How to Start Using Herbs, Part 5: What are Tinctures, Acetums, & Glycerites (And How to Make Them)
In this 5th part of the series, How to Start Using Herbs, you’ll learn how to make extracts that are not water-based, including tinctures, acetums, and glycerites.
Have you started using herbs yet? :-) Wouldn’t you like to start? One of the most important things about being self-reliant is being able to increase your independence from the commercial and material systems that abound in these modern times (like Big Pharma). Learning to use herbs for your health, remedy problems, and even for first aid is an extremely valuable skill to have. You can even use this skill to barter in the event of an emergency or disaster!
This herbal series, How to Get Started Using Herbs, will help you ease into the world of natural herbal remedies. When you first start using herbs for your health, it can be a little overwhelming for most people.
This series of articles will help you get started using herbs with confidence by giving you a basic foundation of terminology and herbal recipes you can find in the Resource Library (complete the form at the end of the article for access).
In the previous article in this series about How to Get Started Using Herbs, Part 4, you learned how to make herbal water infusions to be used internally (teas, medicinal infusions, and decoctions). These simple extracts using water are wonderful ways to support your health and help with certain issues.
Now, in this Part 5, we’ll stick with internally used herbal preparations and go over herbal infusions (extracts) made with alcohol, vinegar, and vegetable glycerine. These are all preparations you ingest to support your health and body needs.
Maybe you’re wondering…..
What is the difference between an extract and a tincture?
A tincture in the proper sense, is an herbal extract made with alcohol as the solvent. A tincture is also an extract, since the herbal constituents are extracted into the alcohol.
There are other herbal preparations that some herbalists call “tinctures” made using different solvents, usually not as powerful as an actual tincture made with alcohol. These are also extracts.
You could say that although a tincture is an extract, not all extracts are actually proper tinctures, since they use a different (and generally less powerful) solvent other than alcohol. Vinegar and vegetable glycerine are the most common solvents other than alcohol for making herbal extracts, and I’ll go over these too.
What on earth is a solvent, or menstruum?
The solvent is simply the liquid the herb infuses (or macerates) in. So, with teas, water is the solvent. With the preparations we’ll talk about this time, the solvents are alcohol, vinegar, or glycerine. These different solvents all have their own pros and cons, benefits and downfalls.
You may hear some herbalists refer to a menstruum. This is the same exact thing as a solvent. It’s just old-fashioned “herb” speak.
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Tools You’ll Need to Make an Herbal Extract
Making herbal extracts is quite a simple thing to do, but you will need a few items that are easy to find and inexpensive. Here is a list of things to have on hand when you start making your herbal tinctures, acetums, and glycerites:
** Wide mouth Mason jars or other wide-mouthed glass containers.
** Amber glass bottles or glass jars for storage
** Amber glass dropper bottles for using the extracts
** A funnel
** The herbs! I like to buy my herbs from Starwest Botanicals. They are an excellent company and support ideals I believe in. You can also purchase your culinary herbs from them too!
Herbal Infusions for Internal Use: Extracts
There are three main types of herbal extracts (besides water extracts such as teas) that you can choose to use for your health. Tinctures, acetums, and glycerites are the formal names for each of these.
There are some key differences between the three types, which I will go over below. But for now, just know that a tincture is made with a menstruum of alcohol, an acetum is made with a menstruum (solvent) of vinegar, and a glycerite is made using vegetable glycerine.
There are pros and cons to all of these types of extracts, and I’ll go over these in each section below! But first, let’s talk about why a person would want to use an herbal extract?
How and Why Do You Use Herbal Extracts?
Herbal extracts are wonderful for supporting a very broad range of health desires and support your body systems. Tinctures especially, work very quickly, effectively, and powerfully to support your health and wellness.
Herbal extracts are quite shelf stable, especially when alcohol is used as the solvent. They can last many years when stored properly. When it comes to emergency preparedness and having helpful remedies on hand, I really can’t think of anything that beats a tincture.
Extracts are effective; and their effectiveness depends on a variety of factors: the person’s constitution, the person’s age, the person’s needs; the plant matter itself: freshness, how much used, and the combination of plants; and also how often the herbal extract is used.
