard. Its easy and referred to by herbalists that have grown into herbalism through wild crafted schools. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, sometimes we have to challenge what we’ve always done if we want to achieve greater results.
Because herblism isn’t monitored by any government entity, it means that just about anyone can become an herbalist. But I wanted more when I started this journey. I didn’t just want to hope something worked, I wanted to know it would work.
Enter side stage: science…
Yes, science. Sorry to burst your bubble. Believe it or not, if the Egyptians can create an entire materia medica journal (and more) in 1535 B.C. with detailed anatomy of the human body far advanced for their civilization, then we most certainly can take advantage of our God given brains that allow us to do research and expand our knowledge about the human body and botany from a scientific standpoint.
When making a tincture with the folk method, you are often times instructed to fill a jar 1/4 of the way with your choice of herb, and then fill the jar the rest of the way up with your alcohol of choice (typically vodka), or glycerin. You leave a headspace, voila, you’re done. Your tincture will set for 4-6 weeks, shake it a couple times a day, leave it in a dark place (poor tincture)….you get it.
While these types of tinctures can be highly effective, and have been for centuries, there’s no way to tell how much of the herb is actually being extracted.
You see, the issue is that dense herbs look like a lot less than herbs that aren’t as dense. Take the above photo, for instance. All of these herbs have been weighed out to 1 ounce, and yet, they all look like completely different measurements.
This is why I prefer the weight to volume ratio of making a tincture.
This isn’t something new. Making tinctures using the weight to volume method has always been quite common, but for some reason, not as quick to rise to fame and glory. This is most likely because many wild foragers had to make their tinctures in the field using fresh herbs. We don’t do that much anymore either, because it’s best to use dried or wilted herbs (less water extraction).
Using a weight to volume ratio allows me to know what, exactly, is in this tincture, and the exact amount that I should be giving to my family and friends when it comes to medicinal compounds that have been extracted.
Often times, we make herbal remedies and become discouraged because they simply don’t work. Could it be that it’s actually us that is the issue?
When we choose not to measure out our herbs and liquids, we will consistently get a different extraction each time. Not only that, but we can severely overdose, or under dose, with the folk method as well—causing bad reactions, or no reaction at all.
So, how do we make a tincture using the weight to volume method? Very easily…
A typical tincture of dried herbs is used with a 1:5 or (up to) 1:10 ratio (herb:liquid) and 80-100 proof vodka, or glycerin.
A tincture using fresh herbs is used with a 1:2 or up to 1:5 ratio and 100 proof vodka. This is because fresh herbs will release more moisture, causing a risk of your tincture to go rancid. The higher proof vodka and a smaller ratio will even out your moisture that is released.
Tincture measurement examples:
1 ounce of dried herb to 5 ounces of liquid (1:5).
3 ounces of dried herb to 15 ounces of liquid (because 3×5 [1:5] is 15 — therefore 1:5 = 3:15)
3 ounces of fresh herb to 6 ounces of liquid (because 3×2 [1:2] is 6 — 1:2 = 3:6)
Once you have made your tincture mixture, cap it tightly, place it in a cool dark place (without much temperature fluctuation) for 4-6 weeks, shaking a couple of times each day. When your tincture is ready, strain the herbs out, bottle the remaining liquid into a brown glass eyedropper bottle, and store it in your medicine cabinet (dark place) or refrigerator for 18-24 months or more. If kept in your fridge, it can last much longer. It all depends on the environment around you. Some tinctures can last 5+ years.
Because we know the exact ratio of herb that was extracted, we can now confidently dose our loved ones, knowing that more likely than not, our creation will work. The only thing you have to worry about now is upping the dosage if you need to combat an issue more aggressively, rather than making an entirely new tincture because it simply wasn’t strong enough to begin with.
Herbal medicine really is so much fun to learn about. I encourage you to seek out all kinds of information while doing so. And don’t be afraid to look past the folk norm in order to seek out a better one.
We were blessed with knowledge so that we could exceed what we’ve known in the past. Some people use that for bad big-pharma creations, while others use it to further explore the lost art of herbalism and how nature and botany collide with the human body to make beautiful things.
In everything, we must remember that in the end, herbalism isn’t God. But we sure can strive to do things in the most efficient ways with one of the most amazing tools that He’s given us—herbs.