To use a tincture or other extract, small amounts are taken. These can be taken from a dropper bottle directly under the tongue or used in a small amount of water or tea to help with the taste. Personally, I just take them directly. You can find out more about safety and dosing in Part 2 of this series.
Fresh or Dried Herbs? Does it Matter?
Yes. It absolutely makes a difference in the resulting tincture or extract between using fresh and dried herbs. Dried herbs are safer because there is no moisture in them to be extracted along with the medicinal compounds into the solvent.
This moisture is not as much an issue in a pure alcohol tincture, but it can be problematic in a vinegar or glycerite extract. My recommendation is to play it safe and use dried herbs, although I have made some wonderful tinctures from fresh herbs (in alcohol).
You can find out how much of different kinds of herbs to use in the FREE Herbal Extract Cheat Sheet found in the Resource Library! You can get access to the library (and the newsletter) by completing the form just below.
How to Make Tinctures: Herbal Extracts in Alcohol
Tinctures are herbal extracts using alcohol as the solvent. You can’t really use any old alcohol, though. Different strengths of alcohol will yield a less or more powerful tincture. Also, some plant parts do better in less strong alcohol (80 proof) as opposed to stronger alcohol (100 or higher proof).
You can find out more in Richo Cech’s book: Making Plant Medicine.
Most herbalists use a high-proof alcohol, generally 80 to 100 proof for the great majority of their preparations.
Some herbalists will use even higher proof alcohols, if they can be had, but these are overkill for most herbs, in my experience. The only kind of herb material that requires a very high proof alcohol are gums and resins, as they are very difficult to break down.
Although any strong liquor will work, most herbalists (myself included) prefer clear and mild-tasting spirits in order for the flavor of the herb to come through. Vodka is one of the more popular alcohols herbalists use.
You can also use brandy, whiskey, rum, etc., but the flavors of these spirits will affect the taste of the tincture.
NOTE: Alcohol, vinegar, glycerine, and water all extract different plant chemicals. Water happens to be quite powerful as a solvent, even though a tea may “seem” weaker.
Alcohol will extract nearly all the chemical compounds, except for some minerals. You can see why using alcohol is the most popular way for many herbalists to create medicinal extracts!
Richo Cech, in his book, Making Plant Medicine, gives a very good explanation of the different strengths of alcohol and how to make plant medicines from different herbs and plant parts. Rosemary Gladstar also discusses various extracts in her book, Herbal Medicine: A Beginner’s Guide, which is perfect if you are new to using herbs.
Are you concerned about using an alcohol tincture with children?
It’s a good question!
Since I am a grandmother now, I have not had the opportunity to give this much thought as my children are all grown up, and have been for the past 15 years—-before I really started learning in earnest about using herbs for health.
But if you DO have children, using alcohol tinctures is safe, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use them with my own kids, if they were still at home. Here is a great article about using alcohol tinctures with children written by Meagan Visser, a registered nurse and herbalist: Are Alcohol Tinctures Bad for Children?
How to Make an Herbal Tincture:
There are a few different ways to make an herbal tincture. You can use the cold infusion method (my favorite), a percolation method (more mathematical and complex), or you can apply some gentle heat to speed things up a little (not my favorite).
I’ll address the cold infusion method here. The cold infusion method is actually the traditional folk method, and it has been successfully used for hundreds of years. It’s also the method most home herbalists use, and it is very simple.
Personally, I love the slower methods to extract herbal constituents. I just think they are more time-honored and I’ve only had excellent results from them.
The directions I give in this article are for the folk method (the cold infusion), which is the slowest, but I believe, the best way to make an herbal extract.
With that said: I have never tried the percolation method myself. I haven’t had the need, to be honest. But perhaps one day I will.
The thing with making tinctures (or really, any extract) is having a good ratio of herbs to solvent. To make sure you have a ratio that will ensure you extract as much of the herbal goodness as possible and avoid being too weak, you need to know a little about how the plant matter will behave in the solvent.
You can download my free cheat sheet that will help you decide how much plant material (roots, leaves, barks, seeds, flowers, etc.) you’ll need for the amount of alcohol you’ll use. Plus, the directions are there for you too!
This plant material cheat sheet for making tinctures is free for you to print and use in the Resource Library! Just complete the form by clicking on this button:
OK—-Here are the basic steps for creating an herbal tincture:
Step 1) Add your herbs to your jar.
**Download the Cheat Sheet for amounts by plant material by completing the form below!
Step 2) Fill your jar with your high-proof alcohol of choice.
Step 3) Shake well, and allow to sit for about an hour.
**The herbs will soak up some of the menstruum, so you may need to add some more. All the herbal matter should be submerged completely.
Step 4) Add more alcohol (or other solvent) as needed.
**This will depend on how much alcohol the plant material absorbs. You want your solvent to completely cover the plant matter, and be within an inch or so of the top of the jar for movement.
Step 5) Find a great spot to keep your processing tincture.
**This can be in a sunny window (a gentle heat method); a dark, cool closet (which some herbalists prefer), or simply a shelf in your kitchen or on the counter.
Shake your tincture a few times a week, especially if you are using powdered herbs.
Step 6) Allow your herbs to macerate (steep) in the liquid for four to eight weeks.
**I have left mine for a year before, and the tincture has been just fine. However, your tincture should be ready to strain within the six week range, give or take a couple of weeks.
Step 7) Strain out the herbal matter.
**To do this, I use a strainer and a layer or two of cheesecloth or paper towel. This ensures a nice clear tincture.
Step 8) Bottle up your tincture!
**I use amber glass bottles because the amber glass helps keep light from the liquid and protects it from degradation.
How to Make Herbal Acetums: (Herbal Extracts in Vinegar)
Some people just don’t want to use alcohol in their tinctures, for various reasons. Or perhaps they are concerned about giving even small amounts of alcohol to children. Well, did you know vinegar can be a somewhat useful solvent for extracting herbal compounds?
A vinegar infusion is not as strong as a tincture made with alcohol, but it will still be helpful. In fact, vinegar has been used medicinally for thousands of years! It was the main form of extracting herbal value long before stills were invented for alcohol.
Vinegar is also useful for disinfecting, preserving foods, and much more. Besides being good for extracting certain herbal constituents, vinegar has a great number of health benefits, especially raw vinegars, like apple cider vinegar.
Some of the health benefits of raw vinegars include improved digestion, support of healthy cholesterol levels, boosting the immune system, and even weight loss. If you are using vinegar to create an extract, it’s important to note that these are mainly nutritional and not as much medicinal.
Find out how to make your own apple cider vinegar in this link! If you are interested in how to make artisan homemade raw fruit vinegars, you can find directions right here. If you aren’t interested in making your own vinegars, you can buy high quality, raw apple cider vinegar from Amazon or any good health store.
If you want to make a stronger vinegar infusion with your medicinal herbs, you can add some alcohol, creating a solvent that is a mixture of alcohol and vinegar. This is known as an acetous tincture. Adding alcohol will increase the number and types of plant compounds extracted, making a more powerful extract than just vinegar alone.
Want to know how to make an herbal vinegar infusion for medicinal and health purposes?
Just follow the same exact directions above in the tincture section! Be sure to use dried herbs for a vinegar extract.
Here are the plant constituents vinegar will extract from the herb: Minerals, trace elements, and alkaloids are extractable using vinegar. There are far fewer chemicals extracted with vinegar, but you do get the ones that have a great deal of nutrition.
Complete the form below to download my free Plant Material Proportions Cheat Sheet (+Basic list of directions) from the free Resource Library. You will also be subscribed to our weekly newsletter, and you’ll never miss a thing!
How to Make Glycerites: Herbal Extracts in Vegetable Glycerine
A glycerite is simply a type of herbal extract that can be used instead of sour vinegar or strong alcohol as the solvent. Instead, glycerin is the solvent in this type of extract (glycerite). Vegetable glycerine is sweet, being a clear, odorless liquid that comes from plant oils.
Glycerine takes a little longer for the extract to be ready, and the extract is not as strong as alcohol, vinegar, or even water for that matter. However, if you are planning to use herbs with children, a glycerite can be a good choice because they are sweeter and easier to take.
Another notable thing about glycerites is that they work much more slowly than alcohol tinctures because they are metabolized differently by the liver. Therefore, they are not only not quite as effective as an alcohol (or vinegar) extract, but the effects are slower too.
To make a glycerite, use dried herbs up to a little less than halfway in the jar. Cover completely with glycerine. Allow to macerate for about eight weeks, shaking a few times a week. Just follow the same directions as above!
NOTE: Hard herbal parts, such as roots, seeds, and barks do NOT extract well in glycerin. If you are going to make a glycerite, you’ll want to stick with leaves, softer stems, and flowers for extraction.
Here are the plant constituents glycerine will extract from the herb: Some alkaloids, some acids, some minerals, and some mucilage as well as tannins. However, glycerine just doesn't work the greatest with dried herbs.
Some herbalists say to soak the herbs in water first, then squeeze any excess out before using glycerine. Frankly, I just don’t like the idea of using moisture in my extracts, as bacteria can be introduced.
My Thoughts on All Three Menstruums
After this rundown on all three solvents that you can use for making your herbal extracts, alcohol is by far the most powerful and useful in extracting plant constituents. This is why it is my favorite way to create an herbal extract.
The solvent you choose will have to do with what you want to use your extract for, as well as who will be using it. But now you have an idea of the differences between them.
If you really don’t want to use alcohol for your tinctures, there are many other ways to get herbal goodness in a preparation. Using oxymels, infused honeys, syrups, water infusions (such as teas, strong infusions, and decoctions) and other preparations are available for you to choose.
Here is a great overview of all the different kinds of herbal preparations you can choose from, and I’ll be writing about all of these as this series is completed. For now, here is the herbal preparation overview for you.
How to Bottle Your Herbal Extracts
Storage of your herbal preparations is kind of a big deal. Any kind of extract will be affected by light, heat, and oxygen. Be sure to store your extract/tinctures in a glass bottle, preferably an amber glass bottle.
I usually use a Mason jar for storing our tinctures, but I do keep them in a dark cupboard too.
To bottle them up, it’s a good idea to use a funnel, or you’re likely to end up with a mess on your hands! (Ask me how I know….)
For daily use or using any time, you’ll want to have your extracts bottled in smaller amber glass dropper bottles. These will keep your extracts from deteriorating, and you’ll have the dropper to measure out amounts for dosing.
Final Thoughts On Herbal Extracts (Tinctures, Acetums, Glycerites)
Extracts in strong solvents are really my favorite way of taking my herbs for health and wellness. I do still love herbal teas, of course, and drink them daily. But if I have an acute problem or a chronic issue I need to address, then using tinctures is my favorite course of action.
These are all quite simple to make, regardless of the kind you choose. The biggest requirement is
time. It’s a good idea to get your extracts going several weeks before you think you may need them.
For example, if you know your allergy season is in March or April, you would want to start your allergy support tincture in January or February to have it ready to go!
You will find, as you start your learning journey using herbs, that they are effective and easy to use. You’ll begin to get an intuitive sense of which herbs will work and for what. You’ll empower yourself to be in charge of your own health, and that is one of the most wonderful things!
I promise that knowledge about using herbs will be a handy skill to have, whether in “normal” times or in an emergency situation. It’s SO good to be self-reliant!
You may also enjoy these related articles:
And there are a LOT more over on the blog! So click the little horizontal lines which will give you the navigation menu! Or, do a search using the little magnifying glass. You’ll find all kinds of things at www.healingharvesthomestead.com!
AND, here are the other articles in the series I have finished at this point:
NOTE: You may be interested in joining my private Facebook group, Practical Herbs with Heidi, which is a supportive herb study group! :-)
Hugs, Health, and Self-Reliance,
P.S. Please be sure to sign up for the newsletter! When you do, you’ll get immediate access to the Resource Library, which contains all kinds of free downloads and printables for you, including eBooks, guides, cheat sheets, and lots more! I’m updating it weekly too! You’ll find the Plant Proportion Cheat Sheet and Directions for How to Make a Tincture there too!
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I am NOT a medical doctor. Please be sure to seek advice from your medical professional before using any herbs or essential oils. In no manner, stated or implied, is any wording in this article or elsewhere I write, meant to treat, cure, diagnose, or prevent any disease. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.